Greece is known for many things: feta cheese, olive oil, Greek yogurt, the Olympics and financial turmoil to name a few. The rising star of Greece, however, is wine. The Greek wine industry has the 15th largest annual output in the world, behind New Zealand, Romania and Russia. Earlier this month, CNBC reported that Greece ships wine to 35 countries, with 66% of those shipments going to Germany, France and the U.S. In addition to the export market, Konstantinos Lazarakis, Greek Master of Wine and author of The Wines of Greece, states that 98% of wine consumed in Greece is made in Greece.
Archeological discoveries throughout Greece have shown that wine and Greek culture have been intertwined for more than 4000 years. In fact, the ancient Greek islands' domination of the wine trade inspired Homer to dub the Aegean Sea the "Wine-dark Sea." On mainland Greece, Macedonia's Naoussa region is one of the oldest wine producing areas in the country, and in 1971 became the first Greek wine district to be granted an appellation title. The wine history of the area can be traced back through the centuries by phylloxera outbreaks, the Greek Orthodox Church, 500 years of alcohol-free Ottoman rule, ancient Roman imports and historic Greek philosophers.
Located around the town of Naoussa, the vineyards climb the eastern slope of the 6,730 foot Mount Vermion, the highest peak in the Vermio Mountains. The ideal spots for grape growing are located on the south and southeast-facing slopes which tend to receive the most sunshine. While Greece is known for its warm Mediterranean climate, with altitudes ranging from 500 feet to 1100 feet above the Mediterranean shore line, vines are frequently exposed to chilly temperatures. Additionally, the mountains serve to protect the area from cold winds blowing down the Balkan Peninsula, while also creating föhn winds that bring in cool air from the Aegean coast.
The king grape of Naoussa is the Xinomavro (pronounced zee-NOH-mah-vroh) and is vital not only to Naoussa, but to all the wine regions of Macedonia. Berry Bros and Rudd Wine and Spirits Merchants in London describe the Xinomavro from Naoussa "as one of two potential-laden red varieties (the other being Agiorgitiko) on which Greece's international status as a wine-producing nation can rest." By law, all Naoussa appellation wines must be 100% Xinomavro.
Xinomavro, which literally translates to acid-black, is a dark-skinned varietal typically characterized by its high tannins and high acidity. A Naoussa wine made with Xinomavro features a flavor profile of black olives, violets, tomatoes, tobacco and wild strawberries, and pairs well with red meat, lamb, and pasta. Xinomavro is similar to the Italian Nebbiolo grape, which makes Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Ted Diamantis, president of Diamond Importers explains, "In Naoussa, we get a very similar profile to Barolo and Barbaresco. Stylistically, they’re darn close: it’s that balance between high acidity and firm tannins, plus many of the same rose petal and tar aspects.”
For more on Greek wine, check out Zachary Sussman's Grape Collective article "It's All Greek to Me."