Traveling has many different faces ranging from local excursions close to home to extreme far off destinations that take days to reach. Within each individual journey are many opportunities for purpose driven travel. Purposeful travel is arriving at a destination with a set goal. Volunteer travel, ancestry travel, historical travel and wine travel all fall under this category.
Wine travel which is officially referred to as vinitourism, oenotourism or enotourism includes exploring destinations with visits to local vineyards and wineries, familiarizing oneself with a region’s history of wine, experiencing the art of their vinification and the ultimate treat, sampling the wines. If timed accurately, one may even find themselves participating in the annual harvest physically and/or celebratorily.
Italy, France and Spain, are some of the European regions that are most visited for this type of experience. However areas, like Greece, that sit under the radar are home to wine-producing regions that while not as well known, provide many opportunities for unique and enjoyable purposeful wine experiences paired with visiting the cradle of civilization.
The birthplace of western culture, Greece is visited for its abundance of beautiful scenery, pristine beaches, friendly easy going lifestyles and historic architecture. Unbeknownst to many, Greece is also one of the oldest regions of the world for wine production.
Within the Mediterranean, wine has a historical past that dates back 6,500 years with Greece as its original producer. The distribution of Greek wines made its way throughout Italy, Spain, Portugal and into Northern Europe as Europe was colonized during the era of the Roman Empire.
Greece’s role in wine production with lesser known grape varieties are waiting to be unearthed throughout 29 wine regions as the home to 700+ wineries.
Central Greece on the mainland peninsula is the wine region of Attica. With its warm, dry climate, Attica’s main growth is the fruity and floral white grape Savatiano which is used to produce a 2000 year old table wine Retsina. Retsina is a fruity, oily wine with a pine finish that is made from a combination of Savatiano and Rhoditis grapes and then infused with resin (hence the name and the pine flavor). For the sophisticated wine drinker, the Savatiano grape as a single varietal blend will be similar to Chardonnay wines grown in the French Chablis region. Though when oaked, Savatiano wines will resemble a white Burgundy from the Cote’d’Or region in France.
In the foothills, near the former home of the Greek gods, Mt. Olympus is Rapsani, the first officially declared wine appellation of Greece. The mountain vineyards of the Rapsani region blend the locally grown red grapes, Xinomavro, Stavroto and Krassato and cask age them to produce wines with strong tannins, minerality and a fruity finish.
The legendary Peloponnese peninsula is home to the Nemea region, near the former Greek ancient capital city, Nafplio. This region produces Greece’s most well known native growth, the Agiorgitiko grape. Grown at some of the highest elevations in Greece and oaked for up to five years, the result is a complex flavored and balanced, medium acidity and yet full bodied red wine. With a flavor similar to a spicy Merlot, the presentation of this wine can be compared to a young French Beaujolais Nouveau wine.
The largest island of Greece, located in the Mediterranean Sea is the rugged island of Crete. One of the most attractive vacation spots in Greece, Crete is filled with luxury hotels and is home to the ancient white grape, Vidiano. This hard to grow grape produces a fruity and complex medium to full bodied wine. Grown on a smaller scale with very few vines still in existence, the outcome is a locally favored fruity wine primarily enjoyed by residents and visitors to the island.
The volcanic islands of the Aegean sea draw visitors to its ancient villages, bays, coves and bright blue waters. As a prominent cruise destination, the Aegean islands are filled with travelers searching for the perfect sun and sand experience combined with a uniquely Greek cultural experience. But another reason to visit these beautiful islands is for the wine.
Santorini, which is part of the Cyclades islands, is home to the white Assyrtiko grape. Considered to be one of the top white wines in Greece, Assyrtiko grapes are highly influenced by the island’s volcanic soil, producing a dry wine with a citrusy and crisp flavor similar to a German Riesling. Produced oaked and unoaked, the oaked version labeled locally as Nykteri will present a less acidic wine.
Samos, the lesser known Aegean island just a mile off the coast of Turkey, is the birthplace of the worldwide grown white Muscat (Muscat Blanc) grape. The UNESCO World Heritage site once drew affluent residents specifically for its ancient vineyards. Visiting Samos is a primitive look into the Aegean isles before the days of cruise ships and luxury hotels.
With various wine regions and grapes influenced by the diverse terrain, Greece offers plenty of opportunities to include wine tourism into a Hellenic vacation. Visiting by cruise ship, ferrying between mainland and islands, or taking a wine tour, even the most sophisticated oenophile can bring a Greek experience to a whole other level and travel purpose.
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