The southernmost tip of mainland Greece is the Peloponnese, a viticultural area of great significance, which is usually grouped with the Ionian Islands. The Peloponnese is mainly dedicated to white wine production, although the regions that grow red varieties are responsible for some of the very best wines of the country. The crown of white wine appellations is Mantinia, in the heart of Peloponnese, while Nemea, closer to the north- eastern tip of Corinth, is the largest single red wine appellation in Greece.
Mantinia is an appellation dedicated to the exotic Moschofilero, or Moscho, as many refer to it. Moschofilero is a pink-skinned variety but is principally used to make white wine. It is an elegant wine that overwhelms with its freshness and aromas, a wine that travels you to delightful gustatory destinations. The most popular style is a still, light, dry wine, also consumed as an aperitif, but there are also semi-dry or even sparkling versions. Moschofilero has an intense flowery character, with an emphasis on rose petal aromas, together with citrus and fresh fruit notes. Fresh flavours, fresh and crisp acidity, medium to low levels of alcohol, rarely exceeding 12%. Packing so much flavour at these levels of alcohol is a remarkable feat in today’s wine world. The wines are refreshing, elegant, aromatic and, metaphorically speaking, spontaneous. They are the liquefied essence of happiness, exhilaration, surprise and escapism. Their freshness makes them an ideal companion to a wide range of aromatic dishes with fresh herbs, ethnic and spicy cuisine, sea food or even sushi.
The style of Moschofilero wine easily suggests a region with a climate much cooler than the average Mediterranean Sea holiday resort. Mantinia is a mountainous plateau with high altitude that exceeds 650 metres (2,160ft), so the vineyards of the region can be considered alpine. The climate is continental, with mild summers, where nights are cold and breezy. Mild breezes and the lack of humidity create a favourable environment for organic viticulture, since diseases have a very difficult time affecting vines. Given such an opportunity, organic vineyards constitute a significant and rapidly increasing proportion of the area. Soil types vary, with a relative predominance of rocky clay, but fertility is always low and production is never excessive. Moreover, making a pale white wine from pink-skinned grapes is a difficult task and can be achieved only by doing all the vineyard work and harvesting by hand, as well as by using innovative practices and cutting-edge winemaking technology.
Just half an hour’s drive from Mantinia towards Corinth, the captivating vineyards of Nemea continue a bloodline running for millennia. The whole appellation is planted with a red grape variety that, in 1460, was officially given the name Agiorgitiko, from Agios Georgios (Saint George), which was the name of Nemea at the time. Nemea is an enchanting, charming wine
that lets you relax and enjoy pleasant moments of social, human contact and intimacy. Usually, Nemea is a dry red wine aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months. It has a deep colour, concentrated aromas of red fruit and an aromatic complexity. The rich body is balanced by the high-quality, mature tannins. A second interpretation of Nemea is that of a young red wine, with no oak aging and released just months after the harvest. This style is light, easy drinking wine, with medium acidity, soft tannins and fresh aromas of red fruits. Nemea always delivers gustatory satisfaction and versatility, since it is one of the rare wine styles that are appropriate for immediate consumption though they are also suitable for long aging in bottle. In gastronomic terms, Nemea is an ideal accompaniment to a diverse range of culinary options, compatible to modern dietary needs and requirements.
The complex facets of Nemea can be effortlessly traced back to the complex terroir that breeds the vines. The climate of the area is a cross between temperate Mediterranean and continental, but characterised by exceptional sunshine. The winters are calm and rainfall is moderate. Although there are subtle differences among the region’s crus, large variations in night and day temperatures are observed on most Nemea vineyards, especially during summer months. Furthermore, Nemea’s topography is very complex, with diverse terrains and altitudes ranging from 250 to 850 metres (800-2,800 ft). Human care is again evident in the amount of manual work that takes place in the vineyard, from winter pruning to vintage, but for locals, caring for the land is almost considered a payback. It is worth remembering that viticulture in Greece has always had a social dimension and the Nemea vineyards, since antiquity, have been inextricably connected to the life and progress of the local society.
Mantinia and Nemea are just part of what the general region has to put forward, since there are diverse tourist attractions in the greater area. There is stunning natural beauty to be found on the slopes of Menalo, Parnonas, Ziria and Farmakas mountains, by the spectacular lakes of Doxa and Stimfalia and in numerous forests and rivers. This is one of the very few regions where outdoor activities, like skiing, hiking or rafting, can be combined with sea activities, like swimming or water skiing. The traditional local cuisine brims with character, fully capitalising on the exquisite local produce, most of which is available for purchase in speciality shops found in virtually every village.
There is also a traditional alpine architecture and several Medieval villages, Monemvassia being the best known of all. Several archaeological sites and Byzantine monuments are located close by, like Ancient Nemea, Mycenae, Olympia, Epidaurus or Panagia ton Vrachon. Moreover, Nafplio is one of the most popular and picturesque towns in the whole of Greece. Cultural events are held all year round, several of which are of national, if not international importance, like the Epidaurus festival, the Nafplio festival, as well as activities in the ancient theatre of Mantinia. Fortunately, this whole area has a large number of wineries open to visitors, offering tasting and educational seminars.
Achaia, a part of the northern coast of the Peloponnese, is another significant viticultural centre with several appellations. Patras is the main city of Achaia and Mavrodaphne of Patras is the most famous sweet red wine appellation of Greece. Mavrodaphne means “black laurel” and the wines do show the intense, complex and aromatic character implied by the name. The wines are made in a fortified, “vin doux naturel” style and aged in oak for many years. The younger examples are fresh and vibrant, balancing sweetness with tannins. However, old traditional Mavrodaphnes from the best producers possess impressive complexity and rare personality; they are silky and fine- grained with spicy and sweet fruity nuances.
Achaia hosts three other appellations, as well. Two are based on Muscat, namely Muscat of Patras and Muscat of Rio of Patras. Despite that late harvest wines from super-ripe grapes are allowed for Muscat (called vin naturellement doux), most of the production is fortified, identified by the terms vin doux or vin doux naturel on the label. These are rich, intense and powerful, with a touch more elegance for wines from the Rio area. The last designation is simply called Patras and is a dry white wine appellation from Roditis. Roditis is a variety that dominates plantings all over the Peloponnese, but Patras is where the grape is at its best. Wines from high-altitude, low-yielding vineyards can be the epitome of Greek white: rich, lemony, intense on the nose and broad on the palate.
The western coast is made up by the prefectures of Ilia and Messinia, facing the Ionian Sea. Although Mavrodaphne is found in many parts of these regions, the most notable wines are made from non-Greek grapes, like Refosco in Ilia and Cabernet Sauvignon in Messinia. Despite the relatively warm climate, results are impressive and age-worthy.
The Ionian Islands form the western border of Greece, just below the Adriatic Sea. The climate is lacking in extremes and maritime influence is obvious. Rainfall levels are some of the highest in Greece. The Ionian Islands are quite mountainous, being very steep in places, with a more aggressive topography than the islands of the Aegean, leading to a wide variety of aspects, inclinations and soil fertility. It also means different meso-climates, from hot sites near sea level to cooler spots at high altitudes. All this results in a diversity of terroirs and wine styles. The vast range of wines, however, is not just due to the fragmented terroir, but also to the large number of varieties cultivated.
There are a number of important wine-producing areas throughout the Ionian Islands, most notably in Zakynthos and Corfu, while small-scale vineyards can be found almost everywhere. Of all the seven islands, however, the most important is Cephalonia, arguably producing the finest and most famous wines.
The most famous variety of the island, if not of the whole Ionian Sea, is Robola. Indeed, Robola of Cephalonia is the only dry wine appellation of the region. One of the noblest Greek varieties, Robola produces whites of great elegance, full of lemony fruit and fresh acidity, but definitely not lacking in depth and extract. Apart from Robola, another important grape variety is Tsaoussi. It is full of lemony and honeyed aromas and sometimes has spicy undertones. Moscatella is exclusive to Cephalonia, a white grape with a light Muscat aroma and full of floral intensity.
Cephalonia has also two other designations for sweet wines: Muscat of Cephalonia and Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia. The local sub-variety of Muscat is the superb Muscat Blanc and Mavrodaphne plantings are dominated by the superior in quality, richly coloured Tsigelo clone, mainly produced in the South of Ithaca Island, which is legally included in the appellation, and the south-eastern coast of Cephalonia.