Greece is a gifted land in which the stunning vineyards enhance its history and culture. Rooted in its tradition is growing several indigenous and popular grape varieties alongside other food produce such as authentic Greek olives and olive oils, through to Mediterranean fruits and seafoods – a true home to some of the world’s most culinary delights.
In 2023, the global wine market is valued at $333 billion and is only expected to grow. Here in the UK, we are all too familiar with the Greek wines of islands like Santorini which have sat front and centre, but over the past few years mainland Greece has firmly put itself on the map, with PGI Sithonia and the rolling PDO Slopes of Meliton creating a ‘new era’ of wine. Fran Prince, director and food and drink specialist here at Cartwright recently held a study trip to the area and tells us more about Greek’s largest organic vineyard.
Sithonia, the middle arm of the Halkidiki peninsula is a blissful area of pine like forestry and rockery surrounded by Aegean waters. The climate profile contains all the typical characteristics of the Mediterranean, with hot summers that are balanced with the cool breeze from the surrounding sea. Few rainfalls are observed throughout the year and the region has clear but mild winters. Sudden weather fluctuations are fairly absent, so many varieties can thrive among its unique environment.
Here is where we observed the ancient white varietal, Malagousia – said to have been almost extinct over 60 years ago and having been revived by the residing winery Domaine Porto Carras (covering 3000 ha), returning as a queen to its origins in the heart of mainland Greece. As an important varietal within the region, it is grown within a clay loam soil and is known for its bright lemon colour. The Malagouzia Classic from Domaine Porto Carras’ new era is a rich and complex aroma of pear, mango and citron alongside herbal hints of mint and basil. Its long finish was a chosen tipple to pair with fresh fish, white meats and pasta during our trip.
PDO Slopes of Meliton
At the heart of Sithonia is the intriguing terroir and green PDO Slopes of Meliton (recognised in 1982) which allowed a moment of serenity away from our residing location of the built-up centre of a more urban Thessaloniki (known as the foodie capital of Greece).
Here, we tasted white varieties like the 50-year-old variety of Assyrtiko, plus Athir and Roditis – of which Domaine Porto Carras created the perfect blend with notes of peach, basil and jasmine characterising the fruity wine of the Blanc de Blancs. This wine paired beautifully with Greek cheeses like luxurious feta and fresh appetising salads – of which there were plenty.
In the rolling hills of Meliton the permitted red varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (both originating from France) and, the ancient Greek variety, Limnio – famed as one of the oldest varietals from Greece.
The organic vineyards were designed in the mid-1960s by professors at the Thessaloniki School of Agronomy and Athens Vine and Wine Institute alongside celebrated French oenologist and researcher Emile Peynaud, who was credited with revolutionising the winemaking of these territories in the 20th century and was the first to bring the dominating variety of Limnio to the slopes. He notoriously also established the viticulture of superior reds like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc to the cooler slopes of the area.
There is no harsh irrigation or pesticides used here ensuring the sustainability of the organic matter in the soil and maintaining its organic status throughout its production. The inhabiting winery Domaine Porto Carras is taking on new regenerative viticulture practices whereby growers rely on the diversity of several soil compounds and microclimates within the folds of the hills to act as long-lasting water feeding systems and nutritious soil networks. The hills, while open to the beating sun, are also exposed to a cooling sea breeze which promises to provider a softer climate across the altitudes of each vine which ranges from 100m-350m high.
However, Greek vineyards are continuously battling with climate change – and news of wildfires, strengthening winds and temperatures surpassing 40°C is a very real problem that will continue to change practices overtime.
A land of heritage
A land of tradition, influenced by Roman remains, Greek mythology, modern Macedonian culture and Byzantine architecture – the cultural region of Thessaloniki and its surrounding mainland is home to some of the finest cuisines and wine making practices there is.
Mainland Greece offered us everything from infinite olive groves to serene swims within the bay below the magnificent Mount Olympus. Our tour explored the incredible heritage of the area, from fishing and mussel production – where we witnessed 50 families living in huts by the waterside to maintain and collect mussels throughout the year – to the sumptuous cheeses from sheep and goat including feta, kefalotyri, graviera and many more, which also claim PDO status here.
Pastries, pies and grains held symbolic meanings for our hosts – and it is humbling to see these traditions passed down through the generations. Unique dessert dishes made with local rice, hard grains like durum wheats and pies filled with spinach and cheeses from the area were delicacies that you can sometimes only find on meaningful occasions that celebrate life and death in Greek tradition.
Hosting a study trip for our guests to truly experience the sensational views, walk through the aromatic market towns, and live and breathe the vineyards where these wines derive was an unforgettable experience.
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