Although Greece is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world, Greek wine has predominately remained a homegrown production until recently. In the past couple decades, the industry has invested in state-of-the-art winemaking technology. Many Greek vintners are also training in different techniques across the globe before returning to cultivate their country’s indigenous grapes.
With quality at an all-time high, Greek wine is more accessible than ever before and it has the rising export sales to prove it.
But the best way to understand these multisyllabic wines is with a trip to the motherland. While the whole country boasts a rich winemaking tradition, a visit to Macedonia — in Northern Greece — is a great way to experience many different appellations of wine, and its capital — Thessaloniki — is a good home base for such a trip.
Where to Stay
Check into the recently renovated Makedonia Palace, where sleek, modern rooms and suites offer views of the city or the Aegean Sea.
If you prefer the hustle and bustle of city life, book your stay at The Excelsior Hotel Thessaloniki, a luxury boutique property in the heart of downtown. Once you’ve settled in, enjoy an alfresco dinner at Mia Feta Bar, where most of the dishes contain local cheese from the Kourellas family’s dairy, and then head to Local, a beloved neighborhood bar with one of the city’s best wine lists.
After a breakfast of silky Greek yogurt topped with local honey, fruits and nuts, drive an hour and a half west to Kir-Yianni, one of the country’s top wine estates. Founded by fourth-generation winemaker Yiannis Boutaris, Kir-Yianni is located in Naoussa, the first Greek region to be given its own appellation title. Here, xinomavro grapes produce a bold, brightly acidic, age-worthy red wine often compared to Italy’s nebbiolo variety.
When bottled on its own, the juice can be labeled PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) Naoussa, but Kir-Yianni is also known for its well-rounded blends with syrah and merlot. While you’re here, be sure to try the complex still and sparkling Amyndeon rosés made with 100 percent xinomavro.
After a tour of the picturesque vineyards and a tasting overlooking the sweeping landscape, head north to Goumenissa, another highly rated appellation where resides. The Goumenissa PDO contains 70 percent xinomavro rounded out with 30 percent negoska, a softer and fruitier red.
Make arrangements in advance and winemakers Vagelis Chatzivaritis and Olga Iakovidou can prepare a feast of traditional dishes like moussaka, Greek salad and dolmas wrapped in fresh xinomavro grape leaves.
Back in Thessaloniki, get a taste of the city’s vibrant nightlife with an ocean-facing nightcap at Vogatsikou 3 or live music at Duende Jazz Bar. But take it easy — you have to wake early for a trip to Chatzis to sample the city’s famed pastries, like bougatsa, made with layers of phyllo and semolina custard.
An hour and a half south of Thessaloniki lies Rapsani, a village nestled in the foothills of Mount Olympus. Book the Rapsani Wine Adventure with Tsantali Vineyards for a thrilling Jeep tour through the steeply sloping region where vines grow from 656 to 2,460 feet in altitude.
End your mountain adventure at Krasomana Rapsanh Tavern, and indulge in roasted lamb chops, kofta and braised rabbit paired with the Rapsani PDO, a velvety blend of xinomavro and two other indigenous grapes, krassato and stavrato.
Back in Thessaloniki, relish in the last warm nights of the year at Dendrospito (which translates to “treehouse”), an open-air bar and lounge where electronic music and cocktails keep the party going into the wee hours.
On cooler nights, head to La Doze, an artistic cocktail bar with an attached gallery, for great music, signature sips and mingling on Valaoritou Street.
Located just 18 miles from Thessaloniki in Epanomi is Ktima Gerovassiliou, an essential stop on any wine trip to the area. Highly acclaimed vintner Vangelis Gerovassiliou was the first to experiment with the nearly extinct aromatic malagousia grape, blending it with the highly acidic assyrtiko to create a crisp, harmonious wine.
One of the first Greek winemakers to study in Bordeaux, Gerovassiliou grows these and other indigenous grapes, such as limnio, mavroudi and mavrotragano, alongside sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, syrah, merlot and grenache rouge to craft his high-quality PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) Epanomi blends and single varietals.
The state-of-the-art winery features multiple tasting rooms as well as a vino-themed museum where agricultural and winemaking machinery (plus one of the largest corkscrew collections in the world) are on view. Tours of the vineyard, bottling and aging areas are offered every hour and a half and arrangements can be made for special food and wine pairings.
After exploring the expansive property, enjoy lunch on the veranda of the main building, which overlooks the vineyards with a stunning backdrop of the Aegean Sea and Mount Olympus. Dine on fresh dishes, like lightly crisp calamari, Greek panzanella and fava puree with octopus, tomatoes and olives.
Just about an hour southeast of Epanomi is Halkidiki, three narrow peninsulas in northern Greece where the lush green forest meets sandy beaches and the aquamarine Aegean. Gerovassiliou served as the chief oenologist at Domaine Porto Carras for more than 20 years before reviving viticulture in his hometown.
These days, Domaine Porto Carras is the largest organic vineyard in the country, and working toward biodynamic certification as well.
Your customized experience of the winery can include tours of the breathtaking oceanside vineyards and the iconic chateau plus vino and cheese pairings or an exquisite wine dinner.
Conclude your trip with a stay at the property’s Villa Galini, an opulent hotel atop a precipice overlooking the endless Mirabello Gulf. The historic mansion was built to host distinguished friends of Greek shipping magnate Giannis Carras — visitors ranged from European royalty to Salvador Dalí, who designed one of the bathrooms — and features 25 rooms and suites, multiple living areas outfitted in antiques, a garden veranda, Turkish baths, an incomparable rooftop infinity pool, two helipads and a yacht available for private excursions.