NewsThe Vineyards of Attica and Their Long History

The Vineyards of Attica and Their Long History

Embraced by the city of Athens, Attica has a long winemaking history with unique vineyard sites and exceptional wines. While there was a time when the market demanded cheap retsina, today winemakers like Papagiannakos, Costa Lazaridi and Mylonas are showing that Attica is capable of producing outstanding wines.

Discover the ancient viticultural tradition of Attica with local wines produced by Roxani Matsa, Papagiannakos, Anastasia Fragou and other wineries all within 30 to 60 minutes from the center of Athens.

Savatiano

Savatiano is Greece’s most widely planted variety, covering large tracts of Central Greece and particularly Attica where it plays a vital role in the production of Retsina. It is also used in other areas of the country as a workhorse white grape, able to cope well with drought and fungal diseases.

Recently Savatiano has started to show its potential as a high-end wine variety with the appearance of new producers, some of whom are taking huge risks both in the vineyard and in the cellar. Stamatis Mylonas won a gold medal at the Decanter 2014 awards with his Savatiano and this together with the efforts of Vassilis Papagiannakos have raised the awareness of the quality that can be achieved from this grape. The latter has been focused on establishing that, when grown with low yields in suitable mesoclimates and matured with minimal intervention, Savatiano can deliver wines of great depth and complexity.

Wines made from this grape range in style from light and refreshing, tangy, fruity wines to creamy, full-bodied whites that have been aged on their lees. Depending on the producer and the mesoclimate, Savatiano can be expressive with floral, citrus aromas or offer apple and pear flavors with herbal nuances. It is a versatile grape that can also be blended with other varieties, particularly Assyrtiko and Roditis.

The terroir of Attica is important for the expression of this variety. The area of Keratea with its clay-gravel soils and a bedrock of limestone is renowned for mineral style Savatiano. Mesogaia offers a more aromatic character with notes of lemon blossom, pear and apple along with jasmine. Attica’s highest vineyard areas, such as Stamata and Mesogeia have more intensely ripe styles with a tropical and stone fruit profile.

Roditis

A varietal that was once the work-horse of Attica vineyards a generation ago, Roditis is today making a comeback thanks to its excellent terroir. It has small, round berries that can turn red at optimal ripeness, while delivering exceptional aromas. Its expressive character is particularly evident on mountainous terroirs where old bush vines restrict yields and transmit the “message” of the terroir. Great examples can age well, acquiring toasty complexity and honeyed character to their characteristic lemony freshness.

However, during the time when Athens market demanded cheap retsina and local vintners focused on production of this wine, Roditis was pushed into obscurity. A generation of new producers has re-purposed these old vine Savatiano sites and are demonstrating to a growing international audience that Roditis, when treated properly, is a truly remarkable grape.

The wines produced by these dedicated vintners combine technical expertise, respect for ancient traditions and an openness to experimentation with the goal of bringing back the quality level that once defined Attica’s oenological tradition. Whether they choose indigenous superior quality varieties or foreign imports, the result is a wide range of wines that stand out for their elegance, balance and unique signature style.

If you are looking for a memorable wine experience in Greece, consider a tour and tasting at one of the Attica’s most prominent wineries. You will be surprised to find that Athens is the only European capital where vineyards and wineries lie within a stone’s throw from city centre. Some of the best wineries to visit in Attica include Papagiannakos, Costa Lazaridi, Mylonas and Harlaftis. A few years ago, a group of wineries formed an initiative called Wines of Athens to collectively promote their vineyards and the merits of their wines.

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Malagouzia

Attica is the birthplace of retsina, but it also makes many fine non-resinated wines. Its most notable grape is Savatiano, which can produce strongly resinated wines but also a wide range of non-resinated dry whites. Many of these are made in the area of Mesogeia, which is located south and east of Athens. Here you will find a lot of old, ‘cup-shaped’ trained vineyards, although much of this land was recently swallowed up by suburban development as Athens expanded.

Another white grape with an impressive renaissance is Malagousia. This winery-friendly variety was almost extinct in the 1970s when a professor of oenology at the University of Athens, Vassilis Logothetis, gave some vine clippings to his student Evangelos Gerovassiliou, who planted them at his family’s vineyard and saved Malagousia from extinction. Today, it is a first class grape that is planted throughout central Greece and Greek Macedonia.

The grape has a soft appealing texture and fresh fruit flavors that often remind one of Viognier. Its perfumes can range from honeysuckle to citrus blossom, rose petals and stone fruits. The wine can be dry or sweet and is a perfect match for greens, salads and even artichokes. Moreover, it is an excellent pairing with pork and lamb dishes and even fish.

Like many of the other grapes from Attica, Malagousia can be used to make both single varietal and blended wines. In the former case it can be combined with Assyrtiko, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. It is also a great partner for aging in oak, as it takes to this very well. Oaked Malagouzia is fuller in body but retains a soft appealing character and fresh fruit flavors.

Assyrtiko

Wines of Santorini, made almost exclusively from the Assyrtiko grape, have gained a stellar reputation around the world. It is a classy variety that has superbly adapted to its unusual island home of volcanic rock. Its trellised vines are trained in a basket shape, hugging the ground for protection from the strong winds and intense sun.

In the last decades, Assyrtiko has been planted in other parts of Greece. It thrives in the mainland vineyards as well, where it is usually trellised and yields are higher. Mainland wines tend to be more aromatic and have a rounder, more discreet minerality. Assyrtiko is a chameleon in a blend, able to pair beautifully with a wide range of other white varieties such as Malagousia and Semillon.

This grape produces dry, crisp, acidic wines with a high concentration of aromas such as flint, citrus, wax and hazelnut. It is suited for ageing and its complex characters become even more refined over time. A full-bodied Assyrtiko, oaked or not, is perfect with grilled lamb served with honey and mustard dressing. The Maillard reaction – a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that give grilled meat its distinctive flavour – enhances the vanillin and caramel notes of both the wine and the food.

Visiting wineries that are part of the Attica Wine Trail is a fascinating experience and an opportunity to see how viticulture has evolved through the years in this unique land with its ancient history. Many wineries have modernised their equipment, embracing new techniques while maintaining traditional knowledge. They are continually experimenting in order to maintain Attica’s fine position on the international wine map. Moreover, you can combine your visit with tasting a rich assortment of Attica’s indigenous varieties such as Malagouzia and Agiorgitiko.

Agiorgitiko

Wine has been an integral part of Greek culture since ancient times. The god Dionysus, king of the cult of wine, even visited Attica with his entourage offering krasi (wine). And it was here that the grape Agiorgitiko was first introduced in the ancient Greek world. This versatile grape produces wines in a range of colors from light pink to translucent red and deep purple. The wines produced are full of flavor and pair beautifully with roasted meats as well as spiced dishes from the Middle East to India. Modern Attica wineries respect the age-old viticulture tradition and produce world-class labels. Visitors can visit the vineyards and wineries, taste the wines and buy a bottle or a case to take home.

Attica is also a great place to grow international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, especially on the northern slopes of the mountains in Nemea where higher altitudes provide the cooler terroir needed for these grapes. These wines can be aged in barrel and offer the elegance, structure, and complex flavors of these varietals.

The variety most closely associated with Attica is, of course, Agiorgitiko. This incredibly flexible grape is grown across Greece but is best known in the Nemea region where it was first grown. It is nicknamed ‘Blood of Hercules’ because according to legend Hercules drank this wine after slaying the Nemean lion, his first labor.

Agiorgitiko is a versatile grape that makes gorgeous roses, lip-smacking sparkling wine, and brilliant full-bodied reds. It is often blended with other varieties such as Roditis or Malagouzia, but it also blends well with international varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is vigorous in growth, prone to fungal diseases, and tends to be late-ripening. So it is important to be patient when growing this variety and to use proper fungicides in the vineyards to prevent disease and to manage the yield.

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