Our sweet wine tradition, in Greece, literally counts centuries. The year-round sunshine across the country, especially in the summer and towards the end of the grape harvest, has always played a key role in the rich fruit ripening needed to create sweet wines.
Indeed, the warm climatic conditions of the largest part of the vineyards of Greece has lead to the Greek “school” of sweet wine, which builds on sun-drying grapes, referring to the partial dehydration under the hot Greek sun. This is why it is a very common sight for wine-tourists in the Greek countryside, in the late summer and early autumn, to see entire vineyard areas covered with a special cloth, on which the harvested grapes undergo intensive “sunbathing” until the perfect ratio of sugar to water in each berry is achieved.
Vinsanto, the sweet wine of Santorini that dates back to the 12th century, is today one of the most famous export products of the Greek wine industry. Thanks to the high acidity of Assyrtiko, the main grape in its blend, it has the unique ability to maintain a perfect balance, despite its (very) high sugar content, while, at the same time, showing excellent aging potential. So it is no coincidence that, beyond the consistently high sales at home and abroad, Vinsanto constantly steals the show in international exhibitions and competitions, winning very high scores and medals.
Muscat is a variety found in many wine producing areas in various parts of the Greece. Aromatic, on the one hand, but also prone to over-ripening, it’s among the most popular grapes when looking to create dessert wines with typical rose petal aromas. It seems to be particularly keen on the islands, which is why we come across it in the PDO zones of Samos, Lemnos and Kefalonia, but also in Rio of Patras, in the mainland. The latest “hot” trend in Greek Muscat, however, bears the name “Spina”, which is a small vineyard at an altitude of 1000 meters, in Crete. Greek Muscat-based dessert wines are usually drunk fresh, either on their own, or accompanying desserts with fresh fruit and creamy texture; a small number of aged wines, however, are very popular and show off perfectly the mature character of the grape and its evolution potential in time.
A very interesting case is also that of the Mavrodaphne of Patras, which is a fortified, sweet red wine that can easily be paralleled, at both nose and palate level, with Port. Its story starts in the second half of the 19th century and is tightly interwoven with Gustav Klaus, one of the most important figures in the modern history of Greek wine. Its main organoleptic features are the aromas of raisins and dried fruits; its final character, however, is determined by its aging in old large barrels, which gives maturity, complexity and spicy character to the wine, but also tremendous resistance to time, in its most «premium» versions. Like Port, a good Mavrodaphne is an ideal companion for blue cheese or bitter chocolate desserts, and also a fine cigar.
It is a fact that, compared to dry wines, dessert wines are not as popular, at least in the domestic market, mainly because they are not as versatile to be paired with food. However, more and more winemakers choose to integrate them in their product range, either in areas with a history of sweet wine, such as Crete or Siatista in Western Macedonia, either starting from scratch with indigenous varieties such as Malagousia and Savatiano, as well as international grapes, such as Gewurztraminer.