This year’s vintage promises to produce some of the finest Greek wine in the past 20 years

The best Greek wine in 20 years is almost ready to drink. After 2002, in which exceptional weather conditions made this a very bad year for local vineyards, Dionysus has been more generous with Greece this year. Weather conditions were perfect for growing vines (a little rain and enough sun at the right time), making for a large crop of exceptional quality. According to the Greek Wine League, which represents almost every manufacturer of bottled wine in Greece, all the grapes from Macedonia to Crete had ripened to perfection when they were harvested. The winemakers have begun their work, but already there is talk of lively white wines with a full bouquet, and robust, dark red wines, many of which will go into oak barrels to mature. Thrace Maroneia: The weather was perfect for vine growers this year in Maroneia. A wide range of temperatures during the day allowed white wines to develop a full bouquet and high acidity (which balances the flavor). Chardonnay vines produced more sugar (the higher the level of sugar in the grapes, the higher the level of alcohol in the wine). Good weather in September made the Syrah variety ripen late, and growers expect dark, smooth local wines with a strong tang of the typical Chardonnay flavor. The Chardonnay produced local Thracian wines with full body and aroma. Macedonia Naoussa: A wet winter in 2003 reduced the number of fruit-bearing buds, so wine production there fell. But the summer was mild with a little rain at the right moment, and the grapes ripened normally. The early Syrah and Merlot varieties were very ripe when harvested, around 10 days earlier than usual, producing a dark wine suited to aging. The first examples of Xinomavro were also very good. Amyntaio: Winter frost caused problems in some parts of the Amyntaio area, but good weather followed, ensuring good-quality grapes and excellent wine. Goumenissa: The buds were slow to come out this year but they developed quickly. The early varieties were of high quality and are expected to produce good wines. The Negosca seemed to ripen earlier than the Xinomavro, and both varieties produced very healthy grapes. Halkidiki: The harvest started early in Halkidiki, at the beginning of August, with Sauvignon blanc. The grapes had retained high acidity and sugar levels, due to mild temperatures and normal rainfall throughout the year, and the application of suitable cultivation methods. The vine growers of Halkidiki had realized that in such conditions they would have to reduce production if they wanted very ripe grapes and, in fact, production is down 20 percent compared with last year. The same weather conditions allowed the Merlot to acquire lots of sugars and the rich color it had in the past. The local reds are full-flavored and seem suitable for aging. The Halkidiki whites are fresh-tasting, light and very aromatic. Mount Athos: Weather conditions at Metochi Chromitsa on Mount Athos were slightly different from the rest of Halkidiki. There were neither great fluctuations in temperature nor heavy rains, and the vines developed normally all through the growing period. The Athiri and Assyrtiko varieties were harvested early and proved to be relatively high in acids and sugars. The weather was ideal for Cabernet sauvignon, Limnios and Xinomavro, which were dark and had high sugar levels. Playies Melitona: The harvest began on August 20. The grapes were in excellent condition and production was higher than in 2002, thanks to good weather in winter and spring, the local microclimate and organic preventive measures taken to protect the plants. Epanomi: The winter was mild, with good rain and ideal humidity and temperatures. The grapes ripened well and the pick of the crop was made into wine, which is expected to be of unusually high quality. Drama: This was one of the best years in terms of grape production. Good-quality grapes and high temperatures throughout the growing period led to uniform ripening of all the varieties. The crop is expected to yield select wines. Epirus Zitsa: The vintage promises to be exceptional. Summer heat waves caused no damage and there was the right amount of rain for high-quality wine. The Debina variety will help make Greece’s only traditional sparkling and semi-sparkling white wines fresh and unusually aromatic. Metsovo: The Traminer grapes were in optimal condition and initial trials indicate they will produce balanced and very aromatic wines. The Cabernet rouge and Merlot were dark red with high sugar levels and good structure. Thessaly Rapsani: Late frosts in April reduced production of three varieties (Stavroto, Xinomavro and Krasato), but excellent weather for the rest of the year gave the grapes higher sugar levels and a deep color. Rapsani Appellation of Controlled Origin (OPAP) 2003 will be dark red, with lots of mature phenols and suitable for aging. Central Greece Attica: Attica may have had its best grapes in a decade this year. Winter rains, favorable temperatures and a relatively dry summer made the early varieties ripen well, though production was down 20-30 percent due to the dry summer. Fthiotida: This year the harvest was good in terms of quality and quantity. Relatively high temperatures and limited rainfall necessitated very careful attention to the vineyards, which eventually produced high-quality grapes. Luckily, last year’s heavy rains allowed the soil to retain enough moisture. Of notably high quality are the cosmopolitan Syrah and Merlot varieties, and the Greek Assyrtiko and Robola. Viotia: Vine growers who cut back on production were rewarded with a very good harvest. The hot, dry summer had a slight effect on the early varieties such as Roditis and Savvatiano. By contrast, the red Grenache and Syrah and the Sauvignon blanc produced a good crop. Peloponnese Achaia-Patras: The mountainous and hilly areas of Achaia had their best grapes in a decade, while the plains had their best in 20 years, with higher alcohol levels but 30 percent less output. This was a good vintage in terms of high-quality grapes, though production was down. Grapes ripened early and well in the mountainous and hilly areas, but late on the plains. Mantineia: In general it was an excellent year. A heavy winter and lots of rain made the vines shoot late, but favorable weather conditions afterward made the grapes ripen normally.