Fine wine makes for a fine holiday

The holiday season, when even non-drinkers enjoy a glass or two, is a good time to try out some of Greece’s fine wines. The terms «appellation of origin of high quality» and «appellation of controlled origin» refer to wines made according to strict specifications so as to guarantee high quality. Just 28 Greek wines belong to these categories, a relatively low number by European standards – 92 percent of German wines and 60 percent of French wines are appellation of origin of high quality. Christos Markou, president of the Vineyard Products Cooperative Union (KEOSOE), told Kathimerini: «We are the only country with so few appellation of origin of high quality wines, even though we have a great variety of grapes, climate and soil. Every island could be categorized as an appellation of origin of high quality zone.» Wines that merit the appellation come from grapes grown in particular areas from specific varieties. The vineyard may not yield more than a certain number of kilos per hectare. These restrictions are imposed in order to ensure the quality of the product. Compliance with them protects the grape varieties and wine production of each country. Asked what a wine gains from an appellation of origin of high quality, Markou says bluntly: «On its own, nothing. Often the right efforts at promotion have not been made, as cooperatives that make such wine perform a social duty and do not have the funds to promote the wines they produce.» Perhaps the best example is Samos. «For years it has been the only area that has secured high prices for producers,» said Markou: «60 percent of the wine from Samos is sold and bottled in France.» Nemea Perhaps better known than appellation of origin of high quality wines is Nemea, made from Aghiorghitiko grapes grown in the Nemea vine-growing zone, a group of 16 villages surrounding the town of the same name. The zone is an expanse of about 2,800 hectares, and the regulations stipulate that not more than 1,200 kilos of grapes may be produced per stremma (about one tenth of a hectare). As Christos Peppas, the cooperative’s oenologist, explains, the Nemea zone comprises very different terrains. «It starts at an altitude of 230 meters and goes up to 780 meters. There are vines that can produce very high quality grapes, even at a yield of 1,500 kilos per stremma, but the regulations governing this appellation do not permit a yield in excess of 1,200 kilos, otherwise the wine has to be sold as table wine.» The quality of Nemea varies from year to year. The climate is the most important factor. «Since we make red wine, we need a heat wave in the summer,» said Peppas. «The tannins and the pigments in the skin that give red wine its color develop in high temperatures. This wasn’t a bad year, but not one of the best for Nemea.» Santorini white Santorini, a white appellation of origin of high quality wine, is produced on 1,300 hectares which represents practically the entire vine-growing area of Santorini. As recently as 1995, vineyards covered 1,500 hectares, but the growth of tourism on the island has reduced the area devoted to vines. About 70 percent of the vines produce Asyrtiko grapes, 10 percent Athiri and 5-8 percent Aidani. The three varieties are used to make appellation of origin of high quality Santorini wine, though the regulations do not specify in what proportion. The appellation rules do not permit vineyards producing this wine to yield more than 700-800 kilos per stremma. «In fact this regulation is meaningless, because the average yield per stremma in a Santorini vineyard is about 300-350 kilos,» says the Santorini cooperative’s oenologist Christos Kanelakopoulos. «This year, when we had a bumper crop, the average yield was 500 kilos per stremma.» This is because vines are planted at relatively large distances from each other on the island, as the soil is sandy and the roots need more space to absorb the necessary nutrients. Santorini is one of the most arid places in the Mediterranean, which affects the productivity of the vines. The harvest was large this year – some 7,000-8,000 metric tons – and quite good. This year’s first appellation of origin of high quality Santorini wines are due to come out shortly.