Ever since the wine-inspired writings of Homer, Greece has been famous for its viticulture. Some of Greece’s best wines are produced in the north. Here, conditions are ideal for grape cultivation, with arid yet fertile fields bounded by lakes, mountains and the sea, creating unique microclimates and cultivation zones. In Macedonia, endemic varietals are grown, along with more famous varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The most distinctive include xinomavro, a superlative dry red, rich in tannins and with high alcohol content. It’s grown widely, and especially in Naoussa, Amyntaio, Pella and Velvendos, and in Halkidiki’s vineyards.
Macedonian wineries run from small, family-size establishments to major producers with big export capacities. Both sorts now offer tasting tours (usually, with advance arrangements), often for free, with the opportunity to buy wine cheaper than in shops.
The renowned Kir-Yianni Estate (23320 51100; www.kiryianni.gr; Yianakohori village; 9am-5pm) near Naoussa, was established by Yiannis Boutaris, a living legend on the winemaking scene. Since the 1960s, this fourth-generation winemaker has helped shape the agricultural innovations and technological development that have enhanced Greek wine’s reputation internationally. Yiannis helped revitalise whole tracts of territory near Naoussa, in vineyards on Mt Vermio (230m to 320m elevation) and the Amyntaio area south of Florina, near Lake Vegoritis.
Now, Yiannis’ son, Stellios, is carrying on the family tradition. Speaking at a restored Ottoman-era tower overlooking the vineyards, Stellios says ‘we are very proud of the progress we have made, and we have many plans for the future’ – both for making better wine, and in offering more sophisticated tours. Visitors learn about Kir-Yianni’s wine production, tour the facilities and sample several excellent wines while gazing out over the winery’s lush vineyards – all for free.
Not far away, Chateau Pigasos Winery (23320 24740, 6937093658; firstname.lastname@example.org; Polla Nera village) is a small boutique winery operated by winemaker Dimitris Markovitis and his sister Katerina, with vineyards in Polla Nera village, halfway between Naoussa and Edessa. Visitors to the winery, which produces Xinomavro, Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon, should arrange in advance to make sure someone is there. According to the cheerful Katerina, presenting samples of Chateau Pigasos wine along with select cheeses, ‘we believe our wines are so good because we use only our own, carefully tended grapes and store the new wine in barrels 7m below the earth, for at least two years before being bottled’.
Visitors to western Macedonian wineries could lodge in Edessa, or in Naoussa – itself home to 22 wineries. Here, try the Hotel Palea Poli (23320 52520; www.paleapoli.gr; Vasileou Konstantinou 32, Naoussa; s/d euro80/120), an exquisite boutique hotel with ornate traditional furnishings and a superior restaurant. The owners provide winery information.
Finally, eastern Macedonia’s Halkidiki Peninsula boasts the truly remarkable Domaine Gerovassiliou (23920 44567; 6937307740; www.gerovassiliou.gr; Epanomi village). Just 25km southeast of Thessaloniki – accessible by city buses – the winery is the passion of Vangelis Gerovassiliou. Among other achievements, this French-educated oenologist saved an indigenous Greek varietal, malagousia, from extinction in 1976. A man who loves his work, and who looks after every detail, Vangelis affirms that ‘we put great effort into everything we do here, as the visitor will understand not only when sampling the wines, but in enjoying our setting as well’.
Indeed, situated on a bluff overlooking the sea, Domaine Gerovassiliou is surrounded by sloping vineyards and herb gardens; on clear days, Mt Olympus itself rises from the horizon far across the water. See the fascinating museum of wine-related items, which include Mycenaean and Byzantine amphorae, antique cooper’s tools, handmade wine-presses dating from the 18th to 20th centuries, wine bottles (16th-20th centuries), and an eclectic collection of ornate corkscrews from the same period.
Text by Chris Deliso. Published in Lonely Planet Greece 2008 & 2010.