If you haven’t explored Greek wines yet, then you’re definitely in for a treat. They offer a vast and diverse array of styles, plus outstanding value for price. With over 1,400 wineries and approximately 60,000 hectares, you’ll undoubtedly never run out of options when it comes to Greek wine. Moreover, the country’s indigenous varieties are its wine industry’s greatest advantage offering a ton of diversity. I’ve tried Greek red wines like Agiorgitiko and Limnio, and Greek white wines like Malagousia and Moschofilero – each of which were well made and delightfully unique. Lately, a white Greek variety called Savatiano has been impressing my palate.
The Comeback Story of Savatiano
While Savatiano is likely not a well-known white wine amongst U.S. consumers, it’s actually one of the most widely grown grape varieties in Greece. For those who love a good comeback story, Savatiano is the wine for you. This Greek variety built up a less than stellar reputation as the main variety in Retsina – a Greek white wine that’s been produced for thousands of years.
What is Retsina?
Retsina is one of those love it or hate it kind of wines. It’s infused with pine resin during the fermentation process. The resin comes from the Aleppo Pine, which is prevalent in forests surrounding vineyards in Central Greece where most of Retsina is produced. During fermentation, the resin imparts its piney flavors into the wine and is then removed. Historically, the thinking is that resin was added to the wine as a preservative. It was also used to seal amphorae closed during the winemaking process. Attica, Viotia, and Evia, all located in Central Greece, are the only regions permitted to bear the Retsina designated name on the label.
Now Starring in Single-Varietal Wines
All of this to say that Savatiano rarely had the opportunity to be bottled purely on its own. Since it’s a variety capable of withstanding hot, arid conditions, winegrowers pushed the limits with maximum yields. Consequently, low quality and a poor reputation for this Greek grape followed.
Luckily, select producers began to recognize Savatiano’s potential for greatness with some minor shifts in production techniques. First, they made a careful clonal selection of Savatiano from different terroirs for enhanced complexity and optimal characteristics. Secondly, early Savatiano supporters understood that older 50-60 year old dry-farmed vines yielded wines with greater concentration, viscosity, and length. Winemakers also put more intention around when to harvest in order to optimize acidity. At the winery, producers began implementing pre-fermentation cold maceration and low temperature fermentation to preserve the aromatic intensity and freshness of Savatiano.
These changes proved to be essential in elevating Savatiano beyond its lacking reputation. They transformed this Greek white wine into an exceptional selection for the domestic and international market.
Where Does Savatiano Grow in Greece?
Savatiano is native to Attica, an ancient district located in eastern central Greece. It is still predominantly there today and also grows extensively in the neighboring Boeotia. In Greece, the variety accounts for around 10,500 ha of vineyard plantings, around a sixth of all Greek territory planted to vines.
Within Attica, the three regions recognized for quality Savatiano production include:
- Keratea – located in southern Attica with clay-gravel soils over a limestone bedrock. 180-320m above sea level. Produces a mineral-driven style.
- Mesogaia – includes the zones of Koropi, Markopoulo, and Spata. Lower altitudes up to 100m. Savatiano wines here are riper in style.
- Stamata – higher altitude vineyards in the north, 420 m above sea level. Old vines and cooler climate mean this Savatiano matures later.
What Type of Wine is Savatiano?
Several styles of Savatiano are available today. The classic style focuses on the primary fruit characteristics of the variety, expressing stone fruit and tropical fruit flavors. Leaner examples with more herbal, mineral characteristics are also prevalent. As are creamy, more full-bodied versions made with lees contact or oak aging. Then, there are the more obscure Savatiano styles like pet nat, sparkling, skin contact, and a sweet style called Vrastos that’s traditionally used for religious purposes.
Domaine Papagiannakos: A Longtime Supporter
Vassilis Papagiannakos was one of the foremost advocates of Savatiano. He “believed in the variety at a time when nobody else seemed to,” according to Yiannia Karakasis MW. Papagiannakos has always propounded that old vine Savatiano is capable of producing elevated wines.
Founded in 1919, Domaine Papagiannakos is situated 29km (18 miles) outside of Athens within Central Greece’s Attica region. Vassilis is the 3rd generation to helm the family winery. He ushered in a more modern winemaking era while continuing to develop and preserve their beloved indigenous Savatiano. The winery cultivates around 60 ha (150 acres) of estate vineyards consisting primarily of Savatiano, plus some Malagousia, Agiorgitiko, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
For benchmark Savatiano, look to Domaine Papagiannakos. Rather than treating the grape as a workhouse variety like many Greek producers have been apt to do, Papagiannakos fosters Savatiano’s potential for quality through every step of the winemaking process.
A Must Try Savatiano Wine
Domaine Papagiannakos Savatiano Old Vines 2022
Cultivated in limestone, clay, and gravel soils from 50 year old vines growing at 100 m (330 ft) above sea level, the Papagiannakos Old Vine Savatiano exudes a brilliant golden yellow color in the glass. Laden with aromas of lemon zest, orange spritz, and an underlying savory, mineral-like quality. With medium acidity and medium body, this wine is loaded with fresh, citrus stone fruit flavors that will keep you coming back for more.
Recommended Savatiano Wine Pairings
This Greek white wine makes a fantastic pairing for garden salads, fresh seafood, fresh cheeses, or poultry dishes. A classic Greek salad loaded with feta cheese would be a great match, plus it’s one of my all time favorite salads. Alternatively, try this wine with grilled Greek chicken marinated in olive oil, lemon, garlic, and herbs, a creamy orzo pasta salad, dolmades, grilled octopus or calamari, or this shrimp saganaki. Yum!
This wine was gifted to me as a sample from Winebow Imports.