quite a few native Greek varieties here, from Assyrtiko to Xinomavro, but none of them hold the title of most planted grape in all of Greece. That honor falls to the Savatiano grape, which is planted on about 50,000 acres of land throughout the country.
This may come as a surprise to many people, because it can be very difficult to find wines made from the Savatiano grape. Most wine shops in my neck of the woods are starting to carry at least one Assyrtiko based wine and one Agiorgitiko, but Savatiano-based wines are much more difficult to come by. If these wines are so hard to find, then how is it that Savatiano is planted on so much land in Greece? The answer can be summed up in one word: Retsina.
Retsina is a peculiarly Greek phenomenon that most people either love or hate. For those not familiar, Retsina is made by introducing pieces of wood from the Pinus helepensis pine tree to the grape must as it ferments. The resin from the bits of wood is leached into the wine, giving it a very pronounced piney aroma and flavor that, to put it politely, is something of an acquired taste. Modern Retsinas all have the pine flavor added intentionally as a flavoring component, but it hasn't always been that way. Several thousand years ago, wines were stored in clay jars and if you had a jar full of wine, you essentially had to drink it very quickly before the exposure to oxygen completely ruined it. In an effort to keep air out of the jars and allow the wines to age for longer periods of time, some people began to seal them with pine resin, which was successful in keeping oxygen at bay, but which also had a tendency to lend its own flavors to the stored wines. In the third century AD, the Romans developed the use of barrels for storing wine, which eliminated the oxidation problem and made resin-sealed jars obsolete, but some people had grown particularly attached to the pine-flavors that resin-sealed containers imparted. Most of these areas were in the eastern part of the Roman empire, around Byzantium and Greece, and that tradition has stayed alive to the present day.
Savatiano is the most commonly used grape for Retsina production, but since it is naturally low in acid, it is often bolstered by other high-acid white Greek grapes like Assyrtiko for better balance. Savatiano is the grape of choice not because of the quality of the finished product, but rather because it is extraordinarily resistant to drought conditions, which can be severe in some regions of Greece. The region of Attica (which encompasses the peninsula around the city of Athens), where most Savatiano is grown has long, dry summers with very little rainfall. It is not quite as arid as the desert conditions on the island of Santorini, but during the summer months, precipitation averages from around a tenth of an inch to less than half an inch between June and September, and many areas only average about 14 inches of rain per year. Savatiano not only endures in these conditions, but thrives in them.
Hellas imports, which I believe operates out of Brookline, MA, where I lived for about a decade. This wine is made in the Peloponnese, just west of Attica, which was this historic home to the Spartans. I picked up the 2009 version of this wine for about $11. In the glass the wine was a fairly deep lemon gold color. The nose was moderately intense with tropical banana and pineapple aromas and a touch of white pear. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. There were some ripe apple, banana, pear and lemon fruits, but overall the wine was pretty bland. It had a kind of banana candy flavor to it that I wasn't a big fan of, and when you couple that with the lackluster acidity and the cutesy name, you've got a recipe for a wine I'm not going to like.
Spirited Gourmet on closeout for about $9. In the glass this wine was a pale silvery lemon color with a slight greenish tint. The nose was somewhat reserved with clean, fresh aromas of white pear and ripe apple. On the palate the wine was on the lighter side of medium with fairly low acidity. There were flavors of white pear, watered-down peach and ripe apple with a touch of banana and melon on the finish. There was a nice mix of white and tropical fruits, but again, the acidity was just too low for my tastes. It was broad, fat, and boring with an unpleasant bitter tinge to the finish. Given the range of really interesting white wines from Greece, like Moschofilero or Assyrtiko, it's hard to recommend these wines to anyone. They're relatively inexpensive, but they're not really even interesting enough to warrant their meager price tags.