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Wine Roads of Greece – Nemea

August 19th, 2008-- by Sofia Perpera

This adventure will take us from Athens south to the Greek wine region of Nemea, in the Peloponnesus, one of the most important appellations for the production of red wine. We will visit some of the best wineries there and afterwards continue on to the coast and port of Nafplio, one of the most picturesque towns of Greece. We will stay in Nafplio and enjoy the local hospitality, traditional foods and fabulous views of the Aegean.

The roads from Athens heading south are pretty good these days. The new perimeter highways created around Athens for the 2004 Olympics make it an easy drive down into the Peloponnesus, where there are many things to see and do.

The first reference to the wine traditions of the Peloponnesus came from Homer who referred to it as Ampeloessa or “full of vines.” Neither wars nor the blight of Phylloxera were able to stop the production of wine in this historic wine region since ancient times. Spread throughout the hillsides, plains and plateaus, the vineyards of the Peloponnesus are known for their complexity and diversity.

About 30 minutes southwest of Athens and just east of Corinth we cross the Corinth Canal and take in the incredible view of this waterway finished in 1893. The canal is just over 6 km long and 80m high and uses a system of locks similar to that of the Panama Canal.

Continuing 30 km southwest, we arrive in Nemea, famous in ancient times as the place where Hercules completed the first of his 12 labors by slaying the wild “Lion of Nemea”. Because of this legend the wines of Nemea are sometimes called “Hercules’ blood,” by the locals today and are known for their deep red color.

Since 573 BC athletic games were held in ancient Nemea to honor Zeus. These games were actually part of the larger Pan-Hellenic games that took place every two years in those days. The excavations uncovered the great altar, bath, hotel and the ancient stadium where the games took place. The temple of Zeus, built here in 330 BC, stands just meters away from the vineyards planted throughout this lush region. You will also encounter groves of oranges and peaches that supply Athens with fruits and vegetables during the year.


The Wines of Nemea

According to archaeological excavations, wine was first produced in Nemea almost 3500 years ago. Nemea is one of the largest winemaking regions of Greece and produces some of its best wines. The prominent grape here is Ayoryitiko, one of the most noble of the Greek red grapes, which got its name from the town of Nemea originally called “Agios Georgios” or St. George. Ayoryitiko produces wines that stand out for their deep red color and remarkable aromatic complexity. Ayoryitiko’s soft tannins, combine with its balanced acidity can produce many different styles of wine, ranging from fresh aromatic reds to full-bodied, age-worthy reds. It also produces very pleasant aromatic rosé wines.

The Nemea wine-growing region can roughly be divided into three zones according to the altitude of the vineyards. At the lowest altitudes, in the valley of Nemea (250m-450m) light reds and dessert wines are produced. In the next zone (450m-650m) some of the best age-worthy reds are produced and at the highest altitudes, up to 900m, aromatic roses and fresh reds are made. Some of Greece’s most well known wineries are located in Nemea and many are worth taking the time to visit.


The Wineries

Located in Ancient Nemea, just steps from the temple of Zeus is the winery of Palivou Vineyards. George Palivos, a third generation winemaker, has carefully selected his vineyards in the heart of best wine growing areas of Nemea. George, well known for his warmth and generous hospitality has always been a proponent of the idea that wine begins in the vineyard. Make sure you try his Palivou Nemea and his Ammos Nemea. One of my favorite white wines of his is a wine made from the Roditis grape called, White Fox as well as his Stone Hills, is a blend of Greek variety Malagousia and Chardonnay.


Traveling north from Ancient Nemea to the village of Koutsi we find 2 of Greece’s state-of-the-art wineries. The first on your way is the Gaia Winery. Gaia was created in 1994 by Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos with a commitment to using the indigenous grapes of their native Greece. Yiannis, an Oenologist trained in Bordeaux, initially worked for the Boutari Group and during this time became the first to realize the potential of the Koutsi area of Nemea for the Ayoryitiko grape, now one of the most prized locations for vineyards in the area. During his time at Boutari he was also introduced to Santorini and the Assyrtiko grape, and eventually he and his partner established a second winery there.

Make sure you try their Rose called, 14-18h, their fresh red called Notios and their flagship Gaia Estate all from the Ayoryitiko variety. From Santorini, their Thalassitis, a crisp, full-bodied wine made from Assyrtiko is also a must.

Just next door, up the hill we come to the Semeli Winery. The winery, built at an altitude of 600m, is one of the most impressive in Greece combining modern technology and art. You can also stay overnight at the winery, which has some well-appointed suites with a fabulous view of the valley of Nemea below. Make sure to call ahead for reservations. The winery is run by owners George and Anne Kokotos. Their professionalism and gracious hospitality are evident in all phases of the operation. They also own a winery just south of Athens in the area of Stamata. Make sure you try their portfolio of wines from Ayoryitiko which include a delicious rosé, a fresh red called Mountain Sun as well as their aged Nemea Reserve. And of course don’t leave without trying their recent release of an oak aged Greek eau-de-vie known as Tsipouro.

From Ancient Nemea we move on to Ancient Cleonai nearby, where you will find the Lafkiotis Winery. A family business, which began making wine in the early 1960s and has recently, finished a modern winery with a tasting room for visitors. Make sure you taste their Agionimo made from Agiorgitiko and their delicious Moscofilero, a wonderfully crisp aromatic Greek white variety.

Getting back on the National road heading south, you will take the Nemea exit, called Sterna, and then follow the signs to Nafplio. On the way you will find another of Greece’s state-of-the-art wineries, that of Domaine Skouras. George Skouras, a Dijon trained winemaker, is a passionate ambassador for Greek wine. Skouras was the first to blend Ayoryitiko with the international variety, Cabernet Sauvignon. This stunning wine, which he calls Megas Oenos, has become his flagship and now many others in the region are also using a similar blend. His Grand Cuvee, made of 100% Ayoryitiko is produced from grapes grown in his vineyards at 900m and is rich and full bodied. He is also known for his whites, which include the Greek variety, Moscofilero as well as excellent examples of Chardonnay and Viognier. Visit his cutting edge winery in Malandreni on the way to Nafplio.

Nafplio: Where to Stay

After leaving the Skouras winery, we have a short drive to the beautiful port of Nafplio, the first capital of Greece after independence from Turkish occupation. As you approach Nafplio you can see from a distance the Medieval fortress that dominates the skyline from above. But, once inside the town, you are struck by the elegance and serene beauty of this little seaside jewel. The beautiful, narrow streets that wind around this little town are draped in Bougainvillea and have many interesting little shops to explore. Nafplio, being just a little over 2-hours drive from Athens, is a favorite weekend getaway for Athenians looking for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. There are also many places nearby to go swimming including a beautiful spot next to the Marianna, where you can dive off the rocks into the crystal clear blue sea.

We prefer traditional rooms wherever we stay in Greece and in Nafplio we prefer the Pension Marianna, a hostel run by the Soto brothers that combines traditional style with modern luxury. It is comfortably located near the Venetian tower with a fabulous view of the harbor below. You will feel very welcomed there, as the brothers will go out of their way to make you feel at home.

One of our favorite fish taverns is Savouras, a well-run place right in the harbor that also offers a good selection of Greek wines. They bring their fish in fresh daily and the quality of the ingredients is amazing. You will also enjoy many different salads, vegetables and stews. The good service there is also worth mentioning. Just a few doors down from Savouras is another fish tavern called, Stellaras. The food and service is great here as well and you can also find some well prepared meat dishes.

Nafplio is the perfect spot to sit back and relax in a café on the waterfront. There is a long promenade along the harbor filled with many comfortable cafes to while away the day. One of our favorite places to go for a drink at night, inside town is a crazy little bar called “Somehow Grey”. It is packed with antique paraphernalia from all over. The music is also very nice as well as the people who run it.

Hope you enjoyed the trip and look forward to our next excursion along the Wine Roads of Greece.


Tags: Greece · Sofia Perpera

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 kat // Aug 19, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Hi there, I just wanted to say ‘hello’ and tell you how great this was to read and learn. I’m biased about California wines because that’s where I’m from, though I make a point to try everything in the 36 countries I’ve traveled.

    Love Nafplio, one of my favorite places, but haven’t explored Greek wines very much for the reason I mentioned. There are a few good ones though — Santorini comes to mind and a little place up north on the mainland, of which the name escapes me.

  • 2 John D. Smith // Sep 21, 2008 at 8:48 am

    I just discovered a great wine from Lafkiotis; Agionimo Agiorgitiko 2001 Red Dry Wine.

    Next time I’m in Greece I will definately take your tour!

  • 3 Mon and Barry // Feb 14, 2009 at 9:28 am

    We were in the Peloponnese last year, and drank some delicious wine. However, when we drove through the Nemean valley none of the vineyards appeared to be open to visitors. We don’t want to book a visit as we are unlikely to buy much wine, due to airline weight restrictions. Are they regularly open at any time?

  • 4 Allan Wright // Feb 14, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Hi Mon and Barry,

    I am not as familiar with the wineries in Greece but am very familiar with those in other European countries. Often in Europe, wineries are not open to the public at all without an appointment or only on limited hours. You’ll likely need to determine which wineries you want to visit and call them to find their visiting hours. Since many charge fee for a visit, you shouldn’t be worried about not buying.

  • 5 Cornelius Wesseling // Oct 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm


    Does anyone have a suggestion on a recent Greek wineguide?

    After a lot of searching I did not find any.
    Please help

  • 6 Gregory Kontos // Dec 9, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Hey people! I’m glad that you’re interested in Greek wine which is now blooming (again)!

    There are many regions and more than 300 varietals. For any beginner with Greek wine, I’d like to introduce the 5 main regions / varietals to help you get started.


    SANTORINI / Assyrtiko grape
    MANTINEIA / Moschofilero grape
    SANTORINI / Vinsanto (dessert)
    SAMOS / Muscat white (dessert)


    NEMEA / Agiorgitiko grape
    NAOUSA / Xinomavro grape

    I will also give you some links that may help you if you’re further interested:

    but the most useful is this (whick, unfortunately is available only in Greek!):

    Enjoy and remember…. Greek wine is back in the game!

    Gregory Kontos

    Athens, Greece

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