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Greek Sweet Wines


In the Peloponnese, on the southeast shore of the Parnon mountain range, stands the Byzantine fortified town of Monemvasia, built in the 8th century on a towering rock separated from the mainland. According to written sources, the wine produced across the narrow stretch of water in the Laconian hinterland was exported for at least five centuries (11th-15th). Monemvasian, Venetian and Genoese, ships loaded the wine in the harbor of Monemvasia, the fortress town at the foot of Malevos – as Parnon was know at the time – from which the Frankish name for the town, Mal(e)vasia derived. And because in sea trade a commodity would often bear the name of the port in which it was loaded, the wine became known in foreign markets as Monemvasia or Malvasia, depending on the nationality of the traders. This sweet wine was made from a number of grape varieties, including a predominant one whose name has been lost. However, when the Venetians took vine cuttings for their vineyards on Crete, which they had ruled since the 13th century, they naturally called it Malvasia, after the name of the port of shipment. In many travelers’ books, there are references to the cultivation of Malvasia also on the Cyclades islands, where it survives to this day with Greek name Monemvasia.

In the town of Monemvasia, there was a community of Venetian merchants who sent sweet Malvasia to Venice via Crete. But after the Ottoman Turks occupied the Peloponnese, Malvasia was produced and exported only from Crete, thanks to the commercial activities of the Venetians.

monemvasia rooftops-844294

However, the grapes of the Malvasia variety cultivated on Crete represented only a small percentage of the native varieties grown on the island, from which the sweet wines are made and for which Crete has been famous since ancient times. For this reason, during the centuries when the Venetian-Cretan trade wine was at its height, the Malvasia wine of Crete was blend of several varieties. What is undisputed is that the celebrated Malvasia (Malmesey) wine was produced for eight centuries in the geographical triangle of Monemvasia-Crete-Cyclades. Which is why the wines of the sun produced today in these regions are the only Greek wines that are permitted to be traded under the name of Malvasia, accompanied by one of the four geographical names that have been given PDO status: Monemvasia, Candia, Sitia and Paros.


The island has been known since earliest times for its “Muscat with small berries,” which is the official name of the white cultivar from which the muscat wines of Samos are produced. Three different types of liqueur wines are produced (Vin doux, Grand Cru, Anthemis) along with one liastos, the Nectar. The “new” wines have all the aromatic richness of muscat grapes, while those which undergo long aging acquire the character of rancio wines.

colourful Greek fishing boats _334980224


On Santorini there is a liastos wine that is predominantly made from the Assyrtiko variety, a notanle multi-dynamic winegrape. According to maps and books by travelers, this type of wine was being produced on the island from as early as the 16th century and went by the name of Vin Santo. According to Abbe Pegues, prior of the Monastery of the Lazarides on Santorini (1824-1837): “the vin Santo is even better when it is aged. Then it is like a balsam which one feels in the mouth and the stomach. It can be served at the table of kings and given distinction to their toasts.”


This name, carried to this day by some dessert wines of northern Italy, is a vestige of Frankish rule on Santorini and the involvement of the Venetians and the French in the trade of the island’s wines. In the framework of EU legislation, this indication is permitted to be written on the labels of Italian wines accompanied obligatorily by a geographical name (e.g. vino santo di Gambellara). Thus, the indication Santo, from a geographical appellation, has degenerated into a generic designation of the type of the wine, but the Greek Vinsanto is PDO: Vin[de] Santo]rini]. This view was accepted after negotiations, ratified by the relevant EU regulations and reflected by the labels of the contemporary Santorinian Visanto.

Source: Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, “Show them to the Sun…”, Greece is Wine, 2016 Issue