Greece’s Fearless Wine Warriors  

Wine writer Nico Manessis introduces us to two young Greek women who are determined to create change in the local winemaking industry.

Women who have brought changes have never had it easy, yet, we should be grateful, they continue to persist. In the Greek wine scene, an increasing number of women have been quietly offering on several fronts. Pioneers like Maria Tzitzi, teacher extraordinaire, started her career taking over a wine analysis laboratory in Athens. She is now head of education at the Le Monde Institute of Hotel & Tourism Studies in a part of Athens named Moshato (once a vineyard). There are numerous others that come to mind.

Insights Greece - Greece’s Fearless Wine Warriors  

In a male dominated profession (not forgetting winery spouses) the laboratory services up and down the country are mostly women-managed. And this for the better of cellar hygiene and the consistency it offers to consumers. It is not only the ‘white coats’ that are contributing to the ongoing Greek wine renaissance. In the vineyards, important work has been accomplished by ampelographer Haroula Spinthiropoulou. Her research in the rich indigenous grapes and authoring the first in decades publication of wine producing grapes was an important bridge to the ongoing revival. The success of today’s Greek wine rests, in part, to these rediscovered age-old-vines now with a bright future, yes, even in the post Covid 19 era.

Recently two young women have stepped up to the front lines. Both are formidable. Iliana Malihin, aged 27 and Evmorfia Kostaki, aged 25, are bringing a cosmopolitan vision to their respective islands – but not only. Malihin is an oenologist (wine chemist) and Kostaki has a joint Master of viticulture and oenology. Both have an agenda in motivating and ushering farming techniques to enhance, in what the French term call terroir – wine’s sense of place.

Malihin has set up a winery on her native Crete. Specifically, in forgotten organic terraced old vineyards around Melampés, on the southern shoreline of Rethymno. Her focus on Vidiano, the rising star white grape originating in these hills, has brought, rightly so, international attention. While inspecting the vineyards that she contracts from older and younger farmers, she looks like an ethereal creature out of real or imaginary myth. The truth is a more somber back story: a woman with steely resolve and the kind of great attention to detail that her male colleagues, well, often miss. Crete is the most exciting wine region and this fearless wine warrior has added valuable momentum. Who knew anything of sleeper Rethymno? Now, we do.

Insights Greece - Greece’s Fearless Wine Warriors  

Evmorfia Kostaki is from Samos. Perhaps the most famous of Greek wines, feted in Versailles with the other two great sweet wines, Hungary’s Tokay and South Africa’s Vin de Constance. More recently in Sweden, such was the repute of Samos Vin Doux that during geography lesson a pupil who was asked where Greece, cutely answered “next to Samos”. Kostakis is starting out with her father in partnership in the NOPERA winery, with Nikos Mitilineos, scion of a historic wine merchant family; one of the several new ventures on this island vineyard, famous for sweet Muscat and more recently bone dry examples. While contributing to NOPERA she is laying out plans for the future. She’s modest and has no cult status nor is she seeking ambitions.

In 1934 the Samos Cooperative was made compulsory by the government due to civil unrest as merchants in Karlovasi and Vathi took advantage of the farmers resulting in a full out revolt. For decades most of the islands’ sweet wine has been shipped to Issy-les-Moulineaux, to the cellars in a Paris suburb now owned by La Martiniquaise group. It is this bulk shipment which champions Greek wine by volume exports. There are other smaller wineries than the Union of Co-opperatives now on the island. Local boy Nikos Vakakis, whose remarkable life journey from a priest’s son to an elite commando officer, founded and manages Vakakis Wines.


Kostakis’ recent project has been helping her father with a impressive dry Muscat marketed by natural wine specialist Yorgos Ioannidis. Clearly, these vineyards, replanted initially again in 1540 AD have unrealised potential. Perhaps the Swedish boy’s enlightened education hinted of how good Samos muscat really is.

With two exemplary figures as these two young women bringing wine to new levels in Greece, one can only expect that things can only get better in the local wine industry, and that the world will keep offering more and more well-deserved recognition to the efforts being made.

You can find more of Nico’s grape adventures at greekwineworld

Wine Expert Nico Manessis: My Greatest Grape Moments

Acclaimed wine writer Nico Manessis, author of The Greek Wine Guides, has travelled nationwide for decades discovering grape varieties. Here he shares the grape moments that shaped his life.

My first memory of grapes is of one particular summer holiday. It was not in a bucolic setting, just a few rows of vines by a fishing village. Two hands: one holding a ferendini, the hook-shaped cutter used to harvest grapes, and in the other a cluster of Vertzami grapes. This Ionian island specialty is known for its – rare for a red grape – high-acidity and dark purple-blue hue.

Drama unfolded as the hand slowly squeezed the bunch tightly, with juice dripping through the fist. I had never before experienced a blood-of-earth scene and it is still with me.

Insights Greece - Wine Expert Nico Manessis: My Greatest Grape Moments

The next grape is deeply etched in my mind and more existential for a number of lovely reasons. Picture the then-empty sandy beach of Agios Gordis on the western shoreline of Corfu. As a carefree teenager, the agenda of the day was to spend as many hours as we could submerged in the sea. Usually, in the afternoon, the swollen waves added another joy as we attempted body surfing, which at the time was a step of growing up. Salt and sand encrusted on our bodies were the closest to embodying a peeling reptile existence.

Siesta was unheard of; we slept early and rose at sunrise. Our rooms were behind a beach taverna surrounded by Moshatela grapes – one of the many Muscats. A village woman with a colourful headscarf handed me a cluster of golden grapes and suggested in her singing accent that I go and wash it in the sea before eating it. En route, the burning sand made my bare feet pick up pace as I rushed into the cool, foaming waves. As I pulled the grapes from the seawater, I tasted their sweetness, immediately followed by salt, which added a sensory twist to the whole experience. How can I forget a tasting profile as diverse as a fruit salad with the added bonus of juices running down the sides of the mouth? It was bliss.There is another subplot to this Moshatela. As the sun was setting on the green doors and ochra-whitewashed rooms, I was approached by a girl who was holidaying there too. Amongst the flickering dusk rays, her lovely smile gave me my first kiss. Truth be told, I remained speechless for most of that evening as I gazed at the stars above. Now, when I drink dry Muscats, a smile spreads over my face.

The Mediterranean scenery was removed when I moved to London for my studies. Human adaptability is a marvel. The weather did not affect me; I loved the rain and grey skies. People were more reserved, and I learned to exist in a new environment.

It was on a weekend’s invitation to a distant relatives’ cottage that looked straight out of Insights Greece - Wine Expert Nico Manessis: My Greatest Grape MomentsAgatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series when the third experience came when my host, who was in her 70’s, offered me a glass of Madeira. There was a choice of Sercial or sweeter Bual. The bone-dry Sercial instantly struck a chord: burnt sugars with searing acidity. Not yet able to articulate much in that direction I mumbled “now this is wine!” or something to that effect.

I still had no real interest in wine until I visited a friend in northern Italy. While walking in thick fog by the river Arno in Pavia, I spotted a dimly lit wine shop. We entered and in my best Corfu-Italian voice I asked them for a really good bottle of red wine.

The shop was owned by two brothers. One of them asked me, “why”? I told them that I was 23 and looking for a starter experience of “a really fine wine.” They turned away and spoke in hushed tones. One of them asked me to go down to the cellar with him. He handed me a bottle of Barolo Maurizio Fracassi 1967. He informed that it was ” a miracle vintage”, as the weather only picked up in late summer, yields were tiny, so it managed to properly ripen.

The wine was exactly what I had wished for. Its tannic structure, high acidity, and staying power left me in complete awe. It was my Road to Damascus moment.

I will be forever grateful for their brilliant recommendation, that put me on the always thrilling, lifelong wine road.

You can find more of Nico’s grape adventures at greekwineworld