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Like a fine wine? Greece’s brands thirst for name recognition

August 19, 2009

Here is a web preview article for a special two-page spread in Friday’s Athens News.

"These are all Greek wines," the owner of Cava Alexiou on Doiranis St in Kallithea proudly pointed out. An estimated 90% of the wine Greeks drink is domestic. p/c George Mesthos

"These are all Greek wines," the owner of Cava Alexiou on Doiranis St in Kallithea proudly pointed out. An estimated 90% of the wine Greeks drink is domestic. p/c George Mesthos

Walk into a grocery or liquor store in Greece and you’ll see shelf after shelf of Greek brands.

In fact, EuroMonitor research indicates that 90% of the wine Greeks drink (as of 2002) is domestic.

But overseas,  you’ll be pressed to find a Greek brand wine (with the exception of Germany which makes up about half of all Greek wine exports) despite the fact that Greek wines perform as well or better than their European counterparts in international competitions.

Several grocery stores in the UK, for example, confirmed to Athens News that they do not carry Greek brands. One, Tesco, carries a couple of non-vintages including a Kourtaki retsina.

That’s part of the issue. Mention Greek wine, and the first thing that comes to mind is retsina, or rather the bitter taverna juice that tourists traditionally imbibe while on holiday.

But the nearly 500 winemakers in Greece produce far more than that traditional beverage. Powerhouse brands Tsantalis and Boutaris have over 30 labels and hundreds of varieties each, including dry, sweet and dessert wines in addition to retsina. (They both also export a fair amount, up to 40 percent of their production.)

Greek wines also have four levels of official appellations — roughly equivalent to their French counterparts –to ensure proper cultivation and the preservation of traditional brands. (For a full description see Taste is in the tongue of the beholder, but the appellations — a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare for winemakers — ensure Western European standards.

Lack of a Greek brand name

Yet, Greek wine isn’t mentioned alongside “new world wines” coming from Australia and South Africa nor is it mentioned in the same breath as French and Italian labels.

“It’s a total lack of marketing,” says Nick Kontarines, owner of the aptly-named Yamas Wines. Kontarines uses his online operation to import Greek wines for customers in the UK.

As a seller and consumer, Kontarines has had trouble finding a place to buy, let alone sell, Greek wine. “Independent wine merchants don’t stock Greek wines because the customers do not ask for them,” he said. “The supermarkets occasionally have some Greek wines but not for very long because they don’t sell.”

According to Kontarines, the Greek Export Organization has fallen short of creating a brand name. focused on international competitions instead of building relationships with stores and wine importers.

(The Export Organization, Kerasma, has yet to return repeated Athens News inquiries.)

Kontarines moves 5,000-10,000 cases of wine a year and could move more if people knew about the quality of Greek wine.

“Greek wines have the potential,” he said. “They don’t have the marketing.”

Check out Friday’s edition of Athens News for a thorough reporting on the Greek wine market, an interview with a winemaker and more information on appellations and the top labels.

Helpful Links

Greek Wine Makers

Yamas Wines


2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2009 19:16

    It was a Boutaris red that I had at the Trenton festival and really liked.

  2. August 21, 2009 12:36

    Greek wines offer such a variety of aromas and tastes, they simply are never boring. The quality has consistently increased over the last years. I agree that Greece has failed to market their wines properly. Many wines are imported abroad by Greeks. This is one of the major problems, as these wines are then sold to local tavernas and the Greek community. The wine merchants are simply ignored, as an extension, the foreign wine consumer is also not being educated. Another problem is the labelling, as only too often does one find the label being written in the Greek language, with only small letters offering English. The consumer does not know the local grape varieties, nor the wine producing areas of Greece, and is far too easy discouraged by the labeling.

    I am working hard in changing the current system, but I have to do the marketing on my own, as the Greek state is not doing enough. My feedback so far has been cautiously positive, as I am not only speaking directly to the foreign wine merchants, but also inform and educate the wine consumer through my blog and twitter. I dare say that Greek wines have a future aroad, the quality and styles are simply too interesting today to be ignored. It will take time and effort, but I look forward to a follow up article in 1 to 2 years!

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