THE LAND OF ROBOLA & MAVRODAPHNE
The seven Ionian Islands lie off the west coast of Greece and include Corfu, Paxos, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca, Zakynthos and Kythira.
Viticulture was mainly established on the Ionian Islands for winemaking. During the Venetian occupation these islands they were influenced by Italian, French and British merchants who contributed to vine cultivation and wine exports to Italy. The Venetians also encouraged the cultivation of raisins for export, and this led to the widespread planting of table grapes throughout the Ionian Islands (and part of the western Peloponnese).
High levels of rainfall and humidity create problems. The Ionian islands are mountainous, especially compared to the Aegean islands, with the highest being Mount Ainos on Kefalonia and the second being Mount Elati on Lefkada. There is a wide variation in soils, with terroirs of clay and others of limestone and from deep fertile soils to poorer one on the hillsides. Moreover, vineyard altitudes range from sea level up to 800m.
The Ionian Islands are also home to numerous indigenous varieties, several of which are rare or almost extinct, and this opens a window of opportunity to promote and market these unique wines.
Zakynthos or Zante is in the southern part of the Ionian Sea and has the warmest climate. The most famous wine is Verdea, a dry white wine which is typically aged in oak. It has high acidity and high alcohol levels. It is a blend of local varieties such as Skiadopoulo, Goustolidi and Pavlos. The name Verdea originates from the Italian word “verde” which means green, referring to the unripe grapes that were used in this blend and resulting in green notes in Verdea’s bouquet. Avgoustiatis is the most significant red variety of the island while several white varieties such as Goustolidi, Pavlos and Robola (distinct from Kefalonia’s Robola) are cultivated. Zakynthos had the most extensive production of raisins until phylloxera hit Europe and the increased demand for wine led the cultivation to wine grapes instead.
Kefalonia has the most important wine production of all the Ionian islands in terms of marketing, exports and number of wineries, most of which are well known beyond the boundaries of the island. There are several indigenous varieties of interest but the most important are the white Robola and the red Mavrodaphne.
Robola gives PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) dry white wines on Kefalonia and grows on the rocky, limestone slopes of Mount Ainos. That is why the Venetians used to call it “Vino di Sasso” which means the wine of the rocks. It grows at altitudes ranging from 300 to 800m and gives wines with terroir-driven flinty minerality, medium body, balanced acidity and aging potential.
Mavrodaphne grows in a terroir of deeper sandy and clay soils, mainly on the Paliki peninsula. Even though Mavrodaphne has tremendous potential as a dry red wine with fruity character and solid body, the PDO Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia refers to sweet wine. Dry Mavrodaphne wines have a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication). There is also a PDO designation for sweet wines made from Muscat grapes. Vostilidi, Tsaousi, Moschatella and Zakynthino are some of Kefalonia’s other local gems.
Lefkada has the smallest wine production of the Ionian islands. The dominant variety is the red Vertzami which gives wines with high acidity and high phenolic levels, depending on the altitude of cultivation (from sea level to 500m). Chlori and Vardea (distinct from Verdea) are the two local white grape varieties. They are rare, but local producers are trying to save them from extinction.
Thiako on Ithaca is a name used for both the red and white indigenous varieties of the island.
Even though Corfu is the second largest of the Ionian islands, its grape cultivation is less important compared to that of Kefalonia or Zakynthos. The best-known local varieties are the white Kakotrigis and the red Petrokoritho. Kakotrigis gives dry wines with high alcohol and acidity but is very difficult to cultivation. There are only a handful of producers with small production wineries that try to preserve and market these varieties.
PDO Robola of Kefalonia,
PDO Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia, PDO Muscat of Kefalonia
PGI Corfu, PGI Halikouna, PGI Lefkada, PGI Slopes of Ainos, PGI Metaxata, PGI Mantzavinata, PGI Zakynthos, PGI Verdea of Zakynthos
WINE TOURISM EXPERIENCES TO REMEMBER
WINERIES YOU MUST VISIT
Eat and Drink in Ionian Islands
TOP RESTAURANTS FOR WINELOVERS