Wine drinking has been part of Greek culture for 6,500 years and it’s still going strong. Our Greek wines and spirits expert shares some of her favourite wine bars in the city.
By Denny Kallivoka
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Gone (almost) are the days of retsina and bring-your-own container wine stores in Athens. The Greek wine scene has come a long way and local vintages are now winning accolades worldwide. The Santorini-grown Assyrtiko grape and the Xinomavro variety from northern Greece are exceptional examples of the local terroir. And you can never go wrong with classics like Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, and Malagouzia. As local wines have improved, so have locals’ taste for them: Athens is now full of cool and cosy wine bars where you can taste the best of Greek wines. Whether you prefer to do a tasting, or just want a glass of something local, there are plenty of choices. Dionysus, the god of wine, would approve.
Good things come in small packages, they say, and once you walk into Heteroclito, you will agree. Cuddle up in the tiny, bistro-style interior or grab one of the tables outside for people-watching while you swirl your glass. Heteroclito is a favourite of wine connoisseurs. The 200-label wine list focuses exclusively on Greek wines, with around 20 wines by the glass. This is your go-to place if you’re looking for more hard-to-find labels, limited productions, and natural wines, or if you want to compare the same grape varieties from different terroirs, paired with Greek cheeses and dried fruit or home-made pies. If you fall in love with a specific bottle, you can buy one to take home.
You had us at the view. This earthy and relaxed wine bar on the roof of the new Athens Utopia hotel flaunts an almost 360 uninterrupted panorama of the Athenian urban landscape from its mega-terrace. So you can tick off major landmarks while you imbibe: the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill, the National Observatory and Parliament Building. But what about the wine? Head sommelier and manager Vassilis has amassed 100+1 selections that represent the finest Greek drops, displaying his deep love for local viniculture. Every single one can be enjoyed by the glass, so try as many as you dare for a broader exposure to Hellenic wines (Vassilis can hook you up with your perfect match). Manouka delivers well on food too with a Mediterranean menu that’s a notch above most wine bar fare. Open from breakfast until late.
Head to this easy-going wine bar, tucked behind a small green park in the Ilisia neighbourhood of Athens (near the Hilton) to enjoy a typically mellow Athenian moment. Junior opened in spring 2021 and has swiftly flourished into the go-to bar for thirsty urbanites. Three friends with a passion for wine created this cosy space with its zippy red exterior to share the fruits of their collective research in the field. You won’t find the big wine guys on their selective list; but rather 60+ stars of indie vineyards (both local producers and international), which are re-examined and refreshed every few months. You can also count on the food menu to offer up cool seasonal snack options to accompany your wine consumption (currently we’re all over the bruschetta with fig, and the tuna and trout taco). The founders George, Nick & Chris are on hand to satisfy any of your wine-related curiosity.
You'll have over 200 wines to pick from at By the Glass.
Courtesy: By the Glass
By the Glass
This elegant wine bistro feels like a hidden secret, yet it’s as central as it gets, just a block away from Plaka. Closely packed tables line a twinkling arcade. On balmy evenings, head to the tree-lined square across the street, overshadowed by the Russian Orthodox church, and enjoy your wine outdoors The owner, Fotini Pantzia, is a dynamic, cosmopolitan wine-lover whose personality has brushed off on the place. The wine list boasts more than 200 labels including rare Greek and international vintages and over 50 by-the-glass options. If you get hungry, opt for a cheese platter or something more substantial from the Mediterranean-inspired menu.
If you’re looking for a wine geek, this is where you’ll find one. Owner Giorgos Loukas is obsessed with wine and coffee (you’ll find plenty of caffeine nerds here, too). He’d love to talk to you about the latest World Best Wine List winners. In a grungy-cool, residential area, Warehouse is a local hangout that’s been discovered by a fair few foreign residents. The design is industrial, as you would expect of a former warehouse. The well-researched wine list features a good selection of local and international wines, plus ultra-premium guest labels. The interesting food menu ranges from gourmet bruschetta to roast cauliflower and gorgonzola salad and beef and truffle carpaccio. Warehouse CO2, their sister wine bar and coffee shop on the edge of Plaka, specialises in sparkling wine.
Wine geeks are going to love Warehouse's wine selection.
Photo: Orestis Seferoglou
Oinoscent was one of the first wine bars in the city, and it's still going strong.
Oinoscent started as a wine cellar before it morphed into one of the first (and still best-loved) wine bars in Athens. The sommelier, Aris Sklavenitis, won best sommelier in Greece, but he’s modest, forever smiling, and always keen to learn. Run by the Agapitos brothers, Oinoscent stocks more than 700 wines from around the world. The entire wine list is also available to take away; you can taste a glass or two before you buy for a very modest mark-up. Dishes are carefully selected to pair with the wines. Check the calendar for wine tastings with local and foreign producers.
Yiannis Kaimenakis is one of the most passionate and talented sommeliers in Greece. When he describes wines, you feel as if you’re strolling through the vineyards, marvelling at the beauty of the landscape. Two years ago, Kaimenakis set up shop in an atmospheric old warehouse in the back alleys of Piraeus, a daring move that has paid off handsomely. Wine connoisseurs come from all across Athens to try the unusual small wine producers that Kaimenakis has discovered in his travels around southern Europe. Obsessed with the notion of value for money, he focuses on underdogs rather than mainstream labels. The short, seasonal menu is designed to complement the wines perfectly.
Go to Wine Point for a glass of wine after an afternoon of exploring the Acropolis Museum.
Courtesy: Wine Point
Steps away from the Acropolis Museum, this wine bar is a visitor favourite, but not simply because of its location. Here the focus is on Greek wines, with over 200 labels that change from time to time. Ask the sommelier for suggestions based on your favourite varieties and try the labels from the ‘winemaker of the month’. Jazz and blues notes set the mood. It’s not really a place where you will make a night of it (though you could), but a great spot for a glass of Greek wine after visiting the Acropolis.
This unassumingly upscale wine bar and cava is tucked away on a side-street in Koukaki, not far from the Museum of Contemporary Art. The atmosphere is sophisticated but unpretentious, just like the excellent sharing plates (gravlax with couscous, smoked trout with guacamole). In the glass cellar, you’ll find some wonderful unsung gems from small wine producers in rural Greece. The intriguing selection of wines by the glass changes weekly. Owner and sommelier Michalis Papatsimbas worked at Oinoscent before branching out on his own. His friendly welcome is an added bonus.