The Savatiano Variety
Author: Eleni Kefalopoulou - Wine Journalist
Savatiano is the prime indigenous variety of Attica, and is also the most widely grown variety in Greece. Its origin is lost in the mists of time. We know that it was originally cultivated in Attica, and from there spread to Polystafylon Arini (Viotia) and to Istiaia (Evia), as is mentioned by Homer. It also spread to Mesivria on the shores of the Black Sea, which was a Greek colony founded by Megaris (a small ancient Greek state west of Attica and north of Corinthia) and to neighbouring Anchialos, a colony founded by Miletus, which was in constant competition with Mesivria. Savatiano has come to be identified with the production of retsina, the most singular and most underrated Greek wine.
The variety’s resistance to drought and high temperatures made it the “main player” in the vineyards of Attica from ancient times. Vineyards in Athens are amongst the hottest and driest in Greece. The annual rainfall is no more than 480mm.
Savatiano is a moderately vigorous plant, highly resistant to disease. The bunches are large, and can weigh up to 500g in vineyards which are watered regularly. As it is a highly productive variety, the producers’ main way of ensuring quality wines is achieving a low yield per acre. Savatiano can be used on its own or blended with other more crisp and aromatic varieties such as Assyrtiko and Roditis grapes. Wines made from Savatiano grapes have distinctive fruity flavours such as pear, green apple, peach and flowers. It often has hints of herbs or mineral overtones. On the palate it is well structured with a good balance and a pleasant aftertaste. It is barrelled, which gives another dimension to the variety, enhancing the aromas with hints of ripe yellow fruit and dried apricot. Experience and research has shown that Savatiano vines with low yields which are harvested at the right time now have enormous potential to produce wines with aromatic intensity and a wealth of taste. Nowadays we can talk about a new generation of Savatiano grapes. They come from non-irrigated vineyards with low yields (400 kilos per ha) which are planted with vines which are 50 years old on average. Now, with modern wineries, these grapes stand out for their excellent aging potential and exceptional acidity and frequently win awards in international competitions.
Savatiano has been strongly associated with retsina, the traditional wine of Attica, since ancient times. In recent years, thanks to the efforts of inspired winemakers, it is once again becoming a respected variety. It can also be used, either sun-dried or boiled which is the traditional Mediterranean recipe, to produce sweet wines.