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Greece has a wine-making tradition stretching back to Dionysos, he who roamed around the Greek world indulging in drunken orgies with his groupies, the Maenads. (Ah, those were the days – just like last summer in Skala… I remember it… not!). Having practised the art for over 5000 years, Greece produces some wonderful, if little known, wines. Koutakis, Tsantalis and Cambas are among the most well-known brands.

Vine cultivation on Kefalonia dates back at least 3,500 years as, according to Homer’s Odyssey, Laertes bestowed fifty different grape varieties on his son, Odysseus.

Today, forty eight of these varieties are still cultivated in Kefalonia’s vineyards, the most well-known of which is Robola, one of the finest Greek white wines, awarded VQRPD status and widely exported (although, for your ears only, James Bond found it "a little too scented" for his palate. Get it down yer, soft lad). The main growing area is in and around the Omala Valley, a high, flat plain towards the centre of the island where the largest producer, the Robola Cooperative Winery is located.

Every August two very popular Robola wine festivals are held, one in Valsamata and one in Frangata, the main villages in Omala; one the weekend before the festival of Agios Gerasimos and one the weekend after.

While Kefalonia is famous for the dry, white Robola, the rather rare red Mavrodaphne grape is also grown, particularly over on the Palliki peninsular. This produces a dry red wine, rich in colour, with a hint of cherry and wild berry flavours. Sometimes this wine is vinified to produce a sweet desert wine, very similar to Mavrodaphne of Patras which is readily available in the UK. AOC status Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia is quite hard to find and if you do come across any Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia, check the label – you might find it’s been produced on Corfu.

The centre of the Palliki wine region is centred around Mantzavinata, between Lixouri and Xi beach, and a wine festival is held annually in August. As you drive through the village of Mantzavinata towards Xi keep a lookout for a very small and very old winery in the middle of a small row of old shops on the left. More recent is the Foivos Winery in nearby Vouni.

Quite a lot of Kefalonian wine is not bottled but sold ‘from the barrel’ at bargain prices in shops and tavernas
while some locals still make their own, available in some tavernas… some of the local 'home-brew' wine is pretty good!

Retsina, of course, is the most famous Greek wine although it’s never been as popular on Kefalonia as in other parts of Greece – presumably due to the excellence of the Robola! The ancient Greeks exported their wines widely and the usual theories are that pine resin was added to preserve the wine, or that it was used to seal the tops of vases and leaked in, thus tainting the wine. However, my favourite explanation is this:

In the fifth century BC, Xerxes, king of all Persia, wanted to add Greece to his empire.  He had already defeated all the other Greek city-states and only Athens remained unconquered. The wooden city walls had been burnt and the people evacuated – now he was ready to take the city.

Only 300 Greek ships under the command of Athens stood before his 1200 ships and subjugation. 

Not being able to take all their worldly goods with them, the Athenians planned, literally, to sour the Persian victory by adding pine resin to the wonderful wine they produced.

However, against all the odds, and thanks to the brilliance of Themistokles, the Greeks defeated the Persians in the straits of Salamis. Raising their glasses to toast Themistokles, they sipped their wine and said…

“*****’ ‘***, what’s this? Oh what the ’eck, it’ll be alright when we’ve ’ad a few.”

Which they did, and continue to do.

OK, so it maybe it’s not true.

But I like it. Good story, too.
Some of Kefalonia’s vineyards are open to visitors for wine tasting, these times may still be correct but may change, unless you're visiting on an organised tour it's probably best to phone and check in advance:

Old wine barrels, near Tzanata, Poros, Kefalonia
Robola Cooperative Winery, Omala Valley
07:00 – 20:30, Monday – Friday, May – October
07:00 – 15:00, Monday – Friday, November – April
Telephone: 26710 86301

Metaxas Wine Estate, Mavrata
10:30 – 14:30, Monday – Friday, May – October, or by appointment
Telephone: 26710 81292

Divino Winery, Pessada
10:00 – 20:00, Monday – Sunday, June – September
Telephone: 26710 69190

Gentili Winery, Minies
10:30 – 14:30 & 17:30 – 20:30, Monday – Saturday, June – September
Telephone: 26710 41618

Foivos Winery, Vouni, Palliki
11:00 – 13:00 & 19:00 – 20:00, Monday – Friday, April – October
Telephone: 26710 29505

Menousis Winery, Omala Valley
Telephone: 26710 86150


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