Nemea is arguably Greece's most important red-wine appellation, located in the north-eastern corner of the Peloponnese peninsula. The mountains and valleys surrounding the small village of Nemea have been producing wine for centuries, mostly from the native Agiorgitiko grape. A wide range of styles are made from this red grape variety, from rich, age-worthy dry wines to lighter, sweeter examples.
The village of Nemea is around 20 miles (35km) south-west of Corinth, and the appellation that surrounds the village is geographically the largest in Greece. Around 40 wineries are located within Nemea's boundaries, and the area has seen a huge amount of investment and growth over the past few decades. Agiorgitiko is Nemea's native grape variety, and is named for the small St George's Church found within the boundaries of the appellation: agiorgitiko translates as 'St George's grape'.
Wine-growing in Nemea dates back to at least the 5th Century BC, although the exact date is hard to pinpoint. Wine is a part of the Greek mythology surrounding the half-god Heracules, who was sent to Nemea to slay the Nemean lion. The Ancient Greek wine of Fliasion was made in Nemea and was known as the blood of Heracules, a moniker which is still today equated with Nemean wines.
The terroir of Nemea can be easily divided into three subzones: the flat land surrounding the village, the hillier land to the west of the village and the more-mountainous areas toward the peak of Mount Kyllini in the north. These zones range between 800ft and 2600ft (250-800m) above sea level and give rise to a huge amount of variation in the styles of wine produced in Nemea.
It is widely considered that the best examples of Nemea wine are made from vineyards at the highest altitudes, where thin, gravelly soils and lower temperatures help to produce high-quality grapes. Agiorgitiko is a late-ripening variety and responds well to the diurnal temperature variation here that slows the production of sugars in the grapes, helping with the retention of acidity. Vineyards also perform well on Nemea's red, free-draining soils, which lessen vigor and yields, leading to highly concentrated grapes.
In the lower-lying alluvial areas surrounding the village of Nemea, temperatures are higher during the growing season, which can sometimes result in a loss of acidity in the grapes. Often, these berries are made into a sweeter style of wine which complies with the appellation laws, and some lighter examples of Agiorgitiko wines are made using the process of carbonic maceration.
Nemean wines are required under the appellation law to be composed entirely of Agiorgitiko, and it is the only PDO-level appellation in Greece that utilizes this grape variety. Despite these stipulations, Nemean producers have been experimenting with other grape varieties, and in particular Cabernet Sauvignon, which blends well with Agiorgitiko. These wines must be sold under the regional Peloponnese appellation.