With viticulture stretching back until at least the 5th century BC, Nemea has been and remains one of Greece’s most important grape-growing regions. Mythology ties wine into the story of Heracles who was sent to Nemea to kill the lion that was attacking the village. After slaying the lion with his bare hands, Heracles wore the pelt as a symbol of his victory, and the red wines of the region were said to be as powerful as “the blood of Heracles.” In the present day, Agiorgitiko (aye-yor-YEE-tee-ko), the favored red grape of the area, has inherited the mantle of “Blood of Heracles” because of the dark, inky wines it produces.
Nemea is located on the Peloponnesian peninsula, almost due west of Athens, and is one of the largest appellations by land area in Greece. While not far from the waters of the Mediterranean, the terrain of Nemea ranges from flat lands around 800 feet (260m) above sea level, to the foothills and slopes of Mt. Kyllini located in the northern part of Nemea at 2,900 feet (900m). While most of the top vineyards are located at higher elevations to take advantage of the hot days that evolve into cool if not chilly nights, there are quality wines being produced across Nemea due to challenging soils and Agiorgitiko’s tolerance for the hot, dry growing conditions.
While requirements state that the wines must be made from Agiorgitiko in order to wear the appellation of Nemea on the label, more winemakers are experimenting with grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot in order to broaden their appeal to international markets, as well as native grapes such as Moschofilero, Assyrtiko, and Rhoditis to make elegant white wines. These wines cannot be labeled as Nemea, but instead are “declassified” to the appellation of Peloponnese.