Epirus is a region in the north-west of mainland Greece, characterized by its rugged, mountainous landscape. Only a small amount of wine is made here, as the landscape is not particularly suited to commercial-scale viticulture. Rather, small vineyards clinging to the sides of mountains in Epirus are planted to the native Debina, Vlachiko and Bekiari grape varieties. Cabernet Sauvignon has also proved well-suited to Epirus’s terroir.
Altitude is one of Epirus’s most important differentiating factors, and most vineyards in the region can be found at elevations starting from 2300ft (700m) above sea level. Here, the climate is more continental than Mediterranean, and there is often snow during the winter months. The cooler climate on these often-steep mountain slopes means that ripening is slowed, which retains acidity in the grapes. This makes for perfect conditions for the production of sparkling wines from the native Debina grape variety.
The Pindus mountains, a series of limestone ridges that run through Albania and Greece, have a significant effect on the region’s terroir. As much of Epirus is on the windward side of the mountains in the path of moist winds from the Ionian Sea, the region has the highest levels of rainfall in mainland Greece. The natural drainage of the steep, mountainside vineyards helps to ensure that the limestone soils only retain a small amount of water from this rain, ensuring that the vines do not get swamped. As a result, the vines produce less leafy greenery and smaller yields of highly-concentrated grapes.
The Zitsa appellation is the only PDO-level appellation in Epirus, and is the only appellation in Greece that permits sparkling white wines (although Amyndaio in Macedonia allows sparkling rosé wines). The more-generic Ioannina appellation covers a larger amount of land, and allows a wider range of grape varieties in the blends including Cabernet Sauvignon, Vlachiko and Bekari. Wines from the Metsovo appellation in western Epirus were once required to be still varietal wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, but the appellation was revised in 2008 to include wines made from Debina, Gewurztraminer and Merlot, among others.