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Wine has been a part of Greek culture for at least 4,000 years. Of course, the “worship” of the ancient Greek god of wine, Dionysus, played an important role in lifestyle and cherished folklore for many centuries.
While excavating an ancient structure on the island of Crete, archaeologists discovered Minoan era wine presses, chalices, amphorae (that iconic two-handled, clay vessel) and wine grape seeds that date back to the 3rd century BC. In another dig, remarkably well preserved wine vessels were found in the ancient palace of King Minos in Knossos. On the mainland, the Myceneans, who existed from 1600-1100 BC, used fine gold and silver goblets to drink wine. Homer makes several mentions of wine in the Odyssey, which has in-depth descriptions of, for instance the importance of wine as a travel comfort. Amphorae were shaped taller, with a pointed base, to allow for easier storage, and were distributed evenly to maintain the equilibrium of the ships. The ancient amphorae vary from location to location, suggesting each region used a different, specific style to distinguish themselves for trade, much like a modern AOC labeling system. Homer also referenced wine trade. During his time, the Aegian wines were known for their high quality, and Homer called the Aegean, “the Wine-dark sea.”
As the Greeks founded colonies throughout Europe, they had a large influence on viticulture, planting varietals and sharing techniques. The grapes Aglianico, Falanghina, Aleatico, Greco di Tufo, Malvasia and Moscato are all of Greek origin. The Asian conquests of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) further expanded wine culture in to the Far East.
Even though there was a significant regime change, wine-making continued throughout the Roman empire. The Byzantine era (330-1453) marked a time of strict Christian reform throughout Europe. The worshipping of wine gods was forbidden, but sacramental wines had become a huge commodity. The Byzantine capital of Constantinople was referred to by Anglo-Saxons as “the city of wine.” Greek Muscat wines became popular during the Crusades in the 13th century, with so many visitors and conquests. The Turks, in turn, had a fancy for Malvasia wines and popularized them during the Ottoman empire. The ancient practice of Vinsanto, dessert wine from dried grapes, is another influential Greek wine consumed throughout Europe during this historical period.
Once Greece was able to gain independence from the Turks in the 1820s, wine-making began to die out in favor of the cultivation of currants. But this only lasted till the end of the century, when the French began to recover from the Phylloxera blight and imposed heavy duties on imported fruit to promote wine business. Suddenly, the country’s greatest agricultural revenue collapsed. But it wasn’t until after the Greek civil war in 1949 that the country once again turned to wine production. However, up until the late 20th century, much of what the world saw of imported Greek wine was limited to low quality bulk and Retsina (wine produced with added pine resin, with which most people have a love or hate relationship).
More recently, significant improvements to the production and import of Greek wines have greatly elevated their reputation. Some 300 indigenous varietals are cultivated throughout the mainland and islands, lending distinct, delicious characteristics and flavors. The leading white varietal is Assyrtiko, which was first planted on the island of Santorini and is now found throughout the mainland and other islands. Assyrtiko from Santorini tends to be drier and more citrusy, while those from the mainland are fruitier, and all have a pleasant white flower aromatic note. Other popular white varietals are (region of origin in parentheses) Malagousia (Nafpaktos), Robola (Cephalonia), Moschofilero (Peloponnese), Athiri (Santorini), Savatiano (Attica), Tsaoussi (Cephalonia) and of course, white Muscat.
Agiorghitiko, from Nemea in the Peloponnese, is considered the red “noble grape” of Greece, fruit-driven, with soft tannins and layered aromatics. Other popular reds are Xinomavro (Macedonia), Krasato (Thessalia), Liatiko (Crete), Limnio (Aegean island of Limnos), and Mandelaria (Rhodes and Crete). The Peloponnese Mavrodaphne, from Achaia, Ilia and the Ionian islands, is blended with the grape Korinthiaki to produce a rich, fortified dessert wine. As a still wine, producers have taken to blending it with Refrosco, Cabernet Sauvignon and Agiorghitiko.
The wine-making regions of Greece are:
*Macedonia, which includes Thessaloniki
*Ionian Islands, which includes Cephalonia
*Sterea Ellada, which includes the capital city of Athens, and the Attica subregion
*Aegean Islands, which includes Rhodes, Santorini, Samos, and Crete ~Amanda Schuster
– Description from
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