History Of Greek Wine

The culture of winemaking constitutes a large part of Greek history and civilization, since the first traces of Greek wine extends to the 7th Century BC. Countless findings of the Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations prove that production, consumption and export of wine were growing sectors at that time. Dionysus, God of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine (Twelve Olympians, Ancient Greek religion), appears to spend a lot of time enjoying wine, eating and dancing. Hesiod and Theofrastos have written manuscripts on wine production and viticulture. Homer, in the Iliad, refers to cellars filled with wine shipped to Thrace from Achaia, by sea. Over the years, wine was integrated into many religious ceremonies as it became part of Sacrament.

Unfortunately, the most cultivable lands were destroyed with the departure of the Ottoman Empire, after the Greek revolution in 1821, with a few exceptions, such as that of Crete and certain islands of the Aegean and Ionian Sea. Muscat wines of Samos, famous since ancient times, were introduced to West and East, by the end of the 19th century. Until 1920, when phylloxera destroyed most of the vineyards of the country, nothing remarkable had occurred in the field of viticulture. The same is noticed in the following years, since house wine dominated consumption. Only the international dissemination of Retsina can be noticed this period. Although Retsina was consumed by the Athenians by the end of the 19th century, it gained fame in parallel with the tourism development of 60s. The result was that, for many years since then, Greek wine was, universally, synonymous to Retsina.

During Byzantine Empire Era, implementation of viticulture had discontinued, in contrast with the production and consumption of wine. However, at that time, it was introduced from Western Europe, the use of wooden barrel for the production of barrel aged wines. Alongside, the technique of sun dried grapes disseminated, while Malvasia (Monemvasia, a Venetian fortress on the coast of Laconia-Peloponnese) wine, the most popular of that period, was exported to France, Germany and England until the 18th century. During the Fall of Constantinople, in 1453, there was a decline in wine exporting, while the practice of viticulture continued.

Mediterranean Diet & Wine

The wine produced in Greece is a key component of the Mediterranean diet, the nutritional benefits of which have been recognized worldwide. When referred to wine, the picture of the wine that comes to mind is that of the red wine. For serious wine drinkers, wine means red wine. This is true in the Mediterranean diet as well. When the Med diet pyramid refers to a glass of wine, it actually means red wine. Both red and white wines have phytonutrients but white lacks some of the vital phytonutrients due to the wine process that is used to make it. Red wine is made using the whole grape thus all phytonutrients that the grape has are in the red wine. Red wine is rich in polyphenols, a variety of phytonutrients, which are divided in two main categories, the flavonoids and the non-flavonoids with each category having its significance in our health.

Modern Era

The first wine cooperatives were developed in 1930. They played a positive role in maintaining and developing the vines and the wines in the traditional areas currently producing wines with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

Nowadays, things are different since each one of the wine producing regions of our country possesses its own microclimate and remarkable, promising wines are produced by indigenous varieties. The wider area of Macedonia, Peloponnese, Epirus, Central Greece, the Aegean Islands, Crete, Thessaly, as well as a large part of the Ionian Islands, the Dodecanese, the islands of the northern Aegean and Thrace, have large expanses of vineyards, producing high quality wines that thrive in Greece and abroad have already begun their recognition, all over the world.

In the 70s, the Greek market of bottled wine was very limited, since there were only 4 companies prevailing, other than wine cooperatives that existed. However, the greatest development took place in the 1980s, when emphasis was given in the cultivation of vineyards and the use of proper expertise by highly skilled professionals. At the same time, modernly equipped wineries were founded, setting the standards for the production of high quality wines. Moreover, the terms of Vin de Qualité Produit dans une Région Déterminée (VQPRD) and Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) were established, according to edicts of 1971 and 1972, thus defining the wines particular characteristics. Over years, these terms were evolved either due to reconsideration of the characteristics of certain regions or due to their recent reform from VQPRD to PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and AOC to PGI (Protected Geographical Indication).

Although the decade of 1970 was considered the beginning of a new era, single variety wines (monovarietal) were not popular, since each region consumers knew just the varieties of their region. Gradually and as single variety wines begun to appear, there was noticed a dissemination of several grape varieties to a wider range of consumers and as expected, to winemakers and vine growers. The Greek varieties initially cultivated by the winemakers were: Moschofilero, Roditis, Savvatiano, Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko and the International ones: Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the decades of 80s and 90s, the blends of local and international varieties first appeared and over years, the native, indigenous varieties gained ground in domestic and international markets. This was not only due to the uniqueness and the Greek character (“terroir”) but also due to the impressive, large number of Greek varieties.

There are claims that the domestic varieties exceed 350, while in some countries there are no native grape varieties for wine making. To be more precise, this number is more likely to be close to 200, since some of them appear with a different name in some regions and even different vine characteristics. In any case, few of them are widely known and largely cultivated for the production of high quality wines. Among them, Aidani, Assyrtiko, Athiri, Vilana, Thrapsathiri, Debina, Lagorthi, Kydonitsa, Malagousia, Monemvasia, Moschofilero, Muscat of Alexandria, White Muscat, Plyto, Robola, Roditis and Savvatiano are the most reputed white varieties and the red ones: Agiorgitiko, Vertzami, Kotsifali, Liatiko, Limnio, Mandilaria, Mavrodaphne, Negkoska and Xinomavro. Meanwhile, on certain soils, there was noticed an excellent adaptation of some international varieties such as: Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier, Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, Ugni blanc, Cabernet sauvignon, Cabernet franc, Merlot, Syrah, Mourverdre, Grenache rouge, Refosco, Carignan, Petit Verdot, Primitivo, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir.

The last few years, the Greek wine industry has undergone enormous improvement with serious investments in modern wine making technology. The new generation of native winemakers is being trained in the best wine schools around the world and their efforts are paying off as Greek wines continue to receive the highest awards in international competitions as well as the recognition they deserve throughout the world.

What makes Greek wine so unique are the more than 300 indigenous grape varieties grown there, some of which have been cultivated since ancient time. Many of the world’s best wine critics agree that the distinct flavors that come from these native grape varieties are a strong marketing advantage for the Greek wine industry. Many well-known international grape varieties are also used in Greek wine making. This extensive variety of grapes together with the moderate Greek climate, plentiful sunshine, low average rainfall and soils of moderate fertility combine to provide an excellent environment for the production of high quality wines.

Now the new challenge for the Greek wine industry is to educate people in the new style of Greek wine. Investment in the promotion of Greek wine remains the last piece of the puzzle before the Greek wine industry can once again resume its place as one of preeminent producers of quality wines worldwide.