Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  ABC Wine Issue 14, December 2003   
GreeceGreece  Contents 
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Greece

The Hellenic country, father of western and modern civilization, had the merit of spreading the culture of wine in Europe and after its glorious past, obscured in the past few centuries, Greek enology is getting back to an interesting wine production

 When talking about Greek wine, it is virtually impossible not to mention its glorious history and its fundamental contribution to the spreading in Europe of the beverage of Bacchus, but as we are talking about Greece, it would be more appropriate to say “the beverage of Dionysus”. In ancient times Greek wines, in particular sweet wines, were renowned everywhere, above all in ancient Rome, and Greek settlers introduced the vine and the cult of wine in the lands and in the places where they set their foot. From those places the spreading has been wide and quick, even though many centuries have passed, the results are still alive and well established in the cultures of the European countries. Despite the importance of wine in the culture of ancient Greece, a factor that would make one think about a development of the country like no other country in the world, the production of wine in Greece has faced in the past centuries a long period of recession. Whereas in other European countries they continued the development of enological techniques, Greece did not do the same, in particular during the domination of Ottomans, and the extraordinary fame of Greek wine was consigned to the memory of time. In pretty recent times, in particular in the last twenty years of the last century, Greek enology is showing new life trying to recover and to keep up with the other wine producing countries of the world.


Greece
Greece

 History of wine in Greece is certainly among the richest and this beverage played an important and fundamental role from the first periods of the establishment and development of this civilization. The production of wine at those time was already known to be made by other people, such as ancient Babylonians in Mesopotamia and Egyptians, who preferred beer, whereas it was in ancient Greece wine acquired an important role and from there it spread in all the Mediterranean area. Greeks developed from the very beginning efficient viticulture techniques and they were also introduced in the countries they colonized, such as south Italy, while favoring the cultivation of vine and the production of wine up to making them be integral parts of the cultures and rites of the people in the Mediterranean. For Greeks wine was a sacred beverage to which they attributed very high importance and dignity: archaeological findings older than Mycenaean culture, dated back before 1600 B.C., proved at those times wine was already a beverage used for ritual and religious purposes.

 Greek mythology had a god of wine, Dionysus, who revealed to men the secrets of the production of the beverage, the initiation to the cult of this god included drinking wine and in his honor were celebrated the so called “Dionysiac orgies”, real and proper wine festivals. It is more likely wine drunk in ancient Greece was not only the one produced in the country; some archaeological findings, in particular vases found at Mycenae not belonging to the Greek art or custom, suggest at those times wine was also imported from other countries. During the classical period vine was widely spread in all the country and Greeks introduced their species in the countries they colonized, in particular Italy, where some species which are believed to have a direct Greek derivation are still common. As wine was an essential part of Greek cooking and culture, the beverage become an essential element in the countries where Greeks spread their cultural influence. Even wine trading represented an important aspect for Greece. Archaeological findings discovered in the many countries of the Mediterranean, but also in the countries of the Middle East, prove wine represented a very important good for the economy of the country and it was a precious good of exchange.

 Greeks greatly contributed to viticulture and enology: since the times of ancient Greece there were many books with precise mentions about the cultivation of vine and enological techniques. Even the decorations found on the rich patrimony of vases and cups of ancient time prove with their pictures the many scenes of harvests and techniques adopted for the production of wine. The frequency of literary citations and artistic pictures is so high that makes think of wine as an almost central element in the life and culture of the people of those times. Wine was an essential part of one of the most important social events in ancient Greece, symposium (literally “drinking together”), which took place is a room hosting from seven to eleven people laying on couches and who were served wine. Symposia, considered as unseemly for women who usually did not take part to them, spread in Italy as well and their popularity remained intact until the end of ancient age. Wine served during the symposium usually followed a real and proper meal and it was diluted with water: the one in charge for the delicate duty of dilution was the symposiarch, the master of ceremony, who also had the responsibility of regulating the course of the event and the moments in which drinking wine and the quantity. The purpose of symposia was to make a pleasing occasion in which wine should contribute to the pleasingness of the event, however it was not uncommon that participants got drunk as a consequence of competitions and challenges about the resistance and the capacity to drinking.

 The wine produced in ancient Greece was very different from the one we are used to appreciate today. Greek wines were usually considered for their color, just like today, and they were classified as white, black or red, and mahogany. It seems Greeks paid particular attention on wine's aromas which were usually defined as “flowery”, however in the literature of that time, some wines are also described in a more detailed way and explicitly referring to particular flowers, such as violet and rose. The taste of wine, or better to say, the taste preferred in wine at those time was sweet, even very sweet, and it was very common to make wine by using dried grapes. Sweet wines were very appreciated in ancient Greece and often the sweetness was concentrated by boiling wine in the aim of reducing the quantity of water. Nevertheless sweet wines were not the only ones to be produced in ancient Greece. There are evidences suggesting wines were also produced with underripe grapes and with a very high acidity that they could also make the eyes water, as well as dry wines, both white and red, therefore confirming the Greek enology was very varied. The main problem of the wines of those times was the scarce preservability because of the containers and mainly because of their scarce capacity to be airtight. Wines got oxidized quickly and Greeks were forced to adopt measures that could ensure a better preservability of wine. The adding of pine resin in the wine represented one of those remedies, and this is still used today in one of the most renowned product of Greece, Retsina, as they believed this component had some preserving capabilities.


 

 During the medieval age the production of wine was mainly made by privates and by monasteries, just like in the rest of Europe. After the glorious past of ancient Greece, the country become part of the Byzantine empire and therefore the main trading center for Greek wine become Constantinople where were mainly traded wines from all the islands of the Aegean sea. The local production of wine underwent a strong recession when emperor Alexius I Comnenus, in 1082, granted the possibility to Venetians the establishment of trading facilities in Constantinople, as well as in other 32 cities of the empire, with total exemption to the payment of any tax. Thanks to this fiscal benefits Venetians could sell their wine at lower prices: an advantage which stayed in force until the half of the fourteenth century. The flourishing wine trading in the Byzantine empire ceased at the end of the fifteenth century, after the end of the Byzantine empire, when Turks occupied the Peloponnese and spread their domination all over the Greek peninsula.

 During the domination of Ottomans, Greek enology underwent another recession which compromised its development until the end of the dominion. Despite the fact the production of wine was not forbidden to Christians, the enological industry was severely oppressed by taxes imposed by Turks and diminished the production of wine as well as limiting both the spreading and development. The awaking of Greek enology can be considered from the beginning of the 1900's, when the country finally reconquered its independence. However the real interest for the development of local enology arose only after the end of World War Two, no matter most of the wine produced was considered as having low quality and sold non bottled. In the last 20 years Greece is paying more and more attention to the qualitative development of its wine, also conscious of its glorious past, and the enology in the country is progressively improving also thanks to the adoption of modern technologies and competent wine makers.

 

The Greek Quality System

 The quality system for Greek wines is regulated by specific laws emanated by the Ministry of Agriculture in 1971, however the system currently in force is the result of a revision done in 1981 as a consequence of the joining of the country to the European Economic Community. The current system is based, in general terms, on French's Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée and are recognized specific wine regions, permitted grape species, cultivation procedures and wine making practices as well as norms regulating the labelling of bottles. The system recognizes three different categories as follows:

 

  • Appellation of Origin - includes two distinct categories, Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality (abbreviated in Greek as OPAP) and Appellation of Controlled Origin (abbreviated as OPE), which include wines regulated by norms similar to the French's AOC. These two categories include Reserve and Gran Reserve wines which differ according to the time of aging. For Reserve white wines the aging period must be of two years with at least six months in cask, whereas for Gran Reserve the period is of three years with at least 12 months in cask. For red Reserve the aging time is of three years with at least six months in cask, whereas for Gran Reserve the period is of four years with at least two years in cask
  • Topikos Oenos - Includes wines produced in large regions and corresponds, in general terms, to Italian's Indicazione Geografica Tipica or French's Vin de Pays wines. The varieties of grapes allowed for the production of these wines include both local and international species
  • Epitrapezios Oenos - Table wine. This category does not have particular norms and the wines can be produced with many grapes also coming from different regions. The category includes a particular appellation, Cava, indicating the aging period of wine. White Cava must age for two years and at least six months in cask, whereas red Cava must age for three years and at least six months in new cask and for one year in used cask

 

Production Areas

 The current wine production in Greece is mainly made in the same regions that made Greek wines famous in ancient times. The soil of Greece is particularly suited for the culture of vine, a characteristic which was well known to the ancient inhabitants of the country. In Greece are mainly cultivated local grapes, it is said there are about 300 different species of them, as well as “international” grapes which represent a minimal part and are usually blended with the local ones. Among local white berried grapes there are Assyrtiko, Moscophilero, Muscat Blanc, Robola, Roditis and Savatiano, the grape mainly used for the production of the renowned Retsina. Among local red berried grapes there are Agiorgitiko, Kotsifali, Limnio, Mandelari, Mavrodaphne, Negoska, Stavroto, Krassato and Xynomavro. The production is made of about 75-80% of white wines, about 15% is represented by red wines and the remaining part is about sweet wines. The most important white berried grapes are Assyrtiko and Savatiano, besides being used for the production of Retsina it is also the most common grape of the country. Among white berried grapes there is also Robola, by many considered as the typical Ribolla from Friuli Venezia Giula and it seems it was introduced in the country by Venetians in the thirteenth century. The most important red berried grapes are Mavrodaphne, Agiorgitiko and Xynomavro.

 Among the most important wine regions of Greece are to be mentioned Macedonia, Thessaly, Peloponnese, Aegean islands and Crete island. In these regions are probably produced the most renowned wines of the country and are the ones which historically associated Greece to wine. In the northern area of the country there is Macedonia which includes two important wine districts: Naoussa e Goumenissa. Naoussa, among the most renowned areas of all Greece, is famous for its red wines produced with Xynomavro grapes, full bodied and structured, whereas in Goumenissa the same grape is blended with Negoska grape therefore producing less bodied wines. In the region of Thessaly, in the central part of Greek peninsula, there is the area of Rapsani where are produced red wines, near the Olympus mountain, with Xynomavro, Stavroto and Krassato grapes. In the Peloponnese, in the southern part of the country, there are three important wine areas: Nemea, Mantinia and Patras. Nemea's wines are mainly produced with Agiorgitiko, a very common red berried grape, whereas Mantinia's wines are usually produced with Moscophilero, an aromatic grape having a pink colored skin used for the production of white wines. The most renowned area of Peloponnese is Patras where are produced three different styles of wines, of which only two are of primary interest. The first one of the is the renowned Muscat of Patras, a sweet and aromatic wine produced with Muscat Blanc grape, whereas the second one is a sweet red wine produced with Mavrodaphne grape and aged in cask for a very long time, it is usually fortified and characterized by a slight oxidization comparable to the one of Port Tawny.

 Among the many Greek islands of the Aegean sea, two of them are renowned for their wines: Santorini and Samos. The typical grape of Santorini is Assyrtiko which used in the island both for the production of dry white wines and for its famous Visánto. This particular wine is produced with dried Assyrtiko grapes and a part of Mandelari grape. Visánto usually ages for about 10 years in cask and develops rich, enchanting and complex aromas. The Samos island is famous for a sweet wine as well, the renowned Muscat of Samos, produced with Muscat Blanc grape and sometimes fortified, characterized by intense and rich aromas of grape and apricot. Among Greek islands must be mentioned Crete, of ancient and noble enological origins, and still today is tied to its local grapes, particularly to Kotsifali and Mandelari, which are used for the production of wines of Archarnes. Among Greek wines must be mentioned the famous Retsina, despite the fact this is to be considered as an aromatized wine instead of a wine in the strictest meaning of the term, it is still the most renowned and spread wine in the country. Retsina, particularly appreciated by locals and real attraction for tourists, has an important position in the wine production of the country and represents 30% of total production. Retsina is currently produced in almost every part of Greece, however the main area of production is Attica, the region where Athens is located. This wine is produced with Savatiano grape and during the fermentation process a small quantity of pine of Aleppo resin is added to the must with the purpose of aromatizing the final product.

 




 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 14, December 2003   
GreeceGreece  Contents 
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