Greece is a country with a rich history and culture, and this is reflected in its distinctive and delicious wines. Ancient Greece was one of the earliest regions to cultivate grapes and produce wine and today the country’s vineyards are spread across a range of climates, soils, and landscapes. Wine may not be the first thing you think to find in Greece. However, the country offers a unique wine experience for every budget. From wine tours and tastings, to cheap (and huge!) plastic bottles at the local mini-markets. Here is all you need to know about wine in Greece.
Wine in ancient Greece
The use of wine in ancient Greece
Wine was an important part of ancient Greek culture, both for its role in religious rituals and for its social significance. Krasi was produced and consumed throughout the ancient Greek world, from the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete, to the city-states of Athens and Sparta.
Wine was considered a gift from the gods in ancient Greece, and it played a central role in religious ceremonies. Krasi was associated with Dionysus, the god of wine and pleasure. Dionysian festivals, known as “Dionysia,” involved the consumption of large quantities of wine as a means of connecting with the divine. Besides, wine was also used in religious rituals, including offerings and sacrifices.
In addition to its religious significance, wine was also an important part of social life in ancient Greece. Krasi was a symbol of hospitality, friendship, civilization, and sophistication. But unlike today, it was often consumed in a mixed form, with water or even spices.
The importance of wine in ancient Greece is reflected in its literature, art, and mythology. Wine is mentioned in many of the great works of Greek literature, including the Iliad and the Odyssey, and it is depicted in the art of the period, including vase paintings and sculpture. The myth of Dionysus, the god of wine, is also an important part of the Greek pantheon, and it continues to influence Western culture today.
The production of wine in ancient Greece
Wine production in ancient Greece was well-developed, and the Greeks were skilled winemakers. They produced wine from multiple grape varieties, including both indigenous and imported varieties. They also developed techniques for aging and preserving wine, such as storing it in clay amphorae, large oval-shaped jars.
The Greeks also traded wine widely, and wine from Greece was highly prized by the ancient Romans and other civilizations. Krasi was especially famous for its high quality and distinctive character, and it was widely imitated throughout the ancient world.
The history of wine in Greece
Wine continued to play an important role in Greece after ancient times. The church, as well as the Greek culture, preserved the tradition of winemaking. Here is a quick overview of Greek wine in the pas 2000 years:
- Roman and Byzantine Period (1st century BC to 15th century AD): During the Roman period, Greek wines were highly esteemed and were often exported throughout the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire that followed continued the tradition of winemaking. Monasteries played a significant role in preserving and developing winemaking techniques during this time.
- Ottoman Rule (15th century to 19th century): Under Ottoman rule, the Greek wine industry faced challenges. Wine production was sometimes restricted or heavily taxed. Despite this, many regions continued to produce wine for local consumption and export.
- Modern Greek State (19th century to early 20th century): With the establishment of the modern Greek state in the 19th century, there was a resurgence in Greek winemaking. Efforts were made to improve the quality of Greek wines, and international grape varieties were introduced.
- Phylloxera and 20th Century: Like many other wine-producing regions, Greece was hit by the phylloxera epidemic in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This devastating pest led to the destruction of many vineyards. However, it also provided an opportunity to replant vineyards with disease-resistant rootstocks and experiment with new grape varieties.
- Resurgence and Quality Improvement (Late 20th century to present): In the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st century, there has been a renaissance in Greek winemaking. Winemakers have focused on reviving indigenous grape varieties and producing high-quality wines that reflect the terroir of various regions in Greece leading to the many great wines the country has to offer today.
Greek wine is known for its unique character and diversity, as a result of the country’s many indigenous grape varieties. Some of the most famous of these include Assyrtiko, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, and Xinomavro.
- Assyrtiko is a white grape variety that is grown primarily on the island of Santorini. What makes this grape special is the volcanic ash on the soil it grows in. The grape produces crisp, refreshing wines with high acidity and minerality.
- Moschofilero is a white grape variety with pink or purple skin. The grape originates from the Peloponnese but is cultivated around the country. The grape produces light and aromatic wines, often served with fresh fruit or desserts. In many taverna’s, this grape is used to produce the house wine.
- Agiorgitiko also originates from the Peloponnese, Nemea to be exact. Now, however, it is the most popular grape in Greece and is produced all throughout the country. Agiorgitiko is a red grape variety and it produces full-bodied and flavorful red wines.
- Xinomavro is a red grape variety that is grown in the region of Naoussa in Macedonia. The grape produces complex and long-lived red wines. Xinomavro is one of Greece’s most important and well-regarded wines. This grape holds a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO).
Wine production in Greece
Greek wine is known for its balance, with a good mix of acidity, fruit, and tannins. The country’s winemaking traditions have been passed down for generations, and this has resulted in a unique and diverse wine culture.
In recent years, the Greek wine industry has experienced a resurgence. Many wineries invested in modern winemaking techniques and equipment, which led to a rise in the quality of Greek wine. The country is now recognized as one of the most exciting wine-producing regions in the world.
When in Greece, you can experience the rich wine culture of the country. Most wineries offer tastings and tours. Here, you can sample a variety of wines and learn more about the country’s rich winemaking traditions.
I can recommend traveling to Nemea, just 1.5 hours away from Athens and close to the ancient sites of both Mikines and Epidaurus. Nemea is the heart of Greek wine culture with many wineries that produce amazing wines that will surprise you!
For those who are traveling in Greece on a budget but still want to try the country’s wine, there are the local mini markets or even roadside stands. In the Peloponnese and Santorini for example, you can buy local wine in plastic bottles. They often don’t cost more than 3 to 4 euros (for 1.5 liters!). Wine does not get more local and real than this! You might not get the best product but for sure a true wine experience in Greece!
The most important wine regions in Greece
This region is located in southern Greece and is known for producing full-bodied red wines, as well as crisp white wines. The soil in this region is rich in minerals, and the warm climate provides the ideal conditions for the production of robust, flavorful wines. The Peloponnese is home to some of the country’s most famous wineries, including Nemea, Skouras, and Mantinia.
This island is located in the Aegean Sea and is known for producing high-quality red, white, and rosé wines. The unique combination of the island’s warm climate and its vineyards’ proximity to the sea produces wines with a distinct and refreshing flavor profile. Crete is home to several notable wineries, including Dafni, Vlatos, and Lyrarakis. However, don’t drink too much, because Raki will be served at the end of every night!
This island is located in the Aegean Sea and is known for its white wines from the Assyrtiko grape. The vines in this region grow low to the ground, sheltered from the (Meltemi) wind by traditional stone walls. The grapes produce a crisp and refreshing wine with high acidity and minerality. Some of the most famous wineries on Santorini include Canava Roussos, Argyros Estate, and Estate Argyros. Some of the most well-known wineries in Macedonia include Boutari, Tselepos, and Biblia Chora.
This region is located in northern Greece and is known for producing full-bodied red and white wines. The climate in this region is influenced by both the Mediterranean and the Balkans, and this produces a wide range of flavors and aromas in the wines. Some of the most well-known wineries in Macedonia include Boutari, Tselepos, and Biblia Chora.
Other regions that offer a wine experience in Greece
In addition to these regions, there are many other wine-producing areas in Greece, including Thessaly, Attica, Epirus, and the Cyclades Islands. Each of these areas has its own unique character, due to the range of soils, climates, and landscapes.
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