The Event
The Ancient History of Greek Wines
© by Sheral Schowe
Wine has been important in the Greek society since the 7th century BC. There is, in fact, some evidence of wine being part of the Minoan Crete culture as early as the 2nd millennium BC with archeological discoveries of wine presses and large storage jars found in ancient palaces. There is an incredible amount of recorded history on clay tablets of vineyards and winemaking in the Mycenae culture of 1600 BC, of vineyards and winemaking. Storage jars from this period bear residue of wine along with grape seeds along with the impression of grape vine leaves around the seals. The earliest Greek literature of Homer is full of reference to wine being an essential part of life.

Winemaking in Greece was at its peak in between 13th and 11th centuries BC, long before the most famous wine producing regions of the world. Along with wheat and olives, wine was a significant player in the healthy economy of Greece. Viticulture was sophisticated even then, with parallel rows and more than six methods of training the vines depending on the type of soil, type of grape, and strength of the wind. It was the colonization of Greece that brought the vine to Italy, then France and Germany, eventually throughout the empire. Viticultural practices were also shared with the recipients who then created their own unique winemaking techniques.

The decline of the Greek civilization resulted in the loss of the famous wines of antiquity. Now, wine represents only a small 2 or 3% of their Gross National Product. Until very recently, Greek wines were appreciated by traditional Greeks, for their resinous or overly sweet characteristics. Younger Greek generations have been aggressively developing modern winemaking techniques which have been influenced by major wine producing regions of the world, most importantly, Bordeaux. It seems that the winemaking has come full circle in for Greece, with the reemergence of excellent quality wines.

In addition to the many indigenous wine grapes grown in Greece, many Bordeaux varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc are being used in 100% varietal wines and blends. Amethystos produces wines of excellent quality and complexity including a full-bodied red from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and an indigenous Greek grape, the Limnio. They also make a superb Sauvignon Blanc.

Traditional Greek wine aficionados continue to enjoy their Retsina, a white wine aromatized with pine resin, and the sweet Mavrodaphne, similar to a light port or a Valpolicella. But as younger generations develop new styles for modern taste demands, Greek wines will become popular with all wine lovers, and take their competitive place in the wine market.

Sept. 12, 2000

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