The Event
The History of Greek Wines
© by Sheral Schowe
Long before a single grape vine existed in France, Italy, or Germany, Greek viticulture was at its peak between the 13th and 11th centuries BC Along with olives and wheat, wine was an important contribution to the country's economy. Greek writers such as Homer, Plato, Hippocrates, Pliny, and Virgil eloquently describe the sophistication of winemaking techniques at that ancient time. The vines were carefully planted in parallel rows with equal spacing, utilizing at least six different methods of pruning and vine training. The Greeks shared this knowledge with the Romans, who then brought their vine growing and winemaking techniques to France, Germany, and other parts of the Roman Empire.

The decline of the Greek civilization also brought the near demise of the country's wine production. For hundreds of years, the quality of the wines was reduced to oxidized, maderized, or aromatized wines, which the older generation of Greeks still enjoys. In order to be even slightly competitive with other wine regions of the world, new winemakers of the younger generation are reestablishing the successful techniques that were once the foundation of their country's economy. French winemakers, in particular, have had a significant modern influence on the regeneration of the original, successful winemaking practices of Greece. The once indigenous varietal wines are now blended with European varietals, mostly from the Bordeaux region, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc.

Greek wine laws were established in the 1970s and refined in the 1980s as the country joined the European Union. According to EU law, quality wines are either sweet wines, created from the Muscat or Mavrodaphne grapes and described as Controlled Appellation of Origin (OPE) with a light blue or green seal over the cork, or, dry wines, described as Appellation of Superior Quality (OPAP) with a light pink seal. Vin de Pays, or table wines may be made in specific areas. The best Vin de Pays wines (country wines) come from Attica, Drama, Epanomi, and Thivai or "Thebes."

At the September Greek Festival in Salt Lake City, it was interesting to note the wine selections of the participants. True to traditional form, the older generation or first generation Greeks sought after the wines, which reminded them of their homeland. Mavrodaphne, a sweet wine that is used for communion and other ceremonies in the Greek Orthodox Church, was requested by many but not available. Retsina, the highly aromatized pine smelling wine was the most popular with this group, because it brought back so many memories. The younger crowd of Greek winedrinkers preferred the more modern varietals and varietal blends.

I enjoy Greek wines, particularly with Greek food. We are fortunate to have a reasonable selection of some of the finest Greek wines available in the wine stores. Next week, I will share the results of our recent Greek wine tasting, in celebration of Greek Easter.

May 2, 2000

Next Week: A Greek Wine Tasting

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