is one of the oldest wine-producing regions
in the world. The earliest evidence of Greek wine
has been dated to 6,500 years ago where wine was produced on a household or communal basis. In ancient times, as trade in wine became extensive, it was transported from end to end of the Mediterranean; Greek wine had especially high prestige in Italy under the Roman Empire. In the medieval period, wines exported from Crete
and other Greek ports fetched high prices in northern Europe. Modern Greek wines now compete in the international market once more.
The origins of wine
-making in Greece go back 6,500 years and evidence suggesting wine production confirm that Greece is home to the second oldest known grape
wine remnants discovered in the world and the world’s earliest evidence of crushed
grapes. The spread of Greek civilization
and their worship of Dionysus
, the god of wine, spread Dionysian cults throughout the Mediterranean
areas during the period of 1600 BC to the year 0. Hippocrates
used wine for medicinal
purposes and readily prescribed it. Greek wines and their varieties were well known and traded throughout the Mediterranean. The Ancient Greeks introduced vines
such as Vitis vinifera
and made wine in their numerous colonies in Italy
, southern France
, and Spain
. The Vitis vinifera grape which thrives in temperate climates
near coastal areas with mild winters and dry summers adapted well and flourished in the Northern
Mediterranean areas. Classical Greek literature tells of the wines that were most highly prized, while archaeological studies of the amphoras
in which wine was transported tell us of the wines that were most widely marketed. These two sources of information are sometimes in conflict.
The most reputable wines of ancient Greece were Chian, Coan, Corcyraean, Cretan, Euboean, Lesbian, Leucadian, Mendaean, Peparethan wine, Rhodian and Thasian. Two other names may or may not be regional: Bibline wine and Pramnian wine are named in the earliest Greek poetry, but without any reliable geographical details.
Literature and trading records from medieval and early modern Europe, from the 13th to 16th centuries, list several major wines from Greece. They include Malmsey, exported from Monemvasia; Rumney, exported from Methoni; and Cretan and Candy wines from Crete. The Wine Greek named in English and other sources did not come from Greece; it was produced in southern Italy in imitation of the strong, sweet wines for which Greece was best known.
In 1937, a Wine Institute was established by the Ministry of Agriculture . However, wars, demographic shifts, economic problems, and other conditions retarded the development of the modern wine industry until the 1950s. During the 1960s, retsina
, which had never been a defining part of the Greek wine culture, suddenly became the national beverage. With rapidly growing tourism, retsina became associated worldwide with Greece and Greek wine. However, many in government and the industry realized that the future to a successful industry lay elsewhere. Greece’s first Cabernet Sauvignon
vineyard was planted in 1963. In 1966, a winery
was established which was devoted to producing export-quality wines. In 1971 and 1972, legislation established appellation laws. A quality wine revolution occurred during the decade. During the 1960s and 1970s, a group of large producers came to dominate the industry and struggle with each other for market share.
Modern appellations and regions
A system of appellations
was implemented to assure consumers the origins of their wine purchases. The appellation system categorizes wines as:
- Appellations of Origin of Superior Quality
- Controlled Appellations of Origin
The main wine growing regions of contemporary Greece are:
- Cretan wines: Peza, Archanes, Dafnes, Sitia
Wine Varieties in Greece
- Agiorghitiko, meaning St.George's, is a variety that grows mainly in the Peloponnese area, producing a soft, sometimes fruity red in many styles.
- Xinomavro, meaning "acid black" is the predominant grape variety in the Macedonia area in the North of Greece. This variety has great aging potential with rich tannic character. It is often compared to Nebbiolo.
- Mandelaria, also know as amorgiano, is mainly cultivated on the islands of Rhodes and Crete. Wine from this grape is often very tannic and frequently blended with other grapes to soften the mouthfeel.
- Mavrodaphne, or "black laurel", is a variety that grows in the Peloponnese and the Ionian Islands. It is blended with the Korinthiaki grape to produce a fortified dessert wine.
- Assyrtiko is a multi-purpose variety which maintains its acidity as it ripens. It is similar in character to Riesling, and is mostly island-based.
- Athiri is a lower acid variety and one of the most ancient. Originally from Santorini, it is now planted in Macedonia, Attica, and Rhodes.
- Lagorthi is a variety mainly cultivated on high slopes (850 meters) in the Peloponnese. The grape produces a very malic and fruity wine.
- Malagousia is a grape growing mainly in Macedonia, with an special aroma leading to elegant full bodied wines, with medium-plus acidity and exciting perfumed aromas.
- Moschofilero is a variety from the AOC region of Mantinia, in the Peloponnese. Its wines offer a crisp and floral character.
- Robola is most grown in the mountainous vineyards of the Ionian Island of Cephalonia. It has a smokey mineral character.
- Roditis is a grape that is very popular in Attica, Macedonia, Thessaly, and the Peloponnese. This variety produces elegant, light white wines with citrus flavors.
- Savatiano is the predominant white grape in the region of Attica, where it displays excellent heat resistance and shows a distinct floral and fruity aroma.
The Greek wine industry faces a number of challenges. They include declining domestic consumption of wine, increasing competition in the international market, and a need to increase exports. It faces difficulty in competing economically with large New World producers and with well-known grape varieties that are popular with international consumers. On the other hand, such consumers are unfamiliar with the hundreds of indigenous Greek grapes. In addition, artisanal producers anywhere in the world tend to lack economies of scale and brand recognition. However, many observers believe that Greece will become successful in promoting its unique varietals in an international niche market of upscale consumers.
- (Paperback ISBN 0-415-15657-2)