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Wine & Spirits

A Brief History of Wine in Greece, Plus TNH’s Recommendations

November 22, 2021

In this year’s special Greek Food & Wine insert, The National Herald is taking a look back at the history of wine in Greece, its recent rebirth and, of course, providing you with some of our favorite Greek wines that can be found in the United States.

A Brief History

Greece is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world and among the first wine-producing territories in Europe.

The Simplified Timeline:

  • The Neolithic Period: The earliest evidence of Greek wine has been dated to 6,500 years ago where wine was produced on a household or communal basis. The Greeks used to dilute wine with sea water (it was called thalassitis, from thalassa, the Greek word for sea) and season it with honey and resin. According to Post Magazine, Ancient Greece created the role of the sommelier. Mihalis Boutaris, winemaker for Kir-Yianni, says: “The oinochooi [literally ‘those who pour wine’] in modern Greece is still the term for the sommelier.” Wine was consumed at the symposium (from the Greek word for drinking together), during parties in which participants debated and victories were celebrated. The oinochooi’s job was to ensure guests did not drink to excess, which he did by adjusting the concentration of the wine.
  • The Bronze Age: Both in the Minoan (they drank wine from horn-shaped rhytons) and the Mycenaean civilizations (King Nestor was known for his well-stocked parties), wine played an important role in everyday life and in trade as well. During the late Bronze Age, harvest festivals, including the Feast of the Wine, were established.
  • The Archaic Period: The cultivation, protection and harvesting of grapes begins to spread throughout Greece.
  • The Classical Period: The famous Greek wines of antiquity meet the wine trade; Alexander the Great spread the knowledge of Greek wine during his campaigns.
  • The Hellenistic Age: The Aegean islands begin producing more wine and become trade centers.
  • Byzantine Times: Wine producing methods keep developing although the Greek territory would still go through trials and tribulations. Hostile invasions in continental Greece and pirate raids on the Greek islands would come to disrupt the permanence and tranquility vines need to prosper
  • The Ottoman Empire: Greek wines begin to decline – hitting rock bottom in 1821 with the Greek War of Independence, when the Turks destroyed vineyards during their retreat. Some believed that Greek wine almost went out of existence during the 400-year rule of the Ottomans with the Turks discouraging wine consumption and winemaking.
  • Modern Times: After 1850, the first large wineries began to appear and the real rebirth of the wine industry began in the 1970s.

 

Greece has over 200 indigenous grape varieties, including Xinomavro, Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, and Savatino. In this special issue, we will be looking specifically at pure Assyrtiko, Malagouzia, and Moschofilero (white wines) as well as Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro (red wines).

White Wines:

  • Assyrtiko -a white Greek wine grape indigenous to the island of Santorini. Assyrtiko is widely planted in the arid volcanic-ash-rich soil of Santorini and other Aegean islands, such as Paros. It is also found in other scattered regions of Greece such as Chalkidiki.
    • Body: Medium to full
    • Dry/Sweet: Dry
    • Similar to: Sauvignon Blanc
    • Food pairings: Simple grilled seafood with lemon, fried halloumi, cucumber and feta salad, raw oysters.
    • Recommendations
      • Assyrtiko by Gaia Wild Ferment (2020) → ~$45
      • Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini (2020) → ~$40
      • Argyros Assyrtiko (2020) → ~$45
      • Ktima Tselepos Canava Chrissou Tselepos Santorini Vieilles Vignes (2020) → ~$35
      • SantoWines Santorini Assyrtiko Grande Reserve → ~$45
    • Malagouzia – an aromatic white variety grown primarily in Central Greece
      • Body: Mostly light to medium (but can also be full-bodied)
      • Dry/Sweet: Dry
      • Similar to: Viognier
      • Food Pairings: Fried zucchini/eggplant ‘chips,’ seafood (salmon and mackerel), vegetable stews, poultry
      • Recommendation
        • Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia Single Vineyard → ~$20
      • Moschofilero – an aromatic white grape of Greek origins with a pink/purple skin and quite spicy flavor with good acidity.
        • Body: Light to medium
        • Dry/Sweet: Dry
        • Similar to: Riesling, Traminer, and Viognier
        • Food pairings: Mussels, scallops, shrimp or creamy pasta dishes
        • Recommendation
          • Troupis Winery Hoof & Lur Moschofilero → ~$20

Red Wines:

  • Agiorgitiko – a fragrant red-wine grape native to Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula. It is one of the country’s most widely planted wine grapes
    • Body: Medium to full
    • Similar to: Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Food pairings: Stifado (meat stew), steak, lamb
    • Recommendation
      • Gaia Nemea Red → ~$60
    • Xinomavro – a variety of wine grape that is grown in northern Greece, which is used to produce richly flavored red wines.
      • Body: Medium to full
      • Food pairings: Meatloaf, lamb, pasta, cheese
      • Similar to: Barolo, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo
      • Recommendations
        • Tatsis Xinomavro → ~$45
        • Thymiopoulos Ghi kai Uranos Xinomavro → ~$35

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