Layover 04: Greece special edition

Wine

04/08/2017

Examining the entire significance and symbolism of wine culture in Ancient Greece would require a full anthropological and historical study. This is why we've decided to focus on aspects that have lived on in the day-to-day social and cultural lives of modern Greeks.

There are as many versions of Greece as there are centuries known to man, which is why this article centers on the one cross-cutting factor that has endured, unchanged, over time: the role of wine in all aspects of society.

In Greece wine is, above all else, an element of social cohesion. It has always been this way. The conceptual underpinnings of democracy, the original philosophical symposia, even the most mundane board games: they all had wine at their center, with Greek social life revolving around it, thus influencing countless customs of our own modern civilization.

Gods and men: Wine was a cornerstone of Hellenic civilization

In the late 5th century B.C., Thucydides said, “the people of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the olive and the vine.

Dionysus taught humans how to grow grapes and make wine. That was what people in Ancient Greece believed. A similar feat often gets attributed to Polyphemus and even Ulysses. Be that as it may, what is clear is that the relationship between gods and wine was a cornerstone of Greek civilization.

Various customs and celebrations revered the connection between gods and wine, bringing people together and thus establishing a new dimension in social relations that ranged from philosophical symposia to innocent board games:

  • Kottaboswas a hugely popular game among the youth of Ancient Greece. It involved hurling the wine dregs from a cup into a dish located at the opposite end of the table, delicately balanced on a pole.
  • The Symposia: where wine met thought. We now move away from the antics of youth and venture into the serene post-prandial conversations of the earliest thinkers who made it possible to understand our here and now. The symposia were held after a meal and revolved around wine. The wine inspired an environment conducive to debate, which sought answers to questions about who we are, our existence, and our place in the world in all its many facets.

Plato chose the title Symposium (translated as The Banquet in Spanish) for one of the masterpieces in the history of philosophy.

Modern-day Greece

Greece is a largely mountainous country with rocky, nutrient-poor soils. The climate is Mediterranean with dry, hot summers and temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius inland.

Although the elevation and winds on the southeastern islands may potentially damage the vines, they also have a cooling effect that benefits grape maturation. This is why the vast majority of Greek vineyards are found here, away from the burning heat on the mainland.

This makes the Peloponnese, Santorini and Crete home to the finest Greek wines.

The country has over 200 registered indigenous grape varieties. Not only are these varieties wonderfully equipped to resist the heat, many of them also display magnificent enological potential.

  • The most important and renowned winemakers are mainly based on Crete, where we find the Naoussa appellation of origin with terroirs that are capable of producing richly complex and cellar-worthy reds.
  • On Santorini in the southern Aegean, the vines and the wines they produce are character-driven and surprising. The white wines from the ancestral Assyrtiko variety display a clean citrus and mineral-driven profile, which clearly expresses the volcanic soils that give birth to these vines.
  • Many young winemakers have staked their hopes on the Peloponnese, a region of immense potential with a beauty few wine regions can match that opens up opportunities for wine tourism.
  • The eastern appellation of origin known as Nemea is the most important and celebrated thanks to imposing reds made from the indigenous Agiorgitiko variety (aka Saint George).
  • In the far north of the peninsula, we find Patras, a region known for incredibly complex white wines made from local varieties, predominantly Roditis and the recently revived

Enduring traditions or how to blend in and drink like a Greek:

  1. Don't turn your nose up at the timeless retsina: a wine combined with resin and spices, which served as ancient preservatives. A glass of retsina must be on your list. Several new wineries make retsinas to please the palate of any wine lover. A pleasant surprise awaits anyone bold enough to give it a try!
  1. For most regular Greeks, drinking is unimaginable without food. Which means you get some nibbles with every glass you order.
  1. Once everyone's glass is full, people toast by loudly exclaiming, “yamas!”
  1. If some guests are late, the aforementioned ritual is repeated once they arrive.
  1. It is very common for someone to spontaneously call for another toast—and it is equally probable that someone else will keep the ritual going after that. We therefore recommend that you simply wet your lips, eat as much as you can and drink lots of water. Because you'll have to keep up, whether you drink a lot or a little, or you'll risk offending whoever is giving the toast.

Greece has a lot to offer, and this is just a tiny taste of a family-oriented leisure culture that reveres wine and food. An exemplary Mediterranean culture that has endured over centuries and that today's Greeks are keeping alive.

Yamas!

Rafa Moreno

Categorías: Wine