The ancient Greeks have had a major influence on our enjoyment of wine in the modern age. They developed important wine-making techniques and helped spread the practice of making wine to areas which today are some of the leading regions of the wine world.
Wine and wine-making were well established in the ancient Greek world by 1000 BC. There are numerous mentions of wine in the writings of Homer, and wine-making paraphernalia such as presses and amphoras dating back to these early times have been found in archeological sites. Depictions of grapes, vines and drinking cups occur regularly on Greek coins from the classical period.
The Greeks may have been the first to study which soils were best suited for particular varieties of grapes. They also limited yields to improve the quality of the wine produced. Other innovations include methods of propagation and the training of vines on stakes for easier harvesting.
Greek culture, including its wine technology and traditions, were spread around the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions by their colonies established in such locations as modern-day Catalonia in Spain, Marseille in France, Sicily, southern Italy, and the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.
The Italian colonies in particular influenced the development of Roman wine-making, and it was the Romans who eventually established such famous regions as Rioja, Bordeaux, Burgundy, and the Moselle.
Another legacy of Greek wine-making is a host of vine varieties with which we are largely unfamiliar, but which are capable of producing quite good wine. White wine grapes include: moschofilero, roditis, assyrtiko and savatiano (the grape used for retsina). For red wines, there are: xinomavro, mavrodaphne and agiorghitiko, among others.
Wine is produced in all cultivable areas of Greece today, which is not a lot of territory, including Macedonia, the Peloponnese peninsula, and most of the numerous islands such as Samos, Crete and Rhodes.
In addition to dry red and white wines, Greece produces some spectacular sweet wines, and retsina. Retsina is made by including some pine resin in the fermenting wine, imparting additional flavours and aromatics which assist in pairing with strongly flavoured local cuisine.
Despite this long tradition of wine-making, Greek wines have not captured the attention of wine lovers. When I purchased my bottle of Boutari Agiorgitiko 2008 last week there were only eight Greek wine labels offered locally. Now that seems to be set to be reduced to only a pair of wines from Crete, as all the other labels have been designated as “Last Chance” and have been marked down.
That's a little unfortunate, because I found my purchase to be quite enjoyable. The nose is ripe red berries and plum with some tobacco and cedar nuances. The taste displays ripe fruit again in good balance with acidity and smooth tannins. The wine is showing its age now, both in the colour and in secondary flavours, so it should be interesting to those with a taste, or curiosity about, older wines.
Score: 14.5, Rating: Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org