Vine varieties of Greece
have been indigenous to the country since
antiquity. In Greece more white than red wine is
produced. The most popular wine was and still is in some parts -
wine flavoured with pine-resin, not often
particularly appreciated by foreign tourists and
the younger Greek generation because of its
unusual flavour. Greek producers in their effort
to give a more modern and therefore appealing
flavour to Retsina have reduced the proportion of
pine-resin in the wine. Today
our palates have been changed with the
introduction of French and Italian wines, always
thought to have been superior.
In today's market
place you have so many differing varieties of
wines from all around the world, some good, some
bad and others just mediocre, because of this we
have come to value some wines' characteristics
more than others. That special combination of
bouquet, taste and aftertaste, so much so that we
complain when the wine is raw, and contains
tannins which are too many or too harsh. On
numerous occasions you find this in varieties of
island wines that have been around for centuries.
Today we would never dream of adding even water
to a fine vintage, never mind a substance with
such a powerful taste and smell as resin. Yet
there is no doubt at all that the ancients added
both resins and water to their wines. There must
have been some powerful reasons for doing so. In
the beginning wine was added to water. The
question is, why?
consistently kills a large number of bacteria,
including Salmonella, Staphylococcus and E coli,
common causes of food poisoning."
Dr. Connie Phillipson a consulting nutritionist
with doctorates in both archaeology and
nutrition, specialising in traditional diets and
and typhoid germs are killed within 15 minutes of
exposure to red or white wine, irrespective of
whether the wine is full strength or mixed with
if not all Homeric heroes had their wounds washed
So which came first? Was wine added to water for
sterilising purposes, for making water safe for
drinking or for dressing wounds? Today's
scientists suggest that wine today does even
more, especially in the cholesterol and heart
regions of the body. But what about resins? Why
were they added to wine? Resins kill certain
bacteria, and among other things prevent the wine
turning into vinegar. Resins also possess
molecules that help to soften the taste of wine.
A combination that not only helped preserve the
wine, but also improved its taste believe it or
not! Seeing the beneficial effects of this
mixture on external wounds that were washed with
wine, it would then seem logical that the same
benefits would help the internal organs. In
Greece you are also always served a little
something, no matter how small, to eat with
alcohol. Appetisers or mezedes
are a great accompaniment to retsina,
which is the only remaining resinated wine in the
world. I truly wonder why?
The resinating of wines, an
inheritance from antiquity, necessary then for
the storage and transportation of wines in clay amforas, (large jugs) is vanishing now. Retsina
tastes the way it does, according to Vassilis
Kourtakis who makes the most popular bottled retsina, because the ancient Greeks knew that air
was the enemy of wine and used pine resin to seal
the tops of the amfora and even added it to the
wine itself. Retsina was the wine of Athens. As
far back as the late 1800's Athens had over 6000
tavernas, all filled with wine barrels. The
grapes were pressed in the countryside and then
brought into the city by horse-drawn carts,
before the fermentation had taken place and then
taken to the restaurants where the proprietor
poured in the resin and decided when the wine was
ready to consume. It was not until the 1960's
that bottled retsina became available in the
countryside and common in the city as many of the
old tavernas disappeared and land for cultivating
wine near Athens became scarce.
Greece has been placed high
on the list in the hierarchy of countries
renowned for their tradition in viticulture. This
is firstly due to Greeks having produced wine
since the Neolithic Age - 4000 B.C. - and secondly
to the fact that wine has long been highly
valued, worshipped praised and adored in the name
of God Dionyssos.
Festivals honouring Dionyssos were numerous and
held in the winter during ancient times.
Celebrated with convivial processions and of
course large consumptions of wine. The tradition
of wine making has been handed down from father
to son, and daughter for centuries with the wine
improving both in quantity and quality.
the Venetian occupation of Crete, wine produced on the island
from the malvasia grape was considered the best in the world.
It was the official wine of the Vatican and was consumed by
the Venetian royalty.
With the conquest of Crete by the Ottoman Empire in 1639,
virtually all viticulture on the island, as well as in the
rest of Greece, ceased to exist. Since alcohol consumption was
considered anti-religious by the Moslem Turks, all vineyards
were destroyed. Heavy penalties, including death, were imposed
on those who planted vines in violation of Ottoman rule.
Conditions remained this way for nearly 250 years. The art of
wine making in Greece was totally forgotten and had to be
learned from the beginning.
The planting of grapevines and wine making started again early
this century following the Ottomans' departure. During the
better part of the century, however, due to the lack of
education and expertise in wine making combined with the lack
of capital investment for equipment and technological
advances, Greece was unable to produce fine wines. Grapes were
grown on small parcels of land and sold to local wine
cooperatives which were obligated to purchase their members'
grapes regardless of quality or consistency. In fact, quality
standards for vineyard management did not exist. The only
objective of grape farmers was to maximize the crop yield.
There are a great variety of
wines to try and a great deal of fun to be had in
trying them! Some surprisingly novel tastes can
be enjoyed if you're prepared to be adventurous.
Over the last 15 years most Greek wine makers
have invested heavily in the latest modern
technology and equipment. This combined with the
fact that most of the grapes used are of
historical, indigenous origin has resulted in the
wines available today being produced to
international standards. Depending on where you
are in Greece, there are excellent table (white,
red and rose) wines to enjoy offered by different
wineries. Together with the table wines do not
miss, however, to taste wines with an appellation
of origin, that is wines designated according to
the region of where they are produced - as the
Greek wine law requires.
Further down the scale; if
you eat out at tavernas you may get the
opportunity to taste barrel wines 'hima' (or
juice). Most restaurants are proud of their wine
though not all the restaurants make their own.
Some buy it from distillers on the main land and
are mass- produced, similar in quality to house
wines but are a lot cheaper. Finally, some family
run tavernas and kafenions offer home made wine
from locally grown grapes. Naturally this varies
enormously in taste and quality but often can be
Local wine is ordered by the
kilo with glasses being continually being
refilled by each other or the waiters and owners
without anything being said. It's like a reflex
or second nature to fill your dinner guests glass
when you see it is empty. The trick then is when
the carafe or bottle is empty just lift it in the
air and catch the eye of the waiter, or even the
owner of the restaurant and another will soon
Cretan wine is mainly home made and rarely bottled. The wine
is a golden brown colour with a fairly high alcohol content
and more like sherry.
wine-press found on Crete, in the village of Archanes, is 3500
years old. The Cretan 'appellation d'origine' (designation
of origin) wines constitute an invaluable heritage of
traditional selections absolutely harmonised with the climatic
conditions of the island. How can we forget that viniculture is
a 4000 year old practice on the island of Crete.
Areas distinguished for their wine varieties: Archanes, Peza
(province of Pediada), Dafnes, Monofatsi, Province of Siteia,
Province of Kydonia and Kissamos.
- Tsipouro - Tsikoudia - Raki
The name tsipouro is used throughout the country,
except for Crete, where the same spirit with a stronger aroma
is known as tsikoudia. The Greeks' love for this
spirit is renowned worldwide, it symbolises the
Greek way of life. Ouzo, the traditional aperitif
of Greece, has a strong anise flavour. Being quite
strong, it should be served with water or on ice.
The difference between the various brands is due
to the type of aniseed found in each region and
the supplement used to enrich and enhance the
flavour such as fennel, cardamom, cinnamon
flowers or coriander.
These pleasant aromas also
go into cooking breads, biscuits and more
traditional dishes and casseroles. In some
regions caraway is used instead of anise.
Ouzo drinking is an art. The one thing you should 'not do'
to be authentic is drink your Ouzo, Tsipouro or Tsikoudia on
its own. In the typical kafenion you will always
be served your glass of neat brew with ice and
water separate, along with a small plate of
appetisers known in Greece as 'mezedes'.
The key to drinking ouzo, these keep the effects
of the alcohol from overwhelming you and enable
you to sit and drink. 'Mezedes' usually consist
of a small amount of cheese, sometimes meat,
always tomato, cucumber and olives, even
sometimes chips. In bars however you're given the
modern day peanuts.
In the villages where life is slow tsikoudia, tsipouro or
ouzo is partaken day or night. Years ago on
Sundays after church the kafenions were full of
lively voices and singing, accompanied sometimes
by the village priest.
More about Raki in Crete