WINE

 

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 - Retsina, a 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?

"Wine 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 metabolic disorders.

"Cholera 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 water."

Most if not all Homeric heroes had their wounds washed with wine.


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.
 

During 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 surprisingly good.
 

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 appear.

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.

The oldest 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.

 

Ouzo - 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.
 
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