Greeks started making wine over 5000 years ago. In fact, the people of Greece were eating wild grapes as early as 11000 B.C.E. Wine and grapes became an essential part of Greek culture and art. Many of the drawings and pottery that survive from ancient Greek show wine being drunk, grapes being stomped, or women pouring wine. The ancient Greeks even had a special god, Dionysus, dedicated to wine. The ancient physician, Hippocrates (of Hippocratic oath fame), advised his patients to take a small amount of wine for medicinal purposes.
The ancient city-states of Greece were avid seamen and merchants. They took their wine to the outposts of the Greek Empire, and, in that way, introduced wine making and drinking to what is today Western Europe as well as Russia and the Ukraine. Early Greek wine was named for the place in which the grapes were grown, a practice that continues today throughout European wine regions. The ancient Greeks also crafted brandy-like, fortified wines from the abundant fruit of the region, such as dates, apples, figs, and pears, among others.
The ancient Greeks preferred sweet wines that were crafted from very ripe fruit. They also mixed honey with dry white wine to create a drink much like the Celtic medieval drink, mead. They also used the plentiful herbs, flowers, and spices of the land to flavor their wine. In ancient times, wine was typically taken after the meal, mixed with a little water.
The Byzantine Era
During Byzantine times, the Greeks began to drink wine during their meals, undiluted. They also began to cook with wine, the start of a long tradition. The subsequent long occupation of the Ottoman Empire saw the gradual decline and near obliteration of the Greek wine industry. Mostly because of high taxes, wine growers stopped cultivating their vines, and switched to other crops.
After the Greek independence in the mid-19th century, most of the world had forgotten about Greek wines. Those that were known abroad were the pungent Retsina wines, only a small part of the Greek wine production. Slowly, Greek wines have experienced a renaissance. Still a vital part of Greek culture and most Greek meals, Greek wines are produced from unique native varietals and are delicious, varied, and surprisingly affordable.