Culture, Mediterranean diet


Thanks to the close trade connections between Crete and Egypt, the wine culture reached the Greek islands. Around 1,700 BC the Minoans probably cultivated the first noble grapes on Crete. From the Mycenaean culture, numerous images have been preserved on ceramic vessels that tell of viticulture and processing.

Excavations in Vathypetro brought to light one of the oldest wine presses in the world and proved that Crete was the cradle of Greek viticulture. Remains of 90 litre wine barrels, the so-called pithoi, in whose wine was stored can be found on the Greek mainland from the same period. A great discovery occurred when in 2013, archaeologists at Dikili Tash, a prehistoric settlement in northern Greece near the pre-6,500 BC inhabited city of Philippi, can perform a chemical analysis of residues on ceramics and can date back to the year 4,200 BC. Today, this is considered the oldest evidence that wine was already cultivated a few thousand years earlier than assumed.

The Greeks took great care of the vines, planted the vines in rows and aligned them optimally with the sun and wind. The importance of wine is shown in that Dionysus was in fact the God of wine. The methods of winemaking were astonishingly well-developed at that time and wines were enriched with figs, resin or spices for better taste.

With the rise of Greek civilization, wine became popular from 1,600 BC onwards. Mycenae and Sparta must have become the centers of wine production. This is also indicated by numerous representations of vases that were found there. More different types of wine were produced on the islands, with the best wines coming from the islands of Kos, where a variety was mixed with seawater to extend the shelf life. Chios and Thassos enjoyed an equally excellent reputation, while the most prestigious vintages came from Santorini, Rhodes and the surrounding area.

Wine was a cult drink and the ancient Greeks liked to drink and although women were advised not to drink, they enjoyed it too. Wine was usually drunk mixed with water – drinking it neat was considered barbaric at the time. Victories were celebrated, gods were honored and festivals were held. At the classical Greek symposium, where social networks and political debates took place, there was a lot of debate and of course there was also a lot of drinking.

The Greeks spread their wine culture throughout the entire Mediterranean and Black Sea coast and shared their knowledge with their numerous colonies in what is now Italy and Spain, where ancient Greek amphorae were found. Greek colonists are likely to have brought vines to Gaul in what is now Marseille for the first time. Viticulture reached its golden era between the6th and 4th centuries BC. During this time, they began to introduce and systematize agricultural improvements. The screw press, an efficient device that was originally  developed in the Hellenistic era, has hardly changed until modern times.

In the classical Greek period, fifth century BC the Greeks had already developed a technical vocabulary for wine. Around 300 BC Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle, had already derived connections between grape varieties, climate and soils and could also differentiate the connection between low harvest yields and high wine quality.

Much of modern wine-making culture derives from these practices, and many of the grapes grown in modern Greece are similar or identical to varieties grown in ancient times. In fact, the most popular modern Greek wine, a highly aromatic white wine called retsina, is considered a holdover from the ancient practice of lining wine jugs with tree resin to give the drink a special flavor.

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