Wine means something different to everyone. For some, it’s nothing but a drink they consume on a regular basis. Then there are the bargain hunters, people who enjoy wine but only if it’s under a fiver. There are people who know an awful lot about wine but don’t drink very much. People who know a bit about wine and spend in the region of £30 each week. There are wine professionals who know almost everything there is to know about wine and strive to know more! Put more simply, there are people everywhere, all over the planet, who simply love wine and all that it encompasses.
But where did it all start? Wine and religion often go hand in hand and the original god of wine was called Dionysus (sometimes Bacchus). One of the legends of Dionysus, is that of the invention of wine. As the parable goes, Dionysus discloses the secret of winemaking to the peasant Icarius and his daughter Erigone in return for their hospitality. Dionysus is thought to have asked Icarius to teach the art of winemaking to his people, following his secret instructions. Obedient to Dionysus’ word, Icarius shares his wine with a group of shepherds who appear to enjoy this new drink. However, paranoia replaces enjoyment and as the wine and no doubt alcohol overwhelms them they begin to suspect Icarius of having poisoned them. The group of shepherds turn on Icarius and batter him to death with their crooks. Icarius’ daughter looks everywhere for his body and is eventually led to the spot where he lies buried by Icarius’ faithful hound Moera. Erigone hangs herself in despair, but the tragic act leads them to a rewarding death. Icarius becomes the star Boötes and his daughter Erigone, the constellation Virgo, his faithful hound Moera becomes Canis, or Sirius, the dog star. Boötes is often referred to as ‘the grape-gatherer,’ and rises in the autumn, at the time of the vintage in Greece, still under the constellation of Virgo. Pliny the Elder, a Roman Philosopher also recommended the risking of the dog star on August 2nd should be the day when wine jars should receive their inside coating of resin to make them airtight, ready for the vintage.
It’s believed that Greece had been making wine for several thousand years, the oldest winery is believed to have been formed in 4100 BC and was only discovered in 2007 by UCLA researchers. However, in the 15thcentury, the Ottoman Empire took power over Greece and over the next 400 years, 4,000 years of winegrowing legacy would be destroyed. It was a huge blow to a talisman and their culture, wine, once used in the colt of Bacchus would now only represented the sombre symbol of the Blood of Christ. This was possibly a similar feeling to how certain cultures in the Middle East felt when centuries of wine tradition were banned with the onset of Islam. Arabic poetry around the time would suggest that Islamic culture broke the hearts of many who loved wine.
Despite Greece being the home of the ancient mythyology of wine, when did you last drink a bottle of Greek wine? Will Lyons recently wrote in The Times, “Only a few decades ago, this ancient Mediterranean country — probably the oldest wine producer on earth — was languishing in viticultural obscurity. Today it is responsible for some of the most dynamic, sumptuous, food-friendly creations I’ve come across, and not all at the bargain end — there are plenty of labels in the fine-wine sector, too.” The success we are seeing today is due to the extensive range of grape varieties that Greece can produce. A place that has become even more popular recently, Santorini, is where the assyrtiko grape is produced on the volcanic soils. Here are a few Greek wines that you can try at home: