Greece is one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, with the earliest evidence of Greek wine dating 6,500 years ago. As trade in Greek wine intensified, it was transported across the Mediterranean having particularly high prestige and fetching high prices in Europe.
Solid evidence suggests Greece is home to the world’s second oldest wine production and known grape wine remnants discovered and the world’s earliest evidence of purposely crushed wine grapes. Wine grape vines are self-sown in Greece, and evidence of their existence can be traced before the Ice Age. Vine growing and winemaking in Greece is age-old and are among the primordial activities of humankind in prehistoric times. The first traces of wine production in Greece were found on the island of Crete.
Several clay wine presses, wine cups, amphorae and wine seeds were discovered throughout the island - showing the important role that wine has played in Greek culture since these ancient times.
The spread of Greek civilization and their worship of Dionysus - ‘the god of wine’, spread throughout the Mediterranean during 1600 BC to year 1. Hippocrates used wine for medicinal purposes and often prescribed it. The Ancient Greeks introduced vines such as Vitis vinifera and made wine in their numerous colonies in Sicily, Italy, southern France and Spain.
Wine has been an important part of Greek culture - the ancient Greeks knew well the nutritional value of wine as it became an inseparable part of their daily routine. Ancient Greeks realized the important influence of local ecosystems on the characteristics of wine.
In more recent times, in 1937 a Wine Institute was established by the Ministry of Greek Agriculture. During the 1960s, Retsina suddenly became the national beverage, due to the rapidly growing tourism associating it with Greece and Greek wine. Amazingly Greece planted its first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in 1963 and in 1971 and 1972; they established their modern appellation rules.
The Greek Wine Appellation System includes:
PGI Wines of Greece (Protected Geographical Indication)
PDO Wines of Greece (Protected Designation of Origin) include the Greek wine category of ‘Designation of Origin Wines’ (AOQS and AOC).
O.P.A.P. Appellation of Origin of Superior Quality, O.P.E. Controlled Appellation of Origin.
Topikos Oinos - Vin de Pays, Epitrapezios Oinos - Vin de Table, includes wines with screw-caps. Then there is Cava, more prestigious, aged ‘reserve’ blends (minimum aging: 2 years for whites; 3 years for reds) and Retsina, a traditional wine flavoured with pine resin.
The main wine growing regions of contemporary Greece - The Aegean Islands include: Crete - Central Greece - Epirus - Ionian Islands - Macedonia & Peloponnese.
In recent years, the Greek wine industry has experienced vast improvements with serious investments in modern winemaking technology. The new generation of winemakers are being trained in the world’s best wine schools and their efforts are paying off, as Greek wines receive the highest international awards as well as the recognition they deserve.
Greek wines are crafted from more than 300 indigenous grape varieties; some have been cultivated since ancient times, with many well-known international varietals also being used. This extensive variety of grapes along with the moderate Greek climate, ample sunshine, low rainfall and soils with moderate fertility combine to provide an ideal environment for the production of quality wines.
Thanks to Greece’s geographical location in the temperate Mediterranean region (latitude: 35° - 41° north), Greece’s proximity to the sea has a decisively beneficial influence, particularly on the terroir of coastal wine areas. Vineyards can be found on diverse soil and terrain, at altitudes varying between sea level and often in excess of 1000m - all of which, when combined with mainly native cultivars, give Greek wines their unique and diverse personality.