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The history of wine in Greece began almost accidentally with a little dalliance the supreme god Zeus had with the beautiful Seméle, an interlude that led to the birth of Dionysos, the god of wine. Even without this myth, ancient Greece is generally accepted as the cradle or home of European wine culture. In the Iliad, the poet Homer (8th century BC) reports wine was the staple drink of the heroes in the legend. In fact dedicated, professional viticulture can be traced back to the Mycenean culture around 1600 BC (Mycene = northeastern Peloponnes, today in the province of Argolis). At the time, wine was exported from the region to Italy, Spain and France, and the wine cultures of these countries were established on the basis of many Greek grape varieties. Many of the Greek viticultural methods were later adopted by the Celts and Romans. Wine was an important part of daily life, of the culture and the religion (also see under ancient wines). There was a huge range of vine vareities and wines, and the Roman poet Vergil (70-17 BC) wrote the following: „It would be easier to count the number of grains of sand in Greece than to count the different grape varieties.”
The Turks ruled the country from the 15th to the mid-19th century, and the Islamic ban on wine during this period led to a loss of the classical importance of wine in the country. It was only quite some time after independence was regained in 1830 that attempts were made onm a professional level to revive viticulture as an economic factor. A controlled designation of origin based on the Frenc AC system was introduced in 1971. Ever since Greece joined the European Union in 1981 there has been a large-scale change and revival in the Greek wine industry. In 2000, statistics show 3,6 million hectolitres of wine were produced on a total vineyard area of 129.000 hectares. The soils contain granite, volcanic rock and limestone, and this, together with the predominant mild, Mediterranean climate creates excellent conditions for viticulture. The autumn is usually dry, producing fully ripe grapes. Greece is divided into the following wine-growing regions, districts and appellations (quality classifications OPAP and OPE):
* Côtes de Meliton
* Attica with Kantza
There are around 300 different indigenous grape varieties, and itnernational vatieties are being planted increasingly. Around half the vineyard area is dedicated to the production of table grapes and raisins (currants and sultanas). Less than 10% of the area is reserved for the production of quality wines (OPAP and OPE). Modern Greek viticulture is still characterised by lively and original taste variations. Around 60% of the wines produced are fairly alcoholic white wines, and over 90% of these are fermented dry. The most widely planted white varieties are Savatiano, Roditis, Moscato (several variants), Debina, Robola, Assyrtiko and Athiri, the most important red varieties are Xynomavro, Agiorgitiko, Limnio, Mavrodaphne and Negoska. The preference for resinated wines, led by retsina, which accounts for around 10% of total wine production, is an ancient tradition. Almost all of the Aegean islands produce sweet dessert wines, some of them fortified, the most famous of these is the wine of Samos. Equally famous is the white spirit flavoured with anise, Ouzo. The most important wine producers include the following: Achaia Clauss, Boutari, Calligas, Cambas, Carras, Gaia, Hatzimichalis, Katsaros, Kourtakis, Mercouri, Oenoforos, Papaïoannou, Parparoussis, Skouras, Spiropoulos, Tsantali, Tselepos.
In 1971 and 1972 the ministry of agriculture and the wine institute introduced controlled designations of origin fort he best wine-growing regions. The individual regulations, too, are based on the AOC system: limits on yields per hectare, defined grape varieties (suitability and historical importance), soil structures, minimum must weights, maturation regulations and sensory tasting tests. Chaptalisation of musts using sugar is generally permitted, provided that the alcohol content may not be increased by more than 2,5% vol in the process. Must concentrate (see under RMC) may be added either before or during fermentation, up to a limit of 25% of the sugar content in the must. Citric acid may be added, and this is often done, as many of the grapes used are low in acidity. The vintage may be stated on the label if at least 85% of the grapes contained in the bottle are from the stated vintage. The regulations are controlled by a division of the state ministry KEPO (Central committee fort he protection of wine production. The quality categories are:
Epitrapezios Oinos: Approximately equivalent to French „vin de table”, Italian „vino da tavola”, or German or Austrian „Tafelwein”, These are blended wines from different growing regions, with no designation of origin.
Kava: Designation for a top-quality table wine (Epitrapezios Oinos) that has been matured for an extended period (the word translates as „cellar”, i.e. a wine that has been cellared). White wines must be matured for a minimum of two years (of which a minimum of six months in barrel and six months in bottle), red wines must be matured for a total minim of three years (of which a minimum of 6 months in new oak or 1 year in used oak, and 2 years in the bottle).
Topikos Oinos: These wines (translates as „local wine”) must state a region of origin on the label. Corresponds with „vin de pays” in France or „IGT” in Italy. There are currently 140 defined regions.
OPAP: Onomasia Proelefsis Anoteris Piotitas (with red band on bottle); designates wines with „specified origin of better quality”. Corresponds roughly with AOC in France or DOC in Italy. There are currently 25 appellations with mainly dry red and white wines.
OPE: Onomasia Proelefsis Elenchomenis (with blue band on bottle); designates wines with „specified origin and controlled” („controlled” is intended to indicate a stricter regulation than OPAP). Corresponds roughly with „DOCG” in Italy. There are currently seven appellations, all of them for sweet liqueur or dessert wines, e.g. Samos.
Reserve (Epilegmenos) and Grande Reserve (Idika Epilegmenos): This designation may be used only in comjunction with quality wines (OPAP and OPE). Reserve applies to white wines with a minimum of two years maturation (of which a minimum of 6 months in barrel and 6 months in bottle) and to red wines with a minimum of three years total maturation (same individual minimum periods). Grande Reserve applies to white wines with a minimum of three years total maturation (of which a minimum of 1 year in barrel and 1 year in bottle) and to red wines with a minimum of four years maturation in total (of which a minimum of 2 years in barrel and 2 years in bottle).