Ancient Greece is recognized with developing the culture of food and wine through trade, colonization, social and religious events, and medicinal uses. The ancient Greeks believed wine was an essential part of life and a gift from Dionysos, the God of Wine. Hippocrates, a Greek physician, regarded as the father of medicine, known for the famous quote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Many aspects of our modern food and wine culture can be traced back to ancient Greece.
This month the Wine Pairing Weekend group is exploring “Wines of the Ancient World.” Join our Twitter chat Saturday, April 11, at 11:00 AM ET and check out more articles from the Wine Pairing Weekend group at the bottom of this post.
Food and Wine in Ancient Greece
- The ancient Greek diet was based on bread, wine, and olive oil. Legumes were a principal part of the ancient diet along with fruits, vegetables, cheese, yogurt, and spices, with less emphasis on meat. A template to the modern Mediterranean diet.
- Economically Greece helped establish viticulture through colonization and played a major role in the wine and olive oil trade throughout the Mediterranean. Ancient Greece produced white, red, and rosé wines.
- Banquets, feasts, and festivals were a central focus of social life in ancient Greece. Symposiums were all-male wine drinking and elaborate eating parties to discuss politics and philosophy. Wine festivals were part of a social culture celebrating wine drinking, vine-growing, harvesting, and giving tribute to Dionysos.
- Food and wine played a fundamental role in religious ceremonies, offering gifts of food and wine to the gods. Wine was poured over the ground of the dead, and included in prayer creeds.
- Medicinally, wine was used to treat everything from fevers to digestive issues. Drinking in moderation was the standard if you did not want to be considered a “barbarian like foreign cultures.” Wine was diluted one part wine to two to three parts water. Consuming wine in excess was believed to lead to the dangers of the mind and body.
Food and Wine in Modern Greece
- Today 300 ancient grape varieties have been identified in Greece.
- The main native grapes important for today’s Greek wine industry:
White varieties: Assyrtiko, Roditis, Robola, Savatiano, Moschofilero, Vilana, Debina, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grain, and Muscat of Alexandria.
Red varieties: Agiorgitiko, Limnio, Mandilaria, and Xinomavro
- Bread, wine, and olive oil still play a central role in the Greek diet.
- Food and eating continue to be an important social affair.
- The practice of food sacrifices for religious beliefs endures today with killing and roasting animals during religious occasions such as Easter.
- The consumption of meat has increased through recent times with the improvement of socioeconomic status and more Greeks moving to the larger cities.
2017 Biblia Chora Estate White, Kavala, Greece
13.5% abv | $32.00 wine.com | 60% Sauvignon Blanc and 40% Assyrtiko
Biblia Chora Estate is located on the southern slopes of Mount Pangeon in Kavala. Founded in 1998 by two renowned Greek enologists, Vassilis Tsaktsarlis and Vangelis Gerovassiliou. The privately held estate includes over 570 acres of organically farmed vineyards at altitudes of 380 meters. The soils are rocky and barren with limestone and clay.
Pale-medium yellow in color. Medium(+) bodied with medium acidity. On the palate notes of citrus, tropical fruit, and a hint of beeswax. Nicely structured with good acidity and a lingering finish.
Gai’a Ritinitis Nobilis Retsina, Nemea, Greece
12%abv | $18.00 wine.com | 100% Roditis
Gai’a was established in 1994 by Leon Karatsalos and Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Their mission was to produce the best wines from Greece’s indigenous grapes using traditional viticulture and production methods with modern innovative techniques. The Traditional Appellation of Retsina can be made anywhere in Greece. The Roditis grapes for this wine come from cool-climate, north-facing hillside vineyards located on the Corinthian slopes.
Retsina in ancient Greece developed its unique flavor from the pine resin used to seal the porous surface of the clay amphora used for storing and transporting the wine. To achieve the pine resin flavor profile, resin is directly added to the must during the fermentation of Ritinitis Nobilis Retsina.
Pale straw in color. Medium(-) bodied and acidity. Notes of pine, eucalyptus, and citrus.
Feasting Like a Greek
Nothing pairs better with Greek food than Greek wine. I prepared a feast of my favorite Greek foods. A Greek salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, Kalamata olives, feta cheese, oregano, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh lemon juice, roasted citrus stuffed trout with fennel slaw, tzatziki, dolmas, and giant white beans in a dill tomato sauce.
I especially enjoyed this feast with the Biblia Chora Estate White. The medium(+) body of the wine along with the acidity and citrus flavors were a perfect match to the full-flavored food with similar citrus notes.
A flavorful dish that is easy to prepare. Pair with a Greek white wine like Assyrtiko or Sauvignon Blanc.
- 2 large fennel bulbs
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 10 fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 12 oz. rainbow trout, cleaned, de-boned, and butterflied
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 1 lemon, very thinly sliced
- 1/2 orange, very thinly sliced
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Cut the fennel fronds off and set them aside. Use a mandoline, very thinly cut the fennel bulb into slices.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, shallot, oil, salt and pepper. Add the fennel slices and mint, toss to mix. Set aside for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil.
Rinse the trout and pat dry with paper towels.
Place the fish on the prepared baking sheet. Season the cavity with salt and pepper. Alternating two slices of lemon with 2 slices of orange in the trout cavity. Add a few fronds of fennel on top of the citrus slices. Place a few slices of lemon over the top of each fish and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 15 minutes.
Turn the oven to broil and broil for about 2 minutes or until fish has a hint of a golden color.
Transfer the fish to a platter and top with the fennel slaw and lemon wedges.
More articles on Wines of the Ancient World~
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla explores History on the Table – A Dish from the Hundred Years War Meets Wine from the Land of the Bible: Cassoulet + Tabor Adama Shiraz 2013.
- Wendy of A Day on the Life on the Farm enjoys Clams Tossed in Herbs and Spaghetti with a Santo Assyrtiko.
- Terri of Our Good Life is taken with Old World Charm: Tifosi Vino Bianco with Olives and Citrus.
- Andrea of The Quirky Cork shares #WinePW and The Ancient Wine Culture of Antioch.
- David of Cooking Chat is Tasting and Pairing Ancient World Wines.
- Pinny of Chinese Food & Wine Pairings makes the case to Drink Ancient Saperavi and Eat Modern Family Meals from Chinese Takeouts.
- Linda from My Full Wine Glass discovers Agiorgitiko: Modern Greek Wine from an Ancient Land.
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator pairs an Ancient Wine for Modern Times: Slovenia’s Jarenincan and Calamari with Lemon Caper Sauce.
- Cindy of Grape Experiences explores Aglianico – An Ancient Variety That Ages Well.
- Susannah of Avvinare is sipping an Ancient Wine from Campania-Falerno del Massico.
- Jane of Always Ravenous posts about Food and Wine in Ancient Greece.
- Nicole shares An Armenian Feast with Friends Paired with Armenian Wines here on Somm’s Table.