For many a millennium, wine as food has played the role of a catalyst in Greece, having always constituted a pillar of nutrition. As early as prehistoric times, vine cultivation had become common practice throughout Greece and wine was treated not merely as a beverage but also as food, on a steady, daily basis. It was not perceived as a mere accompaniment to food: it was food unto itself. The perception of wine as food persevered throughout Classical times as well when, wine was a key agricultural product of Greece and, at the same time, staple food, highly valued for its abundance in nourishing and nutritional elements. The sweet “melanas oenos” or near-black wine of antiquity was an excellent, everyday source of calorie intake, available throughout the year.
The Greek terroirs, Greece’s native varieties, and the sun of the Aegean Sea have always bestowed upon Greek wines the tenacity it needed to withstand transportation and time. Thus, under adverse living conditions; during arduous agricultural tasks; on long journeys and voyages, and in times of inevitable war, wine as food proved more than beneficial. A cup of wine served in fortifying and reviving body and morale alike. Later on, during the centuries when the rest of Europe basked in its renaissance but occupied Greece reeled under such oppressive regimes as that of Ottoman rule, the nutritional value of wine was indispensable in overcoming the daily hardships of life. Yet, even in far more recent times, wine continued to provide sustenance: a food staple commonly consumed by inhabitants of Greek rural areas was a piece of bread sopped in wine. This sop had its origins in antiquity and was but a wine variation of the Homeric kykeon, a drink containing water, barley, and herbs.
Nevertheless, it was not only wine as food which helped the Greek people from the ancient to more recent times, it was also wine in its medicinal capacity that came to their assistance. As of ancient times, wine was considered to be therapeutic either when drunk on its own or after herbs had been added to it. Due to its tonic, warming, sterilizing and refreshing properties, wine has always been regarded as having a “medicinal” character. Yet, the principle of moderation had always accompanied its consumption which, in ancient Greece, would nearly always take place only after the wine had been mixed with water. The average Athenian citizen would begin his day by drinking a cup of kekramenos oenos, wine mixed with water. Athenian citizens would also frequently participate in symposia where wine in moderation (inebriation was frowned upon) and philosophical discussions held sway. At other instances, mixing wine with water was a precautionary measure towards sterilizing potable water should its source prove of dubious purity.