Wine at the daily table

Wine at the daily table of Greek families was and is permanently present. Even during the Turkish occupation, when the Moslem rulers of Greece had temporarily forbidden the consumption of wine, it defiantly remained on the Greek table. Together with winegrowing and wine production, wine consumption was the Greeks’ way of standing up to their rulers, at a conscious or subconscious level, and claiming their freedom by that small albeit rebellious act. During those long centuries of oppression a rich tradition in proverbs, poems, and songs surrounding vine and wine emerged to be handed down from generation to generation and was preserved to our days.

In modern times, wine continued to be an element of everyday life in independent Greece. Throughout the country which, in essence, is anchored on agriculture, every village had its own vineyards and every family had its own little vineyard whose products went towards ensuring that every family was self-sufficient in wine, year round. The wine aside, vineyards also produced such goods as table grapes; tsipouro; vinegar; molasses (boiled must used in sweets and desserts); and grape leaves, used in the making of dolmah, the stuffed grape leaves dish of Greek cuisine. The wine itself occupied a prominent position in cooking. It is thus clear that in Greece, wine at the daily table has been serving a multitude of purposes.

The austere Mediterranean diet, Greece’s regional cuisines, the Cretan diet, and fasting as a religious duty or as a conscious way of life, all have always been accompanied in Greece by a glass of wine. The tradition of the union between wine and Greece is age-old: Today, wine continues to be directly linked to the Greek people and their everyday life. Thus, wine at the daily table is not perceived as a mere accompaniment to Greek cuisine: It is the life of the Greeks itself and it is deeply etched into their hearts and collective memory.

Wine in religion

The significance of wine, as hailed by poets and touted by kings is evident in ancient Greece’s cult worship of Dionysus and the Dionysian celebrations. The position of wine in religion was a prominent one. Libations, the ritual pouring of wine, were the manner in which the ancient Greeks honored their gods and an amphora of wine was the last companion of their dead as they embarked on their final journey.

Wine, however, remained the Greek people’s everyday companion in later historic periods as well, such as Hellenistic and Roman times. During Byzantine times, wine was no longer known as oenos. Its name had changed to krasi and as it gradually came under the protection of Christianity, it acquired symbolic significance: Christ was referred to as “ambelos” (vine) and wine symbolized the blood of Christ, drunk by the faithful during the sacrament of the Holy Communion. Thus, the link and affinity between Greeks and wine continued and the position of wine in religion was maintained, even though the Dionysian celebrations became a “forbidden” memory of pageantry -resurfacing during such times and Christian celebrations as those honoring Agios Tryphon, patron saint of vintners in Greece.

Wine as food

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.

Greek Wine and Culture

In the history of humankind, many have been the cultures whose foundations were anchored on winegrowing and winemaking. Even today, a great many people instinctively think that wine equals culture. During prehistoric times, in lands where the climate favored winegrowing, the “birth” of a civilization and its culture would not be far behind and vice versa: Once that culture had sprung forth, its prosperity and welfare would be closely associated with vine and wine. That is no coincidence: Winegrowing presupposes settling in one place and abandoning nomadic pursuits. It can flourish on poor soil, leaving fertile ground to crops and other cultivations. Winemaking necessitates specialized know-how and practices, while its commercial aspect necessitates the existence of transport and expertise on commercial transactions, economy, and shipping, to name but a few. One such culture, the most illustrious one and the one with the longest course in history, has been the Greek culture of wine.


The ancient Greeks discovered wine as nature’s gift and turned it into a work of art. Greek wine and culture grew side by side, becoming timeless treasures which left their indelible stamp on history. And although Christianity, espoused by the Greeks of Byzantium, initially pitted itself against the ancient Greek culture, it eventually came to acknowledge and do more than any other means to promulgate two ancient Greek values: the ancient language and the rich winegrowing heritage of Greece. Over time, the Byzantine culture and Christian Orthodox art became the embodiment of Greece, abounding in symbolism and references alluding to vine and wine. Mosaics, religious icons, monastic scrolls, folklore art and demotic songs, all are keepsakes of that symbolism. The renowned Byzantine wines of the Aegean Sea and of the other areas of Greece became worthy ambassadors of a culture which, for centuries, shone like a beacon upon the West, piercing the darkness enveloping medieval Europe.


Yet, Greek wine and culture were not influential on Greece alone. Those who would come to the country as conquerors, together with the Greek culture, they also adopted or exploited -forcefully or peacefully, Greece’s famous wines, amassing fame and profit for their purposes and furthering their own cultures. The Roman culture, apart from adopting the deity of Dionysus in his new persona as Bacchus, also adopted numerous of the country’s winegrowing and winemaking techniques, together with the much touted wines coming out of the Greek vineyards. As early as medieval times, the Venetians and other European seafaring powers used Greek wines as their main source of revenue on their voyages, while the Ottoman Empire gathered wealth by taxing the renowned Greek wine production, or simply by co-existing with the Christian Greeks who had never lost their “wine” instinct or genes.


Vine and wine are interwoven with the everyday life of several countries’ inhabitants around the world. In Greece, wine in everyday life is an ancient affair, as ancient as time immemorial. Cultivation of the vine as well as wine production and its consumption throughout the ages have been linked to Greece’s everyday life with ties whose origins are lost down the passage of time. The products and the wine stemming from the vine are cultural, social, and nutritional staples of Greeks and Greek life.


In Greece, from prehistoric times to the present, wine in everyday life, as a complement to nutrition, as a part of religion, or as pure pleasure, has always been inextricably intertwined with Greek collective memory and, in all likelihood, has been etched into the Greek DNA.


Greek wine and culture are two concepts inextricably linked to each other. In today’s Greece, Greek wine and culture continue to be as “one”. On the very same soils as their forefathers, the Greek winegrowers and winemakers continue to cultivate their vineyards, bestowing on the world through their new wine culture, the fruit born of the Greek sun and of the Greek land. The new vineyards of Greece are thus the creative products of a people whose vine and wine history is the same as that of its culture!