"The Major Wine Producing Countries: A Short Primer"
In No Particular Order ..Well Maybe
Greece, as mentioned in my recent article (read here), spread wine production to many parts of the Mediterranean Sea, facilitated by its exploring, seafaring, and commercial enterprises. Greece was in fact a loose collection of self-governing city-states, with Athens usually at the forefront of commercial success. These city-states often competed with each other, even went to war, but more often cooperated in certain efforts, or at least deferred to Athens for leadership. One thing they never tolerated was invasion by outsiders.
Winemaking of course was not invented by the Greeks. In fact, there is archaeological evidence of wine making going back a few thousand years before the Greeks! They just accelerated its viability as a commercial endeavor. During their exploits, they visited and colonized coastal areas of the Black Sea, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Sicily, Sardinia, southern Italy, southern France, and even the east coast of Spain. Everywhere they felt they had a foothold, Greek settlers sent for the vines so they could plant them and make wine. The Romans would later follow in these footsteps.
Certainly No Comparison to the Later Roman Empire, but the Greeks Took Themselves Pretty Seriously
It may take a little imagination for us to picture the world they lived in. There was virtually no knowledge of lands or seas much beyond the Mediterranean area. And much as we Americans would like to think of the Mediterranean as a serene vacation spot, the seas can be very treacherous, and the modest wooden vessels of ancient Greece were often lost in storms, so spreading Greek culture was not for the faint of heart. What would be a "routine" trip today could take a chunk of someone's life....or take it altogether. But spread they did, and wine studies indicate that they planted the first vines in the inland Rhone Valley in France (ref: "Cotes du Rhone"), actually working alongside the scary bearded Gauls, and also contributed heavily to the Etruscan and Italic tribal groups' acquaintance with the vine. A number of Italy's successful grape varieties today in fact originated in Greece.
One important side point about ancient Greece. Remember these were the ancient Greeks, not modern Greeks. Modern Greeks are a mixture of their ancient ancestors and numerous Persian, Turk, and Assyrian influences, besides other Balkan migratory bloodlines. It is arguable that today's Italians--especially those with roots in the south--can be just as "Greek" as modern Greek nationals are, since they share a lot of similar genetic material from ancient times.
Greece has had a hard time of it, living as part of the Byzantine Empire (eastern descendent of the Roman Empire) for a thousand years. Desperate for revenue, the Byzantines tried to extract money from this "luxury" industry through such huge taxes and tariffs the Greek wines could not compete on the pan-Mediterranean market. So the vines gradually decayed and the industry almost ceased to be. In the 1400s, Byzantium was conquered by the Ottomans, and their new empire--a Muslim one--discouraged or outright forbade the consumption of alcohol. They ruled Greece until their defeat in World War One, so clearly Greece's wine industry has been at a disadvantage.
SO FINALLY.... The turbulent 20th Century took Greece through chaos, failed governments, occupation by Nazi Germany, and military dictatorship. Things have only been stable for a few decades really. And as we know, their economy has not been the best. However, in their wine industry, it's amazing what's happened.
Today Greece is producing an almost dizzying array of wines, red and white, with vivid fruit, crisp acidity, striking minerality, and a rapidly growing dedication to world class winemaking. Things are likely to continue improving too! I can't think of a better testimony to the never ending drive to grow and ferment grapes than the experience of Greece. They deserve a try...
... probably a few.
And now after that sad story, the required comic relief:
Dimitris and Spiros, Drunk On Retsina, Dare Each Other To Eat Disgusting Things
'Til Next Time....
Marc Soucy FWS CSW