Greeks say wine was invented by their god Dionysus. Others disagree. The Book of Genesis says Noah planted the first vineyard just after the flood. Egyptians say it was their god Osiris. Romans credit Bacchus.
Archaeologists, using carbon-dating, trace the oldest winery to a cave in Armenia, near its border with Iran, dating back 6,000 years to the Copper Age. Possibly inspired by locals observing birds flying tipsily after eating grapes that fermented naturally on the vine.
No matter. The Greeks deserve credit for one of wine’s early uses in polite society. Historian James Davidson describes Plato’s Symposium as a “classic moderate drinking party” at which Socrates and other intellectuals were fueled by wine as they debated the meanings of life.
The Greeks also came up with the idea of preserving the easily spoiled beverage with pine tar, creating a wine called “retsina” — which to many, including me, tastes like Pine Sol.
They’ve been trying to live it down ever since.
It’s not fair. Retsina today makes up only a small percentage of Greek wines, clearly labeled and drunk mostly by traditionalists and old-timers. Greece today makes regular chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons and others that are excellent, and well within international taste standards.
Even better, it has had the courage to avoid the trap in which many countries are pulling out their native grapes to replace them with cabs and chards for international markets.
Greece today makes delicate whites from an aromatic varieties called malagousia and assyrtiko, and fruity reds from grapes called limnio, mavrotragano and mavroudi.
Now businessman George Spiliadis has founded Cava Spiliadis to import wines from six top-end boutique Greek wineries to the United States. He’s the son of Costas Spiliadis, who since 1997 has opened Milos high-end Greek restaurants in Athens, New York, Montreal, Las Vegas and now Miami Beach.
So the next time you grill an octopus, or even roast a chicken with lemon, you’ll know what to drink with it.
• 2008 Biblia Chora “Areti Red,” Pangeon (grape: agiorgitiko): rich, full flavors of ripe black cherries and spice, smooth tannins, medium body; $29.
• 2010 Biblia Chora “Olivos” White, Pangeon (grapes: 50 percent assyrtiko, 50 percent semillon): lush, viscous and lightly sweet flavors of peaches and honey, smooth; $38.
• 2006 Domaine Katsaros Cabernet Sauvignon, Krania (grapes: 85 percent cabernet sauvignon, 15 percent merlot): full-bodied and powerful, with intense cassis and mocha flavors and big, ripe tannins, smooth; $48.
• 2010 Domaine Gerovassiliou Malagousia White Wine, Epanomi (grape: malagousia): light-bodied and crisp, with flavors of ripe pears and apricots; $23.
• 2007 Domaine Gerovassiliou “Avaton” Red Wine, Epanomi (grapes: 40 percent limnio, 40 percent mavrotragano, 20 percent mavroudi): tart cherry and plum flavors, soft tannins, full-bodied; $55.
• 2010 Biblia Chora “Areti” White Wine, Macedonia (grape: 100 percent assyrtiko): light-bodied and crisp, with flavors of ripe peaches and mangos; $23.
• 2011 Biblia Chora “Estate White,” Macedonia (grapes: 40 percent assyrtiko, 60 percent sauvignon blanc): light and crisp, with intense apricot and tangerine flavors; $23.
• 2010 Katsaros Estate Chardonnay, Krania (grape: 100 percent chardonnay): medium-bodied and crisp, with citrus and mineral flavors; $35.