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The gifts of Dionysus

The origins of the winemaking traditions of Greece are lost in the mists of time. The ancient religion was centred on the wonders of the grape and the superlative libation it could produce - wine. Intoxication was held sacred and part of the cycle of the seasons, working to liberate human consciousness. The art of viticulture and care of the storage and distribution of wine was sometimes the responsibility of priests - for instance, in Arcadia, where a special order of priests, the Meliastes, undertook such obligations. The island of Thassos, which since ancient times was renowned for its red, viscous wine, held a prestigious place in the Athenian alliance, precisely because of its wine production.

Wine is, together with bread and oil, the "holy trinity" of the Greek diet. It is regarded as a basic product in the domestic economy. The traditions and customs associated with the harvest are rich in folklore and ethnological significance.

Each region of Greece boasts of its own special varieties of grape and wine. The unique microclimate of the islands, and the anhydrous soil of the vineyards, serves to create very aromatic varieties of grape, notably in Santorini, Paros, Zakynthos, Crete, and Samos. The mainland also has exceptional varieties to offer, both traditional and "cosmopolitan." Viticulturists and winemakers are a special community, characterized by a passion for the subject and the great attention they pay to the quality of the finished product.

In recent years wine tourism has grown rapidly. Greece is part of the European wine route network. Travellers are more demanding and selective in their choices and holidays that combine high enjoyment of the wine making and tasting experience with accommodation in countryside guest houses with quality facilities are beginning to establish a special place in people’s hearts.

Wine roads

Wine, like silk in earlier times, has created its own special geography. The “wine roads” of Greece pass through the major wine growing regions with the most highly respected wineries and travellers have the opportunity to sample organically grown, award-winning fine wines, produced in limited quantity, which have become well established in international competitions, right at the place of production. At the same time the traveller can follow the entire process of wine making. The guest houses are usually in the heart of the vineyards or in close proximity to them in nearby villages. Acquaintance with the world of wine is a deep ritualistic experience that enhances appreciation of this choice product of nature.

The ‘wine roads’ in Greece cross the major wine producing areas. In Thrace, they travel across Evros, Samothrace, Rodopi and Xanthi. In Macedonia the wine roads include Kavala, Drama, Serres, Halkidiki, Thessaloniki, Kilkis, Pella, Florina, Kastoria, Grevena, Kozani, Pieria and Imathia. In Thessaly Larissa, Magnesia, the Sporades Islands, Karditsa and Trikala are part of the wine road network. Ioannina, Arta, Preveza and Thesprotia regions are included in the network in Epirus. In the Ionian Islands the wine routes include Corfu, Paxi, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Ithaca and Zakynthos. In Central Greece, Aitoloakarnania, Fokida, Evrytania, Fthiotida, Voiotia, Evia, Skyros and Attica are part of the network. In the Peloponnese Corinthia, Achaia, Ileia, Messinia, Laconia, Arcadia, Argolida and Kythera Island belong to the network. The Aegean Islands of Lesvos, Limnos, Chios, Samos, Ikaria, all the Dodecanese Islands, all of the Cyclades and, of course, Crete are participants.

 

Travels in wine tasting

Wine tourism first and foremost offers direct contact with nature, methods of cultivation and the rural life. In Macedonia, in Mantineia, everywhere in Greece, one can enjoy the authentic Greek rural life in small traditional country guest houses and learn the ways of growing and fermenting the finest Greek wines at first hand. In many monasteries, such as the ones in Mount Athos or the Toplou Monastery in eastern Crete, visitors can also connect with the Orthodox tradition, which honours excellent wine both in everyday life and through the Divine Liturgy. A glass of red or white wine in the tranquil Greek countryside, with wonderful scents drifting on the breeze, life acquires its true meaning in appreciation of the simplest, yet most precious pleasures.

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