Wine in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece is one of the oldest and most important wine-producing civilizations, with evidence of production dating back 6,500 years. The climate, terroir and native vine stocks of the Greek islands enabled the production of a wide variety of superior quality wine. Not only did the Greeks export wine throughout Europe, but they also established vineyards in modern day Italy, Iberia, Sicily, and the south of France. They shared their winemaking techniques with people living as far away as modern-day Austria and Russia, and many societies, including the Etruscans, the Phoenicians, the Celts, the Scythians and the Romans, were influenced to some extent by Greek “wine culture” and viticultural methods.

Most wine produced in ancient Greece was aromatic and very sweet. Some dry wines were made but required some preparation to serve. Wines could be inky black to dark red, red, light red, or white. The Greeks considered undiluted wine to be the drink of barbarians, and dilution with water or another non-alcoholic liquid was customary. In the wintertime, wine was diluted with pristine snow for cleaner taste.

Wine was also used to purify drinking water which was often stagnant, whether drawn from cisterns or collected from natural ponds and streams. All men, women and children drank water which had some wine added to kill bacteria and mask the water’s unpleasant taste.

The Greeks usually drank wine after dinner instead of with their meals. Drunkenness was generally frowned upon, and three cups of wine diluted with water was considered a reasonable amount for a grown man to consume. Around 375 BC, the Greek comic poet Eubulus’ amusing Dionysus character lectured the audience on the subject of temperance: “Only three bowls of wine do I prepare for temperate drinkers: one to health, which they empty first; the second to love and pleasure, and the third to sleep. When these have been drunk, the wise guests go home. For the fourth cup belongs not to us but to hubris; the fifth to insulting words; the sixth to prancing about; the seventh to black eyes. The eighth cup brings the police, and the ninth, vomiting. The tenth belongs to insanity and the hurling of furniture.”