Brief history of wine routes in the Mediterranean basin

How the Mediterranean concept of wine developed through time and space: generous, long-lived, the bearer of a unique, sun-drenched, "vineyards & sea" cultural identity

The progenitor of wine enthusiasts: Greek Dionysus, a.k.a. Roman Bacchus

In ancient Mediterranean cultures wine was much more than mere beverage: first and foremost, it was a nutrient, sacred since the times of Dionysus (the Romans’ Bacchus), the god prone to inebriation but at the same time familiar with ploughing and beehives. Grapes, this comes as no surprise, belonged to the Mediterranean triad, which also featured grains and olives. 

Wine in ancient Greece

Grapevines progressively reached the Mediterranean shores from the east, i.e. the place where the sun rises. The Phoenicians, skilled sailors and traders, spread varieties and practices throughout the area long before the Greek. Herodotus credited the Persians with an unconstrained inclination for wine, whereas the Greek turned out to be more restrained and demanding – even though they diluted wine with sea water, smoked it and used to waterproof and seal amphorae with (aromatic) pine resin (have you ever enjoyed retsina wine?). When the young Athenians swore allegiance to their homeland and gods, they invoked vineyards, wheat, barley, olive trees and digs as witnesses. The Iliad and the Odyssey both mention vineyard–rich areas (Arne, Istiga, Epidaurus) and wines (Pramnius, as well as wines from Lemnos, and Ismarus – Ulysses’ choice when it came to inebriate the Cyclops). The Greek drank wine during the symposion, a phase of the classic banquet following the deipnon (dinner) and aiming at “staying” with other people, ritually, playing the kottabos and following the advice of a symposiarch who acted as a supervisor and officiated moderate libations. 

Greece - the coast close to Alexandroupolis. Thrace was said to be the birthland of Dyonisus

Wine in ancient Rome

Thanks to Rome (and to its excellent agriculture scholars), import decreased, local wines flourished and viticulture expanded to the Gaul region, not to forget Spain, Morocco and Egypt (they all became the exporters of élite productions, transported in containers displaying both vintage year and provenance of the grapes). Late vintages were the rule, because hyper mature grapes gave way to dense, sweet, aromatic (“Greek-style”) wines, which – provided their quality – better endured aging (otherwise they were to be drunk as soon as possible). Their liqueur-like character  was so appreciated that certain territories imported and directly planted the grapevines that produced the loved wines. These historical varieties, together with allochthonous ones, make up the present ampelography of the Mediterranean, which frequently features unique pedoclimatic conditions.
Wine accompanies Christ’s body during the Eucharistic liturgy. Wine represents life and civilization in clear juxtaposition against deadly barbarity. Wine embodies and evokes Mediterraneanity itself (Sicily alone produces the same quantities of Australia  i.e. it could feature as the 7th wine producing country of the world). 

A parade of amphorae in the Museo Navale of Albenga (Liguria)

A Mediterranean concept of wine

Plinius the Elder wrote that “the quality of wine is influenced by the place where it grows and by the soil and not by the grapes or by the choice of the variety, given the fact that the same variety planted in different sites produces different quality results”. Here are terroir and genius loci in a nutshell as well as a Mediterranean concept of wine, defined through time as generous, long-lived, the bearer – once more – of unique and “sun drenched” features originating from the proximity of vineyards and sea: the zibibbo of Pantelleria, the Greek Muscat of Patras and Rhodes, Tunisian Muscat, Sardinian malvasie (malvasia derives from Monemvasia, a Byzantine harbor of the Peloponnesus whence wines from Crete and Cyprus sailed away to the satisfy the demand of the clergy and the mighty ones… 
In Italy, this ampelographic panorama relies on fundamental terroirs such as Liguria, Sardinia, Campania, Apulia, Calabria, Sicily
In France, highlights include Corse, Provence, Languedoc- Roussillon. 
In Spain, Cataluña, Valencia, Murcia and Andalusia
Excellent wines are boasted by Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus Turkey, Israel, Lebanon - where the pleasant Phoenician valley of the Bekaa treasures white grapes, the heritage of between WWs French colonialism. Millions of bottles are produced (40% exported in 20something countries), including excellent oak-aged and fortified wines.


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