THE WINES OF PELOPONNESOS
AND ARCADIA

From the Book:

THE WINES OF GREECE
By Miles Lambert

Peloponnessos

Central and Southern Areas

Classical Reflections

Gastronomic Notes

Links to Related Pages

Places of Arcadia

Maps of Arcadia

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From the antiquity wine was one of the main economic resources of Greece. At the same time, it played and continues to play a special role in the Greeks lives. Dionysus (Bachus), the good of wild vegetation at the beginning, was associated with the grape and wine almost exclusively.

Viticulture started in Greece around the 15 century B.C. A possible route it followed to come to was from Phoenicea to Crete, from there to Naxos and the rest of Greece followed. Greeks learned the art of wine-making from Egypt and Phoenicea. Then, they brought it in their country and applied it widely and extensively. So, they became the best winemakers. Moreover, by their travels and colonisations on many Mediterranean coasts, they brought the wine to Southern Europe and set the basis of modern viticulture.

Peloponnesos is one of the most important and traditional greek areas from the point of view of wine quality, variety and production.  From the same viewpoint, the region of ancient and even modern Arcadia holds an exceptional position among the Peloponnesian regions. The following extract of the book "The Wines of Greece", by Miles Lambert (Editors: Faber & Faber, London and Boston, Pages: 308, ISBN 0-571-15388-7 (paper back), ISBN 0-571-15388-9 (hard back)) gives a good oberview of the viticulture in Peloponnesos and Arcadia.


PELOPONESSOS

"Through the plain is the direction of the road from the village of Agios Georgios to Corinth: the former of these places is distant an hour's journey from Nemea: it produces the best wine in the Morea, great quantities of which passed us on the backs of asses and mules, while we were examining the ruins; and our servants did not neglect this opportunity of filling the spherical wood barrels which they wore slung round their shoulders."

(Peter Laurent, British traveler, Recollections of a Classical Tour, 1821)

The southernmost region of the Greek mainland is practically an, island, to which even its age-old name attests Peloponnesos, or the 'Island of Pelops', the Pelopses having been a ruling clan of very early times. Its colloquial name is 'Morea', which was attached in much more recent centuries, most likely because mulberry (morea) trees covered parts of its north-western area. A11 but surrounded by water, the Peloponnesos's physical connection to Central Greece is as tenuous as could be, and consists only of the Isthmus of Corinth in the north-east, which leads in from Megara and Athens. Even that point of contact has been artificially severed by the 4-mile-long Corinth Canal, cut through during 1882-83.

Crossing southward over the Canal, a visitor can easily experience the feeling of leaving the mainland behind. But as far as wine-growing is concerned, a break may not be so readily apparent, since local retsina continues to be offered all about, no matter the direction in which one proceeds. It is nevertheless illusory to conceive of the Peloponnesos as trailing along in the wake of Central Greece. Rarely is retsina the only sort of wine made at individual places, and even where it might qualify as a typical wine it is usually but one of a number of them. In fact, Peloponnesian wine is characterized by a diversity considerable enough for the region to stake a claim as the most versatile wine-grower of the mainland, for which it perhaps has its insular qualities to thank.

Incursions of Slavs from the north into the middle uplands of the Morea in the late Middle Ages drove many of the earlier inhabitants towards the coast, resulting in a concentration of population there. The consequent growth of port towns, particularly Nafplion in the north-east, Monemvasia in the south-east, Methoni in the south- west, and Patras in the north-west, led to increased maritime activity , which occasioned a great deal of procurement and dispatch of vines between the Peloponnesos and other parts of Greece. Some non- native varieties were adopted in the hinterland of the port towns, so that, while native varieties are planted in the Morea and are sometimes preponderant, as in the interior, the varietal complement along the periphery , where most vineyards are located, usually bears some greater or lesser resemblance to that found at the nearest land-point , across the respective areas of water the region faces on its several sides. For example, the varietal influence of the Ionian islands is discernible in the western and north-western Morea, while the varieties of Crete and the Cyclades are met with in the south.

grapeLarge volume and highly uneven geographic distribution are also features of Peloponnesian wine production. The region accounts for just over one-quarter of Greek wine, and is barely second to Central Greece on that score. Production is very heavily concentrated in the northern half, and most of all around the perimeter, although not usually right along the coast, where currants and table grapes dominate, but instead further inland, mostly from 5-2.0 miles, on the higher and often steeply sloping terrain. The concentration in the north is attributable in part to the growth of the town and port of Patras after the Greek War of Independence, and also to proximity to the Athenian market, which burgeoned in the twentieth century . But the influence of currant production must be reckoned as well. Its profitability in the northern Morea in recent centuries generally served to maintain interest in viticulture, but in some areas was actually a threat to wine production at times, since growers were tempted to replant virtually all of their vineyards with currant vines. National legislation early in this century put an end to the currant's encroachment, while the inception of growers' cooperatives, as well as increased activity by large private wine firms, brought more attention to wine-grape cultivation.

 


CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN AREAS

Map of wine regions of Peloponnesos (click on to enlarge)To head south from Nemea, into the east-central Morea and the territory of Arcadia, is to move into wine country notorious even among resin-addicted Greeks for its liberally pine-laced retsina. What a surprise, then, to find that the area is also home to one of the most delicate of Greek vintages, Mantinia. The wine has been called after the deep-soiled plateau where it is grown, which takes its name from an ancient religious site. An appellation of origin is authorized for about 55° hectares of vines, extending from north-east to south-east of Tripolis, and including vineyards belonging to that town, as well as to the villages of Levidi, Artemisio, Simiades, Pikemi, Kapsas, Nestani, Louka, Sanga, Zevgolatio and Partheni. The qualifying grape varieties are the semi-aromatic moskhofilero and asproudes. The former predominates in plantings, and is a variety having more or less reddish skin, although the entitled wine produced from it must be white.

Winery and vinery of Spyropoulos' familyAt Mantinia, grapes mature relatively late for southern continental Greece, usually in the second half of September, because the region, at about 650 metres altitude, is subject to frequent storms and rain in the summer, and to temperatures lower than at most places on the mainland. Even at maturation, sugar content is relatively low and acid content high for an area so far south. The wine usually produced is a lightish dry white of slight 'aromatic' character. However, the Mantinia appellation authorization also permits a semi-sweet wine, which is typically produced by giving only a weak pressing to the best-ripened grapes. But none of that kind of Mantinian wine is being marketed. Sparkling wines of Mantinia, although not entitled to the appellation, are highly thought of among Greek wine professionals, whose praise for them could lead one to think sparkling Mantinian wine the Peloponnesian equivalent of mousseux from the Loire. But none of that type is available commercially either.

Vine in MantineiaAlthough Mantinian wines have been bottled by various firms over the years, at present the only one proclaiming itself a product of that area is a dry still one of the Cambas firm of Attica, which makes its appellation wine Mantinia in a quantity of about 500 hectolitres annually, entirely from their own 70 hectares of vines in the region. It is vintage-dated wine of II.5°. Mantinia should not be subjected to the deep chill before serving, lest the best part of its nose is lost. I have had a hard time finding foods I think it shows well against, and therefore am inclined to mention it as Greek 'sipping wine'. But at a pinch, do this: spread boiled cabbage leaves in a shallow casserole, cover them with a cooked mixture of minced veal, butter, white wine, parsley and thyme, then add another layer of leaves, and finally cover it all with a yogurt-egg mixture before placing it in a medium oven to bake until golden. I cannot imagine anything in a Balkan vein much better suited to Mantinia, although the natives around Tripolis would certainly think such an outlook oddly limiting.

kabosmantin.jpg (17546 bytes)South of Arcadia, the Peloponnesos as yet affords only some very localized wine surpluses of any size. Moreover, those are exploited by bottlers from elsewhere in Greece, who use them to produce brand name wines of no particular origin. A truly native, contemporary wine industry is only just now emerging. None of that should be mistaken as evidence of a lack of qualitative potential, however. In fact certain southern locales have a reputation for above-average or excellent wines, although mostly confined to the Peloponnesos until now, because the area is off the beaten path even for most Greeks. Some of these places are quite small, such as Stafilakia, formerly known as Grammousa, a mountainside village deep in the south-east, in Laconia. It is the sort of place Peloponnesians from south of Arcadia do not bother telling anyone about, but visit as need be to fill up demi-johns. The villagers of Stafilakia boast of growing over twenty grape varieties, and of having nearly as many sorts of wine. The village's taming would seem to be several decades away. In contrast, Filiatra, located along the south-western coast, is a much more extensive vineyard area, and its dry white wines based wholly or largely on the fileri enjoy a very good reputation at least as far north as Athens. The work of the local 'Nestor' cooperative could result in 'country wine' status for varietal fileri whites of Filiatra in coming years.

Perhaps indicative of stirrings in the south is the seemingly unlikely planting of cabernet sauvignon vines in the hilly vicinity of Khora, south-east of Filiatra, which Nestor hopes to make commercial use of at some point in the future. The light red cabernet wine of Khora that I tasted will not pass for a Medoc, but it none the less serves notice that the Peloponnesos, and most definitely the south, has by no means exhausted its possibilities.


CLASSICAL REFLECTIONS

FileriGreeks frequently serve Mavrodaphne of Patras as an aperitif. The habit, which is hardly without its parallels elsewhere along the northern Mediterranean, invites consideration of certain notions and practices of the ancients in ordering the serving of wine and food.

Although one can hardly survey the ancient record and presume an absolute conformity of habits among places and periods during early times, it may be said that for some time before Plutarch in the first century AD, wine was customarily not drunk until a main course was being eaten. Among some of the ancients, depending perhaps on their personal disposition as well as their times and social class, even that was thought too early: ' after the food [ emphasis added] only so much unmixed wine should be taken by alI as should be a taste and ensample of the good god's power, but after that alI other wine must be drunk mixed' (Theophrastus, On Drunkenness, fourth century BC, quoted by Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists) .For food was thought an antidote to intoxication, and intoxication was considered permissible only during bacchanalia, even if it was common at wine shops.

However, around Plutarch's time a change was introduced through a shuffling in the ordering of courses: 'The "cold-course" as it used to be called, with oysters, sea-urchins, and raw vegetables, has like a body of light-armed troops been shifted from the rear to the front, and holds first place instead of last' (Moralia, 'Table -talk'). That shift, which Plutarch attributed to decadence, and which perhaps occurred mostly among the affluent, ushered in an expansion of the 'cold-course', such that it became the forerunner of what would at a much later date be dubbed "the cocktail hour":

The serving of the so-called aperitives [propomaton] is a great change too. The ancients did not even drink water before the dessert course, but nowadays people get themselves intoxicated before eating a thing, and take food after their bodies are soaked and feverish with wine, serving hors-d'ceuvres of light and sharp- flavoured and sour foods as a stimulant to the appetite and then, in this condition, eating heartily of the rest of the meal.

(Moralia, 'Table-talk')

To take Plutarch's viewpoint, the likely culprit was salt: 'it is conventional before a main course to take appetizers that are sharp or briny, and in general anything that has a highly salty character' ('Table-talk'). For salt provokes a thirst that some would try to quench with wine. Indeed Plutarch remarked that priests 'use no salt with their food during their periods of holy living ...because salt, by sharpening the appetite makes them more inclined to drinking [wine] and eating' (Moralia, 'Isis and Osiris').

During pre-prandial nibbling, sweet wines probably would have been deemed to have the advantage over dry ones, since sweet wines were understood to forestall intoxication; Hagias said that sweetness is filling, so that one ordinarily cannot drink enough to get drunk (Plutarch, Moralia, 'Table-talk'). Furthermore, sweet red wine might have been seen as allaying the drying property of salt on account of its 'moistness' : 'sweet dark wines are moister and weaker' than other kinds (Hippocrates, Ancient Medicine).


GASTRONOMIC NOTES

As concerns food, the name of the Peloponnesos seems destined to remain inextricably bound up with currants and olives. The region is the world's centre of currant production; they grow primarily along the northern rim, but also down the west coast. The black currants of Aegion (Vostitsa) have a particular repute, while those of Kiato usually gain first mention among the less characteristic amber kind. However, olive trees are far more widespread than currant vines in the Morea. The region's oil is plentiful and almost universally very good. Exceptional ones include the best of Kyparissia on the south-western coast, Leonidio on the south-eastern coast, and the valley of Sparta in the south-central area. Two sorts of table olive have taken the region's name far among olive enthusiasts the world over: Kalamata and Nafplion. The Kalamata is grown in the vicinity of the town of that name along the south-central coast, and is readily distinguishable by its blackish-purple colour, almond shape, and lengthwise slit. Unlike most Greek black olives, it is harvested before complete ripeness, and cured quickly, in about two weeks, compared to six months for most, so as to preserve the colour and enhance the tang appropriate to the particular state of ripeness. Poles apart from the Kalamata, the Nafplion olive comes from the area of the town of that name in the north-eastern Peloponnesos, and is smallish, green and cracked across its width. In Greek grocery stores, olives called tsakistes, the 'cracked ones', are usually Nafplion olives, and are often flavoured with garlic or herbs.

Outstanding fresh seafood can be had virtually all around the coast of the Morea, but particular mention must be made of the areas of Methoni and Koroni, situated on opposite sides of the far south- western peninsula of the region. Along the central western coast, the lake by Kaiafas provides excellent fish, and some turtles as well. Far inland, about midway between Pyrgos and Mantinia, the artificially created Lake Ladonas is visited for its trout (pestrofa). Small game such as hare and partridge abound, notably at Kaltezies, midway between Tripolis and Sparta, and in the vicinity of Leonidio. Wild goat is a prized meat in mountainous areas. Around Ahladokambos, midway between Tripolis and Nafplion, roasted old she-goat (ghiosa) is the speciality, while Kosmas, by Mount Parnonas in the south-east, prides itself on kid cooked in and served with a special broth. Dairy products made from ewe's milk have won popular recognition for several locales: yogurt of Manolada in the north-west and Megalopolis in the centraI south; cheeses from Kosmas and other lofty areas around Parnonas, where the animals graze exclusively on wild savory; and Parnonas is especially appreciated for its rare goat's- milk myzithra, a soft cheese. In some villages in the mountainous south-east, korkofingi may also be encountered. It is made by frying, omelette-fashion, the rich, thick milk of a ewe or she-goat that has given birth, and served cut in pieces with sugar sprinkled over it.


Links to Related Pages

ARKAS - Wine producers of Arkadia
Domain Spiropoulos - Mantineia - Arcadia
Yiannis Tselepos - wine maker - Arcadia
The Greek Wine makers
The Roads of Greek Wines

Producing Areas in Greece
The History of Wine in Greece
Lesislation concerning wine
Types of Greek Wines
Books

The Wine Spectator

 

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