by Silvia Lubitz-Skaramagkas & Elsa Sarri-van der Linden, December 2007
Last year we had the opportunity to learn about local produce at the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Paros (the “Enosi”) as part of a programme for the unemployed set up by the Municipality, the Ministry of Labour and the EU. The seminar was entitled “The promotion of Paros and its products with the help of new technology”. In the November 2006 and February 2007 issues we told you about Parian cheese and capers; in this issue we cover the wines of Paros. And with Christmas celebrations just around the corner, we’ll also give you a brief guide to choosing the best wines to complement your dinner parties over the festive season.
We were introduced to wine cultivation on Paros, the production methods used in the Enosi’s winery and the Parian grapes and their product – the local Parian wine – by Mr Alekos Grozas. He kindly allowed us to work in his office and use his computer to gather whatever background information we needed. We studied texts about the “Ambrosia of the Gods”, and came to realize that Paros is an island of great agricultural importance and that each individual effort is critical to keep the balance in the island’s ecological system.
We discovered that the cultivation of grapes is estimated to have begun about 6,000 years ago in the Caucasus, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. It is still not clear, however, when and by whom exactly winemaking was discovered, though our ancestors certainly knew that over-ripe fruits that had fallen from trees had an intoxicating power, as the fermentation of fruit produces alcohol. One of those beverages, with an alcohol content of around 10-14% and made, of course, from grapes, is wine.
Artefacts from the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations suggest that around 4,000 BC the ancient Greeks brought the knowledge of winemaking from grapes to Europe. They also discovered the health benefits of fruit and wine for body and soul. For this precious gift they worshipped Dionysus, the God of wine, and wine has formed an important part of Greek ceremonial life ever since. The “Dionysia”, a celebration with music, dance, tragedy and comedy theatre performances in honour of Dionysus, was one such religious festival held in ancient Athens. And the famous Athenian symposiums would only last for days if lots of wine was guaranteed!
The ancient Greeks also discovered that adding pine resin (retsina in Greek) preserves the wine. This method prevented the wine from spoiling during long ship journeys.
Around the world today there are about 16,000 grape varieties, approximately 300 of which grow in Greece. Greek wine producers use them alone or marry local varieties with international grapes to produce successful blends to satisfy wine connoisseurs who constantly search for new wine bouquets.
Some of the most popular vines grown in this country are:
Savatiano: grown in the region of Attica and Viotia, this is an excellent grape for retsina.
Moschofilero: from Tripoli, Mantinea and Messenia.
Moschato: from Samos, Rhodes and Achaia.
Asyrtiko: a well-known grape growing in Santorini which benefits from the volcanic soil.
Robola: from Cephalonia, this grape produces a very dry wine with a citrus flavour .
Roditis: from the Northern Peloponnese.
Monemvasia: grown on Paros.
Dafni: a traditional grape variety from Crete.
Vilana: from Crete.
Tourkopoula: grown in Messinia, Zakynthos, Preveza and Thasos.
Agiorgitiko: grown in the region of Nemea.
Mavrodaphne: grown at Achaia and in the Peloponnese, this grape produces a very sweet wine.
Red Cabernet: from Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly and Sterea.
Red Xinomavro: from the region of Northern Greece and Mount Athos.
Mandilaria Paros: A black grape grown on Paros.
Kotsifali: grown on Crete.
Liatiko (Juliatiko): an early-ripening grape grown exclusively on Crete.
The production of wine on Paros goes back nearly 3,000 years. During the Archaic Period (c. 750-480 BC), the island had colonies in Macedonia and Parian residents started to import agricultural products from the mainland to their home island. Wine cultivation on Paros became famous.
An enthusiastic friend of Parian wine was the lyrical poet Archilochos, son of Telesiklis, the leader of Parian colonists on Thasos in the middle of the 7th Century BC. Inspired by the power of this ambrosia, Archilochos, a protégé of the Nine Muses, certainly found the right verses to praise this delightful juice, which surely only the gods could have invented. Some of his words discovered on fragments of papyrus describe his enthusiasm: “I can lead the choir singing the dithyramb to the god Dionysus when wine has struck my wits with a thunderbolt.” (A dithyramb is a hymn to Dionysus performed by a group of singers dressed as satyrs.) Archilochos was also the first poet in antiquity who wrote about the pain-soothing power of wine.
Since those ancient times on Paros two varieties of grape are of particular importance: the red Mandilaria and the white Monemvasia. The method of vine cultivation has not changed much over the years. Terraced vineyards are created on the slopes of Parian hillsides, while creeping vines grow close to the sea to get the utmost benefit from the Parian climate.
After the 15th of August – the Assumption of the Virgin Mary – Parian winegrowers start checking their vineyards to estimate the date when the vines will be ready for harvesting. All through the month of September families are busy in the vineyards during the daytime, though the men are never too tired to discuss the subject of wine in the local kafenion in the evening! Winemaking is no big professional secret on Paros. Talking about it is a natural part of life on the island, a friendly exchange of expertise between neighbours. Reading the signs of nature, experienced winemakers can foresee whether September will be very sunny, and hope the sun-dried grapes promise an extra sweet wine that year. They say that warm October temperatures guarantee a successful fermentation. The vivacious discussions around winemaking end in November when the last grape product, the souma, can be tasted in the appropriate early winter atmosphere.
Souma (also known as raki or tsipouro) is a product of the traditional distillation of must residue, a very potent elixir with an alcohol content of around 36%. Ouzo, which tastes somewhat similar, is a distilled spirit aromatized with anis.
Parian farmers produce a great variety of their own red and white house wines with an interesting bouquet and a number of Parian farmers collaborate with the local wineries of Moraitis and the Agricultural Union.
The most common vini-cultural method is the immediate grape fermentation after harvesting and crushing. Special grape varieties, the raisins of which have been left to dry in the sun, are pressed to must and then fermented, producing an extra sweet house wine. Most Parian farmers have not changed the ancient winemaking method – crushing the grapes by trampling on them in bare feet is not rare on the island.
The hot dry climate of Paros favours the development of quality viniculture and since 1981 the Agricultural Union has succeeded in producing a wine designated “Appellation Controlled of High Quality Origin Paros” and based on European Union standards. This wine is produced from the certified grape varieties Mandilaria and Monemvasia which are perfectly adapted to the island’s ecology. The collaboration of Parian winegrowers with the inherited knowledge and skilled expertise of the Agricultural Union, combined with winemaking technology and scientific knowledge, is the success of the Appellation Paros – a compliment to the natural rich flavour of Parian grapes.
Depending on personal preferences, a wide selection of wines are available from the Agricultural Union, all of which pair perfectly with popular Greek dishes:
Appellation of High Quality Origin
Aged for at least one year in oak barrels.
Paros Red (Erythros): Ideal marriage of red Mandilaria and white Monemvasia. Enjoyed at 18oC, this dry red pairs well with dark red meat, strong-tasting dishes and cheese.
Paros White: A dry wine from the aromatic Monemvasia grape, unique to Greece. Enjoyed at 12oC it goes well with white meat, pastas, fish and seafood dishes.
Appellation of High Quality Origin Paros
White wine with a fruity flavour. Enjoyed at 12oC it goes perfectly with fish, pastas and seafood. This wine comes from select mountain vineyards on Paros, of legendary fame in the world of wine as Malvasia and Monemvasia.
From indigenous, rare and distinguished grape varieties of the Aegean Archipelagos come two unique dry red and white wines.
Aigaiopelagitiko Red: made from Parian Mandilaria married with other Aegean grapes which give it a rich flavour. Enjoyed at 14-18oC, it is an excellent companion to stewed, roasted or grilled white or red meat.
Aigaiopelagitiko White: made from the Parian variety of Monemvasia grape with a crystal colour and a discrete fruity taste. Enjoyed at 10-12oC it pairs well with dishes made with white sauces and with seafood.
The dry red and white Ekatontapliani wines are dedicated to our most lovely Lady of the Aegean, Paros’s church of Ekatontapyliani, and are thus produced and bottled with extra love.
Dry red, rosé and white wines. The red is from the Parian Mandilaria variety, should be served at 16-18oC and goes well with red meat and cheese. The white is made mainly from the Monemvasia and should be served between 10-12oC to accompany white meat or typical Aegean dishes. The rosé is from the Mandilaria grape, goes well with all Greek dishes and should be served at 10-14oC.
The certified grape varieties Mandilaria and Monemvasia are the original plants and not hybrids (genetically crossed). The Parian climate has dry days and humid nights, 300 sunny days all year, few rainy days in a short winter and full sunshine during the summer months, while the salty sea breeze freshens the atmosphere. Those natural conditions make Mandilaria and Monemvasia resistant to disease (in particular phylloxera) and means that the grapes are easily cultivated in the traditional way without using any chemicals at all – not only a very important issue in our time, but also a guarantee that the wine produced is always of the same quality.
We agreed with Mr Alekos about the importance of the Agricultural Union of Paros and understood the benefits Paros could reap if more original vines were to be grown on our island.
Certainly my husband Vangelis will follow Mr Alekos’s advice, after his own amusing experience in making wine from grapes which originally covered the pergolas at our home to provide shade. It took him a lot of work and a month of patience to fill a few bottles for our wine cellar. I decorated each self-corked bottle of our very own first wine with special care. And the proud winemaker offered the first swig to himself. Yes, it was a good vintage year for Sarakiniko: Vangelis had inadvertently managed to produce an extraordinarily strong vinegar with an intense dark colour and an exotic taste – a gourmet success waiting now to become highly desired birthday presents for friends and family! (Well, the labels are still rather beautiful, at least!)
Following the advice of the Union, Vangelis has now found a sunny spot on our land to cultivate Mandilaria and Monemvasia at Sarakiniko. And the Agricultural Union suggests in general to the local winegrowers that they collaborate with the Union. They advise that it is more beneficial to return to the original vines and cultivate these two grapes which guarantees our local certified Parian vines the support of the European Union. In return the winegrowers will gain the guidance and expertise of the Union throughout the process from winegrowing until the moment arrives to enjoy the first divine drop.
A short postscript: What had happened to Vangelis’ wine was easily explained: During fermentation the wine came in contact with oxygen. Acetobacter over-whelmed the natural wine yeast and the expected alcohol turned into acetic acid, better known as vinegar (vine aigre is old French for sour wine). Ah-ha!