“Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was ever granted by the gods to man.” – Plato.
Ancient Greeks had a deep appreciation of the so-called Nectar of the Gods – and the Cycladiots were no exception. Cycladic wines have a millennial history that puts them in the centre of local folklore, myths, and everyday life. Here’s what you need to know about these flavoursome, mirth-inducing gems.
Dating back to some 5.000 years ago, winemaking is one of the oldest surviving traditions on the Cyclades. Omnipresent on the everyday table and on special occasions alike, wine is embedded in the locals’ lives: As a staple with meals, as a welcome to friends and strangers, as a mirth-inducing toast at weddings and christenings, but also as a natural medicine for the ailments of the body, heart and spirit.
In view of the annual harvest period – a time of celebration and joy that’s inextricably linked to the ancient cult of Dionysus – here are some interesting facts about Cycladic wines, which you’re most welcome to sample at the Semeli best 5-star hotel in Mykonos Town.
Fun and interesting facts about Cycladic wines
According to Greek mythology, Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semeli – a Theban princess who shared the same ill-fate as all other Zeus’ paramours – gave humans the grapevine and taught them the art of winemaking. Thanks to his love of drinking, dancing, music and uninhibited merry-making with free-spirited acolytes, he was a favourite figure in ancient Greek religion and art – and still remains one of the most likeable Olympian deities. Wine and its associated rituals, after all, play a key role in our own modern-day existence. Especially in a place like Mykonos – a bustling destination with a nightlife and entertainment scene that rivals ( if not surpasses! ) even that of Ibiza. It is of course not coincidental that the god of wine, fertility and mirth is directly related to the island of the winds. As the story goes, Dionysus fathered Ryo, who in turn gave birth to the mighty hero Mykons, to whom the name of the island is attributed. In fact, as scenes on ancient coins indicate, Mykonians from the 5th c. BC worshipped Dionysus and his mother Semeli with various festivals and sacrifices throughout the year.
Cycladic wines were famous since ancient times, with the vineyards of Santorini, Paros as well as Naxos, Amorgos, Kea and Syros becoming particularly prominent in the centuries of Venetian rule. What’s more, in the case of Santorini, archaeological evidence suggests that viticulture preceded even the devastating eruption of the island’s volcano in prehistoric times. Wine growing activities and trade flourished under Venetian and Ottoman rule and in the 19th century when Santorini wines accounted for the lion’s share of exports among all other Greek wines.
In the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Greek and Cycladic wines were considered a delicacy. However, since the mid-20th century, their status markedly diminished in Europe – with most EU citizens only getting to sample the sickly-sweet retsina wine in tavernas. The tides have been steadily turning in recent years though, thanks to the systematic efforts of a new generation of winemakers who’ve managed to salvage a bunch of antique, almost forgotten, local varieties. The microclimate of the Cyclades fosters the production of wines with very special characteristics, which often gain enthusiastic acclaim in international tasting competitions. Aside from the star-studded Assyrtiko of Santorini, other native varieties include Monemvasia, Serfiotiko, Athiri, Aidani and Mandilaria. The emphasis is now placed on quality bottled wines, and while – with the notable exception of Santorini – there is no wine tourism on a large scale, the future of Cycladic wines looks increasingly bright.
September is harvest time and activity in the small Cycladic wineries is in full swing; quite a sight to see and an experience to savour. Though the tradition of winemaking is going strong in small-scale productions in family vineyards, Mykonos is home to just one commercial winery, Vioma. The yield from the dry-farmed vineyards of the monastery of Panagia Tourliani in Ano Mera is never high, with no more than 17,000 bottles produced every year. But the grapes are lovingly tended with organic/biodynamic methods and classical music in the background as an added bonus. If you are a wine aficionado make sure to consult with our concierge for a tasting session under the farm’s shaded pergola. You’re also welcome to sample some gems from the Cyclades at our onsite Krama and Thioni restaurants or at Semeli the Bar, Bao’s and Toy Room in Little Venice.