Origins of Greek Cuisine and the Not-So-Mythological Wines to Pair with it

Greek food is some of the most sublime on the planet. It’s rich, diverse, fresh, and satisfying while being on the healthy side of things. For those on the Mediterranean diet, eating like a Greek is a pleasure. Along with wine, it might just be heaven on Earth.

While it’s true that Greek cuisine has long influenced other cultures, it came about from influences of other cultures itself. It’s likely one of the first fusion-style cuisines, dating back to 350 BCE. That was when Alexander the Great brought the Greek Empire from Europe down into India and with that move, absorbed those northern and eastern influences forevermore into Greek food as we know it.

Then, in 146 BCE, the Romans took over Greece, melding Roman influences into the cuisine. With Emperor Constantine in 330 CE, the capital of the Roman Empire moved to Constantinople, creating the Byzantine Empire. This of course then fell into the hands of the Turks and from 1453 onward, was a portion of the Ottoman Empire for a good 400 years. The dishes were then called Turkish names which have remained to this day for classic Greek dishes.

If you’re seeing a pattern emerge here, you’re spot-on. Every invasion and consequent settling made its own indelible mark on the cuisine of Greece. For instance, tzatziki, that delicious Greek yogurt-based sauce, comes from Turkish influences. Hummus, the dip made of chickpeas, is simply the Arabic word used for chickpea. And there are countless more dishes where that came from!

Who knew history could be so delicious? Incidentally, Greece is credited with the first cookbook. It was written in 330 BCE by Archestratus, a Greek food gourmet, thus proving Greece has always been on top of its epicurean game. Even those tall white chef hats were crafted, first starting in monasteries to help distinguish the monks who prepared the food from the regular monks.

Tasting Greek food, it’s always so simple, yet undeniably elegant. The flavors are sublime with textures that compete for your heart. Every dish hits the right notes and makes it easy to eat healthy and love every bite of it. Organically produced cheeses, fruit, nuts, vegetables, herbs, lemons, olives, eggplant, and legumes are merely a few key ingredients. Fish and seafood are intensely common though holidays give way to special meats like lamb and goat, with beef, poultry, and pork dishes incorporated thoroughly.

And then, there’s Greek wine. Much of the world is in the dark about Greek wine yet Greece was one of the biggest producers of the stuff back in ancient times. In modern times though, Greek wines are slowly emerging for the world to see. While you certainly can pair your favorite Greek dishes with appropriate wines from around the world, it would be a shame to miss out on the not-so-mythological wines that it creates.

Most people are familiar with ouzo, the anise-flavored liqueur that serves as the country’s national spirit. However, it’s encouraged that you get to know Greece’s delightful wines.

Greek Red Wine Styles

Among the red wines of Greece, Xinomavro is firm with tannins and full of crisp acidity. These are ideal for fatty meats like lamb, though it will go beautifully with meaty stews of any sort, wild game, or even a hearty mushroom risotto. If you’d prefer to indulge in a simple wine and cheese tasting, aged gouda or cheddar alongside it will blow your mind.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot styles are also produced in Greece. They are a nice match with lamb as well, or with a robust meaty dish. Moschomavro on the other hand is a grape variety that’s only grown in a very small area. It’s dry but with a fruitiness and softness that’s just heavenly with a good loaf of bread, Greek cheeses, and olives to round it out.

Krassato and Stavroto grapes grow on the slopes of Mount Olympus. If you remember your mythology, this was the mountain of the Greek gods. The wine here is rather holy itself, just a bit fruity and spicy and good pairing for moussaka.

Greek White Wine Styles

Greece also has some splendid whites to try. Moschofilero is only grown in the Peloponnese. Try it with grilled skewers of chicken and Greek salad. Chardonnay grows well in Greece, making a stunning accompaniment to fresh grilled fish and seafood, like calamari.

Savatiano and Assyrtiko varieties are delicious with Greek meatballs yet versatile enough to pair with a traditional dish of grilled sardines. Additionally all white wines work beautifully with Greek olives, beets with onions, and feta cheese in any form – baked or atop fresh vegetables.

If you’re serving Greek food and don’t have anything from Greece in your wine rack, you can find charming matches from any country. Red meat dishes such as lamb bode well with heavier reds like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Shiraz. Greek-style fish dishes always need something light to complement it, like Pinot Grigio, Riesling, or Pinot Noir.

Greek food has been enjoyed for ages. It was more than a means to an end. The ancient people of Greece had a hearty food and wine culture, one that begs to be rediscovered in the modern world.