They say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans!” Applying that philosophy in the homeland of Philosophy ... when in Hellas, do as the Greeks! In English, the Romans gave us the forum in which to gather, and the Greeks - the symposium - from the Greek word symposia. For over 5000 years the Greeks have enjoyed organizing symposia, intellectual gatherings where they would eat, talk about philosophical subjects, all the while drinking oivoi - wine. A symposia begins with a toast to Dionysus. Dionysus is the Greek God of wine and liberation. Also known as Bacchus, and readily adopted by the Romans and raucously celebrated with the infamous feasts of Bacchanalia. A most fine tradition and institution to pass along to the modern world.
Pelekas Agios - Kerkyra of the Ionian islands of Greece. We spent the day climbing to the top of the Neo Forio, the 13th century Venetian fortress that towers over Kerkyra (Corfu) town. Old and new are definitely relative terms when you are in Greece, to the tyro everythingappears to be old. From the ramparts of hilltop citadel we peer through the archer’s slits and small windows across the city to the old fort - the previous Venetian fort built in the 11th century.
The long day exploring the ancient forts worked up both our thirst and appetite. After returning to the family run pension overlooking Pelekas Agios (Pelekas Bay), we shower and change clothes. Then gather on the patio with friends for our own symposia to discuss the sites we visited today and plan more adventures for the future, and of course to eat and drink and watch the evenings’ sunset.
We begin our symposia by bringing out a couple bottles of wine we picked up along our way through the Aegean and crossing the Peloponnese. A very dry and crisp white from Achaia Klaus near Patra on the Peloponnese, possibly the world’s oldest continuous vineyard and has been in production for 4000 years. Chilled, this bottle is refreshing after a day climbing the fortresses, and a perfect accompaniment to the mezedes (appetizers) of Saganaki (grilled Kasseri cheese), Melitzana (aubergine salad), tarama (fish roe salad), and olives. We enjoy clay pitchers of local oivoi rossa (red wine), vinted by our hosts family, with the evening’s meal of spit roasted lamb.
The wines of Greece are quite varied and often only available in the region where the grapes are grown and the wine produced. They are quite unique because of the more than 300 varieties of grapes are indigenous to Greece, some have been cultivated since ancient times.
During the Greek dominance of the Mediterranean, they brought wine, varieties of grape vines, and their vinification skills first to their outposts in Italy and Sicily around 800 B.C., and later to France and Spain. Amphorae, the huge clay vases the Greeks used to store and transport their wine, have been discovered in archeological sites all around the Mediterranean basin and as far away as Switzerland. Later the Roman Empire would continue the practices they learned from their Greek forbearers, as would the following medieval realms of the Venetians and Franks. Wine was not only libation, but also currency for trade and barter in the ancient world. And that trade would spread the grapes, the wine, and the tradition of celebrating the gods with the fruits of the harvest.
As the sun drew down close to the horizon, we brought out our last bottle of Vin Santo, a naturally sweet wine from the southern Aegean island of Thira (Santorini). The grapes are grown on vines twisted into crowns that lay close to the ground. The grapes are allowed to dry some in the sun on the vines before being picked and vinted. The drying concentrates the already high sugar content and produces a delightfully sweet dessert wine. We raised our glasses in a final salute to Dionysus, a spectacular day of exploration, and to the sun setting on Agios Pelekas.