Ancient Greece: The uses of wine

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Wine had many uses for the Greeks. It was of course important as a food and drink (it was doubtless often safer than water), and the symposium, which centred around the drinking of wine, was one of the most important Greek social forms. Wine was almost always drunk diluted with water: the ratio varied, normally ranging between 2 : 3 and 1 : 3, which would give a range in alcoholic strength of about 3 to 6% and generally at the lower end of this range (roughly the same as British draught beer). Weaker mixtures are disparaged in comedy (and even 1 : 3 called for a good wine), but 1 : 1 was considered by some dangerous to the health, and the regular drinking of unmixed wine, a habit confined to barbarians, was believed by some Spartans to have caused the insanity and death of their King Cleomenes. The mixed wine was also normally cooled, sometimes in special pottery coolers; the very rich added snow.