The Ancient Greeks put water in their wine. They did. And a small amount of water. They liked to add a sweet touch too. Yorgos Kostis, alias Little George, coordinates a collective called Helession that wants to revive this way of drinking.
It all began in 1977. With four friends, Little George wanted to drink with no-SO2 wines. This was not common in Greece ; even today, sulfur-free wine are not common. After years of experiments with winemaker, they decided to bottle their production in 2000. Then another, more crazy, challenge.
Chemicals and big retail are two poisons of the second half of the 20th century. Because of them we have lost the taste of wine. The natural wine movement is struggling against it. But at the headquarters of Helession, in a dull apartment of an Athens popular district, Petit Georges explains to me that he wants to go back in time even further ... to ancient Greece, 2500 years ago !
In the early 2000s, with his friends he red Plato and Dioscorides. Now they see the wine that philosophers used to drink. "During their discussions, they used to drink wine with spring water. They were diluting according to their desire. Thus, they could continue the philosophical debate for hours, keeping all their mind and their good mood, "summarizes Little George.
Developing, experimenting, having fun... They developped their products in 2008: grape syrup, grapewater and natural wine.
And you have to mix. No matter how? Here is the recipe.
The first element is the "pure wine" (aρχαιο oίνος, akratos oenos). A natural wine just like the ones we know in France or elsewhere. The vine is oranically grown, winemaking without any chemicals, no SO2, no filtration : only grapes ! "The wines are dead as soon as there is SO2 in it," Little George says. The only difference with our usual natural wines are the Greek sun and a harvest of very ripe grapes, which inflates sugar levels and thus the alcoholic degree. We have 14 or 15 degrees for a white win... This can also be found in France!
Obviously, they grow only Greek grapes. Between red, rosé and white "classic", my heart is in love with Melichios, vintage 2013. The Greek used to make the grape saviatiano "piss"... But here it's macerated one month on skins. Of course it reminds me the orange Italian wines I love so much.
Proof that this is a wine without sulfur at all, the color turns from a orange to a shaddy copper after a half day of opening.
Second element, the grapewater. The Greeks were diluting their pure wine for the "blended wine" (κεκραμένος οίνος, kekramenos oenos from which is derived the term κρασί, krasi which simply means "wine" in modern Greek). This is the end of the Greek lessons...
How to make the blend ? How much water for any amount of wine ? The ancients did like they want, either a drop or a big ammount of water. Helession considers that you can drink the wine for itself or use a big amount of water, until a total of 1° alcoholic degree. Springwater can be used but Little George prefers grapewater (eιδύλι, heydelli) produced by low temperature extraction and the same grapes as wine. More fravoured than springwater, it sets light fruit aromas.
Third and last element, the stafilomelo a grape syrup. Concentrated like a "grape honey". This will sweeten the wine. It is a grape juice which was heated at low temperatures to remove water.
Obviously, you can drink without water or syrup. You must get in mind that there is no mandatory recipe. It all depends on the person, the time, wine, the weather ... "The mix is up to you" summarizes Little Georges. And you can also experiment a French wine with springwater and a nice grape syrup. No racism at all.
I know that some of you are impatient to criticize, to jeer, to mock ... I know, I have asked myself a lot of questions before writing about Helession...
"What about the terroir in this ?" The vines are grown on Mount Cithaeron near ancient Thebes (Panoussis farm, organically for 40 years) or in the Peloponnese, near Nemea (Pirgakis farm). The appellation is quite wide : Centre Greece. Another difficulty : we do not necessarily find the same grape variety in wine than in water or syrup: we mix saviatiano wine with agiorgitico and roditis syrup... It's the same fruit, the same producer, the same way of working. And you have to make your own blend.
"But is it still wine?" Let the philosophers answering this question. Strictly speaking, this is probably not wine, because you add something else in the pure wine. But if you only add a drop of water?
"Frankly, is it serious ?" Well, why not...
As a conclusion, talk frankly. It would be foolish to think about this way of drinking with our traditionnal habits. Little George does not want to destroy the wine as we know, does not want to mix all wines, does not want to return to the times of caves, does not want to transform our habits... He only offers a step aside, a prank, a sweet madness... Why not follow him sometimes?
And what about the Greek crisis ? We will talk soon.