The Wine Toasting Traditions of Greece
Part of every culinary tour with The International Kitchen is the beverages you drink and the traditions surrounding them. And while every country may have a different name for it, and a different way of doing it, but there’s no question about it: toasting with wine dates back to the Ancient Greeks. Then again, it wasn’t called ‘toasting’ back then.
Rather, the elite men of ancient Greece would gather for a “symposium,” which was thought to be organized to solidify relationships in both business and politics. It is largely accepted too that the seating at these symposiums involved couches and mattresses, so guests could recline, and so that there was no single “head.” To keep things equal too, they all drank in rounds so everyone got their fair share of the wine!
These symposium gatherings have been called the “ultimate cocktail party,” the evidence of which can be seen in artifacts from Ancient Greece, as the vessels and drinking cups used have artwork depicting these very symposiums. In fact, the wine cups used during the symposiums tell quite the story, from the material used to the history depicted through the artwork. And how the wine cups changed throughout the years also show how Ancient Greece changed. By 525-480 BC, for one, the symposiums began to allow the masses to participate, which aligns with the rise of democracy.
So where did toasting fit into all this? While not totally agreed upon, it’s widely accepted that there was a practical reason for sharing wine together: to ensure the wine wasn’t poisoned. It was thought that the host would pour the wine from a common pitcher, and then the host would take the first sip to show it was safe to drink. (But the name for ‘toasting’ started with the ancient Romans, who added toast to their wine to increase its palatability, and honoring someone with a toast didn’t start until the English introduced the practice.).
While toasting has nothing to do with poisoning in today’s Greece, some remnants of Ancient Greece wine traditions still occur today, which you can experience during a cooking vacation to our cooking vacations on the Greek Islands. Traditionally, the host gives the first toast, and if a guest is being honored at a meal, they’re often expected to stand and give a toast later on in the meal too.
As for the actual “toast,” the Greeks toast “to your health” (“stinygiasou” informally, and “eis igían sas” formally), or “to our health” (“ya has“).
And considering the healthy Mediterranean cuisine found on the Greek Islands during a culinary vacation, toasting to your health seems quite appropriate.
By Liz Hall
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