Wine figures prominently in Ikaria's history and culture and many Ikarians grow grapes and produce, share and drink their own wine with pride. Much of the locally produced wine is consumed young and in summer time at the numerous "Panagiria" (Saints Day Festivals) that take place around the island. There are also a few commercial wine growers and producers on the island. The Afianes Winery in Profit Ilias, in particular, has produced some internationally award winning wines. In general, wine making is continually expanding in Ikaria and reaching new audiences and export markets with good reason.
For thousands of years Ikaria has been famous for its wine.
In Homer's Odyssey, there is mention of the Ikarian "Pramneios Oinos", a strong deep red wine that was highly valued in the ancient world. The Iliad heroes are said to have tasted the magical power of Ikarian wine when preparing for battle in order to cure illnesses and strengthen their military fury. It is also believed that Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine, was born in Ikaria and that his cult was active on the island in ancient times. Some archaeological finds and names in many parts of the island derive their origin from Dionysian rituals.
Throughout its history grapes were a major crop in Ikaria, and in former times covered much of the island and contributed greatly to its economic development.
Today Ikaria produces moderate quantities of organic and non-organic white wines, dry, semi-dry and semi-sweet red wines and rose wines. There are two main indigenous grape varieties on the island: Fokiano (red) and Begleri (white).
The red Fokiano grape was first identified in the 15th century and is characterized by a rich aroma, long after taste, and bright ruby color. Ikaria's soil and climate is particularly conducive to the growing of this grape. The Fokiano vine produces grape bunches that are not dense, with grapes of medium size. Fokiano is cultivated on flat growing areas all over Ikaria and is used for making red and rose wines.
The white Begleri grape derives its name from the Syrian variety - Begler. This variety is endemic to Ikaria where it is the only place where Begleri is being cultivated during the last century. Begleri is cultivated on flat areas all over the island. It is a variety with an intense aromatic and complex character (citrus, kiwi and tropical aromas), and mild acidity. It compliments light meals, seafood, yellow cheese, and fruits and is served chilled.
Of interest is the fact that soil qualities unique to Ikaria can naturally produce wine that is 16 percent alcohol content or greater even in normal conditions. Ikarian winemakers were also innovators in that they fermented aged, stored and preserved their wines in earthen ware jars ("pitharia") buried in the earth, a practice later widely adopted in different forms all over the world.