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It's all Greek to us...Happy Planet Index 2012

The United Kingdom is not famed for its positive outlook. In 2012’s Happy Planet Index we finished below Israel, Palestine and Iraq, this seems surprising what with our being relatively wealthy and peaceful all things considered. If you hadn’t heard about our standing in the Happy Planet Index, that’s probably because it wasn’t very widely reported. But why wasn’t it? We love a spot of bad news. Something meaty to moan about. Surely we could’ve gone to town on that one? Well the truth is that it wasn’t really bad news at all. In 2006 we languished in 108th place; by 2009 we’d made a giant leap to 74th; now we’re in 41st; if we carry on at this rate we’ll be in the top 10 for the next one. Watch out Costa Rica, you may be the greenest and happiest country in the world, but we’re coming for you. Unfortunately good news rarely makes the news.

One exception occurred a couple of weeks ago when the Institute for Economics and Peace published the UK Peace Index, which revealed that violent crime is falling faster in the UK than in any other country in Western Europe. We may never be able to compete with the Germans when it comes to penalties, economic prudence or Riesling, but when it comes to happiness or peace we can. But the most interesting thing about the UK Peace Index was that our perception of violent crime is up. We’re becoming increasingly convinced that we’ll fall prey to an atrocity, despite the fact that the probability of this is reducing. Is this because violent crime and fewer bobbies on the beat are far more likely to make the news than the positive statistics that show we are safer? Why is good news not news? Reports saying “young people are much worse off than their parents” don’t mention that luxuries like mobile phones, the internet, foreign travel and a choice between green or red jalapeños in supermarkets are often a given now, but weren’t for previous generations. Our poor ol’ grandparents’ nachos must have been a woefully drab affair.

Before you get worried, we’re not going all Harold Macmillan on you, and you know we love the press, but we do wonder whether it would have a positive impact on our current economic situation if we heard less about how dire things are economically and instead focussed on the successes and positives. Wouldn’t this help build consumer and business confidence where the politicians have failed? We’re not calling for feel-good American-style cute news story features like the water skiing squirrel in Anchorman, but a little positive perspective wouldn’t go amiss. Imagine how refreshing it would be if every bad news feature was balanced by something good like how well English wine producers like Gusbourne Estate did at Prowein, Europe’s largest wine fair, last month?

Explore GreeceYou may be asking where on Earth we’re going with all this. Well the answer is Greece. We’re bored of hearing so much negative news about our favourite wine producing archipelago (oops, did we just offend New Zealand?). If you turn on the news you could easily get the impression that Greece has had its day and has been condemned to the past. But when it comes to wine we actually think that Greece is the future.

This may seem like an unusual thing to say about a country with 6,500 years of winemaking history and if you weigh up the evidence, the odds may appear heavily stacked against our claim. Most Greek wine is made from obscure grape varieties, like Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Xynomavro and Assyrtiko, which are near impossible to pronounce, especially after a glass of wine. Winemaking is on a comparatively small scale, which means that there are few brands large enough to do the ambassadorial legwork needed to crack the UK market. Modernisation has been rather slow, there’s the love-hate relationship with Retsina, oh and you may have heard about a spot of economic trouble over there.

But don’t forget, the Greeks introduced winemaking to Italy and the Romans then took it to France, so the two largest wine producing countries in the world effectively have Hellenic heritage (they may not appreciate being told that though). Those perceived weaknesses described above are, in our opinion, Greece’s hidden strengths. One of our bestselling wines is Quinta de Bons Ventos, a Portuguese red made from weird grape varieties, so maybe this isn’t a hindrance. In fact it makes a nice change from the usual suspects like Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc, and who cares if the names are difficult to say if they are easy to drink, right? Small scale production means these wines are desirably unique and boutique, their lack of fame means that they represent great value for money and their survival through the economic tumult is proof of their quality. And finally we aren’t the only ones who think that Greek wines are the future, we have it on good authority that Hellenic vines are being planted in Australia, as winemakers there think that with climates warming they are going to need just this kind of hardy grape variety.

A quick fix?So we took it upon ourselves to invest in the future. We’ve brought in a raft of new Greek wines, which you can pick up in our shops or online here. If you aren’t sure what to expect from Greek wines, we say imagine the food friendliness of Italian wines crossed with the rustic charm of the Portuguese. We also have two brand new Greek beers from Fix, which are available in our shops. Fix was the number one brewery in Greece, it unfortunately went into decline, but was resurrected and has risen like a phoenix from the flames and its beers are perfect with souvlaki, pork from the flames. Beyond that, we say, go forth and explore…

Greek philosopher Aristotle said that “happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” We’re no philosophers, but we think he is saying “happy is good” and we also think he’d have told us that there is more to Greece than the financial crisis. Our philosophy is positive thinking and positive drinking. (TO)

Pyrrho and AtmaThis post was written while drinking: Rising star of the Greek wine world, Apostolos Thymiopoulos’ Atma White. This wine is vegan, organic and made using biodynamic principles; we think that means it makes the world a better place, just by its very being. But it’s the peach, pear and lemon laced taste of this Oddbins exclusive that puts everything refreshingly in perspective. It might even bring out your inner philosopher. It could be Heraclitus, Socrates, Pythagoras or Plato; we’re not sure which though, because like Pyrrho we believe it’s impossible to know anything for certain.