Celebrating International Syrah Day with Greek Labels

All wines get a holiday and February 16th is International Syrah Day, when wine enthusiasts worldwide celebrate Syrah, a red wine also named Shiraz- as it’s more commonly known in Australia.

The grapes are known for their deep red colour and small size. They can be round but have also been referred to as egg-shaped. Syrah has a short ripening period. When grown in the Old World it tends to be spicier, less fruit-forward, earthier, and more tannic. In New World, where it is also known as Shiraz, it tends to be “larger”, “bolder” and “jammier”, with less spice.

Syrah managed to spread to the Greek vineyard, in a relatively short time, producing wines of very high quality. This is no coincidence for producers, as Syrah is considered to thrive in the warm climatic conditions of Greece.

Greek Syrah is very close to the style of its New World counterpart, displaying a high alcoholic degree, prolonged extraction, dense structure, strong tannins, moderate acidity and sweets, and ripe aromas of black fruits and spices. It has the potential to age for many years and is often mixed with other international and local varieties; and gives very qualitative wines.

Below we will review five Greek labels that represent a range of styles and prices to suit every taste and budget.

Insights Greece - Celebrating International Syrah Day with Greek Labels
Collection by Avantis Estate

Courtesy of Avantis Estate
Mytikas Evia

A scarce Syrah, as the production does not exceed 1,000 bottles per year. The yield per hectare ranges from 300 -350 kilos. It’s a soft, graceful wine that offers a bouquet and palate marked by dark cherry, plum, dark chocolate, and a smidge of espresso. The acidity is balanced with the delicious fruit and the tannins are intact, leaving ample room for each to develop and flourish in an elegant finish. If there was a pedestal, surely one place would belong to the Collection. It is certainly up for the challenge of grilled roasted meat, hunt stewed red and hard yellow aged cheese.

Insights Greece - Celebrating International Syrah Day with Greek Labels
Oenotria by Domaine Costa Lazaridi

Oenotria Land
Courtesy of Domaine Costa Lazaridi
Kapandriti – Athens

This wine is dominated by Syrah (90%) with Agiorgitiko adding background notes.
The small area yield (approximately 250kg per acre) gives enormous condensation to all levels of the wine.
Intense and complex aromas of cherry, plum, vanilla, fig and chocolate.
It has a rich flavor with balanced acidity and silky tannins while its finish is a very long intersession with notes of vanilla.
It’s sure to add charm to a dinner, especially when paired with a beef fillet as well as with red-grilled meats. 

Insights Greece - Celebrating International Syrah Day with Greek Labels
The Naked King by Pieria Winery

The Naked King
Courtesy of Pieria Eratini Winery
Kolindros – Pieria

Looking for a rich Syrah wine but you can’t afford to wait for it to evolve over the years? Then check out this classic, well-made wine from Pieria in Northern Greece. A blend of 85% Syrah and 15% of the rare local variety Kolindrino. The name Naked King may be very original, but the wine is not characterized by nakedness as it wears armor of condensation and exuberance. The Naked King brings to our glass intense aromas of dried fruits, fresh framboise, cassis and cranberry while sweet spices and notes of the barrel complete its complex and charming palette. Mouth saturating, very well structured and balanced. Made for rich dishes of red meat. It’s also sure to impress with foie gras.

Insights Greece - Celebrating International Syrah Day with Greek Labels
Emphasis by Pavlidis Estate

Courtesy of Pavlidis Estate
Kokinogeia – Drama

If you are looking for a solid, typical expression of Syrah variety, Emphasis is a perfect pick. It offers a bouquet and a palate of black fruits leather, thyme, black pepper, chocolate, and vanilla. High acidity, velvety tannins, long, spicy aftertaste. You’ll also appreciate that it’s easy to find and a sure shot with red fatty meats with spicy sauces or roasted lamb. So … Emphasis on Syrah!

Manousakis Winery
Vatolakkos – Chania

Insights Greece - Celebrating International Syrah Day with Greek Labels
Nostos by Manousakis Winery

Nostos is a theme used in Ancient Greek literature that refers to an epic hero returning home by the sea. The return isn’t just about returning home physically but also about retaining the very virtues and qualities that characterized him before he went away.
In this particular case, we have a strong and robust Syrah from the beautiful island of Crete. Its bold tannins are a good asset for long-term aging. It has an oriented personality of red and black fruits with black pepper notes. A rich must try Greek Syrah. Give it a go with grilled meats or meats with tomato-based sauces and a variety of sausages.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. By the way, what’s your favourite Greek Syrah wine?

Feel free to share some of your own great wine picks … 

For more wonderful wine explorations, follow George on Instagram @george.winestories

Romantic Greek Wines for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day to express love, a time to bring to the surface one’s romantic character, to forgive mistakes and write off bitter instances, and the perfect time to open a great bottle of wine! Just like love, wine can be complex, sweet, bold and refreshing. Selecting the “one” bottle out of many for the occasion is no easy task. 

I have put together a list based on the name of the label, the story behind it, its trademark and finally the matching with a decadent chocolate dessert. Let’s look them through together … 

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” they say or “a wine by its label” I would add! Except when it makes perfect sense to do just that — such as on Valentine’s Day. The wine itself must, of course, be good or the value of the label will be lost. But the right wine name can help brighten the mood even before the first sip.

Insights Greece - Romantic Greek Wines for Valentine's Day
Romeo & Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, courtesy of Constantin Gofas Estate, is a red wine whose name seems tailor-made for the occasion and its taste matches it even more. In the role of Romeo, is the robust Cabernet Sauvignon, while Juliet is performed by the velvety Agiorgitiko. The final blend is 70%-30%, with Cabernet being the dominant variety. This is a complex full-bodied wine, from which we will taste plenty of juicy red fruits with an elegant touch of sweet spices, black pepper and notes of cocoa and vanilla. It will rise up to the challenge of accompanying a charcuterie platter or a steak dinner. 

Many winemakers are dedicated to producing outstanding wines. For a number of them, the love of their lives – their wives – have played the role of support and inspiration for their enterprise of winemaking. Julia Lazaridi is one of them! The winery of Costa Lazaridi in Drama has been producing some of the best and most emblematic Greek wines for decades. Chateau Julia are some of them! Chateau Julia is a series of four wines named after the lady of the Costa Lazaridi Estate, the wife of Kostas Lazaridis, Ioulia (Julia). The series includes wines with a distinct personality, each of which has a different story of taste to tell. 

Insights Greece - Romantic Greek Wines for Valentine's Day
Chateau Julia

I would opt for Chateau Julia Chardonnay for Valentine’s Day, because Chardonnay seems to make people relax and savor the good life. Moreover, enjoying it under the right lighting, the wine can create a mirage of suspending gems in one’s glass. Chateau Julia Chardonnay is an exceptional white wine, with an impressive structure, for every occasion! It doesn’t mature in a barrel, thus highlighting the aromas and flavors of the variety. In a glass of Chateau Julia Chardonnay, one will come across Freshness, Volume, Substance … Enjoyment…  an excellent opportunity to express his or her warmest feelings to someone he/she loves. Excellent with salads, small fish, pasta, poultry and yellow cheeses.

Lady Frosyne courtesy of Glinavos Estate Bubbles sets the stage for any celebration. Why not toast with your loved one with a pink bubbly called Lady Frosyne. Eyfrosyni Vasileiou (lady Frosyne) was born in Ioannina in 1773.

Insights Greece - Romantic Greek Wines for Valentine's Day
Lady Frosini

Her intensely erotic and turbulent life has inspired operas, plays, historical novels, popular readings, poems, folk chants, films and television series. I find that the image on the label is minimal and emotional at the same time. The content of the bottle is equally interesting as it is a blend of local varieties, the white Debina and the red Bekari. The first bubbles bring strawberry and cherry aromas to the nose, followed by sweet spices and citrus fruit jam. Its taste is rich in red fruits while the intense acidity balances with the sweetness of the fruit and grants it elegance. It is ideally combined with pasta and plates served with sweet and sour sauce. If we choose to combine it with dessert, this should be light and based on cream and fruits like a fruit tart (not chocolate).

Saint Valentine may be a myth, a story made by people for people, but the chocolate that flows a long way that day for his sake is absolutely true. There are perhaps no other combinations of flavors and tastes that can spark a more erotic atmosphere than that of rich chocolate with an appropriate wine, which speaks straight to your senses and creates an irresistible, romantic mood regardless of the season. Even more so, on Valentine’s Day.

Contrary to popular belief, wine and chocolate are a tough combination to match.  Even the best-balanced wine will taste like vinegar if you drink it after eating a sweet piece of chocolate or a dessert based on chocolate. In a later article, I intend to address the ideal matching of various types of chocolate with wine. 

Insights Greece - Romantic Greek Wines for Valentine's Day
Mavrodaphne Reserve

A chocolate-based dessert may usually contain chocolate or cocoa, nuts, butter, cookies or cake, caramel, praline, etc. So, we are dealing with an exuberant dessert. Equally exuberant is the wine that we will propose. Matching equally well with most chocolate desserts, the rich and complex character of sweet Mavrodaphne best pairs with the aromas of nuts, sweet spices, dried fruits and caramel. Mavrodaphne Reserve of Parparousis Estate has a full body due to its high alcohol content and with its fine tannins, it manages to balance its sweetness. It also possesses a spicy character but it is quite smooth at the same time. Elegant & balanced, with depth and exuberance, Mavrodaphne is destined to make the perfect match for the dessert we will choose to sweeten this special day with our beloved one. 

A caveat: A sweet Mavrodaphne can be massive and powerful at first sip, so, it is advisable to decant it about an hour or two before dinner and preferably pair it with a rich dessert.

I hope you enjoyed this list of wines to drink on Valentine’s Day, no matter what your plans are! If you end up grabbing any of these bottles for the occasion, please, let me know in the comments below.

For more wonderful wine explorations, follow George on Instagram @george.winestories

Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups

The Christmas season is over, and January brings us to the heart of winter. What’s the antidote to a cold winter’s night? A warm bowl of soup suitably paired with a glass of Greek wine, of course!

When considering accompanying soups with wine, we often end up rejecting the idea, mainly due to the watery texture of a soup. The answer is to stop treating the issue with such skepticism and realise that a glass of wine along with our soup course will help us maximize enjoyment during our winter dinners.

So, when opting for a wine to serve with our soup, we should consider the consistency and main flavours we are putting before our mouth cavity. The density of the soup is often more important than the type of protein in it when picking the right wine.

Therefore, let’s serve wine with our most popular soups and keep in mind a few simple rules of combination.

Meat Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Xilia Xronia

The main ingredient of meat soup is usually beef. In this case, the greasy texture of the meat dominates the aromas of fresh tomatoes and the rest of the included vegetables. Here a red wine with soft tannins should qualify as a choice. A fresh Agiorgitiko or a Merlot would ideally accompany our soup. Personally, I would go for a blend of 60% Agiorgitiko and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon from the “Barafakas” Estate in Nemea. The name of the label is “Xilia Xronia” which means “A Thousand Years.” It is a wine with an emphasis on red fresh fruits and sweet spices such as cinnamon. A really tasty wine. It will match wonderfully with a meat soup.


Fish Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Techni Aplipias

Fish soups, where seafood aromas emerge above those of vegetables, need medium-bodied, crisp white wines with good acidities, such as Assyrtiko, Sauvignon Blanc, or Moschofilero, to match the flavours of the soup. My recommendation, in this case, would be “Techni Alipias” from “Wine Art” Estate in Drama. A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Assyrtiko. Sauvignon Blanc adds fruity aromas and acidity while the less aromatic Assyrtiko adds body, structure, complexity and ageing potential to the blend. In terms of taste (and sales) this is the most successful blend of white varieties in Greece. Excellent wine for this kind of soup.

Chicken Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups

The soup to fix all winter ailments, while delicious and comforting to the stomach at the same time, chicken soup or chicken noodle soup, calls for aromatic, textured whites with delicious natural acidity like Grüner Veltliner or Verdelho. From the domestic varieties, we would choose a Moschofilero.  One of the top and most timeless expressions of the variety is the “Mantineia” of Tselepos Estate. A Moschofilero of high aromatic intensity where aromas of citrus fruits, as well as flowers, predominate. Its intense acidity “fuels” it with freshness and “nerve”. An ideal choice to accompany chicken soup.

Vegetable Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Lexis Gris Sur Lie Rose

As hearty fall and winter vegetables come into season, this is a classic winter soup, and my go-to pairing here is rosé wines. I love the “Lexis Gris Sur Lie Rose” from Zacharias Winery for its tart fruit, earthy tones and bright acidity. It’s refreshing and plays off the earthy tones in the soup.

 Mushroom Soup

Mushroom soup is the very definition of comfort food and comes in a couple of different versions. If we decide to get closer to the tinned classic ‘cream of mushroom’ soup, it’s better to stick to the creamy character of the dish and go for an oaked Chardonnay. “Roes Chardonnay” from Oinotropai Winery is quite rich on the palate, with medium to full body, crisp acidity, buttery sense, and impressive fruit aromas.

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Roes Chardonnay

It will fit perfectly with our creamy soup. Darker soups that put woody, earthy forest mushrooms at the forefront of our tongue, are best complemented by Pinot Noirs and other dark red wines that are oak-aged and have subtle, earthy tones. Pinot Noir of Dio Filoi (Two Friends) Estate fills our glasses with bright red colour. It has aromas of nuts, dried fruits with spice notes and a velvet full mouth with a long, intense aftertaste. A complete expression of the Pinot Noir variety that will ideally match the aromas of our soup.


Pumpkin Soup

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups

Winter is the peak season for pumpkin soup. The combination of its earthy and often sweet flavors makes this soup unique and tricky to pair with a glass of wine. Depending on the flavour profile (sweet, spicy, or both, paired or not with dense cream, garnish, etc.) some wines will do better than others. In general terms, the trick is to try to either compliment or contrast the flavours of that dish. So, think “dry” or “creamy” on the palate when it comes to wine. Here’s the place and time for an oaked chardonnay, a dry riesling, or a full-bodied Viognier. And Viognier by Domaine Gerovassiliou is perhaps the best expression of the French variety in Greece. Elegant and at the same time exuberant, it enchants anyone who tastes it! This wine features a deep lemon colour and complex aromas of apricot, butter, peach, chamomile, vanilla, brioche, bergamot, hazelnut, oak, tobacco, and white flowers. Rich mouth with full-body, discreet acidity, and intense oily sensation. Ideal wine for our dish.

Beef or Rabbit Stew

Insights Greece - Pairing Greek Wine With Warming Winter Soups
Black Daphne

Finally, an iconic Greek winter dish. There are few meals more warming and savory than a hot bowl of beef stew. We could combine it with a bottle of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, which would wonderfully pair with it. Because stew is one of my favourite dishes, I would bypass the ground rules and recommend the “Black Daphne”, a dry Mavrodaphne of Papargyriou Estate. It has a complex bouquet of sour cherry, blackberry, and plum, accompanied by cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and pepper. Afterward, it carries on the palate, with unimpaired intensity and complexity. Rich body, well-rounded, moderate tannins, and balanced acidity.

The deep, mellow flavours of the stew will meld with the soft richness of the wine, and both will improve the meal’s overall taste. Their combination reminds me of a reunion with old friends.

So, there you have it – everything you need to know about pairing wine with soups. While I’ve done my best to be as comprehensive as possible, I know that you all have your own preferences and ideas when it comes to such matches. As such, I’d love to hear all about your ideas in the comments below!

For more wonderful wine explorations, follow George on Instagram @george.winestories

The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays

December is the month of the year in which we count down the days. Why is that? Because it’s the month of Christmas celebrations of course, which peaks on New Year’s Eve in anticipation of the turn of the year.

Christmas in Greece, for the most part, equates with family reunions, exchanging presents and wishes, catching up (especially in urban areas) or even introducing for the first time new members to the rest of the family, such as newborn babies! All this jolly reunion culminates around the Christmas and New Year’s Day table.

Insights Greece - The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays
Planning your Christmas table

Planning the Christmas table usually starts about a week to ten days beforehand. The number of guests will determine the size of the turkey to be picked out, as well as the quantities and variety of ingredients for the appetizers, side plates, desserts and beverages. The main characteristic of planning is abundance. Here, wasted food and the carbon footprint of the Christmas feast are never a consideration. Running out of anything that is served on the table equates to embarrassment for the host.

So let’s take a look at a Christmas menu and Greek wine list that features traditional festive season recipes.

Usually, at the Christmas table, the meat of choice in Greece for the past few decades has been turkey. If the turkey is to be considered the queen of the Christmas table then of course wine should be the king. That is why the choice of wine is not to be treated lightly. Great care should be taken so that the wine chosen would not overrun the turkey’s taste, nor its flavor neutralized by it and that of the turkey’s filling. Each turkey matches a different wine, depending on the way we will prepare it and the filling we will use. 

The classic grilled turkey can easily stand next to a fruity and light wine from the Nemean variety of Agiorgitiko or rosé of Agiorgitiko. If you are a friend of white wines then a barrel-fermented chardonnay will match wonderfully with the roasted turkey and will reward your taste glands.

An Agiorgitiko wine with a strong aroma of red fruits, nuts, and sweet spices is the Driopi Classic of Tselepos Estate. A very tasty wine!

Insights Greece - The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays
Traditional turkey dinner

If a rosé wine would be our choice to accompany our roasted turkey, this could not be anything other than the Vissinokipos of The Palyvos Estate. “Vissinokipos” translates to the garden of sour cherries and this is clearly depicted in the intense aromas of sour cherry, cherry, and strawberry. It fills the mouth with a nice sense of acidity and tannins which lasts.

For lovers of white wines, the Chardonnay of Gerovassiliou Estate will reward them generously. With the dominant aromas of cedar and butter as well as those of citrus peel, peach, pineapple, melon and white flowers filling the background, the Chardonnay of Gerovassiliou Estate poses as an excellent choice of white wine for special occasions.

Insights Greece - The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays
Chardonnay of Geravassiliou

If our turkey’s filling consists of dry fruits and chestnuts, then white and rosé wine should probably be excluded from our choices and we should then opt for a “soft” but at the same time rich red wine. The first that comes to mind is Merlot from Nikolou Winery. A very expressive and charming wine that offers aromas of red fruits, a discreet presence of its barrel and a sense of plenitude in the mouth.

Finally, if the turkey’s filling features minced meat inside, then we should definitely combine our bird with red wine. We would stick to the Peloponnese and specifically in Nemea; to try a very special wine from the local variety of Agiorgitiko. The “Old Vines from Papaioannou Estate” is a wine with a rich structure, it’s plentiful in aromas and taste but at the same time remains very elegant.

Alternatively, if we choose to skip over the traditional turkey for a beef fillet, then a good and safe choice would be the wines from the French variety Syrah with the characteristic aromas of sweet spices and red fruits. Greece has a variety of quality Syrah wines. An ideal wine for this occasion is the “Holy Time” of the Avantis Estate. A blend of 92% Syrah and 8% Viognier, based on the philosophy of the famous Rhone wines. It has a complex aromatic bouquet while in the mouth it is full and elegant. It would be everything you need for the Christmas fillet.

Insights Greece - The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays
Pork roast for New Year’s Eve

For the New Year’s table, there are more meat options for the main course. Greek tradition favours pork, which ideally matches with a rich Agiorgitiko or Cabernet Sauvignon or a dry Mavrodaphne. In the latter case, we would prefer the dry Mavrodaphne of Parparousis Estate under the label of “TAOS”. It features a unique aroma of herbs and sweet fruits that is imprinted permanently on the nose, while its excellent taste makes it a superb wine.

For those who will opt for the wild version of pork, namely wild boar, then they should look for an intense wine to accompany it with an aged Xinomavro from the area of Naoussa and more specifically, “Diaporos” of the Kir Yianni Estate. A Blend of 87% Xinomavro and 13% Syrah. A rich wine with an excellent structure where red fruits dominate while 13% Syrah offers it a spicy character.

A sweet epilogue…

Sweetness in life arises from various sources. Often so, from things that we cannot touch or even explain. A good thought, a smile, an intimate smell, a pair of eyes and a hug take us to another sweet dimension.

During the holidays, the need and the mood for sweetness become even greater and is expressed through emotions or through flavours and tastes. Setting aside the emotional aspect of sweetness, during the Christmas holidays there will usually be quite a few different kinds of desserts that will satisfy our taste receptors. Nevertheless, the classical stars of Christmas desserts in Greece and of all Greek communities that keep up with their national traditions are “melomakarona” and “kourabiedes”.

Insights Greece - The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays
Traditional Kourabiedes

Μelomakarona are biscuits soaked in honey syrup which gives them a distinct chestnut brown colour, sprinkled with walnut crumbs and their taste resembles that of a cookie soaked in thin honey.

Kourabiedes on the other hand are a kind of butter biscuits with a more crunchy, crumbly texture on the tongue which is sprinkled with icing sugar all over.

Both melomakarona and kourabiedes appear in a modest look but if successfully prepared, they feature a more sweet taste than meets the eye.

A good combination with melomakarona would be a sweet Malagouzia and specifically the “Sweet Wishes” from the Pieria Erateini Estate, with aromas of dried fruits and honey. Kourabiedes would require a more elegant sweet wine. Samos Moschato gives away such elegant expressions and we should go for the Samos “Nectar” of the Samos Cooperative.

Insights Greece - The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing Guide for the Holidays
Akakies Sparkling Rose

On New Year’s Eve the Vasilopita cake, a plain traditional cake on steroids of butter, dominates the options for a dessert, leading to a semi-sweet semi-sparkling label. The “Akakies Sparkling Rose” of Kir Yianni Estate with aromas of butter, caramel and cherry will be beautifully combined with the Vasilopita.

Finally, one of the most important Greek sweet wines was awarded multiple times with worldwide recognition and acceptance. The Vinsanto 12 y.o. of Argyros Estate with an impressive look of a dark bronze hue with considerable complexity in its aromas and flavour. The aromas that stand out are those of dried plum and raisins, chocolate, coffee and roasted nuts. It has a rich velvety texture that remains persistent all over the mouth. Its acidity impresses the taster and balances the intensity of the sweetness. It is an elegant, complex and lovely wine. It will match with syrupy sweets, chocolates or chocolate tart, nuts, or even a cigar on New Year’s Eve. Those who desire a more holistic experience, ought to combine it with a plate of intense cheeses.

I hope your holiday table is full of special flavours, love, warmth and memorable wines! 

For more wonderful wine explorations, follow George on Instagram @george.winestories

Corfu Revisited: Rediscovering the Roots of My Family and Wine

The alluring attraction and wanderlust for discovering the world prompted me in 1971 to leave my native Corfu behind. Fourty nine years later, with a life’s journey across four countries outside Greece in two different continents, I have returned to my island of birth.

It was for a very special kind of research – and impressive discoveries – that involved both my work in wine and my hundreds of years’ old family history.

Insights Greece - Corfu Revisited: Rediscovering the Roots of My Family and Wine

Wine was part of my upbringing as early as from the age of nine, when my mother handed me a tumbler with a small amount of wine and topped up with water as I was the eldest. Little did I know then that wine would become a major part of my adult life. When I set off on my travels as a young man, exploring and recording the fragmented Greek vineyard in the 1990’s, I knew nothing of Corfu’s wine. Of the 60 wineries featured in my Greek Wine Books I had included only one Corfu winery, that of Livadiotis from Halikouna. Over 25 years and 730,000 km later I became increasingly curious to discover what the status of wine on my island really was, as there is a wide difference in public perception and reality regarding this matter.

Meanwhile, Corfu magnetised me later in life for a different reason as well. What I was stunned to learn only a decade ago, after deciding to deep dive into my ancestral roots, was that my paternal family history connected to Corfu dates back to 1503. This was a time when Venice gave my stradioto ancestors passage and privileges from Nafplio to Corfu. Fascinatingly, the Archives on Corfu are incredibly well organised, something that is unique to the modern Greek state. A long-standing research had taken me to a point where a documentary was now within reach. The digitalised archives of my Notaro Publico ancestors 1686 -1830 make for riveting reading of the island’s social history. The documentary is not about my family per se but about the merchant classes and their often-scandalous lives. Their dealings, affairs and more.

Insights Greece - Corfu Revisited: Rediscovering the Roots of My Family and Wine

This research simultaneously brought me to finally see first-hand what changes, if any, had occurred over time in the local wine scene. Timing could not have been better as there have been completely unknown developments. Two of my contacts on the island introduced me to exciting new ventures. Nikos Kotinas in Lefkimi led me to the most recent of vineyards and winery of Borovino; and chef Aristoteles Megoulas, to the local produce he has been supporting, Pontiglio in Lefkimi and Nicolouzo in Ano Korakiana. These three vineyards and the second generation of Livadiotis of Halikouna to be reviewed on my website Greek Wine World.

As I write these lines Gerald Durrell’s tongue in cheek comment on Lawrence runs through my head: ‘My brother is conducting an exhaustive study of the islands wine’. I have been doing the same but probably in a different way. This visit was my great chance to get fully up to speed with the impossibly verdant island’s wine bounty. For example, I discovered that new, 15-year-old vineyards are heralding a revival. Another great revelation regarded the true face of Cacotrigis, Corfu’s signature grape. Forget the farmer-produced, orange-coloured stinky brews; the new generation is semi-aromatic and textured. And yet Insights Greece - Corfu Revisited: Rediscovering the Roots of My Family and Wineanother revelation: the new-to-me mysterious red grape called Skopelitis. It doesn’t, as you may presume, hails from the eponymous Sporades island, its vinous tasting profile bears no resemblance to anything else anywhere in Greece nor nearby Sicily or Southern Italy.

Perhaps the best part is yet to come. As I discuss my findings with my academic and technician friends new task lists are being created. There is so much more to come from custodians holding completely unknown to any of us grapes. That is another story to be told when DNA results have been completed. As for my ancestral DNA and all the stories to go with that, the roots run so deep and the fruits are so rich that all I can say is watch this space for a fascinating documentary.

Athens’ New Wine Club

Global gastronomy specialists Culinary Backstreets sees Greece’s great wine potential and sets up the first ever club for aficionados of great local produce.

In the post-war years, whiskey was the cool drink to sip in Greece; today it’s all about perfectly mixed cocktails, trendy locally brewed craft beer and wine. Greek wine. Amazing, world-recognized, multi-varied Greek wine from all over the country, rising up like a phoenix from the ashes of antiquity.

A great deal of it produced by vineyards that are hundreds of years old, a few using grape varieties that have remained since millennia ago, often by families who are devout to honouring their oenological history. Wine bars have sprung up around the capital and sommeliers nationwide are honing in on sophisticated knowledge about local wines to offer excellent suggestions for tastings and pairings. Numerous websites present everything there is to discover – and keep learning – about Greece’s exciting wine production and grapes, with travel stories, interviews – and great sales.

Creating a New Wine-Lover’s Rendezvous

Insights Greece - Athens’ New Wine Club

Enter Culinary Backstreets, a well-established gastronomy website (with print publications to match) that showcases global cuisines through expert reviews of restaurants and food and drink produce across markets. This September, Culinary Backstreets launched its Athens Wine Club, organized by one of its regular contributors Carolina Doriti, and following successful examples of such clubs in other cities such as Lisbon and Tbilisi. The club is set to meet once or twice a month, each time showcasing a different independent winery and tasting venue.

As a wine aficionado I quickly booked myself a space at the gathering, which took place at Ta Karamlidika Tou Fani restaurant on Ermou St and presented the wines of Brintziki Estate. The winery produces 13 wines, of which we sampled four. This was accompanied by a platter of delicious bites by the restaurant, which is known for its Asia Minor roots and optimal variety of cheeses, cold cuts like pastrami, pastourmas and salami as well as main dishes. Each meeting will be based on this very concept – of combining the wines of an independent winemaker with foods from a local eatery in a Covid-safe environment. ‘’As always, Culinary Backstreets celebrates lesser known people in the foodways. Likewise, for the Wine Club, we are focusing on smaller, and/or independent winemakers. It was a pleasure to have a female winemaker at our first gathering,’’ Doriti says.

Tasting Brintziki Estate’s Best

Tinaktorogos, the first Brintziki Estate wine we sampled, is made from a grape that roots back to Homeric times and is only produced in Olympia by the Brintziki Estate vineyards. The wine is white, but when looked at carefully in the light, reveals a few flashes of green which is thought to resemble the colour of the sea. We also sampled the Avgoustiatis rose and the cherry red Avgoustatis reserve. Almost as fascinating as drinking a wine that existed in ancient Greece was trying Esperos, the estate’s ‘Orange Wine’ which is made from an ancient variety of the Assyrtiko grape and produced using completely natural winemaking methods, without any preservatives being added. A truly unique wine that Brintziki was inspired to make after visiting several raw food and wine festivals in the world.

Creating Connections Sip By Sip

The tasting experience was exciting enough. Add to that the tasty bites, great conversation with the winemaker and participants and the feeling of discovering new things about Greece, and there was a winning combination. ‘’ The goal is quite simple: these days, more than ever, it is important to keep the human connection strong to what we eat and drink,’’ Doriti says.

“The Athens Wine Club is all about building that human connection in a safe way. From meeting to meeting, that connection will strengthen between the guests who join and the winemakers we celebrate, and through those connections, knowledge will be shared. And of course, the goal is to drink a lot of good wine!’”

Greece’s Fearless Wine Warriors  

Wine writer Nico Manessis introduces us to two young Greek women who are determined to create change in the local winemaking industry.

Women who have brought changes have never had it easy, yet, we should be grateful, they continue to persist. In the Greek wine scene, an increasing number of women have been quietly offering on several fronts. Pioneers like Maria Tzitzi, teacher extraordinaire, started her career taking over a wine analysis laboratory in Athens. She is now head of education at the Le Monde Institute of Hotel & Tourism Studies in a part of Athens named Moshato (once a vineyard). There are numerous others that come to mind.

Insights Greece - Greece’s Fearless Wine Warriors  

In a male dominated profession (not forgetting winery spouses) the laboratory services up and down the country are mostly women-managed. And this for the better of cellar hygiene and the consistency it offers to consumers. It is not only the ‘white coats’ that are contributing to the ongoing Greek wine renaissance. In the vineyards, important work has been accomplished by ampelographer Haroula Spinthiropoulou. Her research in the rich indigenous grapes and authoring the first in decades publication of wine producing grapes was an important bridge to the ongoing revival. The success of today’s Greek wine rests, in part, to these rediscovered age-old-vines now with a bright future, yes, even in the post Covid 19 era.

Recently two young women have stepped up to the front lines. Both are formidable. Iliana Malihin, aged 27 and Evmorfia Kostaki, aged 25, are bringing a cosmopolitan vision to their respective islands – but not only. Malihin is an oenologist (wine chemist) and Kostaki has a joint Master of viticulture and oenology. Both have an agenda in motivating and ushering farming techniques to enhance, in what the French term call terroir – wine’s sense of place.

Malihin has set up a winery on her native Crete. Specifically, in forgotten organic terraced old vineyards around Melampés, on the southern shoreline of Rethymno. Her focus on Vidiano, the rising star white grape originating in these hills, has brought, rightly so, international attention. While inspecting the vineyards that she contracts from older and younger farmers, she looks like an ethereal creature out of real or imaginary myth. The truth is a more somber back story: a woman with steely resolve and the kind of great attention to detail that her male colleagues, well, often miss. Crete is the most exciting wine region and this fearless wine warrior has added valuable momentum. Who knew anything of sleeper Rethymno? Now, we do.

Insights Greece - Greece’s Fearless Wine Warriors  

Evmorfia Kostaki is from Samos. Perhaps the most famous of Greek wines, feted in Versailles with the other two great sweet wines, Hungary’s Tokay and South Africa’s Vin de Constance. More recently in Sweden, such was the repute of Samos Vin Doux that during geography lesson a pupil who was asked where Greece, cutely answered “next to Samos”. Kostakis is starting out with her father in partnership in the NOPERA winery, with Nikos Mitilineos, scion of a historic wine merchant family; one of the several new ventures on this island vineyard, famous for sweet Muscat and more recently bone dry examples. While contributing to NOPERA she is laying out plans for the future. She’s modest and has no cult status nor is she seeking ambitions.

In 1934 the Samos Cooperative was made compulsory by the government due to civil unrest as merchants in Karlovasi and Vathi took advantage of the farmers resulting in a full out revolt. For decades most of the islands’ sweet wine has been shipped to Issy-les-Moulineaux, to the cellars in a Paris suburb now owned by La Martiniquaise group. It is this bulk shipment which champions Greek wine by volume exports. There are other smaller wineries than the Union of Co-opperatives now on the island. Local boy Nikos Vakakis, whose remarkable life journey from a priest’s son to an elite commando officer, founded and manages Vakakis Wines.


Kostakis’ recent project has been helping her father with a impressive dry Muscat marketed by natural wine specialist Yorgos Ioannidis. Clearly, these vineyards, replanted initially again in 1540 AD have unrealised potential. Perhaps the Swedish boy’s enlightened education hinted of how good Samos muscat really is.

With two exemplary figures as these two young women bringing wine to new levels in Greece, one can only expect that things can only get better in the local wine industry, and that the world will keep offering more and more well-deserved recognition to the efforts being made.

You can find more of Nico’s grape adventures at greekwineworld

Wine Expert Nico Manessis: My Greatest Grape Moments

Acclaimed wine writer Nico Manessis, author of The Greek Wine Guides, has travelled nationwide for decades discovering grape varieties. Here he shares the grape moments that shaped his life.

My first memory of grapes is of one particular summer holiday. It was not in a bucolic setting, just a few rows of vines by a fishing village. Two hands: one holding a ferendini, the hook-shaped cutter used to harvest grapes, and in the other a cluster of Vertzami grapes. This Ionian island specialty is known for its – rare for a red grape – high-acidity and dark purple-blue hue.

Drama unfolded as the hand slowly squeezed the bunch tightly, with juice dripping through the fist. I had never before experienced a blood-of-earth scene and it is still with me.

Insights Greece - Wine Expert Nico Manessis: My Greatest Grape Moments

The next grape is deeply etched in my mind and more existential for a number of lovely reasons. Picture the then-empty sandy beach of Agios Gordis on the western shoreline of Corfu. As a carefree teenager, the agenda of the day was to spend as many hours as we could submerged in the sea. Usually, in the afternoon, the swollen waves added another joy as we attempted body surfing, which at the time was a step of growing up. Salt and sand encrusted on our bodies were the closest to embodying a peeling reptile existence.

Siesta was unheard of; we slept early and rose at sunrise. Our rooms were behind a beach taverna surrounded by Moshatela grapes – one of the many Muscats. A village woman with a colourful headscarf handed me a cluster of golden grapes and suggested in her singing accent that I go and wash it in the sea before eating it. En route, the burning sand made my bare feet pick up pace as I rushed into the cool, foaming waves. As I pulled the grapes from the seawater, I tasted their sweetness, immediately followed by salt, which added a sensory twist to the whole experience. How can I forget a tasting profile as diverse as a fruit salad with the added bonus of juices running down the sides of the mouth? It was bliss.There is another subplot to this Moshatela. As the sun was setting on the green doors and ochra-whitewashed rooms, I was approached by a girl who was holidaying there too. Amongst the flickering dusk rays, her lovely smile gave me my first kiss. Truth be told, I remained speechless for most of that evening as I gazed at the stars above. Now, when I drink dry Muscats, a smile spreads over my face.

The Mediterranean scenery was removed when I moved to London for my studies. Human adaptability is a marvel. The weather did not affect me; I loved the rain and grey skies. People were more reserved, and I learned to exist in a new environment.

It was on a weekend’s invitation to a distant relatives’ cottage that looked straight out of Insights Greece - Wine Expert Nico Manessis: My Greatest Grape MomentsAgatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series when the third experience came when my host, who was in her 70’s, offered me a glass of Madeira. There was a choice of Sercial or sweeter Bual. The bone-dry Sercial instantly struck a chord: burnt sugars with searing acidity. Not yet able to articulate much in that direction I mumbled “now this is wine!” or something to that effect.

I still had no real interest in wine until I visited a friend in northern Italy. While walking in thick fog by the river Arno in Pavia, I spotted a dimly lit wine shop. We entered and in my best Corfu-Italian voice I asked them for a really good bottle of red wine.

The shop was owned by two brothers. One of them asked me, “why”? I told them that I was 23 and looking for a starter experience of “a really fine wine.” They turned away and spoke in hushed tones. One of them asked me to go down to the cellar with him. He handed me a bottle of Barolo Maurizio Fracassi 1967. He informed that it was ” a miracle vintage”, as the weather only picked up in late summer, yields were tiny, so it managed to properly ripen.

The wine was exactly what I had wished for. Its tannic structure, high acidity, and staying power left me in complete awe. It was my Road to Damascus moment.

I will be forever grateful for their brilliant recommendation, that put me on the always thrilling, lifelong wine road.

You can find more of Nico’s grape adventures at greekwineworld