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

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

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!’”

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