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.
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, the side plates, desserts and beverages. The main characteristic of the 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!
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 the 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.
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 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.
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 becomes 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”.
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.
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!
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