A Taste of Europe – Greece

Our first new chapter of eno-gastronomic virtual travels around Europe

In this new serie of our food and wine pairing trips we will be exploring some of the most amazing corners of Europe, sharing with you recipes and wine selections so that you not only will discover something new about the traditions of the country, but also will be able to replicate our suggestions at home and travel virtually with us throughout the wonderful Old Continent.

And what would have been better than starting from the amazing Greek country, with its unique and incredibly beautiful island of Santorini?! Fasten you seat belts, we are taking off.

Greek history and viticulture

Greece, the mountainous, sun-kissed, Mediterranean country in the southeast of Europe, often considered the birthplace of Western civilization, is also Mother of viticulture as we know it. Archaeological evidence suggests that wine has been made in some parts of Greece for more than 4000 years.

Greece consists of its mainland and numerous islands. The Greek mainland covers the southern edge of the Balkan Peninsula, jutting into the Mediterranean Sea between southern Italy and Turkey. It is surrounded to the east and west by the Aegean and Ionian seas respectively.

This has a strong influence on the country’s various climates; the islands and extensive coastline bring a maritime influence to the otherwise Mediterranean climate. The climate veers continental in the mountainous far north, along the borders with Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. 

The Greek landscapes vary from rugged mountains and lush river valleys to flat coastal plains and tiny, barely inhabited islands.

From the 4th Century onwards Greece’s tumultuous history as part of the Byzantine Empire meant that winemaking did not flourish as it did in neighboring Italy. As a result, Greece’s importance in the modern wine world is far less than one might assume, given its early success. 

In the late 20th Century, however, Greek winemaking showed signs of revitalization, supported by modern winemaking techniques and a generation of motivated, quality-focused producers.

The modern Greek wine philosophy combines the tradition with the contemporaneity. Native Greek grape varieties such as Assyrtico, Agioritiko and Xynomavro are found alongside such famous international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. 

Viticulture can be found in literally every corner of Greece, although its scale differs significantly from region to region. The style also varies considerably. In the northwest (Greek Macedonia) rich, tannic wines made from Xynomavro are favored. While I have tasted a great orange wine made with Roditis grape variety from this area. The producer is Jason Ligas and the wine is called Roditis Maceration, a true gem of this region. But this is not yet the wine I choose for our today’s Greek food pairing. 

The Peloponnese Peninsula in the south combines its Agiorgitiko based reds with fresh, highly acidic whites made fromMoschofilero. 

The Aegean Islands are internationally famous for the dry Assyrtiko-based wines of Santorini and the sweet Muscat-based wines made on Rhodes, Samos and Limnos.

The wine I would like to present today is indeed an Assyrtiko from Santorini. It is with extreme great pleasure that I am talking about Greek wines today as I have to admit that before this tasting night we did with my girl-friends focused on this country I was completely obscure in Greek wine’s knowledge. While after the tasting I completely fell in love especially with the whites and the oranges. 

The wine I decided to pair with Carlotta’s recipe is Greek Connection Classic from Vins des Potes and Jason Ligas. 

But before introducing the wine and the producers I would like to make a short digression on the Santorini wine region. 

Santorini Island

Santorini is a Greek island in the southern Aegean Sea, 113 kilometers (70mi) north of Crete. Geologically, the island is all that remains of an ancient volcanic cone, whose eruption created the cliffs and lagoon around which the Santorini tourist trade thrives. Although it also produces red wines from Mandilaria and Mavrotragano, the island is best known for its crisp, dry whites and sweet vinsanto, both of which are based on the island’s flagship grape variety: Assyrtiko. 

Production of wine on Santorini dates back to around 1653 BC when a volcanic eruption buried the prehistoric city of Akrotiri. Excavations of the city have revealed various indications of vine-growing and winemaking on the island including grape seeds scattered amongst the ruins. Three centuries later the island was resettled and vines were replanted due to their ability to thrive in the challenging growing conditions found on the island. These were able to survive the Phylloxera pandemic of the late 19th Century thanks to the soil of Santorini. A high sand content combined with little organic material and clay made it impossible for the louse to survive here.

Refreshing, crisp and aromatic, Santorini’s dry whites are arguably the island’s most promising modern-day wine style. These mineral and citrus scented wines are made predominantly from Assyrtiko, with a little Athiri and Aidani. Oak-aged examples are a little more complex, bringing a hint of nuttiness and spice from their time in barrel.

The most complex of Santorini’s dry white styles is the Nykteri, made from overripe grapes given skin contact during the early stages of fermentation, and then barrel aged for between three and ten months. They are named for the Greek term for ‘working all night’, as grapes were traditionally harvested at night to avoid the complications that arose from the day’s heat. Nykteri wines are noticeably richer than standard Santorini white wines, and offer a certain whiff of exotic fruit and honeysuckle.

Red wines take a back seat on Santorini, even though dark-skinned varieties account for around 20 percent of the island’s total vineyard area. The key grape is Mandilaria, but the local Mavrotragano wines attract a disproportionate amount of attention and praise. Santorini’s red wines are typically deep crimson in color, with soft tannins and fruit-forward flavors. There is often something a little smoky and over-ripe about them. 

Last but not least we have the sweet Vinsanto wines. This rich dessert wine combines acidity and intense sweetness with aromas of dried citrus peel, figs, apricots and sticky toffee pudding. The name Vinsanto can be traced back to the 16th Century, when wine was exported from the island in barrels branded as wine (vin) from Santorini (Santo). Although often mis-translated as “Holy Wine”, it is quite distinct from Italian “Vin Santo”. In 2002, the European Union granted Santorini exclusive rights to the name “Vinsanto”, although Italy may still use “vin santo”.

Let’s discover the wine I choose for you today.

Greek connection Classic

Vin des Potes is the story of two wine lovers led by a passion for food and wine and to discover new winemakers. Yoan Tavares started working in a Parisian wine shop and a bistro before becoming a sommelier in the Michelin-starred restaurant La Chassagnette. Basile Passe spent 10 years working as an IT consultant for a Canadian company before a meeting with Stefano Amerighi in Tuscany (which happens to be also one of my favourite producers for Syrah in Italy) that changed his life. 

This prompted him to start a career in the wine sector, and it was while working in the wine bars that he met Yoan and Le Vin des Potes was born. The adventure began not long after this meeting, with the birth of a wine made for La Chassagnette, made from grapes grown by Stephane Gros in Argelliers. One thing led to another and they decided to put together the first Vin des Potes wine, which met such high demand that it quickly led to a second, and now every new vintage brings new wine. 

Basile and Yoan conceived the name Le Vin des Potes (“wine of the companions”) because it captures their ethos of working closely with wine producers. Although each cuvée sees them work with another winemaker, they work only with organic or Demeter certified grapes, producing a wine that reflects the identity of its territory. Vin des Potes is a tribute to the know-how of passionate men and women who dedicate themselves to the splendid vineyards from which these wines come.

The Greek Connection Classic made in collaboration with Jason Ligas is a white wine obtained from a blend of Moscato and Assyrtico. The vineyards are located in Santorini, in the middle of the Aegean Sea, on basaltic soils with volcanic rock, and enjoy a Mediterranean climate. Spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel vats. Aging for 9 months in 500 liter wooden barrels. 

I haven’t found much information about how long the skin contact maceration lasts but from the colour and the aromas of this wine I can tell it is not extremely “orangy”.

The wine has a beautiful Mediterranean nose, with some green notes of bush, of wild berries, some jasmine, yellow fruits and a fascinating marine sensation. 

The mouth is crispy with a sharp acidity but also round and juicy. Citrus notes together with a savory mineral finish and a very long finish, make this wine one of my favorite from this style. A super positive impression of Greek wines that pairs perfectly with the delicious food I had the pleasure to taste. 

Cannot tell anything else then: I want to visit Greece and Santorini very soon. 

Food pairing featuring Lapanzapiena Blog

Like the rest of Greece, Santorini’s cuisine is largely based upon excellent, fresh ingredients that can be found directly on the island and most traditional Greek dishes can be enjoyed in the island’s many tavernas

The Greek taverna: an institution. I like to believe that wherever in Greece you may find yourself, if you walk into a taverna you are bound to have an excellent meal, however remote or popular the place may be — the more remote the better, probably. Why? Because Greek cuisine is simple and to make it well no special equipment or hard-to-source ingredients are needed, besides the knowledge of food culture each Greek host holds. I don’t consider a Greek taverna to be a restaurant, it is an experience which is so much more, and impossible to replicate elsewhere in the world, in my opinion. It isn’t just about the food, or the view overlooking the crystal blue sea. It’s about sitting down and waiting fifteen minutes for the host to come and greet you and, in most cases, recount the day’s menu to you, or sometimes even taking a trip to the kitchen to see what is being prepared for yourself! Once the order has been placed, which usually consists of two dishes per person which are then shared between everyone, from a refreshing greek salad to a slice of steaming moussaka and grilled octopus with fava paste, the wait begins. An often long wait – an average meal in a Greek taverna lasts at least two and a half hours – accompanied by a goblet of the houses’ white wine and some fried antipasti or bread. The long wait is often overlooked or entirely forgotten as your eyes gaze upon the shimmering sea and coast in the horizon, a landscape you can’t seem to tear your eyes away from. Once the food arrives, it arrives altogether. Your hunger suddenly manifests itself again and the chatter subdues as everyone dives into the wonderfully rich, flavorful and delicious meal. Once you’ve eaten so much that all you can think about is crawling back to your beach towel under the soothing shade of trees, the hosts comes over with a gigantic plate of juicy watermelon, that somehow – magically – gives you back all your energy, hydrates you and stains every item of clothing you’re wearing. You leave the taverna, paying a ridiculously small fee for the feast fit for a king you just devoured, feeling extremely satisfied and ready to repeat the entire experience the following day—if not the same evening. This is the Greek taverna. 

Today’s recipe is based upon one of the vegetables Santorini is most well-known for producing: tomatoes. The variety which thrives on the island is completely unique and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The closest tomato which resembles the Santorini one is the Italian “cuore di bue” (beefsteak tomato). Tomatokeftedes are fried tomato balls, which see the tomatoes squeezed and mixed with feta as well as herbs such as parsley, oregano and mint. Wonderful as a starter or snack, accompanied by a dollop of plain yoghurt topped with a drop of extra virgin olive oil to contrast the fried fritters.

To discover the full recipe visit @lapanzapiena blog at the following link here.

Only for Wine Geeks: Retsina wines

No description of Greek wine would be complete without reference to Retsina. This distinctively Greek, resinated wine style is said to have developed when pine resin was used as an airtight sealant for wine storage vessels. Today, Retsina is made by choice rather than necessity, through the addition of pine resin during fermentation.

Modern-day Retsina wines mostly come from Attica. They are typically based on the white grape Savatiano, although Roditis and Assyrtico are also used by some producers.

Retsina serves as a link to the past, a reminder of how important Greece was in the development of European wine culture. Even the Romans prized Greek wine above their own, as shown in the prices realized for Greek imports).

Meanwhile, the wine regions of Naousa, Nemea, Mantinia, Samos and the island of Santorini continue to provide a benchmark for the rest of the country to aspire to.

Published by ManuPaper

Born in Sardinia, living in Tuscany - Montalcino. Certified Italian Sommelier and WSET. Brunello addicted 😊 I am a wine enthusiast and blogger, I love to share my wine discoveries and wine reviews online, on my blog and social profiles. Travel is my second passion together with wine, that's why I enjoy visiting wine regions around the world 🌎 I have a strong experience in Hospitality and can help you in organizing your future trips in Tuscany and Italy. Wine Travel Advisor 🍷 👉🏽Social Media Content Creator and Blogger

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