I am truly delighted and honored to have received the support of Konstantinos Lazarakis MW, who has agreed to publish a number of guest posts via elloinos. Konstantinos is the first and only Greek Master of Wine and he runs the Wine and Spirit Professional Consultants Group (WSPC), which is also the accredited provider of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses in Greece. Konstantinos (follow him on twitter) has in my view single-handedly changed the way wine is perceived in the Greek society.
Together with Nikos Panidis, he has written a simply superb article about one of the most underestimated qualities of Greek wine, which is the ability to pair perfectly with food. Nikos is also a well-known personality in the Greek wine scene; he worked as sommelier at one of Athens’ top restaurants, Milos. He joined the WSPC in January 08 and works closely with Konstantinos on a number of projects.
I am really proud to publish this first introductory post that lays out why Greek wines pair naturally well with food. The tide is turning, and I have no doubt that we will hear a lot more about this remarkable characteristic over the next years. Enjoy!
Most Greeks consider discussing food and wine separately something almost unnatural. It divides two things meant to be together. A Greek will never consume wine without at least a nibble on the side, while having lunch or dinner will require the de facto presence of wine. To understand, however, the way wine and food interact on the average Greek table; one must take a closer look at the Greek mentality towards food.
Greeks have been poor people for the greater part of their modern history. Cooking, consequently, was never seen under the elitist light encountered in other countries, most notably France. In certain social layers of France, having access to and being able to afford prime ingredients was taken for granted, so the focus was on the artistry of turning them into food. When ability and style in cooking became such an important element, each creation had to be discussed. If a piece of meat was expertly prepared, then it had to be served to all people at the table at the same time. A subtle consequence of this practice was that every course had to be a showstopper; it had to be “taste overkill.” Matching wine with these courses inevitably followed.
Having enough money to buy what was needed for a proper dinner was frequently out of question in Greece. Thus, the cook had to invent cheap ways of adding variety to the dinner table – preparing small portions of many, different things, using the yesterday’s leftovers and turning them into something else. The low boredom threshold of Greeks helped as well. Over time, a certain philosophy developed. When people are invited to dinner in the average Greek household, they will never face just a starter, a salad and a main course. The hosts will prepare possibly a dozen various dishes, not served all together, but two or three at a time. There will be structure to the meal, but only a loose one –meat will come after seafood and before desserts, richer dishes after simpler or fresher ones– but nothing will come off the table until it is finished or until the table is full.
Under these circumstances, the traditional, quite static notion of matching food and wine goes out the window. Wine will have to provide refreshment or play counterpoint to the mouthfuls. There will be a more specific selection only if there is a broad theme on what is served. For example, at a fish lunch more white wine will be drunk and, on Easter Day, a tannic red wine will be matched with the traditional lamb on the spit. Not surprisingly, selecting wine acquired a much broader dimension, allowing the occasion, the time of the day or the climate to play a role. A summer lunch with friends by the seaside requires something refreshing, even if these friends suddenly decide to order some lamb chops. In Greece, there is one basic rule: if the wine is enjoyable, the food delicious and everyone has a hearty appetite for food, wine and good friends, then the match is perfect. Harmony is a holistic and vibrant concept, not confined to stagnant perceptions like “proteins must always be matched with tannins.”
The way Greeks approach matching wine and food, as well as the fact that drunkenness has been unacceptable for millennia, formulated a certain array of wine styles. Wines had to be refreshing, relatively low in alcohol, flavorful but never heavy; they had to be almost discreet on the palate. Greek wines should never be “a meal in themselves”, emphasising food friendliness above all other aspects.
For these precise reasons, Greek wines can be an ideal partner to any national cuisine and any cooking approach, enhancing not only the match, but the whole dining experience. That is what they were made for.