When I lived in London in the nineties, I used to indulge myself in many wine themed dinner events. In Athens, food and wine pairing social events are a fairly recent addition to the restaurant scene. Greeks have just started to embrace wines on a more serious level.
My favourite wine shop in Athens is Kazakos Drink Bank . The co-owner and sommelier Vassilis Papadopoulos is a young and dynamic wine enthusiast, who is constantly looking to share the joys of wine drinking. In 2005 he founded the Kazakos Wine Club , an independent offshoot of Kazakos Drink Bank. Today, it has well over 400 members. Its main purpose is to promote wine culture in Greece by organising various wine-related events and activities. Membership and activities are free, or exclusively offered at cost price. This is commendable, and no one involved with the Kazakos wine club receives any financial remuneration.
Last Friday, they had organised a very special wine and food event at Apolis, one of the top restaurants in Athens, which also offers the most stunning views overlooking Athens. Dimitris Dimitriadi is the chef there, and he had prepared a 7-course menu to accompany 6 wines from the Alpha Estate . Alpha is one of the newer estates in Greece, but has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. 65 ha of vineyards surround the impressive winery in the Amyndeon region in the northern parts of Greece. Alpha’s winemaker, Angelos Iatridis, also attended the event. He has gained a reputation for his scientific approaches to viniculture.
The invitation was for 0900 pm, my wife and I together with a couple of very good friends were immediately impressed by the setting. The organisation was excellent throughout the evening; we had a private table and I have to confess upfront that the food was outstanding. I have not had the pleasure of such a refined cuisine in a long time. The thing that I really appreciated about this evening was that the atmosphere was extremely informal and relaxed. One felt like a friend between new friends – this is usually not an easy task to accomplish, as there were over 100 attendants. Vassilis and Angelos visited the tables of all guests several times, and everyone had ample opportunity to enjoy a private conversation with them. Later, the chef of the restaurant, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Kazakos also introduced themselves in the same way.
In Greece food for dinner is usually served at the later hours. This event was no exception, the first course and wine pairing took place at 1030 pm, the last at 0130 am. But time just flew by, and it was fascinating to see how well the wines paired.
Pumpkin soup with yoghurt: Alpha Sauvignon Blanc 08
A great pairing, the pumpkin soup was very delicate with fine flavours. The Sauvignon Blanc showed ripe exotic mango and pineapple aromas, and the nearly creamy texture went very well with the yoghurt.
Vine leaves stuffed with shrimp in oil and lemon sauce: Alpha Chardonnay 08
The dish was my personal favourite, also at first I thought that it would be no easy task to find a wine that would be able to cope with the oil and lemon sauce. I admired the ability of the Chardonnay to cut right through the dish. It had an exotic and buttery nose, was quite pronounced on the palate and had the perfect acidity. The barrel flavours were very nicely integrated, and a few minutes of air opened up the wine tremendously.
Handmade crunchy pie with mushrooms and Kaseri cheese
Fresh rigatoni pasta with zucchini, oregano and Xinomitzidra cheese: Alpha Pinot Noir 06
This time both pairings were easy; the pinot was full of cherry notes, with some oak flavours lingering in the background. It was rich on the palate but elegant in style at the same time. In my view it could use a little more serious depth, but it certainly has potential. It went very well with both cheese-based dishes.
Chicken bruschetta with fresh garden greens and mustard vinaigrette
Veal Rib Eye Souvlaki with lemon grass, chickpeas with Feta cheese and cumin, baked pita and “ketchup” homemade from red peppers: Alpha red 05 (Syrah, Xinomavro, Merlot) 05 and Alpha Syrah 06
I tried both courses with the two wines and preferred the Syrah with the bruschetta and the Alpha red with the veal. The Syrah was full of coffee and chocolate flavours, coupled with red fruits and exotic spices. It was able to cleanse the palate off the bruschetta. The tannins were noticeable, but softly structured. The Veal rib eye souvlaki was a revelation
– the stick was made out of lemon grass, and these flavours had made their way into the meat. The Alpha red was my personal top dry wine of the night. It is very gentle, elegant and full of red fruits. The wine needs food, and the pairing was just perfect.
Sweets with Omega 05
At this point I was stuffed! I left the sweets for my wife and friends and enjoyed the Omega 05. The wine is made from late harvested grapes, 85% Gewurztraminer and 15% Malagousia. I loved the pear and apricot aromas, it was nearly Barsac like on the nose, and the lemon flavours reminded me of Chateau Climens. The wine has a super acidity and is not cloying at all, on the opposite; it is extremely fresh and vibrant. This is a wine to watch out for.
The price for this wonderful evening was just Euro 55 per person. Did I mention that parking right in front of the restaurant was also provided? I look forward to participate in hopefully many more of these events, what a wonderful way to end the week!