Some of my favourite snacks are Koulourakia, the traditional hand-shaped Greek butter cookies. They are typically made for Easter to be enjoyed after Holy Saturday, but thankfully they can be found in bakeries all year around. They take their name from their twisted shape; “kouloura” is Greek for coil, or round twist.
Koulourakia are a butter-based pastry with egg glaze on top. There are plenty of variations around, some recipes include orange peel or orange juice, others cloves, and it is common to sprinkle them with sesame. There are also versions that include almonds and honey. All are delicious and never too sweet, a perfect snack to nibble alongside a cup of fresh coffee or tea.
Is it possible to enjoy Koulourakia with a sip of wine? It is challenging, yet not impossible to find a suitable match. Step one is to identify a grape variety that has the ability to enhance the flavour of the cookies without being overpowering. What other ingredient pairs well with oranges, sesame, almonds, cloves or honey in cooking? Citrus – we find orange and citrus peel jams, sesame citrus vinaigrette, almond citrus cake, clove and citrus marinades, or honey citrus glazes.
In addition to the citrus component, a hint of exotic spices might prove beneficial. I would also suggest that the wine should not be sweet, but rather exhibit a “natural” sweet fragrance and flavour. Lastly, the acidity should be balanced, rather than sharp.
Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is considered to be one of the oldest grape varieties still in existence. According to ampelographers, it is of Greek origin. The wines are often described as having bergamot (Citrus Bergamia) or lemon grass flavours that are powerful and delicate at the same time. In addition, sweet and spicy flavours are also present.
I have attempted to pair a number of dry Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains wines with different types of Koulourakia. In most cases, the combination worked surprisingly well. The best cookie match included almond and honey as ingredients. On the other hand, one that was sprinkled with anise and sesame seeds proved impossible to pair.
Sweet Muscat Blanc wines did not work at all, they destroyed any harmony. The sweetness was too heavy for the more delicate Koulourakia and the rich density of the wine militated against the mild spiciness of the cookies.
I would like to hear about other Greek food specialities that might not be straightforward to pair with wine, please leave suggestions in the comment section.