This week’s dinner destination at City Winery was a very personal one for me, Greece. An underrated member of a premier European wine league, Greece’s wine are expressive of their distinctive and historic terriors. Our host for the evening was Dimitrios Manousakis, manager at the acclaimed Estiatorio Milos in their stunning Hudson Yards location.
With the horrific current events of the world, the evening started with a beautiful quote.
“Where there is wine, there is no war. Where there is wine there are people coming together, peace.”
He then delivered us our thesis for the evening: we would be discovering these wines as a dichotomy between modernity and tradition, history and innovation. We then set out with an excerpt from Socrates symposium.
An important point that really stood out over the course of the night is that wine in Greece is democratic – of course we would expect nothing less in the birthplace of democracy. However, to further elaborate, wine is meant to be for everyone where quality and an experience don’t have to be scarified and still be within peoples budget. It is not pretentious but retains a real elegance.
The first wine displayed beautiful characteristics from the place it came from – notes of jasmine, rose, and a lovely longlasting acidity and highlighted the citrus of the region beautifully. This wine is made from one grape variety, a moschofilero from Mantra, an idyllic city during Ancient Greek times.
It is a very complex and layered wine, starting off floral, but like a perfume with a base note, middle note and top note. Each layer shined in this wine. It is also worthy to note that it is made like a French champagne so it almost has a nice stony flavor.
The cigar was a nice appetizer with a nice brininess from the olives and a little char flavor from the roasted fennel. There was also a nice saltiness from the feta cheese.
The second wines exposed the beautiful luscious and some even tropical fruits of northern Greece. There were exquisite bright flavors of pineapple, mango, even a note of pepper. This wine is an example of elevated versions of the indigenous grape varieties focusing on small quantities and quality control.
This wine was a newer-found grape variety in the hills of Nafpaktos that has since been brought back to life and has taught people how to cultivate it to where it is now grown all over Greece. It is the perfect example of innovation and tradition.
A wine like this goes really well with raw fish and fatty cheeses. This meal complemented it well as there was a salty creamy balance of the potatoes which were simultaneously rich and light.
Santorini, as it sits on the top of a volcano, is known as the place of salt and smoke. After an eruption it formed a second island, Micra Thera, where this Assyrtiko is made. It is one of the newest projects by the winemaker, showing us a modern way by harvesting a week earlier, leading to a lower alcohol level but still maintaining the assets we look for in a good wine. Traditionally the wine was harvested later and aged in oak barrels. This wine is representative of both these forms. It has the character and full body of mature grapes and the modernity of crisp wines. It retains it sugar but still has a really strong acidity and I definitely pick up on a nice lime flavor.
The eggplant had a really nice smokiness and spice to it which beautifully complemented the acidity from the tomato. It was a homey and hearty dish packed with flavor that went great with the big mouth feel of the wine.
This Xinomavro was the Greek burgundy, as they call it. It involves a very elegant wine-making process in one of the most important wine-making regions in Greece. This family-owned vineyard has been making wine since 1829. They make wine in a traditional eco-system with animals grazing around and is barreled in Slavonic oak barrels..
The expression of this wine is classic in that it is smooth, easy, complex. There is almost a jam aspect with notes of sour cherries, plum, dark black fruits. On the palette it even has a subtle vegetable profile. It is tanic but still acidic.
The grape leaves had a nice toasted nutty flavor outright, but with a nice fresh citrus flavor to add a pop. It was creamy but acidic and I liked the overall play on textures. I also really enjoyed the herby component that shined through with mint in particular standing out to me.
This wine was part of the boutique wine movement featuring a Muscat grape from ancient times. Made from sun-dried grapes in Rio Patras, it is a very concentrated wine, with incredible flavors of honey and apricot really shining through. Another note is that there really is no definitive label for this wine and it would be great with breakfast, or to start or end a meal. The high aromatics of the wine pair perfectly with the aromatics and spices from the cake which was tasty and had nice crunchy nuts and raisins.
Greek wines were meant to push the envelope and impress, not just meet the expectations. The modernity of the Greek wines also stand against the notions of drinking wine out of expectations of what is popular. There is a confidence that you can drink something good, even locally, although it is meant to transport you.
While Greece may be a distance away from us, tonight I think it is safe to say we were all transported there.