Food & wine

Explore Greece this summer

Explore Greece

Over the last year or so, like many others, I have fantasised a great deal about where I'd like to go for a long-awaited holiday. One delightfully recurring daydream centres on a taverna overlooking an Aegean bay or Cycladic harbour, beneath bright azure skies and beside vodka-clear waters shimmering and reflecting fluid patterns of light onto the canopy under which I am sitting, waiting expectantly with a napkin. A feast of meze is on its way to our table in a procession of small plates and bowls. As soon as they arrive I will dive straight into the briny olives, plunge hot flatbreads into mouthwatering dips, taste salty tangy Feta, and bite into tender squid while anticipating the imminent arrival of some spankingly fresh fish straight from the grill or a pot of slow-cooked lamb, or a beef stew, scented with local herbs. I also raise a glass of chilled white or rich red wine, probably from a nearby grower, to the panoply of Greek hospitality and feel a huge smile spread across my face.

Meze

Greek food is a joy. It's seeming simplicity translates into amazing, punchy flavours, reflecting many centuries of hard learned experience and tradition, based on the quality of the freshest, sun-ripened vegetables, the freshest fish and local meats. And all this can be washed down with the amazing wines of Greece, never better than they are now. Millennia of viticultural and winemaking know-how has been allied to fresh ideas and modern technology to produce some of the most exciting wines, reds, whites or rosé, in the world! To be frank, with our range of Greek wines, celebrating a winemaking renaissance that's so ripe for discovery has never been easier.

Greece and it's islands are awash with native grape varieties, some of them probably ancient, maybe even once making the wine for the cups of Alexander the Great or Pericles. These are wines with a wonderful sense of place, unique to their homeland, offering a cornucopia of fascinating flavours from grape names that, while not yet as familiar to many British tongues as they should be, are destined to find a much bigger fanbase once they have been tasted. They are the perfect foils to the local food and though I may not be able to go to Greece quite yet, I can travel vicariously through the food and wine.

Greek salad

Begin, as a feast in Greece will almost certainly do, with those meze (or mezedes) dishes, an array of flavours and textures that epitomise the simplicity, generosity and plentiful flavours of Greek food. Nibble on briny olives and use flatbreads to scoop hungrily into dips like tangy, yoghurt-based tzatziki, earthy, smooth hummus, a tasty taramasalata made with salted or smoked cod's roe, or garlicky skordalia of potato. Tender rice and herb or minced lamb-stuffed vine leaves called dolmades might be served beside golden fried rings of squid called kalamarakia in their crisp coating, and there will almost certainly be a salad of sharp, salty irresistible sheep's milk cheese like Feta, often in the form of the almost ubiquitous Greek salad (horiatiki), with crunchy cucumber, sweet tomatoes, olives and herbs at its heart. Or try some amazing saganaki, Greek cheeses, sometimes Feta again, dredged in flour and fried and served with a beguiling drizzle of honey. Meatballs (keftedes) or vegetable versions made with tomatoes, courgettes or aubergines might appear, and maybe some grilled octopus or fava bean purée. And I cannot leave out grilled Halloumi cheese, its squeaky raw state transmuted into yielding salty deliciousness with heat. Whatever comes will be delicious.

To stand with such a range of meze dishes, of which I've mentioned just a few, and particularly that Greek salad, employ a fresh and flavourful white like the Rhombus Robola of Kefalonia, Gentilini 2020, the fragrantly refreshing Mitravelas White on Grey Moschofilero 2020, the citrusy, herby Dafni Psarades, Lyrarakis 2020 or the zesty Nomas Assyrtiko, Karavitakis 2020 and Lafazanis Geometria Malagouzia 2019. A fruit-packed rosé like the Rosé de Xinomavro, Thymiopolous 2019 will work wonders across a range of dishes, as will a juicy red like the fresh peppery berry-fruit of the Domaine Zafeirakis New Age Limniona 2018 or the pale but punchily flavoured Kompsos Liatiko Karavitakis 2020.

Fish

Simply grilled, barbecued or baked fish is a must too. Whether it is straight from the coals or grill of baked plaki-style with tomatoes and vegetables, fish like sea bass, bream and red mullet glorious, as are the plump prawns found and grilled everywhere. As well as being lovely with the whites mentioned above, to that list I might add the peach, citrus and saline notes of the Lafazanis Geometria Malagouzia 2019, the power of Santorini Assyrtiko Cuvee No15 Hatzidakis 2019, or the fine, vibrant Hatzidakis Aidani 2018 for when the freshest most flavoursome fish is the centrepiece.

Another speciality found all across Greece are savoury pastries, called pitas, that can be filled with almost anything but, in my humble opinion, are simply sensational when filled with tangy cheese and vegetables. I offer up as an example the truly delicious spanakopita, golden filo pastry filled with Feta and spinach. Replace the spinach with other greens, leeks, grated courgette or the like and you can make these to suit your pleasure. Zesty whites like the malagouzia, assyrtiko's and robola mentioned above will be very good here.

Then there is lamb or goat, found all over Greece. Simply roasted or marinated and slow-cooked kleftiko-style (i.e. sealed in a vessel along with chunky vegetables including spuds, herbs and garlic and roasted for a long time) it is the perfect foil for the country's classy red wines. Earth and Sky Naoussa Thymiopoulos 2018, silky and sweet from a ripe vintage, and Rapsani Terra Petra Thymiopoulos 2018, ripe but beautifully elegant, and both from the wonderful Thymiopoulos stable, would be good places to start. The fine, pale but powerful Hatzidakis Mavrotragano 2016 and the Xinomavro Naoussea Ktima Foundi 2016, with its sour-cherry, sun-dried tomato and black-olive notes on the structured palate will not shy away from the meat, and nor will the grip and fruit of Xinomavro Naoussa Dalamara 2018.

Lamb

Other stifado, this time of beef or rabbit, are also well-known in Greece, cooked with patience to melting tenderness in red-wine and tomato sauces with pearl or shallot onions, a dash of red-wine vinegar and bay leaves. The reds suggested for the lamb dishes above will do sterling service with a beefy version here, as will the rich Plakoura Mandilari, Domaine Lyrarakis 2017. A stifado of rabbit will suit the reds suggested above for the octopus version, and the Kompsos Liatiko Karavitakis 2020, for its sweet 'pinot noir on steroids' schtick. And don't forget the white but characterful thrapsathiri. Also consider the Roditis Orange Nature Tetramythos 2019 an 'orange' wine of amber colour and sweet spice and a firm, grippy palate to stand with the flavoursome meat.

You might think that I have forgotten what may just be the most famous of all Greek meat dishes, the amazing moussaka, but fear not. I love it too much to leave it out! Being almost a cliché does not detract from its deliciousness when well made. With seductive layers of minced lamb or beef in tomato sauce, tender aubergine (some versions use potatoes as well) and creamy béchamel sauce, what's not to love? Any of the reds mentioned here will be excellent with this most accommodating of dishes, but I recommend the Kompsos Liatiko Karavitakis 2020, Mitravelas Red on Black Agiorgitiko 2020, Rapsani Terra Petra Thymiopoulos 2018 and Xinomavro Jeunes Vignes Thymiopoulos 2019 mentioned previously. I think that the moussaka is fantastic served warm rather than piping hot, accompanied by a fresher than fresh green salad and these reds will do sterling service in support of the succulent dish.

Moussaka

There is, of course, so much more to Greek food than I've mentioned here, from skewers of pork souvlaki or loukaniko sausages to the beautiful stews (briam) of gorgeous vegetables. These are popular dishes from across the country but, as with many countries, there is so much regionality and varying on a theme that it would take a much lengthier article than this to scratch such a vast, rugged and beautiful surface. All of the dishes I've mentioned can easily be made at home from ingredients that are available from almost any supermarket or deli. Or you can buy some of them ready made without any difficulty. And once you've got the food sorted you can trust us to have the wines you need in the bag.

Steve Farrow

The Society's Wine Information Editor

Steve Farrow

Having spent several years in The Showroom, Steve likes nothing more than chatting with members about food and wine and is our in-house Wine Without Fuss food and wine man.

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