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Dodecanese Islands: Food & Wine Treasures

Twelve Islands, a cluster of sizable islands located in the southeastern corner of the Aegean sea. Each of these islands-jewels feature its own gastronomic heritage, shaped by economic constraints and limited resources. These islands remain isolated and self-sufficient for most part of the year. The majority of visitors arrive in the summer months. So, they rely on themselves to produce sustainable food.

On islands like Kalymnos, where most food comes from the sea, recipes feature seafood – fresh or preserved. Kalymnos is world renowned for its sea sponge fishing, having a tradition in training the best divers. When they would dive for sponges, often times they would bring up to the boat fish, sea urchins, various crustaceans and let them dry in the sun -with a bit of salt. “Bonito” is such a meze from Kalymnos.

In other islands -Rhodes, Karpathos, Kasos, Patmos, that are more mountainous, there are more farmers and shepherds than fishermen. Between the 12th and 16th century, inhabitants had to move inland and live on the mountains to protect their families and belongings from pirates that were roaming the Aegean Sea. In these islands, we have dishes that feature beans and pulses, cheese, traditional pasta made from wheat flour -“Makarounes” from Karpathos, “Pitaroudia” from Rhodes.

Each island has an array of indigenous flora and edible greens. In the island of Astypalea, they cultivate Krocus flowers and make aromatic saffron and sweet potatoes. Capers grow wild in all the islands and are featured in many dishes. Wines are made in Rhodes, Kos and Lipsi. Rhodes holds the largest production of sparkling wines in Greece. In recent years, on the island of Lipsi, they revived an old vine variety, the Fokiano grape. It produces a sweet wine that used to be sent exclusively to the Vatican.

Each of these islands, Nisyros, Patmos, Astypalea, Karpathos, Kos, Kassos, Leros, Lipsi, Symi, Rhodes, Halki, Kalymnos have their own history, people, traditions, waiting to be discovered.

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Drinking Responsibly

As we are all aware of the moral obligation to drink responsibly for the obvious reasons of safety to ourselves and others, it should also include the environment.  We rarely think of what impact do wineries and companies have on their ecosystem and community from their day-to-day operations.  Have you ever thought, as you’re sipping your favorite wine, if that winery is being environmentally responsible in their practices?  If not, then we definitely need to begin thinking this way.  You would think that a winery being an agricultural operation would be environmentally responsible by default.  But there is always that but!  Here are some questions to always keep in mind when thinking about environmentally responsible practices for wineries:

  • Are they using clean and renewable energy?
  • Are they using glass for their bottles?
  • Are their labels from recycled paper? Is there plastic in their labels?
  • What type of glue are they using for their label?
  • What type of corks are they using? If they are using natural corks, are they contributing to replanting cork trees?
  • What type of barrels are they using? New oak, old oak? Do they contribute to replanting oak trees?
  • Is their supply chain green? Short circuit distribution or large distribution 
  • Farm to table movement?
  • Do they use recycled cardboard? Regular cardboard? Wooden box? Is the wooden box chemically treated?
  • Do they recycle their leftover wine must to other operations to convert into a different product?
  • Is their machinery updated and efficient?  
  • Is their pay rate to their staff more than reasonable?
  • Do they offer jobs to locals in their community?
  • What is the ratio of their operation manual vs. automated?
  • Do they purchase supplies and materials from local vendors?

These are just some questions that come to mind when I think of being environmentally responsible from a winery standpoint.  I truly believe when you are aware of the wineries that make efforts to operate environmentally responsible, the better you will feel about the wine you are drinking. Here are some wines from our collection that are produced from environmentally sustainable practices. We highly recommend you try these, and we believe you will feel better about the wine and yourself from the first sip.

https://www.greekazon.com/products/alexakis-kotsifali-syrah

https://www.greekazon.com/products/skouras-moschofilero

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Winter: what happens in the vineyards?

Harvest in the Greek vineyards finishes by November: even in the northern vineyards of Greece -Naoussa, Amyntaio, Drama -they have picked even the last parcels of Xinomavro and Cabernet, Merlot grapes. The months from December, to early March, mark the “winter dormancy” period of the vines.

The leaves quickly turn brown and fall. By Christmas time, the vineyards are bare -only the wooden trunks and the shoots are left on the trellis. The green shoots that carried all grapes and leaves, now turn to wood and are called canes. The vine begins its ‘downtime’: it switches from the photosynthesis mode, to merely storing carbohydrates that will help the plant begin the next growth season.

One of the main concerns that vine growers face in winter is frost- especially in higher altitude vineyards with continental climate. Pruning, on the other hand, is the most important maintenance task in the vineyard during the winter.

In Greece, tradition and religion are very much intertwined: on the 1st of February, we celebrate Saint Trifonas – the patron saint of the vineyards. In most of the paintings, he is holding the cross on one hand and a pruning sickle on the other. On his name day, vineyards workers have the day off: they will attend church service and receive holly water. They will then bless their vines with it, sprinkling some water straight on the vines for good luck. Pruning will start the following day, depending on the area and the weather conditions.

Pruning is done by hand and by expertly trained personnel. It is considered one of the most important jobs on the vine as it will determine next year’s grape yields and wine production. In the most traditional wine producing regions, we see older, more experienced men pruning.

In a Greek proverb, the vine is quoted saying: “Βάλε νιους και σκάψε με, γέρους και κλάδεψε με” which roughly translates to: “Ask the young men to dig me and old men to prune me.”

As the vineyard enters a quiet time to gather its strength, let us all take the time to nurture ourselves, collect our thoughts and get ready for the New Year 2022. Wish you all a great year, full of good wine, good food and good company to share it with! Cheers!

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Off to a Clean Start

As we bid farewell to 2021, we welcome 2022 with as much optimism as possible. And as we continue to navigate our lives with all the challenges we are facing today, we at Greekazon & Greek Wine Club have decided to change directions in featuring and advocating for wines made from cleaner practices. After endless days of extensive research on the subject of wine production on a global scale, we have been astonished at some of the practices that are allowed today. We have made a promise to ourselves and to you that we will continue to make efforts to bring you wines from Greece that are made in the most natural way and with very minimal intervention. Our initiatives will include interviews from winemakers in Greece that are practicing organic and biodynamic farming along with sustainable practices. We will also feature monthly articles and social media posts on the education and awareness of better practices for wine production in Greece.

As we continue to make efforts to eat clean and make better choices for our meals, we should also take the same approach when it comes to wine. Greece is becoming a leading force in Europe’s wine industry by making huge efforts to produce cleaner wine. Now, just to clarify the term, clean wine, in simple terms it means wines that are produced with the least amount of chemicals and synthetics from farming to production.

We look forward to a better 2022 with all of you. Let’s raise our glasses and toast to #drinkingclean and #drinkinggreek!

Drink clean with us with the following wines!

Koukos Winery Electra Orange Wine

Mylonas “Naked Truth” Savatiano

Skouras Salto Moschofilero

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Greek Sparkling Wine

There is no better way to ring in the new year than with your loved ones and a bottle of bubbles. While most people flock to Champagne or Prosecco, Greece often gets overlooked as a sparkling wine region.

From Crete & Santorini, to all the way in Northern Greece, sparkling wine is produced all over the country. If you like the brightness and acidity of a blanc de blanc Champagne, you’d love the method traditionalle sparkling wines of Santorini made with Assyrtiko. If you prefer wines with a little more body and fruity character, seek out the sparkling wines of northern Greece made with xinomavro.

My personal favorite and top recommendation to start off the new year is the Akakies Sparkling Xinomavro from Kir-Yianni. This is made 100% from the native red variety of northern Greece, Xinomavro. Meaning “black and tart,” this variety brings a wonderful fruitiness to this sparkling rosé. With characteristics of strawberries and cream, it is a fruit forward and crowd-pleasing wine that will be perfect for ringing in the new year.

Buy a bottle of Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé

Xronia Polla!

Johnny Livanos, Sales Manager for Diamond Wine Importers, is a 3rd Generation Greek American and expert on all things Greek. Coming from a multi-generational New York restaurant family, Johnny joined the Diamond Wine Importer team after having years in the restaurant business selling Greek wine. Running Greek restaurants, such as Molyvos and Ousia in NYC, as well as Zaytinya in Washington, DC, Johnny gained a tremendous knowledge and passion for sharing the joys of Greek wine with the world. This led Johnny to also launch his own gin brand, called Stray Dog Wild Gin, which is distilled in Northern Greece with a medley of wild Greek botanicals.
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The Best Wines of 2021: Moschofilero

Skouras 2019 George Skouras Moschofilero (Arcadia)
#28 Enthusiast 100 2021

We are proud to share the news that the Skouras Moscofilero was selected as the top 100 wines of 2021! We love how fresh and exciting this wine can be, and glad to see it’s recognized again for its magnificence.

We love pairing moscofilero with light seafood, spicy foods, and salads. This is a bright and aromatic wine with a ton of character and liveliness. Hope it brings you some joy this holiday season!

“This Moschofilero starts with a rich, fragrant nose of jasmine and rose, but its flavors are poised and pert in style, with a spin of bone-dry acid framing its refined citrus and spice flavors. A beautiful example of the variety’s versatility and character.” – Susan Kostrzewa

See the article >

RATING: 93
DESIGNATION: George Skouras
VARIETY: Moschofilero, Greek White
APPELLATION: Arcadia, Greece
WINERY: Skouras
ALCOHOL: 12%
BOTTLE SIZE: 750 ml
CATEGORY: White
IMPORTER: Diamond Importers Inc

Buy a bottle of Skouras Moschofilero

Johnny Livanos, Sales Manager for Diamond Wine Importers, is a 3rd Generation Greek American and expert on all things Greek. Coming from a multi-generational New York restaurant family, Johnny joined the Diamond Wine Importer team after having years in the restaurant business selling Greek wine. Running Greek restaurants, such as Molyvos and Ousia in NYC, as well as Zaytinya in Washington, DC, Johnny gained a tremendous knowledge and passion for sharing the joys of Greek wine with the world. This led Johnny to also launch his own gin brand, called Stray Dog Wild Gin, which is distilled in Northern Greece with a medley of wild Greek botanicals.
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Greece is More Than Sparkling Seas

When we think of Greece, we think of sparkling blue waters and sun drenched beaches.  But when we think of sparkling wine, we never think of Greece, until recently.  I felt the timing was appropriate to write a piece about the new movement in sparkling wines in Greece as we approach the end of the year.  By default we gravitate to Champagne and Prosecco as the standard options for quality, but in the last ten years, Greece has been producing bubbles that will match up with any production.

Typically, sparkling wines can be produced from both white and red grapes.  When using red grapes for the production of sparkling wines, the skins are removed prior to fermentation.  Greece has so many versatile and diverse indigeneous grapes, that they can produce refreshing and crisp sparkling wines.  Greece’s transformation into producing high quality sparkling wines are a result of skillful and progressive winemakers such as Stelios Boutaris of Kir Yianni Estates and Yiannis Tselepos of Domaine Tselepos to name a few.  Stelios is using his estate grown red grape, Xinomavro to produce an amazing rosè sparkler called Akakies and Yiannis is using his estate grown white grape, Moschofilero to produce his refreshing sparkler called Amalia.  Both exceptional examples of well crafted and produced sparkling wines.  

Finally, sparkling wines have made their way to the table to pair with foods and not just be offered as a selection for toasting.  The structure of sparkling wines and the cuisine of many Greek dishes that incorporate olive oil, lemon, herbs, and spices make an amazing pairing.  

I highly recommend trying a few and your palate will thank you.  Stin Ygeia Sas! 

Fun Facts:
On a sparkling wine bottle if you see the terms:

– Blanc de Blanc – the wine was produced from 100% white grapes
– Blanc de Noir – the wine was produced with both white and red grapes

Get a bottle of Kir Yianni Akakies Rosé

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Winter in the Greek vineyards

Photo credit: Lyrarakis vineyards in Crete

Does it snow in Greece?” That was one of the most common questions I would get when I was a student at BU in Boston. The answer is “Yes, it does snow in Greece, as it is a mountainous country, covered by almost 2/3 of its area in hills, mountains, and large mountain summits.” Greece is known as a summer holiday destination. True, our islands and coastline welcome more than 30 million travelers each summer. Some winter travelers, mainly from continental Europe, have discovered the joy of winter in Greece – low temperatures, snowcapped mountains, ski resorts, beautiful traditional mountain villages and charming hotels with open fireplaces.

Many vineyards are located in slopes of hills and mountains, throughout the country. Some of these vineyards are located 2,200 to 2,500 feet above sea level! To name a few: Mantineia and Nemea in the Peloponnese penninsula. There, in slopes reaching well over 2,500 feet, the Moscofilero grape produces aromatic, crisp white wines. Further north from Mantineia, in the famous region of Nemea, home to the Agiorgitiko grape. On the western side of Nemea, in Asprokampos and Koutsi, the Agiorgitiko grape produces some of the finest red wines with ageing potential and the fragrant aromatic rose wines of the same grape.

Further north, on our Way to Thessaloniki, we find beautiful vineyards in the slopes of mount Olympus -Rapsani is a well known region producing the Rapsani blended red wine and a few more notable wineries in the area. In Northern Greece, Florina and Amyntaio are the northern most vineyards in Greece. There, altitute reaches 2,000 feet above sea level. The local star grape variety of Xinomavro produces red and rose wines with high acidity, healthy tannins and ageing prospects. Amyntaio is also the area where most of the sparlkling wine is being made.

Many islands that are the perfect summer destination, have mountainous vineyards that set their wine production apart: Samos island with its floral dessert Muscat wines, Crete (as shown in above picture), Kefalonia, Robola white wines.

The highest vineyard in Greece is found in Metsovo at the Katogi Averoff estate. There, at an altitude of almost 4,000 feet, the Averof family have been cultivating vines since 1959, mostly the white Traminer and the red Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, the grandfather Averoff brought the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines from France in the 50’s and they produce award winning wines to this day.

A few years back, I participated in a tasting of the Katogi Averoff wines with Alexandros, the grandson of Evangelo Averoff and the current CEO of the estate. When he was asked what is the greatest challenge growing and tending vines in such high altitude, he answered: “The brown bears. They come down from the forest and munch on the sweet Traminer grapes! It is impossible to keep them away!”

This picture has stayed with me and every time I recall it, it puts a smile on my face.

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Wines for Thanksgiving Part 1

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s not too early to start thinking about what dishes you’re going to prepare and which wines you’re going to share with friends and family. I’m personally guilty every year of eating too much before the turkey comes out, so please remember to pace yourself! Whether or not I’m as stuffed on stuffing, theres always room for delicious wines.

When picking wines for Thanksgiving, it’s good to keep in mind that there is usually a medley of food, so pick wines that go with a lot of options. I like to keep my whites somewhat round, and choose reds that aren’t too bold to overpower the white meat of the turkey. This Thanksgiving, I’d recommend some wines from Alpha Estate.

Usually I’d want to suggest Greek varietals for the newsletter, but it’s always exciting to see classic producers from Greece working with popular international varieties. Alpha Estate’s Chardonnay has everything you’d expect from this variety with an old-world accent. Seven months in the oak give it a delicious roundness and body that you typically hope to find in high end chardonnay. The colder, high elevation terroir of northern Greece where the grapes are grown help create a balanced and nuanced wine.

For a red wine, I’d definitely recommend opening the Old Vines Xinomavro from Alpha Estate. Voted best wine of the year in 2020 by Vinepair, this is one of the most unique xinomavro you can find. Grapes are grown on 100+ year old vines, leading to tremendous nuance and flavor in the wine. 24 months in the barrel leaves this bottle smooth, round, and just the right amount of body you’d crave with all your thanksgiving dishes. Pop this bottle a few hours before you want to drink and watch it open up beautifully.

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Wines for Thanksgiving Part 2

For those of us that are hosting this Thanksgiving, the challenges begin as to what to prepare and how many offerings are considered enough.  I feel for the most part we constantly over think and over deliver for the feast.  As we explore ideas and recipes for the big day, we are introduced to wonderful dishes beyond, stuffing, turkey, cranberry sauce, and classics.  Same goes for our wine selections for the big feast as well,  Chardonnays have dominated the table over the years as the proper pairing on Thanksgiving, but the field has opened up to a variety of wonderfully structured wines that will enhance turkey day.  On that note, I’d like to introduce three exquisite Greek wines that will really drive the balance of pairing.  

Our first offering will actually be a sparkling rosè from the region of Naoussa.  We don’t often think of bubbles when it comes to Thanksgiving, but it’s actually a great way to begin any experience or feast.  Sparkling wines wake up the taste buds, cleanse the palate, and stimulate flavors.  My recommendation would be Kir Yianni Estates ‘Akakies’ Sparkling Rosè. Ideal with salty appetizers, sharp cheeses, tiropitakia, and spanakopitakia.

Our next selection will be a dry rosè that is eloquently balanced to work with our appetizers and multiple dishes that will accompany the big bird.  Dry rosès are eventually becoming a preferred option rather than a trend.  Their structure, which consists of great fruit qualities along with adequate acidity and crispness, makes it ideal to pair with foods that are well seasoned and have good amounts of oils and fats.  My recommendation is Mylonas Winery Rosè, which is produced from Mandilaria & Malagousia, two indigenious Greek grapes that create wonders.

Lastly, I will be choosing a red wine over a white wine for our turkey.  This might be an unorthodox approach, but I’m all about the chemistry of how we are preparing our dishes.  A light bodied red wine with slightly sharp tannis can really drive home the pairing.  Poultry that is well seasoned and buttered sitting in a bed of root vegetables and fruits will pair wonderfully with a light bodied red wine.  My recommendation is Vaeni Winery Xinomavro. 

Enjoy these pairings and your feast.  Always keep exploring with wine, you never know what you might fall in love with.  Stin Ygeia Sas!