In Praise of Greek Wine
A committed oenophile and wine scribe for decades, Constantinos Stergides gives a 5-minute masterclass on the Great Greek Grape.
What do you do? And how long have you been organizing Oenorama for?
I define myself as a wine journalist. I have been writing about wine non-stop for the past 30 years, it is what I do best and what I like to do the most. However, in order to make a living, I also organize events the most important of which is Oenorama, Greece’s major wine show and the biggest exhibition of Greek wines in the world. I started Oenorama in 1994 and over the years it has steadily grown and changed, along with the so-called “Greek Wine Renaissance”.
The most frequent Greek wine story you narrate at a bar?
Back in the early 90’s one of Greece’s biggest wine producers launched a premium wine with a very innovative label. Following a huge reception at the Athens Hilton it was the talk of the town for many months. About a year later I came across their oenologist and asked him when were they planning to release their next vintage. His answer was “when we run out of labels of this one”. They were already bottling the new vintage with labels of the previous one to avoid printing costs… Those were the days ―when no one paid any attention to “details” such as the wine’s vintage.
Most interesting Greek wine geek you’ve come across?
I am impressed by how many Greek wine geeks there are abroad nowadays, something unheard of in the past. One such person, who really knows his Greek wines, is Wojciech Bońkowski, a Polish journalist and editor-in-chief of the Winicjatywa wine magazine. He is a great guy and a very cultured person.
What do you get asked most at dinner parties?
“Which is the best Greek wine?”, which I refuse to answer, because I just don’t believe that there is one “best” Greek wine. The whole concept of a “best wine” is contrary to my philosophy of wine.
Which area of Athens do you live in?
I live in Paleo Psychico which is also where I went to school. It is one of Greece’s rare residential neighborhoods where shops are not allowed. Also, there are no traffic lights, another rarity.
What do you settle with at the end of a long day?
A long walk with my Golden Retriever and, hopefully, a glass of an IPA beer. My current favorites are Septem’s “Eighth Day” and Solo’s “Fouriaris”, a dynamite of a beer with 10° alcohol.
Can you describe a quintessentially Athenian sound, smell, taste and sight?
Sound: church bells, amazing if you are lucky enough to live near a church. Smell: various homecooking aromas that float around town, because Greeks like to leave their windows open ―a stunning experience. Taste: Cheese pie at 11 a.m., a ritual for millions of Greeks. Sight: Bitter orange trees planted on almost every Athenian sidewalk.
You’re nostalgic about….
My birthplace, Perth Western Australia and especially the Cottesloe beach.
An Athenian is…
A very patient person.
Your all-time favourite restaurant in Athens that perfectly pairs its dishes with wines?
“Paleo” in …Pireaus, run by Yiannis Kaimenakis and Alexandra Karakatsani, is the best place in Athens to drink lovely wines at rock-bottom prices, and their pairings are always spot-on.
Best Greek wines you’d recommend to take back abroad?
Definitely a good Santorini and the best value-for-money Greek wine “Samos Doux”, which in my opinion is one of the best sweet muscat wines in the world.
If Athens were a wine…
It would be a retsina, what else? It is a shame that all the old taverns have gone, but there really was a “dive bar” retsina-taverna culture up until the mid-to-late 60’s that was typical of old Athens and defined the city in many ways.
What are the top 5 Greek grape varieties you’d recommend?
Assyrtico, Robola, Mavrodaphne, Malagousia and, of course, Xinomavro.
Most underestimated Greek wine?
Wines from the roditis grape. Few know that Greek wines can age quite nicely.
Finally, tell us your best Athens Insider secret (a place, venue or location)?
Τhe Numismatic Museum is one of the city’s best-kept secrets although a stone’s throw away from Constitution Square.