The evening was an interesting proposition: five Greek wines, each paired with a course over dinner, conversation, and story-telling. The reason: to open Canadian minds to the range of possibilities of Greek vinculture, beyond Retsina.
The event started off on a light-hearted note with Gayle Hurmuses sharing a family tale about the origins of Retsina — an acquired taste, to say the least. For those unfamiliar with it, Retsina is the well-known wine that is stored in containers traditionally sealed with pine pitch (resin), that gives it its distinctive flavouring. The story goes that many, many years ago when Greece was being invaded, the wine-makers decided that they were not going to let the invading forces enjoy their hard labour and thus, they chose to ‘taint’ the taste with pine pitch. Once the invaders left, they decided to celebrate, but all there was was the tainted wine, and so the taste for Retsina was born.
This amusing tale led into a discussion of the history of winemaking in Greece — a tradition that is about seven thousand years old. John Szabo of Wine Align started off the history-sharing telling the audience that until recently, it was a family and friends kind of affair, where a vitner would make batches just large enough to share with friends and family, rather than for bottling and selling.
The Boutari family is one of the foremost Greek wine-making names, and the guest of honour, Christina Boutari, is the fifth generation to take up the mantle (since they began the winery in 1879). It’s a lineage that shows in the calibre of wine produced.
Dinner began with Dolmades: grape leaves stuffed with Metaxa-soaked raisins, pine nuts, rice, and tzatziki. A pleasant combination of rich and sweet, and just a touch of tang in the leaf itself.
The first pairing featured a 2010 Assyrtiko “Santorini” (from, of course, Santorini) where the grapes have thus far been spared the blight that has tinged many other European grapes. The dish was grilled octopus, with a fig-walnut-eggplant puree, and mine was a bit overcooked, though other people did not have the same issue. The wine was clean and crisp, remniscent of an Auxerois blanc and well-paired with seafood. Even after breathing for a while, it maintains its acidity even as it opens up complexity in notes.
The second course was a seafood kritharoto & horiatiki salad — salmon, prawns, calamari, and mussels, paired with the 2010 Malagousia Matsa, from Pallini. This was a softer white, more floral, more round as it were. Given a few minutes of breathing, this wine is a solid networking wine, one that goes well with food, or on its own.
The third course saw the reds opened: this time the 2004 Xinomavro “Grand Reserve” (from Naoussa). The dish that accompanied it was robust: a spicy Ontario lamb sausage, with an oregano-tomato sauce and red bell peppers. The wine more than held its own in this pairing, it’s a hearty wine that opens up nicely with a bit of air swirled through it, tannic but not chewy.The initial jammy-ness gives way to a clearer fruityness
The story that accompanied the second-last wine was delightful. The Cretan “Domaine Skalani” (2007) is made with Syrah | Kotsifali grapes, the latter of which the original grower surrounded with a myth that it was haunted because pirates kept stealing them! It’s a wine that needs to breathe — open it a half-hour before drinking to get the best enjoyment from it. It’s a food-wine, not a networking wine, meaning it’s not something you want to drink on its own. Once allowed to open fully, it would go well with Barbecue or a spiced chocolate (John Szabo suggested mushrooms or other umami tastes). The dish it was paired with was a lamb with vegetables in phyllo pastry.
The last wine was a dessert wine from Santorini Assyrtiko grapes, bringing the wine tasting full circle. Sweet, but dry, it evaporates off the tongue leaving a slight sugary feel. “Vinsanto Boutari” is a flexible and surprisingly complex dessert wine in that its profile changes depending on what you pair it with. With the sweet element of the dessert (Baklava in this case), the wine highlighted its fruityness and seemed to lose some of the sweetness. Paired with something tart (kefalotyri cheese) the wine showcases its sweetness offsetting the sharpness of a goat cheese beautifully.
This was only a sampling of the selection that the Boutari winery offers. Looking forward to sampling more.