ον Μάϊο του 2019, η Tara Q. Thomas, μου παραχώρησε μια άκρως ενδιαφέρουσα συνέντευξη για ένα περιοδικό γεύσης. Οι συγκυρίες τα έφεραν έτσι κι “έμεινε στο συρτάρι” για καιρό. Κάποιες αξίες όμως είναι διαχρονικές, γι’ αυτό κι ας την απολαύσουμε, την ώρα που εξελίσσεται στη χώρα, ο τρύγος του 2020!
Στην ομαδική ψυχανάλυση, παύει το “πως πιστεύω ότι είμαι” και ανακαλύπτουμε, “πως με βλέπουν οι άλλοι”. Κάπως έτσι αποφάσισα να απευθυνθώ γι’ αυτή τη συνέντευξη, στην Tara Q. Thomas. Εντός των συνόρων, μιλάμε συνέχεια για την άνοιξη του ελληνικού κρασιού και αυτό με παρακίνησε να γνωρίσω πως μας βλέπουν εκτός συνόρων οι opinion leaders του κρασιού. Κι αν κάποιος γνωρίζει σε βάθος τα ελληνικά οινοπεδία, τις ποικιλίες και τους ανθρώπους, αυτή είναι μόνο η Tara, Executive Editor του εμβληματικού Wine & Spirits Magazine.
Πολυταξιδεμένη σε αμπελοτόπια ανά τον πλανήτη, είναι συνεργάτης του περιοδικού Wine and Spirits για περισσότερα από 20 χρόνια (1997). Απόφοιτη του Culinary Institute of America στη Νέα Υόρκη, εξελίσσεται και εξειδικεύεται στα κρασιά της Αυστρίας, Γερμανίας, ανατολικής Ευρώπης και Μεσογείου, με ιδιαίτερο ενθουσιασμό και γνώση στoν Ελληνικό Αμπελώνα. Συγγραφέας δύο βιβλίων, οδηγών για το κρασί, «The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine Basics», και το «The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Wine», αρθρογραφεί, ερευνά, διδάσκει κατέχοντας διεθνή αναγνώριση ως κριτικός κρασιών.
When and how did your journey with Greek wines commence?
It’s a bit of a roundabout story. Back when I was training as a cook, I landed an externship in a small restaurant in Athens. I was poor and clueless at the time, and so I can’t say that I discovered Greek wine then; I pretty much subsisted on frappés. But during my six-month stay, I developed a deep love for the country—so much so that when I returned home, I immediately wanted to return. Instead I bought a slew of Greek cookbooks and tried to conjure up Greece in my kitchen. I even moved to Astoria, Queens, where I could hear and read Greek on my commute into the city, and Greek ingredients were easy to find.
Meanwhile, I was getting more into wine—especially the bottles on the Greek shelves, which fit my budget, and were, to my mind, exceptional values. So when I began working at Wine & Spirits Magazine in 1997, I was sad to find that Greek wine didn’t get much play in the magazine. No one seemed to even care to learn about it. So I suggested to my boss that we do a comprehensive tasting, just like we do for Burgundy, Napa and other parts of the wine world. He was skeptical, and responded with a challenge: If I put together a tasting that showed that Greek wine was worth serious attention, we’d run a report.
I did one better: I put together a tasting that inspired him to send me to Greece and write a story—something I’ve now done nearly every year since 1998. The timing was incredible: All the progress that was being made in the Greek vineyard in the 1990s was just beginning to show in the wines that were being shipped to the US. It’s been incredibly gratifying to watch the scene blossom over the years, and to that excitement with so many people through the magazine.
A roundabout story
What is the most fascinating feature of the Greek vineyard, according to your opinion?
The diversity. Just think of the contrast of climates from north to south, and, within that, the immense variability created by the many mountains—and then, how those mountains have effectively shielded one region from another so that each has retained a distinct personality. It’s almost as if Greece is more truly a collection of tiny countries, each with its own geographic, climatic, cultural and historical peculiarities—all of which shape the wines. There is always more to discover in Greek wine. And sometimes we get to discover it in real time alongside the vintners themselves, who are still discovering what they have in their vineyards.
How do American consumers perceive Greek wine?
That’s a complicated question, as there are many levels of wine consumers, and many, many different markets, thanks to the US’s arcane laws around alcohol distribution. But I can tell you that, at the higher levels of the dining world, Greek wine has become a regular feature on wine lists. Santorini led the charge in the mid-2000s, and remains the most recognizable Greek wine on lists, but today you’ll also find Greek rosés, moschofilero, sparkling debina, xinomavro, malagousia and all sorts of other wines on offer at progressive NYC restaurants. Sommeliers and the people they serve tend to love Greek wine because of the diversity, rarity and value the best bottles offer. And the current generation of wine drinker doesn’t have any hangups about drinking Greek: Lots of people today have never even heard of Retsina, and so they have no preconceived notions to overcome.
Outside of major markets, Greek wine is harder to find—Americans, at the end of the day, tend to drink American. For Greek wine to make inroads in smaller markets, the driver tends to be Greek cuisine, which is very much trending right now. But it’s still rare enough to find Greek wine in markets like Buffalo, where I grew up, that my mother calls me when she sees a bottle on a wine list.
Which was your best moment/experience from your trips in Greece?
What an impossible question. For all of the incredible experiences I’ve had through wine—exploring magical Monemvasia and wild Crete, studying Santorini and discovering, most recently, the dramatic rock-strewn hills of Tinos, for instance—the very best moments were the earliest ones—the ones that set in motion my enduring love for the place. Maybe it was the day in the market when I argued—in broken Greek—with the lady selling chickens, demanding that she give me for a better one—and she responded with a beauty as well as a huge smile of approval. (I passed the test!) Or the generosity of the baker I stopped into every morning on my way to the market, who’d hand over an especially large wedge of bougatsa to keep me warm (It was February, and, bizarrely, snowing.) There was the day at a beach on Andros when a five-year-old taught me how to eat sea urchins and how to pry limpets off of rocks, illuminating everything that had been missing from my upbringing, and everything that was rich and enticing about hers. It was morning runs to the top of Lykavitos and back down, and full-moon walks below the Acropolis. It was the bartenders and taxi drivers and random strangers who reached out with incredible kindness and invited me in.
The Greek products that represent the Mediterranean Trinity (such as wine, oil and wheat) were famous since the Ancient times. Do you believe that the Greek gastronomy is presently recognizable abroad?
Absolutely, and in a way that’s quite distinct from other Mediterranean cuisines, like Italian, Israeli and Provencal. And, in the States at least, it’s poised to become only more popular, as people move toward more plant-based diets. Sure, you could say that the “Greek Salad,” “Greek wrap” and “Greek pasta” that you’ll find in supermarket delis across the US are abominations, but, at the same time, everyone knows what it means (generally it means olives, feta, olive oil and tomatoes, or some combination thereof)—and equates it with being a healthy choice. Likewise, at the higher end, more and more restaurants are opening across the US with a focus on finely made Greek food and wine to go with it—places like Helen Greek Food & Wine in Houston, Omega Ouzeri in Seattle, Kyma in Atlanta, and Taverna Khione in Brunswick, Maine, to name just a very few. Our national understanding of Greek cuisine may be very limited, but these restaurateurs are helping, as are all the sommeliers selling the wines to a curious clientele, explaining to them where they come from and how they came to be. (And I hope a few of us wine writers are helping as well…)
Υ.Γ: η συνέντευξη αυτή, όπως και οτιδήποτε δημοσιεύω, αποτελεί μέρος της δουλειάς μου και απαιτεί κόπο και χρόνο. Παρακαλώ μη δω αναδημοσίευση ή αποσπάσματα αυτής, σε άλλα μέσα ή από κουνησοποτηράκηδες bloggers.