Έγραψαν / The Guardian
Athens’ new-school wine bars
The economic crisis that has plagued Greece for the past five years has led to changes on the Athenian culinary scene, including the opening of three new types of venues that seem to be reflective of the times. The first two – cupcake places and frozen yogurt shops – are imports from abroad, perhaps indicative of a population in need of something sweet, comforting and affordable. On the other hand, the third trend, wine bars, digs deep into Greece’s roots, representing a fascinating phenomenon in a country that is one of the world’s oldest wine-producing regions.
In antiquity, Greek wine was exported across the Mediterranean, and the winemaking tradition has remained strong through the millennia. Yet although there are numerous wineries around the country, in the modern era Greek wine has never achieved the place it deserves on the international market. Production levels are low and vintners have long been unsure of how to market abroad. Outside Greece, one might at best find retsina, a sweet wine infused with pine resin that’s reminiscent of the wine used at Communion, or mavrodafni, a red varietal with an almost industrial flavour. But with Greeks themselves increasingly consuming wine, these days a new crop of wine bars has opened in Athens that give both locals and visitors the chance to taste some great domestic varieties.
Located just off Ermou, Athens’ biggest commercial street, Heteroclito (which means “heterogenous”) opened its doors in late summer 2012. The place is our favourite in terms of decor: the downstairs area is like a nonsmoking French bistro, while the smoking area upstairs is an ode to 60s and 70s Athens, with mosaic floors and Danish furniture. The emphasis here is on Greek wine and Greek grape varieties, something that the owners, Madeleine and Chrysoula, are always keen to point out. Indeed, all of the wines served by the glass are Greek.
We loved the malagousia – one of Greece’s best-known aromatic varieties, grown in both the Peloponnese and northern Greece – from Arvanitidis Winery outside Thessaloniki. This delicate, aromatic white grape had become virtually extinct by the 1980s, when Gerovassiliou Winery resuscitated it and turned it into a leading Greek wine, especially in the foreign market. Greece’s dessert wine tradition is also worthy of note. Some of the country’s best dessert wines are produced by a co-operative on the island of Samos. The award-winning Samos Nectar, which has a rich, sweet taste with an almost raisin-like aftertaste, is considered one of the best in its category – and, at €4 per glass, it’s also a great deal.