Spring is Here with Orthodox Easter!
Finally, after a long, cold, damp and snowy winter, mother nature is waking us all with warmer days, sunny skies, and all the beautiful colors of spring. Truth be told, I enjoy winter because it is a great time to drink red wines (and who doesn’t like a glass of red). However, as the seasons progress, with summer not too far away, It is time to think of White and Rose wines, as well. But wait, there is one more important item of red wine business, before we jump into the light color category. Easter Sunday, yes, the most important date on the Christian calendar, requires red wine; No Easter feast is complete without it. We must look at the entire Easter weekend as one continuous celebration starting late Saturday evening (actually, midnight into Sunday). In Greece, most people are gathered at their local churches, waiting, for the two most important words to be spoken by the priests, at midnight. Christos Anesti (Christ Has Risen). The heavy cloud of Holy Week, hanging over everyone, has just been lifted; everyone is joyous and very... hungry! It is high time to end lent and let the feast begin. At homes across the land, people gather around the dining room tables, from little toddlers all the way to great grandparents. This midnight meal, re-introduces people to all things protein (animal) as lent forbids the consumption of meats, dairy, even fish (basically anything that contains blood). The most classic dish is actually a soup called “Magiritsa” and contains inner parts of the lamb/goat, the animal that will be cooked on the spit the next morning. One would assume that red wine would be the obvious choice, however, this soup’s broth has a heavy dose of freshly squezzed lemon juice, lots of spring onions, as well as fresh dill. These are killers of red wines! So the first feast is actually a nirvana for white wines (especially from Greek indigenous varietals).
As folks gather, a great start would be a fine bubbly from Northern Greece; Domaine Karanika fashion a fantastic Brut style wine that is perfect with the appetizers (my aunt loves to offer Russian caviar on crackers, to start). Next up a floral, yet elegant Moschofilero from the area of Mantinia will do wonders with all the pies around the table. The Bosinakis Family and Semeli Estate fashion lovely Moschofilero wines. Another choice is Malagouzia, a grape that does well, particularly in Northern Greece, with its floral demeanor but dry finish, will be at home with any salads or cheeses at the table. Fine producers of Malagouzia include Alpha Estate, Argatia and Domaine Zafeirakis. Now to the most demanding of them all, that very lemony, high acidity soup,I have two grapes in mind. Robola from the island of Kephalonia, with its relatively high acidity and minerality will stand up to the broth and also the high protein. Here two outstanding producers make fantastic Robola wines. Gentilini Estate, and Sclavos Winery will be great companions. Not to be outdone, the undisputed champion of Greek grapes, Assyrtiko, has an important role to play, cutting through the protein of the dish as well as balancing the high acidity. Because, it takes a wine with a huge mineral and acid profile to do the heavy lifting. Assyrtiko wines from the likes of Gaia Estate, Vassaltis, Karamolegos, Acroterra, and Santo winery will be just right.
Hopefully by 2 or 3am, everyone has gone to sleep with full tummies. As Easter dawn arrives, those who have “volunteered” with the lamb/ goat business, start the charcoal fires, as a big smoky cloud engulfs the entire country. This process starts early, by 7 or 8am, because the lamb on the spit has to get over the hot charcoals, early on. It will cook slowly for 5 to 6 hours, and by early afternoon the big feast commences. Finally it’s time for some serious red wines and Greece has a plethora of native grapes. I will pick, though, two outstanding varietals that will make that Easter lamb dish really stand out. From Northern Greece comes the Xinomavro grape, full of tannins, and serious acidity. This is a natural choice for many meats, but works particularly well with lamb of goat. Two regions epitomize this wonderful grape; Naoussa and Amyndeo. From the former try the wines of Karydas, Thimiopoulos, Argatia and Kokkinos. From the latter, the wines of Alpha Estate, are, simply put, sublime. Not to be outdone, in Southern Greece, the Agiorgitiko grape rains supreme. This native varietal to the region on Nemea, in the Peloponnese, is fruit forward, elegant with balanced acidity and tannins. It will work well with any side dishes, but will sing along with the lamb. Some great producers here are Gaia Estate, Mitravelas Estate and Aivalis Winery.
So, this Orthodox Easter, remember to enjoy the offerings, be grateful for your loved ones, and chose your wines wisely!