When your cities can trace their histories back 4,000 years and they’re located in fabled Macedonia – land of Alexander the Great, Aristotle and Mount Olympus – “legendary” is not an inflated superlative.
Divided into three sections, Central Macedonia is the location for not only Thessaloniki and Halkidiki, but to the more northerly cities of Serres and Kilkis both steeped in history, natural beauty, wine and fine dining.
Read more in my travel column for the April edition of the Hellenic News of America…
The whole idea of Food Paths Tinos, Giorgos says, was “to keep the chain of knowledge alive from one generation to another.”
Soft spoken, young, relaxed, model handsome Giorgos Amoiralis quietly explains how an idea morphs into a phenomenon. We’re at lunch at Bourou Restaurant in Chora on Tinos Island in the northern Cyclades. The brilliant October sun gleams off the Aegean illuminating both the fine cuisine and the mesmerizing conversation.
More than once, I admit, my eyes misted over during lunch. Food Paths’ mission is not saving lives; it’s saving a heritage. Over the past six years as I’ve traveled Greece during its on-going economic problems and, yes, the brain drain of highly educated young people, I’ve experienced a resilience from the first visit. Today many Greek youth are looking back to what made their great grandparents thrive and survive.
They are looking at the 5,000-year-old heritage of Greece and bringing it into the 21st century, from learning the age-old skill of marble crafts, vineyards reviving thought-to-be extinct grape varieties to actively seeking new commercial opportunities for the unique agricultural products of the varied regions that comprise Greece.
Food Paths Tinos is a gastronomic event to get producers, farmers and restaurants to communicate and create “a huge table where all food traditions are brought together to make things better.” They don’t come to sell, but to become friends. (Old Greek saying: “Food is an excuse to get together with friends.”)
Started in 2014, it already attracts bloggers, food critics and chefs from around Greece. It has grown from a small gathering of food professionals to an island event. Food tastings, cooking demonstrations and the chance for the community to interact with professionals committed to Food Paths Tinos has helped increase demand for local products encouraging more young entrepreneurs to look at the land and what it provides for their future. Held in the second week of May, Food Paths Tinos has grown since 2014 from a volunteer staff of 50 to 150 to manage what has virtually become a festival.
Yet it was Giorgos’ understated passion for what he and a few friends set in motion that he recognizes transcends the original intention. What has held Greece together for millenniums has been the power of family and community. The violence, disruptions and social changes of the 20th century did much to undermine that foundation. Even on islands where everyone knows about everyone, isolation develops; knowing about everyone isn’t the same as knowing everyone.
Tinos Island farmers, cheese makers, cured meat producers and preserved local foods in shops have all experienced increasing demand. Yet Food Paths, Giorgos (owner of EXO Catering) and the other lunch guests said, has energized the community of Tinos. Not only have professionals in the field become friends, rather than simply associates, but the commonality of food has created new friendships and an understanding of the importance of maintaining local Greek food traditions among islanders.
During my four days on Tinos I experienced the islander’s pride in their local foods, especially among the restaurants. Tasoula Kouli and Antonis Zotali of Bourou Restaurant hosted lunch in Hora and it was a virtual menu of Tinos Island.
Malathouni with sun-dried tomatoes and capers: Malathouni is a cow’s milk cheese. The curds are separated from the whey before packing into cloth-lined baskets for a day. The cheese is then removed and hung in cloth to dry for 20 days.
Louza sausage with the wild green kitrena: Louza sausage is a specialty of the northern Cyclades. It’s cured with salt and then red wine. After curing it’s sprinkled with pepper, allspice, fennel, cloves and savory and finally pressed into wide intestine and hung to dry in the air 20 to 25 days. It’s served cut into very thin slices.
Bourou Restaurant’s Tinian Earth salad: Aged Malathouni (more than 20 days) tomatoes, white and black-eyed beans, lettuce, rocket, chickpeas and lentils.
Stuffed Eggplant salad: Bourou has taken a traditional eggplant spread, where the ingredients would have been pureed, and deconstructed it as a salad. Per salad, half an eggplant with skin is pan fried until soft. The eggplant is scooped out reserving the skin “cup.” Chopped tomatoes, onion, dill, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, olives and olive oil are tossed with the cooked eggplant and served in the eggplant skin cup.
Braised Lamb with pureed artichokes and roast potatoes: The lamb is marinated overnight in orange and lemon juice, thyme, mustard, garlic and olive oil. It’s then braised and slow roasted in a ceramic pot with the potatoes at low heat.
For the artichoke puree: cook the artichokes and then cut away the leaves until there is only the heart. Boil three times as much weight potatoes and carrots as artichokes. Drain the vegetables reserving a ½ cup cooking liquid. Puree all three with olive oil and a little cooking liquid if necessary. The combination of savory lamb and potatoes with sweet artichokes was a tasty match.
Dessert was rich, creamy homemade French vanilla ice cream with sour cherry sauce. The contrasting sweet/sour flavors were terrific.
Lunch at Bourou Restaurant coupled by inspiring conversation with Giorgos Amoiralis boosts my optimism even more that the future of Greece is in encouraging its youth to plow their roots back into the economy. In 2014 Food Paths Tinos started as a way for farmers and restaurant owners to get together. In four short years it energized Tinos Island community pride. Just imagine how such passion could stimulate a nation.
When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
Five years ago a (very) young smiling Yannis Laspas first greeted me in the lobby of the Flegra Palace Hotel. Yannis and his sister Lena were already managing the family owned Flegra Palace that their parents had opened in 1989. In these past five years I’ve had the pleasure of being greeted by Yannis at his hotels (plural) twice more.
Not content with totally renovating the Flegra Palace Hotel, Yannis and his sister Lena have built a select hospitality empire in Pefkoahori on the Halkidiki peninsula of Kassandra – the flagship Flegra Palace Hotel, the waterfront Flegra Beach Hotel, and the new Apanemia Apartment Hotel, which opened in 2017.
Halkidiki’s three peninsulas – Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos – have long been sun-kissed summer playgrounds. Easy access to dozens of public beaches, natural hot mineral spas, classic white washed villages climbing hillsides and the incomparable clear water of the Aegean attract tens of thousands of visitors annually. The fishing town of Pefkoahori has become one of Kassandra’s most popular summer tourist destinations.
During the summer season, this family oriented resort town is a marriage of sun, sea and Coney Island. A lengthy beachfront pedestrian walkway becomes a carnival of street food and vendors selling everything one expects from sunglasses to helium balloons. A small amusement park will delight children. Shopaholics will be pleased with the number and diversity of stores. Bar and restaurant hoppers will be sated with dozens of attractive beach venues and music opportunities.
The Flegra Hotels are ideally situated to maximize a beach vacation as well as to explore natural beauty and local antiquities. The Flegra Palace’s rooms surround an opulent pool that is the hotel’s focal point and includes the Soleil Bar with its dramatic glass floor jutting over the water. In the warm Greek evening the entire scene is lit by a computer controlled LED system that cycles through soft colors. The light plays on olive and palm trees, flowering plants as well as fountains and a waterfall. Dozens of candles flicker on the tables of the Soleil bar and the Flegra Palace’s two restaurants – the poolside Ambrosia and the main building’s glass walled Titanes room.
The open air Ambrosia restaurant offers superb a la carte dining for lunch and dinner. Titanes is both a buffet and an al la carte dining room. Guests at the Flagra Palace can opt for a rate that includes the buffet. Classic Greek, Mediterranean and Eastern European dishes are prepared with the freshest local meats, seafood, fish and produce. Executive Chef for the Flegra Palace and Flegra Beach’s Yalla restaurant, Michael Voulgaris, is pushing the envelope for a family oriented tourist destination.
In cooperation with Visit Greece’s promotion of pan-Hellenic regional foods the Flegra Palace offers special rotating themed dinners as part of the buffet as well as regional breakfast dishes. The dinners themed menus range from foods of the Byzantine Empire, ancient Thrace, Asia Minor to Macedonia, Greek fish and Chef Michael Voulgaris own creation, recipes based on the philosophy of Aristotle.
Chef Voulgaris used Aristotle’s five foundations for life – air, fire, water, either and earth.
Air: A cold soup, slight bitter appropriate for ancient times, with wine, wine vinegar and rose petals.
Fire: A seafood dish of barley and vegetables served at room temperature. Nice flavors and raisins sweeten the dish. Olives and raw onion add counterpoint.
Water: Bitter greens steamed in sea and fresh water with apricots and feta cheese. The apricots add that touch of sweetness ancients loved so much to balance bitterness and the feta adds salt. Served at room temperature.
Either: A dessert soup of fruits with honey and molasses in wine served at room temperature. Once more contrasting bitter and sweet since quince is one of the fruits along with berries. One of the more complex of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints.
Earth: It was the most radical of the five dishes maintaining contrasting textures and flavors with sweet and sour counterpoints. A beautiful cold soup of wine, rose petals and herbs.
It was a risk taking meal, and diners were taking the plunge. Yet for an all-inclusive buffet, even the regular selections are imaginative and well above the average hotel in quality.
To offer the Certified Greek Regional Breakfast a restaurant has to guarantee that 65-75% of the dishes are made from local ingredients and products and prepared using traditional recipes from designated regions of the country. Many of the selections are sweet and savory pastries of differing shapes with fillings including nuts, spinach, fruits and cheeses.
Not content with simply new hotels and three vibrant restaurants, Yannis has embraced the cocktail revolution, which has swept North America the past decade. The new menu and trained mixologist of the Soleil Bar now offer among other drinks a Gin Basil Smash with aromatic fresh basil, simple syrup and lime juice. A Nigorni with gin, compari and sweet vermouth has a rich color and a great bitter/sweet balance. Sparkling Tarragon Lemonade is a summer cooler with the unique touch of a star anise garnish. Naturally they can stir a classic “Prohibition Era” Martini.
The 29 individually decorated rooms of the Flegra Beach Hotel, at the quiet end of Pefkoahori beach, each come with kitchenettes. The sleek, modern understated silver gray color scheme, accented in teal and black, is mirrored in the public spaces but with splashes of red and window walls looking onto the pine tree shaded beach and Aegean Sea.
Flagra Beach’s Yalla Restaurant and Beach Bar also benefits from Chef Voulgaris’ imagination and passion for fresh seafood. A salad of bitter rocket and sweet cherry tomatoes with balsamic continues his fascination with bitter/sweet contrasts. A medley of seafood with pasta and saffron scented sauce was photo perfect. Both food and drinks can be served under the extensive number of shade umbrellas on the beach.
The Apanemia Apartment Hotel is the newest addition to the Flegra Hotels collection. Although not on the beach, it’s convenient to the center of Pefkoahori and has its own parking – very desirable in old Greek villages. Each apartment is equipped with a well-designed compact kitchen. The balconies over look Pefkoahori or interior gardens. The wifi reception is excellent; laundry service is available and most of all it’s nestled just far enough from beach activities to be very quiet.
The Halkidiki peninsulas are not as well known to North Americans as the more famous Greek islands, but that is changing through imaginative marketing by the Halkidiki Tourism Organization and forward thinking young entrepreneurs such as Yannis and Lena. Based on the relaxed, comfortable, affordable and delicious hospitality offered by the Flegra Hotels, 2018 ought to be your year to explore timeless antiquity, tranquil beaches, lively night life and imaginative cuisine from the pan-Hellenic world in this less discovered corner of one of Earth’s most fabled destinations – Greece.
When you go:
The Flegra Hotels 2018 season runs from May through mid-October. Pefkoahori is an easy and picturesque 50-mile drive on modern highways from Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia.” The gateway city of Thessaloniki is served by direct flights from a number of European cities. Numerous flights from Athens are available and affordable for the short 35-minute journey.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of the Flegra Hotels.
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
Gianakis Bay gleamed in the afternoon sun as my guide from the Municipality of Tinos Island, Adriana Flores Bórquez, and I entered the bay front Ο Ντίνος Restaurant. As so often in Greece you may find the spelling in the Latinized Greek alphabet, O Ntinos, or in English, The Dinos. No matter the spelling, Ο Ντίνος could not be in a more advantageous location for one of Tinos Island’s leading seafood and fish tavernas.
Chef/Owner Antonis Bambakaris had prepared a special menu for Adriana and I on this weekday afternoon since this was off-season when most restaurants are closed, although Ο Ντίνος was open on weekends. The attractive stone and wood building with a wide open terrace hugs the bay.
Kavavia is a traditional Tinos fish soup with an aromatic broth and lots of gavors – small fish – and a variety of other fish, rice, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. The fish and vegetables are removed and arranged on a hot platter. The broth is served separately with the platter of fish and vegetables shared by the table.
Regosalatais a herring spread made from pureed potatoes, grilled herring, carrots, onion and a touch of tarama. Grilling the herring imparts a subtle smoky flavor to the spread.
A salad of louza, cheese, sundried tomatoes, lettuce, balsamic and cashew nuts was a study in flavors and textures: aged louza, a prosciutto-like cured ham that’s native of the neighboring island of Mykonos, concentrated tomato being sun dried and chruchy, rich chashew’s made this a luxury salad.
For an additional texture, the sun dried tomatoes can be dipped in a batter (consistency of pancake batter) made with ouzo, tsipouro or raki, water, salt and flour then fry in oil until coating is crispy. These can also be served as their own meze.
Gavors are small fish similar to herring, sardines or anchovies. They are high in Omega fatty acids and often added to soups, such as the Kavavia, fried or sautéed as in Chef Bambakaris dish topping red onion, cherry tomatoes and capers on Greek fava bean spread.
A dish of chickpeas was slowly cooked with zucchini, onions, parsley and cherry tomatoes. It was reminiscent of Middle Eastern dishes, which is not surprising considering the millenniums old trade routes between the Middle East and Greece.
Like most chefs, several of his dishes are his own recipes, and Antonis Bambakaris shared the basic preparation – although not the actual measurements for the ingredients. An imaginative cook should be able to recreate these three dishes:
Artichoke hearts with capers:
Trim fresh artichokes until you have the cup of the heart.
Place in a bowl or zip-lock bag the hearts, sunflower seed oil, white wine vinegar, juice of at least one large lemon and a generous teaspoon of sea salt. Marinate for at least 3 hours.
Bring a pot with 1 quart of water to a boil and add the hearts and marinade and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool in the broth. The artichoke hearts can be kept covered and refrigerated for up to one year in the broth.
To serve, remove from the broth and arrange on plates. Drizzle with olive oil, capers and parsley.
Caramalized Octopus with honey garnished with cherry tomatoes and carrot puree:
Simmer the octopus using a ratio of 1 pound octopus (cut in serving pieces) in a boiling stock of 1/3rd cup white vinegar, 2 quarts water, a couple bay leaves and ½ a cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes.
In a large pan sauté onions until translucent along with slivered green peppers and sliced carrots. Then add seedless golden raisins and a clove of garlic. Sauté for several minutes more. Add some honey (preferably Greek thyme honey) and white wine, and reduce to a glaze consistency.
Drain the octopus but reserve the broth. Add the octopus to the vegetables and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes adding a little broth to maintain a glaze that will coat the octopus.
For the carrot puree: While the above vegetables are being sautéed, bring a pot of cold water to a boil. In proportion to the weight of peeled and sliced carrots, add 1/3rd as much cubed potatoes, 1/3rd as much chopped onions and clove of garlic chopped. Reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
While vegetables are steaming, in a small sauté pan add balsamic vinegar and grated orange and lemon zest. Reduce the balsamic by half. Add some Tabasco sauce to taste. Keep the sauce warm.
Reserve a cup of cooking liquid. Drain the vegetables and mash until a smooth consistency adding just enough cooking liquid to achieve that texture.
Have some chopped pistachio nuts and grape tomatoes in reserve.
Assemble by dividing the octopus pieces on serving plates and surround with the carrot puree. Top with a portion of the vegetable glaze, drizzle with reduced balsamic and garnish with pistachio nuts. Arrange a few grape tomatoes around the plate and serve.
Calamari: (whole baby the best, tentacles separated).
Sauté the Calamari in oil, garlic, onions, bay leaf and green pepper until the natural liquids evaporate.
Remove the bay leaf.
Add some white wine, dijon mustard, and a bit of sugar to make a nice sauce. Don’t overcook octopus or calamari. Test to see when fork tender.
Serve over steamed wild and/or brown rice.
Of course, dessert cannot be forgotten. A fresh homemade banana ice cream topped the lunch. Chef Bambakaris’ wife made the ice cream.
A nine course mid-afternoon lunch is not unusual for Greece, especially when enjoying leisure time in the Cyclades Islands. Tinos Island, one of the most northerly of the Cyclades, excels in high quality restaurants, cultural sites and fascinating geology. Come for the beauty and serenity of Tinos; be sustained by fine cuisine at Ο Ντίνος while being mesmerized by the sun illuminating the Aegean Sea.
When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
The Goumenissa P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin Goumenissa ) lies within the lush rolling hills of the Kilkis district in central Macedonia. The zone lies on the southeastern foothills of the Mount Paiko in the southwestern part of the Kilkis territory. The boundaries of the wine growing P.D.O. Goumenissa zone cover the areas around the town of Goumenissa,
Recognized in 1979, the compact zone is the smallest of the four Greek P.D.O. The region had also been a major silk producer, but competition from the Far East ended the industry in the 1950s.
Although the region grew and marketed wines since ancient times, the Great Wine Blight of the 19th century devastated the industry throughout Europe. By the 20th century new grape varieties from America resistant to the blight revived the Greek vineyards. Most of these vines were hybrids created from both American and Greek cuttings.
Xinomaveo and negoska are famous indigenous red grapes of the Goumenissa region. Xinomavro grapes have high acidity, strong tannins and complex aromatic character. Negoska contributes dark, purple color with medium acidity and tannins and is often a 20% blend with other grapes.
Aidarini Winery– established in 1864
The Aydarini family have been a fixture in the Goumenissa region since the mid19th century.The family-run business, led by Christos Aidarinis, maintaines its own vineyards and buys grapes from other wine-growers in the P.D.O. zone. A new state-of-the-art winery facility welcomes guests for guided tours and tasting trips as well as for purchases. Besides Greece, Aidarini wines are also exported to Germany, France and Cyprus.
Sauvignon Blanc – most exported to Germany – had aromas of walking through fresh fields of summer wild flowers. On the palate it was semi-dry with notes of lemon zest, fresh green grapes, white raisins. The finish is nice and dry in the throat. At Aidarini they served it to me with an interesting pairing of green olives sprinkled with orange zest.
Notes, an Aidarini blend of assyrtiko, malagouzia and chardonnay, was very light in aroma, like a soft breeze of fresh spring air after a light rainfall, with tones of grapefruit zest. In the mouth it was initially tart with subtle secondary tar notes. Swirled in the mouth hints of citrus zest, and green apples are evident – a complex wine. Finish is dry and slightly acidic – gives a slight punch. Food pairing: smoked salmon with cream cheese.
Roymenissa (Goumenissa Red Wine of Origin Name) is 70% Xinomavro and 30% Negoska). Earthy aromas of walking into a humid cave with hints of ripe grapes. In the mouth it was silky smooth with rich notes of ripe berries and currents that cut through the sweetness of secondary hints of plumbs and dried figs. The finish was smooth, dry and flavorful but not tart. The one-year maturation of wine in oak barrels gives an exquisite bouquet of fruit, wood and smoke. May be aged three to five years. Food pairing: prosciutto with cheese and apricots, grilled meat and mature cheeses.
Domaine Tatsis Winery – established 1996
The grandfather of Periklis and Stelios started making wines decades ago and turned it into a business. In Greece the level of wine appreciation is high due to the reality that so many families make wine at home.
Tatsis specializes in organic wines and since 2002 biodynamic growing techniques have dominated the growing process. The German association Demeter International is the only one that certifies biodynamic wineries (it’s an expensive certifying process.)
Domaine Tatsis never uses yeast, enzymes or preservatives. The hand labor involved with biodynamic farming is intensive. Leaves need to be hand trimmed to increase ventilation and prevent deadly molds and fungus. They do spray with copper sulfites and they ionize the water to multiply the copper’s effect. The winery has 32 acres of vineyards made up of Roditis Alepou, Malagousia and Chardonnay for the whites and Negoska, Xinomavro, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cinsaut for the reds.
Angel’s Heart Xinomavro White 2014 has aromas of honey. In the mouth those honey notes continue with ripe peach, apricots and figs. Dry with a slightly astringent finish. In a 2015 vintage the honey disappeared in the mouth and was replaced with fresh mineral water and subtle notes of herbal flowers. The finish was dry with a bit more acidity. Domaine Tatsis likes to age their whites believing they not only improve but that too many whites are sold young and raw – agree!
Tatsis 100% Negoska (a red grape cultivated exclusively in Goumenissa and part of the makeup of the area’s P.O.D. wines).
Domaine Tatsis is the only winery to bottle 100% negoska and as a red wine. The nose was full of ripe blueberries and red currents. The same notes continued in the mouth but intensified as very ripe, full flavored fruits that lingered on the tongue. The finish was dry and tingled in the throat.
Tatsis 100% Roditis 2014. Perhaps it’s the reddish amber tint to the wine, but the nose detected a hint of mandarin orange zest and honeysuckle. My mouth enjoyed dry, aromatic but light floral and herbal notes of young spring plants. The finish was dry and unexpectedly tingly in the throat.
Tatsis Wines are distributed in the USA by DNS Distributers, New York and San Francisco.
A fairly new winery ( first planting 1993 on 13 hectares – 2007 their first vintage) Chatzivaritis Estate produce three red, three whites and one rose. Wines are aged only in French Oak – $925 each and they keep the barrels at least 4 years.
Chloe Rose, 50/50 cabernet sauvignon and xinomavro, the crushed grape juice is in contact with the skins for eight hours before fermentation begins. It had a nose with floral hints, white currents, slightly unripe raspberries. In the mouth the tongue was coated with notes of strawberries and raspberries. The wine started semi dry but quickly changed to dry and finished in the throat light and dry.
100% Assyrtiko had the fresh, light yet complex flavor of this outstanding Greek white grape. Very little aroma for the nose to detect except fresh summer air. Identical taste notes continued – light floral, summer flowers with sweetness cut by a hint of grapefruit zest. The finish was dry and smooth continuing with notes of grapefruit.
The third wine was a 100% Assyrtiko experiment with natural yeast and aging for 6 months in oak that had been used for sauvignon blanc. The nose detected hints of caramel and wet cedar while in the month there was a slight sweetness uncharacteristic of an assyrtiko. Perhaps the aging in old barrels provided these flavors. Floral and herbal notes were secondary including anise and chamomile. In all a surprising and promising fermentation variation for this classic Greek wine.
Chatzivaritis Estate Eurynome Red 2013 is both deep red in color but in aromas of ripe plumbs and fresh red meat. These intense aromas continue in the mouth with notes of tobacco, grilled eggplant skin, thyme and then slides down the throat in a dry finish. It would be the perfect wine to pair with a grilled prime steak.
Chatzivaritis Estate wines are distributed in the USA by Ekletikon.
When you go: The Goumenissa P.D.O. region is easily reached by car from nearby historic Kilkis, which is 35 miles north of Thessaloniki.
Disclosure: The author was a guest of the wineries mentioned in this article through the cooperation of Kilkis Region Tourism. Special thanks to Marianna Skoularika, Michelle Karamisakis and Fotis Altiparmakidis of Kilkis Region Tourism for being my guides. Accommodations were provided by Dimosthenis Traditional Guesthouse in Goumenissa and Evridiki Hotel, Kilkis. Arrangements were facilitated by Pass Partout Tourism Marketing, DMC, Thessaloniki.
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A few people told me earlier that half a day was enough to appreciate Tinos. I’m not sure what they meant by “appreciate.” After four days I felt I’d barely skimmed the surface of the cultural and gastronomic delights of this northern Greek Cyclades Island.
My guide, Adriana Flores Bórquez, had planned an ambitious itinerary that could easily have stretched over a week, but we did manage to accomplish all and a bit more. Yet it’s impossible to write about everything this island has to offer in one article. Since gastronomy is such an essential part of Greek life, the island’s wines, beer, spirits, cheeses and sausages are part of what gives Tinos its unique character.
Most likely not, especially since I usually do not like Pinot Noir. Not dry enough, a bit raw, too fruit juice for my taste. But I had not yet sipped Argyriou Winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir.
Within the rustic stone and wood elegance of the lounge in the1872 farmhouse, Nikos Argyriou, handed me a glass. I inhale. My head is filled with the bright aromas of a basket of late summer berries – blackberries, blueberries, sour cherries, red currents, and cranberries. I don’t want to take my nose out of the glass as each swirl produced more perfume.
Then a real surprise occurred. Like the legendary volcanic fumes that influenced the Oracles of Delphi, hints of sweet tobacco waft through the berries. The combinations of aromas were extraordinary.
Then I took a sip and was rewarded with the flavors intensified on my palate, dry, but not acidic, and smooth as silk. Rarely does a dessert pop into my head as a food pairing with wine but at that moment I craved a fresh warm cherry pie. Of course full flavored hard cheeses, ripe stoned fruit – fresh apricots for instance – and wood fired roast meats with Argyriou Winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir (aged 10 months in oak) would make an excellent meal especially given the setting.
Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guest house is located within the village of Polydroso. The original 1872 stone farmhouse blends right into this postcard perfect village on the north-western slopes of Mount Parnassus. The main feature of the area is the abundance of water creating a lush ecosystem. Polydroso is within the National Park of Parnassus, which is a protected biosphere.
Nikos Argyriou was born in Polydroso and is the 3rd generation of his family in agriculture and livestock breeding. Nikos is not the only Greek to transform the age-old tradition of making wines for home consumption into an estate winery. The winery today comprises parcels totaling over 290 acres. The ecological position of the region creates mountain air currents essential to prevent deadly diseases to the vines.
A variety of wine related events are held at the guesthouse, which includes six spacious rooms and a wine cellar tasting room. Although the winery is not open to public wine tastings, guests of the Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guesthouse have the opportunity to arrange a variety of wine tastings and pairings with the local cuisine.
A tasting of three more Argyriou Wines did nothing to damper my growing interest in this winery.
Malagousia from the Delphi area grows at 450 meters/1,500 feet elevation on mountain slopes of clay with fine drainage. This ancient white grape, thought to have gone extinct, was rediscovered in the 1970s and is now one of the most popular for wine in the nation.
It has an aromatic bouquet of white wild flowers on a dry summer day with a touch of lemon zest. In the mouth the pleasant undertone of lemon zest continues to scent the light dry grape morphing into herbal notes of lemon grass and lemon thyme. The finish is smooth and slightly astringent. It would pair well with grilled seafood and mild cheeses.
White Oracle Monteio is 40% chardonnay and 60% assyrtiko. The dry sea grass notes of Santorini Island assyrtiko cuts through the traditional sweetness of chardonnay like a mixed drink and yet created a full bodied white. There was an aroma of sweet butter and unripe figs. In the mouth caramel flavors coated the palate as if pairing the wine with ripe figs, mild cheese and white currents (not a bad pairing). The flavors continued silky smooth down the throat. It would pair well with mild cheeses, pastas with white sauces and seafood.
I make no excuses to being partial to red wine. I simply enjoy the full flavor of dry aromatic liquid fruit. Argyriou Winery’s 2014 Pinot Noir had already changed my perception of that grape. So I already did not need to be predisposed to Red Oracle Monteio (2014) – 80% Cabernet, 20% local Mavroudi. Cabernet ranks among my favorite reds, and the deep color and rich ripe fruitiness of Mavroudi are made to pair. Yet like with the Pinot Noir I was not expecting an extraordinary taste experience.
It had the rich aromas of ripe berries, hints of tobacco, unsweetened chocolate yet subtle aromas as well of cloves, allspice and nutmeg emanating as if used as a rub on slowly roasting meat. My palate was bathed in these flavors as they blended with roses and ripe plumbs. Balanced tannins kept earthy and sweet in check as the wine slid down the throat dissipating its complex silky liquid flavors.
Delphi, Polydroso and the National Park of Parnassus are, like Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guesthouse all year destinations with a major ski center. In the summer the beaches of the Corinthian Gulf are an easy day trip. Wine, agriculture, natural beauty helped create the millenniums old Greek civilization and the same forces draw increasing international attention to the extraordinary abundance of this land.
When you go: Polydroso is not a day trip from Athens – 6 hour drive. It would be a part of exploring Delphi and the Corinthian Gulf. Here are driving directions from Athens from Google Maps
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant, Delphi and the Argyriou Winery and Wine Tasting Guest house. Travel arrangements were made by the MTCgroup, Athens
You can read more articles by Marc d’Entremont at:
With the view from my room at Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant, Delphi, 700 meters/2,300 feet up Mount Parnassus, overlooking the Pleistos Valley and the Corinthian Gulf it’s no wonder the Oracle of Delphi could glimpse the future!
Yannis Papathanasiou, second generation owner of Iniohos, is as equally fascinated as I with the interplay of ancient regional culture and history with the development of the region’s food. He decries the weakening of traditional food making techniques and availability of such products as cheese from Crete using an enzyme from fresh figs, and natural yeast made from boiling grapes to syrup creating natural yeast used in their breads.
Yannis shares a feeling frequently expressed to this well-Greek-traveled journalist that Greek tourism in general has not concentrated enough on developing local tourism that cover these interest – popular culture/”people culture,” the history – not simply ancient – and local foods rarely found outside of the region.
Shortly after lunch, Yannis was off to food markets in Athens – 200 plus mile round trip – to pick up special ingredients from trusted purveyors and special spices from India. He didn’t arrive back until well after midnight. India?
A lunch of flaky spiral spanakopita, local grilled smoked sausages, tomato and feta salad all seemed very typical for a traditional Greek restaurant. Yet then an aromatic plate of Indian squash and peppers arrived. The executive chef at Iniohos is from India, and there’s a reason.
Delphi was a magnet for the entire pan-Hellenic world beyond what we now know as Greece. It was always an international city bringing together believers in the Pantheon. Today tourists from China, India and Japan flock to marvel at Delphi – as well as many other ancient Greek sites. After all, at one time all these regions were contemporaries – allies and enemies – always tied by the commerce of the great trade routes.
Hotel Iniohos sits high on the steep Mount Parnassus hillsides in the heart of Delphi. Delphi’s founding is shrouded in mist dating from the 1400s BC. Yet by the apex of the classical era (600s – 400s BC) and even into Macedonian and Roman empire days Delphi held an unparalleled position – and earned great wealth – within the belief system of the Greek pantheon. Considered the “navel of the world” to ancient Greeks Delphi was more important than the gods’ home of Mount Olympus. Delphi was their Vatican.
Pythia, the honorary name given to the Oracle of Delphi, held sessions from the stunningly positioned Temple of Apollo. There is evidence of volcanic fumes that seep up from deep in this tectonic active region that may have induced euphoria, even hallucinations. The Oracle’s pronouncements on the petitions and predictions asked were often cryptic – almost rants – and open to wide interpretations. Yet listened to with baited breath and frequently followed with auspicious outcomes.
Delphi was more than just the Oracle and became a commercial religious city of pilgrimage. Temples, sanctuaries, a vast theater with panoramic views of the valley and sacred springs dot the site.
The Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena (4th century BC) in Delphi is iconic. It was often the first temple many pilgrims saw when entering the vast complex of the Oracle. Considered in its own day a masterpiece of Greek architectural symmetry and polychrome decoration it had 20 outer and 10 inner marble columns. Devotees of Athena still come to pay homage and pray to the goddess.
The ancient site of Delphi – a mere 20-minute walk or short taxi ride from the center of town – is extensive and built on the hills of Mount Parnassus, so walking within the site is essential. There is a modest admission charge to the main complex – the Temple of Apollo – including the excellent Archaeological Museum of Delphi. There is no admission charge to enter the Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena, which is another easy 20-minute walk down the hill. You do want to see it all so allow yourself at least 3-hours.
The modern Archaeological Museum of Delphi caps this UNESCO World Heritage Site and is recessed into the mountain constructed of the same honey colored marble as the temples. Much of the art were gifts from around the pan-Hellenic world to the Oracle and priests of the temples, or burial objects for those fortunate enough to be interred in this sacred land. It’s superbly arranged in chronological order from 2,000-year-old bronze figurines to the eerily beautiful statue to Antinoos (2nd century AD). This remembrance to a tragic gay love story is sculpted in marble smooth as wax with rivulets of hair delicate and life-like.
On the morning I walked the grounds of the Thelos at the Sanctuary of Athena, a group of women – not a staged event – were dressed in modern versions of ancient robes chanting and meditating to the goddess Athena. It seemed strange at first. Then it all became real; they were giving thanks at the navel of the world to mother Earth.
When you go: Modern toll-roads and many bus companies connect Athens with Delphi.
Disclaimer: the author was a guest of Iniohos Hotel & Restaurant. Travel arrangements were made by the MTCgroup
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It’s appropriate that an ancient fruit should have a close relationship with an ancient town. Both the pomegranate and Ermioni have been part of recorded history for millennium. Situated in the southeast Peloponnese, the Kranidi region of the Peloponnese is an agriculture powerhouse for Greece especially olives & pomegranate.
The annual Pomegranate Festival in Ermioni held the end of October featured delicious juices, liquors, the seeds, pomegranate inspired art and of course the fruit itself. But the whole town was involved especially the restaurants featuring pomegranate inspired dishes. In Greek mythology the pomegranate was known as the “fruit of the dead,” but it seemed very much alive in Ermioni.
Maria’s on the waterfront this weekend offered a tasty bowl of Greek yogurt topped with apples, thyme honey and pomegranate seeds for breakfast.
One of the more fascinating parts of the Festival were the cooking demonstrations by chef’s from the local area. One dish in particular caught everyone’s attention, and was his original. I would call it a “buckwheat risotto.”
Buckwheat Risotto – approximately 4 servings
1 & 1/2 cups buckwheat
2 & ¼ cups water
(Note: that’s the end of measurements for this dish. Simply increase buckwheat and water if you want more than four servings and play with ratios of honey and pomegranate.)
Cook the buckwheat: Add water to the buckwheat, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes; Amount after cooking: 4 cups.
thyme honey (at least ¼ a cup)
generous handful of washed, dried and chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
olive oil (at least ½ cup)
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound slivered pork loin in the honey mixture until buckwheat is cooked.
1 pound of sweet onions sliced
Heat a large skillet
Thinly coat with olive oil and then add the onions and caramelize for 10 minutes.
Then add the pork and marinade.
Stir-fry for a couple minutes and then add at least one cup of white wine
Allow the liquid to reduce by 1/3rd then add one Tablespoons dijon mustard.
And add 1/3rd cup pomegranate liqueur
Then add ½ to 1/3rd cup cream.
Stir for a few minutes more add salt and pepper to taste as well as additional pomegranate juice or liqueur until sauce is creamy to taste.
Serve over buckwheat garnished with a good handful of fresh pomegranate seeds and, if desired a sprinkle of feta can be added.
The 2017 Pomegranate Festival coincided with the Greek national patriotic commemoration of Ohi Day celebrated throughout Greece, and the Greek diaspora on 28 October each year. Ohi Day commemorates the rejection by Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas of the ultimatum for surrender made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940.
Ohi Day is celebrated by honoring the youth of Greece, both in the thousands of young lives sacrificed during the bloody 20th century, but in the respect shown by the generations for each other. School after school band march in precision watched by all while towns honor with certificates those high school graduates granted admission in this ancient nation’s universities. The pomegranate may have been the “fruit of the dead,” but it nourished many. Greece understands that youth is not the future; it’s the present.
When you go: Ermionia is easily reached by high speed ferry from Piraeus. Or it’s approximately a 2 hour drive from Athens on excellent roads with some stunning views.
On Andros Island in the Cyclades Islands, it’s easy to be distracted by vistas at every turn. With my first glimpse of the glittering harbor of Batsi it was obvious I’d enjoy four days exploring the island’s coastline and dramatic interior.
I can’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful afternoon than lunch at Taverna Lagoudera on Batsi harbor. When you can still taste the natural saltiness of the Aegean Sea on the sea bream you know you’re in heaven (aka Greece).
Andros and its sister island Tinos (the subject of my March Hellenic News article) are affluent escapes with more villas than hotel rooms. Within easy access of Athens through the port of Rafina, the comfortable car-ferries of the Fast Ferry group run year round. Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops thrive on this island