I recently attended a dinner that was organized by Kolonaki Group (Steve Kriaris) who specializes in bringing Greek wines & spirits into Ontario and Quebec. The dinner would be held in the newly opened Estiatorio Malena, located on the ritzy stretch of Avenue Road, just north and across from Hazelton Lanes. Malena’s cuisine is described as Ionian – paying homage to dishes from from both Italy & Greece and the co-owners’ origins (David Minicucci and Sam Kalogiros).
Upon walking into Malena, you want to hang at the bar, grab a drink, chat about your day and even say hello to some of the other patrons. The two long rows of tables await and the kitchen in the back is astir prepping for the evening rush. Chef Doug Neigel was brought along from Unitas with the co-owners and the menu pays homage to the cuisines of Greece and southern Italy and the wines are paired with the wines of the two regions.
The evening’s focus would be on Greek wines and more specifically, the wines made of the Xinomavro grape varietal. The Xinomavro (prounounced Ksee-NO-Mav-RO) is literally translated as ” sour-black”. This grape varietal is traditionally grown from Naoussa to higher altitude region of Amynteon (northern Greece). It’s not the easiest grape to make wine from but when done right, Xinomavro can offer a beautiful, full-bodied wine that stands up well to meat dishes and spicy sauces.
The guest of honour for the evening’s dinner was Stelios Boutaris, the eldest son of Yiannis Boutaris, founder of Boutari and Kir Yanni wines. To most Greeks, Boutari is a household name with practically every Greek having tried at least one of their wines. Greeks have been making wine for thousands of years and the Boutaris family is woed a big “thank you” for cultivating “Greek wines” as a world brand.
Greeks always made good Greek wine however there was a stigma attached to Greek wine: poor quality, retsina, screw-top bottles, mass produced. These were all once true of Greek wines that were particularly being exported beyond Greece’s borders. For a long time Greek wines (and Tsipouro, Raki) were being made by families on a small scale and for personal use. many Greeks would store wines in barrels and draw from them as needed.
The wineries that existed in the 70-80’s vs. the present has increased tenfold and many Greeks studied viticulture in France and Italy to apply modern techniques to Greece’s ancient lands and grape varietals. The Greek wine industry had a steep learning curve but the wines of Greece are now on par with many of the European rivals.
For three years now, I have been visiting Greek wineries and what’s consistent/found at each winery is traditional wine producing methods with the help of modern technology. The same attention to the vineyards is given. The vineyard requires year ’round attention, the monitoring of the grapes near harvest time. Patience and the taste of the grape are the winemaker’s friend (along with a cooperative Mother Nature). The grapes are crushed using modern machine, the fermentation stage is handled by modern machinery and thereby afterward. The winery tours always end in the vast cellars: cool, dark and humid (ideal for wine) and ultimately next door at the wine bar.
Drinking wine is as much a travel experience as it is a drinking and culinary experience. Many wine aficionados buy wines based on where they have traveled or where they envision their next destination to be. Opening a bottle of wine or preparing a dish from overseas and pairing it with a wine help to recreate the experience, trigger fond memories or create the fantasy dinner until that dream vacation arrives on the calendar.
Steve Kriaris of Kolonaki Group invited his friend Stelios to create a special evening of good food with some Greek wines in a comfortable and hospitable environment with good friends. Upon arriving at Malena, guests were offered a glass of sparkling wine from Mantinia (Arcadia) called Amalia Brut. The wine is produced by Yiannis Tselepos and the sparkling wine is fondly named after his wife, Amalia. This wine is made of 100% Moshofilero grapes and it is made in the traditional champenois method with the second fermentation occurring in the bottle.
After a couple of glasses of sparkling, greeting some old friends and making some new aquaintences, we were seated and all were eagerly awaiting the dinner service. The first course to arrive at our table was a chilled lobster on a bed of fava bean and lemon pesto and some Buffala Mozzarella. Served with the lobster was the 2009 Sigalas Assyrtiko (white) from the island of Santorini. The Boutaris family bought 42% of the winery, investing in one the most esteemed wineries in Greece.
The second course was a seared scallop dish with some Greek sausage, reminiscent of the Spartan preference with orange peel in the mixture. This course was paired with the first Xinomavro wine of the evening, the Akakies (Acacia) Rose from the Kir Yianni winery (Boutari).
The third course was a risotto tossed in slow-braised rabbit and topped with roasted plums and Parmesan shavings. This course introduced us to the first of the reds, the 2009 Paranga Syrah-Merlot-Xinomavro.
The fourth course (and final savory dish) was the espresso-rubbed lamb ribs, served with roasted carrots and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes with black olives. This was a drawn out course as three wines were served alongside. It was suggested to first taste the Ramnista Xinomavro from Naoussa, then move on to the 2006 Duo Elies (Two Olives), a Syrah-Merlot-Xinomavro. The final wine to sample with the lamb was the Diaporos, a Xinomavro mixed with some Syrah.
At this point I was getting full but I always like to leave some room for dessert. We traveled back to the island of Santorini and with a glass of Vinsanto.
Dessert was a pear and apple crostada with a big topping of spun sugar. I’m hoping that more of these evenings of featuring Greek wines are organized here in Toronto. I will certainly keep you informed of any similar evenings that feature Greek wines or Greek-themed dinners.
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