Greek food and wine have not found a place on Indian palates, which they rightly deserve. The Greek Ambassador to India, His Excellency Panos Kalogeropoulos, recently spoke to Brews & Spirits on why he thinks this should change and how. Excerpts:
What would be a typical drinking experience that a visitor to Greece could enjoy?
Greeks like to go out to dine very late, especially in the summer months to avoid the heat; so it is advisable to follow the local custom in this regard. Any good Greek restaurant will have staff who can give you suggestions on the wine to drink.
Of course, it is also possible for you to find a tavern that will serve you some local nondescript red or white wine. However, Greek wines are, by and large, very good. So the pricing may come as a surprise to someone who is not aware of the quality of certain of our wines.
Chania, on the island of Crete, has developed a reputation for Mezedes, which is a type of food somewhere in between the Arab Mezze and the Spanish Tapas. Greek white wines tend to be very dry. The typical Greek palate does not like fruity wines, nor do we produce fruity wines, because neither the grapes nor the soil allow this.
The wines are a good match with our food, especially the seafood that comprises mainly fish, squid, shrimp or oysters. They go extremely well with our dry, white wines.
What are the top wines from Greece that Indians should try? What are the grape varieties?
There are two major wine producing regions in Greece. The Peloponnese (in particular the area of Nemea), is a geographic region known for the excellent quality of Agiorgitiko, a red grape.
The other region is Macedonia, in the north of Greece, which produces some excellent white and red wines. But you also will find some stand-out wines in other parts of Greece. What is notable here is that the main wine-producing regions use primarily indigenous varieties, not imported ones.
Another popular Greek varietal is Assyrtiko. It comes from the island of Santorini. The soil there is volcanic and this gives a very dry, almost acidic taste to the wine. Assyrtiko is also produced in other islands of the Cyclades.
There is another variety called Malagousia that is liked and appreciated by several wine connoisseurs in India. It is a white variety that is possibly related to the renowned Malvasia wine dating back to the Middle Ages.
It is, incidentally, the name the Crusaders gave to a particular location in Greece, in the southern part of the country.
There is also Limnio, from the island of Limnos in the East Aegean Sea, opposite the Turkish coast. This wine is mentioned in the writings of Aristophanes dating back to the 5th century BC. What is astonishing is that it is still very much in existence!
Greek, or even Mediterranean food, is not yet popular in India…
Unfortunately, that is true. There is a very popular one in Goa though, called Thalassa, which is ideally located on a cliff and overlooks the sea. This is how the Greeks like to dine in the evenings: al fresco.
Our restaurants also take maximum use of the undulating landscapes, so most of them usually offer a good view; especially if you are dining on an island like Santorini. Even in Athens, we have the adjoining city of Piraeus by the coast, which has several well located and beautiful eateries on the seaside.
When we say Mediterranean food, for all practical purposes we mean Cretan food. This is also, incidentally, the reason for the longevity of the people from the island of Crete. The livestock here eats grass that is unpolluted, and this is reflected in the quality of meat.
Greece should be a paradise for the Indian vegetarian traveller because we also enjoy eating a variety of vegetables. We use a lot of olive oil in our cooking. Without any false modesty, I can say that olive oil from Greece is by far the best in the world!
We would love to see an Indian restaurateur or hotelier take the initiative and open a Greek restaurant. And yes, this will definitely also help to promote and popularise Greek wines.
Who is responsible for the promotion of Greek agricultural exports? Can we expect to see any initiatives?
There is an organisation called Enterprise Greece that has undertaken certain initiatives. Some years ago, there was also a delegation of Greek wine producers that visited India, but they were not able to achieve the desired results.
There is one importer, Chenab Impex, based in Mumbai, who brings in Greek wines. However, the main responsibility for promoting their brands, of course, lies with the producers of the wine – but we could definitely assist them.
We do not have the financial and organisational background of large wine producing companies from Australia or California or France to do big-scale and expensive promotions. Instead, we rely on the goodwill of people like you to give our products the required visibility.
What would be your advice to Indian hoteliers on Greek wines?
The popular cuisines in India are mostly Indian, Italian and Chinese. It would be great to see a big hotel chain in a major city like New Delhi, Bengaluru or Mumbai open a restaurant to give the required exposure to Mediterranean cuisine also. This food is already extremely popular in the West, and I do not see any reason why it cannot be appreciated and become a big hit in this country also.