Pairing Greek Wines With Food

  • By Terry Kandylis
  • 03 Nov 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Cured Salmon dish by Chef Irini Tzortzoglou - Credit : Courtesy of David Loftus / Irini Tzortzoglou

The question of how to best pair wine with food has been the cause of much debate among wine professionals, particularly Sommeliers. Throughout my career, I have put great effort into trying to find the best possible matches for certain ingredients and their combinations, believing that the absolutely fundamental point is to never be dogmatic about these. 

Cured Salmon with Star Anise, Yogurt and Ouzo Cream, Cucumber and Fennel Salad (featured photo)

I’d suggest a light and fresh stainless steel Robola, which I often find has a freshness and an unmistakable fennel/ light-aniseed character. Together with its lemony acidity and almost Assyrtiko-like minerality this will match perfectly with the above dish.

Smoked Potatoes with Caviar, Yogurt and Dill

Assyrtiko from Santorini, when it is harvested on the earlier side and vinified without oak, has an unmistakable saline nature on the palate and a lemony acidity that is the epitome of what people call a mineral wine. The smokiness from the potato, can match the rather sulphurous nose of gunflint and matchstick that one can find in the fiery Assyrtikos of Santorini. Add to that the salty nature of the caviar coupled with the salinity of the wine, and your mind is already in Caldera watching the sunset.

Slow Roasted Lamb En Papillote with Herbs, Lemon, Mustard and Honey 

For many people red wine goes with meat and fish is paired only with whites. A full bodied Assyrtiko that has been barrel fermented or a late-harvested wine like Nykteri can easily show a honeyed character, with notes of sweet spices and nuts. The alcoholic strength of these wines is quite high, which gives extra richness and weight. The Maillard reactions (the chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavour) in both the roasted meat and the wine that has been treated with oak, enhance the vanillin and caramel notes.

Pork Loin stuffed with Apaki, Leeks, Apples and Dates

Pork is rich in lactones, which gives it naturally rich and fruity notes. Lactones belong to a family of molecules with expressive tones of apricots and peaches, hence many chefs have created recipes that match pork with fruits. Wines that are rich in lactones are those that have matured in oak barrels and Vidiano is a variety from Crete that has an affinity with oak.

Pan Fried Red Mullet, Sundried Tomato, Red Wine Vinegar and Rosemary Foam

I remember once someone challenged me by asking “Can you please pair my fish with a red wine?” Red wines with a relatively low tannin content could be a very good match for this particular fish garnish. In France, Turbot is often matched with mushrooms, making it an ideal pairing with mature Bordeaux or Burgundy.  Xinomavro in its youth, displays a wonderful mix of fresh cherries and strawberries, and is very vibrant and fruity. Bottle maturation brings out its magic as it starts to express the variety’s benchmark character of confit tomato, black olive, and dried herbs. This wine’s inherently high acidity (many wine professionals see it as structurally similar to Nebbiolo) can balance the acidity of the tomatoes nicely. 

Aubergine Slices Griddled and Topped with Bulgur, Sultanas, Sundried Tomatoes and Pine Nuts served with a Feta Bechamel Sauce

Aubergine is one of those vegetables one either loves or hates. In Greece we definitely love it, and for this reason it is present on our tables regularly and can be a wonderful side dish for meats or fish. Nuts or smoke and tobacco are essential notes of oak matured wines and Agiorgitiko is a variety that works well with a proportion of new oak barrels. Its bright acidity and cherry character matches the freshness of the tomato well, while the béchamel adds the lactic texture that develops with oak maturation. If you are a Pinot Noir fan, try a Limniona or light Xinomavro.

Rosemary & Garlic Marinated Lamb Fillet, Olives & Pistachio Salad, Smoked Aubergine Sauce

As Pork has been paired with fruits, Lamb has been linked with the herb thyme for centuries. Thymol, the volatile compound responsible for the most important aromatic characteristic of thyme, is also the principal sapid molecule of lamb. Hence, lamb with rosemary or thyme are always a great match with red Bordeaux, in particular those of the Left bank. Greece’s answer to the above, could be a dry Mavrodaphne from Peloponnese or a Mavrotragano. With their juicy black fruit character wrapped in elegant notes of thyme and rosemary, they can match the herbal notes of the dish very well. 

Cured Salmon dish by Chef Irini Tzortzoglou - Credit : Courtesy of David Loftus / Irini Tzortzoglou