“The world of wine is always fascinating and full of surprises. The more you are exposed to the delights of wine, the more you want to discover new flavors,”says WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) diploma holder Grigoris Michailos. Michailos and fellow WSET certified oenophile Yiannis Karakasis dedicate their lives to the sensory exploration of wine. They write an informative website named The Wine Commanders, offering educational and entertaining posts aiming to inspire in others a deep joy and deeper examination of wine.
Karakasis is a candidate for the Master of Wine Institute, and spends much of his time exploring wine developments in wine-making regions in Greece as well as abroad. Michailos is the owner of Wine Restaurant Paradiso in Chalandri. Although their daily lives now revolve around oenology, neither of the men began their careers with this intention.
Karakasis says, “It took 21 years of a career in the Hellenic Navy, and 1800 flying hours in helicopters to realize that wine is my ultimate destination.”
Michailos originally studied chemical engineering at the National Technical University in Athens. He says, “Sometimes life just happens.” Finding greater joy in his family’s restaurant, he began spending more time there and enjoying his classes less. “Very soon after,” he says, “I fell in deep love with wine.”
The duo chooses to maintain their Wine Commanders site despite their hectic schedules. It satisfies their need for personal expression and challenges them to stay creative and vibrant. Another motivating factor is the pride they feel educating Greek and international consumers about Greek wine.
Karakasis believes Greek wine is at a significant crossroads. He suggests that a strong marketing strategy would help its reputation. Also, there is more competition from Turkish and Bulgarian wines. Thus, the advertising and marketing campaigns must keep pace with the consistently rising quality of Greek wine, otherwise the industry may suffer.
Michailos agrees. He says “Greece is actually one of the most vibrant regions in the world.” Greek wines gain increasing awareness and acclaim each year from influential wine critics, yet more participation is needed from wine proprietors to take on more responsibility regarding promotion.
The economy unsurprisingly also plays a role in the dilemma of the Greek wine industry. Karakasis says many Greek wines are focusing on export markets, and are selling very well in the United States, China, and Canada. However, sales in traditional markets such as Germany are decreasing. “The lack of wine culture and lack of organization which you can notice at all levels,” is a disappointment and the main root of the problem. Michailos adds that “reaching a market and creating sales needs a plan, commitment, and cash-flow.” Many Greek producers are not experienced in these responsibilities and requirements to make sure their wines do well in a variety of markets and have a higher profile in the international wine scene.
“Greek wines gain increasing awareness and acclaim each year from influential wine critics, yet more participation is needed from wine proprietors to take on more responsibility regarding promotion.”
Karakasis says white wines such as Vidiano and Trapsathiri in Crete, as well as Robola in Cephalonia are among the lesser known wines that are deserving of great praise and promotion in Greek and international markets. Michailos adds that a popular white grape variety in Zitsa, Epirus produces “stylish, light-bodied wines with amazing freshness.” Vlahiko and Bekari also produce “smooth and refreshing” reds from the larger Epirus region. He recommends reds from Limniona and Mavrotragano, which have not yet been discovered even within Greece. Crete is producing other impressive varieties such as Vilana, Thrapsathiri, Plito and Dafni, which amaze with their vitality and sprightliness considering the island’s hot climate. “These wines are fantastic for consumers willing to expand their palates beyond the classics,” Michailos says.
While Santorini is an obvious and highly publicized wine destination in Greece, the wine commanders recommend that wine lovers open their horizons to vineyards such as Naoussa from Trilofos, Fyteia, as well as Giannakohori and Ramnista to explore the Xinomavro grape. Drama and also Thrace host impressive boutique wineries.
Michailos says that one of the most fascinating wine adventures he experienced in Greece was a rocky jeep trip through the historical vineyards of Rapsani on the slopes of Mount Olympus. He describes the personal, tactile, olfactory quality of such journeys: “It is always fascinating when you are able to touch the soil, walk through the vineyards, meet the winemakers and get to know the “behind the scenes” stories. Tasting wine in the heart of the vineyard surrounded by a divine scenic atmosphere,” makes you feel, “like you are part of the story.”
It was a challenge for the wine commanders to highlight only one or two impressive Greek winemakers. Karakasis listed Melina Tassou from Domaine Kikones for her “finesse and Bugundian approach in wines,” Thanos Dougos in Thessaly for “combining indigenous and international varieties,” as well as Haridimos Hatzidakis from Santorini for his “signature of minimal interventions.”
Michailos bears great respect for the winemakers that “contributed to the contemporary face of Greek wine,” such as Tsantali, Boutaris, Hatzimihalis, Carras, Gerovassiliou, and Papaioannou, among others. Christos Zafeirakis is a contemporary producer who is one of his new favorites. He stresses, however, that “the Greek wine scene is really vibrant and cannot be captured just in a single face.”
Michailos’ restaurant Paradiso Wine Restaurant features and supports both the standard greats of Greek wine, as well as new impressive and lesser known Greek wines for customers to explore accompanied with Italian cuisine.
Reasonable prices and an exciting selection of wine make Paradiso an attractive wine destination.
For those who want to try a few provocative food-wine pairings at Michailos’ restaurant, Karakasis recommends the fungi ravioli with a nice Burgundy. Michailos suggests a new-age retsina with bruschetta, topped with salted anchovies and roasted peppers.
They both propose that wine-pairing novices may start with standard wine pairing rules (e.g. white with fish and red with steak), yet insist that should always be room for experimentation. Karakasis says, “It is maybe an illusion to find the perfect match since perfection is just a journey and not a destination.” Michailos also encourages a trial and error approach: “Don’t be afraid to expose yourself to new tastes. Otherwise your life will be very boring…Having said that, is anyone into red wine and fish?”