Greek freaks | Drinking like Aristotle in China

Who would win a World Wrestling Entertainment match featuring philosophers Plato, Socrates and Aristotle? Where does Greek-based “Mamma Mia” rank among the top ABBA-inspired movie productions? And how can we leverage ancient Olympia’s status during next year’s Beijing Winter Games?

Just a few of the topics discussed at a Greek wine dinner for the trade on Thursday night in Beijing, organized by Wine to Asia and Liakos Constantinos of Hellenic Agora (WeChat: HellenicAgora 希品城).

We started with introductions, which basically meant the obligatory listing of everyone’s WSET status. (For the record, I’m Level One, circa 2006, thanks to my Beijing-based teacher Dorian Tang aka D-Tang.)

Then our table of wine club founders, trade fair organizers, teachers et al got down to freaking on all booze Greek.

Host Liakos told us he represents over 100 Greek labels from 35 wineries, about 50 percent of the volume of incoming wine from that European nation. And about 95 percent of Greek spirits, too, including some Ouzo we heavily indulged in after going through a slew of wines. Here are three notable ones. (I didn’t take notes so I am going off memory.)

I very much enjoyed the first white wine, made with Greek grape Assyritiko by producer Domaine Sigalas on the island of Santorini. The vines basically grow at sea level, says Liakos.

This wine was subtle and complex, with a slight butteriness / nuttiness, ripe stone fruit character and a nice minerality. Apparently, some sense a salt water nature due to the impact of the nearby Mediterranean Sea. (I’d love to crack open a bottle or two of this with dimsum.)

We also heard several times that leading US critic Robert Parker gives this wine high scores. (That’s great but how did he rate Mamma Mia?)

My favorite red was the 2015 Syrah from Domaine Hatzimichalis. Yep, along with Greek grape varieties, we had wines featuring French ones, including a Cabernet Sauvignon. This Syrah had dark ripe supple fruit and a deep enticing aroma: blackberry, graphite, something umami (black olive?) and more. I liked the freshness and slightly grainy texture.

But the most intriguing wine, also by Hatzimichalis, was an equal blend of grapes with plenty of history: Schioppettino from Italy and Limnio from Greece. My memories of this wine are fleeting so I will borrow “cranberry”, “fig” and “white peppercorn” from the official notes.

Schioppettino was once popular in northeast Italy, recorded as far back as the thirteenth century. But the nineteenth-century phylloxera crisis that devastated those vineyards and saw them replanted with other grape varieties almost drove Schioppettino into extinction. This grape has been making a modest comeback during the past 30 years and is now even found in Napa Valley.

The Greek grape Limnio has even more historical cred, with Wines of Greece stating that fabled writers Homer, Hesiod and Polydefkis mentioned it. The tasting notes add that Aristotle enjoyed pounding a few glasses of Limnio.

(I did lots of research on these grapes after the dinner. The best wine education is when you are inspired to look things up yourself.)

Speaking of Aristotle, I stated at the start that we discussed who would win a wrestling match featuring him, Plato and Socrates. I made that part up. We did talk about Greek philosophy, but not wrestling. But if there were a match, I would put my money on Aristotle off the top rope with a bottle.

Anyway, we finished the evening with two versions of Tsipouro—think grappa or raki—one regular and one barrel-aged, and then oodles of shots of Ouzo, in this case a version made with 14 herbs and spices, with aniseed in the driver’s seat.

Liakos diluted it with water so it turned milky and we did shot after shot after shot during a night when we discussed everything from China alcohol trends to the history of olive oil to the future of Didi (one attendee works there!) to the Beijing 2008 Summer Games to the upcoming 2022 Winter Games (and how Greece can use its OG Olympic status to promote wine: I have ideas!) to whether Aristotle, Plato or Socrates would win a three-way ping pong tournament. (I might also have insisted that the world will soon end so we should enjoy ourselves as much as possible now, but that was just the booze—that addictive free-flowing ouzo—talking.)

By the way, I know people will ask why I don’t write more about wine dinners. The reason is simple: I almost never join them. But I jumped at this one because the Wine to Asia guys tend to be fun and I wanted to try some Greek wines—my previous links to that nation were mostly via Mihalis Boutaris, whose family owns powerhouse wine operation Kir-Yianni and who previously made wine here in Gansu. And I’m glad I went: it was night with a lot of good wine and a lot of good talk. And for those who want more info on the wines, check out these notes:

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