Tour of Greece inspired by the tastebuds
Wine writer Miles Lambert-Gocs shares his love of Greek wine and cuisine in «Greek Salad – A Dionysian Travelogue» (Ambeli Press & The Wine Appreciation Guild, 2004). On repeated trips to Greece, the writer follows his tastebuds, a compulsion for tracking down certain wines – often little-known, local varieties – and, in some of the journeys chronicled here, his teenage daughter’s rather different but complementary agenda of must-see locations. That combination takes him from Epirus, in search of a local wine that he suspects will suit his temperament as well as the Epirote tsamiko dance does, to a whitewashed cellar on Crete which yields a flame-hued wine, and from the Aegean island of Samos for encounters with sweet muscat and sour bureaucrats to the Ionian island of Ithaca where he compares bottled Robola with the «pure» barrel version. The author first visited Greece as a teenager in 1963 and has been coming back ever since. For many years, he covered Greece for the US Department of Agriculture and in 1993-1996 was a reporter for The Athenian magazine. Lambert-Gocs takes us on a leisurely tour of winegrowing Greece, ambling back and forth between earlier and later trips, some of them undertaken before the Greek wine industry’s modern reincarnation. He compares many a labeled bottle that proves to be hardly worth opening with treasures offered by simple tavernas or from barrels kept for home consumption. Seeking the right accompaniment to these potables is part of the adventure, and Lambert-Gocs has as keen a nose for food as he does for wine. His daughter, a teenager at the time of the events recorded here, has a mind of her own, a yen for authentic local cuisine and, above all, Greek pastries. Together, they forage for the finest that each location has to offer, indulging in an occasional spat about the rival claims of food and drink. The author’s willingness to change his plans, jump on a ferry at the last moment or embark on a drive around an island with a taxi driver who insists he knows where the genuine article is to be found, all take him well off the beaten track. Persistence pays off as he tracks down obscure local wines such as koumariano and potamisia, elusive red retsina and bubbly zitsa, and accurately predicts – in a letter written 21 years ago – the future success of wine made from the xynomavro grape. Epiphany Once in a while, there is an epiphany. Here he is on the effect of drinking Siatista liastos wine made from grapes that have been left in the sun: «Its bouquet was possessed of some singular aromatic nuances and was also distinguished by an aromatic lightness that called to mind something that Theophrastus (‘Concerning Odors’) suggested about a swift but soft penetration of the nasal passages up to what might be thought of as the ‘upper register’ of smell sensors.» And the food? Chickpea sfourno on Sifnos, pseftokeftedhes or vegetable patties on Santorini, spicy spetsofai on Mt Pelion – Lambert-Gocs tastes them all. A word of warning, however, on his enthusiasm for the peculiar properties of twice-reheated, five-day-old moussaka, surely a recipe for salmonella poisoning. In a mock-heroic chapter, «Homecoming,» the author, reincarnated as the Ulysses of wine jars, is trapped in the cogs of the lower bureaucracy, unable to travel for 10 years, a fate he attributes to his having dared question wine quality. His cheeky daughter Telemachoula is holding him to a promise made years earlier that he will take her on a trip to Greece. Fortunately, Athena of the fluttering eyelids intercedes successfully with Zeus the Smog-gatherer and father and daughter set out for Ithaca. Lambert-Gocs knows his classics and cites them judiciously to enlighten but not overload the reader. «Greek Salad,» with its unpretentious, conversational style, makes a pleasant travel companion and an introduction to some of Greece’s lesser-known delights.