Greeks abandon their traditional drinking habits for newer fashions, even in wine

Although wine is still the traditional accompaniment to their meals, Greeks’ drinking habits have changed over the years to the point where «going out for a drink» now more often than not means whisky. When the temperature rises, consumption of wine decreases even further, according to an ICAP survey that found that wine consumption varies with the seasons, peaking from October to May. After that it is beer, served ice-cold of course, as an accompaniment to almost everything. In recent years, in fact, there has been a shift to draft beer. «Greeks are generally whisky drinkers, and drink all categories,» said Costas Anthidis, the owner of a large wines-and-spirits store in Maroussi, northern Athens. Scotch whisky is the top preference, but during the Christmas holidays, people seek out more expensive and unusual brands. «This year customers are buying 30- and 40-year-old whiskies in special presentation packs that cost up to 3,000 euros each, not only because of the quality of the spirit but for the luxury bottle. Younger people prefer vodka,» he said. Luxury is the byword for New Year’s celebrations when many people buy champagne, mainly French, according to their pocket. According to Anthidis, a «big bang» is needed to bring in the new year. Wine, too, has its own share of the market. «At this time of year, there is always a rise in the consumption of wine, both cheaper and more expensive brands. The middle of the market, however, stays stable,» said winemaker Yiannis Boutaris. «At the moment vintage wines are much in demand,» added Anthidis. According to another store owner in Zografou, most people look for a better wine at Christmas and often ask advice about what to buy. «People who usually buy whatever is cheap will look for something better at Christmas,» he said, adding, «but they often show their ignorance by asking for the age of a mass market brand or for a ‘Greek’ Bordeaux.» The choice of a «holiday» wine is usually made without considering one’s budget. According to the ICAP survey, price is not always a factor in choosing wine, since higher prices at this time are interpreted, however correctly, as equaling better quality. Income, however, is definitely a factor in the kind of alcoholic beverage a consumer buys. The survey showed that average monthly outlay on alcohol per household is around 2.15 euros. More is spent in Athens than in the provinces, but naturally the higher the income, the higher the outlay. When the average income per family member is just 293 euros a month, expenditure is just 0.33 euros; when income is as much as 3,000 euros per person, average spending on wine is 3.96 euros, still relatively low, showing that Greeks have not become accustomed to choosing more expensive wines. It appears that they are slowly learning, however, and definitely prefer Greek wines. «Well-known Greek brands are becoming more popular,» said Boutaris. Anthidis agrees. «Faced with the choice of a Greek and a foreign wine at 10 euros each, Greeks will choose the Greek brand,» he said. «Greek producers are careful and Greek vineyards have smaller yields, which are factors for quality. If the producer knows his job, the yield should not be more than 500-800 kilos per 1,000 square meters,» he added. For someone wanting to know more about choosing a wine, asking the salesperson seems like the easy solution, but consumers should bear in mind that a store staff’s goal is to move stock. At best, they might recommend their own personal preference. If one wants a wine that can age well – and if one can provide the optimum conditions of a steady temperature of 16-17 degrees and 70 percent humidity – one should choose a red wine from 2003, considered an excellent year. «A 2003 wine that ages well can be drunk now, but in two or three years it will have matured,» said Anthidis. As a general rule, he suggested that Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Xinomavro varieties age well. For the holidays he suggests magnum packages of 1.5-3 and 6 liters that are sure to impress. The saying «old habits die hard» does not apply to drinking habits. «Fewer and fewer people are asking for cognac; after-dinner drinks are now more likely to be Sambucca or grappa,» explained Anthidis. Although old-fashioned, liqueurs are still popular; cocktails, however, are rarely served in homes. Greek ‘nouveau’ In Greece, new wine is not usually considered quality, as in France where one does not have to wait a year for Beaujolais to mature. Beaujolais nouveau is a pleasant, aromatic and unpretentious young wine that is definitely worth trying. It is grown in Burgundy, in central and eastern France near the Swiss border, produced from the red Gamay grapes, which, according to wine specialist Giorgos Vekios, does not produce a rich wine. So in order to exploit this particular variety, the French invented a new production method in which the entire grape (including the stems) is placed inside the tanks, to which carbon dioxide is added, in contrast to the usual method of placing only crushed grapes into the tanks. «Fermentation takes place within the grape, allowing the pigments to enter the liquid and result in the flowery bouquets that one does not usually find in red wine,» said Vekios. The wine is not tart, as red wines usually are before they are aged, but extremely aromatic. It is a wine that goes with everything and is on the market about two months after each year’s harvest. By law it cannot be sold before the third Thursday in November. An effective marketing campaign, in which signs go up in stores saying that «Beaujolais nouveau has arrived,» ensures that millions of consumers are waiting to try it. The producers want this wine to be drunk as early as possible, not because it loses in quality over time, but because it loses its great attraction, which is its youth. It is like talking about someone who is 20 and someone who is 25. Both are young, but one of them is younger. For some years now Greek producers such as Porto Carras, Hatzimichalis and Boutari have had their own «nouveaux» on the market. Porto Carras is organically produced and has a bouquet of myrtle and raspberry. Hatzimichalis, from the Mavroudi and Syrah varieties, is «a happy wine that welcomes winter,» according to company staff. Boutari’s is a sweet red wine with overtones of clove, rose and banana. There are several other wines which, although not classified as «nouveaux,» are excellent even though they do not age well, many of them from Nemea. The first white Sauvignon blanc and Chardonnay, for example, have already appeared on the market.