“What appeals to me most is that a glass of wine encapsulates the aromas of the land, the variety, the cultivation of a certain area and the effort of its people. Wine has a cultural identity, a history. A glass of wine will take you to the place in which it was created.”
These words of Nico Manessis describe his perspective on the wines of Greece as he will present them in his new book on Greek wines. He has been travelling all over the country with photographer Kostas Pittas since 2005, trying to capture something of the background of quality Greek wines and the profile of wine producers in different regions, creating a unique wine travel guide – something that has not existed until now.
We had the pleasure of meeting with him at the restaurant “Thea”, where we tasted some exceptional wines and were given some in-depth appreciation by an expert.
“The quality of wine produced is mastered in the vineyard which is responsible for 80% of the final result”, he told us. “If there is no balance in the vineyard, you cannot do anything to create harmony in the wine afterwards.
“I do not consider wine an alcoholic drink like whiskey or tsipouro. Since ancient times wine was considered a social drink that brought people closer. It was consumed, watered down, at symposiums in order to enhance the dialogue between the participants. Almost every culture has produced wine – China, for example, made retsina as far back as 6,000 BC!”
Manessis was born in Corfu to a Greek father and Irish mother, and has many years of experience in the wine business. Throughout Europe as well as in America, he is considered an expert on the Greek vineyard, the produce of which he analyzes frequently in international wine guides such as Tom Stevenson’s Wine Report and Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. Through his articles in the magazine Decanter, his presentation of Greek wines in the Wall Street Journal Europe, and his books The Greek Wine Guide and the Illustrated Greek Wine Book he has gone a long way in changing the general attitude abroad towards the quality of Greek wines. His activities include seminars in wine schools across Europe, including Switzerland and France. His first guide on Greek wines was published in English in the 90s and was the first guide ever created on the wines of this country. “When I was on holiday here in the early 90s, I realized that I could not find anything about the wines produced in my country. That’s how I got the idea of creating a guide. I gained many supporters, but also made a few enemies, as I tried to give an objective view of the production in Greece without being restricted by any form of advertising”.
Nico Manessis was on Paros earlier this year, visiting the vineyards and wineries of Manolis Moraitis and Giorgos Moraitis which caught his attention with the wine they have produced in recent years. A particular point of interest in the production of Paros is that it is the only area in the Cyclades that cultivates the grape variety Monemvassia.
“Both of the Moraitis wineries are quality-minded, but due to their difference in size, their wines differ, of course. Manolis Moraitis produces 300,000 bottles with a range of 11 labels, whilst Giorgos Moraitis bottles 33,000 and has 3 labels and is therefore on an artisan level. I was particularly impressed by Giorgos Moraitis’ Monemvassia as he made a great effort during a very difficult vintage year due to the heat last summer. His red is rustic, however, and needs a re-think. On the other hand Manolis Moraitis Reserve 2007, tasted in cask from the Mandelaria grape, is modern and very good. His whites are different and highlight the diversity of the island’s terraced vineyards”.
Manessis is fascinated by the local produce in every area he has been to, as he perceives how it carries the identity and the uniqueness of a place. “This is what stands against globalization. Every place should cultivate and promote its local produce. In the case of Paros, tourists should become acquainted with the good local wines and enjoy them in the right glass and at a reasonable price. Wine has a tendency to awaken memories and warm the heart – something which can provide a positive highlight to visitors’ experience on the island”.
According to Manessis, Greece’s several grape varieties means that producers can experiment with combinations to create high quality wines. His new book is an overview of all the wine produced in Greece, featuring a dozen island vineyards, 25 varieties, all worthy in their own right, and including the wines of Tinos and Santorini from the Cyclades. The book is expected to be released in 2009, in both Greek and English language editions.
Through this journey he has rediscovered the country he had left behind at the age of 18. His next mission is a more personal one as he will attempt to trace the history of his ancestors in Corfu, creating a documentary that will describe the cultural identity of “The Children of Venice”.