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Vice President Athenee Importers

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tips on choosing the right wines for your Thanksgiving table

I'm not sure if it's just me but it feels like Thanksgiving quickly crept up on me and only now I've realized that its this week!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays - you can venture away from certain traditional dishes and play with the stuffing & side dish recipes.  This year our group will be a small one (10 people) so I'm not going crazy with numerous side dishes - I'm going to let the turkey be the centerpiece.  However, the wine pairings can be tricky for some. 

For me, the Thanksgiving meal is about richer foods and to counterbalance that, you need wines with acidity.  Luckily, Greek grape varietals pair well with food and have vibrant acidity.  Below are a few of my recommendations that will most likely be on my table as well:

While Assertion based wines from Santorini are currently all the rage, their sell through rate makes what's currently available in the market some of highest acidity-leveled wines out there.  For me, they are a bit too aggressive for Thanksgiving.  I prefer wines with a bit more roundness to them.  This year I will be looking towards Gentilini Robola or Mercouri Kallisto.  Robola as a grape variety has a bit more weight to it in addition to lively acidity that will stand up to the turkey and the side dishes.

For me, Agiorgitiko-based wines are the perfect match for cranberry sauce.  The red fruit notes and soft tannins work exceptionally well.  Rose wines are probably one of the best matches for the Thanksgiving meal overall.  One of my tried and true options that is always a big hit is GAIA Wines 14-18h rose made from 100% Agiorgitiko.

With red wines, you need to be careful.  Huge oak bombs with high alcohol will not work with Thanksgiving - they will simply overpower the meal.  For red wines, look for lighter styles that can include unoaked reds.  I recommend Karavitakis Little Prince Red (100% unoaked Kotsifali & Mandilari), Thymiopoulos Young Vines Xinomavro (100% stainless steel Xinomavro), Vassiliou Nemea and Ktima Pavlidis Thema Red.

Some years I never make it this far.  However, for those that saved room for desert, great options include Samos Nectar and Argyros Vin Santo 12 year (this is if you want to get a bit crazy).  Another option is to make a cocktail with Stoupakis Homericon Mastiha.  Mastiha is known for its digestive properties.  Mastiha is great in gin-based cocktails that have cucumber and mint in them.

So there you have it! I hope that you are able to try some of these recommendations at your table this week.  If so, drop a line and let me know how they were.

From the Athenee family to yours, we wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thalassitis 2009 - what 5 years of underwater aging does to a wine

A shot of the cage of 2009 Thalassitis

In 2010, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos of GAI'A Wines decided to undertake an experiment to see what the effects would be of aging their 100% Assyrtiko off the coast of Santorini for a period of 5 years.

In the past, divers have come upon wrecks and they have found sealed bottles of spirits in their midst.  In some cases, those bottles were opened and people were surprised at how lively those bottles still were.  In the case of wine, Yiannis wanted to know how a wine would age underwater based on three factors:

1. Low light conditions
2. Consistent temperatures around 65F
3. In an anaerobic environment

With the help of a few friends and associates, a metal cage with about 480 bottles of Thalassitis 2009 were towed out to a predetermined spot off the coast of Santorini.  In about 60 feet of water, the cage was submerged.  Each year since then, the last 450 or so bottles of each vintage of Thalassitis have been submerged in the same fashion off the coast of Santorini.

In September of 2014, a group of us returned to the island to surface the 2009 Thalassitis.  In the beginning, we were not sure if we were going to be able to do it - in 2010, a massive storm bit the island and apparently was so powerful that even at 60 feet down, the cage moved close to 200 feet from its original resting place!  It too Yiannis several dives to locate the cage.

The video link you see chronicles the day we went to surface the wine. http://youtu.be/uCBH5G2k_6I.  As the video explains, we were able to salvage only 3 bottles of the 450 that were originally submerged - goes to show you how powerful the storm really was! The rest of the bottles were broken in the cage - I'm still amazed that 3 survived.

The next night we opened one of the bottles - it was fascinating.  Color-wise, the wine had only become a slightly deeper yellow than a fresh wine.  Additionally, Thalassitis (any many Santorini Assyrtikos) tend to develop petrol aromas after a few years - this bottle didn't have any of that.

It was surprising to me that the wine was as youthful and vibrant as it was.  As I said on the video, if you would have given me that wine to taste blind, I would not have been able to tell you that was an Assyrtiko 2009.

At the end of the day, even though only 3 bottles were salvaged, the overall experiment was a success.  The 2013 vintage was submerged as well.  In September of 2015, we will return to Santorini to surface the 2010 vintage (don't worry - it's cage has been located and is intact).  Hopefully if all goes well, the winery will decide to release some bottles for sale - we will need to wait until next September for that!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Athenee Importers expands its footprint within The Winebow Group

Athenee Importers expands distribution with The Winebow Group



Effective October 1st, 2014, New York-based Athenee Importers portfolio will be distributed by The Country Vintner in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina.   Established in 1974, Athenee Importers is the United State’s oldest family owned and operated importer of alcoholic beverages from Greece and Cyprus.


In 2006, Athenee Importers & The Winebow Group began its relationship in the markets where Winebow maintains its own distribution operations.  These originally included New York, New Jersey, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.  Shortly thereafter Massachusetts, Connecticut and Illinois were included.


We are pleased to bring our portfolio to The Country Vintner as it will better serve our customers needs along the Eastern seaboard south of Washington DC with product continuity and availability.  According to Andrea Englisis, VP of Athenee, “With a Q4 launch, we have decided to begin with a group of select items within our portfolio and then look to expand the SKU selection in 2015 as demand warrants.  Our goal is to provide our customer with the largest selection of quality products from our portfolio while working with a reputable distribution partner.  We believe that we have found that with our new partners at The Country Vintner.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

Celebrate the Summer Solstice with Greek wines

After a long, cold and snowy winter in the Northeast, the weather has finally begun to cooperate and we will have a beautiful weekend - just the way to kick off summer!

Come summer time, I tend to drink refreshing wines - white, rose & unoaked reds.  Anything that's a bit heavier is kept in the cellar until the fall & winter months come back around.  Come summer, the best wines for the weather are high acid wines in any color.  They are refreshing and pair well with all cuisines.

As it typically happens with the wines we import, they are usually too young when we first get them in during the 1st quarter of the year.  I have gone back and started retasing several wines again to see how they have developed and I am really pleased with their progress.  In some cases, I have found some 2011 & 2012s in the wine fridge and I must say, I'm sad that we've moved onto new vintages 0 they are just starting to show their stuff!!!

With that being said, here is a snapshot of what I have been revisiting and drinking at home recently:


Ktima Pavlidis Thema White 2013 - I am a huge fan of this wine when it's got about a year of bottle age on it.  Right now, the Sauvignon Blanc is really showing on the nose and the Assyrtiko is still hanging out in the background.  For you SB lovers, you will REALLY enjoy this wine now.  For those that want more minerality, grab a few bottles and give it another few months - the SB will tone down and the pretty characteristics of Assyrtiko will come out.


Mercouri Estate Kallisto 2013 - This year this wine is SUPER! It's a blend of Robola & Assyrtiko from the farthest West you can get on the Peloponnese, near ancient Olympia.  It's got a bit of weight to it from the Robola and then great minerality from the Assyrtiko.  I have been having this with spicy grilled skirt steak and it's been fantastic.

Karavitakis Little Prince Red 2012 - This is one of our newest producers in the portfolio from Crete and I'm still getting my head around the Cretan grape varieties.  This is a blend of the Cretan grapes Kotsifali & Mandilari and it's 100% unoaked.  When you first open it, the wine can be a bit wild and gamey.  I have found that chilling it down a bit has done wonders for the flavors and aromas to open up and become really tasty. many of my "big red" wine drinking friends have been able to appreciate it's lighter weight for the summer.

As I keep revisiting my wines, I will post my findings.  If you come across any of these wines where you live, grab a bottle and try it.  Let me know what you think! 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Looking to the future - announcing our first Estate Kegged wine

In recent years, wine in kegs has become more accepted and available across the United States.  From Greece, there is currently one option, but it is kegged in the United States from wine that is brought in a bladder.  We are pleased to announce that our newest property, Karavitakis Winery, has decided to offer Greece's first Estate Kegged wine in the Little Prince White 2013.

Little Prince White 2013 is a blend of 65% Vidiano and 35% Vilana, two native Cretan grape varietals.  The kegs will be available as of July 1st in select markets - New York, Pennsylvania, Boston & Washington DC.  The wine will be in 20L slim Key kegs, which are 100% recyclable.  Be on the lookout for it on tap this summer!

Little Prince White in the bottle & in the keg

Little Prince White kegs being prepared for shipment at the winery

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Samos' new look

2014 marks the year where UWC Samos, Greece & Europe's oldest cooperative, undergoes a face lift on all of its dessert wines.  With the intent to modernize and increase market awareness for the famous dessert wines made from the Muscat grape, UWC Samos has transitioned to a 500ml bottle with cleaner, simpler labeling for each wine.
UWC Samos Vin Doux
The new bottle format and vintages are making their way into general distribution now as the previous vintages & bottle formats are being sold through.  In the new format, the current vintages are:
Vin Doux 2013
Grand Cru 2013
Anthemis 2008
Nectar 2010
You can find more information on the various styles of the above dessert wines on our website by clicking here.
It is also important to note that while some of the larger, negociant houses of Greece sell "Samos" wines, they are NOT the same as the wines from UWC Samos.  Those wines are non vintage and are not of the same caliber as the wines above.  They are cheaper alternatives that do not show the true potential of the Muscat grape and the wines from Samos.

Red Donkey - the newest addition from Santorini Brewing Co

Last fall we introduced Santorini Brewing Co's Crazy Donkey IPA to the United States.  This is Greece's only IPA beer and also, Santorini's only microbrewery.  This April, the first shipment of Red Donkey ale reached US shores.

Red Donkey is available in 330ml glass bottles and comes in 6-pack carriers.  Red Donkey is an ale style beer that is refreshing with hoppy notes.  Look for Red Donkey to make its appearance across the US as the year progresses. 
Please note that due to the upcoming high season on the island, exports will begin to wind down to make way for local demand.  While we have done our best to have enough stock for the summer months, there is only so much we can predict.  Quantities will remain based on demand.  Once our stock is depleted, we will resume shipments in October.

Introducing Karavitakis Winery - our newest addition from Crete

After many years of searching for a winery partner on Crete, we are happy to announce that we have begun working with Karavitakis Winery.  Located on the western side of Crete near the City of Chania, the Karavitakis Winery is family owned and operated.
Entrance to the winery

Currently we import four labels from the winery in two different lines - Little Prince & Klima. 

The Little Prince line is made from Cretan grape varieties and both red & white wines are unoaked.
Here are the labels:
Kotsifali & Mandilari
Vidiano & Vilana

 Klima, the word for "vineyard" or "vine" in Greek, represents the higher end line that also highlights Cretan grape varieties.  The labels feature ancient Cretan text, aka Linear B, which is an alphabet that has been linked to the Minoan civilization.  The text is the literal translation for "Klima".
Here are the labels:
A Kotsifali & Merlot blend

100% Vidiano
What's exciting for us is that Crete is a region where there is huge potential for it to increase in prominence.  There are many indigenous varieties that exist nowhere else in Greece (or the world for that matter).  Getting the customer to try these varieties and explore outside their comfort zone is our main challenge.  Niko Karavitakis, the owner's son, has a progressive mind and has a positive vision for the future of the winery.  One very cool project that will soon come to fruition here is keg wine.  We will soon release an estate kegged wine in the US that will be solely from Cretan grape varieties. 

Currently, distribution has started in Oregon, California, New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Massachusetts with more states coming on board in the near future.

Stay tuned for updates!