CARAFE WINE OR BOTTLED WINE?

Well, it’s complicated – but just grab the bottle!

It’s happened to everyone. You visit a group of people that you know relatively well for dinner. It might even be your family! Then you do or say something. You don’t stop to think before you do it, because it seems inconsequential. But it’s not. Within seconds, the room is filled with tension, faces go grim, or angry, or both. Sunday lunch is well and truly ruined. And you ask yourself: “What just happened?”

If you’re visiting Greece and you like wine (if you’re reading this, then your chances of meeting both of these criteria are pretty good), you may find yourself in a situation like this when you order a carafe of wine. Or a bottle of wine. Wonder why? Let me explain.

Greeks have been drinking wine for at least five thousand years, probably more. During a good deal of that time, carafe wine was all there was – unless we go really back in time when we had amphora wine (before it was cool) and kylix wine.

For most of the 20th century, jugs of wine were pretty much the only option. You’d go out to a taverna and there would be some barrels of wine in the back room or, in some cases, right above your head. You’d ask for wine, and the jugs were filled from the barrel and placed on the table, invariably next to short, ugly, stemless, thick glasses. In the last forty years, thankfully, options for restaurateurs began to improve. Wine packaged in glass bottles became more common, with prices ranging from quite affordable to sky-high. The old, bulky barrels, being difficult to maintain, became rarer, while bag-in-boxes filled with wine were suddenly a steady fixture in restaurant fridges. However, both the jug and the ugly glass remained remarkably stubborn.

Some restaurants, usually but not exclusively the upmarket ones, expelled bulk wine for good, embracing a wine list with several options. Others, usually the more casual eateries, remained faithful to the “cult of the carafe”. There are also hybrids – places that offer a wine list but then, at the bottom of the page, slip in the “half a liter of white wine” one-liner. For those, that leap of faith was a touch too far.

On one side we have the traditionalists. They claim that bulk wine is pure, “true” wine, and that bottled wine is “industrial” and “full of chemicals”. Price plays a role as well. Customers might want to go for the cheaper option. Restaurant owners might be afraid of pushing price per head higher by having only bottled wine available. Bulk wine allows them to keep costs low as well, especially if they dilute it with a bit of water! “Nothing wrong with that! Ancient Greeks did it as well!”

On the other side of the argument we have the wine professionals and the consumers, too, who both have a lot invested in the amazing progress of Greek wine over the last forty years. For them, bulk wine is the archenemy. It is the worst ambassador of the wines of our country, a product with no aspirations to quality. It is a nameless and useless wine, apart from its role in making you tipsy. Wine in a half-liter jug is the point at which half a liter becomes “litter”. It’s doing a huge disservice to all the people who succeeded in making Greek wine some of the best in the world.

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KOSTAKI WINERY

I am not sure which side is in the worse stage of denial. Probably both. This is where you enter the picture. And I know you. I know you aren’t after just flavors and aromas, you’re after experiences, too. You want to get a feel for the place you’re visiting, even if that includes things you would never do back home. You took your shoes off when entering that sushi bar in Kyoto, didn’t you? So, in light of that, wine by the carafe fits perfectly in your couleur locale endeavor.

But experiences matter when they come from somewhere, not from anywhere. A wine poured out of a tin tube has folklore value but no identity. A bottle of Greek wine brings to your table a specific place, a specific grape variety (we have plenty for you to discover), and a whole philosophy of what wine is. It will also be a damned good wine to enjoy. And, if you do fall in love with it, chances are you can even find it back home. Try that with a jug!

 

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