Monday, March 22, 2010

Sips for Easter Feast

Considered one of the most sacred holidays in the Greek Orthodox faith, Easter is the day we prepare the biggest and most memorable feast with our family and friends. Every household takes special care and attention to the offerings that will be served and featured that day. At the same token, I will prepare you with the wine offerings for our special Easter feast.

As we depart from church after the acknowledgment that “Christ has risen” on Saturday night (the night before Easter), we make our way home to officially kick off our Easter feast with the customary Easter lamb soup also known as mageiritsa, which translates to small cooking. As noted in the cookbook, “The Olive & The Caper”, mageiritsa is a soup that is only prepared for Easter that is made with small morsels of lamb combined with an egg-lemon froth. The soup is hearty but light enough to restore energy to the faithful worshipers that are weak from lent. The choice of wine that best suits this flavorful soup is non-other than the traditional selection of retsina. Yes, retsina, a light and crisp wine with tints of aromatic pine, pairs well with the combination of the silky structure and lemon accents from the soup. The choice to select is from the winery Malamatina that is based in Thessaloniki. Malamatina retsina has the been producing retsina for over a century and has become the staple wine of Northern Greece. Malamantina is a very pleasant white wine, with a fading presence of resin to give it that perfect balance for a retsina.

As we wake up Easter morning, feeling refreshed and restored from last night’s commencement, we greet each other with a red-dyed egg in hand and hit each others point to point while saying, “Christ is risen”. As this beautiful day progresses, family members crowd in the kitchen and are preparing all of the special offerings for the feast.

All sorts of mezedakia are being made ranging from cold to hot ones for the introduction to the flavorful lamb that is being roasted on the spit by the men of the family. Traditionally as the lamb is being slowly roasted on the spit, which could take up to six hours, typically it’s a time for the men to socialize over good tsipouro or tsikoudia as they also nibble at sections of the lamb to test its readiness. Tsipouro, which is a spirit distilled from left over grape skins, grape seeds, and/or stems is very smooth and aromatic. The Lazaridis winery in Drama makes an excellent tsipouro called ‘Idoniko’ that would be the right fit for that social moment. ‘Idoniko’ is also produced with a touch of fennel or ‘glykaniso’. Tsikoudia is similar to tsipouro, but originates from the island of Crete and is also produced from distilled grapes. The aromas of grapes are more present in tsikoudia. A selection that I would highly recommend would be from the Varvaki Distillery.

The grand table that will host the feast is decorated with Greek Easter bread or tsoureki. Tsoureki is a sweet bread that is baked and decorated with red-dyed eggs, which symbolizes the blood of Christ. Mezedakia are prepared and ready ahead of time to keep everyone going until the lamb is ready. Specialty dishes such as a variety of different cheeses, such as kefalotyri, kefalogaviera, lathotiri, kopanisti, and many others are accompanied by a plethora of olives to be sipped with a refreshing white wine from the varietal roditis. The wine of my choice would be the production from the Gaia Estates winery called ‘Notios’. This young white wine is full of life and very vibrant. It’s a great sipping wine that will pair nicely with our cheese and olives.

You will also find a variety of different salad dishes and pitas that every household will have depending on the region of Greece they are from. Some of these favorites, are eggplant and yogurt with red onion and olives, roasted sweet pepper salad, taramasalata, and many others. Along with the salads, there are also platters of grilled meats, such as lamb bites, homemade sausages, and even liver. The wine offering with these choices will be a fruitful rose wine from Palivos Estates called Vissinokipos. This rose wine is made from Agiorghitiko and Syrah grape and has a strawberry and jam aroma on the nose with great structure of softness and crispness to signify we are sipping a light but flavorful rose.

The anticipation grows immensely for our traditional Easter lamb that has been long awaited. The day has been full of joy and happiness as we rekindle with family and friends over one of the most appealing cuisines along with some of the finest selections of wine. Finally, the main feature is pulled off the spit and prepared on an enormous platter that makes it way to the grand table. As the stuffed lamb is settled a the center of the table it is surrounded by dishes of rice prepared with ground beef, roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes, and all of the over mezedakia that were mentioned earlier. At the table for the feast I will suggest two red wines to be offered that compliment all of the selections. Since there will be typically more people at the table, we need to make sure we a couple of offerings to satisfy the different taste buds and also the different dishes. The first red selection will be a lighter style, produced from the Xynomavro grape, Greece’s version of a Pinot Noir. I am going to suggest the selection from the Kir-Yianni Estates winery, called ‘Raminsta’. This wine is a very soft and light bodied red wine that has great fruit flavors with a touch of tannins, that will be very suitable for our guests that prefer a light red wine. The second selection that I highly recommend is a Rhone-style red from the Manousakis Winery in Crete called ‘Nostos”. This full-bodied red selection has great big fruit and is robust with dark cherries in every sip. This wine is the prize selection to have with our trophy lamb that brings together great flavors for an ultimate dining experience. Nostos is produced from all estate grown Syrah, Grenache, Mouverde, and Roussane. It has great balance and a long finish.

Once again, there is plenty of great food and great wine throughout this wonderful day. We finish off the evening with a room full of sweet offerings and desserts that range from cookies, pies, cakes, and Greek sweet wine from Samos.

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