When I heard about the series of three wine dinners, one each focused on Greek, sparkling and Portuguese wines and hosted by Vinaigrette, I was excited at the prospect of attending the first. Vinaigrette has always been tightly focused on fresh salads and lighter meats highlighted by plenty of vegetables and offset by a small but complementary list of wines, beers and juices, but it was still a nice surprise to see a dinner focused on Greek wines, which to me are exciting but a little inaccessible to Santa Fe for two reasons.
The first is that Greece is still pulling itself out of a deep financial crisis, aided by the EU, but ultimately still handicapped in terms of how to best export and market its wines abroad. While its domestic wine culture is thriving in terms of developing unique, regional styles of wine that stay true to their point of origin, getting those wines into the glasses of wine drinkers internationally is still a challenge. Hopefully the export wine industry in Greece will continue to thrive, but for now, most American consumers are in the dark about the potential for Greek wines, and that is a shame, because it is driven by beautiful cultural traditions that are worthy of sharing and exploring in the modern world.
The wines that do make it out of the country are representative of large firms and cooperatives rather than small regional producers, and tend to be value-driven rather than boutique or luxury products. But this is why a restaurant like Vinaigrette can throw a Greek wine dinner, where the ticket price per person is only $45 and a total of four wines were poured.
The Greek wines available in the United States are not expensive or inaccessible for a wine drinker looking for value, and not uninteresting for a drinker looking for new flavors and experiences. These wines are priced very approachably, from Vinaigrette’s standpoint; that is to say, the portion of my ticket that went to wine was quite manageable, freeing up the restaurant to deliver quality food and service.
I was satisfied that I had gotten my money’s worth in terms of the total package of the dinner. The restaurant aimed for a smaller, more intimate style of tasting, and the staggered seatings at 6 pm, 7 pm and 8 pm allowed the sommelier (Philip de Give, on loan from distributor Southern Wine and Spirits) to come to the table and talk a little about each wine before the course came out. It had an easy, natural flow. The food was light and fresh and, while paying tribute to Greek culinary traditions, was clearly representative of the house style.
To talk a little about the food: It was simple but pleasing with grilled octopus with tabouleh, a feta-brined chicken breast with lemon potato and a green goddess dressing plus little lamb meatballs called keftedes served in tzatziki sauce. Dessert was poached pear with honeyed yogurt ice cream, and all of this was accompanied by a series of fresh, fruity but not heavy, zingy Mediterranean-styled wines. I say Mediterranean-styled because there was definitely body and alcohol in the wines but not a lot of oak or processing; the flavors were grape-driven and very pure, and clearly very food-friendly.
My personal favorite was the 2015 Boutari moschofilero from Mantinia, a floral-scented white with zingy acidity, and my companion enjoyed the 2015 Kouros agiorgitiko from Nemea, which was a red grape flavored like plum and smoke. For $45, it was well done; the service was not intrusive, and the sommelier was personable and fun, although I imagine if the dinners become more heavily attended the intimate format would have to change to something formal.
The second reason Greek wines are inaccessible to the people of Santa Fe is the nature of the New Mexican wine market. Thanks to the 21st Amendment, the federal government turned over the control of the distribution of alcohol to the states, and this created a muddle of rules and regulations with which we as a nation still grapple to this day. In New Mexico, restaurants can only buy wines from licensed distributors, some of whom are small and localized only to our state, and some of whom have the means of multistage distribution, including warehousing and shipping wine. But this means that only the wines that are seen as worthy of large-scale distribution in New Mexico, which are priced competitively and cheaply but will also sell hundreds of cases, will make it into your glass in Santa Fe. So, while a trendy wine bar in New York can pour assyrtiko from Santorini by the glass and be ahead of the curve, it would be several years before that wine could show up here.
But restaurants like Vinaigrette are trying to drum up some local interest in thinking outside the box, and I find that very exciting. I want to see more of that in Santa Fe. More fun and interesting wine dinners, please.
Vinaigrette Wine Dinners