Olga Antoniadou (who was a finalist in last year's writing competition) introduces her unedited entry in our seminal wine competition thus: ‘As I read the topic of the competition I wondered if I could single out THE experience that got me into wine. I closed my eyes, and an image popped up, that was so warm, and beautiful. That was the single moment.’
Drinking a glass of wine was part of the bonding ritual in my parental home. At lunch, on Saturday and Sunday, we would always have a glass of wine. Nothing fancy, but it was always bottled; usually Greek wine. My father, at the time, was well traveled, so now and again something more valuable would be put on the table. So, from the age of sixteen and up, I was treated as an 'adult'. I treasured these Sunday lunches, because the three of us would sit in the kitchen chit chatting, having a small bite, sipping on our wine. I was so proud.
When I met Niko, my husband, it was as if two different worlds came together. I had been born in one place, lived in at least another three different places, I had friends mainly from my student years, I drank wine, I smoked cigarettes. Niko, was born and bred in the same place, had the same friends all of his life, had only left home when it was time to study, and had none of the 'naughty' habits I had picked up. Actually, in his family, they did not drink at all. As his late mother used to say, fondly, but half meaning her words: “You spoiled my boy.” And, maybe, I did.
At the time we met, I was graduating from medical school and Niko had just completed his army service, had just got a job, so we were both on a shoetstring budget, but determined to conquer the world. Near the home of his parents, there used to be a wine shop that brought wine from the cooperative wineries around Greece. This is where we started buying and tasting, for the first time. This is where we would buy Nykteri from the Santo Winery, Robola, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, etc. Slowly, we felt definitely 'knowledgeable' about wine – God forbid!- stayed clear of any heavily resinated taverna wine, and it slowly developed into our bonding ritual. In the early '90's the very first wine bar had opened in Athens, Strofilia, and there I remember trying consecutive years of the same wine and feeling like I was Marco Polo.
So, by 1994, both Niko and I feel as if we are connoisseurs – oh dear. Youth, you see. You always know everything and then grow up to knowing nothing. That is not fair.
It's the 17th September 1994, we are getting married and our reception is taking place in a posh hotel, in which the chef, himself, has organised our dinner and wine (we happened to know him). We are so happy and in love. We have been given a hotel room, where we are resting before we enter our reception and I'm frantically trying to get all the rice out of my hair, my shoes, my wedding dress, even my underwear. And, as we sit down, we realise we've been sent a bottle of sparkling wine as a present from the chef. This is a bottle of Asti Cinzano DOCG.
I can't tell you if the wine was heady or the situation, but that wine I will never forget (and I don't even like sweet or semi-sweet drinks). My friend Jila and her husband Anil, had come to Greece for our wedding from the USA, and Jila was pregnant to her first child. The four of us sat there together, toasting and we all agreed this was beautiful wine. Semi-sparkling, semi-sweet, with the muscat scents tickling our noses. This was the first time I stuck my nose into the glass, and tried to take in the aromas, and tried to name them. Not a 'great' wine, but for us, this humble wine opened our minds. This was the wine that said: “Hey, there are so many wines out there; forget what you are comfortable with. Try the world.” And, that's what we've been doing ever since.