Easter in Athens
Greece's first family of wine celebrates with a traditional feast.
"For Greeks, Easter is one of the most important days, if not the most important day, of the year," says Marina Boutari. "For us, it's even bigger than Christmas." Marina, 25, is the eldest daughter of Constantine Boutari, president and CEO of Boutari & Son, Greece's oldest and most respected wine producer. This year, she and the rest of the Boutari clan have gathered in Athens to celebrate this much-anticipated holiday. The festivities are taking place at Constantine's elegant apartment, though the family has also spent Easter at their home in Thessaloníki (where most of the Boutaris were born). Wherever the location and whatever else this extraordinarily busy family might be doing, they always manage to be together on this holiday.
Easter for the Boutaris actually begins on Holy Thursday, when everyone colors eggs red (to signify the blood of Christ) and then goes to church. The family also attends services the next night, which is Good Friday, and on the Saturday evening that follows. "Thursday and Friday are very solemn," says Marina. "It isn't until Saturday night that the happy part of Easter begins. When we attend services on Saturday, each of us carries a red egg in our pocket, and at midnight, after the congregation says, 'Christ is risen,' we all crack our eggs and eat them. Sometimes we even take salt and pepper to church."
On Easter Sunday, the family gathers again, and sometime around noon, dinner begins. The appetizers, including a cucumber yogurt dip and stuffed grape leaves, are traditional holiday dishes, as is the fricassee of lamb with lettuce that follows. However, the french fries that accompany the lamb are, says Marina, an Athens adaptation. "When we have Easter in Thessaloníki, the lamb is roasted on a spit and served with roasted potatoes," she explains, "but in the city we eat french fries." For dessert, there are two choices--a halvah cake, another holiday recipe, and pastry-cream-filled phyllo--served with Samos, a dessert wine.
The wines that accompany the meal are chosen by Constantine and his nephew Stellios Boutari, 32, who serves as sales manager for the company. According to Stellios, the wine selections owe as much to tradition
as the food choices. "We start with Boutari Santorini, a dry white wine produced on the island of the same name," says Stellios. "The island is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Greece, and Santorini is probably one of our best-known wines. It's lovely and aromatic, with enough flavor and body to stand up to the dips and the grape leaves. Then we always serve Grande Reserve Naoussa with the lamb. Naoussa, also named after the region where it's made, is a dry, elegant red wine that's synonymous with Boutari. Naoussa was the first wine my great-great-grandfather made when he founded the company in 1879." Stellios smiles. "If you asked anyone in my family what their favorite wine is, they'd say Naoussa."
Stellios, who lived in the United States for several years and worked for Paterno Imports, the company that distributes Boutari wines, warms easily to the subject of Boutari wines and their place on the world stage: "Greek winemakers are now where Italian winemakers were 20 years ago, in terms of worldwide recognition. Twenty years ago the average American thought bad things about Italian wine and thought that all Italian food was spaghetti. But gradually things changed, Italian restaurants in America became more sophisticated, and in turn created a market for more sophisticated Italian wine. I see the same thing happening with Greek food, although more slowly. There are more sophisticated Greek restaurants in America now, especially in New York City, and I think it's only a matter of time before the market for more sophisticated Greek wines expands."
This does not mean the Boutaris will be sitting around waiting for that time to come. With seven wineries and 300 acres of vineyards scattered all over the country, they are constantly innovating. Says Stellios: "While we're experimenting with international varieties like Cabernet, Merlot and Chardonnay, we also work with about 25 native Greek varieties like Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko and Xinomavro, which I believe has the potential to be a noble varietal. We do about 250 experimental bottlings a year, which my aunt Alexandra sells at Spirits, her shop in Athens. But above all our goal is to make great Greek wine. It wouldn't add much to the wine world if all we did was make another Chardonnay."
When the Boutari family gets together to celebrate Easter, Fany Boutari (Constantine's mother) likes to serve the following dishes.