When I arrived at the coastal village of New Anhialos in the Greek province of Thessaly, I was enveloped by my aunt’s strong arms. My uncle stuffed the luggage into the trunk, and drove the few blocks to their home. Before the last suitcase was unloaded, Aunt Voula had endowed the table with a feast—traditional cucumber and tomato salad, olives and apricots from their orchards, feta cheese packed in freshwater, stewed lamb meat, and a rice-like pasta called manestra. My mouth watered in savory anticipation, but there was still one final question to be decided—red or white?
It is the ultimate decision in any meal—red or white wine—made easier if one of the two is locally made. But what if they both are? Conventional wisdom holds that red (kokkino) wine goes with red meat and white (lefko) wine goes with fish, pork, and poultry. Yet, there are many who prefer not to be held to such predictability. The answer—split the difference and have a little of both.
Anhialos is not only a town—it is an appellation zone of Greece. The grapes grown in this relatively level land by the Aegean are two of Greece’s finest white wine producers. The roditis is a pink, rosy-skinned grape that grows throughout much of mainland Greece but thrives particularly well here in coastal Thessaly. The savatiano grape exhibits a pale green/pale yellow hue. When the roditis and savatiano are combined in equal proportions—Anhialos wine is born. The local wine cooperative in Anhialos bottles and distributes this light and fruity white wine under the name of Demetra—after the ancient goddess of the harvest, Demeter. Most of this wine is sold locally in the restaurants of Anhiolos where its cold, thirst-slaking freshness accompanies fried calamari (squid) and gavros (tiny fish) to perfection. However, Demetra red wine is equally good. It is robust, cleansing and bracing with feta and heavy meats, even if it is not officially classified as part of the Anhialos appellation.
Another locally made wine is tsipouro. Made from the grape skins left over from initial wine production, tsipouro is a clear wine that has some of the anise (licorice) flavor of oozo but has twice the potency. In the nearby, chic, port city of Volos—only fifteen minutes away by car, twenty by bus—tsipouradika dot the nightlife. In a tsipouradiko, a small plate of food is offered with each glass of tsipouro. While the lights of Volos and neighboring cities twinkle up and down Pelion—the mountain of the centaurs—it’s citizens enjoy the ticklish, cool breezes of the summer waves with a glass of tsipouro and a plate of roasted lamb—or whatever the cook sees fit to send out.
No meal is complete without dessert. Here along the Pagasitic Gulf in eastern Thessaly, fruit is the ultimate dessert. Apricots ripe and plump from the countryside are readily available in summertime, as are sour cherries known as vissino. Vissino is often mixed with light, sugary syrup and served as a sweet by itself or poured over ice cream. Ruby red vissino is also heavenly in yogurt for breakfast or as a wine cordial in a precursor to that essential afternoon nap by the beach.