Sips for an 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 of the year with our family and friends. Every household takes special care and attention with the offerings that will be served and featured that day. Wine pairings, being my passion (and profession), are included for this special Easter meal.
As we depart from church after the acknowledgment that “Christ has risen” on Saturday, the night before Easter, we make our way home to officially kick off our celebration with the customary Easter lamb soup also known as mageiritsa, which translates to “small cooking.” Mageiritsa is a soup that is prepared only for Easter and is made with small morsels of lamb combined with an egg-lemon broth. The soup is hearty but light enough to restore energy to the faithful worshippers weak from weeks of Lent. The choice of wine that best suits this flavorful soup is traditional retsina, a light and crisp wine with aromas of aromatic pine, which pairs well with the silky structure and lemon accents of the soup. My favorite is from the Malamatina winery that is based in Thessaloniki. They have been producing retsina for over a century and it has become a staple wine of Northern Greece. It’s a perfectly balanced white wine with a pleasant, fading presence of resin.
When we wake up up on Easter morning, feeling refreshed and restored by last night’s late repast, we greet each other with a traditional red-dyed egg in hand and hit each other’s eggs point to point while saying, “Christ is risen.” As the day progresses, family members crowd into the kitchen to prepare all of the special offerings for the feast.
All sorts of mezedakia, hot and cold small plates, are prepared by the women while the lamb is roasted on the spit by the men of the family. A variety of cheeses, such as kefalotyri, kefalogaviera, lathotiri, kopanisti, and many others, are accompanied by olives to be enjoyed 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, pairing nicely with cheese and olives.
Traditionally, as the lamb is roasting, which could take up to six hours, it’s a time for the men to socialize over good tsipouro or tsikoudia (smooth and aromatic spirits distilled from left-over grape skins, grape seeds and/or stems) as they also nibble on bits of the lamb, ostensibly to test its readiness.
The Lazaridis winery in Drama makes an excellent tsipouro called Idoniko, produced with a touch of fennel or “glykaniso.” Tsikoudia is similar to tsipouro, but originates from the island of Crete, and has an aroma of grapes. A tsikoudia that I highly recommend is 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, symbolizing the blood of Christ. The Easter feast also includes a variety of pitas and salad dishes, recipes that vary from household to household depending on the region of Greece they are from. Some favorites are eggplant and yogurt with red onion and olives, roasted sweet pepper salad, and taramasalata. Along with salads there are platters of grilled meats, such as lamb bites, homemade sausages, and liver. The wine offering with these choices could be be Vissinokipos, a fruitful rose wine from Palivos Estates. This light but flavorful rose wine is made from Agiorghitiko and Syrah grape, and has a strawberry and jam aroma with great structure of softness and crispness.
As the day progresses, anticipation grows and mouths water for the long-awaited Easter lamb. The day has been full of joy and happiness as we reconnected with family and friends over fine Greek food and wine. Finally, the main feature is pulled off the spit and presented on an enormous platter that makes it way to the grand table. Placed at the center of the table, the lamb is surrounded by dishes of rice prepared with ground beef, roasted vegetables, roasted potatoes, and more of the mezedakia.
At my table there will be two of my favorite red wines chosen to complement most of the foods. One will be a lighter style produced from the Xynomavro grape — Greece’s version of a Pinot Noir — called “Raminsta,” from the Kir-Yianni Estates winery. This wine is soft and light-bodied with great fruit flavors and a touch of tannins. A second selection that I highly recommend is a Rhone-style red from the Manousakis Winery in Crete called Nostos. This full-bodied red has great big fruit and is robust with dark cherries in every sip. Nostos is produced from all estate-grown Syrah, Grenache, Mouverde, and Roussane grapes. It has great balance and a long finish.
Great food and great wine abound throughout this wonderful day. We finish off the evening with a groaning board of sweet offerings and desserts that include cookies, pies, and cakes, served with Greek sweet wine from Samos.
*Christ is risen!
First published February 2017