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Good addresses in Kefalonia

Good addresses in Kefalonia

Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2009-11-04

Produced in small quantities, the Robola from the Gentilini estate is one of the best Greek dry white wines. Don't fail to visit the exceptional vine grower, Vlavis Sklavos. As for eateries, 'Mamma Tassia's', in the port of Fiskardo, continues to serve most tasty genuine family cuisine!    See the map of Kefalonia  

Don't fail to visit the exceptional vine grower, Vlavis Sklavos. As for eateries, 'Mamma Tassia's', in the port of Fiskardo, continues to serve most tasty genuine family cuisine!
 
A masterpiece of the Greek vineyard
 
How distant the time when the more or less oxidised retsina was served in inns to tourists searching for an exotic experience! Since 1985, Greece has indeed set out to produce great wines, especially dry fruity and vivacious whites. Under the impetus of a handful of enthusiastic agronomists and oenologists trained in France and Australia, Greece very soon became a top brass wine country, as    confirmed by Best Wine Waiter of the World Olivier Poussier who, following a tasting organised in 2006 in the Mavrommatis brothers' restaurant in Paris, said he was 'impressed by the beauty of its wines'*. Produced mainly from indigenous vine varieties that can be traced back to ancient Greek times (like the marvellous white Assyrtiko from Santorini which I told you about last year), Greek wines distinguish themselves from international vine varieties (Sauvignon, Chardonnay, etc.) by their highly distinctive personality. 
 
Robola is a very old vine variety from Kefalonia. Although grown elsewhere in Greece, it is on the windswept slopes of the biggest Ionian island that it comes into its own (hence the official name 'Kefalonian Robola').  Less nervous than Assyrtiko which expresses the volcanic nature of Santorini, Robola is rounder and flowery, with a length and softness and fullness somewhat evocative of the Chardonnay style. You absolutely must discover the Gentilini family's Robola whose 2005 vintage has been described by Olivier Poussier as a 'distinguished and harmonious masterpiece, typically Ionian'. I personnally prefer the 2006 vintage aged on lees, less sharp and less rich in residual sugars. This pure and sensual wine, pale yellow in colour, with citrus fruit aromas and a suave spicy taste, possesses a freshness all the more amazing as Kefalonia suffers from stifling summer heat. Grown on the high parts of the island, the Gentilini estate vines did not suffer from the phylloxera attack. Ideal to accompany tarama, shellfish, fish, grilled white meats or goat cheese. 
 
Vlavis Sklavos: vine animism
 
Not far from Lixouri, Kefalonia's second town, lives a really exceptional character I strongly recommend you meet: Vlavis Sklavos. This 45-year old vine grower grows in the surroundings of the village of Kechrionos a mere 4 hectares of vines of which 30% survived the phylloxera attack and did not need to be grafted onto American aphid-resistant vines. With his young wife, Vlavis puts into practice his peculiar philosophy based on animism dating back to the oldest Greek and pagan religions. At first sight, Vlavis Sklavos merely passes for a follower of organic vine growing (like scores of others in Europe today). However, Vlavis is above all a genuine mystic, in the noble sense of the term. This man indeed speaks to his vines, gives each of them a name, strokes them, cuts each branch bearing the slightest trace of mildew and even goes as far as 'purifying' them on some nights of the full moon, by invoking the spirits of Earth, which, according to him, sometimes gives rise to quite impressive supernatural phenomena... Whatever you make of it, his unfiltered wines resulting from minimal yields possess rather uncommon energy! Taste for example his blend of the local vine varieties Moschatella and Vostilidi: this exceptionally vivacious wine expresses flavours of thyme, oregano, wild mint and lemon.
His red wine produced from the emblematic vine variety of the Peloponnese, Mavrodaphne (meaning black laurel), is equally intense, with a fine ruby colour, a nose of garrigue and black fruits, and powerful tannins that will mellow with time.
To round off a meal, his sweet and soft Muscat from sun-dried grapes is magnificent. To die for!
 
Tassia, une vraie taverne « à l’ancienne »
 
Tassia's, a real 'old-style' inn
Few people know the extent to which the inn played a key role in the cultural history of Greece. From a strictly culinary viewpoint, first of all, all the great Greek chefs (like Lefteris Lazarou in Athens or George Hatziyiannakis in Santorini have been influenced by the tasty cuisine served yesteryear in inns and, which, generally speaking, was prepared by 'mammas'... In Greece, therefore, as in Italy, gastronomy unashamedly assumes its popular origin. Yet, before mass tourism radically transformed them, inns were also a meeting place, a venue where artists and intellectuals came (almost in secret) to listen to rebetiko, the authentic music from the 'lowest depths of society' which, like jazz, had its Billie Holidays, like Marika Ninou and Sotiria Bellou**. Today, admittedly, Greek inns no longer fill this role! Fortunately however there are still real 'mammas' capable of preparing plain tasty food.  This is the case for example at 'Tassia's', a welcoming eatery located on the harbour front in Fiscardo opposite the sailing ships. Here, all the island's specialities appear on the menu: unsalted cod fritters, goat cheese (genuine Kefalonian feta!) pastries, oven-grilled sardines, rice and minced meat meatballs, tarama, aubergine caviar and delicious skordalia - cold mashed potatoe 'strengthened' with 'garlic'..… Mamma Tassia is above all well known for her fish and seafood such as her magnificent freshly fished scampi which she prepared for us in a trice, boiled for a minute and rapidly grilled over a wood fire... A real treat! Expect to pay 40 euros with wine. 
 
*La Revue des Vins de France, January 2007.
**See L’été grec by Jacques Lacarrière, collection Terre Humaine, and Dictionnaire amoureux de la Grèce, éditions Plon.
 
Une famille du terroir
 
Of Venetian origin, the Gentilini family is one of Kefalonia's oldest, their presence on the island dating back to the 18th century. It was in 1982 that the direct descendant of the Gentilinis, Nicholas Cosmetatos, founded in Minies, to the south of Argostoli, what was to become ten years later one of the most esteemed vineyards in Greece.  His daughter, Marianna, a graduate from Cornell University in the United States, took over the estate in 1996, helped by her vine grower husband, Petros Markantonatos. Motivated by a passion and a quest for authenticity, the whole family makes it a point of honour to produce only wines expressing the island's soil and their vines are treated only with environmentally friendly products.
 
Practical information
 
 
Vlavis Sklavos:
sclwines@otenet.gr
Tel.: 0030 26710 93169
 
In France, you can buy these wines and other masterpieces of Greek wine production from the wine specialist Georgios Ioannidis who imports and distributes them.
georgesionas@yahoo.fr
Tel.: +33 6 66 79 18 40
 
 

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