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Wine > Ktima Alpha November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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Have the foundations to create a great Greek wine been laid?

In the past we have discovered Xinomavro, Macedonia’s traditional grape. It seems we wanted to taste more of it, well at least I did. From the centre of Xinomavro production, Naoussa, where our previous tastings were centered, we drove northwest into the remote region of Amyndeon, about 10km from the Albanian border. There we met Angelos Iatridis of Alpha Estate.

Alpha (á) is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and the name came from the initial letter of Amyndeon, the geographical location of the estate’s vineyards, in addition to declaring, in Greek, that something is of a certain quality. Alpha Estate represents the ‘new beginning’ of an area of Greek wine. Makis Mavridis, grape grower, and Angelos Iatridis, winemaker, planted 33 hectares of vineyards in Amyndeon in the late 1990s.

Iatridis had consulted on the first vintages at Kir-Yianni, as he did later at Ktima Pavlidis, Wine Art and Creta Olympias. Then, in 1997, when he was just 29, the French-trained (Bordeaux and Suze-la-Rousse) Iatridis started buying land to create his own vineyards and wine under the Alpha Estate label. The land was on a plateau surrounded by mountains (Vermio, Vora and Vitsi) and lakes (Petron and Vegoritida) in the coldest winemaking region of Greece. As Iatridis explained, the creation of an estate vineyard was an enormous and pioneering investment at the time, which signaled the birth of pilot-structured viniculture exploitation. The estate’s ongoing mission is to make wines that bring out the true characteristics of the region they originate from, wines that can reveal the characteristics of the soil, the climate and the typicity of the grape varieties they are made from. “The vineyard’s ‘terroir’ is at the heart of the Alpha Estate winemaking philosophy,” Iatridis said.

Iatridis gave us a tour of his sandy vineyards, planted with 11 different grapes, including Xinomavro, Mavrodaphne, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewztraminer, Pinot Noir, Negro Amaro, Montepulziano, Tannat and Barbera. Two factors contribute to the special character of Alpha Estate grapes: mesoclimate and soil. Moderate temperatures and heavy winter rains create ideal conditions for the grapes to ripen. Poor soils with good drainage create a mild water deficit resulting in small berries with intense red colour and concentrated flavours and aromas. Most of the winemaking at Alpha Estate is monitored by computer: the temperature in the fermentation tanks, even the moisture in the soil. The company then devotes a tremendous effort to improving the quality of its wines, through carefully planed investments and research programmes. A meteorological station is used to provide information to prevent any threat of disease in the vineyards.

The sandy-clay texture of the soil, assuring ideal drainage of the rain water, the favourable climatic conditions during maturation and harvest periods and finally the appropriate viticulture practices contribute to a complete fruit ripening offering the possibility to produce wines of exquisite quality and rich aromas. In order to avoid extreme water deficits during summer, root-zone drying irrigation is used.

So, what is the hallmark of Alpha Estate? A cutting-edge combination of tradition and innovation. Perhaps the foundations to create the great Greek wine have just been laid.

Wines of the week

How does this philosophy affect the wines? The Xinomavro reflects the grape’s characteristics. The Xinomavro 2004 is a characteristic pale red and is spicy with big tannins. This is a Xinomavro vinified in a modern way. The nose exhibits delicious aromas of red berries with hints of liquorice and chocolate. Aromas of strawberry carry through the finish with a nice structure and well integrated tannins. Best with roasted red meat with rich sauces, game and meat pies served at 18 degr C.

The 2004 Ktima Alpha Red is the darling of the wine press. A blend of Syrah (60%), Merlot (20%) and Xinomavro (20%), it has a bright, deep ruby colour with purple hints. The bouquet is rich and intricate, earthy dominated by leather and cherry brandy aromas, with a peppery and plumy background. This is a generous wine, full-bodied and chewy, robust with a velvety taste. Vanilla, wood, mocha and toffee hints with a long persistence of aromas. My top wine for this year’s game season. Serve at room temperature.

The 2005 Sauvignon Blanc has a brilliant, light yellow colour with greenish tints. The nose is lively; the Sauvignon Blanc is easily recognisable suggesting gooseberry, passion fruit, melon and lychee with a note of honeysuckle. On the palate, it is round and mellow with a little bit of fat and high in alcohol but well structured and herbal (rosemary). Try as an aperitif or with salad greens and sun-dried tomatoes, seafood, pasta with creamy sauces, and white meat with white herbal sauces.

Experimenting with film November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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Now in its fifth year, the Xperimental film festival will see the screening of over 25 works

In every country at various times throughout history there are people struggling away trying to do something different. Perhaps it’s human nature to try and push the boundaries of what is known and pursue a new path.

Here in Cyprus, it’s unfortunate that not everyone gets the coverage they deserve and sometimes things go unnoticed when individuals strive for something new. Over the past few years a group of local filmmakers have been trying to get messages across to the public about the world around us, to change perceptions, to really make a difference.

This group of Cypriot filmmakers have gathered together this year to show their work next Saturday, along with many other foreign films, at the Xperimental film festival, organised by the Pantheon Cultural Association in Nicosia. The film festival continues its success for a fifth time and will include screenings of over 25 short films.

The participants of the Xperimental festival have each developed their own unique style of film, producing an atmospheric result either technically, visually, or through a given concept. “The beauty of experimental film lies within its final result, which can be described as removing boundaries and limits within art,” said Petros Lapithis, President of the Pantheon Cultural Association. “The festival’s main aim throughout its brief but successful history has been to give creative people of all kinds a medium and an opportunity to let them show the Cyprus audience their own personal visions through film.

“Our association believes that experimentation in all forms of art must be supported to keep the vibe of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking alive. The visual artist of the 21st century, fearless when it comes to experimenting with new forms, rises against the status quo and makes challenging propositions.”

Experimentation can in fact be described as an upcoming movement or ‘trend’ that has recently introduced itself to the local arts scene with surprising dynamism. So what messages do the Cypriot participants wish to put across through their work? From alienation and city life, to the ongoing Cyprus problem, it seems that the filmmakers have had a lot on their mind.

Shinex, directed by Sotiris Christou, is about someone who has lost his job and is suddenly left at home with nothing to do. He soon becomes isolated and begins to use a blog to express his agony. The authorities cut off his phone line however as he is unable to pay the bill, and he eventually loses all communication with the outside world. “I was fascinated by the millions of blogs on the internet today and I began to question why people spend so much time sitting by their computer writing their thoughts in an online diary. I was influenced by people I saw doing it around me, and what I though to be signs of alienation,” said Sotiris.

Lia Lapithi has chosen to echo the words of The Clash, Should I Stay or Should I go Now? in a film that expresses her feelings on the Cyprus problem as she questions the current political and military situation on our island. This film, shown at the start of the month at The Mediterranean Film Festival in Montpellier, is playful, darkly humorous and loaded with contradictions and symbols. “It’s funny and entertaining, and although it may come across as rather light, it’s actually talking about quite serious issues,” Lia said. “I’ve been travelling around showing my film trying hard to make people realise that our country is not just all about sun, sex and sea. I want to show things as they really are. I would love tourists to see this short film as the plane touches down in Cyprus.”

The ongoing division of the island seems to be an issue affecting many young artists today as Suzana Phiala and Giorgos Sisamos have chosen to direct their film in an old movie theatre near the Green Line in Nicosia. The video dance, Pallas, experiments with the psychological and physical reactions in an abandoned space. “This was like a psychological experiment for all of us taking part. The dancers, and us as the directors, wanted to see how we felt in such a space,” Suzana explained. “All the uneasiness and awkwardness of the situation is transmitted on camera.”

Talking about experimentation, ever wondered what our capital would look like as a computer animated city? George Pitsillis is the only participant in the festival who’ll be showing a full-length film, where images of Nicosia are shot with a digital video camera and computer manipulation dressed with electronica beats.

International Xperimental Film Festival >
With international and local film screenings. November 25.
Pantheon Gallery, Corner of Diagorou and Evagorou Avenue, Pantheon Building, 2nd and 3rd floor, Nicosia. 9pm. Free. Tel: 22 670843.

Meandering in the hills November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Larnaca.
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The village of Pano Lefkara is well known for its lace production. The way there can be varied, but it is always pretty

To be honest, some day trips take on a life of their own, you plan to go to one place but because of the sheer variety of things to do and places to see en route, you find yourself meandering off to check out a church on a hill, or divert to make a drive through a village en route. This trip to Lefkara turned out to be such an experience.

Starting from the Ayia Phyla roundabout in Limassol, take the turn for Spitali, Gerasa, Zoopigi. This is a reasonably good road, albeit full of twists and turns, climbing ever higher into Commandaria making territory, until finally arriving in Kalo Chorio. Make sure you park so you can enjoy a short walk through this rather pretty place before making the decision to visit one of the many churches that seem to circle the area.

First choice would be to detour off onto a clearly marked side road that, after 4km, ends at Ayios Mamas church in Louvaras. It’s tiny but exquisitely painted with frescoes dating back to 1495, prominent is a painted panel dedicated to Saint Mamas.

He is cradling a lamb as he rides a lion. Legend has it that Mamas, who was a devout hermit, refused to pay his taxes because he was a man who had zero income. The governor ordered his arrest but as he was being taken to prison, a lion leapt out from behind a tree onto a lamb that had been grazing in a field. Mamas commanded the lion to stop the attack; he then picked up the lamb and mounted the lion. The sight of the hermit riding into town astride a lion sufficiently impressed the authorities that he was then exempt from paying any taxes. The church may, as a result, be a bit full when you visit as this saint has always enjoyed a somewhat fervent worship as the patron saint of tax dodgers.

Returning on the route taken to the church, follow signs to Arakapas and Eptagoneia, a very twisty road, which makes for slow, steady driving skills but has great views of vine-covered slopes, fertile, fruit tree filled valleys, almond trees and houses sporting rows of old jerry cans bursting with a profusion of sweet-scented geraniums and wild roses. Plus everywhere is the clean, fresh aroma generated by hundreds of pine trees.

Along the route, red-tile-roofed homes cling limpet-like to the mountain face, but you’re unlikely to be bothered by other vehicles as this is not a region populated by Z cars or lumbering big tour buses.

Our next religious call is 7km from Pano Lefkara and is made in the village of Vavla, home to one of the few convents still functioning in Cyprus. Ayiou Mina is only open to the public from May 1 until September 30 and then only between the hours of 12:30 to 3pm. Fourteen nuns reside in a rather lovely Byzantine Gothic confection first founded by Dominicans during the 15th century. The nuns are a really friendly bunch of women and are very willing to sit and chat about the history of their home, enthusiastically describing how they paint icons, make delicious honey, almond paste, marmalade and special herbs, all of which are for sale in the small shop.

You can also load up on special teas to cure gout, herpes, frozen shoulder and any other possible digestive problems.

The only thing to remember is ladies are not allowed into the church wearing trousers or shorts so best bring a skirt with you to really enjoy this quite beautiful, peaceful and decidedly non touristy place.

Kato Dhrys is the next stop, where you can visit the local museum, another interesting experience for those used to a more sophisticated presentation of one’s cultural heritage. The other interesting element is the architecture of the village: long, tall, well-balanced houses boasting frontages with Ionic and Doric columns and wrought iron balconies making for a classical Greek feel to the homes.

Nearing Pano Lefkara, you are now traveling at 700m above sea level on the fringes of the Troodos. It’s best when approaching the town to follow the second signpost as the first will have you walking a good distance from the parking place. Known all over the island as a lace-making centre, you can indulge in a bit of retail therapy but watch out as some of the ‘traditional’ linen has Made in China or Made in Ireland labels attached.

Pano Lefkara is still a very nice place despite the heavy sell laid on to sample the local wares; lovely arches abound making the small streets seem like a maze of tunnels. Also there’s an abundance of impressive door frames and balconies. There’s a small folk art museum plus a rather brave venture which has been launched in the form of a local wax museum.

Kato Lefkara is the lower neighbour and here the star of the show is the 12th century church of Archangelos, set in a field close to the village car park. Inside some impressive painted images have survived, decorating the apse of the church. It’s not as impressive overall as some of the painted churches of the high Troodos, but it’s the subject matter that may fascinate, which includes the image of the ‘holy handkerchief’ over the south door of the church.

From Pano Lefkara it’s straight down onto the motorway. We planned to turn off at Zigi for lunch, this small, seaside village is well known for its fish tavernas, but sadly I cannot recommend eating at the Captain’s Table, which, to put it mildly, was an unmitigating disaster.

This trip can be easily traveled in a day, starting from the Limassol turn off, you can easily be back to Paphos, including time for lunch, by 4:30pm.

Bringing rock to Aphrodite November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Limassol.
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An old-fashioned English sweet shop has opened its doors in the tourist area of Limassol

Take a walk along the seafront in the tourist area of Limassol. Of some shops in the area for rent, one has recently opened as Linda’s Sweet Shop, which specialises in jar sweets from the UK, along with Pick’n’Mix, chocolates, greeting cards and even a charity book swap to support the Malcolm Cat Sanctuary. Linda Kelly, from Gloucestershire, explained that she and her husband had been given the idea by her mother, who had failed to find a decent sweet shop in Cyprus. So, with a friend, Linda decided to look for a sweet shop. She walked from the tourist area of Limassol to the old port and back and couldn’t see a single one, so the seed was sown.

Just four months ago, Linda and her husband sold their house and moved lock, stock and barrel to Cyprus. After more than 20 years in administration, Linda was ready for a change and although she had no experience in sweets, the courses she had taken in marketing started paying off when it came to promoting the shop.

For starters, everything is so clean you could eat off the floor. The air-conditioning runs almost 24/7 in the summer to ensure the sweets don’t melt or stick together and it’s refreshing to see everything nicely stocked. A water dispenser stands to one side, for thirsty patrons, some of whom travel from as far away as Paphos and Larnaca.

She has big plans for her sweet shop, including becoming somewhat mobile in the future in order to attend fetes and fairs and come Christmas this year, she’ll be stocking a wide variety of boxed chocolates and large 1.5kg tins of chocolates from the UK, such as Quality Street and Celebrations, for a very reasonable “around £12”. Next year, specialised chocolates will also be added to her selection. But her favourites are the jarred sweets including Sherbet Lemons, Sour Plums, Bullseyes, Buttered Brazils, Mint Imperials, Aniseed Twists, Stem Ginger and Sweet Peanut, to name but a few. Additional shelving is in the store room just waiting to be put up to house as many jars as Linda can get her hands on. Other hard-to-get items include Caramac and Drifter bars, sherbet with dipping sticks, and fresh liqorice, both hard and soft.

When asked if she takes special orders, Linda laughs warmly and nods. “Yes, we take orders.” Her daughter, it seems has been recruited to traipse the UK in search of her mum’s “special orders” and with her partner working for DHL, all successful discoveries are swiftly shipped over by courier at a discount, of course, though the larger consignments are naturally sent with containers.

The conversation drifts to who she’s hoping to attract as customers. “Mostly the expat community, but of course, we want tourists as well, which is why we open evenings too in the summer.”

While I’m checking out the different names and flavours on the jars, I notice in addition to the small prepared party bags, a small table with some lollipops, liqorice and candy necklaces. The sign above these little rainbow dust straws says 1c. Surely that can’t be correct, nothing is only 1c in Cyprus. But it’s true. In fact, the rainbow dust straws which are really sherbet are not the only items under 50c, everything is! “Flying Saucers” are 2c, lollipops are 5c and gobstoppers are 10c. I get stuck on the gobstoppers. Do they really work? Linda tells me that they last two hours non-stop, are fruit flavoured and change colour with each layer. “It’s a pretty cheap way to keep a child quiet.”

As it turns out, the most expensive single sweet in the shop is 50c, and is Aphrodite’s Rock all the way from the UK, making it a very affordable stop even for large families. The jarred sweets are 85c/100g and the Pick’n’Mix is 70c/100g. “But you could have just one, if you wanted. You don’t have to take 100g,” Linda says.

I comment that the only people missing out now are those on diets, to which Linda points out that she stocks several different types of sugarless sweets, and with her next shipment will have no less than 12 different jarred sweets and a range of jellies without sugar.

Linda’s Sweet Shop
Shop 5, Lordos Sea Front Apartments, Germasogeia, Limassol. Tel.: 25 315520

Classic cars take on Troodos November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Racing & Motors.
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The Troodos Mountains will be reverberating with the roar of classic car engines next weekend as the annual Forest Park Rally kicks off.

Around 40 vintage cars are expected to partake in the 60km two-day event. The motor enthusiasts will be setting off from Limassol castle, amble up the long and winding roads into the mountains, before arriving at their destination, the village of Platres.

A maximum speed limit of 50mph, this is not an event for boy racer speed freaks, will ensure that those who gather to watch cars from the golden ages of motoring will have plenty of opportunity to see the vehicles in action.

Past participants include a 1950 Jaguar XK120, arguably one of the greatest looking cars of all time, a 1937 Chevrolet, and a 1960s American Cobra.

Event organiser Ersi Economides said that the rally will be open to cars over 20 years old, and that they should be registered this coming week. Children are eligible to be co-drivers and there will be awards going to the youngest. There will also be the prestigious ‘restoration cup’, for the best restored car.

Information is available at www.fipa-cyprus.org.cy  Cars will be leaving Limassol on Saturday November 25 at 2pm.

Cyprus State Orchestra stages Don Giovanni November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Cyprus.
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He is an incorrigible ladies man, handsome, charming and completely fickle, the world’s most irrepressible woman-chaser, Don Giovanni. There is darker side too though, light-hearted comedy is balanced with terrible tragedy, leading to a catastrophic finale.

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni will be staged by the Rialto Theatre on December 8 and 9, the result of a collaboration between the Theatre, the Cyprus State Orchestra and the Opera of Cottbus. To further appreciate the opera, this week, I have delved into the history and first production of Don Giovanni in an attempt to clarify the complicated plot.

Despite his success as a pianist and composer, Mozart had serious financial worries although his income was far larger than most musicians of the time. However, he and his wife were extravagant and his tastes far exceeded his budget. He saw a court appointment as a possible source of rescue but knew that the Italian musical influence at court, under his rival Salieri, was powerful and exclusive. Success in the court opera house was all-important.

Joseph II had reverted to Italian opera and Mozart started looking for suitable librettos when he became acquainted with Lorenzo da Ponte. He was an Italian abbot-adventurer of Jewish descent who was a talented poet and librettist to the court theatre. And at Mozart’s suggestion, it was he who wrote the libretto for both Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.

Mozart’s concert activities during 1787 were on a modest scale with no Viennese appearances recorded at all. In April, he heard that his father was gravely ill, and wrote him a letter of consolation based on the teachings of Freemasonry, which he had embraced at the end of 1784. Leopold Mozart, his beloved mentor, died in May 1787.

Mozart’s chief composition during 1787 was Don Giovanni, commissioned to celebrate the marriage of the Emperor’s niece, Archduchess Maria Theresia, with Prince Anton Clemens of Saxony, who eventually became Emperor Franz II. It had to appeal as much to Prague audiences as Le Nozze di Figaro had done but also had to be suitable for the royal couple and not strain the resources of three sopranos, a tenor and three bases.

The librettist da Ponte is reported to have said that he worked to keep Mozart from creating an opera that was too serious for that particular audience and credited himself with persuading the composer to add comic elements as a balance to the more serious parts.

The first performance was planned for October 14, 1787 and as both Mozart and Da Ponte lived in Vienna, they worked out the fine details of the libretto together. Mozart was very exacting about his librettos, as evidenced by his correspondence constantly demanding textual alterations until completely satisfied with characterisation and formal balance.

In Mozart’s day, a composer tailored each aria to the special qualities of the singer engaged for the part. Mozart had met most of the Don Giovanni cast when he visited Prague to hear them sing in Le Nozze di Figaro.

When Mozart and his wife arrived in Prague on October 4 to begin rehearsals, they and da Ponte realised that the singers were lazy and the stage staff slow to learn their duties – because of the opera’s many ensembles and elaborate stage changes, the premiere was postponed for 10 days and Le Nozze di Figaro was substituted for the royal nuptial with Mozart himself conducting.

A few days later, one of the singers became indisposed and the first performance was again set back to October 29. Mozart conducted and was cheered each time he entered or left the orchestra pit. Newspaper reports were hugely favourable and there were many subsequent performances.

With the arrival of 19th century Romanticism, Don Giovanni was hailed as the great precursor of Beethoven, Weber and grand opera in general. It was given monumental scenic and orchestral treatment, stressing its heroism, nobility, grandeur, and charm at the expense of humour and comedy. Don Giovanni became a monument itself instead of “just” a great opera.

The production in Cyprus will be directed by Cypriot-born Anthony Pilavachi, who presented the opera at the Staatstheater Cottbus, Germany last May. The Cyprus State Orchestra will be conducted by Spiros Pisinos with the soloists stemming from the Opera of Cottbus.

Don Giovanni
Friday December 8 and Saturday December 9, Rialto Theatre, Limassol. 8.30pm Tel: 77777745

Marinella on stage again November 19, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Greek.
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Marinella, a leading lady of Greek music, has returned to the dance-floor after a lot of years, collaborating with Antonis Remos in what is already seen as one of the better shows this winter. Marinella and Antonis’s new show is now running at the Athenon Arena.

Marinella has returned to the stage  after an absence of nearly 10 years. Despite being largely absent from concerts and public appearances, Marinella has remained successful as a recording artist in Greece, her lastest album “Tipota den ginete tichea” (“Nothing happens accidentally”), released in late 2005, has already achieved gold status.

Marinella was the first ever Greek representative at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, with the song “Ligo krasi, ligo thalassa ke to agori mou” (“Some wine, some sea and my man”), which  ended 11th in Brighton. The world re-discovered her recently when she performed at the closing ceremony of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.