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Explore the Greek wines everyday! January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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At a recent tasting of a Greek wine portfolio, all Sotiris Bafitis Selections, I felt like a greenhorn again.

Bafitis is based in Washington, D.C.. Flavor was pretty much all we had to go on, because the grapes, roditis, sideritis, mandilaria, etc., all sounded like tropical fruits.  

The Greeks have been in the game for a long, long time. They brought grape growing and winemaking to Sicily and southern Italy ahead of the Romans. And yet, surprisingly, Greece is one of the last countries in the Mediterranean to have embraced modern winemaking technology. These grapes, among more than 300 ancient varieties recently identified in Greece, have no direct, proven connection to those grown in Italy, Spain or France.

Sotiris Bafitis is the Kermit Lynch, if you will, of Greece. Born in the United States, he spent much of his childhood in Greece, then moved back to finish his education at the University of Maryland. His interest in Greek wines grew slowly. Over the course of many years and frequent vacations, he began bringing more and more wines back with him. The burden of Greece’s miserable reputation didn’t faze him. He selected his wines from the best producers, shipped and stored them properly, and personally introduced them to chefs and sommeliers on the lookout for something new.

Today, the Sotiris Bafitis portfolio is a showcase for a renascent Greek wine industry, for ancient grapes crafted into sleek, stylish, ultra-modern wines. By ultra-modern I mean wines for this new century, that speak to our changing tastes.

Apart from the curiosity factor, there is a good practical reason for focusing on native Greek vines. They are naturally high in acid and suited to the country’s hot climate, while most international grape varieties simply wilt. The best vineyards are planted at higher elevations, the rows often north-facing, to mitigate the hot, dry summers. White wines are crisp, immaculate, with firm acids, moderate levels of alcohol and little or no oak. Their flavors often include citrus, green berry and melon, notes of straw and grain and a striking minerality. Red wines are medium-bodied, spicy, sometimes showing streaks of olive, dried herb and licorice.

The best way to approach these unfamiliar grapes and wines is through comparisons to styles that are better known. This is certainly not to detract from the originality and specialness of the Greek offerings, but it can help the palate tune in to the new flavors.

* Think of Lafazanis 2005 Roditis as a more interesting sibling to Italian pinot grigio. An elegant, floral wine, it blends scents of grain and citrus with cut flowers. There is a distinctive, penetrating finish, and an overwhelming impression of summer, more than welcome at this miserable time of year.

* The 2005 Petra from Kir-Yianni takes the same grape and ramps it up in intensity, with more concentration, slightly higher alcohol (13 percent) than the Lafazanis, and hints of flint and limestone.

* The 2004 Canava Argyros is made from the assyrtiko grape. It’s a single-estate, with 80-year-old vines, and the wine has the waxy texture of semillon. Flavors suggest melon and light herb, along with a supple richness that jumps gracefully through many delicate flavor changes.

* If you love the floral/citrus flavors of viognier, you will enjoy the 2005 Gerovassiliou Malagousia. OK, you’ll have to practice a bit before you order a bottle of this tongue-twister, the grape is pronounced mah-lah-goo-ZYA, you’re on your own with the producer, but Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Greek wine renaissance. Moderate alcohol (12.5 percent), lovely floral scents, delicate flavors of citrus tinged with jasmine and mint make for a thrilling experience.

I tasted fewer red wines and found them a bit more challenging, but one, also from Kir-Yianni, is my Pick of the Week. For more information on these and other Sotiris Bafitis selections, visit www.sotirisbafitisselections.com

Kir-Yianni 2004 Paranga Red > The reference grape for this bright, fruity Greek red is barbera. Kir-Yianni’s blend is predominantly xinomavro, the rest agiorghitiko, made in an all-stainless style. Ripe, sweet scents of fresh-picked cherries and spicy raspberries greet your sniffer, and the wine follows with forward, balanced, strikingly clean and polished fruit flavors. Grab this jewel, roast a turkey, and be glad that you can get all this flavor at just 12.5 percent alcohol.

Beef tenderloin from Greece with pride January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Taste World.
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Helen Charuhas is 100 percent Greek and proud of it. “I speak it, I write it and I cook it,” she said.

She is so proud, in fact, that she got her husband, Pete, to construct a restaurant for her in Fenwick Island.

Since its opening in 1998, Captain Pete’s has been honored three times by Delaware Today as the state’s top Greek restaurant. Charuhas says that the secret to great Greek food is slow cooking. And her signature dish, Kapama, is no exception.

Kapama starts with cubes of beef tenderloin that are seared and simmered with cloves, cinnamon and tomato sauce for up to three and a half hours. The plate is completed with Greek-style pasta tossed with three cheeses, then sizzled with browned butter and olive oil, and a choice of vegetable. All of Captain Pete’s entrées are served with fresh baked bread, dips and salad.

The recipe for Kapama is from Pete’s side of the family, which is originally from Sparta, a city in southern Greece known for its history as the city-state that defeated Athens in the first Peloponnesian War. The menu also features dishes from Helen’s family, who hails from Corinth and the Aegean Islands.

“Most of my Greek things come from Greece,” she said. “We want it to be an experience when you come here.”

The olive oil used in the restaurant comes from olives grown in Greece on Pete’s trees. During the second season, it arrives in five-gallon cans shipped by the dozen. In the summer, they use 55-gallon drums.

The dining room is decorated with blue and white table settings along with paintings and plates paying homage to Greece and its history. As far as the name of the restaurant is concerned, Pete said that it is mostly because of their selection of seafood.

“I have a boat and I do sportfishing,” he said. “In southern Maryland I have friends who have boats and we go out for tuna.” “Greeks are excellent fishermen,” Helen explained. “Greeks eat a lot of seafood.”

For dessert, try the homemade baklava or rice pudding. But whatever you choose, whether it is from the land or the sea, eat something because, as a Greek proverb says, “If you don’t eat, you cannot function.”

Slow progress in the NBA prompts signs of agitation January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Basketball.
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Greece guard and former Panathinaikos star Vassilis Spanoulis transferred to the NBA’s Houston Rockets last summer believing that he would quickly figure prominently in the world’s most prestigious basketball competition.

But, several months into his latest career challenge, Spanoulis has yet to establish himself. Club officials stress that patience is required, but in recent press reports the ambitious 23-year-old player has shown signs of growing agitation.

“We like the player we signed,” Rockets’ General Manager Caroll Dawson was quoted as telling the Houston Chronicle. “But there’s a process you go through. Dirk Nowitzki, had to go through it. Look at guys like Toronto’s Jose Calderon, Orlando’s Carlos Arroyo. Even the late Drazen Petrovic, who they all look up to. It took him four years to make an impact. We want this kid here.”

Spanoulis, a key player in Panathinaikos’s domestic and European successes, as well as Greece’s remarkable recent years that yielded a gold medal at the Europeans in 2005 and silver at the Worlds a year later, with a semifinal win against the USA, has had to settle with spending most of his time on the bench in his debut NBA season.

“I came here to help my team, to put my talent into it and do many things,” Spanoulis told the Houston Chronicle. “I am a patient person. But I don’t want to stay on the bench for the season.”

The 1.93-meter guard, who joined the Houston Rockets on a three-year deal, has averaged 10 minutes in 18 of the Rockets’s first 41 games. He is shooting 31.1 percent and has 20 assists and 18 turnovers.

“I feel badly for him. He feels he was misled. Frankly, he’s been his own enemy in many ways… His turnovers have been high; his fouls have been high; his shooting percentage has been low. I would rather anybody start out with self-evaluation, what can I do better? versus lash out and blame,” coach Jeff Van Gundy told the Houston Chronicle.

Last weekend, a Greek newspaper quoted the player as saying: “There’s always the possibility that I might leave. It doesn’t depend on me, but they can’t keep me a prisoner either.” Spanoulis is the third Greek player trying to make it in the NBA. The previous two, Antonis Fotsis and Efthymis Rentzias, both failed.

A poignant road to a new world January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.
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Maria Iliou’s documentary ‘The Journey: The Greek American Dream’ has a companion exhibit > The Princess Irene, an ocean liner took Greek immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century.

The crowds of Pakistanis waiting outside their Εmbassy in Kolonaki has become a frequent scene in the neighborhood. As Greece has recently become a destination for thousands of immigrants, scenes like this have become routine.

But it was not that long ago, at least when considered in the far-reaching context of history, that Greece was not a country of immigrants but of emigrants. Poverty and the hope for a better future had sent thousands of Greeks abroad. The United States became a land of promise and from 1890-1920 more than 400,000 Greeks disembarked on Ellis Island after weeks-long difficult voyages on large ocean liners. Many had no money with them except for the $25 minimum required for their official acceptance into the country.

From this first wave of emigrants to the years of the Great Depression to the promising 1950s, when the second big influx of Greek migrants came, the story of Greek emigration is a moving saga that involved hardship and nostalgia. It was an often confusing road for immigrants, who had to forge a new identity and struggle to find success and recognition in their new land.

It is a rich story wonderfully told and revealed by film director Maria Iliou in collaboration with historian Alexander Kitroeff in «The Journey: The Greek American Dream,» a just-completed documentary that recently made its debut at the Benaki Museum and the Hellenic American Union (HAU).

The documentary is based on newly discovered visual material that Iliou gathered from archives throughout the United States during her three years of research. An exhibition which opened yesterday at the Benaki Museum presents the 100 photographs that were used in the documentary. Both the exhibition and the screening of the film have been organized in collaboration with HAU and Proteas, a non-profit, Athens-based organization that collects and studies material related to the story of Hellenism, which have collaborated with the Benaki for the exhibition and the screening of the documentary. Curated by Iliou and Kitroeff, the exhibition has a cinematic flow and is based on the documentary’s chronological structure.

An unusual image showing a man dressed in the traditional fustanella costume, carrying a bundle and crossing the bridge of the Corinth Canal, marks the symbolic start of «The Journey».

The images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island are filled with hope but are also a foreboding of hardship. For Reverend Vassilios, whose disappointed-looking portrait is among the pictures, hope was shattered when he was denied entry because he did not have the minimum $25 required for entry.

Those who made it through the checkpoint lived in poverty in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and turned to the so-called padroni (agents) to find jobs. They gave the padroni a portion of their wages. They worked as shoeshiners, a vocation in demand at the time, or street vendors and dreamed of becoming store owners. They were employed in the cotton mills of New England or the mines of Utah and Colorado or they became sponge divers in Florida. Many of them went to Chicago, the city with the largest Greek-American population until World War II. Unacceptable working conditions led to labor strikes. The Cretan Louis Tikas, a leader in one of the strikes, was shot in a riot.

These initial images of violence and suffering soon give way to pictures that suggest better living conditions. Having conquered the new land’s basic obstacles, the Greek Americans turned to building a community and consolidating a strong identity. The establishment of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 made that concern a necessity. The Greeks responded by founding both the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association (AHEPA) and the Greek American Progressive Association (GAPA).

Greek Americans also had their own heroes and leading members, who ranged from the champion wrestler Christoforos Theofilou to the renowned doctor and medical research Georgios Papanikolaou, who invented the Pap smear for early detection of cervical cancer. Both images, from the 1930s, are in the exhibit.

Yet it was not until the late 1940s that the first photograph that hints at a socially and economically successful Greek-American community appears. It is the photo of an annual dinner dance held at the Waldorf Astoria by the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce.

The portraits of Archbishop Athinagoras and esteemed Greek-American personalities testify to a thriving community. Among those portrayed are John Brademas, the first Greek American to become a member of the House of Representatives in 1959, maestro Dimitris Mitropoulos who conducted the New York Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s, the diva Maria Callas who debuted at the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1956 and film director Elia Kazan.

The final picture of the exhibition looks very much like the exhibition’s very first. It is an early 20th century portrait of a Greek boy dressed in the traditional fustanella, alluding to the Greek-American community’s growing interest in studying their cultural past. It is the symbolic ending of a long journey that is an important part of the history of Greece and the awareness of what it means to be Greek. Maria Iliou’s film is significant for reminding us of that journey, which is still a reality for so many other immigrants in the world.

«The Journey» at the main building of the Benaki Museum (1 Koumbari Street, Athens, tel 210 3671000-7) to February 25. Screening of the documentary at the Museum’s amphitheater Wed-Mon at 2 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. Additional hours for Thursdays (5.30, 7.00, 8.30 and 10.00 p.m. Some exceptions for particular dates apply). Sundays at 11 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. At the Hellenic American Union (22 Massalias Street, Athens) every Tuesday February 6-25 at 10 p.m.

Documentary mined a favorite theme > While browsing photo and film archives in New York City, where Iliou had traveled on Fulbright scholarship to do research on her film «A Friendship in Smyrna», she came across undiscovered material on the history of Greek emigration and decided to make a documentary on the subject.

The story of the Greek diaspora has been a favorite theme in Iliou’s work, evident in work such as the atmospheric «Alexandria» Iliou’s 2002 film. For «Journey» she collaborated with Alexander Kitroeff, a professor of history at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and a specialist in the history of the Greek diaspora.

Besides Kitroeff, other narrators who appear in the film include US Senator Paul Sarbanes, author George Pelecanos, poet Olga Broumas, Ellis Island archive director George Tselos, film critic Dan Georgakas, researcher Gus Chatzidimitriou, and professors Martha Klironomos and Artemis Leontis, who teach Modern Greek studies at universities in San Francisco and Ohio respectively.

Ancient Greek said to sharpen modern mind January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Learn To Speak Greek.
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Most teachers believe that Ancient Greek should be taught at all levels of junior high school to help students strengthen their knowledge of the modern language.

According to the results of a study by the Pedagogic Institute, 79.7 percent of teachers said that Ancient Greek offers students a stronger grasp of Modern Greek and particularly helps those who go on to study physics and mathematics.

Just over 68 percent replied that Ancient Greek also helps boost critical thinking and mental skills.

The study questioned 350 junior high school teachers across Greece. Survey results indicate that teachers would like to boost their teaching hours, a request they have made in the past, without success.

Seven metopes from the Parthenon in intensive care January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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Works to be removed from the northern colonnade for restoration

Several carved metopes on the western section of the entablature on the Parthenon’s northern colonnade are to be removed and replaced by copies.

The effects of atmospheric pollution have struck the Acropolis yet again. Seven ancient metopes on the western section of the entablature on the Parthenon’s northern colonnade are to be removed, although funds have not been found, and replaced by copies made out of artificial stone set by the Acropolis restoration staff. The originals are to be put in “intensive care” for restoration and then placed in the New Acropolis Museum.

A proposal by the Acropolis Monuments Conservation Committee after a study by Rosalia Christodoulopoulou, was approved by the Central Archaeological Council last month. Metopes Nos 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 are to be taken down. As in all other such cases where parts of ancient monuments are removed, there was a heated debate regarding authenticity.

According to the committee’s head, Haralambos Bouras, the issue is a formality. He reminded the council members that many foreign and Greek experts believe it is a “disgrace to leave antiquities to the mercy of acid rain, smog and the north wind.”

There are eight metopes on the western end of the northern entablature, all of which are decorated with sculptures. Five of them are uncovered, while the three at the western end are protected by a cornice.

The committee’s proposal follows the general principle applied in work on the Acropolis to replace sculptures and other sections that are removed with copies. This has already been done on the eastern end of the same entablature. The architectural parts of this area, according to the director of restoration, Dimosthenes Ziro, have cracks and other problems often encountered in monuments that have been restored in the past.

The metopes in particular have cracks about halfway along their length, where there had once been transverse sections linking them with the inner stonework.

Maria Ioannidou, head of the Acropolis restoration service, said that the work was necessary to save the monuments. As for the western end, which has not been touched, Bouras said it could not be taken down because because that would require demolishing the entire pediment, weighing dozens of tons, and “affecting the authenticity of the structure that no one has touched since antiquity.”

Rhino fossil found by luck January 24, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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A farmer from Elassona, northwestern Greece, has discovered, embedded in a large piece of coal, the jaw of a rhinoceros which lived up to 9 million years ago, paleontologists revealed yesterday.

The jaw measures 60×40 centimeters and has been examined by Athens University experts. It will soon be displayed at the Natural History Museum in Kozani.

Evangelos Velitzelos, a professor of geology at Athens University, said the find was “very significant.”

The professor said that the discovery could lead to other finds in a part of Greece that has already yielded significant relics. The world’s largest mastodon tusks were found in the area of Milia, near Grevena and close to the mine where the rhinoceros jaw was discovered.

Experts have not yet been able to date the fossil but they believe the rhinoceros lived 5 to 9 million years ago.