“Street food has become so fashionable – perhaps because it reflects the authentic soul of a given region. I was inspired to cook this recipe after enjoying delicious lamb meatballs on the streets of Athens.” This is how Raul Diaz introduces his latest food and wine recipe matching meatballs to the classic Greek wine variety Agiorgitiko in the latest of his monthly food and wine pairing series.
Raul Diaz knows what he is talking about when it comes to food and wine matching. His recent book Wines & Recipes, published in November 2020 (£30, www.winetraining.co.uk), won the Best in the World for Wine Education in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020.
Agiorgitiko is one of the most important black grapes grown on the Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece. This and Xinomavro, which dominates in the north of the country, are the most prized black grapes for wine making.
It grows best on the slopes of Nemea, at altitudes of between 250 and 800 metres, because Agiorgitiko requires the cooler temperatures that altitude provides to maintain its acidity. This variety can successfully be vinified in a wide variety of styles, ranging from light rosé and soft, fruity reds (made by carbonic maceration), to very bold, rich, and spicy wines and sometimes even sweet wines with sun-dried grapes.
Agiorgitiko is the most widely planted red grape variety in Greece covering an area of almost 4.000 hectares, mainly in Nemea. The name refers to Saint George, which used to be the name of Nemea.
Agiorgitiko is a beautiful variety with a great balance and without a pretentious character. Instead, we will find wines that offer delicious primary fruit.
Its best expression is found in Nemea where producers take a lot of care in the vineyards and winery to control extraction and oak maturation. The result is amazing! A lovely combination of deep fruit character with a soft texture on the palate.
Most of the wines produced from Agiorgitiko are made for early drinking (up to five years). However, we can also find wines that can age well, exceeding ten years of bottle ageing.
Light wines, produced from grapes grown at lower altitudes and frequently made using carbonic maceration, are easy drinking wines. The most complex wines come from the highest slopes, where the grapes can maintain their acidity. These spicy wines with big red fruit aromas are high in tannins and possess great ageing potential.
Plum, blackberry, raspberry, pepper, toast.
Attica, Epirus, Macedonia, Nemea
Meatballs with Tzatziki
Street food has become so fashionable – perhaps because it reflects the authentic soul of a given region. I was inspired to cook this recipe after enjoying delicious lamb meatballs on the streets of Athens, although my recipe uses minced beef in place of lamb. With its spicy character, good acidity and mix of red and black fruits, Agiorgitiko is a lovely accompaniment.
This is a classic Greek recipe that brings lots of memories to my mind.
Keftedes are the Greek meatballs.
When you make meatballs, your kitchen is filled with aromas of herbs and meat. Meatballs are usually served as a starter – locals refer as “Meze” – but they can also be served as a main course. A great serving combination can be with chips and/or fresh salad. If you prepare them as a starter or as a main course, you must always make the famous yoghurt-based dip called Tzatziki. This is a very fresh addition to the recipe. This dip brings refreshing acidity, lots of aromas, flavours, and a creamy texture to balance the delicious crunchy taste of the meatballs.
1. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a small saucepan over a low–medium heat and gently cook the onion until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Put the cooked onion, beef mince, coriander, thyme, and chilli flakes in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix everything together until well combined, without over mixing. Divide the mix into 10 evenly sized portions and roll into balls.
3. Heat the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the meatballs and fry for around 6–8 minutes, turning them a couple of times during cooking. They are done when they are nicely browned on all sides and no longer pink in the middle.
4. Served the meatballs with fresh tzatziki and warm pita bread.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
200g beef mince
a bunch of coriander,
finely chopped teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
sea salt and black pepper
To serve: pita bread, warmed
Good value option
Thronos Nemea, Athanasiou, Agiorgitiko, Organic, Nemea, Greece 2020
Athanasiou Fysis, Agiorgitiko, Organic, Nemea, Greece 2019
Try from Lemonia Restaurant, Primrose Hill, London. £40
- Raul Diaz is an award-winning author of Wines & Recipes, published in November 2020 (£30, www.winetraining.co.uk), Best in the World for Wine Education in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2020. A Chilean-born sommelier who became a WSET-certified wine educator, he now runs his own business, Wine Training School. He has been a TV wine presenter for Sunday Brunch, Channel 4 for several years. He is UK Ambassador for VDP German wines, and in 2018 received the award for Rioja Communicator of the Year.