Great Greek fare and superb wines from Rhodes and Santorini in Skopelos.
Contribution by blogger, Johan du Toit
We recently joined friends for a quick mid-winter break to Skopelos, the green, southernmost Greek island in the Aegean. Although the stage for Mamma Mia turned out to be more rustic than charming, the food and wine held some pleasant surprises in store. Apart from multiple ‘frappes’ (iced coffees) we were also introduced to the local “house wines”.
The phylloxera plague that destroyed the vines of most of Europe around 1863 to 1865, somehow only reached Skiathos and Skopelos in 1940. The disaster here was so widespread that all the vineyards planted to indigenous cultivars were destroyed and farmers did not have the means to source and replant the grafted vines that changed the face of the European vineyards.
In the 80’s most families started to replant small vineyards for their own use – literally delivering wine for the house. This wine is made in small quantities, mostly from Asyritko, a local white variety, and can be bought at most little eateries on the beaches either by the jug or half jug and is inexpensive, dry and very drinkable.
Skopelos is not one of the glitzy party Greek islands and going there meant mostly exploring the island, its multiple unspoilt beaches and enjoy the fresh seafood that is readily on offer everywhere.
Taking our lead from TripAdvisor for a good lunch spot, we travelled to the village of Glossa. High up on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the quay below, sits Agnanti Restaurant, with doors that open onto the balcony, framed by vines, absolutely picture perfect! The owner quickly seated us and almost immediately served ice cold water, which was most welcome on a sweltering day, as we had walked far up the steep, narrow streets to get there.
The menu was extensive, with loads of starters and very traditional dishes like pork stew, meatballs and an array of fish and vegetables, all prepared to perfection. The wine list surprised me a tad; there were only Greek wines on the menu, from mostly Rhodes, Santorini and also wines from the mainland, but nothing from elsewhere in the world. Not knowing Greek wines, I was concerned that we were in for dry spell.
We soon spotted a Sauvignon Blanc blend and decided to see how it compared to those back home. The wine (‘Voila’ from Santorini) was outstanding, with a nose of passion fruit and peach, a soft, slightly thicker texture, with a citrusy, fresh palate and a very balanced, gently savoury linger – a great food wine. A perfect accompaniment for deep fried salt and pepper squid, grilled sheep’s milk cheese with a sweet sauce and slow baked zucchini bread. Lunch here was not a rushed affair and more of the interesting dishes were washed down with copious amounts of wine. Skopelos was just starting to get ‘wine-interesting’.
On another excursion to a beach on the other side of the island, we were in for a bit of a surprise. A trip to the quay where a favourite scene from Mama Mia was filmed made for a challenging afternoon, food-wise. The restaurant came highly recommended for its traditional and authentic seafood dishes, and this should have made me sit up and pay attention.
We ordered the speciality of the day – freshly-caught, stuffed squid.
The entire (sizable) animal with eyes, tentacles, tail and beak was served, flame grilled with some sea greens du jour. Not really knowing how to dismantle the creature, we pretty much ate our way around it and tried to drink the occasion better, this time with an Asyrtico from Rhodes, with strong lemony flavours and racing acidity and a creamy note in the end, refreshing but not challenging. Perhaps wrestling the kraken into submission was challenge enough.
Skopelos with its friendly people, beautiful white pebble beaches and unforgettable sunsets was well worth a visit. My advice to prospective travellers to these greenest islands of the Aegean, is to be brave, explore the quaint village and don’t miss out on the food and wines from Greece.