Thessaloniki is by no means just the little sister of the Greek capital Athens. A young, dynamic wine community wants to establish it as a new wine and food hotspot. Anke Sademann travelled to the country's second largest city. She experienced pioneering spirit, courage and plenty of flavour.
The urban face of Salonikis is charmingly furrowed. A major city fire (1917) and an earthquake (1978) destroyed three quarters of the old town centre. Today, the wine addresses of Salonikis are embedded in a wild mixture of promenades, narrow alleyways, harbour piers, weekly markets, new buildings stacked like cardboard boxes, art deco façades, concrete ruins and Byzantine UNESCO monuments such as churches, basilicas, a monastery and ancient archaeological sites. The city in the western Aegean has only been open to tourists for a few years In Focus.
Salonikis hold their tavernas with bifteki, choriatiki and tzatziki sacred. Lunch is short and light, dinner is long and late. White wine is the favourite drink in Greece, even in winter. It can taste a little flowery with fresh acidity. The Greeks are less fond of red wine, preferring it to be light in alcohol and aged in oak. Retsina, which is flavoured with Aleppo pine resin, has a long history of production in Thessaloniki. Thanks to young hosts, it is now established in the city to simply drink a glass of wine from one of the Greek wine terroirs or from all corners of the world. Many local Kravgì (wines) from 300 autochthonous Greek grape varieties from the 143 wine regions are experiencing their revival in the glass here.
The region on the edge of the Thermaic Gulf looks back on an ancient wine history. The wineries - also known as "Ktíma" - are spread around Thessaloniki within a maximum radius of 120 kilometres. Just over an hour away is the city escape and wine region of Chalkidiki with its three "feet". This is what the people of Thessaloniki call the peninsulas of Kassándra, Sithonia and Athos. Here, city dwellers enjoy the sun, but also vines such as the Retsina variety Roditis, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Rouge, Cabernet Sauvignon and the very local Xinomavro. Wines made from the Malagousia grape can also be found on many of the city's menus as a fruity, powdery white wine with a low alcohol content.
A young, zeitgeist-focussed wine community has only been established in Thessaloniki for a decade. The programme ranges from natural, organic and authoritative Greek wines from young winemakers to conventional and international experimental wines. Many of the wine and culinary insider addresses can be found in the lower town and along the waterfront promenade: between the White Tower, Salonikis landmark from Venetian-Ottoman times, Aristotle Square and the former Byzantine harbour area. The sound of the traffic rushing past tirelessly is just as much a part of the wine culture colouring as the sonorous murmur of the business and shopping avenues.
Not far from the White Tower (Lefkos Pyrgos), Soultana and Elena welcome their regular guests to the Souel Wine Studio. The name of the living room-like "wine microcosm" with bottles from a collection of 200 labels from Greece, Europe, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa is made up of their first names. After working on the islands of Mykonos and Santorini for a long time, the sisters opened the first "Wine Concept Bar" in this form ten years ago, despite a lot of headwind. The red Oenops 2020 from the Limniona grape from Drama has a beautifully smoky, mineral flavour between black dried fruit and cherry.
Close to the former Byzantine harbour is another women's wine domain in the heart of Ladadika. The nightlife district, which has been revitalised since the 1990s, is literally overflowing with restaurants, tavernas, bars, music venues and ouzerienas. While the club sound waves from the rooftop nightclubs, some of which are not entirely legal, drift over the rooftops towards the sea, sommelier Vivian Teperidou welcomes guests to Sintrofi.
The glass restaurant sits in the bend of a side street, diagonally opposite a concrete ruin. Standing stools are lined up around the open kitchen cube for the curbside pick-up at the roadside. The large terrace is like sitting in an urban canyon.
Sintrofi cooks with all the parameters of sustainable organic cuisine: from zero waste to zero sulphur in the accompanying wines from small producers. Teperidou likes wines with experimental friction that are both funky and grounded. She can no longer smell strawberry and flowery "girly wines", she says and chooses a Litani from Afianes Wines made from Begleri grapes from the Ikaria region to sample. The wine balances its fruity tendency with an almost metallic flavour.
Like his colleague, sommelier Aggelos Bachotouzis from the fine modern seafood & oyster restaurant Grada Nuevo completed his training at the WSPC (Wine, Spirits, Coffee, Beverage) Modern Sommelier School in Thessaloniki and London.
He mainly offers Greek wines in vintage depth. The maturation span covers a decade. "This corresponds to our name, which comes from the Spanish seafaring language and stands for the varying density of the wines," explains Bachotouzis, pointing to his collection of Canava Chrissou - Tselepos from Santorini (2017-2022) and 100 wines from France to New Zealand in the wine cabinet. These are reflected in the name as well as the illustrated latitudes running decoratively across the walls.
Salty and fruity don't go together. The sommelier recommends mineral wines to accompany the seven oyster varieties such as Diamants, Concave or Shiny. A Xinomavro Blanc de Noir goes perfectly with dishes such as grouper ceviche or red mullet in bouillabaisse.
The tourists have brought their preferences with them, in Thessaloniki people would simply have been too comfortable for bold wine explorations for a long time. Sommelier Thomas Xristodoulou from wine restaurant Franky's Funky Wine wants to change that. 170 international and Greek wines are paired with chef Antonis Reggina's sophisticated European fusion flavour cuisine. These include international wines from California, Argentina and New Zealand as well as classic Europeans and natural wines. He changes the list of wines draped over a piano in the Greco-Francophile parlour every month.
Thessaloniki, with its beauty that is not without its wrinkles, has a wine topography full of contrasts. From the highest point of the "old city" - the Kástro neighbourhood with its Eptapirgio citadel surrounded by medieval city walls - the city spills out like a sea of stone to the beach as a hybrid between tradition and zeitgeist. The sea may not be accessible to passers-by at any point in the city, but the view takes the eye all the way to Mount Olympus and the new wine-growing horizons.
There's no coffee in Greek tavernas, you drink it in the coffee shop next door. Father is a synergy between barista culture, baked goods such as baklava (typical Thessaloniki pita pastries), electro sound and a vinyl shop. A small selection of fine natural wines has recently been added. Ask for wine barista Haris!
The first concept wine bar in Thessaloniki is celebrating its tenth anniversary. 200 wines from all over the world can be enjoyed with small snacks at the pioneers' living room-sized wine studio. A warm place for friends and wine fans.
Close to the harbour, sommelier Thomas Xristodoulou serves wines from the Old and New World. In the Francophile cosy bar ambience, wine and food pairing take place at eye level. Antonis Regginas' southern European fusion cuisine is a dream.
Here you can enjoy fine, sustainable dining on the terrace with local produce. The ambience is the perfect prototype of urban-Salonik and modern. Sommelier Vivian Teperidou serves selected organic, orange and natural wines on the large terrace.
The ambitious sommelier Aggelos Bachotouzis combines a hundred global and Greek positions with vintage depth to create modern interpretations of seafood in a cosmopolitan, sophisticated ambience. The finesse of the fish dishes is hard to beat. The choriatiki (Greek salad) in gazpacho is a successful interpretation of the traditional.
Xaroupi, which looks inconspicuous from the outside, is located on the edge of the lively Ladadika neighbourhood. Named after the ancient grain from Karum, it turns out to be an elegantly designed and multi-award-winning culinary temple with Cretan specialities and wines. Instead of ouzo, you can drink the more flavourful fennel raki here.
Probably the most stylish bar and food address in Thessaloniki is located by the sea. Cocktails, wines and trendy food attract a young target group to the concrete peninsula almost three kilometres south of the centre. Opposite is a modern sculpture garden.
This hip fusion of wine bar, club and restaurant has a touch of luxury about it. Themed evenings with guest DJs feature around a hundred wine labels. On Friday and Saturday evenings, the party continues into the pedestrian zone. A trendy hanging garden grows inside.
It's like dipping into a glass of red wine: a small restaurant declared as a jazz and wine club on Salonikis oldest, bustling Olympou Street not far from the Byzantine church of Agion Apostolon.
One of the city's best classics since 1977, the family-run Diagonios serves the best bifteki, gyros and souvlaki from the city's wood-fired grill. The side dishes such as steamed spinach and jacket potatoes are also spot on. Matching: the classic wine list.
This typical taverna is located in the centre of the bustling Kapani weekly market - one of the oldest in Saloniki. While watching the colourful hustle and bustle of the market, classic dishes such as handmade biftekakia (Greek burgers) or meatballs in tomato sauce are cooked on the wood-fired grill according to a family recipe.
The two-storey Kitchenbar in the old warehouses on the southernmost pier of the harbour is a top-located, atmospheric culinary mile on the seafront. With a view of the ferry pier with its vintage crane, Thessaloniki's city skyline with the White Tower and the sea, you can sit here for hours.
Bright, modern, small wine cellar right next to the Agias Sophia promenade not far from the central Aristotelous Square. Mezedes - Italo-Greek snacks - are served on tables made from large wooden trunks to accompany the wine from Greek winegrowers.
"The authentic terrace bar with the best view in the city!" is what the Castra terrace bar in the Kàstro neighbourhood claims to be. And it's true: located at the highest point of the city at the foot of the citadel and city wall on the "Byzantine Acropolis", the view over the city and the sea could hardly be better.