Greek Master of Wine Lazarakis Says Greece Needs to Rediscover, Preserve Old Varieties

Konstantinos Lazarakis. (Photo by ANA)

Greek winemakers need to rediscover and preserve old indigenous varieties that have been forgotten in recent decades, Konstantinos Lazarakis, who has earned the prestigious title of Master of Wine, told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) in an interview published on Sunday.

There are 380 masters of wine worldwide, working in 28 countries, of which only two are Greek. Lazarakis was the first to win the title.

Speaking to ANA on the occasion of the 18th Thessaloniki International Wine Competition and the 4th International Thessaloniki Spirits Competition, organized by the Wine Producers Association of the Northern Greece Vineyard, Lazarakis said the label is the Achilles heel of Greek wines because they are all in Greek, making it difficult for foreigners to read.

ANA: Will we see more Greek Masters of Wine in the future?

“The second Greek ΜW, Yiannis Karakasis, graduated from our school. He worked in the Navy and simply liked wine, but decided to claim the title and win it. At the moment, two other Greeks are in the program – have been admitted and are studying – while others are expected to apply this summer. If we are lucky, in seven years from today we will have four more Greek MW.”

ANA: Does having “Masters of Wine” from a specific country also affect positively the prestige and reputation of the wines produced by that country?

“Absolutely. We need as many people as possible to circulate globally in meetings and draw attention to Greek wines in the right way. And a Master of Wine can do that.”

ANA: What do foreign MWs think of Greek wines today?

“They understand that Greek wines are now in living rooms. And that, potentially, some of these wines may be “great” [wines]. The real question, however, is how this knowledge about Greek wines will go further. How will it reach the level where a consumer in a restaurant in London will have a list of good wines in front of him and think that the Greek wine is just as good? On this, we are getting better, but we are not yet close. It takes time.”

ANA: In Greece, there are many varieties that have been consigned to oblivion. Does it make sense to invest to bring them back to life? Do you think that “great wines” can be produced from those?

“Yes. We need to go back and not just discover but also preserve varieties that could evolve into the next Malagousia or the next Xinomavro. The case of Malagousia, which came back to the forefront thanks to Carras and Gerovassiliou’s love and care, and made many producers think that ‘treasures’ might be hiding in their grandmother’s, says a lot. Statistically speaking, among all these forgotten varieties, there are certainly some ‘treasures’. Other countries have also taken their winemakers to the old vineyards so they can save whatever might exist there, before it is destroyed.”

ANA: How important are packaging and the bottle for wine sales?

“Packaging plays a role in specific cases, but if you do not like the state, you don’t like the taste. The importance of the bottle varies from one market to another. In the U.S., for example, they do not like heavy bottles (where expensive wines are usually bottled); in the sense that it is considered that such a bottle has a high – and therefore unwanted – ecological footprint when it travels from Greece to the U.S. What is very important is the label, and for me the label is the Achilles heel of Greek wine. I believe that if we wanted to award the worst label in Greek wines, we would have had a lot of trouble choosing. Take for example the label functionality. Millions of tourists are coming to Greece and many are asking for bottled wine – and there has been a lot of effort to ask for bottled and not bulk wine – and there is not a single word in English on the label, so it makes no sense for the tourist to photograph the wine and upload on Instagram.”

ANA: Can a high price attract consumers believing that “since it is so expensive, is it also good”?

“If I try to convince my wife, who does not know about cars, that Maybach is an excellent car, presenting her the technical characteristics of the engine or exhausts etc, she will not be impressed. If I tell her that this Maybach costs 600,000 euros, her eyes will pop out and say “Wow!” There are two schools on the issue of price: According to one of them, the price is given by the market and is linked to quality. In this regard, there is an example of a very old winery in France which, while 40 years ago it sold its wines at a price equivalent today to 20 euros, it now sells 10,000 euros a bottle because the quality of the wine justifies it and the market allows it. According to the second school, we slap a high price on a wine on a whim and hope it will attract consumers who will feel that expensive means good.

But if, to attract attention, we sell a wine in Greece for 70 euros, the consumer will buy it once, perhaps even a second time, but the third time he will not buy it if the quality does not justify it. There are many such wines that have fallen by the wayside in Greece. Of course, if the quality of a wine is high and justifies the price, which is true of several Greek wines, then its prospect may be very positive.”