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22 February 2023

Tannini Agapi Mou – alternative in every sense

By Olga Antoniadou

I have become quite a bore these days with all this studying business. I don't go out anymore. I've missed all that is going on in the centre, no cinema, no theatre, no live music, and I have shrunk the life of the poor man who married me to our kitchen and living room watching Poirot or Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries after 10:30 at night. So you can imagine the fun we have! I used to have a boss who used to refer to Nick as a 'neo'martyr, and that drove me bonkers. He might have been right, after all.

So, this past Friday, I decided it was time to hit the city. Nick had a business engagement, and I figured enough is enough. I needed an outing. Period. Let's have a girls' night out (I can hardly call myself a girl, but what the heck, I feel like one), I thought. So, my two friends and I decided to visit a wine bar in downtown Athens known for stocking only low-intervention, natural, organic and biodynamic wines, almost entirely from Greek varietals.

In all honesty, I haven't made up my mind yet on whether I like these wines or not. I'm definitely pro sustainability and regenerative practices, I definitely agree with the principles of low intervention and natural wines, but I have had great wines and a number that were way below the mark. Where does one draw the line as to what is a 'good' wine and what is plain undrinkable, despite the 'healthier' concept? Anyway, I was a little apprehensive on my way down to Tannini Agapi Mou wine bar (Tannin, my love) in Exarchia in the centre of Athens. Traditionally a part of the city that houses alternative, anti-conformist initiatives.

I decided to walk from the Ambelokipi metro station. I would be drinking, so it would be safer not to drive. Took me about fifteen minutes of hasty walking. It had been some time since I had been in this area. I used to work there ages ago and have spent a good part of my student life there. It's changed. Now it is a cross between decadent, almost desolate, lively, and fun—an Athens Soho or Camden (before the makeover). I had met George, one of the partners, when we did our Diploma tasting class in London and every Sunday since, we practised our tasting together. A lovely guy who, after working for ten years in Dubai as an engineer, decided to give everything up for wine. Stergios, one of the other partners, I met on the spot. An artsy man with eyes that twinkled, the craziest moustache I have ever seen, with clearly radical opinions. He set up the place initially, and his reasoning was that everything used, both inside and out, should come from sustainable sources.

As I neared the venue, I could hear voices, laughter, and jazz music playing in the background. The first thing that struck me was the pink neon sign hanging in the window with the name. I silently smiled. The pavement was strewn with tables, metal framed wooden chairs, the kind we had in primary school, and gas heaters—a big pot filled with water for the stray animals. I was already warming on them. This animal soft spot always means a lot. I looked around and couldn't believe the place was packed with young people. Do they know about natural wine???

Inside, small but ever so cute. Bar tables running the way around the window with bar stools and chairs, plants, a work area that doubles as an extra bar-table area, and a fancy cutter for the cured meat they serve; the decoration is altogether light, translucent, and funky. Enamel tableware coloured thick plastic glasses, water poured from jugs. The xxl wine list is encased in plexiglass and arrives together with a ruler to help you read through it. On the front side, 100 wines, 97 of which are offered by the glass (few by the half glass), and on the other side some nice salads, sandwiches, pizza, cheese, cured meats and, if I recall correctly other drinks. 

A great number of indigenous varieties are from almost everywhere in Greece. Some I had never heard of before. No fancy big-time producers. Mostly small wineries. Included, of course, pioneers of the natural wine scene in Greece, like Sklavos and Tatsis. To give you an idea, we tasted a rosé Mavropatrino from Syflogo winery in Lefkada, an Avgoustiatis from Skoutas winery in Latzoi of Ilia, Mavrodaphne from Sklavos winery in Cephalonia, Limniona from Vinifera winery in Distomo of Boeotia, Xinomavro from Navitas winery in Litohoro of Pieria and a Petit Syrah from Xydakis winery in Mykonos. All were very pure expressions, distinctive, exciting and well-crafted wines.

There is also a separate basement which is accessed through the side outside, down a flight of cement stairs. This has a more 50's atmosphere, reminiscent of the tiny jazz bars in NYC or New Orleans. On the right is a wall stacked with all their wines in individual pockets, both storage space and an element of design. Here the jazz music that is played comes from vinyl records, and they hold live music events. Very atmospheric. After our quick peek downstairs, it was time to leave. But we will certainly be going back. After all, this is the kind of place that becomes one's hang-out. Leisurely, informal, friendly, run by people who know their wine. 

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