Masters of Wine #6: Yiannis Karakasis MW

Master of Wine (MW) is a qualification (not an academic degree) issued by The Institute of Masters of Wine in the United Kingdom. The MW qualification is generally regarded in the wine industry as one of the highest standards of professional knowledge. Join us to meet each Master of Wine in our monthly Masters of Wine interview. Yiannis Karakasis MW writes, consults, and educates on wine. He created the blog, which has been instrumental in communicating Greek wine to the world. He is the author of three books: the e-book The Vineyards and Wines of Greece (2017), The Natural Wines in Greece ( 2018), and The wines of Santorini (2021). Yiannis is a consultant for several businesses including hotel groups and restaurants, and co-founder of the First Growth Wine School in Cyprus. He also established the 50 Great Greek Wines Awards.

Source: Yiannis Karakasis MW

Yiannis, from an officer flying helicopters to a wine specialist. How did your passion for wine arise?


I think there was always an inner drive pointing me in that direction. To be honest, when I selected my professional path, I was between the Hellenic Naval Academy and becoming an Oenologist. I passed my exams for the Hellenic Naval Academy, becoming an officer and a helicopter pilot, but I presume that my passion for vineyards never subsided. In 2010 I left the Navy as a Commander, and the rest is history.


Like you have said: “Wine is not a destination; it is a constant journey.’’ How did your journey to becoming a Master of Wine define you as a person?

It defined me profoundly and permanently. The IMW’s mission is to promote excellence, interaction, and learning across all sectors of the global wine community. I try to follow these principles which are pretty much aligned with my naval background. You know the important thing is not only to become a top-notch wine professional but also to become a better person. This is how I see the evolution through the MW journey.


In 2015 your MW research paper topic was: The rise of alcohol. Can you tell us more about this research?

Yes, it was about the reasons for the rise of alcohol in the Naoussa region over a 20-year period. Fascinating to see all viticulture and vinification knowledge passing through the paper to arrive at the conclusion. This paper provided evidence that average alcohol and Baume levels have risen by 1.1% and 0.6% respectively over a twenty-year period from 1994 to 2013 inclusive. It also provided evidence that climate change has contributed to these rises. However, it also showed that changes in vineyard management and in the producers’ own desire for better levels of ripeness made a significant contribution.


Source: Yiannis Karakasis MW


In 2018 you published a book about Natural wines in Greece. Can you tell us a little bit more about Greece and its history regarding Natural wine?

Yes, it was a book in Greek which I felt was my responsibility to write not as a supporter or an adversary but as someone that cared deeply about this move and wants to drink nice wines. Unfortunately, we have all had and are still having a terrible experience with some natural wines. It takes courage, knowledge, and talent to produce delicious natural wine. And when the producer ticks all these conditions, we can enjoy a sensational wine. I also worry about the marketing of the term ‘’natural wines’’ as I find more and more producers jumping onto the ‘’natural wine trains’’ because it shows dynamics. In my mind, natural wines are the first philosophy, attitude, and way of life. On to your question now, Greece as a country with a long wine history, tradition, and culture has a strong affinity with what we now call natural wine. The thing in my eyes is the current expressions the country produces. And there are some great examples from producers such as Sclavos, Tetramythos, Georgas, Tatsis, Oenops, Chatzivaryti. Obviously, I am forgetting a few.



You’re the creator of ‘’50 great Greek wines’’. Can you tell us more about this project and why this project is so important?


50 GGW is not a competition of the kind we are familiar with. So it is easier for me to start describing what it isn’t. It’s not another wine competition where everyone receives a prize that is of little value in most cases (there are exceptions of course). The 50 GGW Project awards only the 50 top wines of those that participate in a very strict tasting with top wine judges. Very little information is provided regarding the wines tasted, usually only the category, i.e. if it is Assyrtiko, but certainly, no origin or retail price is provided. And we buy the wines from the market, no samples from the producers. The most important element is the promotion we do afterward. For example, for the 2020 edition (we announced the 2022 edition for May 2022):


We issued a Digital Book with the award-winning wines available for everyone at Greatgreakwines


We held events and masterclass either with a physical presence or online in Spain, Italy, Serbia, UK, Poland and of course Greece and Cyprus. One more is scheduled in the Netherlands.


We collaborated with retailers and wine shops and cooperated with restaurants both within Greece and overseas, the lists of which boast the wines of 50 GGW.


To conclude, 50GGW reflects our concern and passion for the future of Greek wine. If we manage to call attention to Greek wine through 50 GGW, all will benefit; that is our reasoning, that is what we see for the future.


What is your vision about Greek wine entering the European market? Do you think the Greek market is growing in comparison with what was happening 10 years ago?


I think it is growing in terms of reputation, we need to have patience for the numbers. Just two decades ago no one was talking of anything else besides bad quality retsina. Now Santorini Assyrtiko and some other Assyrtikos feature in top restaurant lists. There is a discussion about Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, Malagousia, Moschofilero, Robola and Vidiano. These are exciting times for wine drinkers. However, we need to strengthen the message of the quality and the story of Greek wines. Another reason for us in 50 GGW to work harder.



Source: Yiannis Karakasis MW


Congratulations on your new book: The wines of Santorini. Can you describe what this book is all about? (And where we can order)


Thank you. I am very happy with The Wines of Santorini and so proud of my team (Marios Karystios who designed it and Nikos Koustenis who took these unbelievable photos) as it is longlisted for Andre Simon Food and Drink Awards 2021.


With my book ‘The Wines of Santorini’ - with the support of Selene Restaurant - a work of about two years, I wanted to present a complete wine story that everyone can read about the magical wines of the island, an overview, and a reference base for visitors, wine lovers, and professionals. Its 400 pages include sections on history, grape varieties (starring Assyrtiko) and various terroirs, and sections on the present and the future of the island. In addition, all Santorini producers are covered, along with suggestions of wines worth looking for, some of which are well-hidden secrets. It is a book in which I dreamt of combining lots of insights and information but also art photography and design. A combination of high energy, low pH and intense minerality.


You can order the book via the following links at Mrvertigo and Atlantea


Source: Yiannis Karakasis MW

What was your vision behind the First Growth Wine School? What were the biggest lessons you’ve learned during the development of the school?


To expand the wine horizons in Cyprus. There is much to discover on the island and so much hidden potential that I wanted to contribute to a new wave of things. And WSET provides the basis for this discussion. Many lessons have been learned, but one of the biggest is the new Greek Cypriot words I learn every time I visit the island.


What do you love about teaching?


Everything. I have been educating people since I was in the navy. First educating and training new pilots, then came wine education. You might think it is very different; in reality, it is very similar. It is a very rewarding process when you see your student succeeding and improving. A unique feeling. This is my payback.


Which cellar wine will you open soon and why?

A new traditional method sparkling wine from Limniona. Just arrived.


Which Master of Wine should I interview next?


Christophe Heynen from Belgium.


 

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