Child of a Homer scholar and student of ancient Greek, Susannah Smith was working at Flatiron Wines in NYC seven years ago when she was invited on a trip to Greece. She was not a journalist, so there was no conflict to prevent her from traveling with an importer and, as it turned out, that first visit to the island of Crete was an alignment of all her interests: a deep history to explore, great undiscovered wines, talented people doing fascinating work in virtual anonymity.
She returned on her own steam in 2020, revisiting some of the local legends she’d met earlier, like Giannis Economou, whose wines continue to capture her imagination, and Giannis Siganos, a retailer who champions exceptional growers making wine from Crete’s local varieties, vines that powered a robust export business for millennia, before Turkish occupation effectively shut it down. Pockets of ancient vines remain, as does a rich food culture, together sparking a revival Susannah explores in her article for this issue.
Donald Haggis traces that food culture back to the Minoans, who thrived in small cities on the island in the late Bronze Age. Smith introduced me to Haggis, a colleague of her father’s and now the chair of the classics department at UNC-Chapel Hill, with family roots in Crete. Haggis has devoted the better part of his career leading an archaeological dig on the island, exploring the lost city of Azoria, which flourished in pre-classical Greece. He introduced me to a word I did not know: commensality, the focus of his research and, coincidentally, the editorial focus of this magazine. Haggis studies the way humans build cultures through interactions around food and wine. As he prepared to head back to the dig, he described to me what it might have been like going out to dinner in 500 BCE. He provides perspective on the ancient rituals around food and wine and how they may have set the table for our contemporary culture.
While I was speaking with Haggis, Stephanie Johnson headed to Pompeii, and Patricio Tapia to Lima. They both set out to explore the ancient cultures that infuse our contemporary enjoyment of wine and food—in Stephanie’s case, imperial Rome, in Patricio’s, the imperial Incas and their predecessors, the Moche. Whether you plan to travel to Lima, Pompeii or Crete, or even just your own kitchen, their stories will give you plenty of food for thought.
To lighten things up, we’re also presenting plenty of wines that don’t necessarily demand deep thought. Alissa Bica polled a team of LA retailers on what to drink with a Double-Double from In-and-Out, or a Double Not from Mr. Charlie’s. And our team pored over all the wines we’ve tasted in the last year, to highlight the best for $20 or less. We’ve put together two buying lists: 36 All-Star producers, names you can trust when you’ve got $10 or $20 to spend; and our 100 Best Wines, individual bottles that perform way beyond their low prices. They’re bottles we’ll be sharing on our own mid-summer nights.
This story appears in the print issue of Summer 2022.
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