Ioannina is relaxed, comfortable, and easy. With my bike parked safely inside the old city, I walk around and then outside the walls along the lake. I join other locals who are chatting, drinking coffee and juices and smoking cigarettes under umbrellas and tall trees that line the lake.
For dinner, I enjoy local cuisine at a restaurant tucked into a former mansion with a courtyard just outside the main gate of the old town. I wander the cobblestone pedestrian walkway lined with bars and sit down to enjoy a cold beer. Watching the world walk by, I see I’m not the only one sitting and watching—and not with my head buried into my iPhone. People talk to each other.
Later I walk to a cozy wine bar with a large courtyard with comfortable chairs on a beautiful stone patio. The bar stretches from an entrance on the street the runs outside the walls of the city, to a narrow cobblestone street on the next block. Last night the owner of DryOino, Jenny, shared with me local wines from the nearby wine regions. It was quiet, fun and the music mix was perfect for late night glasses of wine. During our goodbyes, I tell her I’d like to stay another night in Ioannina, but I must move on–that Greece has a strong grip on me. We hug, laugh and I thank her for her hospitality
Tonight, I meet her husband. They surprise me and have a bottle of wine I had asked Jenny about the night before, but it wasn’t available. Without knowing if I’d return, they still went out of their way, found the bottle so they could share with me if I returned.
“First,” her husband Panos tells me, “we have a sparkling rosé.” He pops a bottle of bubbly and pours three glasses. Tonight another traveler joins us at the wine bar, Patricjia, from Poland. Then Panos opens the bottle I searched for, a Paliokeisio by Glivanos, a semi-sparkling orange wine typically homemade and sealed with a bottle cap. The local winery Glivanos bottles it and Panos admits he doesn’t like it. It’s interesting, spritzy and simple. Just a glass is all I need, and I resort back to the sparkling rose.
We talk about Greek wine. Panos is passionate, knowledgeable and excited to talk to travelers interested in Greek wine. I ask about business. They opened two years ago, but there aren’t many customers tonight, nor last night. The bars on the pedestrian street were packed, but Dryoino is quiet. It not only serves wine and small snack plates but is also a wine store that carries wines from all over Greece. They explain that here people still do not understand wine and that it’s hard for locals to justify paying 10-€20 for a bottle of wine when they can get a 500ml carafe at a local restaurant for 3 or €4. But attitudes are shifting, and Jenny says in the winter months they are busier. I wish and hope for them to succeed.
Jenny expresses her love for Xinomavro, a thick hearty red grape most commonly found in the Naoussa region. Panos talks about the white wines of Santorini, from the Assyrtiko grape. Patricjia, who is on a month-long journey throughout Eastern Europe has yet to try wine from the grape that might be Greece’s quintessential varietal—most famous. So Panos pours us each a glass. Instead of pouring an Assyrtiko from Santorini, he pours one from northern Greece. It’s more fruity, citrus-like, and alive.
We are now getting geeky, talking about wine, and the difference between those Assyrtikos I’ve tasted from Santorini and trying to explain to Patricjia the difference–urging her to search, find and try one from Santorini before she leaves Greece. At that point, Panos gets up and in seconds brings several glasses of an Assyrtiko from Santorini. He poured them before and waited for the right moment to bring them.
So for my last night in Ioannina, between four people, all passionate and excited about Greek wine, we have a connection. We share stories, small bites of cheese and plenty of conversation–that evolves away from wine and to travel, history and politics.
It’s 3 AM when we say our goodbyes. Too late now as I hoped for an early start tomorrow. We’ll see. I want to visit the villages of Zagorohoria before crossing into Albania.