My name is Nikolas Giannopoulos and I am a sommelier, as the French would have it. I was born in Athens and grew up in Nea Smirni and Rhodes.
I would prefer it if being a sommelier was not regarded as a profession since for me, and most of my colleagues, it is a way of life that extends to many aspects of everyday existence.
A winter wind brought me to gorgeous Halkidiki two years ago to put together the wine list and oversee the design of the cellars for the ambitious project of Ikos Resorts. I still remember that morning in February when I landed in Macedonia airport and the effusive local driver took me to Nea Moudania. The hotel hadn’t actually been finished and I was, indeed, the first ever guest to stay in the room which the sweetest of receptionists led me to. As soon as I impatiently opened the curtain, I stood open-mouthed for several seconds, trying to take in the stunning view of the sea that to me looked more like an ocean. This is in fact the concept behind the name Ikos Oceania.
That day the sky was overcast and the dim light turned this image into a collage of colour where grey merged with the different shades of blue. Later on, while walking on the beach, I listened to the waves embellished by the songs of many bird species that nest there and took a deep breath of the sea breeze. I think that day has been etched on my mind and taken up residence in my heart forever.
A few months later, I found myself in Ikos Olivia in Gerakini charged with exactly the same task. On the way from Moudania, I discovered the rich natural beauty of Halkidiki with olive and orange groves as well as yews, thyme and all the herbs that cover this blessed land. I actually asked the driver to stop for a while so I could pick a few sprigs of lavender for my closet and some thyme for a hot beverage.
In Moudania, you can enjoy tasty fresh hand kneaded bread. In Gerakini, the order of the day is delicious fresh fish as well as local delicacies. Head to Potidaia if you’re in need of a wild night or two! But wherever you are in Halkidiki you will drink wonderful, authentic local wines by great wine producers who have recently put the area on the map thanks to their skills and craftsmanship honed over 2,500 years of viticulture. Aside from the wine, everywhere in Halkidiki you will taste the nectar called extra virgin olive oil, not to mention the unique green olive oil.
After dozens of visits to Halkidiki, I declare myself a fan and request the privilege of being an honorary citizen of Nea Moudania!
During my following visits I had the chance and the pleasure to see several aspects of beautiful Halkidiki. I was in Ikos Oceania, enjoying a glass of red wine from the region and smoking my favourite Monte Christo, when I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life. Sometimes, when nightfall finds me in the office, tired from a day’s work, I close my eyes for a while and picture that very sunset and scene it smiled down upon. The colours. The warm, honest, authentic and sweet people. Their booming laughter. The smiling girls. The wonderful aromas wafting in from the fields.
And I long for the next time I will once again be in the midst of it all. To let go. To make time an irrelevance. This place has existed for thousands of years ago will continue to stun and delight the many generations to come.