Monday, March 4, 2013

Greek Wines From Santorini



Santorini is a Greek island of incredible beauty and rich history.  Located in the Aegean Sea, about 120 miles southeast of the Greek mainland, it is the largest island in an archipelago.  Santorini’s winemaking history is said to date back to 3,500 B.C. although a cataclysmic event interrupted that history.

An incredible volcanic eruption around 1600 B.C. is responsible for the island’s terroir, not to mention the black sand beaches.  It took over 200 years for life to begin again on Santorini after the cataclysmic event.


The volcanic soil - known as aspa - has almost no organic matter, but it’s loaded with minerals, which shapes the island’s wine.  The lack of clay in the soil makes the vines immune from Phylloxera, so the vines of Santorini are likely the world’s oldest ungrafted vines.

The vines (above) grow in the volcanic soil and are trained in the shape of baskets, to protect them from the wind.  They don’t get a lot of rain, but the rain that does fall is taken in by the porous, rocky soil and held until it’s needed in summer.  Abundant fog also helps out, and the salty spray of the ocean delivers its own special salinity to the grapes.  Cooling winds from the north cover the island in summer, helping the grapes to retain their naturally high acidity.

There are only about half the number of vines on Santorini than there were in the 1960s, due to the  the difficulty of growing them and the popularity of the island as a tourist destination - the land is more valuable when developed.  The younger residents seem to be losing interest in grape growing and winemaking.  Every 75 years or so, the yield of the vines becomes so low that they are cut off at the root to allow new vines to grow.  It takes several years for a new vine to develop.

The wines of Santorini are mainly dry, white wines which have a trademark minerality and a crisp citrus element.  If you are the least bit interested in white wine, you owe it to yourself to try the wines of the island.  Vinsanto - a sweet wine tinted red - is also made there.

I had the opportunity to taste several wines produced on Santorini, provided for review by Wines from Santorini.

Artemis Karamolegos Nykteri 2010 

The Karamolegos Winery was founded in 1952 by Artemis Karamolegos.  He got the passion for winemaking from his grandfather.  Although a new and modern winery was built in 2004 to employ modern winemaking technology, the traditional ways are still their guiding light.

Labeled as Santorini Dry White Wine, the alcohol content is 13.5% abv.  This wine is a blend of 90% Assyrtiko and 10% Aidani.  the estate vineyards grow at an altitude of 150 meters, in the island’s volcanic soil.  The wine is fermented in oak barrels, and is aged on the lees in barrels for two months.  The retail price is $19.

The wine has a golden yellow tint in the glass - it looks rich and beautiful - and there is a lovely savory note on the nose.  Aromas of apricot and wet stones lead to flavors that are also mineral-based, with the taste of apricots just getting through a curtain of salinity.  Citrus on the finish, along with a very nice level of acidity, makes this a great wine to pair with food.  It's great with pepperoni pizza and really livens up a plain old tuna salad most excellently.

Sigalas Assyrtiko 2011

Paris Sigalas started making wine at his family’s home.  His winery is now a modern facility in the same village.  Sigalas was a mathematician, but grapes overtook numbers in his life.  It all adds up, though, because Sigalas is known for his wonderful efforts with the Assyrtiko grape.  He has devoted his life to preserving the winemaking traditions of the island he calls home, and protecting the viticultural practices used there.

His Assyrtiko wine carries an alcohol number of 13.5% abv, and is a blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri grapes, both indigenous varieties on Santorini.  The aromatics of the Athiri are complementary to the mineral driven profile of Assyrtiko.  The grapes are grown in the vineyards of northern Santorini, in the black lava soil.  The wine is fermented in stainless steel to allow the full expression of these amazing grapes to come forward.

In the glass, this wine has a yellow tint, but not quite as golden as the previous selection.  The nose is simply amazing, with the expected minerals, peaches and apricots joined by aromas of salty ocean spray - the salinity is gettin' real, up in here.  On the palate, the salinity stays strong, and a citrus zing makes for a tingly mouthful.


Santowines Vinsanto 2004

In the realm of Santorini’s long winemaking tradition, SantoWines is a relative newcomer - founded in 1947.  Visitors to the tasting room are treated to unmatched views of the Santorini caldera formed by the collapse of land in the destructive volcanic explosion.

Santowines’ Vinsanto is made from 85% Assyrtiko and 15% Aidani grapes.  The fruit is dried in the sun for eight to ten days, then fermented for two or three months before the aging process - the wine spends 36 months in oak barrels.  The alcohol content is only 10.9%, and the oak effect is quite pronounced.

This marvelous dessert wine has a color somewhere between brick red and whiskey brown.  Its nose boasts raisins, molasses and brown sugar.  That sun-dried, raisiny quality comes across on the palate, too, along with a crisp acidity and a bit of lemon zest on the finish.  The mouthfeel is oily and rich.  It is a recommended pairing with a traditional Greek dessert like baklava, but it also fits beautifully with cheese cake, a creamy cheese or even just a handful of nuts.


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