Greece Day Two: Santorini!

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 06-12-2013

Santorini. It’s as beautiful as advertised.

Widely considered the top wine region of Greece, Santorini is essentially the leftovers of a cataclysmic volcanic eruption circa 1,500 BC. The detailed history can be greatly explained by a tour guide at the ancient city of Akrotiri, where archaeologists have been excavating for 45 years. Shockingly, the city had two-story buildings and indoor plumbing 3,500 years ago!

The volcanic soil on the island has left Santorini with some of the oldest vines in the world — some are well over 100 years old. The high Meltemi winds, presence of sand, and lack of organic matter leave phylloxera with nothing to survive on. The same blustering gales forced development of a vine training system where the vines are intertwined within themselves, forming a basket to protect the fruit.

That precious fruit is generally Assyrtiko, a grape that can be blended with Athiri and Aidani to qualify for the “Santorini” appellation status. Most wines show high minerality, screaming acid, and spice, which is occasionally tamed by French oak.

Old Assyrtiko, showing the basket weave.

If you are Tuscan, stop reading now. Santorini is believed by many in the area to have first produced what is now called Vin Santo. Assyrtiko grapes are dried on mats to the desired level of desiccation, and after a slow fermentation, are aged in barrel for an extended time. We tasted one that spent 20 years there. Thus, many different profiles of vin santo exist, ranging from just sweet enough to unctuous and lavish.

A few tasting highlights below the fold.

2011 Argyros Estate oak fermented Assyrtiko
A higher end wine from Santorini’s biggest estates, founded in 1903. Sourced from 150-300 y/o vines. Bright citrus, ginger spice and a mouthfeel coupling creaminess and electricity.

2012 Koutsoyannopoulos ‘Nykteri’ Assyrtiko
Nykteri is a traditional, night harvested wine with min. three months in oak. This particular wine is transferred to oak during fermentation when the wine hits 20 g/L of residual sugar, which is then completed. This oak on this wine does just enough to soften some the the hard citrus and salty edges. One of the most balanced wines of the day.

2012 Gaia wild ferment Assyrtiko
A combination of French, American, steel tank & Acacia make this wine something very unique. Fresh herbs, brash yeast and smooth ripe citrus. Another steadfast producer all over Greece. Note: the Greek “G” is pronounced like a “Y”.

2009 Koutsoyannopoulos Vin Santo
A lighter, citrus driven version of this dessert wine. 2 years in barrel preserve the natural candied lemon and orange aromas of the Assyrtiko and Aidani varietals.

2004 Santo Wines Vinsanto
From a co-op of 1,300 growers, many of which farming less than a hectare. A bit more typical of the style. More notes of Werther’s Original candies, hazelnuts, bitter citrus and sweeter than the Koutsoyannopoulos.

A few other thoughts:

The whites and vinsanto of Sigalas were all of high quality, and they are well represented across the country in restaurants & retail.

Many of the wines have phenolic extraction. Not necessarily “orange wine,” but if you like added texture to the wines, Santorini is a place to explore.

The wines of Hatzidakis were a standout as well, including a 100% Aidani, and a red Mavrotragano aged for 15 months in 1 year old barrique.

I liked the wines with some oak on them. Assyrtiko is assertive. Add that assertiveness to volcanic minerality and low pH levels, and the wines really benefit from a little aging with oak.

Virtually all the wines I tasted in Santorini were delicious. The quality was high across the board.

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