Wines of Santorini
Born of Earth, Wind & Fire

By Rob Rudko

What comes to mind when you think of the breathtaking island of Santorini? Picture perfect white washed villages with small blue domed churches, dramatic volcanic rock cliffs, beautiful crystal clear azure waters or perhaps eating delicious fresh grilled octopus right on the beach? Yes, all these things pop right into our heads, but what about wine? Santorini is home to one of the oldest vineyard and winemaking regions in the world (about 3500 years old) and yet few have ever tasted the high quality, mineral driven wines of this ancient Greek island.

On March 23rd I had the pleasure of attending a seminar and walk-around tasting of Santorini’s finest wines at BLT Fish in New York City, which was held for members of the wine trade and press, to promote a knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the island’s unique wines.

The seminar, which was titled “Born of Earth, Wind & Fire” started with a highly informative presentation followed by a guided tasting of 15 wines. As I nosed through the first of three flights, I was swept away to a far away place of volcanic ash, lava and pumice stone. These wines were
abounding with mineral tones that truly represent the island’s rocky volcanic terrior and were nicely balanced with subtle fruits and floral notes. Santorini is primarily known for their low yielding white grape varietals and Assyrtiko is by far their most popular white variety, which makes up 80-90% of the total cultivated vineyards of Santorini, followed by Athiri and Aidani respectively. Assyrtiko is principally used to produce high alcohol, bone-dry, full-bodied, high acidity whites with the ability to age nicely (similar to Riesling).

All of the wines in the first two flights (except one) were 100% Assyrtiko and although each wine had a distinctly different style and depth they mostly all shared a common citrusy, floral, aromatic, mineral quality which showed very well. You could even pick up a briney essence in a few of the wines due to the constant mists of the Aegean Sea settling onto the fruit. The second flight differed from the first, in that the wineries utilized oak in the fermentation or aging process
(sometimes both) and all the wines resultantly picked up various levels of
complexity. The oak noticeably imparted pear, honey and fig like aromas in
addition to spicier and creamier flavor profiles. These wines are usually labeled as Nykteri and by Appellation law require a minimum of three months on oak, with the average being around six.

Our third and final guided flight was one of the Mediterranean’s most traditional and popular wines of the Old World called Vinsanto (wine of SANTO). Vinsanto is crafted by blending Assyrtiko with the more aromatic and naturally sweeter Aidani and Athiri varietals to produce a rich and elegant dessert wine. Vinsanto is produced by sun drying grapes, which are traditionally laid on the ground for a period of about two weeks and then undergo a long and slow fermentation. Finally the wines require a minimum of 24 months aging in oak barrels. This process produces a gorgeous golden honey to amber like colored sweet wine, with bouquets reminiscent of golden raisins, prunes, figs, sweet spices and other dried fruits. These wines would pair beautifully with almost any dessert from chocolate to ice cream, to crème brulee, to cheese plates, anything nutty, the possibilities are countless. I myself immediately wanted to dunk biscotti!

The seminar wrapped up with a winemaker panel discussion and immediately
afterwards, we headed up-stairs for a three hour walk-around tasting of Santorini’s top ten producers, who showcased dozens of their prized and up-and-coming wines alongside delicious Santorini inspired bites, prepared perfectly by the BLT kitchen staff. After a beautiful afternoon of tasting through a few dozen wines I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, however some of the wines that I surely liked the most included:

Domaine Sigalas - Santorini 2010
Grapes: 100% Assyrtiko
Alc. 14.2%
This wine possessed a brilliant straw like color with pretty floral and citrus aromas balanced around a core of minerality. In mouth feel is very alive with vibrant acidity and a long clean finish.

Gaia - Thalassitis 2010
Grapes: 100% Assyrtiko
Alc. 13.0%
This full-bodied wine offered beautiful lemony, citrus and honey suckle forward notes, followed by a mineral finish.

Santo Wines - Nykteri Reserve 2008
Grapes: 75% Assyrtiko, 15% Athiri, 10% Aidani
Alc. 14%
This very food friendly wine abounds with aromas of honey, tropical fruit and figs. Oak adds soft notes of coconut and vanilla.

Artemis Karamolegos, San..Torini Winery -Vinsanto 2004
Grapes: 75% Assyrtiko, 25% Aidani
Alc. 10.9%
This texturally rich layered aromatic wine was bursting with aromas of dark
prunes, dried figs, honey, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and a kiss of caramel,
with flavors that matched the aromas.

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