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Τρίτη, 12 Αυγούστου 2014
Greek drink-ology: Santorini's wine trail
With an ancient wine culture dating back over 4,000 years, the Greek island of Santorini's history is rooted deep in its vineyards. Although this volcanic island has experienced a major tourism boom in recent years, and visitors travel across the globe just to soak in the spectacular views of world-famous Caldera, it's really the native grapes that are the true heart and soul of this stunning destination.
Santorini has some of the oldest vineyards in the world under continuous cultivation, and the island uses a traditional wine-making method that begins in the ground: The vines are trained to grow in a basket shape (known as kouloura), sitting directly on top of the volcanic soil. These pruned "baskets" protect the grapes from sun and wind damage, and some have been known to last for decades. Apart from a few of the local wineries that have embraced modern wine technology, the traditional grape growing and winemaking methods have remained the same through the centuries.
In addition, the soil on Santorini consists of mostly of lava, pumice stone and does not contain organic matter. There is also very little rainfall during the year, and without a source of water on the island, the vines only receive hydration from the early morning sea mist covering the area.
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So what makes Santorini wines so distinctive?
According to Sofia Perpera, enologist and director of the Greek Wine Bureau in North America, "For me, the definition of minerality are the wines of Santorini, which come from unique soil and these ageless vines. The Assyrtiko grape, which is native to the island and represents more than 70% of the production, is the main reason why the wines of Santorini are so special. In fact, I believe that Assyrtiko will become known as one of the noblest white varieties of the world one day. Usually, when a grape ripens it loses acidity and gains sugar, but Assyrtiko has the ability to retain high levels of acidity and sugars at the same time. This way, you get full-bodied white wines with excellent structure that can age for decades."
She continues, "People often associate Greek whites with freshness and crispness, but Assytikos from Santorini can age beautifully -- evolving into a bouquet with layers of complexity. On the island, it is often said that Assyrtiko is the white that drinks like a red, which you understand when you taste it. It also allows a wide range of food pairings from grilled seafood to fresh oysters -- and even meat dishes."
Currently, Santorini has 11 wineries, and Perpera anticipates that more vineyards will open in the near future. She says, "I expect to see more wineries being built. Although this will increase competition and pricing for the limited amount of grapes available, in the end this will push the growers to plant more vines, which is a good thing."
In addition to the sprawling vineyards, Santorini's world-famous beaches are big tourist attractions, along with the ruins of Akrotiri (often called the "Pompeii of Greece"). Of course, the traditional cuisine of Santorini is an ideal way to further explore the local wines, and many of the wineries serve small plates of homemade Greek specialties.
All of the wineries on the island are open regularly during the season (between May and October) for tastings and tours. After that timeframe, appointments are necessary.
A few stops along the Santorini wine trail:
Boutari's Santorini winery
Opened in 1989, this cutting-edge winery is considered a Santorini winemaking pioneer, bringing modern methods to the island, including stainless steel tanks, pneumatic presses, and temperature controlled vats. This winery features a spacious and stylish tasting room, a retail boutique and offers tours every day except Sunday. Boutari is focused on Santorini's indigenous white grape varieties, including: Assyrtiko, Aidani and the red Aegean variety of Mandilaria. boutari-santorini.gr
Located at Pyrgos village, this eco-friendly winery is built on five separate levels, ensuring that the winemaking process is propelled by gravity, with the minimal use of energy and pumps. This winery also features a modern "Oenotourism" center for visits, tours and tastings, with an upper level terrace overlooking the vineyards. Offering a robust selection of wines (including a sparkling), Santo offers local produce specialties too, such as tomatoes, fava beans and capers. Every year, this winery welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world, and hosts special events and weddings as well. santowines.gr
Situated in a small vineyard within the tiny village of Megalohori, this family-owned 18-acre winery has been making wine since the end of the 19th century. The winery features native grapes, such as Assyrtiko and Athiri -- and several rare local varietals including Katsano, Gaidouria and others. Gavalas always welcomes guests with a personal touch, as the owner often hosts private wine tastings in the traditional "cavana" and offers vineyard tours. gavalaswines.gr
For a luxury wine getaway, this Starwood resort offers a full viticultural experience. Situated among the vineyards in the medieval village of Megalohori, this property has a variety of wine-focused offerings. Their extensive wine bar, Canava, is located underground in refurbished catacombs, where guests can enjoy tastings and sample local varietals together with the sommelier. This hotel also offers spacious suites, villas and several restaurants, including the Vinsanto restaurant and lounge. vedema.gr
Tourists can rent a car and drive to the wineries around the island, or contact a wine tasting company for a private tour. Several options include Santorini Wine Trails, Wine in Santorini and Wine Tours Santorini.