Can you believe this? Over 6,000 islands that make up Greece’s landmass. The large number of islands is one of the factors that has contributed to grape variety diversity in the country. The number of ancient indigenous Greek varieties alone is estimated to be 80 to 200. Every year, hitherto unheard-of, nearly extinct grape varieties growing in some isolated parts of the country are discovered, propagated, and saved. (Winespeed)
From my first visit to Greece in May, 2021:
So, after spending nearly three weeks in Greece, I tried many wines. And I visited several wineries in Santorini, known for their famous Assyrtiko wines. BTW, it is pronounced “us-EAT-teeko” and has a definite “volcanic” taste, in other words, a quite pronounced minerality, for lack of a better term.
Karen at Winespeed is spot on about this wine: Assyrtiko, the white wine that brought world attention to the stunningly beautiful volcanic island of Santorini, is made in several styles today. But my favorite has always been the original style—fresh, pure, bone-dry, and made without the merest trace of oak. Santo Wine’s Assyrtiko—from 60- to 80-year-old vines —is exactly that, a wine that captures the lemons-and-salt-air crispness that Assyrtiko is known for. Sparks of minerals and acidity light up the wine, making it extra delicious with seafood. (14% abv)
My waiter at my hotel, the Volcano View Hotel, was also my wine tour guide. Kostas knew what I would like, as we visited three different wineries. We visited one of the oldest wineries in Santorini, a very artsy (and old style) winery, and a modern winery (with old vines). I visited the largest winery on my own, a day later, Santo Wines, which I would label as completely optional. (But great views)
The volcanic soil on Santorini helps to create a unique flavor to the wine. It took several tries for me to enjoy the wine, as it is quite different than anything I have tasted before. But I learned quite a bit about the grapes, and the wine.
First, as you can see in my photos, the wines are grown and pruned very low to the ground. Why? The circular pattern protects the grapes from the strong winds, and it helps retain the moisture from the humidity. Very little irrigation is available, since Santorini has no well water, only desalination plants.
I must admit that all of the wines I tried at the three wineries were quite different. The high mineral content from the volcanic soils creates a taste that is both unique and rather startling. My first glass at a restaurant required some ice. I learned from the restaurant staff that more expensive Assyrtikos are better tasting. And it goes well with grilled fish, and fresh lobster!
Meanwhile back in Athens, my wine tasting turned rather fortuitously to their house wines. Both red and white house wines are quite good, very inexpensive, and tasty. But the moonshine, called mastika caught my attention. I brought a bottle back home for a future party.But one custom I brought home is the Greek toast. And everyone joins in, guests and staff! Just give a hearty “Yamas” when you raise your glass and drink.
I will be back, assuming the war does not escalate, in May, on my way to my cycling trip in Croatia. I look forward to seeing my three Greek brothers (George, Stavros, and Vasily), who adopted me. I can’t wait!!!