Sunday, February 24, 2008
My friend Konstantina Hatzidakis sent me some photos last week of snow in their vineyards on the island of Santorini. Wow! I didn’t even realize that this was possible.
My mental image of Santorini runs more along these lines:
And no, that white stuff over there definitely isn’t snow — those are whitewashed buildings in the town of Fira, gleaming in the summer sun.
If you don’t know the wines of Santorini, you ought to. I love many of the wines of Greece, but Santorini is my favorite. The island is an old volcano, so the wines are as minerally as can be, and the fierce acidity of the assyrtiko grape makes you forget that it’s grown in such a southerly latitude. All the vines are ungrafted, as there’s no phylloxera, and vine age is ridiculously old here—supposedly the average age is over 70 years. The traditional viticultural system is, well... unique, as you can see in this photo. Due to the island's rugged environment, the vines are coiled into basket shapes close to the ground, in order to protect the grapes from both the strong sunlight and the gusty winds. Here’s a better view of what this looks like, held up at a 90-degree angle:
And the wines? Racy, saline and intense, with flavors ranging from citrus and lemon zest to savory notes of lentil and white pepper. The wines often need several years to show their best—at the Sigalas estate last summer I tasted a barrel-fermented 2001 that was at a perfect point of drinking, with a rich, creamy depth and smoky complexity. Hatzidakis and Sigalas are two of the island’s best producers, along with Argyros and Gaia Estate. All of those are exported, and chances are that they’re much easier to find in your part of the world than in mine. But on my next trip into Paris I might have to pick up a bottle....