Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Greece’s Award-Winning Whites

                              The island of Santorini produces Greece's most complex whites 
In spite of its tremendous viticultural history, Greece remains virtually an unexplored terrain for modern-day wine drinkers.  This is due in part to the former foul tasting retsina wines, along with native Greek varietals which are difficult to pronounce.  Moreover, historically one Europe’s poorest countries, Greece didn’t have the economic infrastructure to build its wine industry until it joined the E.U. in the 1980’s. 

Thanks to financial incentives from the E.U., the Greek wine business has made significant progress.  Impressive new wineries look like they’ve been transplanted from Napa or Bordeaux.  Young Greek winemakers are armed with degrees from the best universities in France or Italy.  Quality initiatives abound including lower yields and improved management of the vineyards.  Most importantly, Greece is now making some spectacular reds and whites.  The most dazzling whites are from the island of Santorini.

Santorini is one of the most breathtaking islands in the Mediterranean.  If you’ve seen a jaw-dropping Greek travel poster involving the sea, or an extraordinary picture of a Greek island in a magazine, chances are the photo was taken on Santorini.  The island is the site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, some 3,500 hundred years ago.  This explosion left behind a well-drained volcanic soil rich in minerals…add abundant sunshine and you have the perfect conditions for creating complex wines.

The island’s star grape is Assyrtiko (a seer tee ko).  Other than small amounts of the varietal that have been transplanted on the mainland, Assyrtiko is only found in Santorini and a few nearby islands.  Some believe the white varietal may be indigenous to Santorini, others think it may have arrived on the island with the Phoenicians.  Stunning dry and sweet wines are made from the grape.

Assyrtiko from Santorini has racked up countless international awards including Wine Spectator scores in the 90’s, a recent gold medal from Decanter (Britain’s equivalent of the Wine Spectator), and another gold medal from Bordeaux’s International Challenge of Wine.  The varietal is the only white grape in the Mediterranean known to achieve ripeness while still maintaining its acid structure.  This not only makes it a dream to drink but the high acidity makes it perfect to pair with food.  In addition, the wine’s subtle aromas of honeysuckle or citrus combined with intense minerality from the volcanic soil add layers of complexity that can charm even the most sophisticated connoisseur.

If you’re one of the lucky 12 persons who were able to snag one of the coveted spots on the private yacht that Wine-Knows has chartered in 2013, we’ll be visiting Santorini.  In the meanwhile, don’t let the hard to pronounce names like Assyrtiko deter you…buy a bottle of one of the following award-winning producers.  As Socrates once stated, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

  • Gaia (Decanter Magazine 2012 Gold Medal for dry wine)
  • Arghyros (Decanter Magazine 2012 Gold Medal for sweet wine)
  • Boutaris (this producer has wineries in several parts of Greece, so make sure it’s from Santorini)

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