Posted by: tomciocco | April 27, 2012


A short skip north across the sea from the big island of Crete is a cluster of small islands hung midway between the Greek and Turkish mainlands, and one among them is called Santorini. Known in antiquity by the name Thira, this volcanic island’s current name as one might infer, is derived from the hundreds of years of Venetian influence in this archipelago collectively called the Cyclades.

On this tiny erstwhile marine volcano there are three grapes, that despite their relatively recent spread to the Peleponnese and beyond, originated here and that’s just the half of it. Assyrtiko, Athiri, and Aidani are the three varieties by name, and of the three, Assyrtiko is the building block, so to speak, with most wines using it as the primary grape, with Athiri and Aidani used as mortar (this wine is made from 90%, 5%, and 5% repsectively) . So here’s the other half…

In terms of soil, this island’s volcanic mineral richness, and poverty of organic matter is ideal for growing vines, but climatically, Santorini is relentlessly sunny, hot, arid, and very windy, with enough of all four to make viticulture a real challenge. The solution to these challenges developed over the ages is simple, and utterly brilliant. Instead of training the vines vertically up poles, or horizontally along wires as is done elsewhere, the farmers on Santorini train the vines in a sort of ground-clinging circular crown with the fruit trained to hang on the inside of the circular “wall” of vines and leaves. This system protects the fruit and young stalks from the ravages of the sun and wind, and the basket shape helps to collect and retain what little rain does fall…

Because of the nature of the grapes, and the intense climate, white wines from Santorini have a real impact and power, so to match this energy, I served this example with an orange, black olive, red onion, and Aleppo pepper salad, and then a main course of chunks of swordfish baked with tomato, scallions, dill, parsley, oregano, lemon and olive oil with just some bread on the side to sop up the juice.










Argyros Santorini (Cyclades) “Atlantis” White 2011 

Very pale, bright “white gold” color. Big nose of stone fruits, pear nectar, herbs, pine nuts, goat cheese, ginger, and subtle caramel notes. Though the wine opens with a spunky, razor-sharp acidity, there’s an unctuous and intense core full of fresh and clean flavors of chalky citrus fruits and fresh pineapple, and a long, mouthfilling bitter honey finish.


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