Santorini, Assyrtiko, & Gaia
If you don’t know the wines from the island of Santorini in Greece, just remember two things: the white grape, Assyrtiko and the flavor, delicious. That delicious part is pretty easy to remember but Assyrtiko doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily, especially when it sounds quite similar to Agiorgitiko which is a red grape from Nemea. That aside, Assyrtiko is the breadwinner for Santorini in terms of wine. The top breadwinner for the island however is tourism which has been shrinking the vineyards little by little over the years to make room for beach houses because screw delicious wine, more beach houses, now!
After a trip to Athens last November, I’ve fallen truly in love with Greek wine and Assyrtiko makes brilliant white wines which, as they say, have the soul of a red. I attended two winemaker dinners and what we were served was simply splendid. The day before my flight back I searched out a wine shop in the center to buy what I could which is how I came to own this bottle from Gaia.
Gaia is one of the dozen or so wineries on the island and their cellar is in what was once a tomato processing plant that sits on the beach–can’t really go wrong with that. The company has this winery as well as another in Nemea but for the Santorini wines, they’re all based on Assyrtiko. This curious grape is trained to bush vines that form baskets called, koulara. As they grow and grow, at one point, they’re snipped off and the process starts over again. This is quite different from how vines are usually trained and a lot of it has to do with the root systems of these vines being literally centuries old as phylloxera never took hold in Santorini due to the volcanic soils. All in all, a very unique form of viticulture that produces excellent, unique grapes.
This bottle of the Thalassitis was a bit disheartening as while it carried the hallmarks of the Santorini Assyrtiko, it smacked duly of not being stored properly at the shop. This wouldn’t be a surprise given I refused to buy one bottle of another wine that they tried to put in my box that was sitting under a display lamp. Ergh… But it was a pleasant reminder that on the ever-lengthening list of places to visit, Santorini is now high up there.
Structured sandalwood notes with bits of flint and chalk. White pear and peach predominant in the aromas. Medium plus in mouth and acidity. Long finish. Doesn’t hold a great deal of complexity probably due to improper storage and no fault of the winemaker.
100% Assyrtiko 13% 19€