The Spotlight N°4 - Santorini
The island, also known as "The Black Pearl of the Aegean Sea", with its iconic small white buildings perched on the steep hillsides and the deep blue sea, also boasts unique bush-shaped vineyards characteristic of this island and vines that are hundreds of years old!
Located just 113 km (70 mi) north of Crete in the Cyclades Archipelago, Santorini is a volcanic island that has been shaped by ancient volcanic eruptions.
While Santorini does produce red wines from Mandilaria and Mavrotragano grapes, it is most famous for its crisp, dry whites and sweet Vinsanto wines. These delightful wines are crafted primarily from the island's signature grape variety, Assyrtiko.
Wine is deeply rooted in the culture of the island, with a history dating back to centuries, Santorini was renowned for producing some of Europe's finest wines. The ancient city of Akrotiri was buried under volcanic ash during a massive eruption in 1653 BC, and excavations have revealed traces of vine-growing and winemaking.
Even during Venetian domination in the 14th and 16th centuries, Santorini was renowned for producing some of Europe's finest wines.
Today, the island is one of Greece's most renowned wine regions, offering over 50 wineries and approximately 1200 hectares of vineyards cultivated, making it a perfect spot for wine tasting.
TERROIR AND CLIMATE
Santorini has a truly one-of-a-kind terroir with one single defining trait, extremely harsh growing conditions.
Geologically, the island is all that remains of an ancient volcano, whose eruption left behind a textured soil with layers of volcanic ash, pumice, sand and basalt.
Extremely poor in nutrients but high in acidity and essential minerals, the soil forces the vines to struggle to survive.
The climate is also very harsh, warm and dry, with very little rainfall, Santorini is effectively a volcanic desert.
Combined with the strong winds blowing from the sea, the climate creates a very challenging environment for viticulture. This struggle results in wines that are highly concentrated and full of flavour.
These extreme conditions are why the vines yield extremely low to the ground as they are trained uniquely, called "Karyatide", which means "caryatid" in Greek. This basket-like training system creates a spiral canopy that protects the grapes from the sun and wind, while also allowing for good air circulation.
Over the past 40 years, the tourism industry's rapid growth has led to a significant decline in the number of cultivated vineyards in Santorini. Back in the 1980s, there were approximately 3,600 hectares of vineyards, but today, that number has dwindled to around 1,200 hectares.
The dominant grape variety found in these vineyards is Assyrtiko, covering over 65% of cultivated vineyards. The flagship native grape of Santorini, Assyrtiko is known for its resilience in harsh conditions.
The thin skin of these grapes makes them particularly sensitive to sun exposure, resulting in wines with a bold acidic character and a clean, crisp, mineral flavour.
In many cases, Assyrtiko is artfully blended with other white grape varieties such as Athiri and Aidani. According to the PDO Santorini regulations, Assyrtiko must comprise at least 75% of the blend to be called with this denomination.
Another application of the assemblage of the three Greek grapes gives life to the iconic Vinsanto, a complex sun-dried sweet wine that boasts intriguing red wine-like aromas. This indulgent dessert wine skilfully combines intense sweetness with balancing acidity and a bouquet featuring dried citrus peel, figs, apricots, and sticky toffee pudding.
While Assyrtiko dominates the vineyards, dark-skinned grape varieties account for around 20 per cent of the total vineyard area on the island. Two noteworthy dark-skinned varieties are Mandilaria and Mavrotragano, responsible for producing deep crimson red wines. These red wines typically offer a delightful combination of soft tannins and fruit-forward flavours with hints of dark fruit, tobacco, and spices.