From Island to Island

LAST WEEK’S SUCCESSFUL and delicious Wines from Santorini tasting highlighted not only the wines, but their rising popularity.

“Ten years ago if you were having a Greek wine, you were probably in a Greek restaurant. Now, if you’re in a restaurant without a Greek wine on the list, you’ll know that they just don’t get it,” said Steve Olson, Greek wine ambassador, in his opening remarks.

Not even competition from another large importer portfolio tasting could keep away those who wanted to sample Santorini wines and meet the winemakers.

Some 125 members of the wine trade tasted their way through 10 producers, six of whom traveled to New York City for the event. The walk-around tasting was introduced by a seminar lead by Yiannis Paraskevopoulos of Gaia wines, who Olsen described as “cerebral and passionate.” He holds a PhD in oenology from Bordeaux and has mentored many young winemakers, is himself the new face of Greek wines, serving as an unofficial international ambassador.

Paraskevopoulos introduced the unique conditions under which Assyrtiko vines grow, emphasizing the elements that make this truly a wine of place: the “very strange soil,” climate, salinity from the Aegean Sea, and the iconic basket vines that protect the grapes from heat and wind.

Yiannis Paraskevopoulos (L) and Steve Olson compare notes

He also emphasized that what is challenging about the wind, is also beneficial as the strong gusts, known locally as meltemi (the Etesians) blows away viruses and pests, “making Santorini naturally an organic vineyard.” Phylloxera, he noted, has never been an issue here.

As Greek wine aficionados know, Assyrtiko from Santorini is a study in contrast: elegant wines from harsh conditions; aromas of low intensity yet bracing acid that pops on the palate. It’s almost a wine designed not to succeed: the yields are low, it’s labor-intensive and scarce land on the small island is under constant threat by developers. But endurance—however you slice it—is one of the wine’s characteristics.

To illustrate that another way, Paraskevopoulos shared what he called “one of the most exciting moments of my career”: the sampling of an 1847 Assyrtiko.

“We thought it would be tasting a dead wine but were surprised to taste how alive it was,” he said, “I wouldn’t say it was young, but it was alive. We were ecstatic.”

Paraskevopoulos concluded his presentation with tips for enjoying the wines, a few of which we share here:

  • Treat Santorini whites as red wines without the color
  • Decant one hour before serving
  • Combine with food in “unusual and courageous ways”

Olson, Michael Weiss, professor of wine studies at the Culinary Institute of America and Ray Isle, executive wine editor, Food & Wine magazine.

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