The wines from the island of Santorini, Greece, are some of the most distinctive and celebrated in the world. The island's unique terroir, shaped by its volcanic soil, scarce rainfall, and the Aegean Sea's breezes, contributes to the production of wines with notable minerality and acidity.
Santorini's soil is predominantly volcanic, which imparts a unique minerality to the wines. The lack of organic matter in the soil, combined with its porous nature, forces the vines to dig deep into the earth for water and nutrients, further concentrating the flavors in the grapes.
The island's challenging growing conditions, including strong winds and limited rainfall, have led to unique viticulture practices. The most iconic is the kouloura method, where vines are trained into basket-shaped formations close to the ground. This technique protects the grapes from harsh winds and helps retain moisture.
Assyrtiko is the most famous and widely planted grape variety on Santorini. It is known for its remarkable ability to maintain high levels of acidity even in the hot Mediterranean climate. Assyrtiko produces dry, full-bodied wines with citrus and mineral flavors, often with a saline note reflective of the island's sea influence.
While Assyrtiko is the flagship grape, Santorini also produces excellent wines from other varieties. Aidani and Athiri are white grapes contributing to the island's white wines, often blended with Assyrtiko for added aroma and softness. Mavrotragano and Mandilaria are red grape varieties, though less common, used in producing distinctive red and rosé wines. Most of these offerings are meant to be consumed with food, and take on a fuller body style as they warm in the glass.
Wine Styles of Santorini
Dry Whites: The majority of Santorini's production, showcasing Assyrtiko's mineral and citrus profile.
Vinsanto: A traditional sweet wine made from sun-dried grapes (primarily Assyrtiko, along with Aidani and Athiri), aged for years, offering a rich, complex flavor profile with notes of dried fruits, honey, and nuts.
Nykteri: A style of wine that involves harvesting grapes at night to maintain acidity, resulting in full-bodied wines with pronounced minerality and alcohol content.
The unique viticulture and ancient vineyards of Santorini face challenges from climate change and increased tourism. Efforts are being made to preserve traditional practices and manage the impact of external pressures.
Santorini's wines are a testament to the island's rich winemaking tradition, shaped by its unique geography and the resilience of its vineyards and people. They offer a distinct taste experience that wine enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike appreciate, embodying the character and beauty of this Aegean gem.
How does volcanic soil impact wine production?
Volcanic soil has a significant impact on grape growing and wine production, contributing unique characteristics to the resulting product. This type of soil is found in various wine regions around the world, including Santorini, parts of Italy (such as Mount Etna in Sicily), and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, among many others.
Volcanic soils are rich in minerals, including iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus, which can contribute to the nutritional availability for the grapevines. This richness often translates into wines with a pronounced mineral character, adding complexity and depth to the flavor profile.
These soils are typically very well-drained due to their porous nature, which helps prevent waterlogging of the vine roots. Good drainage encourages the roots to grow deeper in search of water, leading to stronger, more resilient plants. One of the tricks that this soil pulls in Santorini is draining properly during the rainy season, while retaining just enough water during the dry season to maintain plant health.
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