Week 6 - Hatzidakis Santorini, Cuvée No. 15 2013
Welcome to this week's edition of Weekly Weird & Wonderful Wines!
Up next is an awesome white wine from the volcanic Greek island of Santorini, made from one of Greece's best native grape varieties: Assyrtiko.
Presenting this week's wine:
Hatzidakis Santorini, Cuvée No. 15 2013
Category: Vino Incognitus
Wine makeup: 100% Assyrtiko
Origins: Assyrtiko is known historically as the signature grape of Santorini, an island now better known for it's tourism than it's wine making legacy. The first records of this variety date back at least 3,500 years. This small yet geologically spectacular island was created and re-created time and time again by millennia of volcanic eruptions, a feature shared by many of it's sister islands in Greece.
The Assyrtiko grape has adapted nicely to the fertile volcanic soil, and as the region is known for it's high winds and little to no rainfall, it has survived almost all known pests and diseases, including the dreaded Phylloxera (a vine louse that has destroyed countless vineyards around the world over the last 200 years).
Assyrtiko isn't just grown in a unique environment geographically, it is also grown in a completely novel style too.
As Santorini has such fierce gales (one such dominant wind, known as Meltemi, is known as a Greek sailor's worst nightmare), the grapes cannot be grown in modern, traditional trellising. In fact, during some viticultural trials in the last several decades, entire trellised vineyards were blown down in a matter of minutes, making the whole practice pointless.
Instead of giving up, these vintners decided to use an ancient technique, well known to the elders of Santorini, where the vines would be grown in single bushes, tied into small baskets (or cup-like shapes), that in many cases act almost like their own miniature ecosystem. The basket helps keep the grapes sheltered from the Sun, and also provided an area where moisture, which gathers on the leaves of the plant during the nocturnal fog that rolls in off the sea.
Some of this moisture is also kept in the porous volcanic soil, which provides the minimum water necessary for the vine to survive, bolstered also by the occasional rainfall in Winter.
Region: The gorgeous island of Santorini is one of the true highlights of any trip to Greece, viticultural or otherwise. Cruise ships will dock right inside the sunken, flooded crater of the volcano that formed the island's current shape. From there you can travel up the soaring cliffs into the capital of Santorini, Fira, with it's amazing white buildings perched along the cliff of the caldera at around 400m above the sea below.
This stunning settlement is where most wine tours of the island begin and finish, with fresh seafood being the most stand out pairing for Assyrtiko, though the high acid of the wine can also cut through the local Greek cheeses to create a splendid match too.
The wine producers are dotted around the island but several including this producer, Hatzidakis are located to the South of Fira around the village of Pyrgos, where the soil is rich and volcanic, and the wind blows in from the North with regularity.
Producer: The Hatzidakis winery was founded in 1996 by Haridimos Hatzidakis, on the site of an old vineyard only half a hectare in size.
This vineyard site was abandoned in 1956 when the large Amorgos earthquake devastated the Santorini and it's vineyards.
The following year in 1997, they converted a small cave found on the property into a traditional winery, called 'Kanava' in the local language.
They now cultivate around 10 hectares of grapevines, with the remainder of their small production supplemented by local co-operative vineyards, all of which are run with organic certification.
Hatzidakis is dedicated to revealing the beauty of Greek wine, through traditional methods, and at incredible low yields, that allow for the highest quality wine.
Assyrtiko is a variety that 15 years ago you may have struggled to find a single example of even in many of the world's best restaurants.
Today, thanks to quality-driven producers, open minds, enthusiastic sommeliers and the exemplary marketing of the Wines of Greece organisation, Assyrtiko has been rising to become an serious player once again on the world wine market.
The style here from Hatzidakis is dry, acid-driven and focuses on showing off the depth and complexity that Assyrtiko is capable of.
During this particular occasion, this wine came highly recommended with pan-fried sole, a flat-fish that was an excellent match to the characters of this Assyrtiko.
Aromas were seaside in origin, sweet sea-salt, cleansing citrus and the kind of floral notes that belong to flowers perched on cliffs high above the crashing surf.
Again almost entirely dry, with a medium body that was helped along by a solid 8 months on yeast lees in stainless steel tanks.
The finish was acid-driven in terms of structure, and while quenching, paired with the sole, it never became searing.
Well-balanced and intriguing, every sip continued a journey that could have as easily led to a plane ticket to Greece as well as the end of the bottle.
If you would like to learn more about this wine, head to Hatzidakis Winery
For more on Greek wine, go to the fantastic Wines of Greece