Wine Time: Santo Sparkling Brut, Greece

Santo Sparkling Brut was a perfect aperitif, pairing with all kinds of food we had spread over the kitchen island. It was fine to sip by itself, but it was even better with food. DENNIS SODOMKA/SPECIAL

Cost: $21-$23

 

What: Nothing makes a celebration special like sparkling wine.

 

I have said that before and I will repeat it as often as I get a chance because we don’t celebrate nearly enough all the wonderful experiences of our lives.

The holiday season that starts with Thanksgiving and runs through New Year’s Day is the time most people break out the bubbly. But you should get in the habit of drinking sparkling wine on a regular basis. Make up your own reason to celebrate.

We started our holiday celebrations early with a weekend in the mountains near Asheville, N.C., to celebrate my son-in-law’s 50th birthday. There were four couples who celebrated nonstop even though the air was filled with smoke from forest fires burning all around us.

Gary was doing his best Saturday Night Live’s Sally O’Mally impression to prove that life begins at 50. This is a big year for him because he also married Erin a few months ago. On the main night of celebrating we broke out the bubbly, and while we liked many of the wines we tasted, the Santo Brut was the favorite.

It is crystal clear, with a slight pale yellow-green color and a mild peach aroma with some honey notes. It is nicely balanced on the palate with melon and citrus flavors laced with a crisp minerality. The long finish leaves your mouth feeling clean and fresh.

This wine is made in the Méthode Traditionnelle, with the second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne. Never-ending tiny bubbles keep the wine lively and fun. The grapes are 100 percent Assyrtiko (pronounced ah-SEER-tee-koh). When this wine was launched in 2012 it was the first sparkling version of Assyrtiko grapes, the traditional grapes of Santorini.

Wine has been made in Greece for thousands of years, and modern Greek wines are outstanding. Hippocrates, Plato, Homer and Aristotle all wrote about the virtues of wine and its benefits for creativity and health. I’m sure the birth of Western philosophy owes much to wine that was drunk at intellectual gatherings.

Greece is ideal for producing great wines, with no piece of land more than 50 miles from water and its beneficial effects on grape vines. Wine became important to trade in ancient Greece, which spread production practices and the enjoyment of wine to Italy, France, Spain and other countries that later became wine producers.

Except for sacramental wine, Greek wine production all but disappeared while the country was under the control of the Ottoman Turks in the 15th century and didn’t really come back strong until the 20th century. Greek wine has seen a quality resurgence since the 1990s.

White wine makes up 75-80 percent of Greek production, and Assyrtiko is one of the major white grapes, especially in Santorini and other islands. It is a disease-resistant variety that accounts for more than 70 percent of the plantings on Santorini. The volcanic soil on the island gives the finished wine its mineral taste.

The grapes for the Santo wine are grown on vines 20-60 years old, growing on hillsides at up to 1,500 feet in elevation around the village of Pyrgos. They are picked early, cooled and quickly pressed. After a primary fermentation, the wine is stabilized and filtered. A small amount of liquer de tirage is added to aid the second fermentation.

The wine is only 11.7 percent alcohol, so you can have your fun and not get tipsy.

Winery: SantoWines is a cooperative representing the 1,200 farmers on the Greek island of Santorini, which is better known for its stunning beauty than for its wines. Founded in 1947, the cooperative promotes all Santorini products, not just wine.

A modern winery was built in the village of Pyrgos in 1992 and serves all the members of the cooperative. It is built on several levels to allow gravity to move grapes and wine without using pumps, which helps keep the quality high. The winery can handle 4,000 tons of grapes. SantoWines has invested in cutting-edge technology to keep the winery up-to-date.

The sandy, volcanic soil has kept out the Phylloxera infestation, which destroyed many vineyards In Europe. Magnesium, iron and calcium in the soil add to the mineral tastes in the wines. Mild winters and warm summers (with cooling sea breezes) help protect the grapes. Fog also adds moisture and allows the grapes to ripen slowly.

The primary threat to the vines is wind. To protect the vines they are grown close to the ground and trained in a circle much like a basket. The grapes grow inside the circle. After about 75 years the vine grows so close together and so long that it must be cut off near the root. A new shoot will develop, or a new vine will be grafted onto the root.

SantoWine makes several other wines, many from Assyrtiko and some from the local grapes Athiri and Aidani and some blends. It also makes Vinsanto, a deep orange-colored dessert wine much like the Tuscan wine with a similar name; three dry, red wines, and several sweeter wines.

Goes With: We drank the Santo Brut with appetizers. It was a perfect aperitif, pairing with all kinds of food we had spread over the kitchen island. It was fine to sip by itself, but it was even better with food.

We had several cheeses and spreads, hot pretzels with mustard, several kinds of salami, chips and spanakopita, a Greek spinach and cheese dish wrapped in filo triangles. The spanakopita was spectacular with the Santo Brut.

This wine also would go well with seafood and delicate white fish, sushi, tuna or salmon tartare, octopus or chicken with a creamy sauce. It also would pair well with a cheese plate after dinner or a dessert course.

WINE EVENTS

Wine tasting. 5-7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, Kroger, 435 Lewiston Road, Grovetown; new wines weekly; free; (706) 619-3420

Wine and beer tasting. 4:30-6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, 3-6 p.m Saturday, Nov. 26, Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

Wine tasting. 5-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25, Whole Foods, 2907 Washington Road; five wines with snacks; $5; (762) 333-0260

Wine tasting. 5-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three whites, three reds and cheeses; $5; (803) 279-9522

 

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