WHAT: The history of wine in Greece goes back 6,500 years, but when was the last time you had a memorable Greek wine?
When it was part of the Ottoman Empire, Greek winemaking fell on hard times. While the wine trade developed in Western Europe, in Greece it became mainly the work of peasants and did not develop much sophistication.
If pressed to name a Greek wine, most people now would mention Retsina, a white wine heavily flavored with pine resin, a holdover from the early days when wine containers were sealed with resin. It is an acquired taste.
Even as late as the 1960s most Greek wine was sold in bulk. Luckily for wine drinkers the Greeks are coming on strong and there are many fine wines hitting the market.
The Gavalas Santorini 2012 certainly is one of the better ones. Made primarily from the Assyrtiko grape, it is a bright, refreshing, dry white wine with fruity aromas and a rich full taste. The wine is a brilliant light yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of citrus and pineapple.
It has a full, lush mouthfeel, with tastes of lemon and peach and some minerality. It has balanced acidity with a long, pleasant aftertaste.
Santorini is one of the Greek islands popular with tourists, so preserving the 3,000 acres of vineyards has become difficult as more tourists flock to the island. The vineyard for the Gavalas wine is considered to be one of the oldest in Greece.
The vineyard soil is composed of limestone and is covered by a mixture of chalk, slate, ash, lava and pumice. Yield is held down by limited rainfall and strong winds in the summer, pushing quality up. During the summer months mist rolls in from the sea, cooling the vines and prolonging hang time for the grapes.
The grape growers of Santorini use a unique bush-training system, known as koulara. As the vines grow, they are woven into baskets with the grapes facing toward the inside of the ring.
The vine and its leaves provide protection for the grapes from harsh winds and sunlight. The koulara are often grown haphazardly on small plots of land and can be mistaken for wild bushes by unknowing passers-by.
After harvest, only about 25 percent of the juice is extracted and placed in stainless steel tanks for cold fermentation.
Assyrtiko is the main grape grown on Santorini. It’s a high-acid grape full of citrus and mineral nuances. The grape is often referred to as a “red grape in white clothing,” because it produces such full-bodied wines. This wine also contains 5 percent Aidani, another indigenous Greek grape.
The wine should be served at about 45-50 degrees. The bottle itself is a beautiful blue color.
WINERY: George Gavalas has about 18 acres of vines on the island of Santorini, growing many indigenous varieties. His family has been making wine from their own vineyards since the end of the 19th Century.
Gavalas uses many of the same techniques as his ancestors but also has brought a modern approach to the business.
The winery, located in Megalohori, focuses mainly on Assyrtiko, but also been involved in reviving some of the more obscure grapes on the island like Katsano and Gaidouria. The vineyard also contains Athiri, Mavrotragano and Voudomato.
Early on most of the wine was consumed on Santorini, with some shipped to Alexandria, Egypt. In the 1930s the family started shipping wine to Athens and Piraeus by mule and small boats. After World War II much of the wine was distilled into brandy.
In the 1970s the Gavalas family again made its own wine and established a store in Athens. The new, modern winery in Megalohori was built in 1998.
GOES WITH: This is a great seafood wine, so my wife, Teri, and I had it with broiled lobster tails, drawn butter, Zatarain’s Caribbean rice mix and a tossed salad. It was a heavenly meal.
The wine’s acidity and minerality was a nice balance for the lemon juice and drawn butter served with the lobster. The rich feel of the lobster blended well with the rich mouthfeel of the wine.
Gavalas Santorini would go well with most seafood dishes, chicken and light cheeses.