Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Visit to Argyros

Near the facilities of the Santorini Brewing Company is a recently planted vineyard belonging to Argyros.

Which is no surprise, as Argyros owns 40 hectares of vines on Santorini, and has by far the biggest vineyard holdings on the island.

We visited the Argyros winery, a small clutch of buildings that date to 1903. The confines are more humble than you might expect for such a sizable operation, and in fact they plan to move to a new facility in about a year and a half. Argyros has other changes in the works as well, and they are busily planting more Assyrtiko in their vineyards, sometimes replacing other grape varieties with Assyrtiko. Generally those conversions are at the expense of the red varieties that they grow, in a move away from red grapes like Mandilaria. And although they are planting more Assyrtiko, there is a connection to Aidani as well. Argyros was one of the first to bottle an all Aidani wine, back in 2004.

But it is the Assyrtiko that stars on this day. They make several different Assyrtiko bottlings at Argyros, including the straight Assyrtiko (of which they turn out 30,000 bottles each year), the Estate Assyrtiko, and an Oak Fermented Estate Assyrtiko. They are considering ditching the Oak Ferment in the future, however. That being said, the normal Estate Assyrtiko, of which you can see the 2012 above, does have some oak during fermentation, with some lots (20%) fermented in old 500 liter French barrels. The 2012 Estate had more zip than you might expect from that generally soft vintage, and it was explained that they harvested a few days earlier than usual in 2012. They began in 2012 on August 1, instead of waiting until the 5th or 6th like they normally do. Some of the vines used in the Estate bottling stretch back 150 years old, and the vinous character that they lend really makes this bottling for me. There is a muscularity here that Argyros has done a good job a bringing out and yet also keeping well toned with fruit and zip.

In the case of the normal Assytiko, I greatly preferred the 2011 to the 2012, again reinforcing my general preference for 2011 from Santorini. This bottling shared with the 2012 Estate Assyrtiko a green pepper note that seems to be an Argyros signature. The straight Assyrtiko sees no oak, and is raised in stainless.

And as much as I prefer 2011s, it is hard to argue with the likeable quality of the 2012 Atlantis, given the large amount of it produced (150,000 bottles a year) for a low price. The Atlantis is a blend of mostly Assyrtiko with a touch of Aidani and also Athiri. The Athiri being used to "round off the Assyrtiko" on the palate.

Argyros is also something of a Vinsanto specialist, making theirs in a somewhat more modern, fruit forward style that is nonetheless very ageable. This 1990 was my favorite of those we sampled. It exhibited a complex vegetal ash nose and a creamy palate that was also noticeable savory. Herb and twig notes floated along with lightly sweet toffee, and the entire package was nicely developed. The Argyros Vinsanto is eighty percent Assytiko and ten percent each of Aidani and Athiri. It generally takes an entire two months to ferment, I was told. The 1990 was in barrel for 20 years before being bottled.

There is also an Argyros Vinsanto Grappa, aged for 10 years in wood, but unfortunately I did not taste it.

A quick look around the winery...

...and then out into the vines.

It was windy, as usual, on this day, and I took a short video of the leaves swaying in the breeze. You can understand why they don't have to treat the vines that much here. The growing conditions are quite dry. 

A project neighboring this vineyard had tunneled into the hillside, and you could see firsthand how softly pliable the subsoil was here.

In another vineyard the soil was a bit different, and actually there are noticeable variations in soil type all across the island.

Snails coexist with vines in many of the vineyards here.

The strong ribs of an old vine shelter the grapes inside.

The vine leaves crawl all across the ground.

In a newly planted Argyros vineyard you could see the tidy rows demarcated by irrigation lines.

Miniature vines now, taking their first steps.

Tendrils gingerly exploring their surroundings.

At a dinner near the beach we dined on typical dishes while seated on plush couches out of doors.

And after the cheese plate (the salted feta wedges were delicious), we slipped off our shoes and walked out to the water, dipping our toes in for a soak.

I would show you the hazy pictures that I took of the moon, but you wouldn't be able to see much besides that we were having a good time.

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