Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Visit to Boutari on Santorini

A stone path outside of the Boutari facility reminded me in its colors of the soil that you often see in the vineyards of Santorini, the gray and white rocks.

And indeed there is a Boutari owned vineyard right on the other side of that pathway.

Underneath a cover of leaves I found a grouping of snails attached to a vine.

Here was not a new vine, but an old root system where the traditional basket weave above ground had, after many years, been removed. Snipped away. Eventually this will again be shaped into a basket, a new basket. This regeneration of baskets happens every 100 years or so, give or take a decade or two.

The sun shown brightly upon a different set of baskets, stacked up against the wall.

But inside the cellar it was much darker.

This is one of six facilities that Boutari operates in Greece. There are also Boutari operations in Naoussa and Crete, amongst other locations.

These tanks give you a sense of the scale that can be produced here. The Santorini white from Boutari does not see oak aging.

There are other wines made here that do see oak, however, such as this sweet wine made from the red Mandilaria.

Boutari has been operating on Santorini since the mid-1980s.  They currently own around 6 hectares of vines on the island.

A new label adorns the 2012 Santorini release.

The 2011 sported the old label, as well as more waxy developed tones than the 2012. It also had a lengthy finish, and before that, hints of fennel seed on the palate. Christina Boutari, who looks after the winery in Santorini, said she feels that the 2011 vintage was a great year for the wines from the island.

There is a full complement of other wines produced here, from whites aged in oak, to Vinsanto, to the aforementioned red sweet wine.

After the tasting we headed to the restaurant Selene for lunch.

It was a sun dappled meal on the terrace.

With plenty of food for everybody.

And again the colors of Greece were noticeable. But this time it was the blue and white, instead of the gray.

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.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Cheap Wino Holiday Gift Guide

Every year around this time I read gift guide summations that assume I have a lot of money to spend on wine gifts. I do not have a lot of money to spend. So, with that in mind, here are my top recommendations for holiday gift giving on the cheap, for your favorite wine guy or gal.

1. A Pulltap's Double Hinged Corkscrew. Seriously. They work great. Why pay a ton more for something else?

2. A Flashlight App for iPhone, instead of a decanting candle. A friend suggested this to me recently, and you know what? Awesome result. Just load up that free Flashlight App and put your phone underneath the bottle. Yahtzee!

3. Tell someone about  Basically every single day I meet someone who doesn't know that you can search for wines on winesearcher. How do these people live? It is ridiculous to "call around" looking for your favorite wine. Even worse to actually take the time to travel to a shop on the off chance they might have what you want. Winesearcher is the answer, people.

4. Purchase rose in the winter. Do you know how cheap rose is in the winter? Cheap.

5. Use a flower vase instead of a decanter. Think about it. Do you know how inexpensive it is to buy an unused, cheap flower vase? Cheap! Do you know how expensive it is to buy a "cheap" decanter? Not cheap. Flower people aren't dumb. They don't spend a ton of dough on a piece of glass. You can get a flower vase for like one dollar. That's it. A buck. Uno. Wine people should be so smart.

6. Sauternes.

7. Used bookstores have a ton of wine books. That they are just hoping to sell to somebody. For cheap.

8. Muscadet instead of Sancerre. It is as simple as that. See also: Dolcetto instead of Barolo.

9. Always buy a mixed case, instead of a couple of bottles. Mixed cases are always cheaper in the long run.

Sorry, that's it. No 10th recommendation. I'm feeling cheap.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Akrotiri Ruins

But at a later time there occurred portentous earthquakes and floods, and one grievous day and night befell them, when the whole body of your warriors was swallowed up by the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner was swallowed up by the sea and vanished...

-Plato, Timaeus

The ruins near the town of Akrotiri are what remains of a Bronze Age settlement of Minoans on Santorini. 

It was an advanced civilization, with plumbing, three story structures, and elaborate frescos.

Sometime around 1627 BC, this town was covered in volcanic ash. The ancient eruption on Santorini (then called Thera) not only covered this place in an ash that would stay in place for close to 4,000 years, it also may have led to the demise of an ancient civilization on Crete, to a change in dynasties in China, and to the birth of the story of Atlantis, the island that sinks beneath the sea.

Around Akrotiri, however, they may have seen the end coming. Unlike in Pompeii, there were no human remains under the ash that was excavated here beginning in 1967. There was also almost no gold jewelry left behind. The inhabitants near Akrotiri had most likely been evacuated, and took their valuables with them. What they did leave behind, though, was plenty.

Here was a storeroom, and in the containers would have been wine.

The remains of an ancient cellar.

A look in a doorway.

A stroll down the streets.

Time propped up beside.

Lives that walked under these same awnings, perhaps going inside for a drink to tame their thirst.