Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Wines from Santorini tasting. The wines of 10 different producers were present, along with some of the wine makers. Amazing timing, as it was only a week ago when my first Santori Assyrtiko kind of blew my mind. This was a great opportunity to taste more of the wines, to build a bit of context, so see which of the wines I would be interested in seeking out on my own.
A few general things - as tasty as the wines can be when very young, these are wines that show dramatic improvement with only a few years of bottle age. It seemed as though the young wines showed a bit of sulfur on the nose, and a few years in the bottle seems to be sufficient for this to dissipate. But the wine itself also takes on whole new layers of complexity. Also, there are some producers who clearly know how to use oak. I drank some delicious wines that were fermented in stainless steel, but my favorite wines of the tasting were fermented in or matured in oak.
And lastly, all of my favorite wines shared this pure salty seawater character that formed the foundation of the wine. But it's not seawater like you might get in Chablis - not a briny tidal pool kind of thing. It's more like sea spray, like the salty mist that happens when a wave crashes.
Here are some of my favorites from the tasting and a few notes:
2009 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko - this was too young for me to understand, and there was still a bit of sulfur on the nose, but the wine is creamy and deep with great balance and energy. If the next two wines are any indication, this will develop beautifully.
2007 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko - All told, this was my favorite wine of the tasting. Highly perfumed and heady with lemon and vanilla, smoke and salt water. A beautiful nose that forced me to return to this wine at least three or four times during the tasting. Balanced, bright, great depth, and wonderful intensity and lightness. Great wine. And I stood with the wine maker Paris Sigalas tasting these wines and asked him which of the recent vintages were best. He said 2006 and 2009. Those seem great too, but at the tasting it was the graceful elegance of the 2007 that really moved me.
2006 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko - Riper and richer than the others, smokey, and something almost chalky (but there is no chalk) on the nose. The "soil" in Santorini contains a lot of porous pumice - maybe this is what I was smelling. Broad and round on the palate with rich and saline influenced flavors, and something like peas or red lentils in there. That could be because I read Peter Liem's description of the wines in general, and he used red lentils. I did smell them though. I suppose had he said "rhinoceros" I might have smelled that too.
Sigalas' stainless wines were great too, and he was an absolutely lovely guy. Serious but smiling. Dressed nicely and very classy, but obviously a get dirty outdoors of guy. Sigalas wines are imported by Diamond Imports.
I also loved the wines of Hatzidakis. Across the board they were simply excellent. The 2008 Hatzidakis Aidani seemed rather weird at first, but that's probably because until that point I had consumed nothing other than wines made from the fiercely acidic Assyrtiko grape. This one was more gentle and round, more floral, and it grew on me. I liked the menthol and tea on the finish - very interesting wine, and I'd love to have it with dinner. Call me crazy, but I'm thinking Szechuan tea smoked duck.
2008 Hatzidakis Santorini Assyrtiko was beautiful wine, salty and savory with deep flavors of herbal honey and smoke, and of course, seawater. This is fermented and matured in stainless steel. The 2008 Hatzidakis Nykteri, a barrel matured wine, was rich and deep with great balance, very energetic. The flavors seem a bit constrained still, but they are pure and nutty, smokey and salty. Compelling indeed. Hatzidakis wines are imported by Trireme Imports.
I couldn't understand the 2008 Gaia Thalassitis - it just seemed mute to me, too young. I'm curious about this wine and I hope to taste it in a few years. But the 2009 Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment was open and absolutely lovely, very expressive and perfumed, sheer and delicate. The aromas are more floral, although there is still a bed of sea spray. Gaia wines are imported by Athenee Imports.
There were other good wines too, but I found these to be most compelling. What bothers me, is that I cannot find a place in NYC to buy most of these wines. I hope that changes soon.
I enjoyed these wines so much that I was inspired over the weekend to open one of the few bottles of Santorini wine that I have in my "cellar", the 2007 Hatzidakis Santorini, $22, Trireme Imports. This is a blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani, and Athiri. It is deep gold in color and seems like it's been around for a while. But it's just slow to unwind, and when it does it's fresh and vibrant and full of sea foam. There are savory lentil notes, something like eucalyptus, and a bit of honey trying to push its way out of the rock. This went beautifully with our dinner of roast black fish and braised turnip greens.
I need to drink more of these wines at home with dinner. And at these prices, I can actually afford to.