The picturesque Greek island of Santorini is world-famous for its limpid, turquoise waters, its breathtaking views, its white-washed villages perched atop vertiginous cliffs, and its volcano, which has shaped the island’s history in dramatic ways.
But there’s another thing Santorini boasts: a noble white grape known as Assyrtiko – a grape as distinct as the island that hosts it.
To say that growing conditions in Santorini are good for vines would be an understatement; they are, in fact, ideal. Volcanic, porous soil that is, to this day, phylloxera-free; an unsurpassed amount of sunshine during the growing season; sea mists that are the only moisture the vines get all summer long; low-yielding root stocks, some more than 80 years old – these are some of the unique conditions that help create rare and precious wines.
The first thing that catches your eye about the Hans Wirsching Silvaner 2010 is the playful green bottle that holds the wine.
The flattened, flask-shaped bottle is known as a bocksbeutel, or “buck bag.” It is used in the central German wine region of Franken, as well as in a few villages in northern Baden, to house the best wines.
Fortunately this particular book lives up to its cover. The pale-gold liquid inside the tantalizing bottle is mouthwatering — its lovely acidity and juicy flavors invariably making the drinker utter gurgling-happy sounds.
The white grape in question, Silvaner, is grown mostly in Germany and central Europe. When the Silvaner vines set their roots in clayey-limestone soils, as they do in the best sites of Franken, they are capable of producing full-bodied, firm wines with great natural acidity, delicious minerality and pleasing flavors.
When I ask friends if they’ve ever tasted Fino sherry, a blank look spreads across their faces. Most have heard of sherry, of course, but images of English ladies of a certain age sipping the sweetish libation before dinner is what usually comes to mind. The blank look soon turns into a curled lip.
Even more disconcerting, most restaurants in the U.S. (even Spanish ones) don’t bother to include sherries on their wine list. I hope this will change in the near future – because in my book, sherry is one of the most downright delicious and intriguing wines there is.
Ravines Wine Cellars is a Finger Lakes treasure. In the hands of its owner, the talented winemaker Morten Hallgren, Ravines has been making its mark on the region ever since the winery’s birth in 2000.
Surrounded by dazzling turquoise-blue waters, the mountainous island of Cephalonia is the largest of the Ionian islands in western Greece. It’s also an island with its very own white grape variety: Robola.
Blessed with chalky soils, limestone bedrock, high altitude, and hot, dry summers, Cephalonia is the perfect place for the expression of this delightful indigenous grape.
I, for one, completely fell in love with Robola the very first time I tasted its wine.
It happened to be a bottle from Gentilini, a family-run winery that has found its bliss growing local, classic grape varieties with modern, up-to-the-minute growing and winemaking techniques.
And the 2009 Robola is a beautiful specimen of Gentilini’s expertise…