Volcanic soil and the Aegean breeze: Santorini’s ingredients
Did you know that a visit to Santorini would still be a unique experience even if the island wasn’t as breathtakingly beautiful as it is? Did you know that visitors here enjoy a feast not just for their eyes but also for their taste buds? The dazzling light and the Aegean breeze combined with the island’s fertile volcanic soil nurture the local agricultural products, endowing them with top quality and a unique taste. The most renowned products from Santorini are:
Fava (fava beans)
Used in many recipes, ranging from freshly boiled plain fava to fava with pork or with tomato puree, or as a soup, with rice or in an omelette, these peas are popular with visitors to Santorini thanks to their fine taste.
The magic thing about this variety of aubergine is not just that it has been coloured white by the volcanic soil. It is also that the bitterness sometimes found in aubergines is completely absent and instead the flesh is sweet and juicy.
Both the flowers and the leaves are used in local cuisine for their spicy sharp aroma.
It was in the 18th century that the locals first cultivated this variety of tomatoes, which owe their unique taste to the arid soil of the island.
If there was ever an island worthy of the nickname “the wine island”, then it is undoubtedly Santorini. The excavations at the site of Akrotiri have proved that wine making and trading used to be among the most important activities for prehistoric locals. Several eruptions of the volcano over the centuries caused consecutive layers of volcanic matter, including ash, lava, and pumice to cover the limestone and slate subsoil, forming what the locals call “aspa”, i.e. hard, solid ground. Over the years, grape growers have built terraces using petrified lava stones in order to prevent the soil being eroded by the strong winds, and to help retain what little rain falls. Thanks to geographical factors here, the vines are very healthy: the hot sun and strong winds dry up any dampness on the fruit and prevent diseases and other problems such as mildew and botrytis.
In other words, the principles of organic cultivation are automatically applied here, as the growers are left only with the tasks of sulphuration and pruning. The latter involves the use of a special technique to form a “basket” within which the grapes are protected from the sand carried in the wind.
Which are the best known varieties?
Some forty grape varieties produce an average yield of 350 kilos per 1000sqm on the 3,706 acres of Santorini’s vineyard. Given the bad weather conditions, the production is rather low. But the quality is extremely high. Here are some of the best known varieties:
Accounting for 80% of the island’s production, Assirtiko is widely cultivated throughout Greece due to its high adaptability to different bioclimatic conditions. High acidity and freshness are characteristics of the wines made using this variety.
Mainly used for mixing with Assyrtiko, the white variety of Athiri produces wine with a high alcohol content.
Aidani, with its sharp aroma, is used along with assyrtiko in order to add aromas to vinsanto.
Full of phenolic elements and an amazing aging ability, Mavrotragano is a red variety which is indigenous to the Cyclades.
In the 70’s, wines produced using the varieties Assirtiko, Athiri and Aidani gained the right to be lawfully acknowledged as VQPRD (Vin de Qualité Produit Dans Une Région Déterminée). Three types of wine which can be marked “VQPRD” are produced on the island:
A cool, exuberant dry white wine with a metallic character.
A white wine named Nykteri, which ages in the barrel for several months and has a high alcohol content. It owes its name (Nykteri comes from “nykta” = night) to the fact that, in the past, the vinification procedure would take place at night to eliminate the risk of oxidisation.
Vinsanto, a wine with a rich gold colour and an exceptional aroma achieved thanks to many years of maturation and aging in the bottle and the extra-mature sun-dried white grapes with which it is made.
Many wineries on Santorini, one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the world, have now been opened up to visitors or turned into museums. Don’t miss out on the chance to visit them and do a little wine tasting for yourself.