Santorini to Thessalonika – A Tour of Greece from vine to wine

An invitation to a wine-tasting on the island of Santorini…..

When the charming and eloquent Daphne invited me to a wine tasting at her boutique hotel on the Greek island of Santorini I knew I was in for a treat. What I didn’t realise was quite how special the event was going to be.

AN ANNIVERSARY – Andrew and I had decided to mark our 30th wedding anniversary in a significant way. Hardly any of our friends are still married and if they are it’s not to the same person.  So it seemed logical, essential even, that we celebrate our achievement of 30 years together. An acknowledgement of our tenacity, endurance, and determination. All of which are significant skills that we have successfully deployed for a third of a century. So last September we booked a sailing trip on a traditional wooden yacht that cruises the waters of the Aegean between the islands of Siros, Paros, Ios, Santorini and Mykonos. The boat was called Kapetan Kosmas, a beautiful two-masted gulet with Captain Alex at the helm. The winds were high and the seas were rough. The whole journey was thoroughly energising and invigorating. We loved every minute.

Greece by Sail - Kapitan Kosmos our traditional timber sailing boat
Santorini - an ancient mule track zig-zags from the harbour to the town above
Santorini – an ancient mule track zig-zags from the harbour to the town above

There were eight guests on the yacht. Two French couples an American couple and us. A Captain, a chef and two crew members were there to look after us. It was our own personal kingdom in the heart of the Aegean Sea.

SANTORINI – The island of Santorini lies in the southern part of the Cyclades. We came here on one of our first holidays together in about 1986. My maiden name was Panagakis, I’m a little bit Greek. Everywhere we went Andrew’s thoroughly English surname of Simmonds was made a little bit Greek by hotel receptionists, airline staff and officials in general. We joked afterwards that he’d become Simmondides the Greek god of walking. It was poignant for us to be returning to Santorini 30 years later, on a beautiful wooden boat, arriving in the caldera after several hours of sailing through quite choppy seas. A metaphor for life really.

AT ANCHOR – Once we’d anchored in the natural harbour of Santorini we went ashore to explore the island. We had Daphne’s very nice wine-tasting invitation up our sleeves. It was a steep climb up from the water’s edge to the town following an ancient mule path that zigzagged up the steep cliff, several hundred steps at least. At the top we were rewarded with a walk along the cliff tops where the panorama of the caldera at least a thousand feet below gives the viewer a new sense of perspective. Then when we arrived at the white painted gate that marks the entrance to ‘The Vasilicos’ we stepped into a different world; a place of serenity, calm and truly spectacular views of the harbour below. We’d arrived in paradise. We were welcomed by Fiorella the stylish front of house lady from Athens. We were offered tea and biscuits and just enough time to recover before the sommelier arrived. Artemis the wine expert was to be our guide to the Greek wine making revolution that has transformed Greek wine quality and style in the last twenty years. Over the next few hours we’d taste a variety of wines covering many different parts of Greece. What a perfectly wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

SPARKLING WHITE WINE – Where better to start than with a delicious, golden sparkling wine from the island of Rhodes. An ideal ‘aperitivo‘ and very similar in style and nature to Prosecco. The wine was called ‘Caia’. The overall taste was ‘brut’ or dry, we couldn’t believe we were sampling such a delicious sparkling wine, produced on the Greek island of Rhodes. Verdict – delicious. Next up was a rose wine from Kavala in the far north of Greece. This wine is made from the Syrah or Shiraz grape. The rose colour comes from the grape skins which are left in with the wine juice when the fermentation process starts. Once again the wine was very good. The rose didn’t have the elegance of a Provencal rose from the South of France, but it suited our selection of home-made bread with cheese and an anchovy and tomato salad. Our journey around Greece via it’s wines had begun…

A sparkling wine from Rhodes - Cair, very drinkable
A sparkling wine from Rhodes – Cair, very drinkable and quite dry.
A rose wine from Kavala, Northern Greece
A rose wine from Kavala, Northern Greece
Anchovy fillets, tomatoes and chives - a perfect match for the rose.
Anchovy fillets, tomatoes and chives – a perfect match for the rose.
What a revelation the highest quality Greek wines, thank you!
What a revelation the highest quality Greek wines, thank you!

IS THIS REALLY RETSINA – Next Artemis introduced us to a truly mind-blowing Retsina from Drama in Northern Greece. Retsina used to be a very basic, highly acidic, cheap white wine that unsuspecting tourists drank on their holidays. Now it has been transformed into a wine infused with ‘botanicals’ a bit like a modern hand-crafted gin. This contemporary take on Retsina is a white wine aged in oak barrels to develop flavour and body. It is a highly aromatic, golden coloured wine, tiny slivers of pine wood are added whilst still in the barrel, to create a hint of pine in the final product. Rather poetically it is called ‘Tear of the Pine’. The result is a complex and highly individual wine which is winning awards. In 2018 at the Thessalonika Wine & Spirits Competition the Retsina we sampled won a medal. Even better the wine comes from Drama, a small town and district in Northern Greece that gave its name to theatrical productions and theatre performances in general. How’s that for a bit of history! As for the Retsina, what a success story, a total transformation from cheap plonk to award winning, quality wine, in two decades. Now that’s impressive!

Retsina Wine - 2018 style - transformed Greek wines
Retsina Wine – 2018 style – transformed Greek wines

GREEK WINE TRANSFORMATION – The transformation of Greek wines from mediocre, every day, table wines to quality performers on the international stage is continuing throughout the country. This includes the wines being produced on Santorini by the ‘Vassaltis’ winery. Daphne’s brother is the young entrepreneur behind Vassaltis wines. He has created a new and ground-breaking vineyard, with a focus on quality and respect for the unique ‘terroir’ on the island of Santorini.  By now Artemis has poured us a glass of a fresh, crisp dry white wine from Vassaltis. It is made from the local Assyrtiko grape which does well during the hot, dry summers characteristic of this part of Greece. We enjoyed this one so much we took several bottles back to the boat.  It was followed by another dry white, Nassitis, which I actually didn’t try because I knew there was at least one red wine on the horizon.

Vassaltis white wine on board our yacht
Vassaltis white wine on board our yacht
Vasilicos Luxury Boutique Hotel, Santorini
Vasilicos Luxury Boutique Hotel, Santorini

FINALLY – Artemis opened a bottle of the ‘Vassanos’ for us to try. This is classified as a dry, red wine, bottled in 2015. Once again, it was surprisingly good, rounded and easy to drink. It reminded me of an Argentinian Merlot. However at this point in the tasting we had sampled five wines and even when it is a tiny drop, in the bottom of the glass, it was a hot September day and a sip can go straight to your head. It was important to stay focused especially on a unique afternoon like this one.

SANTORINI is a truly magical place. The ‘Vasilicos’ is an original, charming and authentic boutique property. The location is truly breath-taking. To sit on the terrace and look across the caldera is a humbling and simultaneously invigorating sensation. Daphne’s attention to detail is quite amazing. Each of the individually decorated rooms contains a small, hand-picked selection of books for guests. A carefully considered collection designed to inspire the visitor. Everything here is done beautifully. The wine-tasting experience so competently delivered by Artemis is not just about wine, it’s about modern Greece. It’s about quality, determination and creativity.

DAPHNE – this experience was an inspiration, of all the senses. We wish you and your brother every success with both The ‘Vasilicos’ and the ‘Vassaltis’ Winery.  Many, many congratulations to you and Artemis and all your dedicated and hard-working team. A heart felt thanks on our 30th wedding anniversary from both Andrew and me. Very best wishes for the coming season.

Santorini - panorama from the 'Vasilicos' Hotel down to the caldera.
Santorini – panorama from the ‘Vasilicos’ Hotel down to the caldera.
Santorini - the view from The Vasilicos into the caldera (natural harbour)
Santorini – the view from The Vasilicos into the caldera (natural harbour)
Greek wines have been transformed in recent years - quality is the order of the day
Greek wines have been transformed in recent years – quality is the order of the day
Vassaltis vineyard's Nassitis - dry, white wine (2017)
Vassaltis vineyard’s Nassitis – dry, white wine (2017)

Andrew - my partner in crime for more than 30 years

Andrew – my partner in crime for more than 30 years xxxx
Greece - the blue sky, the blue and white flag...
Greece – the blue sky, the blue and white flag…

THE WINE REGIONS OF GREECE:

The wine regions of Greece - map by Wine Folly
The wine regions of Greece – map by Wine Folly

Notes:

The Vasilicos - threshold into the imagination
The Vasilicos – threshold into the imagination

***ET/2019

 

 

2 thoughts on “Santorini to Thessalonika – A Tour of Greece from vine to wine

  1. Congratulations on yet another Winner, Janet – although the title might perhaps have been “From VINE to WINE”?!
    I always learn something from your blogs; for example I never knew the origin of “Drama” before, and being a keen Am-Dram supporter, I shall try to include Drama (only with a capital “D”!) on our next Cruise round the Greek Islands.
    I was also delighted to learn that Retsina has shaken off its old image and moved upmarket. Our last exposure to/use of Retsina was in 1974, when we enjoyed a Villa Holiday in Tolon – and discovered (to our relief) that Retsina was the perfect antidote for sunburned feet. I still have a photograph of Margaret sitting in the sun with her feet in a bowl of relief-bringing Retsina – which I must admit, was about all it was good for, in those days!!

    Well done – keep up the good blogging!

    John

    Liked by 1 person

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