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Wine and water on Santorini
It used to be joked that Santorini had more wine than it had water—an irony borne out by the facts. Water has always been a problem on the island, since the only springs are those under the southern and eastern limestone slopes of Mount Prophitis Elias. For years the island was dependent on daily deliveries of water by ship from the mainland. now a solar-assisted desalination plant at the north of the island supplies up to nine hundred cubic metres per day, covering most of the daily requirement in the summer season. The volcanic soil, however, produces wine in seemingly unlimited quantities. Volcanic earth provides an ideal habitat for the vine, which appreciates the rapid and efficient drainage it provides; it naturally contains a range of nutritive minerals and, most importantly, it has the capacity to absorb, at a microscopic level, the morning condensation in the air caused by the often considerable change of temperature during the night. It releases these frequent but small supplies of water to the roots, in what are ideal conditions for vine growth. The curious method of weaving the vine into a cylindrical ‘basket’ close to the level of the ground minimises both evaporation in the heat of the day and damage from the frequent winds that sweep over the surface of the island. The consequence of all this is both considerable quantity and a strongly flavoured juice, almost imperceptibly salty and sulphurous in quality.
The wine produced is predominantly white, made either with the aromatic athiri grape (native of rhodes) or the asyrtiko grape: a local variant of the latter is Nychteri wine, for which, as its name implies, the grapes are picked ‘nocturnally’ or rather in the early hours before the sun rises to a height sufficient to impart any heat. Asyrtiko mixed with aidani grapes are used for the production of the island’s famed Vin Santo, whose name some believe derives from ‘Santorini’. It is made by allowing the grapes, once picked, to reduce to sultanas by exposure to the sun, before vinification.
The island’s red wines are generally made with the tannic mandilaria grape, primarily associated with Paros. The habit of allowing the grapes to fortify and ferment on their own skins for a protracted period, producing a strong, dark, red wine or rose-white wine, was introduced by the Venetians: this kind of wine traditionally bears the name Brusco on the island. The bottling of wine is a recent phenomenon in the Greek Islands, and it is still questionable to what extent wines such as those produced on Santorini benefit from bottling (even though it is required by the demands of marketing and uniformity). Much Greek wine is best when drunk fresh from the barrel. It is increasingly hard to find this on Santorini, though one suggestion is made below under the ‘Eating’ section.
Santorini Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.