On the 65th day of August we sat in a candlelit cellar that served as a winery cave 400 years earlier and tasted a flight of wines from grapes cultivated out of volcanic soil. Any calendar might have indicated it was early October but on that arid Greek island the summer heat lingered far longer.
I savored the cooling taste of a lemony finish from the Assyrtiko and caught the pineapple notes of the Katsano, both made from white grapes, while scrawling furiously about the unique nature of wine in Santorini. Athanasia, the resident oenophile at Canava Wine Bar, who is as rigid as she is passionate, peppered us with juicy wine facts. In Greece wine is made to pair with food; that much is apparent when I was initially put off by the metallic taste from a sip of the Aidani then won over once I tried it with graviera cheese from Crete. We heard how the island’s high humidity (reaching 85%!) contributes the main source of water for vines and how the absence of clay in the volcanic soil saved Santorini from phylloxera, the disease that devastated many European vineyards in the 1800s. As the sun was setting we learned that buried somewhere under the Aegean Sea were liquid treasures, bottles of Assyrtiko aging under prime conditions.
Santorini: more than just a pretty face
Of the five destinations I visited in Greece for The Luxury Collection’s Epicurean Journey project Santorini was the one that I was most nervous about. Over the years I’ve seen my fair share of honeymoon in Santorini Facebook albums from friends. All the stories I have listened to and articles I read pressed upon me just how breathtaking it is. But could the crescent-shaped island live up to its glowing reputation in real life when expectations are already so high?
Determined to avoid crowds of tourists I set out for a sunrise stroll in Oia, the most photographed town in Santorini, with my friend Jess who joined me and assisted on this leg of the trip. Our forty-five minute drive from Megalochori, a small village dotted with vineyards at the southern end of the island, was quiet and unremarkable. Absent from the photos I’ve seen of Santorini are the half built structures stranded in between villages and empty rugged land that is a stark contrast to the densely populated, whitewashed buildings resting on the caldera cliffs. But when we arrived into Oia we were stunned into silence.
A milky mist rolled in as we made our way to Mystique Hotel for a breakfast photoshoot. I tried hard, and failed immediately, not to be too impressed with the cream colored complex that has been seamlessly carved onto the crater. And it would soon be apparent that the unique nature of Santorini does not just rest in its topography.
Food & wine in Santorini
I never pegged this honeymooner’s paradise to be a culinary destination until I tried a deep red and robustly sweet cherry tomato at Vedema Resort in Megalochori. It made for a playful bite when combined with plump capers, another local specialty. In the kitchen we joined Chef Melina Chomata for a photoshoot of dishes from Alati Restaurant. Soft spoken and a tad shy she confidently went to task on an octopus carpaccio with a native smoked white eggplant salad, grilled salmon topped with cherry tomatoes in a light yogurt sauce along with an amberjack ceviche roasted in lemon juice and red peppers. The chef takes on a farm to table approach and sources what she can from local producers. A seafood lunch feast at Vedema’s Pergola Pool Restaurant made an even bigger fan out of me for Chef Melina’s flavors, especially the grilled lobster tossed with spaghetti & cherry tomatoes – so good that I ordered it twice during my stay.
Where else can you find old vines trained to coil into the shape of a basket with no bottom? On a visit to Gavalas Winery, a neighbor of Vedema’s with a 300-year old history, I first noticed the stark naked vines and mistook it for an extra large Grecian headpiece. Instead of on trellises winemakers in Santorini grow their grapes tucked into coiled vines. Harvest season had already passed in October but a walk around Megalochori one morning rewarded us with a scene of three men stooped over and working the open field and an idle donkey observing by the wayside; the vines resting on the ground with leaves gleaming a golden green.
Back in the Canava Wine Bar for the wine tasting with Athanasia I discovered a love for vinsanto, a dessert wine named by the Venetians when Santorini was under their rule. Though ruby in colour vinsanto is made from sundried white grapes. Unlike the other Greek wines where the winemaking method has undergone a more modern process the grapes for vinsanto are still crushed by foot. It tasted like the elixir of love: light yet luxurious.
And on my last evening in Santorini I held on to one final truth, vinsanto could never taste as sweet as it did as when we sat on the rim of an active volcano in time to see the sun take a bow for the day.
Note: I was a guest of Vedema Resort and worked in collaboration with The Luxury Collection for this piece.