The Greek island of Santorini has been producing wines for centuries, but its flagship grape, Assyrtiko, has only recently begun gaining global recognition. Santorini, and the whole of the Greek winemaking industry, recently underwent a renaissance bringing forth modern winemaking practices helping to further demonstrate the great potential of the country’s indigenous grape varieties.
Among those leading the renaissance is the Gaia Winery founded in 1994 and owned and operated by agriculturists Leon Karatsolas and Yiannas Paraskevopoulus who holds a PhD in Enology from the University of Bordeaux II. The team has since welcomed economist and third investor, Christina Legeti, to the group creating a dynamic team of innovation.
The modern training processed by both Yiannis and Leon have allowed the pair to push the limits of traditional winemaking in Greece, experimenting with indigenous grape varieties like few, if any, have done before. Some of their techniques have stirred controversy, such as their Wild Ferment Assyrtiko, but their persistence has paid off as they are frequently recognized as one of the island’s top wineries having been recognized by Wine & Spirits Magazine, Decanter and several other smaller publications and organizations for their excellence.
The proof is in the numbers; in 1994, Gaia produced 9,800 cases of wine and since then production has risen to an outstanding 350,000 annually between their two wineries. That’s over 35x the winery’s original production! Despite the increase in production, however, the quality has remained unchanged, if not gotten better.
Wines to try:
Gaia Thallasitis: The first wine produced by the winery in 1994, this wine consists of 100% Assyrtiko and showcases the grape’s high acidity, but with balancing flavors of minerality and fruit. This wine pairs with well with seafood as well as lamb dishes.
Gaia Thallasitis Oak Ferment: Much like the steel-fermented Thallasitis, but with a little extra “umph” from the fermentation in oak. The barrels also allow for additional aging of the Assyrtiko grape, estimating the wine will not start to show its true character for 5-6 years.
Assyrtiko by Gaia – Wild Ferment: One of the winery’s most recent innovations, this wine is also made from 100% Assyrtiko, but the difference is in the winemaking. Upon harvest, the grapes are soaked with their skins for 12 hours before chilling, but after that the rest is up to the wine. The temperature is allowed to rise naturally, accounting for the wine’s spontaneity from year to year. It is recommended this wine be decanted before serving.
Constance Chamberlain, a wine expert specializing in Austrian wines and wines from the Santorini region, is a frequent contributor to MicroLiquor. Follow Constance Chamberlain on Twitter @VinoCC