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Santorini wine renaissance

Santorini Wines

Photo: Paul Donkin

Greek wine goes from strength to strength.

Up until recently Greek wine didn't enjoy the best of reputations from those in the know. Bad press meant that visitors to Santorini were often reluctant to choose a Greek bottle to go with their evening meal. However this is now set to change as Greek wines get ever more popular. Andy Cornish learns more about Greek wine.

Wine-making has been going on throughout Santorini for thousands of years. Small vineyards are dotted all over the island, and the locals have always been proud of their winemaking heritage. In reality it's amazing that any vines grow at all. With virtually no rain and incessant blasts of hot African winds rising from the south, vines have to store moisture overnight to feed the grapes. In some places roots descend over 20 metres to extract every last nutrient from the ground.

The most popular Santorini wine is a sweet white named Vinsanto (holy wine). The hand-picked grapes are left out on straw mats in the sun until the sugar condenses. This process accounts for why some on the islands refer to the beverage as 'straw wine'. However the name is probably a result of big wigs in the Ottoman Empire. The ruling Turks encouraged wine production where it became the principle wine during mass in Russion Orthodox communion services. It is also said that a 14th-century friar from the province of Siena would use leftover Vinsanto wine to cure sick people, giving it a reputation for miraculous healing.

The US is the top consumer of these sweet wines, although with the popularity of Greek wine as whole increasing, British and European supermarket chains are beginning to show a genuine interest in stocking Vinsanto and other popular Greek wines.

Boutari is one of the leading winemakers in Santorini and they must be given some of the credit for the Greek wine renaissance. Popular magazine 'Wine & Spirits' recently placed Boutari among the top 100 wineries in the world, prompting the company to expand it's operation considerably. It now includes 200 acres of vines and produces three quarters of a million cases each year. The company is also starting up on the island of Crete, near the popular resort of Thessalonika.

The sun seems to be shining on winemakers in an otherwise dreary economic climate. A recent piece in UK newspaper 'The Independent' described the booming wine industry as enthusiastic, and full of energy and intensity.

Santorini is a fabulous Greek Island holiday destination, but those of us who appreciate good wine now have yet another reason to go. If you've never had the opportunity to lounge about in Greek evening sunshine enjoying a glass of Vinsanto you really are missing out.

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