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If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting Santorini, you know why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece, and probably all of Europe: It’s devastatingly beautiful, with gorgeous towns, pristine beaches, excellent food, and ridiculously great local wine. Tourists returning home have made Santorini’s main grape, Assyrtiko, a mainstay on global wine lists. And while the memory of honeymoons in paradise put this wine on the map, it is the ethereal combination of high-toned, saline minerality and surprisingly sumptuous texture that keeps everyone coming back for more. Artemis Karamolegos is a relative newcomer, but within just a couple of decades he has managed to create what we think is the pinnacle of Assyrtiko. Pound for pound, this instant Santorini classic delivers more profound pleasure than just about any white wine we’ve encountered for under $50. Of course, it’s quite limited, and you can only grab this rare gem from SommSelect, so get some before it disappears.
The winery named for Artemis Karamolegos was founded in the village of Exo Gonia in 1953, which, in Santorini wine years, is extraordinarily young. You see, as far back as the 17th century BC, this small island in the Aegean Sea was known for its wine. A huge volcano in the 16th century BC destroyed the original industry, but a new one quickly sprang up once the literal dust, and ash, had settled. Fast-forward about 3,000 years and the Venetians are in control of Santorini and are re-introducing Europe to the pleasures of Assyrtiko. But there are limits to production here because, one, it’s an island and two, the elements are quite harsh. To combat intense sun, heat, and punishing winds, the vines are bush-trained very low to the ground and woven into what looks like a basket (this training system is known as a koulouri in the local dialect). It makes large-scale, commercial farming almost impossible, and as such, Artemis Karamolegos the first mostly made wine for his family and friends, selling small amounts to local restaurants and taverns.
However, his grandson, also named Artemis, decided to change things when he took over in 2003. This Artemis was determined to make his family winery into one of the very best on the island. To do so he expanded the winery and replaced all the aging equipment, and built a new tasting room and reception area to entice the throngs of tourists to come and check out his wine. He also sought out import partners throughout Europe, Asia and of course the U.S. And though he did expand and rejuvenate the vineyards, he also was careful to keep intact the old heritage koulouri vines that he inherited.
It is from these 80+-year-old vines—all planted on their own rootstock since phylloxera has never been able to survive on the island’s sandy, volcanic soil—that Artemis crafts his flagship masterpiece, known simply as Santorini. Predominantly Assyrtiko (90%) with the remaining 10% a blend of other local grapes, this tour de force born of lava rock and salty sea breeze is the momentous meeting point of two decades of innovative work and thousands of years of tradition. Serve it chilled, but not too cold, in an all-purpose stem and let the layers of volcanic perfection transport you to the island with notes of citrus blossom, white plum, quince, orange zest, anisette, lemon curd, saline minerals, and the smoky, matchstick strike of the pumice. It’s lovely with a simple spread of olives, flatbread and salty cheese, but it is even more enlightening with rich seafood dishes. This is a wine that any lover of dry whites needs to add to their repertoire, and as mentioned you can only grab the limited amounts in the U.S. from us, so don’t wait!
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