Santorini, a volcano of flavours!
Santorini, a volcano of flavours!
Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2006-06-30
Whether for its very typical wines or its cuisine, rooted in a soil that is unique in the world, Santorini is a fascinating destination today.
Its volcanic, arid land actually produces just a tiny number of products, but all of them excellent and of incomparable taste!
George Hatziyiannakis, a great chef who “makes do with what he has…”
One of the most obvious effects of the globalisation of cuisine is that all the good restaurants of Europe, the United States and Asia in the end use more or less the same products and, in so doing, become increasingly similar in style*.
On Santorini, on the contrary, the great chef George Hatziyiannakis, whose beautiful restaurant Selene is built on the cliff side at Firá, has invented a very personal cuisine based exclusively on the produce of his island. B
e it the miniature sweet tomato, fava bean, white aubergine, capers (whose leaves are also eaten in salads), baby courgette or barley, without forgetting, of course, fish and seafood from the day’s catch, this native of Santorini proves, as Marcel Pagnol said, that you can achieve what is universal by staying at home! You must taste his sea urchin’s eggs mixed with bean puree and served in artichoke hearts…
So fresh! His caviar of white aubergines covered with thin, lightly marinaded slices of octopus is a marvel of elegance, as are his little miniature tomato salads served in bowls like sorbets. His cod with saffron and pistachio, and his smoked sardines served with lentils and an orange jelly glorify the minerality and roundness of the white wines of Santorini. In Greece, George Hatziyiannakis is considered a master.
Dinner à la carte without wine: between 40 and 60 euros**.
Vineyards dating back to ancient times!
The great strength of Santorini resides in its wines, which are among the most expressive of the whole Mediterranean. Planted on age-old terraces, the island’s vines have been protected from phylloxera thanks to the sandy volcanic earth with very low clay content. The main grape variety, white Assyrtiko, is grown here according to an ancestral method of “basket-shaped” pruning: the long vine branches are curled up on the ground to protect the bunches from being burnt by the sun and sand-laden winds. The vines, very spaced out from each other, are all carefully tended and produce only very few grapes, which explains the density and aromatic richness of the wines. Sometimes one can perceive a slightly “salty” taste in them. Indeed, it can happen that salt is deposited by sea mists on the skin of the grapes, in infinitesimal quantities, admittedly, but enough for the plant to absorb and for traces to be found in the wine… This is also part of the charm of Santorini’s wines!
Two exceptional winegrowers
After a century of decline, the quality of Santorini’s wines has kept increasing in recent years, particularly thanks to the efforts of two strong personalities, Pâris Sigalas and Harydimos Hatzidakis.
The former is a onetime maths teacher, who left to study in Paris in the 1970s. His passion for Thales, Euclid and teaching did not destine him to become a winegrower. And yet this is what happened in 1991, when Pâris took over the family vineyards. Today he is considered one of the greatest winegrowers in the whole of Greece. His estate (23ha/57 acres) is located in the district of Oía, on the plain. What a joy to visit his vineyards, the oldest of them planted at the foot of the pretty little church of Kira Panagia, overlooking the sea! Pâris’ white wines all have a beautiful straw-gold colour with green glints; very lively and even vigorous when young, they express the extraordinary character of the soil of Santorini and should be drunk with a meal. The older wines, on the other hand, such as the 2000 or 2001, have an admirable elegance, with a nose of honey, wax and orange peel and a wonderful smoothness on the palate. Pâris Sigalas’ Vinsanto 2000 is a monument, with only 10 degrees of alcohol. It is amber-coloured with orange flecks, its bouquet evokes raisins and coffee, its taste apricot and fig. A nectar which can be kept for 100 years!
Situated in the district of Pyrgos, at an altitude of between 130 and 300 metres (426 and 984 ft), Harydimos Hatzidakis’ estate is much more modest in size (half a hectare plus a few rented parcels!). Harydimos and his wife Konstantina practise organic farming, made all the easier since their vines are exposed to the wind, which rids them of all potential parasites. Their 100% Assyrtiko 2005 is wonderfully pure and sweet, with its notes of eucalyptus, orange and lime. We also recommend their “old style” Nycteri, which is a wine typical of Santorini since the grapes are harvested at night (in order to make the most of the coolness) and pressed immediately. This is an extraordinary wine, very balanced (despite its discreet salty taste) with a golden colour, nose of honey, and both fat and fresh on the palate.
Two other good addresses
On Santorini, the 100% organic tomato will delight all lovers of this fruit, which is sadly too often tasteless at home on account of its intensive above-ground production. Petros Ikonomou is the specialist of this little round tomato divided into quarters, which he grows in magnificent scenery near the archaeological site of Akrotiri. His jars of sun-dried tomatoes and his tomato jams are absolutely outstanding, deserving a place in Europe’s best delicatessens.
If you are partial to simply grilled fresh fish, then head for the Skaramagas taverna in Monolithos, on the east coast. This taverna is run by a family of fishermen who go out to sea twice a day. Halaris Vagelis, the boss, will take you out in his boat if you want to take some good photos.
* The regions, as Paul Bocuse pointed out not long ago, are now global and, whether in New York, Tokyo or Paris, every self-respecting “great chef” must have in his fridges salmon from Norway, truffles from Piedmont and vanilla from Tahiti...
** One euro is worth approximately GBP0.69.
George Hatziyiannakis, Selene restaurant in Firá
Tel: 0030 22860 22 249 Fax: 0030 22860 24 395
Sigalas estate in Ía
Tel: 0030 22860 71 44
Hatzidakis estate in Pyrgos
Tel: 0030 22860 32466
Tomatoes by Petros Ikonomou in Megalochori
Tel: 0030 22860 81820
Skaramagas Taverna in Monolithos
Tel: 0030 22860 31750
We would like to thank Solon Douligéris very much for his invaluable help in the preparation of our trip to Santorini.