This week found me in Greece, where I had a chance to taste at one of my favorite European wineries, Sigalas (pronounced see-GAH-lahs) on the island of Santorini.
A number of grapes are grown on the island, mostly white, as well as a few reds.
But the variety that dominates the jaw-dropping Mediterranean landscape is Assyrtiko (ahs-SEER-tee-koh; you can hear the grape name pronounced by a native speaker here).
Assyrtiko is known for its remarkable resilience in an extreme environment. Anyone who's ever been to Santorini knows that summer temperatures and lack of water can be oppressive and the howling and often violent wind is relentless. For centuries -- some believe thousands of years -- grape growers have used baskets to "train" (as we say in winespeak) the vines in "bushes." The "bush-trained" vines help to create a canopy that protects the grapes from the harsh wind and sun.
Beyond its bright acidity, the thing that turns me on the most about Assyrtiko is its intense minerality. In the case of the Sigalas classic Santorini, made from 100 percent Assyrtiko, you can literally taste the saltiness of the Aegean sea in the wine.
That's one of the reasons that the 2009 Sigalas Santorini (available in the Houston market for less than $25) paired superbly with the sweetness and richness of the guacamole slathered on my chicken and black bean grill-fired flour tortilla tacos the other night back in Texas. (Nota bene: The 2009 is currently available in our market; I tasted the 2010 at the winery.) In Santorini, the locals pair this wine with raw, grilled, poached and steamed seafood, often topped with sweet Greek yogurt. The chicken and beans garnished with sweet avocado -- however odd the pairing -- paralleled the traditional flavors and textures married with this wine. Texas meet the Mediterranean...
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I don't imagine I'll be returning to Santorini anytime soon (that's the sunset over the "Caldera," above, as seen from my hotel room, by the way).
But as I make my way back home with the armadillo, it's good to know that I'll be able to taste that Aegean sea in my own backyard, back in Texas where I belong.