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Wine Review: Gavalas Vinsanto

Santorini is the island that is most renowned for its fine wine and wine production here dates back to the Bronze Age. The soil here created by many disastrous volcanic explosions is very calcareous and covered with layer upon layer of volcanic ash as well as lava and pumice. There is little rain on this island but strong winds do blow through the Cyclades making it a surprising fact that vines grow so well here and have never been plagued by disease, but the compact soil is highly porous and retains water, which helps the vines to stay nourished during the hot summer temperatures. Santorini’s vines also grow low to the ground in spiral basket-like shapes. This protects them from the wind and helps them catch the moisture in the sea fog during the long, hot summer nights.

The Winery: Gavalas

The Gavalas winery has been producing wine since the late 19th century. For the first 20 years of the 20th century Gavalas wine was mainly exported to Alexandria of Egypt; in fact it wasn’t consumed on the Greek market until the 1930s. Outside of Greece, Gavalas currently export their wine to the USA. The winery is situated in the scenic village of Megalochori amidst cobblestone alleyways and small traditional houses. In days gone by the wine was transported in wine skins on the backs of mules to the bay of Fira where it was decanted into 600 kilo barrels known as bombos. The barrels were then loaded onto fishing boats or caiques and transported to its destination. The winery’s museum located in a dimly lit, yet stylish cavern tells of the vineyards history and of the difference in the wines produced here, two of which, Xenoloo and Katsano are made from forgotten local grape varieties. Today the winery has a modern wine-making and bottling plant, which was built in 1998. The whole win making process is overseen by owner George Gavalas who is the third generation of the family to run the winery. You can visit the winery between 15th April and 31st October from 10.00 am until 20.00 pm. If you visit during the grape harvesting period you can witness the crushing of the grapes. The winery produces several varieties of wine namely two whites, Santorini and Katsano, one red Xenoloo and one sweet Vinsanto.

The Wine: Gavalas Vinsanto

The most traditional of all of Santorini’s wines whose name actually derives from the words ‘vin Santo’ or wine of Santorini.  Lois Lacroix, the famous 19th century traveller and author describes Vinsanto in hos book  "Ils de la Grece" published in 1853, ".. No dessert wine can be compared to the white Santorini Vinsanto. It is produced by grape, which is placed in the house terraces, displayed in the sun for 15 days before it goes to the wine press. After one year it becomes an exceptional sweet wine .."

Vinsanto is still produced in the same traditional way. And is a classic and naturally sweet white wine where the grapes are left to mature and are then handpicked during August. They are laid out on the terraces and left to ferment in the sun for 10 to 15 days. Fermentation occurs around midday. For each 10 kg of grapes picked, 1 kg of Vinsanto wine is produced. It then takes two years for Vinsanto to mature before it can be bottled and production is limited to around 6,000 bottles each of 500 ml. This wine should be served as a dessert wine after dinner at 6 to 8 C and its It is notable velvety taste has a bouquet of dried apricot, creme brulee and chocolate.

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