Sunday, May 31, 2015

MENU's Aegean Odyssey. Day 7: Santorini. Art Space wines, scary driving and Oia

Up early to eat breakfast and move to the hotel we’d booked. Breakfast in both places was identical every day: corn flakes, grainy yoghurt, honey, jams, butter, bread, processed cheese slices, MRM meat slices (they call it ham, more like spam), really vile dishwater Nescafe, boxed fruit juice and ancient hard boiled eggs, which were green inside
We arrived at our hotel and discovered that the view from the balcony and the "suite" were not quite as they appeared in Bookings.com. Photoshop can do amazing things. They are building a major road in front. Very much needed on the island, but we wouldn’t want to stay here after it has been opened
The view up toward Thira town; yes, it was another very long climb to the shops or restaurants
Our "Suite". Well, this first room was useful for storing the suitcases and the table useful for using our laptop. Couldn’t see any other purpose for the room, unless you wanted to work the entire holiday
And damn, where is the double bed we were promised? And the two bathrooms, one with a bath, didn’t materialise either. The hand shower was on the wall without a hook above and there was a manky shower curtain. We had run out of energy to complain. A friend told us that they always disable the hook for the shower to stop you using too much water!
We were determined to get an idea of the real Santorini, so we hired this very good little car for one day. Cost was €35 a day. It's a manual, so the driver had to remember to use the clutch after fifteen years of driving automatics!
Vines in May, just budding
These are the basket bush vines, whose roots can be 300 years old. To quote Wikipedia: "The grape growers of Santorini use a unique bush-training system, known as koulara, to grow the grapes. As the vines grow, they are woven into baskets with the grapes facing toward the inside of the ring. The vine’s leaves and the vine provide protection for the grapes from harsh winds and sunlight"
A rather amusing, if puzzling, sign on a wine farm. We liked the big gap under the door on the left, presumably there to keep a check on staff spending too long there. Yes, there was a separate ladies
We stopped off at one of the many "wine museums". They are actually commercial wine farm tasting centres. This one wanted us to pay €40 each for the tour and a tasting of three wines. We asked if we could just do the tasting and were told NO. So we left and went elsewhere. It seems we ducked a bullet, as their wine, which we tasted later, is not that great
Vine leaves of one of the more obscure varieties
We were looking for Gaia winery and found a sign post but no winery. We had written to them to ask if we could do a tasting, but had no reply. So we left it for another time. Near Danai, we saw a sign saying Art Space: Art and Wine so we headed there and discovered this gallery inside an ancient winery, called Argiros Estate. Our very pleasant guide Esmeralda Argiros spoke very good English
We admired the art and looked forward to tasting the wine
The winery was founded in 1861 and they started making Argiros wine in 1903 with 20 hectares. Now they have 260 and a very good reputation with international sales. It says on their web site that the magazine Wine & Spirits ranked Estate Argiros as one of the 100 best wineries in the world for the years 2005 and 2006
It is a real cave, cut out of the volcanic ash that covers the island
An old barrel cellar is now the art gallery. The art displayed at Art Space is from 32 different artists, mostly from Greece
A lovely piece of sculpture we would have loved on our wall back home. But pricey and too difficult to transport
We were delighted to meet the owner of the estate, Antonis Argiros, who told us he loves to sail and wants to visit South Africa. We told him that we can make some introductions to sailing winemakers if he does come
Behind the small wall is a Greek kuip - a concrete tank in which they made the wine years ago
We loved these bronze olive trees and were told that the artist had designed the laurel wreaths for the last Greek Olympic games
Lots of character
and ancient methods of making wine
A fireplace where they distilled the alcohol for Raki
The old copper still
And behind bars, the current one
The selection of the wines that we tasted
It is the most extraordinary winery we have ever seen
Mr Argiros in the Art Space
We turned a corner and, suddenly, we saw the modern wine making facilities
Brand new equipment and a small basket press in the background
The current barrel cellar with French and other barrels
and Mr Argiros also is a weaver
Hands-on bottle labelling
Esmeralda with the friendly, mouthy cellar cat
We begin our tasting. We started with Aidani Dry white 2013, the first production. It's a local grape and full of crisp limes, with a full palate. We think it has a future!
We then went on to taste through their entire range of wines with Mr Argiros. It was a spirited tasting and very very interesting. His English is accented and we did require some help from his new winemaker Danai Iouannidou for more translations. The wines are very interesting and different and then, again, some taste very familiar, even though the names of the grapes are totally unfamiliar. We liked them a lot and bought a bottle of the Barrel Reserve to bring home with us
Winemaker Danai Iouannidou, who trained at Montpellier in France, and is experimenting with making sparkling wines
The Assyrtiko Agios Augoustos 2013 has shy greengages on the nose and lovely fruit, full complex palate of limes and herbs, a food wine. The Nyxtepi (night wine) 2010 has been matured in old Russian barrels for a year and then spent 4 years in bottle in the cellar. It has dusty Chenin-like cooked fruit with hints of perfumed comfits and some terpenes
Their Barrel Reserve tasted like a full semillon, many layered with chalky tannins, very sophisticated and elegance and very lively for a five year old wine. We tasted a sweet uncomplicated (RS 280 gm/l) Vinsanto, a hot Raki and even his own Brandy, and finished with a real Ouzo. All lovely
He took us on a proper tour of the cellar to explain how they used to make the wine and how they do it nowadays
An old way of taking off the free run juice
Parking under the trees, very welcome on a hot day
We then desperately needed to eat some lunch, even though it was about 3.30pm, and made our way to the coastline at Kamari where there were rows of beach-side tavernas
We settled for this one, as it was full, generally a good sign
We did venture out onto the volcanic pebble beach to paddle, but found it very uncomfortable on the feet. You need Crocs or plastic sandals
Lynne ordering our late lunch in the shade
Don’t know if those boats ever get used, but they make great scenery
This beach-side tree was springing to life
So: a beer, a glass of decent rosé, calamari and chips, cheese pies, fried aubergines and steak and chips for John. Sadly the calamari were not skinned, had not been cleaned and were tough, so not a pleasant experience. The bill was €30 with tip
The beaches on the other side of the island have black sand and volcanic pebbles
and lots of sunbeds and sun worshippers
Some traditional windmills that have been turned into villas
and lots more
We then ventured off on a trip around the island towards Oia where everyone watches the sunset. It was a nightmare trip for both of us. The very narrow cliff-side roads are full of huge coaches which squeeze you against the walls, as well as kamikaze tourists on scooters and quad bikes, and we didn't want to pay any excess on the hired car. The huge drops also got to Lynne, who has vertigo. It was probably John’s nastiest day of driving in 50+ years behind the wheel. But it is very beautiful. These are ancient terraces
Parking in Oia was impossible; every visitor on the island had come to see the sunset. We went to a car park and were asked to pay an exorbitant amount, so we left our car outside a shop and walked quickly through to see the magnificent view. We know that the prices of these villas, B&B's and hotels are expensive. It might be worth it
As the sun sank slowly into the sea, we departed before we received a ticket or worse
The boats we were to take on our tour the next day, at the harbour, set in the blue bay with the lavender and navy cliffs
A Greek sparrow back at our hotel
and another who had just bathed in the pool
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© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015
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