For American wine buyers, what’s more confusing than Greece? The language seems strange, the grape names are almost scornfully difficult to pronounce, there’s no real Tuscany or Provence to provide fuzzy-lens romance.

Then there’s the damage done by people’s experience with retsina, a powerfully piney white wine that the Greeks adore but usually puts off foreigners.

When we speak of “Greek” wines at all, it’s usually with ignorant generalization, as if a simplistic encapsulation of the multifarious varietals and regions approaches any sort of accuracy. There’s no good way to discuss “German” wine generally, or “rose” or “Cabernet Sauvignon.” Confusion comes from summaries. Speak of actual things. Focus.

Today, I will speak of only one wine. It represents an embarrassingly high percentage of everything I know about wine from Greece, but I adore it, and am on my knees imploring you to try it.

And please explore more Greek wines available in the area, at such restaurants as Emilitsa, Figa and Caiola’s in Portland, and Trattoria Athena in Brunswick. Retailers such as Browne Trading, Whole Foods, Rosemont Markets, RSVP and Tess’ Market sell Greek bottles, but the selections are limited because we’re still at the stage where few customers come in asking for the Greek section.

The wine is the Hatzidakis Assyrtiko 2010 ($17; Devenish) from the island of Santorini. Assyrtiko is Greece’s powerhouse white grape, its noble varietal, and in this wine is blended with 5 percent each of the blending grapes Aidani and Athiri to lend more aromatic punch and cream out the texture a bit. (Assyrtiko itself being so bracing.)

The wine’s primal intensity, intense distinctiveness and marriage of fruit to planet put it on my top 10 list of wines to convince a skeptic of the truth of terroir. It declaims from on high, an emissary straight from the elements: Mountains, winds, sun, ocean.

And no wonder. Santorini is out there in the middle of the sea, a dead volcano, covered in ash, very hot during the day but cool at night. Fierce winds blow, the ocean is everywhere. Santorini sees no rainfall from April to September; any moisture is from humidity in the air.

There’s no clay in the soil, so the entire island is immune to the phylloxera parasite. The calcareous soil is so poor that old vines have to plunge deep to seek out any nutrients available. To meet such extreme conditions, some extreme measures need to be taken. Haridimos Hatzidakis takes them.

Hatzidakis is one of Greece’s most revered wine makers. He wins lots of awards. Wine makers and connoisseurs seek him out.

There are only 1,200 hectares or so of vineyards on Santorini, and even they are at continual risk from tourism pressures.

Those factors, along with the very limited quantities of wine Hatzidakis makes, could have led to outrageous prices, but they don’t. Seventeen dollars is a pittance for wine of this quality. (His oak-aged Assyrtiko and his Mavrotragano – a red – fetch somewhat higher prices, but are still lunatic bargains for what they offer.)

As on much of the island, Hatzidakis trains his organically grown vines into a unique basket-like shape called “koulara,” which helps the leaves protect their grapes from the glaring sun and trap the moisture (which condenses at night) that comes their way via the intense trade winds that blow across the southern Aegean.

The koulara lie low to the ground; if they rested higher, they might get blown off the mountain. The “soil” is really just white ash on top of black volcanic rock, and you taste this immediately in the wine. The Hatzidakis’ minerality is a Chablis-like combination of chalk and naked metal.

Adding another layer of tough love to these grapes’ existence on Santorini, Hatzidakis is a rabid pruner, so selective in the grapes he allows to mature that his yields are an exceptionally low 500 liters per hectare.

So, there’s part of the story; the wine itself takes it from there. Dialed-in racy but simultaneously full-bodied and sleekly luxurious, the Hatzidakis is sinew and muscle. Along with the chalky minerality, there’s a distinct salinity and brittle crunch.

I wonder how something so serrated can be so soulful as well? It’s got the cut and acidity of the Sauvignon Blancs of my dreams, the Sauvignon Blancs that somehow never appear in real life, the Sauvignon Blancs with heart instead of just wither- ing glances and grudges to bear.

Another cognate, interestingly, is older Chenin Blanc, as expressed in the fruit peeking out from under all the electrical wiring in the wine’s attack. Ripe pear and honeysuckle notes lay a foundation, drying into a long finish of pine boughs, tarragon, preserved lemon, white grapefruit and underripe pineapple.

At your table, this wine practically begs for garlic, lemon and herb preparations, and especially for fish. But the flesh on its bones could hold up to herb-roasted chicken as well.

No matter how you pair it, the Hatzidakis is just the kind of wine you should be drinking more of. It’s unique but understandable, and a thrilling collaboration of land, sea, air and human.

The great thing is that there are many other Greek wines like this out there; we just need to demand them.


Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]