I’m sure somewhere I read that there was a funeral ritual in some cultures that part cremate the deceased and then make a kind of tea or soup from the bones and consume it in honour of life lived. This wine—the skin-macerated Assyrtiko ‘Mystirio/21’ from Artemis Karamolegos in PDO Santorini—with a little chill on it—is something like I would imagine that funeral tea to be, carrying with it memory and regret and desire and wisdom; and the chalky, sap-like, glowing shadow of death.
The eye is: the warm glow of Edison bulbs, the brightened hue of sepia social-media filters, burnt orange and rust, ceramic water, vase juice, apricot nectar & liquid gold.
The nose is: earl grey tea, sandals kicking stones, pineapple, mint, caramel, kerosene, burning plastic, train brakes & cigarette smoke.
The mouth is: a rush of energy, sandy, of bitter greens and dust, girolle mushroom, roasted chestnuts, open flame, yoghurt and raisins, oregano, old fruit, fresh earth, bone-dry & excitingly beautiful. Exciting because this is (arguably) the first orange wine from Santorini and the first from the crown-jewel varietal that is the island’s staple: Assyrtiko. From a single centenarian vineyard the wine spends 21 days on skins (as the name suggests—there are also 14 day and 17 day macerations available across vintages so keep your thirsty eyes out for these), is spontaneously fermented and sits on lees for 10 months. Artemis Karamolegos acquired vineyards from his hobby-ing grandfather and started the new winery in 2004, having since expanded to offer a wide range of cuvées and increase coverage to being the third largest land holder on the island of Santorini. This holding, the expansion, has allowed a wine like ‘Mystirio/21’ to come into being—Karamolegos offering winemaker Lefteris Anagnostou the opportunity to experiment and, in the case of the ‘Mystirio/21’, greatly succeed.
The wine is: an orange peel, verbena and sun-dried wonder that straddles the fine line between salted perfection and bottled paradise. It is still light on its feet; light on it’s feet and not without hard muscle. It’s a glass of bitter orange marmalade—the Yiayia kind, rendered by old hands in heavy jars from fallen fruit. The tannins hit the teeth and gums and a white-peppered rush of stone fruit and mushroom kicks against the tongue—the inside cheek goes dry, the nose gets nutmeg and thyme and sunlight through glass and you can chew the lot like a charred and dry-aged pound of flesh. It’s like licking sandpaper or French kissing a ginger cat or licking red stones or chewing terracotta and it carries with it all the deep satisfaction of a long-island iced tea on a short (and well deserved) island getaway.
It tastes like something that has gone through hardship and survived it. And this isn’t surprising when one learns that the island on which the fruit was grown, on which the wine was made is the remains of a volcanic caldera from one of the largest eruptions on record. This isn’t surprising to stand on the stones and in the sand of the island, to feel the hard sun in your eyes, to catch the strong wind against your skin, to almost watch the steam rise off the rocks as though the sea were not quite done pulling the small chunk of land in with the rest of it. This isn’t surprising when one learns the fascinating techniques that the Santorini vigneron employs so as to combat the elements, so as to endure what mother nature throws at the lonely island—harsh winds, extreme heat, salt punches. The old trick of circularly twisting vines on themselves to form a kind of protective basket is much practiced on the island and well known off of it. There is a whiff of contest these days however, with the old guard calling the technique necessary and the new (younger) winemakers calling it lazy, as well as the ongoing issue of vigneron selling their fruit to the highest bidder (as opposed to vintners they’ve worked with for decades), and the growing issue of new wineries (and an increasing population) putting pressure on an already exhausted water supply; the dangerous paradise is a constant stage of innovation and wonder, of greed and survival—that spins the most electric and energetic white (and now orange) wine that Greece has to offer. This isn’t surprising when one takes on a glass (or bottle) of any Santorini Assyrtiko, that has so faced hardship and survived.
Nosing the empty glass (and I can confirm that my glass, and the bottle, are well and truly empty—an easy feat, the ‘Mystirio/21’ being an exact quaffer) there’s tree sap in the glass and the perfume of the liquid gold that so caressed it lingers and still throws a few punches. Nosing the empty glass I am left with that feeling you get on the train (or the taxi) back from the airport, with sore feet and a well-earned hangover and that heavy feeling in your heart that the holiday is over and the daily grind awaits. Nosing the glass I am left with the feeling of being incredibly small and quite possibly insignificant that the earth can so erupt, that the sea can just swallow up a piece of land, that plants can long survive us mere humans and their fruit so stop us in our tracks.
It’s an absolute pleasure to drink and to pour this wine for other people and watch their faces light up with surprise, to see them lick their lips and kiss their teeth as I did, as I do, when I drink it and the smallness of all things rush into perspective; as the smoke and dried fruit and crushed bones of the wine run across the palate and up the nose and I’m left with the taste of mermaid tears, of coral blood, my appetite so encouraged by the swell of the sea and the danger that mother earth could so take us all, on a whim, if she decided to.
tasted August 2021