If you’ve ever seen a travel poster for Greece, chances are it either shows the Parthenon/Acropolis (see posting below), or the whitewashed structures & blue-domed/white-crossed churches of Santorini, clinging to the side of a lava-encrusted hillside above a pristine blue Aegean shoreline. I too had seen those posters, and yes, they were extremely effective…. because I’ve always, always wanted to go there!

Sunset on Santorini

Santorini is a volcanic caldera – the result of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history, occurring about 3600 years ago. There are lots of speculative ideas that link that eruption to the lost city of Atlantis, or to the Biblical disasters & plagues that led to the Exodus out of Egypt. In 197 BC, a small islet broke above seawater in the center of the caldera, and six eruptions in the last 430 years (the latest occurring in 1950) ultimately led to the formation of a small islet called Nea Kameni. I hiked across that islet, visiting the lava fields and monitoring sites described by ISMOSAV (the Institute for the Study and Monitoring of the Santorini Volcano; note that their website even offers real-time seismicity readings!). It still has active fumaroles emitting hydrogen sulfide and other gases. We also had a chance to visit the buried Minoan city of Akrotiri, which is on the main (Thera) island. That was buried during the major eruption, which is estimated to have occurred in the early 1600s BC. While it is like Pompeii in many respects, no bodies or jewelry have been found during the excavations; obviously volcanic tremors gave its citizens plenty of warning & time to leave.

The volcano and its historical impacts were certainly very interesting, but we also had an additional modern quest in mind: the wines grown in Santorini’s ‘volcanic terroir.’ Even before leaving New Jersey, I had met up with a good friend and former business partner, Joel Epstein, who recently moved back to the East Coast after 16 years in California. Joel is an oenophile, with great taste and knowledge about wines….. and he suggested that I try a white Santo Assyrtiko before our trip. I found a local N.J. shop that sold it – and that wine subsequently became indelibly linked to our vacation plans (Note: It probably didn’t hurt that I was reading Daniel Klein’s Travels with Epicurus to get ready as well!)

We visited the Santo Winery in Santorini to taste it and other local varieties – but the Assyrtiko remained the favorite, and we sought it throughout the visit, on our numerous Greek gastronomic stops. (I know you’ll have to take my word for it….. but the building that you can fuzzily make out through the wine bottle glass in the photo above is the Parthenon.) Thanks much, Joel!

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