"The cover of Prof. Doumas' fascinating book on Santorini"
by Fred McMillin for March 1, 2001
The Ultimate Conversation Piece...
A Wine from The Lost Continent of Atlantis!
Plato, c.380 B.C.: "In this island of Atlantis here was a great and wonderful empire... [Then,] there occurred violent earthquakes and floods and the island of Atlantis disappeared into the depths of the sea."
Carl Friedrich's End of the World: "About 1500 B.C. the whole island of Santorini blew up, in what was probably the most violent explosion in all of human history...The whole center of the island sank beneath the sea."
Christos Doumas, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Athens in his book Santorini (photo): "It is not improbable that Plato used the real events [of the Santorini eruption] as the nucleus of his myth of Atlantis."
The Rest of the Story
What did this incredible explosion do to the earth's atmosphere? We have a witness in China, where the royal scribe wrote, about 1600 BC, "At the time of King Chieh the sun was dimmed...Winter and summer came irregularly. Frosts in the sixth month. Ice formed in the morning."
Confirming the magnitude of the cloud, Santorini ash has been found in Iceland at a depth dating the explosion as 1623 B.C.. Tightly-packed tree rings in California about this time indicate that even North America was affected.
Effects on Santorini Viticulture
Before the explosion, life on the island was good:
a) the ladies wore eye makeup b) there was indoor plumbing c) olive trees and grape vines thrived
Some four centuries after the eruption, settlers cautiously returned to the crescent-shaped shred of the volcanic island that we now call Santorini (named after St. Irene). It no longer was agriculturally friendly, probably little different from this modern description: "Barren, waterless, and windswept is the earth of Santorini. Because of that, its agricultural production [per acre] is small. However, because of the volcanic nature of its earth and the fact that they are dry-farmed, all of its products without exception are remarkable and famous. First and best is its wine."
...Filipos Katsipis, Chronicle of our Plain, 1971.
So, here's our...
Wine of the Day
1999 Santorini Asyrtico white wine Produced by Santo Wines, Santorini, Greece Composition—100% Asyrtico grape. The varietal dominates the island's vineyards, but is rarely grown elsewhere. It's origins are not known, but they probably are Spanish. Why Haven't You Heard About Santorini Wines?
- Russia gained control of the island in 1770. Though its rule was brief, it lasted long enough for Russians to develop an appreciation of the wines of Santorini. Hence, the wines generally went in bulk to the east and did not enter the western European market. In fact, only in recent years was the wine bottled, and sold in the West. Tasting Notes—Because of its unique place in the world of wine, you MUST try one bottle regardless of the taste profile...which is crisp, refreshing, dry. Other than that, we'll let you discover why the Russians were so excited about it. Food Affinities—Salad tossed with vinaigrette dressing (add some goat cheese and pine nuts), raw oysters, artichokes, cold asparagus with mustard dressing (first course). Avoid richer foods including avocado, lobster, foie gras, etc. Contacts—For retail outlets in your area, contact: Northern California—IDEAL, NORTH AMERICA, INC., 1-800-738-9463, FAX 1-510-839-9991. Southern California—FOTIS & SON IMPORTS, INC.,phone 1-714-894-9022 and ask for Peter at extension 3. Price—$12 range
Postscript—More Santorini Tidbits
Where is it?
70 miles north of Crete, roughly 100 miles south of Athens.
How high was the tidal wave created by the eruption?
Estimates range from 100 to 300 feet high.
Plato's myth said a great civilization was destroyed when Atlantis sank. What was the probable basis for that?
The great civilization of the Minoans was on Crete, only 70 miles away. It was not totally destroyed, but declined and disappeared in less than two centuries.
How deep is the crater left by the explosion?
Too deep for the anchors of cruise ships to reach the bottom, which is about 1,200 feet under water.
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over
You could call Santorini the home of the brave. The crack in the earth's crust has formed two small islands since the catastrophic eruption. Severe earthquakes are common. The quake of 1956 was so severe that about half the population left, leaving less than 10,000 brave souls on Santorini.
Miles Lambert-Gocs, The Wines of Greece, pp 81-96.
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.