Once you’ve been seduced by Santorini’s mystical charms, it’s only a question of time before you succumb to the temptations of its wines. Whether you’re on your honeymoon in Santorini or just taking in a sunset at Oia, you’ll soon discover that beyond its picture-perfect beauty, Santorini is also home to indigenous grape varieties and wines that are the toast of sommeliers and wine aficionados world over, making it a wine lover’s destination too.
This rocky Mediterranean island emerged from a violent eruption in 1,613 BC spewing ash and decimating the settlement of Akrotiri—a 6,000 year-old city with multistory stone homes, with extremely advanced systems for water supply and drainage. Santorini’s wine tradition dates back several millennia and has been documented by Phoenicians and other traders who visited the island before the Minoan eruption.
Santorini’s most well-known wines
Santorini’s vineyards occupy a very small portion of the island’s barren lunar landscape. It’s almost a miracle that despite its modest production that Santorini’s wines are even known beyond its waters, let alone that it is as sought after.
The one grape variety that has championed Santorini’s place among sommeliers and restaurateurs world over is Assyrtiko, that produces a crisp, citrusy white wine. But other Santorini varieties are now asserting their equally appealing personalities and are quickly acquiring an esoteric following among oenophiles too.
If you find it hard to remember Santorini’s tongue-twisting grapes, a simple mnemonic should do the trick.
White wines are predominantly made from the three grapes starting with A: Assyrtiko (the island’s flagship variety) as well as the aromatic Aidani and Athiri. Red wines are mainly from grapes starting with the letter M: Mavrotragano and Mandilaria. The raw, destructive power of a volcano might not usually be associated with the production of distinctive, high-quality wines, but volcanic soils have added plenty of character to red varieties such as Mavrotragano, indigenous to the Cyclades.
Another interesting indigenous grape to add to your wine journal is Vinsanto, the island’s beloved, golden-hued sweet wine and Nykteri, a white wine, which ages in the barrel for several months and has a high alcohol content.
Santorini Wines: A Labour of Love
Exposed as it is to blistering winds and scorching heat, Santorini’s wine producers have to be even more persevering than their counterparts in less hostile terrains to really draw out the magic from their vines – but the commitment pays off in the form of some truly rewarding wines. The island’s frequent volcanic eruptions meant that volcanic ash, lava, and pumice covered the limestone and slate subsoil, forming what the islanders call aspa or solid ground. Terraces using petrified lava stones have to be built to prevent soil from being eroded by strong winds, and to help retain the scarce rainfall the island receives. Equally extraordinary is the way vines here are pruned, coiled to resemble the Greek doughnut or kouloura to withstand the elements. While the conditions might be harsh, the sun, the soil, the sea and the wind all conspire to keep pests and other ailments at bay, making Santorini’s wines not only chemical-free, but an essence of its spectacularly resilient spirit.
Follow the wine trail
Although many of the wineries offer individual wine tastings, ask the concierge at Santorini’s Secret to book a tour to visit multiple vineyards. It is the best way to imbibe one of its famed wines and absorb the island’s rich wine-soaked history.
The island’s flagship variety, Assyrtiko, acidic, with a hint of salinity, fruity, earthy, pinned its flag on the world wine map with its beautiful structure and personality. Almost three quarters of all wine production in Santorini is dedicated to this grape. Its pronounced minerality and crisp profile makes it a perfect match for seafood, and oenophiles world over have succumbed to the Assyrtiko’s considerable charms, making it the number one Greek grape that is asked for by name.
A short list of wineries and wine museums to visit. Expect distances between vineyards to vary between 25 to 45 minutes.
G. Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum:
Created by winemaker G. Koutsoyannopoulos, the museum provides an overview of the island’s geography and history regarding winemaking. Watch a brief documentary that is as educational as it is engaging, followed by the serious business of wine-tasting.
A boutique winery run by the enterprising Paris Sigalas, a third-generation wine producer who created his own label 25 years ago, and now owns 81 acres of vines. Known for its excellent reds (an exception on an island where white wines dominate), round off your gustatory experience at Domaine Sigalas with an exquisite meal.
Just the spellbinding views from Venetsanos’ promontory and the poetry of their Megalochori and Pyrgos wines should be reason enough to fall in love with Santorini all over again. Chances are that once you’ve absorbed the finer points of Santorini’s rich history of Vinsanto production from your perch at Venetsanos’ scented Mediterranean garden, you will not want to leave.
A historic Vinsanto producer housed in a swanky new, modern, Cycladic-styled winery, Argyros Estate is a Santorini winery that illustrates the history of the island’s rich viticulture tradition. Established in 1903, the winery is spread across 300 acres, with century-old vines. The production here is proudly organic. Try their aromatic Aidani, Argyros Estate’s prized, 20-year-old Vinsanto and their much-acclaimed Santorini Vareli.
Black Rock Restaurant:
The Black Rock Restaurant at Santorini Secrets promises to reveal a few of the island’s best kept mysteries with its curated wine-tasting sessions with select Santorinian wines. Follow it up with a meal paired to elevate your palate in a magical setting that even Dionysius, the Ancient Greek God of Wine, would envy!