What are some of the first characteristics that come to mind when you think of Santorini, Greece? For many, it’s the white-washed buildings perched on the steep sea-side cliffs, the bright blue domes that dot the vistas, and the dramatic caldera that rises from the glittering sea below. But what you might not realize is that Santorini is also home to some of the best wines in the world—vastly unique from any other types of wine you’ll find elsewhere.
Whether you are planning your next vacation to Greece or you are looking for a new vino for your wine cellar at home, here is what you need to know about the wonderful world of Santorini wines:
The History Of Wine In Santorini
Santorini is home to some of the oldest vineyards in the world, with some historians believing that the cultivation of vines on the island dates back 5000 years. Though much has changed over the ages, Santorini winemakers still use the same traditional koulara method, where the vines are woven into circles close to the ground to effectively form a basket that protects the grapes from the harsh wind and sun of the Island. These unique vines also trap the necessary humidity the grapes need to flourish (the island hardly sees any rain.)
But it is not just Santorini’s unique vine cultivation that results in its distinctive types of wine. Rather, the most important factor in the wine-making process is the island’s mineral-rich volcanic soil. Volcanic ash, pumice stone, solidified lava and sand (and a noteworthy lack of clay) all combine to produce a wine that is distinctly unique in taste and body. As the sommelier at Agyros Estate explained to me:
“When the wine is young, you might notice flavors like lemongrass. But as year after year goes by, the fantastic taste of the minerals from the soil will surface. It’s unlike any other wine in the world.”
Types Of Wine To Try
Though Santorini does produce red and rose wines, it is the island’s white and sweet wines that truly shine. Some of the most popular types of wine you will encounter include:
Assyrtiko: One of the most widely planted grapes, this white wine is characterized by its citrus aromas with earthy finishes.
Athiri: This ancient grape produces medium bodied wines, and are typically blended with other local varieties such as the Assyrtiko grape.
Vinsanto: Vinsanto (noticeably different then the similar sounding Italian Vin Santo) is Santorini’s sweet wine. The wine is produced from naturally sun-dried grapes, primarily Assyrtiko. Not overly sweet, Vinsantos are typically paired with a variety of cheeses and fruits, and are the perfect accompaniment for all your fall desserts.
Best Wineries To Visit
If you spend some time driving around the island of Santorini, then you will likely stumble upon a variety of local wineries that offer tastings and tours. But if you want to ensure you stumble upon the best of the best, here are the wineries that you should not miss:
The Estate Argyros has been making wine in Santorini for over a century, and their devotion to the trade certainly shows. Argyros’ 2011 Assyrtiko was easily the highlight of all the wines I sampled during my time on the island. The dry white wine was crisp and light, but also full-bodied. The 20-year oak aged Vinsanto from Argyros was arguably a close second favorite. But don’t just take my word for it. Wine & Spirits Magazine has listed Estate Argyros as one of the world’s 100 best wineries.
Canava Roussos is Santorini’s oldest canava, dating back 200 years. While the winery offers a variety of lovely tastings, don’t miss the mouth-watering Vinsantos that the family-run establishment is best known for.
Santo Wines is undoubtedly touristy, but with some of the best caldera views in all of Santorini, it’s hardly any wonder why. There are numerous delicious wines to choose from along with fantastic appetizers to pair them with. I recommend sampling Santos’ unique sparkling Assyrtiko wine and raising your glass in cheers! to the breathtaking island.
For a unique wine destination that is not California or France, consider heading to Santorini for a wine vacation to remember. Alternatively, next time you’re hosting a dinner party and you truly want to wow your guests, look for a bottle of Assyrtiko at your local wine shop. You won’t be disappointed!
What is your favorite fine wine?