The Wines of Santorini

This post was contributed by my friend Moshé Cohen. Visit Moshé at www.inthevineyardwith.com and on instagram at @in.the.vineyard.with

Moshé visited Santorini in May 2019 to meet the winemakers, taste the wine,
eat the food and soak up the magic of Santorini

Santorini does not belong to Greece anymore – it belongs to the world

The quote belongs to a Santorini restaurateur, himself originally from Kalamata, running a traditional taverna on the island for the last 15 years.

Santorini is a volcanic island, part of the Cyclades Archipelago, roughly two thirds of the way from Piraeus to Crete. In the last 10 years or so, thanks to social media, the island has become a magnet for cruise liners, day tourists from Athens and bizarrely, brides and grooms from all around the world, coming here for the postcard perfect sunset snapshot. The island is booming on many fronts, which can explain the strong view quoted above.

Santorini’s distinctive basket or bird’s nest style grape vines are adapted to the harsh climate

Assyrtiko: A True Superstar

Amidst all the tourism and seasonal commotion there is also a thriving wine scene. But viticulture here is far from new. In fact, as highlighted by one of Artemis Karamolegos’ latest releases – ‘34’ Assyrtiko, the island has a recorded viticulture history reaching back 34 centuries.

The Assyrtiko grape reigns supreme on this volcanic, desert-like crescent of an island. It is a grape capable of producing wines of complex structure. Acidity that can resemble top Loire whites, salinity and oily texture and depth of minerality that can rival a Chablis Grand Cru. A true superstar.

The entire island forms a single PDO zone that encompass all styles, white, Rose, Red and Vinsanto, the sweet wine produced from sun-dried grapes. A unique vineyard management system exists on Santorini. In order to protect the vines from the constant wind and lack of summer rain, the vines are weaved into baskets, called Koloura. The soil on Santorini is very poor and contain no clay, so it is Phyloxera-free. The soil in many vineyards is granulated volcanic tufa, or in local dialect: Aspa. It creates poor and dry enough conditions that even the hardy Vitis Vinifera finds it hard to survive here.

Santorini’s Unique and Distinct Wine Varieties

The traditional Assyrtiko wines were often blended with other varieties such as Aidani and Athiri. The best vineyards were harvested at night and produced a style of wine known as Nykhteri (the nightly one). This style still forms the backbone of the traditional, top of the range Assyrtiko wines from each of Santorini’s wineries. Look out especially for the Nykhteri of Hatzidakis, Sigalas, Karamolegos and Argyros – they are all stunning wines.

The reds, despite some admirable efforts to raise their profile, will always play second fiddle here to the Assyrtiko and Co. Reds of note are the Mavrotragano of both Hatzidakis and Sigalas and the excellent Mandilaria of Venetsanos. Vinsanto is not to be missed as well, with special mention to the examples of Sigalas, Hatzidakis, Argyros and Roussos. The Liastos (sun dried Mandilaria) of Venetsanos is superb too.

Santorini Wineries To Visit

Venetsanos – probably the best cliff top view of any of Santorini’s wineries. Just above the port, overlooking the entire island, wine is served by the glass or bottle with meze style dishes.

Karamolegos – very innovative winery, excellent range of wines but above all, a fantastic restaurant, using their own produce grown on site, no dramatic cliff views but a quiet corner of the island.

Sigalas – in the northern part of the island, facing east, when everybody wants to face west (caldera view…), epitomising the owner, a man not afraid of bucking the trend and blazing his own trail for others to follow. Gorgeous terrace amongst the vines, to sit, ponder and taste his entire range by the glass.

Hatzidakis – a proper visit to a winery. You sit amongst the ageing barrels, in a cave. The thing I love most about Hatzidakis visit is that unlike most other wineries, where the staff are hired for the season, at Hatzidakis the people showing you around are the owner, Konstantina and her Oenology team.

Vassaltis – the newest winery on the island. An impressive visitor centre. Sophisticated with good food choice. Interesting new wines, including Santorini’s first Pet Nat.

Santorini’s landscapes and wines are sublime – hewn from a rugged and inhospitable volcano

Listen to Moshés podcasts including his podcast interview recorded on location at Venetsanos

Click these links for other Wine Beat content on Santorini and Greece:

1001 Wine Routes – Santorini ; Naoussa; Nemea; Attica

Greek Renaissance Podcast

The History of Wine – Greece – Podcast

Sparkling Wine and Tsiporo with Laurens Hartman – Podcast

Gerovassiliou Estate – Podcast

An Interview with Vassilis Pappagianakos of Pappagianakos Estate – Podcast


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