Discovering the delightful vineyards of Santorini
It will be a surprise to many that the little Greek island of Santorini is home to more than 20 wineries and 24 varietals indigenous to the island. One grape is particularly celebrated, Assyrtiko, which produces one of the most prized wines in the world. The island evolved from some of the most violently erupting volcanoes in the last 10,000 years. Grape vines have grown on the island since before that time, indeed the vineyards of Santorini form one of the oldest viticulture regions of the world active today.
The island’s volcanic soils contain granite, basalt, obsidian, pumice and ash, and the high silica oxide and metal content makes the soils acidic, and transmits a low pH and enriching mineral taste to wines.
The unusual way that grapes are grown also contributes to the special wines produced here. Many plants find it difficult to grow in lava soil and in Santorini’s hot, dry conditions, but vines are able to survive here. Santorini is also ravaged by very strong winds, and therefore the vines need a lot of protection.
This is realised by using the kouloura (basket) method to train vines, where the vines are manipulated into circles and grow low from the ground. This enables the grapes growing inside these circles to be protected from the winds, while the leaves deflect sunlight. The semi-porous pumice rocks in the soil absorb moisture from the ground and from sea mists, and later this this water is gently transferred to the vines.
One of the most celebrated wineries on the island is Domaine Sigalas, on the northernmost part of the island. Sigalas first planted vines in 2002, and their first wines were ready three years later.
Here you can enjoy a delightful five-course meal paired with their wines, on a pretty terrace overlooking some of the 81 acres of vineyards Sigalas owns. The wines paired with the dishes I tried were a perfect accompaniment.
Firstly I was given an Athenian salad, a coleslaw with potato, peas and carrots, with delicious local olive oil dripped over it.
It came with a glass of 7 Villages Megalaochori, named after the attractive old village located near Oia. A 2020 vintage, it was fruity and refreshing.
A glass of zesty, fruity Kavalieros accompanied the second dish, freshly-caught sea bass marinated in lemon, with nectarine and spring onion, and the most vivid green olive oil around it.
Sea bream marinated in salt water and placed on a bed of gazpacho followed this, and was paired with a 2021 Santorini Barrel. It had only been left to mature for six months, resulting in a peachy, buttery taste with hints of French oak.
I was then treated to a glass of 2020 Mavrotragano, a red wine at a hearty 15% abv, from a grape that came close to extinction until Sigalas saved it. Matured in oak barrels for a year, it was paired with a fabulously deconstructed moussaka. All the ingredients of this classic Greek dish were there, but presented separately. Therefore a generous chunk of rich, tender lamb in a rich sauce sat next to both a heap of potato and an aubergine puree, with bechamel sauce poured over everything. It may sound like a bit of a car crash, but was novel and delicious, and really underlined how good it is to experience a meal at this winery.
Santorini is renowned for its excellent Vinsanto dessert wines, and this was the last wine I sampled at Sigalas. It is made from late-harvest, sun-dried white grapes and the one I tried had spent six years in the barrels. Boasting rich flavours of rum, sultanas, plums and caramel, it was perfectly paired with baklava and mastica ice cream.
Another winery to check out is Estate Argyros. Founded in 1903, it has vines going back as far as two centuries and has good selection of white wines to explore.
Also worth discovering is Santorini Wine Museum created by Koutsogiannopoulos Winery Nestled in a cave. The museum gives an overview of the island’s geography and history regarding winemaking.
With its wonderful villages, beaches and architecture, Santorini is a delight at the best of times. Coupled with its deep wine culture waiting to be discovered too, it is undoubtedly a wine-lover’s dream.
You can experience Santorini’s wine culture in depth on SmoothRed’s Santorini Wine Experience.