5 tips for a fabulous wine tasting in Santorini

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Santorini is one of Greece’s most popular tourist destinations, known for its amazing wine, romantic cliffside hotels, and stunning sunsets. The landscape was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions; the most devastating happened around 1650 BC. The Minoan eruption, as it was called, caused the annihilation of the Minoan civilization. After the volcano blew upward, the crater and parts of the outer walls were submerged under the Aegean Sea. Santorini has grown from a circular island to a crescent-shaped island. Today, the crater – or “caldera” – remains under azure water. You can see pumice, ash and rocks layered in the walls, sandy gravel and pumice on the ground.

Winemaking dates back 3,500 years to Santorini, an island also considered the lost city of Atlantis. It is not easy to produce wine on an island with a scorching summer sun, a harsh winter wind and volcanic soil. But more than 50 varieties of white and red grapes thrive in the vineyards, including the ancient Assyrtiko grape. Tomatoes, broad beans and white eggplants also grow well in difficult conditions. The depth of flavor in the product is unmatched. The enriched lava soil includes absorbent pumice stone which retains moisture from morning dew, fog and sea mist. Even on the hottest days, the grapes have enough water at the root. Many vineyards terrace their land, which retains precious water and efficient agriculture on the steep slopes of the island. Twelve thousand acres – about 85 percent of Santorini’s arable land – is used for wine production. And a secular pruning system where the vines are rolled up in baskets called “kouloura” protects the grapes. Winemakers weave the stems of the vines together, making crowns that rest on the ground instead of growing on a trellis. It’s hard work, but viticulture has been a part of Santorini for centuries. Old and almost extinct varieties, and vines resistant to phylloxera, grow on the island. Here are five tips for a fabulous wine tasting where you can experience these incredible varieties in Santorini.

For more experiences on Greek islands like Santorini, check out the 7 Best Island Day Trips from Athens, Greece.

Santo Vineyard (Photo credit: Shana Goldstein)

1. Book in advance in high season

There are over 18 wineries in Santorini and it is a top destination for wine tourism in Greece. Some of the best wineries have tasting rooms on the cliffs overlooking the caldera. It is a romantic place to sip wine, especially at sunset. The best time to visit Santorini is right after the crowds return from September to October, or in late spring from April to May. During these periods, booking a tasting is easier. Getting a reservation for a tasting at a famous wine estate, especially with a view, becomes more difficult in high season, which runs from June to August. If you’re visiting during the summer, book months in advance to make sure you get the tasting or wine tour of your choice.

White wine ages in steel vats at Argyros Estate
White wine ages in steel tanks at the Argyros estate (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

2. Decide if you want to tour

Are you a wine lover, or do you want to try some wine and try some other activity? This is an important question because the caves are spread over the island. Suppose you are curious about wine and want to find out how it is made in Santorini. In that case, you need to book a wine tour, and there are several options to choose from of. There are 3-hour, 4-hour, or half-day wine tasting tours that take you to specific wineries. Some start at 10:00 a.m. and others start at 4:00 p.m. The last visits end in a winery overlooking the caldera for a sunset tasting. Most tastings include snacks, a selection of cheeses, olives, bread and olive oil. Tour prices vary between $ 85 and $ 165 (tips not included) and are guided. You are picked up from your hotel or nearby in an air-conditioned van with driver and guide. The guide will tell you about each winery and discuss local sights and history. Tours are typically up to eight people. Private tours cost more; over $ 600. You spend part of the day on the tour, but you learn a lot and visit some excellent wineries. Plus, you don’t have to worry about driving on narrow roads, especially after tasting multiple wines at multiple wineries.

View from the Venetsano winery over the caldera
View from the Venetsanos cellar over the caldera (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

3. Select your own winery to try

Depending on where you are staying in Santorini, public transportation is easy to navigate. If you are staying in Fira, the center bus stop is there. You can buy a ticket on the bus with cash and visit many famous wineries on the island. Then take a short walk from the bus stop. From other villages you may need to change lines. This mode of transportation is difficult for more than one winery per day, or if you have a mobility problem. Two options to try would be Holy, or “The magazine for wine lovers Recommend it as the best place in Santorini to taste wine while watching the sunset over the caldera. ” Or Venetsanos Winery, which is lovely and has a great view of the caldera at sunset. In this case, both could be reached by bus. You will first need to plan your tasting by visiting each winery’s website. Then get acquainted with the bus calendar to make sure you are at the stop in time to catch the return bus. Or you can organize a Taxi; you can also check with your hotel concierge to book taxis. Booking a taxi in advance will allow you to visit the winery of your choice for your tasting with pick-up at a set time. Taxis are hard to find on your own and Uber does not exist on the island. If you decide to take the bus, you don’t have to spend hours on the tour. It’s cheaper and less time consuming if you want to try the wine and not make it a day.

To learn more about Greece’s food and wine cultures, check out our 7 Tips for Starting Your Own Greek Tavern at Home.

Vinsanto from Argyros estate
Jeanine Consoli

4. Taste Vinsanto at Argyros Estate

Santorini’s sweet white dessert wine, known as “Vino di Santorini” or Vinsanto, has been around since the 12th century. It rose to world fame after arriving in Russia in 1783. Today it takes top honors in the dessert wine category due to the distinctive native Assyrtiko and Aidani grapes. The grapes give it a golden color with an aromatic profile of figs or caramel when it comes to a young wine. It becomes darker and more intense with a flavor of coffee, molasses or dried fruit as it ages. The grapes are left on the vine to reach full maturity. They are harvested at the end of August and put to dry in the sun. Argyros Estate has been producing wine for over 100 years. This family business, run by fourth generation winemaker Matthew Argyros, regularly wins awards and gold medals for its wines. While many winemakers make this wine in Santorini, the Vinsanto (20 years aged in barrels) received 100 points per Wine and spirits magazine (a first in Greece) and named among the 100 best vineyards in the world. The grounds are large, modern and offer ocean views. It is easily accessible by bus and listed as a stop on some wine tours. The wine, mainly Assyrtiko and Aidani (reds are also made), is delicious.

Pro tip: Tastings require reservations. Wineries will ship to the United States.

The Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum;  Santorini, Greece
Jeanine Consoli

5. Visit the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum

Many wine tours include this cellar and museum, which offers you an extended wine-growing tour in Santorini. The audio-driving experience is nestled in an underground cave. There are several steps down to reach the staged screens. You follow a narrator as you travel through time with the Koutsoyannopoulos brothers to the 1600s. Guests see the steps in the process from plow to machine and learn about techniques still used today. At the end of the visit is a tasting. The family business is a fourth generation operation with various wines of young and old whites, young and old reds, rosés and sweet and semi-sweet grape varieties. Tastings vary in price, but a tasting of four wines will cost around $ 12. It’s a great tour, and the wine is great.

Pro tip: Santorini has so many attractions. If you can’t join a wine tour or tour, sample wines at local restaurants. Sigalas Estate, a small winery in Oia, offers award-winning wines around the world. Their 2017 Mavrotragano is highly rated. Mavrotragano is a grape that is almost extinct in Santorini. This is a rare opportunity to taste a variety grown exclusively on the island.

For more information on the beautiful islands of Greece, be sure to visit these links:


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