A wine cruise around the Greek islands | Travel

Sswimming in an active volcano is a first for me. We anchored next to a mountain of black lava in the middle of Santorini’s caldera, surrounded by the island’s multicolored cliffs.

My reward for taking the leap is a chilled glass of retsina, put in my hands as I get back on our yacht, Harmony G. Although it’s not your usual retsina. While the pine-infused Greek wine may usually send shivers down the spine of some, Gaia’s Ritinitis Nobilis – passed on to me by our Wine Cruise Ambassador, Tim Clarke – represents a more refined New Wave interpretation; it is more lemony, less resinous, than the retsina of yesteryear.

Containing just 21 cabins, Harmony G is owned by Athens-based Variety Cruises, which operates eight small ships. I joined the first of its new Greek wine cruises. The journey not only takes us to classic hotspots such as Nemea and Tinos, but also to quieter villages in the Cyclades and eastern Aegean islands, with swimming stops along the way.

Clarke has organized daily visits to local vineyards, as well as themed lunches at local taverns and estates, and meals on board accompanied by even more Greek drinks as he fills us in on the country’s wine traditions. , which date back at least 3,500 years. “I filled a cabin with suitcases so we could try,” he smiles.

Despite this ancient viticultural history, the good stuff has only been around for 25 years, thanks to a growing cohort of talented producers.

The only stumbling block is the names: xinomavro, assyrtiko, moschofilero and agiorgitiko will never fall from the tongue. Still, “I’ve never known such an exciting time as this for Greek wine,” Clarke enthuses to passengers – half of us Brits, plus French, Americans and a German, all connected by oenophilia.

Bernd, a Berlin-based consultant who loves rioja, tells me he’s intrigued by what Greek wine has to offer, while winemaker Tina, from the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York, can’t wait to stroll through the vineyards to inspect the Greek methods.

It’s Santorini’s Assyrtiko that has put Greek wine on the map, ever since Oddbins Street wine merchant first started trumpeting grapes more than 20 years ago. We leave the crowds at Santorini’s main port, Athinios, and head up the cliff to visit Argyros, which has won many awards for its very old and very sweet assyrtiko and vinesanto.

Argyros’ unique vine-training system is what strikes you first – the plants are coiled in a basket shape to protect their grapes from high winds. We taste salty and lemony whites.

Before Santorini, hilly Tinos was our first stop. The husband and wife team from Volacus Vineyards joined us on board for dinner, telling us about their mineral wines.

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Just a mile from Turkey, Samos came next. Thanks to its mountainous landscape and its generous rains, viticulture is omnipresent there. Sweet muscat is what the island is mainly famous for – even Lord Byron spoke lyrically about it. “Fill Samian’s wine cup!” he wrote, repeatedly. This is exactly what we did in Vakakis.

Fiona Sims explores Milos

Fiona Sims explores Milos

A rather bumpy overnight journey takes us from Santorini to Milos. However, any thoughts of rough seas quickly disappear when cruise coordinator Dietmar announces an imminent swimming spot in the turquoise sea caves of Kleftiko on the south side of this Cycladic island.

Bright Milos is where the Louvre’s precious Venus de Milo sculpture was discovered. The island’s spellbinding coastline is the main draw, with over 70 beaches as well as an extensive network of caves, naturally formed arches and rock formations, but there are also plenty of new places to eat and the vineyard Imerys – recently planted on abandoned land. perlite mine – to be checked.

A grilled sea bream awaits us on board, accompanied by a ragout of potatoes with dill and artichokes, as well as a salad of beets with salted capers and yogurt. Everything is prepared by Egyptian chef Ahmed, who constantly offers an outstanding range of Greek favorites. The best couple ? An “orange” wine aged in an amphora made from rare santameriana grapes.

Next, Harmony G heads towards the Peloponnese, stopping first at Monemvasia. Before exploring its medieval stone town, founded by the Byzantines in the 6th century, we first head to the winery of Monemvasia.

Founded in 1997, the project sees Giorgios Tsimbidi and his three daughters explore the forgotten grape varieties of this region, such as Kidonitsa and Asproudi. For its perfect balance of acidity and aromatic fruit, I vote for the former – we tried it the day before at Archontoula, a restaurant in the old town of Milos, and loved how well it paired with the samphire and sheep’s cheese donuts (mains from £11; archontoula.gr).

Before the cruise returns to Athens, you will have time to take a look at Greece’s premier wine appellation, Nemea, which enjoys Protected Designation of Origin status for its wines made only from the native agiorgitiko. The pronunciation of this one gets me every time; “eye-your-yee-tiko”, I practice quietly.

After dropping anchor in the picturesque port town of Nafplio, we drive through orange groves to the village of Koutsi and the Semeli estate. A sign of things to come, this Napaesque winery features elegant rooms, an infinity pool, and an elegant winery tour. This makes for an impressive finale to my Greek wine odyssey.

Fiona Sims was a guest of Variety Cruises, which offers seven nights all-inclusive on the Aegean Wine Cruise itinerary from £3,766 pp, including all tastings and tours, departing September 1, 2023 (varietycruises.com) . Fly to Athens. Fiona was also a guest at Athens Flair, a boutique hotel which offers double guest rooms from £147 (athensflair.com)

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