For a relatively small island that’s only 35.12 miles², Santorini has a lot of wineries. 13 to be exact.
Thoughts of Santorini usually evoke images of colorful sunsets, blue domed buildings and windmills, but its wine is know to few who don’t go out of their way to drink something other than the typical Italian or Spanish wines offered at their local supermarkets.
I have to admit that I once fell into that category of casual, nonchalant and completely oblivious wine drinker. Before my trip to Santorini, I had no idea that Greece even produced wine, but the minute I touched down on that island and heard about its particular type of wine – volcanic wine – I knew I had to give it a try.
I didn’t know where to start my wine tasting adventure and had even less of an idea of what made a wine “volcanic.” I needed professional help so I hopped on a wine tour with Iliana from Santorini Wine Trails. Iliana is a trained oenologist so if anyone was going to help me understand and enjoy Santorini’s volcanic wines, it would be her.
On the day of the tour, Iliana picked me and my fellow winos up in her van to take us around the island. Before getting to wet our palates with some early morning booze, we went to a small field to see and learn about the grapes that make Santorini’s wine unique.
First lesson of the day answered my most burning question: Why are Santorini wines volcanic? Turns out the answer was actually quite simple. Santorini as we know it today was created thousands of years ago after a huge volcanic eruption destroyed large parts of the island and changed its almost circular shape into a semi circle with a few smaller islands nearby. One of those islands even has a dormant volcano that can still be visited to this day.
With its volcanic origins, Santorini doesn’t have real soil but rocks and minerals instead. Through the porous pumice stones that make up a majority of the bedrock underneath the fields, the vines can soak up water through natural irrigation coming from the sea and also through the sea mist. With these growing conditions, Santorini wines all have a slight sense of earthiness and salinity, and that was exactly what we were about to discover for ourselves at the three wineries we would visit that day. With each winery offering something distinctive, we were in for a well-rounded wine tasting experience.
At the first winery, Estate Argyros, the oenology lesson continued as we learned about the three different types of grapes that grow in Santorini: assyrtiko (the most common one), adani and athiri. This time our lesson came accompanied by five delicious wines that were all made with a different method. We started off with three types of white wine before moving on to a red one. With each tasting, Iliana and the Estate Argyros representative led us through what smells and flavors to pay attention to. Their guidance allowed me to tune into the nuances of the taste and smell of each wine and really enjoy them. I was starting to feel like a sophisticated mini wine expert myself.
We ended the first tasting with what would become my absolute favorite wine from Santorini: Vinsanto. Vinsanto is a naturally sweet, almost syrupy white wine that is drunk as a dessert wine alone or with something chocolaty or vanilla-y (Yes, I invented that but you understand me). Although every winery has their own fermentation methods that will bring out different fruity flavors in the wine, Vinsanto at its core is a very sweet wine, and with my horrible sweet tooth, I was in a wine-soaked heaven.
After that sweet finale at the first winery, we hopped in the car with Iliana aka our designated driver and headed to Venetsanos, a winery with a historic twist. As we walked in the building we were met with a mini wine-making museum with dispalys of the old school machinery once used at Venetsanos and other wineries in the area.
Apart from the mini museum inside, Venetsanos is also historically significant because it was the first industrial winery in Santorini. Once upon a time they even had pipes from their winery that led down the Cliffside and directly into the boats waiting at the port in order to transport the large quantities of wine they were producing. Although those pipes are gone today, Venetsanos has an outdoor terrace that still makes good use of its prime location overlooking the water by giving visitors a gorgeous view to go along with their wine. Luckily, the three different wines we tried there were just as tasty as Venetsanos was interesting.
Our last stop on this wine-tasting adventure was the Domaine Sigalas Winery where we guzzled down our wine with perfectly paired cheeses and cherries. At that point I was flirting with the border between tipsy and let’s just say a little bit more than tipsy so getting some food in my stomach was a welcomed ending to the day. I’m also pretty sure I was a mouse in a previous life because I am all about cheese, especially when it comes in so many different flavors! My favorite was definitely a slightly spicy peppery cheese we had paired with a red wine. It’s incredible how a simple bite of cheese can enhance the flavors of a wine and vice versa. Each of the four cheeses we had on our plate was matched with a different wine that complemented it flawlessly. These pairings almost knocked Vinsanto off of its top spot in my heart. Key word here being almost. Vinsanto was still the clear winner for me at the end of the day.
Santorini is such an incredible island with so much more to discover than just its iconic blue domed buildings and vibrant sunsets (although don’t get me wrong, those are awesome too). Going on the Santorini Wine Trail was my first time doing a wine-tasting tour, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. I thought I enjoyed wine before, but there is an enormous difference between sipping on generic wine you picked pretty much blindly at the supermarket and actually going in the environment where the wines are made and tasting them with the guidance of an expert. With Iliana’s help, I was able to truly appreciate the wines of Santorini in all their nuanced, flavorful glory.
I love experiencing the unique offerings of every destination that I visit, and enjoying the impossible-to-imitate wines of this island with Santorini Wine Trails was without a doubt unique.
If you’re a casual wine drinker headed to this gorgeous Greek island, it’s time to expand your wine drinking horizons. Even on the off chance that you get nothing else out of the experience other than spending half the day drinking and exploring the island with a designated driver so you have nothing to worry about… That alone is totally worth it.
Have you ever gone on a wine tour in Santorini or somewhere else? Did you love it? Hate it? Get a little drunk? Tell me about your experience!
Disclaimer: Santorini Wine Trails sponsored me to take this tour in exchange for writing about my experience. The opinions written here, however, are 100% my own. Duh!