ΥΓΕΙΑ to Greek Wine!
Doing research on Greek wines from the U.S. was difficult – and by research I mean drinking as many Greek wines as I could find. I was excited to learn the wine business is alive and well in Santorini, driven primarily by the growing and production of the Assyrtiko grape. At one time, more than half the island was covered in Assyrtiko vineyards but many were pulled to make way for hotels and housing. The families in Santorini are starting to recognize the importance of the vineyards to the local economy and have begun to replant. I learned from one winemaker that out of the total 700 hectares of Santorini, 400 used to be vineyards. Currently, that number has dwindled to 120.
The Assyrtiko grape produces a dry, white wine that perfectly complements many of the items you would find at a Greek restaurant. It’s best drunk with food and you will also find its grapes in the Nykteri and Vinsanto wines.
There are close to 15 operating wineries on the island and many have either formal tasting rooms or can accommodate visitors. A variety of tour companies, mostly one person operations, will take you around to 3-4 wineries in a day if you don’t want to chance driving around the island. Most wineries are located in the Pirgos region of the island, which is not easily accessible without a car.
Gavalas Winery – This small, family operation is producing some of the nicest wine I tasted. Their wide variety (Assyrtiko, Nykteri, Katsano, Vinsanto and others) make tasting here lots of fun. The winery sun dries their Assyrtiko grapes for two weeks and then crushes the grapes by foot in order to make their Vinsanto (the island’s dessert wine). A special treat and one to not miss. I’m coming back for the grape stomping!
Estate Argyros – Another small producer, but this one is seen more frequently in the states. Estate Argyros was the only winery where I tasted a 100% Aidani wine, which is a grape also grown on the island, but mainly used as a blending grape. Their wines are great quality and you can find them in restaurants all over the island.
Boutari Winery – Boutari is a bigger production winery with wines hailing from Santorini, Crete and the mainland. The tasting room is reminiscent of many in the states and the tasting opportunities seem endless. The Kallisti bottle of the Assyrtiko was my favorite. Lots of indoor seating which would be a welcome reprieve in the summer heat.
Santo Wines – Santo is another larger production winery with a formal tasting room and amazing patio view of the caldera. Santo Wines is a co-op, which means it takes grapes from any grower on the island. A nice way of continuing to give back and encourage vineyard growth. You can easily book a tour and tasting through their visitor center.
Domaine Sigalas – The one winery within walking distance from Oia. The winery has a tasting room and patio, but wasn’t open until April. Easy to walk down to from Oia, would be a little more challenging coming back uphill!
The wineries are starting to produce some red varietals, but they need some time to match what they have mastered with the Assyrtiko grape.