Six stunning wineries to taste Santorini’s unique white wines and discover the island’s variety
I have probably mentioned a hundred times that I enjoy Greek white wine. And after spending a lovely week in Lower Austria’s wine valley, I couldn’t wait to do a similar tour in Santorini, too. Of course, you probably know Santorini for its caldera views, white-washed homes, blue domes, and honeymoon trips, but did you know it is also home to the most distinct and oldest wineries in the world? And after spending a couple of lovely days on the picturesque Greek island and respectively drinking lots of local wine, I can not only tell you what distinguishes it from other wines but also where you will have the most beautiful views and learn the most insights on the island.
In fact, the wines produced in Santorini are all kinds of special: The volcanic, porous soil, strong winds, the lack of rainfalls, and long hours of sunshine all culminate to produce some of the most exciting grapes: The indigenous Assyrtiko, the Athiri, and the Aidani Aspro.
The viniculture in Santorini is very different from other wine counties that I have visited: Due to the strong wind and the lack of water on the island, the vines are shaped in the form of baskets (low to the ground) called kouloura to protect the grapes from the climate conditions and phylloxera (that Santorini’s vineyards have never been affected by so far!). The system also supports the grapes in watering themselves: The available humidity creates high moisture levels in the baskets that help the soil to absorb water during nighttime, giving it back to the vine during the day. All in all, this is a beautiful ecological, self-nurturing system, which proves that it never needed to be replanted, making the vineyards in Santorini among the oldest in the world.
All these elements, in combination with one of the noblest white grape varieties in the Mediterranean, the indigenous Assyrtiko, create rare, precious, and unique wines in Santorini.
During our time in Santorini, we have visited a total of four wineries, all very distinct from each other, but all very gorgeous and authentic and a hundred percent recommendable. So, if you want to explore a different side of the island and wonder which Santorini wineries to hit up, take a look at my list below to recap the best wineries in Santorini.
Our first winery visit was at GAIA wines, a brand we knew already as we had just purchased a bottle from our favorite Greek wine shop in Berlin. Gaia is originally from the Peloponnese peninsula and known for its red and rosé wines. In Santorini, they have transformed a stone-built industrial building once used to make tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes into a modern winery. Here, they mainly produce the island’s popular Assyrtiko. Situated right on the beach, it is a beautiful experience to try their wines on their lovely terrace while looking directly at the turquoise blue ocean.
Wines to try at Gavalas Winery
ASSYRTIKO by GAIA WILD FERMENT: The carefully selected matured and qualitative Assyrtiko comes exclusively from the vineyard of Pyrgos, the grape is placed in tanks and oak or acacia barrels, prevailing wild yeast strains that eventually determine the wine’s character.
ASSYRTIKO CLAY: A unique orange wine made with forgotten techniques of another age that result in a dark, deep amber color, with intense aromas of dried fruits, vanilla, and honeycomb that almost remind of bourbon whiskey.
14-18H AGIORGITIKO: These grapes, grown in the mountainous Koutsi and Asprokampos regions of Nemea, are harvested, processed, and directed into vats, where the grape skins remain in contact with the must for 14-18 hours (hence the name!), thus allowing the wine to acquire its final rosy hue and the typical aroma of the variety.
4-6H AGIORGITIKO: Created to complete the rose series that GAIA started years ago, with its predecessor 14-18h. The wine does impress and is significantly lighter and more refreshing than its older brother.
Our next stop was at Domaine Sigalas, an internationally known winery among wine lovers. It has won numerous awards and has received high praise from American wine critic Robert Parker. Located just outside of Oia in the beautiful countryside, it makes the perfect stop on the way to the world-famous sunset. The tasting area of the Domaine is open daily, with some tables on the patio right under vine-covered pergolas and others in the vineyard. We chose the “Absolute Assyrtiko” Tasting, paired with incredible lunch (Papoutsáki – white eggplant, braised beef, and béchamel sauce foam!!) from local produce: Some vegetables are even grown in the gardens around the domain. Does it get any better? On the flip side, the praised wines come at costs from not less than 20 to 80 Euros per bottle. With that in mind, I would rather spend a couple of euros on one proper glass of wine next time (paired with the restaurant’s delicious food), rather than have four small sips for the same amount of money. But, well, that might be just me.
Wines to try at Domaine Sigalas:
When I asked locals which Santorini winery was their favorite, the majority pointed me to Gavalas. Hence, it was inevitable that we would visit the so praised winery. Over 300 years old, the family-run winery doesn’t have a restaurant or any notable views, but what they lack in those two realms, they make up in the wine department. It’s remote, it’s cozy, and pretty authentic. To make the winery visit an even more intimate experience, the winery offers to take part in the traditional foot-stomping of the grapes in late summer every year. Oh, how much I wish to be back in September.
Wines to try at Gavalas Winery
Santorini: 100% Assyrtiko coming in a blue bottle
Aidani: 100% Aidani, the second most known variety of the island, fermentation in stainless steel tans for about four months.
Katsano: 85% Katsano, 15% Gaidouria, both very rare local varieties, covering less than 1% of Santorini’s vineyards.
Voudomato: A dry rose wine made out of 100% Voudomato grapes, one of the few red varieties in Santorini.
The price for the most panoramic view probably goes to Venetsanos Winery. Located in the area Megalochori and lying above the port of Athinios, the island’s oldest winery impresses with a multi-level building that blends harmoniously with the natural environment. The big terrace and outdoor area provide panoramic views of Caldera Bay, the Volcano, and the small islands around Santorini. Since this was our fourth and last winery to visit during our vacation in Santorini, we didn’t opt for a wine tasting this time but rather had lunch and one or two proper glasses of wine we wanted to try. We felt like at this stage it was more value for money, as we had tasted many, many Assyrtikos in a small span of time and although very precious, they at one point all did kind of taste the same, so we would instead choose to try proper combined with a meal.
Wines to try at Venetsanos Winery
Santorini: 100% Assyrtiko – a classic.
Nykteri: A famous cuvée for Santorini, consisting of 95% Assyrtiko, 3% Aidani, and 3% Athiri, riping in French oak barrels.
Roseate: A rose wine made of an exciting grape variety of 70% Assyrtiko, 25% Aidani, and 5% Mandilaria.
Santorini has so much to offer and many different wineries with spectacular views, informative tours, and fantastic wines. There was obviously only so much to try during our visit, but for next time, I have noted and bookmarked the following wineries to visit, too, and I can’t wait.
The winery is one of the newest wineries in Santorini, although the family has been grape growers on the island for generations but sold their grapes to other wineries before. In 2010, Yannis Valambous, who inherited the vineyards from his father, decided to break ground and build a winery to produce his wines. Vassaltis was recommended to us by locals, and we drove by on our way to Kalami Beach, stunned by the modern and sleek design that fits so well into the landscape.
Santo Winery Santorini
The Santo Winery is probably the one everyone stumbles across first when exploring Santorini. We also planned to visit it at first but decided against it even though or maybe because it seems to be a tourist favorite. When I asked them about their favorite wineries, it also wasn’t named by locals, so we would instead go to those places. Still, the extensive rooftop overlooking a panoramic view looks pretty tempting, and I have tried their wines on different occasions and always loved it, so I will for sure go back next time I am around.