An introduction to Santorini's wines
Image credits: pinterest.co.uk

Open up your senses to the exquisite taste of Therian wine and taste Santorini in a glass through the different varietal wines it produces. Ready to enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine?

It is certain the island of Santorini is blessed with a unique landscape and its world-famous sunset that steals the heart of every visitor. Another thing though that you definitely have to try while on the island is the delicious locally produced wines with a history and viticulture of thousands of years. The following article aims to introduce you to the Therian wine production and show you the basics before arriving on the island.

The very location of the island offered the prerequisites for the wine production on Santorini. Located approximately at the centre of the Aegean Sea, it has a typical Mediterranean climate with few rainfalls, warm temperatures and arid soil. Adding to the picture the particular geology of the island (it is a volcano after all), Santorini’s wines became popular and famous throughout the Aegean, and even across this region due to their particular taste. Archaeological finds at the site of Akrotiri and other places in the eastern Mediterranean area, such as Egypt, showed that one of the island’s main exports was its delicious wine transported far and wide with amphoras.

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The prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri on Santorini island - Image credits: wikipedia.org

Throughout the centuries, the people of Santorini evolved the efficiency of their vineyards and adapted their viticulture to the specific needs of their land. After the Latin rule of the Aegean islands, wine-trading flourished even more. The already established commercial network of the Mediterranean Sea and the naturally occurring high-alcohol levels in the grapes, allowed the product to reach far away places by remaining unspoiled and in high-quality. By realising this advantage, the Latin rulers introduced the cultivation of different varieties expanding the exports even more. Such was the success of Santorini, that even after the Ottoman occupation, this Muslim Empire allowed the island to continue producing alcohol, despite the fact that it is prohibited by the Quran, due to the enormous profits it provided to the empire’s treasury.

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Santorini-grapes
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But what makes this wine so special? Apart from the climate, the geology of the island plays quite an important role too. The soil of the island is really poor, consisting mostly of loose soil, ash and rocks. Therefore, the vines have to penetrate the ground with their roots to ensure their access to water. After reaching the calcareous subsoils, they secure the humidity required for their growth since these soil-beds filter and absorb the year’s rainfalls. In addition, these vines are practically immune to the parasite of phylloxera, since Santorini does not have the clay deposits required for the existence of the parasite. Therefore, some of the plants are hundreds of years old and ensures to the island an uninterrupted wine production since antiquity.

Santorini-vineyards
The basket-like woven vines of Santorini - Image credits: foodism.co.uk

The addition of different varieties on the island because of those advantages enriched the local production and shaped today’s viticulture. During the growth of the vines, farmers weave the branches into a basket. This modification allows the grapes to grow inside the safety of the basket, protected by the harsh winds that blow all year long on Santorini. In addition, the leaves of the vines operate as an umbrella, shading the precious grapes from overexposure to the sun. All these factors contribute to the maximum exploitation of the production and to the preservation of the high-quality result.

The flagship of Santorini’s grapes is Assyrtiko, a highly acidic grape full of citrus and mineral nuances. Other white grape varieties exist as well such as the Aidani and Athiri as well as some red grape varieties in much smaller scale.  

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Image credits: shutterstock.com

The most popular classified wines of the island though are the following:

Santorini* has a bright yellow colour, a beautiful nose with floral aromas of the lemon tree and jasmine and a well-structured palate with aromas of exotic and citrus fruits. It is a zesty refined wine with a perceived saltiness, an intense mineral body and a high acidity that gives a splendid finish. It pairs perfectly with fresh grilled fish with olive-oil lemon and thyme, fresh or steamed oysters, shrimps with lemon dressing, pasta with seafood or oysters, Greek salad, salads with sauce vinaigrette, cheeses with mild acidity such as feta or goat cheese.

Nykteri* is the traditional white wine of Santorini, which is produced from extra matured Assyrtiko grapes. Its designation comes from its traditional wine-making, as in the past the harvest took place during the day and the stomping of the grapes during the night.It is characterized by high alcohol (more than 14%), remaining sugars and long ageing in oak barrels. Its colour is gold and its nose of pear and jasmine. It is full-bodied and it can be aged for at least 7-8 years.

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Santorini’s Vinsanto* is a traditional wine with a history stretching back hundreds of years. Introduced during the Latin rule, it was used as a Communion wine. Popular for its taste in every corner of the Mediterranean Sea, during the Medieval Ages, the Russian Orthodox Church proclaimed it as the official wine used for the preparation of the Holy Communion.In order for a wine to be labelled Vinsanto in Santorini the wine must be predominately made from the Assyrtiko grape—at least 51%, the remaining 49% is made up of Athiri and Aidani and some small amounts of locally grown white varieties. Vinsanto does not undergo any chaptalization and is made up only of the natural sugars and acids of the grapes. Vinsanto is made from late harvested grapes that have been dried in the sun for 12–14 days. They are then crushed and fermented and are then aged for a minimum of 24 months in oak barrels. Vinsanto must achieve a minimum of 9% abv.

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The caldera of Santorini- Image credits: twitter.com

Even today, wine production on the island is one of the main sources of income for the local economy after the tourist industry. The numerous wineries that preserve and continue the thousands year old tradition are to be found throughout the island with every single one having its own slightly different recipe for winemaking. While on Santorini, do not miss the chance to explore the rich viticulture of the island and discover some of the most famous wines to be found around the world. Waste no more time, plan your own wine-tour on Santorini or check out one of our Greece tours.

*Description of the wines: gavalaswines.gr, boutariwinerysantorini.gr