Santorini is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece — known for incredible wine, romantic cliffside hotels, and gorgeous sunsets. The landscape was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions; the most devastating occurred around 1650 B.C. The Minoan eruption, as it was labeled, caused the Minoan civilization to be wiped out. After the volcano blew upwards, the crater and parts of the outer walls were submerged underneath the Aegean Sea. Santorini went from a circular to a crescent-shaped island. Today, the crater — or “caldera” — remains underneath the azure water. You can see pumice, ash, and rocks layered in the walls, sandy gravel, and pumice on the ground.
Winemaking goes back 3,500 years on Santorini — an island also believed to be the lost city of Atlantis. It’s not easy to produce wine on an island with searing summer sun, harsh winter wind, and volcanic earth. But over 50 varieties of white and red grapes thrive in the vineyards, including the ancient varietal Assyrtiko. Tomatoes, fava beans, and white eggplants also grow well in harsh conditions. The depth of flavor in the product is unparalleled. The enriched lava soil includes absorbent pumice that holds onto moisture from the sea’s morning dew, fog, and mist. Even on the hottest days, the grapes have enough water at the root. Many vineyards terrace their land, which helps retain precious water and efficient farming on the island’s steep slopes. Twelve thousand acres — around 85 percent of the cultivable land on Santorini — is devoted to wine production. And a centuries-old pruning system where vines are coiled into baskets called “kouloura” protects the grapes. Winemakers weave the vines’ stems together, making wreaths that rest on the soil instead of growing onto a trellis. It’s hard work, yet viticulture has been a part of Santorini for centuries. Ancient and nearly extinct varieties, and vines resistant to phylloxera, grow on the island. Here are five tips for a fabulous wine tasting where you can experience these incredible varieties on Santorini.
For more Greek island experiences like Santorini, see the 7 Best Island Day Trips From Athens, Greece.
1. Book Ahead In High Season
There are over 18 wineries on Santorini and it’s a top destination for wine tourism in Greece. Some of the best wineries have tasting rooms on the cliffs overlooking the caldera. It’s a romantic place to sip wine, especially at sunset. The best time to visit Santorini is right after the crowds head home from September to October, or in late spring from April to May. During these times, booking a tasting is easier. Getting a reservation for a tasting at a famous winery, especially one with a view, becomes more difficult in the high season, which occurs from June through August. If you visit during the summer, make reservations months ahead of time to be sure to get the tasting or wine tour of your choice.
2. Decide If You Want To Tour
Are you a wine lover, or do you want to try some wine and try another activity? It’s an important question because the wineries are spread out on the island. Suppose you are curious about wine and want to discover how it’s crafted on Santorini. In that case, you should book a wine tour, and there are several options to choose from. There are 3-hour, 4-hour, or half-day wine tasting tours that take you to specific wineries. Some start as early as 10:00 a.m. and others begin at 4:00 p.m. The last tours end up at a caldera view winery for a sunset tasting. Most tastings include snacks, a selection of cheeses, olives, bread, and olive oil. Prices for tours range anywhere from $85–$165 (tips not included) and are guided. You are collected from your hotel or nearby location in an air-conditioned van with a driver and a guide. The guide will tell you about each winery and discuss local sights and history. The tours are usually up to eight people. Private tours cost more money; upwards of $600. You spend a part of the day on tour, but you learn a lot and visit excellent wineries. Plus, you don’t have to worry about driving the narrow roads, especially after tasting several wines at multiple wineries.
3. Select Your Own Winery To Try
Depending on where you stay on Santorini, public transportation is easy to navigate. If you stay in Fira, the central bus station is located there. You can buy a ticket on the bus with cash and ride it to many famous wineries on the island. Then take a short walk from the bus stop. From other villages, you may have to switch lines. This mode of transportation is tough for more than one winery per day, or if you have a mobility issue. Two options to try would be Santo, where “Wine Enthusiast Magazine recommends it as the best place in Santorini to taste wine while watching the sunset over the caldera.” Or Venetsanos Winery, which is charming and has gorgeous views of the caldera at sunset. In that case, both could be reached by bus. You would need to schedule your tasting first by visiting each winery’s website. Then familiarize yourself with the bus schedule to ensure you are at the stop in time to catch the bus there and back. Or you can arrange for a taxi; you can check with the concierge at your hotel to book taxis too. Booking a taxi in advance will allow you to visit the winery of your choice for your tasting with pick-up at a designated time. Taxis are difficult to find on your own and Uber doesn’t exist on the island. If you decide to take the bus, you don’t have to spend hours on tour. It’s cheaper and less time-consuming if you want to try the wine and not make a day of it.
To learn more about the food and wine cultures of Greece, check out our 7 Tips For Creating Your Own Greek Taverna At Home.
4. Taste Vinsanto At Estate Argyros
Santorini’s sweet white dessert wine, known as “Vino di Santorini” or Vinsanto, has been in existence since the 12th Century. It became famous on the world stage after making its way to Russia in 1783. It’s earning top honors today in the category of dessert wines because of the distinctive native Assyrtiko and Aidani grapes. The grapes give it a golden color with a flavor profile of figs or caramel when it’s a young wine. It becomes darker and intense with a coffee, molasses, or dried fruit flavor as it ages. The grapes are left on the vine to reach peak ripeness. They’re harvested in late August and laid out to dry in the sun. Estate Argyros has been producing wine for over 100 years. This family business — headed by fourth-generation winemaker Matthew Argyros — consistently wins awards and gold medals for its wines. While many winemakers make this wine on Santorini, the Vinsanto (20-year-old barrel-aged) was given 100 points by Wine and Spirits Magazine (a first in Greece) and named a Top 100 Winery in the World. The Estate is large, modern, and features ocean views. It’s easily accessible by bus and listed as a stop on some wine tours. The wine, mostly Assyrtiko and Aidani (reds are also crafted), is delicious.
Pro Tip: Tastings require reservations. Wineries will ship to the United States.
5. Visit The Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum
Many wine tours include this winery and museum, which gives you an extended viticulture tour on Santorini. The audio-led experience is nestled in an underground cave. There are several steps down to reach the staged displays. You follow along with a narrator as you travel through time with the Koutsoyannopoulos brothers to the 1600s. Guests see the process stages from the plow to the machinery and learn about the techniques still used today. At the end of the tour is a tasting. The family business is a fourth-generation operation with various wines from young and aged whites, young and aged reds, rosé, and sweet and semisweet varieties. The tastings vary in price, but a four-wine tasting will run around $12. It’s an excellent tour, and the wine is terrific.
Pro Tip: Santorini has so many attractions. If you can’t fit in a wine tour or a visit, sample wines at local restaurants. Domaine Sigalas, a small winery in Oia, has award-winning wines available worldwide. Their Mavrotragano 2017 is highly rated. The Mavrotragano is a grape that is almost extinct on Santorini. It’s a rare opportunity to taste a small-batch variety grown exclusively on the island.
For more information on the beautiful islands of Greece, be sure to visit these links: