Assyrtiko and the wines of Santorini

On an island such as Santorini, which is almost desert-like and covered in volcanic soil, with only a single spring to meet the island's needs, agriculture has had to adapt: this is particularly true of vines, where a very special variety, Assyrtiko, accounts for the bulk of wine production.

Special indeed, because Assyrtiko is endemic to Santorini! Its qualities, increasingly recognised in the world of wine, are most evident here, in the independent winegrowers or the Santorini wine cooperative. But archaeology reveals that vines on Santorini have a long history, dating back to the time of the Minoans!

As an integral part of your discovery of Santorini, make the most of your stay on the island to taste its fresh, mineral white wines, with their unique volcanic flavours, as well as its great local speciality, Vinsanto, a sweet, syrupy wine with a dark colour and an inimitable taste.

Vineyard landscape on Santorini
© Martin M303 / Shutterstock

Assyrtiko, a vineyard endemic to Santorini

Growing vines is a tradition that dates back to the dawn of time. Frescoes dating from the Minoan period bear witness to this, depicting the merchant ships of this ancient civilisation of Cretan origin transporting the precious beverage in large amphorae.

A bunch of Assyrtiko
© gorillaimages / Shutterstock

In 1600 BC, however, a gigantic volcanic eruption took place, changing Santorini's geological profile forever. The soil received a large mass of volcanic debris, such as pumice stone, covering the entire island in a thick layer. Above all, Santorini remained uninhabited for centuries, until Spartan settlers arrived...

Santorini's vine
© Erica Ruth Neubauer / Shutterstock

It was not until the arrival of the Venetians in the 13th century that vine-growing, and agriculture in general, began to flourish again on Santorini. Over the centuries, techniques were refined with the emergence of a grape variety endemic to the island, Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko now accounts for over 80% of Santorini's vines, producing mainly white wines.

This vineyard is an integral part of the Santorini landscape, occupying most of the plots in the southern part of the island. The Assyrtiko has demonstrated its resistance to phylloxera, resulting in some remarkably old vines: the oldest plants around Akrotiri are said to be almost 300 years old!

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Vinsanto and other Santorini wine specialities

The look of Santorini's vineyards is striking, and will surprise any visitor used to the neat lines of the vineyards of Bordeaux or Burgundy... Here, there are no rows of vines, but clumps of vines at ground level, scattered over fields studded with volcanic rocks.

The Kouloura technique
© Nataliya Nazarova / Shutterstock

Assyrtiko is a low-yielding grape variety that needs space, because water is in short supply! That's why the vines stay so close to the ground: in the morning, they can catch the dew that evaporates under the first rays of sunlight.

If you look closely, you can see that the vine is wrapped around itself, forming the equivalent of a nest around the bunch. This is the Kouloura technique, the meticulous work of the winegrower. The vine shoots form a protective barrier against the wind, which regularly blows hard on Santorini: with no trees, there are no hedges to stop it!

Vineyards around Megalochori
© Jdiezfoto - Juan DYB / Shutterstock

Harvesting takes place in the heat of August. Assyrtiko and Nychteri (night wine) are the two great classics of Santorini, two lively, mineral white wines, but there are also other blends and rare red wines such as Mavrotragano.

But the emblematic speciality of Santorini remains Vinsanto: this sweet wine is made from grapes dried for a fortnight in the sun. The sugar content soars! Vinsanto can then be aged in barrels for up to 20 years. Light in alcohol and very sweet, this dark-coloured wine is particularly good with desserts. A real treat!

Practical info: where can you taste Santorini wines?

A number of independent winegrowers, wine companies and a cooperative await you in Santorini for tastings, sometimes accompanied by a guided tour of the facilities.

Tasting with a view
© Neirfy / Shutterstock

🍇 Santo Wines

Santo Wines is Santorini's leading wine cooperative. Santo Wines is one of the most popular wine tours on the island, so it's best to book before the high season! A guided tour of the cooperative in small groups precedes the tasting, on a terrace overlooking the Caldera.

👉 A practical tour of Santo Wines :

  • Booking recommended on the Santo Wines website.
  • Open every day in season (April-October).
  • Getting there: opposite Pyrgos, on the main road from Fira

🍇 Boutari

This major Greek wine company is present all over the country, with a branch on Santorini. Assyrtiko, Vinsanto, Nichteri, the island's great classics are offered under the Boutari label. The visit includes a tour of the winery, an introduction to the history and terroir of Santorini wines, and of course, tasting!

👉 Practical details of the Boutari visit :

  • Book online on the Boutari website
  • Monday to Saturday, 11am-6pm
  • How to get there: on the main road towards Perissa, near Paleochori.

🍇 Art Space

An independent winemaker producing natural wines, Art Space is also an art gallery housed in an old 19th-century cellar. Art Space offers a free guided tour of its facilities, followed by a tasting (for a fee) for those who are tempted. Top-of-the-range wines that are impossible to find in the shops.

👉 How to visit Art Space :

  • Free entry and guided tour depending on arrivals.
  • Open every day from 11am to sunset.
  • Getting there: in Mesa Gonia, on the road to Kamari
by Editorial Team
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