What are the best wines in Santorini and how does the volcanic soil affect their taste?

Santorini is a Greek island famous for its stunning caldera views, white-washed houses, blue domes, and honeymoons. But did you know that Santorini is also one of the best destinations in Greece for wine lovers? Santorini has a long history of wine-making, dating back to the ancient times, and its wines have been praised by critics and connoisseurs for their unique character and quality.

One of the main reasons why Santorini wines are so special is the volcanic soil that covers most of the island. Santorini is essentially the remnant of a massive volcanic eruption that occurred around 1600 BC, creating a crescent-shaped island with a sunken crater in the middle. The eruption also left behind layers of ash, pumice, and lava that formed the basis of the island’s soil. This soil is rich in minerals, such as iron, magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium, but poor in organic matter and water retention. It also has a slightly acidic pH, which affects the acidity of the grapes and wines.

Another factor that contributes to the distinctiveness of Santorini wines is the way the vines are grown. To cope with the strong winds, harsh sunlight, and scarce water that are typical of the island’s climate, the local winemakers developed an innovative method known as the kouloura (coil). The vines are trained low to the ground and woven into a basket-like shape, protecting the grapes within. The kouloura also helps to collect the dew and moisture from the night air, providing some hydration to the vines. The vines are also very old, some over 100 years old, and have deep roots that reach into the volcanic subsoil. These old vines produce low yields but high-quality grapes with concentrated flavors and aromas.

The most important grape variety in Santorini is Assyrtiko, a white grape that accounts for about 70% of the island’s vineyards. Assyrtiko is native to Santorini and has adapted well to its volcanic terroir. It produces dry white wines that are crisp, mineral, citrusy, and saline, with high acidity and alcohol. Assyrtiko wines can also age well, developing complex notes of honey, nuts, smoke, and petrol over time. Assyrtiko is often blended with other white grapes, such as Athiri or Aidani, to create more aromatic and floral wines.

One of the most famous wines made from Assyrtiko is Vinsanto, a sweet dessert wine that has a long tradition in Santorini. Vinsanto is made from overripe white grapes that are sun-dried for several days, concentrating their sugars and flavors. The dried grapes are then pressed and fermented in oak barrels for at least two years, sometimes up to twenty years or more. The result is a luscious wine with rich aromas of dried fruits, caramel, coffee, nuts, and spices.

Besides Assyrtiko, Santorini also produces some excellent red wines from grapes such as Mavrotragano, Mandilaria, Voudomato, and Kotsifali. These red grapes are also grown in volcanic soil and have high acidity and tannins. They produce medium-bodied red wines that are fruity, spicy, earthy, and smoky.

So what are some of the best wines in Santorini to try on your next trip? Here are some recommendations based on web search results:

  • Passopisciaro Contrada 2011

    : This is a red wine made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, a grape that grows on Mount Etna in Sicily. Nerello Mascalese is similar to Pinot Noir in its elegance and complexity. This wine comes from different contradas (vineyard sites) on Etna’s slopes, each with its own volcanic soil and microclimate. The wine is bold, structured, and vibrant, with notes of red fruits, herbs, smoke, and minerals.

  • Planeta Etna Bianco 2014

    : This is a white wine made from 100% Carricante, a grape that grows on Mount Etna in Sicily. Carricante is an elegant grape with natural acidity and floral notes. This wine is fresh, crisp, and aromatic, with notes of lemon, apple,
    pearl barley
    and chamomile.

  • Vassaltis Vineyards Assyrtiko 2019

    : This is a white wine made from 100% Assyrtiko, grown on Santorini’s volcanic soil. This wine is a great example of Santorini’s terroir, showing the minerality, salinity, and citrusy character of the grape. This wine is also aged on its lees (dead yeast cells) for six months, adding some texture and complexity to the wine.

  • Hatzidakis Winery Mavrotragano 2016

    : This is a red wine made from 100% Mavrotragano, a rare and indigenous grape variety from Santorini. Mavrotragano means “black and crunchy” in Greek, referring to the color and texture of the grape. This wine is aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, giving it some vanilla and toast notes. The wine is also fruity, spicy, and smoky, with notes of black cherry, plum, pepper, and leather.

  • Gavalas Winery Vinsanto 2006

    : This is a sweet dessert wine made from Assyrtiko, Aidani, and Athiri grapes that are sun-dried for 15 days. The wine is aged in oak barrels for 10 years, creating a complex and luscious wine with notes of raisin, fig, honey, caramel, coffee, and nutmeg.

These are just some of the amazing wines that you can find in Santorini and other volcanic regions. Volcanic wines are distinctive and expressive, reflecting the terroir and history of their origin. They are also versatile and food-friendly, pairing well with a variety of dishes, from seafood and salads to cheese and desserts. If you are looking for wines that are different and exciting, volcanic wines are definitely worth exploring.