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Santorini. When a Volcano is a Blessing

, Santorini. When a Volcano is a Blessing, eTurboNews | eTN
mage courtesy of E.Garely

Greek wines offer a captivating journey, and their unique characteristics make them a valuable addition to any wine collection.

Introduction: Discovering Greek Wines – A Palate Adventure

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In this 4-part series, “Greek Wines. Small-Scale + Large Impact,” we look at why Greek wines should be on your radar.

Indigenous Grape Varieties: Greece boasts over 300 indigenous grapes, each with its own distinct flavors and characteristics. This impressive diversity allows wine lovers to explore a wide range of grape expressions that showcase Greece’s rich viticultural heritage. From the crisp and mineral-driven Assyrtiko to the aromatic and floral Moschofilero, there is a Greek wine to suit every palate. Exploring these indigenous varieties is like embarking on a voyage through Greece’s terroir and culture.

Distinctive Terroir: Greece’s diverse climate, abundant sunshine, and unique soil composition contribute to the exceptional quality of its wines. The sunny and dry climate allows grapes to fully ripen, resulting in concentrated flavors and vibrant acidity. The thin and poor soil, often found in mountainous regions, forces the vines to struggle, producing lower yields but grapes of exceptional quality. This combination of factors creates wines with complexity, depth, and a strong sense of place.

Captivating White Wines: Greek white wines have gained international recognition for their outstanding quality and distinct character. Assyrtiko, primarily grown in Santorini, produces bone-dry wines with high acidity, pronounced minerality, and refreshing citrus flavors. Malagousia and Moschofilero offer aromatic profiles with floral notes and hints of exotic fruits. These white wines are versatile and pair well with various cuisines, making them a delightful addition to any wine collection.

Expressive Red Wines: Greek red wines, particularly Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko, have also garnered attention for their depth and complexity. Xinomavro, often compared to Italy’s Nebbiolo, produces age-worthy reds with firm tannins, vibrant acidity, and flavors of dark fruits, spices, and earth. Agiorgitiko, known as the “Blood of Hercules” delivers elegant and medium-bodied wines with red fruit flavors and silky tannins. These red wines offer a unique twist on classic grape varieties and provide a compelling experience for wine enthusiasts.

Food-Friendly Styles: Greek wines are known for their food-friendliness and their ability to beautifully complement the country’s cuisine. With its emphasis on fresh ingredients, aromatic herbs, and vibrant flavors, Greek cuisine pairs exceptionally well with Greek wines. Whether you’re enjoying a seafood feast with a crisp Assyrtiko, pairing a lamb dish with a bold Xinomavro, or savoring Greek meze with a versatile Agiorgitiko, Greek wines elevate the dining experience and create harmonious pairings.

, Santorini. When a Volcano is a Blessing, eTurboNews | eTN
image courtesy of Wikipedia/wiki/silenus

Santorini. When a Volcano is a Blessing

The Greek wine journey extends to the captivating region of Santorini, where the ancient Greek god Dionysus is said to have originated. Santorini is steeped in ancient mythology and shaped by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption that occurred in 1620 BCE predating the destruction of Pompeii.


While it was a catastrophic event, it laid the foundation for a terroir like no other, one that bestows an unparalleled character upon the wines of Santorini. The volcanic ash, pumice stone, solidified lava, and sand that blanketed the island formed the unique Santorini soil, known as aspa (Nykteri style blend of Assyritko with smaller amounts of Althiri and Aidani). The mineral-rich soil, extending to a depth of 100-130 feet, contains all essential minerals except potassium, contributing to the distinctive flavors and aromas found in Santorini wines.

Remarkably, the high sand composition of the soil, ranging from 93 to 97 percent, offers natural protection against phylloxera, eliminating the need for grafting the vines onto rootstock. This natural immunity has allowed the vineyards of Santorini to thrive, with their un-grafted vines delving deep into the nutrient-rich earth.

The Mediterranean climate further shapes the viticultural landscape of Santorini. With mild winters, hot summers, and scant rainfall of approximately 14 inches per year, the vines have adapted to the dry conditions. The porous pumice stones, abundant in the soil, act as reservoirs, retaining precious water for the vines’ sustenance. This unique combination of climate and soil prevents the development of mold and diseases, reducing the need for chemical treatments. Many vintners in Santorini embrace organic practices, resulting in wines that reflect a commitment to sustainability and respect for the land.

To shield the vines from the island’s gusty winds, vine growers employ a clever technique. They utilize low-slung, round koulouri, resembling baskets, which shelter the vines and help create a microclimate conducive to grape ripening. This innovative approach, passed down through generations, adds yet another layer of distinction to the winemaking process in Santorini.

The result of this extraordinary terroir, combined with the influence of the nearby sea air, is the production of exceptional wines that embody the essence of Santorini. From crisp Assyrtiko with its zesty acidity and mineral backbone to the elegant expressions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah.

Winemaker Challenges

Santorini, with its fragile viniculture industry, faces challenges due to its volcanic soils and sparse nutriments. The vineyards on the island are widely spaced to maximize access to these limited resources. Over the years, the vineyard area has significantly decreased. In the 1960s, there were more than 4,000 hectares of vineyards, but by 1980, it was reduced to half that size. Currently, there are only 1,100 hectares of vineyard remaining, supplying 21 wineries, and this number continues to decline each year.

The principal grape variety on Santorini is Assyrtiko, which accounts for 80 percent of the vines. Other indigenous varieties are also grown, including Athiri and Aidani, as well as a few hundred hectares of Syrah and local red grapes. Assyrtiko, in particular, is known for producing powerful, full-bodied wines with a high alcohol content of up to 15 percent. These wines are characterized by their acidity, minerality; nuts, smoke, and butter, are bone-dry, and have a distinct citrus aroma.

Additionally, Santorini is known for its dessert wines called “Vinsanto,” a name derived from Santorini itself. Vinsanto can be naturally sweet or fortified and must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. It is renowned for its velvety palate and exhibits aromas of crème brûlée, chocolate, and dried apricots.

Wine Notes

1.       Santo Vinsanto 2008. Assyrtiko 85 percent. Aidani 15 percent. Naturally sweet wine from sun-dried grapes; 6 years in 225L 4th and 5th use oak barrels.

Santo Wines

The Union of Santorini Cooperatives is an organization that has been operating since 1947 and represents a large number of active members. The mission is to safeguard the local traditional cultivations and promote sustainable agriculture development.

The focus on producing high-quality Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini wines and products is important for preserving the unique characteristics of the region’s agricultural offerings. By promoting sustainable practices, the organization ensures that the local cultivations can thrive while minimizing negative impacts on the environment.

The emphasis on biodiversity through a nursery of autochthonous varieties is particularly noteworthy. By preserving and cultivating local grape varieties, the Cooperative contributes to the preservation of the island’s viticultural heritage. Additionally, the nursery serves as a base for studying and trialing the cultivation of local grapes, which can lead to further advancements in viticulture on the island.

Wines to Consider

About the Grapes

About the author


Dr. Elinor Garely - special to eTN and editor in chief,

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