Wine of Santorini

Wines of Santorini and the Cyclades

Visit the Wineries of Santorini.

Wine is mainly produced on two Cycladic islands: Santorini and Paros. Nevertheless, Andros, Tinos and Naxos also produce some decent table wines.

By far though, Santorini reaps worthily the laurels of the most important wine-producing island of the Cyclades, if not of the whole of Greece. It is also the most interesting island in this domain. Its microclimate presents a lot of particularities: the volcanic terrain of Santorini is a mixture of chalk, slate, coal, ash, lava and pumice. It is extremely dry during the summer when the grapes mature and temperatures during daytime are very high. On the other hand, this island is being mercilessly beaten by the north winds- the "meltemia" (etesian winds) - which prevent the accumulation of humidity on the grapes during daytime. During the night though, when temperatures drop and the climatic conditions become relatively humid, the volcanic terrain absorbs this humidity, thus feeding the grapes.

The result of this unique combination of climate and terrain is that the Santorini grapes mature fast and retain their acidity. Like everything else on the wind-swept Santorini, the vines are also unique. In order to protect the vines from the meltemia, the people of Santorini prune them in such a way that they look like a wreath within which the grapes grow.

There are about 10 local grape varieties, many of which were kwon since antiquity.

Nowadays, only a few of them are commercially exploited for wine production. The most important variety is the Asyrtico, which dominates the island followed by the white and light Aidani which resembles the Muscat.   

Like Santorini, Paros also is swept by the strong Aegean winds. As its neighbors in the south, the people of Paros have developed their own unique method for cultivation and protection of the vines. Here, they do not protect the grapes with wreaths like in Santorini. Instead, the vines grow on very steep slopes in such a way that the fruit is lying on the ground, sometimes at a distance of 10 meters.

Paros is known for two basic varieties of grapes and most of its wine is combination of both. These varieties are red grapes Mantilaria and the white ones Monemvasia.

Wine-making in Paros was traditionally synonymous with the production of unbottled wine, as opposed to bottled. This situation started changing during the '70s, with the increase of tourists which brought along the necessity for better quality wines. The habit though of producing unbottled wine, particularly red, was so deeply rooted on the island, that the local people decided to cultivate mainly the Mandilaria variety for red wine production.

Nowadays thing are different. Today the Mandilaria variety by law cannot exceed 35% of the total white grapes cultivated. The rest is covered by the traditional white variety Monemvasia, or Malvazia, as it is sometimes called.

Paros can be proud for the only appellation of origin in the wine field of Greece, for a wine made by combinations of red and white grapes.

Varieties of white grapes:

Aidani. Indigenous variety of  Santorini which is found on other Cycladic island as well. This white variety produces wines with a flower bouquet. Nicos Manessis in his book “Greek Wine Guide”, stresses that its aroma resembles that of the jasmine.    
Asyrtiko. This is found on all of the Cyclades, mainly on santorini and Paros. The grapes are characterized by a high level of acidity with high contents of sugar as well. It is this oxymoron which makes this particular variety very easy to use and produces wines covering the whole range from absolutely dry to sweet, like the Vinsanto of Santorini.
Athiri. Although this is not an exclusivity of the Cyclades (it is mainly cultivated on the island of Rhodes), the variety of the athiri grapes is found all over the Aegean region. In the Cyclades, it is cultivated in Santorini and and the wines deriving are aromatic with a lemon fragrance. Very often they are mixed with other types of grapes, particularly the Asyrtico.
Nychteri, Santorini. This is another, extremely traditional Santorini Wine. Nychteri is always white, prodused almost exclusively from asyrtico. Occasionally, a combination of asyrtico, athiri and/or aidani is used. Nychteri is a representative, white, dry wine, prodused on the island. Its name comes from the fact that it takes a whole day and part of the night to process the grapes. The collection of grapes takes place very early in the morning, whereas the process and the pressing are completed within the same day.

Varieties of red grapes:

Mandilari or Mandilaria. This variety gives the sub line red wine of Cyclades, more famous in Paros. It is probably one of the oldest varieties in Greece and many believe that its famous in Paros. It is probably one of the oldest varieties in Greece and many believe that its roots go back, without historical vacuums, in antiquity. The wine deriving from this variety has a tart taste with plenty of tannin. It is mixed with the white variety Monemvasia or Malvazia.
Some wines have been recognized as clearly local wines and have been awarded the title of Appellation of Origin. These are the dry, red wine of Paros , produced with the combination of local Monemvasia and Mandilaria grapes, the dry, white wine of Santorini, produced by the unique variety of the island, the Asyrtiko and the sweet Vinsanto of Santorini, produced with the combination of Asyrtico and Aidani.
The rich vine and wine tradition of the Cyclades was established through the years, due to the thousands of vine-growers and wine producers who cultivated every single inch of the arable land. Thus, near the well=organized wineries that have standardize their production, there are still many wine makers who keep the tradition of home-making wine, exploiting the forgotten or even rare varieties of vines.
For instance, on the small island of Anafi, we still find the rare variety of Strofyliatico, in Sifnos and Serifos the Serfiotico, in Syros the white Avgoustiati and katsano and the red Armeletousa, Pronico and Romeico. In Paros, along with the famous Mandilaria, we find the also red varieties Vafissa and Cara Ibrahim. In Tinos, the white grapes thrive more, like the Ascathari and Aspropotamissio, while in Andros and Kea, who in the past had a great tradition in viniculture, we find the red Koumari and Spetson. In Myconos, where viniculture is being reborn, we find the white Aspathari, Aspropotamissio and Pariano, whereas the red variety is mainly the Agianniotico. In the “arc” of Milos, Folegandros, Sikinos, Ios and Amorgos, the same varieties are more or less cultivated, as for instance, the Asyrtico, Aidani, Monemvasia, Athiri, Gaidouria and Trefera. As far as the red variety is concerned, we find the Mavroliatis, Voudomato and Nerostafylo. In Thyrassia, we find the white kritico, in Naxos the white Aidani and Asyrtico and in Kythnos the Psarosyrico. Santorini of course, is the richest in vine varieties, where, besides the famous Asyrtico, Athiri and Aidani, we find the very rare (white) Begleri, Mavromoschato, Rodomousi and Stavrochioti.
Other wines:
Brusco, Santorini. This is the traditional wine of Santorini. Its name comes from the Venetians who ruled the island from the 13th to the 16th century. The name brusco refers more to a general characteristic rather than a particular wine. It can be white, made with asyrtica grapes, or red, made with mandilari, or by mixing both, in which case we have a rose wine. It is a strong wine containing 16-17% alcohol. This is achieved (independently from the grapes used) by allowing the grapes to ferment in their own skin, for a long period of time.
Vinsanto, Santorini. This is one of the finest sweet all over Greece. Its name is taken from the Italian Vivo Santo, meaning the wine of Holly Communion. Despite its Italian name, this red wine was produced on the island long before the Venetians stepped on it. The clusters of grapes are left intact, spread in the sun to dry. As the humidity is dinishing, the sugar increases, giving a rich dessert wine. Vinsanto is prepared by mixing asyrtico and aidani grapes.