Whether you’re glancing at a beverage list, driving past centuries-old vineyards or discovering that the restaurant you’re in may have been an ancient wine cellar, visitors to the Greek isle of Santorini are almost always enmeshed with its wine culture.
Renowned for its picturesque sunsets and jaw-droppingly beautiful volcanic terrain, Santorini also boasts a wine-soaked heritage just as intrinsic to its essence.
A Brief Look At Santorini’s Winemaking History
Assyrtiko and Aidani (whites), along with Mavrotragano (red), are perhaps the most well-known of Santorini’s dozens of indigenous grapes. Also look out for Vinsanto, a dessert wine made with late-harvest white grapes that are sundried for up to two weeks.
But the path to successfully grow these grapes wasn’t easy.
The common theme of Santorini’s wine story is perseverance. Locals have practiced viticulture here for at least 3,500 years. But a volcanic eruption in the 17th century B.C.E. wiped out nearly all traces of life.
It took three centuries for the island to resettle and for vines to be replanted. However, the eruption would serve to not just define Santorini’s iconic topography of caldera and cliffs, but its terroir.
Vineyards are planted into pumice soil with almost no organic matter or clay. There’s a bit of ash and lava, but it’s this sandy, clayless composition that has prevented phylloxera from ever taking hold.
So there’s no crop-destroying louse, but that doesn’t mean grape-growing in Santorini is an easy task. Its conditions might lead you to believe that the island isn’t suitable for viticulture at all: It rarely rains, and irrigation is limited to young vines. So where does the fruit get its water? The answer lies in the moist sea air, critical to one of the most defining characteristics of wines here: salinity.
Strong, ever-present winds pose a real threat to the vines. Because trellises can be easily blown away, producers have taken to pruning vines into the shape of a basket or a wreath, called koulouri. This technique, which essentially weaves canes around one another to create a ring, allows the fruit to grow inside the basket, protecting it from intense summer heat and wind-blown sand.
Tips for Visiting Wineries
For an island of less than 30 square miles, Santorini has around 20 wineries. Tours are led throughout the island. But you can also devise your own wine itinerary. Just determine your favorites and schedule an appointment.
Take a Tour
The full-day excursion with Santorini Food & Wine Tours not only includes tastings at three wineries but one in a brewery, too. Meanwhile, in addition to straightforward winery visits, Santorini Wine Adventure leads tours that include cooking classes and sightseeing. And Santorini Wine Stories pairs wine with in-situ storytelling in many of its itineraries; one even includes a trip to ancient Minoan archaeological site.
Make Your Own Tour
Most hotels can also help organize winery visits through their own guides or with third-party partners. Of course, a tour isn’t necessary unless you want to visit a few wineries back-to-back.
Or, take matters into your own hands schedule your own tastings. Simply contact your favorites and schedule an appointment. Most tastings will run for an hour (unless you choose to linger) and will likely include modest snacks like fresh local cheese and some bread.
Some wineries will host visitors in caves while others might do it outside, especially if their property has great views. Pro tip: If views are to be had, schedule a visit for sunset if possible.
Wineries to Know
Not far from the tourist trails of the coastal town Oia, this is known as one of the best producers in Greece. Winemakers here push the boundaries when it comes to what’s possible with Assyrtiko.
Founded in 2016, this is one of the newest wineries on the island, located in the northeast village of Vourvoulos. Its winemakers have kept the local scene on its toes: In addition to varietal Assyrtiko wines, it’s also been releasing white blends and a pétillant-naturel out of Savatiano.
Off the beaten path in the village of Megalochori, historically one of the island’s major winemaking areas, this family-owned, fifth-generation winery produces a lot of the classic Santorini wines. There’s a vertical Assyrtiko tasting, as well as bottles of Nykteri-style wines and Vinsanto.
Santorini’s only organic-certified winery, Hatzidakis lays out its tastings in a cave on the outskirts of the village of Pyrgos. It has been bottling some inventive takes on Assyrtiko. But don’t sleep on Mavrotragano, which has been crafted since 1997.
Where To Stay
Wine is one of Santorini’s most enduring cultural touch points, and most of the island’s hotels embrace it in their offerings and amenities.
Once a monastery in Fira, this 40-suite luxury hotel can organize themed wine tastings in a medieval cave where monks used to store wine. Fun fact: These monks once produced wine exclusively for the Vatican.
This wellness-focused, cliffside resort offers 28 pool villas and suites, a fine-dining restaurant supplied by an on-property garden and an immersive spa. Andronis, located in the village of Imerovigli, also has its own Assyrtiko vineyard. Guests can partake in an adopt-a-vine program, where members receive a case of wine every year for a decade.
And for a truly elevated luxury experience, the resort will organize a tasting aboard a yacht. There are few better ways to experience Santorini’s iconic topography than with a sail around the island, wine glass in hand.
In Megalochori, this is a fine choice if you’d prefer an intimate villa. Some of the mansions were previously wineries.
Where to Eat
Some of the island’s best on-premise wine lists are offered by its best hotels. A Mediterranean restaurant tucked inside Vedema, a Luxury Collection Resort, Alati is a transformed 400-year-old wine cave. Its list has a section dedicated to local bottles that includes a wild-ferment Assyrtiko from Gaia Wines and a barrel-aged Assyrtiko from Vassaltis Vineyards. Both will complement the kitchen’s mostly seafood fare, which includes steamed scorpion fish with squid-ink potato puree and linguine topped with lobster and bottarga.
If you tire of resort dining, there are some great standalone restaurants all over the island. Here, sit on the rooftop terrace—a fantastic spot to watch the sunset—and start with a bowl of crisps alongside fish-roe spread. Peruse the impressive 500-label list, which includes a few dozen selections from Santorini.
In Oia, elegantly plated grilled fish with zucchini blossoms, king crab legs with butter and lemon and a baklava crowned with pistachio foam can be paired with more than 275 bottlings. Most of the list here is Greek and focused on Santorini wines, including a vibrant Hatzidakis Nykteri (100% Assyrtiko) from centenary vines in Megalochori.
Perched on a cliff, every meal comes with postcard-perfect views of the Aegean Sea, the caldera and the staggered, whitewashed buildings of the village. Even in Santorini, where stunning vistas are common, the scenery here is special.
Last Updated: January 10, 2023