Santorini: The Sun Drenched Island

Santorini: The Sun Drenched Island

North of Crete are the Cyclades islands of Santorini and Paros. Santorini is best known for its deep blue waters, breathtaking sunsets and distinct red, black and white sand beaches. Santorini is an island of incredible wonder. However, Santorini has another story to be told. Beyond the aesthetic pleasure that the island’s terrain provides to thousands of tourist annually, there is a rich tradition of winemaking that dates back to ancient time. The first signs of winemaking in Santorini go back more than 5000 years, but it was the catastrophic volcanic explosion near 1650 BC, that created the island’s unique terroir which has given the wines of Santorini the character they have carried throughout history. During the first eruption, the center of the island collapsed thousands of feet into the sea, forming the famous Caldera of Santorini. The destruction left the main island of Thira in a half-moon shape and also created a group of smaller island that make up Santorini. They are Thirassia, Aspronisi and Old Kameni. Another island, New Kameni, was most recently formed from a violent earthquake in 1956.

Throughout the island of Santorini, there is an estimated 3,500 acres of vineyards under cultivation, down from 6,000 planted in the 1960s. This is due to a combination of the island’s popularity as a travel destination and the increasing lack of interest from newer generations of growers because of the extreme difficulty in vineyard maintenance. There are more than 30 grape varieties native to Santorini and these are generally found planted together in a field blend throughout the island, although 70% of the vines are Assyrtiko. Other white grapes include Aïdani and Athiri. Two most common red grapes are Mandilariá and Mavrotragano.

Santorini is a PDO (1971) for dry and sweet white wines made on the island of Santorini, in the Cyclades, north of Crete. Grapes for dry white wines are Assyrtiko, plus Athiri and Aïdani. Sweet (vin santo) are the basic three plus small amounts of Katsanó, Monemvassia, Gaidouria, Moschato Aspro, Platani, and Roditis.

Grape Profile

Aïdani: A thick-skinned, medium acid, white grape variety grown on the Cyclades islands of Amorgós, Náxos, Páros, and Santorini. Aïdani Mavro (black) has been determined to be a color mutation of the grape.

Assyrtiko: A thick-skinned, high acid, white grape variety; a specialty of the volcanic island of Santorini in the Aegean, is also grown on the mainland. Some Assyrtiko is also grown in Australia.

Athiri: A thin-skinned, low acid, white grape variety grown in the Cyclades islands north of Crete. The name of the grape indicates its origin from the Island of Santorini.

Mandilariá: A red grape variety grown on Crete, Rhodes, and Santorini; occasionally used as a mistelle in the making of vermouth-type wines.

Mavrotragano: A red grape variety, nearly extinct, grown on the island of Santorini. Its name translated means “black and crisp.” The grape is commonly used to make dessert wines.

Santorini GUILD

Some Wines from Santorini


2015 Argyros Aïdani: Perfumed aroma of peaches and nectarines. Clean and crisp tasting with a pleasing lime-leaf aftertaste.

2014 Argyros Assyrtiko: Brilliant, pale yellow color with a distinctive aroma of tangerine, lime, and stone fruits. Clean in the mouth with citrus, minerals, and hints of orange.

2015 Boutari Assyrtiko: Quite pleasing bouquet of honeysuckle and citrus with a flavor of apples, lime, and hazelnuts. Great finish and long, pleasing aftertaste.

2015 Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko: Pleasing, fresh aroma of freshly cut peaches and apricots. High acidity keeps the mouth clean and ready for another glass (or bottle).

2015 Gavalas Assyrtiko and Aïdani: The wine, like most others made from Assyrtiko grapes was fermented and aged in stainless steel. Great aroma of fresh flowers, honey, and lemon. Well-balanced with considerable fruit and hints of Granny Smith apples and kiwi.

2014 Gavalas “Natural Ferment” Assyrtiko: This wine went through 100% malolactic fermentation, which yields more mouthfeel, hints of butter in the nose, and a general overall richness. A bouquet of dried flowers along with red cherries and lime. Dry, tangy and quite flavorful.

2015 Hatzidakis Aïdani: Brilliant color; full aroma of peach, Granny Smith apples, wild flowers and hints of volcanic soil. Quite refreshing with plenty of good acidity, minerality, and strong stone fruit flavors.


2015 Hatzidakis Mavrotragano PGI Cyclades: Cherry-colored with a bouquet of black pepper, violets, and red fruits. A flavor of jam, spices, earthiness, and smoke is present. Long finish of dark, dried fruit.

“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may whet my mind and say something clever.” (Aristophanes, 446–386 B.C., Greek dramatist and comic playwright)

Bob Lipinski, author of ten books; writes, consults, and conducts training seminars on Wine, Spirits, and Food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at OR





Santorini: The Sun Drenched Island — 2 Comments

  1. We visited Boutari when we went there about 4 years ago. Such an amazingly beautiful place. I have to admit though I dont know much about Greek wine since you don’t see it too often

    • Greetings Jen:
      Although I have NOT been to Greece (yet) I have written some articles and as former Director of Training for Southern Wine & Spirits, have given many seminars and training sessions on their wines. You are so correct regarding lack of Greek wines on shelves and wine lists. I just attended (last week) a Greek wine press event in Manhattan and spoke at length with the Director of the Greek Wine Council regarding the lack of presence in the U.S. I told her there are few major reasons why Greek wines have not caught the attention of mainstream wine drinkers. First and foremost; pronunciation of grapes, wines, and regions; PDO regulations; geography; and understanding Greek wine labels. Her reply was they already provide this information. When I told her that I visited the Greek Wine Council’s website that very morning and NONE of that material was listed, she just looked at me before someone else engaged her in conversation.

      Some of the wines are quite good especially Assyrtiko…among others.

      Good luck with the impending birth of your first child!

      It is always nice to chat with you!

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