Know your wine in Megalochori, Santorini

June 15, 2019

by Magda N-W

To be honest when I found out I was going to Santorini, Greece the only thing I really pictured was drinking wine at dusk with a beautiful sunset, stunning ocean views, a warm clifftop breeze and maybe a few nibbles (to stave off the inevitable danger of being wine-drunk). Oh boy was I not disappointed!

Despite the size of the island (roughly 76km2), Santorini is able to produce quite a large amount of wine which, with the influx in population brought by tourists and the locals drinking nothing else, never leaves the island. Elsewhere in the world the wines of Santorini are one of the most expensive, apart from those made in Champagne, but inside the island they are cheap and plentiful. Everywhere sells good wine, for low prices and it really can become a habit; sharing a half Litre at lunch…

The Grapes

What makes the wine of Santorini so special is not just the breathtaking surroundings but the grapes themselves. Wherever you look on your travels around the island you will see brown fields with what looks like baskets in them, stretching across hills or tucked in-between buildings. The baskets are formed by weaving grape vines together over many years. The husks of which are sometimes used for decorations in bars and houses, once they have given their last harvest. Come the summer, these basket filled fields are covered with little green tendrils, which are woven into the structure and then, eventually, come grapes; which grow inside the protective older vines of the plant. Growing grapes in this way, close to the unusually fertile soil and packed together, is a Santorini-specific technique which protects the grapes from the strong sea winds, keeps in moisture and gives the grapes their characteristic sweet and punchy flavour. This makes the wine itself quite sweet and pretty high in alcohol.

The Wine and drinking culture

Vinsanto is the name given to wine made in the traditional style: the grapes are harvested late in the season and left in the sun for up to two weeks, they are then crushed and left to age in oak barrels for at least two years. This wine is strong, coming in at around 9% ABV, which is a lot considering most supermarkets sell it in 1.5L plastic bottles (normal sized bottles are also available). Taste-wise they are usually sweet, with all the complexities of a dessert wine but are just tart enough to have with your main course. Some styles of wine (Nykteri) are traditionally harvested at night, to avoid the scorching heat of the day, this wine is still dry but more delicate than the rest. When at a winery or looking for bottles to take home, tasters are encouraged, as are small snacks with the wine. Culturally the locals don’t go somewhere to drink without eating, so small plates are always provided when you order a glass of wine.

Two glasses of wine sit at the front of this shot, behind them stretches the volcanic caldera of Santorini. The rich blue of the ocean and its deeper blue island clash with the soft yellow of the wine and the sharp white of the balcony the glasses rest on.

The combination of fresh sea air, sun and stunning views, paired with traditional techniques makes Santorini the perfect place for wine.

I learnt this much about the wine by experiencing it in several of the wonderful wineries dotted around the island. Each had their own charm but I’ve narrowed it down to a few, each one suited to different needs, but all of them relatively close to the village of Megalochori.

Venetsantos Winery: For beautiful views…

The classic winery experience, as insta-worthy as you can get, can be achieved at Venetsantos Winery. Located on the cliff between Megalochori and Pyrgos, the caldera-views from Venetsantos are amazing at any time of the day. The winery even has a small museum in it, dedicated to the history Venetsanos family on the island. Wine tastings start at 15in the daytime, going up to 30once the sun starts to put on a show. They have small lovely selection of local wines and an amazing way of telling you all about them.

Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum: To learn a little more…

If the mini-museum has piqued your interest, there is a whole museum dedicated to the history of Santorinian wine just waiting to tell you more. You can find the Koutsoyannopoulos Wine Museum near Messaria and tours start from 10€ per person. Most of this museum is situated inside caves which are the classic architectural style on Santorini, so I would recommend you go on a more gloomy day. Of course, they also have a beautiful garden so you can enjoy this museum whatever the weather.

Gavalas winery: For something rustic…

Situated inside Megalochori village itself, Gavalas winery uses indigenous grapes, centuries-old techniques (melding beautifully with more modern machinery) and dedication to create an amazing experience and great tasting wine. While the tasting takes place in a traditional Canava, I wouldn’t come here if you want an ocean view. Gavalas is settled in the heart of the village, where you can get so easily lost between the tiny streets, but sadly, the view is lost too. This winery offers a charming, rustic, village feel and wine flights start at around 8 per person. Don’t forget to give yourself some time to explore the beautiful village and all it has to offer.

Under The Family Bakery: For the perfect souvenir…

After getting a little lost in the village of Megalochori, or wandering along its caldera-facing cliffs, or heading down to the picturesque Heart of Santorini (a must see), you should always leave time to stop in to The Family Bakery. This local affair is open all hours and offers amazing cakes for every occasion. But the best kept secret of Megalochori is the mini winery underneath this bakery. So secret, in fact, it doesn’t have website and it’s opening times are only painted on the door. Here you can find, and sample, amazing Lemonsanto (a rich lemon liqueur) and some small but powerful bottles of homemade wine, or even some delicious pomegranate liqueur. Though there is nowhere to sit and drink here, it is a great spot for picking up last minute gifts, really getting a feel for the local flavours and getting a little piddled while you do so. Small bottles come in at around 3.5€ and are well worth stocking up on.

 

Of course the best way to get to know the wines of Santorini is to try them for yourselves; to take in the vast knowledge of the people who grow and make them, and to taste their beautiful creations…

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