Santorini: For Sunsets and Assyritko

Santorini is an island built for postcards. Thousands of honeymooners and romantics travel to Oia just to get a glimpse of the sunset over the white walled caldera. The island, once an active volcano, erupted 3,600 years ago covering the island in volcanic ash and splitting the island into a crescent moon shape. In this unique setting the dry desert climate and ashy soils lend themselves to beach-goers and grapes alike.

Sunset in Oia

Like most of Europe, Santorini serves a house a white wine indicative of local plantings. Ask any waiter what the wine is and he's sure to say, "It's a Greek wine." Ask the grape and he will tell you its "a good one." However, you can bet that its the prized Assyritko- a noble grape in throughout Greece that performs best on the island's unique position. The perfect glass of 100% Assyrtiko from a good producer pairs seamlessly with the local seafood and Mediterranean herbs. Try Dimitris Ammoudi Taverna in Ammoudi Bay after enjoying the sunset. In Fira, there is no shortage of bars with stellar views to celebrate Greek wine in its natural habitat (expect an upcharge), although Koukoumavlos and Naoussa Restaurant do put out some elegant cuisine.

About a eight hour ferry ride from Athens, Santorini has a few options for tourists to stay. The most popular is in Oia, said to have the best view of the famed sunsets. Down a hefty set of steps (Donkeys are available!) is Ammoudi Bay, which has the sound of waves and some of the best seafood on the islands. Fira is the largest city and the best for nightlife. On the east side of the island, in towns like Kamari, the most beach-is most accessible. I stayed in Imerovigili, which is a quieter area between Fira and Oia.

Hiking in Oia

If your time is leisurely, you can hike the whole stretch between Fira and Oia, weaving your way through the white and blue buildings on the caldera and into an open, grassy terrain (wear sunscreen!). It's a moderately difficult hike once you get past Imerovigili, but entirely rewarding for the views of the oceans and archipelago. Otherwise, there are taxis and a limited bus service available. It took about 2 hours to walk from Imerovigili to Domaine Sigalas-who along with Gaia, is a leader for organic viticulture and perhaps the island's best wine producer.

Stefani AKA Koulara vines

Along the hike you're in close contact with the 'kouloura' vine-training. Due to the extremely dry and windy conditions, the vines are trained in a basket shape to collect morning dew and to prevent wind damage. The vines can get quite old here, as the sandy soils have prevented phylloxera from entering the island. That means that some of the original rootstock dates back 125 years!! You can imagine that the yields are small here due to the vine age and dry climate- about 25 tons/hectare, compared to Bordeaux, which averages 50 tons/hectare.

Wine Tasting at Domaine Sigalas

Good growers make the most of these minisule yields, producing round, mineral and concentrated wines of the Assytriko grape. It is often blended with Athiri and Aidani. The typical style is young and fresh with a mineral smokiness on the finish. Occasionally you will find an oak-aged version called Nychteri. Rare outside of the island, Santorini also makes a Vin Santo. Similar to its Italian counterpart, the grapes are partially dried before pressing, creating a sweet and (even more so) concentrated wine with nutty aromas. If labeled "Santorini PDO," the wine must be white. Your table wine might be Agiorgitiko from Nemea or Xinomavro from Naoussa, two of the more prized reds in the country. You'll have to seek it out, but Paris Sigalas does make Mandilaria and Mavrotragano. In this case it would not qualify for the PDO marker. He instead labels the blend "M/M."

Panoramic Sunset in Santorini

The magic and romance that makes Santorini the destination for thousands of tourists every year does not fall short in the glass. If you are searching for a unique experience, explore the rows of tiny grapes trained in baskets admits the sunshine and romance of this extinct volcano.

Santorini's unique shape & underwater caldera

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