Thomson Holidays

The fine Greek wines of Santorini

Ancient grapes and volcanic soil create great Santorini wines

The holiday island of Santorini is earning quite a reputation these days for the quality of its island grown vines and its fine wines which come courtesy of a massive volcanic eruption more than 3,000 years ago.

The devastating explosion is thought to have wiped out the ancient Minoan civilisation and created the spectacular caldera landscape that has made Santorini such a photogenic and popular Greek holiday island today.

The catastophic event also covered the island with layers of volcanic ash and pumice stone an event that helped to create the soil conditions that today give the fine wines of Santorini such a distinctive flavour.

The wines of Santorini, most notably the white varieties, are very dry and come with a sharp tang of citrus and the hint of earthy minerals that lie buried in the island's volcanic soils.

The exception is the island's sweet Vinsanto dessert wines, actually named after Santorini itself, that boasts a rich velvet texture and a heady bouquet of chocolate and apricots.

The main grape varieties found on Santorini are the Assyrtiko, a vine that is thought to have been first cultivated here; the Athiri, an ancient Greek variety with a sweet, fruity flavour; the Aidani, another ancient white grape; the Mandilaria, a red variety from Rhodes and the Mavrotragano, a recently revived sweet red grape.

Vineyards dot the inland hillsides of much of Santorini. The low growing vines are often sheltered from the strong northerly meltemi winds by circular fences of woven canes.

The hot, dry summers provide just the right growing conditions for the hardy plants while night-time mist bring just the right amount of moisture to produce the island wines' distinctive flavours.

But it is not just the soil and climate that make Santorini wines so special. Many of the vines here are more than 100 years old and have weathered the diseases that once ravaged the vineyards on many other islands Greek islands.

Major investment in modern winemaking machinery and a strong marketing drive has helped the industry grow considerably over the past few years. Famous brands like Argyros, Boutari and Santo have exanded production here on the back of a clutch of world awards for their distinctive wines.