THE LAND OF ASSYRTIKO
Cyclades is a group of islands practically in the center of the Aegean Sea. The most important of them are: Andros, Syros, Tinos, Mykonos, Santorini, Ios, Delos, Paros, Naxos, Milos, Sifnos, Serifos, Amorgos and Ios. Unfortunately, not all of them have a noticeable wine production nowadays.
The wine exports of Venetians and French traders helped Cyclades develop their viticulture, especially after the phylloxera, at the moment when the needs for wine imports increased.
The vineyards of Aegean islands are adapted to extreme draught periods and water stress, as well as the strong winds that blow not only during the flowering season, but also throughout the summer period. Winter months seem to be milder.
Consequently, in these islands, the viticulture becomes really demanding in terms of effort and investment, as the need for many and specialized workers in the vineyards arises. Taking into account the fact that the tourism industry takes over in such places, viticulture struggles to maintain a decent presence. However, winemakers who invest time and effort into wine production, not only have the chance to produce high quality wines, from the unique terroirs of Cyclades, but also can benefit from involving into wine tourism activities, which seems to be among the top preference experiences of the visitors.
Most of the Greek precious varieties are spotted in these islands: Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani, Mandilaria, Mavrotragano, Monemvasia and many more.
Santorini is definitely the most important of the Cyclades and for sure the biggest brand of Greek wine for international markets. Santorini and the smaller island of Thirassia, are the result of the great volcano eruption back in 1500 BC. The eruption created the famous landscape of “caldera”.
The soil here is a mix of schist, limestone, vassaltis and lava with high concentration of minerals and almost non-existent water availability. Water stress and strong winds during flowering season are the most challenging issues vine growers have to face. The solution came with the famous “kouloura”, the vines shaped in a basket form to protect the plants from the strong winds. Because of the volcanic soils probably Santorini was one of the few places that was not affected by phylloxera which destroyed all the European vineyards. Therefore, in Santorini we can still find really old ungrafted vines, which contribute to the island’s unique terroir and makes Santorini’s vineyards claiming position in Unesco’s heritage.
The dominant native variety here is Assyrtiko, which is considered to be as one of the noblest white varieties of Greece. With high acidity and expressive minerality, it gives PDO Santorini wines, with high alcohol and long ageing potential, impressing both winelovers and winecritics. Assyrtiko can be blended with Athiri and Aidani in a small percentage. Aidani is more aromatic while Athiri gives volume.
Santorini produces also the famous Vinsanto, a naturally sweet wine made by sundried grapes. Vinsanto has to be aged by law for two years in oak before it’s released into the market but most producers age it for a lot longer in 500lt barrels. Nykteri is another traditional type of Santorini’s wine, which was made by grapes harvested during night (nykta in Greek). It used to age in oak casks and had high alcohol levels. Mavrotragano is a red variety found a lot in Santorini, along with Mandilari. Mavro means black and tragano means crispy because the wines from this variety, have high acidity and important phenolic compounds.
Santorini’s traditional underground cellars are called “canaves” and they were some of the oldest wineries to work using gravity during the vinification process.
Syros is one of the smallest Cycladic island but its town, Ermoupolis is the political capital of Cyclades, which makes it a busy place during the whole year. The grape cultivation in Syros is limited, compared to Santorini or Paros, but during the last years, a few producers decided to work on its abandoned varieties like Serifiotiko and Kountroura, and they created boutique wineries with small scale productions of high interest, especially for the tourists who can enjoy a unique winetasting experience in their facilities.
Tinos has the most impressive development concerning the plantation and cultivation of the vineyards, as well as wine tourism activities, in such a short period. The investments coming from local producers, and foreign oenologists/winemakers who discovered the unique terroir in Tinos island, led to the renaissance of island’s wine production, especially focused on indigenous grape varieties. The climatic conditions in Tinos are hot, dry and windy. Soils are infertile and the island is quite hilly. The most impressive landscape is definitely the one of “volakes”, where huge stones in the middle of Volax village, attired the interest of international winemakers and contributed to this successful brand. Apart from varieties like Assyrtiko or Mavrotragano that are also some rarely cultivated ones, like the white Potamisi and Potamisi mavro (i.e. red variety) that originate from this island and some producers try to rescue.
Paros is a bit more mountainous compared to other Cyclades with altitude levels up to 700m and it’s less windy compared to Tinos. The vineyards here are too low, close to the ground and they form the famous “aplotaries” because they extend in length. Paros along with Santorini have the biggest production in the Cyclades. The two famous varieties of the island are the white Monemvasia and the red Mandilaria. PDO Paros is of the most important appellations in the Aegean. Monemvasia is a white aromatic grape variety with long history in the island, since it used to produce the famous Malvasia wine. Mandilaria is a red tannic variety, with deep color and it can give the blend for Paros red in cofermentation with Malvasia.
The Dodecanese is a group of twelve islands, in south-eastern Aegean. In terms of climate, these islands have warm summers and mild winters, while the only problem for viticulture can be strong winds during flowering. Kos and especially Rhodes are the most important islands of Dodecanese, in terms of wine production, while the rest (Karpathos, Nisyros, Patmos etc) are not noticeable in terms of viticulture.
The two classifications are PGI Aegean Sea and PGI Dodecanese islands while PDO Rhodes is the most distinctive appellation.
Rhodes has a long history of viticulture and wine making, dating back to ancient times. The island’s big port, was ideal to create the best conditions for the wine exports, like the case of Malvasia wine, which was famous in the island. Under all the occupations of Ottomans and Italians, wine production played a major role in the economy of the island, so it was preserved by every conqueror and moreover improved. The PDO Rhodes includes dry white wines from Athiri, Malagousia and Assyrtiko and dry reds, mainly from Mandilaria. Especially Athiri which is planted in higher altitudes of the island gives impressive examples. Sparkling wine production is also important in the island and it was recently added in the PDO appellation.
Sweet Muscat (Muscat of Rhodes or Muscat Blanc) gives also PDO wines in the island both for fortified wines or wines from sundried grapes. A lot of French varieties dominate in the island’s vineyards as well.
North Aegean islands include Ikaria, Samos, Lemnos, Chios and Lesvos.
Like the rest of Aegean, the climate here is similar to the other islands, with hot dry summers, mild winters and strong winds during springtime. Apart from the three PDO appellations there is also PGI Aegean Sea for still white, rose and red, for fortified white, semi-sparkling and sparkling white and rose.
Samos is famous for its Muscat and the PDO appellation Samos is the only concerning Muscat varieties that can be referred to only by the name of the place, PDO Samos. The rest have to be written as Muscat of Lemnos, Muscat of Rio etc. The Muscat plantations cover 95% of the island’s vineyards and PDO Samos for Muscat dates back in 1934. Since then, Samos did great exports especially in Europe for its famous sweet wine and even the Catholic Church has designated Samos UWC, as a communion wine supplier. Samos produces three types of dessert wines: Vin doux, Vin doux naturel and Vin naturellement doux. Most famous is the “Samos vin doux” label and the latest years the “Grand cru vin doux naturel” is being produced from selected parcels and riper harvested grapes. Vineyards are mostly planted in terraces, the famous “pezoules” and that create a unique landscape in Samos’ unique viticulture.
Lemnos is the second most important island in the North Aegean, as far its wine production is concerned. It has volcanic and calcareous soils but lower altitude compared to Samos. “Limnio” is the local red grape variety with the most ancient reference in Hesiod texts, back in 7th century BC. Kalambaki is a synonym for Limnio grape variety in the island, which gives fruity red wines with soft tannins and medium acidity. Although, the majority of the vineyards are planted with Muscat of Lemnos or Muscat of Alexandria which gives the PDO appellation Muscat of Lemnos while the PDO Lemnos is being used for Limnio, too.
Lesvos is another island with precious wine history, somehow faded nowadays compared to the past, with big productions and significant exports. Limnio was also the main red grape cultivated in Lesvos. One of the reasons that wine production is less major in our days is that Lesvos is mainly famous for its Ouzo production (made from grape seeds and skins distillation with the addition of anise). In Lesvos, we find the appellation PGI Lesvos for still whites, rosé and reds. Athiri and Assyrtiko are the main white grape variety plantations to be found.
Ikaria is very mountainous and most vineyards are in terraces. In antiquity they used to produce the famous “Pramnios oinos” named after “Pramnia Petra” area, which could suggest something like the world’s first appellation name. The famous wine was exported with big success from the 8th century BC. Nowadays the vineyards and the wine production of the island have shrunk, but Fokiano, a local variety also found in other Aegean islands, has started standing out and producers make a wide selection of styles of wines, from fresh rosé until dessert wines from these grapes.
Chios used to produce in antiquity the famous “Ariousios oinos (=wine)” which was exported. The name of the wine came from the vineyard area, which was called “Ariousia”. Back to the Ottoman times though vineyards were abandoned and since then the wine production never returned to its previous glamor. Most soils are infertile while the main cultivation of the island is mastic trees, which produce the famous raisin “mastiha” which constitutes a monopole market with huge exports for Chios island. Chiotiko, Krassero and Agiannitis are a few local varieties that survive until today, but producers do not cultivate them or produce them as single varieties to establish them in the market.
PDO Santorini, PDO Paros, PDO Malvasia Paros, PDO Samos, PDO Limnos, PDO Muscat of Limnos, PDO Rodos/Rhodes, PDO Muscat of Rodos
PGI Aegean Sea, PGI Lesvos, PGI Chios, PGI Slopes of Ampelos, PGI Ikaria, PGI Dodekanese , PGI Kos, PGI Cyclades, PGI Thapsana
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