The first sip of Aidiani, one of Santorini’s indigenous grape variety, brought a broad smile on my face. I know there was more to come from Greece’s blue-hued baby. With 4,000 years of wine-making tradition (one of the oldest in the world), Santorini was on my bucket list of wine regions to visit and I made it there this spring.
My hotel balcony was on the east coast of Fira, the capital of Santorini. Witnessing a magnificent sunrise and then taking a breezy walk through the by lanes, I found myself high up on the hill on the western coast. The view of the volcanic calderas, the blue-domed, white washed houses, and churches on the terraced slopes made for a picture-perfect photograph. It's the same shot you see in every generic shot of Santorini, it is where numerous Bollywood songs are choreographed. The descent, however, was quicker and I stopped by a family-run bakery for breakfast - Svornos. It has been in operation since 1896.
Greece has a long history of wine making and it has stood the test of time - the volcanic eruption in 1646 BCE which devastated the island, occupation by the Romans, the Normans and finally, the Ottoman Turks. The volcano has blessed the island with a layer of soils, and the stones give the wines of Santorini a unique character.
I chose to go to Sigalas for the Sigala wine, synonymous with the region, and the one up north in Oia, famed for its sunset views. The road from Fira went around the mountains to reach Imerovigli which stand at over 1000 ft above sea level and after a few more curved bends, we descended into Oia and went further down to the winery at sea level. The glaring sun looked upon us as I was handed over an aromatic and crisp glass of Aidiani. The wine spoke volumes. It's no wonder the wines of Santorini are world class and mathematician-turned-winemaker Paris Sigalas' winery is a must visit for enthusiasts.
Feta and goats’ cheese, olives, tomatoes, olive oil and capers are the key elements of the regional cuisine. The foods demand wines with bracing acidity to complement them. A wine could be labelled Santorini if it has a minimum of 75 per cent said grape, Aidiani and Athiri could be used for the rest.
The barrel aged version of Sigala’s Santorini speaks the story of the revival of the Greece’s wine making heritage which was merely confined to production for personal consumption. “If people have read history they would know about Greek wines! For multiple reasons we couldn’t leverage on our 4,000 year old heritage earlier however we are now making heads turn with the quality of wines from the island. Dionysus the Greek god of wine and theatre is watching over us and we are ready to be or rather we are in the best wines of the world,” Paris said.
Santorini is the largest of the Cyclades measuring just about 90 sq km. There are public buses and 50-odd taxis (or so they say),it s best to hire a bike, a quad bike or a car for he place. I took a bus back to Fira in dire need of a siesta after glasses of wine and good food, to witness the sun set. The temperature had dipped and the sky was changing colours. The evening twilight saw the neighbouring cliffs light up thanks to the buildings, making it a spectacular sight. With a glass of Vin Santo, the legendary wine from Santorini, I could only reminiscence about the day well-spent.
Tips for your Santorini trip:
For the best bars, try PK cocktail bar (Fira), Theros Wave Bar (Vlyhada), and Fino Cocktail bar (Thira)
For delicious Greek food, try Casa Di Te in Thira and Petrosia inOia
For wineries, visit Domaine Sigalas (Oia) and Domaine Argyros (Thira)
Getting there: There are no direct flights to Greece from India. Carriers such as Jet Airways, Etihad and KLM among others offer their services to Athens. From the capital city, take a domestic flight or a ferry to Santorini.
The author is a wine and liquor expert, and founder of The Happy High