As the oldest wine-making nation in Europe, the Greeks have their roots fi rmly based in the past, at times glorious and at other times sad. Ancient techniques such as sun-drying the grapes to make divine sweet wines and occasionally adding pine resin to wine can still be found here. A new generation of wine-makers is exploring the 300 or so Greek grape varieties and the ‘terroirs’ that produced the wines that held the world in awe. Crete has been a wine island since the time of the Minoans, with the fame of its wines peaking around the time of the Venetians. Nowadays, dynamic companies are making modern wines from traditional and ‘international’ grape varieties. Santorini is famous for potent, intense and very dry white wines made from Assyrtiko, and the fi ner examples from top producers can age for at least a decade. Ancient Assyrtiko vines cling precariously to the slopes of the dormant volcano.
Immerse yourself in the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on Crete in the form of Knossos. Explore the picture-perfect town of Oia and the modern city of Heraklion, with its wonderful archaeological museum covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years – from the Neolithic period through to Roman times.
Aegean cuisine is simple. In Crete, specialities include kakavia (fish soup flavoured with lemon, wild onions and herbs) and kalitsounia (savoury stuffed pastries). There is an abundance of wild greens – horta – which are picked fresh from the Cretan hills, and cheese drizzled with honey is a long-standing favourite at breakfast.
There has been a sigificant improvement in the quality of Greek wine in the last 10-15 years, and the wines from both Crete and Santorini are no exception. We will taste the full range on this trip, from Santorini’s steely, mineral Assyrtiko right through to the red Liatiko, expertly made in sweet and dry styles.
Our tour begins with an early flight out of London’s Gatwick airport to the port city of Heraklion in Crete. We celebrate the start of this holiday with a welcome tasting, where we will be introduced to the wines of the region over our very first dinner together as a group.
After breakfast today we first stop at the archaeological site of Vathypetro Minoan Villa for an introduction to vine cultivation and winemaking in Europe.
A vineyard and winery tour at one of the largest wineries in Crete follows this, at Lyrarakis Winery. With vineyards set in the mountainous commune of Alagni, Lyrarakis winery offers a perfect cross-section of old and new, from 14th century wine presses to their impressive modern tasting facility. Here, the focus is now mainly on producing wines from indigenous grape varieties from a single vineyard and we get to sample their wares with a tasting.
After an included lunch our afternoon appointment is with Crete’s first organic winery, Domaine Paterianakis Winery. The family has owned vineyards in the area for at least three generations and not only focuses on indigenous grapes, but international varieties too. We enjoy a tour of their privately owned estate before tasting their wines.
Returning to the hotel, we have an included group dinner this evening at a nearby local restaurant.
A visit to Crete simply would not be complete without a visit to the magnificent ruins of Knossos, and today this is how we begin. Situated on the north point of the islands main wine-producing area, the palace was Semi-restored in the early 1900’s by Arthur Evans. We enjoy a tour with a knowledgeable historian to guide us.
This morning’s second visit is to Silva Daskalaki in the Siva wine-producing region. The family first produced wine in the late 19th century. the winery underwent a complete renovation and upgrade to the state-of-the-art facility it is today, and it produced a good range of local and international varieties, including Emilia – a sweet red wine made from local Liatiko grapes, which are dried before processing and create a wonderfully concentrated wine.
After an included lunch we enjoy another tasting at Alexakis Winery, the largest privately owned winery in Crete. here, we sample a single varietal, Vidiano, which has pear and citrus fruit characters.
Later, there is free time in Heraklion and dinner is not included tonight. We have, however, made a reservation at a nearby restaurant where you are welcome to join our Wine Guide and Tour Manager should you wish to.
Following breakfast this morning, we visit Boutari, perhaps one of the most well-known Greek wine producers. This beautiful modern building is set on a small hill within its vineyards and here we enjoy a tasting.
After an included lunch at a nearby restaurant, our next tasting visit will be to the 300 year old Gavalas estate. Still very much a family enterprise, this winery produces excellent crisp wines under the careful guidance of 4th-generation George Gavalas.
Once again there is free time in Heraklion and a non-included dinner this evening. Please do feel welcome to join our tour staff for dinner if you would like to.
Today we start our full program by travelling by hydrofoil to Santorini, devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC and forever shaping its rugged landscape. The whitewashed, cubiform houses of its two principal towns, Fira and Oia, cling to cliffs above an underwater caldera. Upon arrival, we head to the Gaia Estate, the first winery to experiment with the Assyrtiko grape. We get the opportunity to taste the wines Gaia produce before travelling to the heart of Oia, in the north of the island.
There is free time over lunch and into this afternoon here. A rich combination of small white houses tiering the hillside and affluent captain’s houses, Oia is one of the most photographed places in the world.
We return to Heraklion and head straight to a local restaurant for a final included group dinner.
Enjoy some final free time in Heraklion this morning before we depart for the airport and catch our flight home this afternoon.
Anton has over 20 years of experience in the Greek wine industry. He is both a chef and sommelier, and has consulted for Greek restaurants and wineries both in the UK and in Greece itself. He is passionate about showcasing regional dishes and wines to enable a greater understanding of a particular part of the country. His wine and food experience – and contacts – combined with his knowledge of Greek history, have always been hugely appreciated by clients in the past. Next year's wine tour of both Crete and Santorini promises to be extremely informative and enjoyable.