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.
We start our day with a guided tour of the legendary ruins of Knossos. Situated on the north point of the island’s main wine-producing area, the palace was semi-restored in the 1900s by Arthur Evans. Following this, we visit Boutari, 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 lunch at a local restaurant, 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 isn’t included tonight.
Our first visit this morning is to the archaeological site of Vathypetro, which has a Minoan wine press as part of the palace complex, built around 1580BCE. Rhous Winery (formerly Tamiolakis) is our next stop. Here, Maria Tamiolaki and Dimitris Mansolas are continuing the tradition of preserving local varieties through their experimental vineyards, planted to varieties that were close to extinction. They are expanding their range through the purchase of grapes from vineyards under contract, which are then cultivated to their specifications. After lunch, we head to our old friends at the Lyrarakis Estate who first got involved in viticulture back in 1966. Both indigenous and international varieties feature with some interesting blends of the two. The winery is dramatically situated in the foothills of the Lassithi mountains and our time here is, as always, sure to be extremely enjoyable. We return to Heraklion at the end of the afternoon and the rest of our evening is free.
This morning’s 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 produces 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 lunch, we move on to Douloufakis Winery, now run by the third generation of the family in the small village of Dafnes, where wine was first produced in the 13th century. Today the estate vineyards cover around 20 hectares at altitudes of up to 350 metres. There are both still and sparkling Vidianos, as well as an interesting dry red from Liatiko. We return to Heraklion and the remainder of our afternoon is free. Dinner is included tonight at a local restaurant, located close to the hotel.
Today we travel by catamaran 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 Vassaltis Winery, known for its dry white wines made from 100% Assyritiko grapes. Following the tasting we have some free time in the town of Oia, in the north of the island, for lunch. 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. This afternoon, we visit the Gaia estate. A winery that is practically on the beach, it started life as a tomato factory and is now an impressive state-of-the-art affair. Assyrtiko is the white wine for which Santorini is known and Gaia undoubtedly produces some of the finest examples. However, we also get the opportunity to taste the wines Gaia produce from their winery and vineyards in Nemea, on the mainland in the Peloponnese. We take the ferry back to Heraklion later this afternoon and enjoy a final dinner together as a group.
Enjoy a brief last stroll around Heraklion before we depart for the airport and catch our flight home in the 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.