Vine and wine form an integral part of the Aegean history and have played an important role in the development of the economy and the flourishing trade in the islands. Reports of Homer, as well as findings from the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri in Thera, witness the long winemaking tradition in the archipelago, a tradition revived in many islands in the recent decades. Rhodes and Santorini are on top of the list, with Paros following. The viticulture shows development in Leros, Kos, Mykonos, Tinos, Sifnos and Milos as well. The wine was part of the ancient Greeks’ life who worshiped the god of wine, revelry and theatre, Dionysus and depicted him in many vessels, holding a bunch of grapes, or a cup of wine. At their feasts, lasting hours or whole days, the wine flowed abundant. It was a way to facilitate communication between the diners and the philosophical debates, always accompanied by fine food.
The enjoyment of wine with lunch or dinner is a habit firmly rooted in the everyday lives of the islanders –in fact it is often themselves who produce it. With the hospitable spirit that distinguishes them, they treat their guests with wine and their own ‘raki’, in the festivities organized at the churches and chapels of the islands, in festivals, in celebrations. The hotels in the Dodecanese and the Cyclades welcome the visitors from all around the world with branded local wines while the restaurants always have lists of wines produced in the vineyards of the Aegean in their menus. The wine is combined with the magic of the area, the special light, the microclimate which connects the indigenous flavors-cheeses, fresh vegetables, cold meats with traditional recipes.
The wines of Rhodes are considered unique. The pre-eminent wine regions are the mountains of western Rhodes and mainly the villages Emponas, Agios Isidoros and Siana. The vineyards cover thousands of acres and the varieties cultivated are ‘athiri’ and muscat producing white wine, and ‘mandilaria’ (or Amorgiano) producing red wine.The sparkling wines of the two major Rhodes winemakers, are significant as well. Rodofili (white fume), Chevalier de Rhodes (red), Zacosta and Archontiko (red, aged in oak barrels), Granrose (rose) and the white Muscat de Rhodes from muscat, deserve a try. Many winegrowers produce their own bulk wine supplied to the tavernas and the cafes of the island. On November 1971, the place name Rhodes was recognized as an “Origin Appellation of Superior Quality” for white wine from the variety Athiri and for red wine from the variety Mandilaria.
The “Santorini Origin Appellation of Superior Quality” was legislated in 1971. In Santorini (80% in percentage) the white Assyrtiko is cultivated. In smaller quantities ‘athiri’ and ‘aidani’ are cultivated, along with other local varieties. Of the red varieties, the variety ‘mantilaria’ and ‘mavrotragano’ stand out. From ‘assyrtiko’ and ‘aidani’, which is sunned after the harvest and then it is aged in wooden barrels, comes the famous Vinsanto. The volcanic vineyard-which is truly ancient and was not hit by filoxira-with the characteristic vineyards (vines) that are pruned low, coil shaped, is an attraction on the island. The findings from the excavations of the prehistoric town of Akrotiri suggest that there was viticulture at least since the 17th century BC. The residents of Akrotiri dealt with the viticulture, the winemaking and the wine trade.
In Santorini, there are many visitable wineries, where the visitors can do wine tasting and tasting. During harvest, which is called ‘ventema’ on the island, they have the opportunity to see up close one of the most characteristic activities of the winegrowers.
The wine from Paros is famous since the ancient times until today. The vineyard of Paros is classic Aegean and the predominant variety is the white Monemvasia (Malvasia) which according to local oenologists has survived without mutations from the Venetian rule until today.
Another variety grown is the red Mantilaria.The regenerated vineyard of Kos produces the wines Kos PGI.
There are opportunities for tasting local products in Leros and Lipsi.
Tinos, Mykonos, Naxos
In Tinos most vineyards are located in the centre of the island, in the area of Exombourgo. There are visitable vineyards to sample local wines in Syros, Naxos, Milos, and Mykonos.
High tasting standards
The concept of Origin Appellation seems to have been invented in ancient Greece, as the place of wines’ origin is indicated in texts. The thousands of amphorae found strewn at the bottom of the Aegean demonstrate the breadth of the wine trade which took place in the archipelago. Each city-state had in fact a special stamp certifying the area where it was produced. The development of viticulture and wine trade continued during the Roman Empire, the Venetian rule, the Ottoman rule and after 1828 as a key rural employment which guaranteed the sufficient supply of wine for the locals, as well as additional income as they were selling the leftover wine to the merchants.
The old wineries, including the famous subterranean canavas that the visitor will see in Foinikia, in Oia, in Pyrgos and in other villages of Santorini, constitute an attraction, but the processes of winemaking in the South Aegean islands have been modernized. Cooperatives and private winemakers have created hyper-modern facilities for the production of high flavor quality of their wines, many of which are sold in the rest of Greece and in foreign countries. Another important fact as well is that thanks to the viticulture the terraces, which are one of the unique features of the Cycladic landscape, revive and are maintained. Thanks to the peculiar terrains, the different microclimate, the proximity to the sea and the Aegean sun, excellent wines are produced, with their own “personality”, which win international awards.