The Aegean Islands are a Greek archipelago that lies in the Aegean Sea. The most famous of which are Crete, Rhodes, Samos and Santorini. The islands of the north are called the Sporades, while those near the coast of Attica are the Cyclades and the ones closer to Turkey are called Dodecanese. Each wine-producing island has its own signature variety. For example, Santorini is the homeland of Greek’s finest wine, Assyrtiko, while Samos is mostly known for its fortified wines derived from Muscat. The big island of Rhodes is famous for sparkling wines, while winegrowers in Paros are mainly focused on red blends. The Aegean Islands have been an important wine-producing area ever since the Minoan civilization started, or maybe even before. With a constant sunny and hot weather tempered by a gentle sea breeze, and breath-taking views over the Mediterranean, all the Aegean Islands offer an incredible wine tasting experience.
The islands have a long and influential winemaking history, which dates back to the Minoan civilization, around the year 5000 B.C. Ancient wine presses have indeed been discovered across the islands. Even the epic poet Homer described the prosperous wine trade in the Aegean Islands, both in the Iliad and in the Odyssey. Plus, many amphorae with a clear Aegean emblem have been discovered across the Mediterranean.
Appellation and Sub-Regions
All the wine-producing islands of the Aegean are certified with a PDO by the European Union. The Aegean Islands wine region is divided into 5 sub-regions, that actually are islands: PDO Paros, PDO Santorini, PDO Samos, PDO Rhodes and PDO Muscat of Rhodes.
The Paros sub-region was established in 1981 and its main variety is the PDO red wine called Mandilaria. This red variety has a very thick and dark skin but is hardly ever used as a varietal and in most cases is blended with Kotsifali. This paler red grape adds to the blend a higher alcoholic component.
The Samos sub-region is one of the most spectacular wine-producing areas in Greece and was officially recognised with a PDO in 1970. Samos is famous for the Muscat white wine, that is sometimes called Muscat Samos.
Terroir of Aegean Islands
The Aegean Islands share a dry and mild Mediterranean climate; it influences the style of wines made around the islands and it makes it possible to cultivate a range of varieties. The Aegean Islands are almost always touched by a gentle sea breeze that impacts the characteristics of the terroir.
Most of the islands where wine is produced have a dry and infertile soil. Vineyards are often placed on terraces, called pezoules in Greek, on sides of hills and mountains. The terrace system reduced the possibility of erosion and help retain the irrigation water.
Santorini is a volcanic island that, due to its volcanic soil, is immune from the pest of phylloxera. The trailing system in Santorini is quite peculiar, as vineyards are protected by the sun and winds from the north thanks to the koulara system, which consists in vines placed in a basket-shape circles. The main indigenous variety from Santorini is the Assyrtiko white grape.
The island of Rhodes is the biggest wine-growing sub-region of the Aegean Islands. The Athiri white variety, protected under the PDO appellation, is cultivated at mid-high altitudes. The red variety of Mandilaria is also harvested in Rhodes, but differently from Paros, here the Mandilaria wine is entirely vinified with the red grape. Rhodes has a second PDO, which is only limited to the areas where the Muscat of Rhodes is harvested and produced. The Muscat of Rhodes could either be a fortified wine or a VDN (vin doux naturel). Vintners who produce Muscat of Rhodes can display the indication “grand cru” on their bottles.
White: Assyrtiko (Santorini), Muscat (Samos), Athiri (Rhodes), Malvasia, Savatiano
Wines of the Minoan civilization
What to taste when traveling on Aegean Islands
Among the wines produced in the Aegean Islands wine region, the most famous and appreciated is Assyrtiko from Santorini. Assyrtiko is a fresh, mineral wine that presents passion fruit and lemony aromas. It is characterized by a slight bitterness and a salty finish on the palate. Some Assyrtiko wines are labelled as Nykteri, and differently from the basic variety, are aged in oak barrels and have a more distinctive brulé note. Nykteri Assyrtiko is also higher in acidity and has dried apricots and maraschino cherries notes.
Muscat of Samos, the signature variety from the island of Samos, comes in different styles and spaces from drier to sweeter characteristics. Usually, Muscat of Samos is very aromatic and has strong perfumed notes. Muscat is often used to make Mistelle, a vin doux that mixes the Muscat juice with a strong Muscat grappa. This vin doux has strong sweet marmalade and lychee notes that end with a delicate hay finish.
Mandilaria red wine is often a blend of Mandilaria grape and some other red variety like Mavrotragano or Kotsifali. The result is a crisp, deep red and medium-bodied wine with notes of oak, spices, and dark fruits. Red wines like Mandilaria-Kotsifali or Mandilaria-Mavrotragano are very high in acidity but not too dry.
This award-winning winery is located on the island of Kos, in the Dodecanese area. Triantafyllopoulos Winery opened its doors in 1996 and has been an excellence in winemaking ever since. Wines from the Triantafyllopoulos Winery have attained a PGI status in 2007. Today the total vineyard area is around 5ha, and the main varieties grown on the soil of the winery are Maragouzia, Athiri, Asyrtiko, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet, and Caberbet Sauvignon.
Chora is the main town of the Amorgos, a group of island part of the Cyclades. Chora is a perfect, typical Greek village with white houses and colourful flowers and details. The town is located at 400 meters above sea level and is dominated by a Venetian castle.
Chora is considered to be one of the most picturesque and stunning villages of the Cyclades. The village seems very quiet and almost deserted all day, but it comes to life at night when people enjoy a typical Greek dinner and drinks in the many taverns of Chora. You will be invited to cheer with local people and don’t be shy to join them in a round of shots of psimeni raki.
The Church of the Seven Martyrs – Dominate the Sea
On the island of Sifnos in the Cyclades, near the village of Castro, the Church of the Seven Martyrs dominate the coastline and is a real attraction for photographers and Instagrammers. The church is very small and is always hit by strong winds from the sea.
The Church of the Seven Martyrs has a characteristic white colour and a blue dome, as the Cyclades tradition says. To reach this spectacular viewing point, you need to climb the stairs from the main island up to the top of the church.
Heraion of Samos – Hera, the Goddess of the Earth
The Heraion of Samos was an ancient sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Hera. The archaeological site, dominated by the temple, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with the near town of Phytagoreion (the ancient Samos). The first Temple of Hera was built around the 8th century B.C. However, the temple was destroyed a couple of times, and in the 6th century B.C. the Great Temple was built in Ionic style. Back in the days, it was Greece’s largest free-standing religious building.
The whole Heraion of Samos site is overlooked by a mysterious and solemn atmosphere, and maybe the goddess Hera is still present behind the columns of the old temple.
Explore the Unrivalled Natural Beauty of Aegean Islands
Paros Park – A Park for Everyone
Paros Park is a big area on the island of Paros that has great historical and geological importance. Paros Park is open thanks to volunteers who keep this place alive every day and can’t wait to greet new visitors. Many events are available at Paros Park, from cultural activities, hiking, or activities related to knowing the environment of the island.
Discover the peninsula of Ai Yannis Detis and its gigantic granite rocks. These rocks were very important for the people of Paros, as they used the granite to forge their working tools.
If you decide to take a day of relaxation, visit one of the many beaches of the park. There are three on the Ai Yannis Detis peninsula, where the main one is the Monastiri Beach.
Sarakiniko Beach – Moon-Like Beach
The Sarakiniko Beach is the most famous beach on the island of Milos. What’s peculiar about this beach it’s its white and long volcanic rocks that surround the inlet. The rocks give more an idea of being landed on the moon than being on a beach in Greece.
Due to its uniqueness, the Sarakiniko Beach is always pretty crowded, so the best way to visit it is by passing near the rocks with a boat or find a spot on the rocks to catch some sun.
Valley of the Butterflies – A Kind of Magic
The Valley of the Butterflies, or Pataloudes Valley, is an enchanted place located on the island of Rhodes. Butterflies appeared in here for the first time at the beginning of the 20th century and there are several legends that argue how they first arrived. What is known is that a group of Italians living nearby made the forest accessible for the first time in 1928.
The Valley of the Butterflies is visitable all year round. Today, visitors and butterflies coexist perfectly in a magical lush forest.
Food to Try in the Aegean Islands
Domatokeftedes – Santorini ‘Meetballs’
Domatokeftedes are fried tomato balls typical of the island of Santorini. The balls are made with a sort of mashed tomato puree and then fried. Usually, they are prepared using Santorini cherry tomatoes, a bright red and very sweet variety that grows on the island.
Mizithra – Greek Ricotta
Mizithra is a Cretese goat cheese, very similar to Italian ricotta. The cheese can be served together with honey as it has no salt in it. It is also great with olives or dry and fresh tomatoes. Sometimes the cheese is left aging and it becomes dryer and can be served as grated cheese.
Fanouropita – The Cake of Lost Things
Fanouropita is a cake that gets its name from Saint Fanourios and it was usually only eaten on 27th August. Today this is much more popular and can be found all year round. Fanouropita is a very aromatic cake made with cinnamon, raisins, walnuts and ground cloves.
This cake has a singular nickname and is called “the cake of lost things” because Saint Fanourios is the Saint for lost things. In the past, when they were looking for something or someone, very religious orthodox people used to eat this cake to seek for the help of the saint.
Share about Aegean Island Wine Regions:
Soil: Dry and infertile. There are Volcanic soils found on some of the Aegean Islands.