Viticulture in Greece is an ancient art and science, often with generation upon generation of winemakers continuing to use family or communal land to produce exquisite wines from age-old grape varieties. In Greece, wine lovers can quench their thirst for the magical combination of carefree holidays to the islands with dizzying visits to local wineries, which in most cases a destination in themselves.
These experiences are not only about tasting wines; they offer a meaningful and informative way of connecting with Greek nature, history and culture via direct contact with people whose livelihood relies on nurturing the land and its fruits. They are also a rewarding means of discovering the meaning of Greek philoxenia, or hospitality.
Here, with the guidance of Greek wine expert Nico Manessis, author of ‘The Greek Wine Guide’ and the super-informative Greek Wine World website, we present you with the five best islands to visit and wineries to discover, where you can get a real taste of traditional winemaking culture and taste wines that are artfully made from indigenous and sometimes ancient grapes.
By far the best destination for wine aficionados, Crete has a 4,000 year tradition in winemaking that dates back to the Minoan period and today you can find around 35 wineries across the island. Since 1930, the multi-awarded Douloufakis Winery produces wines from Cretan indigenous varieties, such as Vidiano, Vilana, Malvasia and Kotsifali, as well as from international grapes. The winery offers for wine tastings and even organises wine-themed educational activities for kids.
Surrounded by the Lassithi mountains, the Lyrarakis Winery has since 1966 been producing Single Area, Varietal and Estate wines and also makes tsikoudia, a distilled white spirit made from grape skins, from the Plyto grape, an ancient variety they have revived since the late 1980s. The family is also credited with the revival of the Dafni grape. Visitors can book a wine tasting as well as a picnic experience at the scenic vineyard.
Located in Alikampos, near Chania, the Dourakis Winery offers visitors the chance to not only taste their excellent wines but also to enjoy a “cultural experience” via art-themed events, exhibitions and concerts. Since 1988, their wines are produced using organic practices. Get a tour of the winery and stroll in the botanical gardens, and make sure to see the ancient wine press.
Greece’s second-best destination for wine enthusiasts, Limnos in the northern Aegean is one of Greece’s lesser-visited islands, perhaps because the trip from Lavrio port lasts for 9,5 hours and there are only around four boat trips scheduled per week.
With the Muscat of Alexandria grape as their muse, Limnos Organic Wines started operating in 2002 and its founders produce sweet white wines and rose and sparkling wines as well as a tsipouro. All their wines are made from organically grown grapes that don’t contain any chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones and genetically modified organisms. The winery welcomes visitors for tours of the vineyards and production areas and wine tastings.
Garalis Winery in the rural area “Kourouni” of Agios Dimitrios, is another Limnos winery you shouldn’t miss, as since 2006 it has gathered quite a following in the wine connoisseur world for its wine made using the local Muscat of Alexandria and Limnio. They also produce a unique pink retsina of mild vinification.
At the Limnos Union winery, you’ll get to observe production methods, talk with wine experts and taste wonderful Limnian wines as well as looking down at a magnificent sea view. Created by the Limnos Agricultural Cooperative and resulting from a communal work ethic, the winery produces awarded – and affordable – wines from the local grapes.
Known for its somewhat floral and citrusy Robola grape variety as well as sweeter Mavrodafni and Muscat, Kefalonia is a leading destination for wine enthusiasts. The verdant Ionian Island has a rich history in viticulture dating back to the 1500s that it honours to this day with some great labels and inviting vineyards.
The Gentilini Vineyard uses Mavrodafni, Muscat and Syrah as well as Robola grapes to create its fine wines; refreshing whites, delicate roses and distinctive reds. The winery is enthusiastic about having visitors over and at a very good price offers them warm, friendly hospitality in the tranquility of the estate’s garden. Wine tastings include a complimentary plate with our own organic extra virgin olive oil, local cheese, grape tomatoes and fresh bread.
The Haritatos Vineyard in Lyxouri village, prides itself on a long tradition of winemaking and produces organic wines made with the Vostilidi, Mavrodaphne and Moschato grapes. The beautiful and historic main house (an 1863 structure with old heirlooms, furnishings and art pieces) makes for an interesting part of the experience.
Orealios GAEA, the Kefalonian Robola Wine Cooperative, was created in 1982 by a group of local winemakers from Omala and the surrounding areas. Producing a wonderful variety of Robola white and rose wines as well as reds made from Mavridaphne grapes, the winery – embraced by arresting views of the surrounding countryside – welcomes visitors for tastings in a beautiful space with a long monastic table.
Ideally visited during springtime, late summer or autumn when the crowds have dissipated, volcanic Cycladic Santorini offers wine lovers plenty of quality options for memorable tasting experiences.
Perhaps the most impressive experience in Santorini in terms of hospitality is to be had at the Artemis Karamolegos Winery, which has been operating since 1952 and has a wonderful restaurant called Aroma Avlis (with parking). Approximately 7000 acres of the Assyrtiko grape are cultivated and vinified, followed by the Aidani and other red and white grape varieties including Mavrotragano. Apart from delectable food that is artfully paired with wines, you can also book cooking classes and winery tours.
The Estate Argyros winery is the largest private owner of vineyards in Santorini. Since 1903 the Argyros family has been producing awarded wines, working almost exclusively with old vines. The winery offers wine tastings in its airy hall and two tours, one presenting visitors with local grape varieties and the other centring on Assyrtiko, Santorini’s royal grape.
The Vassaltis Vineyards offer a tour around their vineyards, production area and finally their cellar, where tastings take place. They also offer four lunch and dinner menu options (that need to be prebooked) including pairing menus and ‘Meet the Winemaker’. The winery produces wines made from the Assyrtiko, Athiri, Aidani, Mantilaria and Mavrotragano grapes.
Lush Samos, the birthplace of Pythagoras and Epicurus, has a winemaking history that dates to antiquity, although in modern times its presence as a wine-producing island was re-established in the 1800s.
The awarded United Winemaking Agricultural Cooperative of Samos was founded in 1934 with the participation of 25 local cooperatives representing all of the wine growers on the island and produces wine in two wineries, located in the areas of Malagari and Karlovassi. In 2005, they set up their facilities and the Samos Wine Museum in Megalari. The wines they produce are mainly made with the White Muscat grape (which covers about 98% of Samos’ vineyards) as well as the Ritino, Fokiano and Avgoustiatis grapes. The winery welcomes visitors upon appointment only.
The Nopera Wines‘ winery celebrates the Muscat grape, a variety that is identical to the French Muscat de Frontignan. Since the mid-1800s the winery, which was the first on Samos to become private, has produced a sweet Samos Muscat wine as well as a range of selected dry wines following organic viticulture methods. Tours are arranged at the winery upon appointment only.
A late bloomer in winemaking that found success against all odds, Vakakis Winery produces dry, semi-sweet and sweet wines. They welcome visitors (upon appointment only) for a tour of their small but beautiful vineyards and the winery’s production area that concludes with a tasting.