Seven Days of Greek Wine

(Oct. 2019) I just returned from a seven day tour of the major Greek wine regions as part of an Institute of Masters of Wine trip. Like most trips organized by the IMW, it was truly amazing, but allowed for very little sleep — usually about 6 hours per night. However, despite this small set-back, it was a great whirlwind adventure of tasting (and spitting) nearly 100 Greek wines a day. Along the way, I learned so many new things, and my appreciation for Greek wines, cuisine, and culture has grown dramatically.

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The Parthenon in Athens, Greece

Quick Facts About Greek Wine

According to Wines of Greece, there are 1295 wineries and 300 indigenous grape varieties in Greece, making it a wonderful place to explore and find new wine surprises. White wine accounts for 61% of production and red/rose wine 39%.  The most widely planted Greek grape varieties are: 1) Savatiano (white); 2) Roditis (rose) and 3) Agiorgitiko (red). Most Greek wine is sold within the country, as they only export 13% – suggesting that a visit to Greece is the best way to learn about and enjoy their delicious wines that pair so well with Greek cuisine.

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Major Wine Regions of Greece. Map Courtesy of WinesofGreece.com

Overview of Greek Wine Tour Itinerary

Following is a high-level overview of the MW Greek Wine tour, beginning in Athens with wines from the mainland, following by visits to both Crete and Santorini islands.

Day 1 Athens – Arrive in Athens and check into A for Athens Hotel. Walking tour around the Acropolis, followed by magnificent sunset dinner at 360 Cocktail Bar Roof Garden featuring the wines of Thrace and Macedonia wine regions.

Day 2 Athens – Morning hike to the Parthenon, and then take bus to Attica wine region, north of Athens. Visit an ancient vineyard that produces the Savatiano grape – most widely planted white grape in Greece.  Then lunch at Ktima Kokotos Winery with a walk-around tasting of wine from Central Greece and Attica. Back to rest at hotel, and then evening tasting at Oinoscent wine bar to taste wines and appetizers from Thessaly wine region, followed by a second tasting at Vintage wine bar to taste wines from the Greek islands of Cyclades, Dodecanses, Ionian and North Aegean. Evening concluded at Clumsie’s Bar to taste Greek Spirits.

Day 3 Athens – We took the bus to the port of Piraeus for a Masterclass on Greek Wine at the WSPC wine school. This was followed by a walk-around tasting of wines from the Peloponnese. Next, we enjoyed a great fish lunch at Dourabeis Fish restaurant with a retsina tasting. Afterwards we went to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Culture center for a tour, followed by a walkaround tasting of wines from Macedonia and Epirus. We ended the day with a magnificent sunset view over the ocean, and a souvlaki dinner and Greek beer tasting at Kir-Aristos tavern.

Day 4 Crete  – We checked out of A for Athens Hotel at 7:15am to take the bus to the airport and catch a 10am flight to Crete. The flight was only about 40 minutes and we arrived in the capital city of Heraklion. Immediately we boarded a bus to visit the archaeological site of Vathipetro where we saw the ruins of the oldest wine press in the world. Lunch was at Semeli Restaurant in a small charming village called Houdesti in the hills. We were joined by Cretan wine producers and had a fabulous multi-course wine lunch in the patio. Afterwards we boarded the bus again and toured the magnificent Palace of Knossos ruins with a guide. Finally we checked into the Aquila Atlantis Hotel back in Heraklion where we had one hour to rest and plunge into the rooftop swimming pool. At 5:45pm we gathered for a two-hour master class on new trends in Greek wine, and then walked to Merastri Restaurant to enjoy a Cretan dinner with many wonderful wines and lamb dishes from Crete.

Day 5 Crete – We woke to a bright sunny morning in Crete so I took a walk along the seawall after breakfast. We departed at 9am for Asites village in the mountains and arrived at Earino Tavern where we had a walk-round tasting of Crete wines, with a magnificent view of the island landscape from the terrace. It was here that I first tasted the Vidiano grape and fell in love – an aromatic white wine of Crete. This was a followed by a huge lunch paired with the wines and more lamb dishes. Next we took the bus for a tour of Saint Georges Gorgoliani Monastery and a Tsikoudia tasting (local grape spirit). From there, we divided up into 4-wheel drive SUVs and trucks to drive far into the mountains on small narrow roads, and then hike to an ancient vineyard on top of the hills. Back at the hotel we had one hour to rest before attending a lovely Crete sparkling wine reception hosted by Aquila Atlantis Hotel, and then departed to have dinner at 7 Thalasses Seafood Restaurant, set in a casual outdoor setting. Everyone was very pleased to dine on seafood paired with Cretan wines, and enjoy a trio of local musicians – one of my favorite dinners of the whole trip.

Day 6 Santorini – We woke early to catch the ferry to Santorini Island. Everyone clung to the rails as we sailed into the famous caldera of Santorini, and then caught our breath on the bus as it zigzagged up the switchback road to Santo Winery. Here we had a welcome walk-around tasting of the wines of Santorini with a breath-catching view of the cliffs and ocean far below. Lunch was at Avantis Winery, where I had some of the best grilled octopus of my life paired with their wines. Afterwards we checked into the Katikies Garden Hotel in the town of Fira, which is very charming but does not have a view of the water. To make up for this, each room has its own balcony with private plunge pool. Next was a 2-hour masterclass on the wines of Santorini held at the hotel. This was followed by a delicious dinner with the wine producers at Selene Restaurant situated on a high hill with a great sunset view across the island.

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The Magnificent Island of Santorini, Greece

Day 7 Santorini – We began the day with a 2 hour Masterclass on the Assyrtiko grape at the hotel. Next we boarded the bus to attend a pruning demonstration in an ancient vineyard of assyrtiko grapes near the village of Pyrgos. It was amazing to learn that many of the unique “wreath” shaped vines were over 500 years old! Lunch was at Karamelegos Winery, which was quite delightful with a view of the ocean in the distance. Next we had a guided tour of the famous Akrotiri archeological site – an ancient city destroyed by a volcano. Back at the hotel, we had a short rest before a walk-around tasting of the “non-assyrtiko wines of Santorini” and then a fun farewell dinner at the De Paul Restaurant in our hotel. Here I enjoyed one of the most astonishing dessert of my life – a small cake shaped like the blue domes of Santorini (last photo below).

The next day most of us flew home. I had a half a day to shop in Santorini before my 3pm flight departed to Athens. Since my departure to San Francisco was at 6am the next morning, I stayed overnight in the very nice Sofitel hotel at the airport. It was quite luxurious, and included a spa and very high-end restaurant. I fell asleep dreaming about my seven days of Greek wines, and one of the most remarkable tours of my life. Thank you Greece!

Most Amazing Dessert on Santorini Island, Greece