"The wine here is more than just chemistry, it's alchemy. It's an elixir"
- Phenix Gilbert, creator of SAFOWI Santorini Food and Wine Tours
On the Greek island of Santorini, there's a lot of talk about wine. Where ancient wineries abound, wine tours appear to be a dime a dozen. However, there is one tour that seems to stand out from the rest. American expat Phenix Gilbert shares her infectious passion for the island of Santorini through her food and wine tour company SAFOWI. Phenix has spent the past 18 years living in Santorini, and was one of the first to pioneer the wine tasting trend that has recently swept across the island.
As we winded through the scenic backroads of Santorini, she explained, "Some tour guides come straight off the boat from Athens, not knowing a thing about Santorini. But I fell in love with this island 25 years ago, and I want to share that with others." Phenix's enthusiasm for the wine and gastronomy of Santorini is indeed contagious, for we found ourselves mesmerized by how the history of the island has shaped its culture of wine.
Examining the amber hues of a 12-year-old Vinsanto at Estate Argyros
Tasting a crisp assyrtiko blend
After our cultivation crash course in the vineyard, we were taken to three different wineries scattered across the island. While there are an abundance of wineries in Santorini, Phenix hand-picked the best ones for us to visit. We chatted with the winery owners and learned about their histories and vinification processes while we sipped on their award-winning wines. At our final winery, we were treated to mouthwatering plates of meze, or Greek appetizers.
Assyrtiko whites weren't the only shining stars of our wine tour. We also tasted another ancient Santorini specialty, Vinsanto. This decadent "holy" wine was traditionally used in orthodox churches around the world. At our first winery, we even saw 100-year-old barrels that were used to ship Vinsanto to Russia! Although Vinsanto tastes like a rich, velvety dessert wine, surprisingly there are no sugars added. Vinsanto is made from late harvested grapes (predominately assyrtiko) that are dried in the sun for two weeks and then crushed - sometimes by foot! - before being fermented and aged in oak barrels.
Overall, our tour gave us a comprehensive overview of the island's winemaking past and present. The extensive knowledge of our guide helped us to appreciate the complexity of Santorini's wines and enjoy the many flavors it has to offer. If you're interested in going beyond the typical tourist experience in Santorini, then wine tasting with SAFOWI is a must.
Phenix from SAFOWI graciously invited us on her tour, but all opinions expressed are my own.
You can find out more about SAFOWI and their unique food and wine tours here.
Have you ever tried the wines of Santorini? What did you think?
Where's the most interesting place you've been wine tasting?