by Markus Stolz


byMarkus Stolz
April 26, 2010, 15 Comments

One Greek wine that is stunningly complex, yet so delicious that most people will be immediately drawn to it, is VinSanto, the naturally sweet wine from the Island of Santorini.

It is made from a blend of the indigenous Assyrtiko and Aidani grapes. The grapes are left on the vine to reach high levels of ripeness. After the harvest, they are sun-dried for between 1 and 2 weeks, before being crushed and fermented. The sun drying concentrates the acidity, and this leads to a very noticeable freshness factor. After fermentation is complete, the wine has to be aged for a minimum of two years in oak by law, but many producers opt for a much longer time. VinSanto wines can be aged for many decades, if not for more than a century.

One of the very finest VinSantos is produced by the Domaine Sigalas. The vineyards are located in the northern part of the Island. The soil consists of fragments of black lava, volcanic ash and pumice, and the vines are more than 50 years old.

The 2003 vintage is still the latest release, it consists of a blend of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Aidani. The yields per ha were between 5 and 7 hl. The harvest took place in early to mid August. The grapes were then dried in the sun for 10 to 12 days and the wine was matured in old oak barrels. The alcohol level is low, just 9%. The residual sugar of 300 gr/l is paired with an acidity level of 8.5 gr/l.

This wine has a dark amber colour with golden and orange shades. It shows very complex aromas of dried honeyed fruits, figs and orange peel. It is a rich and vibrant wine with refreshing acidity that cuts through the fruit and it tastes very fresh despite its sweetness. It has a succulent finish and a very long aftertaste. It is a treat with dark chocolate, dried fruits, or strong cheese.

I am a lover of sweet wines in general, but VinSanto is truly captivating. It is a shame that the sweet wines of Greece are mainly known for Mavrodaphne abroad.

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  1. Kostas KatsoulierisApril 26, 2010, 10:36 pm

    Not that Mavrodaphne wines are bad… See Achaia Clauss Grande Reserve’s high score from Mark Squires recently. Also the French have known about Samos sweet wines for years (they were much admired in the royal court at Versailles). But you are right that Vinsantos have been flying under the radar for years. Perhaps people abroad thought they were nothing more than Greek bastardisations of the Italian Vin Santos…

  2. elloinosApril 26, 2010, 10:47 pm

    Kosta, I did not mean to imply that sweet Mavrodaphne wines are bad – there are certainly fine examples, Parparousis delivers top quality. It is just unfortunate that the export markets are dominated by “cheap” Mavrodaphne wines that have done little to improve the image of Greek wines. And you are correct to point out that the French are an important export market for the sweet wines of Samos, which I find fascinating, as the French produce so many great sweet wines in their own country. But VinSanto can rival the best sweet wines in the world – I am dead serious about this statement.

  3. Kostas KatsoulierisApril 26, 2010, 11:31 pm

    I agree that “cheap” Marvodaphnes in general did Greek wines a disservice in the past but so did retsina. Howver both Mavrodaphne and retsina have improved in leaps and bounds recently – Parparousis’s version is very nice as is Cavino’s and Mercouri’s Hortes. Don’t get me wrong I love Vinsantos too – in fact I have tasted the 2003 from Sigalas and it is wonderful… Furthermore I wish producers of sweet Mavrodaphne would look to their colleagues in Samos and Santorini and strive to improve and maintain a high quality of product.

  4. elloinosApril 26, 2010, 11:48 pm

    No doubt that Retsina needs a lot of effort to rebuild its image, I agree that some very admireable producers exist today. However, that alone will unfortunately not be enough to win over the consumers. Too much damage has been done in the past, and the overall offering is still questionable. Too many producers still view Retsina and sweet Mavrodaphne as a way to mass export their wines, even if this means that the wines will only show up in discount stores, or in supermarket chains. I find it admireable that some producers really push for quality, but believe at the same time that it would make a lot more sense to distribute this quality to the places where foreigners often first encounter Greek wines, i.e. tavernas and restaurants in Greece.

  5. Kostas KatsoulierisApril 27, 2010, 9:59 pm

    I agree with you but there are additional factors to consider here:
    1) Tavernas & restaurants in Greece should be staffed by people who know how to properly store and serve wine,
    2) Winelists are completely revamped – indeed I would extend this to Greek restaurants abroad,
    3) Wine Roads as organised as those of Northern Greece are extended to other winegrowing areas,
    4) Synergies are found between wine and tourism,
    Markus, es tut mir leid, I have gone off on a tangent ;-)

  6. elloinosApril 27, 2010, 10:09 pm

    Kosta, of course there are many additional factors to consider. Your points are all valid, but to be honest I still feel that a lot of time is needed to rebuilt the image that Retsina and sweet Mavrodaphne currently “enjoy”. Greece has much more to offer, and these offerings are basically unknown abroad.

  7. Paul DMay 4, 2010, 2:24 pm

    In my humble opinion there is still a need for good versions of Retsina and Mavrodaphne, my only hope is that more distributors/retailers in the UK would broaden their horizons and look beyond those two classics.

  8. homes for sale in pittsburgh paMarch 29, 2011, 5:05 pm

    “This wine has a dark amber colour with golden and orange shades. It shows very complex aromas of dried honeyed fruits, figs and orange peel. It is a rich and vibrant wine with refreshing acidity that cuts through the fruit and it tastes very fresh despite its sweetness.”

    What a great description of this wine. You made me want to get some now. I, too, prefer sweet wine. I love having a glass of wine with some fruit and cheese. This sounds like the perfect wine to accompany my snack.

  9. tw jacksonApril 2, 2011, 11:45 am

    I love VinSanto too. However, as with all wine, it will be best if you can pair VinSanto with the right food. I particularly love my VinSanto with blue cheese. Give it a try. I am sure you will love it.

  10. KarenApril 6, 2011, 2:08 am

    Wow, thanks for the tip. Sounds amazingly wonderful. Looking forward to trying this one.

  11. florida life insuranceApril 9, 2011, 1:17 am

    Have to agree about VinSanto. I like the way that it leaves a distinctive after taste on the tongue, and really leaves you wanting more.

    There is nothing more pleasant in the evening then kicking back after a long day, with a big glass of wine and some succulent slivers of ham.

    Goes down a treat!

  12. hCG Diet DropsApril 11, 2011, 6:05 pm

    Great set of details! It is really informative! Thanks!

  13. Steven BancroftApril 11, 2011, 7:07 pm

    Greek wines fly under the radar in my opinion. I’m in Canada and we have loads of local, French, Chilean, Australian, and Californian wines, but not so much Greek wines. I think the more unfamiliar grape mixes (Assyrtiko and Aidani) throw people off … after all they’re more familiar with cab, merlot, zinfadel, etc. This is a shame in my view. Good on you for bringing attention to the quality Greek wines.

  14. elloinosApril 11, 2011, 8:18 pm

    Thanks Steven, I could not agree more with you. Having said that, I have noticed a steadily rising interest from consumers, merchants, gastronomy and importers over the last months.

  15. Concrete Repair HoustonApril 12, 2011, 8:43 am

    So which is better? Retsina and Mavrodaphne? I prefer Mavrodaphne because it tastes better for me. They are simple the best wine for me.