A Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini

During our month in the Cyclades, I made it our mission to taste as many Greek varietals as possible and to visit as many vineyards and winemakers as we could along the way (let’s call it homework/research for my upcoming WSET 3 Exam). On most of the islands, that gave me a pretty solid overview of what each island was producing and the key winemakers in each. Santorini, with its international reputation for its PDO assyrtiko, is a different beast though. Unless you have ample time on your side, visiting all of Santorini’s 18 wineries is definitely a challenge. For most visitors to the island, the best approach is to pick a handful of wineries that most interest you, map them out, and prioritize them for tastings. Many wineries are concentrated in the Megalochori and Fira areas of Santorini, more or less in the center of the island not far from the ferry and air ports. From Fira or Imerovigli, you’re in relatively close proximity, and if wine is your focus, you may want to consider basing yourselves in one of these locations. From Oia, expect a 30-minute drive to the heart of the wine region. While there are many wine tasting tours in Santorini on offer (I’ve linked some below), we opted for a unique approach given limited availability during COVID: a self-guided wine tasting tour of Santorini on foot, using taxis to and from the main wine region. Interested in doing the same? Read up on how we structured our day, timing allotted for each, and pricing along the way.

👉🏼 Is wine your thing? Check out my full post on wine tasting in the Cyclades for inspiration from the islands!

11AM ✧ Cab to First Winery {Santo Wines}

Wine Tasting in Santorini

From Oia, we took a cab to our starting point: Santo Wines. In theory, you could take the public bus from Oia to Fira, and then on to Santo, but the logistics and timing involved with that course made my head spin. Santo is a coop and the largest winery on the island and as such you’ll find a slightly more corporate feel here than in some of the quaint family-owned wineries. That said, you’ll have plentiful wine tasting options available in the form of flights, an extensive shop, and gorgeous views from the tasting area!

Each destination has its own approach to wine tasting and tours but the wineries we visited in Santorini were more focused on tastings than on vineyard tours (unlike our experience wine tasting in Rioja, for example). The tastings across the board followed a similar pattern: sit down at a table, select the wine flight of your choice – many of which offer food and wine pairings as well – enjoy your flight, and purchase wine if you’re so inclined. Since all tastings come at a cost (expect €15 – €50 for flights depending on the winery and selections) there’s really no pressure to buy wines unless you feel truly inclined.

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in SantoriniSelf-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini

At Santo, we sat down at around with beautiful views of Santorini and choices of four different flights, each of which offered 6 different glasses, or the option to craft a personalized flight from the selection available. The flights come with olives and breadsticks – generous portions to help soak up your morning vino – but you can also order more substantial bites if you’re there mid-day. The wines range in quality but the whites are definitely the stars here so I’d generally recommend skewing that direction. There are some great reds coming out of the Cyclades (mandilaria and mavrotragano are the traditional reds from the region), but not all wineries are putting out exceptional options since reds are generally a bit of an afterthought with the whites ruling the roost. As a general rule, you’re more likely to find really good assyrtikos or white blends (other PDO wines in Santorini are aidani white and aitheri) than a really good red wine at any given winery.

In hindsight, I’m glad that we started with Santo since it’s a bigger producer with a more varied mix of quality in wines. If you’re including Santo in your lineup, I’d suggest starting here for that reason and because if you follow this itinerary your walks to the next wineries will be downhill. Strategic!

1PM  ✧ Walk to Venetsanos Winery

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Venetsanos

From Santo we continued on to Venetsanos, which was about a 10 to 15-minute walk. Yes, the sun gets toasty in Santorini but the walks aren’t long and they were actually a nice way to get some movement in between each tasting which left us ending the day in far better shape than any of us expected. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse of some of the vineyards with Santorini’s famous kouloura, a wreath/basket-shaped growing style that keeps vines low to the ground to protect them from the harsh Cycladic conditions. Santorini is the only destination in the world that uses this technique which makes it really interesting — even while wine tasting in the Cyclades throughout this trip we didn’t see this method used on any other neighboring islands.

Venetsanos is cut into the beautiful cliffside, a stunning locale for wine with a view but before you get to the tasting, you’ll walk through the winery which acts like a miniature museum showcasing the winery’s history as you travel down a few floors. We arrived mid-day in time for a bite to go with our flights. Cheese lovers, don’t miss the cheese plate (there’s a half and half with charcuterie as well) and allow your hostess to suggest pairings as your flights come out. And you guys, I’m a woman living on an island where good cheese is hard to come by, so you better believe I took full advantage of a little cheese + wine pairing! You could easily opt for wines by the glass here if you’re not up for the full flight, but we were there to taste so we each opted for a flight, plus were treated to the release of their brand-new orange wine (white grapes with skin contact, which provides color). I hadn’t tried orange wine at the source since our time wine tasting on the Peljesac Peninsula in Croatia but it’s never been something that I’ve personally loved… though I give them thumbs up for being creative with the offerings and mixing up tradition a bit.  The stand out for me at Venetsano? Their Nykteri, an oaked assyrtiko that has great freshness with more body than traditional assyrtiko.

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Venetsanos

You’ll see nychteri on wine lists throughout Santorini and at different wineries so it’s not unique to Venetsanos, though I found theirs to be very good. Each winery’s interpretation of nychteri can vary. It was traditionally made from a blend of Santorini’s three PDO white wines, assyrtiko, athiri, and aidani. The term ‘nychteri’ designated that grapes were pressed during the night after harvest to work with lower temperatures in an otherwise hot locale to prevent oxidation (‘nychta’ = night in Greek). Generally (possibly always?), Nychteri is oaked, which is what we universally found to be true in our tastings. As with oak used in any production, it’s a matter of taste on the winemaker’s part, but we typically found a nice touch of oak to add body without overpowering the grapes. Too much wine jargon there? Just know that it’s a great one to try, especially if you don’t consider yourself a lover of crisp whites.

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini

3PM  ✧ Walk to Gavalas Winery

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Gavalas Winery

Recharged with a perfectly balanced mid-day meal of wine and cheese we ventured on to our third and final stop on our self-guided wine tasting tour of Santorini: Gavalas Winery, a family-owned and operated establishment in Megalochori making wine for five generations. In my tips for wine tasting in La Rioja I mentioned mixing modern and traditional or large and small wineries when you’re crafting a wine tasting itinerary, and I think that’s true around the world in general when it comes to tastings. The big shiny wineries have their own draw with extremely established offerings, great marketing collateral, extensive shops, etc., but it can be hard to beat the soul and spirit of family-owned establishments. Plus, if you missed my post about our food and wine through Naxos, I touched on the idea of how our dollars speak loudly – the places we choose to support (like small and/or family-owned businesses) are the places we’re voting to keep around for future generations. And perhaps more than many other industries, winemaking’s magic and allure lie in its tradition.

Enter Gavalas, a smaller establishment tucked into the charming village of Megalochori. Gavalas has a rather odd rule that couples can’t share wine flights, so the ladies ordered flights while the guys opted for a glass of their choosing for a cheeky workaround. The wine flights vary in pricing from the Introduction to Santorini flight (4 wines, €13/person) to their Premium and Rare flight, which offers 6 of the rarest, ‘under-extinction’ varieties on the island (€30). Since we were sharing a flight (sort of), we opted for the Premium and Rare flight to get a good feel for the wines being produced at Gavalas, from their classic whites to their red.  A glass of dessert wine was a little bonus at the end.

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Gavalas

The assyrtiko (blue bottle) and the Vinsanto were standouts during our tasting. Greek wines don’t have a huge American audience, though it is growing, and the only wine that people seemed to recognize when I posted about our experiences on social media was the blue bottle of assyrtiko from Gavalas, which is by far the winery’s largest production (40,000 of 80,000 total bottles produced) and the only wine that they export to the US.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that at virtually every winery the Vinsanto is worth trying and probably buying. Vinsanto is an awesome dessert wine from Santorini that doesn’t have the syrupy sweetness that you’ll find in some fortified wines. While some wineries may do it better than others, I found it delicious across the board. We took a bottle of Gavalas’ award-winning Vinsanto home with us to save for a day when we’re ready to reminisce on our month in the Cyclades.

Your tour is done! If you follow this itinerary, you’ll be done with your wine tasting at around 5PM or so. We had a taxi on speed dial from our hotel but you can always ask the winery to phone a taxi on your behalf if needed. Try reaching out 15 – 20 minutes prior to your departure time to give the taxi enough time to reach you as you finish your tasting. Keep in mind that taxis are generally a fixed rate of €40 each way from Oia to the Megalochori area. If you’re trying to cut some costs, perhaps look at options for public transportation to your first stop, but I’d plan on taking a taxi home to take the guesswork out of your journey back!

Bonus: Hike to Avantis Winery from Oia

Oia Fira Hike, Santorini
Snapshot from the hike from Oia to Fira ✨

Are you into this whole self-guided wine tasting tour in Santorini? If you’re still keen on sampling Santorini’s famous vinos, you can follow our lead and enjoy the hike from Oia to Fira along the Santorinian coast (about 10km/6.25 miles). Your endpoint is just a few minutes’ walking from Avantis Winery and is the ultimate reward for the calorie burn and sun exposure. We packed a change of clothes on the hike so we could swap out into something presentable at the tasting room and we were extremely grateful to see they had a changing room on-site to make this even easier than expected!

Avantis is an excellent option if you’re interested in trying Greek wines that go beyond wines from Santorini. With Avantis vineyards in Evia, the winery offers varietals from further north like their viognier and award-winning syrah. And Avantis has the added bonus of being beloved for their excellent cuisine. Their flights include offerings with food pairings like their Meze & Wine Experience (7 wines with greek meze, €40) or our choice, the Greek Cheese Experience, which included six wines with a selection of Greek cheeses for €24. If you’re more than a little peckish, they offer a full a la carte menu instead and flights sans food to create your own adventure.

Self-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Avantis WinerySelf-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Avantis WinerySelf-Guided Wine Tasting Tour in Santorini, Avantis Winery

One of my favorite aspects was that Avantis provided more of an experience, with sensory components like an aroma station where you can learn to identify key scents in the wines. A visit to the cellar gave us a preview of the wines produced in Santorini and the many incarnations of assyrtiko they offer, like the complex, oak-aged Afoura to their concrete egg-aged Anhydrous. One of the beauties here is that between what they’re producing in Santorini and what they’re producing in Evia, there’s absolutely something for everyone, whether you’re into crisp whites or fuller-bodied reds.

Allow yourself a couple of hours to enjoy a tasting and don’t miss trying their food, even if it’s just a small pairing! Not into hiking back home? For €1.80, the bus station is just minutes away for buses (nice buses, I might add!) you back to Oia.

While we weren’t expecting to do a self-guided wine tasting tour in Santorini originally, it actually worked out beautifully and ended up being made even more fun by sharing with friends who joined on our journey. There are many wineries to choose from in Santorini and we just scratched the surface. I sadly missed a handful that were very high on my list to try – Volcanic Slopes Vineyard Winery, Domaine Sigalas, Argyros, and Hatzidakis Winery come to mind – but we’re just taking that as an even better reason to return to Santorini in the future!

Have you done a self-guided wine tasting tour in Santorini before? Any wineries that topped your list on the island?

Shannon Kircher, The Wanderlust Effect

More about Shannon Kircher

Shannon Kircher is the founder and editor of The Wanderlust Effect. Founded in 2009, she has continued to document her international escapes as an expat in Europe and the Caribbean. Additionally, Shannon is the founder of Compass & Vine, a luxury boutique travel design firm, and is the Director of Marketing for the Frangipani Beach Resort. Shannon holds an MSc in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and is a current candidate for WSET Level 3 in Wines & Spirits.