fbpx
Menu
Greece / Libations of the World

Vinsanto: Libations of the World

Vinsnato

Greece, like any country, has unique regions, each with its specialties and persona. One of the most beautiful and fascinating is the island of Thira, otherwise known as Santorini to non-Greeks. The island is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world and has indigenous vines found no other place on earth. With such a long history of winemaking that dates back many millennia, you can imagine it has its own exceptional libation worthy of special recognition. Vinsanto is a sweet Greek wine made in a passito style (sun-dried grapes) and harks from Santorini, where it’s made with Assyrtiko grapes.

First, a bit about Vinsanto’s home

The crescent-shaped island of Santorini is surreal in its beauty and has an energy that is hard to describe. The white-washed buildings with the backdrop of the deep azure Aegean sea are stunning. But Santorini is much more than that; it is home to ancient civilizations and archaeological sites of buried cities 2000 years older than Pompei. 

Santorini majestically rises out of the sea with a magnificent caldera (a crater of a collapsed volcano) sitting cradled within the crescent. The mythical legend of Atlantis is believed to have originated here. It is one of the most photographed locations in the world for a reason due to the weather being near perfect, and the sea is the deepest of blues.

That impressive caldera is a testament to a massive eruption in 1613 BC. The explosion was one of the most devastating on planet earth in the last 10,000 years and formed the Santorini we see today. The island is unique in that it is one of the few places in the world where people built after massive destruction, and they did so right into the rock face of the caldera. This tiny island draws visitors from all over the world to view the mystery of this natural wonder. To add to the mystique of this dramatic, stunning sunsets viewed from the caldera illuminate the horizon in ways that appear to be paintings on canvas.

Oia, Greece

The Unique Composition

The island of Santorini has rocky dry soil that contains basalt, granite, pumice, obsidian, and ash. It has a high content of silica oxides and metals that makes the soil quite acidic. Add to that; the island has scorching sunlight, minimal rainfall, and constant strong winds. You may assume this is the last place fruit can grow to produce wine; however, Santorini is a haven for delicious and unique wines. It is Greece’s top destination for wine tourism. There is evidence that the vines existed on Santorini before the massive eruption almost 4,000 years ago.

What is this island gem Vinsanto?

Wine press Vinsanto

Vinsanto is a sweet white wine known as the “ambrosia of the gods.” It’s been renowned since the 12 century; however, it didn’t get on the map until the 1700s, when it became favored in Russia. It remains a favorite dessert wine in the world, often scoring well over 90 points in wine competitions. Do not mistake it for Vin Santo, a wine from the Tuscany region of Italy. The main difference is Tuscany’s Vin Santo gets its character from the barrel aging, whereas Santorini’s Vinsanto derives from sun-drying the grapes.

Vinsanto is a naturally sweet, velvety dessert wine. Even though it is red in color, it is produced from overripe white grapes. The grapes have an extra step upon harvesting. They are usually harvested in late August and are laid to dry in the harsh Aegean sun for 6-8 days and made into raisins for practical purposes. This process gives a concentrated, sweet, golden wine with an aroma of dates, quince, dried figs, honey, and caramel. As the wine ages, it darkens and takes on the intense aromas of dried fruit, nuts, coffee, and molasses. It holds a gentle minerality and acidity that balances out its sweetness. 

The Vinsanto wine matures for years in oak barrels and then continues to develop in the bottle. The alcohol content is usually around 13%.

What is the main grape variety used?

Vinsanto
Our complimentary Vinsanto

It belongs to the category of wines with Protected Designation of Origin – PDO Santorini. According to the regulations, it must come from grapes of the Assyrtiko variety by at least 51%, with the remaining types being traditionally from Santorini. The most common mix we saw was 85% Assyrtiko and 15% Aidani. There is no added sugar allowed in the designation. The blend of the remaining 49% of the grapes makes each Vinsanto very different. We can attest to that from our many tastings.

If you have traveled to Greece, you are well aware that it is one of the most hospital countries you will encounter during your travels. The tradition at most restaurants is to present you with a “gift” at the beginning and end of your dinner. This is often a complimentary appetizer to start your meal and a complimentary mini bottle of liquor and dessert at the end. In mainland Greece, it is usually Raki liquor. On Santorini, they give you Vinsanto. As you see in the photo with the decanter, they were incredibly generous that evening. How can you not love Greece?

The Fruit and the Soil

Wine grapes

These are not standard grapevines, though. What appears from a distance as fields of low-lying weeds are actually the grapevines. The vines are trained to form coils, most commonly referred to as baskets that are low to the ground. Grapes grown inside these baskets are protected from wind, and the leaves deflect sunlight.

An added strain on these grapes is the minimal rainfall Santorini receives in a year. Most of the water they need comes from sea mist, which is absorbed from the pumice stones that cover the soil on the island. The pumice then releases the water to the vines. The result of these harsh conditions is a very low fruit yield. In the early years of starting new vines, irrigation lines are used but are removed once established.

Wine basket

The unique soil and growing conditions bring a lower PH and enjoyable mineral taste to the wine. Wines from Santorini are fresh, acidic, have higher alcohol, and have a bit of salinity. They are full-bodied wines that, due to growing in volcanic soil, have the potential to lay for ten years, which is unusual for white wine. The wine is truly unique and indigenous to the island. There are nine indigenous grape varieties, and the most common is Assyrtiko. Traces of this dry white wine have been found in the prehistoric village of Akrotiri, buried under the volcanic eruption of 1613 BC.

The vines on the island are almost impenetrable by disease. During the phylloxera epidemic of the late 19th century, most vineyards in Europe were destroyed, yet the grapes on the island were untouched. After the devastation, more interest grew in Santorini wines. It also strengthened the island’s resolve not to introduce varietals other than those indigenous to the island.

How best to experience Vinsanto

Vinsanto grapes

During our visits to Santorini, wine tasting was an essential part of the trip. The first time we took a wine tour that regaled us with the fascinating story of the wines. Our tour guide was an Oenologist (study of wine and winemaking) professor from Athens who did this as his summer job. His passion for wine had us all spellbound. It was an excellent way to be introduced to Santorini wines and something that we would encourage you to do. On our second visit, we visited wineries on our own over several days. We tried every varietal there was and were amazed at the differences in the wines.

There are over 20 wineries to visit in Santorini. It has more wineries in its small space than anywhere in the world. So there will be plenty to enjoy. In the end, our absolute favorite was Vinsanto.

Picking which is the best can get tricky with Vinsanto as each year, each method, and each winery is unique. Then, of course, some years have better grapes than others. One reputed to be excellent was 2013. One rule is the older it is, the better it will be. But even in our various tastings, we landed up loving an 8-year Vinsanto vs. the older ones. It is when the wine tastings become even more critical.

Wine tasting

What to pair with the wine

Vinsanto can be enjoyed with any dessert or simply by itself. It is served cold without ice. In Greece, it is usually served at the end of the meal since it is pretty sweet. It pairs exceptionally well with nutty Greek desserts like baklava or kataifi tart. With a dense chocolate cake, it was superb. We imagine it would go very well with cheese and fruits as well.

It would be a lovely aperitif, but we did not see it served that way while in Greece.

Taking Vinsanto home

Since the fruit has low yields and the grapes themselves are tiny, there is limited production. To make it even more restricted, Vinsanto is made from dried grapes, so it requires an even higher amount of grapes to produce one bottle. Most Vinsanto wines you can only purchase when visiting the island. One of our regrets was not purchasing more before leaving the island. We anticipated we could buy some at the Athens airport on our way home. Sadly there was only one choice, it was three times the price of what we saw in Santorini, and we did not recognize the winery.

Our advice, buy the one you enjoyed the most in Santorini.

Planning a trip to Greece? Check out our Greece Travel Guide here.
Santorini sunset

Purchasing Vinsanto at Home

Some of the wineries on Santorini ship Vinsanto and other wines to the US. Santo Winery ships to the US using Fed Ex. It can be quite pricey based on which one you buy but overall less than expected. We ordered some and will report back on how the process went. To reach Santo Wine online ordering, click here.

Once home, it has been challenging to find any Santorini Vinsanto in our local liquor/wine stores. Our search continues, but there are a few options we have found.

  1. Wine-Search.com will search online stores for any wine, beer, and spirits. When entering Vinsanto many options pop-up from several wineries on Santorini. The collection was impressive. They ship to your home if your state allows it. We have not ordered from this site.
  2. Interestingly there are many Vinsanto’s for sale on Ebay. We have no idea if this is a reliable source. If you purchase any Vinsanto from this method, let us know how it goes.
  3. It is also worth contacting your local specialty liquor store to see what they can order for you.

Cat in basket
This Arygyos winery cat slept right through the tour

May we suggest a couple of recipes to expand your Vinsanto experience?

Cocktail


Caldera wonder

Brown Volcano


Ingredients:
40 ml Vinsanto
15 ml Metaxa or any other brandy
30 ml fresh orange juice
2 drops of Teapot Bitters


Instructions
Mix ingredients in a shaker. Pour into an old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a slice of dried apple.


Recipe from Greece IS Athens

Dessert


Decadent and delicious

Caldera Chocolate Lava Cake with Vinsanto


Ingredients
       4 ounces / 120g bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped, divided
       5 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
       2 tablespoons Vinsanto wine divided
       2 large eggs
       1 egg yolk
       1 teaspoon vanilla extract
       ¼ teaspoon salt
       6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
       5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
       1 tablespoon unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder


Instructions
1. Preheat the
oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 6-cup muffin tin with cooking spray or butter.

 2. In a double boiler, melt 3 ounces / 90 g of the chocolate, stirring. Add 4 ounces / 120 g of the softened butter and whisk to combine. Remove from heat. Cool slightly.

 3. Alternatively, do this in a microwave: Place 3 ounces / 90 g chocolate and 4 tablespoons butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving, if needed, stirring every 15 seconds, until completely melted. Let cool slightly.

4. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of the Vinsanto wine, eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, and salt. Sift confectioners’ sugar, flour, and cocoa over the batter and whisk until smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the greased muffin cups.

5. Bake the cakes until the edges look dry and puffed, but the centers still look soft and gooey
8 to 10 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack until firm, about 2 minutes. Place a cutting board or flat, wide serving platter on top of the pan and invert the cakes out onto it. If they stick, run a knife around and under them to loosen.

  6. Meanwhile, melt the remaining chocolate in a double boiler and whisk in the butter and wine. Or do this in a microwave: heat the remaining 1 ounce / 28 g chocolate and 1 tablespoon butter in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir, then continue microwaving, if needed, stirring every 15 seconds, until completely melted. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of wine.

7. Using a thin spatula, transfer the cakes to serving plates. Drizzle the cakes with the chocolate sauce, about 1 teaspoon each. Serve warm.


 8.   Serve with Vinsanto wine.

Recipe from Greek Recipes by Diana Kochilas


© 2021 Wanderers Compass All Rights Reserved

Check out our article on Santorini, Greece, by clicking here.

Learn more about Santorini, Greece. Check out Santorini’s Official Tourism Site.
Check out our most recent blog posts

Want to learn about Wanderers Compass?

Squaremouth.com

Our favorite travel insurance site!

If you are booking a trip, don’t forget to get travel insurance within 14 days of your first booking. We could not be stronger advocates of being well insured. Not for the little stuff but the big stuff like medical emergencies. We never leave home without it. Over the years, we have used many sites but have now found our go-to place. Squaremouth.com does a fantastic job; it has a user-friendly interface, they use top-rated and reputable insurance carriers, and most policies cover Covid medical issues and cancellations. They also mediate on your behalf if you have problems with your policy.

MedjetAssist

Medical transport back home from anywhere in the world

They are the premier global air medical transport. One caveat to travel insurance is that medical evacuation usually gets you to the closest facility to care for you. Medjet gets you back to the US to the hospital of your choice once you are stable enough to fly. They cover Covid-related transports as well.

Medjet carries its own policies. The policy is only for transport and no other aspects of travel insurance. They have individual trip policies starting at $99 and annual policies for $295. Most of their policies limit the age to 74 and younger. Prices are not based on age below that.

Expedia.com 

Hotels, home rentals, BNBs, flights, and other transportation & tours 

Expedia is a US-based company whose mission is to power global travel for everyone and everywhere. Whether planning a family vacation, booking for business, or organizing the trip of a lifetime, they are a fantastic resource. Wanderers Compass focuses on independent travel, and using sites like Expedia makes that possible. Every aspect of travel you would need, from airfare, accommodations, rental car, cruises, to activities to do at your destination, can be booked on Expedia.  

Booking.com

Hotels, Home rentals, BNBs, Flights, and other Transportation & Tours 

Booking.com connects millions of travelers to memorable experiences, various transportation options, and incredible places to stay – from homes to hotels and much more. It is one of the world’s largest travel marketplaces for established brands and entrepreneurs of all sizes.

We always start with Expedia to check prices, but it sometimes says it is sold out. We then try Booking.com, and we find it lists plenty of rooms. It could be they are a Europe-based company. Try both before booking accommodations.

Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO)

Traveling with a family or having an extended stay at your destination?

With over 2 million bookable vacation rentals, VRBO connects homeowners with families and vacationers looking for something more than a hotel for their trip. The VRBO community offers families or groups various rental property types such as condos, cabins, lake rentals, beach houses, etc.

VRBO is under the Expedia group ownership now, which many were worried about, but it hasn’t panned out to be a concern. It is a massive network that also has access to all forms of lodging should issues arise. Joelle has used VRBO for many years with her family, with no problems to date.

Tripadvisor

Tripadvisor, the world’s largest travel guidance platform, helps hundreds of millions of people each month become better travelers, from planning to booking to taking a trip. Travelers around the world use the Tripadvisor site and app to discover where to stay, what to do, and where to eat based on guidance from those who have been there before.

With more than 1 billion reviews and opinions from nearly 8 million businesses, travelers turn to Tripadvisor to find deals on accommodations, book experiences, reserve tables at delicious restaurants and discover great places to see nearby. We use them for guidance and research on every trip, it is a valuable app for the independent traveler.

Rail Europe

Discover Europe by Train

Rail Europe sells train and bus tickets for travel across Europe. They cover 24 countries, 105 rail operations, and 20,000 stations. They are the official rail and bus operations agents in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Rail Europe continues to add coverage all the time.

It is a fast, easy and economical way to purchase train and bus tickets for Europe. Eurail passes are also available to buy through their site.

Amazon.com

An excellent source for travel essentials and guides

Amazon is one of the most extensive shopping online sources in the world. On behalf of their customers, teams worldwide provide lower prices, better selection, and rapid delivery. They offer a vast inventory, and it is their 1.7 million small and medium businesses worldwide selling on Amazon.com that provide extensive options for customers.

We buy most of our travel books, accessories, and luggage from Amazon. We have ordered up to two days before travel and get what we need.

Travelpro Luggage

Thoughtfully Designed | Meticulously Constructed | Quality Guaranteed.

We have used this luggage for years, left briefly to try others, and returned to Travelpro. Travelpro luggage is carried by crews from over 90 airlines worldwide.

Travelpro takes the time to learn what travelers want and need, then builds it. The key factor for us is that it must be lightweight upfront and very resistant to rough handling. Their luggage is the best, and we could not recommend it enough. It is our go-to luggage.

iVisa

Travel documentation made more accessible

iVisa.com is dedicated to providing customers with a simple, fast, and reliable way to get travel documentation for their journey. Their online application process makes getting visas, health declarations, or passport photos a breeze, all from your home’s comfort. As a leading independent company in the travel documentation industry, they take pride in making global travel more accessible for everyone. In the end, it is a simple and affordable travel resource to get the necessary entry documents complete for your international travel.

This section contains affiliate links. If you use these links (the ads with photos are NOT affiliate links) to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

Do you have a question for us or have a comment?


Cinque Terre

Become part of our Wanderers Compass Travel Community

Stay updated on all our new posts and happenings

No spam, unsubscribe at any time, no more than one email a month