On the plains of Santorini, just outside the historic town of Oia (pronounced “ee-ya”), sits Domaine Sigalas winery. Founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Domaine Sigalas produces some world class wines from indigenous Greek grapes. Considering we would be visiting Santorini during our honeymoon, we contacted the winery to arrange a tasting.
Domaine Sigalas graciously provided us with a complimentary tasting. All opinions and notes are our own. We received no other compensation. All food featured, and wines we bought, were purchased ourselves.
Domaine Sigalas organically farms 37 hectares of vineyards, and also work with other Santorini farmers to source grapes for their production. Their average production is about 300,000 bottles per year.
When we arrived for our tasting, we were greeted by our host, Pavlos. Pavlos guided us through an amazing experience of seven whites, a rosé, a red, and two dessert wines. The normal tasting flight is 12 wines, but three of their wines were sold out, so Pavlos subbed in two additional whites (the Aa blends, described below), and also treated us to something special: a sample of their distillate, known as Tsipoyro.
We selected our table on the patio, shaded from the hot Santorini sun by a vine covered pergola, looking out into the adjacent vineyard. We were immediately surprised to see trellis-trained vines. Santorini is known for its unique grape growing method, known as kouloura, in which the vines are trained into a round, basket shape to protect them from the high winds common on the island. Pavlos explained that this is an experimental vineyard, planted to Mavrotragano grapes. Mavrotragano is a red grape that was nearly extinct just a few years ago. Paris Sigalas planted this vineyard to bring it back, and opted to use a trellis system. The vines are thriving and producing fantastic wines. So fantastic, in fact, that the 100% Mavrotragano was one of the ones sold out during our tasting. However, their other red is a blend that includes Mavrotragano, so we can still attest to the quality!
Roughly 75% of Domaine Sigalas vineyards are planted to what is the most well known Greek grape, Assyrtiko. Assyrtiko is a white grape, producing wonderfully dry, crisp wines. Among the other varieties grown on the estate are Aidani and Mandilaria. They source Monemvasia from the nearby island of Paros, for use in “Am”, their 50/50 blend of Assyrtiko and Monemvasia, the first wine we tasted.
The 2018 Am is considered their entry level wine, but that only speaks to their high standards and quality! This is a delightful dry wine, with notes of citrus, grapefruit, and hints of banana.
Aidani was originally made into a dessert wine. For the past eight years, Domaine Sigalas has crafted a dry wine with it. The 2018 spent six months on the lees, resulting in a wine with medium body and acidity, with tropical fruit and citrus notes.
We got to compare the newly released 2017 Aa, with the aged 2011. Both are blends of 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri. Both are vinted in stainless steel with no time on lees. The 2017 was bright and dry, with sea/saline on the nose, and citrus/lemon flavors. The 2011 was slightly oxidized, as one might expect from an 8-year-old white, but was still very pleasant with solid structure and acidity, with flavors of banana and grilled lemon.
2016 Santorini Assyrtiko – Similar to rules in other wine regions, the Greek Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) specifies that for a wine to be called “Santorini” it must be made of at least 75% Assyrtiko. This one is 100%, and is amazing. Lemon, Kumquat, and citrus, with notes of herbs, saline, and mineral. It is vinted in stainless steel and spends six months on the lees. (A bottle of this one made its way into our suitcase!)
2015 7-Villages – dialling down even more, much like the AVA system in the US, the Greek PGI identifies large regions, smaller sub-regions, and single vineyards. The 7-Villages line represents wines from grapes in a single village. As the name suggests, Domaine Sigalas makes individual wines from seven different villages. This one spend one year on the lees, and has mineral/earthy notes of decomposed granite, along with creamy lemon curd flavors.
2017 Kavalieros Single Vineyard – 100% Assyrtiko from 70 year old vines. This wine is the most place-specific in the PGI. Kavalieros loosely translates to “the one that climbs on other things,” a reference to the tendrils on grapevines that grasp anything they can to allow the vine to climb higher and higher. After spending 18 months aging on the lees, it is very smooth with noticeably more body, yet still crisp with brisk acidity and flavors of lemon and citrus.
Next up was the Rosé – the 2018 Ean. Made from 100% Mandilaria grapes grown on Rhodes, this wine spent less than one hour on the skins. This is surprising given the bold, deep pink color. Pavlos said that Ean means “if.” As in, “if” not Rosé, this would be a red wine. Delightfully crisp, Ean has flavors of strawberry, cherry, and cranberry. (This one to, came home with us.)
And now, onto red! The 2017 Mm, named for the two grapes in the blend: Mandalaria and Mavrotragano. This medium-bodied red spent 18 months in French oak. It boasts rich flavors of blackberry, black cherry, clove, baking spice, and a bit of earth. With big, bold tannins, this is a dinner wine to be sure.
The only other red on the menu, the 100% Movrotragano, was sold out, so we moved on to dessert wines.
An interesting bit of Santorini history, including the story of how the island got its name. In times of antiquity, the island was known as Thera. For mariners crossing the Mediterranean, Thera was a famous stop to pick up supplies, including wine. Even in modern times, it is not recommended to drink the water on Santorini, so in ancient days, wine was considered the preferred beverage. During Medieval times, the chapel of Saint Erini was built, and was visible from the sea. Chrisian crusaders renamed the island in honor of Saint Erini, thus the name became Santorini.
The name Vinsanto comes from the Venetians, who referred to is as the wine of the saint, Vino Santo. The 2013 Vinsanto is a naturally sweet wine, with no added sugar or fortification. This wine is made by allowing the grapes to sun dry, thereby concentrating the sugar content. It takes seven times the grapes per bottle, since the grapes lose juice during the drying process. Though tawny-port-like in appearance and taste, the alcohol content is only 9%, so you can sip it all night! Vinsanto must contain a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, and this one had 25% Aidani blended in. After five years in French oak, the wine spends an additional two years in barrels before bottling.
The final wine of the tasting was a red dessert wine. The 2011 Apiliotis is 100% Mandilaria, and is made in the same manner as the Vinsanto; using sun dried grapes. Again, a naturally sweet wine with no added sugar. Spending a minimum of 24 months in oak, the wine is deep, rich, and complex, with black cherry and boysenberry flavors.
Our final treat was a taste of the distillate, Tsipoyro. Similar to Grappa (only better, in our opinion), Tsipoyro is a distilled spirit made from Assyrtiko and Mavrotragano grapes. This stuff is 40% ABV, so proceed with caution! You’ll be tempted to shoot it, but please slow down and savor it! Clear color, with herbal and floral flavors, it is quite smooth and easy to drink.
We had the opportunity to sample some sparkling wines from a related winery, too, but after such an extensive tasting thus far, and with another winery stop on our agenda for the day, we decided to just have some lunch and let our palates savor the wines of Domaine Sigalas.
House made Dolmades – stuffed grape leaves. Pavlos said the tzatziki is made with ginger instead of garlic, because “garlic is a wine killer.” It was delicious!
Taramosalata with fresh pita. The dip is similar in appearance to hummus, but is made with fish roe, with onion, lemon juice, and olive oil. Quite tasty and surprisingly filling!
We heartily recommend visiting Santorini, and Greece in general. The wines here are outstanding, the food is spectacular, and the people are amazing. Sadly, not many good Greek wines are available outside the country, due to economic and political factors. So to enjoy the best, you have to come here. When you do, be sure to book a tasting at Domaine Sigalas. You’ll be glad you did!
- Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds