Museum of Samos Wine
A visit to the Museum of Samos Wine to learn about the muscat grapes that produce the best dessert wines in the world and also the Greek spirit, Metaxa.
Old Wine Labels in the Museum of Samos Wine
Samos produces some of the best dessert wines in the world, and wine
which goes into the famous Greek spirit, Metaxa. A visit to the Museum of Samos
wine is the perfect way to get to know the wines of Samos.
Around the harbour from the Archaeological Museum in Vathi
stands a museum to another subject that has played a huge role in the history
of Samos: its wine. The Museum of Samos Wine celebrates the fact that wine has
been made on the island since antiquity, and for centuries the name of Samos
has been known around the world for producing some of the finest dessert wines.
All Photos (c) Mike Gerrard
Samos even exports its wines to France, which is a triumph
in itself as the French are renowned for being very parochial when it comes to
their choice in wine. Yet 40% of the wine produced on Samos – and they produce
over 5 million litres a year – is exported to France where it is mainly drunk
as an aperitif.
Old Samos Wine Bottle
Another large portion of the best Samos wine is bought by
the Metaxa company and taken to its distillery in Athens, where it is a key
ingredient in Greece's unique spirit, Metaxa. (Most people refer to Metaxa as a
brandy, and although it tastes very similar to a fine brandy it technically is
not a brandy as brandy by definition does not contain wine.)
Metaxa: In Every Bar in Greece
The Museum of Samos Wine
The Museum of Samos Wine is housed in a building near the
waterfront that dates back to the 1930s and was once a warehouse and
barrel-making facility, our guide Yiannis Parassiris tells us. Iannis works for
the wine cooperative that runs the museum as part of its activities, and which
goes by the grand name of the United Winemaking Agricultural Cooperative of
In the Museum of Samos Wine
'Some of the old barrels are on display,' Iannis says, 'but
we no longer make barrels here. The biggest one on display holds 18,000 litres.
The cooperative was founded in 1934, although of course Samos wine had been
popular for many years before that. The winegrowers decided to unite to avoid
exploitation by European wine buyers. At the cooperative we take the grapes
from 25 villages. We have about 2,500 members, with their families, and the
vineyards cover about 1600 acres.'
The vast majority of the Samos vineyards cultivate the
muscat grape, which grows exceptionally well on the island. It mostly grows
here and in the South of France.
'If you look at the historic black and white photos that are
on display around the museum,' Iannis says, 'you'll find that not much has
changed because of the difficult access. You can't get machinery into the
vineyards so it is still all done by hand. One change is that each village
traditionally had a grape collector, as most people only had donkeys, but now
the growers bring their own grapes to us on trucks.'
Samos Vineyards on the Slopes of Mount Ampelos
On Samos the grapes grow at everything from sea level up to
about 900m high (2,953 ft), with many of the vineyards on the slopes of Mount
Ampelos, whose name appropriately means 'vine'. It's the highest mountain on
Samos, at a height of 1,095 metres (3,593 ft).
Because of the different elevations, the harvest on Samos
lasts for about two months, usually in August and September. The sea level
grapes are ready first, though the higher grapes take longer to mature and
produce a more concentrated taste and wine of a higher quality, although a lot
depends on the individual microclimates.
'The union also supports growers with advice to help control
the quality,' Iannis explains to us. 'This is an AOC so there are certain rules
to follow. The secret to the success of the wine is the altitude, the drainage,
the maturation. It's a sweet wine but also has a freshness that is almost
metallic and might remind you of stone. That's why Samos wines are known around
the world. Samos has been known for centuries as a supplier of top sweet wines.
In the Museum of Samos Wine
'The price growers get from us depends on the quality of the
grapes and the type of wine they will be making. Better grapes obviously get
higher prices. They also get higher prices for grapes that go into the Grand
Cru that goes to France because there is a lesser yield. We're not a profit
organisation. We have to cover our costs and then the rest is distributed. The
role of the union is vital in the success of Samos wine. Seven of the producers
are elected to the Board of Directors. Many of them are quite young, in their
30s, so the younger people are still working the vineyards.'
In the Museum of Samos Wine
Visiting the Museum of Samos Wine is clearly educational as
well as entertaining. It's an impressive museum that covers two floors and the
old photos are especially interesting. Elsewhere there are collections of
wine-making equipment, bottles, books, ledgers and all manner of things.
Museum of Samos Wine's Tasting Hall
Museum of Samos Wine: Tasting
At the end, naturally, we enjoy a wine tasting. We start
with two dry muscats, an Aegean Breeze and a High Peaks. The Aegean Breeze
manages to be both crisp and dry yet aromatic, and we try pairing the High
Peaks with a yellow goats' cheese from Samos, a perfect match.
Ready for a Tasting?
We move on to the least sweet of the sweet wines, the Grand
Cru that the French enjoy so much as an aperitif. It is light and fresh, with a
slight metallic taste to it, good as a palate cleanser. The Vin Doux is 15%
ABV, a strong and sweet wine that is the typical dessert wine we associate with
The Samos Anthemis is the same as the Vin Doux but aged for five years. It tastes like toffee, raisins and Christmas pudding, and is the most
popular Samos wine in the UK. Samos Nectar is aged for six years and is a
deeper more tawny colour, tasting of dried fruit, caramel and nuts. No wonder
these drinks are popular at Christmas.
Before leaving, don't miss the museum shop, which sells a
few other local products as well as wine. But check those wine prices. For
medal-winning wine the prices are much, much cheaper than you'll find them
outside of Greece.
Wines for Sale in the Museum Shop
So if you're in Vathi on Samos, don't think that the Archaeological
Museum is the only museum in town. The Wine Museum of Samos is also full of
history – and you get to drink wine too.
The Museum of Samos Wine is open May-October, Monday-Saturday,
10am-5.30pm, but double-check on the website before visiting.
(c) Google Maps
See more photos on our YouTube slideshow
Where to Stay on Samos
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