In an a summary of my experiences with Greek wines a couple of years ago, and also on a trip to North Greece earlier this year, Assyrtiko wines struck me as being particularly worthy of more attention. So I have been exploring further, concentrating on Assyrtiko from the variety’s spiritual (and quite possibly actual) home – the volcanic island of Santorini. My exploration was helped by samples of Santo Wines sent to me by Tsantali, which I supplemented with two wines produced by Gaia, bought from Noel Young.
Before I tried these four wines my rather simplistic characterisation of Assyrtiko was intense and acidic, with Riesling as the closest point of comparison. Now I am more confused, but at a higher level as clearly there are many possible styles. I still think I was basically correct, but the variety has a lot more to offer than I suspected. The wines were tasted, and then drunk with food, on different days in June and July this year – so more real life drinking than a “proper” comparative tasting. The Gaia prices are what I paid at Noel Young, but for Santo Wines I give estimated UK retail prices because as far as I know they are not available here (though you can get a different Santo Wines vinsanto from Hyde Park Wines).
Santorini, Assyrtiko, PDO Santorini, Santo Wines, 2014, 13.0%, £12.00
Pale straw with greenish tinge. Intense and fresh, with lime and minerality on the nose. Medium high acidity. Dry, but with citric aroma sweetness. Palate aroma as nose. Primary. May keep a few years, but I suspect best drunk young. If blind I would have guessed it was a Riesling – probably an Aussie one. I thought *** at first, but this is growing on me, so ****
Thalassitis, PDO Santorini, Gaia, 2013, 13.0%, £16.25
The Assyrtiko grapes are from the Episkopi vineyard. Surprised to find a black plastic cork. Pale straw with greenish tinge. Intense and fresh. Sweet and luscious peach. Soft and subtle on the nose. High acidity. Bone dry, and hugely intense aromatically. Overpowering citrus aroma, lime I think, on the palate, but peach still in there somewhere. Excellent length. Full-bodied. Feel I should mark this very highly, but for me it is too intense and challenging at this stage in its development. Needs 10 years or so to calm down I thought, and then I read that Gaia suggest 2-3 years in the cellar so maybe that would be sufficient. Maybe more rounded after a couple of days in the fridge. Note that I always rate wines on the immediate impression ****
Assyrtiko, Wild Ferment, PDO Santorini, Gaia, 2014, 13.0%, £17.60
Ungrafted 80yo Assyrtiko vines. Same black plastic cork. Pale straw with greenish tinge. Intense. Subtle oaky reductive notes, integrated into soft lime. Very attractive nose. Medium high acidity. Bone dry. Palate aromas as nose. Excellent length. Good now, but I think it will improve with another few years, and better with food ****
Vinsanto, PDO Santorini, Santo Wines, 2007, 11.5%, 50cl, £18.50
Naturally sweet wine from sun-dried grapes. Mainly Assyrtiko, with some Aidani. Three years in oak. Bottled 2015. Medium pale caramel, with greenish tints towards the edges. Fresh and sharp on the nose. Lemon maybe, but mainly caramel with sultanas and almonds. High acidity. Sweet. Nice balance of the extremes of acidity and sweetness, which is how I like sweet wines. Finishes sharp and then sweet. Not at all cloying. Drink now ****