Some Greek Assyrtiko from the mainland is very good, says Joanna Simon, although there really isn’t anything quite like that from Santorini...
What sets it apart from other countries’ equivalent varieties is that Assyrtiko has barely travelled. The wine has been (and is increasingly) exported and appreciated, but the vine has not.
Only Australia has broken the mould – and only recently – with the first commercial release of a home-grown Assyrtiko this year (from Jim Barry in Clare Valley, which I can recommend).
Scroll down for Joanna’s top five Greek Assyrtiko picks from her 18 recommendations, featured in Decanter magazine’s August issue Expert’s Choice.
At home it’s a different story: Assyrtiko has spread from the Aegean islands, where it probably originated on Santorini, to many parts of the mainland, including Attica, the Peloponnese and Macedonia. Some of the mainland wines are very good, but they tend to be softer, less wild and distinctive than Santorini.
‘There really isn’t anything like Santorini Assyrtiko’
If ever a wine justified the description ‘mineral’, it’s the dry white made on this volcanic island. It’s hard to describe the intense, sometimes pungent, smoky, volcanic smell and taste in any other way.
It isn’t the only flavour of course: penetrating citrus, especially lemon, is the other signature flavour, sometimes with quince or a floral note. There can be a salty edge, too. And then there’s the trademark high acidity. Assyrtiko has the ability to hold its tartaric acid in a hot climate.
Another quirk is the age of the vines: because phylloxera gives volcanic deposits a miss, the vines are ungrafted and many are old and exceptionally deep-rooted. Low yields are a given, but vintages are not too variable. 2016, 2015 and especially 2014 were all successful.
With the natural acidity and intense mineral and lemon flavours, Assyrtiko is a candidate for fermentation and/or ageing in oak. Sometimes I could wish for a
little less but, compared to five years ago, oak has become a more subtle seasoning in Greece. Hurray for that!
Joanna’s top five Greek Assyrtiko picks:
Classic nose! Aromatic with smoke and mineral pungency and fresh lime juice. Richly fruity with a touch of sweet apple and peach before the lime-citrus depth; high acidity, but nothing abrasive or tart.
100-year-old organic vines. Pungent, smoky, almost funky intensity to the nose. Rich texture, concentrated apple and citrus fruit, intense minerality, rigorous acidity. Very exciting.
Appetisingly fresh, zippy nose: lime juice, pears and salty sea-spray. Beautifully fresh, dry and intense with incisive, but modulated, acidity and an elegantly textural feel. Fruit in the citrus spectrum. Palate goes on and on.
Open, round nose. Honeyed nuttiness offset by lime-juice steeliness, apple and apricot fruit; supple texture with pithy acidity and crisp white pepper.
Wild ferment, 35% new French and American oak barrels. Powerful, savoury, smoke and oak nose. Dense, rich-textured, dry; deep core of oak-wrapped, spicy, honeyed-lemon fruit; deft acidity.