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Assyrtiko: oaked or not?

P McGlynn, Edinburgh, asks: I was at a dinner with friends and they served a wine blind before dinner.

I thought it might have been Sauvignon Blanc, but there were definitely toasty, woody notes.

It turned out to be Assyrtiko, which confused me, as I thought it was only unoaked. Are oaked versions becoming more fashionable?

Joanna Simon replies: It was a good guess! The variety’s powerful mineral character, citrus intensity and high acidity could easily be taken for Sauvignon Blanc.

As for oak, most Greek Assyrtikos are unoaked, but fermenting and/or ageing in oak isn’t new.

Two of the Assyrtiko-based wine classifications for Santorini actually prescribe oak ageing: a minimum of 24 months for the sweet Vinsanto and three months for the bone-dry Nykteri, but many of the producers of oaked dry Assyrtiko today don’t use the Nykteri classification.

If anything, oak is being used a little less than a few years ago, or at least more sensitively.

There are still some heavy-handed examples, but far fewer than before.

Applied carefully, oak works well with Assyrtiko: it can add depth and breadth plus toasty flavours that complement Assyrtiko’s piercingly intense flavour profile and high acidity.

Joanna Simon is an award-winning wine writer, speaker, author and judge. For more on Greek Assyrtiko, look out for Joanna Simon’s Expert’s Choice feature in the August issue of Decanter. 


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