Assyrtiko is a Greek white wine grape indigenous to the island of Santorini. Assyrtiko is widely planted in the arid volcanic-ash-rich soil of Santorini and other Aegean islands, such as Paros Naxos, Crete, and in smaller quantities in Attica, Drama, Epanomi, Halkidiki, Hromitsa and Drama. It can also be found on other regions scattered across Greece.
Assyrtiko-Santorini wines are rare and distinctive, being crafted from the indigenous Assyrtiko varietal, cultivated in some of the world’s oldest vineyards, dating back 3,500 years, on the volcanic island of Santorini, where nothing is ordinary. On the island of Santorini, there are Assyrtiko vines which are well over 70 years of age, of which many are non-grafted, with these plantations having shown resistance to Phylloxera.
Assyrtiko-Santorini is one of Greece’s most fascinating and unique indigenous grape varietals. When tasted blind, dry wines from Assyrtiko-Santorini (PDO Santorini) are almost always described as coming from a cooler northerly climate.
Assyrtiko is one of Greece’s finest multi-purpose white varietals. Currently 70% of the island’s vineyard area is covered with Assyrtiko, where it has developed a unique character producing excellent AOC wines. Assyrtiko has the ability to maintain its acidity as it ripens, producing a bone-dry wine that has citrus aromas mixed with a mineral character due to the volcanic soils of Santorini. During the past 25-30 years Assyrtiko has been planted throughout Greece including Macedonia and Attica where it expresses a milder and more fruit driven character.
Uniquely, the vines are cultivated in low basket shaped crowns, pinned to the ground, for protection from the fierce winds dominating the island of Santorini - which explains the extremely low yields of Assyrtiko-Santorini as well as the dense structure and opulence of its dynamic wines. Coming off the sea, the nocturnal fog brings much needed water to the vines during the dry, hot growing season and this, combined with the cooling northerly winds provide the ideal ripening conditions for this varietal to thrive. Harvest is one of the earliest in the country and usually starts at the beginning or in the middle of August.
The resulting dry white wines, known for their distinctive character and great minerality, are pleasant to drink in their youth, but can also be very age-worthy. Most wines are unoaked, though some very good examples of oaked Assyrtiko are made and can have great ageing potential. Owing to its pronounced mineral profile, Assyrtiko stands up well for blending with grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and the indigenous Greek white grape Malagousia. More famously, Assyrtiko is paired with the aromatic Aidani and Athiri white grapes for the production of a distinctive, naturally sweet wine called 'Vinsanto' (derived from the name Santorini), known since the Byzantine Empire.
These vibrant wines are an ideal complement to delicate dishes, fish, shellfish and seafood, also pairing well with grilled white meat dishes. Vinsanto can be naturally sweet or fortified and must be barrel-aged for a minimum of 2 years. The opulently sweet Vinsanto wines display a deep amber colour, an inviting nose which pair well with: crème brûlée, white chocolate desserts, dried apricots, dates, dried figs, nuts and blue cheeses.