Minerally, steely, saline, citrus, distinct – these are some of the terms associated with Assyrtiko, a grape indigenous to Santorini. Conversely, there’s also a creaminess on the palate.
This is the quintessential summer grape – a taste of the Greek islands. If you think of the perfect rosé wine but make it more citrus (no berries), you’ll have an idea what to expect from Assyrtiko.
The island of Santorini is a unique place to grow grapes. It’s basically a huge lump of volcanic rock. Around 1600BC there was a gigantic volcanic explosion, which created the island.
According to Wines from Santorini: The explosion left behind a mixture of volcanic ash, pumice stone and pieces of solidified lava and sand, which together make up the soil of Santorini, known as “aspa”. The soil has little to no organic matter, but is rich in essential minerals, except potassium, creating wines with a naturally low pH level and high acidity.
There is virtually no rain, so the roots of the vines have to dig deeply to reach water. There is, though, a lot of wind – thought to be the cause of the saline characteristic often found in the wines.
Because of the winds, the grapes are grown low to the ground in a basket-like manner, and many of the vines have been around for a century or so. This develops concentrated grapes, which impart a lot of character to the wine.
Fans of Chablis and Sancerre should definitely give Assyrtiko a try.