Week 25 – Assyrtiko

We tasted: Estate Agryros Assytriko 2016 £13.79 (+vat) Costco

Tasting Notes

Emma says: “This week’s exciting news is that I opened my Assyrtiko with a brand new prized possession; a gold plated corkscrew. But keep that between us, Andy thinks it was the gift I brought back for him from my Master of Wine conference in Spain…oops.

And it seems apt because I’m very excited to be introducing Assyrtiko as one of our 52 grapes, which coincidentally was also given a small spotlight at a tasting during the conference I have just returned from. This grape has been called the “Chablis of Greece” by fellow wine geeks and I hope once you experience it, you’ll understand why.

The true home of this grape is a beautiful island right at the tip of the Cyclades islands in Greece; Santorini. This island was born by the explosion of an undersea volcano. As a result, the island has a stunning backdrop of multi-coloured cliffs and layered volcanic soils that are fantastic for growing vines. The island’s other secret is old vines, sometimes over 100 years old, and on their original rootstocks which is another rarity. I won’t delve into that right now because it will distract us all from just appreciating the grape. However, the result of these old vines, grown in intriguing little basket shapes, is a wine that has incredible finesse, yet intensity and a mineral streak that gives them the Chablis-esque reputation. One famous Australian winemaker, Jim Barry, was so taken by this grape he transported cuttings to his side of the world and is now attempting to create his version in South Australia; so look out for that.

This wine comes from Estate Argyros, a family run winery I happen to import from and so I’m pleased we are getting to try their wine. This version is 100% Assyrtiko so we can taste its purest version. At first sniff I was pleased it had this gunflint, smoky quality that gives it that edge of complexity. Then a burst of salty lemon zest and a grapefruit lime zing, slightly honeyed, almost like an aged Riesling. To taste the high acidity of this grape leaves a zippy lift to the palate, and the rich saline grapefruit flavours continue with a dose of tropical fruit salad. Having said that it doesn’t taste like a warm climate wine. It is altogether lean and fresh tasting. And that is what I think I love so much about this grape, I’ve spent my teenage holidays on this sunny island and given the gorgeous heat I experienced there I can’t quite believe it can produce a wine with so much finesse.”

Andy says: “I’ve noticed that my tasting notes are getting shorter each week. And you’re in luck, as the trend is about to continue.

I think I’ve officially run out of vocabulary for wine, and am sitting on a learning plateau. So I’ve done my usual trick of tasting, working out what I think I tasted, and then reading Emma’s notes to see if I was close. On this occasion, maybe a C+ or a B-.

The first thing I noticed (pre reading Emma’s notes) was the acidity. It’s intense, possibly more so than my experience in Week 18 with Savvy B. This time, I think my eyes did actually water. I’m sure there’s (probably) a scientific name for it, but I’m (for now, until I find it) going to call it the ‘sour shudder’. I’m sure (hope) you all know what I mean – that involuntary face scrunching forehead squeezing wince when you taste something acidic/sour. Yeah, well every sip so far has triggered that reaction.

I also found it sweet (it’s not), leaving that oily residual feel on the roof of the mouth. I need to work out what that indicator is if it’s not sweetness. Emma’s notes say ‘honeyed’, perhaps that’s it. And she also mentioned grapefruit, so given I wasn’t a massive Viognier fan, I’m not super taken by this one either.

Buying Guide

Assyrtiko is perhaps the most famous grape of Greece. A white grape that is said to have the elegance of Chablis. Try to find one from its birthplace, the island of Santorini but any Greek white stating Assyrtiko on the front or back label will do.

7 thoughts to “Week 25 – Assyrtiko”

  1. Another new grape for me this week and a very interesting one too. I tried the Estate Argyros ‘Atlantic Wine of Greece’ 2016 from M&S (£12).

    It had a pale lemon appearance with some quite syrupy legs. The nose was very charismatic and unusual – I smelt it immediately upon opening the bottle. It was dominated by an elusive savoury scent which I struggled to put my finger on. It must be from the volcanic soils of Santorini – pebbles, wet hay, pencil erasers. I even detected a hint of something like musty cheese rind (which sounds disastrous but it wasn’t unpleasant and definitely wasn’t corked – it was screw cap bottle!). There wasn’t as much fruit as I had expected. What there was suggested lemons and tart apples.

    The palate was quite oily with a medium body and very dry. Overall it was similar to the nose – dominated by volcanic minerality, especially on the finish. Lovely and fresh. The lemon was there, but fruit wasn’t in the driving seat. It also came across as strong (It was 13% and you noticed it.) You have to drink it fresh – I tried a glass the following day and the sharp dryness had taken over a bit.

    Overall I really enjoyed it, particularly as it was so distinctive. I will be trying more Santorini wines.
    I’ve just noticed that it came from the same estate as the one Emma tasted, probably explaining why her explanation is so spot on! If only I had thought of those words – gunflint smokey quality, lemon zing, saline grapefruit. That’s exactly it!

  2. Assyrtiko

    Probably one of the most unknown (outside the wine trade) and underappreciated grapes on the planet. This is a hidden gem, whose home is on the volcanic Island of Santorini, one of the most southern islands of the Cyclades, although plantings have recently been spotted in Australia and California.

    While the debate continues about the use of the word minerality, nowhere can this descriptor be more apt than in the tangy, saline and citrus infused wines made from Assyrtiko. While it is often blended with the lesser and more floral and aromatic grape varieties of Aidani and Athiri, it is the pure versions, that for me, demonstrate what heights can be achieved with this unique variety.
    There are some very impressive versions that have been made with maturation in oak, and while these are undoubtably very serious wines, it is the purity of the variety, unadulterated from the use of oak that excites me.

    One of the most prominent producers is Domaine Sigalas (situated near Oia – http://www.sigalas-wine.com/english/), and one of the most dynamic too. As well as a traditional range of wines, they also produce a limited production of single bottlings from 7 of the villages around Santorini: Oia, Vourvoulos, Imerovigli, Fira, Pyrgos, Megalochori and Akrotiri. But at the top of their range is a cuvee called Kavalieros, a special wine kept on its lees for 18 months, this is one of the greatest Assystikos I have ever tried.

    One cannot mention Santorini and Assyrtiko without mentioning Hadzadakis (http://www.hatzidakiswines.gr/en.html). Sadly, we lost Haridimos a few years ago to tragic circumstances, but the winery has always been a beacon for one of the great wineries of Greece. Specific bottlings to look out for are Cuvee 15, Assyrtiko de Mylos and Assurtiko de Louros.

    Gaia (http://www.gaiawines.gr/visits-santorini-eng/) has also done a lot for Greek wines, and these have been championed by Steve Daniels (Novum Wines – http://www.hdnwines.co.uk/wines-producers/novum) for many years to great effect. The Assyrtiko Wild Ferment is widely available in the UK, but other unique wines from this range to seek out are Thalassitis (both oaked and unoaked), and the unique and bonkers ‘Submerged’, a wine aged under water for several years – limited production and not cheap.

    Artemis Karamolegos (http://www.artemiskaramolegos-winery.com/en/) has come to prominence recently, most notable for wining Platimun and Best in Show at Decanter for its Sangtorini DO Assyrtiko. They have a prestige cuvee called Pyritis, made from two parcels in Pyrgos and one Megalochori which is also worth seeking out.

    Estate Argyros (http://estateargyros.com/), continue to make some of the best Assyrtiko on the island. Based in Episkopi Gonia, they make a very good barrel aged Assyrtiko but it’s unoaked version is still the best. They make some of the best Vinsanto from Santorini too.

    While I am not a fan of all their wines, Gavalas (http://estateargyros.com/) make a very exciting Natural Ferment Assyrtiko and I would put this in the top tier of Assyrtiko from Santorini.

    For those of you who have not tried Assyrtiko before, I urge you to do so, and for those of you have been bitten by the Santorinian bug, I hope the above gives you some pointers on where to go next.

    1. Hi Andrew,
      Great to have you involved in 52grapes. Sounds like you’ve done some extensive research on your trip to Santorini. Were you there this week? Anyway, I thoroughly support your producer recommendations, especially the note on Hatzidakis; what a legend.

  3. Wine – Atlantis Santorini, (M&S £12)
    Bottle says – lime, pears, honey, gooseberry

    I have to put my hand up here at the risk of sounding stupid and ignorant, but I’d never tried Greek wine before, as I thought it would be rubbish. I am glad to say I was wrong. The general consensus of people who had tried it that I spoke to (or read in reviews) was “Well…. it’s alright in Greece, but you wouldn’t want to drink it over here, there’s so many better wines to choose from.” So, to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

    Whiff-wise, (I’m fed up of saying “on the nose”) there is an instant similarity to white Burgundy or even chenin-blanc; the steely, wet stone smell, with a hint of honey floating around the edges; very fresh and inviting, subdued rather than in your face. As the wine lost its initial ‘chill’, I’m sure I got a very faint reisling-like whiff of petrol too.

    Gob-wise (maybe not) there was definitely a base note of citrus, with additional notes of gooseberry and kiwi fruit, giving the wine a slightly ‘sour’ edge, but balanced beautifully with a slight creaminess and a long dry finish.

    I would be more than willing to explore the wines of Greece further, although in Sheffield, the only place selling more than a ‘token’ Greek wine appears to be M&S, so fair play to them.

    PS – Re the e-mail Pun – You did well with the tools you had 😉

    1. Hi Jason,
      So pleased we converted you to Greek wine. And what a victory that it was the M&S one that I sourced! If you want to explore further our Malagousia and Xinomavro wines from Greece are also fantastic.
      Andy is the one with the puns, so no credit to me for that.

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