My Assyrtiko Agápi
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Taking a look at my wine fridge brought me to the finding that I tend to drink a lot of wines from Greece. Many of the wines were brought during traveling there, mostly because there is, for my taste, not enough import of them to Israel. As my heart unevenly beats towards Greek wines I constantly read and educate myself about them. The Greek wine-industry made a huge change during the last decade, there is for sure more awareness to wines from Greece, especially to those made from Assyrtiko grapes. I also firmly believe that those grapes helped attracting world’s attention to Greek wines.
Assyrtiko grapes are still not claimed into international wine production but today more than ever, they are recognized as a Greek grape variety from Santorini that leads to creation of crisp, salty and flinty white wines. I also discovered that Jim Barry Winery from Clare Valley in South Australia planted in 2015 some Assyrtiko grapes and as I saw there is 2019th Assyrtiko. Please someone import this wine to Israel ASAP.
Although Assyrtiko wines became much more famous than 10 years before, most of he twine consumers probably are not going to choose a bottle of Assyrtiko while they are shopping for their weekend booze. The “excuse” to that is because most of the wine consumers (out of Greece) don’t know almost anything about this grape and the importers are not motivated enough to teach them, so they just don’t search for those wines. This is one of the barriers to export Assyrtiko wines to other countries. If you want to read more about the export barriers of Greek wines, click here.
So, the region is – Santorini. Perfect vacation place with beaches and lots of sun, is also a Protected Designation of Origin, a unique wine region with a super interesting and special ecosystem which helps to produces wines with a particular personality and strong character.
What makes Santorini region so special?
From all the things that I red and the wines that I drank, I think the combination of the vines + climate + soil (wine people call it terroir) opens the door to create pretty special wines.
In Santorini, there is an insane volcanic soil that was created as part of the Dormant volcano collapse during its last eruption in 1500 B.C., it covered the island in a deep layer of pumice and ash. This soil forces the vine roots to dig really deep to get through to organic matter underneath – it makes them struggle. Many winemakers believe that stressed vines make interesting wines. I tend to agree, but also believe that too much can damage or kill the vines. I also red that some people think that these magical (but quite poor) soils can protect the vines from diseases and pests.
Furthermore, there is (agronomy speaking) a crazy weather going on there - long hours of sunshine and “microwave feel like” heat that hits the vines in the summer, with the lack of rainfalls through the year, all that would be a disaster for the vines if not the strong winds, sea mist and the cooling breezes that come for the rescue. Island mood is kicking in.
In case you thought that wind is all about chilling, think again because being pumped by winds from every direction can pose a real threat to the vines and not just because of the flying sea salt and sand but also because those winds would definitely break the vines in a normal trellised vineyards. Luckily the vineyards are different in Santorini.
Santorini is blessed with old Assyrtiko Vines (some over 70 years) which are pruned with the traditional “kouloura” (basket shape) designed to protect the grapes from the constant winds and intense sunlight. I know we used to see different kind of vines and vineyards, but I think that those of Assyrtiko in Santorini are incredibly beautiful.
Point to remember, is that the winds are not just serve as a threat to the vines, but they are also help them, by creating constant circulation of air which prevents rot and other diseases – keeping the vines healthy and protected.
The winds and the sea mist also lower the temperatures in the vineyards, allowing slower ripening of the grapes – which will help the Assyrtiko grapes to keep their natural acidity and phenolic compounds at high levels.
This combination of Santorini’s climate + the old vines + poor soils brings to a low yields (grapes that grows on the vine). Even when the Greek Law allows to grow yields of up to 55 hl/ha, most harvests turn in close to 40 hl/ha, but normal yields are closer to 20 hl/ha.
I lately red about the 2019 vintage and It’s is interesting to see that the output of 2019 was the lowest of grape productions in the last 25 years. The Island produced 1100 tons, and it was 700 tons less than last year. Heavy rainfalls in November till March helped the vines to grow but the insane winds, especially the cold ones during the first 10 days of April, affected the growing of new shoots (where the grapes grow) which in the end led to a very low yields. They didn’t have quantity this year, but the quality reported as a super great that will hopefully lead to creation of complex Assyrtiko wines for us to sip in the future. I’m super excited to try them.
It's not hard to see that I love Assyrtiko wines, but for ones, who never tried those wines, know that you should mostly expect light bodied white wines that are not too aromatic on the nose but they full your palate with pleasant flavours of honeydew, pink grapefruit, lemon and almonds. the wines also known as friendly with food. The wines can age and develop petrol-like qualities with time. That’s why some call Assyrtiko as the Greek Riesling. I made a small list of some tasty bottles of Assyrtiko that I like.
Wines from left to right: (1) Assyrtiko by GAIA WILD FERMENT, (2) ATMA Assyrtiko by Thymiopoulos Vineyards, (3) THALASSITIS OAK FERMENTED,(4) Nikteri Assyrtiko by Hatzidakis Winery (5) Santorini Cuvée No 15 Hatzidakis Winery.
On a personal note, I had some conversations with friends who asked me why I decided to produce clothes mentioning “Assyrtiko” on them, claiming that this grape is not known enough to sell. I totally agree, these products are indeed the less sold ones in my store. I was aware of that while creating them but the reason behind the creation wasn’t just selling as much as possible. Creating awareness, supporting Greek wines, making platform where local people can, let’s call it, “wear” their grape and be a walking advertisement of their passion – all those were crossing my mind when I decided to put this grape and not another on the wine wear products. I do believe in communities. Wine is all about the people.
That’s also why I decided that 10 % of my earnings from selling Assyrtiko connotated products, will be donated to a local Nonprofit that operates in Greece - the Boroume NGO who's mission is to reduce food waste and to fight malnutrition in Greece. I like and believe in this idea.
So, first I really advice you to try Assyrtiko wines and if you kindly decide to buy some Assyrtiko Wear from my store, know that (during December till February) 10 % of the earnings will be donated! Yamas :)
List of sources:
The World Atlas of Wine, 8th edition - H. Johnson and J. Robinson (October 2019)
German perceptions of Greek wines - Stela Cazacu (January 2015)
A Big Fat Guide to Greek Wine, Everything you need to know - Kate Soto (April 2016)