Exploring Greek Wine: The History Of Assyrtiko Grape


Assyrtiko is by far one of the most iconic grape varieties from Greece. Native to the Cyclades island of Santorini, Assyrtiko has developed a reputation in the wine industry as a versatile grape. The Assyrtiko grape variety has the capability of making wines in a multitude of styles. Ranging from fresh white wines to nutty dessert wines and is widely applauded by chefs all over the world for its food-pairing prowess.

It is believed that the volcanic soil is what makes this grape varietal so remarkable. The black, ash-rich soil is said to give the wine great minerality. While the lack of potassium in the soil gives the grape natural acidity.

The vines are traditionally trained into weaved baskets low to the ground which minimize wind damage and are also spaced far apart due to the lack of water in the soil. Because of the lack of phylloxera in volcanic soils, the vines can be planted on natural rootstock and when it reaches the end of its productive life (around 70 to 100 years), the trunk of the vine is chopped off and the roots sprout a new shoot that eventually becomes a new vine. Assyrtiko vines on Santorini are quite literally some of the oldest vines in the world, with many having been alive for hundreds of years.

Although its birthplace is the renowned volcanic island of Santorini, the production of this white wine varietal has become popular in many other regions of Mainland Greece and the surrounding Aegean islands. In recent years, Assyrtiko has proved to be a true chameleon when it comes to blended winemaking and is known for its ability to partner with a variety of grapes such as Semillon, Malagousia, Athiri, and Aidani.

The Tasting Profile Of This Striking Grape

The wine profile of this Greek white grape variety varies depending on where it is grown. Assyrtiko from Santorini is much more mineral-driven and salty than fruity, whereas Assyrtiko from the mainland of Greece tends to be fruitier, with citrus and orchard fruits. The one feature that runs together, regardless of where it is grown, is the high natural acidity of this variety.

For the more widely-available dry and crisp single-varietal style, expect floral and spicy aromas such as orange blossom, jasmine, and sometimes ginger on the nose. On the palette, it is not uncommon to find notes of lime, lemon, pear, passionfruit and even some salty streaks. The high minerality of this grape is what truly makes this wine unique.

On mainland Greece, the wines do tend to be slightly edgier, rounder and more aromatic in character with a discreet minerality than its predecessor.

What Food Goes Best With This Greek Wine

Assyrtiko’s natural high acidity makes it the perfect choice for pairing with seafood and Mediterranean-style dishes. In the case of Assyrtiko, the rule “what grows together, goes together” leads the way to inspire the best food pairings.

A crisp Assyrtiko from Santorini such as Gaia – Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2018 pairs wonderfully with foods that would not normally be paired with white wine, such as pork roasts or roast lamb. One could also consider pairing this wine with grilled fish, oysters, shellfish, fried halloumi cheese and tomato-based Mediterranean style dishes.

If you’re a wine lover that is looking for a wine that is both elegant and exotic, Assyrtiko is the perfect match for you. Looking to discover other Greek wine types or would like advice as to which wine should be added to your collection next? Get in touch with our expert team at Small Winemakers today.


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