Assyrtiko Grape Variety & Wine Profile
Assyrtiko is arguably one of the more well-known Greek white wine grapes. It makes a light-bodied, refreshingly crisp wine with flavors of citrus fruits, tropical notes, saline, and noticeable minerality. It is originally from the Cyclades island of Santorini but now has been widely planted across mainland Greece as well as in parts of Australia.
The Terroir of Assyrtiko
In the vineyard, Assyrtiko thrives in the volcanic ash-rich soils of Santorini, as well as the hot and dry climate that is often windy. Many of the vines located in Santorini are old vines of 70+ years and some may even be up to 250 years old. Most are ungrafted as it is unnecessary to graft the vines due to the fact that the volcanic soil lacks clay and has prevented the spread of the root louse, phylloxera.
Wine Styles of Assyrtiko
Assyrtiko grapes contain high acidity even when picked ripe, which makes the grape a great option for making dry, crisp single varietal wines or picking later in the harvest season to increase sugars and make sweeter wines.
Assyrtiko can be made into various styles of wine and can even be blended with other white grapes. Usual blending partners include the Greek grapes, Athiri and Aidani, or other grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, and Malagousia. As a single varietal, Assyrtiko wines are usually clean, crisp, with high acidity.
If a winemaker chooses to age the wines in oak, the wines may be labeled “Nykteri,” which means the grapes are picked at night to avoid the heat of the day, vinified in oak or steel, but then they must be aged in oak for a minimum of three months. This method produces a bone-dry wine with high acidity but a fuller body than an Assyrtiko not aged in wood. When made into the sweet “Vinsanto” wine, Assyrtiko is picked as a late-harvest grape and must make up at least 51% of the blend. Vinsanto wines can have aromas and flavors of dried fruits like apricots, and sweet spices, and this style still maintains the minerality and acidity of other drier Assyrtiko wines.
Assyrtiko Food Pairings
Because of the grape’s naturally high acidity, Assyrtiko wines are an excellent pairing for food. Seafood dishes are common pairings as the wine does exceptionally well with grilled fish, oysters, shellfish, and even Mediterranean tomato-based dishes. In this case, the food and wine pairing rule of “what grows together, goes together” reigns supreme as the island classics of Santorini will lead the way as the best food pairings with this wine.
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Written By Jacqueline Coleman
Jacqueline Coleman is a professional wine + travel writer, wine judge, columnist, and consultant based in Miami, FL.
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The Structure and Style of Assyrtiko Wines
Sugar Dry / Sweet