Snapshots from Greece:
Assyrtiko Wine from Santorini
Posted by Erin Zimmer, July 16, 2009 at 1:45 PM
Note: Our own Erin Zimmer just returned from ten days eating and drinking her way around Greece and
will be sharing her adventures with us all week as Snapshots from Greece. —Ed.
The Sigalas Winery is one of Santorini's best. Photograph by Mike DeSimone and Jeff
When most people think of Greek wines—that is, if they ever think about Greek wines—
they think retsina. Sadly, it's been nicknamed alcoholic Pine-Sol since it was first created
with pine resin to help boost the shelf life 2,000 years ago. This hasn't been so great for
the rest of Greek wines, especially the non-piney, non-sucky ones.
Assyrtiko grapes growing on Santorini.
On Santorini, one of the Cyclades islands and a hot tourist magnet, Assyrtiko grapes
grow all over, creating some of Greece's best white wine. People might not notice the
grapes with all those distracting black sand beaches and deep-blue waters. You've
probably seen a postcard (or watched Mamma Mia or Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants).
The grapevines were hiding somewhere behind the amazing white sugar cube-shaped
architecture built into the cliffs.
It's pretty incredible that Santorini can produce wine, especially since it experienced a
volcanic eruption around 1500 B.C., leaving the island all ripped apart. Because of the
little rainfall, big winds, and sunny skies, Santorini vintners have been forced to grow the
Assyrtiko grapes a certain way. To protect them from the tough natural conditions, the
plants are pruned low to the ground in a basket shape, where the protected grapes grow at
the center. This means no nifty machine can swing by and pick them all in one clean
sweep during harvest season—they have to be hand-plucked.
Paris Sigalas of the Sigalas Winery shows off the Assyrtiko grapes.
Assyrtiko wine usually has a full-bodied, acidic flavor with refreshing aromas, and pairs
well with seafood. The island's salty air and natural volcanic soil (made of pumice and
lava bits) infuses it with a nice, crisp minerality. About ninety-percent of Santorini's
wine-making comes from the Assyrtiko grape, and as it becomes more popular
internationally, wineries on mainland Greece have started planting it too, adding
Assyrtiko to blends to give them a nice acidic oomph.
Try looking for Assyrtiko varieties from Santorini wineries such as Sigalas, Gaia, and