Ex­pert’s choice: Greek Assyr­tiko

Some of the wines from main­land Greece are very good, says Joanna Si­mon, although there re­ally isn Õt any­thing quite like San­torini Assyr­tiko

Decanter - - CONTENTS - Joanna Si­mon is a DWWA judge, an award-win­ning writer, presenter and co-founder of The Wine Gang For full de­tails of UK stockists, see p97

Fly­ing the flag for qual­ity, and a fine il­lus­tra­tion of min­er­al­ity in wine. Joanna SI­mon’s top 18

ASSYR­TIKO IS TO Greece what Al­bar­iño is to Spain or Grüner Velt­liner is to Aus­tria. Although Greece has many other high-qual­ity indige­nous white grape va­ri­eties, it is Assyr­tiko that is the flag­ship. What sets it apart from other coun­tries’ equiv­a­lent va­ri­eties is that Assyr­tiko has barely trav­elled. The wine has been (and is in­creas­ingly) ex­ported and ap­pre­ci­ated, but the vine has not. Only Aus­tralia has bro­ken the mould – and only re­cently – with the first com­mer­cial re­lease of a home-grown Assyr­tiko this year (from Jim Barry in Clare Val­ley, which I can rec­om­mend). In Cal­i­for­nia, where you might ex­pect ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, plant­ings are neg­li­gi­ble and I know of no com­mer­cial bot­tlings.

At home it’s a dif­fer­ent story: Assyr­tiko has spread from the Aegean is­lands, where it prob­a­bly orig­i­nated on San­torini, to many parts of the main­land, in­clud­ing At­tica, the Pelo­pon­nese and Mace­do­nia. Some of the main­land wines are very good (I’ve cho­sen six), but they tend to be softer, less wild and distinc­tive than San­torini.

There re­ally isn’t any­thing like San­torini Assyr­tiko. If ever a wine jus­ti­fied the de­scrip­tion ‘min­eral’, it’s the dry white made on this vol­canic is­land. It’s hard to de­scribe Gai’a, Wild Fer­ment, San­torini 2016 92 £22.15–£23.49 Noel Young, The Hal­i­fax Wine Co Wild fer­ment, 35% new French and Amer­i­can oak bar­rels. Pow­er­ful, savoury, smoke and oak nose. Dense, rich-tex­tured, dry; deep core of oak-wrapped, spicy, hon­eyed-lemon fruit; deft acid­ity. Drink 2017–2023 Alc 13%

the in­tense, some­times pun­gent, smoky, vol­canic smell and taste in any other way. It isn’t the only flavour of course: pen­e­trat­ing cit­rus, es­pe­cially lemon, is the other sig­na­ture flavour, some­times with quince or a flo­ral note. There can be a salty edge, too. And then there’s the trade­mark high acid­ity. Assyr­tiko has the abil­ity to hold its tar­taric acid in a hot cli­mate. On the down­side, it has a ten­dency to ox­i­dise, but wine­mak­ers are more adept at han­dling it these days.

Along with acid­ity, the other fea­ture that makes Assyr­tiko pe­cu­liarly well suited to San­torini is its har­di­ness, specif­i­cally its re­sis­tance to drought (an­nual rain­fall av­er­ages 360mm, though noc­tur­nal sum­mer fogs sup­ple­ment it) and strong winds. Mind you, wind­dam­age lim­i­ta­tion comes with a price: the in­ge­nious but labour-in­ten­sive prac­tice of train­ing each vine like a wo­ven bas­ket ( kouloura) close to the ground. The bonus is that koulourai also pro­tect the grapes from sun­burn. An­other quirk is the age of the vines: be­cause phyl­lox­era gives vol­canic de­posits a miss, the vines are un­grafted and many are old and ex­cep­tion­ally deep-rooted. Low yields are a given, but vin­tages are not too vari­able. 2016, 2015 and es­pe­cially 2014 were all suc­cess­ful.

Go­ing back to the wines: with the nat­u­ral acid­ity and in­tense min­eral and lemon flavours, Assyr­tiko is a can­di­date for oak – fer­men­tion and/or age­ing ad­ding the usual po­ten­tial for flavour and tex­ture (toast, but­ter, spice, creami­ness, honey). Some­times I could wish for a lit­tle less but, com­pared to five years ago, oak has be­come a more sub­tle sea­son­ing in Greece. Hur­ray for that!

‘Along with acid­ity, the other fea­ture that make Assyr­tiko suited to San­torini is its har­di­ness’

Hatzi­dakis, Louros Vignes Cen­te­naires, San­torini 2014 92 £58 The­atre of Wine 24 months in French oak. Dark, al­most am­ber. Flo­ral, hon­eyed, dried-apri­cot aro­mas. In­tense, weighty palate: oak, lemon, dried apri­cot and spice; creami­ness pierced by acid­ity. Slightly hot on the fin­ish. Drink 2017–2025 Alc 15%

Hatzi­dakis, Cu­vée No. 15, San­torini 2015 92 £29–£29.60 AG Wines, Buon Vino, He­do­nism Or­ganic vines, 12 hours’ skin con­tact, wild yeasts, 8 months on lees, un­fil­tered. Has an ox­ida­tive sherry hint. Dried-apri­cot flavour, lemon-oil tex­ture, tangy acid­ity and cit­ruspeel bit­ter twist. Drink 2017–2024 Alc 14.5%

Do­maine Pa­pa­gian­nakos, At­tiki 2015 92 £15 Amps Fine Wines, Cheers Wine Mer­chants, D Byrne & Co, WoodWin­ters Open, round nose. Hon­eyed nut­ti­ness off­set by lime-juice stee­li­ness, ap­ple and apri­cot fruit; sup­ple tex­ture with pithy acid­ity and crisp white pep­per. Drink 2017–2023 Alc 12.5%

Bi­b­lia Chora, Areti, Pan­geon 2015 91 £19.15 Cava Spil­iadis Del­i­cate, fresh, cit­rus-ac­cented nose. Trades San­torini’s smoky pun­gency for a more del­i­cate spicy, pep­pery, min­eral fresh­ness, lemon-and-pear fruit and quiet in­ten­sity. Drink 2017–2023 Alc 13.5%

Ar­gy­ros Estate, San­torini 2015 93 £19.80–£19.95 Bot­tle Apos­tle, Phil­glas & Swig­got Ripe cit­rus fruit, plus a spicy lime in­ten­sity, with 20% French oak soft­en­ing the raw vol­canic pun­gency and ad­ding a sub­tle bit­ter-choco­late note. Racy, taut acid­ity; a com­plex, lay­ered and flow­ing style.

Drink 2017–2023 Alc 14%

Do­maine Si­galas, San­torini 2015 95 £17.95 Berry Bros & Rudd Aro­matic with smoke and min­eral pun­gency and fresh lime juice. Richly fruity with a touch of sweet ap­ple and peach be­fore the limecitrus depth; high acid­ity, but noth­ing abra­sive or tart. Drink 22017–2024 Alc 14%

Hatzi­dakis, My­los Vieilles Vignes, San­torini 2015 95 £29–£34 The­atre of Wine, The Wine So­ci­ety 100-year-old or­ganic vines. Pun­gent, smoky, al­most funky in­ten­sity to the nose. Rich tex­ture, con­cen­trated ap­ple and cit­rus fruit, in­tense min­er­al­ity, rig­or­ous acid­ity. Very ex­cit­ing. Drink 2017–2024 Alc 14.5%

Ar­gy­ros Estate, San­torini 2016 93 £22.29 Noel Young Ap­petis­ingly fresh, zippy nose: lime juice, pears and salty sea-spray. Beau­ti­fully fresh, dry and in­tense with in­ci­sive but mod­u­lated acid­ity and an el­e­gantly tex­tu­ral feel. Fruit in the cit­rus spec­trum. Palate goes on and on.

Drink 2017–2024 Alc 13%

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