Assyrtiko [pronounced: A seer’ tee ko] produces both dry and sweet wines. The dry wine tends to have a refreshing acidity with a steely minerality with lovely citrus notes and a touch of salt. Try with seafood and fish, it makes a wonderful match. When blended with Athiri and Aidani, Assyrtiko is used to make a sweet dessert wine called Vinsanto (not to be confused with the Italian Vin Santo). Aged for a minimum of 2 years in barrel, aromas of caramel, red fruit and chocolate are common.
Assyrtiko is home on the island of Santorini, located off the coast of Greece in the Aegean Sea, a popular tourist destination with its warm and humid summers and mild winters. During the summer, at night, the fog rolls in from the sea which gives the much needed water to the vines and the cooling northerly winds help moderate the temperature in the vineyards. Rainfall on this volcanic island is at a minimum here (370mm per year) and the soils are volcanic ash interlaced with pumice stones. Such pourous soils help to retain the humidity. Due to its location in the Mediterranean, it is one of the earliest harvests in Europe, in early to mid August.
However the wind can be very strong and is for this reason the vines are trained low to the ground, in a tight coil pinned to the ground with its fruit protected from the sun and wind in the centre, called a koulara system. Growing and being trained close to the ground, this basket shaped coil protects the fruit from the wind and helps collect any moisture on the leaves which then goes back into the root system. Due to the way the vines are trained, all grapes are hand picked. Yields are low and on the island, 1200 hectares are under vine comprising of 80% Assyrtiko and the remaining 20% consisting of Aidini, Athiri and reds – Mandilaria and Mavrotragano.
In 2011, Australian producer Jim Barry, was the first Australian winery to plant Assyrtiko vines in the Clare Valley. Peter Barry, son of founder Jim Barry, planted half a hectare at that point and today the winery has 3 hectares with more plantings on the horizon. With the changing climate and global warming, we expect more winemakers in Australia will be experimenting with this variety.