Santo Winery, Assyrtiko, Santorini, 2019 | Greece

By Dirk Smits

Wine of the WeekFebruary 22, 2021

With 75,000 hectares, Greece has almost twice as many vineyards as New Zealand, but looking at the scarceness of Greek wines on U.S. shelves you would barely know that the Land of Gods has recently undergone an exciting wine revival.

If it is your first time sampling Greek wine, you might be surprised to learn that Europe’s hottest wine country (with the highest recorded vineyard summer temperatures) actually produces refined dry white wines, which make up 60 per cent of its three million hectolitre wine production. So, how does a parched country produce such elegant minerally whites? First, the key is in the indigenous grapes like Assyrtiko, Malagousia and Moschofilero, all of which retain their natural high acidity in the heat. Secondly, pioneering wine makers at wineries such as Gerovassiliou in Epanomi, Biblia Chora in northern Macedonia and Costa Lazaridi in Drama are exploiting cooler microclimates at higher altitudes up to 1,000 feet above sea-level (head to the mountainous north or the high Mantinia plateau in Peloponnese to find that Greece is not all about hot beaches). In addition, the volcanic nutrient-rich soils on islands like Santorini make minerally characterful dry and sweet whites.

Assyrtiko from the Aegean island of Santorini is Greece’s most exciting variety. Trained in basket-shaped vines (also known as ‘kouloures’) designed to catch the morning dew on ‘aspa’ (ash) volcanic soils on this exposed ‘dry’ island, Assyrtiko makes intensely focused mineral-scented whites. In northern Macedonia at Biblia Chora, it also makes a good blending partner with Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon.

Santo Winery or Santo Wines, The Union of Santorini Cooperatives, was founded in 1947. Today, it consists of the largest organization of the island, representing all the cultivators and counting 1,200 active members. Santo Wines is committed to safeguarding the local traditional cultivations, producing the highest quality Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini wines and products as well as promoting sustainable agriculture development.

Origin: Santorini, Greece
Varietals: 100% Assyrtiko
Sustainability: sustainable practices
Suggested retail price: $25
ABV: 13%

The wine was made following the classic white vinification: destemming, skin contact for six hours in low temperature followed by a gentle pneumatic pressing. After that, a fermentation at 16 to 17 degrees Celsius, conservation in stainless steel tanks, stabilization, filtering and bottling.

This wine is a classic benchmark of the variety and its homeland. It displays a vibrant aromatic cocktail of sea-breeze freshness, citrus fruits and peach with honeyed undertones. The flavors are bone-dry, brightly acidic with a textural mineral smokiness and a food-begging finish.

Suggested food pairings: appetizers, seafood, grilled fish, salads, cheeses.

> For more information, visit the Santo Wines official website.