SAY AFTER ME …. AS-SYR- TIKO.
It seems a long time ago but we spent a cracking New Years Eve at my local restaurant. They did us proud on what is always a night of both reflection and optimism. I did my fair share of reflection but then thought about my ”best white wine of 2014”. That brought an even broader smile to my face.
It will surprise many that my top 2014 white was Greek. With the label announcing ‘Assyrtiko’ it’s not the first bottle you’ll pick off the shelf but if you have a spare 15 quid or so you won’t be disappointed. Going one step further, if you get yourselves into the vineyards during 2015 you’ll be even more delighted.
Can I suggest that you make a visit to the island of Santorini a belated New Year’s resolution. Whitewashed houses, blue-domed churches and amazing vineyards all set within the azur blue Aegean Sea with warm, sunny days being all but guaranteed from April to September, make Santorini a slice of paradise. To top it all, the food’s good and of course, you can enjoy the island’s super wines.
Assyrtiko is the grape by the way; it’s the star of the island’s vineyards for me; it’s intense, crisp, very lightly toasted citrus aromas and flavours are amazing. Tip; because it’s little known it’s often good value on restaurant wine lists. Maybe my local restaurant will get it on the list if I ask nicely.
Santorini is a volcanic island set in the Aegean off mainland Greece where, back in 1450 BC, a massive volcanic eruption caused the middle of the island to fall into the sea. It left a steep-edged crater known as a ‘caldera’ peeping above the waves, an event which explains the unusual footprint of this incredible island. It’s also gives some credence to the theory that Santorini has some of the world’s oldest vineyards, estimated to be 3500 years old!
The ‘Mediterranean’ climate with its calm winters and consistent summers suit the island’s vines down to the ground. The strong winds (known locally as meltemia) that are a feature of Santorini are not so friendly to the vines but to combat this the winemakers adopt a traditional low lying training technique that involves wrapping the vines in a ground hugging, nest-like basket shape. This unique training also protects the vines from the intense sun but pity the grape pickers at harvest time, they must end up with either very sore backs or blistered knees, probably both!
As you can guess, being volcanic, the vineyards are ‘blessed’ with poor, rocky soils that create very low grape yields; for all the anoraks out there they’re the lowest in Greece. ‘Just one of the reasons for Assyrtiko’s delightfully pure intensity.
Another tip; look out for the wines of Gaia and Hatzidakis; As-syr-tiko at its best.