Feature Story, Game Changers

Game Changers | Greek Assyrtiko

“Santorini autism.” It’s what Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, at Gaia Winery, describes as the stubborn belief that assyrtiko can only excel in Santorini. This year, I was forced to admit that I had it. I didn’t really pay much attention to assyrtiko outside of Santorini—it seemed, at best, to be a useful blending component. But when Peter Barry at Jim Barry Wines in Australia’s Clare Valley stunned our tasting panel with his 2017, I had to admit that my thinking was flawed. If an Australian could put out great assyrtiko, and from young vines, then there had to be some Greeks outside Santorini making terrific examples, too. So, I gathered all the non-Santorini assyrtikos I could for our August issue, and tasted them with a panel and an open mind. The best wines didn’t taste like Santorini, but they had structure and a savor that’s consonant with the best examples, and their own attractive features. (For more on the qualitative rise of assyrtiko across Greece, see “Seismic Shift,” W&S 8/18.)

Biblia Chora 2016 Pangeon Areti

Vassilis Tsaktarli set up this winery with Vangelis Gerovassiliou in 1998. This assyrtiko, vinified in stainless steel, is a savory, powerful white. There’s no real fruit to speak of; just salt, chalk and herbs, carried in a broad, oily texture that has an almost tannic grip. This is designed for the dinner table, to serve with brandade. (92 points, $24; Cava Spiliadis, Astoria, NY)

Lyrarakis 2017 Crete Vóila Assyrtiko

From the eastern end of Crete, nearly 2,000 feet above the Mediterranean, this assyrtiko grows in loamy soils. It’s stony, waxy and broad in its lemon flavors, with grippy acidity and sea-spray minerality. It feels young and punchy, wanting rich seafood to match. (91 points, $20; USA Wine West, Sausalito, CA)

Monemvasia 2014 Peloponnese Assyrtiko

The color is deep yellow and the initial notes are of toast and caramel, but give this time in the glass and it seems to get fresher by the moment. The caramel notes begin to smell more like warm rocks and dried herbs; the toast lightens into notes of piecrust and Meyer-lemon curd. You know it’s assyrtiko in the end, when the saline mineral notes and acidity work in tandem to grip the tongue, and won’t let go. Like many Santorini assyrtikos, this is one that can stand up to lamb. (92 points, $16; Flying Olive Farms, Raleigh, NC)

Domaine Nerantzi 2016 Serres Assyrtiko

This is exhilarating wine: It starts out smelling heady and ripe, then does a one-eighty, delivering pure, stony flavor. All the fruit—the notes of pear, marzipan and citrus oil—feels as though it’s there simply to flesh out the wine’s intense structure. The main event is stones and surging acidity—it’s salty and firm, and keeps giving freshness. Evanthia Mitropoulou farms her vines organically and vinifies this wine without any inputs. (94 points, $19; Dionysi Grevenitis Selections/ DNS Wines, San Francisco, CA)

Domaine Papagiannakos 2016 Attica Assyrtiko

This is round and oily, assyrtiko’s mineral flavors rendered in a rich, sunny mainland sense. Notes of crushed herbs and green fruit add breadth and detail. (90 points, $22; Craft + Estate/The Winebow Group, NY)

This feature appears in the print edition of the Fall 2018.
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