Assyrtiko, pronounced “A seer’ tee ko“, is a high quality green grape native to Greece, with its roots supposedly on the island of Santorini.

Growing on the volcanic soil of Santorini it produces a full-bodied, fruity wine with aromas of predominantly lemon, and with notable minerality levels.

Acidity levels are high, also when grown in warm climates, and it has even been called the Chablis of Southern Europe.

There are numerous vineyards with old vines, counting seventy years and older. An interesting fact is that several of these are phylloxera resistant, most likely thanks to the sand rich soil, mixed with pumice and kaolnite. Never-the-less, these vines are self-rooting, e.g. they have not had to be grafted to new, phylloxera resistant root stocks.

When grown in other regions Assyrtiko presents itself with less minerals and more fruity aromas.

There are reports of more and more varietal Assyrtiko wines reaching the international market. Some Santorini Assyrtiko wines are called Nikteri. This indicates that they are 100% Assyrtiko, produced from over-matured grapes from selected vineyards at some altitude (up to 300 m/1,000 ft).

The grapes have had skin contact for twelve hours after crushing, then being fermented at 18°C/64°F. After left for ageing in oak barrels for twelve months, you will find a wine that is yellow golden in colour. Its aromas are of ripe stone fruits, oriental spices and with good minerality.

The wine has good structure with a very nice balance between acidity and tannins. Nikteri wines are very good for storing, potentially up to ten years.

Together with the aromatic varieties Aidani and Athiri Aspro, Assyrtiko can also be used to produce a naturally sweet wine called “Vinsanto”. This has nothing to do with the Vin Santo wines of Italy, but is a play with words, e.g. it is a wine from SANTOrini.

Food pairing
In general, an Assyrtiko wine pairs very well with fish, shellfish, white meat, lamb and pork. Serve at 8°C/46°F10°C/50°F .

If you manage to get hold of a Nikteri wine, you can expect it to pair well also with game meat, as well as with a mature full fat cheese. Serve at 10°C/50°F11°C/52°F.

Where is it grown?
There are no reports of Assyrtiko being planted outside Greece. With its 902 ha/2,229 ac, it placed itself as the sixteenth most planted grape in Greece in 2010. This acreage indicates a net loss in plantings of 204 ha/504 ac between 2000 and 2010.

In spite of loosing ground in its heartland Santorini (twenty-seven percent less, 245 ha/605 ac, in ten years), plantings in this region, the Greek Aegean Islands, still constitute seventy-five percent of the grape’s total plantings in Greece.

Furthermore, Assyrtiko plantings are increasing in regions on the mainland, such as Kentriki Makedonia in the north, Thraki in north east, and Attiki, the region surrounding Athens.

It is quite likely that Assyrtiko is native to the Greek Aegean islands. No viable genetic proof of any other linkage has so far been shown.

The Santorinian “Vinsanto” can reportedly be dated some 1500 years back in the eastern part of the Mediterranean.