One of the finest noble white grapes of Europe, its origins come from the island of Santorini, where it has its greatest expression of character, due in large part to the influence of the island’s volcanic soil. It is naturally resistant to most diseases and another reason why it has become a popular grape, re-planted throughout Greece. Assyrtiko makes up 70% of the vineyards of Santorini. It has the unusual quality of maintaining high levels of alcohol and acidity at the same time, making it one of the few white grapes of the Mediterranean that also possess long aging potential. Assyrtiko produces dry, full-bodied white wines with citrus aromas combined with a pleasing mineral character derived from the volcanic soil it is grown in. Assyrtiko is also blended with Athiri and Aidani to make the sweet wine, Vinsanto.
One of the most ancient of Greek grape varieties, Athiri was once made into a sweet wine, prized during Byzantine years. The name of the grape indicates its origin from the Island of Santorini, also known as “Thira” in ancient time. Athiri, on it’s own, produces medium-bodied wines with delicate aromatic qualities. It is also used to make Vinsanto and dry white blends with Assyrtiko and Aidani
Another ancient Greek variety, Aidani produces pleasantly aromatic wines with medium body and nice acidity. It is also used to make Vinsanto and dry white blends with Assyrtiko and Athiri.
A grape once on the brink of extinction, it is now protected as an endangered variety by the international organization, Slow Food. Mavrotragano produces wines of deep red color and intense tannins that take on more layers of complexity as the wine ages in oak. It gives aromas of fresh red fruits and spices and can also be used in the production of sweet wines.
Another grape whose origins have been lost in centuries past, produces a wine with deep red color, medium body and aromas of dark red fruit. It is often used to blend with other varieties because of its rich color and is also used in the production of some very promising sweet wines.
The dry white and dessert wines of Santorini are made predominantly from the noble white grape variety, Assyrtiko. It is grown together with Athiri and Aidani in a field blend throughout the island. These varieties are handpicked separately from the basket vines grown directly on top of the soil, making harvest time a challenging and time consuming process. The dry whites are known for their bright, fresh acidity as well as their pleasing citrus and mineral qualities, all attributes that make them very food-friendly. The sweet Vinsanto wines also benefit from the naturally high acidity of Assyrtiko, helping the wine avoid that cloying character, so often found in other dessert wines. There is also a small production of dry red wine made from an interesting red variety called, Mavrotragano. The red Mandelaria grape, grown on other Aegean Islands, is also produced on Santorini. In 1971, when the Greek Wine Appellation system was newly established, Santorini was one of the first to be recognized as an Appellation of Superior Quality.
Santorini, Appellation (PDO Santorini)-Dry White
These dry white wines must contain a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, with the remaining percentage allowed from Athiri and Aidani. These are dry, full-bodied wines with pronounced acidity and intense extract also giving them the potential for long aging. The wines combine citrus aromas with a pleasing mineral character due to the influence of the island’s volcanic soil. During the aging process they often take on qualities reminiscent of Alsatian Riesling. Because of the grapes’ strong attributes and the fact that the variety handles oak well, many of the wineries also produce a small amount of barrel fermented Assyrtiko.
Vinsanto, Appellation (PDO Santorini)- Sweet Wine
One of the most historic and popular wines throughout the ancient world, Vinsanto was especially prized during the Byzantine years, when the Venetians controlled the trade routes of the Mediterranean. Vinsanto was named “Vino di Santo” by the Venetians, according to place of origin as was the custom, but then later became known as Vinsanto. This wine must be at least 51% Assyrtiko with the remaining percentage allowed from Athiri and Aidani and some small amounts of locally grown native white varieties. Traditionally, Vinsanto is made as a “vin doux naturel”, from late harvested grapes sun dried for 12-14 days, then crushed and fermented with a minimum 9% of alcohol. Vinsanto can also be made as a “vin de liqueur” with the addition of alcohol or distillates of wine. In this case the alcohol required must be at least 15%.The appellation also requires a minimum of 24 months aging in oak barrels, where the wines develop a golden-orange color with a complex bouquet of dried fruits and raisins, together with sweet spice.
Nykteri, Appellation (PDO Santorini)-Dry White
These dry white wines must contain a minimum of 75% Assyrtiko, with the remaining percentage allowed from the Athiri and Aidani varieties. Traditionally, Nykteri was a wine made from grapes harvested and processed during the night or “nikta” in Greek. This is no longer the standard practice. Today the rules allow the wine to be vinified in stainless steel tanks or barrels and then aged in oak barrels for at least 3 months.
There is also a small production of dry red wines made from interesting red varieties, Mavrotragano and Mandelaria. Mandelaria is grown on other Aegean Islands as well as Santorini.