Assyrtiko is a white grape that is native to the Greek region of Santorini. Here, it is one of the most widely-planted white varieties and thrives in the volcanic ash soils of the Aegean Islands. The regional winds are so strong that the vines are commonly trained in basket-formations to hang low and protect their grapes from wind damage. Assyrtiko can be made into both a dry or sweet wine and is sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Semillon.
This grape’s primary fruit flavors are citrus, stone, and tropical fruits. As an aromatic variety, it also portrays a signature perfume and blossom aroma. Assyrtiko vine roots can reach many feet below the earth’s surface, which adds a mineral characteristic to the finished wine. One of its most notable characteristics is its high acidity. While many grape varieties lose acidity as they ripen, Assyrtiko maintains its acidic nature and is able to retain its versatility at different points in the harvest season. This means that even grapes that are left on the vine to further ripen into sweeter styles are still able to produce well-balanced, acidic wine.
Vinsanto Sweet Wines
Assyrtiko grapes that are picked during “late harvest” and left on the vine to sun-dry are used to make Vinsanto, a sweet wine. The sun-drying technique causes water to evaporate from the berries, leaving the remaining grapes to raisin and become highly concentrated with sugar. These wines are not fermented all the way dry, resulting in a luscious, dessert-like expression of the grape. It is common to age Vinsanto in oak for 2 years, with the intentional oxidation creating additional caramel and nutty flavors.
Assyrtiko pairs well with acidic foods like asparagus, and salty cheeses like feta. It also compliments grilled fish dishes, squid, shellfish like lobster and shrimp, and roasted chicken. It can be enjoyed alongside fresh entrees such as risotto, flatbread and tomato-feta salad. It can also pair with dishes that contain tart yogurt, tzatziki sauce and rich hummus. Sweet Vinsanto pairs well with traditional Greek desserts, dark chocolate, nuts and fruit tarts.
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