Cultivated since at least the middle of the Byzantine era, the Assyrtiko grape is generally considered to be one the finest of the Greek grape varietals, as a result of its multi-purpose properties and ability to flourish on a wide range of terrains. The ancient Byzantines used it in conjunction with Aidani and Athiri grapes for the production of their unusual and naturally sweet Vinsanto wines, which are still produced today in Santorini, and continue to be popular. However, the Assyrtiko grapes are used for many different AOC wines across Greece, and are favored by wine makers who want to maintain a dryness and acidic punch to their produce.
The Assyrtiko grapes are renowned for their ability to maintain their acidity as they ripen beneath the blazing Mediterranean sun, resulting in wines which have a distinctive dryness and a range of citrus fruit aromas, as well as great structure and high tannins. Often, Assyrtiko grapes will produce wines which leave an unusual after-taste reminiscent of the mineral rich, volcanic soils they are grown in on the slopes of Santorini, making them a favorite for wine drinkers looking for something full of character and interesting attributes. The past twenty five years have seen Assyrtiko vines planted all over the Greek mainland, and even in Attica and Macedonia, where the softer terrain often produces more fruit forward wines with a milder, less astringent character. However, wherever this fine grape varietal is grown, it is rare the results will be anything less than excellent.
As one of the oldest wine producing countries in the world, Greece has millenia of experience and expertise when it comes to viticulture, and has developed a set of flavors and characteristics which are found nowhere else on earth. The ancient Greeks revered and deified wine, and were the first true innovators in the history of wine, adding everything from seawater to honey and spices in order to find exciting new taste combinations and aromas. Today, Greek wines are just as varied, although far more refined and sophisticated than their ancient counterparts. The practice of enhancing Greek wines with aromatic substances never left the country, though, as can be seen in the popular Retsina wines, which use pine resin to provide their unique taste and aroma combinations. There is far more to Greek wine than merely Retsina, however, and the vast variety on offer is a testament to the expertise of Greek wineries making the most of the wonderful climate, terrain and grape varietals they work with.