Two Interpretations of Santorini Assyrtiko

It’s always a happy day when we are fortunate enough to receive wine samples for tasting. It presents so many new possibilities. Most times the wines are ones we have not tasted before. We may or may not be familiar with the grape varieties, but even if we are, every winemaker’s interpretation of a variety is unique.

We recently received two wines from Santorini island, produced from the island’s indigenous variety Assyrtiko; one a dry, still wine and the other a sparkling wine produced in the Methode Traditionelle. This provided us with the opportunity to learn a bit about the island and its viticulture.

In addition to learning about Santorini and its wines, we took the opportunity to prepare some of our favorite Greek dishes to enjoy with the wines. We shared all of it with friends, because food and wine are always best shared with others.

Ancient History

Santorini island is part of the Cyclades island group (about 120 miles south of the Greek mainland) in the South Aegean Sea.  The present-day municipality of Santorini includes the island of Santorini and five others situated in a crescent shape. Originally one island, the present shape is the result of a large volcanic eruption that created a caldera and a ring of islands.

Santorini 3D version 1

The volcanic island has an ancient viticultural history. Based on archeological evidence, viticulture on Santorini dates back to the 17th century BC. An immense volcanic eruption destroyed the region in about 1620 BC. By about 1200 BC viticulture was again established on the island and has continued to this day.

Soil and Climate

The sandy, volcanic soil saved Santorini’s grapevines from the dreaded Phylloxera infestation: the dry porous soil is just inhospitable to the pest. The soil is also very low in organic matter. Pumice and volcanic ash mix with rocks in the extremely deep sandy soil. Magnesium, ferrous iron and calcium are abundant in the volcanic soils.

Winters are described as mild and summers are warm, thanks to cooling sea breezes during the summer. Nighttime temperatures during summer are kept cool by a fog that develops during the summer months. This fog also provides moisture to the vines in what is otherwise a very dry climate. Warm summer days and cool nights mean grapes can fully ripen while still maintaining good acidity.


Approximately 3400 acres are planted to vineyards on Santorini island. Because the climate is very dry and windy, pest and disease pressure on the vines is very low. This means most vineyard cultivation is nearly pesticide-free. That’s really great news if what goes into your wine is important to you.

The windy conditions on Santorini means the vines must be protected from the wind. Vines are grown very close to the ground and often trained in a circle parallel to the earth. It is an extremely labor-intensive technique that after about 75 years results in the entire vine being cut off near the rootstock. A new shoot eventually develops and the process begins again.

The major white grape varieties include Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani. Mavrotragano and Mandilaria are the major red varieties.

The Wine

Santo BrutSanto Sparkling Wine Brutpale yellow in the glass with many small and bubbles. Very distinctive and delicately floral aromas are followed by melon, tart pineapple and light citrus flavors that are clean, crisp and tropical. Thanks to all of those bubbles, the wine has a pleasing roundness in the mouth that contrasts nicely with bright acidity. The finish is medium to long.

This 100% Assyrtiko sparkling wine is made using the Methode Traditionelle, meaning the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. It spends only a few months on the lees, leaving the flavors fresh and lively.

Assyrtiko is a disease-resistant variety and has been widely planted throughout Greece. On Santorini it comprises 70% of the plantings and is said to be at its most expressive on the island, producing a citrusy full-bodied white wine exhibiting minerality many attribute to the volcanic soil.

Santo Brut and food


The flavors of this sparkler are clean and refreshing making it extremely versatile. We chose to enjoy it before dinner with Greek olives, pita bread and tzatziki. We also added salami and cheese; also delicious with the bubbly. It paired nicely with the saltiness of the olives, the creaminess of the tzatziki and the spicy salami.

This wine was a hit with everyone. It would have paired nicely with our dinner, had we had any left. The empty bottle said it all.




2014 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko2014 Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiripale yellow in the glass with delicate melon aromas. Citrusy minerality and melon flavors combine with an interesting dusty flavor. The wine has a bit of weight to it and finishes clean with nice acidity.

This blend is 75% Assyrtiko and 25% Athiri. Athiri, also indigenous to Santorini, is a common blending partner with Assyrtiko. In general Athiri contributes delicate aromas and low alcohol to a blend.



Our dinner included grilled chicken skewers, Greek salad, pita bread and spanakopita. The chicken skewers were prepared simply in a seasoned vinegar and oil marinade and grilled. The Greek salad included garbanzo beans, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and red onions in a vinegar and oil dressing.

The star of the meal was the spanakopita. The crispy phyllo dough was buttery and the filling of sautéed onion, spinach, dill and feta cheese was soft and moist. These little triangular beauties are a bit of work to make, but so worth the effort.

The bright acidity and delicate flavors of the Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri blend tasted best with the chicken and the spanakopita, especially the spanakopita. The buttery flavors of the phyllo dough was just delicious with the wine.

Both the Santo Sparkling Wine Brut and the Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri blend are relatively light flavored wines and would be especially enjoyable on a warm afternoon. Both would be excellent partners to a variety of fish dishes. Steamed mussels or clams would be delicious, as would filet of sole or halibut.

We lingered over dinner on the patio. The evening was warm and we found the wine refreshing as we enjoyed the changing colors of the evening sky. It was a very relaxing evening. We are happy to have had the opportunity to sample these wines, and thank New Wines of Greece for sharing them with us.



  1. Nice article. I recently read up on Santorini and its wine producers, grape varieties and production as I knew very little about the island and the wine other than what I had seen in literature promoting travel to that part of the world. I would certainly like to go there someday. Particularily interesting to me was how the vines are pruned and grown close to the ground as you mentioned as well as how they get their moisture from the humidity in the air and the fog. A hearty plant indeed. I also struggle with the pronunciation of these varietals. It was helpful for me to Google how to pronounce those names! Now the challenge is to remember it! Ha. Perhaps it would be helpful for your readers to also include this type of information in your posts? aha-seer-tee-koh

    Harvest is wrapping up in Southern Arizona. My Willcox area growers and winery friends tell me that they have had a pretty good harvest. The usual challenges with the monsoon rains has not been as big of a problem for them as it has been for the vineyards and wineries in the Sonoita/Elgin area. Consistent rains have impacted many growers with rot in some varietals. The Arizona wine industry contiues to grow which is exciting. The most recent TTB statistcs reveal that in 2013 220,482 gallons of wine were produced in AZ with an estimated value of $2.2 million compared to 91,581 in 2012. These figures also include wine produced from non Arizona grown grapes as some young wineries are still sorcing fruit out of state as their new vineyards are not productive yet. Other reports and statistics and information are available on the Arizona Wine Growers Association web site. Cheers and keep up the good work. Perhaps we will see you once again in Southern Arizona. “JR”

    • Hello John. How nice to hear from you and thanks for the update on the Southern Arizona harvest. We hope to make it down your way in 2016!

      Thanks for the great suggestion regarding the pronunciation of these varieties. I will remember to include them and thanks for reading. Cheers!