Searching for Assyritko! The Complete Story

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Searching for Assyrtiko! -The Whole Story

In 2019, my Old Vine Barossa Shiraz was shared on Facebook to Samartzis Estate Wines, a namesake winery, nestled in the Valley of the 9 Muses, Askri – Greece.  

Spiros Samartzis contacted me over messenger. Quite excited about both the Wine and whether we were related as Samartzis is not a very common Greek name. I was equally excited, and we spoke about the opportunity of getting together to share our passion for wine and talk about our heritage. In early 2020 I planned a trip to Greece in April of that year to visit my relatives and could meet up with the Samartzis Estate family. However, Covid put a stop to that.

After exhausting watching available streaming channels and feeling quite unproductive, I reflected on a trip I had in 2019 in France visiting both Bordeaux and Burgundy. I remembered being overwhelmed by the care and attention to detail that the wineries I visited had in all aspects of the wine making process from the Vineyard to the bottle! 

In that moment my passion for finding out not the how’s and what’s of wine making but the Why? I had been making Wine since 2001, what I needed was the best fruit I could find and the equipment required.With the support of my friend and mentor Geoff Shrapel , Baron of the Barossa and owner of Bethany wines walked me through the wine making process from handpicking some great fruit to bottling. However, I realised I really didn’t know How and Why Grapes when crushed and are fermented turn from Grape juice to Wine: How and Why does this happen? I then spoke to my then neighbour John Tomich, (Tomich Wines) who had in the past few years completed an Oenology and Viticulture degree and suggested I see Kerry Wilkinson the Co-ordinator of the course at the Waite Institute- Adelaide University.

Over the next 2 years I completed a full time Post Graduate Diploma in Oenology and Viticulture, graduating in September 2022. During this time, I kept in contact with Spiro at Samartzis Estate and after graduating I started to plan my first of hopefully many overseas trips to various countries each year during the northern hemisphere Vintage period – Sept/October. The aim would be to spend a couple of weeks in the Wine region feeling more confident with the Chemistry, Science and Language of Winemaking. I would then spend the rest of my time travelling and exploring many parts of that country. 

So, in September/ October 2023 I spent a number of weeks travelling in mainland Greece, Turkey, West Macedonia, North Macedonia and a 7-day Greek island Cruise.   

During my post graduate study, my viticultural co-ordinator and lecturer Cassandra brought to my attention a Greek grape variety called Assyrtiko a native variety on Santorini – a white wine with lemon, lime, saline, oyster shell and honeysuckle like characteristics which smooths down to honey and lemon sherbet on its way to the finish is how it was described while researching the variety further.

The first part of my trip was the 7-day Greek Island Cruise and my Search for Assyrtiko would of course begin with a day trip on Santorini.

The Assyrtiko vineyards are dry grown low bush vines that each have a weaved cane basket underneath them protecting the precious fruit from touching the ground. These very low yielding bush vines are cultivated on sandy rocky soils that formed from the volcanic explosion which occurred around 1630 B.C.

Although limestone is prominent in the southeast part of the island, the soil in the vineyards is mostly sandy and rocky and is composed of pumice, lava and pyroclastic materials 1 

Pyro clasts may be ejected while still molten or partially molten or may consist of solidified magma or of other rock fragments. 

Pyro clasts may also include individual crystals, crystal fragments, and fragments of volcanic glass. Cinders, ash, and volcanic bombs are all pyro clasts.

This terroir produces a Wine with Lemon, lime, saline, oyster shell and honeysuckle like characteristics, a very savory quality. 

On The Palate: Its luscious acidity smooths down to honey and lemon sherbet on its way to the finish.

Due to their low yield and customer demand Santorini wines are very expensive ranging from $65 /bottle to over $300 (AUD) 

It really packs a punch, High Acidity, High flavours, High Prices.  

As the Assyrtiko variety has become extremely popular it is now being grown on other islands and the mainland of Greece! 

The Challenge for me and One lonely Barrel was to find an Assyrtiko that would be more ideal and just right, for our Aussie palate! 

An Assyrtiko of Exceptional Quality and Value!

So off to the mainland in Search for Assyrtiko, first stop Samartzis Estate -Valley of the 9 Muses. Spiro lives in Athens and suggested some accommodation for me in the city centre after that I was to leave everything else in his good hands! 

On arriving in Athens around 5pm I called Spiro, who said he would be at my hotel at 8 pm so we can meet and greet and he would show me some of his favourite wine bars… it was a great night!

The Next day he picked me up from the hotel and in an hour and 10minutes we were at the Samartzis Estate, where his parents lived and his Mum treated us to a traditional roast goat and potatoes lunch, while we tasted all of there wonderful range of wines! 

But prior to that, on arrival at around 10.30am, after meeting the parents and having a walk through their winery the boys were keen to take me to their Vineyards nestled in the Valley of the 9 Muses!

Panos the head winemaker, went through great lengths to explain the Archaeological importance of the valley and the rich history of the area.

Equally passionately we walked through the vineyards as he described each of  the Vineyards explaining the links between variety , soil type, and the micro climate affects(TERRIOR) that determine, the Nos of vines per acre, soil type for the variety, orientation of each variety (North-South East-West  etc) Yield , (Organically Cultivated?). All the vineyards are handpicked and dry grown!

Then my question, “where is your Assyrtiko”, low and behold there it was, 1st year planted and will probably produce fruit for wine in the 3rd year depending on the health of the vines…. But that was not the finish of his response.

He knew a winemaker called George Pavilou in Nemea – Home of Ariorgitiko 

The most loved red wine in Greece and Nemea was the best place for that variety AND he had just bottled his first Vintage of ASSYRTIKO !

Next Day, Spiro picked me up from my hotel at 9am, it was a near 4 hr drive to Nemea, On arriving at PAVILOU ESTATE a tourist bus was coming into the cellar door while one was leaving. Customers were enjoying their Cellar door wine tasting experience  while watching a team crushing grapes not 10 metre in front of them.

We asked for George who was bigger than life -full of energy and after a short greeting, he threw us in his Raptor and shot us up the hill. 

At the top of the hill stood a reclaimed Red Train Carriage, on rails with a Viewing/ Tasting platform Overlooking the NEMEA VALLEY the township as well as his Vineyards. 

This served as a tasting platform with food platters prepared in the Railway carriage.There were a couple of tables with customers being attended to by a Sommelier providing Tastings.  

We were invited to try some wines One of which was Assyrtiko, it was divine, his latest Assyrtiko vintage and in one word Delicious! A mouthful of Chardonnay / Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc all in one mouthful just blew me away! 

The other was an Agiorgitiko! A variety, arguably the most loved red variety in Greece.  With George making the following comment: “This is the wine that I want to be remembered for!” 

I am pleased to announce that while searching for Assyrtiko a grape variety with origins in Santorini, One Lonely Barrel has imported an exceptional Assyrtiko from Pavilou Estate  -Nemea,together with a delightful full bodied dry red, AMMOS LEONE, an Agiorgitiko variety, arguably the most loved red variety in Greece as described above. 

I have also imported 3 delicious wines from Samartzis Estate Wines a family-owned vineyard and winery situated in the communities of Ascri, in the 9 Muses Valley, on the southern slopes of Mount Helicon, located 62km. southeast of the Delphi Oracle. 

The wines are expected to be delivered in Mid-April and because of the limited quantity are available limited to a straight or mixed 6pack per customer.You can purchase a bottle or 2 to try and make up a 6 pack with any of our wonderful range of One Lonely Barrel wines? This will provide a greater number of our wine lovers to try these wines as there are only 48 cases , 96 6packs  available across the 5 wines! 

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