Assyrtiko: A Comet beyond Santorini

By Panos Kakaviatos for wine-chronicles.com

9 October 2018

In recent articles about Assyrtiko in Greece, in Wine Review Online and in Decanter, I focused on Santorini, the grape’s main island claim to fame. But, as Yiannis Karakasis MW reminded me over a marvelous lunch earlier this month just outside Athens, do not limit yourself to the volcanic island.

We found ourselves dining in a where-time-stops seaside town called Voula. Yiannis Papadakis, sales consultant for the Oenocosmos (that’s Greek for “wine people”), joined us. I met Papadakis for the first time over this lunch, although we have been Facebook friends, where we differed on who is the best rock drummer ever. For me, it is John Bonham and for Yiannis it is Keith Moon. Both were great to be sure.

Great food and wine match, and notice that fresh taramosalata

Many thanks to Karakasis for treating us to lunch: Yet more proof of Filoxenia from Greece and Greeks. I owe you one, mate. He brought two wines, to boot, starting with the very tasty Tio Pepe Una Palma Fino. The Fino Sherry was selected from just three casks of six-year-old Tio Pepe, with a flor yeast veil, displaying golden hues. Bottled sans filtration or fining, this Sherry evinced an elegant nose and distinctly saline notes. Its 15.5 % alcohol was barely noticeable; it was refined in expression.

Gorgeous fish carpaccio

And it went very well with fresh sardines and taramosalata, the famous Greek meze made from tarama, salted and cured roe of cod, which was it should be: none of that fake, pink color. We also enjoyed an absolutely gorgeous looking and equally delicious carpaccio of milokopi fish (photo, above) and a sea bass ceviche (below).

Sea bass ceviche

From A to Z, lunch at Loutsos Fish Restaurant was delicious. It is no surprise that Trip Advisor calls it a “must in Voula”… As Voula straddles the sea, lunch was fish, fish and more fish.

But let us get back to the overriding point to the mid day pleasure: Assyrtiko thrives on other Greek islands and in other parts of Greece. Not to mention in other parts of the world.

“Just pick it up with your fingers”, says Yiannis Karakasis MW. Absolutely! This was so tender and aromatic. Wow!

So the star of lunch, aside from the amazingly tender whole golden grouper, so savory and tender, and cooked just right (pictured above), was a mystery wine that seemed to have some slight oak overtones and even a hint of resin like aspects that perhaps I imagined.

We could see on the label “Alto Adige”, by respected producer Clemens Lageder of Alois Lageder. The Alois Lageder winery there comprises 50 hectares of the family’s own vineyards, managed on biodynamic principles. A holistic approach to winemaking is reflected in wine-growing activities, long-standing relationships with grape growers and an ambition to “create awareness” for agriculture that is in tune with nature. So the wine star turned out to be a Comet.

Lageder has been producing “Comet wines” in recent years: “Unique wines of innovation”, so indicated on the website, where every single label of each bottle includes a hand painted tail of a comet.

Our comet was called TIK XV, a limited edition Vigneti Delle Dolomiti Biancofrom the 2015 vintage: only 600 bottles produced. The vines for this wine are planted on slopes, at 300 meters in altitude, on gravelly and sandy soils, also rich in limestone.

The delivery was smooth, with a slightly higher feeling than indicated 12.5% alcohol. I liked so much its svelte saltiness; the touches of oak derived vanilla complemented the wine rather than perturbed it. Not much residual sugar at 0.4 g/l and acidity at 5.3 g/l and the must was partially fermented on the skins and stems for three weeks (lending some color) and then aged in used barrels (we were wondering if any new oak was used) for around 18 months.

Yamas!

Yes, this Comet was none other than Assyrtiko from Alto Adige – and a darn good white. I kept sipping and drinking it, as it went so well with the vividly flavored seafaring freshness of the fish.

Wine legislation forbids reference of the variety on the label, however, which explains the enigmatic name “TIK”, lifting three letters from the famous Greek grape.

Karakasis wrote about this already last year on his excellent blog: https://www.karakasis.mw/assyrtiko-comet and also is just releasing a series of short videos on Assyrtiko, which I highly recommend. The first installment is embedded in this page.

Of course we could have tried other Assyrtikos from Greece, as I had enjoyed a couple of years ago at a master class organized by Stefano Kogias with a super panel including Yiannis. I fondly recall adoring an Assyrtiko from Tinos.

Indeed Yiannis told me how much less expensive vineyard land is on that Cycladic island – many times less than on Santorini. Only six wineries exist on Tinos, today, but the future is no doubt bright for further wine development for this superb white grape. Of course other islands are growing it, too.

So, thanks Yiannis for this great lunch and introduction to Alto Adige Assyrtiko. I need to dig deeper and discover more about this white. And I urge all readers to subscribe to Yiannis’ website and YouTube channel. Yiannis is a prolific writer and provides insightful and excellent texts for anyone serious about furthering his or her knowledge about wine. His photos are top notch and so are his videos. 😊

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