Greek wines, but more specifically the white Assyrtiko wines of the volcanic Cyclade island of Santorini, are continuing to see an ongoing collector renaissance not witnessed in classical Western wine markets since the mid-2000’s when now iconic producers such as the late Haridimos Hatzidakis burst onto the United Kingdom wine scene with profound unoaked old vine Assyrtiko whites from this small volcanic oasis in the Southern Aegean Archipelago.
This rising global fame has indeed led to rising demand but has also seen the island’s key growers, who supply a large quantity of the premium old vine fruit, raise their prices year on year for the last 6 or 7 years, leading to a situation where affordability has become a big issue for many producers buying in grapes. One way to counteract this supply pressure has been for producers to make more focused, niche, premium Assyrtiko wines and there are none more niche and quality focused than the impressive Vassaltis Gramina single vineyard Assyrtiko made from grapes harvested from very old kouloura trained vines.
On the eve of the release of the new 2019 Gramina, I took another look at the current release 2018 to see just how it’s performing three years from vintage.
Vassaltis Gramina Cuvee des Vignerons Assyrtiko 2018 Single Vineyard, PDO Santorini, 14% Abv.
Like the maiden 2017 vintage of the Gramina, the 2018 is made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes that are harvested from an old vine single vineyard in Vourvoulos. The meagre crop of the 80 to 100+ year old vines is picked in the early hours of the morning in the autumnal dark and whole bunch pressed with around only 2 to 3 hours passing between the commencement of picking and the completion of pressing into stainless steel tanks, which miraculously has an enormous influence on the structure, style, clarity and purity of the resulting juice.
Compared to most upfront Santorini Assyrtiko whites, this sensational creation captures a profound granitic, basaltic, volcanic minerality in the bouquet, which is interwoven with intricate notes of dried oregano and thymus polytrichus or wild thyme herbs. Neither overtly fruity or showy, the nose and palate is nonetheless underpinned by the most mouth watering acidity that duals with sweet sour notes of green apple pastille, crunchy white peaches and intense saline notes of brine and sea breeze with complexing nuances of dried kelp, sushi nori, dry roasted hazelnuts and bitter lemon peel pith. While never straying far from its crystalline purity and intensity, the palate texture remains bold, fleshy and long with characteristic layers of Santorini liquid minerality and oyster shell distinctiveness. A true terroir driven beauty of a wine! Released in the UK in June 2020 with almost 9 months ageing in bottle, the Gramina has to rank among the most impressive whites produced anywhere in Greece, let alone on the Cycladic islands and is undoubtedly a worthy successor to the epic maiden 2017 release.
(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)