Vassaltis Vineyards – The New Premium Rising Star From Santorini in the Southern Aegean Archipelago…

Few wine producing countries globally are on the worldwide ascendancy quite like South Africa with its incredible diversity of grapes varieties, its broad array of wine styles produced, its new young energetic winemakers and the ever rising quality of the premium wines. But just before you think this popular success is confined solely to a New World nation, rest assured, one of the most ancient grape growing countries in the world is also riding the crest of an ever growing wave of popularity. Greek wines, but more specifically the white Assyrtiko wines of the Cyclade island of Santorini are currently seeing a renaissance not witnessed in classical Western wine markets since the mid-2000’s when now iconic producers like 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.

After reaching a notional pinnacle of commercial success towards the late 2000’s, the global crash and subsequent Greek financial crisis in 2010 served to relegate most of the up and coming Greek wines, including the hugely successful wines of Santorini, back to the touchlines of mainstream wine markets as consumers reluctantly battened down the hatches and anecdotally reverted back to buying the classics of France, Spain and Italy again.

With Winemaker Yiannis and owner Yiannis in the Vassaltis cellar.

It was around this time that Yiannis Valambous, the current day owner and visionary behind the Vassaltis winery,decided to leave his career in financial services in London and return to Santorini, a childhood holiday destination, with a plan to revive the family vineyards that he inherited from his late father in 2012 and build a modern, state of the art premium boutique winery. Along with oenologist Elias Roussakis and winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou, Yiannis created a team with a shared vision of producing the greatest wines on the island.

The new Vassaltis Winery in Vourvoulos

I recently travelled to the island of Santorini to visit the Vassaltis winery and vineyards to better acquaint myself with the realities of growing premium grapes on this barren volcanic island and to better understand the intricate politics of sourcing the best fruit from the numerous small, fractured mosaic of local growers on the island.

Vassaltis Winery Tasting Friday 19th October With Owner Yiannis Valambous and Winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou

Vassaltis Aidani Limited Bottling 2017, PGI Cyclades, 13.5 Abv.

Palate bright lime straw colour. Mouth watering aromas of white peach, cream soda, green apple purée, honey suckle. These big Aidani bunches with thick skins are considered a fine variety to communicate the vineyard’s terroir. With a full and fleshy entry, there is a bitter liquorice bite, pithy spice, a delicately waxy texture and noticeable floral, saline mineral green apple intensity. Soapy, peachy, peppery and opulent, this late ripener has its own fleshy gregarious personality. Considered in many ways the alter ego of Assyrtiko with a higher pH and lower acids.

(Wine Safari Score: 89/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Nassitis Dry White Wine 2017, Protected Geographical Indication Cyclades, 13.5 Abv.

Nassitis was the word by which the Dorians, who lived on the island 4000 years ago, referred to someone originating from an island. Created to use the varieties Aidani and Athiri (as well as a few others) that are often grown in field blends with Assyrtiko. But without the Assyrtiko additions, the wines often lacked balance and a finish. Assyrtiko consisted of 10-15% in the maiden 2015 release but has subsequently increased to 47% in the 2017 release, often coming from a second selection of Assyrtiko that does not make the Vassaltis Grand Vin. The wine also includes 25% to 30% each of Aidani and Athiri with an RS below 2 g/l. The nose shows and exotic bouquet of honeysuckle, peach blossom, yellow orchard fruits and crunchy green apples and greengage fruit notes but with a pronounced vein of minerality never far away. Classical dusty minerality of pumice stone and basalt remind you of the volcanic origins of this wine. On the palate, there is a taut linear tension, stony liquid minerality and subtle piquant green peppery herby fruits, spicy white peach purée and subtle nuances of sappy, resinous white citrus oil. The finish is direct and foursquare in the mouth with salinity, and a pronounced maritime influence.

(Wine Safari Score: 90+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The black volcanic basalt found in the vineyards

Vassaltis Nassitis Dry White Wine 2016, Protected Geographical Indication Cyclades, 13.5 Abv.

Using 40% Assyrtiko and 30% each of Aidani and Athiri with an RS just over 5 g/l RS, the 2016 has an opulent, exotic nose of fresh vinyl, mechanics rag, salty green apple purée, brine and hints of oyster shell in an almost off-dry Alsace style. Full and fleshy, with the extra bottle age the Assyrtiko is starting to dominate the shorter aromatic profile of the Aidani. There are complex savoury fruit notes developing showing caramelised figs, bruised greengage plums and peach pastille on the long characterful finish. Drinking well now, it displays a friendly generosity in an accessible style. Delicious now.

(Wine Safari Score: 91/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Vineyards Assyrtiko Vertical:

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2017, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.8 Abv.

With around 1 g/l RS, this 100% Assyrtiko was fermented in stainless steel from fruit sourced 100% from the village vineyards of Vourvoulos and spent a varying time on its lees depending on when it was bottled, but usually between 6 and 11 months for the last bottling before the 2018 harvest. (This bottling is around 9 to 11 months). Classical Assyrtiko aromatics of crushed grey slate, basalt and dusty pumice stone with additional layers of saline maritime notes, oyster shell, crunchy green apples, apple pastille, musk, white citrus, leesy richness and sweet baking herbs. Intense and powerful, the palate shows impressive gravitas and depth, brimming with salty green fruits, crunchy white peach and smokey, dusty liquid mineral notes. Superbly crafted, there is a fabulous interplay between maritime salinity, terroir minerality and austere, taut, crystalline fruit purity. Really quite a profound expression of this noble variety.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/Greg Sherwood MW)

The famous old vine “kouloura” trained Assyrtiko vines

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2016, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

Also 100% Assyrtiko from Vourvoulos, the 2016 saw 40% spontaneous fermentation and was aged on its lees for between 6 and 11 months, with this late bottling seeing 9 to 11 months. With a little extra bottle age, this 2016 shows extra complexity and exoticism. Massive aromatic depth and breadth is loaded with yellow plum, sea breeze, green apple purée, crunchy green pears, dried figs, white peach and a profound saline, maritime, fragrant honeysuckle liquid minerality. On the palate, there is a rich sour and savoury texture with impressive salinity, chalky gravel, wet river pebbles, piquant herbs and a tart sourdrop salty yellow plum acidity. So much going on that ones palate is almost overwhelmed. Delicious evolution and complex tertiary profile, this wine is drinking beautifully at the moment and is a mineral pleasure bomb. Beautiful!

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2015, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

The first vintage vinified at the new Vassaltis winery, this wine still displays a crystalline, bright pale straw green lime brightness. On the nose there is fabulous complexity of lime peel, struck match, white citrus, yellow grapefruit, sour orange and then a savoury bass note of ripe artichoke earthiness. The dusty, stony mineral nuances are never far away, expressed as a more struck flint smokiness than the archetypal basalt and volcanic minerality we are so used to on Santorini Assyrtiko whites. The palate is super tart and fresh, linear and chalky, with a strict line of acidity and plenty of ‘dry Scheppes bitter lemon’ rasping intensity. The salinity and tart acidity loosens it grip right at the finish, unleashing a fresh wave of yellow grapefruit, brine and salted pear fruit. A wine drinking beautifully now but certainly will be equally enthralling in one or two years time. Very impressive.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

With the two Yiannis’s in their single vineyard in Vourvoulos.

Classic, barren, volcanic low potential soils of Santorini that are so suited to the Assyrtiko vines.

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2014, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 12.8 Abv.

This was first “unofficial” vintage produced from fruit from owner Yiannis’ own vineyards. Produced at the large Boutari winery in the south of the island, this wine just crept in with the legal limit of 75% Assyrtiko with the remainder being the rest of the field blend of Aidani and Athiri. Very rustic winemaking was employed in a big outdated 1980’s winery. The colour is instantaneously recognisable as different to the lime green 2015, showing a rich honied yellow gold. The nose is ripe and exotic with layers of bruised yellow orchard fruits, mechanics rag, caramelised fig, yellow peach purée and peach tea. Definitely savoury, earthy tertiary development on the nose while the palate somehow manages to retain a semblance of freshness balanced with a honied textured palate similar to aged Alsace or grand old Portuguese dry whites from the Dao. While this wine is not in the same quality league as the newer vintages produced at the Vassaltis winery, it remains an intriguing piece of vinous history in the ongoing journey of this new young premium winery.

(Wine Safar Score: 88/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2016 Barrel Aged, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.7 Abv.

This 100% Assyrtiko was fermented in stainless steel but aged in 500 litre second fill French oak with ample batonnage employed, remaining in barrel for around 4.5 months before being returned to stainless steel tanks on its fine lees for a further 7 months ageing. There is a lovely restrained nose of yellow citrus, yellow orchard fruits, petrichor, wet slate and basalt minerality. Oak influence is very subdued and the fruit expression also remains backward and shy, leaving the salty, stony mineral nuances to rule the roost at the moment. The most profound element of this wine is its explosive concentrated palate that displays such awesome gravitas and intensity with notes of pineapple pastille and white peach purée. At once texturally rich, broad and mouth coating while remaining bright, tart and deliciously saline. This is a wine that has left an impression on me since the very first day I tasted it. Some may scoff at the idea of ageing Assyrtiko in oak and thus adulterating the purest elements of its volcanic maritime terroir, but this 2016 wine is a towering winemaking effort with impressive gravitas, harmonious balance and imperious textural complexity. Drink now or over the next 5 to 8 years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Winemaker Yiannis Papaeconomou in the cellar.

Other New Wines Tasted:

Vassaltis Assyrtiko Single Vineyard Vourvoulos 2017, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 14.3 Abv. (1,700 bottles produced)

A 1.5 hectare vineyard in Vourvoulos which has a small amount of Athiri that is picked separately at an earlier date to the Assyrtiko. Around 1.9 tons of Assyrtiko fruit are picked at night and whole bunch pressed with around only 2.5 hours between picking and pressing which the winery feels has a massive influence on the style, purity and integrity of the resulting wine. The wine is certainly aromatically massively restrained and backward, showing shy subtle nuances of dried green herbs, green apple bon bons, crystalline honeydew melon, white peach purée and an underlay of dusty, granitic, crushed basalt rock and grey slate minerality. On the palate the wine shows pin point piercing precision, incredible subtlety and elegance, nuanced maritime notes of brine, oyster shell and salted white citrus. It just never puts a foot out place, remaining fantastically true to the varietal characteristics of Assyrtiko, its terroir influences and its profound volcanic liquid minerality. Extra focus, extra intensity and a seemingly impossible step up yet again in quality compared to the wineries ‘regular’ Assyrtiko cuvée. Due for release in May 2019 with almost 9 months ageing in bottle, this could be one of the greatest expressions of pure Assyrtiko ever seen from Santorini in modern times.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

“This cuvee is like an orchestra seeking greater presence, where instead of trying to turn up the volume for overt impact, it has instead increased the number of musicians from 20 players to 100. The resulting sound is exponentially more profound and the added gravitas spellbinding.”

Vassaltis Assyrtiko Single Vineyard 2016, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 14.8 Abv.

A 100% Assyrtiko wine that is late harvested around two weeks after the main picking of Assyrtiko. A very small amount of grapes, too small for the pneumatic press, so only real free run juice was collected followed by spontaneous fermentation started in tank before being transferred to a 40 year old barrel which developed a layer of flor after being “seeded” from a flor sample created at the winemakers Yiannis’ home in a jar under more controlled humidity conditions but using some of the same wine. The flor layer collapsed into the wine after 2 months so the barrel was topped up with Vassaltis Santorini Assyrtiko 2016. This flor barrel was then blended with a portion of remaining free run juice from the same vineyard which was aged 3 months in a 100% new French oak 225 litre barriques. The blended wine stayed in stainless steel 6 months before bottling in 75cl and 150cl bottles.

The nose shows a wonderfully creamy, dusty, biscuity nose of lees, lemon peel, honey suckle, dried herbs, Japanese green tea and tell tale salty sherry flor salinity nuances. Subtle notes of dried mint leaf, bruised yellow orchard fruits, wet grey slate and wet basalt round out a thoroughly complex and intriguing bouquet. Texturally full and broad, this has an incredibly concentrated texture of salted lemons, tequila agave spice, bitter oranges, salty oyster shell, white peaches, grated pears, pine apple pastille, botanical herbs and an awesome, towering acidity. This wine combines savoury citrus fruits with salty maritime flor background notes punctuated by tart searing acids and a savoury, liquid mineral, leesy sweet / sour finish. One of the most exciting and profound wines I have tasted (from anywhere) in a very long time. One for the collectors!

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2017 Barrel Aged, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.8 Abv.

With the 2016 already being one of my favourite wines from Vassaltis, knowing that the 2017 vintage is a quite serious proposition, led to a lot of extra anticipation to taste this new wine. With 4 g/l RS, this wine remains taut and linear in feel, the bouquet showing attractive but subtle notes of salted caramel biscuits, savoury lemon peel, rock salt and crushed basalt and gravel minerality. Plenty of restraint and reserved liquid minerality, this wine suggests a serious proposition and the palate doesn’t disappoint. Jammed packed full of pineapple pastille and sweet crunchy green apple, there are deliciously vibrant acids with a serious wound sprung tension that is accentuated by the clarity of fruit purity and tart pithy peach fruit salinity. Similar to the 2016 in many ways in the way it absorbs the oak and barrel ageing and offers back nothing but the purest of Assyrtiko citrus fruits, subtle vanilla pod spice and layers of liquid minerality. This is benchmark delicious Santorini.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The very old vine vineyards in the south west of the island near Pyrgos producing some of the best Assyrtiko fruit on the island.

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2015 Barrel Aged, Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

This late release expression was held back in the winery and will be release in approximately 2020 with a free SO2 of approximately 60ppm versus the original release of 2015 that was around 35ppm. This is a big bold fleshy Assyrtiko that is capable of handling not only lengthy barrel ageing but also extended bottle ageing with the addition of extra SO2 added before the final bottling.The aromatics are fairly mineral and tight, dusty and gravelly with a pronounced chalky lemon purity, green bananas, greengage plum and a generally tauter, fresher, more youthful overall feel to the wine with a gentle kiss of vanilla oak spice. The palate comes across as slightly two speed and two dimensional versus the complex melange of yellow pastille fruits and vanilla spice that was served up the last time I tasted the maiden barrel aged 2015 version. Taut, softly textured, mellow yet vibrantly fresh and retrained, this wine suggests great potential but currently is reticent and unwilling to release its hidden secrets that one can sense are there in abundance. This is a great forward thinking endeavour that will help show consumers the history and evolution of some of Vassaltis’ older expressions but also present the wines in a mellow, youthful well preserved format. A very excitingprospect for the future.

(Wine Safari Score: 93-95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The view from the town of Thira towards Skaros Rock.

The General Classification System on Santorini:

1. PDO : Protected Designation of Origin Santorini

2. PGI : Protected Geographical Indication Cyclades

3. Varietal Classification

4. VdT : Vin de Table style

Another Epic White Assyrtiko Release From the Vassaltis Winery in Santorini…

The Vassaltis Winery is the latest addition to Santorini’s booming wine culture, with construction completed in April 2016. Yiannis Valambous, together with oenologists Elias Roussakis and Yannis Papaeconomou, who complete the team, share the vision that Santorini can produce world class wines and that a new generation of Greek winemakers can deliver big results, given the opportunity.

Typically, in the winery, after the gentle pressing of whole bunch clusters, they allow the free run juice vinification to take place in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperature. The wine remains on its lees for 6 months in the tank before bottling.

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2017, DO Santorini, 13.8 Abv.

The latest release from Yiannis Valambous’ Vassaltis Winery is another absolute cracker. Pale straw yellow, the aromatics show incredible intensity and complexity with layers of crunchy green pear, pithy apple, white citrus, almonds skins and a most captivating maritime note that wafts out the glass. An incredible mix of salty sea breeze, kelp beds, rain drenched concrete and crushed granite minerality mix with notes baking herbs, dried straw and yellow pithy orchard fruits. The palate shows an impressive grown up restraint and displays vibrant fleshy layers of yellow stone fruits, yellow grapefruit and white peach, all underpinned by a tantalising salty, briney twang and chiselled, crystalline fresh acids. A really profound white wine that serves as a flag-bearer for the island of Santorini and its iconic Assyrtiko variety. Drink now to 2028+

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

http://www.vassaltis.com

Vassaltis Vineyards Pushing The Boundries of Quality and Style – Revisiting the Maiden Santorini Assyrtiko Barrel Aged 2015 White…

Home to one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world, those lucky enough to have visited this jewel of the Cyclades will know that the same volcano that created Santorini’s dramatic caldera views, also created the volcanic soils that produce some of the world’s most exquisitely fresh and mineral white wines, from local grape Assyrtiko.

Representing the younger generation of winemaking at Vassaltis, Yannis Valambous has brought a passion and an energy to drive quality to the level of fine white Burgundies and Rhones that dominate the world stage. Working with his friend and now colleague Elias Roussakis, an extremely experienced oenologist, they work with their aegean eco system, using only indigenous grape varieties, utilising traditional viticultural practices.

Only last week I tasted the second release of the Vassaltis Barrel Aged Assyrtiko from 2016, a profound white wine that I scored 95 points, possibly my one of my highest ever scores for a Greek white wine. From those Assyrtiko lovers who have not tasted it, I did receive a subtle ridicule for “liking” an oak influenced Assyrtiko so much. To many, this is a grape truly expressive of its volcanic terroir and should not be adulterated or tampered with. But that’s semantics. Assyrtiko works harmoniously with oak if sensitively handled as well as Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc for example.

So, as a pre England v France 6 Nations 2018 rugby match warm up aperitif, I decided to revisit the maiden 2015 Barrel Aged Assyrtiko to put my 2016 note and score in proper context. 🌹🏉🍷

Vassaltis Vineyards Assyrtiko Barrel Aged 2015, Santorini, Greece, 13.5 Abv.

In the 2015 vintage, Vassaltis added a barrel aged Assyrtiko to their range, using low-toast and top-quality French oak to give beautifully well-integrated toasty spice notes and a creamy texture to Assyrtiko’s naturally intense minerality. With another year in bottle since I tasted this wine, the nose remains bold and unbridled, full of rich, pithy yellow orchard fruits, dusty volcanic minerality, sweet smokey tart pineapple pastille fruits and a very subtle, vanilla pod spice allure. On the palate, the Assyrtiko grape characters reign supreme, with vanillary creme brûlée oak notes very much a footnote. The wine retains its profound basalt mineral character, a dusty pithy yellow fruit intensity and a finely integrated, salty, briney finish underpinned by a precise fresh acidity. A vintage of a wine that’s still a stylistic work in progress, but nevertheless, delicious! Drink now to 2025+.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Lorenzo SW19 Restaurant and Importer Wimbledon Wine Cellars Hosts An Amazing Greek Fine Wine Extravaganza…

18 months after my last epic trip to the Greek Island of Tinos to visit the exciting premium winery of T-Oinos, I recently had another great opportunity to taste a broad selection of offerings from four premium Greek wineries. With some exceptional whites and reds paired with delicious food prepared by Wimbledon Hill restaurant institution San Lorenzo, the scene was set for another Greek fine wine extravaganza in London.

Hosted by their UK importer Wimbledon Wine Cellars, Vassaltis, T-Oinos Clos Stegasta, La Tour Melas and Nopera wineries presented current and new releases to an eager, thirsty audience. While I have never doubted the quality of the wines on show, the occasion served as yet another reminder to reinforce just how world class some of these wines really are.

With Yannis Valambous of Vassaltis.

Greek wines are on the ascendancy, with many nearing a level of mainstream consumer fine wine acceptance on par with other mediterranean countries like Italy and Spain. Plenty of hard work still lies ahead, especially for some of the reds, but overall, the future for premium Greek wineries and wine drinkers is very bright indeed.

Rose Flight

La Tour Melas Idylle D’Achinos Rose 2016

Pristinely pure, dry and mineral with a seductive kiss of strawberry and cherry fruits, taught fresh acids and a delicious liquid minerality on the finish. Just add sunshine!

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

White Flight 1

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2015 (Magnum), Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

Lovely yellow pithy citrus, white peach, salty sea breeze notes. Impressively dense core of fruit, wonderful concentration and minerality, beautifully embroidered by a fresh, briney acidity. Such class and depth. A real beauty.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

T-Oinos Assyrtiko (Amphora) 2016, Tinos, 14 Abv.

Taught crisp white blossom, crushed granite and yellow citrus on a restrained, very sophisticated nose. Superbly saline on the palate with tart green apple, bruised white peaches and yellow grapefruit … tasted on a misty, sea spray swept beach. Another sublime pinnacle for the Assyrtiko grape.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

White Flight 2

Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2016 (Barrel Fermented), Santorini, 13.7 Abv.

Incredibly complex, mineral, yellow stone fruit notes with an expertly judged hint of sappy, resinous oak spice. Beautifully textured palate, pithy, vibrant and saline but with more breadth and creamy depth. Saline, spicy, piquant finish. What a beauty.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

T-Oinos Assyrtiko (Barrel Fermented) 2016, Tinos, 14 Abv.

Fabulously crystalline and bright, this expression shows such tension, minerality together with bruised orchard fruits, yellow apples and sweet ripe lemon peel notes. Seemlessly cool, fine boned palate with impressive intensity, liquid minerality, green apple pastille fruits and a long, lingering finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Red Flight 1

La Tour Melas Cyrus One 2016, 14 Abv.

Merlot / Cabernet Franc / Agiorgitiko

Rich ripe expressive nose packed with earthy red berries, sweet red plums, cassis and hints of sour cherry. So pure and attractive, the palate is finely balanced, pitching creamy black berry, vanilla pod spice and buttered brown toast notes dusted with dried herbs and spice. Approachable and accessible. Lovely.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Tour Melas Palies Rizes 2013, 14 Abv.

Rich, plush nose, intoxicating perfume of sweet cherry blossom, violets and red berry liquor notes. Sweet confit, intense and ripe fruit expression from 110 year old ungrafted Agiorgitiko vines. Plush, intense, and texturally very opulent.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

T-Oinos Mavro 2012, Tinos, 13 Abv.

Sweet raisined black berries, earthy cherry and bruised black plums. Lovely earthy graphite notes, superb lacy tannins and real elegance. Subtle hints of black liquorice and black cherry linger on a long, cool, restrained, elegant finish.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Red Flight 2

T-Oinos Clos Stegasta Marvrotragano (Magnum) 2013, Tinos

Delicious classical depth of black cherry, graphite, tart black cherry and earthy cassis berries. Creamy, dense, very textural, there are tantalising liquorice hints, black berry, salty graphite notes and a long opulent, luxurious finish. Real character and class.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Tour Melas 2015, 14.5 Abv.

Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Agiorgitiko

Rich dark broody nose full of black cherry, kirsch liquor, blue berry, graphite and a spicy, cedary, dried herb notes. Quite sweet fruited and opulent, very lush, there is an attractive cassis and black plum confit length. Front loaded with fruit, less minerality. Delicious sweet texture with fine length.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

La Tour Melas 2014 (Magnum), 14.5 Abv.

Finely piquant, laced with violets, cedar and wood spice with an underlay of ripe cassis, black plum, cassis leaf and saline, fresh black cherry spice. Definite classical under tone of graphite and dried herbs, but the tannins are quite resolved, soft and spicy. Drinking well now.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Sweet Flight

Nopera Epitome Muscat de Samos, 13.5 Abv.

Sweet bruleed orange peel, tarte tatin, sweet old honey and marmalade. Lifted by orange zest, grapefruit confit and citrus complexity. Rich, finely textured and integrated acids balanced with toffee apple, caramel and sweet, rich opulent concentration from grapes of vines over 100 years old. Delicious, real class.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

San Lorenzo Restaurant is located at 38 Wimbledon Hill Road, SW19, London.

Tel: 0208 946 8463

Assyrtiko – The Grape and the Winery That Could Show South Africa the Way Forward… 

In the wake of the Greek financial crisis in 2010, Yannis Valambous, who lived around the corner from my shop in South Kensington, came in and bid his farewell, saying he was heading back to Greece to open a winery. Needless to say, I rolled my eyes, wished him all the best and thought he might possibly be the craziest or bravest individual I knew. And that was the last I heard from him… until 2016.


Yiannis returned to Santorini, his childhood holiday destination, with a plan that was part dream, part folly, which was to revive the family vineyards he inherited from his father and create a modern, state-of-the-art, boutique winery.

Fast forward and the Vassaltis Winery is now the latest addition to Santorini’s booming wine culture, with construction completed in April 2016. Together with Oenologists Elias Roussakis and Yannis Papaeconomou, who complete the team, they share the vision that Santorini can produce world class wines, and that a new generation of Greek winemakers can deliver big results, given the opportunity.
Typically, the white wine vinification takes place in stainless steel tanks, under controlled temperature. The wine remains on its lees for 6 months, in the tank before bottling.


Vassaltis Assyrtiko 2016, DO Santorini, 13.5 Abv.

A deceptively dark straw colour, this wine is as fresh as a Greek Spring morning. The nose is so pronounced and precise being an incredible mix of salty sea breeze, kelp beds, crushed granite, dried orange peel and dusty dried baking herbs. But there is also an undertone of richness and citrus fruit freshness that follows to a palate of vibrant yellow stone fruits, white peach, grapefruit, mineral austerity, and a saline, tart acidity. But with all great Assyrtiko whites, the over riding influence is maritime, salty, mouth watering acidity and rasping, mesmerising mineral austerity. A wine Eben Sadie in the Swartland would be proud to have made, which is a real badge of honour! Drink now to 2025+

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

The winery is open to visitors year-round, in addition to tours that introduce visitors to the indigenous grape varieties of the island and the unique viticultural practices that have been a tradition in Santorini for centuries.

Vassaltis Vineyards Winery:

Vourvoulos, Santorini

84700, Greece

Contact: Yannis Valambous

Tel: +30-22860-22211 

Fax: +30-27110-544450

info@vassaltis.com

http://www.vassaltis.com

Visiting Hours: 11am – 8pm (or by appointment for Groups)

Alternative varieties in South Africa? It’s all Greek to me… 

I’ve had a few days to reflect on my profound recent visit to the Greek Cyclades island of Tinos, the T-Oinos winery and their Clos Stegasta vineyard.

Clos Stegasta Assyrtiko vines on granite soils
Assyrtiko made in barrique, amphora and stainless steel

I’ve always known how hot and dry Greece and its islands can be, but what made this visit extra interesting, is that in 2001/2 the winery and their consulting enologist re-examined 1000+ years of Greek viticulture to decide what indigenous varieties would be the most suited to the sites they were looking to plant on.

Assyrtiko used for Clos Stegasta flagship white

For these granitic, sandy soils, they chose Assyrtiko and Malagouzia. For the reds they chose the noble Mavrotragano and Avgoustiatis. So far, with only 4 or 5 proper vintages under their belt, they are finally starting to hone in on a more assured style and direction for both the whites and the reds.

In South Africa, they may have 350 years of winemaking history to reflect on, but all the varieties planted were brought in from the European diaspora and none were indigenous. Trying to replicate Bordeaux, Burgundy or the Rhone in Africa can come with its challenges. 

After about 30+ years of ‘modern’ viticulture in South Africa, and many false starts, growers are finally finding suitable microclimate sites for cooler climate varieties such as Pinot Noir. But it is the recent attention being paid to new, ‘exotic’ varieties that is drawing a lot of interest. Varieties that could protect the future quality of South African wine as the world heats up and water becomes an even scarcer commodity. Sustainability is the word on everybody’s lips.

Luckily in South Africa, there is a lot of freedom and a real sense of not having to stick to a fixed set of rules. Between 2011 and 2015, fifteen new varieties were planted including Nero d’Avola, Gruner Veltliner, Barbarossa and Alicante Bouchet. 

Eben Sadie and Rosa Kruger at the Cape Wine 2015 Terroir Seminar

But for me, it is undoubtedly what Eben Sadie’s been up to that has captured peoples’ imagination. One of South Africa’s foremost experimental winemakers, he has been toying with new varieties like Grillo and Cataratto from warm climate Sicily as well as Assyrtiko, Agiorgitiko, and Xinomavro from Greece. 

Assyrtiko in Tinos, trained in a gobelet style

Indeed, speaking to Eden Sadie at Cape Wine 2015 last September, he reported fantastic results with Assyrtiko whites, a variety that has shown great drought, heat and sunburn resistance abilities. 

Maverick experimenter Eben Sadie

So having just tasted some very impressive reds and whites in Greece, I’m convinced more than ever that Assyrtiko, as well as some of the noble Greek red varieties, could certainly be the next big wine varieties to go mainstream around the world. 

Watch this space… Australian and South African Assyrtiko whites on merchants’ shelves alongside Greek versions from Santorini and perhaps even Tinos!?