I am preparing for a masterclass tasting later in the year. This will include the great, Assyrtiko-based white wines of Santorini.
Looking for an example of barrel-matured Santorini, I hunted down Vassaltis. I have not visited the estate, neither had I tasted their wines, but positive mentions from far more knowledgeable Greek MW colleagues, Yiannis Karakasis and Konstantinos Lazarakis, flagged them up.
Fortunately, their UK importer, Alliance Wines, were kind enough to send me samples of both their barrel aged 2016 and for comparative purposes, the regular, unoaked 2017. I’m glad to say that the barrel matured wine not only fits the bill, but also shows the quality of this relatively new winery.
Stylistically, both are bold, powerful wines – weighing in at 14% ABV and with a rich intensity of palate fruit. There’s a commonality beyond that – salinity on the palate, classic for the region and herbal tones reminiscent of bay leaf, though at nothing like the intensity of Crete’s Dafni wines.
Between the two, it’s hard to say that one is better than the other. The barrel ageing certainly adds complexity compared with the unoaked, though it also adds richness to an already rich wine – and I’m sure they will become more deft in their use of oak over time (this is only the second vintage). The extra freshness of the unoaked therefore adds something to drinkability.
Either way, this is certainly a producer to seek-out, when looking for the Assyrtikos of Santorini.
Vassaltis, Santorini Assyrtiko 2017 (17 / 20; 94 / 100)
100% Assyrtiko. Whole bunch pressed. Free run juice fermented in stainless steel, followed by 6 months on lees. 14% ABV.
Pale-medium gold. Broad, dusty, nutty aromatics with some flinty mineral, that develops a dried herb or bay-leaf note. Rich yellow apple and lemon rind fruit beneath. Firmly structured palate with chalk, flint and ripe lemon flavours wrapped around a foursquare core of fairly brisk acidity and ripe phenolics. A marked line of salinity comes through the mid-palate to deliver a long, nutty-spicy finish. A touch of alcoholic warmth, but good stuff, even if not quite showing the tension of the finest examples
Vassaltis, Santorini Assyrtiko Barrel Aged 2016 (17 / 20; 94 / 100)
Blend of rich, structured 100% Assyrtiko wines, whose fermentation began in stainless steel, before being finished in new, low toast, 225L and 500L French oak barrels. 2.5-3 months’ post-fermentation barrel maturation, before 7 months in tank, on lees. 14% ABV.
Mid gold – distinctly deeper than the younger, unoaked wine. Rich, cedar oak and vanilla with again that touch of bay-leaf herbal lift. Smoky mineral notes, then the richness of the underlying stone fruit and lemon rind emerges. Full-bodied, rich and rounded. Salinity more than acidity keeps the freshness here, with some ripe, phenolic grip. Spicy clove hints, then stony mineral and a long, ripe citrus and vanilla finish. Big and bold