We hear a lot about the role of complexity in good wine. For me, along with balance, power and interest it is one of the four key factors in determining how good a wine is. Yet I think complexity has a twin which is not identical. Complexity has substance and intellect – it challenges you, may even threaten you, it teases you as you try to puzzle it out, and laughs at you when you get it wrong but it can draw you in with its argument and win you round, so you see what it was like all the time. Its sibling is different – quieter yet immediately striking. Quite simply the twin is just stunning – that’s all that matters. No challenge, no threat, no bluster, merely quiet, welcoming beauty. Its name is purity. There are wines which seduce not by their complexity, but just because they are so pure that you need nothing else. I sometimes see them as the vinous equivalent of water – not tasteless but crystalline, innocent, wholesome yet very, very sexy (and if you think that overrates water then just imagine a full-on thirst). The twins aren’t mutually exclusive. You can find some wines which have both purity (the immediately striking sibling) but then complexity, which pushes its way to the front subsequently and demands attention – though usually, as a friendly sibling it tries to complement rather than compete. Riesling is a classic variety where purity shines (in the greatest cases with complexity alongside it) but there are others and recently I’ve realised that assyrtiko is often one of these too. One thing which tends to mask the purity of a wine (whilst giving complexity) is oak – particularly new oak. One reason, therefore, why riesling typically often expresses purity. Having said that older oak may be less of an impediment – I’m thinking here of chablis which has had a few months in older (and perhaps larger) barrels to fill it out slightly but which can remain mouth-wateringly pure.
This wine is produced under the label Volcanic Slopes Vineyards – but it is a ‘boutique’ wine production from the much better known Estate Argyros on Santorini and the label doesn’t focus on the VSV company – rather on the name of the wine. Argyros consistently make some of the best assyrtikos from the island (which means best from the world). There are a range of styles, all well done, but this caught my attention when I tasted it at Prowein recently. The wine is made comes from the Episkopi (bishop’s) hillside near there main winery, but with separate production in an old canava – (traditional Santorini small wine production building). This is the only wine currently made under the VSV label. We often hear producers liking to boast about their old vines (one recent winemaker told me that his old vine wine was from 25 year old vines!) This is from 150 year old vines (not an unusual feature of Santorini vineyard) and it has been fermented in cement (an old-fashioned though returning material for fermentation tanks), which I think has contributed a bit to the purity of the fruit.
It has some floral notes yet nothing dominates; the flavours are finely integrated. It’s a lighter, more delicate style than some of their other wines but the purity shines through. Lovely acid balance, great length and the wine will age well. Santorini wines are becoming more and more expensive, but this is worth whatever they want to charge (and will still be a lot less than grand cru burgundy).
Maybe I saw purity in this wine because of a not-so-subtle prompt from the name, which overtook my tasting objectivity. However, I think not; in this case it called ‘pure’ because that is exactly what it is.