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Thursday, March 1, 2012

GAIA Wines Assyrtiko Wild Ferment - An interesting discussion

Recently I submitted GAIA Wines Assyrtiko Wild Ferment 2011 for review.  The reviewer sent an e-mail asking about the oak treatment on the wine which then morphed into a discussion on the complexity of the wine.  Below you will find the question & answer. A fascinating read which only leads to the intrigue of this wine.

Perhaps you might comment…I have always found the taste on the Wild Ferment to be a bit different. I call it a “mushroom-y” nuance, a sort of darker tone. Assuming you agree, what do you most attribute that to? The yeast? The wood combination? All things together?

Also what is it you feel you get from the Acacia instead of, say, French oak?

One question raises - in most cases - a second one ! By saying "a bit different" I presume that you mean different from other Santorini wines. Well this is a wine that at the end of the day combine many different elements that lead to what I would describe as "complexity" and - obviously - difference from other wines that don't do so.
Please let me clarify.

Element of complexity 1.
Vineyards. In order to minimize risk of undesired strains we use a rather big number of vine plots/areas (consider that practically every 1.000 lit. of must originate from a different plot. For the 2011 vintage we have used Assyrtiko from 12 well separated vineyards).

Element of complexity 2.
Fermenting conditions. Half (50%) of the must is fermented in INOX vats at relatively low temperatures (16-18ºC) where the yeast strains work slowly creating esters, secondary / fermentation aromas. The remaining 50% ferments in mainly new (80%) barriques at significantly higher temperatures, reaching even picks of 26-28ºC. At these temperatures yeast work in a totally different pathways that help the expression of the primary /  varietal aromas. 

Element of complexity 3.
Choice of wood. As mentioned only 50% of must ferments in barriques. 
The brake down is :
20% of 300 lit. French Oak (Nevers), 
20% of 225 lit. American Oak,
10% of 225 lit. Acacia.
I like Acacia in Assyrtiko. I have tasted also on Agiorgitiko and it was a real disaster. But when used to Assyrtiko it provides depth to the wine and a distinct "flower-y" dimension, faraway from the "woodenness" of oak. 
The drill in the use of bigger barriques, American oak, acacia and used barriques (some 20%) is to provide to the wine a solid base for evolution without overpowering it with wood / oak. Obviously so many different types of wood add-up to complexity.

Element of complexity 4.
Wild Yeast. In reality we should be discussing "wild microflora" and not just wild yeast. IN the sulfur-rich Santorini soil it seems that microorganisms are well adopted and the SO2 added by the wine maker has less impact when it comes to yeast or even bacteria inhibition. In a study conducted some 15 years ago by a French faculty and myself on a spontaneously fermenting Santorini Assyrtiko must, we counted some 18 different yeast strains coexisting from beginning to the end of fermentation at equivalent populations without a Saccharomyces cerevisiae domination and in addition some lactic bacteria were even present and actively working (probably it's here that you may search the origins of your "mushroom-y" tone. Can't tell you really. I'm not so sure I can spot it. Is it truffles that you mean ?)
In a sense we do in a natural (and non controlled way) what the yeast industry is trying to initiate now days by proposing mixed strain or sequential inoculations, having realized that just one stain leads to rather boring results !

Hope that some answers have been given.


  1. That was me. I was actually thinking of publishing this as a blog piece!

  2. That was me. I was actually thinking of publishing this as a blog piece...but you can have it. :)