The Athiri (Pronounced Ah thee’ ree) grape is another varietal that often flies under the radar, and in typical Greek fashion, just to confuse one even further, it is also known variously as Asprathiri, Asprathiro, Athiri Aspro, Athiri Lefko, and Athiri Leyko.
This vigorous vine produces small thin-skinned bright golden/green colour grapes that tend to make a wine with a definite fruity character, round palate, subtle delicate lemony aromatics, medium alcohol, and a distinctive low acidity.
Athiri is planted and vinified widely, throughout the Aegean Islands and the surrounding mainland as far north as Halkidikí and as far west as Lakonía in the Peloponesse, although its true roots most probably lie in Santorini, from where the grape gets its name, Thira being the name of the island in ancient times.
Indeed Athiri is seen as being one of the most ancient of Greek varietals, being made into a famed sweet wine during the Byzantine era, and there now appears to be a general consensus amongst historians that Athiri is in fact the grape referred to as Theriaki in many an antique text.
These days Athiri is most usually used as as blending component where it counts Assyrtiko, Aidani, Vilana and Ladikino as regular bedfellows. In Rhodes the Athiri is vinified alone and made into one of Greece’s only Champagne Method sparkling wines.
The last few years have seen growth in the production of mono-varietal Athiri as a still wine, often employing extended skin contact and long cool fermentations to bring out the grapes playful aromatic character.
With Athiri not being known for producing overly complex wines I would tend to match it with a selection of simple mezze: kalamata olives, fava beans, fried vegetables, and perhaps melitzanosalata (eggplant salad).
Be particularly careful not to pair with any dish containing a considerable vinegar or lemon juice element as this will make the wine taste a little flat.
It should be noted here that I have had great success using Athiri wines as an aperitif before dinner and without food.
Whilst I haven’t found too many stellar examples of Athiri I do feel that it does make for a superb introduction to Greek white wine, what with its easy-drinking, accessible character.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he would like to see a few more of these modern takes on Athiri.