Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Evangelos Gerovassiliou (Ktima Gerovassiliou) fleshes out the history of the resurgence of Malagousia

On March 21st, I received an email titled "about Malagousia" from Evangelos Gerovassiliou, owner of Ktima Gerovassiliou, co-owner of Ktima Biblia Chora (along with Vassilis Tsaktsarlis), former oenologist at Domaine Porto Carras, and (as described by #Winelover Ted Lelekas in a recent Lavina Kharkwal article on Vangelis and his wines" "... one of Greece's most respected winemakers."

Vangelis Gerovassiliou (center) at Ktima Gerovassiliou

In the concluding paragraph of my recent post on the Malagousia story, I had raised questions as to whether Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona (the author of the source for my piece) had established the primacy of Evangelos in the resurgence of the variety and whether the variety was still flourishing when the first grapes went to Porto Carras from the Wine Institute. In his email, Evangelos indicated that he had read my piece but waited to respond until after he had done the appropriate background research which included conversations with Mr. Nikoloudis (agronomist and a member of the team at Porto Carras that "revived Malagousia") and Mr. Stavrakas (Professor of viticulture at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), both of whom helped in the research that backed up this email. Vangelis expressed regret that, due to his passing, Vassilis Logothetis, Professor of Ampelography at the aforementioned University, and creator of an experimental vineyard at Domaine Porto Carras, could not be consulted for input.

In comparing Evangelos' missive and Kourakou-Dragona's article, they both agree on the fact that Malagousia was first mentioned in Rousopoulos Oenologics and expanded upon in Krimbas' three-volume Greek Ampelography written beginning in 1943. But from there, their stories diverge markedly. Kourakou-Dragona (her primary source is Charalambos Kotinis) tells of the Wine Institute wanting to include Malagousia in its collection and soliciting Kotinis who provided some cuttings which he had obtained from a grapegrower in Mesologgi named Pantelas Valandreas. And, according to Kourakou-Dragona, some of these same vines were sent on to Domaine Porto Carras.

Evangelos does not subscribe to this version of history. According to him, there were a few Malagousia vines at the School of Agricultural Sciences in Patras. Further, Logothetis had started an experimental vineyard at Porto Carras and was traveling around the country looking for rare and extinct varieties with which to seed the vineyard. One such rare variety that he had secured was Malagousia which he planted in the vineyard in 1969.

Kourakou-Dragona indicated that the first vinification of Malagousia occurred in 1974. Evangelos informs that after tasting the Malagousia grape in 1975, he decided to do the first micro-vinifications at Porto Carras and over the next 4 to 5 years the land devoted to the variety increased to 4 ha.

In 1980, his team sent some Malagousia rootstocks to the Institute of Vine and Wine in Likovrisi, Athens, where Mr Kotinis was employed at that time. Further, in 1982, the Institute asked for some Malagousia grapes and the Porto Carras team responded to that request by sending along two crates of the variety. Mr Kotinis published his book Atlas of Greek Ampelography in 1985.

In concluding, Evangelos said they had looked through the files of the Institute and could find no research on the Malagousia variety prior to 1982. (I read this to say that any research done at the Institute would have been based on the material supplied by Domaine Porto Carras.). Further, the team cannot be sure if Vassilis Logothetis got the initial samples from Mr. Kotinis or whether he found it on a pergola in Nafpatkos.

So the source of the initial Malagousia vines that today populate the North Greece vineyards remains shrouded in the mists of history. Not so the role of Evangelos and his team in the resurgence of the variety. I concur with Kourakou-Dragona in her statement as regards Malagousia where she crowns Gerovassiliou as the "one that placed the pump on her foot and named her Queen of the dance."

UPDATE (3/30/16): In a follow-up email, Evangelos indicated that, after reading the above post, he had a lengthy conversation with Mrs Kourakou and "after taking into consideration all the facts, we have concluded that it was most probably the Institute of Vine and Wine in Likovrisi, Athens that gave the root-stocks of Malagousia to Porto Carras in 1969."

This is beautiful and is the conclusion that I had arrived at overnight. It binds the stories together nicely, providing primacy to the relevant players in their respective spheres of influence.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Xinomavro: Variety, growing regions, and wines

During my recent visit to the Kir-Yianni winery in Naoussa, Stelios Boutaris described Xinomavro as a difficult grape to grow and very unique in that "it is susceptible to every pest and disease that comes along." In the Wine Commanders presentation (Xinomavro on Fire) at the 2015 edition of the Digital Wine Communications Conference, Yiannis Karakasis MW referred to the variety as "a diva." Yet they are both effusive in the praise of the wines made from this grape.

What is it about this variety that engenders this "disdain" among the greatest proponents of its wines? In this post I will explore the internals of the variety, its growing regions, and the product of this union. The Naoussa and Amynteo portions of the post draws heavily on the work of Dr. Stefanos Koundouras of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Perspectives on Xinomavro: Greece's Noblest Varietal, alpha-estate.com. Use permission granted by Angelos Iatrides of Alpha Estate.).

The Variety
Greece has over 69,000 ha of land devoted to the growth of its 300 indigenous varieties, the fourth most planted (2,389 ha) of which is Xinomavro, the noble red variety from North Greece which is the basis of the PDO wines from Naoussa, Amyndeon, and Goumenissa and a key component of the PDO wine from Rapsani. The key characteristics of the variety are provided in the figure below.

Growing Regions
The PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) designation describes the highest quality level in the European wine classification schema and Xinomavro wines made from grapes grown in the Naoussa, Amyndeon, Goumenissa, and Rapsani areas -- and meeting other relevant statutory requirements --can use this indication on the labels.

The Naoussa PDO covers between 500 and 600 ha of mostly east-facing slopes at altitudes ranging between 106.68 m (350 feet) and 457.2 m (1500 feet) at the foot of Mt Vermion in Central Macedonia (Between 100 and 120 ha of the planted vines are devoted to the growth of non-Xinomavro varieties.).

Naoussa PDO showing key crus. Used with permission.
The climate in the region is Mediterranean, with continental influences, and is further moderated by Mt. Vermion which protects the vineyards from cold north winds as well as providing a rain-shadow effect.

Table 1 below shows the varying soil types in the Naoussa PDO while Table 2 shows the unique microclimates created by the interaction of the soils and climate zones.

Designation Soil Type Percent
K1 Loamy soils (sandy clay loam, loam) without Calcium Carbonate
K2 Loamy soils (sandy clay loam, loam) with Calcium Carbonate > 4%
K3 Clay soils (sandy clay, sandy loam, loam) without Calcium Carbonate
K4 Clay soils (sandy clay, sandy loam, loam) with Calcium Carbonate > 4%
K5 Acidic soils (pH < 6)
Table 1. Soil types in Naoussa PDO (Source: Koundouras)

Zone Altitude (feet) Characteristics
  • Deep soils
  • Earlier harvest
  • Grapes suitable for light reds
  • Central zone ranging between 600 and 800 feet
  • Mostly clay soils with high lime percentage
  • Some of the best crus
  • Trademark tannic wines with aging potential
Table 2. Naoussa PDO microclimates (Source: Koundouras)

According to Koundouras, the wines with the best aging potential are associated with calcareous clay soils as these soils provide good drainage, root aeration, and medium vine vigor.

The Amynteo PDO covers 650 ha (250 of which is devoted to non-Xinomavro varieties) at altitudes ranging between 550 (1800 feet) and 750 m (2500 feet) in the town and municipality of Amynteo in the Florina peripheral unit of Macedonia. Amynteo is the coldest grape-growing region in Greece with cold winters and relatively cool summers and autumns. There are four lakes in the region which serve to modify the climate but the largest impact is derived from the presence of the interconnected lakes Vergitis and Petres, of which the former is the largest. The area experiences northern winds from surrounding mountain ranges.

The area is cooler and drier than Naoussa and most of the new vineyards are irrigated. The vineyards are, for the most part, modern and cordon-trained but there are clusters of old vineyards including some own-rooted, pre-phylloxera, head-trained vines.

The main grape growing regions and soil types are illustrated in the charts below. According to Koundouras, the Type I soils are "ideal for aromatic and elegant Xinomavro wines" while the type II soils produce "structured and balanced" wines.

The Goumenissa PDO covers 330 ha on the western slopes of Mt. Paiko, just 50 km northwest of Thessaloniki. The gentle, southwest-facing slopes are somewhat protected from the cold north winds by the Paiko range while the lower altitude allows the moderating effect of the Aegean Sea to influence the crop.

In this region Xinomavro is blended with up to 20% Negoska, a distant relative and a variety that is unique to Macedonia. The two varieties have to be co-vinified and aged a minimum of 1 year in oak. According to BBR, the high sugar content, and riper berry fruit, of the Negoska, help to balance out the character of the relatively austere Xinomavro. The wines of this region are seen as broader, and less firmly structured than other wines of Macedonia.

The vineyards proper are located on the southern slopes of Mount Olympus and its "mainland mediterranean" climate is modified by the surrounding mountains and forests as well as by the Thermaic Gulf of the Aegean Sea. One of the heralded aspects of the environment is the 10 - 15 ℃ temperature variation between day and night, a condition which, it is held, "enhances phenolic ripeness and aromatic concentration of the grapes." The physical and legal characteristics of the zone are elaborated in the chart below.

The Wines
I evidenced a variety of Xinomavro wine styles during my tour of Northern Greece to include:
  • Still and sparkling Blanc de Noirs
  • Rosés
  • Red fruit-forward
  • Red structured
  • Mono-varietal (Naoussa and Amyndeon)
  • Blended (Rapsani and Goumenissa)
  • Sweet
The aroma/taste profile of a traditional Xinomavro red wine is indicated in the table below.

Aromas Taste
Strawberries, cherries, plums Structured, ageworthy
Vegetal (dried tomatoes, olives) Firm tannins, medium-high intensity
Floral (roses) in light soils, robust in clay Medium-high alcohol (has risen 1.1% over last 20 years
Develops savory, aromatic complexity (truffles

Table 3. Xinomavro aroma/taste profile (Source: Wine Commanders)

Compared to Naoussa, Xinomavros from Amyndeon have brighter fruit character, a leaner palate, and greater florality.

There is an ongoing concerted attempt to present Xinomavro as the face of North Greece red wines and it took a little while for me to get it. At 2014 DWCC, Ted Lelekas and Luiz Alberto presented a seminar on the wines of North Greece and I left the session not feeling the urge to add the wines to my collection. And it was nothing that the guys did. The wine just did not appeal to me. The tomato vegetal character and hint of a mid-palate were somewhat off-putting.

That feeling persisted on this tour until I tasted the 2005 Ramnista at Kir-Yianni and the 2008 Ramnista and the 2007 Boutari 1879 Legacy at the Wine Commanders Master Class at the Plovdiv DWCC. The 2008 Ramnista exhibited ripe fruit, truffles and a kerosene character. Red fruit on the palate with a mid-palate that raised its hand. According to the Wine Commanders, Kir-Yianni uses clones that allow greater ripening of fruit (less vegetal character). According to the Wine Commanders, the year 2007 was a "ripe vintage year" and the the 1879 Legacy reflected this with rich, ripe cherry fruit along with tar, licorice, earth, truffles and spice. And a mid-palate.

What this told me is that Xinomavro, like Barolo and Pinot Noir, for example, shows best after it has had an opportunity to evolve in the bottle. The problem with that is that the trend today is towards wines that are more approachable.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A "Hubble Telescope" dive into the Malagouzia story

In my recent post on the "Malagouzia story," I reached out to readers asking that if they had any additional material on the topic, I would be pleased to entertain it. Well, one intrepid reader came through for me. Not only did they find a source that allowed a deep and broad look into the history of the variety, the reader also translated the document from the original Greek. I am extremely grateful as this extensively sourced tale, including primary source data from individuals involved in the history of the grape, is truly enlightening.

The source of which I speak is an article titled "The Rebirth of Cinderella Malagouzia" appearing in the July 22, 2001 issue of the Greek newspaper Kathimerini and written by Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona, who was recently profiled in the online magazine Greece Is.

According to the writer, and based on the writings of Professor Vassos Krimbas, author of the Greep Ampelografia (Published between 1943 and 1949), Malagouzia was "localized" in the Mesologgi area of Western Greece "since the 1900s." Several years after the conclusion of WWII, the variety was still growing in the areas indicated on the map below.

The variety fell on hard times in its home range due to real estate development and the introduction of irrigated crops and was almost driven to extinction. When the noted agronomist, and area native, Charalambos Kotinis returned to the area in 1993 in search of the variety, he identified only a small number of vines around Mesologgi and some own-rooted vines in the Naupaktos area.

The resurgence of the variety was kickstarted by an initiative from the Institute of Wine in Lykovrysi, Attica. The Institute has a collection of vines and wanted to add Malagousia to said collection and asked Kotinis to secure same. The story from that starting point is detailed in the graphic below.

A few of things of note. Nowhere in her telling of the story does Ms. Kourakou-Dragona mention the Professor Logothetis of the Agricultural University of Thessaloniki referenced in the Jancis Robinson et al., Wine Grapes. Secondly, while Kotinis is mentioned throughout her article, and is clearly the person most responsible for the spread of Malagouzia throughout the country, she crowns Gerovassiliou as the "one that placed the pump on her foot and named her Queen of the dance." I do not feel that the article supports that conclusion. I am not saying that that is not a fact, only that the article does not clearly show that. Finally, while Gerovassiliou is widely credited with rescuing the variety from extinction, that is revisionist history. When the first vines were sent to the Wine Institute, and then on to Porto Carras, Malagousia was still flourishing in Mesologgi. We only know that it went nearly extinct in Mesologgi when Kotinis went to look for it in 1993. By that time we had flourishing colonies of Malagousia in Porto Carras and at Ktima Gerovassiliou. So Vangelis did not rescue this variety from oblivion. Rather, he showed that it could flourish outside of its home range and served as the launch pad for its wider deployment.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Malagouzia story and selected picks of the wines in North Greece and Eastern Attica

My introduction to the Malagouzia variety coincided with my recent visit to North Greece. The first location visited on that trip was Domaine Porto Carras and it was there that I first tasted Malagouzia and was first exposed to the legend of its re-discovery and rehabilitation by Vangelis Gerovassiliou while in the employ of the selfsame estate.

Our second winery visit was to Ktima Gerovassiliou -- founded and owned by Vangelis -- where the legend was reinforced. On the estate website, the description of its Malagouzia wine emphasizes the importance of Vangelis in the restoration of the variety.

Vangelis Geravassiliou of Domaine Geravassiliou
(center) and Wine Bloggers (left) during a tour of
his estate in October 2015
In material sent to me by Alexandra Anthidou of Wines of North Greece, she cites a passage from Wine Grapes (Robinson, Harding, Vouillamoz) which indicates that the variety had been found in Western Greece by Professor Logothetis of the Agricultural University of Thessaloniki and made its way to Vangelis who worked to realize its full potential during the 1980s and 1990s while at Domaine Porto Carras (A similar story is told in a recent Greece-is article on the topic).

So this was the story I was hearkening back to as I tasted the Malagouzia of Domaine Papagiannakos with Vassilis Papagiannakos during the #winelover visit and tasting with the producers of the Wines of Athens. He told me that my story was not accurate. After staring at him for a bit, I ran off to get Lidia Rizzo. I wanted her to hear this as we had been talking about this topic just previously.

While I am off getting Lidia, let me take a moment to contextualize Malagouzia as a variety. Malagouzia is an aromatic Greek white variety whose stone fruit and white blossom aromas are reminiscent of a less-weighty Viognier. The scion is vigorous and drought-resistant but is also susceptible to botrytis and mildew. It is believed to have originated in Central Greece but was brought back to life in Northern Greece and is now a fixture in vineyards all across the country. The vigor of the scion dictates that the vigneron make the right decisions in terms of site and rootstock selection and manage the canopy effectively. For example, Kitrvs subjects its Malagouzia vines to both green and "purple" harvests to "ensure optimal ripeness and harnessing of the excess vine vigor." In addition, the Kitrvs canopy is managed such as to provide a sufficiency of sun protection during the summer.

Malagouzia. Source: estatewines.com.au
Now let us get back to the Vassilis story.  According to Vassilis, Malagouzia was rediscovered by a Mr. Cotinis who had been the Director of Viticulture in the Ministry of Agriculture. He re-discovered the Malagouzia variety in Orini Nafpatkia. According to Vassilis, Mr. Cotinis was the first person to have published an Atlas of Greek wine and is still alive today.

According to Vassilis, the first person to plant the newly found Malagouzia was a Mideramas Babaer in the 1980s. According to Vassilis, he had received samples from Cotinis along with the folks at Porto Carras and Roxani Matsa.

This story does not dispute the role of Gerovassiliou in bringing the variety to prominence but instead attempts to show that there were many other players involved in the foundling period. I would appreciate any additional light that could be shone into this space.

Vassilis Papagiannakos and daughter sharing their
wines during a #Winelover tasting of the Wines
of Athens in February 2016
As it relates to his estate, Vassilis said that he had been trying to plant Malagouzia between 2002 and 2009 but ran into a lot of botrytis. It was not until he began pruning the canopy that he was able to get smaller fruit. His first vintage was 2012. Vassilis further mentioned that when Reidel was tasting Malagouzias in preparation for developing a glass for the variety, they told him that his and the Gerovassiliou wines represented two separate Malagouzia typicities.

I consulted with a Greek Malagouiza expert to discuss the differences between North Greece and Attica Malagouzias (In North Greece I had tasted Malagouzias from Porto Carras, Kitrvs, Gerovassiliou, Alpha Estate, and Wine Art Estate. In Attica I had tasted Malagouzias from Pappagiannakos and Mylonas.). In both areas the wines are PGI. The climate in Eastern Attica is uniformly Mediterranean, with little rainfall, and the soil has a high clay content. The environment in North Greece is a mix of continental and Mediterranean with higher rain levels and altitude and a high sand content. The winemaking practices do not differ materially between the two regions with each seeking skin contact and leaving the wines on the lees for a period after fermentation in, primarily, stainless steel tanks.

I indicated to the expert that I thought that the wines of Attica were more robust than those of North Greece. The fruit seemed to be riper and the stressed conditions should result in smaller grapes and more concentrated flavors. The expert informed me that Attica has a tradition with Savatiano but, to some extent, its experience with Malagouzia is still in the experimental stage. Further, the expert continued, a fine Malagouzia should have both masculine and feminine elements; it should not be one-dimensional. Of the Malagouzias in the two regions, the expert points to Gerovassiliou, Kitrvs, and Matsa as the best representations of the wine.

In my exploration of Greek wines I have been favorably disposed to the Gerovassiliou, Kitrvs, and Wine Art Estate Malagouzias. I have not had the opportunity to taste the Matsa. If anyone has additional information on the early days of Malagouzia I would be grateful for same. To Malagouzia.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Visit with the Wines of Athens producers during #winelovers Athens celebration

Ted Lelekas had done a spectacular job to date. As one of the primo Greek winelovers, Ted had taken on the task of organizing the events for the #Winelover 4th Anniversary Celebration in Athens and, as we stood on the dawn of the final day, the program could already be categorized as an unqualified success. And we still had scheduled events ahead of us that would occupy the remainder of the day as well as most of the upcoming evening.

The day's schedule had us traveling by motor coach to the outskirts of Athens to visit the Museum of Wine in Pallini where we would: meet the producers who comprised the Wines of Athens organization; be taken on a tour of the museum; taste a selection of wines; and then have lunch with the producers and their wines.

After a relatively short ride, we arrived at the museum.

Archways separating the pool from the Conference Center and Museum
Conference Center. Museum is on basement level.
Stonework on one of the walls of the conference center.
A mashup of some of the artifacts in the museum

We were welcomed on behalf of the producers by Vasilis Papagiannakos, owner of Domaine Papagiannakos and President of the Wines of Athens.

Ted Lelekas introducing the #Winelovers to the Wines of Athens
Producers. Vassilis Papagiannakos is immediately behind Ted.

The Wines of Athens is not an official appellation. Rather, it is an association of producers located in the eastern portion of Attica who have banded together to take advantage of the physical proximity to Athens, one of the global powerhouses in terms of tourist destinations. The map immediately below shows Attica's geographic position in Greece and the following graphic identifies the producers included in the Wines of Athens and their specific geographic locations. Before I continue I will take a moment to provide a brief overview of the environment within which these producers operate.

Source: europa-planet.com

The producers in the Wines of Athens association are located in the eastern portion of the Vineyards of Attica, one of the most important vineyards in all of Greece, extending as it does, over 6500 ha of the region's territory. The climate of the region is warm and dry with cooling effects provided by the constant sea breeze, the Meltemi wind, and cool winds from the mountain. In the Wines of Athens coverage area similar conditions prevail with an average of 300 days of sunshine per year and average temperature of 18℃. Rainfall levels are very low but irrigation is rarely utilized.

There is a wide variation in soil composition in the Vineyards of Attica with clay domination in the east and calciferous constructs dominant in the west. According to Vassilis, the soil in the Wines of Athens production area has a high content of limestone with patches of clay but the Mylonas vineyard characterizes its soil as sandy clay over limestone with some sites containing some schist or gravel.

The Vineyards of Attica are best known for their whites with fully 80% of the plantings dedicated to varieties of that ilk. The region covered by the Wines of Athens comports with that model with 75-80% of its wines being white. Of the white varieties, Savatiano is dominant due to its high resistance to the dry, hot conditions and its yield of "elegant, well-balanced wines." The varieties planted in the region are shown in the table below.

Table 1: Vineyards of Attica varieties

White Red
Indigenous Savatiano Agiorgitiko

Assyrtiko Mandilaria

Malagousia Limniona




International Chardonnay Merlot

Sauvignon Blanc Cabernet Sauvignon

Ugni Blanc Carignan

Semillon Syrah


Grenache Rouge

After our tour of the museum, we filed into a large room where the producers had set up their wines for us to consider. I did not get to taste all the wines fully (sorry Ana Aga) as the conversations at the first two tables that I visited sucked up most of my time. But, that is a personal problem. Given this assymetrical distribution, I will focus on the wines of Mylonas Winery, the producer that sucked up most of my time.

The Mylonas estate is 12 ha in size. I have already mentioned the soil composition. The Savatiano vines on the estate are 50-year-old bush vinesThey do not irrigate and harvest the fruit based on mouthfeel. Yield is 30 hl/ha. White grapes are subjected light destemming and crushing and 6 to 8 hours of skin contact prior to stainless steel fermentation and battonage every two days. The wines remain on the lees for three months.

At the tasting we were treated to Savatiano vertical running from 2012 to 2015. I found the 2015 to be herbal and savory with a slightly retsinated character. The 2014 exhibited chammomile, savory elements, with hints of white pepper and white flower. Balanced on the palate with an excellent texture. The 2013 showed dried white flowers on the nose and a stemminess on the palate. The 2012 showed savory herbs, iodine, lemon rind, burnt orange, and a hint of rosemary on the nose. Expressive. Savory on the palate with a nice round mouthfeel and a drying herb finish.

I tasted the Malagousia and caught tropical notes initially. When tasted later on in the day, however, this wine was stellar and balanced and showed more brightness than it had previously. I found the Assyrtiko to have a grapefruit character along with a spiciness. Not interesting from my perpective. The 2015 Retsina was reminiscent of the Tears of the Pine as described in my blog post on the topic but I must say that I tasted some Tears of the Pine at dinner later that night and it was a wine that I did not remember.

After the tasting we repaired to lunch and conversation with the winemakers. It had been a wonderful, educational trip. Thank you Wines of Athens. Thank you Ted

©Wine -- Mise en abyme