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:
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

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