A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mandilaria (and a little Kotsifali) - Santorini and Crete, Greece

Mandilaria Grapes
Today's grape finds us once again on the island paradise of Santorini in Greece.  Last time we visited, we took a look at a few white grapes (notably Assyrtiko) made in a variety of styles.  Today we'll look at the most planted red grape on the island (accounting for about 20% of the total vineyard area), Mandilaria.  We'll also make a quick stop on the island of Crete to take a look at a rosé wine made from Mandilaria and Kotsifali.

Mandilaria is one of those grapes that's very popular with growers, but not necessarily with critics.  From a grape grower's perspective, the vine is great because it yields easily and productively.  It does need care in the vineyard as the canopy can get out of control in a hurry, so careful and frequent pruning is necessary as is wide spacing between the vines to avoid overlapping canopies.  The vine is susceptible to rot and various fungal diseases, but is resistant to hot, dry conditions (purportedly as a result of its Cretan heritage).

If you've read the Assyrtiko post above, you may be thinking to yourself that the conditions that this grape seems to need for its greatest success are the very same conditions that you find on the arid, windy island of Santorini, and you'd be absolutely correct.  As mentioned in that post, Santorini is technically a desert, so not only are the dry conditions on the island not a problem, the moisture related maladies that Mandilaria is afflicted by aren't an issue either.  Because of the very dry conditions, vines have to be planted very apart so that they don't compete with one another too much for the meager water supply so the canopy overlap problem is thus solved as well.

Mandilaria generally finds itself in red wine blends thanks to its ability to produce deep, intensely colored wines.  In quantities as low as 10%, Mandilaria is known to deepen the color of wines made from grapes that traditionally don't need much help in the color department like Cabernet Sauvignon.  There are few varietal bottlings of Mandilaria available because, as Konstantinos Lazarakis puts it in his Wines of Greece, "intense color sums up most of its character."  That may be true in areas like Crete, but the conditions of Santorini are very special so I was eager to try two different Mandilaria bottlings from Santorini.

The first wine I tried was the 2007 Argyros "Atlantis" bottling which I picked up for about $20 from Federal Wine and Spirits.  The wine is a blend of 90% Mandilaria and 10% Mavrotragano, a very rare specialty of Santorini.  In the glass, the wine was fairly deeply colored with a purple-ruby hue.  The nose was fairly aromatic with blackberry, black cherry, cola and mushroom aromas.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high to high acidity and solid, grippy tannins.  There were flavors of black cherry, sour cherry, tart blackberry, cola and an earthy, raw mushroom kind of flavor.  Right out of the bottle, the wine was very tart but as it opened up, the ripe black fruits started to spread out a bit and the tannins got nice and silky.  It reminded me a lot of a fruity Zinfandel minus the brambly, peppery fruit.

The second wine has me a little confused at the moment.  It is also from the Argyros winery and purports to be 90% Mandilaria and 10% Mavrotragano, but the proprietary name on the bottle is "Aspa," and there's no reference to a bottling series under that name on the Argyros website.  I'm guessing that they changed the name of that particular line at some points between 2005 (this bottle's vintage) and 2007 (the Atlantis bottle's vintage).  In any case, I dug this wine up locally for about $15.  In the glass the wine was a deep purple ruby with a bright lavender rim.  The nose was fairly aromatic with the same ripe black cherry and blackberry fruit and cola notes, but there was a smokiness here and there was a bit of dried cherry fruit and cocoa aromas.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and medium silky tannins.  There were flavors of ripe black cherry, dried chery, blackberry fruit and cola.  The flavors were very intense and concentrated and really made me think about dried cherries soaked over night in Coca-Cola.  Both wines were very ripe and densely flavored, if not extraordinarily complex, and would probably appeal most to fans of California Zinfandel or Australian Shiraz.

Kotsifali Grapes
Today's bonus wine is a rosé that I picked up made from Kotsifali and Mandilaria grapes.  Kotsifali is Mandilaria's nearly constant running mate in wines made on the island of Crete since their strengths and weaknesses line up nearly across the board.  Mandilaria makes intensely colored wines with good tannic and acidic structure, but Kotsifali has pale, thin skins that are difficult to get decent extraction from and suffers from low acidity.  Mandilaria has a fairly simple, fruity aroma and flavor profile while Kotsifali has a spicy, flowery, herbaceous quality to it that accents the primary fruit of Mandilaria.  Mandilaria is fortunate to reach 12.5% alcohol under ideal conditions while Kotsifali easily surpasses this number (whether that's a good thing or not is really up to you, I suppose).  Together, the two grapes can make quite a dynamic duo.

The only wine I've been able to find from these two grapes was a rosé from the Creta Olympias winery (who also made the Vilana that I reviewed here a few months back).  The bottle I found was from the 2007 vintage and it cost me about $10.  I was a little concerned upon purchase that this was a four year old rosé from a producer I'd not had great success with, but the color looked good and I figured it was worth a shot for $10. In the glass, the wine was a medium salmon pink when I had a small pour for tasting purposes, though it had more of a bright, cherry red color in the bottle and in a full glass.  The nose was nicely aromatic with sour cherry, strawberry and tart red berry fruits with just a touch of funk hanging around.   On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity.  There were lively flavors of strawberry,  raspberry and maraschino cherry fruit that faded quickly from the palate and left a kind of funky aftertaste behind.  If I was drinking this with a funky cheese, the aftertaste may have been welcome, but on its own, it was a bit off-putting.  Age could have certainly been a factor here, and I would like to try this in a newer vintage, but my experience with this bottle would have me direct others to any of the wealth of value-priced rosé wines out there these days.

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