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.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Malagousia - Chalkidiki, Greece

It really is amazing how many grapes that are currently being used to make wines were nearly extinct before someone discovered them and gave them another chance.  Grapes like Roscetto, Pugnitello, Timorasso, Pecorino, Nascetta, and Casetta (among many others, I'm sure) all fall into this category, and today we can throw Malagousia into that mix as well.  Of all the grapes mentioned above, Malagousia's story most closely resembles that of the Pugnitello grape.  The story with Pugnitello is that in the 1980's, a group of Italian researchers decided to create an experimental vineyard plot populated with vines that they found growing in wild, untended plots and also in small plots farmed only for household use.  They were looking to keep the heirloom varieties of the region alive, and to that end they took cuttings of over 200 different vines and planted them to see if any might have a future as a wine grape.  The vast majority of them didn't, but Pugnitello definitely did, and today Pugnitello is a recognized variety by the National Registry of Vine Varieties and is approved for use throughout Tuscany.

Just a few years before, in the 1970's a Dr. Vassilis Logothetis, who worked at Agricultural University of Thessaloniki in Greece, rented a plot of land from Yiannis Carras, owner of the Domaine Carras winery.  Dr. Logothetis had been traveling throughout Greece and collecting cuttings of rare vines as he went along.  He wanted to plant these cuttings and see if any of the vines might produce grapes that were suitable for making wine.  Malagousia was one of the 27 vines that Dr. Logothetis was experimenting with, and he found it in a town called Nafpaktos, which is  on the southern coast of the Greek mainland, just across the Gulf of Corinth from the Peloponnese peninsula (and very near Patras, home of our old friend Roditis).  Viticulture had been virtually abandoned in Nafpaktos after the Greek Civil War of the 1940's, and Dr. Logothetis took his cutting of Malagousia from one of the many pergolas that had been left to be overrun by the now wild vines growing in the area.  As it turns out, Malagousia is an extraordinarily vigorous vine, requiring multiple prunings throughout the growing year.  While this probably doesn't endear it to many growers, this vigor is perhaps what allowed the vine to survive until Dr. Logothetis's discovery.

At first, Logothetis simply harvested the products of all of his experimental vines and vinified them together in a single lot.  At some point, Evangelos Gerovassiliou, the winemaker at Domaine Carras, took note of the Malagousia vine and decided to plant more of it.  He began making varietal wines from the grape and the early results were extraordinarily promising.  Konstantinos Lazarakis, in his The Wines of Greece, calls the first wines made from the grape "stunning," adding that "the wine had the power of a Chardonnay, the extract of a great Semillon, a great affinity with oak, and an aromatic character that can only be described as unique.  It hints at Muscat, although it is not as sweet, profound, or floral.  The primary fruit level is high, showing ripe peaches and apricots, coupled with hints of fresh green pepper."  The early wines made from the grape in the early 1990's were not only very good, but very successful as well and Malagousia has become one of the most important white grapes grown in Greece.

The vine itself is a bit difficult to manage, though.  As mentioned above, it is very vigorous and while some growers have experimented with various rootstocks to try and limit the vine's growth, many end up just doing a lot of pruning.  The vine is also quite prone to viral infections and is not resistant to drought, which can be a problem in many of the drier regions of Greece.  Gerovassiliou, the winemaker who first noticed the grape's potential, believes that he has identified two different clones (or possibly three, according to this article) of the vine which have different berry sizes.  The smaller-berried clone seems to be more aromatic than the larger-berried clone, but they are generally similar otherwise.  The aromatic profile of the grape (and the wines made from it) is highly dependent on when the grapes are harvested.  If harvested below 11.5% potential alcohol, the aromatics are very muted.  If harvested over 14% potential alcohol, the aromatics run towards the Muscat end of the spectrum and can be overpowering.  The sweet spot seems to be in the 12.5 - 13.5% range.

I was able to pick up a bottle of the 2007 Claudia Papayiami "Alexandra," which is a 100% Malagousia wine from the Chalkidiki region of Greece.  I bought this wine from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet for around $35.  In the glass the wine was a deep lemon gold color.  The nose was moderately intense with subdued aromas of baked apple, lees and toasted nuts along with something vaguely oaky as well.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity.  There were flavors of creamy pear, ripe apple, oaky vanilla, lemon peel, green apple and toasted nuts.  It was very reminiscent of a moderately oaked Chardonnay, but I didn't find any of the Muscat perfume or stone fruits that Lazarakis attributed to the grape in the description quoted above.  The winery's website lists the current vintage of this wine as 2010, so I wonder if perhaps those are more characteristic of a younger bottle.  This wine certainly wasn't shot or well past its prime, but it was definitely aging.  Fans of oaked Chardonnay will find a lot to like here, which is interesting because the winery's website also indicates that this wine wasn't aged in wood, though it's unclear whether that is always the case or whether that's just for the 2010 wine.  I do have a tendency to see oak where there isn't any (as in one of my Rkatsiteli posts, where a reader kindly corrected my misperception, as did the winemaker in a private email), and it could be the lees aging or the age of the bottle that gives me that oaky sensation.

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