Let us drink, then/And/perhaps we’ll
find/something new/in our wine
(…) I hate an empty life/empty of wine.
[Hedylus, Let Us Drink]
Greece surely is a good place to start one’s wine education or just to follow a little bit Aristippus of Cyrene in his hedonist ethics and enjoy local food and wine. Although wine production is older than written history and as such certainly older than Greek civilization, Europeans see the roots of their wine culture in the ancient Greece. After all, they love tracing all possible aspects of their culture back to the ancients. But those who spread wine growing and wine making in the whole Mediterranean were indeed Greeks and Phoenicians. Hellenic poets and philosophers have amply documented great wines of their time, even though probably none of those would have ever gotten a decent score in modern tasting, mixed with honey, spices or seawater as they were.
The ancients truly hated “an empty life/empty of wine,” as Hedylus wrote in the third century B.C. Still, when the modern world of wine started in the 1960s, Greece was basically non-existent on the wine maps. Like many traditional wine producing countries it needed more time to reinvent itself in the premium wine market. Several centuries in the Ottoman Empire, with Muslim culture as the dominating one, haven’t helped either – a considerable part of contemporary Greek territory remained in the Ottoman hands until 1913.
Fortunately, everything changes, as Mercedes Sosa sang. As vineyards are mushrooming just everywhere around the world, many old wine regions in Europe experience a revival: from Poland and Eastern part of Germany through the Balkans up to Greece and Turkey.
Malagousia (Greek Μαλαγουζιά) from Alpha Estate is the first Greek wine I’m writing about. It’s made from a eponymous white autochthonous grape variety, originating in the region of Nafpaktos (Ναύπακτος, known rather by its Italian name Lepanto) in western Greece. The variety was virtually extinct until Domaine Carras in the late 20th century began to cultivate it for its varietals.
Although it is found mainly in Greek Macedonia, some wineries started to cultivate it also in Attica and the Peloponnese. Its aromatic grapes have potential to give soft elegant and full-bodied wines of medium acidity, with aromas of exotic fruits, citrus, jasmine or even mint. Yannis Voyatzis, the chief enologist at Boutari Wines, called Malagousia the next Riesling.
Alpha Estate is located in the Florina region, in the northwest part of Greece. Parts of this area, the Amyndeon (also Amyndeo or Amyntaio) region, enjoy an ΟΠΑΠ status, which stands in the Greek appellation system for ‘Wines with Appellation of Superior Quality’ (Ονομασίας Προελεύσεως Ανωτέρας Ποιότητος) and as such for the highest quality. However this doesn’t apply to white wines, which need to be labeled as ‘country wine,’ regardless their quality.
The 2013 Single Vineyard Malagousia in my glass first exploded with citrus and apple aromas and indeed I was expecting to taste something like a ‘feinherb’ Riesling. But soon notes of tropical fruits, particularly pineapple, arrived and I could taste a strong (13% ABV) chunky wine, perfect for summer evenings but rather far in character from a usual German Riesling. As the wine was opening up, there was more and more jasmine scent in it and here you go, a perfect evening at the Mediterranean Sea. This Malagousia fully expresses the climate it was born in – such an opulent but elegant white wine brings gustative memories rather from Central Italy than from the North of Europe.
But I guess that Voyatzis meant rather the potential of this variety to conquer wine lovers’ hearts as Riesling has been doing it for years. Here, I agree. Malagousia might be indeed the next ‘Riesling’, or to find a comparison from the world of successful local varieties on a smaller scale: an Istrian Malvazia or an Albariño of Greece.