Chief Varieties Employed
in the Commercial Production of Red Wine
Photographs courtesy of The Greek Vitis Database.
|Agiorgitiko is one of two red cultivars
(the other being Xynomavro) on which the hopes of many Greek winemakers rest. These
hopes are not so ambitious or unrealistic as to expect a major international role
for the grape—only some acceptance, an appreciation for its wines and the opportunity
to create export markets that support the significant element of the industry centered
around it. Agiorgítiko is certainly within the class of grapes to which Mihalis
Boutaris refers when he speaks of the potential of heat resistant cultivars from
Greece for warm-climate New World producers [see These Old Cultivars].
Agiorgítiko has at least one advantage over some other important red cultivars from Greece: it does not defy comparison to more familiar varieties. A poll of winemakers in Nemea, the region in which the grape is traditional and reigns supreme, solicited near-universal agreement that Agiorítiko compares most readily with Merlot. This is not to imply, however, too many specific exact attributes in common, but rather the kinds of characteristics one would employ in making decisions, for example, concerning where its wines would fit on Western wine menus. It is certainly similar in its range of stylistic expression and blending potential. At their best Nemea and other Agiorgitiko wines display "good" tannins in abundance. As a result they are outstanding candidates for both graceful barrel aging and carbonic maceration. Fruit and aromas can vary from medium cherry to dark berry.
Agiorgítiko lends itself to both personal expression and serious volume production. The differences between low-yield and high-yield fruit being considerable and distinguished in the main part by vineyard elevation, there has been a call for a super-appellation, High Nemea, to make these distinctions within the Nemea appellation zone more clear.
More information on Agiorgítiko can be found in the Regions section of Greekwinemakers.com under Peloponessos.
Kotsifali is the underdog of Greek
red cultivars. Outside of Crete it doesn't seem to garner much attention or respect.
This mirrors a tendency in Greece to overlook Crete in favor of regions that have
experienced more rapid and exciting viticultural growth. It may reflect, too, a market-driven
shift in taste towards the "cosmopolitan" varieties associated with France
and the New World. Indeed Kotsifali belongs to a more Mediterranean and perhaps more
eclectic, class of grapes. Kotsifali, however, may well be Crete's secret weapon.
In 1974, Phylloxera began a gradual incursion on the island's vineyards. by the end
of the 1980s, during precisely the era in which momentum was building towards a modern
wine industry, many growers (who had at least had time to graft vines to new rootstalk)
found themselves tending brand new vines. The effect on Kotsifali wine in the Peza
and Arhanes districts was severe. While Kotsifali had been promptly replanted, its
best features are displayed mainly in fruit from older vines. For producers without
access to old-vine grapes, quality took a huge dip. Yield management has been another
factor contributing to the low status of the variety. Growers in Crete, often locked
into cooperative economies, have been slow to explore the potential of low-yield
farming. Those who have applied modern vineyard strategies have been rewarded with
|Krasato is native to Rapsani in Thessaly where it is a component with Xynomavro and Stavroto in Rapsani Appellation red wines. Suitable for blending, but lacking in anthocyanins and alcohol, it is not vinified, at least commercially, in mono-varietal form. This cultivar is not widely grown but can be found farther south in Magnisia and sporadically in Makedonía.|
|Liatiko is an early-ripening grape (its name derives from the Greek word for July) found mainly in Eastern Crete, but also on Milos in the Kyklades Islands. On Crete its commercial production is centered in Sitia, where the Sitia OPAP appellation requires a blend of Liatiko with with 20% Mandilaria. A slightly different, more productive clone is one of the only traditional red varieties grown in Dafnes, just south of Iraklio city. Wines qualifying for the Dafnes OPAP appellation consist of 100% Liatiko. It is believed to have been a traditional component (one of the few red grapes) employed in Malvasia. Liatiko is a distinctly red grape, but produces wines of notably orange hue, more so even than Kotsifali (see above). According to Miles Lambert-Gocs, Liatiko is a "variety whose lineage goes so far back that Greek ambelographers regard one variant of it as the ancestor of the Corinthian grape used in Greece since ancient times to make currants." The two main producers of Liatiko wines are the Cooperatives of Sitia and Dafnes. Yannis Economou, one of Crete's promising new breed of winemakers, produces a highly regarded appellation version, a complex wine whose modern treatment discloses the true nature and potential of the grape.|
|Limnio is universally believed to be the ancient variety Limnia, mentioned by both Polydeuctes and Hesiodos. The name denotes its origin on Limnos (where it has the local synonym Kalabaki or Kalambaki) in the Aegean Islands. On Limnos itself, the grape diminished in importance with the rise in dominance of Moskhato Alexandrias, the only cultivar on the island to achieve appellation status. Limnio plays a more significant role in the local wines in the Rapsani district of Thessalia, where it is known as Limniona. Limnio vines are are hardy and late-ripening, producing herbaceous wines of considerable body (alcohol) and extraction. Modern vinifications include its blending with Cabernet at Domaine Carras in Halkidiki and in the Meritage wines of Niko Lazaridis and Kosta Lazaridis. Limnio also ameliorates Cabernet in Tsantali's Metoxi Chromitsa from the their Mt Athos vineyards.|
|The most widely planted
red variety in the Aegean, Mandilaria leans towards the tannic (mildly astringent,
unless aged) and is generally–but not always–low in alcohol. On most of the islands
where it is grown, including Crete, Mandilaria has a tendency to produce wines of
insufficient alcohol level to justify mono-varietal vinification.
In conformance with requirements for Peza and Archanes district Appelations on Crete, 20%-40% Mandilaria is blended with Kotsifali in order to create red wines that benefit greatly from ageing. The addition of Mandilaria reinforces tannin structure, moderates Kotsifali's considerably higher alcohol levels and reddens, somewhat, Kotsifali's characteristic orange hue (see Kotsifali above).
On Rhodes, where there is an OPE red based on the variety, Mandilaria vineyards are planted at low elevation but often with northern exposure and exposure to ocean wind. The grapes are thereby subject to a long growing season during which alcohol achieves favorably high levels in concert with favorable acidity.
On Santorini, Paris Sigalas blends Mandilaria with the riper Mavrotragano to produce a rich and smoky wine competitive with New World Zinfandel and Syrah for its boldness and concentration.
On Khios, Mandilaria grapes are sun dried for a week, pressed and vinified into a sweet mavro (black) wine, known locally as "Kourouniotiko".
On Mykonos, Nicos Lazaridis produces two versions blended with the white Monemvasia; an off-dry red and dry rosé.
|Mavrodafni may be the best-known
Greek red cultivar in Europe. Indeed, the story of the rise in prominence of this
variety has an important European angle. Although Mavrodafni likely originated in
Islands, it was a Bavarian,
Gustav Clauss, who, having established a winery in upland Patras in 1854 , first
tapped the potential of the grape. Achaia Clauss operates to this day, albeit with no monopoly on
the production of Mavrodafni. The winery continues as one of Greece's largest, the
single largest exporter of wine from Greece and undoubtedly the standard against
which most Mavrodafni wines are compared.
The most well-known and common Achaia Clauss Mavrodafni is its Imperial label, a fortified sweet wine of usually 15% alcohol, aged for about six years, rich, raisiny, pleasantly bitter and red-leaning-towards-dark-amber in color. Comparisons to other fortified wines are neither particularly helpful nor fair, because it occupies a fairly unique location within the taste-spectrum of such wines. Despite considerable controlled oxydation through barrel age, it displays obvious varietal integrity. As a result, it is distinctly on the wine side of port. Even viewing it from its port aspect, distinguishing between ruby and tawny becomes more difficult with thoughtful examination. Its strength, complexity and cocoa make it too eclectic to fit easily into the dessert wine category—a real challenge for the novice palate and in that respect it is decidedly on the port side of wine. A 1979 special release we tasted (Achaia Clauss is full of barrels dating as far back as the 1860s) was luscious but still tart, heavily caramelized and rich.
The Mavrodafni of Patras Appellation was one of Greece's original designations. In certain respects, however, the law is generously vague, making neither specification for fortification nor for exclusive use of the Mavrodafni grape. The appellation does require that wines consist of at least 50% Mavrodafni, but Mavri Korinthiaki, the black currant grape, can be used as well. This reflects winemaking traditions that predate the existence of the Achaia Clauss winery. It also means that great variations in the use of the variety are not discouraged. Since Achaia Clauss is not, by any means, the only producer of Mavrodafni within the zone, this means that one can shop for various styles from a number of local producers in addition to producers from outside the appellation area. Likewise, Mavrodafni does not lend itself exclusively to sweet wine production: dry vinifications produce notable results most frequently in varietal blends, especially in the Ionian Islands.
|Near extinction not long ago, Mavrotragano is local cultivar on Santorini that is in the midst of revival by some of that Island's most earnest producers. Like Cabernet, its bunches contain small grapes. The variety, because it naturally achieves high sugar levels, was traditionally used in the production of sweet wines. Because low yields are inevitable (no other option exists on Santorini), quality is easily maximized. Still, serious wine from this variety was no foregone conclusion. Paris Sigalas has been experimenting with the grape for 4 years. He has produced an impressive Zin-like blend of Mandilaria and Mavrotragano (50/50), but sees his future efforts dedicated to a mono-varietal approach. A taste of 100% Mavrotragano (2000) from a barrel in his cellar indicates why. For an Aegean red, this wine is arresting (to say the least) with good tannin structure, characterful, but pleasing in its youth and clearly suitable for aging. According to Sigalas, "this year I finally achieved the alcohol level I have wanted. I figured out how long the fruit needs to mature on the vine, not only to develop alcohol, but tannins as well. This is an approach that cannot be used with Mandilaria." Haridimos Hatzidakis, a young Cretan winemaker on Santorini, is also at the final stages of experimentation with the grape. A version from Hatzidakis can be expected soon. There is no|
|Negoska (or Negotska), an important variety in Makedonia, derives its name from the Slavic word for Naousa, Negush, and is believed to be a close relative of Xynomavro. Negoska is nevertheless associated at present more with Gomenissa, where its higher sugar content and riper, berry-like fruit are ideal for rounding out the more austere Xynomavro in Goumenissa OPAP reds. The appellation stipulate an admixture of Xynomavro with a minimum of 20% Negoska. Christos Aïdarinis, a pedigreed Goumenissa winemaker of considerable vision, employs 30% Negoska to his OPAP red, in which conscientious modern farming and vinification are employed to capture the best features of the variety with no sacrifice of traditional feel.|
|Stavroto is found mainly in Rapsani in Thessaly, where it is a component with Xynomavro and Krasato in Rapsani Appellation red wines. A cultivar of little character it is suitable for blending only. It is not widely grown and is at the northernmost of its traditional range of cultivation in Rapsani. Its lower range ends in Magnisia, just north of the island of Evia.|
|Sykiotis comprises 10-15% of plantings in Anhialos, Thessaly. Elevation at this location is nearly at sea level and wines are typically "parched" (to borrow a description from Miles Lambert-Gocs). The name of the grape derives from the Greek word for fig. Sykiotis can also be found in Makedonia and Evia.|
Xynomavro is one of the two most highly regarded of the Greek red cultivars (Agiorgitiko being the other). It is ubiquitous in Makedonia, but is best known for the role it plays in the wines of Naousa. It is the sole variety permitted under the Naousa and Amyntaio (OPAP) appellations and one of two (with Negoska) under the Goumenissa appellation. Even the best wine writers have difficulty finding a suitable Western frame of reference for the grape, not because reasonable comparisons do not exist, but rather, because too many come too quickly. The name Xynomavro is the conjunction of the Greek words for acid and black, a fact that hints at some characteristics of the variety, but at the exclusion of most of the charismatic manifestations of what is a decidely multifarious personality. Nico Manessis finds the aroma of aged Xynomavro "reminiscent of great Burgundy reds." The ever circumspect Miles Lambert-Gocs delves more deeply into the conundrum:
The resemblance between Xynomavro
and Pinot Noir is sufficiently compelling that a certain Greek winemaker once asserted
to me, "Xynomavro is Pinot noir." Since the similarities can be
strong and because differences between the two varieties could be accounted for by
differences in location, climate and terroir—not to mention minor genetic variation
or adaptation—such assertions are understandable, though apparently untrue. Still
the two grapes have a few important characteristics in common: they generally have
small grapes in tight clusters, they have reasonably high acidity and they are more
fickle than many grapes of less complex nature.