Moschofilero, the aristocrat

September 15, 2015
Three wines from Mantineia succeed in demonstrating that Moschofilero is not just about “rose aromas” and “citrus flavour”.

Many years ago I wrote a piece in Sofi Kavvatha’s magazine “Gefsi” about Mantineia and the Moschofilero grape variety, which I had described as a “wandering aristocrat”. At that time, only a handful of wines were being sold on the market as “Moschofilero” or “Mantineia”, for the simple reason that this remarkable grape had largely been overlooked. However, oenologists all over Greece already appreciated the virtues of a variety that combines high natural acidity with strong aromas. They were using it in dozens of blends and many of the best known white wines on the market owed their success to it, though this was rarely acknowledged.

So it was not before the enormous commercial success of Constantinos Antonopoulos’ wine “Orina Ktimata” on the one hand and, on the other, the creation of two very good wineries in the region -one belonging to the Spiropoulos family (photos) and the other to Yiannis Tselepos- that the variety and designation of origin began to receive the acclaim it deserves. Much later, these developments were further spurred by positive reviews in publications and from importers abroad, which catapulted the status of this “regional variety”. 

Moschofilero is often compared to Pinot Grigio, not so much from an oenological perspective but a commercial one. It is a wine that can easily be enjoyed alone, as an aperitif, with nuts, with various appetizers, with light first courses... You could say it’s the evening’s curtain-raiser, impressing without overshadowing what follows. Given the success of Pinot Grigio internationally (in America it is second only to Chardonnay in popularity and in England it accounts for 40% of Italian wine sales), our Arcadian Moschofilero would appear to have a very bright future abroad. Particularly when one considers that Moschofilero Boutari is the best selling Greek wine in the USA.

In Greece, its popularity peaked in the mid-90s before entering a phase during which it was not among the first choices of wine lovers, perhaps become some had grown tired of its supposedly one-dimensional character. It is true that many winemakers, who specialise in the vinification of Moschofilero, conducted various experiments to come up with a new proposal for the palate, not always with success. The designation of origin “Mantineia”, where Moschofilero flourishes, is a small but uniform area. There are no significant soil differences and any qualitative variation depends more on the microclimate, which plays a decisive role in maturation. From there onwards, it is of course a matter of the wine grower’s know-how and the winemaker’s skill.

So, beginning with the maturity of the grapes and exercising great care in the vinification process, three of the region’s estates currently offer an equal number of different versions of Moschofilero, each of which is interesting and quite original: Astala, Blanc de Gris and Salto are wines definitely worth trying.

Astala from Domaine Spiropoulos manages to overcome any oak notes from its cask time, retaining almost intact the characteristic features of a “typical Mantineia”, while offering the palate a fuller mouth feel than this variety has accustomed us to. The Blanc de Gris from Yiannis Tselepos is an impressive wine; it too has become enriched by its time in the barrel. It appears to have a fuller body and greater viscosity than classic Mantineia wines, but with a new dimension, which in my opinion for the first time so successfully takes Moschofilero in new directions. Last but not least, the newly arrived Salto from George Skouras is a wine that in terms of style represents something entirely different. In fact it reminded me of Grüner Veltliner from Austria. It does not owe its particularity to the (risky) game of the wooden barrel, but to advanced winemaking techniques such as fermentation initiated with wild Moschofilero yeast and sur-lie maturation.   

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