Mavrotragano Grape

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Mavrotragano Grape

When the phylloxera aphid devastated European vineyards in the late 1800s, it left few vines untouched. The vineyards of Santorini were among the rare exceptions; they were protected from infestation by the sandy, volcanic soil of the island. Unlike nearly every grape type in Europe, Santorini’s Mavrotragano vines have never been grafted onto New World rootstock. Nevertheless, cultivation of Santorini’s Mavrotragano production has shrunk considerably in the past fifty years, and the vine’s low yield has led many to abandon viticulture for more lucrative options. The amount of acreage cultivated with Mavrotragano has been reduced by half since 1950. Until recently, very few of the rare, red-grape Mavrotragano vines were cultivated, representing just 1% of the island’s viticulture. Total production never exceeded 1,500 kilos, and Mavrotragano looked set for eventual disappearance. Today, Mavrotragano’s future looks brighter, thanks mostly to the work of two vintners who have revived the grape type and have developed techniques to increase the quantity of production. However, Mavrotragano cultivation will always be limited: the grapes are small, the bunches of average size, and yields are less than 40% than that of Mandilarià, the only other red grape variety cultivated in Santorini’s Cyclades region. Furthermore, the Mavrotragano matures in stages, requiring many mini-vintages throughout the year. Mavrotragano grapes are grown particularly to produce red passito for consumption on special occasions. Wine enthusiasts know Santorini as a land of excellent white and sweet wines made from the better known Assyrtiko grape, but the excellent quality of the red Mavrotragano has now attracted the attention of wine lovers in Greece and further afield. Mavrotragano is harvested entirely by hand. The wine is fermented for nine days and subsequently stored in oak barrels for at least one year. Typical of southern wines, it is clear violet in color with an opulent and fruity aroma redolent of some of the wines of the southern Rhône valley. It has a spicy nose with notes of cinnamon and good tannins.

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