Nemea, Santorini and Naoussa are acclaimed by wine lovers. The best known Greek wine appellation however is Mavrodaphne of Patras – known to the masses for its fortified, sweet port-style red wines. It is one of the strongest wine export products of Greece.
Sadly, it might also be one of the most underperforming wine appellations of the country. The export markets have been flooded with cheap and unexciting Mavrodaphne wines for years. It is often one of the few Greek wines offered by merchants, tucked away in a hidden corner deep down on the floor.
How did it come to this? The current legislation takes part of the blame, as it allows the addition of up to 49% of Black Corinthiaki (famous for the production of currants). There are enough growers who maximize this percentage, a poor choice for the resulting quality of the wine. The size of the appellation is large and includes unsuitable land; the lawmakers have been too lax.
Growers and producers are also to blame: Mavrodaphne is often sold in bulk to large companies who bottle and sell it as a product of the region. In order to save costs, ageing might take place in stainless steel tanks or cement vats, rather than in oak barrels. The vast majority of Mavrodaphne wines are sold as non-vintage wines.
All of the above factors have contributed to the decline in quality and price. This has tainted the reputation of the appellation.
Despite this, some stunning Mavrodaphne of Patras wines are being crafted that have the ability to rival the top sweet wines of the world. If this were the norm rather than the exception, the name of the appellation would be whispered alongside with Port or Madeira.
One example of a truly outstanding Mavrodaphne of Patras wine comes from the family owned Karelas winery that was founded in 1936. They do not use any Black Corinthiaki grapes as a blending partner, opting for 100% Mavrodaphne instead. The 2001 vintage is still available at the winery and shows perfect now. The alcohol content is 15%. It has a medium deep bright toffee colour. The nose is extremely forthcoming with lovely aromas of caramelized fruit, marzipan and a hint of oxidation. It is light bodied on the palate with crisp acidity and explosive fruit. The wine is harmonious throughout, with a strong mid-palate and a matching finish. It is mouth watering and makes you yearn for the next sip. There is no pretension here, just a beautiful balance.
A wine like this is not cheap, yet inexpensive. It has nothing in common with the vast majority of the sweet wines that come from the area – apart from the appellation name it shares with them.
Nerd fact: The appellation law allows for two different fortification methods: In the case of “Vin Doux”, fortification takes place before or in the very early stages of the fermentation, resulting in wines with at least 200 grams of residual sugar per litre. For “Vin Doux Naturel”, the fortification takes place after the initial fermentation. This method typically leaves about 160 grams of residual sugar per litre. The alcohol level is typically around 15% for both.