Following in the footsteps of the past
Although Mavrodaphne would be associated almost exclusively with port-style sweet wines throughout the 20th century, the historical sources reveal that the variety has yielded extremely fine dry wines from early on.
Indeed, in 1875, the competition held at the Exhibition accompanying the 3rd Olympia included no fewer than seven dry Mavrodaphnes. And three years later, the catalogue published for the 1878 iteration of the Exhibition sings the praises of several of these, which the author compares with top varieties from France or Austria. We read that: “Mr Clauss, the wholesaler, has produced from the Mavrodaphne of Achaia a deep red wine which recalls the most select vintages of Bordeaux…”, while Toul’s Mavrodaphne from Kefalonia is described as “a wine black verging on dark red, a hue both authentic and glorious. An excellent wine from the exhibition whose bouquet recalls the celebrated Austrian vintages of Vöslau, and whose taste the finest table wines of Bordeaux. It has a delicately and pleasantly astringent taste”. We gather from the descriptions that both wines made from the Mavrodaphne grape variety were dry.*
In this same period, of course, Gustav Clauss was embarking on the production of his winery’s celebrated sweet wine, which is simply named ‘Mavrodaphne’, though he did not stop exporting the dry version of the variety native to Achaia. The German wine-maker’s records confirm that exports of dry Mavrodaphne continued into 1903, and that old dry Mavrodaphnes were kept in storage to be mixed with fresh wine in accordance with the buyer’s preferences.
The growth of the wine trade and the international success of sweet Mavrodaphne would shift the focus away from the grape’s dry versions. The registering in 1971 of the designation of origin “Mavrodaphne of Patras” as a sweet wine would cause more problems still, as it was no longer permitted to use the name on the label of dry wines.
Today, the dynamic come-back of dry Mavrodaphne in the catalogues of numerous producers, with some important wines among the newcomers, make it essential–if not urgent–that the designation of origin for Mavrodaphne be extended to include dry wines, and that dry Mavrodaphne is registered as a designation of origin for Achaia and Kefallonia.
Renio vs Tsigello
From 1971, when the Designation of Origin “Mavrodaphne of Patras” was registered, Renio was recognized as a variant of Mavrodaphne, alongside the traditional Tsigello. Renio has since spread rapidly, and on a large scale, through replanting, as it is both more productive and easier to cultivate than the Tsigello variety. However, subsequent research by the Agricultural University of Athens revealed that Renio was actually a genetically distinct variety: it is not a Mavrodaphne.
The two varieties differ significantly in terms of their leaves and fruit, making it easy to tell them apart by eye, both when planting the vines and producing the wine. Tsigello, the first and, in the end, only Mavrodaphne that grows in Achaia, has small and sparse grapes with notched leaves, unlike Renio, which has dense bunches of grapes and round leaves.
The crimson Tsigello, a brilliant example of a dry Mavrodaphne, is the first fruit of the new era at the Rouvalis Winery. Picking up the baton from the winery’s founder, Angelos Rouvalis, Theodora Rouvali and Antonio Ruiz Pañego have invested in pioneering winemaking, fruitfully combining tradition, modern technology and the wide-ranging experience they have gleaned around the world. They serve the unique terroir of Aigialeia and the ‘heroic viticulture’ necessitated by the terrain with devotion and ecological sensitivity.
Vinification: Tradition and innovation
Tsigello is produced entirely, 100%, from the authentic Mavrodaphne variety after which it is named. Given its relatively small production, the grapes are harvested by hand, then transported to the winery in small crates. Every stage in the production process, from the delivery of the grapes to bottling, makes use of natural gravity flow, thereby removing the need for pumps. The wine matures is handmade clay amphorae made by Vindamphore in the South of France. The French company’s clay vessels are made not for fermentation and extraction, as is customary, but for the maturation of the wine–a genuine innovation and a oenological tool which allows the tannins to be handled in the best possible way. The wine is bottled unfiltered and continues to develop in the bottle for up to five or six years, acquiring aromas of rosemary, laurel and eucalyptus.
A unique and internationally distinguished wine
Produced from the authentic and high-quality variety of Mavrodaphne indigenous to the Achaia area, and vinified using methods that combine tradition with innovation, Tsigello is a delicate wine, a superb example of the global trend away from super-mature, super-dense styles towards more silky, fresher wines with finesse and a discrete and urbane taste.
Its deep crimson colour, notes of mature forest fruit, the tamed tannins of the Mavrodaphne grape, its unusual and alluring botanical profile, long after-taste and balanced taste make Tsigello a truly irresistible wine that has already won an extensive following, both among the general public and connoisseurs of wine.
When it first appeared in 2017, Tsigello was awarded 92 points by Decanter, a magazine with an international readership and reputation, while its second vintage was selected by internationally-renowned wine experts for inclusion in the catalogue of 50 Great Greek Wines for 2020. This year, it was given 96 points by Wine & Spirits Magazine, earning our Tsigello a place among the 100 best wines in the world for 2021.
* The historical data comes from the paper “Wine strokes in the history of Patras’ Mavrodaphne wine” which Stavroula Kourakou-Dragona and Marianthi Voudouri-Tsoukala presented at the “Polystafylos Peloponnesos” Symposium in 2009. The proceedings of the Conference were published in the “Oinon istoro” [Wine Stories] series.