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Let’s go to Greece! No, not the crowded streets of Athens or the overrun islands, but the beautiful valleys, snow-capped mountains and otherworldly rock formations of Thessaly. Here, near the village of Tyrnavos, in the foothills of Mount Olympus, Christos Zafeirakis crafts a truly inspired wine from the local variety, Malagousia. “Burgundian” is certainly an overused expression, but I can’t think of a better way to describe this chiseled, textured, mineral-laden tour de force. Yes, queue the fireworks—it’s time to celebrate the marriage of an ancient grape-growing tradition and modern, forward-thinking winemaking.
It’s a true testament to the achievements of Zafeirakis that the SommSelect team was blown away by the seamless balance of this elixir of the Greek Gods. Crushed rocks, crunchy fruit, electric-like energy, and mountain herbs leap from the glass. If you told me this was a $100 Grand Cru Chablis, I would not be a touch surprised, but no, this is pure Malagousia at barely a quarter of the cost. Stock up today and use the savings to plan your next Grecian getaway!
In a country that has been making and drinking wine for many thousands of years, the Domaine Zafeirakis is a baby at just over 100 years old. Christos is the fourth generation of this family, but he’s the first to dive headlong into enology from a very early age. He enrolled at the University of Athens first, followed by Turin, and finally received a master’s in winery management from the Agricultural School of Milan. He then set off to learn on the job at various wineries in Tuscany, Piedmont, and Alto Adige, Italy, finally returning to take the helm at the family estate in 2005. With a full head of steam and years of knowledge and experience under his belt, Christos was ready to take a successful winery and transform it into a world-class operation.
Like all great winemakers, Christos started in the vineyards, where he converted the entire estate to organic farming and introduced many of the biodynamic principles he learned in Italy. Zafeirakis also has a beautiful, state-of-the-art winery, built in the middle of the vineyards. But, this winery is not covered with steel tanks and lab equipment; true to the ancient traditions of this region, the wines are fermented and aged in very large, neutral wooden vats. The Malagousia “Natura” is the culmination of Christos’ devotion to farming and winemaking in the most natural and respectful manner. After fermentation with native yeasts in those giant barrels, the wine rests on the lees for 12 months in the same barrels before being bottled unfiltered with just a touch of SO2. It’s a fantastically clean, terroir-driven wine with one foot lingering in Thessaly’s ancient wine culture and the other standing firmly in today’s obsession with “natural” wine.
Malagousia was thought to be all but extinct in Greece until an enology professor there discovered plantings in the early 1970s and set about re-introducing the variety throughout the country—and we’re sure glad he did. The combination of enthralling aromatics and a textured, mineral-driven body make this a must-try grape. And, under the astute eye of Christos Zafeirakis, it blossoms into an amazingly complex masterpiece. Serve cool, at around 50 degrees in a Burgundy glass, and you’ll immediately recognize aromas of orchard fruit, peach skin, lemon curd, green peppercorn, and wild mountain flowers. With sappy fruit and laser-like acidity, this is a perfect pairing for any seafood dish, but you could go a bit more traditional and serve it next to grilled haloumi or, better yet, the local specialty: Astakomakaronada, aka lobster pasta. So, grab a case of “Natura,” invite some friends over, and throw a party that would make the Thessalonians proud!
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