Home TravelsGreece Mavrodaphne – the wine of Patras, Greece and the oldest Greek winery

Mavrodaphne – the wine of Patras, Greece and the oldest Greek winery

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Among the oldest wines that Maria and I have tasted, a fortified sweet wine from Greece, Mavrodaphne variety , vintage 1979, is one of the most curious. The story takes us to the Peloponnese peninsula, between two really remarkable sites that we visited this summer – Delphi and Olympia. We had a stay in Patras, the third largest city in Greece, and decided to discover the local wines.

Wines from Greece are pretty interesting. And whenever we are in Greece, we look for and try local wines. The interesting thing about Patras is that there are several nice restaurants with a good wine list of Greek wines, and if you walk around, you may also come across wine bars. We were drawn into this story thanks to a professor from the University of Patras and his direction for interesting wines in the region, the province of Achaia.

Achaia Klaus (Αχάια Κλάους)

As we mentioned above, Achaia is the name of the province, and Achaia Claus Winery is named after its founder, Gustav Clauss of Bavaria. In 1854 Gustav Clauss as a representative of Fels and Co bought land in the Peloponnese to grow blackcurrants for the company he worked for. But he also planted vineyards as a hobby in 1861.

He founded Achaia Clauss Winery with Jakob Klipfel and later continued to manage it alone. In the beginning, the winery had difficult years, because of the frequent robberies in the region. He managed to develop and survived thanks to his connections with the entourage of King Otto I of Greece (who is actually a Bavarian prince). Throughout the story, the important thing is the idea that Achaia Clauss is one of the oldest companies in Greece and the oldest official winery. Since 1869 the cellar’s wines are exported to Germany. In 1872 Clauss founded a wine business with Theodoros Harburger to start selling the wines himself.

The courtyard of Achaia Clauss Winery
The courtyard of Achaia Clauss Winery

In 1873 the first sweet fortified Mavrodaphne (a.k.a. Mavrodafni of Mavrodaphni) wine was made. It is definitely a wine worth telling about and nowadays the most important wine for the winery.

Fields of mavrodaphne grape around the winery
Fields of mavrodaphne grape around the winery

In 1899, the winery began producing Demestica, a wine from the vineyards on the slopes of Kalavryta. Domestica was the most famous Greek wine in the 1970s and 1980s, and every household had a bottle of Domestica. It was a general popular wine, but also the most widely distributed in Greece and abroad.

Achaia Clauss Winery
Achaia Clauss Winery

Gustav Klaus died shortly before the First World War, during which the winery was nationalized by the Greek authorities. In the 1920s, the winery declined, but continued to function. In the years after World War II, as mentioned, Demestica wine became fashionable and the winery expanded. In the 1990s, Achaia Clauss was struggling, but with the support of the National Bank of Greece, the then manager, Nikos Karapanos, returned to producing high quality wine.

What is Mavrodafni (Mavrodaphne)?

” ΠΟΠ Μαυροδάφνη Πατρών ” (PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras) and ” ΠΟΠ Μαυροδάφνη Κεφαλλονιάς ” (PDO Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia) are the two protected designations of origin (PDO) for the Mavrodaphne grape variety. Mavrodaphne (Mavrodafni of Mavrodaphni) originates from the Ionian Islands, but today it is grown mostly on the territory of the Peloponnese peninsula, near Patras. Mavrodafni of Kefalonia and Patras are both the same variety but two different branches. Both wines are sweet, we have not been able to find a wine from Kefalonia, it is harder to find to tell the difference.

PDO Mavrodaphne from Patras is a naturally sweet wine that must be aged for a minimum of one year in oak barrels with a capacity of up to 1000 liters. If the wine is aged for more than 2 years, it can be labelled “Reserve”. Wines aged a total of 7 years (at least 3 in barrel and 3 in bottle) can be labelled “Grand Reserve”.

Mavrodaphne from Patras: the grapes have a characteristic almost black color, dense aromas of prunes and black currants, high alcohol content and medium acidity. It makes excellent sweet wines of the “Port” type, i.e. fermentation is stopped by adding alcohol to prevent the tiny yeasts from eating all the sugar in the wine. It is said that the first sweet Mavrodaphne wine was fermented in the winery of Gustav Clauss in 1873.

The winery – history before our eyes

Achaia Clauss  is, perhaps, the most visited winery by tourists in Greece. In fact, since its inception, the winery has attracted curious wine connoisseurs. Greek aristocrats and kings used to come here. The winery has been visited over the years by the Chancellor of the German Empire Otto von Bismarck and a note of thanks from him, from the Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary and Bohemia Elisabeth of Bavaria (Sisi), from the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif and the billionaire Aristotle Onassis. There is a letter ordering wine from the Austrian composer Ferenc Liszt. And so the story takes us to the buildings. The winery has changed and grown, but there are three main buildings associated with history since the 19th century.

The entrance to the barrel rooms and to the Impreial cellar
The entrance to the barrel rooms and to the Impreial cellar

Κάβα Δανιηλίδος – Cava Danielis (1870), which is attached to the “Tower of Robbers”. Nowadays, it acts as a wine tasting room and a shopt at the same time. The building was originally home of Theodoros Harburger and was called “Θεοδώρειον”, thus “Theodorion”. Over the years, the workers of the winery also lived here, wine was stored in the cellar and so on. It is now named after the Byzantine noblewoman from Patras Danielis, who lived in the 9th century and was one of the richest landowners in Byzantium with ties to Emperor Basil I the Macedonian. Danielis is considered the first woman winemaker, she also supplied wine to the imperial court. The robbers’ tower was considered the best protected tower of the winery from robbers.

Κάβα Δανιηλίδος – Cava Danielis (1870)
Κάβα Δανιηλίδος – Cava Danielis (1870)

Βαρελάτικο – actually “Varelatiko” is the word “βαρελαδικο”, the Greek word for, um I’m not good with Greek, I think it’s “barrel”. This building is reached by passing through a room full of huge barrels where the Mavrodaphne wine is stored. Varelatico houses an exhibition of old barrel-making tools. The exposition was created after the completion of the research of the folklorist Rodoula Statakis and the publication of the related book, thanks to which the old instruments were discovered.

The small museum in Varelatiko
The small museum in Varelatiko

Αυτοκρατορικό Κελλάρι – We sneak into the cellar while listening to the mny stories related to the winery. “Αυτοκρατορικό Κελλάρι” means “Imperial Cellar”, it was named so in honor of Princess Sisi’s visit on October 9, 1885. It houses 167 barrels of extremely valuable wines and preserves the history of Mavrodaphne wine. 30 of the barrels are dedicated to individuals, and three depict scenes from Greek mythology. These barrels have been in this position since the 19th century and are made of Istrian oak.

If you take the list of barrels, you will see that they are truly a treasure and absolutely priceless:

  1. 4,140 liter cask, with mavrodaphne from 1873, dedicated to Helmut von Moltke, 1890.
  2. 4080 L cask, with mavrodaphne from 1873, dedicated to Otto von Bismarck, 1889.
  3. A cask with a capacity of 13,195 l., with mavrodaphne, dedicated to King George I of Greece in May 1898.

And so on, up to 30. From what we were told, wine from here is bottled extremely rarely, most recently for some extremely special occasions. They assured us that even the wine from 1873 it is drinkable. Probably so, fortified wines could last a long time.

At the end of the walk, I was taking some pictures around the cellar and I just heard the metal door closing and locking – they had forgotten me inside.

Wine tasting

I won’t lie to you, I don’t remember all the wines we tasted and maybe it’s because I was obsessed with the idea of ​​mavrodaphne or I was just a little distracted. But for mavrodaphne I will tell you that we tried a great mavrodaphne Grand Reserve from 1979. (68 euros is a 500ml bottle), very rich and interesting. And a mavrodaphne from 1999. (€39), still fresher, but extremely pleasant.

If you decide to visit the cellar, see the possibilities on its website . It is really touristy and I recommend you make an appointment in advance.

Mavrodaphne in a different light and another cellar – Rouvalis

I am walking one evening across the Gulf of Corinth in the town of Nafpaktos, where, according to history, Miguel de Cervantes lost his arm in battle. If you are there, you will see his statue. And I stop by a very nice wine shop in search of mavrodaphne. I was immediately offered dry wine. As far as I understand, “Tsigello” (Τσιγκέλω) is actually mavrodaphne, but because “Mavrodaphne of Patras” is a Protected Designation of Origin for sweet port-type wines, they use the name “tsigello” for dry ones. In this case, I was shown a bottle that I knew – tsigfello of the Ruvalis winery .

Tsigello of the Rouvalis winery
Tsigello of the Rouvalis winery

Rouvalis is a winery I wanted to visit but didn’t have time. The founder is Angelos Rouvalis, who was one of the first Greek winemakers to study in Bordeaux. He then worked in Santorini, where he developed the island’s winemaking and is a legend in the wine world of Greece. In the 90s, he turned his attention to his native Peloponnese and made remarkable wines. And today in the winery you can meet the daughter – Teodora Ruvalis

Tsgello of Rouvalis (about 17 euros a bottle): 80% of the grapes are aged in handmade clay amphorae and 20% in old French oak barrels for about 5 months. The amphorae soften its bold tannins and are left to mellow unfiltered in the bottle, taking on aromas of rosemary, bay leaf and eucalyptus. A magnificent wine that I recommend you. I kinda regret not getting a few bottles. The wine is PGI Slopes of Egalia (ΠΓΕ Πλαγιες Αιγιαλείας), the vineyards are at 500-550m above sea level.

Lagirthi 2022 of Rouvalis
Lagirthi 2022 of Rouvalis

So and so Ruvalis winery became a topic , I will recommend you another wine. Lagirthi 2022 (about 12 euros a bottle). This wine is not on the winery’s website, but it is magnificent. Almost extinct in the Peloponnese in the 1980s, a white grape that grows at high altitude and produces an aromatic balanced white with relatively low acidity. After fermentation with the skin, the juice is aged in a tank and amphora. The result is outstanding. One of the most exceptional white wines currently produced in Greece.

A few lines about PDO and PGI, to better explain them through the professional view of Maria Andreeva:

The origin of products and why we pay attention to PDO and PGI

You may be wondering why we describe in such detail the geographical indications of the products we talk about in this article. The truth is that until recently we didn’t pay that much attention to whether a product was protected or not, as long as we liked the taste. But recently, Maria has been working on an international project ( it’s called SMEOrigin , you can check out its website), which made us realize that if we are looking for authentic taste and an authentic product, we should look for products with protected geographical indications. But how do we recognize them?

People from France, Austria, Poland, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Finland lined up for this visit, and behind them the oldest barrels of the cellar
People from France, Austria, Poland, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Finland lined up for this visit, and behind them the oldest barrels of the cellar

We insert one more clarification that here we are talking about protected geographical indications in the register of the European Union . The EU system of geographical indications protects the names of products that originate from specific regions and have specific qualities or reputations associated with the area of ​​production. Such, for example, are Bulgarian Yogurt, Bulgarian Rose Oil, French Roquefort cheese, sparkling wine from Champagne and more than 3,500 others. In order to have the right to be labelled such, these products must go through a certification process, prove their origin from the given region, as well as the specific production technology authentic for that region. And all products that have passed this certification already have the right to include the protected name in their label, as well as something else very important – the regognizable star-like signs indicating the protected product. These standardized symbols are used throughout the EU and thus you can tell if a product has a protected geographical indication and is certified or not.

The yellow-red symbol before Feta is the PDO symbol, the name Feta is protected
The yellow-red symbol before Feta is the PDO symbol, the name Feta is protected
The same dairy also produces goat cheese, which is different from Feta and cannot be a PDO. An extremely tasty cheese, but it differs from feta
The same dairy also produces goat cheese, which is different from Feta and cannot be a PDO. An extremely tasty cheese, but it differs from feta

This whole system is based on local and national regulations in individual countries protecting the characteristic products of different regions. Let’s give an example with wine and classic France – the main marker for French wines is the region from which they originate. The words Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire, Rhône automatically turn on different lights in the heads of wine experts and enthusiasts. They determine not only the origin of the grapes, but also varieties, technology, overall character of the wine. The principle is the same with the protected indications of food, agricultural products and spirits. Standardization at the European level is based on the standards established in individual countries.

So if you go into a store looking for some very traditional product that you’ve heard of but aren’t sure how to recognize, look for packaging that has the exact name of the product, not an imitation, and the European “stars”. In most cases, you won’t see asterisks on wines, but PGI and PGI indications (PDO and PGI is the international designation) are a sign of an authentic product that has passed certification.

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