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By the Glass

This Greek grape almost disappeared. Its rescue led to some delicious wines.

Ellen Bhang for the Boston Globe

When Evangelos “Vangelis” Gerovassiliou decided more than 30 years ago to renovate his family’s vineyard located in Epanomi, in northern Greece, he knew just the grape to plant. He had already started cultivating malagousia, a long-forgotten white varietal, while working at nearby Domaine Porto Carras, and was keen to continue the effort on his own property. Today, at his winery Ktima Gerovassiliou, the indigenous varietal is one of several flourishing on the 150-acre estate.

This is the story that Thrassos Giantsidis tells a group of wine enthusiasts during a recent swing through Boston. The chemist-enologist, who likes to be called Thrass, handles exports for Ktima Gerovassiliou. Spreading out a map of Greece, and smoothing out its creases, he describes how vinifying the fruit of the vine has been part and parcel of the landscape since antiquity. The seaside region where the winery is located, in a coastal suburb of Thessaloniki, has a tradition of winemaking that reaches back at least 1,500 years. “Greek wine is an old ‘new’ thing,” he says, thrilled that young wine drinkers are embracing a very ancient grape.

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The varietal malagousia (also spelled malagouzia) is most associated with Macedonia in northern Greece, but winegrowers also cultivate it in Attica (the area around Athens) and in Peloponnese, the hand-shaped peninsula to the south. The first thing you notice in the glass is its highly aromatic profile. Exuberant scents range from floral and citrus to deeply tropical. Those heady aromas might lead you to assume the wine is sweet, but bottles we sampled are vinified dry. All offer moderate-plus acidity that is deliciously food-friendly.

Each producer takes a different approach to crafting wine from this grape. The team at Ktima Gerovassiliou partially barrel ferments one single vineyard example, then allows the wine to mature on the lees (the yeast cells that have completed fermentation and settle at the bottom of a vat), resulting in nuanced aromas and textures. The winemakers at Alpha Estate in Amyndeon, in northwestern Greece, take fruit grown on a high plateau, then apply a similar lees technique, but forgo barrel fermentation. A bottle called “Kalogeri” from Domaine Papagiannakos, near Athens, ferments in stainless steel and coaxes ripe grapes into a full-bodied pour with robust flavors of dried tropical fruit.

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These wines are growing in popularity. A recent conversation with Megan Cormier, general manager of Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar, chef Michael Schlow’s homage to seasonal Greek cuisine in the Back Bay, affirms the trend. “People come in, really wanting to try these wines,” she says. They do so despite hard-to-pronounce grape names. Cormier herself has special words of appreciation for Evangelos Gerovassiliou and his team for elevating malagousia. “They brought the grape back from the dead,” she enthuses. “They said, ‘We’re going to lose something cool here, something pretty important, if we don’t save it.’”

We’re also glad for the rescue. Our spring table is better for it.

Domaine Papagiannakos “Kalogeri” Dry White Table Wine 2013 This robust, golden-hued pour offers scents of dried pineapple, green herbs, and saline, with the same notes on a rich, concentrated palate. A stand-up pour with roasted red peppers draped with cured anchovies or a grilled salmon fillet. Around $23. At Ball Square Fine Wines, Somerville, 617-623-9500; Brookline Fine Wine & Spirits, Brookline Village, 617-734-5400.

Ktima Gerovassiliou Single Vineyard Malagousia 2014 This aromatic, platinum-hued pour suggests orange blossoms, white tea, and peach. A moderate level of acidity makes a soft impression with citrus, crunchy stone fruit, and an appetizingly bitter saline component. Excellent with Vietnamese vermicelli with mint, cucumbers, and a gingery fish sauce. Around $29. At Needham Center Fine Wines, Needham, 781-400-1769; Regal Marketplace, Whitman, 781-447-5741.

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Ktima Gerovassiliou White Wine 2014 A genius blend, equal parts assyrtiko (of Santorini fame) and malagousia. A whiff of seabed minerals combines with fresh yellow fruit, citrus, white petals, and herbal notes, all reflected in a lively palate with a bit of grip. Terrific with anything from the raw bar. Around $26. At Ball Square Fine Wines; Greek International Food Market, West Roxbury, 617-553-8038.

Alpha Estate “Turtles Vineyard” Malagouzia 2014 A delicately hued pour offering zesty citrus, mineral, and lightly tropical scents. The palate is perky and fresh, with yellow fruit that’s edged with saline and green herbs. Serve alongside farro risotto with asparagus, ramps, and shaved pecorino. Around $19. At Ball Square Fine Wines; Cambridge Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-864-7171.


Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com.