In the misty, mountainous vineyards of central Greece, a native variety nicknamed “The Chameleon” sits quietly in wait for its long-anticipated day in the global spotlight.
Moschofilero (mow-sko-FEEL-err-oh), the lively and floral white-wine grape grown in the Peloponnese region of Mantinia, gained its moniker for good reason. Pink-skinned and aromatic, the grape’s expression is wide-ranging. Still white, rosé and sparkling wines offer flavors that span from light and delicate, to ripe and fun-loving, to exotic and spicy. It’s often compared to Riesling, Traminer and Viognier, though its character is distinctively Greek.
Boutari 2016 Moschofilero (Mantinia); $17, 92 points.
Lemon, orange blossom and rose aromas start this exotic and refreshing wine. On the palate, bright flavors of citrus mingle with melon and pepper. It’s easygoing but distinctive. Terlato Wines International.
Moschofilero has existed in various iterations in Greece since ancient times, but its real popularity dates to the 1970s and ’80s, when forward-thinking Mantinia producers like Tselepos, Boutari and Spiropoulos drilled down into the behavior of the variety and began producing more elegant and terroir-driven expressions.
“When we began working with Moschofilero in 1979, the wine was used as an enhancer to upgrade other wines, and there was no bottled Moschofilero in the market,” says Yiannis Tselepos, who studied oenology at the University of Dijon in France. He founded his namesake winery in 1989 with his wife, Amalia.
Higher acidity, crispness and citrus notes typify wines from the foothills, while the plateau yields a more floral, aromatic style.
Better expressions of the variety soon spurred demand. Tselepos says it resulted in “everyone wanting a Moschofilero label in their portfolio.”
That proved a challenge, as the fickle variety’s high yields are prone to alcohol and acidity imbalances, and it’s sensitive to bad weather. Winemakers eager to get in on the action didn’t always find success, and an influx of subpar wines further confused the style’s identity.
“Moschofilero belongs to that category of varieties with a very high degree of difficulty, both because of its location and cultivation conditions,” says Tselepos.
Nasiakos 2015 Moschofilero (Mantinia); $16, 91 points.
Opulent aromas of honey, flowers and peach lead this distinctive white. Full-bodied and full of exotic citrus, spice and tropical fruit flavor, it’s classic but will appeal to myriad palates. A balancing acidity gives it focus. Stellar Importing Company, LLC.
Mantinia, with an average elevation of 2,100 feet, was established as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) in 1971. Its cool-climate vineyards sit approximately 2,200 feet above sea level, which can work in the grape’s favor or against it. “The conditions of Mantinia in September and October change frequently and rapidly, and make it difficult for grapes to mature properly…, which can prevent its expressiveness and typicality,” says Tselepos.
Even within Mantinia, the wines have diverse aromatic and flavor profiles. Higher acidity, crispness and citrus notes typify wines from the foothills, while the plateau yields a more floral, aromatic style. They’re all linked by the elegant balancing acidity that reflects the overall elevation and terroir.
Tselepos 2015 Moschofilero (Mantinia); $17, 91 points.
This elegant wine typifies Moschofilero’s alluring nature, with an opulent nose redolent of rose, violet and citrus, and fresh and elegant flavors of melon and lemon. Cava Spiliadis.
That unique profile includes ageability, according to Athens-based expert Yiannis Karakasis, MW.
“In the high-altitude plateau of Mantinia, Moschofilero develops a floral and peppery character, with top examples showing strong potential to evolve over four years after the harvest,” he says.
Innovation is in the region’s DNA. Producers have successfully experimented with oak aging, wild-yeast fermentation and extended skin contact. Tselepos is working on rosé, orange and natural wines that “confirm the multiplicity of Moschofilero.” Bosinakis is also producing a Moschofilero rosé, highlighting the crisp, flirty nature of the grape.
Domaine Spiropoulos 2015 Moschofilero (Mantinia); $18, 88 points.
Exotic aromas of spice and herbs are followed by a fresh fruit palate and a peppery finish in this appealing and playful white. Athenee Imports.
Moschofilero blends from Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) appellations, such as Peloponnese or Central Greece, are also common throughout the country. International varieties like Chardonnay or indigenous grapes like Roditis and Savatiano can be used, partnering well with the clean, versatile nature of Moschofilero.
Despite the variety’s appeal and affordability, it’s still largely underappreciated outside of Greece, says Kamal Kouiri, wine director of Ousia in New York City.
Moschofilero’s Favorite Foods
Though Moschofilero makes a delicious apéritif, its high acidity and fresh flavors give it a food-pairing advantage. Try it with these dishes:
Grilled or sautéed fish, Scallops, Chicken
Grilled asparagus, Goat cheese, Roasted peppers
Middle Eastern meze spread
“Moschofilero as a Greek variety is misunderstood in general,” he says. “The variety is generally easygoing and fun, but can also offer incredible elegance, versatility with food and impressive ageability.”
This dynamic character can make the variety hard to grasp, says Kouiri, who says how Moschofilero is marketed is key.
Zacharias 2015 Ambelos Phos Roditis-Moschofilero (Peloponnese); $11, 88 points.
This blend of Moschofilero and another indigenous variety, Roditis, marries aromatic and floral notes with a crisp, lively character. Apple and citrus aromas and flavors abound, with a mineral-driven finish adding pep. Stellar Importing Company, LLC. Best Buy
That multiplicity is part of its appeal, counters Tselepos, as long as the quality is good. In his opinion, each bottling “has its own special characteristics that offer wine with a distinct personality.”
Charles Bililies, owner of the popular Greek grill Souvla in San Francisco, says that at the premium level, its “perfumed, floral, high-acid” character is ideal for fans of sophisticated pairings. He says that sushi, oysters and other raw seafood and shellfish are go-to matches for Moschofilero.
Troupis 2015 Fteri Moschofilero (Arcadia); $13, 89 points.
Muscat-like aromas of rose, jasmine and ripe lemon, followed by flavors of lemon zest and white fruit. Finishes clean and crisp. Frederick Wildman & Sons. Best Buy
Other accessible, wallet-friendly bottings are less formal and “perfect for the casual wine drinker who wants a light, bright and easy-to-drink white wine,” says Bililies.
No matter its style, Moschofilero is here to stay.