The Revelation of Muscat

The Revelation of Muscat

Moschato Tyrnavou: A Precious Treasure

Moschato Tyrnavou is a grape variety holding a dominant position in the area of Tyrnavos, where it is cultivated on around 1.500 hectares. It is a grape variety that can sporadically be found around the world, in Greece, however, is associated with Tyrnavos, since the most of it has been grown in the wider area of Tyrnavos. The cultivation of Muscat began when the historical vineyard of Tyrnavos was destroyed due to phylloxera; then, during the period 1930-36, the Agricultural School of Larissa distributed anti-phylloxera vines, and the cultivation of Muscat was promoted among others.

This grape variety is the cross of the Italian variety Schiava Grossa (Trollinger or Black Hamburg) with the Egyptian Muscat of Alexandria. It has been first grown in greenhouses in England, where it was known under the name “Black Muscat of Alexandria”, but then its cultivation was expanded almost everywhere in the world, in Europe (France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Romania, Portugal etc.), the USA (California, Virginia, Oregon, Texas), Egypt, Argentina, while lately it can also be found in China. In the different regions of the world, where it is cultivated, it is used as an ingredient of wine blends, in the production of dessert wine, is sold as a fruit; however, wines made exclusively from Muscat Hamburg can rarely be found.

On the basis of the new conditions created by the cultivation of new grape varieties following the phylloxera disaster, the winegrowers of the area, having a longstanding experience on wines, worked and made the best of Muscat in many ways: by producing a variety of aromatised wines, especially of light red wines, by distilling it, and by selling it on the market as a fresh grape. The large area cultivated with Muscat Hamburg, the good adaption of this grape variety to the new environment, as well as its diverse utilisation made Tyrnavos a global reference point, as far as this grape variety is concerned. Evidence of this is that in the Vitis International Variety Catalogue (VIVC), among the 87 synonyms of the variety – the vast majority of which are variations of the name “Muscat Hamburg” – there is also the synonym “MOSCHATO TYRNAVOU”. This is proof of the reputation of Moschato Tyrnavou worldwide and reasonably raises the issue of the protection of this designation through the national variety catalogue. This will allow this designation to be used and, thus, the use of the word “Hamburg” to be avoided, since it does not fall within the description of the variety and the products derived from it. Besides, after so many decades, this variety is considered to be a native one in people’s mind.

Agricultural Winery Cooperative of Tyrnavos plays a leading role in the winemaking and distillation of Muscat in the area. Throughout its 50-years-old history, the Agricultural Winery Cooperative of Tyrnavos presented various wine expressions and distillates (tsipouro) through the production of products, for which there is an increased consumer demand countrywide, but also prospects for their placing on new foreign markets of great interest, such as China’s market.

The wines derived from Muscat are a category themselves mainly due to their aromatic character. Among them, those which stand out most are the semi-sweet and sweet wines, whose residual sugar content highlights their aroma, as well as the white, rosé and red wines from selected vineyards. Excellent sparkling wines are generally made from Muscat varieties due to their aromatic character. Therefore, a rosé sparkling wine produced from Moschato Tyrnavou would have great prospects in the current market, which shows an increased demand for sparkling wines. Throughout this long journey, following the protection of the designation of this grape variety in 2008 with the view to producing Local Wines from Tyrnavos, PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) wines have also been produced from this difficult and challenging to handle grape variety.

The quality of the distillates (tsipouro etc) derived from Moschato Tyrnavou is another important issue worthy of mentioning. A research programme carried out in the period 2006-2008 within the framework of the operational programme “COMPETITIVENESS” of the measure 4.3 under the title “PROMOTION OF THE UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE GRAPE MARC SPIRIT OF THE AREA OF TYRNAVOS WITH THE VIEW TO PRODUCING AND CERTIFICATING TSIPOURO AND DISTILLATES OF HIGH QUALITY” reveals the great value of the variety on the production of distillates. The research results show that there is a clear differentiation between the various varieties examined and the Moschato variety, which predominates concerning not only the quantity, but also the concentration of aromatic constituents in it. All experiments conducted during this phase have shown that, in order for the Tsipouro of Tyrnavos to be aromatically differentiated from other similar products, it should be produced from Muscat grapes. The most significant finding is the high concentration in linalool, whose existence in the grape of the same variety was confirmed, as well. The comparison among tsipouro, originating from different regions of the country and derived from different varieties, showed, that the aromatic constituents present in the various tsipouro are directly linked to the grape varieties used for their production, and that the distillates derived from Muscat Hamburg, irrespective of their rate in the grape blend, are characterised by specific constituents (linalool, hotrienol and linalool oxides), which cannot be found in distillates, for the production of which any other variety is used, than Muscat Hamburg.

In 1989 Tsipouro of Tyrnavos received the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status under the European Regulations No 1576/1989 and 110/2008; thus, Tyrnavos became the first Greek town having received this status, since the other recognised areas of the country having received this status refer to regions (Thessaly, Macedonia, Crete). The unique identity and the higher class of this distillate are due to the Muscat Hamburg variety used for the production of Tsipouro of Tyrnavos.

The interest of this variety goes beyond the above-mentioned points. A recent research on the polyphenols included in by-products of Greek varieties and a study on the biological action of their extracts have shown, that Muscat Hamburg was the first or one of the first varieties analysed for their individual substances. The Muscat by-products (stem, pips) and their extracts contain significant amounts of bioactive polyphenols, which have many antioxidant properties and anti-cancer and antimutagenic action.

The predominance of Muscat, its identification with the area of Tyrnavos and the possibility to ascertain its identification through laboratory tests constitute a great benefit for the wine production and local economy, which can and must be deployed, provided that organised social structures are available (e.g. a local entity for wine products, which will protect the product and promote its potential development) and that the state supports its services through its legislative framework.

Instead of an epilogue, I shall quote the reference to the Muscat Hamburg, as available at the portal “New Wines of Greece”, the most integrated and thorough presentation of the Greek wines by the National Interprofessional Organisation of Vine and Wine of Greece (EDOAO).

Muscat Hamburg is a variety that stands out among the various Muscat varieties due to its red grapes. It is one of the few varieties, which, apart from being vinified, can also be consumed as grape fruits. This is due to its delicious grape, which infatuates with its aroma, while it is also used for the production of red, rosé and white wines.

Muscat Hamburg can be found in the vineyards of central Greece and especially in those of the area of Tyrnavos, where it dominates. Its explosive and sweet aromas are reminiscent of carnation essence and, thus, constitute one of the variety’s greatest attributes. Because of its low acidity and soft tannins, Muscat Hamburg cannot be easily used for the production of mono-varietal wines, its addition, however, to blends is proved to be a miracle solution. A small amount of it is sufficient to “resurrect” even the most aromatically weak wine. Moreover, Muscat Hamburg has no rival as far as the production of distillates is concerned, with the distillation still highlighting utmost its special attributes.

Rare, unusual, and modern, Muscat Hamburg has the ability to open wide the closed doors of red wines to new consumers, inimitably accompanying a meal or dinner as a refined digestif”.

Anastasia Panagiotou
Agronomist – Oenologist

Article in Newspaper “Eleftheria”, 27/7/2011