A Brief Cretan Wine Tour

by Phil Butler

The land that was once the center of Bronze Age magnificence, for that time beyond any comparison, Minoan Crete was a place of refined society. Ages ago, the cultivated of pure fruits of the vine were central to daily life on Crete. The wines of Crete today, bear tasteful witness to a tradition that is thousands of years in the making. Now, as back then, no dinner table on this mythical island is set without a special wine to go along.

“There’s a place in the middle of the wine-dark sea called Crete, a lovely, fruitful land surrounded by the sea” – The Odyssey

While many Minoan varieties of wine exist to this day, the process and pride that went into wine-making over the ages has revealed new exciting varieties as individual as the innkeeper or head of household who serves them. Harvested from early August until the first part of October, Crete wines bear a rich and special character, given by the intense sunshine the island receives. Crete’s diverse geography, along with the creative uniqueness many winmakers possess, has morphed the Cretan wine industry into the thriving business it is today. Ages old traditional, or newly tested varieties possess differentiated flavors and aromas, enologists and wine-makers in this part of Greece represent the best of archaic and modern wine-making. Here’s a sampling of the hundreds of wine-makers and varieties across the three main Crete regions.

Central Crete

Domaine Paterianakis, like other family makers such as; the small Vangelis Sinadinakis wine making concern, Minos Wines outside Peza, Lyrarakis, and even those of the Archanes Cooperative in the central region, they all benefit from being in the best region for dry wines of extraordinary character. The Peza region, the closest to mystical Knossos, may be the most interesting of the island’s winemaking regions for fans of very dry wines like those out of the new Miliarakis Organic Vineyard. Of course the choices from this region are as individual as the consumer, but it’s fair to say this part of Crete has distinctive characteristics.

The modern science of Paterianakis’ efforts now renders fabulous fragrant red’s of imbued with intense body. Made with red fruits, plum, blackcurrant, vanilla and cloves, such local Cretan wines are reminiscent. Complementing these, wines new to Crete reveal the potential the Minoans no doubt realized. White wine blends from Vidiano and Muscat Spinas varieties, are “first-ever” products of special significance.

Sitia Emerging Again

Also within the central region, family concerns such as the world famous Boutari Wines, Greece’s largest, to Lyrarakis Wines, a venerable mid-sized concern outside Alagni, these and a host of other producers offer wonderful tributes to ancient Cretan winemaking craft. Of the latter producers stock, the award winning Lyrarakis Rose – Idyll and the Lyrarakis White – Cuvee Grande Colline seem nicely representative of Cretan capability in this central part of Crete. Outside the region, farther removed from Heraklion, many venerable wines can be discovered.

One of Crete’s best known wine traditions, the Toplou Monastery outside Sitia bears particular scrutiny. What was a traditional monastic operation decades past, is today a fine wine operation run by the four monks who live at the monastery. Some 30,000 bottles of white wine and the same amount of red, with a fine aroma and soft, sweet taste, are produced here each year. Other examples of fine winemaking in eastern Crete include The Sitia region is peculiar in that it is well suited for smaller more robust grapes owing to the dry soil here.

Regarded as one of the oldest wine growing regions in all Greece, Sitia wines have re-emerged thanks to the efforts of the local cooperative and Domaine Economou, among makers. Some examples of fine wines of this region include; the Sitia White Dry Opap, the white Thrapsathiri-Vilana from Toplou, and the marvelous Sitia V.Q.P.R.D. Red Wines.

Chania and Westward

Second to the Heraklion region in numbers of wineries, the Chania region is perhaps the most interesting of the Crete growing regions. To the west of the region you’ll discover Protected Geographic Indication (PGI) Kissamos wines, among the most coveted on the island. Of course the general Rethymno area in between, it’s also noted for novelty blends and significant smaller vineyards. It’s the wineries in between Chania and Kissamos that produce the most popular products. Of particular note, the Karavitakis family business in Kissamos stands out for their ongoing quality. Others like Winery Pnevmatikakis, and the more cutting edge ones such as Anoskeli in Platania are representative of traditional winemaking meets cutting edge organic production.

Owing to the special characteristics of this region since Minoan times, some wonderful white and red varieties are crafted to suit a variety of tastes. Examples include the aforementioned Anoskeli dry red ANO PLAGIA, and the very aromatic Malagouzia by Karavitakis Wines. This region is also noted for there still being processing by crushing by foot going on. Historically, the Romans coveted wines from here particularly, as did Byzantium. The dry wines from here are again noted, but the red varieties pose as the most the most complex and interesting for most wine tourist.

The Legacy

Cretan Wine Legacy The history of winemaking on Crete dates back past the Homeric epics and stretches forward to advanced techniques and experimentation toward very edgy vinification skills. The same winemaking skill that conquered the world via Rome’s love for Cretan wines, today stands ready to once again prevail over other regions less unique. But whatever future economically Cretan winemakers can carve out, this island holds a differentiated wine tourism experience, to be sure.

For more information on the wonderful wines of Crete, please visit the Visit Greece pages here, or theWines of Crete website here.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the wonderful people at Wines of Crete and at Lyrarakis Wines for very quickly connecting via social media to share these wonderful images of Crete’s fabulous wine heritage.


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