DISCOVERING WINES OF CRETE (or, DON’T BE SO DIS-CRETE!)
My little map of Crete!
We’ve seen a rise in quality wine from other parts of Greece and from my new fave winemaking locale, Turkey, so it’s no wonder that the Mediterranean island of Crete is getting in on the action.
Is Crete possibly even the birthplace of wine? Well, there is historical evidence of winemaking as far back as 4000BC, which certainly stamps it as one of the globe’s earliest winemaking areas. Cretan winemaking flourished under Venetian rule in the 1400s but when the island was conquered by the Ottomans in 1669 its wine production decreased. There was a spark of vino-resurgence with the Greek annexation in 1913… but Greece was a little too unstable at the time, so Cretan winemaking didn’t really start to revive until mid-last-century.
Now Crete is gaining prominence with careful attention to quality control and the advancement of legal regulations. Modern winemakers in Crete are actively looking to make quaffable wines which appeal to global consumers across the board.
As with other parts of Greece and Turkey, however, some of these indigenous grapes are unfamiliar to the rest of the world, are hard to pronounce for English-speakers, and are often written on the label in Greek lettering. It is my hope that with time we’ll see some of those barriers come down and the path toward enjoyment of Cretan wines will clear.
To get you started, these are the main white varieties of Crete: (* indicates most prominent) Vidiano*, Vilana*, Plyto, Dafni, Thrapsathiri, Muscat Spina and Malvazia – and the main local red varieties are: Kotsifali*, Liatkio, Mandilari* and Romeiko.
There are good plantings of international varieties too: Sauvignon Blanc, Roussilon and Chardonnay for the whites, and Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for reds.
At a recent tasting sponsored by Wines of Crete, I was able to sample some lovely wines that are now being brought into the States.
2009 Alexakis Winery Syrah Kotsifali 40% Syrah, 60% Kotsifali. Berry nose, rich in flavor but laser-like clean. Good balance and finish with a decent structure. ~$15
2009 Boutari Skalani Red 50% Syrah, 50% Kotsifali. Bright and earthy too. Perhaps a little fumbly but very pleasant fruit and spice. ~$40
2008 Winery Diamantakis Diamond Rock Red Syrah and Mandilari. Very nice, smooth and flavorful, great length. Berries and spice, with a light but good structure. ~$20
2012 Doyloyfaknis Oinopoieio Winery Femina White Malvasia di Candia. Aromatics! Florals and tropical fruit, with a little CO2 ‘shpritz,’ super light, great for summer, not too crisp. ~$15
2012 Douloufakis Winery Vidiano Dafnios Chardonnay-like, light in style, with notes of lemon, yellow apple and hay. ~$13
2012 Manousakis Winery Nostos Roussanne White Nose of straw and lemon zest. Good length, nice body. Lip-smacking melon in the mouth, very nice. ~$22
2007 Manousakis Winery Nostos Blend Red Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne (My notes indicate this winery uses 100% Rhône varietals.) Tightly packed berries, some earth/woody elements, long finish, nice structure. ~$23
Although these next two producers don’t yet have importers or distributors, I also really enjoyed a few of their wines:
2012 Anoskeli Winery Ano Rosé Super strawberry nose, loads of fruit, nice length, hint of tannin, very nice.
2012 Nikos Gavalas Efivos White Spinas Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc. Bit of grassiness with good floral compliment, mouth-watering, not too acidic, a little tropical fruit – banana! Flavorful.
Ultimately, some of the wines I sampled over the course of the tasting were not terribly complex or interesting, but the wines listed above were certainly user-friendly and quaffable. Keep on the lookout for wines of Crete as the quality will certainly continue to rise! Cheers.