Wines of Crete

Every once and a while the wine winds seem to blow the right way. Having been recently lucky enough to receive an invitation to attend an educational master class featuring the wines of Crete, it was my pleasure to spend a few pleasant hours of learning and tasting.

wines-of-crete-2015Crete’s wines are actually … shockingly good.

In fact, the word ‘delicious’ would not be inappropriate here.

I do anticipate, though, a slight challenge for those who are perhaps interested in checking out Crete wines for themselves: the varietal names are not exactly familiar ones, even among tradespeople.

So, rather than try to convince you that I am a bright fellow by, say, walking you through an historical timeline of Cretan wine making – which, by the way, extends impressively back to 4,000 B.C. when systematic winemaking began in Crete – I will provide a bit of varietal guidance that should get you closer to a memorable glass of Cretan wine posthaste.

Here’s what you need to know when inquiring about Crete’s wines at your wine shop:

White Grapes

Still somewhat rare, wines made from Dafni grapes have an herbaceousness about them, most notably the scent of bay leaves, as well as notes of citrus and honey.

Malvasia di Candida
Sub-variety of Malvasia with an arousing, fragrant bouquet, sophisticated personality, good acidity.

Muscat di Spina
This varietal produces hugely scented, fresh, vivid dry wines.

Plyto produces well-balanced wines with a pleasantly fruity nose and medium acidity.

Undisputed star white varietal of Crete, Vilana wines are enchantingly aromatic, soft on the palate, with lemony acidity, medium alcohol, and Granny Smith freshness.

Grown all over Crete, Thrapsathiri is uniquely aromatic with a rich, soft palate underscored with gentle acidity.

Aromas of apricots and peaches, herbs, mouth-watering acidity, with a subtle, creamy richness on the palate and good minerality.

Red Grapes

Scented of plums, fleshy on the palate and only softly tannic, Kotsifali is often referred to as the “Merlot” of Crete.

Pale in color, with good intensity, Liatiko produces sweet and dry wines of unique character, perfumed of herbs, dried fruit, flowers. Softly tannic.

Considered to be king of Crete’s native red varietals, Mandilari makes wines of rich, red color and typically firm tannins. Often blended with Kotsifali.

Romeiko grapes produce vivacious, high alcohol wines with good acidity.

wines-of-crete-stilianou-2015Throughout the tasting segment, I found the wines of Crete brought good consistency, quality and value. And although international varietals are indeed part of the Cretan wine scene, it is very clear to me that Crete’s wine producers are pursuing their own unique identity and there seems no indication whatever to create, say, another internationally-styled wine that could be from “anywhere”.

Since the focus of this post is really the Crete varietals and the intention to familiarize readers with them, individual tasting notes seem less important here. That said, here are some producers / wines which totally stood out for me and deserve mention:

Dourakis Kudos 2014 – Malvazia Aromatica 100%
Gavalas Fragospito 2014 – Malvazia Aromatica 50%, Muscat di Spina 50%
Strataridakis Muscat di Spina 2014 – Muscat di Spina 100%
Diamantakis Vidiano 2014 – Vidiano 100%
Idaia “Ocean” 2014 – Thrapsathiri 100%
Efrosini “Lumincino” 2014 – Chardonnay 60%, Thrapsathiri 40%
Mediterra “Mirambelo” 2011 – Kotsifali 80%, Mandilari 20%
Stilianou “Theon” 2007 – Kotsifali 75%, Mandilari 25%
Domaine Paterianakis 2012 – Kotsifali / Mandilari, % unknown

The master class format allowed for tasting all the wines with food. With such a great Cretan food tradition, the wines of Crete were, as you’d expect, absolutely killer at table. So sensational was a bite of grilled octopus paired with Vidiano that I nearly wept 😉

To learn more about the wines of Crete please visit Wines of Crete

Two Wines, Snow, Hungry Birds

Given the recent weather, I am pretty certain, no matter where in the great New England outdoors you may be standing at the moment, that you are quite knee deep in snow. In my particular case, thigh deep, actually, and trudging through to fill a bird feeder with seed for our local fine-feathered friends.

I am thinking to introduce you to a couple of wines that, back indoors, brought some much appreciated sunshine – however virtual it may have been – to an otherwise snowy weekend:

vinarija-dingac-plavac-peljesac-2012-1Dingac Vinarija Pelješac 2012
I adore this somewhat geeky wine from the Pelješac (pell-yuh-shatz) Peninsula on Croatia’s rugged Dalmatian Coast. Produced from 100% head-trained Plavac Mali or Little Blue, Plavac is apparently a varietal cousin of California Zinfandel. Savory herb components are in good unison with the wine’s sweeter notes of wild berry, plum, and dried fig, underlined with delicious salinity, a taste / aroma profile calling to mind that of Carignano del Sulcis. Come to think of it, both do share a certain wildness of spirit. That humid conditions do not exist in the vineyard(s) has allowed the producer to forego spraying vines for mold. A flourishing yeast population kick-starts a wild fermentation conducted in stainless steel. Aged for one year in used oak.

vajra-barolo-albe-2009G.D. Vajra Barolo Albe 2009
Vajra’s Barolo Albe conferred a fitting level of refined drinking to a family sit down of rare-cooked lamb t-bone cuts, butternut squash risotto, and roasted asparagus, dinner taken by the woodstove on a recent and cold ass New England evening. On the feminine side of the Barolo gender-meter, this lovely wine gives up delicate notes of dried flowers, herbs, underbrush, hints of anise and cocoa, pleasantly ripe tannins. Blended from sustainably farmed grapes sourced from three different vineyards at altitudes of 400-440 meters, undergoes 30 – 40 day fermentation. The wine is aged ~36 months in Slavonian oak.

As an aside, both these wines, in their respective price ranges, bring serious value for money to the table. Poseur wines with inflated price tags: take notice. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

Anyway, yesterday brought another fourteen inches of snow. And I hear that Punxsutawney Phil, America’s weather forecasting Groundhog, on February 2nd 2015, the 129th North American Groundhog Day, predicted another six weeks of winter. Best I should pull on boots and thick wool trousers and head out to top off the feeder.

Wines of Macedonia NYC 2014

OK, indulge me for a moment:

Do the names Temjanika, Stanushina, or Vranec ring a bell?

HINT: No, they are not Eastern European tennis players 😉

The three grape varietals Temjanika, Stanushina, and Vranec from Macedonia, along with Zilavska, do, however, score big when it comes to delivering unique and interesting wines.

Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photograpy
Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photograpy
At a recent Master Class and guided tasting for the Wines of Macedonia presentation held at Tocqueville Restaurant in New York City, I had an opportunity to explore some real gems from this still rather quiet wine region.

Although winemaking tradition in the area goes back to Roman times, it is only since the breakup of former Yugoslavia that that there has been a move toward privatization and incoming investment dollars enough to support expansion of wine production in Macedonia. Local bulk wine tradition of the 1950’s has been these days left behind for innovation and serious thinking about the making of world class wines.

Temjanika (synonym Muscat) wines I tasted showed elegant perfumes, some with floral / herb notes or hints of tangerine, orange peel, apricot, arousing muskiness, passion fruit or pineapple. All drank with good acidity and freshness, nicely balanced wines finishing with good persistence. Recommended with hot or cold appetizers, first courses, fish, dessert (Temjanika can be dry, semi-dry, or dessert wine).

The Vranec wines – the word Vranec (pronounced Vran-etch) means strong and powerful horse – were well-structured, communicating supple power, plump and expressive, with firm tannins. As a group, the wines offered rich, intense sensations of red and black fruit, some with impressions of jam, sun, smoke. Depending on wood treatment, notes of cocoa, herb, toasty oak. Finishes were with satisfying with lingering aftertastes. Enjoy Vranec with red meats, game, stews or aged cheeses.

From a purely market perspective, I appreciate that producers I spoke with are not keen to simply recreate a Cabernet or Merlot experience (international varietals grow happily in the region). Rather, producers are focused on expressing the uniqueness of Macedonia’s grape varietals and its terroir, aware that Macedonia can introduce wine lovers to varietals not to be had anywhere else.

Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photography
Photo Credit: Peter Doyle Photography
Take, for example, Stanushina, a uniquely Macedonian vine little known outside of Macedonia and found, I’m told, nowhere else in the world. I tasted both Stanushina Barrique and Stanushina Rose from producer POPOVA KULA, both were astonishingly good. Pale in color and lighter bodied, both wines showed intense berry aromatics, notes of dried herb, rich flavors on the palate and drank in wonderfully fresh style.

Overall, I found the wines of Macedonia to be sensuous and smooth, with somewhat modern personalities in some cases, immensely drinkable and offering excellent value for money.

Perhaps as importantly as having arrived at a positive impression of the wines, I came away from the day’s presentation with the distinct feeling that healthy food, good wine and gracious hospitality are to be had by travelers to Macedonia’s wine country.

Wines Tasted / Recommended Producers:


BOVIN Temjanika 2013
CHATEAU KAMNIK Temjanika 2013
POPOVA KULA Temjanika 2013
SKOVIN Temjanika 2013
STOBI Zilavka 2013
TIVKES Temjanika 2013


TIKVES Barova 2011
SKOVIN Markov Manastir Vranec 2010
POPOVA KULA Vranec Perfect Choice 2012
POPOVA KULA Stanishina Barrique 2009, Stanishina Rose 2013
BOVIN Dissan Barrique 2011
CHATEAU KAMNIK Vranec Terroir 2011
STOBI Vranec Veritas 2011

Kudos to Melanie Young and David Ransom of The Connected Table for especially thoughtful coordination of this well-done event.

Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese 2010

Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese 2010

Riding the open flats past local corn fields is always a windy proposition during autumn. The wind that, when at my back, earlier made me to feel like a better cyclist than I really am, now bears down hard on my forward motion.

Tall, dry corn stalks look on with disapproval as I ride by. “Better riders than you have been by here today” they crackle, their dehydrated whisper chasing me row across row.

Across the road, sunflowers bow their heads politely down so as not to stare as I struggle past.

The breakfast of champions was apparently not on my morning table today.

weiser-kunstler-riesling-spatlese-2010-aTo distract you now from this tale of lackluster pedaling, I shall draw your attention instead to the more winning performance of Weiser Kunstler Riesling Spatlese 2010:

Unlike the flatlands around our local cornfields, Weiser Kunstler vineyards are located upon steeply terraced slopes of weathered slate in Germany’s Mosel region. According to the company website, Enkircher Ellergrub vineyard is the “heart of” Weiser Kunstler’s wine growing estate. The vineyard’s ungrafted vines – up to 100 years old – and terraces of Devon slate leave their mark on this concentrated, sophisticated 100% Riesling beauty.

Core nose of subtly ripe apple, peach, pear with a stony mineral focal point. Petrol, honey, and herb influence changing aromatics. Some residual sugar, yes – it is a Spatlese, afterall – but not overtly sweet. Rich, yet lean on the palate, with great mineral purity and the depth of an alpine crevasse. Hope to make my way back to this wine closer to 2018 that I might receive its full message.