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.
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:
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.
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.
Throughout 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