A recent family holiday to Crete provided a perfect opportunity to improve my knowledge of a part of the wine world that was totally new to me. Apparently phylloxera only reached Crete in the 1970’s so there has been considerable replanting since, much of it with international grapes. Not to put too fine a point on it, I avoided these wines for the most part: I was far more interested in tasting Crete’s indigenous grapes – and these did not disappoint.
Assyrtiko is widely planted and looks just as exciting here as on Santorini. Not too dissimilar is Vilana which has restrained aromatics but can show exciting minerality and persistence on the palate. Arguably the most exciting of the local grapes is Vidiano which produces highly expressive whites with bold, apricot-scented aromatics and more than a passing resemblance to Viognier. Plyto almost became extinct but thankfully survived – the beautiful example made by Lyrarakis was undoubtedly one of the vinous highlights of my week. No Mediterranean island would be complete without their own variation on Muscat and the Muscat of Spina makes some fine, aromatic dry whites.
Amongst the red grapes, Liatiko looks particularly exciting – pale in colour, savoury and earthy, it reminds me of a friendly style of Nebbiolo. Many of the local reds are blended with Mandilari which adds colour (rather than finesse, I suspect….) to Liatiko and Kotsifali; the latter looks especially promising and is blended with both local grapes and, often, Syrah.
The couple of rosés I tasted were sound rather than exciting – one would imagine that there is the potential for a really top class dry rosé here if they had the confidence to try it.
Overall, it is the dry whites that currently look the most exciting prospects, as one would expect from the exceptional limestone-based soils encountered in much of the island. Tasting notes on the wines I tasted/drunk follow below:
Diamantakis Vidiano Assyrtiko 2016
Highly accomplished blend, presumably oaked, beautifully done. Only blend of these two grapes that I tried but, on this evidence, highly promising. High class wine.
Strataridakis Moscato Spinas 2016
Dry Muscat is hard to make without a note of bitterness, and this one is really well executed. Just off-dry, bright aromatic expression, a lovely, scented aperitif. Very fine.
Dourakis Lihnos Vidiano 2016
Bright, peachy aromatics, lifted. Juicy, fresh and appetising with good length – seems to be an excellent expression of the grape.
Dourakis Rizitis 2016
Made from the Vilana grape, this is bright, refined and mouthwatering – a delightful and highly versatile dry white.
Lyrarakis Psarades Vineyard Plyto 2016
Simply stunning wine. Wonderful combination of fruit and florality on the nose. Good body, intense and structured, yet with no heaviness. Unique and memorable.
Titakis Impetus Vidiano Malvasia
Attractive, scented dry white – pleasant enough but the Malvasia seems to mute the usual Vidiano aromatics.
Idaia Winery Vilana 2016
Impressive wine, Chablis-like in style both in terms of the slight reduction and the overall, predominantly mineral expresson. Fine, delicate fruit, textured, understated and with a stoney, crisp finish.
Rhous Winery Skipper Vidiano Plyto 2016
Excellent nose, but I found it less satisfactory on the palate – not the cleanest, possibly because of the alcohol. And the Vidiano was less expressive than usual.
Douloufakis Femina 2016
Floral and spicy, evident Muscat notes. Off-dry, fruity, beautifully done in its style – very moreish and very Mediterranean.
Manousakis Winery Nostos Assyrtiko 2016
Stunning. Great aromas of lime and wet stone. Bold, assertive palate, textured and with a dry, herb-scented, mineral, even slightly tannic finish. Top class example of both the grape and of Cretan know-how.
Karavitakis Klima Vidiano 2016
Fabulous stone-fruit, Viognier-like aromatics. Creamy, ripe and full-bodied. Initially I worried that it lacked acidity, but it finishes fresh enough. It certainly showcases Vidiano’s spectacular flavour. Would still prefer to see just a touch more crispness on the palate.
Vilana Fumé 2014
I wish I had got round to the second bottle of this. I felt the oak was too strong and that the resultant oxidation got in the way of the wine’s freshness. Flavoursome enough but unexciting – and this bottle at least seemed to be old-fashioned in style.
Klados Winery Great Hawk Moscato Spinas / Vidiano 2016
Pungent, spicy, expressive nose. Dry and spicy, seems to lack purity of flavour. Not convinced this brings out the best of either grape, but maybe it is just an acquired taste – probably very good with some of the local food.
Gavala Vineyards Efivos Kotsifali / Mandilari Rosé 2016
Attractive, bright, strawberry nose. Dry, balanced, excellent fruit, easy-drinking. Most enjoyable.
Paraskenas Mandilari Rosé 2016
Reductive and not totally clean, with a curious, earthy note. Dry, touch of tannin on the finish.
Toplou Liatiko Mandilari 2015
Pale, almost aged colour. Lovely tertiary development on the nose, complex, flavoursome, very Italian in style with its dried fruit flavours and high acidity. Almost like a friendly style of Barolo. Distinctive, high quality wine.
Efrosini Mikri Eugeniki Liatiko 2016
Fascinating wine. Initially the pale colour and aromatics reminded me of good Beaujolais, then as it opened out, it revealed tannin and structure I would more associate with Nebbiolo. Very fine and carries the alcohol effortlessly.
Boutari Skalani Syrah / Kotsifali 2012
Deep, still youthful looking. Rich aromatics with spicy Syrah and gingery oak. Big, international style, impressive…….but not especially Cretan.
Domaine Paterianakis Kotsifali / Mandilari
Rather classy wine, reminiscent of Bordeaux/Medoc stylistically. Still youthful in colour. Classic nose, some tertiary, tobacco-scented development. Evident oak, but good overall balance. Pleasingly light.
With many thanks to Wines of Crete for ensuring that I was able to taste so many of the island’s best wines, providing excellent background information and the photographs for this blog.