The American wine reporter Michael Cervin about Cretan wines and Diamantakis winery

The Compelling Wines of Crete

Pubdate:2012-12-13 Source:《酒典》杂志 Writer:Michael Cervin Hits:310


The Greeks might be better known for being the architects of democracy, but they have an even longer wine history, stretching back at least 3,500 years. Crete, Greece’s largest island, is a huge tourist draw. The harsh winters in Eastern Europe bring people to its warm climate for fresh seafood and sun-drenched beaches. People come here to relax at the resorts, embrace waves, consume the seafood and buy furs. Oddly, the fur trade in Crete is booming which attracts a huge number of tourists, who find the quality and price of furs in Crete a viable reason to visit. But what drew me was the wine.


You might assume that centuries of wine making would mean that the wine industry hit its stride a long time ago. But it has only been since 2003 that the wine region on this formerly tumultuous island has achieved even a modicum of interest. To understand why you need to know two very specific events which posed significant roadblocks for the wine industry. The first occurred in the mid 1970s when Phylloxera hit the island and devastated most of the old vineyards. As is often the case however the little louse can produce big changes when vineyards are replanted, often with better results. The second problem occurred in late 1998. The legislature, in an effort to “promote” and hold on to the indigenous grape varieties, proposed a law allowing for the extensive planting of almost exclusively Vidiano, Crete’s signature white grape, to the exclusion of other grapes. As stunning as it seems, the law passed and the expansion of vineyards with a multitude of unique grape varieties was hamstrung, and Vidiano became over-planted. The law was finally overturned, and the freedom to plant any grapes you want has allowed for, literally, a resurrection of the ancient wine growing traditions on Crete.


Vidiano is truly Crete’s flagship white wine. “Vidiano is full of apples, yellow fruits, rich but balanced aromas – velvet body, round with a twist of oily texture, with a refreshing acidity,” says Nicolas Miliarakis of Minos- Miliarakis Winery, located in the Peza region of Heraklion. But there are other whites native to the island including Vilana, Dafni, and Plyto, and of course you’ll find Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and the like. As for the reds, well, reds are not the strong suit here, however there are some very solid examples of what red wine can achieve. In the Heraklion region, Kotsifali is an indigenous grape but it needs a blending partner to round out the rough edges. Syrah is the best partner I tasted, though there were a few blends using Merlot and Cabernet, but the Syrah grown here is universally a better vinified wine than the Bordeaux varieties. “Kotsifali has elements of spicy prunes, leather, cinnamon, small red fruits,” says Nicolas Miliarakis. “It doesn’t have a deep red color (that’s why we blend together with Mandilari), but it does have a long after taste, matching very well with tomato and onion sauces, goat and lamb, ingredients that characterize Cretan cuisine,” he says.Crete is easy to navigate in terms of wine regions and wine tourism is on the rise.




Located just outside of the port city of Heraklion, which is Crete’s capital, Domain Paterianakis is at the forefront of wine tourism in Crete. In addition to the winery open to the public, they also have a bed and breakfast on site; four rooms which come with a breakfast basket and free wine tasting. Their facility looks down to low rolling hills and out to the Cretan Sea. The dirt road up to the property might seem inhospitable at first, a bumpy uphill journey but once at the top, almost as if on cue, a stocky bearded sheep herder passes by me, the staccato clinking of tin bells around the necks of the goats punctuating the stillness. Paterianakis is run by three sisters; Emmanuela who is enologist and winemaker, Nikki, who runs the lab and sales, and Georgia. Their tasting menu, like many of the ones in Crete offers some form of food. Sure you can pay for a straight tasting, but you can upgrade to local cheeses and breads, even to full meals, created by Kalliopi, mother to the daughters and fine cook in her own right. The winery and B&B were built using stones from the property and they were the first to farm organically - and as proof this is working there are plenty of bees on the property keeping the vineyard healthy and that is reflected with a bee logo on their bottles. Their rosé made with Kotsifali and Syrah is one of the best on the island


Nearby, the calcium rich soils of Tamiolakis Winery are helping to make wines like their flagship Ekti Ekdosi (meaning ‘Sixth Edition’), an extracted blend of Kotsifali, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. “This wine is a blend of our Cretan past and French history,” says Maria Tamiolakis. I tasted the 2008 and 2009 iterations, both different and impressive, showing that Cretan blended wines have structure, finesse and are comprehensive with layered fruit. They are open by appointment and are well worth a visit. Minos-Miliarakis Winery also makes a terrific Kotsifali, but adds Mandilari for color and tannic structure, and Mourvèdre, spending eight months in oak. Douloufakis Winery planted their grapes in 1996 on American rootstock and owner Nicos Douloufakis makes Liatiko, another native variety usually reserved for sweet wines as it has a propensity to oxidize quickly, but his dry red version was perfect with the Greek lamb I had and the wine shows notes of black cherry, pepper, lavender and resin.


On a windswept hill Zacharias Diamantakis and his namesake winery have impressive views of a patchwork quilt of vineyards and olive trees as far as the eye can see. Zacharias let me sample his 2010 and 2011 Vidiano and while both very good, the 2011 showcases this grape perfectly with clean, bright acidity, and body and depth, perfect with seafood which is ubiquitous in Crete. “I love this variety, it is our future,” he says of Vidiano. In addition he produces a second label called Prinos and makes Chardonnay and Syrah for the international market. Diamantakis has pulled in several Decanter awards for his wines and that Crete wines are now being recognized by the wine press and public is a promising thing. Common to most of the wineries when you visit for a tasting you’ll find hortopita (‘horto’ meaning greens and ‘pita’ meaning pie). It’s similar to Spanish empanadas but here the greens are local to the winery and tend to be mainly dandelion greens. Every household and winery has their own special blend which means that, in spite of looking similar; every hortopita will reflect that local landscape.




Moving west, there are less than 10 wineries outside the lovely port city of Chania (pronounced han-yah), and this region, while different from Heraklion, (typically less wind and more heat) allows Crete to showcase more international varieties like Chardonnay, Grenache, even Tempranillo.


About 30 minutes from the seaside town Manousakis Winery completely reverses the tasting experience of local Crete wines by offering Rhone styled wines. Syrah, Roussanne and Grenache fall under the Nostos label. You can get a tour and tasting here for €3.5, or a light lunch of Cretan food, tasting and two glasses of wine which will run €15 per person. And this is where Crete is a great value: local fresh foods, native grapes and unique experiences at prices you can’t find in better known wine regions. With a new winemaking facility on site and a new tasting room, which was formerly their production facility, Manousakis makes for a comprehensive stop of food, wine and a relaxed vibe. Of note they have a few old olive trees on the property, one of which was planted in 1290 AD, a massively twisted and gnarled trunk, still producing fruit and a thing of beauty in its own right.


At Dourakis Winery there is a charming tasting room made of hewn stone blocks, a mini agriculture and winemaking museum, and two art gallery spaces which rotate their artwork frequently, and their wines are all under €10. There is a clear acidity on the white wines, potent little numbers that cry out for food but which are effective in their simplicity and which reflect the local region. They run art shows from May to October and aside from the value of the Dourakis wines (the white wines are his better efforts over the reds) the professional art is a huge draw. Just down the road the beautiful tasting room of Karavitakis Winery represents exactly what Crete is working so hard for: namely wines that are compelling, using international varieties, but not shying away from the native grapes which make Crete so unique. Clearly visitors to Crete will not be familiar with many of the native grapes, therefore well-known wines like Merlot offer an easy introduction to traditional Cretan reds, and Karavitakis bridges this gap very well. Karavitakis Winery are producing perhaps the most diverse portfolio, even a stand alone Chardonnay (which frankly doesn’t really show well, true of Chardonnay in general in Crete). Their Syrah for example is a dusty tannic wine, oaked aged with elements of blackberry and leather, similar to their fine Cabernet Sauvignon with its blueberry, blackberry and cocoa notes. Other producers to look for in Crete include Domain Zacharioudakis (who make very nice Kotsifali blends), Alexakis Winery (their Vidiano is a terrific value), and Lyrarakis whose Okto label blend of Vilana, Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc is another wonderful value wine.


The Island of Crete possesses a warm Mediterranean climate and food and drink only available here. The wineries I visited have risen above the mediocrity of standard wines on the island and are worth your attention. The beauty of the bourgeoning Cretan wine industry is that it is tourist friendly and you’ll find wines here you simply cannot find anywhere else. A visit to this island will provide an opportunity to sample what very well might become world-class wines in the making.


About the author:

Michael Cervin, a wine writer and author based in California, has written for wine magazines and many other publications about wine, beer, spirits and even premium bottled waters. California Wine Country is one of books he has published.