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What To Drink Now: New Wines of Greece From Crete

Lyrarakis Vineyards in Crete

It is easy to get confused about the wines of Greece, mainly the varieties are hard to pronounce and if you don’t know where the wines comes from is you might get disappointed, as a Xinomavro (Ksee no’ ma vro) from the Naoussa region of the north tastes different than one from Amynedo, also in the north, but just on the other side of Mt. Vermion which divided the two regions, sitting at higher, cooler altitudes. Or an Assyrtico (A seer’ tee ko) from Santorini, made in stainless steel is completely different than one from Drama, often aged in oak for months. These are intriguing wines values for the price and the quality, made in traditional and more modern styles in the place where the Zeus, Dionysus, Athena and the Gods of mythology once reigned.

Part two of my Grecian tour with All About Greek Wines, as a guest of New Wines of Greece goes beyond the beautiful beaches of Santorini to taste and understand the wine that has been a part of the country since 4500B.C, starting in Crete. We have to remember that Greece, and her islands, was the heart of Western Civilization. They gave the world astronomy and philosophy, literature and music, painting and sculpture… and the art of winemaking. This is truly “old world” wine, as the country boasts the longest vine cultivation and wine production on an uninterrupted basis in the world.

The first known wine press found Crete at Vathypetro

The first known wine press was discovered on the island of Crete, thought to be used by the Minoan civilization in 2400 B.C., and with it artifacts that showed olive oil production with thriving exportation around the islands and throughout the Mediterranean.

Though the Greek economy has been in an economic crisis for the past few years, the country is far from destroyed by it.  For many, this crisis has made them rethink the way they do business, specifically as it relates to wine and the export of their products.  Though we may think all Greeks are like the characters portrayed in films like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” modern day Greeks are ambitious, sophisticated and proud of their country, heritage, and tradition yet embrace modern techniques and cultures in all aspects of life, especially when making their wine.

And the wine is good, very good, from the steely, mineral intense, acidic and delicious whites of the south to the intense, powerful and highly tannic reds of the north, with fantastic rose found all over the country, this is a country that knows how to make good wine.
The easiest way to get to know these new wines of Greece is simply by understanding the grapes and where they come from, starting with Crete.

The southern most point of Greece is the island of Crete, the home of the first wine press and, as in many parts of Greece throughout the ages, Cretans would utilize the beneficial effects of wine to help achieve greater intellectual clarity and spiritual awareness. White wines from the island, like Vidiano (Vi’ di ano,) Vilana and Dafni, tend to be very food friendly, easy to drink white wines filled with herbal, citrus and floral notes and are not as metallic or as high in acid as those from Santorini.

Dafni Vines at Lyrarakis Estate in Crete.

Dafni was almost extinct in the 1980’s when the variety was saved by Lyrarkis Estate.  Lyrarakis Single Vineyard Dafni has a vegetal, herbaceous quality, reminiscent of bay or laurel where the name comes from.  The light and lively white is also with floral notes and wild honeysuckle.

Alexakis Vidiano could easily be compared to an Ugni Blanc or Sauvginon Blanc, with white grapefruit, lemon peel and subtle herbal notes, with good balance and a hint of creaminess on the end.  This is a wine to drink with octopus and fish grilled whole with fresh herbs like parsley and dill, lemon and finished with Cretan olive oil, some of the best in the world.

Boutari, one of the most well known wineries in Greece, has their modern Fantaxometocho Estate or “haunted cottage,” on the island of Crete, developing the property in the early 1990’s to help promote the wines of Crete. Their Kretikos is 95% Vilana with 5% other indigenous Cretan whites. Filled with wild flowers, ripe peach and apricots this is a beautiful wine to pair with simply grilled calamari, chicken or fresh, white fish ceviche.

For the reds, Kotsifali (Koh tsee fah lee) and Mandilaria (Mahn dee lar ya’ ) are the two key red varieties from Crete, often blended together as each has a component the other doesn’t, making the blend almost perfect. Kotsifali tends to be very aromatic and juicy, but the bright red/garnet color fades quickly; Mandilaria has a bright, vibrant reddish purple hue, but lacks in aroma. Combining the two creates a well rounded wine filled with ripe fruit and spice notes.

Traditional Cretan Dakakia, or rustic bread with tomato, feta and olive oil, start most meals in Crete.

Boutari Kretikos Red blends 60% Kotsifali with 40% Mandilaria, fermented and matured in stainless steel, for a light yet balanced wine filled with ripe strawberry and raspberry flavors. Kotsifali is also often blended with Syrah as well, for similar reasons to the Mandilaria, with the Syrah adding hearty spice, earth and deep red fruit flavors to the wine.

Alexakis Syrah -Kotsifali blends 40% Syrah with 60% Kotsifali aged 6 months in 50% new French oak creating a medium bodied, hearty wine with dark cherry, ripe blackberry and spice.

These Cretan wines are available for distribution into Dallas so your favorite wine store should be able to order them for you; Boutari is readily available at Spec’s, Goody Goody and some Sigel’s locations. More on the wines of northern Greece to come.