Crete is an 11 hour ferry ride from Athens and has gone through several tumultuous invasions and occupations in its history. It was ruled by the Venetians for almost 4oo years and the Ottomans for over 200 years. Before all this it was home of the great Minoan civilization. Finally it was annexed by Greece in 1913. The language in Crete is Greek but just about every other dimension of their culture is distinctively Cretan.
I was invited recently to a seminar and lunch in NY sponsored by Wines of Crete. The seminar was paneled by 3 people well-versed in wine: David Ransom (who used to be an owner of Rivendell Winery in the Hudson Valley); Robin Kelly O’Connor who was with the Bordeaux Wine Bureau for many years; and Kamal Kouiri of Molyvos Restaurant, the top Greek restaurant in Manhattan.
Our initiation to Cretan wines was through 6 examples they selected from the 22 wineries represented at the event. The whites were stunning, and from indigenous grapes: vidiano which reminded me of a light viognier; Malvasia de Candia and Muscat of Spina, both bone dry versions of grapes normally associated with sweet wines. But these were fragrant, lush, yet amazingly dry; they would be wonderful with food or simply as sipping wines.
The 3 reds were selected for a variety of reasons: kotsifali, another indigenous grape variety which with its fruity, jammy qualities, would remind you of a good beaujolais; a blend of kotsifali, liatiko and merlot from the Daskalaki Winery which had good soft tannins and aroma and taste of deep red fruits; and a blend of syrah, mourvedre and grenache from the Manousakis Winery which was selected because it would compete with any wine from the Rhone.
Crete is 160 miles long and 57 miles wide with 31 wineries, and growing. All of the wines at the tasting were impressive. Crete’s strong point will be their indigenous grapes: Vilana, vidiano, thrapsathiri, dafni (the oldest grape variety still in use today), plyto- all whites; and kotsifali, mandilari and liatiko, the reds. The largest winery only produces 800,000 bottles and most are classified as boutique. Not all of the wines we tasted are imported to the States but they are worth seeking.
You can access more information on their website: Wines of Crete.