Wherever we are in the world, we make it our mission to learn as much as we can about the wines in the area and to visit wineries when possible. Crete Greece was no exception. Although we had local wines with many of our dinners, we limited our formal Cretan wine tastings to three wineries that grow grapes in different parts of the island. Of course, Crete has many additional wineries which can be found at Wines of Crete. Some wineries allow you to walk in but prefer reservations to ensure they are there. Of course it all depends on the size of the winery.
Domaine Pateriannakis Winery
Domaine Pateriannakis which is located outside of Heraklion in Peza, one of the island’s four designated “PDO” wine regions. It is the first all-organic winery on the island. The family has been growing grapes for three generations and producing wine for two, having recently passed control from the father to three daughters. We tasted seven wines, most from exclusively local varietals, and a couple blends that included small percentages of international grapes. While some of these varietals appear to be an acquired taste, we found some to be quite nice and others, while not exactly our taste, to be very interesting expressions of wine produced in such a hot climate. We enjoyed the Cretan Assyrtiko, which is grown at about 650 meters elevation. We found it to be more aromatic and less minerally than the more widely known (and somewhat more to our taste) Santorini grape. We also enjoyed some others:
- 2017 “314” Experimental Vidiano, by far the most common of Cretan white grapes (and all grapes, for that matter) that was produced all naturally, with natural yeasts, little vintification and no added ingredients or preservatives and no filtering. Spending more time on the lees, this wine is less fruity than traditional Vidiamos. It has a more delicate, more aromatic nose, a fuller body and rounder, almost creamy finish, with a taste of banana.
- 2014 Domaine Paternianakis is a limited production red wine that is made only in better years. It consists of 80 percent Kotsifali (which provides fruit, texture and color) and 20 percent Mandilari (which provides structure and tannin. The blend, which spends a year in new French oak barrels and another year in the bottle, has a spicy aroma, a taste of dark fruit and leather with a hint of cinnamon. It, as would be expected, still shows a fair amount of tannin and, while quite nice, will benefit from aging.
- Tsikpudia is a 40 percent triple-distilled alcohol liquor that is made from the pumice of Kotsifali grapes, with a touch (less than 10 percent) of Muscat. It has a slightly fruity aroma and a smooth finish.
Kaldos Winery is in the central part of the north shore of Crete, near Rethymno, is yet another example of a young, trained oenologist who has worked in other countries and who is taking over a father’s business, transforming it from essentially a small, 30,000-bottle equivalent bulk producer, into one that produces nice bottles. Although Rethymno is not supposed to be one of the island’s top wine regions, we liked many of the wines we tasted. These include:
- 2017 Great Hawk Vidiano, one of the few grapes in grows itself, versus others, that are maintained and bought under long-tern contract. While the winemaker purposely makes light wines (about 12 percent alcohol), this wine is fruity, full-bodied and crisp, with a taste of apricot and pear;
- 2017 Red Nest Sauvignon Blanc, which demonstrates that sauvignon blanc grown in hot climates can express very different characteristics, than those grown in chilly climes. This wine is aromatic and crisp with a sound, smooth finish; and
- 2016 Red Nest Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, a very light Left Bank-style blend that is far lighter, less extracted and lower in tannins than you would expect from any such grapes, much less those grown in such a hot climate. This is accomplished by a combination of the heat shutting down some of the sugar and polyphenol production, reducing fermentation temperature and by aging for only 4 months in 1-4 year-old barrels. The result is a light wine, with a bit of spice, that is ready to drink within one to four years.
Manousaki Winery is on the western part of the north shore, near Chania. It has grown from about 30,000 bottles per year (70 percent for export) to 170,000 bottles (70 percent domestic) within less than a decade of the winery passing from father to NYU MBA daughter and Greek Master Somm and chef son-in-law within less than a decade. This was done through a combination of some very nice wines that are tailored to local tastes (young, light, fruity, easy-drinking wines), marketing (lovely facilities, advertising, education of stores, restaurants, media, etc.) and brand extension (eco- food and wine tours, cooking classes, olive oil and sea salt). And this in spite of charging premium prices (generally from 12 euros, and up to 45 euros for a very limited production Mouvedre), being in a less wine-growing friendly section of the country (hotter, wetter, poorer draining soil, etc) by growing their grapes on steep slopes (to improve drainage) at higher altitudes (350-850 meters) that take advantage of cooling northerly winds) and by adapting vintification processes. Of the roughly 15 wines (not to speak of the olive oil and salt) we tasted, we had five favorites:
- Of the whites, we especially enjoyed the 2016 Nostros Vidiano (crisp, mineral, green apple) and Nostros Assiyrtiko (a cross between the austere Santorini wines and the fuller, earthier Heraklion wines we tasted);
- On the red front, we favored the 2014 Mazi Red (a crisp, light, red cherry expression of the island’s classic Romeiko/Mandilari) blend and a spicy, 2015 Nostros Alexandra’s GSM blend (actually 40 percent each of Syrah and Mouvedre and 20 percent Grenache; and uncharacteristically for us, we also enjoyed
- One of the winery’s two Roses, the 2017 Nostos Pink, a light, fruity and refreshing Grenache/Syrah blend.