Wine Trip : Crete, Greece

In our past Wine Trip articles, we’ve taken you to the Champagne region of France (twice), Australia and then to the Western Cape of South Africa. On our most recent trip we visited the largest of the Greek islands, Crete and while our main focus was on attending (and surviving) a wedding, we made time to stop in at a vineyard to learn more about the increasingly popular wines from indigenously Greek grape varietals.

While we tried many wines during the trip, with the help of social media – we decided on visiting Lyrarakis Wines, whose main facility is located near Heraklion. As we decided late on visiting, we did not pre-arrange to meet the winemakers themselves as usual but we still got a great insight into the vineyard.

Our tour began by walking outside towards the nearest vines to the main public building where their ‘open-air vine museum’ is located, as they call it. The showcase included small rows of the key indigenously Greek grape varietals and short descriptions for each. The vines were;

  • Melissaki – Unknown and forgotten by many, can be found in vineyards at the foothills of Mount Psiloritis
  • Dafni – Its name derives from the laurel (bay leaf) plant, which is called “Dáfni” in Greek, as the wine produced resembles these aromas.
  • Mandilari – Red wine grape with low alcoholic content which can make single-varietal winemaking quite challenging. Domaine Lyrarakis is in the vanguard of experimentation with the grape.
  • Plyto – Another ancient grape brought back to life by Lyrarakis. Lively, with a zippy and mouth-watering mix of grapefruit and mineral notes.
  • Thrapsathiri – An ancient white wine grape that can stand up well to barrel fermentation and maturation. The resulting wine is distinctive and aromatic, full-bodied with intense citrus and peach overtones.
  • Liatiko – An ancient black-skinned grape, produced in both dry and sweet styles, the latter using sun-dried grapes and sometimes fortified, depending on the producer. Sweet Liatikos are highly prized and often regarded as the best expression of the variety.
The vines were taller than I am! (182cm)

Our tour guide proudly explained to us the main traits of these varietals before we headed back to the tasting room. Now, while you may call the whole open-air vine museum somewhat cheesy, I found it very refreshing to see that the very first thing that was shown to guests was the Greek grape varieties and that was something to be proud of. Far too often when visiting the lesser known (although that may be an insult, Greek wine is hugely popular) winemaking areas – you find a very large focus on the typical noble grape varieties with a distinctly old-school French focus. There is nothing that puts me off more than being at a vineyard outside of France and listening how the goal is to recreate French wine. I digress, the point is, that was not the case here – lovely.

A mix of old and new stock stretching towards the coast.

After a short time outside our tour guide led the small group back to the main building. Annabelle and I, however, ducked away towards the real vineyards to get a closer look and we found some pretty interesting things.

The vines here (and a majority of the vines on Crete) are very tall, with fruit beginning quiet far off the ground. To do with keeping fruit away from the heated ground perhaps. While we’re on the fruit, let me tell you, I have never seen so many fruit on one vine before! It was an overload! I was really hoping that they do eventually reduce the crop otherwise we would be in for a tasting of some pretty weak wine. Thanks to the sunshine, heat, and irrigation – the plants are able to produce a huge amount of fruit and to put it very basically, the more fruit a plant has the more reduced the intensity of the final wine can become. Happy to say that, we did learn after finally heading back in, that they do indeed eventually thin the crop drastically, a term also known as ‘Green harvesting’.

Wow, such fruit. Much wine.

I was also curious about what effects irrigation would have on the vines. If you are a firm believer of the French rules, you would believe that irrigation overtime causes your vines roots to grow very shallow and that could rob them of the chance to dig deep, through multiple layers of different soils that all together are meant to be reflected as the true ‘place’ in the wine. In a climate such as Crete though, you cannot simply rely on rainfall. Certainly not on all blocks for sure. After a few hours researching this topic, I came up with many scientific studies that both prove and disprove that irrigation vs non-irrigation causes a difference in the fruit that you could attribute to quality. So there you go. If you’d like to check them out; here, here and here.

Ok, semi-wine-nerd stuff aside, let’s get back to the wine!

Now while I am aware Greek wines are by no means anything new and varieties like Assyrtiko are riding a huge wave of popularity – I have to point out that from trips to the island many years prior, I had never tasted a Creten wine that I would say was good. Drinkable maybe, but not good.

This tasting changed my mind!

None of the wines (noted below) that we tasted were what I was expecting. Sure the Zazazu is a mass-market product but I was taken aback by the quality, finesse, and uniqueness with which they were made. Ok, yes, the Cretans can certainly make a good bottle of wine. Lyrarakis has recently revamped their brand with a new logo and new labels. A predominant amount of their wines are single vineyard wines and their labels reflect this. If it is a single vineyard wine the label is a stylised map of the block itself, while blends have a design of their main facility building which we visited. Pretty cool.

If you are curious about their wines and or paying them a visit – I really recommend you check out their website, which is filled with a huge amount of information including wine technical sheets, harvest reports, and oddly enough the companies balance sheets! I enjoyed reading through the vineries Sustainability Report.

Below are some of the best wines we tasted during our visit, which you need to start searching for!

Assyrtiko Voila Vineyard 2017: This wine does not give too much away on the nose. Some shy white flowers and lemon pith. Explosive palate with a mix of salt and tropical fruit – well balanced, lively smooth mouthfeel. Quiet lovely juice this one.

Mandilari Rose 2017: Lovely dark red in colour. Heavy strawberries on the nose, some hints of candy and cream as well. Smells as if it would be sweet, which it is, but only slightly. Certainly drinkable for me and I cannot stand sweet wines. Flavour is complex, tart red berries.

Plyto Psarades Vineyard 2017: Plyto variety made from a single block. It is bright and fresh, citrus and lemon. I felt it pretty balanced although the room was divided, some thought it was too acidic. Apparently, the grapes are picked at separate times and blended.

Dafni Psarades Vineyard 2017: How unique! Notes of rosemary and Bay leaf on the nose. Another single block wine. It is smooth, well rounded with a filling mouthfeel yet still light. Delicious!!

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