A fortnight in Crete

Just returned from a lovely holiday in Rethymno, a large town on the Cretan coast, facing the Aegean Sea.

The town has several good wine shops so we tried to drink nothing but Cretan wine, avoiding, if possible, non-indigenous grapes, many of which, like cabernet, syrah and sauvignon blanc, were planted in the seventies.

The Cretan wine industry has now seen the light and many local varieties are being rediscovered and vinified.

Some general observations:

Many Cretan tavernas or mezedopolío (like tapas bars) don’t have a wine list and only sell ‘bulk wine’ – as it is described on the menu – either red or white, decanted into a carafe, as shown. Low alcohol, undistinguished and around €4 for half a litre.

The better restaurants do have wine lists with a varying range of Cretan wines.

All Cretan wine, including reds, is served chilled.

Good Cretan wine is not cheap, with prices in the €10-20 range in shops, €20+ in restaurants. VAT at 24% is a factor.

 

These are some of the wines we tried:

This was recommended to me in the most upmarket shop in the town (Siganos). Vidiano is a common grape, Plyto much less so. Lots of character but a bit too expensive and not quite enough acidity, around €12. A rather Rioja like red was better.

 

 

There was a classy wine bar round the corner form our apartment, where I tried this. Liatiko grape, a very polished, full flavoured wine. Served chilled, which helped. Around €8 a bottle from a wine shop and excellent value.

 

 

This company (Lyrarakis) specialises in old Cretan varieties  – here Kotsifali and Mandilari, with some (undetectable) Syrah added. Around €10.

 

 

Around 70% of the wine made on Crete is white. There is hardly any rose but we tried this one, at a rather chunky €9. Typical chalky nose, big flavour and another unknown grape – Romeiko, along with Syrah and Grenache. Incidentally I saw a bottle of red made with 100% Grenache but couldn’t bring myself to pay €16.

 

 

Tried this one in a good local restaurant, Alana. Plyto again, reputed to be a very acidic grape but it was nicely rounded. Went well with sea bass and squid. €20.

 

 

I couldn’t resist this one, seen in a local supermarket so broke my self-imposed rule about Cretan only. From Nemea, mainland Greece, €12. Obviously cabernet, very soft, slightly woody but very drinkable. Nearly over the hill. None of the shops we used had air conditioning so I did wonder about the effects of many hot days on wine storage, especially with something like this which I suspect had been on the shelf some time.

 

 

These were both drunk with what was the best meal of the holiday, a tasting menu, in a lovely garden courtyard at Avli. The sparkling wine was compared by our waitress to prosecco but was slightly better, I thought, being drier and crisper. Made on the mainland from Moschofilero grapes. The white was even more unusual, being made with Soultanin – the sultana grape. Our waitress warned us that it was quite reserved but we thought it developed well in the glass with an intriguing spicy bitterness underlying the fruit. No hint of sultana.

 

 

Probably the best red of the holiday – another kotsifali/mandilari blend, from a wine shop I discovered in the second week and never went back to. Soft, complex, lots of fruit and only €9. The black bottle is hard to photograph but the winery is Idaia.

 

 

Finally, no report from Crete would be complete without a mention of retsina, a wine we’ve previously blogged on. This was much more resinous but not unpleasantly so. Made in Chania, up the coast. A half litre bottle with a crown cap. €1.5 in a shop, double that in a taverna. Worth trying but I didn’t feel inclined to repeat the experience.

From someone who had never been to Greece in many years of holidays I’ve now been three times in three years. All visits were different and good in their own way but for food and drink this was the best and I’d like to return.

[Geoff: I really enjoyed reading this blog – thanks Richard. It got me wondering why some grapes become ‘international’ varieties and others never leave the local area. Apart from making the obvious analogy with people, what makes some grapes more popular than others? One idea might be that if a grower in, say, Chile sees how commercially successful the Cabernet Sauvignon grape is in Bordeaux they think that grape might be one to try. If this is the case, then Cypriot grapes just have not had the commercial success to justify others experimenting – and it would be an ‘experiment’ initially. In which case, how many other flavour possibilities are unrealised?]

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