Fri 20 Feb 2015

New Discoveries: The Wines Of Crete


One reason for the success of Syriza in the recent Greek elections will have been support from younger voters. They feel that they are not responsible for their country’s woes, and 50 percent, we are told, cannot find paid work.

Several young, dynamic and successful wine producers like Apostolos Thymiopoulos in Naoussa and the Spanos brothers at Tetramythos in the Peloponnese, buck this trend.

My recent visit to seven independent wineries in Crete introduced me to several more.

Nikos Karavitakis The Wine Society

Nikos Karavitakis and his father

Crete has no fewer than 11 indigenous varieties. Only four of these are red; two make dry red and two are better for sweet wine. Two varieties that used to dominate Cretan vineyards were frankly rather dull: red romeiko, which oxidises easily with high alcohol, was once 80 per cent of the vines near Chania, to the west of the island. White vilana, still 80 per cent of the main Cretan vineyard area round Heraklim, is, at best, no more than fresh, light and floral.

An astonishing 3,000-year-old olive tree near Kolymbari

An astonishing 3,000-year-old olive tree near Kolymbari.

Phylloxera, the terminal vine disease of ungrafted vines, reached Crete as late as 1980, and was a catalyst that made many replace their vines with olive trees, which have always thrived here. A remarkable tree, over 3,000 years old near Kolymbari, still survives to prove the point.

A silver lining to the phylloxera cloud was the rediscovery of better-quality native varieties that had fallen from favour.

Nikos Karavitakis is one of the younger generation to champion the white, apricot-scented vidiano, which his chemist father helped rediscover near Rethymno. We list his 2014 wine, Vidiano Klima, Karavitakis at £8.95 per bottle. His 2012 ‘The Little Prince’ Cretan Red, made with the kotsifali and mandilaria varieties, is also available for the same price.

The Karavitakis family have owned land and vineyard at Kolymbari near Chania for four generations and have been bottling their own wines for 20 years. They are part of a movement called Wines of Crete, including many other young independent growers, which has challenged the arrogant older-generation view that the old oxidative wines were best. We are likely to hear more of them.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Categories : Other Europe


  1. Jenifer Riley says:

    We are lucky enough to live in Crete for 4 months of the year in a little village up in the mountains equally distant between Rethymo and Chania. Over the valley from our old house, live our dear friends the Dourakis family. They make some beautiful and very well made wines. Do visit the website of the winery. If you are able to visit and try their wine you are in for a treat.
    Both Andreas (the father) and Adonis (the son) learned the craft of viniculture in Germany and are both extremely knowledgeable. Adonis is an example of the younger generation moving things into a new stratosphere.
    Do try the Grenache rose! the Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Their dessert wine Euphemia has won medals.

  2. andy Watson says:

    Really enjoyed the wines in Crete when we were there a few years ago. Our favourites were a couple of whites by Lyrarakis, one made from the Dafni grape, and the other from Plyto, both of which they had apparently saved from extinction. They’re both unusual wines, but delicious. Our favourite red was Economou Sitia, a classy blend of Liatiko and Mandilaria.

  3. Ian Abrahams says:

    Yes, we, too enjoyed some Cretan wines when we were over there and I look forward to being able to buy them from the Wine Society to drink and to use on some of my wine courses.

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