We always look forward to the wine fair in Chania.  If you think of Greek wines, this may conjure up carefree student backpacking holidays, dreadful hangovers.  That white wine with the curious reminder of pine disinfectant.  But Greek and Cretan wines are a real gem, and, until recently at least, a hidden secret.

Cretan wines - glasses ready for tasting at the fair
Antonis Dourakis in action

Range and quality of Cretan Wines

The quality and range of wines made in Crete has improved dramatically over the last 10-15 years.  There are now over 30 wineries on the island. These range from boutique to quite large commercially oriented businesses.  Many now export, to over 20 countries, including China!  Typical the family runs the winery, such as the Dourakis winery in Alikambos.  Andreas the father set this up, and now his son Antonis, an oeneologist trained in Germany, runs it with his sister Evie.

Wines of Crete

Recent developments

The wineries on the island strive to use the unique Cretan microclimate and terroir. This is the topography, soil composition and microbiology.  Firstly, many now grow vines without fertilizers or chemical sprays to produce organic wines. Secondly the vines are heavily pruned to produce small bunches of grapes with full aromas and concentrated flavour.  And finally most producers select and pick the bunches by hand and rapidly transfer to the winery for pressing.

Manousakis produce some fine Cretan wines

Over the last 20 years, these family businesses have invested in the latest technologies for quality wine making.  For example low temperature fermentation in stainless steel.  The use of gravity in the winemaking processes avoids the use of artificial pressure.  Bottling without oxygen to preserve the wine.  Wines are stored in French or American oak barrels. These are often used only once, stored in underground cellars at stable controlled temperatures.

Rediscovering the ancient Cretan varieties

Many of the wineries are rediscovering ancient grape varieties .  They carefully plant and nurture the vines, then blend them to produce some exciting new wines.  If you care to come to Crete and stay at Panokosmos you can experience them with us.  We offer all our wines by the glass so you can easily try the range. 

The Cretan producers use a wide range of grape varieties. You will hear some exotic names such as Mandilari, Plyto, Kotsifali and Vidiano.  The wineries often blend international with these local varieties to produce aromatic, full flavoured fine Cretan wines.

Tasting wines at the Gavalas stand
John relishing another fine Cretan wine!

At the Wines of Crete fair in Chania we dutifully tasted over 35 different wines, to build on our range of offerings.  Over the years we have replaced some of our Greek mainland offerings (particularly from around Thessaloniki and Mt Olympus) with more local Cretan wines.  We have chosen new wineries.  

Some of our finds

We discovered a wonderful new white to pair with fish and white meat dishes. Nikos Gavalas has blended Vidiano with Vilana, both native grapes. This has produced a wine with an aroma of spring meadows, flinty acidity and rich flavours.  Its a perfect alternative to a Sauvignon Blanc.

Daskalakis Silvas has some fine labels
Daskalakis Silvas has some fine labels

A great easy drinking rose, hints of berries, full flavoured with a lovely deep pink colour comes from Diamantakis. He has blended the local Mandilari with Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then there’s the satisfying Silvas full flavoured red, with well balanced tannins, a nose of plums and honey, with a long finish. 

Finally there is the Helios Liatiko from Douloufakis, a delicious red dessert wine.  Dried fruits and cocoa on the nose, notes of prunes and a complex rich mouthful, long aftertaste.

Al Canea is a wine bar on the Chania harbour front where you can taste Cretan wines
Al Canea is a wine bar on the Chania harbour front where you can taste Cretan wines

Local village wine

As well as their olives, the Cretans also have a long tradition of growing their own vines for wine.  Every family will have their own vineyards, along with their olive groves.  Most will make wine simply and store it in barrels. 

In the tavernas if you ask for a red wine they will probably give you a boxed red. It will likely come from one of the bigger wineries located around Heraklion.  This is perfectly good quaffing wine, and will go well with Brizolas (pork chops cooked on a wood fired grill) or lamb chops (usually on the menu as “lamp”!). 

But if you ask specifically for “your own” or village or “brown” wine, you will get their own wine.  This is an acquired taste. If you come late in the year, you will get the new production which can be a deep red, fresh and flavourful.

As the year goes on the maturing in barrels leads to greater oxidation and a more sherry like flavour.  It gives the wine body and substance, but is quite a way from what you might expect!  Some families – like our accountant for example, bottle their wines, after adding a little raki.  This helps them keep, maintains their colour and preserves and enhances their flavours.  Unfortunately his wine is not for sale!

Morning clouds over the White Mountains from Panokosmos
Away from it all at Panokosmos

Panokosmos as a base for your wine trail

Because from Panokosmos, in the hills of the Apokoronas, you are within easy reach of a number of these interesting wineries.  We can give you directions to them. Using our contacts, we can arrange for you to have special tours and tastings of Cretan wines.  Some also offer food and there are summer concerts and musical events at their establishments.  These can provide you with a very special experience. So, imagine, music under the stars to delight your ears, a traditional meal in your belly, and a good glass of wine in your hand!

Pool and villa
Time to laze and lounge…

Panokosmos: The luxury of a first class hotel, the privacy of a private villa, the atmosphere of staying with friends…

Lots more to see and do…

In any case for your holiday in Crete you might like to look at our blogs which show things to do in Crete, whether it be walking a gorge, hiking in the foothills of the White Mountains, or taking a drive to see the sitesChania is a great town to visit, particularly to go to the street markets, and of course you’ll want to get the benefits of the Cretan diet – be it the yoghurt and cheese, or the olive oil.