This Crete

So we spent a week this September in eastern Crete. A foodie tour, basically, put together by Atalya Ein Mor. You can't go pleasing everyone and there were obvious points that needed fine tuning. But at the tour's best moments - and there were quite a few - we touched  the heart of a not quite tame part of the island, ate outrageously unique dishes and met wild characters and living relics of bygone ages.

But you're hear to read about wines. The Crete I encountered was a mixed bag. You know, I looked at the landscape and felt the weather and I thought the place had the climate and terroir to make wines that would keep me perpetually drunk all week. Yet, well over half the wines I tasted just wasted all that potential with bad winemaking choices. 

The other half, on the other hand, were wonderfully moreish and lithe, with totally one-off personalities. You're going to have a hard time finding anything comparable with the best of the crop I had. 

Lyrarakis, Psarades, Dafni, 2018

Lyrarakis is arguably the biggest star in Crete. They make quite a number of wines, a couple of which have been imported of late by Eldad Levy. Their site has this to say about this wine: "The Dafní grape variety was saved from extinction by the Lyrarakis family, when it was planted in the Psarades family vineyard at 480m. altitude in central Crete in the early '90s." I immediately pegged it as "light, acidic and loaded with minerals", but it proved to be much more than that, more focused, more refined and more complex than my first impression. Or its 10 euro local price, for that matter. Eldad doesn't import this yet, as far as I know. If and when he does, I suggest you all load up - its lime and salt character will pair with just about every cold starter you can make it home and it will hold the wine geeks' attention as well.

Lyrarakis, Ippodromos, Vidiano, 2018

This is another single vineyard bottling, from another indigenous variety, Vidiano. It manages to follow a couple of fashionable winemaking trends. A third of the grapes were fermented whole cluster. The rest went through 12 hours of skin contact. The result has the full, honeyed texture and aromas suggestive of spices I find in some orange wines. I get the feeling the winery looked for a wine they could parade as a flagship wine, but for all that, it's not too flashy. It's fleshy and ripe and, alarmingly, it also boasts 14% ABV, but it has very good acidity and even the new oak it was fermented and matured in for two months is well integrated. And I suspect it will age nicely for a few years.

But go for the Dafni.

Or this.

Lyrarakis, Pirovolikes, Vilana, 2018

Single vineyard again, indigenous variety and 12 hours of skin contact - again. And then aged in various sizes and ages. The end result is much more balanced than the Vidiano, without any orange wine character, just oranges and limes buttered by spices and herbs, with a round, yet spicy texture and flavor set. All of which might be the grape, or it might be the winemaker's decision to concentrate the flavors with the skin contact and then round everything off with a mix of barrels - I just enjoy the results, it doesn't feel manipulated enough to nitpick. This is one of the Lyrarakis Eldad imports to Israel.  

Diamantakis, Diamantopetra, 2018

A blend of Vidiano, which is a Cretan grape, and Assyrtiko (arguably the most famous Grecian grape), grapes fermented and matured separately for three months in oak, for three months - which is very deftly integrated. I get apricots with a pungency halfway between apple skin and smoked salt. Balanced acidic backbone and a decent array of flavors.

Toplou, Thraspathiri, 2018

Clear with a distinct, intense herbal nose. Very clean and quiet, growing more intense. Like just about every good white I drank on the island, it has an clean, direct surface charisma, like pebbles skipping on a calm lake, but without great depth. The green apple acidity makes this a very enjoyable wine, and a bottle opened at home the next month revealed a prominent layer of flint. If a wine region's potential can be gauged by the charm and appeal of their 'quaffers', then Crete is indeed a place to watch.

Toplou, Liatiko-Mandilari, 2017

I ran into the two grapes in the blend on a few occasions on the island. Liatiko, which comprises 85% of the blend, is a pale grape, a little paler than Pinot Noir. It's lithe and slender, a little sauvage, and I liked it the other times I ran into it. The other grape, Mandilari, serves here to add color and tanninc. The combination works here quite well, making for a wine on the level of a Beaujolais village wine. I drank another wine or two where Mandilari was much more dominant grape, or blended with international grapes. I don't think I had a big enough sample, but the 'heavier' grapes seem to make for awkward wines in Crete. 


Unknown said…
Kalispera from Crete,
Next time you will be here try Lyrarakis's Thrapsathiri an exceptional white,and our local Oikonomou for the best Liatiko on Crete.
Happy New Year Vassilis.