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Varieties of Cretan grapes

RED VARIETIES

KOTSIFALI

Kostifali is the benchmark red variety of the celebrated vineyards of Crete, defining the style of the dry reds coming out of one of the most significant wine-producing regions of the Aegean Sea. Since red grapes are much more important on the island than whites, Kotsifali can be considered as the real soul of Crete.

Kostifali, on its own, produces a wine that can be described as “typically Mediterranean”: low in color, intense on aromas, relatively high in alcohol, soft in tannins and acidity. For these reasons, most Kotsifali is blended with numerous red grape varieties, either Cretan—most notably Mandilaria—or international. However, it is not just an “augmenting blending partner”; it adds roundness and tannic grace, while the aromatic expression is full of sweet flowers, dried black fruit, and complex spices. It is grown all over Crete, but the best wines come from the area of Heraklion, specifically in PDO Peza and PDO Archanes. Both designations have to be a blend of Kotsifali and Mandilaria.

Kotsifali produces a full, rich style of wine for wine lovers who enjoy reds with no hard edges. Kotsifali blends are very food-friendly wines, perfectly suited for rich meat dishes, casseroles, sausages, and hearty roasts. Most wines are ready to be consumed on release, but the more extracted styles, usually aged in oak for several months, can develop over 5 to 8 years, exhibiting a mellow structure and an intricate patina of flavors.

 

LIATIKO

Liatiko is the foremost ambassador of a very individual and frequently poorly understood style, which, at the same time, is utterly delicious. It is a red grape variety that can produce very fine dry red wines but it reaches its apogee in the sweet versions. However, most red varieties are used to make fortified sweet wines, by the addition of alcohol during the alcoholic fermentation. In sharp contrast, Liatiko sweet wines are made from sun dried grapes.

Liatiko has a relatively low color intensity, verging on the garnet. Liatiko wine is intense, with rich, ripe red fruit and sweet spices. The palate is full, with high levels of alcohol, low and very soft tannins. Sweet Liatikos, because of the sun drying of the grapes, are even more intense on the nose, showing more candied fruit character, and all elements are concentrated on the palate, most notably acidity. Long barrel aging is essential for all, usually in large, old oak. Liatiko is found all over Crete, but the best wines are found in Heraklion, in the PDO Dafnes zone, and in Lasithi, in PDO Sitia, where 20% of Mandilaria can be added.

Liatiko is the epitome of the warm weather found in certain areas around Crete –dry versions are round, full and soft, while sweet examples are richer and denser. Liatiko dessert wines (for example Sitia) are excellent for people want to enjoy a red sweet wine, but at lower alcohol levels from those found on most fortifieds. Liatiko is a variety that develops beautifully over time, with dry wines needing at least five years and lasting ten or more. Needless to say, sun dried Liatiko can keep improving for decades.

 

MANDILARI

Amorgiano; Pariano; Vaftra; Koundoura Black; Mandilari: These are but a few of the names of the late-harvested red grape Mandilaria variety and serve as testimonials to the extent to which the variety has spread throughout Greece and the Greek isles in particular. As early as the time of Pausanias, Mandilaria has participated in the production of the renowned Ariousios wine from Chios. Today, it is also blended in a great number of reds, rosés, and dessert wines with a strong identity and personality. Nevertheless, Mandilaria monovarietals are quite rare.

The Mandilaria heartland is to be found in the Aegean Islands and in Crete. It is thus no coincidence that in those areas, the variety participates in the PDO Peza, Archanes, PDO Paros reds and is entirely responsible for the production of the PDO Rhodes red. On those islands’ wind-swept and sun-scorched vineyards, the goblet-pruned Mandilaria acquires extraordinary characteristics: It assumes a dark red color; aromas of vine-ripened fruit; fleshy aromas (e.g., of leather); and a medium body with unrestrained, hefty tannins. Toiling hard both at the vineyard and at the winery and by mixing it with other varieties (the white Monemvassia, in Paros and the soft red Kotsifali in Crete) many a wine grower of note have been trying to tame the overall untethered nature of Mandilaria. Still, leaving it in the bottle for a few years is the best way to find ourselves before a “European” wine whose taste travels you to the magnificent place of its origin.

Imposing in personality, the unique variety of Mandilaria invariably leaves on Greek wine its indelible stamp which, be it impressive or imperceptible, never fails to reveal the variety’s terroir identity. Given the variety’s multi-faceted character, daring wine lovers wishing to expand their palette of aromas and tastes, will find an excuse to fill their glasses with some Mandilaria.

 

KOTSIFOLIATIKO

A Cretan, red cultivar, Kotsifoliatiko has all but become extinct. It is a cross between Kotsifali and Liatiko: hence, the color and character which hovers between the two varieties it comes from.

 

LADIKINO

A red grape variety, Ladikino is sparsely cultivated in Crete. Owing to its abundant aromas, it is used in blends

 

ROMEIKO

Romeiko, a red Cretan variety, has a high alcohol content, low acidity and few coloring agents. It mainly used in the production of the traditional wine marouvas, which is similar to Oloroso sherry.

 

 

WHITE VARIETIES

VIDIANO

The term “top obscure” could have been invented for Greek grape varieties like Vidiano. It is a white grape variety coming from Crete, used to produce white dry whites, sometimes aged in oak. Very few Vidiano vineyards have been found so far but producers agree on a tremendous quality potential, so essentially this is history in the making.

Vidiano is a variety mainly found, in small acreage, around the area of Rethymnon in Crete, while there is an extremely limited number of vineyards further east, close to Heraklion. It produces wines with lemony green colour, intense, individual and very complex aromas of ripe peach and apricot, hints of aromatic herbs and minerality. On the palate they are full and have elevated levels of alcohol, but the moderately high acidity keeps them in balance. The style of Vidiano can be rich but never hot or dull. Most producers try to unlock the true potential of the grape, planting it in cooler high altitude vineyards or blending it with other varieties, like Vilana.

Connoisseurs almost have to fight to get access to the minuscule amount of bottles finding their way in the marketplace, so drinking a Vidiano is a challenge by itself. It is a wine that develops its personality beautifully when paired with seafood pasta or charcoal grilled fishes. Although the true aging ability of Vidiano is yet to be identified for certain, critics believe that these are wines to age for five years or more.

 

VILANA

Red grapes may prevail on Crete's vineyards, but the Vilana variety is indisputably the queen of the white varieties of our island. Owing to the long wine history of our island, Vilana is the bridge between the archetype white wines of Ancient Crete and today. This variety is mostrly used to produce fresh dry white wines but some ambitious producers , produce small high quality white wine quantities that mature in barrels.

The characteristics of the Vilana quality is the medium deep yellow colour, the moderate flavour intensity to the nose and mouth, the hints of lemon, orange, pear and flowers such as jasmine and different herbs. Shapely fresh in the mouth Vilana's characteristics are not too bulky and have a moderate acidity and alcohol.

Vilana is mostly found in Heraklion and Lasithi. Characteristically the variety from Heraklion has the geographical indication PDO ( protected designation of origin) , Peza area that produces exclusively Vilana, and from Lasithi the PDO indicates Sitia area ( where Vilana is mixed with Thrapsathyri)

The abundance of the island allows more and more cultivators to experiment , so as a result the Vilana variety is mixed with other native varieties such as Malvazia Moschophylero as well as other international ones. Vilana gives soft, fresh, attractive, and drinkable white wines ideal for all warm summer nights.

Those "whites" are usually being placed to accompany a full yet different course meal , simple or a complexed one, just like Cretans like to taste. The Vilana variety is mostly intended for immediate consumption, that is within 3 years after cropping, but in some cases when those wines are rippened within a barrel, they meliorate in bottlews for 5 or more years.

 

DAPHNE

Daphne is an almost extinct white grape variety of the island of Crete that got back in the spotlight of fame. This was achieved by producing dry white wines that are intense in aromas and round on the palate, while keeping alcohol levels moderate. Some ambitious producers use the oldest of their vineyards to make even some barrel fermented batches.

Daphne in Greek means “laurel” and it is clearly evident why that name has been given to this full flavoured grape –laurels, wet leaves and pungent herbs, coupled with ripe yellow and white fruits. The palate is highly particular in structure –although it possesses extract, power and soft acidity, alcohol levels are surprisingly modest, especially for Cretan standards, rarely being above 12.5%. It originates from the general area of Heraklion and, although vineyards remain much localized, growers are increasing planting more Daphne. This is due to the very high profile enjoyed by the variety –and for this very reason, producers rarely blend it with other grapes. Daphne’s importance in terms of image is much grander than its actual production significance.

Daphne is a grape for those who want to foresee the future of Cretan white wines, today. A variety to please people that enjoy rich wines but dislike high alcohol levels. It is a great match to intense yet light summer dishes, like pastas and salads. Most of Daphne wines are made to be consumed within three years after harvest, but the more adventurous wine lovers that enjoy complexity could keep some bottles for at least three additional years.

 

THRAPSATHIRI

Thrapsathiri is an important variety of Crete that is emerging as one of the most promising and exciting white grapes of the island. For decades, Thrapsathiri was misunderstood, falsely considered as a relative of Athiri, or shadowed by the more popular Vilana. Nevertheless, it now draws the attention of many critics, solely based on its own attributes, making first-rate dry, and occasionally sweet, white wines.

Thrapsathiri is a vine perfectly suited to even the warmest spots of Crete, being highly resistant to drought. However, it responds badly to high yields, so wine growers have to be prudent to produce concentrated fruit. Thrapsathiri wines have a pale lemon green colour, a moderately intense nose, fully dominated by primary fruit, mainly melon and peach. On the palate they have a relatively full body, notable alcohol and a soft acidity. Thrapsathiri is grown all over Crete, from Chania to the west to Lasithi to the east. The most acclaimed wines come from the latter area where PDO Sitia is located. PDO Sitia white wines are blends of Vilana and Thrapsathiri but several producers of the island make single varietal wines of Thrapsathirι.

Thrapsathiri is a variety for rich, round but not too intense or heavy wines. Because of the relative lack of opulence on aromas, Thrapsathiri is an excellent option for matching rich food that is too intense and too complex to go down the paths of conventional food and wine matching. It is perfect for relatively cold weather days as well. Most wines have to be drunk within four years after vintage but some leading producers make very idiosyncratic wines that can develop for a decade.

 

PLYTO

Grape varieties native to Greece have always been inexhaustible although, at some point or other, many of them nearly became extinct or were threatened with extinction. The Cretan Plyto is such a remarkable case of a variety which was literally snatched away from the verge of extinction. At present, Plyto yields a small number of white wines but it does show great promise of potentially becoming one of the key native varieties which will be called upon later on to shoulder the representation of the historic island of Crete’s wine profile.

Sightings of Plyto planting in eastern Crete itself is a rare occurrence: it was Irakleion winegrowers who actually helped the variety make a comeback in their own area by looking for Plyto, identifying it, and replanting it: Modern irrigation methods in Irakleion’s contemporary vineyards seem not only to have helped this rare grape variety overcome its aversion to droughts but to have enhanced its lemony character and resplendent freshness as well. On its own or blended with more robust and mature varieties such as vidiano, Plyto seems to possess the potential for outstanding performance. Indeed, Irakleion wine growers are so taken with Plyto, that they are already attempting their first, experimental “single vineyard” bottlings!

Although it will take restless winegrowers some time before they have unfurled every part of the variety’s potential, Plyto seems to be yet another feather in the cap of contemporary Greek wines, yet another buried treasure ready to be discovered by wine explorers.

 

MUSCAT of SPINA

The aromatic variety Muscat of Spina is cultivated on mountainous Cretan vineyards. With a thiner skin than white Muscat, it yields dry as well as sweet white wines.

 

MALVAZIA DI CANDIA

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