Until this very day, the favourable soil conditions of the Crete support excellent varieties of grapes, from which come the wonderful wines to accompany and highlight the flavours of one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. It is probably in the broad zone in the centre of the island – Malevizi, Archanes, Peza and Episkopi right down to the Mesara plain that the grape-growing and wine-making activities were maintained down the centuries, providing a key economic commerce for the locals.
The Cretan vintner has as his base varieties Vilana for white, and Kotsifali, Mandilari and Liatiko for reds and rose. In recent years they have revived these and other native varieties, as well as using major international sorts, with the result that we have Cretan wines of a more cosmopolitan character.
The main varieties grown in Crete are:
Red with a high alcohol content, unstable in colour and with a wealth of chemical ingredients for a wine of quality. The wine is mellow and with aroma of plums, It is typical product of the OPAP of the Herakleion area and is seen as the "Merlot of Crete". It may be found unblended, or mixed with Mandilari or Syrah.
A very old and early red variety, giving both dry and excellent sweet wines: from it are produced the sweet wines of the Dafne A.C. A high-quality product, with soft tannins, medium acididty and a relatively light colour. The last years have seen a revival of Liatiko made from sun-dried grapes – at the instigation of the island’s own vintners.
Dark red in colour, with a high content of anthocyanins. Seen as "the King of the Local Grapes", largely because of its good acidity and strong tannins. It is part of the OPAP Archanes and Peza – combined with Kotsifali, and often blended with Syrah.
A vigorous plant, productive and fertile, resistant to mildew: it gives a high-quality wine of moderate acidity, with a distinctive aroma reminiscent of apricot. At present it is difficult to fine a wine made purely of this grape-type, but it looks to have a strong future in Cretan viticulture.
The most widely grown white variety in Crete: giving a clear wine with good details and part of the OPAP of Peza. The variety has a delicate aroma, somewhat lemony, a cool taste and is improved in combination with the Dafni and Plyto sorts. Within this region currently operate some of the most important and dynamic wine producers in the Herakleion Prefecture, indeed within all Crete. They produce from local and introduced grape varieties wines recognized and award-winning on the international stage.
A white Variety grown in Crete, in the Prefectures of Herakleion and Lassithi. It was endangered but survived thanks to the efforts of certain local producers. A vigorous plant, of medium yield and drought resistant. The fruits begin to show in March and ripen in late September. Its wine is low to moderate in alcohol strength, of medium acidity and with an aroma reminiscent of bay or laurel (Dafni in Greek also happens to mean laurel).
A white variety of the Cyclades, Crete, the Dodecanese and generally southern Greece. Believed to be a clone of the Atheri variety, it yet differs sufficiently to be considered a separate species. Lively, fertile and very productive, susceptible to mildew, but drought resistant. Growth begins at the start of April, with the fruit being ready in the first half of September. On suitable soils, it gives a wine of high status, full and ripe in taste, of moderate acidity and with an intense herbal aroma.
A white variety that gives a wine with a pleasing taste and a strongly characteristic floral aroma with notes of Muscat. Historically it is associated with a famous period of Cretan wine-making from the middle Byzantine period to the start of the 18th century AD. The variety resurfaced in then last years and has made a dynamic entrance into the field of aromatic wines, both dry and sweet.
A variety grown in East Crete and Kythera. Almost forgotten, it has recently reappeared. It is a vigorous plant, productive but vulnerable to diseases. The grapes are of moderate size, with a golden skin; they enjoy a rare but refreshing acidity and a lemony taste. The harvest is in September. Many producers make it into an unblended wine, but others mix it with richer varieties like Vidiano.
This is the best known red-grape variety in the world for making fine wines that can withstand decades of aging in a bottle. Perhaps its most amazing characteristic is that it can be grown in different locations and yet still produce a wine recognizable as Cabernet Sauvignon – never mind the weather, the cultivation nor the wine-making processes. When grown in warm climates like Crete the grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon ripen earlier, they acquire mature phenolic compounds, giving the wine a rich colour, with a full-bodied taste and aroma.
A red Mediterranean variety of Spanish origin, cultivated in many warm and dry parts of the world. In Greece it has the reputation of an "improver". It ripens in early September. On suitable soil and with a moderate level of production, the wine from this grape has a good colour, medium body, a high alcohol content and medium acidity. It tends, however, to age quickly and oxidize easily. Grenache Rouge produces local wines.
This is a red grape of French origin: it gives soft wines. The aroma is much sweeter than that of Cabernet Sauvignon, reminiscent of plum and small red fruits such as cherries and strawberries. In the mouth, it reveals soft tannins, a low acidity, high alcohol content, but without a full body.
A rich Spanish variety, It is vigorous and of medium-level yield, and fairly resistant to fungal diseases. The germination of the buds is rather late, which aids it in avoiding late spring frosts. It ripens in the first half of September: producing medium-size bunches and medium-sized grapes. From it comes a red wine of reliable colour, a not-overpowering aroma of cherry, with notes of eucalyptus and bay. For taste, generally, it gives wines with an acceptable level of tannins.
An international red variety from Italy. Cultivated largely in Tuscany and a part of some of the great Italian wines. Medium-sized fruit, round with a strong skin, black-mauve in hue, not very large. It ripens late. It does best on hills with moderate to poor soils, calcareous and dry. It makes a wine of a ruby-red colour, a dry taste with a little tannin. In a blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, it makes great wines for aging.
A red variety, known for its wonderful wines, which came from the Rhone valley, but is now known all over the world. It ripens in late August to early September. Depending on the clone, the pruning style, soil and region – this variety can give both lighter and stronger wines, of medium acidity, an intense colour and aroma, which become more complex with aging. It is part of a number of local wines, both red and rose: it goes well with the classic red varieties of the island.
The beloved white grape of oenophiles everywhere: it originated in Burgundy and Champagne... and went on to conquer the world! Its wines can be fresh, with cool acidity and an aroma of exotic fruits – increasing with maturity. It is part of a champagne. A dry wine of intense aroma results: they ripen very happily in the barrel and become enriched with the smells particular to the container – hence the adjectives applied, eg. woody, vanilla, tobacco, nutty and so on, to describe the taste and smell.
Muscat/Moscato of Spina
The variety is cultivated on a large scale in several countries around the world. It ripens in September; but oxidizes easily and so requires care in the wine-making process. Muscat can give a dry wine with typically a rich aroma, of high quality but medium acidity. Chiefly it is for sweet wines, either sun-dried or fortified – with resultant exuberant aromas and flavours.
A white aromatic variety, of French origin, but now cultivated throughout the world. In Greece, cultivation began in the early 1990s. It ripens in late August. Sauvignon Blanc, when from a suitable soil and low yields, and harvested at the correct stage of ripeness (so to ensure a balance between acidity and sugar .. and so preserve its aromatic potential) can give dry wines with a rich aroma (chiefly of exotic fruits), lively, but balanced and full in flavour. Sauvignon Blanc can ferment and mature in oak barrels. It plays a role in the production of a number of local wines.