When you think of Greece, fine wine isn’t necessarily the first thing that springs to mind.
Plump olives, feta cheese and punchy liqueurs are more in line with the spread I’d imagine from the arid country.
But after sampling some of the grape-based tipples from Crete, I have altered my way of thinking.
Crete is home to one of Europe’s oldest wine presses and a rare grape variety. This picture shows the tasting table Sadie had a seat at
Did you know the rugged outcrop, the largest of all the Greek islands, is home to one of Europe’s oldest wine presses and a very rare grape variety that was brought back from the brink of extinction?
Neither did I until I ventured on a whirlwind tour of Crete’s vineyards with the Queen’s wine and spirit merchant, London-based Berry Bros. & Rudd.
The historic purveyor of fine wine has an exclusive deal with one of the island’s top producers, Lyrarakis, to import its grape-based goods to the UK.
Sitting under a thick-branched olive tree in the sprawling vineyard with a majestic mountain range looming beyond, I was led through a tasting by wine aficionado and export manager, Effie Kallinikidou.
Even before I’d tasted the wine, I was already lured by the slickly labelled bottles.
They’d look great on any dinner table, with pretty geometric shapes mirroring the plots of land where the grapes were grown.
Delicious: Sadie was blown away by the Cretan delicacies she sampled on the tour
I was also wooed by Effie’s enthusiasm for the wines, which range from 9.5% to 14.5% in alcohol content.
‘Can you taste the lychee in this? Hints of white peach?’ she chimed as she gave a mouthful of the 2018 Ippodromos Vidiano a whirl.
The white indeed had an intense fruity taste, and I felt a little reluctant to spit it out. I’d judged the wine by the labels up until now…
But knowing we still had lots of tipples to try, I disposed of the Vidiano. Indeed, the Lyrarkis portfolio is very impressive. The tasting table looked a little intimidating.
Royal approval: The tour was led by the Queen’s wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd
Along with Vidiano – which Effie jovially describes as the ‘Chardonnay of Crete’ – Lyrarakis’s other star grape varieties include Plytó, Mandilari, Assyrtiko, Vilana, Thrapsathiri and Kotsifali.
But for me, the real standout is the Dafni.
This is the grape variety that was brought back from extinction by the Lyrarakis winery in the 1980s.
It is one of the region’s most ancient grape species and the inscription ‘Dafnitos Oinos’ (meaning wine made of Dafni grapes) was discovered on a copper vessel dating back to the Bronze Age.
Notes of bay leaf and ginger wafted around as I sipped the pale elixir with the sun shimmering through the olive tree branches.
On the red front, Lyrarakis’s Syrah and Kostifali blend from 2016 caught my attention with its berry-peppery taste. A perfect accompaniment to a slice of steak.
‘The Cretan snails, although tasty, were quite alarming to look at with no garlic butter to disguise their fresh-from-the-garden guise,’ writes Sadie
The wines ranged from 9.5% to 14.5% in alcohol content
Along with the wine, Effie’s enthusiasm also spread to the food.
I have to admit I was blown away by the Cretan delicacies we sampled. Moreish kalitsounia (herb pies), juicy figs, fried olives, roasted aubergine, slow-cooked beef shank… The morsels seemed to continuously roll out as we went on with our wine tour.
I admit I found the rock-hard paximadi (twice-baked bread) a little harder to get into. I thought I’d chipped a tooth at one point as I enthusiastically chomped down on it.
And the Cretan snails, although tasty, were quite alarming to look at with no garlic butter to disguise their fresh-from-the-garden guise.
My whirlwind introduction to Cretan wine had definitely left a good taste.
Unfortunately, with such an extensive selection of vino to get through there wasn’t time to see Europe’s oldest wine press, which is located in the Vathipetro region of Crete and dates back 3,500 years.
But to get a taste of the wine history and how it’s embedded in the Cretan culture we did drive by one press dated to the 14th century.
The Berry Bros. & Rudd shop on St James’s Street in London
Rounding things off with a final glass of Dafni back in the port city of Heraklion, Effie mused that there’s a ‘golden thread’ that runs through the Lyrarakis wines.
I’d agree with that and thankfully that ‘golden thread’ doesn’t reflect on the price.
Bottles average around £12.
Berry Bros. & Rudd is definitely on to a winner with this characterful island import.
Now when I think of Greece, fine wines will accompany my vision of plump olives, feta cheese and punchy liqueurs.