Nico Manessis catches up in Crete
Their combined histories could fill a wall in the new Alexandria library. A plethora of intriguing scented wines and their stories are simply too compelling to ignore. There is nothing hotter than wines of the large Mediterranean islands: Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Crete. Asserting their presence in the 21st century has been impressive. Let’s have a look on the eastern front. It is near impossible to follow changes on Crete. Momentum is not limited to the numerous young guns clutching the generational baton. Veterans too remain curious and open minded relishing new challenges. Focus is on indigenous grapes sidelined during the advent of international varieties 30 years ago, a reminder, of the untapped diverse DNA pool the island is endowed with. Dry Liatiko has a new lease of life as a fragrant light bodied textured red wine. Long ignored Romeiko is finally realizing its potential. It reaches a wide spectrum of styles. Blanc de noir sparkling base wine, off dry to full sweet wines with it’s gentle tannin show a bright future. A multi vintage solera Romeiko with only 10.5% ABV has so much personality that it leaves one wondering where has this been hiding? The most ambitious effort is the recreation of Malvazia Oenos when Venetians traded it in the 11th to 16th AD. The grape mix is certainly exotic, never previously tried in living memory. A lot of thought has gone in to structuring the precision building block percentages of each of 5 all Cretan grapes and two more recent incomers from near by Aegean islands. On the red front, winemaking styles are explored mapping new approaches on the tannic high-acid Mandilari. From nouveau like maceration carbonique to shorter time on their skins less oxidative cask ageing. The spicy fruity side is stepping out. High altitude and lower yield single vineyards have gravitas in spades. Natural and orange wines have joined the party, few are good. Most still taste of Somerset scrumpy cider. Not quite my cup of tea yet they could be useful if stranded in a desert with nothing else to drink. Pithos, large jars long made on Crete in the village of Thrapsano are now finding their way back again into cellars. Climate change has directed research with grapillon as savvy technicians believe it is the future. Vidiano fermented in a French coopered ovoid was a revelation. Beyond acidity they found useful fruit aroma and flavour from berries harvested in October. This great grape has now been further researched by Helianas Malichins paper on strains of wild yeast from two old vine single vineyards in Heraklion & Rethymno.
What of climate change in the 2017 vintage? Heavy winter snowfall, rain and short spurts of not damaging heat waves. The indigenous unique to Crete white grapes turned in an across the board impressive homogenous showing, Yields were down 30-40%. On eastern Crete a short 3 day heat wave decreased berry size adding further aromatic intensity. Intriguing Sitia Thrapsathiri revealed a previously unseen semi-aromatic textured signature. Star grape Vidiano above Heraklion are concentrated bursting with pit stone fruit linear freshness. Usually overcropped Vilana reached new heights with bright fruited wines shining through their floral spice. Mostly bone dry Rosé show more extract offering a serious side with bold savoury expressions of this ever growing category. Perhap’s the most celebratory festive wine as legitimate props in life’s theatre are the sparkling rosé dressed in neon electric pink. Work in progress natural Kotsifali showed aromatic complexity revealing this sleeper grapes more attractive botanic profile. There is a lot more to come from the Crete in you glass blend Kotsifali-Mandilari. Perhaps this is the wine of stones and herbs travel that writer Peter Levi imagined.
Wines of Crete shows OiNotika have now reached the 11th year held in Heraklion and Chania. One of the more timely seminars was wine tourism. The discussion followed Maria Alebaki’s excellent worldview presentation was followed by a breezy peppered with humour exchange. The penny dropped that only through synergies can wine tourism gain momentum as an bona fide off season alternative experience. Several wine tourism agencies are now active. The first boutique wine hotel is opening in the historic centre of Rethymno.
Save Romeiko initiative and Chania specialty is a so called neutral grape with many faces. Not unlike Cyprus Xinisteri or Jerez’s Palomino stole the show. A tasting and discussion open to the public showed diversity from this rebirth reminding us that some of the best things are often, no pun intended, right under our nose. A blind tasting with wines from 2017 to 1979 was a revelation. A bone dry blanc de noir and a Liastos(sun dried) dessert made perfect sense in today’s wine world. Henceforth remaining Romeiko bush vines are no longer ripped up with modern know-how farming and imaginative wine making giving them a sporting chance not ending in some pot still for clear grape spirit tsikoudia or in a fireplace. The hunt is on for organic old vine Romeiko with farmers scratching their head to this renewed interest. The icing on this all action packed mountain in the Eastern Mediterranean was Wines of Crete head Nicos Miliarakis informing that the DNA research on Crete’s 11 soon to be 12(Romeiko) indigenous specialties is underway. By the time you take in the above more myth busting creative re-discoveries are en route from these pragmatic Cretans.