Lyrarakis Liatiko Aggelis 2016
A sign at Heraklio airport arrivals reads: ‘ Discover Europe’s Roots’. After visiting Knossos, Gortynia and Aptera and other sites for years it is not an exaggerated claim. A decade ago Cretan wine emerged from the shadow’s. The largest in size of the Greek islands is fortunate that talented technicians are helping unlock her true potential. Heading the Lyrarakis production oenologist Myriam Ampouzer and agronomist Nikos Somarakis are all about team work. Recently, while harvesting, I had the opportunity to watch up close how their synergies work. Arriving at the crack of dawn, I was greeted by a red eyed George Lyrarakis who was doing pump overs, as fermenting must converting into wine waits for no one. Assuming the overnight cellar hand duties speaks of leadership. Founded in 1966 by their fathers Sotiris & Manolis, Bart and George Lyrarakis have taken the reigns of this pioneering family company. Their commitment in thrusting forward this producer based on the Alagni plateau has been instrumental in the ongoing Crete revival. Their mosaic like collection of single area wines with a focus in rediscovered unique to Crete grapes is second to none. There now are now 11 single area wines with 10 unique to Crete grape varieties. Nikos Somarakis yearly driving mileage must be high as he combs the island to find old vines and switched on farmers who are willing to listen and change their ways to modern farming know-how: it is full of rewards. On the last day of harvest I witnessed the delivery of evenly ripened pristine clusters of Mandilari from the lowest mountain range of Asterousia. Vintages are important on today’s Crete. 2015 was better for whites but less so for reds. 2016 red’s are good. The Aggeli 2016 is a world of difference ahead of the underperforming previous vintage. The single most important factor is rain: when and how much. Somarakis tablet contains useful data and insight on this important islands vineyards. Ampouzer is a silent force. Self contained she notes in her ever present journal by pen. They may be orchestrating harvest though not unlike musicians their synchronicity is communicated through telepathy.
Dry Liatiko is now firmly in my top 5 red Greek grapes. It’s singularity is one of it’s trump cards. Liatiko reflects where it is planted, schist or sandy soils. It likes warmth and wind which Lasithi has in abundance. There are elegant Liatiko expressions elsewhere such as Douloufakis Dafnios farmed on limestone in Dafnés above Heraklio. It is not suitable for red wines everywhere. Inland on high Rethymno(central Crete) in the the Amari valley, on the slopes of Mt Kedros or Kendros on terraced vineyards(750m-900m) centenary ungrafted bush vines delivers impressive high-acid cristalline rosé which style defies it comes from Greece or anywhere else I can think around the Meditarrenean. More than any other trait what sets Liatiko apart? To a novice it initially appears as ‘ sweetness’. It is not: it is high glycerol content inherent to this exotic chameleon like grape. No other of the known to us Greek grape offers such viscocity. This is where its principal difference lies in an Amarone like generosity though without using the ripasso method. The dry satisfying finish strikes a chord to the sensual and the cerebral.
With the maxim that the mountain does not come to the prophet I was determined to make my way to the Aggelis vineyard. As the road from Sitia climbs up to the medieval village of Handras, I was met by Manolis Hrysoulakis, a retired high school teacher and lifelong steward of the land. We climbed into his 4X4 and set off to visit vineyards and their histories. He first showed me the remnants of Byzantine, Venetian(AD1212-1645) and Othoman Handras. We then set off to a restored Venetian spring with five taps. It is not difficult to ‘see’ horses and other animals quenching their thirst when women were not hand washing clothes. We then entered the fields planted to vines. Farmers pick ups where carrying the mornings harvested grapes. The landscape is surreal as the windmill-water pumps are rusted and no longer in use. It would easily fit a science fiction or a spaghetti western film set. As recently as 1999 there were 140 of them operating. Asking my learned friend what has changed from earlier visits. ‘ Annual rainfall is inconsistent, snowfall is getting rarer’. He duly furnished figures going back four vintages. As we sat on his porch he dedicated ‘ Praisos’ his useful book on Lassithi’s history, nature & nutrition. He then brought a pitcher of some of his wine, a translucent red made in the garage. Suprisingly it was stable, not volatile and tasteful. Somehow a grin from his beaming face alerted me that a parting shot was been hatched. He came out of his house clutching two bottles of some very good modern Crete wine. He then put me on the spot. ‘ I love the wine speak descriptions on back labels. At best, they are…gibberish! What on earth are they trying to say? What is your opinion on this? ‘ After hearing me out on this great question I turned the tables to him. What is wine to you? ‘ The ritual, as Peronosperos(downy mildew) in 2011 was brutal, I saw no grapes on my vines, I was at loss, what I am going to do in September?
Ungrafted vines planted on sandy soil in 1930. Natural micro-flora. Dark for this grape – deep mahogany coloured. Spice scented warmth. Numerous ‘tears’ coat the glass. ‘Sweet’ raisin , goji berry earthiness. Impressive ripeness – a cascade of gentle tannins propping up all this hedonistic richness. Stylish balanced long finish. Power with elegance wrapped in the hallmark liquorous silky texture. Bold and different. Arid eastern high Crete in a glass. Drink 2018-2026.