The list of new to me wineries is not going to shrink any time soon. On this visit I experienced a frisson perhaps archeologists come across once in a lifetime while looking deeper in to the near-forgotten grape of Romeiko. Next time someone argues that it is an insignificant grape variety your counterpoint is that there are only lazy farmers and lazy wine technicians. The old saying that the prophet has to go to the mountain was on my mind as I navigated the twisting road in a sea of olives groves. This part of Crete is the antithesis of dry arid Sitia in the far eastern tip. Rain is more plentiful. The PDO Kolymvari I entered is an olive oil cru. In these hills the homogenous olive green is occasionally ‘broken’ by neatly tended vineyards. They seem that some giant hand had run a comb through natures ‘curls’.
The Anoskeli Olive mill is one of the reference estates for the unusual blend of the local Tsounati olive and the cosmopolitan Koroneiki now planted in Spain & South Africa and other olive oil producing places. Though my appointment was to taste wines I soon followed a guided tour. The staff was gushing with excitement as their organic oil had won a big gong in Italy of all places ‘As the best olive oil in the world for 2018’. What is little known that all wine is estate grown. Their vineyards are planted with Vilana, Vidiano, Assyrtiko, Syrah, Grenache noir and Romeiko. They are wines brimming with character and cleverly crafted. In house winemaker is Gerasimos Baltoudakis who is in his 30’s and comes from a mechanical engineer background. He adds: ” We cask aged it in 500 litres and keep it topped up as the grape is prone to volatile acidity.” They have also tapped into the consulting services of veteran oenologist Kostis Galanis who not only knows Romeiko as his talents have helped turn around several historic estates on western Crete.
The reviewed wine has several sub plots.In essence it is a single vineyard, 25 y.o. bush vines at 400m. It is an early ripening site with harvest at end of August, because of lower yields and not loaded up with fertilizers adds Baltoudakis. It is a wild yeast ferment. It is also a multi vintage blend of the 2013-2016 vintages dry red wine. This hand crafted fascinating wine is dedicated to the founder of Anoskeli Kyriakos Mamidakis who longed to see Romeiko wine bottled one day. A grape that fed him and his ancestors and most of hard working frugal living Cretans. A charming lady at the tasting room illustrates what breakfast was in the not too distant past with a plate of barley rusks drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, salt cured overripe sweet prune looking (picked in January)Tsounati olives, a thin slice of cheese and a glass of a Romeiko. I then sat in a car…that is another story. My long held view that who ever can combine an olive mill with a winery should be a winner. Annual visitors are now reaching 20,000 with brisk cellar door sales. Kudos to the owners policy of not buying in wine when a label is sold out. Now where does the archeologist frisson moment figures in all this? Well, so far Romeiko has been used as a blanc de noir base wine for sparkling. Off dry and sweet ”grey” wine, bone dry white. Blanc de noir in a rosé blend and the reviewed wine is the first to my understanding red. There are other unexplored approaches to this coming of age so called ‘neutral’ Cinderella grape and these industrious Cretans -mechanical engineer’s included seem to be on to a good thing.
Wax sealed. Cork finish. Antique(wide shouldered-narrow bottom)Bordeaux bottle. Brick red-orange. Vinous. Initial ‘sweetness'(less so than dry Liatiko) textured with just enough tannins to offer a soft though insistent backbone. Red tea leaf and smoke on the dry finish. Viscous and stylish vinous aroma , pale colour and texture is spot on. Simply a one off with nothing like it on Crete or anywhere else in Greece. Cellar door sales only. Begs for savoury dishes. A pretty wine though not for everyone – experienced wine geek territory with an adventurous gourmet curiosity. A pretty contradiction of the arcane with a modern twist yet in synchronicity with all the world trends. What next?