Crete on the Radar

Last time, I reviewed a tasting of the wines of the Jura – one of very few tastings I had been to since the start of the Covid-19 restrictions, but, as I noted then, tastings, like buses, seem to come along in pairs.  And, so, the very next day, I was off to another, this time hosted by Rachel of Corks of Cotham and focussing on the wines of the Greek island of Crete. 

Crete has been making wine since at least Minoan times (3500 to 4000 years ago) and that long history no doubt accounts for the wealth of unique local grape varieties found on the island.  But, unlike the Jura which uses its range of native grapes to create some idiosyncratic styles, Cretan wines are far more approachable and, as a result, the 2 tastings could not have been more different.

Rachel concentrated on the wines of a single producer, Lyrarakis – one that my wife and I visited when we holidayed on the island a few years ago – who, helpfully, label most of their wines with the name of the principal grape variety.

The tasting began with a pair of attractive dry whites – the crisp, fresh, citrussy Vidiano was more to my taste than the more perfumed and floral Dafni (£14 each).  The smoky Liatiko rosé (£18) seemed quite restrained on both nose and palate, but the Kotsifali red that followed was, for me, the wine of the night – even if it was the cheapest on show (£12).  Reminding me a little of a good Pinot Noir, this was smooth and elegant with quite low tannins and good red fruits; a wine that would react well to chilling slightly in warmer weather.

Liatiko reappeared in 2 contrasting reds.  The first, named ‘Queen’ (£14) was blended from several vineyard sites, a little weightier than the Kotsifali and full of pleasant spicy black fruits.  The other, from old (pre-phylloxera) vines in the sandy Aggelis vineyard (£19) was more complex and showed the benefit of 2 extra years ageing with lovely dried-fruit aromas and flavours together with hints of smoky oak and a good length. A wine for claret lovers to try.

The evening finished with a medium-sweet blend of 6 local varieties, Liastos (£16).  Made from partially dried grapes to intensify the sugars and with 12 months barrel ageing, this was full of marmalade and honey flavours but balanced with enough acidity to keep the wine refreshing.

A delicious end to an excellent tasting and further proof, if any was needed, that the wines of Greece and its islands should really be on every wine lover’s radar.