Crete is the next big thing in the international wine scene – and its west is where it’s at. Taste the gems of the wineries near Chania, fall in love forever
“And wine to gladden the heart of man…”, this verse might come from the Bible, but the people of Crete have already known that for millennia before the advent of Christ. With a continuous presence since Minoan times, Cretan wines have a long-standing history that puts them in the centre of local life, folklore, and myth. They are also an important source of commerce and income – and have always been so, with ancient amphorae with Cretan emblems found across the Mediterranean basin attesting to the fact.
Nowadays, the Cretan, is the third-largest vineyard in the country, accounting for an impressive 20% of the total Greek wine produce. Yet the focus has been recently shifting from quantity to quality. Spearheaded by a new wave of passionate and dynamic winemakers, Cretan wines are undergoing a renaissance. The spotlight is now on indigenous grapes – some even hailing from ancient varieties that have been salvaged from complete extinction – while production facilities and techniques are on par with the latest international standards.
The Heraklion province boasts the lion’s share of Cretan winemakers, but in the west, a handful of stunning wineries near Chania produce some of the best wines on the island. Read on for the second part of our tribute.
Wineries around Chania: Meet their gems
A 40-minute car ride away from the bustling town, Dourakis is a family-run, gem of a winery near Chania, in the postcard-pretty village of Alikampos. This boutique establishment opened its gates in 1988 and has been ever since specialising in the cultivation of white native Cretan grape varieties such as Vidiano, Vilana and Malvasia. They also make rich and well-structured reds from blends of local varieties, such as Mandilari and Kotsifali, with French classics, and a signature dessert wine from the indigenous Romeiko grapes. Following the footsteps of his father Andreas, Antonis Dourakis is now at the helm. He is enthusiastic about local varieties and places a great emphasis on sustainability too: Dourakis produces between 200,000 to 250,000 bottles of wine per year using grapes from their own vineyards as well as some from local producers. At an altitude of 450 meters above sea level, their privately-owned vineyards, are 100% organic – and the goal is to also source 100% organic grapes from their producers within the next five years.
On the foothills of the White Mountains, Kerameia, just 4km south of Souda, is home to the Mavres winery, where winemaker Sifis Mavredakis cultivates 25 acres of international and local varieties. The emphasis lies on Romeiko – the most common native red grape variety in western Crete. The twist though in this boutique winery near Chania, is that the Romeiko that is grown here, bears a set of unique characteristics which markedly differentiate it from the standard Romeiko variety. With careful cultivation and vinification, the distinct Kerameia Romeiko of the Mavres winery is blended with Vilana, another characteristic Cretan variety to yield a great white; and also co-vinified with the French variety of Syrah to produce some red and rose gems.
Located in the province of Kisamos, Pnevmatikakis is a family-run winery near Chania with a rich and longstanding tradition in winemaking. Viniculture and vinification is an affair that has passed from grandfather to grandson – and today’s thoroughly modern facilities, which include a museum, pay tribute to this great legacy. Pneumatikakis focuses on local varieties – Romeiko, Kotsifali, Mantilari and Liatiko for their reds, and Vilana, Vidiano, Plyto, White Romeiko and Moschato of Spina for their whites. Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot and Chardonnay are also grown – and under the strong Cretan sun, these international stars acquire local-specific characteristics.