The southern edge of the Aegean Sea has the most famous and largest island of Greece, Crete (Kriti). The history of wine here dates to 5 000 BCE, with the Minoans of Ancient Crete – thought to be among the first civilizations in Europe. Archeological digs throughout the Mediterranean discovered amphorae bearing Cretan insignias, a mark of the Greek wine greatness. In the Middle Ages, the famous Malvasia sweet wines were shipped from Crete all over Europe, to the most important centers of the time. With an illustrious past, the modern Crete wine region from today is still thriving.
We prepared travel guide to Crete Wine Region, where you will discover more, not only about the Cretan wines, but also about the local unique gastronomy as well as the cultural and natural places to visit. Follow the guide to learn more about:
One of the cradles of wine history, Crete is the oldest wine-producing area in continuous use in Europe. This ancient culture also holds the oldest wine press in the continent, a relic of more than 3500 years, discovered in Vathypetro, a place around 20 km from Iráklion.
The Crete wine region is made not only of history. Nearly 8 000 hectares under vine represent 11,9% of the country’s current wine production. The past decades transformed the wines of Crete, an outcome of a new approach in the vineyards. The emerging of a new generation of winemakers brought up new techniques from overseas, growing the unique indigenous grapes among classical varieties in inventive ways.
The combination of particular varieties placed in a unique terroir results in original flavor and perfume to Crete wines. Indigenous red varieties as Liatiko, Mandilaria, Kotsifali, and Tsardana blended with classical Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah create an authentic style in the bottles.
This distinct terroir of Crete is a result of calcisol soils in mountain ranges and characteristic Mediterranean climate:
Limestone lands range from denser clay to sandy loam, allowing the vine roots to grow deep, reaching water and mineral resources in depth;
The suitable weather provides hot and sunny summers and mild, rainy winters. The north of Africa provides hot winds while the Aegean Sea in the north cooling breezes.
The Sub-Regions of Crete
The sub-regions of Arhane, Peze, Dafnes, and Sitia form the Crete wine region.
The subregion of Arhanes (Archanes) is also an appellation of the Crete wine region. A particularity here is Kotsifali, a grape variety under vine only in Arhanes and in Peza, it’s neighbor.
The most productive subregion is Peza, producing around 70% of wines in Crete. The appellation permits both white and red grapes to be cultivated, likewise in Sitia.
Dafnes is a subregion where the appellation permits only Liatiko grape varieties. Despite that, various other grapes are under vine here.
White: Sauvignon Blanc, Vilana, Athiri, Vidiano, Dafni, Thrapsathiri, Malvazia di Candia (Malvazia of Chandakas), Muscat of Spina, and Plyto
Wines of Crete
The wines of Crete are distinct, especially regarding indigenous grapes. The blending from Mandilaria and Liatiko creates red wines of aromatic delight. Even though the Liatiko has a dark-skin berry, it is hard to extract and maintain its color. When riped in sun-dried conditions, Liatiko wines produce sweet aromas of raisin and dried fruits.
Another usual blend of red wines found in the Crete wine region is Kotsifali and Mandilaria. The Mandilaria variety has grapes with thick skins full of polyphenols.
The white grapes Vilana and Athiri intertwine a light, delicate scent to the mouth and nose. The blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Vilana makes interesting fresh wines. Alone, the outstanding Vilana, present in PDO Sitia and Peza at Crete wine region, creates moderate deep yellow wines. The notes of orange, lemon, jasmine, and herbs make pleasant perfumes. Fresh to the palate, Vilana wines are light in body with soft acidity.
Woman-run winery, located in the mainland of Crete offers organic wines produced by females of the Paterianakis family. The family has preserved rare native grape verities and followed biodynamic practice of winemaking with the respect of biodiversity.
Here, you can taste several different organic wines paired with local dishes and extra virgin olive oil that is also produces by the estate.
Knossos is the oldest city in Europe and is considered the most important center of the Minoan culture. Surrounded by olive, vine, and cypress trees, the Minoan Palace had over 1 200 rooms, where once was a place for ceremonies and a political hub. This palace links interesting myths such as Daedalus with Icarus and the labyrinth with the Minotaur. Build probably in 2 000 BCE, this incredible place suffered from an earthquake and possibly the Santorini eruption. Nowadays, the remains still portray the ancient Minoan culture.
Spinalonga – Ruins of a Ghost Island
Located in north-eastern Crete, the island of Spinalonga is a remote Greek attraction. Ruled by different powers in the past, its surroundings were a salt extraction during the Venetian rule. In the 20th-century, this rocky island was a leper colony. Spinalonga became a ghost town, appearing in sorts of movies and being a destination for curious tourists.
Heraklion Archaeological Museum – Explore the Ancient Greek History
The history of Crete island is long and diverse, well depicted in The Heraklion Archaeological Museum. Here is a set of artifacts and utensils of the ancient civilizations of the island. This museum was build where once was the Venetian Franciscan friary, which collapsed in the 1856’s earthquake. The tourists can hear detailed explanations and excellent presentation on guided tours.
Hidden Gem of Crete – Vai is a palm beach and an incredible spot in the Mediterranean, located 26 km from Sitia town. Surrounded by the largest natural palm forest on the continent, the beach was closed for recovery after nature degradation by untidy visits. Old tales suggest that Arab ships docked in this site, leaving palm seed behind, which created the magnificent forest. Nowadays, the calm blue waters provide a relaxing time and entertainment in sea activities.
The Must-See Natural Wonders of Crete
The rocky mountains of this island create a stunning view for nature exploration. The Crete wine region is full of vineyards, olive and cypress trees, a charming landscape.
Samariá Gorge – Stunning Scenery Waiting for You
The Samariá Gorge is a national park and a World’s Biosphere Reserve of the Greek island of Crete. The stunning look attracts tourists from all over the world to unforgettable adventures. The 15 km downhill hiking offers stunning views arriving on a beautiful beach. The amusement may increase when finding goats along the hills, a truly Greek experience.
Enjoy a relaxing time in clear waters and white sand
Located near Chania (approximately 70 km away), Elafonissi lagoon can be a piece of paradise. The crystal clear water seems to be from a pool, as the white sand has an interesting light pink tone. A great experience here is snorkeling, diving in the translucent water to discover diverse sea life.
Psychro Cave – Where Nature and Mythology Meet
The Psychro Cave is an ancient Minoan sacred cave located in the eastern part of Crete. Also known as the Diktean Cave, this site is reputed to be one possible place of Zeus’ birth and became a worship site in Minoan Crete. The millenary history around it creates a mythological atmosphere for visitors.
Discover the Cretan Gastronomy
Greek cuisine is renowned for having tasty and healthy plates. The wines of Crete can harmonize its culinary in unforgettable experiences. Don’t forget to look for these dishes:
Staka Me Ayga – The Perfect Start of the Day
This simple and delicious meal consists of poached or fried eggs combined with staka, a buttery cream mixed with flour. Usually seasoned with pepper and salt, this dish is a perfect warm meal for breakfast. It is common to eat it whit apaki, a kind of Cretan smoked pork.
Gamopilafo – A Tradition in the Cretan Weddings
Gamopilafo is a traditional Cretan recipe that stands for “rice of the wedding”. This risotto-like dish consists of a mix of different meats, like goat, turkey, and rooster with rice. The rice is cooked separately from the meat, adding the broth, lemon, and butter to enhance its flavor. When serving, the rice is covered with a slice of meat, accompanied by lemon wedges.
Zoumero – Mouth-Watering Dessert
Nothing better than a slice of a delicious cake to complete the day. Zoumero is a Cretan moist chocolate cake made with simple ingredients: flour, baking powder, eggs, vanilla, and cocoa powder. After baked, a cold syrup topping made of milk, sugar, butter, and cocoa covers the cake, making it a moist chocolate desert.
Share about Crete Wine Region:
Soil: Calcisol, limestone formed by calcium carbonate layers
Climate: Characteristic Mediterranean climate, with hot, sunny summers and mild, rainy winters