Our next wine adventure takes us to the Mediterranean’s fifth largest island, Crete (known as Kríti in Greek). Kríti is also Greece’s southernmost island and has a considerable output of wine, with most figures putting it between 15 and 20% of the entire nation’s wine supply. Quality, however, has been slow to catch up to quantity. I wouldn’t know it though, as the admittedly few examples of wine from Kríti that I have enjoyed have all been pleasant enough. This is one of the great joys of the export market, however, meaning few examples of technically flawed and truly undrinkable wines ever see the light of day on a retail shelf or a restaurant wine list.
Kríti is divided into four different geographical regions: Sitia, Peza, Archanes, and Dafnes. The island is characterized by mountain ranges that are able to mitigate the warm temperatures and low rainfall. Mountain ranges have a habit of housing diverse macroclimates that feature different flora and fauna, in addition to different climatic conditions, making for a rich panoply of wine growing areas. The region of Sitia is on the eastern side of the island and is one of the older wine-producing regions on the island. Moving westward the next three regions are situated in the central part of the island, near the capital city of Heraklion. Peza contains vineyards at various altitudes, with the most-coveted being in the higher mountainous altitudes. Indigenous red varieties Kotsifali and Mandilaria grow here, as well as the island’s sweetheart white variety Vilana. The higher altitude, more mountainous areas are conducive to growing aromatic white varieties, as the ripening process is much gentler and more even. This is an area of intense development and is one of the fastest-growing regions in Greece. Archanes is just south of the of Heraklion. Poor-draining clay soils are more common here than in other parts of the island. Dafnes is the base for our featured winery today. It is the westernmost delimited region, though there are vineyards more westerly than this. It is a semi-mountainous area that has lighter, more gravelly soils. This area is particularly known for production of a red variety usually produced in a sweet style, Liatiko. International varieties are also proving to perform well here. Even though our producer is based in Dafnes, the wine that we tried for today was labeled PGI Crete. PGI is the second tier in the Greek wine quality pyramid. PDO represents the top tier. PGI-labeled wines are permitted to include variety and vintage.
Greek wine is pretty scarce in our market, but I feel like the exotic, aromatic white wines produced in many of the country’s wine regions would find a ready and willing audience during the Midwest’s hot and occasionally oppressive summers. I picked up this example on a recent trip to Chicago, which has a pretty sizeable Greek community there, so I was eager to capitalize on an opportunity to pick up some wines that I have been eager to try.
This particular wine was crafted from the Malvasia di Candia Aromatica grape. Malvasia is a broad “family” of grape varieties spread throughout the Mediterranean world. I say “family” because, while they are grapes of similar nomenclature, recent genetic research suggests that many of the so-called Malvasias are genetically unrelated. According to Wine Grapes, Malvasia di Candia Aromatica is most widely grown in Italy. The provinces of Lombardia, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, and Campania are all areas where this particular variety is found. However, Wine Grapes also states that Candia is an old name for Kríti, suggesting that the variety originated there. This particular variety of Malvasia is noted for its floral aromatics, but can be prone to an oily texture in the wine. The grapes are made into a variety of styles, ranging from crisp and light dry whites, sparklers, and raisinated dessert wines. The Femina was in the crisp and light camp, though I would be really excited to try a dessert-style wine.
The Douloufakis Femina opened with a bit of leesy-ness on the nose. This quality blew over after sitting in the glass for a few minutes. On the palate, the wine was medium-bodied with a zingy acidity. It reminded me of a cross between a Sauvignon Blanc and a dry Muscat. There was a definite herbal quality to the wine, but it was pleasant and fresh: definitely a complementary note rather than stealing the whole show. Floral attributes were equally prominent with fresh white flowers and dried rose petals present on the nose and palate. The fruit was relatively subdued, but subtle pear, yellow apple, and green melon flavors were there. Overall, this was a great wine and a good addition to my Greek wine repertoire. My one concern with this wine was that it was bottled in an attractive, elongated CLEAR glass bottle. I suspect that it was to alert an unfamiliar consumer that this was a white wine, however the wine displayed quite a golden color, when most literature a ran across suggested that it should be a pale color. The wine didn’t really seem any worse for it, but I really couldn’t say, having never had the wine before. I’d still worry about light damage, particularly given that this wine has probably been in the bottle for a little over two years. Nevertheless, I am very excited to explore more wines from this ancient country.