Gastronomic Crete: Discover Cretan Wines


Walking the Roads of Wine on the island of Crete can turn into an incredible experience if you know where you’re heading to, what to look for and what steps to take. In order to walk this road well, we got in touch with Wines of Crete, the local network association working for the promotion of the island’s wines. They explained to us all there is to know about Cretan Wines. This Wine Road is not only one of my favorites, but also the one that ignites my curiosity the most.

A meeting with the voices of Cretan Wines


Within the outstanding scenario of the Galaxy Hotel Iraklio, surrounded by the cozy atmosphere of the Per Se Lounge, I spent a pleasant afternoon with Nicos Miliarakis, President of Wines of Crete, also head of one of the many traditional wineries in the region of Peza, Minos-Miliarakis; and Stella Astirakaki, Operations Manager of the Association.

During our conversation, we discussed different aspects of local wine production which I was not aware of. I learned about wines and tastes, of course, but also about logistics, numbers, and goals which are really decisive for those interested in making this island bigger and better-known… And not only for its pristine, incredible beaches. Here’s an account of our meeting:

What is “Wines of Crete”? How was it born and when did it all start?


The main part of wine production on Crete is located in Heraklion, so, back in 2006, we decided it was necessary to create a Wine Makers Association of the region to promote our wines. The real goal was to promote all Cretan wines, ours was just a starting point. After our first steps, we approached those producing wines in Chania, to explain them about our final goal of promoting Cretan wines. A way to do so was to create a similar association for the western part of the island. These are the two legs of Wines of Crete, which was finally born between 2009 and 2010.


Local Vineyards, Crete.
Photo courtesy: Wines of Crete


How many wineries are part of the Association?


Today we are counting a total of 31 wineries, most of them private. But there are also a few cooperatives (as the Cooperatives of Peza or Heraklion). There are both small and big wineries within the Association. Some of our wineries are producing about 40.000 bottles while the average wineries produce between 150.000 to 350.000 bottles. However, there are also winemakers producing more than a million bottles.

Wines of Crete represents more than the 90% of the bottled wine production of Crete. This is a picture of the local wine panorama. To put it in national figures, Crete is about 10-14% of the total wine production in Greece. Plus, we are one of the areas in the country better-referenced through our Association. That is because other regional associations do not represent the local scenario. For instance, some of them formed by just a 40 to 50 % of local wineries. On the other hand, in our case, I’d say most of the island’s production can fall under one brand name which is Wines of Crete.


Read more:   Family Moments in Greece

How do wineries become members of Wines of Crete? 


There are two main things a winery must comply with to become part of the network. First, they have to produce their own wines. There are some winemakers who are not producing their own wines, so they are not really winemakers. They are buying, bottling, labelling and marketing a wine that has not been made by them. This is something our association will not accept. Besides, wineries also have to produce bottled wine. Not only wine in bulk or bagging boxes. Wineries must also sell in bottles.

All this applies to production. Wineries must also comply with a financial investment. Our philosophy states that if you want to become a member, getting involved is key. Our entrance fee equals the exact amount we initially supplied our association with, in the beginning, to start operations.


Does European financing help the tasks of Wines of Crete?


European financing started in the 90s, when we got the first program for investments in our field, mostly for wine tasting. Another important series of programs, in more recent years, was fundamental for winemakers to invest on wine roads. It’s a fact that European funds have helped us a lot, not only as far as wineries are concerned, but also in a global improvement in the wine industry.


Red wine

Which goals has Wines of Crete achieved?


When we started, the first goal was to start working on our wines locally. We needed to get more interest from professionals and consumers here on the island. Of course, if we take into account that tourism is the main activity on the island, the first place to focus on were wine tours.

Another important strategy was to work on the quantities we import, focusing on increasing those numbers. A more difficult task which calls for more funding as well.

In between, there is also the rest of Greece to think about, and places outside the European market. Therefore we started organizing exhibitions and events for instance in NY. By means of our brochures, maps in different languages and dedicated magazines, we are explaining our history and our varieties. We are introducing our wines all over the world.

We also wanted to create local exhibitions on the island. This lead to OiNotika, a fair created to increase awareness of Crete: People must know what we are producing, they must learn about our local varieties. We need to bring people to us and show them our results. Our job is to feed new generations of wine consumers with the right information. We have to give them the opportunity to come over here and taste our labels.

Until 2000 there were no exhibitions for wines, especially for local wines on Crete. This is another goal achieved, this year we will be holding the tenth OiNotika.

Another achievement that made us very proud of our work was to be included as a Selected Wine region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It was indeed thrilling to see Crete sharing the list with Champagne, Provence, Sonoma County and Willamette Valley.


Let’s talk Varieties


Read more:   Crete Once Again: From Kazantzakis to Daskalogiannis

It is a known fact that, in past years, Cretan producers abandoned local varieties for some time, to focus their production on varieties that were also grown in many other world vineyards.

When did the island return to its indigenous varieties and how did that happen?

We can say our recent history has seen three stages. A classic one, when local varieties were used here for wines consumed locally, and those where Vilana, Kotsifali, Mandilari, Liatiko and that’s it. Yet, as the rest of Greece started to produce wines from other varieties, mainly French ones – especially Cabernet Sauvignon – we received a wave of new winemakers using foreign varieties simply because that’s what the local market was asking for (and by local market I mean Greek consumers). They didn’t want any Vilanas or Kotsifalis. They had had enough.

We worked with foreign varieties which were cultivated and vinified. So, we introduced new labels. This went on until early 2000. I believe, though, that with time, consumers got the ability to understand. They grew able to taste and see what traits differentiate several kinds of wines…

And, maybe, they also started considering that local varieties were also worth to get to know. Local vines have a very special character and it was not a bad idea to be aware of them. In a way, when the consumer was ready for new or more difficult tastes, we were also ready to show them these “new” varieties. At the same time, a big part of this job was being done in the vineyards.

It’s also true that, with a global wine market getting tougher and tougher, we had to be better and better. Our produce of the highest quality. Besides, it was also necessary to have the tools for a market that was not asking for a Cabernet Sauvignon from Crete, but for a local variety. After years of work, we had the way to supply them with that high quality.


How do you relate wine and wine tourism to the wider and more general touristic tendencies on the island?


 Cretan WinesWine has to do with the touristic market and with how Crete presents itself as a touristic destination. Unfortunately, I believe that the biggest percentage of visitors come to Crete only because of its convenient prices. Or because they’ve heard something about Crete. The island is a complete cultural destination.

This is another goal we intend to meet and, why not..? Through wine tourism as well. We have to increase awareness about the local culture and its character.

Read more:   Best beaches on Akrotiri Peninsula, Crete

Crete is that perfect destination. Because of its climate; because of the immense variety of landscapes – from east to west and from north to south -; for its history; because of its gastronomy… and, of course, because of the authenticity of the people. Sadly enough, I believe that less than 30% of those coming to Crete, come looking for that. We should promote the discovery of the island.


What are the favorites of the island? The most consumed or more trendy varieties?


Wine drinking depends on moment and situation. Take, for example, the most trendy local variety, Vidiano. It’s a wine with character, with a great body. But then, we can also say Moscato Spinas, a very flowery and aromatic variety, is also and setting a strong trend, especially among women, thanks to a completely different character. Or even Liatiko, a very important and very interesting variety too.

On the other hand, a good Kotsifali or a good Mandilari will offer you the very essence of Crete. Their bottles carry the character of the island.

And I am not talking about a rustic red wine, but about a very well made red wine. A wine with a character from plum fragrances, leather, red fruits and smoky traits.

What would you suggest the consumer that approaches Cretan wines for the first time?

A foreign consumer should be able to forget about whatever else he has tasted. Forget about Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. You will discover something completely different which is impossible to compare to what you’ve already tasted. You need to learn about the local character, discover that local tastes resemble the island itself.


Forthcoming Wine Exhibitions


Let’s walk the Wine Roads of the Island  tasting the Wines of Crete

The next two local Cretan Wine Fairs will be held on Crete very soon, and if you happen to be on the island and want to learn more about local wines, these two unique opportunities will put you in direct touch with local producers. You will taste and learn more about the Wines of Crete.

OiNotika Heraklion: 18th – 20th February, DEKK Expo Creta, Gournes, Heraklion.
OiNotika Chania: 4th – 5th March, Center for Mediterranean Architecture, Chania.
On 27th-28th May, we have the Open Wineries day in Greece. Then, of course, there is the annual exhibition  OiNotika in Athens on the 5th of November.

You can download their magazines from their website for free. And you can read about Cretan varieties over here.

About local wineries… check them here and here.


Wines of Crete


Thanks a lot to Nico Miliarakis and Stella Astirakaki for answering all our questions. And for being a constant, authoritative reference for those working with local wines. 

Thanks also to Yannis Economou, from Galaxy Hotel Iraklio, who always receives us with stunning hospitality in the most exclusive atmosphere.


Pin it and read it later!

Wines of Crete
Wines of Crete

6 thoughts on “Gastronomic Crete: Discover Cretan Wines”

  1. I have subscribed to your blog. I love wines in general and it is interesting to discover new labels and new focus on production and marketing. For sure wine and toruism go hand in hand, and I wish my country could take a similar approach with wines, instead of classifying it as an elitist thing only.

    • Thanks Mario for subscribing, I really appreciate it. I don’t know where are you writing from (your name suggests Italy or Spain to me, I presume?) I have no idea how tourism and wine work in certain specific areas, yet it’s true that wine industry can take a good advantage of tourism in places like Crete and it’s good to see that wine producers are aware and willing to take advantage of it for everyone’s sake. Where are you from?

      • I’m from Tuscany in Italy. I’m not saying wine in my country is treated only as something for the elite. I think, however, that more could be done for visitors interested in tasting our wines. Our tourism is quite divided, Ido not see sineregy or collaboration between wineries, touristic bodies, resorts, museums. Everyone cares for his own business and dont care of the rest

        • Oh… Mario, I’ve been a long time resident of Italy myself and I think I understand your point of view. I do not agree on the fact that wine is treated as an exclusive thing but I completely agree on the fact that tourism is something that is still living in the past. there has been no evolution at all.
          Italy could solve lots of economic problems if the tourism sector understood its core importance.
          I’ve more than once felt embarrassed by the way tourists are treated, scammed in coffee shops, charged more, and things of the kind. You can’t imagine how many times I’ve been engaged in conversation with different people that travel very much and who repeatedly mentioned, over and over, they’ve chosen to travel elsewhere instead of going back to Italy exactly because of the way they have been treated. It’s a pity, indeed.

  2. I haven’t been to Crete yet, but as a wine aficionado, reading that Crete has been nominated as a new wine region of the year certainly speaks well of the vineyards. I am going to keep an eye on information about the wines of Greece and Crete in particular. It might be the reason for a new trip to Greece. Very interesting interview, thanks for giving deeper insights about destinations and not the usual boring list of 10 things to do. Why is everybody writing like that nowadays??? Thank you for your different approach!! Keep it always this fresh and insightful!!

    • Haha!! My Gosh, you made me laugh Thomas!! I try to avoid the top ten lists myself too… I did one or two in the past but I really hate that way of writing as well. I do not say it much out loud, because most bloggers do write that way, and I honestly have better things to do than go making myself a bunch of enemies… But Hell, you are so spot on, aren’t you!!!
      If I decided to blog it was because I think I might have a few things to say and I really do not conceive all “writers” writing pieces with the same title… 🙂 It’s indeed hilarious!! Imagine if we had thousands of masterpieces all with the same title but written by different authors??!! Of course I’m no Shakespeare or anything, but hey, how many more “10 things to do in Santorini” do you think we’ll have to go through before this hideous trend ends?
      You made my day!! I’ll try my best to keep it original. Promise!!
      Do let me know if you ever come to Crete for wine tasting, I’d be glad to show you around some wineries.


Leave a Comment