Gastronomic Crete: Discover the Fantastic Wines from Crete

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.

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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.

The local cooperative Wines of Crete

Back in 2006, local producers from the main wine region in Crete, Heraklion decided that it was necessary to create a Wine Makers Association to promote the local wines.

The real goal was to promote all Cretan wines, Heraklion was simply a starting point.

A similar association also took place in the western region of Chania. These two groups were at the origin of Wines of Crete, which was finally born between 2009 and 2010.

The wineries inside Wines of Crete

Over 30 wineries belong to the association, most of them are private yet, there are also a few cooperatives. Some of them are small wineries while others are much bigger. There are wineries are producing about 40.000 bottles while the average wineries produce between 150.000 to 350.000 bottles. A few winemakers currently produce 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.

Within the context of Greece, Crete represents about 10-14% of the total wine production.

Becoming a member winery

In order to become a winery member of Wines of Crete, the aspiring winery must produce its own wines, bottling and labelling wines produced by third parties is not enough.

Wineries must also comply with a financial investment and getting involved is key.

Europe and the wines from Crete

Back in the 90s, Crete received the first European program to invest in wine and wine tasting. 

More recent funding programs were fundamental for local wine producers who invested in local wine roads, but also in a global improvement in the wine industry.

Goals achieved by the wines from Crete

The first goal of the association was to get more interest from professionals and consumers. 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 of wine that Crete imports, focusing on increasing those numbers.

Besides, it was also necessary to think about the rest of the world, a goal reached through the organization of foreign exhibitions and events. By means of special brochures, maps in different languages and dedicated magazines, Wines of Crete is explaining the island’s history and the native varieties, introducing the local wines in other markets.

Oinotika, Cretan Wine Fair

Wines of Crete also promotes the local market with the creation of OiNotika, a fair organized every year (both in Chania and in Heraklion) to increase awareness.

This annual appointment is becoming more and more popular, and it’s a favorite meeting moment for locals and foreigners alike. Wines of Crete gives the opportunity to see the island in less touristic seasons and to taste the local labels.

Selected Wine Region 2016

Another achievement that made Wines of Crete and local producers extremely proud of their work is to have been included as a Selected Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. It’s indeed thrilling to see Crete sharing the list with regions such as Champagne, Provence, Sonoma County, and Willamette Valley.

Cretan varieties

During the past decades, many Cretan producers abandoned the local varieties to focus their production on varieties that were also grown in many other world vineyards. This probably believing that tourists would not value the grapes of Crete. However, this trend made a complete change in recent years.

Returning to the native varieties

The wine history on Crete can be divided into three different stages. The first, more classic one, when local varieties were used here to produce wines consumed locally. Those grapes used were Vilana, Kotsifali, Mandilari, Liatiko, and Romeiko. 

After some time, when Crete began to be recognized as an international touristic destination, a wave of new winemakers started cultivating foreign varieties simply because that’s what market was asking for (both the Greek and the international markets).

This was the panorama on Crete until the early 2000, a moment when consumers got the ability to understand and started to look for something authentic. They were able to taste and see what traits differentiate several kinds of wines.

Besides, they might have started thinking that local varieties were also worth being discovered.

Local wines

Local grapes have a very special character. In a way, the consumer was finally ready for new or more complex tastes, and the island was ready to show their “new” varieties. The local vineyards were responsible for this shift. Getting better and better was a must in a global wine market that was always harder. 

Wine has to do with the touristic market and with how Crete presents itself as a tourist destination. Unfortunately, the highest numbers of visitors travel to Crete only because of its convenient prices. Or because they’ve heard something about Crete.

Not everybody is aware of the island’s huge cultural heritage and complex past. Making tourists aware of what Crete represents is another goal set by Wines of Crete, even through wine tourism. The association also seeks to increase the awareness of the local character and culture.

Wines of Crete is convinced that Crete is a perfect destination because of its climate and the immense variety of landscapes, from coast to coast. But Crete is also a fantastic place to visit due to its history, its gastronomy, and because of the authenticity of the people. Sadly enough, not everyone coming to Crete is looking for that. It would be a great idea to promote a real discovery of the island.

Which are the favorite wines from Crete

Drinking wine has to do with a certain moment and a certain situation. But also with personal taste and even mood. For instance, the trendy local variety Vidiano has great body and character.

Another white, Moscato Spinas, is a very flowery and aromatic variety which is also setting a strong trend, especially among women, thanks to a character of its own.

Instead, red varieties such as Kotsifali, or a quality Mandilari will offer the very essence of Crete. These are bottles that carry the character of the island. And we’re not talking about a rustic kind of red, but of wines with character, with plum fragrances, leather, red fruits, and smoky traits.

Approaching Cretan wines for the first time

When approaching a Cretan wine for the first time, it’s a wise idea to be able to forget about anything else tasted before. Forget about Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. With the native grapes of Crete, it’s possible to discover something completely different and impossible to compare to anything savored before.

Local wines help you comprehend the local character, the native tastes that are nothing but a reflection of the island.

Thanks a lot to Nikos Miliarakis and Stella Astirakaki for answering all my 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.

Are you ready to explore more in Crete? It can be the trip of your lifetime. Get in touch if you need extra help to plan your itinerary. Or check this guide if you’re touring West Crete. You’ll find detailed info about where to go, what to see, where to eat, and more!

Coming to Crete any time soon? These fantastic resources will help you organize the trip!

Finally, make sure you’ve got everything you for a hassle-free trip!

  • I never move around the island with any of these… my Osprey backpack has been the most loyal travel partner over the last 5 years. It’s sturdy, light, roomy, and super comfortable! I just love it. To visit the old town, archaeological sites, and museums, this little crossbody bag is always around.
  • When driving around Crete, I always pack my Michelin map, clear, accurate, and easy to read and my Nikon D7200, I’m lost without any of them. In summer I also carry good sunscreen lotion, the sun on the island can be pretty aggressive.
  • Greece, and especially Crete, is a fairly safe destination, however, I’m sure you know that it’s always better to travel with an insurance policy for complete peace of mind. My favorite? World Nomads. Already left home? Buy your travel insurance online now!
  • Always bring with you a good travel guide to Crete! The best Crete Travel Guide I’ve found so far is the one published by Lonely Planet. It has all the information you need.
  • Airfares to Crete can vary immensely from one airline to the other, make sure you always compare ticket prices with a powerful search engine. Getting to Crete can be really comfortable with an airplane, but nothing beats the romantic experience of traveling by sea. I always choose Direct Ferries to visit other Greek islands or to travel directly to Crete from Athens. It has a powerful search engine to get the right ticket you need!
  • If I need to book accommodation in Crete or anywhere else, I personally use Booking.com. Their Genius Loyalty Programme allows me to find better fees. As they say, the more you stay with them, the more rewards you get.
  • Road trips in Crete are the most authentic way to explore the island. Find the cheapest rental car using a good car rental search engine. Discover Cars searches over 500 trusted rental companies for you to find the best deal. Compare prices for rental cars in Crete here.
  • Sometimes, the best way to get to know a place better and make the most of your time on Crete is to join an organized tour. GetYourGuide has a great selection of proposals that help you save time and money. From cooking lessons to archaeological site tours, skip-the-line attractions, and even airport transfer!

Do you have everything you need? Then you just have to get ready to discover Crete, Greece’s most beautiful island!

  • Further reading

Chances are that if you want to learn more about the wines from Crete, you’ll be heading to visit the wineries of Heraklion, so why not checking my visit to Lyrarakis winery and Gavalas winery. If instead, you’d like to read more about the city of Heraklion and what to do there, you can read this self-guided tour to visit Knossos as well as this unique Heraklion itinerary for 1 to 3 days in town. As you’ve probably heard, visiting the Knossos Palace is not always enough, so do include a trip to Heraklion’s Archaeological Museum on the same day to get a more accurate picture of the Minoan Civilization.

Heraklion is also the region where you can discover a more recent past… so why not travel back to the 60s with a day trip to Matala beach? It’s located on Heraklion’s south coast which also boasts spectacular beaches facing the Libyan Sea. Families with kids will be happy to know that the capital of Crete has some stunning theme parks for children such as Labyrinth Park and the fascinating Dinosauria. Finally, if you’re still in the planning stage of your trip, have some fun learning these fun and interesting facts about Crete, you’ll discover many curious things you probably didn’t know!

What’s your favorite Cretan Wine?
Let me know in the comments below!

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Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

About the Author

Hola! I’m Gabi. Welcome to The Tiny Book – Crete Travel Blog! I moved to Crete to explore the island all year round. I love taking pictures and driving on the mountain roads of Crete. I’m a beach freak and on this island I’ve found heaven on earth!

6 thoughts on “Gastronomic Crete: Discover the Fantastic Wines from Crete”

  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.

    Reply
    • 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?

      Reply
      • 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

        Reply
        • 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.

          Reply
  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!!

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply

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