What if I told you Crete wine was once world-renowned, served in the courts of Egyptian Pharaohs, and revered by Romans and Venetians?
You’d think I’d had a few too many glasses, right?
But it’s actually true! Winemaking on this Greek island goes back 4,000 years to the Minoan Civilization. They even found the oldest wine press (3,500 years old) on Crete.
So, what happened? Why can’t I peruse a large selection of Cretan wine in my local store next to the Italian and French sections?
History of Crete Wine
Well, Crete’s location in the eastern Mediterranean made it attractive to many of history’s infamous conquerors. First, there were the Romans and the Venetians, who were big winos, so Crete’s wine industry actually benefited from this.
But the Ottomans weren’t much help given the whole wine prohibition thing. And let’s not forget about the Germans. Basically, Crete just couldn’t catch a break.
When they were finally able to come up for air, there were other problems that tanked the quality of the wine.
Wines were being produced from grapes grown by co-ops of farmers, who were paid a flat rate by volume. So Georgios could be spending all his time and money making grapes with the perfect balance of sugar and acidity for winemaking. While Nikolaos down the street is neglecting his vines or over-irrigating to increase his crop size. And they’d both get paid the same amount of money.
Of course, this means all the Georgios said, “The heck with it. I’m going to make crappy grapes too.” And crappy grapes do not make good wine, so Crete’s wine reputation suffered.
Then came Phylloxera in the ‘70s, the root louse that has affected much of the world’s vineyards. This meant basically starting over in the ‘80s.
Fast forward to the ‘90s and ‘00s when winemakers were able to travel and learn from other parts of the world. They’ve since brought back techniques and worked to improve vineyard and winemaking standards.
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Crete Wines Today
Crete is now home to more than 60 wineries and 7 PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin). It produces 12% of Greece’s wine (despite not even getting a mention in my WSET textbook).
Because of the hot climate, grapes are grown at altitude. The growing season is long, extending as late as November. When I was there in September, they were just beginning to harvest some of the early-ripening varieties.
I did see a number of producers using international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Muscat (done in a dry style). These were often used as blends with native varieties but there were some single varietals.
Also, many are making Assyrtiko, better known from the famously white-and-blue adorned island of Santorini.
But Greece has more than 300 native grape varieties. So, many producers have decided to go back to Crete’s roots and are making stellar versions of local white grapes like Vidiano, Vilana, Dafni, Plyto, Rameiko, and Thrapsathiri. And sumptuous reds from Mandilari, Kotsifali, and Liatiko.
If you’re planning to visit Crete, Chania is likely on your itinerary. I’ve put together a list of some of the best wineries in Crete for wine tasting in the Chania area. I recommend making reservations at least a few days in advance as these places do book up, especially in the busy summer season.
While you’re here, don’t miss taking my wine country destination quiz! It will magically match your taste buds, travel style, and winederlust desires to reveal the wine region of your dreams. Plus, you’ll get my wine region guide to make planning a breeze. Take the quiz.
The Best Crete Wineries in Chania
This area of Crete is known for some of the best beaches in Greece, if not the world (hello beautiful Balos Bay). But between your snorkeling and sunbathing, make sure to fit in a visit to these local wineries. You won’t be disappointed.
If you don’t want to brave driving the crazy Crete roads, definitely book with Chania Wine Tours. My new friend Anna Maria (a fellow Massachusetts native!) owns and operates the company along with her husband, Vasili.
Anna Maria is a Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator who grew up spending summers with her extended family in Crete and decided to move there with her husband.
I learned so much about the history of Crete and wine production on her tour. She also happens to be thoroughly entertaining. You may find yourself being convinced to move to Crete just so you can hang out with her.
They offer some unique wine tour options that include things like olive oil and honey tasting, boozy brunch, dinner under the stars, or even a cooking class. You can’t go wrong with any of these.
On a side note, if South Africa is also on your travel bucket list, you should check out my recommendations for Stellenbosch wineries.
We opted for the dinner under the stars at Manousakis Winery with Chania Wine Tours. I’ll be sharing more about this amazing (or “wicked awesome” as we say in Boston) experience in a future post. But for now, I’ll tell you a bit about the winery.
With a reputation as one of the best wineries on Crete, Manousakis Winery was founded by Ted Manousakis. Ted left Crete for America as a child, but later in life, he wanted to return and give back to the island.
In 1993, the first vineyards of Manousakis were planted in the clay-rich soils of the hills surrounding Ted’s birth village. He brought in experts who helped him decide to focus on Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Roussanne — varieties usually found in the Rhone region of France.
Ted’s youngest daughter, Alexandra (who also happens to be best friends with Anna Maria from Chania Wine Tours), is now involved in the business along with her sommelier husband, Afshin. She represents one of the three flowers in the Manousakis logo, with the other two being her sisters.
Manousakis produces organic wines and currently has 12 different wine labels. Nostos, meaning “yearning to come home,” is their premium label and we tasted five of these.
For the whites, the unique find is a rare 100% Roussane. This is a grape that’s difficult to grow so you likely won’t see it outside of a blend. It’s full-bodied and spends about 6 months in French oak, which gives it notes of vanilla and honey but doesn’t overpower the white fruit flavors.
For the reds, I honestly loved them all (so much so that I bought all three). But the Nostos Blend was a standout, a combination of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Roussanne. I’m planning on holding this one for another 10 years.
Manousakis also makes a hard-to-get rosé from Grenache, Romeiko, and Syrah. We were able to track it down at Gioma Meze, a restaurant in Agios Nikolaos. It was delicious with a roasted and pickled beetroot salad with goat cream cheese. Mmm, I’m still dreaming of it…
If you don’t do a Crete wine tour, this is a great winery to stop at on the way from Heraklion to Chania (although Chania Wine Tours does offer tours here!).
It’s a short trek off the “highway.” I use quotes because it’s more of a single-lane road that people drive really fast on and pass each other in no-passing zones.
Apparently, my husband thinks he’s a local, because he joined right in, despite having rented a tiny Hyundai that required turning off the AC to get up any sort of incline. But anyways…
The founder, Andreas Dourakis, dreamed of his own winery in the village where he was born. So, he studied winemaking in Germany and worked at wineries in northern Greece to build his skills. Then in 1988, he returned home to start Dourakis Winery.
We were lucky enough to have Andreas as our tour guide. He admitted his English was not the best, but it was a treat to get to learn about their winemaking process directly from the founder.
Andreas explained the grapes are hand harvested and destemmed to reduce undesired tannins. They use their oak barrels for 3 years, which are stored in the original wine cellar from the 80s. Andreas mentioned they are looking to build a bigger cellar to handle a larger capacity — which may be good news for the future of exports.
For our tasting, we chose the Connoisseur Tasting, which included 8 of their best and limited-edition wines.
This was the only winery where we tasted Rameiko — a red grape that’s used to produce white, rose, red, and dessert wines. This version was a chilled white. So refreshing on a hot day, with nice acidity and flavors of lemon and pear. A little bit like a Sauvignon Blanc.
We also tried their dessert wine made from Rameiko. At harvest, the grapes are left to dry in the sun, which concentrates the sugars (the same technique used in Santorini’s Vinsanto wines). This produces a sweet wine with flavors of dried apricot, figs, and cloves.
For the reds, I enjoyed the Kotsifali and Syrah blend. It was peppery, with flavors of black cherry and blackberry. It can be drunk younger than some of their other wines, like the one made with the notoriously tannic Mandilari grape.
Our tasting was made even better with a visit from their black kitty, Merlot, whose official role on the website is listed as “Cuddle Lady.”
I didn’t get the chance to visit Karavitakis on this trip (so many wines and so little time!). But we did enjoy a bottle of one of their 3 Klimata red blend at Kritamon Wine Restaurant in Chania. And they have a reputation for being a high-quality producer.
If you’re headed to any of the beaches west or southwest of Chania, this would be a good stop along the way. Or Chania Wine Tours has a couple of tour options that go here.
Karavitakis makes wines from many of the native grapes like Kotsifali and Vidiano. They also use international varieties, including Merlot, Syrah, and Grenache. And they’re experimenting with some rare varieties from around the world.
They offer two different tasting options — seven Premium wines or six Discovery wines. Both are accompanied by a platter of cheeses, olives, and other Cretan foods.
If you make it there, I’d love to hear what you think of their wines!
Also, if you are planning to visit other areas of Crete, check out these Heraklion wineries that are just a short drive from the city.
And don’t miss the best wineries in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Where to Stay in Chania, Crete
There are lots of great hotel options in downtown Chania. If you stay in the Old Town area, just be aware that you may need to take your bags on foot some distance as there are roads that don’t allow cars.
For hotel reservations, I like to use Booking.com. Just enter “Chania, Crete” and select your dates below to see available options.
Recommendations may be affiliate links on which I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps me share new wine destinations with you and I only recommend products and services that I love and think you’ll love too!Booking.com
Did I mention how amazing the sunsets are on Crete? Yamas!
Have you tried any wines from Crete?