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Cretan wines are going through a rebirth. A new generation of winemakers driven by passion and commitment to quality are leading this renaissance.
Sustainability, a celebration of indigeneous Cretan grape varieties, and collaborative work amongst wineries in Crete are at the heart of this transformation.
Before visiting the Greek island of Crete, Cretan wines were a mystery to us. While on the island exploring the local food specialties, we made it a point to meet a number of Crete winemakers.
As we visited each winery, our goal was simple. To learn about Cretan wines and the indigeneous varieties.
As an important and up-and-coming wine region in Greece, visiting wineries in Crete should be on every visitor’s itinerary.
To help guide your Crete winery tour, here are 6 pioneering wineries in Crete you want to visit.
Wineries in Crete – From Ancient Times to Today
Winemaking in Crete is an ancient tradition dating back to the Minoan civilization. Crete wines have been produced on the island non-stop for more than 4,000 years.
The wineries in Crete are mostly family-owned, and dotted all over the island from lowland plains to the hilly mountain slopes.
Crete has four main prefectures or districts, with each one producing Crete wines of different profiles and varieties.
During our stay in Crete, we were based in Chania prefecture, on the west side of the island. As a result, our Cretan winery visits were centered around Chania and the surrounding areas.
There are more than 11 distinctive local grape varieties and they all play a role in raising the profile of Cretan wines.
Most of the wines produced on the island, especially, on the west side are fresh and aromatic white wines. Vidiano, for instance, a rising Cretan wine is often referred to as a Greek Viognier.
Two of the most popular red wines from local varieties are Kostifali and Mandilari. They are often blended, though we did try them as single varieties.
On our Crete winery tour, we were impressed by the dynamic and passionate wine producers we met.
They all exuded optimism and a steadfast belief that Crete can create distinguished wines from local grapes worthy of worldwide acclaim.
If you are looking to visit wineries in Crete, don’t miss these amazing wineries.
Learn about Cretan wines made from local grapes and add new favorites to your wine collection.
1 – Manousakis Winery
From a father’s dream to now one of the most important Crete wineries, visiting Manousakis winery should be on your itinerary.
Guiding us on our visit was Afshin Molavi, co-winery owner with his wife, Alexandra Manousakis.
As we toured the winery, Afshin regaled us with stories about the founding of the winery by Alexandra’s dad, Theodore (Ted) Manousakis in 1993.
Born in Crete, Ted left his village in Chania’s prefecture, for America at the tender age of 11 years old.
After graduating from university and finding success in a number of business ventures, he wanted to give back to the island he loved.
Wine, a way of life on the island and memory from his childhood was the way he chose to pay tribute.
Not being a winemaker, he assembled a team of experts and produced the first wines under the Nostos label in 1997.
The word Nostos is rooted in nostalgia and the emblem on the wine which consists of three flowers represents each of the Manousakis daughters.
What we found even more impressive is the vision and growth trajectory fueled by the power couple.
Together, Afshin and Alexandra have grown from producing 35,000 bottles per year to more than 150,000 bottles.
The focus is on organic wines. As Afshin told us, “we don’t interfere with nature, we work to help nature.”
A concern for the environment is at the heart of wine production at Manousakis winery. From hand picking the grapes, to planting legumes to inject nitrogen into the soils, working to support nature was evident.
Even more impressive was learning about the environmental considerations given to the weight of wine bottles while exporting.
Wine Tasting At Manousakis Winery Crete
The setting for a wine tasting at Manousakis winery could not be more relaxing. Surrounded by citrus trees, the tasting terrace offers a panoramic view of the Cretan landscape and mountains.
To start, Afshin offered us the winery’s signature white wine made from the local Romeiko grapes. Romeiko is a unique local variety that only grows in the Chania region.
Other Romeiko wines we tried before from local restaurants or wine stores had an odd pale orange colour. The taste ranged from a light-sherry, to rather off putting and best used for cooking wines.
Needless to say that the white Romeiko from Manousakis winery was worlds apart. Light, refreshing with citrusy aromas, we sipped it easily over light Cretan appetizers.
As an introduction to Manousakis winery and Cretan wines we could not have asked for a better experience.
Afshin generously offered us three other white wines from local grapes. These Cretan wines were Assyrtiko, Muscat of Spina and Roussanne.
While we typically prefer red wines, all the white wines from Manousakis winery were delightful. The Roussanne wine, in particular stood out for its light oak flavor and fruity aromas.
Amongst the red wines, we enjoyed a Rosé, Grenache and a Red Nostos blend. We loved the light and not overly sweet rosé, or Nostos Pink wine.
The Red Nostos blend, which we also enjoyed, was the perfect companion for a local specialty tsigariasto, slow-cooked lamb with olive oil.
Manousakis winery offers tasting by appointments all year round at their winery except on Sundays. You can choose from two different tasting options starting at €10 euros.
Light snacks and meals are available as well as their full wine list.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: In addition to the wine tasting on-site, you can enjoy a wine tasting and tour of the vineyards with an off-road tour at sunset. Another option is a guided tour to the Samaria Gorge with an introduction to the Cretan herbs. Following is a full Cretan lunch and wine pairing at Manousakis winery.
2 – Dourakis Winery
Antonis Dourakis, a second generation winemaker was our guide during our visit to Dourakis winery. His father, Andreas Dourakis, created the winery and their first production was in 1988.
This boutique winery in Alikampos Village, is only about 40 minutes away from Chania. Antonis, now in charge of winemaking talked about his vision for creating the best quality wines from indigienous grape varieties.
Crete, he told us, “is an upcoming wine region in Greece” and the “quality of the wines are getting better and better.”
After studying winemaking in Germany, like his father, he is now focused on the indigeneous grape varieties and sustainability.
The winery produces between 200,000 to 250,000 bottles of wine per year using grapes from their own vineyards as well as some from local producers.
All Dourakis wines made from their vineyards are organic. Their goal is to be able to source 100% organic grapes from their producers within the next five years.
Antonis enthusiasm and passion was contagious. Beyond sharing his story, he excitedly shared his wines particularly, the ones made with native grapes.
The Dourakis wine label “Kudos”comes from ancient Greece κῦδος [keedo] and was the word for magical glory.
Apparently, when the word entered the English language in the 19th century, the meaning became “high acclaim” or praise for exceptional achievement.
During our tasting, it was wonderful to taste the meaning of “Kudos” unfold in the wines.
Wine Tasting At Dourakis Winery Crete
We tasted six different Cretan wines with Antonis. Starting with white wines, we moved to rosé, reds and ended with an exceptional sweet wine made from the local Romeiko grapes.
The setting could not have been more idyllic. Seated underneath a tree in the outdoor patio of the winery, we enjoyed the views and unseasonably warm February temperatures.
One of our most surprising discoveries was the multiple expressions of the Romeiko grape variety. Antonis aptly described Romeiko “like a guy with a 1000 faces.”
This grape, endemic to Chania, comes in multiple colors, green, red, and pink, yielding wines of different profiles and tastes.
One of our other favorite Dourakis wines was a white Malvasia Aromatica Cretan wine with aromatic and citrus notes.
Other wines we enjoyed were Vidiano and a glass of intriguing sweet wine. While we don’t typically drink dessert wines, we enjoyed the density and aromas in the Euphoria Romeiko sweet wine.
Dourakis winery offers a variety of tastings and tours. From simple wine tastings starting at €8 euros to more elaborate experiences featuring wine and cheese and meal pairings.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Before stopping at Dourakis Winery for a wine tasting tour and visit to the vineyards, this tour experience offers much more. From Chania, this Sacred Paths Wine Tour with a Sommelier also takes you to a monastery and traditional Greek taverna. For over 6 hours, you’ll explore, taste and sip, the best of Crete. Pick up and drop off provided.
3 – Karavitakis Winery
Demanding of one-self and driven to perfection is how we would describe Nikos Karavitakis. A third-generation winemaker, he is eager to put his own mark on an already successful Cretan winery.
The winery, Nikos told us, while showing us around, was started by his grandfather. This was about 90 years ago, making it one of the oldest wineries in Crete.
His father studied winemaking in Italy and upon his return introduced Italian varieties. Afterwards, the winery produced premium wines out of mostly international varieties and a few local Crete wines as blends.
Now, with Nikos in charge, Karavitakis winery is going through another evolution.
Everything has shifted now, Nikos told us. “We went from making 80% international wine varieties and 20% local” to now more than “80% local indigeneous Cretan wines and just 20% international.”
In the modern tasting room where we sat, Nikos spoke with firm determination. And he told us, “we’ve taken the humble Cretan wine varieties and are treating them the same way as we do our premium wines.”
It was interesting learning about Nikos winemaking journey as it is reflected in the wines.
After graduating as an oenologist, Nikos traveled to different wineries around the world to learn about their wine making approach.
Visiting wineries in Australia, the United States, South Africa and around Europe, he brought back new ideas to make their wines better.
Adopting a modern and consumer friendly approach the winery has grown and they now produce about 225,000 bottles.
Even with the growth, they continue their sustainability focus. Their wines are organic even though they don’t have the certification.
Nikos is focused on producing better wines, more sustainably and experiencing Crete as if you were there.
Wine Tasting At Karavitakis Winery
“What we are trying to capture in a bottle is the essence of Crete”, Nikos told us as we started the wine tasting.
And, as we sipped a variety of white and red Cretan wines we appreciated the nuances in each of the Cretan grape varietals.
Vidiano is the flagship wine at Karavitakis winery and we tried this white wine in blends and as a single variety.
One of my favorite wines was Kompsos White, a blend of Vidiano, Assyrtiko and Malvasia. The name means “elegant” in Greek, and it is fitting of the wine.
Rosemary enjoyed the single variety Vidiano from their Klima line of wines.These white wines are refreshing and easy to drink.
Liatiko, from the east side of the island was a surprising light colored red. Fresh and fruity this is the type of wine that goes well with a charcuterie board.
Some of the Karavitakis wines are sold exclusively at the winery and nowhere else. If your travels take you to Crete, consider a Cretan winery tour at Karavitakis winery.
Tours are offered daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. From simple wine tastings to more elaborate ones, catered with food.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: For an easy going afternoon tour from Chania, visit Karavitakis and Anoskeli wineries in a small and intimate tour group. Enjoy exclusive behind-the-scenes walks through these wineries, sample their wines and learn how to taste them like the professionals on the island.
4 – Loupakis Winery
Getting to Loupakis winery was an adventure. As we drove through the winding and hilly roads, suddenly the winery appeared in sight isolated on a hill amongst the vineyards.
Upon our arrival Miltiadis, winemaker and co-owner of Loupakis winery welcomed us warmly. We started our visit by touring the vineyard and taking in the Cretan landscape from the mountains to the sea.
Militiadis is the third generation owner and winemaker at Loupakis. The family vineyard survived the phylloxera outbreak that destroyed most of the vineyard in Crete in the 1970s.
Since then, Loupakis introduced new varieties like Grenache and also focused on native grapes with Kotsifali and Vilana varieties.
A small boutique winery, Loupakis winery is about 20 acres in size. In addition to the grapes in their vineyards, they also buy grapes from other wineries in Crete as needed.
Grape harvesting and prune is done by hand to produce high quality single variety wines.
During harvest, visitors are invited to help in the stomping of the grapes at this Cretan winery.
Militiadis mother cooks a meal and the harvest is celebrated with food and wine for all.
Wine Tasting At Loupakis Winery
As we walked in the tasting room, we were charmed by the incredible quaint setting and Miltiadis artistic touch.
A large wood table decorated with wines, candlelights, flowers, fruits and laid out before us.
With soft music playing in the background, Miltiadis offered a tasting of several wines, including Kotsifali, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Vilana.
We really enjoyed the Vilana, a best-seller at Loupakis winery. A light and refreshing wine with floral and citrus aromas, it paired perfectly with Cretan meze or appetizers.
Rosemary is a Cabernet Sauvignon fan and relished the Loupakis Cabernet. While I preferred the Kotsifali, a single variety Cretan wine, with its intense and spicy aromas.
Loupakis winery offers wine tasting and tours all year round from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. With a very personable and authentic approach, this is a wine tasting and tour you will not forget.
To visit and book a tour, contact them in advance directly on their Facebook page so they can best accommodate you.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: To fully enjoy a tasting at Loupakis and visit the surrounding region, check this Crete wine tasting in Kissamos. Visit Loupakis winery and Anoskeli winery, another renowned winery in Crete. You also get to tour Biolea Estate, a beautiful domain where they keep the tradition alive of making artisanal olive oil.
5 – Anoskeli Winery
Anoskeli winery is located in Anoskeli, a small village where the family is from, very close to Loupakis winery.
Anoskeli is foremost an olive oil producer making award winning extra virgin olive oil.
What started as family tradition to produce olive oil grew into an internationally awarded olive oil under the Anoskeli brand.
Building on their success, the family decided to cultivate Cretan wines with the vineyards on the family property.
Anoskeli wines are hard to miss. You will easily spot their wine bottles with the ANO written vertically on the front of their bottle.
The white wines produced come all from Greek and Cretan varieties with Vilana, Vidiano and Assyrtiko grapes.
While the red wines include international varieties like Syrah, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Anoskeli also offers a premium tsikoudia or raki, the local distillate alcohol. Their award winning Ano Kato raki follows a double distillation for smooth and rounded results.
With a small production, this family run business focuses on making high quality wines rather than quantity.
Wine Tasting At Anoskeli Winery Crete
If you are looking to do more than a wine tour, you are at the right place. Anoskeli offers an olive oil tasting combined with their wine tasting.
This is the perfect way to get exposed to the most famous Cretan products in one setting.
Anoskeli tasting room is a nice spacious room located at the winery named after the family’s mother, Eirini.
In addition to tasting olive oil and 5 Anoskeli wines, you can also try their premium tsikoudia.
The tour of the olive mill and winery starts at 7euros including olive oil tasting, 5 wines and a traditional Cretan meze.
The winery is open all year round from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm with closures on Saturday’s and Sunday’s during the low season.
You can also contact Anoskeli directly on their website to arrange your Crete winery tour.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Sit back and relax with this guided Crete winery tour from Chania to Anoskeli winery. Learn about the olive oil production from past and present before enjoying your wine tasting at Anoskeli winery. You also get to visit the Deliania Gorge and enjoy a delicious traditional Cretan lunch.
6 – Lyrarakis Winery
Lyrarakis winery is a family owned winery located in Alagni, a village south of Heraklion, known for its vinicultural heritage.
A pioneer in rescuing indigeneous grapes, Lyrarakis has been at the forefront of the renaissance of Cretan wines.
The winery focuses on the growth of rare local varieties and the production of single variety wines.
Dafni, one of the first grapes rescued on the Cretan Island by Lyrarakis winery in the 1990s, is now getting international recognition.
Other native varieties recently rediscovered like Melissaki are unique to this Cretan winery.
For the indigeneous reds varieties, you will find Kotsifali and Mandilari as unique and must-try Cretan wines.
Their most recent effort has been on adding organic wines to their product range.
While not all their wines are organics, Lyrarakis is committed to developing sustainable winegrowing practices.
They created a partnership with local wine growers sharing the same vision. To continue offering high quality indigeneous Cretan wines recognized and appreciated internationally for their unique character.
Wine Tasting At Lyrarakis Winery Crete
We first discovered Lyrarakis wines on the shelves of grocery and winery stores in Crete. Attracted by their unique label, we tasted the Kotsifali PGI red wine.
We particularly liked its light spicy taste and cherry aroma with a dry finish. The easy to drink red wine is the perfect accompaniment to Cretan meats.
While we didn’t get the chance to enjoy wine tasting at the winery, it is definitely on our list for our next visit to Crete.
Lyrarakis offers several tour packages focusing on the promotion of the indigenous Cretan varieties.
They also combine the pleasure of unique forgotten wines with the delightful Cretan gastronomy.
The wine tasting package starts at 10 euros for 6 different Cretan wines. Wine tasting information is available directly on their website at lyrarakis.com
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you are interested in visiting wineries in the Heraklion area without driving, check out this Cretan wine tasting tour. With a former chef, visit two local wineries and taste 15 wines followed by a gourmet lunch. Enjoy tasting olive oil and other traditional Cretan foods.
Cretan wines are worth seeking out. And, if you are on the island, taking a Crete wine tour will introduce you to these unique wines.
The people behind the wineries in Crete are passionate and working tirelessly in the direction of authenticity, quality and sustainability.
Get to know Vilana, the most important white wine variety or Liatiko, the most widely planted red grape.
Taking a winery tour is a great way to see and do a lot in a short amount of time. Many of the Crete wine tours offer additional experiences.
From sampling the local Cretan gastronomy to visiting natural and historic sites, your wine tasting in Crete will be unsurpassed.
Have you had Cretan wines or Greek wines before? Please let us know in the comments below.
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Curious by nature, Rosemary loves exploring new flavors and connecting with locals. She shares her insights and culinary finds from her travels to inspire people to connect local through food.