Cretan wines

The varieties, the vineyards and Chania wineries

How many different faces can a place have? In the case of Crete, many. This is something that the travellers who visited the island in the past centuries and wrote about it, confirm.

Acclaimed researchers and even more acclaimed journalists also verify it through their accounts of many very distinct versions of Crete.

A bit like those pictures that change depending on where you stand when you look at them. From the North to the South, from the coastal areas to its inland, from the cosmopolitan hoteliers to the tough cattle farmers, from the old bourgeoisie of Chania to the nouveau riche of Heraklion, the island is full of contrasts and often contradictions, on all levels. And I imagine that’s its charm and the reason you fall for it.

Of course, wine could not be an exception to this rule, as it’s a product closely related to the culture but mainly to the everyday life of the locals. So closely in fact, that I believe that if we could measure the consumption of wine per capita in each area of Greece, then the Cretans would, by far, be the champions. So, here too, we have many faces. From the heady, orange-hued, oxidative reds that express the traditional flavour, at least as it has evolved in the past 100 years, to the technologically-savvy, cosmopolitan expressions of the modern vintners that excite wine critics, the variations are, inevitably, many. The almost 4.000-year presence of vines, and the special terrain that has affected not only the financial development of some areas but also the social development, seem like two obvious reasons for this.

The turbulent history of Crete is also prevalent in the trajectory of its wines, with perhaps the high point being the period of the Venetian rule which lasted more than 400 years, from the beginnings of the 13th century up until the middle of the 17th century. Of course, this is due to the production of Malvasia, the most popular wine of the time, which was in the hands of Venetian merchants. Regarding its origin, its production method, its variety composition, and its characteristics, different hypotheses have been made and continue to be made. The essence being that Crete has been the biggest production centre for this type of wine, and that we may be able to trace its “reflections” even in the most traditional parts of its vineyard.

The Ottoman rule restricted the production of wine within the confines of the monasteries and of peasant winemaking, forming habits and practices that, to some extent, still exist. I don’t know whether there exists another area in Greece with so many small vineyard owners and amateur vintners, all of them proud and certain of the “purity” and extraordinary quality of their product. So much so that you often face the dilemma: Do I lose a friend or…have an upset stomach tomorrow?

However, things are changing impressively fast. Already in the past twenty years, the modern, organised wineries have multiplied, reaching around 100 in number, with 10-15 of them being the “steam engines: that need to pull behind them the rest of the…train; a train “loaded” with many thousand tonnes of wine that come from approximately 80.000 acres of wine vines, without taking into account the Soultanina grape with the triple use – their centre of the winemaking activity being the inland of Heraklion but with many vines all over Crete.


The varieties

Even though the ampelographers of the 19th century have recorded up to 72 grape varieties in the Cretan vineyard, of course not all of them distinct to one another, and not all of them appropriate for winemaking, today fewer than 10 cover large areas, while an equal number of cosmopolitan varieties also has a notable presence.

Among them, at the moment, the first place is held by the red Liatiko, an ancient variety that got its name due to its earliness (Iouliatiko, i.e. ‘that happens in July’ in Greece, >Liatiko), which produces wines with high levels of alcohol often with variable colour. The also red Kotsifali and Romeiko – this is grown almost exclusively in Chania – follow, and the white Vilana, an old variety that, as its name implies (from the Venetian villano = rough, coarse) was not valued much, although now there are some very well-made options available. Also, the red Tsardana, from the same family as Romeiko, that we only find in western Crete, the red Mandilari, and the white Thrapsathiri and Vidiano (the rising star of the Cretan vineyard that is “already making it abroad”) and the white small-grape Muscat, with the local clones of Spina and Maza. The most popular cosmopolitan varieties on the island are the Mediterranean reds Syrah and Grenache and the ever-present Cabernet Sauvignon.


At the vineyards and the wineries

In essence, wherever you are in Crete – with very few exceptions – there will be a winery nearby worth visiting and tasting its wines. Ideally, however, if you really want to explore all the wine-making zones on the island, you’ll drive about 300 kilometres on the Northern Road Axis of Crete (A90) from mount Kissamos, in the West, to Sitia in the East, making many detours to the South, especially in the wider area of Heraklion. Alternatively, just keep on reading.




The vineyards of the Prefectural Administration of Chania cover more than 15.000 acres, and they stretch mostly along the northern coast, with the best located in the northern slopes of Lefka Ori. Approximately 80% of them are covered by Romeiko, a local grape variety, with many clones, productive, highly alcoholic, with poor colour intensity, that is used to make the very popular, locally, Marouvas wine. If one can find real Marouvas, and not something sold in plastic water bottles, it’s worth trying, even if just for the experience. It is a special red wine, of high alcoholic content, intensely oxidative with aromas that even evoke cognac. The aging process resembles an early version of the solera system that is used for the Spanish sherry. The area only has two Protected Geographical Indications (PGI): Chania and Kissamos.


The area’s wineries that stand out:

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Manousakis Winery in the village of Vatolakkos, on the way to the Omalos Plateau, around 15 kilometres southwest of the city of Chania. Theodoros Manousakis, a Cretan raised in the USA, passionate about his homeland, with the help of French specialists, pedologists and viticulturists, has created one of the most beautiful vineyards in Crete. At altitudes of 350 and 600 metres above sea-level the “southern” red varieties of Syrah, Grenache Rouge and Mourvèdre, together with the white Roussanne, were planted and in the care of oenologists Kostis and Giannis Galanis produce wines with strong personality and of high quality. Alexandra Manousakis oversees the brand new and very beautiful winery that is open to visitors.



The Anoskeli winery is also open to visitors, owned by the well-known Mamidakis family. It’s located in the village of the same name, on the way to Paliochora, right outside of Voukolies.

It offers a small selection of well-made wines from its private vineyard, using Greek and cosmopolitan varieties.



Just before you reach Voukolies, at Pontikiana village, you will find the Karavitakis Estate and Winery.

The creation of experienced oenologist Manolis Karavitakis, who has now passed the business to his son, Nikos, it offers a reliable line of products that are based mostly on well-travelled grape varieties, which they grow on their private vineyards as well as on contract ones.


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Another family producing good work in the field, is Andreas Dourakis’ family, and you can visit their winery located in Alikampos on the way to Sfakia, while it’s also worth visiting the Monastery of Agia Triada Tsangarolon in the Akrotiri peninsula, that offers more traditional wines, even when they come from international varieties. Rare but extremely interesting are the labels of the small winery Endochora, in Apokoronas.

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If you are staying at Folia Hotel Apartments which is located in Agia Marina, and would like to visit Chania wineries it is actually quite simple. Of course, it is necessary to have a car for your trip, but a daily bus route is also available.

Ask our reception for more details, and also visit our website at for more suggested trips.