A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Vilana - Crete, Greece

The island of Crete has a long history with the vine. Archaeological evidence indicates that the Minoans were cultivating grapes specifically for wine production as early as the second millennium BC. Like the rest of Greece, Crete has had its ups and downs in the wine trade, waxing and waning through the series of conquests that Greece has been subject to. After centuries of rule by the Islamic Ottoman Empire, Greece won their independence in 1830, but Crete was not returned to the Greeks until 1913. Ottoman rule had a stultifying effect on native viticulture, and winemaking in Crete did not begin to rebound until the 1930's. Today, though, Crete accounts for one-fifth of all Greek wine production.

Crete is the largest of the many Greek islands and is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is 160 miles from east to west and varies from 7.5 miles to 37 miles wide from north to south. Despite its southern latitude, Crete enjoys a mild, Mediterranean climate mediated by the Sea of Crete to the north, the Mediterranean sea to the west and the Libyan Sea to the south. The geography of the island is mountainous with three different ranges stretching from west to east. The capital is Heraklion (named for Hercules in a very roundabout manner, apparently), in the Heraklion (or Irklion) Prefecture, which is where today's wine hails from.

The island is perhaps best known for its production of red wine, but they also make quite a bit of white wine as well. Heraklion is located on the northern coast of Crete, almost right in the middle of the island. Vilana is the dominant grape of this region, though specific production figures are difficult to find. It's also somewhat difficult to find much information about Vilana. It seems to be a workhorse grape that is not widely grown off the island of Crete. It is capable of high yields, a feature that many producers indulge and exploit, and their wine suffers for it. Ideally, it should be grown on hillside sites with clay-limestone soils or sandy clay. The grape oxidizes easily, as most white grapes do, so care must be taken in the winery.

The bottling I found was from Creta Olympias and was called Vin de Crete. It was from the 2007 vintage and ran about $11. In the glass, the wine had a lemon yellow color that was tending towards gold with reserved aromas of red apple and butterscotch. From the color and aroma, I was pretty sure that this was definitely past its prime and possibly a little oxidized, but I pressed on. The wine was dry and a little heftier than medium boded with a creamy mouthfeel and fairly good acidity. There were flavors of apple peel, butterscotch, toffee bitter almond. The wine felt a little hollow in the mouth and had a kind of metallic tang to it. There's little question that this was well past its prime. If I can find a more recent bottling of this, I will be eager to try it, but the age and condition of this wine really preclude me from making any kind of general judgment about the grape.

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