Sitia, in Crete, has a nearly unrivalled place in the history of wine. After all, it was in Sitia, at the Palace of Kato Zakros, that traces of vinification of grapes thousands of years ago were found! The area’s winegrowing fame continued through the centuries, though, as testimonies indicate: it was from Sitia that Lucullus bought the wine he transported to Rome for his sumptuous, Lucullan banquets. Although at some point in history winegrowing in the area declined, today, the historic area of Sitia is making a dynamic comeback, firmly placing itself on the wine map of the new wines of Greece, with its flagship being its sweet, red wines made from the dark-colored Liatiko variety.
Planted on the slopes of Crete’s southern and eastern coastline, in vineyards starting near the sea and climbing to an altitude of 2000 feet, Liatiko prefers soils rich in clay, lime, and sand. It is in these soils that Liatiko reaches its ideal maturation toward late July, the month after which it was named (“Juliatiko” becoming Liatiko). Its thin-skinned berries may be rather high in tannins but not in color or acidity, making this “ancient” grape variety a first-class choice fort the production of dessert wines. The sweet PDO Sitia wines are produced from grapes that—at least in the case of noteworthy bottlings—are laid out in the sun to dry (sun-dried or “liasta” grapes) so that sugars may hover near 400 g/L. The red vinification and oaking which ensue round off the character of these unusual sweet wines bearing the “Sitia” indication.
Poor in colorants and prone to easy oxidation of their color, the sweet red wines of Sitia assume a brick color easily. Their bouquet is a true potpourri of dried red fruit, quinces, flowers, sweet spices, and leather. Their taste abounds with the primeval and fiery nature of the ragged slopes overlooking the Libyan Sea.
The sweet wines coming from historic Sitia and its ancient Liatiko are rare and little explored, but they will fill the glasses of wine lovers with a European—or rather Cretan—air, especially the wine lovers who place authenticity at the top of their list of wine priorities.