Dafnes

From ancient times to today, Dafnes is one of the major wine growing regions of Crete, an island that has seen viticulture thrive through all historical periods. Cretan viticulture was particularly strong during the Roman Times, as indicated by many finds of amphorae and ancient wine presses. It then flourished during the Byzantine period thanks to the association of wine with Christianity. However it was during the Venetian Times when the wines of Crete became internationally known, Malvazia wines being the best-known example.

 

According to legend, the region of Dafnes got its name from a laurel tree (“daphne”) that grew in the yard of the Holy Belt of the Theotokos church; however the wine produced in that area was already very sought-after all through the Middle Ages and there are many archaelogical finds that prove that wine-making and viticulture have never ceased to constitute one of the major occupations of its inhabitants as, indeed, is the case today.

The climate in this area is typically Mediterranean with vineyards cultivated almost exclusively on slopes and limestone soils, which are the ones the Liatiko variety seems to prefer. In Dafnes Liatiko matures early, in late July, thus its name: “Juliatiko” – Liatiko. The thin-skinned Liatiko berries are rather tannic and maintain high natural acidity levels, but not much color. They seem to be ideal for the production of sweet wines, although yields are invariably low.

Depending on their type (Vin Doux, Vin Doux Naturel and sun-dried) PDO Dafnes sweet wines are characterized by a lovely deep caramel color and concentrated aromas of chocolate and dried fruits. They usually have a full mouth with a velvety texture and a long finish. Although they have been evolving in relative obscurity for the past years, today they are showing signs of a significant revival with many new bottlings coming on to the market.

Sitia

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.

Muscat of Cephalonia

The PDO Muscat of Cephalonia zone—with its eponymous sweet white wines which come from the Muscat variety planted on the island—was once threatened with extinction just as the island’s corresponding red wines were (PDO Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia). Nevertheless, in recent years, Cephalonia has returned to the position of offering its rare dessert wines bearing the “Muscat of Cephalonia” appellation and produced from grapes yielded by the small-berried clone of the white Muscat variety.

The grapes harvested from the Cephalonia vineyards located on the western part of the island are sun-dried (or “liasta” grapes) so that they may be allowed to desiccate and concentrate before vinification. As a result, the new, and therefore unexplored, resurgence of sweet Muscat of Cephalonia wine shows strength and an attractive, honeyed character.

Muscat of Rhodes

Cultivation of the white Muscat variety on Rhodes, the island of the knights, is certainly limited when compared to the cultivation taking place on other Aegean islands. However, Rhodes has its own PDO zone and offers interesting versions of that grape variety in the form of dessert wines which, if within that wine type, bear the “Muscat of Rhodes” indication.

In producing PDO Muscat of Rhodes wines, in addition to using white Muscat, it is also permitted to use the Italian-born Muscat of Trani which is a clone of the Muscat planted on Rhodes. Although this clone is akin to the small-berried Muscat, the resulting limited batch of wine bearing the Muscat of Rhodes label is sensorially closer to the style of wines produced on Lemnos (PDO Muscat of Lemnos), its aromas evoking fresh herbs and its taste light and refreshing.

Muscat of Rio Patras

Meager in quantities yet first-rate in quality, the sweet wine bearing the “Muscat of Rio Patras” appellation comes from semi-mountainous vineyards found over Rio, Achaia. The small-berried white Muscat takes advantage of the rainfall and the cool summers while the grapes’ desiccation fortifies even further the attributes of this unique Peloponnesian terroir.

The resulting award-winning PDO Muscat of Rio Patras dessert wines thrill with their aromatic depth, their lingering taste, and their excellent acidity and superb complexity, meeting the expectations of any wine connoisseur and justifying their coveted place on any gastronomic “Grande Table.” What is more, due to their limited production, bottles of Muscat of Rio Patras wine have become the jewel in the treasure hunt for wine and are worth every bit of the effort required to acquire them!

Muscat of Patras

The region of Achaia looms over the Greek production of dessert wines, boasting three PDO wines of its own (PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, PDO Muscat of Patras, and PDO Muscat of Rio Patras). Occupying a sizable part of Patras’ vineyards, white Muscat has come to the attention of numerous producers of considerable size in the area and given rise to the wine bearing the “Muscat of Patras” appellation.

The vast majority of Muscat of Patras wines are vinified in stainless steel tanks where fermentation is interrupted so that alcohol may be added. The young Muscat of Patras wines lure with their freshness as well as their affordable price, the latter a shock even to wine consumers unfamiliar with the wines but accustomed to paying high prices for quality wines of this nature. Imagine how much more their glee upon tasting the wine!

Muscat of Lemnos

Its wine is said to date as far back as the times when it was used to quench the thirst of the Achaeans during the Trojan War. Yet even now Lemnos—its wines bearing the “ PDO Muscat of Limnos” (ΠΟΠ Μοσχάτος Λήμνου) indication—and the fame its wines have acquired remain the way they were then: unchanged. The arid climate and the volcanic soil assist in maturing to perfection the large berries of the Muscat of Alexandrias grape variety which today occupies the largest percentage of Lemnos vineyards, making the island one of the predominant Greek locations producing sweet wines.

The island’s winemaking cooperative, together with the visionary  private winemakers, add wine-derived alcohol during or not long after the high-alcohol must fermentation. They also avoid the use of barrels when vinifying the sweet PDO Muscat of Limnos wines. All of these steps lead to the tranquilly aromatic and flavorful character of the sweet Muscat of Limnos wines that exude hints of apricot, mint, and spearmint. The mild-mannered way in which these wines express themselves allows for interesting forays into exotic cuisines, making a perfect match, for instance, with foie gras or a myriad of light desserts. Yet, even when served on its own, a well-chilled Muscat of Limnos wine promises spirited fun, a chance to journey through thousands of years of historied winemaking embodied in the vibrant new wines of Greece. This is a wine addressed to a great range of wine lovers with newcomers and connoisseurs alike sure to be won over at the first sip!

Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia

Though Patras may have the lion’s share of overall Mavrodaphne plantings, Cephalonia is an equally important albeit smaller hub of the variety’s cultivation. Despite the fact that on this island of the Ionian Sea the greatest part of the Mavrodaphne production finds its way to dry vinifications that manifest some interesting results, a small portion of the grapes harvested goes toward the sweet and rarest-of-the-rare Mavrodaphne of Cephalonia wine.

The wines PDO Mavrodaphne of Kefalonia (ΠΟΠ Μαυροδάφνη Κεφαλληνίας) are fortified during alcoholic fermentation and display aromas of dried red fruits when young and aromas of coffee and spices when aged.

Mavrodaphne of Patras

It has been almost two centuries since Gustav Clauss, a German noble, settled outside Patras and vinified his first Mavrodaphne using his own, now famous, “recipe.” Yet even today, PDO Mavrodaphni of Patras (ΠΟΠ Μαυροδάφνη Πατρών) continues to hold the title of the most popular, sweet red wine ever produced in Greece.

Certain elements—such as the rich body and the balance of acidity and sweetness—may well be the common denominator of wines bearing the “Mavrodaphne of Patras” name (PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras). However, the most important influences on determining their color, aroma, and taste are the maturation and ageing process in barrels or bottles.

Consequently, all of the Mavrodaphne of Patras wines which have been allowed to age for over a year signal, with their dark color and fruity, quaffable character reminiscent of a Ruby Port, the advent of a new style. By the time a distinguished Mavrodaphne of Patras has been oaked for a five-year period, it will have acquired a unique, bittersweet complexity and will have reined in its hefty tannins. But the explosive bouquet of dried fruit, flowers, and dried nuts along with the velvety mouth of a Mavrodaphne of Patras aged 20 years or more creates a singular and rare wine experience for wine lovers fortunate enough to try it, leaving no doubt that they have tasted a truly grand wine.

The potential of Mavrodaphne of Patras at the table is as inexhaustibly broad as are the different styles in which it produced. The wine’s fresh versions make excellent apéritifs and are also the ultimate in wine when used for cooking or patisserie purposes. Its more mature versions are unforgettable when served next to dried nuts, Stilton cheese, or robust cigars. And as far as the lengthily-aged Mavrodaphne of Patras wines are concerned, they are ideal accompaniments to any gastronomic creation made with a favorite—and notoriously difficult to match—chocolate.

Vinsanto

Santorini’s sweet white wine or “ambrosia of the gods”? Although the first answer is a certainty (Vino di Santorini), the second is equally appropriate since Santorini’s grand Vinsanto (PDO Santorini) is indeed fit for the gods! Although Vinsanto has been renowned since the 12th century, it did not acquire true fame until after 1783 when it journeyed to Russia’s large markets. Today, more than two centuries later, this rare, sweet diamond of the land of Thera still performs so spectacularly that it is not exaggeration to claim that its place among the top dessert wines worldwide has been rightfully earned. It all begins with the unique terroir of the world-famous island of Santorini. The volcanic soil striated with pumice stone, age-old vines, incredibly low yields, the presence of morning dew which ensures that the vines receive the water necessary, a weather-beaten, sun-scorched terrain, vines pruned into basket-shaped “kouloures,” and age-old tradition all conspire to mold an unsurpassed environment that has generously bestowed unique traits and features on Assyrtiko, Aidani, and on small quantities of other native white cultivars that, with Athiri in the lead, yield Santorini’s unparalleled wines.

Vinsanto is among the best dessert wines in the world. It displays an amber-brown color and although overtly sweet there is a perfect balance due to its high acidity levels. Its flavors and aromas are very complex reminiscent of dried fruits, honey, caramel, coffee, nuts and spices, leading towards a lingering, never-ending, finish. A Vinsanto is in proud possession of the key features that testify to its distinguished breed and the outstanding terroir of its origin: astonishing concentration; mineral character; and a tenacious acidity that easily balances out over 40 oz/gal of unfermented sugars!

Desserts based on caramel, fig, dried nuts, coffee, or quinces are the best companions Vinsanto wines. However, the class and strength of a Vinsanto allow for even bolder serving combinations such as with sharply salty cheeses like kopanisti or Roquefort as well as for the companionship offered by an epicurean, premium cigar.

Whatever the pairing choice may be when deciding to enjoy these rare and highly acclaimed wines, one thing is for certain: an exciting, novel wine experience beckons. Vinsanto does not merely usher one to an appreciation of fine wine; it also excites the senses with its taste, its legend, and the singularity of its birthplace, the inimitable Santorini.