Friday, 30 September 2016

Crete, part three: Exposing the Palate to the Cretan Wine Gamut

Crete, Greece (Κρήτη, Ελλάδα) 
20 July 2016
The morning began cloudy, so we were deprived of our morning swim. As we prepared breakfast we could hear the local watermelon salesman driving slowly through the village in a ute, broadcasting the excellence of his fruital wares via loudspeaker.
Bidding adieu to our lovely poolside house, we made east for Rethymno - a coastal city watched over by a large Venetian fortress. As we parked along the waterfront, we saw yet another loudspeaker-toting salesman, this time advertising a circus with the help of an enormous and colourful billboard erected in the flatbed of his truck.

The fortifications of the Fortezza were grand and impressive, with limestone walls that spanned a length of 1,307 meters. We took a brief peek inside, but determined we need not pay the entrance fee for a deeper look; houses had been extensively built within the fortress over the centuries, but after the Second World War they were razed, and now few historic buildings remain inside.

Taking a stroll through the old town, we cooed over quaint little streets and François purchased a wooden honey dipper from a store selling Greek products.

As we drove onwards towards Spili, we were afforded a magnificent vista over Rethymno, with a typical Greek shrine in the foreground and the fortress in the distance by the sea.

Spili is located nearly five hundred meters above sea level, and the village is a zigzag of houses and churches winding their way up the hill. One of the main attractions is the Lion Fountain, which pours fresh spring water from the mouths of carved lions into a long trough at the foot of a cliff face. Yannick said that Spili reminded him of a mixture of Sapa (because of the terraced style of the village clinging to the hillside) and Edessa (because of the sound of running water).

Wandering up a narrow cobblestoned street, we enjoyed seeing all the different ramshackle houses and crumbling stone facades. I found an adorable white cat in someone’s driveway who was happy to accept many pats and quickly took to me, rubbing up against my ankles until I fell behind the others and lamentably had to walk away. 
From there, the next stop on our whirlwind tour of Crete was Zaros, a town famed for their trout and bottled spring water. We drove to the edge of a small lake where the fish were farmed and found a table at a restaurant. Having no interest in trout, Fabienne and I ordered a range of mezes including fava (a dip made from broad beans), roasted capsicum, fried courgette and grilled mushrooms. Everything was excellent, but the standouts were the fava, which I had been looking forward to trying since arriving in Greece, and the mushrooms, which exhibited a mildly terrifying appearance but tasted delicious. (To mushroom fans, they may have looked fine, but I’m still developing my mushroom affection and am only accustomed to the button and portobello varieties. These Greek specimens resembled the frilly footprints of an eight-toed Tyrannosaurus Rex.) Yannick and François enjoyed their trouts, and at the end of the meal we were plied with yummy fresh summer fruits and raki that punched you in the back of the throat and was frankly undrinkable. 
Consuming a bottle of water and a litre of vino at lunch required us to pull over before long on our way to Cretan wine country and relieve ourselves in an olive grove by the side of the road. I’m sure the olives didn’t mind.

Our vineyard of choice was Lyrarakis, mainly because they are famed both locally and abroad for their mad grape skills. I’ll quote you a sentence from their website: “The family is credited for reviving the two ancient local white varieties, Dafni and Plyto, which are part of the company’s range of wines called “The Treasures of Crete”.” How cool is that! They’re also renowned for combining local grape varietals with foreign ones to create special wines like their Kotsifali and Syrah blend.

When we arrived, a group had already begun a wine tasting, so we joined in. At first, the whole experience seemed rather pretentious, as none of us except François had attended a wine tasting before, but we did get into the swing of things eventually. The tasting started with white wines, followed by rosé and red. We loved almost all of them, but then they brought out what Yannick referred to as “the Sweet Bubble Jesus of Holy Waters”: a sparkling wine that was similar to Prosecco, but sweeter and with a hint of peach. It was spectacular! The final wine in the tasting was a thick Muscat-like dessert wine that was also super delicious. As we had arrived late, we hadn’t tried the first white wine, so that was given to us last. Fabienne and I didn’t much care for it, but we reasoned that that was probably because our palettes were accustomed to the sweet wines that we had just tried (as Yannick and his dad greatly enjoyed it). They do plan the order of wines in the tasting for a reason! We proceeded to load up the car with a few boxes of nearly every wine on offer, and were even gifted a couple of bottles from the vineyard fo’ free! We trundled away happy and laden with quality vintage.

Then we drove to the tiny village of Lyttos to check into our next AirBNB, where we would only be staying for one night. The place was beautifully decorated, with old stone walls still visible in places under the plaster. Yannick and I stayed in the loft bedroom, which had access to the roof where you could look out over the village and surrounding countryside. With no eateries in Lyttos itself, we drove a short way to the neighbouring Kastelli. The restaurants along the main road seemed fast-foody, with pictures of their fare on signs in the street, which didn’t appeal to us. Luckily François spotted some lights and umbrellas across a park and we went over to investigate, discovering a cute taverna. 

Our waiter was full of character: cheerful with a big red nose, speaking only a few words of English but enthusiastic nonetheless. As we hadn’t sampled retsina on this trip to Greece, we ordered a bottle of the popular Greek white wine and unanimously agreed that it was not tasty. Yannick and I had tried it before on our Greek trip in 2013, but couldn’t recall how bad it was. Now, we will never forget.

Today's post was almost called: 'I'd Like to Order One Peugeot of Wine Please'