SommSelect in Greece, Part II Daily Discoveries Manager Mark Osburn delivers his second installment from his recent trip to Greece, with a focus on the wines of Crete.
On our final morning in crescent-shaped Santorini, I pulled up Google Maps and swiped across 70 miles of sea to southerly Crete, a mountainous and elongated mass that outsizes Santorini by a hundredfold. I anticipated a quick flight. Our all-knowing guide, Dionysi Grevinitis, informed us that would not be the case: There was no direct flight to Crete, not during “off-season,” anyway. So, we instead made the journey to mainland Athens before boarding another plane and heading to the Cretan capital of Heraklion—a mere 275-mile detour!
Like the weather, we were in constant motion from the moment we landed until departure. In total, we were on the ground for less than 48 hours yet it felt as if 48 days’ worth of visual, auditory, and gustatory information had been absorbed.
We started day one early in the morning. Iliana Malíhin, the young, impassioned, and free-spirited proprietor, picked me up in her 4x4 truck. “It’s a long drive,” she said. Then the rain started. Huge, pelting sheets with straight-line winds transforming each drop into a dagger. She slowed. Then the hail started. She altered her first response: “It’s going to be a really long drive.”
I didn’t mind it. We wound our way up and around the imposing slope of Psiloritis and spoke about her rural upbringing, her near-death motorcycle accident, and her desire to revive the local Viadno grape—all while it rained, hailed, snowed, and blasted down sun over the span of three hours. By the end of it, I told her we might be struck by lightning next. Iliana laughed, noting that it might just happen as she pointed to a small dark patch near the summit of Mount Ida: “Zeus was born in that cave.”
After touring some gnarly, snow-covered Liatiko bush vines and her organically farmed Vidiano parcels, we headed back to the small town of Melambes for a barrel/tank tasting in her newly renovated concrete cellar. Her wines are so pure, so wound with vitality, that one would think she’s been a master of borderline-natural winemaking for decades. And then you look at this intelligent, soft-spoken lady and remind yourself that she hasn’t even yet turned 30. The future is beyond bright for this one. After savoring her mother’s home cooking and listening to a colleague belt out an aria from Don Giovannia with the assistance of a lute, we said our thank yous and goodbyes and hit the road.
Iliana’s 2020 Vidiano “Young Vines” bottling is available for purchase here!
The night we left Iliana’s, we drove four hours to the easterly port town of Sitia. After some quick shut-eye and a morning gyro, we made our way to Domaine Economou, which is more aptly described as a quaint, centuries-old farmstead. I will forever count it as one of the most enlightening and viscerally moving wine experiences of my career. Yiannis Economous is a certified enigma of the wine world, the very definition of a “cult figure,” although I’d argue he doesn’t mean to be.
When we parked the car outside of Economou’s courtyard, Dionysi told us not to snap pictures and to avoid bringing up other producers. Were we entering a wine cellar or a CIA safe house? As we stepped into the courtyard, a light snow started falling and I cursed myself for not bringing another layer. Dionysi told us to wait. Damn it’s cold. As we milled about to keep warm, I looked around and saw the courtyard was filled with vessels of varying sizes and materials. Barrels, plastic jugs, a towering steel tank, scattered all about like organized chaos. And then Yiannis stooped through an old wooden door with his wide grin and mad-scientist hair, and gripped our hands with reserved delight. We first drank tsikouda, a local brandy that he makes in a nook of his cellar, before moving into white wines. For this, we had to endure the cold once more.
With an illustrious winemaking resume that includes stints at Château Margaux and Paolo Scavino, not a soul on earth would question this man’s vinous talent. A native of Crete, he returned to his home in 1994, restored his grandfather’s vines, and began crafting wine his way. And it’s a singular way, to be sure: For him, it’s all about blending, something we learned firsthand as he poured us three of the same wines, from discrete vessels, in three different glasses. They all tasted unique: one was oxidative, the other was bright and high-toned, the last creamy and a touch spicy. He then told us to blend them all together, and a wine of perfect harmony, perfume, and texture was born. Everyone was stunned. He then pointed at me: “You’re standing on my Assyrtiko.” I looked down and noticed I was on a square metal hatch. He pulled it open, revealing a massive, subterranean plastic jug that was holding his 2005 Assyrtiko. Incredulous, I asked how long it’s been in there. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe four years. Before that, in tank. Before that, some barrel.”
And that’s when I knew we were dealing with a supernatural winemaker. As the day rolled on, we uncorked many old, sublime reds and told countless stories, the last of which was centered around vinegar. Dionysi mentioned that he makes the best in Greece. Yiannis grinned, and told us to follow him down the road. At this point, it was pitch black and the wind was whipping as he turned into a roofless barn and shined his headlights onto a set of padlocked doors. He unlocked them and revealed massive vessels holding thousands upon thousands of gallons of vinegar, aging in a perpetual blend of sorts. We gently dipped in our empty water bottles, as if extracting some long-lost treasure, and checked it in our luggage coming home.
Three Economou Takeaways:
(1) Never, ever ask for a “tech sheet”
(2) Blending is Yiannis’ key to everything
(3) The 2004 Antigone was one of the most profound wines of my life
Be on the lookout for a special Economou Daily Offer in June, including the 2004 Antigone!
More from May’s Newsletter
Through the grapevine
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