Lyrarakis Winery: Saving Crete’s Indigenous Grapes

Giorgio Lyrarakis

Lyrarakis is a family winery on the Alagni plateau in Peza located south of Heraklion. It’s  known for rescuing indigenous varieties like Dafni, Plytó, and Melissaki.  It also specializes in other Cretan grapes like Liatico, Kotsifali and Mandilari. Brothers Sotiris and Manolis founded the vineyard in 1966. Beginning in 1992 their sons Bart and Giorgios began bottling wine under their own label. They source grapes from throughout the island to produce a range of “single area” wines made mostly from single varietals indigenous to Crete. The grapes from their own 15ha of vines are all farmed organically. Most the parcels they work with are dry farmed and hand harvested, and many are head pruned as well.  Look for more on Crete wine in our upcoming report on The Wines of Crete.

Wines have been made on Crete for time immemorial, but many of the wine ruins date from the time of the Venetians. Giorgio gave us a tour of the vineyard, including a 14th century Venetian Karaoula wine press hewn into rock in the middle of the vineyard.



Bart and Giorgios manage the winery and make the wine with the assistance of enologist Myriam Ampouzer (shown here) and viticulturist Nikos Somarakis.  Lyrarakis makes three categories of wines—entry level blends, varietal wines from multiple vineyards, and single vineyard, single variety wines.  Most of the wines we tasted fall in the latter category. The superb Lyrarakis rosé wine was reviewed earlier in the article The Rosés of Crete.  Unfortunately, only a few of these wines are currently imported to the US.

US Importers: Vintage 59, USA Wine West

The Wines

Lyrarakis 2021 Assyrtiko Voila Village PGI Crete  92  Sourced from a windy, 700m high single vineyard with limestone soils planted with vines from Santorini in the early 1990s and located in the Vóila area in Sithia. Youthful but aromatic bouquet with notes of citrus, herbs and wet river stones. Bright and crisp with notable minerality and impressive phenolics on the palate. After a short cold soak on the skins, fermented and matured in stainless steel with 3 months on the lees with battonage. pH 3.2, 13.5% alc.

Lyrarakis 2020 Thrapsathiri Armi Vineyard PGI Crete  89 The single vineyard Thrapsathiri, sourced from the 500m high, northeast facing Armi vineyard with sandy clay soils in the Douli area of central Crete is a very fresh white wine revealing a bright bouquet and nicely concentrated palate of pear and quince, finishing with chalky minerals. Barrel fermented in used French and American oak and matured on the lees for 4 months. pH 3.11; 12.5% alc.

Lyrarakis 2021 Plyto Psarades Vineyard PGI Crete 91  Discovered in a vineyard of Vilana in 1990, Lyrarakis saved the large-berried Plyto variety from extinction. The 2021 vintage reveals minerals and fennel on the nose. It’s full in the mouth with exhilarating fresh citrus and quince fruity complemented by juicy acidity and a sense of minerality. Sourced from a 480m high vineyard located near the winery in Peza. pH 3.39, 12.8% alc.

Lyrarakis 2021 Vidiano Ippodromos Vineyard PGI Crete ($20) 91  Platinum gold green. Expressive citrus, orange blossom, stone fruit and herbal aromas. Concentrated, ripe citrus and beautifully balanced on a well-defined palate with a persistent finish. Lovely phenolic ripeness. Sourced from the very low yielding, 600m high Ippodromos Vineyard. Fermented and matured 3 months in a mix of new and old oak.

Lyrarakis 2021 Dafni Psarades Vineyard PGI Crete  91  The thick-skinned Dafni is another variety saved from extinction by Lyrarakis in 1992; today they are the only ones making a single varietal Dafni. Sourced from the Psarades Vineyard in the Alagni area of central Crete, dafni means “laurel” in Greek, and that’s a good descriptor. The 2021 vintage Dafni reveals rosemary, fennel and other herbs along with wet stones on the nose. It’s mineral like on the palate with muted herbal flavors and bright, juicy citrus-like acidity. The wine is a blend of both an early harvest, to ensure acidity, and a late September harvest for flavor. Given 8 hours skin contact before fermentation in stainless stee; the final blend is matured on the lees for 4-5 months. pH 3.16, 12.5% alc.

Lyrarakis 2021 Vilana Pirovolikes Vineyard PGI Crete 91  Usually farmed for high yields, this single vineyard Vilana from the Panorama area of central Crete shows the grape’s potential when grown for quality instead of quantity. Sourced from 35 year old, dry farmed, low yielding bush vines grown at 650m altitude. Shows melon with hints of stone fruit on the nose. The nicely concentrated, high acid palate is mineral like with quince and orchard fruit flavors. Given 16 hours skin contact and fermented in stainless steel; then matured 3 months in a mix of new and old Acacia and oak barrels.

Lyrarakis 2021 Liatiko PGI Crete 90  Sourced from two different dry farmed vineyards in Rethymno and Sitia, the light ruby red Liatiko if a pretty, light red wine showing red cherry and ripe raspberry aromas and flavors. It’s very clean and fresh with bright acidity. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. pH 3.59, 13.3% alc.

Lyrarakis 2018 Mandilari Plakoura Vineyard PGI Crete ($24) 91  Medium carmen red. Showing a dark red fruited nose, this single vineyard Mandilari offers exuberant, fresh flavors of dark red berries and cherries on a richly flavored, firmly tannic palate along with bright acidity. A beautiful wine with excellent aging potential (at least 10 years); needs time for the tannins to soften. We also tasted the 2007 vintage and found it had retained its fruit with suave tannins. Sourced from a 350m high single vineyard in the Archanes areas. A small percentage of the grapes were dried in the sun for three days before pressing. Aged one year in a mix of French and American oak followed by a year in bottle. 14% alc. Lyrarakis was the first (2005) to make a single vineyard Mandilari.

Lyrarakis 2016 Kotsifali Karnari Vineyard PGI Crete  92  Made in the tradition of Cretan Marouvan oxidative wines, this sherry-like Kotsifali comes from the Kamari Vineyard in the Archanes area of central Crete. Pale red with an oxidized nose from 2.5 years aging in French oak barrels without topping up. Fresh and dry on the palate with sherry-like spice and toffee flavors. Firm acidity, round tannins, finishes dry. pH 3.35, 14.9% alc.

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