Iliana Malihin: Fire and Wine in Crete

Fire-Damaged, Pre-Phylloxera Vine

In recent decades Crete has rediscovered it indigenous grapes and old vineyards of self-rooted  vines.  Iliana Malíhin has been one of the leaders of these efforts in the high elevation vineyards of schist and quartz-riddled clays located near the village of Melabes where her winery (established in 2019) is located not far from Crete’s southern shoreline. Unfortunately, the wildfires that have swept Europe this summer also arrived in Crete. The damage to Iliana’s vineyard was significant.  She estimates that 80 percent of the pre-phylloxera vines farmed by the 37 grower she sources from have been damaged. International efforts are now underway to help the growers and winemakers to rescue their vineyards. A crowd funding campaign is underway; the URL is given below.

Last Sunday we attended a fundraiser at Maxwell Park in Washington DC to raise money to help wineries affected by the fire. Iliana called in via Zoom to talk about the fire damage to the vineyards and the growers’ efforts to resuscitate the priceless old, ungrafted bush vines.  Needless to say, many vines will be lost.

The fundraiser also gave us the opportunity to try one of Iliana’s wines, the Vidiano Young Vines. [She also makes another Vidiano from 80 year old vines.]  Her wines are produced in very small quantities, and it’s exceedingly difficult to find them to purchase or to taste, so we felt fortunate.  Thanks to DNS Wines, Iliana’s importer, and Gray Mosby and Bryan Smith of Salveto Imports & Distirbution for providing the wines.  Our notes on Iliana’s wine and two wines we tasted from Paterianakis, another Cretan winery with a young female winemaker, can be found below.

We visited Crete and visited many producers and tasted their wines.  Watch for our forthcoming report on The Wines of Crete.

Crowdfunding site:

Malihin-Chryssos 2020 Vidiano Young Vines Crete IGP Rethymno ($40) 92     Medium yellow straw, unfiltered and slightly cloudy. A complex and singular expression of Crete’s flagship variety, Vidiano. Showing hints of fresh and dried stone fruit with savory garrigue-like notes, full in the mouth and full-flavored, quite unlike any other Vidiano we’ve tasted. Sourced from young (<15 years old) vines grown at 650m in the Fourfouras Hills on the slopes of Crete’s highest mountain, Psiloritis. Given some time on the skins, then fermented with ambient yeast and aged 4 months on the lees. Tiny amounts of this wine are produced and even less exported to the US. Fourfouras is where 25 years ago Konstadakakis, then manager of the Boutari Fandaxometoho discovered the forgotten Vidiano. Nikos Douloufakis subsequently sourced Vidiano from Fourfouras and planted it in his vineyards in Dafnés.

Prefire Old Vine Vidiano in Fourfouras

Domaine Paterianakis   Founded some 50 years ago by grandfather Manolis Paterianaki, this domaine was transformed in 1988 by his son Giorgos Paterianakis. The domaine is in Melesses in the Peza region. It’s well known for its fragrant reds (Kotsifali and Mandilari) but also white blends from Vidiano and Muscat Spinas.  Today, the winery is managed by the 3rd generation of the family, Emmanouela and Niki. Emmanouela (shown here), who studied at the University of Athens, is the winemaker, and her passion for indigenous authenticity and biodynamic practices has raised the profile of the winery and its wines.

Paterianakis 2021 Vidiano Crete ($22) 91  Pale yellow. Showing a crisp citrus-inflected nose and a mineral like palate that exudes freshness, this is the perfect oyster wine. It’s balanced and refreshing and crystal clean. Paterianakis also makes a barrel fermented Vidiano that we didn’t have the opportunity to taste.

Paterianakis 2019 Melissokipos Crete 91  This 50/50 blend of Kotsifali and Mandilari reveals an attractive intensity of dark berries with hints of roasted meat. There’s good density and balance on the palate with a lingering finish. An excellent bistro style wine. The Mandilari is matured in French oak for 6 months; the Kotsifali is aged in stainless steel.


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