Wines with George Kassianos

Cretan winemaker who stands as an example to Cyprus

Sotiris Lyrar?kis, the Cretan winemaker, is a fine example for Cypriot winemakers. Sotiris and Lambros Lyrar?kis opened their winery in Alagni, Crete in 1966. In keeping with Greek traditions, they continued their father’s legacy (he was also a winemaker) and applied themselves to supplying a number of Greece’s better known labels with appellation Pez? wines as well as building a bulk wine business inside and outside of the country. In the late 1980s, the Lyrar?kis brothers began making preparations towards bottling estate wine under their own label. The maiden release was in 1993. Managing director and winemaker Sotiris and vineyardist Lambros teamed with oenologist George Tsoumaidis and embarked on what has been a long and difficult path.

Struggling through the nineties in a region which is regarded in Greece as having no respectable grape varieties, they continually edged towards greatness while the market and the rest of his wine industry turned a cold shoulder. Hence, the resemblance with Cyprus.

Back in 1986 they began the systematic cultivation of two important white cultivars, Plyt? and Dafni, native to Crete that had been at risk of extinction and were planted at random vineyards in their property. Dafni was the first to be realised, making its debut in the mid 1990s. By the 2000 vintage Dafni showed its true colours, a clean and aromatic wine with more acidity than the early versions, with a firm structure to support its round and silky fruit. The variety takes its name form the Greek word for laurel, whose aromas its wines are said to resemble, although the association is with fresh Laurel.

By the end of the nineties Plyt? had been tamed. The Plyt? is a wine of pronounced acidity and solid structure with a mineral backbone and certain flavours and aromas, reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc or our Xinisteri.

So far, Lyrar?kis wines are an anomaly on Crete. It is not that they have no competition; there are several producers there with a firm handle on the local cultivars. Lyrar?kis wines, however, have the exclusive ability to transcend their extreme southern origins. Crete, it should be remembered, is either south of or at similar latitude to Tangiers, Algiers, Tunis and the Syrian coast. Despite healthy elevation and a favourable microclimate this is no mean feat. Nor is it luck.

Lyrar?kis has demonstrated unmatched abilities with Crete’s more common (and problematic) local varieties, especially those required for the Pez? appellation governing his district. The white Vilana, the sole variety permitted under the Pez? white OPAP designation, is usually both fairly nondescript and prone to oxidation. His rescue of Vilana’s reputation began primarily by applying to it modern standards of vineyard management and vinification. The Lyrar?kis Kotsifali grape variety products are among Crete’s best. His red OPAP, by law a blend of Kotsif?li with Mandilari?, shows every advantage of low yield farming and underscores assertions sometimes heard on the island concerning the idea of Crete as an ideal grape growing region. Common Western varieties have had a major impact on Greek viticulture during the last twenty or thirty years, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Sotiris Lyrar?kis, like many in Greece, is one of the several Greek winemakers who are models of judiciousness. The practice of using French cultivars must be evaluated on a case by case basis. And this is the case with the Cretan winemaker.

There is then something reassuring and noble about the use of an entirely indigenous cultivar in the amelioration of one of the world’s best known varieties. For Lyrar?kis, moves such as these have brought increased awareness in Greece on the part of both consumers and fellow winemakers. This recognition, better late than never, speaks both to his skills as a winemaker and to a deeper understanding in Greece of the definition of quality as it pertains to wine. The future now is less worrisome for Sotiris Lyrar?kis, one of the finest examples for our own winemakers to follow.

Wines of the Week

Four wines from Lyrarakis, starting with 2003 Lyrar?kis Dafni White Dry, Iraklion, and Alcohol Volume 12%. This wine has a whitish yellow colour, full of character and flavour. Subtle nose, reminiscent of fresh laurel follows through on the palate which clearly reveals the variety from which it originates. It has a vibrant clean crisp aftertaste. Excellent with cold appetizers. The 2004 Lyrar?kis Plyto, White Dry, Iraklion, Alcohol Volume 12% has a straw yellow colour and a complex floral and citrusy, sappy nose. Severe mineral edge to the resinous palate. More body than the Dafni varietal wine. This wine has a balance in flavour, bone dry with a lingering, metallic aftertaste. A polished nugget of gold from the Cretan vineyard, a perfect match with summer seafood dishes. The imported red varieties follow with the 2003 Lyrar?ki Syrah Kotsifali, Cretan Regional Wine, Iraklion, and Alcohol Volume 12%. Deep red colour with attractive hues, complex aromas which remind of raspberries and cherries, broadly flavoured mouth, full of fruit and limestone terroir, with a velvety long lasting taste. Drink it with piquant cheese and grilled red meat. Keep it for winter though as well as the 2003 Lyrar?ki Cabernet Merlot Oak Aged, Iraklion, Alcohol Volume 13%. Deep red in colour with a powerful bouquet of red fruit, nutmeg and vanilla. It was hosted for 14 months in French oak barrels, round tannins, velvety texture, and a rich structured body with a long penetrating finish. Best friend with grilled red meats.
Lyrarakis wines are imported by Hartziotis trading Co. Ltd