We visit and tour the Manousakis Winery on Crete with a wine-tasting and a chance to buy their tsikoudia, sea salt, olive oil, and other goodies.
A twenty-minute drive southwest from Chania brings us to the
delightful Manousakis Winery. Their name will be more familiar to you when you
know that it's here they make Nostos Wines, a familiar name on some of the
better wine lists in restaurants around Crete.
The winery is very attractive, set out like an old Cretan village, and extremely colourful with flowers growing in old olive oil cans, basil plants in ceramic pots, and a huge rosemary bush growing around the base of a tree.
There are tables with bright tablecloths, where people are enjoying meals or snacks, or doing wine-tastings. To one side of the central courtyard, a cookery course is taking place, one of the many events the winery holds, including live music concerts.
We explore the winery shop, where we find some of the produce they make here, in addition to the wine. There are pots of sea salt, jars of olive oil, bottles of the Cretan spirit tsikoudia, ceramics made by a local artist, and t-shirts with funny slogans on them. We can't resist buying the one that says 'We are what we drink'. In that case, at the moment we're 50% Cretan wine and 50% raki.
Like most vineyards on Crete it's a family business. The winery is run today by Alexandra Manousakis (whose parents now live in the USA) and her husband Ashfin Molavi. Alexandria had been born in Washington DC and was living in New York when she decided to return to Crete to run the family vineyard.
Ashfin was born in Sweden, trained as a sommelier, and then moved to Athens where he worked in a top restaurant. Here he met Alexandra, who was travelling back and forth from Crete to Athens trying to get the best restaurants there to stock their wines. Before long they were married, and Ashfin was helping run the winery. Ashfin does the blending, and they also have a winemaker and a viticulturalist.
"A percentage of the profits from the first two wines and from our sea salt and olive oil go to a charity for handicapped children," Ashfin tells us as he gets ready to do a wine-tasting with us. "It goes to a school for children with special needs in Chania. Alexandra had two sisters who were both born early and had problems. We have a saying that 'many small creeks turn into a river,' so we do what little we can. Alexandra is on the board of the school as it is something that is very dear to her heart."
"My father-in-law went to the USA at the age of 11 because of poverty, looking for a better life. He refurbished the house here before the winery existed. He was coming back visiting for 20 years and then in 1993 decided to start the winery. Alexandra took over in 2007, and then I came in 2010. So, let's try the wines!"
We started with their 2 Mazi White, which is a blend of two grapes, Roussanne and Vilana, and is made in cooperation with the Lyrarakis vineyard. It's beautifully fresh and aromatic, with a light citrus aroma, and an easy-drinking white that's 12% ABV. There's also a rosé and a red in the same range.
"We do 60,000 bottles a year in total," says Ashfin, "and are a small boutique winery. We plant all our own grapes. We don't buy in. My father-in-law wanted to make wine that was good enough to be sold in the USA, and not just locally, so he set high standards."
Next in the tasting is an interesting-sounding wine, a Nostos Muscat of Spinas. Spinas is a village to the west of the vineyard where there are 120-year-old vines of the Muscat grape, originally from Samos. Muscat wine is more associated with Samos, and mainly as a dessert wine. Here at Manousakis they age theirs for 5-6 years and the result is an excellent and very floral regular white wine. It has grassy and citrus notes, as well as the floral sweetness you get from Muscat grapes. It's also really inexpensive for a wine of this quality, at only 13 euros a bottle at the time of our visit.
We then try another white, their Nostos Vidiano 2015. "This is the number one grape variety on the island," Ashfin explains, "and the number one up-and-coming grape in Greece." Aged for six months in oak barrels, it has that lovely buttery-oaky taste that you get in my favourite chardonnays, and yet this too is only 13 euros.
"You can find our wines in Chania at Salis, which has 500 wine labels on the list. Also at other restaurants, in wine shops and at hotels around Crete. Some go to Athens. We export 30% to Sweden, Denmark, and other European countries, ten countries in all, including the USA."
We try their Nostos Roussanne 2015, which has the buttery-oaky quality of the Vidiano but with a nuttiness to both the aroma and the taste. Ashfin gives us a taste of the same wine from 2012, and it's developed a darker colour and an even richer and thicker taste.
The Nostos Rosé is pink, very balanced, not too sweet, striking a good balance between light and drinkable, and more complex. The first red we try is the Nostos Grenache 2015. They only plant three red grape varieties, of kinds that you find all around the Mediterranean: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Grenache is originally from Spain, then spread to France, and has been grown on Crete for hundreds of years. It's a lovely, light and fruity red.
They produce more than three reds, though, as they blend them in different ways. Nostos Alexandra's is 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre and 20% Grenache Rouge and is a deep ruby red colour with a thick and rich taste of strawberry, cherry, other fruits and spices. It would be wonderful with a good meaty meal.
We sip our way through the Cuvée Alexandra (their flagship wine), the Nostos Blend and the Nostos Syrah, whose label shows Alexandra's grandfather, a carpenter who built the building that became the winery. When you talk about family wineries, this is the kind of thing you mean.
Finally Ashfin kindly treats us to a glass of their Nostos Mourvèdre 2012. They're the only vineyard on Crete which grows the Mourvèdre grape, and they only have one small plot of it. They only make two barrels a year of this 100% Mourvèdre red wine, which is deliciously rich, fruity, full-bodied, meaty, peppery, floral... the aromas and tastes just go on and on.
It's a perfect end to our Manousakis wine tasting, a rare wine which only they produce on Crete. It's what wine tourism is all about - meeting with the makers, and trying their unique wines.