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Crete (Kriti) is the largest and arguably the most famous island in Greece, marking the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. The island has a long and illustrious history dating back thousands of years, and today the Cretan wine industry is thriving. Four appellations of controlled quality can be found on the island, making wines from a wide range of native and international grape varieties. Pale, aromatic red wines are made here from the Liatiko grape variety, sometimes blended with Mandilaria, and light, delicate white wines are made from Vilana and Athiri.

The Minoans of Ancient Crete are thought to have been one of the first civilizations in Europe, and evidence of viticulture on the island spans back to at least 5000 BC. Ancient wine presses have been found in various sites across Crete, and paintings in Minoan palaces denote grape-growing and winemaking. Amphorae bearing Cretan insignia have been found in archeological digs across the whole of the Mediterranean basin, suggesting that these wines were exported to much of Europe.

Crete’s most important viticultural period of history is the Middle Ages, however, when the island, then called Candia, was under Venetian rule. The famed Malvasia sweet wines were produced on Candia and shipped all over Europe to locations as far-flung as London, Paris and Constantinople (now Istanbul). This trade continued until the island was taken over by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th Century, and wine-growing was largely forgotten.

Modern winemaking on Crete began in the 1970s, and today, the island is host to four PDO-level appellations: Peza, Arhanes, Dafnes and Sitia. These are complemented by six more-generic regional appellations: Chania, Rethymno, Lasithi, Kissamos, Heraklion and Crete itself.

While these appellations are spread east-to-west across the 150-mile-long (240km) long island, most of the vineyards are planted on the northern side of the island. Here, vineyards are sheltered by Crete’s extensive mountain ranges from hot North African winds, and instead benefit from cooling breezes from the Aegean Sea in the north. This helps to slow ripening during Crete’s hot, sunny summers, allowing the grapes to preserve acidity. Vineyard altitudes reaching as high as 3000ft (900m) above sea level also provide cooler environments for premium grape-growing.

Soils on the island are usually rich in limestone, and vary from light, sandy loam to more dense clay-based soils. Steep vineyard sites provide good drainage, and the vines are often deep-rooted to reach hydration and nutrients deeper in the ground. This serves to lessen vigor, and promotes the vines’ production of high-quality berries with good flavor concentration.

While most Cretan wine is made from native grape varieties, innovative producers have begun to experiment with grape varieties such as Cabernet SauvignonSyrahand Sauvignon Blanc. These are often blended with the Cretan mainstays of Liatiko, Vilana and Kotsifali, giving rise to new styles of Cretan wine.