Food & dining

Sips

A winemaker’s journey from Crete, to Bordeaux, and back again

Jannik Weylandt

Even as a high school student, Maria Tamiolaki knew that winemaking would be in her future. “I told all my friends, ‘I’m going to study wine in France,’ ” she recalls. Today, at Rhous Winery on the Greek island of Crete, she and her husband produce pours from indigenous grapes on her family’s estate.

Her parents, Eva and Minas Tamiolakis, have long been passionate about wine. Her mother grew up in a winemaking family, and her father, an enologist, worked for some of the biggest wineries on Crete. “They always dreamed of a domaine where they would have the vineyard next to a winery,” she says. In 1996, their hard work came to fruition with the launch of Tamiolakis Winery — located 15 miles south of Heraklion in the vine-growing zone of Peza. That same year, the daughter made plans to move to France. Soon, she was working toward an enology degree at Université de Bordeaux, followed by a job at Chateau Haut-Brion.

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Like many other next-generation vintners, Tamiolaki knew that gaining experience in a prestigious wine region was key — not only for the expertise she would bring back to the family estate, but to establish her credentials in a competitive global arena. Prior to the 1980s, international wine markets looked to Greece for bulk wine, not for artisanal pours from small family estates. Tamiolaki was determined to update the wine world’s notions about her country’s pours.

It turned out that Dimitris Mansolas, another up-and-coming winemaker, shared that vision. Originally from Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, he also went to study in Bordeaux. “Every Greek person coming to Bordeaux would find me,” Tamiolaki says with a chuckle. “People would say, ‘Go find Maria, and she will help you.’ So that’s how we met.” Today, they are the husband-and-wife team heading up her family’s domaine. They renamed it Rhous, after the ancient Greek word meaning “flow” or “the continuous progression of things.” He is head winemaker, while she handles exports, public relations, and marketing. “Still, we decide together about the blending,” she emphasizes.

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Indigenous Cretan varietals are the focus of their 18 acres. A 2015 Rhous Winery “Skipper” white wine is crafted from two ancient grapes: vidiano (known for its exuberant fruit flavors and acidity) and plyto (regarded for its vigor and productivity).

Before fermentation, juice soaks with the skins of the crushed grapes. Batches are fermented in stainless steel and in new French barrique, then blended. The result is a delicate-looking pour offering vivid scents of citrus and just-ripe apricot, leading to a dry, refreshing palate of yellow tree fruit, with notes of blanched almond.

Tamiolaki will tell you that winemaking on Crete stretches back 4,000 years. But it’s the last 15 years that
really delight her, as more winegrowers work with indigenous grapes, and bring to bear all of their training, often honed abroad.

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“It’s a very exciting moment,” she enthuses. “Crete wines are on the rise.”

Rhous Winery “Skipper” White 2015 (around $28) is at Georgio’s Liquors, Waltham, 781-373-2066; Colonial Spirits, Acton, 978-263-7775.

Ellen Bhang can be reached at bytheglass@globe.com
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