The stuff of rituals and celebrations, Cyprus’ wine history goes back over 6,000 years, with the earliest signs of production on the island dating to the 4th millennium BC.
This is hardly surprising, given Cyprus’ clement weather and fertile earth. The long, sunny Mediterranean summers ripen the fruit and give it its full-bodied flavour, while relatively mild winters protect the vines and grapes from crippling fungus diseases.
In fact, Cyprus remains one of the few wine-producing countries in the world free of phylloxera, a disease that attacked the greatest part of Europe’s vineyards at the beginning of the 20th century, destroying them almost completely.
Cyprus’ own vineyards, which are situated predominantly along the southern slopes of the Troodos mountain range, near Limassol, and in the southwest of the island near Paphos, have fortunately proved far hardier, retaining their classic organoleptic characteristics as well as the potential for a long life.
Thus, as we enter 2016’s final month, the Weekly thought it fit to bring you a look at Cyprus’ white and red pleasures that will soon enough be adorning festive tables – though we freely confess that a bottle or two of the island’s best would also make a welcome gift for a friend or loved one beneath the Christmas tree, during this season.
Not that any excuse is needed to savour the island’s grapes, but it stands to reason they do take pride of place whenever possible. In fact, some of the best-loved festivals in Cyprus include Limassol’s annual wine festival, taking place over late August to early
September each year, and coinciding with the year’s harvest, at which wine flows by the tonne, and is distributed free.
There are also the island’s wine routes to consider, specifically designed to take oenophiles through rural Cyprus, the better to bask in the late autumn sunshine while toasting the end of the warmer months.
But as the temperature drops, and we’re more intent on staying in doors and remaining cosy, the characteristic pop of a cork, and characteristic gurgle of wine glasses being filled – accompanied to the snap of a fireplace and classic Christmas tracks – brings a different pleasure to savour.
Bear in mind though, as you grab your jolly trolley and head for the drinks aisle, that the local industry has committed itself to producing quality wine that is a genuine expression of the Cypriot terroir and its local varietals.
Hence, it’s worth knowing the basics regarding the indigenous grapes at the heart of the process.
Xynisteri grapes are the most widespread white grape used in Cypriot wines. They produce fresh, light-coloured wines that need to be drunk while still young. Mavro, meanwhile, is the most widely planted red, and best used for blending. Far rarer reds are Maratheftiko that age far better, and Ofthalmo, as well as Lefkada, from Greece.
Of course, you can’t address Cyprus vino without bringing up the sweet dessert wine Commandaria, produced by the knights of St. Johns in the 12th century. Today it is popularly branded and manufactured by mixing one Xynisteri grape to nine black Mavro grapes. There are also other famous monastery wines like Ayios Ellias and Ayios Andronikos, to enjoy.
A quick glance identifies six of their number.
There’s Tsiakkas Winery, located near Pelendri village in the Limassol region that accounts for five hectares of vineyard, producing 10 varieties of wine. Highlights include the award-winning Xynisteri 2014 and the winery’s 2008 Commandaria.
Then there’s Vlassides Winery, situated in Koilani village, also in the Limassol region, with 16 acres of vineyard and seven varieties of wine. Honorees from its cellars are the Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 and its Shiraz 2003, not to mention the rich Cabernet Sauvignon 2012.
Yet another regional player of note is Zambartas Wineries, also located in Limassol’s beautiful Krasochoria region. With five wines on its roster, the flagship offering to try is the Zambartas Rosé, created from a blend of the local, indigenous Lefkada grape and French origin Cabernet Franc.
Fourth in the line-up is the Vouni Panayia Winery, situated in the Paphos region and offering oenophiles six white, red and rosé wines to choose from. Its Barba Yiannis Maratheftiko 2009 vintage, in particular, goes down a treat.
Fifth on the list would be the Vasilikon Winery in Kathikas village, also located in the Paphos region. With a slew of medals under its belt, for, among others, its Einalia Rose 2014 and its Methy Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, the winery also offers its ever popular Agios Onoufrios red and Vasilikon Dry White.
Completing the boutique quick-stop tour is Tsangarides Winery, found in the Paphos region’s Lemona village. Boasting three organic vineyards and five red and white wines, among the award-winners on this ticket are the Tsangarides Mattaro 2005 and Cabernet Sauvignon 2005.
Cyprus wine museum
The Cyprus Wine Museum began operation in November 2004, and is housed in a 150-year-old stone building located in Erimi village, on the old road between Limassol and Paphos.
Archaeologists had discovered wine dating back to 3,500 B.C. at the site of the Museum, with the area boasting 5,500 years of wine-making, and being positioned at the crossroads of the island’s wine routes.
The Museum offers photographs and audio-visual displays, together with jars, medieval pots, old documents and other instruments related to the history of wine-making in Cyprus.