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H - 135 : Wines of Cyprus

Updated: Mar 15

In Antiquity, Cyprus was famous for its copper and olive oil. It also had a reputation for producing excellent wines. According to the famous Greek geographer Strabo, Cyprus “falls behind no one of the islands: for it is rich in wine and oil and uses home-grown wheat.”


In the North-West of Cyprus, the Vineyards slope directly towards the Mediterranean

 

The tradition of wine making on the island dates thousands of years back. Two decades ago, an Italian team of archeologists analysed copper-age pottery shards from Nicosia's National Museum. They found traces of tartaric acid, a wine component, on the old shards. Already 5’500 years ago, Cypriots used pottery to keep wine. The tradition of wine making must be even much older.


Over the last few Decades, 4 ancient Cargo Ships were found with hundreds of Amphorae

 

As copper and olive oil, wine from Cyprus was widely traded. Over the last thirty years, several boats with hundreds of amphorae were found off the coast of Italy, France and Israel. Many of these amphorae were of Cypriote origin and carried wine. It was not wine as we drink it today. It was sweetened with honey and spiced with exotic condiments but still had 12 – 16% alcohol. Definitely enough for the drunken parties – the bacchanalia – Greek and Roman men loved – women were not allowed to participate. The alcohol also made it safe to drink. It killed the deadly bacteria in people's not-so-fresh drinking water.


Mosaic from a Roman Villa near today's Paphos - Dionysos, the Greek Wine Good, to the left

 

Despite being occupied by Arabs for a while and becoming a Turkish province in 1571 for four centuries, Cyprus preserved its wine making tradition. The large majority of Cypriots remained Greek-Orthodox. Muslims on the island were the ruling class but a minority. The export of wine had dropped to zero, but domestic demand for wine remained strong. Red wine was needed for the Holy Communion. Am also sure that many Cypriots loved a good tipple. Thus, many indigenous grapes survived which are not found outside Cyprus. Xinisteri is the predominant local grape for white, Mavro and Maratheftiko for red wine. There is also the less well known Spourtiko for white and Ofthalmo for red. Of course, the international varieties such as Chardonnay, Muscat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz are also present in Cyprus. Mourvedre from the South of France is used here but known here as Mataro. Wonder whether it was originally a Cypriote grape which the French crusaders brought to Avignon.


Map with Cyprus 7 Wine Producing Areas - these Wine Tours definitely got on my To Do List

 

Cyprus’ wine regions are mostly in the Greek speaking south between the Troodos Mountains and the island’s south coast. Watered by the creeks, they benefit from the intense sun light during summer and the clouds in fall. There are a few wineries in Turkish North Cyprus but I do not know them. Something to discover when visiting this summer.


Some of Cyprus' Wines are cultivated on steep Mountain Slopes on narrow Terraces


Cyprus’ "oldest" wine, called Commandaria, is made from dried grapes. Some people believe it is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Be it as it may, there is quite a variety of Commandaria wines on Cyprus – so which is the original? Hard if not impossible to say. Wine makers never write down their recipes to keep the secret in the family. But as oral tradition goes, the story changes over generations. Commandaria is definitely an old wine. Today, it would classify as dessert wine. High in sugar, it is chemically stable. Something that mattered in antiquity when keeping wine from turning into vinegar was a challenge.

 

Women drying Grapes for Making Commandaria at the small Revacca Winery


On our last trip to Cyprus in summer 2018 - we were on our way to Akko or Acre – we had two wines I remember – actually my iPhone remembers - I always take photos. The first is the Constantino Cabernet Sauvignon from the small Erimoudes winery – we found it by accident in a restaurant. It had a purple colour. The tannins were noticeable but well-aged. The wine reminded me of forest berries in Chantrou. Delicious and affordable table wine.


Wines from the Erimoudes Winery

 

The second we found in a small shop in the Turkish Part of Nicosia – the Turkish and the Greek community may not be on speaking terms but their wines cross the internal border. Alina Medium is a white made from the local Xinisteri grape. It is semi-dry. Almost too sweet for my taste. But I liked it for its lightness. Tasted like a light variety of Vermentino from Cinque Terre. Not the sunny and stronger variety from Sardinia. Lime and green apples come to your mind. At the time it what a good bargain. The bottle was less than 4 Euros. Would not be surprised if this has changed.

 

Shall not close this blog without talking about the wine festival in Limassol. It is only one of many but the largest and going on – with a few interruptions – since Cyprus’ Independence in 1961. Grapes are brought to Limassol’s Municipal Gardens where every body is invited to press them with their bare feet.


Tourists and Kids love to get into the Action of Making Wine like 2'000 Years ago


All the major wineries exhibit their products and let you taste. Plenty of music and dancing frames the program for fourteen days. The entry ticket includes a bottle of wine from any producer – so you don’t need to bring cash. Sadly, the festival was moved by four weeks to October to extend Limassol's tourist season  - we definitely are going to miss it. Whilst this is regrettable, what we really miss is the opportunity to go on some of the wine tours to the Trodoos Mountains. They are all south of the intra-Cyprus border and we cannot take the boat to the Greek part without loosing two days in immigration. Politics! Politics!


Cypriots believe they can challenge Georgia's claim of having the longest tradition in wine making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

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