These beautiful late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wine illustrate that the wine industry has a long and elegant history.
Late 18th Century enamel labels for Cyprus wines, courtesy of Dr. R Wells
The four enamel labels most likely are for Commandaria wine, which is a Cyprus sweet dessert wine, sometimes fortified but always with a high alcohol level. The label marked Malvoisie de Chipre refers to ancient grape varieties, known as malvoisie, used for dessert wines. Commandaria wine dates back to approximately 800 BC and was popular during the time of the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries and subsequently exported widely within Europe.
I wrote about Commandaria wine in a 2013 blog and described it as follows:
‘As a fortified wine, Commandaria travelled well and was exported throughout Europe. It was popular in England, for example, not only in the 13th century but later and was a favourite of the Tudor Kings including King Henry V111.
Commandaria is made only in a defined region of 14 wine producing villages in the Troodos foothills about 20 miles north of Limassol. The wine production for Commandaria has remained true to traditional methods. The production is small and it maintains its ranking among the world’s classic wines. In 1993, the European Union registered Commandaria as a protected name and geographic origin.
Commandaria is regarded as an eastern mediterranean equivalent of its western mediterranean cousins, Port and Sherry. We found it had both similar and different characteristics and was more refreshing and lighter with higher acidity. ‘
For a fuller description of this fortified wine please look at my earlier blog post:
The various spellings of Cyprus on the four enamels in the photograph suggest a robust export of Cyprus wines in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Chypre is the french spelling for Cyprus and this label is early French in origin and the Chipre and Malvoisie de Chipre are early English. The Cyprus label is more recent.
2020 will surely be remembered as an extraordinarily difficult year for wine makers. From my conversations with several over the years, including members of Confrèries, I realize that they are used to overcoming a variety of challenges including weather, soil and pest conditions as well as market changes. This year they have again demonstrated their ability to tackle a new challenge with innovation and creativity.
These exquisite and historic Cyprus enamel labels, shown courtesy of Dr. Richard Wells, help to remind us of the longevity and resilience of the wine making industry and the pleasure it brings to so many people: past, present and future.
I wish all wine makers and their families everywhere a successful year in 2021.
Happy New Year!
Reference: http://www.drrwells.com Enamel Wine Labels: refer to Dr Well’s blog for a full description of enamel labels.
The sense of wonder I feel when I look at antique mosaics made in Roman times; around the 2nd Century AD or about 1,800 years ago, and that they have survived,
The artistry in the designs, whether geometric, non figurative or figurative – which still appeal to the modern viewer and are influential in today’s decorative styles,
The craftsmanship in making polychromatic illustrations from tiny cubes – 1 cm each side – of natural stone (called tesserae); usually limestone or marble of different colours which remain as vibrant today as the day the stones were laid. In particular, the skill in applying the stones to the mosaic design in such a way as to provide perspective, texture, and nuance of colour, size and scale,
The size of either floor or wall mosaics, which provide the opportunity to tell a story in stone; reflecting contemporary interests in nature, flora and fauna, spectacle, myths, gods and goddesses,
The way in which mosaics inform us about the lifestyle, the social and economic standing of the people who lived so long ago in houses and communities decorated in such beautiful ways; where beauty was a value they appreciated.
In other words, antique mosaics are masterpieces of the ancient world.
In today’s world, Sharen Taylor is inspired to help people appreciate the mosaic art form and also create mosaics with modern materials. While this is her focus, her creative approach is grounded in the depth and breadth of her knowledge and experience of art history and archeological conservation that she brings to her modern expression of an ancient art.
Illustrations of Mosaics made by Sharen
Sharen Taylor with her mosaics
Sharen making us coffee in her studio
Sharen Taylor in her studio demonstrating how to cut tesserae
Sharen graduated from Exeter University with a BA in Fine Arts with a specialty in sculpture. An interest in antiquities and conservation work led her to a job with the British Museum in London. While working there, she was sponsored for a Diploma in Archeological Conservation at the Institute of Archeology, London University.
Coming to Cyprus in 1987, she worked on the excavation work at Lemba, near Paphos. She conducted the conservation work on the cult bowl and figurines found at Kissonerga, which are on permanent display at the Archeological Museum in Nicosia. During a recent visit to that museum, I took this photograph, thinking how fortunate I am to know the person who did the conservation work on these important artifacts dating back over 4,000 years.
The Lemba cult bowl and figurines on which Sharen conducted conservation work. On display at the Cyprus Archaeological Museum, Nicosia
Following this exciting work, Sharen stayed on in Cyprus and worked for the Department of Antiquities as a consultant, including with the Leventis Museum, focusing on metal work and mediaeval pottery. She also worked for various foreign missions coming to Cyprus on archeological expeditions. Through this work, Sharen joined the Getty Conservation Institute as a Consultant and Coordinator for Site Conservation training, which focused on conservation on site; important for the integrity of archeological expeditions. Because of Cyprus’s location at the centre of the Eastern Mediterranean with major archeological finds throughout this geographic area, site conservation training was centred in Cyprus.
Sharen’s professional interest shifted to mosaics when she was asked to conduct a historical survey of the wine harvest mosaic in the atrium of the House of Dionysius at the Nea Pafos Archeological Site, a World Heritage Site, adjacent to the Paphos old Port. She analyzed each stone in that mosaic! In this photo, she shows her detailed mapping and analysis of those mosaics.
Sharen explains the historical analysis she conducted of the Roman wine harvest mosaics at the House of Dionysius, Paphos Archeological Park.
Sharen presented her findings at a conference of the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics in Arles, France in 1999.
She started her mosaic workshop in 2000 and moved to the beautiful, light and airy new building in the Hani Ibrahim Khan Centre near the Municipal Market in Paphos in 2018. As soon as we entered to workshop to meet with Sharen, I could feel the good energy there. She focuses on commissions for organizations and private individuals and also teaches children and adults mosaic making, which is how I first became aware of her work.
Coincidentally, in 2013, I wrote about the wine harvest mosaics in a series of 5 posts about Cyprus in which I made the connection between my interest in wine expressed through my wine blog and the wine harvest mosaics! ( See: Cyprus Wine Making – the ancient world meets the 21st Century: Part One)
Earlier in this post, I outlined the main reasons that ancient mosaics fascinate me.
A visit to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site illustrates all these aspects. Each time I visit Cyprus, I take time to enjoy these mosaics, both those in the open air and those in the various excavated houses, including the House of Dionysius, where the wine harvest mosaics pave the atrium.
Nea Pafos Archeological Site, Paphos
Imagine welcoming guests to your house if you were the prosperous citizen of Paphos living in this Roman villa. Your guests would admire these and other mosaic illustrations as they walked across the floor.
Sometimes, I wish I could be a time traveller to quietly observe these scenes!
Any visitor to the Nea Pafos Archeological Site is privileged to be able to see these world heritage mosaics in situ.
Prior to the 1960’s, geometric and non-figurative mosaics were frequently considered of little importance. Generally, there has been ongoing deterioration and loss of mosaics. There was a view that there are so many antique mosaics in the Mediterranean region where mosaics are numerous that conservation wasn’t important.
Now there is recognition that cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by rapidly changing physical and geopolitical currents around the world and this emphasizes the need to protect antique sites.
Under the authority of the Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus, systematic excavations started at Neo Pafos in 1962. In 1980, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Nea Pafos continues as a centre of excavation and research by many foreign archeological missions from universities and schools.
As mentioned previously, Sharen presented her paper on the Paphos wine harvest mosaics at The International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM) Conference in 1999, entitled: Mosaics, Conserve to Display. The ICCM, founded in Rome in 1977, is a voluntary organization registered in Cyprus as a legal entity. Their role and objectives are, “promoting the broader evolution in the philosophy and practice of heritage conservation in the field of mosaics”. It is an organization that brings together conservators, archeologists, art historians and architects. I am grateful to Sharen for making me aware of this organization and its work.
Experiencing antique mosaics connects us to the ancient past at various levels: physical, emotional and at the level of beliefs and values through the stories they tell and the designs they illustrate.
Sharen Taylor, through her knowledge, experience and creativity pays that cultural heritage forward by teaching children to appreciate and create mosaics. The Hani Ibrahim Khan colourful and imaginative wall mosaic created by children with aged 7 – 11 is a great illustration of this.
Past, present and future: the cultural tradition of mosaics continues…
Mosaic made by children aged 7-11 years for the opening of the new Centre in Paphos.
Sharen Taylor Mosaics, 15 To Hani Ibraham Khan, 40 Konstantinou Kanari Paphos
Accessible Website via Facebook Google Sharen Taylor Mosaics.
Department of Antiquities, Republic of Cyprus www.mcw.gov.cy see this site for lots of relevant information including the Neo Paphos Archeological Park
International Committee for Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM)
Xynisteri, an indigenous grape in Cyprus makes one of my all time favourite white wines for the summer. Refreshing, with lemon/lime, grapefruit and apple notes and balanced on the acidic side with flavours of tropical stone fruits; think mango and also apricots and peaches. On the nose, there are floral and fruity tones.
Four Cyprus wine producers of Xynisteri White wine
It’s a great sipping wine for the patio, yet also perfect in food pairings such as fish, white meat and even salads with fruit.
I have my favourite four producers: their wines are similar yet with nuanced, discernable differences.
Here is the line-up of these four producers including the name of their Xynisteri wine,
Vouni Panayia Winery, Alina Xynisteri. I have written about Vouni Panayia before. They were awarded Decanter Platinum Award as best value Cypriot White wine for their Alina Xynisteri 2016.
Vasilikon winery, Xynisteri
Tsangarides Winery, Xynisteri – I have written about Tsangarides Winery previously as well.
Kolios Winery, Persephone Xynisteri
I should add that there are other producers of Xynisteri wines who I am not yet familiar with.
Xynisteri is a robust grape variety that grows well at high altitudes. Xynisteri is the main white grape variety grown in Cyprus. It is one of the two indigenous grape varieties used in the production of Commandaria, the amber-coloured sweet Cypriot dessert wine. Commandaria’s heritage dates back to 800 BC and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production. Xynisteri is also used for the production of the local spirit, Zivania.
If you are in Cyprus as a visitor, or resident, I suggest you look for these Xynisteri wines on restaurant wine lists and try them all over time and see which you prefer.
This seems like a perfect occupation when enjoying sunny days in Cyprus.
Not in the same way I like dogs and not as pets. More as a metaphor for Cyprus as I remember it when I first starting visiting 16 years ago. Then goats sometimes jumped into our garden, which was on the edge of farmland and goats were herded between pastures near us. Goats and sometimes sheep were a common sight but less so now. The sound of their bells is a wonderful auditory memory.
Goats grazing in Cyprus
“There are two goats in the garden!” I remember exclaiming, being quite startled and delighted at the same time.
The mountain sheep, called a Mouflon, is a protected animal that technically is a sub species of the wild sheep called Ovis Ories but looks more like a goat to me. It is the emblem of Vouni Winery, situated near the village of Panayia, which is our destination for the day of sightseeing with friends visiting from Switzerland. The Vouni Winery bottle labels all feature a distinctive image of the Moufflon.
Mouflon are important because they are an endangered species, rarely seen. The Cyprus Mouflon, also called Agrino, is found mainly in the Paphos Forest, which is an area adjacent to Panayia.
From Paphos on the southwest coast, the drive to Panayia is all-uphill as we climb the foothills of the Troodos Mountains to 1000 metres, increasingly among loosely woven pine forests so different to the seemingly impenetrable wall of west coast forests in British Columbia.
We decide to show our visiting friends a different perspective of Cyprus, away from the usual attractions of beaches and archeological remains, beautiful and interesting as they are.
Vouni Winery, a family run enterprise, makes both red and white wines including Alina, from Xynisteri grapes and a recent red wine discovery for us, Barba Yiannis, made from Maratheftiko red grapes. Both Xynisteri and Maratheftiko grapes are indigenous grape varieties. Vouni Winery makes wines from other indigenous grapes such as Promara and Spourtiko white varieties and Yiannoudi and Ntopio Mavro red varieties.
Together with several other Cyprus wineries, Vouni Winery is steadily gaining greater recognition for its wines, including winning several awards and the only gold medal for Cyprus wines at the Decanter Wines of the World 2016 competition.
Vouni Winery benefits from a unique high altitude terroir in the shadow of the Troodos Mountains. Xynisteri grapes seem particularly well suited to the high altitude and produce a white wine of floral and fruity aromas, minerality and enough acidity to make it refreshing. The Vouni Alina wine from Xynisteri is one of our favourite white wines in Cyprus. The Barba Yiannis red wine is made from Maratheftiko, which is generally regarded as the best red wine variety in Cyprus. This wine is another of our Cyprus wine favourites: a rich wine with soft tannins, so it’s easy to enjoy with its aromas of cherries and black chocolate. Something I particularly appreciate at Vouni Winery is that the back labels on the wine bottles provide all details of the wine production.
Award winning Xynisteri white wine from Vouni Winery
Xynisteri wine from Vouni Winery in Panayia
Barba Yiannis from Maratheftiko grapes
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
Leaving Vouni to drive into Panayia village, we see signs for the birthplace and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios (1913-1977), the first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus from 1960 until his death in 1977. The opportunity to visit these places is an added bonus of local history as we haven’t realized or maybe we have forgotten that Panayia was the birthplace of Archbishop Macharios.
We park the car and first enter the small museum to Archbishop Macharios and see a collection of many photographs and memorabilia of his remarkable life. Then, we walk around the corner and enter the small courtyard and the house where he was brought up as a young child. Evocatively furnished with simple furniture and pottery, the earthen floor and attached animal barn of the stone house speak to the humble early life of this man who rubbed shoulders with world leaders and took his prominent place in the history of Cyprus.
Archbishop Macharios, first President of the independent Republic of Cyprus, outside the Macharios Museum, Panayia.
The doorway into the courtyard and childhood home of Archbishop Macharios
Archbishop Macharios’ childhood home in Panayia, Cyprus
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
The family home of Archbishop Macharios
Inside the Macharios family home
The door opening into the animal barn: childhood home of President Macharios.
As a young person growing up in the United Kingdom in the 1960’s, I remember hearing Archbishop Marcharios’s name frequently in the news. Little did I imagine that one day I would visit his family home.
Wine tasting and learning about local history always seems to create an appetite!
We adjourn to the nearby Oniro restaurant, which we remember from a visit several years ago. Its early February, cool yet sunny. Perfect winter weather. Wearing sweaters, we sit on the patio and enjoy home made fresh lemonade: an Oniro specialty. We order a meze lunch, meaning a progression of local dishes which are presented as they are made: grilled halloumi, hummous, sun-ripened black olives, pita bread, fava beans in tomato sauce, arugula salad, feta with drizzled olive oil and oregano, aromatic sliced tomatoes, calamari…
Simple, nourishing, healthy: delicious.
At the end of our sightseeing day, we drive back to Paphos the long route, enjoying the seemingly remote countryside on our way. In one area that we pass, I hear that charismatic tinkling, jingling sound of small bells and know a shepherd with his goats and sheep is nearby.
Enjoying a morning coffee at our regular coffee bar in the Port area of Paphos is one of our favourite Sunday morning pastimes when in Cyprus.
Coffee at the Port, Paphos
Needless to say, this is after a good walk along the roughly paved sea walk that surrounds the Paphos Archeological Park.
Buying fruit and vegetables from the friendly stall holders at the Saturday morning Paphos market is another pleasure.
Umbrellas protect the fruit and vegetable stands from the spring sun, Paphos
Paphos fruit and. Vegetable market
Fresh from the Market, Paphos
My painting of fruits from the Paphos market
We have been shopping here for years now and there is always a sense of mutual satisfaction when we return: the same warm, comforting smiles and gestures reciprocated as we recognize each other. “Ah, you are back/ Ah, you are still here”, we collectively murmur from the heart.
This year during our visit I pay more attention to the wild flowers increasingly in bloom from February on. The tall, spikey Asphodels that I see everywhere. The anemone, a loner elegant in lilac blue. The mandrake, purple blue amid shiny leaves, reminiscent of spooky stories. The stately giant orchid. Perhaps above all I am drawn to the pink or white almond blossom buzzing with all manner of pollinators. For me, the sweetly scented flowers are the harbinger of spring.
Almond blossom near Paphos
Common Asphodel – Asphodelus aestivus
Mandrake – Mandragora officinarum
Giant Orchid – Barlia robertiana
Anemone coronaria – Crown Anemone
But what about wine?
Next time, I will write about a Cyprus wine we enjoy that I haven’t mentioned before.
Now back in Vancouver, with a rain-filled charcoal grey sky overhead, its good to bring these memories of Cyprus back to life.
It’s a very rainy Cyprus day in February after a dry January. Highlighting the contrast between a wet today and many dry yesterdays, the heavy rain seems oppressive as we drive along the highway to the Limassol area.
We arrive in the village of Agios Amvrosios looking for Zambartas Wineries. I phone to check their location in the village and am told the person we are scheduled to meet had to go to Nicosia urgently. My heart sinks as we have been looking forward to this visit.
Map of Cyprus
Agios Amvrosios, location of Zambartas Wineries
Fortunately, all is not lost as the man on the phone invites us to continue with our visit. He will show us around. This is not only good; it’s fantastic when I realize that our host is Dr. Akis Zambartas, the founder of the winery. The stars have aligned to make this a memorable visit with one of the gurus of wine making in Cyprus.
Zambartas Wineries is a boutique winery founded in 2006 by Dr. Akis Zambartas in the Krasochoria Wine Region on the south facing slopes of the Troodos Mountains. The focus is on the production of quality wines while employing environmentally friendly practices. Akis has been joined in this enterprise by his son Marcos and daughter in law, Marleen.
Father and son are highly qualified scientists. Both are chemists with further degrees in oenology. Akis took his Ph.D. in chemistry at Lyon University in France followed by a degree in oenology from Montpelier University, famous for its oenology program. Not only is Akis a scientist he also has a wealth of business experience from a previous role as a chief executive officer in the wine and spirit industry in Cyprus. He has also been a pioneer in the discovery of Cyprus grape varieties. Marcos took a graduate degree in chemistry from Imperial College, London, followed by a degree in oenology from the School of Oenology, Adelaide University.
Dr. Akis Zambartas opening wine during our visit
After our mutual introductions, we tour the winery and meet Stefan another key member of the team. We move to the Tasting Room overlooking the winery and begin our exploration of the suite of Zambartas wines, which include several indigenous varieties. We enjoy them all. The ones that capture our attention are:
Zambartas Rosé. This is their flagship wine. It is a blend of Lefkada (a local indigenous variety) and Cabernet Franc. This is a ripe, red berry and strawberry style Rosé with cherry flavours on the nose, good acidity and freshness.
Xynisteri white wine
Lefkada-Cabernet Franc Rosé
Maratheftiko red wine – indigenous variety
Zambartas Xynisteri is a white wine from the Xynisteri indigenous grape. I increasingly enjoy this indigenous variety. For my palate, the experience is like having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with traces of Pinot Grigio. The lemony, white fruit and honeyed fresh flavour with good acidity makes this my favourite glass of wine at lunchtime with a fig and Cyprus goat cheese salad.
Zambartas Maratheftiko is a red wine from the Maratheftiko indigenous vine. These vines can be challenging to grow yet the resulting wine is worth the efforts of the winemakers. There are subtle herbal flavours as well as those of violets. It’s a more delicate wine than its full colour would suggest and requires some thoughtful food pairing. Cheese, veal would be good choices.
In challenging economic times in Cyprus, Akis and Marcos have been enterprising in their marketing. They have remained true to their vision of making quality wine at Zambartas Wineries and steadily increasing their production and expanding their markets. Their boutique winery of currently 60,000 bottles per year has increased both its domestic and export reach.
Most exciting for wine drinkers in the UK is that Berry Bros and Rudd, the oldest wine and spirit merchants in the UK who have had their offices at No.3, St. James’s, London since 1698, now list Zambartas Maratheftiko.
Not only is Berry Bros and Rudd representing their Maratheftiko but Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Guide 2014 also mentions Zambartas Wineries. There appears to be increasing interest in “island wines” and Zambartas Wineries is riding this wave.
We spend a very enjoyable hour or so talking with Akis who is able to describe complex matters in straightforward terms. We hear about their environmental practices, how they apply science to their viticulture decisions, the locations of their parcels of vines, the geology of different sites, their sustainability objectives as well as their efforts to support important initiatives in the evolution of Cyprus wine making.
I ask Akis for his thoughts on the future of wine making in Cyprus. He says it will be important to continue the modernization of practices and to use and apply knowledge: both the academic knowledge of science and oenology and also the intuitive connection and experiential knowledge of the land and the vines. Akis says that the future of Zambartas Wineries is with his son, Marcos. This is another example of the power of intergenerational legacies in the wine-making world that we have seen elsewhere.
The heaviness of the rain at the beginning of our visit lifts and soon the sunshine returns. The almond blossom, harbinger of Spring in Cyprus, opens in the orchards and the annual renewal of nature begins.
The arrival of Spring – Paphos area
Back in British Columbia and it turns out we have another interest in common: TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) whose vision is generating “ideas worth spreading”.
Zambartas Wineries was a sponsor of a TEDX Nicosia event. These are locally organized events held under a TED license to start a community conversation about issues of concern. Followers of TED will know that the TED 2014 Conference was recently held in Vancouver. We watched some of the live sessions broadcast for free to local residents via the library system.
We greatly enjoyed our visit to the Zambartas Wineries and our time with Akis. Whenever I think of our visit, I feel inspired by the dynamism, sense of purpose and the results the family has achieved in a relatively short period of time.
References: www.zambartaswineries.com., www.bbr.com (Berry Bros and Rudd)
The wine is poured and we are ready to taste the Tsangarides Shiraz and Maretheftiko Rose.
At the end of our recent visit to the winery, Angelos Tsangarides, Managing Director and Co-Owner asked us to try their latest rose. We gladly accepted the invitation as this is an interesting wine for two reasons. It is made with organic wine making processes and is a blend of Maretheftiko, a Cyprus indigenous grape with Shiraz, a well known international variety. Organic wine making and blending of indigenous and international grape varieties are two particular interests of this winery.
We decide to work our way through a systematic approach to tasting and consider colour, nose and palate. This rose is a clear, bright red. It’s clearly a youthful wine with fruit aromas and medium intensity on the nose. On the palate, this wine is medium dry on the sweetness continuum with low acidity. It is a balanced, smooth wine with other characteristics of body, intensity, length in the medium range. Flavours of strawberries and cherries with light vegetal overlays of green pepper are noted.
Our conclusion: a pleasant, easy to drink, balanced rose. Ready to enjoy now. A good accompaniment for appetizers or as an aperitif, served chilled.
Wine experts claim that the black Maretheftiko vine has the greatest potential to produce quality wine among the indigeous varieties on the Island. They consider that it could produce wines with the structure of Cabernet Sauvignon. The challenge is that it is a difficult vine to grow commercially since it is one of the few non-hermaphrodite vines in the world and must be planted in vineyards of mixed varieties to ensure good pollination. At Tsangarides, they are experimenting with how to increase their Maretheftiko yield by trying different approaches to planting.
Angelos mentions to us the growing interest in indigenous grape varieties among wine producers and consumers. A major project sponsored by one of the large Cyprus wine producers was conducted to research and identify traditional Cyprus varieties. Much work was conducted by the internationally known expert, French ampelographer, Dr. Pierre Galet from Montpelier. Ampelography is not a familiar term. It comes from the Greek ampelos for the vine and graphe for writing. It is the science of describing and identifying vine varieties using such characteristics as leaf shape and lengths and angles of the leaf veins as well as other elements. It is a field of botany that requires specialized training. This important study identified several indigenous Cyprus vine varieties, including Maretheftiko.
Wine writer Oz Clarke mentions Cyprus in his new book and in his summary of European wines writes: “Even Cyprus is waking up”. Faint praise yet encouraging recognition for the work and innovative practices of Cyprus wine makers.
References: Oxford Companion to Wine: Jancis Robinson MW
A slight breeze accompanied the rhythmic chatter of the wine bottling machine as we sat in the spring morning sunshine on the deck of the Tsangarides Winery. This family owned winery is in the village of Lemona at the south end of the Troodos Mountains and about half an hour from Paphos. Angelos Tsangarides offered us our favourite Cyprus coffee, Metrios with its usual glass of water, as we joined him to chat and catch up winery news.
Over the past few years we’ve had the good fortune to meet Angelos and his sister Loukia who both run this boutique winery started by their great, great grandfather. We were introduced to them by a retired businessman friend who lives in the village. A few years ago he bought a couple of parcels of land with old Cabernet Sauvignon vines which are now being brought into production by the Tsangarides Winery. We have visited these parcels of vines situated in a silent sun drenched valley near the village. Since then, these rejuvenated vines have been joined by recently planted Xinisterii vines also being nurtured in the same way.
On a previous visit with our friend, we had the opportunity to taste the Tsangarides suite of wines which were offered with a plate of local feta cheese on top of slices of cool cucumber, a delightfully fresh combination of flavours to cleanse the palate between tastings. The Xinisteri Dry White is a particlar favourite and it won a silver medal in the 2012 Cyprus wine competition. Xinisteri (sometimes spelt Ynisteri) is a local Cyprus grape which can produce mouth-wateringly crisp and fruity wine with hints of green apple, apricot and lemon. Agios Efrem, a red wine, is another favourite with a combination of berries, coffee and pepper aromas. This is a blend of Mataro, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.
On this day, as we sip our Metrios, the conversation turns to the innovative approaches being taken by the Tsangarides winery. Their aim is to produce ever higher quality wines through modernization, greater efficiencies, certified organic wine making approaches and the use of ancient Cyprus local grapes with international grape varieties. This integration of the winery legacy with new approaches is a particular interest of the Tsangarides family. These approaches seem to be the way forward in an increasingly competitive and global industry.
It feels invigorating to sit outside in the warm February sunshine taking in the sights and sounds of the village and the winery and hear the enthusiasm of Angelos as he talks about their business. We enjoy the view of palm and olive trees surrounding the winery with the Troodos mountains in the distance. The almond tree opposite the entrance is in full pink splendour. Our visit provided an interesting and enjoyable insight into contemporary wine making in Cyprus.
High trellis planting of vines – mainly for table grapes
It’s February and pale pink, delicately scented almond blossom is suddenly opening on the almond trees. The soft scent encourages a deep inhalation of the perfumed air. The island seems to be bursting with colour. The Cyprus countryside between Paphos and Polis on the west side of the island is a vision of mandarin and citrus orange, almond and cyclamen pink, olive tree silver-grey, broom yellow and winter wheat green. The gnarled brown bush planted vines still appear dormant and the high trellis vines mainly for table grapes show the occasional touch of green. Nature is responding to the warmth of the sun after two months of cool and rainy weather and is reawakening.
The same could be said of the Cyprus wine industry. It is going through a renaissance after several centuries of decline and more recently the production of bulk, inexpensive wines. Cyprus produced much of the sweet sherry- like fortified wine consumed in the UK and also a large volume of blended wines for the eastern block countries. Markets have changed significantly and now Cyprus wine makers are responding to the global demand for higher quality wines by paying greater attention to the handling of grapes and the production of the wine.
Cyprus appears well positioned to make this transition. Along with Chile, Cyprus claims to a country whose vineyards are entirely phylloxera-free and vines are cultivated on their own root stock as opposed to being grafted onto american root stock as is the case in many countries. Cyprus is also fortunate to have several indigenous grape varieties which are heavily relied upon in its wine industry. While more international grape varieties are increasingly being planted their percentage of the total acreage cultivated is much smaller. The red grape Mavro has the highest acreage followed by the white grape Xynisteri. Next in line are Carignan, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Another popular Cypriot vine, Maratheftiko is further down the list. Xynisteri makes popular white wines but they must be drunk young – one year at most after production.
While much of the wine industry has been dominated by four major producers, smaller regional wineries with lower production capacity are being encouraged within the industry. Further initiatives to support improved quality have included the appellation system. There are three wine denominations based on European Union laws. The three categories are: Table Wine; Local wine, similar to the French Vin de Pays; and introduced in 2007 is the Protected designation of origin which is modelled on the French Appellation d’Origine Controllee. Each of these denominations has specific requirements which must be met.
The wine industry is a significant contributor to the Cypriot economy through cultivation, production, employment, export and tourism. It’s a demanding business in a highly competitive market. Modernizing and improving quality in line with the industry world- wide is the way forward while building upon the legacy of local grape varieties and island history.
Etko Centurion 1991 Vintage on the left and KEO St. John on the right.
KEO St John Commandaria
Etko Commandaria “Centurion” 1991 Vintage
Cyprus is known on the international wine scene for Commandaria, the fortified sweet wine that is associated with the 13th Century history of the Island and the Knights of St. John.
A little adventure seemed in order to become acquainted with this historic wine. Early one evening as the setting sun was painting a wintery crimson sky, we headed off into the hills above Paphos to the bar at the Minthis Hills Golf Club to conduct our own Commandaria tasting.
An earlier reconnoitre had identified that Minthis Hills offers two Commandarias on their wine list: KEO St. John and Etko Centurion Vintage 1991 and these two seemed suitable candidates to help us increase our knowledge of this fortified wine.
Notebook and pen in hand, we tasted the two wines individually and then made a comparison, looking at the key tasting areas of appearance, nose and palate. Both wines are clear in colour with different shades of chestnut brown; the vintage wine being darker and having a tinge of red in the brown. On the nose, the St John was clean with pronounced intensity and aromas of burnt raisins, nuts with a touch of caramel and hint of tartness. The Centurion was also clean on the nose with more pronounced aromas of nuts, figs, warmth and oak. On the palate, they were both sweet with medium acidity and medium intensity. While clearly a fortified wine with alcohol levels at 15% each, neither was syrupy nor overly sweet or overpowering. The flavours of sultanas and figs came through and the Centurion, with the advantage of 22 years of ageing, also brought forth buttery, caramel oak flavours with a pronounced spiceness, with pepper and a touch of coffee. Both wines are very pleasant and given their high alcohol levels, we assessed them as more accessible than, say, an equivalent 15% Syrah. The Centurion Vintage 1991 delivered extra smoothness and flavour and came with a commensurate higher price.
Both wines are made with indigenous grape varieties. The KEO St. John is made with Xynisteri, a white grape, and the Etko Centurion is made with Mavro, a black grape.
Sitting in the comfort and warmth of the candlelit bar and relaxing as we tasted these wines, the conversation turned to history. The Commandaria wine traces its roots back to the Knights of St John, one of the monastic Hospitalier Orders which undertook both religious duties and the protection and care of travellers. When the Hospitaliers arrived in Cyprus after leaving Jerusalem in late 13th Century, a king of Cyprus conferred on them the right to acquire land and they developed their Commanderies. Over time, the wine they developed on their land around Limassol was called Commandaria. As a fortified wine, Commandaria travelled well and was exported throughout Europe. It was popular in England, for example, not only in the 13th century but later and was a favourite of the Tudor Kings including King Henry V111.
Commandaria is made only in a defined region of 14 wine producing villages in the Troodos foothills about 20 miles north of Limassol. The wine production for Commandaria has remained true to traditional methods. The production is small and it maintains its ranking among the world’s classic wines. In 1993, the European Union registered Commandaria as a protected name and geographic origin.
Commandaria is regarded as an eastern mediterranean equivalent of its western mediterranean cousins, Port and Sherry. We found it had both similar and different characteristics and was more refreshing and lighter with higher acidity. Its high alcohol levels are due to naturally high levels of sugar from the sun dried grapes and the fortification process of adding pure grape spirit. Some Commandarias are made using the solera method of blending wine batches from different years as is used in the production of Sherry in Jerez. There are occasionally single vintage cuvees produced in exceptional years and the Centurion Vintage 1991 is an example.
Sweet wines have largely declined in popularity over the years which is sad as their complexity and full flavours have a lot to offer. Our conclusion: it would be very easy to enjoy drinking a glass of Commandaria with a Creme Brûlée, Tiramisu, a coffee semifreddo or to accompany a coffee after a meal, or to take a leaf from late harvest wines, to enjoy with blue cheese.
This historic wine can now be bought on line through Amazon; what better example of the Ancient World meeting the 21st Century!
Late 4th/early 3rd century B.C. This pebble mosaic floor belongs to an earlier Hellenistic building and depicts Scylla, the mythical sea-monster who is part -woman, part-fish and part-dog. She is illustrated holding a ship mast and a trident and is surrounded by illustrations of sea life.
Floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. Roman period 58 B.C. – 400 A.D.
Paphos Archeological Site – Roman town 58 B.C to approx. 400/500 A.D. A UNESCO World Heritage Site
Late 2nd/early 3rd century A.D. This panel represents the story of Icarios. Dionysos and Acme are depicted to the left of the panel. In the centre, Icarios is seen holding the reins of an ox-driven double wheeled cart, filled with sacks of wine. Further to the right, there are two shepherds in a state of inebriation. A sign identifies them as:”The First Wine Drinkers.”
A good starting point for considering Cyprus wine-making is in its classical history as illustrated in the archeological site in the old port area of Paphos, a town situated on the south west coast of Cyprus. Paphos is included in the official UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures of the world heritage. The Cyprus Department of Antiquities manages this site where the past merges with the present day particularly through the medium of the ancient Hellenistic and Roman mosaics.
Walking through the entrance-way and up the wide, stone steps to the archeological site, visitors arrive at the open, broad area of excavation of this promontory. The remains of the town with walkways, broken pillars and stone outlines of rooms are expansive and open to the blue sky which merges on the horizon with the blue, rolling Mediterranean Sea. This strategic site bordering the harbour provides an uninterrupted 180′ view of passing ships. What better way for the Romans to guard their Island of Aphrodite where they remained from about 58 B.C. to approximately 400/500 A.D.
There are two areas of mosaics that always draw my attention and wonder. First of all the uncovered circular mosaic floor which is open to the elements. It seems like a contemporary, beautiful carpet that I would love to own. The blues, mauves, pinks, browns are still fresh to the eye in spite of rain and sun over the centuries.
For wine lovers, the mosaic floors around the atrium of the so called House of Dionysos, 2nd – 4th century A.D., are possibly the most intriguing. The remains of this villa are so named after the figural scenes inspired by the Dionysos mythological circle which decorate the reception hall. Here are mosaic patterns depicting the wine harvest with carts overflowing with sacks of wine and there are inebriated shepherds in the picture too! The contemporary appearance of the mosaics and their clarity of colour seem to contradict their antiquity and are a tribute to the skill and creativity of the artisans who made them.
Interested visitors often lean over the rails of the raised boardwalk silently and intently gazing at the mosaics. Perhaps they feel as though they are in a time warp. Maybe they imagine that they can hear the sounds of the Roman household going about its daily routine and listen to the untold stories of the people who lived here beside the dark blue sea 1,700 years ago or even in earlier times, as illustrated by the pebble mosaic created centuries before.
Fast forward to the 21st century and grapes and grape growing remain an integral part of the Cyprus economy and society. The modern Cyprus wine industry produces a large variety of white, red and rose wines and undoubtedly draws its inspiration from these earlier times. More to come in the next Post.