Cyprus wine making: Commandaria where the Ancient World meets the 21st Century – part two

Etko Centurion 1991 Vintage on the left and KEO St. John on the right.

Etko Centurion 1991 Vintage on the left and KEO St. John on the right.

KEO St John Commandaria

KEO St John Commandaria

Etko Commandaria "Centurion" 1991 Vintage Cuvee

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!

References:   KEO wines     http://www.keogroup.com

Etko wines     http://www.etkowines.com

Wines of Cyprus    www.cypruswines.com

Minthis Hills Golf Club    www.minthishills.com

Cyprus wine making – the ancient world meets the 21st century – part one

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.

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.

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 A.D. A World Heritage SitePaphos 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."

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.

Reference:  Cyprus Island Archeology       http://www.cyprusisland.com

The Colours of Rose – South Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Okanagan Valley vineyards

Okanagan Valley vineyards

IMG_2984  Road 13 Winery, South Okanagan

Driving up the hill on Road 13 to the eponymous Winery in the South Okanagan Valley, we were in for quite a surprise.    This wasn’t the usual West Coast timber and glass winery tasting room.   A whimsical, tongue-in-cheek building that looks like a “cardboard castle” awaited us – a take-off on the classical wine chateau.   As the photo shows,  its all castellations, rounded and pointed towers and even the front door looks like a draw bridge!.   We loved the humour of it.

Once inside, it’s clear there’s no joking about the quality of wine.   The same innovative approach to its building seems evident in the Road 13′s winemaking practices.

We had decided to go in search of this winery after tasting their Rose earlier in the summer last year.   The name was added to the list of “Must Sees” for the annual visit to the Okanagan.

Road 13’s Honest John’s Rose has that vibrant, crimson colour of merlot based Rose wines,  reminiscent in a way of the Bergerac region Rose that we like.   Honest John’s presentation is upbeat and optimistic from its colour and bottle labelling to its intriguing and refreshing flavours not only of soft fruit but also of spice!.

Spending time in the Tasting Room and exploring the Rose further provided the answer to our question of what was the blend of grapes used.  It turned out that Merlot was only a part of the picture.  The main components of the blend are Gamay and Pinot Noir followed by Merlot. Road 13 also adds white grapes to their blend with Viognier and just a hint of Chenin Blanc.  Syrah, Rousanne and Malbec are also included in small percentages.  Perhaps this is an unconventional blending and no doubt adds that “something interesting” to the taste that we liked.

While Rose is typically thought of as a great summer sipper,   Rose delivers on flavour and freshness at any time of year, if it is served lightly chilled so the range of flavours comes through.   This wine would be no exception.

Outside Canada,  blank looks are the usual reaction to information about British Columbia’s wine areas.   Surely BC is known for its skiing not its wine!   Little do people know that beyond the coastal mountains surrounding Vancouver lies the spectacular  Okanagan Valley with its vast lakes, ponderosa pines, fragrant sagebrush and desert areas where vineyards share the land with cherry, apricot and peach orchards.  It’s a magical place.   No wonder the whimsical castle at Road 13 Winery feels right.

References

Road 13 Winery: check out the website and tasting notes

http://www.road13vineyards.com

British Columbia Wine areas.   Super, Natural British Columbia Canada.  check out the extensive information.

http://www.hellobc.com

The Colours of Rose – Provence wine region, South of France

Noix de St Jacques, Virage Restaurant Bar, Monaco

Noix de St Jacques, Virage Restaurant Bar, Monaco

View of Monaco

View of Monaco

Much is written about wine and food pairing.  At the end of the day, most agree its a matter of personal choice although there are some guidelines to avoid mismatches between food and wine.    Choosing appropriate wine to accompany  delicate seafood and fish flavours can be a challenge.

The mouth-watering image above was taken minutes before I tucked into this lunch time dish.    Sauteed scallops on a bed of poached fennel with a garnish of grapefruit and italian parsley flavoured with a citrus sauce.    The verdict:- delicious – delicate seafood flavour of the scallops enhanced by the grapefruit and italian parsley piquancy.

We decided we would like a Rose wine with our lunch.   Our helpful server at Virage Restaurant Bar in Monaco recommended a pale strawberry coloured provencal Rose.  We found it dry without being acidic, refreshing, lightly floral with a hint of red fruit and citrus.   This Rose was delicate enough to complement the scallop and fennel flavours and created a memorable wine and food pairing experience.

This pale pink, subtle wine was a Chateau de Saint-Martin, cuvee Eternelle Favorite 2011, AOC Cotes de Provence, VAR.    Not only does the wine taste good, it also comes in an elegant bottle with a distinctive label.     The grapes used in the wine are Tibouren, Carignan and Grenache.

A brief visit to the South of France took us to the Principality of Monaco.    Lunch was recommended at Virage Restaurant Bar, a smart yet casual restaurant tucked alongside the marina.   The white tablecloths and white/grey colour scheme of the busy restaurant, its open glass fronted entrance metres away from impressive yatchs, and friendly, prompt service created a relaxed and happy atmosphere.    We noticed that the Eternelle Favorite certainly was a popular choice among the clientele who seemed to be smart, younger people working in the area.

This wine and food combination was so delicious and a highlight of our visit that I have attempted to replicate it at home. The fennel was quickly sautéed then poached in a light chicken stock.   I am still working on the sauce.   For now it is my own version of a citrus spicy mayonnaise:  any suggestions to create a sauce similar to that in the photo would be welcome.     All presented as in the photo,  with spinach as a side dish and, of course, accompanied by a glass of pale, subtle Rose!.

Bon Appetit!

Reference:  Virage Restaurant Bar,   http://www.virage.mc

Chateau de Saint-Martin,  www.chateaudesaintmartin.com

The Colours of Rose – Bergerac Wine Region

IMG_3157 Vitrine du Pays Foyen – wine tourist office

IMG_3155Snowman – Le Bonhomme de Neige at Pineuilh, Ste Foy La Grande, Gironde, Aquitaine, SW France

This Snowman reminds me of a business trip to Quebec City years ago just before the Christmas holidays.    Amid the grey-brown foggy gloom of an eastern Canadian winter day, the Quebecois Bonhommes de Neige spread cheer wherever they appeared around the city and in all the Christmas decorations.   I’ll never forget them.

The cheerful chap in this photo comes from his french roots in France.  He can be spotted  towering over the new shopping centre in Pineuilh, outside Ste Foy La Grande in Gironde, SW France and almost opposite the new Pays Foyen tourist and wine shop with its tasting bar established right in the shopping centre.   That’s what the other photo is about:  the Vitrine du Pays Foyen meaning the window on the local area run by the regional tourist office to promote the area and is products.

More modern approaches to wine tourism are starting to catch on in the Bergerac wine region as increased competition forces wine makers to become more extravert in their ways.   This wine area “Vitrine” is a good start and many local winemakers from the Bergerac Wine Region;  from Monestier,  Sigoules and many other villages and communes are represented with photos of the winemakers and their products.   The different appellations that constitute the Bergerac Wine Region are:  Bergerac, Monbazillac, Montravel, Pecharmant, Rosette and Saussignac.

Chateau Lestevenie is one of the many chateaux represented at the “Vitrine” and it produces Bergerac ‘appellation controlle’ wines.   I particularly mention this winery from Monestier because their Rose is one of the best we have tasted and the colour is so festive – Merlot crimson I call it.    A wonderful cherry red to look at and taste!

Humphrey and Sue Temperley, the proprietors of Chateau Lestevenie make one Rose from old merlot vines and another Rose from younger merlot with some malbec.  Supporting our enthusiasm for their Rose,  the Chateau Lestevenie 2011 Rose won a coveted silver medal in the Vin de Bergerac Concours!.

Between the Bonhomme de Neige in Pineuilh and Chateau Lestevenie’s Rose,  its enough to put anyone in the festive mood.

Felicitations pour la Nouvelle Annee.

Reference:   Chateau Lestevenie    www.chateau-lestevenie.com

Office de Tourisme du Pays Foyen (the area between Saint-Emilion and Bergerac)       http://www.tourisme-dordogne-paysfoyen.com

 

 

The Colours of Rose – Bordeaux style

IMG_3159Le 8 restaurant, Ste Foy La Grande

The varying colours of Rose wine fascinate me.  The degree to which, in simplistic terms, the length of time that the black grape skins are left in contact with the Must or unfermented grape juice and affect the colour and flavour of the wine is intriguing.  The colours can range from pale strawberry to vivid crimson and shades in between:  all encourage exploration!

A recent lunch at “Le 8 ” In Ste Foy La Grande, a 13th Century bastide town in the Bordeaux wine region and located on the edge of the Gironde and Dordogne Departments in SW France presented an opportunity to drink Le Rose de Laregnere,  a Bordeaux Rose.

Red peach in colour, its pleasant dry style with subtle aromas of red fruit, citrus fruits and flowers was a flexible accompaniment to a varied four course menu of artichoke soup, pate de maison,  duck with olives, chocolate cake (light and cut from freshly made sponges on the chef’s counter) and local cheeses all for 42 euros for 2 people.

Recently opened, “le 8”, was bustling at lunchtime.  An open plan yet intimate interior where the chef was in full view of the tables gave a sense of dynamism to the place.  The busy pace of the restaurant, the hum of happy lunch time chat was made all the more enjoyable by the good quality of the food and Le Rose de Laregnere.

Reference:   Restaurant Le 8,  8 Rue Marceau,  33220 Ste Foy La Grande,  05 57 41 31 49

Le Rose de Laregnere,   See http://www.cavelaregnere