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.
Entertaining friends, one or two at a time in a responsible social distancing way, is still something we enjoy hosting on the patio. Offering what I call a mini-meze feels like an easy, no fuss option.
Mini-meze with pâté of sardines, anchovies and almonds
Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) growing up a storm and protected from local cat!
A meze in eastern Mediterranean countries involves quite a few different and delicious dishes. I prepare an abbreviated version with roasted vegetables, slices of local feta with olive oil drizzled over and chopped herbs, either oregano or fresh basil from the garden, sliced tomatoes and various cheeses including the greek cheese, Kefalotyri. I add some form of protein, sometimes smoked salmon, or as in the photo above, a paté of sardines, anchovies and almonds – quite delicious with toasted black bread or crackers.
A photo of the rapidly growing Basil and Cilantro (Coriander) is included. The planter is covered to protect it from a neighbourhood cat!
This mini-meze Is served in the context of enjoying a chilled white wine, usually an indigenous Cyprus white grape called Xinisteri, which is similar to Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris – in that continuum of freshness but not too acidic. As mentioned previously, a favourite of ours is the Zambartas Xynisteri.
Zambartas Xynisteri 2017
I read in a French wine publication that a gloomy autumn, ‘ un automne morose’ is anticipated, in which bad news about the financial health of organizations is starting to become a reality and could affect the whole wine sector including sales for the upcoming festive season. It’s probably a time to look out for great prices of choice still and sparkling wines.
Offering a mini-meze with wine is one way to continue to support our local/and or favourite winegrowers during these challenging times.
My favourite culinary endeavour right now is making salsa, in particular mango salsa.
Delicious Mango Salsa with Cilantro on the side
Just the name feels festive and so does the taste with the combination of sweet and contrasting flavours from the spring onion, red pepper, lemon juice and cilantro together with the mango. Chopping all the ingredients up into small pieces and mixing with the lemon or lime juice makes this a really easy summer garnish.
There are many recipes on the internet but this is the combination I have been making with success and I really like it. In consideration of friends who may not like cilantro, I serve that separately so people can add it to their taste. We enjoy this salsa with prosciutto, cheeses, smoked salmon, roasted vegetables and the list goes on. I have tried making the salsa with nectarines as that fruit has less natural sugar than mangoes but it didn’t really measure up from my perspective.
Rosé seems to be the perfect wine match and we have recently tried two that are new to us: Zambartas Wineries 2018 Rosé from Lefkada, a Greek grape and Cabernet Franc, and Vouni Panayia Winery 2019 Rosé from local grapes, Mavro and Xinisteri.
Two summer Rosés
The Zambartas Rosé won a gold medal in the 2019 International Rosé Championship and is a darker rosé colour from the Cabernet Franc grape, similar in colour to the rosés from South West France. 13% ALC by volume.
The Vouni Panayia Rosé from the local grapes of Mavro (black) and Xinisteri is paler, more similar to the rosés from the South of France. 13.5 % ALC by volume.
Both wines offer red fruit flavours including pomegranate and are refreshing, good as a summer aperitif as well as with seafood or Asian style food. We enjoy them both but in balance my favourite is the paler rosé from local grapes.
It’s time to enjoy the last few weeks of summer, with socially distanced outdoor eating and fresh and refreshing flavours.
Photographs can be a great distraction: enjoyable, sometimes surprising and inevitably stacked with memories. When recently ‘decluttering’ an attic full of memorabilia and photos it was difficult not to be become absorbed in looking at the old photos. Subsequently, I looked at my blog photo collection and found myself reminiscing about various Châteaux and wine related visits. Here are several photos that remind me of those times.
Château Margaux, Medoc
Château La Dominique, Saint-Emilion: the new chai designed by architect Jean Nouvel.
Pierre Sadoux, father and son, Chateau Court les Mûts, Vigneron of the Year 2018, Bergerac Wine Region, Guide Hachette
Burrowing Owl Winery, Oliver, BC
Chateau Haut-Brion, looking out to the vines, Pessac, Bordeaux
The entrance to Vouni Winery, Panayia, Cyprus
The Quintus Dragon, Château Quintus, Saint-Emilion.
La Cité du Vin, Bordeaux
Château Monestier La Tour. Time and the passage of time: Auguste Rodin quote, the sundial symbolising the passage of time and the watchmaking career of the Proprietor, Karl-Friedrich Scheufele and the Chateau Monestier la Tour emblem of the Crane.
La Confrérie des Compagnons des Vins de Loupiac
The colourful parade of confréries
House of Bollinger – the original family home, Ay, Champagne.
Every photo represents a story to me and I am grateful to many people for making these wine related visits possible.
Happy Spring! Vancouver is looking beautiful in warm, sunny, springtime weather. I hope it’s similar wherever you are!
I open the car door outside the Tsangarides Winery and savour the fresh February village air of Lemona, this small hamlet in the Troodos foothills.
Tsangarides Winery, Lemona on a chilly February morning
It’s been a year since our last visit and we’re looking forward to renewing our acquaintance with Angelos Tsangarides, co-proprietor with his sister of the winery. We are introduced to Angelos’s father who is also at the winery this day. We follow Angelos upstairs to a large tasting room overlooking almond and clementine trees. Today the room is warmed by a wood burning stove, necessary on this chilly morning.
Over a Cyprus coffee, metrios style, like a medium sweet thick expresso served with a glass of water on the side, we chat about wine, wine making, local grape varieties, tourism and developments at Tsangarides. Over the past year, Angelos has been consolidating winery activities, investing in new equipment and restructuring operations by taking on the role of wine maker himself with the advice of a wine consultant. He is very much enjoying this development.
Angelos is a keen advocate of the local grape varieties, Xinisteri white grapes and Maratheftiko black grapes. He explains that Xinisteri is typically blended with a small percentage of either Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. He favours Chardonnay in the blend.
A new development is that Angelos is now producing a Muscat dessert wine.
Tsangarides Winery Muscat wine
After our metrios coffee and chat, Angelos takes us to visit the cellars and
Tsangarides Winery Maratheftiko organic wine
the bottling area. We buy some wine to enjoy over dinner with friends and he generously gives us a bottle of his Shiraz Rosé bottled this very day to taste.
Angelos tells us that he woke really early this morning, excited about the prospect of bottling the 2015 Rosé. As he tells us this, his face lights up and he is smiling the smile of someone who loves what he is doing. He says that he is very happy that he made the switch from the strictly business world he was working in previously to work in the family winery, that he loves what he does and finds it rewarding and satisfying.
As we say farewell to Angelos so he can get on with the rest of his busy day, he asks me to let him know what we think of these wines and we promise to share our wine tasting notes with him.
Here are the tasting notes I emailed to Angelos after we enjoyed the wines one evening soon afterwards with friends:
“Hello Angelos, We have tasted the wines from our visit to you and here are some comments:
2014 Maratheftiko organic wine
Good colour and clean on the nose with some fruit/floral aromas.
While young, a very drinkable smooth wine now. Soft tannins, some drying from the tannins but what one wants in this kind of wine, with complex black fruit and floral tones.
It’s the tannins which provide the health enhancing characteristics of red wine apparently, so good to be aware of the tannins.
One of our guests said that the wine would benefit from ageing – yes, undoubtedly but very drinkable and enjoyable now.
Given the fairly high alc 14.5% VOL, I feel it has a freshness and lightness to it.
We all enjoyed it. Very good flavours for an organic wine which sometimes produce different flavours to what one expects
One of our guests said. ‘I adore this wine’
What I particularly liked about this wine is that it has fresh and robust acidity so that although the wine has the characteristic aromas and flavours of a sweet wine, it wasn’t sweet. This is important when enjoyed with cheese as well as a dessert and it means that it complements rather than overwhelms the food flavours
Very popular and all drunk very quickly by our guests
2015 Shiraz Rosé
Bright rich red colour, clean on the nose with light fruit aromas
Delicious taste with dark fruit with touch of peach and quite spicy. Almost has a bit of fizz /bubbly effect so a lighthearted wine but I could feel the heat of the wine.
Very enjoyable. Will be a popular choice for the spring and summer
Thanks, Angelos. We enjoyed these winesas you can see and also the Xinistiri which is a favourite on the white wine side. “
We subsequently enjoy lunch one day at Minthis Hills Golf Club and restaurant in the countryside above Paphos. We order a glass of Tsangarides Xinisteri each and it arrives in aviation bottles of 187 ml. which we really appreciate as this is preferable to having a glass poured from an already open bottle. I have written before supporting smaller bottle sizes as options for wine lovers so I really am pleased to see this Tsangarides offering. Angelos subsequently mentions to me that these aviation bottles of Xinisteri are extremely popular.
In reflecting upon our visit to Angelos and his comments about the rewarding nature of his work, I wonder if this is the portrait of a happy man: working in a business alongside his family, in a beautiful rural setting, learning new skills, feeling he is making progress, being his own boss and doing something he loves, which is making wine.
Much has been written recently about this elusive emotion called Happiness and how to achieve it. After reviewing several sources in search of a succinct statement to describe the connection between work and happiness that would resonate with Angelos’s comments, the following statement by the late Steve Jobs of Apple Corporation seems to fit the bill:
“ Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do…”
Sounds like Angelos Tsangarides – a fortunate man.
Reference: Tsangarides Winery. www.tsangarideswinery.com. Organically produced wine
Metrios Cyprus wine www.cyprusisland.net
Minthis Hills Golf Club. www.minthishills.com.
Quote from the late Steve Jobs: Stanford Commencement Speech 2006
A visit to London before the Christmas holidays and I like to check out the decorations. Snowflakes, pine trees and feathers, with lots of colour and dazzle, seem to be some of the motifs this year. My camera isn’t poised ready for them all but here are blue snowflakes and red and green vertical pine tree decorations:
Christmas lights in Mayfair
Christmas holiday decorations
Another stop along the way of special places is the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation in the forecourt creates a powerful image for me of fluid shape and colour, enhanced by a brilliant blue November sky.
Royal Academy of Arts – Ai Weiwei’s man-made forest installation
Walking along Pall Mall one morning I hear a band playing and drawn like a magnet to the sound, I find a small ceremony with a military band at the Yard entrance to St James’s Palace.
Ceremony at St James’s Palace
Towards the end of that day, I head towards Berry Bros and Rudd, wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century. Another favourite haunt, this time combining history and fine wine where I have enjoyed Berry’s Own Selection of wines and wine events.
Berry Bros and Rudd – wine merchants in St James’s since the 17th century
Berry Bros and Rudd – part of their own selection
In general chit chat with the wine consultant, I ask about Canadian wine and Bergerac wine region offerings. The Canadian selections focus on ice wines from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia including an ice cider. While I haven’t tasted this selection of Domaine de Grand Pré, Pomme d’Or, I have tasted other ice ciders and they are worth every sip of nectar: delicious. Nothing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia.
The wine selection from the Bergerac Wine Region is limited to Chateau Thénac and no Monbazillac or Saussignac late harvest wines are listed.
In reflecting upon these gaps in their wine list, I realize that these geographic areas of interest to me typically have small production volumes and that this can be a challenge for both wine producers and wine importers considering new markets.
I am pleased to see that a Maratheftiko red wine from Zambartas Wineries in Cyprus is still offered together with a Commandaria.
After all this exploring in London’s St. James’s area, a post-jet lag treat seems in order. What better than a glass of champagne. I enquire about the Bollinger selection, one of our favourites. A half bottle of Bollinger Rosé fits the bill.
This champagne is dominated by Pinot Noir which is known to give body and structure. The Berry Bros and Rudd employee suggests it will go well with game in a wine and food pairing and I take note for future reference. We enjoy it solo, with a handful of home roasted nuts: characteristic tight bubbles, crisp and dry, subtle fruit nuance yet savoury, refreshing. A champagne that really stands on its own.
Christmas Cake is one of those classic symbols of the Christmas Season for me. So when I eat my last piece of celebratory cake each year, I know the Christmas holidays are truly over for another 12 months.
Warre’s 2000 Port
A week ago, we enjoy one of the best Christmas cakes I have tasted for some time: moist with home made marzipan and icing that is gentle on our teeth. And, to really put icing on the cake, we are sitting outside in a sunny sheltered spot in Cyprus sipping a Symington Warre’s 2000 Port. This is a perfect pairing: the rich, moist fruitcake and the almonds in the marzipan complementing the rich, dark fruit complexity of the Port.
December in Cyprus
If my Mother was still alive, she would savour every taste, sip and sunshine moment of this experience; enjoying nothing better than a late morning coffee with either a brandy or something similar while watching the world go by. In her nineties, these were pleasures that endured.
The role of British families in the Port trade has a long history. Warre’s was founded in 1670 and was the first British Port Company established in Portugal. The Symington family has been established in Portugal for over 350 years and 13 generations. Andrew Symington became a partner in Warre’s in 1905 and the Symington Family is the owner and manager of Warre’s today. The Warre history is worth reading on their website noted below.
Working backwards to New Year’s Eve, we enjoy another first tasting: a 2007 Klein Constantia. This is a natural sweet late harvest wine from Stellenbosch in South Africa. The dark amber, marmalade and honeyed wine with a medicinal edge and, as our wine connoisseur friend said, an acidic spine, is served with either Summer Pudding – that most delicious of English puddings – or profiteroles with chocolate sauce. We linger over each sip and mouthful to take in the full experience of wine and pudding flavours together.
The Klein Constantia Vin de Constance, made from Muscat de Frontignan grapes, was revived in 1986. With a pre-phylloxera pedigree, it was famous in earlier centuries. Charles Dickens wrote glowingly about the wine referring to: “…the support embodied in a glass of Constantia”.
The Klein Constantia land was originally part of “Constantia”, a vast property established in 1685 – about the same time the Warre’s were establishing their Port business in Portugal – by Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape.
It is an unexpected pleasure to taste this unusual wine that is reminiscent of but completely different to the late harvest wines we are familiar with in France: Sauternes; Monbazillac and Saussignac from the Bergerac Wine Region and the Muscat de Frontignan wine we have enjoyed on visits to Sète in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Other “wine ghosts” from this past season are two wines from Cyprus. The Tsangarides Xinisteri white which is one of my all time favourite white wines because of its adaptability; great on its own or with a variety of foods, and the Tsangarides Mataro red wine which decants well and opens up to a smooth and velvety yet light and fresh wine. Xinisteri is a local Cyprus grape. Mataro is grown locally and elsewhere in the world where it is known also as Mourvèdre.
Tsangarides Mataro (Red) and Xinisteri (white) wines
The final “wine ghost” is another favourite I have written about before: Roche LaCour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rose sparkling wine from Languedoc -Roussillon. A pale, delicate, refreshing sparkling wine. We enjoy this in a once -a -year Christmas cocktail.
Roche Lacour Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé
The idea of a Christmas cocktail is a time honoured one. In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge tells his clerk, Bob Cratchit that they would talk about his future and how Scrooge would help his family “…over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop…”. Scrooge’s ‘smoking bishop’ was in fact a sweet alcoholic punch.
We enjoy our version of such a drink with an assortment of canapés, including a cheese soufflé, which I make into individual servings. Using an online recipe from Epicurious, I recommend it as the best cheese soufflé recipe I have made so far and it holds up well to being made in small portions.
Mini Cheese Soufflés and other canapés with Roche Lacour sparkling wine cocktails
Baking tin for individual soufflés
When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he left a considerable cellar, evidence of his enjoyment of drinking in moderation, like many Victorians.
The question is: Would Charles Dickens have enjoyed our Wine Ghosts of Christmas Past? I think the answer has to be: Yes.
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!