Cyprus wine region
Winemaking on Cyprus has a long history. Archaeologists have discovered a winery, with wine containers and grape seeds, dating from the Bronze Age (3500 - 3000BC). Pottery fragments bearing traces of tartaric acid (indicative of wine) have been found from a thousand years earlier.
The Cypriot dessert wine Commandaria, named after the area that was under the control of the Knights Templar, has the distinction of being the oldest named wine still in production. At his marriage in Limassol in 1191, Richard the Lionheart pronounced it "the wine of kings and the king of wines". It also triumphed at the first ever international wine tasting competition, organised by King Philip Augustus of France in 1224.
Commandaria is still produced today by sun-drying white Xynisteri and red Mavro grapes before fermentation followed by long barrel aging. These two indigenous varieties are also used for dry wine production, and dominate the Cypriot vineyards. Most of these, and certainly all the best ones, are high in the Troodos mountains where the climate is cooler.
Formerly a cottage industry, wine production became big business at the end of the 19th century when Phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Europe but didn’t reach Cyprus. (It still hasn’t - Cypriot vines are planted on their own roots even today.) At that time two of the “big four” producers, ETKO and KEO, were formed, to be joined by LOEL and SODAP in the first half of the 20th century. Small producers were squeezed out, and the big four produced vast amounts of cheap bulk wine for export.
In the Eighties and Nineties, efforts were made to improve quality by incentivising the planting of international grape varieties and the building of small regional wineries, so grapes didn’t have to be trucked in the summer heat from mountain vineyards to the big four's coastal wineries. Joining the EU in 2004 further boosted smaller regional producers and ended the state subsidies enjoyed by the big four. They still exist but are a shadow of their former selves.
Quality is on the up and there is renewed interest in local varieties like the red Maratheftiko, which is now regarded as the island’s best.
Decanting Club wines from: Cyprus
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