An Old Story
One can be excused for not immediately thinking of Cyprus when the art of wine making and the pleasure of drinking it are mentioned. But one would be very wrong to ignore the deeply rooted wine tradition of Cyprus and even more to completely dismiss its end products.
Not surprisingly, given the close proximity of the island to the Middle East where the vine appears to have originated, Cyprus ranks among the oldest wine producing countries in the world, probably even before the Greeks and Romans learned to cultivate the vine tree. Indeed, vine as a cultural commodity of Cyprus has one of the oldest stories in the world, as revealed by the recent excavations on the island by Italian archaeologists whose pickaxe has revealed beyond doubt the sensational truth that in this little corner of the Eastern Mediterranean, the production of wine dates back some 6,000 years. At the village of Pyrgos in Lemesos District two jugs were found, that had been used for storing wine — even grape pips were traced! At the nearby village of Erimi 18 pots were discovered, twelve of which had been used for wine at some period between 3500 and 3000 B.C. This cultural heritage is the oldest in the whole Mediterranean basin and leads to the assumption that Cyprus triggered the spread of winemaking to Greece, Italy, France and other Mediterranean regions. Earlier evidence is only to be traced at the Ajii pots found in Armenia, dated since 5.500 BC.
Throughout history, the Mediterranean basin was the centre of the wine civilization where grape production and wine making were an indispensable part of life fitting also into the various ancient and Christian religions. Wine for the ancient Greeks and Cypriots alike was more than a simple gastronomic product – a whole philosophy of life was built around it leading towards its presence in ancient religious ceremonies including the God of Wine, Dionisos and the Dionisian symposia. Later as Christianity dominated religion, wine remained a key element, symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ.
There is a great abundance of archaeological findings that testify to the viticultural activities trailing behind the island's history. There are unique ancient wine-presses at the villages of Omodos, Lania and elsewhere, immense wine jars with dates cut on them by the potter that are historical monuments, there are amphorae and other wine-related pots and implements crowding the island's archaeological museums — all tangible proof of the island's viticultural history through the centuries. Besides the examples cited here, a wealth of archaeological evidence has been found at sites all over Cyprus, enough for the Cyprus Antiquities Authorities to hold the 2006 exhibition and conference on the “6.000 years of Cyprus wine culture”.
The importance of vine and wine in Cyprus during the Roman period is best illustrated in the mosaics of the House of Dionysos, a Roman villa of the 2nd century AD found in Kato Pafos. The discovery of the unique mosaics at the beginning of 1962 was quite accidental as it occurred during levelling works in the area. Excavation work started immediately and the first phase, which lasted till 1965, brought to light exceptional works of art that decorated the rich Roman residence (the first of its kind to be found in Cyprus) in which probably lived some prosperous family.
The overall area of the mansion covers about 2000 square metres, 556 of which are covered with mosaic floors. Many of the mosaic representations depict the god of wine, Dionysus and other characters from the Greek mythology with the theme being wine drinking. In one such mosaic Dionysus is offering a cup of wine to Acme, both being crowned with grapes and vine leaves - a picture with symbolic overtones. The mosaics depict also Ikarios leading an ox-driven cart loaded with wine flasks while behind are two drunken men – ‘The first Wine Drinkers’ as the inscription above them explains.
Cyprus was best known since antiquity for its sweet desert wines, described by Hesiodos in 800BC with the name ‘Nama’. This description resembles closely today’s flagship of Cyprus’ wine industry, the famous Commandaria, the forerunner of the classification of wines according to place of origin (Appellation d’ origine contrôlée) an institution applied centuries later in countries with developed wine-producing industries to signify high quality. The varieties used for making Commandaria wine were shipped during the 15th century to Madeira in Portugal and hence their famous sweet wine has its roots in the Commandaria vine of Cyprus. From mediaeval writings it can be further supported that Cyñriot wines enjoyed a high reputation. Tomasso Porcacchi, a scholar and writer, in his 'Famous Island of the World' published in Venice at around 1576, described the wines of Cyprus as "very luscious and wholesome, as fragrant and of pleasant taste' and 'they are appreciated accordingly in Venice and Rome, where indeed they reach". Giovanni Mariti, Italian naturalist published in 1769 an in-depth report on Cyprus wines commenting that Cyprus wines are exported to France, England, Holland, Tuscany but ‘the largest volume of trade and the most sustained commerce is certainly on the market in Venice’.
Old and New Wine Roads
Cyprus’ vine areas are mainly located in the Limassol and Paphos Districts. Table grapes are found closer to the coast, especially along the Pissouri coast, while wine grapes cover the mountainous regions sloping down the Southern sides of the Troodos massif at an altitude of 250 to 1300 meters above sea level. The vineyards of Madari hilltop are located even higher at an altitude of 1.600 meters.
Taking the road that leads to the Commandaria villages, one can visit at Lania an old wine-press and a collection of the large earthenware jars where wine was made and kept. Two of these jars have the date of manufacture carved on them — 1844. Coincidentally, this is the year when the oldest winery in Cyprus (ETKO) was established. The wine-press of Lania is unique in that it is the only wine-press in the whole Greek world that maintains its original form and is still usable — a particularly valuable artefact as regards the history of vinification on the island.
In the village of Omodos, one of the oldest and most important wine villages of Cyprus, there is another wine-press that has been declared an ancient monument and belongs to the Department of Antiquities. The area where the press is kept was repaired in the period 1980-84 and the mechanism of the press itself was reconstructed.
For a complete history of the island’s close connections to wine and a journey through the centuries of wine making, a visit to the unique Cyprus Wine Museum at Erimi is a must. Using traditional and contemporary methods, displaying rare jars, old documents and audiovisual aids, all aspects of wine making are brought to life from cultivation to production.
Cyprus Wine Classification - Wines of Controlled Appellation of Origin
Until 2004, the year of Cyprus' accession to the European Union, there was no legislation relating to the designation of regions producing wines of "controlled appellation", apart from the Commandaria region, which was officially designated as an AC region in 1990. Consequently, until 2004 all Cyprus wines were basically considered as table wines for there was no relevant legislation for their classification. Since then, new legislation designated four viticultural regions on the island that could acquire the right of producing wines with the label denoting Wines of Controlled Appellation of Origin. This label corresponds to the European VQPRD (Vin de Qualité Produit dans une Région Déterminée) and is granted provided certain general provisions and area specific conditions are met.
The provisions and conditions imposed by the appropriate legislation are intended to safeguard, to the best of one's ability, the final quality of the wine. According to these provisions a VQPRD wine must be produced from grapes grown in vineyards at least five years old, within the VQPRD region. The vines must be planted at a density of 2200 plants per hectare in low cup-shaped or linear configuration. Irrigation is allowed until one month before harvesting, at which grapes must be capable of producing wines with a minimum alcohol content of 12% for red and 11% for white wines. Grapes intended for VQPRD vinification must be placed in suitable plastic crates to avoid pressing and crushing and must be carried to the winery's premises without delay. To qualify for the VQPRD appellation, bottle ageing for at least six months is necessary. In fact this applies to all wines. Red wines from the Maratheftiko variety must be allowed to mature for at least six months in 225 to 300-litre oak casks which must not be older than three years.
Designated Viticultural Regions
Akamas-Laona: It lies near the north-western coast of Cyprus and comprises the six village communities of Drousia, Inia, Kathikas, Kritou Terra, Pano Arodes and Kato Arodes. These communities are allowed to produce both white and red wines with the VQPRD label, provided that in the case of the white wines at least 85% of the blend derives from the local white variety of Xynisteri, and in the case of the red wines at least 85% of the blend comes from one of the two local red varieties of Maratheftiko or Ofthalmo.
Vouni Panayias – Ambelitis: It is located in the western part of the island, in Paphos district, at an altitude of over 800 metres and comprises the regions of Ambelitis, Galataria, Kilinia and Panayia. Both white and red wines may be produced. White wines must use Xynisteri as the basic constituent (at least 85%). Red wines may be produced in two ways: The basic constituent must be either one of the two indigenous varieties of Maratheftiko or Ofthalmo to a level of at least 85%, or the local Mavro variety (at least 60%) supplemented by over 30% of one of other specified recommended varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Merlot etc.).
Pitsilia; This region of origin comprises no less than 32 villages all situated on the slopes of Madari (the second highest mountain peak of the Troodos range - after Olympus), Papoutsa and the northwest slopes of Maheras. The 32 villages are: Ayia Irene, Ayios Ioannis, Ayios Theodoros, Agridia, Agros, Alithinou, Alona, Apliki, Askas, Dymes, Farmakas, Fikardou, Fterikoudi, Gouri, Handria, Kambi, Kannavia, Kato Mylos, Kourdali, Kyperounda, Lagoudera, Lazania, Livadia, Odou, Palehori, Pelendri, Platanistasa, Polystypos, Potamitissa, Saranti, Spilia, Sykopetra. For the production of white wines, Xynisteri must constitute at least 85% of the blend and for red wines either Maratheftiko or Ofthalmo must constitute at least 85% of the blend, or the blend may be made up of 60% Mavro and 30% of one of the specified recommended varieties.
The Wine Villages of Lemesos; On the southern slopes of the Troodos mountains, facing Lemesos, lie 20 villages known as the Wine Villages. These constitute the fourth region of appellation of origin. The villages are Ayios Amvrosios, Ayios Therapon, Arsos, Dora, Gerovasa, Kissousa, Kilani, Kouka, Lofou, Malia, Mandria, Omodos, Pahna, Pano Kyvides, Pera Pedi, Potamiou, Trimiklini, Trozena, Vasa, Vouni. Prominent in the Wine Villages region are two subregions – that of Afames and that of Laona. The former comprises the vineyards of Vouni, Kilani, Mandria and Omodos which lie on the east of Ha-Potami river at an altitude of over 750 metres, and the latter comprises the vineyards of Arsos, Vasa and Omodos which lie on west of Ha-Potami river also at an altitude of 750 metres or higher. The production of both white and red wine in the Wine Villages region is based on the same grape varieties and VQPRD regulations as those of the Pitsilia region.
Cyprus Wine Classification - Regional Wines (Vin de Pays)
Outside the four designated regions of origin, table wines may be produced, which may or may not bear a regional indication on the label. If they have such an indication, they will fall into one of four categories (Lefkosia Regional Wine, Lemesos Regional Wine, Larnaca Regional Wine, Paphos Regional Wine). These categories correspond, essentially, to the French "Vin de Pays" wines. In the production of Cypriot Regional Wines under the name of one of the four districts, there is considerable flexibility in the relevant legislation, for it allows the transportation of grapes from one district to another. For example, a winery somewhere in Lefkosia district may use grapes from the village of Kilani (in Lemesos district) and produce a Lemesos Regional Wine. There are table wines, however, which do not fulfil the requirements to be called Regional Wines. These wines give no regional indication, vintage year or grape variety, but are simply labelled in conspicuous characters as "table wines".
The body responsible for the implementation of the relevant legislation is the Wine Products Council, which is the new post-accession name of the old pre-accession Vine Products Commission, and its authority and competencies have been considerably increased.
Cyprus Indigenous Varieties
The vineyards of Cyprus are among the very few in the world that were not affected by the vine louse, known as phylloxera, a disease that fell upon the greatest part of Europe’s vineyards at the beginning of the twentieth century, destroying them almost completely. The catastrophic consequences of phylloxera led European vine-growers to the decision of trying to revive their ruined vineyards by engrafting scions of well-known European varieties on to American vine stocks which were resistant to the disease. This resulted in vine plants resistant to phylloxera, which, however, produced (and are still producing) grapes whose organoleptic or sense-related characteristics - i.e. colour, aroma and flavour - are not quite identical to those of the original European vine known as Vitis Vinifera.
Cyprus, however, having escaped the phylloxera onslaught, maintained its vineyards free from any intervention and, to this day, the Cypriot vines are self-sown plants of the European Vitis Vinifera retaining their classic organoleptic characteristics as well as the potential of a long life. Very few parts of the world continue to cultivate the European vine, apart from Cyprus. These are Chile, the Greek island of Santorini and some regions of Portugal and South Australia. In an effort to improve the viticultural capacity, a number of foreign varieties were imported during the 20th century and cultivated, some successfully, others being complete failures.
Xynisteri White variety
The name Xynisteri makes its first appearance in 1893 in a report entitled "Rapport sur une Mission viticole à l’ île de Chypre" by Professor Mouillefert of the Grignon Agricultural College. With 2200 hectares under cultivation, Xynisteri is the most wide-spread white grape variety in the Cypriot vineyard. Vinification at low temperatures (16oC) of grapes from select regions (such as Kathikas, Vouni Panayias, Pitsilia, the Akamas Laona, and Ambelitis) produces fresh, light-coloured, light wines with low alcohol levels (11-11.5% vol.) which are not amenable to ageing and must be drunk when young and robust – one year at most after production.
Xynisteri is essentially the only indigenous white variety with a significant role in Cyprus winemaking. Other white varieties on the island (such as Promara, Spourtiko, Kanela, Morokanela et al.) have not managed to come forth, away from the marginal periphery of the Cypriot vineyard where, for several decades, they are no more than museum items.
Maratheftiko or Bambakada red grape
Professor Mouillefert was, again, the first to refer to this variety by name, in 1893, using the word Marathophiko. More recently, in 1988 to be exact, Robinson refers to this variety as "a local variety of superior quality found among Mavro stocks in many vineyards. It makes for a very concentrated wine of which the tannin, fragrance, colour and structure are extremely close to those of a Cabernet. Very promising but too rare."
In the Pitsilia region this variety is known by the name Bambakada or Bambakina. It is a very rare variety, and it is estimated that only some 145 hectares are under cultivation in the whole of Cyprus, whereas the Mavro variety - a grape with definitely less potential - covers a total area of 5700 hectares! This, of course, is due to the fact that Maratheftiko, being less productive than Mavro, was not as popular among the older generation of viticulturalists. The limited number of vine-plants of this variety that one finds interspersed within Mavro vineyards were planted for the purpose of giving a more intense, dark colour to wines from the Mavro variety. That is why there are no vineyards planted exclusively with Maratheftiko.
Unfortunately, this variety faces a serious viticultural problem, for it has a propensity to severe bud loss resulting in thinly clustered grape bunches. The reason for this is the fact that Maratheftiko is one of the very few varieties in the world which are non-hermaphroditic. Its buds are physiologically female and consequently it has to be planted in mixed vineyards to ensure pollination. It is a multi-dynamic variety that can give a multitude of wine types - from rosés and light reds to reds suitable for ageing. At its best it produces high quality red wines of intense colour, thick fruity aroma reminiscent of cherries and blackberries and full body with select tannins that render it amenable to extended ageing. Wines of this variety that have appeared on the market quite recently were aged for a short period in new oak casks before being bottled.
Ofthalmo red grape
Professor Mouillefert was, again, the first to mention this particular variety in 1893, calling it by the name Pophtalmo (=bull’s eye). This variety accounts for a very small percentage scattered all over the Cypriot vineyard. Among certain communities in the Pitsilia area (e.g. Ayios Theodoros, Agros) and in some villages in Paphos district (e.g. Kelokedara, Letymbou, Fiti) its presence is more pronounced. In all, there are about 170 hectares of Ofthalmo giving its best in the regions of Pitsilia and the wine villages of Lemesos district.
The first reference to this variety, known also as "local Mavro", was made by the Count of Rovasenda in 1877: he calls it Cipro Nero (=Cyprus black). Mavro is a very productive cultivar characterized by large juicy grapes that make it a superb table variety. Its potential for red quality wine is particularly limited, as, in most cases, the wines produced from it are poor in colour, dull and simple in aroma, and light in taste, are not amenable to ageing and they need drinking very young. The Mavro variety has been, and continues to be, the main grape player on the island because, being highly productive, it was exploited to the full by vine-growers in the past, who looked forward to increased income. Till quite recently, Mavro accounted for over 80% of Cyprus’s vineyards. This percentage has been decreasing year by year as new varieties are imported, which can definitely offer a better product, but Mavro is still the most widespread variety cultivated on the island, and covers an area of around 5700 hectares. The best results come from grapes grown in the mountainous regions of Pitsilia, Laona (in Lemesos district) and Afames. The poor, barren soils in these areas make for lower productivity but higher concentration, in contrast to lower altitudes and more fertile soils.
Chardonnay: This most famous high quality white variety of grape has its noble origin in Burgundy, France, and produces the world’s top quality white wines that can only be rivalled by the great German and Alsatian Rieslings.
There are about 110 hectares of Chardonnay in Cyprus, mostly in Paphos district (Stroumbi, Polemi), the Lemesos Wine Villages (Omodos, Malia, Vasa) and in Larnaca district (Pano Lefkara). Two types of Chardonnay wine have recently appeared on the market. The first type is made in stainless steel tanks and at a controlled temperature of 16oC. This is the classic method of making white wines, and the result is a fresh, light-coloured wine with an intensely fruity aroma (reminiscent of peach, melon and exotic fruits) and a balanced, refreshing and fuller flavour in comparison with other white wines made in Cyprus which are based on the Xynisteri variety. The second type of Chardonnay is made using oak casks. In the last five years Cypriot winemakers have started using these miracle-working wine vessels either for fermenting the Chardonnay must or for maturing the wine for 4 to 6 months.
Due to its biological resilience, which allows it to travel and be transplanted successfully in all parts of the world, the Chardonnay variety has adapted beautifully to the Cypriot ecosystem and, pointing a finger at what is to come, clearly presages that many of Cyprus’s future white wines will be using Chardonnay either as the basic constituent or as a blending element.
Muscat of Alexandria or Malaga: The large family of Muscat grapes - of Greek origin - is one of the most weighty and historic varieties in the world. Today there are at least four well-known Muscat varieties: Muscat Hamburg, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat Ottonel. The first two (Muscat Hamburg and Muscat of Alexandria) are considered suitable both for winemaking and as a table grape, though the former performs rather better as a table grape. The Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains is the oldest and the most refined of all (for it produces wines of greater sharpness, concentration and complexity) while the fourth type - the Muscat Ottonel - is the least dynamic of all. In Cyprus there are about 280 hectares of Muscat of Alexandria scattered all over the island with a more prominent presence in Paphos district (Stroumbi, Polemi, Pentalia) and in the Wine Villages of Lemesos district (Vasa, Omodos). When ripened correctly it produces intensely aromatic wines, reminiscent of grape, with a distinctly sweet flavour which, in many cases, is not counter-balanced by the necessary degree of corresponding acidity. Winemakers often add a small proportion of Malaga to Xynisteri to give the wine a more intense aroma.
Palomino: This is the Sherry variety that thrives best in xerothermic climates and soils. It is very productive and the wine produced from it is poor in acidity and also in sugar content attributes that are suited to sherry producers who pick Palomino grapes at around 19o Brix (1o Brix represents 1% sugar in solution). The variety was introduced into Cyprus both because of its high productivity but also because of its contribution in the making of what, until some years ago, was called "Cyprus sherry". The early 1990s brought about grave problems to the Cypriot wine industry as sherry exports declined. The collapse of communism meant that the Eastern Bloc market almost totally disappeared. Spanish protection of the name "Sherry" through the European Union stopped sales of what had been known as "British sherry", the production of which had been such a significant outlet for Cypriot concentrated must. This led the Cyprus government to the decision to promote the uprooting of large areas planted with Palomino and other varieties of productive but inferior quality grape vines. Today there are some 90 hectares of Palomino grapes, most of which are to be found in the Wine Villages (Pahna, Ayios Amvrosios) and in Paphos district (Letymbou, Pittarkou). The Palomino wines of these regions are exceptionally light-coloured - in fact often colourless - they tend to oxidize quickly and have a rather flabby aroma which soon disappears, as the wines are not amenable to ageing due (among other reasons) to their usual low acidity.
Riesling: This white variety of German origin could justifiably claim, and win, first place as the world’s best white variety of grape. Regarding its capacity for long-term ageing - sometimes extending several decades - it has no rival worldwide. Top Riesling wines combine very high acidity levels with unbelievable extracts. They are also notable for their subtle, intense and refined aroma reminiscent of flowers, honey and exotic fruits blending with distinctive metal overtones. In Cyprus the Riesling variety covers an area of no more than 30 hectares, mainly in Paphos district (Stroumbi, Polemi) and in the Wine Villages of Lemesos district (Vouni, Omodos). Cypriot viticulturists have not shown much interest in the Riesling variety for it does not seem to adapt easily to the prevalent xerothermic landscape of the island. Riesling is known to thrive and yield best in rather cold climates.
Alicante Bouschet: This is actually the result of crossing Petit Bouschet with Grenache, bred by Henri Bouschet between 1865 and 1885. It is one of the few wine grapes with coloured juice. Though as a wine its "specifications" are rather low, it plays the role of a teinturier (=dyer) intensifying otherwise light-coloured blends.
In Cyprus, about 140 hectares of this variety are under cultivation, mostly in the Wine Villages region in Lemesos district (Pahna, Kilani) and in Paphos district (Letymbou, Lemona). Its role and importance have declined over the years, as Cypriot vine-growers show a clear preference for other more dynamic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and also the indigenous Maratheftiko.
Cabernet Franc: This is a French variety of wine grapes, overshadowed by the more dynamic and renowned Cabernet Sauvignon. It derives its importance from the famous wine-producing regions of Bordeaux in south-west France where the variety is mixed with two other important grapes - Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - to make the much prized and, on the whole, expensive red Bordeaux wines. Wines from Cabernet Franc tend to be more light-coloured than wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, have fewer and milder tannins and therefore mature earlier. They have very distinct herbaceous aromas with overtones of pencil shavings and green pepper.
Over 470 hectares are grown in Cyprus, mostly in the Wine Villages (Pahna, Dora, Omodos), in Pitsilia (Kyperounda, Pelendri) and in Paphos (Polemi, Letymbou, Stroumbi). Very few local wine-producers bottle wines exclusively made from Cabernet Franc. In the majority of cases they prefer to blend Cabernet Franc with smaller or larger quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, believing that the appellation of the second variety, inscribed on the front label on the bottle, makes for increased sales.
Cabernet Sauvignon: This is considered a French variety but there are many who cast doubt on this assumption, believing that it has its origins elsewhere. But though its origins remain mysterious and uncertain, its place in worldwide wine production as the king of wines is firmly established. Cabernet Sauvignon stands out as the most renowned quality red grape, capable of producing deeply coloured wines with thick, intense and complex aromas, superbly structured flavour, rich tannins and abundant fruit.
Its remarkable adaptability to a variety of soils and climatic conditions has brought it to Cyprus as well, where there are today around 380 hectares of this variety, increasing year by year. The main regions where it is cultivated are the Wine Villages (Omodos, Pahna, Kilani), Pitsilia (Agros, Ayios Theodoros) and Paphos district (Stroumbi, Kathikas, Polemi). Very few wineries on the island have abstained from attempting to produce wine from this variety. The first attempts, made some fifteen years ago, produced rather tart, inelegant wines, most of which had an intensely acrid and sour flavour due to harsh tannins and high acidity. The situation has changed in the last few years and there have appeared on the local market wines of this variety which have been allowed to mature in French oak casks, aided also by the process of malolactic fermentation. As a result these wines are more refined, balanced and full-bodied, and may be compared favorably with Cabernet Sauvignon wines (of the same price range) from other countries.
Carignan Noir: This is by far the largest imported variety covering an area of some 880 hectares. It appears in all vine-growing regions, but mostly in Paphos district (Stroumbi, Polemi) and among the Wine Villages of Lemesos (Pahna, Kilani). Its current abundance is due mainly to the fact that it is a high-yielding variety, which had made it very profitable in bygone periods when quantity mattered more than quality.
Grenache Noir: There are about 165 hectares of Grenache Noir, mostly in Paphos district (Panayia, Statos) and in the Wine Villages (Omodos, Vouni). The variety has adapted beautifully to local conditions and, although theoretically not a very dynamic grape, in actual practice it has turned out to be an exceptionally important variety when used correctly in various blends with other more dynamic varieties, for example the Syrah and Mataro. Where Grenache excels, however, is when used by talented wine-makers in the production of rosé wines. The result is really impressive, for Grenache makes attractively colourful wines with intense, singular and fine aromas and full, savoury and balanced flavour. Such wines can compare favourably with good rosés worldwide.
Lefkada: Some consider this as an indigenous variety but it is not. Its origin is the Greek island of Lefkada where it is known by the name Vertzami. The wine it produces has a very intense colour, a strong distinctive aroma and a particularly acrid taste, due to the harsh tannins of the variety. There are altogether 110 hectares of Lefkada in Cyprus, mainly in Stroumbi and Polemi in Paphos district and in Malia and Omodos (Lemesos district).
Mourvèdre or Mataro: The Mourvèdre, of Spanish origin, has come to be known by the name Mataro in the New World. Despite its exceptional adaptability to the landscape of Cypriot vineyards and despite its tangible and obvious capacity to produce uncommonly good wines (with body, rich tannins, fruit and a high alcohol level) which are amenable to ageing, it is often under-estimated by Cypriot wine-producers who continue to show a preference for more impressive names such as Cabernet Sauvignon. This variety covers an area of 220 hectares all over the island. We find it mainly in Paphos district (Kallepia, Amargeti), the Wine Villages (Omodos, Vasa) and Pitsilia (Kyperounda, Ayios Theodoros). Mataro culd constitute a good investment for Cypriot vine-growers and winemakers, provided the grapes are gathered when completely ripe, as the variety cannot reach its full potential when picked early.
Syrah: Known also as Shiraz in wine-producing countries of the New World, it is undoubtedly one of the top quality red grape varieties in the whole world. The Syrah variety has the amazing capacity to produce dense red wines, very dark in colour, with intense, refined and complex aromas (reminiscent of forest fruits, violets, ink, black pepper and leather) and a thick, balanced taste, full of good quality tannins. The amenability of these wines to long-term ageing (for several decades) surpasses even that of Cabernet Sauvignon. The best red wines in Cyprus are generally produced from Syrah as well as Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Syrah variety appears to have fully adapted to the terrain and climatic features of the island and provides dark-coloured, fragrant and intensely flavoured full-bodied red wines for maturing (very often in oak casks) for several months before bottling. In Cyprus, there are now 170 hectares of vineyards planted with Syrah; most of these are in the Wine Villages (Omodos, Pahna) and Paphos district (Philousa, Statos).
The wine industry of Cyprus
Some centuries ago, Cyprus exported wine to Burgundy, Egypt, Syria, Venice, Genoa and elsewhere. However, the Ottoman rule of Cyprus from 1571 to 1878 brought a decline in the wine industry as a result of the high taxes imposed and the absence of interest in supporting the industry. Magda Ohnefalsch Richter6 also blames the Cypriots themselves for the loss of export markets during the 19th century. Her valuable observations suggest that the Cypriot winemakers adulterated their wines by adding gypsum in the must thus shipping wines of inferior quality. Ôhis is verified by chemical tests undertaken by the author’s husband in the mid-1880s, a time when the situation was totally out of control as Cypriot wines were found to contain five times more potassium sulphate than the acceptable levels set in France and Germany. It is reported that in 1890, the health authorities at Marseilles confiscated and dumped in the sea a number of shipments of Cypriot wine that contained large quantities of gypsum. Sadly, by the 20th century the Cypriot wines had lost much of their hard earned fame, a situation that has seen glimpses of change only in the last decade of the 20th century.
ETKO, founded in 1844 by Mr Hadjipavlou was the first modern winery that properly produced wine. In 1927, KEO was formed while LOEL and SODAP both founded in the 1940s made up the ‘big four’ in Cyprus wine and spirits making. Throughout the 20th Century these big four were the buyers of nearly all wine grapes grown on the island and produced fortified and bulk table wines. Gradually all four wineries established commercial bottling lines and upgraded their product portfolio and wine quality but as late as the 1980s, their wines were inferior in quality for world markets, so they had to focus on the protected local market. At the time, the Cyprus government encouraged small enterprises to set up regional wineries, closer to the vine growing areas in an effort to support the processing of vines closer to the place of production. Today, more than fourty such regional wineries operate, organized under the name of Bacchus Association of Regional Wineries. Their contribution to diversification, new varietal blends and healthier competition has signified a change of gear that has greatly improved the industry in recent times. At the same time, the big four have remained active, planting new vineyards, buying and restoring old wineries and investing in human expertise to develop new techniques and blends in wine making.
The Table below shows statistical data related to the wine market of Cyprus