Cyprus, the third largest island in the Mediterranean located in the south eastern corner of the Mediterranean bears a long winemaking tradition going back to thousands years featuring the luscious Commandaria, the world's oldest named wine still in production. History of this heavenly wine dates back to the crusades in the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart, the Knights of St John and other beautiful stories. Yet, the current Cypriot wine-scene has many other things to highlight.
Over the last ten years the wine scene in Cyprus has evolved. After the recent financial crisis Cyprus seems to be back on track and its wine industry seems ready to bloom, showing promise and high expectations. Well, Cyprus is a blessed land. First of all, phylloxera vastatrix never affected its vineyards, so the vines are ungrafted with an average age vine close to 50-60 years. These vineyards are among the highest in terms of altitude in Europe reaching 1500 meters for the vineyards of Kyperounda winery. And yes we are talking about bush vines (although new plantations may be wire trained) and dry farming. Heaven!
Some more research and training and Cyprus will tick most of the boxes. Not that long way to go as Cyprus winemakers are keeping up the beat!
Last month, I was lucky enough to pay a visit to the island and to participate in two tastings one in Paralimni and another in Paphos coupled with some visits to wineries and vineyards with the company of George Kassianos leading personality and president of the Sommelier Association. The wine industry seems to be at a crossroad: somewhere between indigenous and international varieties with the pendulum slightly shifting towards the indigenous ones. Yet more producers need to be persuaded that this is the right path to take. And though I have tasted some pretty good examples of Merlots and Cabs, what are really the chances of getting noticed next to a fine Bordeaux blend? Not that many I am afraid...
And here comes the indigenous stars! The late Akis Zabartas, a pioneer winemaker during his career as Oenologist in KEO, re-discovered 12 native Cypriot grape varieties, which he recorded, planted and vinified. Among them the most important were: Maratheftiko, Lefkada, Promara, Spourtiko, Flouriko, Yiannoudi, Kanella, Omoio, Morokanella, Michalia and Maroucho. I am absolutely confident that the producers should primarily focus, research and invest in these varieties.
Xynisteri among the most planted varieties with 2.410 hectares out of a total out of approximateyly 15.000 seems to be the right white variety, boasting freshness, zesty acidity and delicacy. Primary fruit is expressed with stone fruit which is supported by vegetal or floral aromas. I did taste a couple delivering intense minerality as well that were delicious. Most producers include that in their line up and I have to say that there are also single vineyard versions and experiments with oak like the superb Petritis from Kyperounda winery. Wines are decently priced around 7-8 euros in the local market offering sensible pleasure yet many examples seek for more complexity.
Spourtiko and Promara are two more white varieties to catch your attention. Still not widely planted, these varieties are lean with light alcohol the former and layered, fuller and framed with some oak the latter. I was really impressed by a mini vertical of Promara in Vouni Panagia winery where 2014 showed a lovely Burgundian texture. But we will talk more about Promara in another post.
For red varieties things are bit more compelx. Mavro which is the most planted red variety and a basic ingredient for Commandaria lacks in tannins and colour. Maratheftiko is supposed to be the star but yields are irregular and is sparsely planted (183 ha). In the vineyard it suffers from very poor fruit so it is not a forgiving variety. It can be quite rustic as well. Yes, some wines did show promise but overall I was not totally convinced. Well, well, well some more tasting won't hurt…
However, Yiannudi, a re-discovered variety by Akis Zabartas, can roll the dice. Yiannudi gives tannic, structured and fuller in body wines but it is only planted in few hectares (for the moment) by Zambartas, KEO, Vouni Panayia and Tsiakkas.
That said, Cyprus seems keen to reach the next level. The key to success is to invest in the island's heritage, the indigenous varieties and everyone to work together, united as one voice. The latter may prove to be more difficult but I think it will worth a try.
Some wines I mostly enjoyed during my visit in Cyprus (excluding Zambartas, Vlassidis and some more which were not tasted - will include them in next post):
Nicolaidis Xynisteri 2015
Limassol region. Very fresh with citrus fruit, packed with bright acidity and underlined bitterness. This comes from Limassol area offering long finish and depth of fruit. 89
Kalamos Xynisteri 2015
Paphos region. This has a more herbal character and very appetising palate with just a dose of 3 grams/lt residual sugar. Medium bodied and charming. 88
Tsalapatis Xynisteri 2015
Paphos region. Floral, charming easy drinking enjoyable wine with light body and ripe aromas. 86
Erimoudes Xynisteri 2015
Limassol region. Textbook Xynisteri with vibrancy of aromas packed with lemony character on the palate, tension and minerality.89
Vassiliades Expressions Xynisteri 2015
Limassol region at 1300m high. Intriguing expression of Xynisteri with vibrancy, real substance on the palate and fairly long finish. Touch of minerality. 90
Vassiliades Expression Botrytis Xynisteri
Fascinating sweet wine with excellent balance of 15% abv with 220g/lt sugar. Layered, detailed with long lasting finish this is really very good. 93
Kyperounda Petritis Xynisteri 2015
Limassol region at 1500 m. Top Xynisteri expression partly matured in oak. With real substance on the palate, purity of fruit combining citrus and stone fruit with herbal and mineral notes this is shear pleasure. 91
Tsiakkas Xynisteri 2015
Limassol region. Mineral with tension, excellent depth of fruit and complexity. Long finish from high altitude vineyards at 1000-1200 m. 91
Vasilikon winery Xynisteri 2015
Paphos region. One more good value easy drinking wine regarded as an excellent introduction to the variety. 87
Vouni Panayia Alini Xynisteri 2015
Paphos region. Salty, herbal with jasmine and ripe fruit this has a medium body framed with zesty underlined acidity. Very good. 91
Kollios Persefoni Xynisteri 2015
Semi aromatic ripe with some floral nuances along ripe stone and tropical fruit. Supple with soft acidity and good level of ripeness. 88
Kyperounda Epos Chardonnay
Grown at 1400 m high Epos is a classic value. Fine expression of Chardonnay with restrained herbal character, great intensity and focus. 91
Vouni Panayia Spourtiko 2015
Lean, floral with delicate body and piercing acidity this looks like a youthful Aussie Semillon. Interesting and different. 89
Vouni Panayia Promara 2015
Promising but tight and very young with 3 months on the lees in oak. Show a nice core of gunflint minerality. 89+
Dafermou Assyrtiko 2015
Larnaca region. Excellent effort of delivering an Assyrtiko with typicity, power and minerality. Well blended in oak adding an extra layer of complexity. 90
Ezousa Gris 2015
Paphos region. From Maratheftiko variety this is modern and pure with cherries combined with savoury underlined notes. Modern rose with minerality. 90
Ezousa Maratheftiko 2013
Meaty, leathery and slightly bitter this is more to the rustic style of this upcoming variety. Needs a touch more to be wholly convincing. 87
Argyridis Maratheftiko 2013
Another nice expression of this variety with black cherries and sweet spice on the nose leading the way to a ripe, layered palate with persistent flavours. 90
Fikardos Maratheftiko 2013
Paphos region. Well balanced complete wine with fluid tannins, depth of fruit and persistent finish. Powerful but more to the elegant side. 90
KEO Heritage Maratheftiko 2013
Limassol region, one of the biggest producers. Forward, quite oaky at this stage but structured and serious. Interesting wine. 88
Vouni Panayia Yiannoudi 2014
Mineral, extracted tannic but supported with a strong core of fruit. Serious stuff. Loved it. 92
KEO Yiannoudi 2011
Impressive ripeness with moderate 12.5% abv this shows plums and raisins on the nose yet palate is very elegant with solid tannins that show good potential for development. 91
Ayia Mavri Mosxatos
Limassol region. World class Mucat of Alexandria with lovely aromatic array of apricots, pineapple and spices. Elegant and well balanced with long lasting finish. 92