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07 December 2017

Cyprus in the spotlight

It has been a while since my last visit to the majestic island of Cyprus and, as expected, the Cyprus Sommelier Association and its president, the very active George Kassianos, had put together a very extensive programme. It included visits to a number of wineries, some meetings, along with two Masterclasses for the Cyprus Somms. 

My first stop was at the KEO winery, which was established in 1928 and produces approximately 3 mn bottles. CEO Charalmabos Panagiotou and winemaker Dimitris Antoniou (pictured below) showed me the new projects of the winery.  In 1995, the late Akis Zambartas rediscovered a number of indigenous varieties.  Following this he invited the French ampelographer Pierre Galet to record and identify the varieties. The first single vineyard of Maratheftiko, Yiannoudi and Altesse originated at the KEO winery. A detailed tasting included the 2013 Heritage Maratheftiko, the 2014 Yiannoudi and the epic 1984 Commandaria. The brief tasting notes can be found at the end of the post. 

The Zambartas winery was next in line, where Markos Zambartas pictured below in his new ''cellar'' was my absolutely perfect guide. I have already written about his wines and especially the fantastic single vineyard Xynisteri. This time I tasted a new project from the Margelina vineyard, planted in 1921. The grapes are mainly own - rooted Mavro. Promising, savoury and very tannic at this stage, the plan is to release 2.000 bottles. This wine seems to be really fascinating.

Next, we were supposed to briefly stop at the Tsiakkas winery, but ended up happily prolonging our stay. The winery produces 200.000 bottles. The grapes are sourced from their owned 50 hectares of land, plus from the 40 hectares they control. Moreover, an additional 60 hectares of land have been planted with new plantings. The highlights included the first release of Tsiakaks Promara, a white variety that responds well to oak maturation, a Sauvignon Blanc from 1500 m altitude, very impressive with tension, and a mature 2011 Xynisteri that showed amazing complexity and expression. 

Since the day was still young, we continued to the village of Chandria where  Christos Vassiliadis (pictured below)from Ekfraseis was waiting to introduce us to his philosophy about winemaking. Vassiliadis started in 2011 with a production of 2.000 bottles, which he has presently increased to 30.000 bottles, and has now set a target of 70.000 bottles for the near future. I tasted a number of different wines, among which a Pinot Noir - a first for Cyprus. Grapes are sourced from a single vineyard at 1580 m altitude and the first release will be 2017. 

Last but not least, a dinner with winemaker Minas Mina at the Kyperounda winery and a tasting of a beautiful 2013 Petritis Xynisteri. This was the second example of an aged Xynisteri, the first was the 2011 Tsiakkas, and both were evidence that Xynisteri can age nicely in the medium longterm.  Both wines had developed a nutty profile and a harmonious palate, balancing texture with freshness. 

But before I start my tasting notes let me quickly change theme. There is a new food and wine place in Nicosia, worth visiting, called the Pralina experience. Michelin star chef Lefteris Lazarou has supervised the menu and a very exciting wine list has been put together by Vasos Manoli, a good friend, who also runs the place. The food is delicious, the wine list absolutely great and the service is impeccable. 

KEO Heritage Maratheftiko 2013 

Plenty of acid here, earthy and leathery, with tannins starting to integrate. (89/100)

KEO Yiannoudi 2014 

More tannic compared to Maratheftiko, with intense black fruit and a deeper colour. More modern in a nice way. Needs time and despite its 12% abv it has the characteristics that will help it evolve. (90/100)

KEO Commandaris 1984

A sublime sweet wine that offers at least a dozen aromas, with a rich and seductive palate. Plenty of elegance. Superb. 95/100

Zambartas Maratheftiko 2014 

Oaky at first but then some floral and spicy scents lead the way. Lots of tannins which are supported by a strong core of fruit. Full bodied and concentrated, but not heavy. 90+/100 

Tsiakkas Promara 16

The style of this wine is closer to those from the Pafos area, with slightly herbal honey notes, fresh pear and lovely creamy oak on the nose. Zesty on palate – although more acid would be welcome – with fine depth of fruit. Released in just 1000 bottles. 90/100

Tsiakkas Chardonnay 2016 

Fresh, elegant, a typical expression of the variety with no oak involved. Decent and stylish. 88/100

Tsiakkas Xynisteri 2016

Lovely peppery character Xynisteri produced in 70.000 bottles with a killer price in the domestic market. 91/100

Tsiakkas Xynisteri 2011 

This managed to raise eyebrows. Superb balance, nutty complexity and a lingering finish. 92/100

Yiannoudin 2015 

Check it here 92/100

Vassiliades Expressions Pinot Noir 2017 (not yet released)

No oak, roses and pomegranate on the nose. Light touch and gentle handling preserve the primary character of the variety. Fresh and charming with just 12.2% abv. Clone 113. Just 250 bottles will be the first release. 89/100

Vassiliades Cabernet Franc 2016

Initial impression sees obvious oak on the nose. More balanced and promising on the palate with fine texture, well defined pyrazines and rather long finish. 88/100

Kyperounda Petritis 2013

Another winner from the Cypriot signature grape, Xynisteri showing quite youthful and with plenty of life ahead. Lemon coloured this shows a nutty, waxy character on the nose leading the way to a layered palate with fine balance and harmonious finish. 92/100

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