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25 March 2020

A New Wave of Cypriot Wines

By Sotiris Neophytidis

Cypriot wine has evolved impressively over the last fifteen years from the vineyard to the cellar, and a rising number of wineries are exporting to USA, Switzerland and the rest of Europe. Vouni Panayia Winery exports 10%, Tsiakkas Winery 15% and Zambartas Wineries 5 % of their total production. According to DWWA (Decanter World Wine Awards) in 2008 Cypriot wines won 3 medals and in 2019 they won 60 medals, which shows the improvement in quality made over these years. Yiannis Karakasis MW has been writing extensively about Cypriot wine since 2016 calling it a hidden gem while Demetri Walters MW has praised the quest for authenticity through Cypriot native varieties.

What are the current styles of dry wines? White wines are made in a style to consume young and fresh. Xynisteri, however, in top vintages shows decent ageing potential of 4 to 6 years following the harvest. Red wines, on the other hand, are customarily big, bold and structured, and are made from indigenous grape varieties like Maratheftiko, Mavro or Yiannoudi or international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.

It has always been a journey for us Cypriots. The challenge of a warm climate and high altitude vineyards, that rise to 1500 meters, as well as the rediscovery of the indigenous grape varieties fuelled the interest of winemakers to experiment beyond the classic recipe. Many of them vinify single-vineyard wines, use native yeasts and increasingly low intervention to express the fingerprint of their land. Still, what is of primary concern is to really understand the inherent qualities of the varieties.  

“It is a country dominated by 'heroic viticulture', indigenous varieties, a unique terroir that was never struck by phylloxera, and young blood with ground-breaking ideas” notes Orestis Tsiakkas of Tsiakkas winery. Yiannis Kiriakidis of Vouni Panayias winery adds “In my opinion making Cypriot wine exclusively from indigenous varieties is a one-way street, as these are a comprehensive proposal. The vineyards of these varieties are resistant to disease and adapted to the soil and climatic conditions of our land, which allows for sustainable practices”.

Bearing these ideas in mind, we held a tasting with Yiannis Karakasis a few weeks ago in Limassol. It proved to be intriguing as it clearly showed that a new wave of Cypriot wines is slowly arising, although it is in a primary stage. This wave will grow each year through the hard work that the winemakers are putting in. We've defined them as 'A new wave of Cypriot wines' as they are focusing on indigenous grape varieties and are highlighting a factor of utmost importance: the differences of terroir from region to region and from grape to grape. They are also following one of the trends of the wine industry that is to create wines from higher altitudes, that is more elegant and approachable.

All of the wines tasted are of limited production, with some as tiny as 400 bottles. But, it is a start. The white wines from vines planted at high altitude, higher than 1000m, showed a super fresh identity with winemakers pursuing and experimenting with single vineyards. These sites are often of older vines that provide more depth of fruit and complexity to the wines. For the red wines, the big and bold style still exists, but there are a few promising examples of wines that point to winemakers who are beginning to realise the grape attributes and are looking for elegance and purity of fruit.

Yiannis comments that “at this point it is clear that winemakers are experimenting with their wines and this has brought many pleasant surprises to the tasting. In the cases in which producers have realised the delicacy of their grapes, they made their top wines. This is the beginning of a fascinating adventure for Cypriot wine”.

Tasting notes of the wines follow (all wines were tasted blind, and scores are the average of Yiannis and Sotiris):

1.   Vouni Panayia, The Stars of the Mountain, Microvinification, Paphos 2018 (12% abv)
(Spourtiko 100%, Spontaneous Fermentation, six months lees aging and 20% maturation in untoasted oak barrel ). One of the rare white grape varieties in Cyprus after Xynisteri, Morokanella and Promara is Spourtiko. The Stars of the Mountain Spourtiko has a straw yellow color, a ripe character on the nose with yellow apple and pear floral aromas and underlying herbal nuances.  Following the palate with a consistent ripe character with great freshness and a good finish. All with just alcohol of 12% abv. *** +

2.    Vouni Panayia, Mirror Mirror, Microvinification, Paphos 2018 (12% abv)
(Vasilissa 100%, Spontaneous Fermentation, four months lees aging, 1150 m.). The newly recognized Vasilissa grape variety, known in the Panayia region as Aspri Fraoula, is already making an impact in the Cypriot vineyards. Straw yellow color with a nose of fresh citrus fruit like lime, lemon and an intense chalky and stony minerality. On the palate, it has pronounced acidity with a long and crisp finish. A lovely wine with energy. **** 

3.    Vouni Panayia, Earth Microvinification, Paphos 2018 (12.5% abv)
(Morokanella 100%, Single Vineyard-Sirizas, 850m.,Four months lees aging). The past years, Morokanella has been creating a buzz possessing both aromas and fine texture. It has a straw yellow color. The nose shows a pronounced intensity, of aromas like fresh citrus of lemon, grapefruit. There are hints of exotic fruit like guava and also an intense floral character like jasmine and rose water. The palate is consistent with the pronounced intensity of flavors. The wine's long finish shows that this grape variety has a lot of potential for making high-quality wines indeed. ****

4.    Olympus Wineries, Plegma White, Limassol, 2018
(Xynisteri 85%-Muscat of Alexandria 15%, aged on the lees for 5 months in used Commandaria Casks). Plegma White is a wine that comes from the region of Omodos. The vineyards are between 800 to 1000 meters resulting in a wine that has a yellow-gold colour with a nose of ripe peach, apricot and exotic fruit like pineapple. There are hints of vanilla and honey through the Maturation in Commandaria casks. Palate highlights a medium body, with consistent ripe character of pineapple, vanilla and honey with a lovely silky texture. ***+

5.    Tsiakkas, Terroir Xynisteri, Limassol 2019 (12.5% abv)
(Xynisteri 100%, 60 years old vines,1300 m. altitude, Partial Fermentation and Maturation for 6 months in used Commandaria Casks). The past years the potential of making a great terroir Xynisteri has been growing. This is where Tsiakkas winery identified the terroir of Kyperounda region to truly have something special. That something special is the altitude, which is one of the highest in Europe. It has straw yellow color. The nose has aromas of fresh stone fruit like peach, apricot and a hint of floral character like jasmine and orange blossom. The palate is fresh, crisp with medium body and long finish. A wine of solid aging potential combining tension and purity. **** 

6.    Zambartas, Single Vineyard Xynisteri, Limassol 2018 (13% abv)
(Xynisteri 100%, 900 m altitude, 32 years age of vines, 5 months sur lie, Matured in French casks and Acacia Barrels). A vineyard that is located in Mandria Village in Krasochoria Lemesou, is revived and taken care by Markos Zambartas. Old vines exceeding 30 years producing low yields of concentrated juice. Golden-yellow coloured. Nose of the wine shows with white flowers along creamy biscuits around a core of ripe fruit. Oak is really good integrated with hints of smoke. Palate continues with freshness and complexity given by the use of wood and long finish. ***+ 

7.    Vlassidis Winery, Alates, Limassol 2018 (13.5% abv)
(Xynisteri 100%, Maturation for 5 months in 2000 Ltrs oak barrel,40 years old vines, cask sample). Cyprus as a country with no phylloxera present, benefits from having really old vineyards. One of these is the Alates vineyard. This is another approach for Xynisteri; there is the freshness of the grape's DNA but with the use of wood and battonage, gives a different interpretation, more Burgundian perhaps. It has a golden-yellow color. The nose has aromas of fresh citrus, yeast, butter and cream. Toasty and creamy on the palate, a touch riper perhaps, but with all elements showing an excellent balance. **** 

8.    Zambartas Single Vineyard Maratheftiko, Rosé, Limassol 2018 (13.5% abv)
(Maratheftiko 100%, Pachna Region-the largest vineyard on the island planted with Maratheftiko-2ha, Matured in large barrels for three months). Following the same philosophy as the Single vineyard Xynisteri, Markos Zambartas creates one of the first wines in Cyprus that uses wood maturation in rosé wine production. 
It has a medium intensity of pink color. The nose gives aromas of fresh red fruit like cherries, cranberries and pomegranate, there are also hints of toast in the wine but that doesn't overwhelm the fruit aromas. The palate is medium body with consistent character of freshness as well with good integration with the wood again. ***+

9.    Zambartas Margelina, Ayios Nikolaos, Paphos 2018 (14.5% abv)
(Mavro, Xynisteri, Kanella, Yianoudi, Maratheftiko, Ofthalmo varieties, Margelina vineyard, 99 years old vines, 900 meter, 6 months in old French Barriques). Medium ruby color. Really ripe nose of black cherries, black plums, herbaceous character of thyme, rosemary and oregano. Big and powerful with juicy tannins and depth of fruit. Good approach of this field blend though more freshness and elegance is going to express more the terroir of the region. ***

10.    Tsiakkas, Mavro Mouklos, 2019 (13.5% abv)
(Mavro variety 100%, single vineyard of 65 years old Mouklos vineyard located in front of the winery in Pelendri, 1000 m altitude, 40% Whole Bunch fermentation). Pale ruby color. Nose of red fruit like red cherries and hints of bubble gum and candy floss from the carbonic maceration. Palate is light - body, with refined and elegant tannins on the long finish. A new era for Mavro? ***+

11.    Vouni Panayia, Vines on the Sky Microvinification, Paphos 2018 (14.5% abv)
(Μavro 100%, Stainless steel tank fermented and matured,1150 m. ) Medium ruby color. Nose of red and black fruit, - red cherries and black cherries, hints of herbaceous character like laurel and thyme. Palate is medium-bodied, well-balanced and smooth with a reasonably long finish. ***

12.    Olympus Wineries, Plegma Red, Limassol, 2018
(Mavro 100%, Stainless steel tank Fermented and Matured). Plegma Red is a wine that comes from the region of Omodos. The vineyards are over 900 meters. Pale ruby coloured with high intensity of fresh red fruit like red cherries, red plums and cranberries and floral like lavender. On the palate, it shows a medium body with fresh red fruit like red cherries and cranberries. Lovely to see that Mavro can deliver wines of finesse. ***+

13.    Vouni Panayia, Kartokoloko Microvinification, Paphos 2018 (14% abv)
(Mavro 65% and Maratheftiko 35%, Spontaneous Fermentation, No added sulphites). This is a blend of two grape varieties which were blended traditionally in Panayia Village, Mavro and Maratheftiko. With more Mavro in the blend the color has medium intensity of ruby color. The nose shows aromas of red and black fruit like black cherries and blue fruit like blueberries. Palate is medium body, with consistent flavors and elegant finish. A good effort. ***

14.    Vlassidis Winery, Agiorgitiko Experimental, 2015 (15.5% abv)
(Agiorgitiko 100%, Matured 10 months in 2nd and 3rd use French Oak, cask sample). Agiorgitiko can make wines that are fruity, smooth and quite pleasant. There are exceptions though, in which the use of oak gives a different character to the wine. Deep ruby color. Nose of black fruit like black cherries, black currant and luxurious oak maturation giving intense vanilla and smoke aroma to the wine. Full-throttled on the palate with supple and juicy character with the oak maturation evident as well with good finish. ***

15.    Vouni Panayias, The Rebel Microvinification, Paphos 2018 (13.5% abv)
(Maratheftiko 100%, Stainless Steel Fermented and Matured, 80 years old vines,1000m.). This is a tank-fermented and matured Maratheftiko, where it shows the potential of this grape variety creating high-quality wines without the use of any oak. Purple coloured. Gorgeous nose of fresh red fruit like red cherries and black fruit like black cherries and black plums. Thyme and hint of laurel as well. Palate is medium-full , with high acidity and refined tannins highlighting a fine balance of pure fruit and energizing acidity. A Maratheftiko that summarises the typicity of the variety. ****

16.    Vlassidis Winery, Oroman, Limassol 2017 (14.5% abv). 
(Yiannoudi 85% and Shiraz 15%, Maturation for 10 months in French Oak, Not released in the market). Oroman is the label where an autochthonous grape variety, Yiannoudi, is blended with an international grape variety Shiraz. The two complement each other as they share common aromatic and flavor characteristics like herbaceous and earthy aromas. Deep ruby colour, on the nose ripe black fruit of black cherries and cassis. Hints of green olive and tarragon supported by toasty oak. The palate is full-body, with a supple and juicy character with smooth tannic structure and good finish. ***+

17.    Tsiakkas, Q, Limassol, 2018 (14% abv)
(Yiannoudi 46%,Vavmakada 46% and Xynisteri 6%, Fermented in Egg Shaped oak barrel and then Maturation in French Barriques for 18 months, Not released in the market). The younger generation of the winemakers in Cyprus experiments with new technology and vessels. One of the son's of Costas Tsiakkas, Orestis has experimented with three native grape varieties. Deep ruby colour, nose is delicate with ripe black fruit and floral aromas like rose petals and smoke deriving from the wooden egg vessel. Palate is full-bodied, with solid tannic structure well supported by the high ripeness of the fruit. Needs time to show its true colours. ***+

18.    Vouni Panayia, Natura Microvinification, Paphos, 2018 (12.5% abv) 

(Morokanella 100%, Spontaneous Fermentation, Single Vineyard-Sirizas 850m, 4 months on the lees). Morokanella can produce wines with high aromatic intensity and good levels of acidity. Natura is a "natural" approach of Morokanella grape. Amber coloured, with a nose of ripe stone fruit like peach, apricot, citrus fruit like kumquat and vegetal like beetroot. The palate is of medium body with consistent ripeness with a great level of freshness, round texture with a long finish. A gorgeous and distinctive wine. ****

19.    Tsiakkas, Orange, Limassol 2019 (15% abv)
(Xynisteri 100%, 40% of Commandaria skins are used, Spontaneous Fermentation in open-top 300ltr oak barrels with nothing added, Transferred in stainless steel tank with six months on the lees.) The younger generation of the winemakers in Cyprus experiment with new methods and apply new trends. Orestis Tsiakkas along with Ektoras Tsiakkas, his younger brother, created an interesting skin contact wine made with Xynisteri and matured in Commandaria casks. Amber coloured and oxidative in style with peach, apricot and lychees. The palate is of medium body, with persistent nutty flavors, round texture and long finish. ****

20.   Vouni Panayia, Whole Bunch Xynisteri, Paphos 2018 (13.5% abv)
(Xynisteri 100%, Spontaneous Fermentation,1050m.) Another excellent example of a skin contact wine from Kyriakides family is the Whole Bunch Xynisteri. Orange coloured, with a pronounced intensity of ripe exotic fruit of mango and pineapple. Vegetal character of sweet corn and honey. Medium-bodied on the palate, textural with tension and precision on the long finish. ****+

Sotiris is currently working as a Head Sommelier at Amara Hotel in Limassol and is preparing him self for the Master Sommelier exam. 

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