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08 July 2023

Vouni Panayia Microvinifications V: Exploring Cyprus' Native Grape Varieties

By Yiannis Karakasis MW

I have been following the microvinifications project from Vouni Panayia winery in Cyprus from day one, as this is a fascinating project to explore further the character and full potential of Cyprus' native grape varieties. You can read my two previous articles here https://www.karakasis.mw/micro-vinifications-vouni-panayia and here https://www.karakasis.mw/microvinifications-vouni-panagia-2020-release. As this project matures, it is the appropriate time to draw some conclusions. For this reason, I interviewed producer and vigneron Yiannis Kyriakidis (pictured below with his father Andreas) during my latest visit to Cyprus.

"Understanding in depth the character and the quality potential of the autochthonous grapes of Cyprus, through the observation of their performance in different viticultural – oenological practices" is our objective, says Kyriakidis as we taste the new wines. He concludes that it has been a long journey, and it is time to see what might be useful for the future. Micro V features only five wines instead of 8 the previous times, as the winery has already taken advantage of the earlier experiments and conclusions.

The area & the varieties

Soils & elevation: 800 – 1150 m elevation, phylloxera-free soils, ungrafted bush vines, dry-farmed viticulture in limestone soils. 

Climate: Mediterranean climate with cooler conditions due to the high altitude and the influence of the Troodos mountain peaks. 

Varieties: Mavro and Xynisteri (see here new approaches on the variety by more than a handful of quality-oriented wineries) are the dominant varieties. Many old traditional vineyards with co – plantations of the dominating varieties with the rare indigenous grapes of Promara, Morokanella, Spourtiko, Aspri Fraoula (Vasilissa), Michailias, Maroucho, Bastartiko, Yiannoudi, Maratheftiko, Ofthalmo etc. Young vineyards are up to 20 years old, owned by the Kyriakidis family and planted with rare varieties to revive them and showcase their potential.

The wines

Symbiosis 2021 

Symbiosis showcases the Aspri Fraoula variety (also known as Vasilissa) sourced from the Ayios Elias vineyard at 1100 meters elevation that has been spontaneously fermented under brief skin contact and matured on the lees for 12 months. (13.5% abv and 30 mg/lt total SO2. Typical numbers for pH and acidity are 3.15-3.25 &  TA 5.8-6.1)

Vasilissa is, to a large degree, unexplored in terms of vinification methods. It typically exhibits floral aromas and can be lean, vegetal, or bitter with low alcohol, as demonstrated by a previous Microvininification IV wine, ''the Goddess''. The emphasis here was to harvest under optimum conditions and open the palate with lees ageing, providing mid-palate depth.

The result: Although the wine showed floral notes, it also delivered a fine texture, supplemented by marzipan aromas and salty undertones—a very nice approach to the variety, adding more complexity and excitement. 

To Platanin 2020

To Platanin highlights the Morokanella variety sourced from the Tremithi vineyard at 1050 meters elevation. With 50% of the final blend undergoing ten days of skin contact, the wine matures on the lees for nine months and ages in the bottle for 18 months. (13% abv and 55 mg/lt total SO2)

Morokanella shows the highest acidity compared to all white native Cyprus varieties, with pH ranging between 2.95-3.05 and total acidity hovering around seven g/lt in this area. The idea here was to add some tannins on the palate, balancing the fruit's brightness and some extra nuances of stone fruit. 

The result: This method introduces tannins to balance the fruit's brightness and adds nuances of stone fruit, resulting in an intriguing wine with peach aromas and a pleasing tannic grip. Morokanella shows it can be a chameleon, but watch the space for the next wine.

Nature's Vengeance 2022

Nature's Vengeance pushes the boundaries with Morokanella, allowing it 45 days of skin contact. The wine boasts a unique profile characterized by a slight funk on the nose and exceptional purity owing to the variety's low pH. This experimental approach has the potential for further exploration, including with Vasilissa, which offers more aromatic compounds. (No SO2 added with six months with the lees and 13.5% abv)

Wine Freak 2022

Wine Freak showcases the Maratheftiko variety sourced from selected old vines in the Vouni Panayia area at an average 1000 m elevation. The wine is spontaneously fermented as whole bunches in a steel tank and then matures on Xynisteri fine lees for five months. (11% abv with just 35 mg/lt total SO2. pH and acidity in the area range between 3.1-3.15 and 7.5-8, respectively) 

There is a misconception regarding Maratheftiko, explains Kyriakidis. ''People believe that this a variety with many and often aggressive tannins with lots of vegetal aromas that needs lots of oak to relax,'' he says. On the contrary, he argues that provided intense work in the vineyard and in the right terroir, it can produce juicy wines with ripe tannins, high freshness and floral aromas. ''Wine Freak'' is the sequel to ''The Rebel''. 

The result: Very charming and smooth on the palate, possibly the most exciting of the five wines with a combination of red and black fruit. I would love to see more intensity on the nose here, but nevertheless, the wine is beautiful. The challenge here, says Kyriakidis is to have ripe grapes with low alcohol and ripe tannins, which the climate favours.

Koumna 2020

Koumna focuses on the Mavro variety, the most planted grape in Cyprus, with approximately 3000 ha, covering about 40% of the total area. The grapes are sourced from old vines at 1150 meters elevation in the Vouni Panayia region. After spontaneous fermentation, the wine matures in old ceramic pitharia (koumna) of 200-220 lts. (13.5% abv, and total S02 is 40 mg/lt. Typical numbers for the variety in the area are pH 3.37 and TA 5,7-5.95)

The Kyriakidis family have been working with Mavro since 1987, blending it with Maratheftiko but also both as red wine (unoaked and oaked) and in rosé approach. ''Mavro van be super productive with 10 kg of grapes per vine, but in mountainous terroirs, it is another breed,'' says Kyrakidis. Seeing the result in stainless steel, it was time to experiment with amphorae. The idea here was to harvest for potential alcohol 13.5% and avoid new oak, which Kyriakidis describes as a terrible combination because the wine is very green and ultimately is dominated by oaky aromas covering the lovely fruit. 

The result: Koumna strikes a balance between tannins, primary fruit, and mouthfeel, showcasing the potential of Mavro in mountainous terroirs. I would love to see more freshness here, but the overall expression is more than engaging. 

And what lies for the future of the Microvinifications  ''We are still assessing the wines, but we have decided on some that will go into regular production, like Whole Bunch Xynisteri and The Woman in the wine press Morokanella. For the rest, we need more time to be 100% sure,'' Kyriakidis concludes. The project has opened a new chapter of discussion surrounding the unique Cyprus varieties, promising even more exciting developments in the future.

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