Cyprus Wine: The Taste of Transition

A trip to the Mediterranean is not complete without strolling along the beaches of Cyprus, and admiring the seascapes, local art, churches, roads and ruins that will transport any traveler to centuries past.

And why not? Cyprus is a country with a history as rich as any other subdued colony .It was once part of the British Empire, and was later on granted autonomy which they shared with Greece and Turkey.

Perhaps its success can be attributed to its ability to adapt to changes and make transitions to stay relevant and to get ahead, a quality reflected in its history and even in their wine.

Brief History

The history of winemaking in Cyprus is among the oldest in the world. Although the exact date is unknown, wine production in Cyprus dates back to at least 4,000 years ago.

This cultural heritage is the oldest in the whole Mediterranean basin, and it is a common belief that Cyprus triggered the spread of winemaking to Greece, Italy, and France.

Ideal Geology and Climate

To say that Cyprus boasted of the oldest tradition of grape growing and wine production is not a coincidence. It was a combination of the fertile soil of its coastal plains and the general Mediterranean climate.

Cyprus has mild winters, with gentle winds and breezes checking the frosts, dispelling the fogs and protecting the vines and grapes from fungal diseases. The long, sunny Mediterranean summers ripen the grapes quickly, giving it the full favor that carries over to the wine itself.

A Good Number of Local Grape Varieties

Cyprus has a wide variety of local grapes, such as Mavro (local black), Xynisteri, Maratheftiko, Ofthalmo, Lefkada, and Muscat of Alexandria. It is also well-acquainted with international grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Mataro, Merlot Noir, Shiraz, Grenache, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling. Local oenologists always carry out research, trying out different grape combinations to produce wines that reach local and international standards.

Cypriot Wine Varieties

The most popular Cypriot wine variety is the Mavro wine, made from a grape variety of the same name. It is popularly planted and used for blending. Other known varieties are the Xynisteri wine, which is a variety best taken young, and the Maratheftiko, a variety that is not widely-planted, but ages well and has a rich flavor. Other varieties are the Ofthalmo, a variety produced in small varieties and more steeply-priced than others. Others are the Lefkada, a red grape variety imported from Greece and the Muscat of Alexandria, which is blended with Xynisteri.

The most popular and the signature Cypriot wine is still Commandaria. Its name is from the word “commanderies,” the designation of the highest ranking knights. The Commandaria was a favorite in the country and among neighboring importers. It is said to be the early precursor of English favorites – Madeira and Marsala.

While most of the world suffered from the Phylloxera Blight, Cyprus implemented strict quarantine conditions to save many of its plant varieties. For this reason, many of the vines of indigenous varietals such as Mavro are very old original plantings.

Reinventing Itself

Reinvention is essential in the wine industry since preferences change. An example of this effort is Cyprus’s cultivation of Mavro into sherry.

Other reinventions include the Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Carignan Noir, Chardonnay, and Semillon. These have been introduced successfully in the past two decades.

Cyprus’s winemakers have built small “variety” wines, as well as artisanal wines produced in small amounts for oenophiles who are more open to experimentation. They have constantly reinvented themselves and sought the help of others in the field to produce what wine lovers consider as suited for the modern age.

Local winemakers even went as far as holding annual competitions to regain its place among the world’s lauded wine producers. There is a wide range of wines to choose from for prices that represent very good value.