Cyprus has a rich wine-making history that dates back almost 5000 years, as boutique wineries speckled around the island take pride in producing fine tipple with expert knowledge that has been passed down through generations.
From wines derived from indigenous grapes, to well-known global varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, there is much to delight the discerning palate. And as the years go by, an increasing number of the island’s wineries are gaining recognition far and wide, with international awards really raising the bar when it comes to local produce.
This past year, the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards – one of Europe’s largest and most influential wine awards – saw Cypriot wines draw great attention, with many of the island’s finest scooping up top accolades.
My Cyprus Insider takes a look at just a few of the country’s finest.
Aes Ambelis Commandaria
Commandaria itself is a drink that Cyprus is mighty proud of. After all, it’s one of the oldest wines in the world still in production, with its origins dating as far back as 2000 BC. In 1223, King Phillipe of France pronounced it “the Apostle of wines” as it fast became famous across the whole of Europe.
Fast forward to the modern day, and a Commandaria made by Aes Ambelis has certainly left an impression on connoisseurs far and wide, proudly appointed a Decanter Gold Medal.
“Aes Ambelis Commandaria is a naturally sweet wine, carefully crafted from sundried grapes of the indigenous Xynisteri variety. Produced in very small quantities, the emphasis is always placed on achieving superior quality,” says head of the winery, Giorgos Tripatsas. “Making Commandaria is a long and painstaking process as it involves a series of closely monitored stages.”
The ageing process is particularly important; Aes Ambelis Commandaria is aged for three years in oak barrels to greatly enhance its richness. “Our Commandaria pays tribute to the long history of this wine and its venerable tradition. Modern wine making techniques are also applied to offer a more attractive and fresh wine; one with enhanced aromas and rich flavours that fully reflect the beauty of the Cypriot countryside.”
About the winery
Aes Ambelis winery was founded in the early 90s with the aim of producing wines of unique character and premium quality. The winery was born out of the passion shared by a few friends for the island’s heritage and its history. The estate is located on the slopes of the quaint Kalo Chorio Orinis, southwest of the island’s capital and a mere 30 kilometres drive from the capital.
The winery is surrounded by a three hectare vineyard, planted with grape varieties including Maratheftiko, Shiraz and Chardonnay, which are managed with extra care using natural farming techniques. Today, Tripatsas stands firm in his goal, determined to keep on pushing boundaries and making the finest quality wine with grapes grown with love and care on local soil.
Zambartas Maraftheftiko 2012
This Silver Medal winner at the 2014 Decanter Awards is made from 100% Maratheftiko; an ancient grape variety indigenous to Cyprus, grown in sparse quantities. In the 1980s, after pioneering research by the late Akis Zambartas, in which he re-discovered and characterized 14 indigenous Cypriot varieties, Maratheftiko came out as one of the more promising.
“Our Maratheftiko is the result of my father’s meticulous effort to revive Cyprus varieties and we’re particularly proud that this wine is gaining prestige,” says his son, Marcos Zambartas. “In our opinion, it really expresses the soul of what Cypriot winemaking is about: showing the uniqueness of the island through wines of character and elegance.”
With the grapes for this wine fermented in stainless steel tanks prior to pressing, they are then aged for ten to twelve months in French oak barrels. The signature aromas of Maratheftiko, violets and black cherry, are immediately apparent on the nose. This leads to savoury and bitter chocolate flavours on the palate with well-integrated oak, good depth, and rounded tannins. Maratheftiko is well matched with lamb chops, oven roasted lamb or pork, and hard old cheeses.
About the winery
Zambartas Winery was founded by the late Akis Zambartas in 2006 in Agios Amvrosios village on the beautiful southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains. After years in the wine business as Chief Winemaker, and later as Managing Director of one of the biggest wine producers in Cyprus, he decided to follow his dream of having his own boutique winery.
Now headed by his son, who has learnt much from the expertise passed on by his father, he brings contemporary know-how and creativity to a brand loved across the island and beyond. New ideas and a real zeal for making local wine better than ever before is now part of the ongoing mission of Zambartas Wines, standing firm in their belief that Cyprus can truly stand out on the global market, with world class wines and that each and every local should be proud of.
Vasilikon Methy 2009
Yet another Silver Medal winner at the 2014 Decanter Awards, Methy 2009 was born out of patience, left to mature for two years in brand new barrels of French oak, then going on to spend an equal amount of time ageing in the reducing environment of its bottle. It is made out of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
Methy is deep red in colour, with aromas of green pepper, caper, red-skinned fruits and spices in a discrete background of oak. A full bodied red wine, it has a balanced taste with tannic presence which is softened by time.
“Methy is special to us because it is made out of our family vineyards in Kathikas; it’s also a wine that expresses the soil and climate of the area. It is an elegant wine that needs patience to be made, but also one that you can enjoy through its evolution in time,” says owner of the Vasilikon Winery, Yiannis Kyriakides. “It nicely accompanies red meats and hard cheeses.”
About the winery
Vasilikon Winery is not just a family affair, but a brotherly one, founded in 1993 when Heracles, Georgios and Yiannis Kyriakides joined forces. Growing grapes had been a family tradition for many years, so it comes as little surprise that the trio wished to set up a winery when they finished their studies, to make the most out of the family vineyards passed down through the generations.
Situated in the Paphos village of Kathikas, the winery is nestled in unspoilt countyside with panoramic views down to the sea. The trio themselves profess that much of the winery’s success is based on the excellent quality grapes of the Kathikas and Akamas Laona areas of Paphos, which are mainly picked from the family’s vineyards. As this combines with the knowledge, dedication and care of the winemakers and advanced machinery used, Vasilikon has fast succeeded in becoming one of the most accomplished wineries in Cyprus.
Ktima Gerolemo Xynisteri 2013
Silver Medal winner at the 2014 Decanter Awards, Gerolemos Winery is proud of its Xynisteri 2013 medium sweet white wine, with an enticing perfumed aroma of cooked pear, lychee, peach, honeysuckle and hints of citrus. Derived from Xynisteri grapes in vineyards located in the Omodos region, at an altitude of 820 metres above sea level, it is then fermented and matured in French oak barrels.
“It has a brilliant, very pale straw colour with slight green hues, pale on the edges,” says Charilaos Athenodorou, one of the heads of Ktima Gerolemo. “It has a good balance between sweetness, acidity and alcohol with grapefruit and lime flavours. It’s an ideal match with seafood, lightly spiced Mediterranean cuisine, or soft ripened cheese.”
About the winery
Ktima Gerolemo Winery first opened its doors in 1989 in the picturesque village of Omodos nestled high in the Troodos Mountains. With the village renowned for its superb grapes since ancient times, the winery sits proud on gently rolling countryside northwest of the village. A real family affair, the name of the winery is taken from father Gerolemos, with his knowledge passed on to his two sons, Athenodoros and Charilaos Athenodorou, who now run the place with great passion, making the most of the surrounding area and the Gerolemo vineyards to produce some fine varieties.
Makkas Red 2012
Yet another Silver Medal winner at the 2014 Decanter Awards, the Makkas Red 2012 is produced with a select blend of Syrah, Grenache and Maratheftiko grape varieties cultivated in the mountainous area of Paphos. As these varieties age and blend together, it makes for a result which combines flavours of cherry, raspberry and spice from the Maratheftiko grapes, mixed with the flavour of elderberries and thyme released by the Lefkada and Syrah grapes.
“This wine has been designed to be an easy drinking every day wine,” says Head of Makkas Winery, Andreas Psaras. “It makes a very good companion to white and red meat dishes like chicken, duck and beef as well as various lighter dishes.”
About the winery
Just like the logo on their bottles, Makkas are big on Cypriot tradition. With an image of the Kyrenia Ship proudly distinguishing them from the rest, it acts of a reminder of local island wine being transported across the seas in ancient times. And it’s this long and rich winemaking history that provides much inspiration to Andreas Psaras who stands as the third generation of the Makkas family to cultivate and produce wines.
It all began with Giorkis Psaras, grandfather of the current owner and director, as well as parents Maroulla and Nikos, who worked hard to cultivate the land and set up a family vineyard in the Statos – Ayios Fotos area of the Paphos region. As the love for this land and tradition is now combined with innovation, Psaras stands firm in his mission of Makkas being one the leading small wineries in Cyprus while showing the world the unique characteristics of local grape varieties.