Once upon a time… Cyprus wine was a joke. The “leading” white wines, made in factories in Limassol, were largely stale, flat and well on the way to oxidisation. The reds, mostly made from Mavro were dull and lifeless. The reason, of course, was that grapes were grown as a cash crop by village people who only made wine in Pithari, but who sold most of their grapes to wineries 40 kilometres away. The crop often languished in panniers and other containers for days by the roadside awaiting transport.
In the 1970s just one white wine stood out from the rest, “Ayios Andronicos”, from Chrysorrogiatissa monastery. At the end of a visit then, I took several bottles back to England. One evening we were invited to a small Cypriot restaurant in south London, which had no alcohol licence, so I took along some Ayios Andronicos. On tasting it the chef-proprietor refused to believe it was from Cyprus. Mostly Xynisteri, it demonstrated, all those years ago, that our indigenous white grape could make good white wine, and was one of the factors that made me its strong advocate when I took up residence in 1991 and started writing about wine and food.
This story shows how far Cyprus wine has come in a few decades. I was reminded of it when I read vintage reports for 2014 sent to me by some of our best winemakers. What they demonstrate is that growing vines and making wine is not something you do is you want consistent income and profitability. It is a tough business and Cyprus winemakers are a wonderful, dedicated group of people, who deserve our support. Which means, buy our own wines, because they are good!
Three Good Men and True. Left to right: Theodoros Fikardos, Costas Tsiakkas and Marcos Zambartas
In terms of quality it has been a good year for Cyprus wine. Limassol wineries were hit by storms which damaged the crop, but all declare quality generally to be “very good”. Xynisteri is doing well. Paphos wineries generally report a good year for both quality and quantity.
Theodoros Fikardos, the wonderfully rugged individualist of Cyprus wine, and a great friend of many years, tells me his best grape this year is Xynisteri and he has made 30,000 litres, much of it from his own grapes. This is his largest volume – the next is half that: Mataro (Mourvèdre) at 15,000 litres. What I love about Theodoros is that he happily flies in the face of accepted industry practice by making a wide range of wines, and sells it all. His wines are like the man, ebullient and friendly.
Rebecca Argyrides, at Vasa Winery: estimated production around 13,500 bottles, shared between Maratheftiko, Merlot/Cabernet, Viognier and Chardonnay. “We got heavily hit by hail this year. Consequently production has been badly hit. Quality was great but we are still vinifying so we cannot judge which variety is best this year yet”
At Pelendri, Costas Tsiakkas has always been honest and practical in his approach. He uses all the counsel he can get: “We have just had a visit from a consultant from Beaune, who comes every three months and checks on the wines and gives us general guidelines. The comments were quite favorable. We may not make the best wines in the world, but for us the most important thing is that our wines are good value for money. We make slow but steady steps towards better and better quality. We have invested heavily in new vineyards and are not shy to admit our mistakes, correct them and move forward”.
Of the 2014 harvest Costas reports: “The quality was good but not super. There was hail in Omodos and Vasa, which destroyed the Cabernet we were getting from there so had to rely only on grapes from Pelendri and Agros. Our vineyards at the winery surprised us with a good and plentiful quantity of Sauvignon, so this year’s production has a great percentage of our own grapes”.
“The 2014 Yiannoudi is our best this year. We do not know the grape very well yet but it seems to be very promising. Our 2014 production is 35,000 bottles of Xynisteri, 28,000 Rosé, 10,000 Cabernet Sauvignon, 5,000 Merlot, 35,000 Porfyros, 4,000 Vamvakada (Maratheftiko), 1000 Yiannoudi, 20,000 Sauvignon Blanc 10,000 Chardonnay, 3,000 Commandaria and 3000 Zivania
“We will be in the market with this year’s a Xynisteri, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Rodinos by December 2014. We are now selling 2012 Cabernet, 2012 Merlot, 2012 Vamvakada and 2013 Porfyros. This year we hired a viticulturist just for the summer months, which we will repeat next year. It really helped us and allowed us to pay more attention to detail”.
Like most Cy[rus wineries, Zambartas pursues its own individualistic path, as an up-market rather boutique-style winery. Very sadly, the highly successful father-son team which, in a shorter time than many of its competitors established a reputation for classy, quality, mid to high price wines, has been broken by the untimely death of Akis Zambartas. Former Managing Director of KEO, Akis had started things rolling, whilst son Marcos completed his oenology degree and hands-on learning in varied vineyards and wineries around the world.
Marcos has been full-time for several years and now takes over leadership of a close-knit family team. Their seven wines have established a niche in the market at leading hotels and restaurants, as well as selected retail outlets. Marcos tells me that in addition to the “regular” seven of their wines this year they are making a small quantity of “single vineyard” Xynisteri from a plot they own in Mandria. Now that is one I must taste!
Increased Distribution for Ezousa
Distributors Ghalanos have agreed with winemaker Michalis Constantinides to distribute the wines of his Kannaviou village based Ezousa winery. This marks yet another important step in what is, by international wine standards, a remarkable career. Though he is a Graduate in Food and Drink Chemistry, Michalis is largely self-taught as a winemaker. His first vintage was only eleven years ago, but he has won a number of awards in that time, some of them from Cyprus Gourmet.
All Michalis’s wines are worth exploring, with, for me, the Xynisteri and the Maratheftiko Rosé are the stand-outs. The range srocked by Ghalanos is: White: Xynisteri, 2013; Xynisteri, 2012; Viognier, 2013. Rosé: “Eros” Maratheftiko, 2013; “Gris” Maratheftiko, 2013.,
Red: Maratheftiko-Cabernet Sauvignon-Mourvèdre , 2012, blend ; Cabernet Sauvignon-Mourvedre, 2010, b;end; Syrah, varietal; “Metharme”, Maratheftiko, blend.