This most easterly island in the pristine blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea has been producing wine since time immemorial.
According to archaeologists, the first settlers arrived from the mainland, now Turkey. Greeks arrives around 1200 B.C., and likely brought along vines
Hesiod described Cypriot winemaking in 800 B.C., and Euripides wrote about pilgrimages to Cyprus to taste the wines of the region called Cyprus Nama.
Cypriote wine history goes back to approximately 2300 B.C.
During the Lusignan era, with the help of Armenian rulers of Cilicia (southern Turkey today) winemaking advanced, and drinking was popularized.
When the Ottoman Empire (15th century) occupied the island, winemaking suffered a significant setback Most of the vineyards were uprooted some were kept for table grape production. This lasted until 1878 at which time the British crown started to govern. Winemaking became prominent again. Britain was and still is a lucrative market for Cypriot wine.
When Cyprus became independent in 1980, the industry was forced to look for additional export markets. At the time there were only a few large wineries (KEO, ETKO, LOEL, and SOPAP), which produced wine more for export and especially for Britain.
Cypriot wine producing regions are cluttered in the southwestern part of the island – Akamas Laona, Vouni Panayias, the villages of Lemesos, Commandaria and Pitsilia.
Outside of these areas, wine produced may not bear a regional appellation on
the label. They correspond to the “vin de pays” (table wine) category in France.
Akamas Laona is situated in the southwestern corner of Cyprus. This region produces mostly white wines using xynisteri, and red maratheftiko and ofthalmo. Varietal wines must contain a minimum of 85 per cent of the variety on the label.
Vouni Panayias vineyards are on 800 metres above sea level. Both red And white grapes contain sufficiently high acid levels to yield pleasant wines. Marateftiko, ofthalma, mavro, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah are planed. Cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and syrah are blended with locally grown indigenous varieties.
The wine villages of Lemesos (Kriasohoria Lemesos) are the largest of the all five regions in Cyprus. Both red and white wines are produced using local and indigenous grapes.
Commandaria is the most famous of Cypriot wines, and must be vinted using only xyinesteri, and mavro. There are 14 villages entitled to produce Commandaria. It is always sweet and must be barrel aged a minimum of two years and contain a minimum of 15 per cent alcohol by volume. This combined with the hot climate, results in wines that offer a caramelized flavour.
Commandaria was produced before the 12th century and gained fame when Richard the Lionheart drank and enjoyed it during his wedding on the island. He claimed Commandaria to be `A wine of kings and king of wines`.
Pitsilia, located north of Commandaria, produces both red and white wiens using mainly indigenous varieties.
Wine laws were promulgated to make dry wines more appealing to western palates; for table wines 85 per cent must originate in the area.
Protected designation of origin wines yields are prescribed maximum pressing limits imposed, and aging periods defined. In addition vineyards must be 600 to 750 metres above level, with yield levels of 36 – 45 hectolitres/hectare, and vines must be a minimum of five years old or older.
Palomino and Semillon are two of the most popular white grape varieties, and mavro, xynesteri, Malaga, shiraz, grenache, alicante-Bouchet, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet frans and carignan for reds.
Consultants from Spain, Italy and France have been employed to refine quality, and to make Cypriot wiens more appealing to western European palates.
The best export market for Commandaria is the United Kingdom, due to its long political and economic involvement with Cyprus.
During the era of U.S.S.R., huge quantities of entry-level red and white wines of high-alcohol content were exported to that market for blending. After the collapse and disappearance of the U.S.S.R that huge and lucrative market disappeared almost overnight in 1990. Suddenly, the big wineries mentioned above found themselves in a desperate situation and decided to concentrate on western European and North American markets. Slowly Cypriot wines are starting to appear in Europe and North America.
There are now more than 40 wineries, most of which are small and quality oriented.