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With a winemaking tradition dating back over 4,000 years, the Mediterranean island of Cyprus can rightfully claim its place as one of the oldest wine regions in the world. This island nation, located just 60 miles off the coast of Turkey, has been intertwined with the history of wine since ancient times.

Cyprus' strategic location in the Middle East made it a vital crossroads of civilizations throughout antiquity. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Lusignans, Venetians, and Ottomans each left their cultural imprint, including influencing the island's viticultural heritage. Indigenous grape varieties like Mavro and Xynisteri have been cultivated on these sun-drenched slopes for millennia.

After decades of dormancy, the Cypriot wine industry is experiencing a renaissance in quality and popularity. With a new generation of winemakers focusing on modern techniques while respecting local traditions, Cyprus is re-emerging as a distinctive wine destination. The island's unique terroir, with its abundance of limestone and ancient bush-trained vines known as mavro patteri, produces distinctive wines with concentration, character, and an unmistakable Mediterranean minerality.

While relatively undiscovered compared to other European wine regions, Cyprus offers the curious oenophile a chance to explore an ancient wine culture. From the indigenous Commandaria - one of the world's oldest wines - to modern expressions from international varieties, Cypriot wines captivate with their singular identity born of this island's rich history and singularly unique winemaking environment.

In Cyprus, the national wine association that oversees the appellation system based on European Union law is the Cyprus Wine Products Council. This council governs the regulations for the country’s wine denominations, including seven Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) and four Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs).

The four PGIs represent the major wine-producing districts of Cyprus: Lefkosia (Nicosia), Lemesos (Limassol), Larnaka (Larnaca), and Pafos (Paphos). To qualify for a PGI label, at least 85% of the grapes must originate from the specified region, the vines need to be a minimum of four years old, and yields are restricted to between 55 to 70 hectoliters per hectare, varying by grape variety. Red wines under this classification must have an alcohol content of at least 11% ABV and whites at least 10% ABV.

The seven PDOs, each with specific elevation requirements ranging from 400 to 1,400 meters, include Commandaria, Krasochoria Lemesou, Krasochoria Lemesou-Afames, Krasochoria Lemesou-Laona, Laona-Akama, Vouni Panayia-Ampelitis, and Pitsilia. These designations enforce stricter regulations: vines must be at least five years old, yields are capped at 36 to 45 hectoliters per hectare depending on the grape variety, and minimum alcohol levels are set at 12% ABV for reds and 11% ABV for whites.

Within these PDOs, except for Commandaria which is designated exclusively for sweet wines, there are specific varietal requirements. Dry white wines must be composed of at least 85% Xynisteri, supplemented by other permitted native white varieties. Dry red wines fall into two styles: one requires at least 85% Maratheftiko or Ofthalmo, and the other a minimum of 60% Mavro, with the balance being made up of permitted native and international red varieties. The PDO Laona-Akama specifies only the first style for its red wines.

For Commandaria, which is produced in 14 designated villages, there are additional specifications regarding sugar levels in the grapes and a mandatory aging period of at least two years in oak barrels. This intricate system helps ensure the quality and distinctiveness of Cypriot wines, preserving their unique characteristics and heritage.


vinerra illustration

Cyprus, with its ancient winemaking tradition, cultivates a mix of indigenous and international grape varieties, each adapted to the island's diverse climatic conditions and terrain. The most widely planted grape varietals reflect a preference for varieties that thrive in the Mediterranean climate, characterized by hot, dry summers and mild winters.

The most widely planted indigenous white grape varieties in Cyprus:

  1. Xynisteri: Xynisteri is the most widely planted white grape variety in Cyprus. It thrives in the coastal regions and slightly higher elevations, producing wines that are typically light, fresh, and moderately acidic. Xynisteri wines often exhibit floral and citrus notes, making them excellent for consumption in their youth.
  2. Muscat of Alexandria: This aromatic white grape, known locally as Muscat, is predominantly grown in and around the Paphos area. It is highly aromatic, with distinct floral and peach characteristics, making it ideal for sweet wines and dessert styles, particularly those that require pronounced aromatic profiles.

The most widely planted indigenous red grape varieties in Cyprus:

  1. Mavro: Mavro is the most common red grape variety on the island and forms the backbone of many traditional Cypriot wines. It is known for producing wines that are typically rich in color but mild in flavor, with a lower acidity and alcohol content. Mavro is often blended with other varieties to enhance its qualities and is a key component in the production of the sweet dessert wine, Commandaria.
  2. Maratheftiko: Maratheftiko is a less commonly planted but increasingly significant variety due to its quality potential. It is challenging to cultivate, as it often requires manual pollination to produce fruit. However, the resulting wines are highly valued for their deep color, strong tannins, and aromas of red fruits and spices. Maratheftiko is typically used in blends but is also gaining popularity as a varietal wine.
  3. Lefkada: Also known as Vertzami, Lefkada is a dark-skinned grape variety known for producing tannic, deeply colored red wines. It is often blended with other local red varieties to create wines with better balance and complexity.

International Varieties: Aside from these native varieties, several international grapes are also cultivated, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. These are often used in blends with indigenous varieties, bringing international appeal and familiarity to Cypriot wines while showcasing the unique terroir of the island.

The focus on indigenous varieties like Xynisteri and Maratheftiko highlights Cyprus's commitment to preserving its viticultural heritage while adapting modern viticulture techniques to improve wine quality and meet global tastes. These grape varieties not only reflect the historical depth of Cypriot viticulture but also its contemporary evolution.

In Cyprus, wine production spans a diverse range of styles, with some types being more prevalent than others based on volume. The island's winemaking tradition features both local and international grape varieties, which are used to create a variety of wines, including still, sparkling, and dessert wines. The most common wines produced in Cyprus, especially in terms of volume, include:

  • Commandaria: Commandaria holds a special place as not only the most famous but also one of the most historically significant wines of Cyprus. This dessert wine, made from sun-dried Xynisteri and Mavro grapes, is aged in oak barrels and known for its rich sweetness and complex flavors. Its production is highly regulated, with specific geographic and methodological standards, making it a unique product of Cyprus.
  • Table Wines from Mavro and Xynisteri: The bulk of wine production in Cyprus includes red and white table wines primarily made from the indigenous Mavro (red) and Xynisteri (white) grapes. These wines are typically consumed locally and are known for their straightforward, fruit-driven character, making them popular everyday wines.
  • International Varietal Wines: There is also significant production of wines made from international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. These are often blended with native varieties to create wines that are both appealing to international tastes and reflective of the Cypriot terroir.
  • Rosé Wines: Rosé wines, often produced from both indigenous and international grape varieties, are popular for their versatility and appeal, especially during the warmer months. They are typically made in a dry style, showcasing the aromatic profiles of the grape varieties used.
  • Other Indigenous Varietal Wines: Besides Commandaria, other wines made from indigenous varieties like Maratheftiko and Lefkada are becoming more common. These wines are usually produced in smaller volumes but are gaining recognition for their quality and unique characteristics.
  • Fortified Wines: Apart from Commandaria, Cyprus produces other styles of fortified wines, though in lesser volumes. These are primarily made from local grape varieties and are similar to Commandaria in their rich, sweet profiles but may not meet the strict PDO requirements.

The wine industry in Cyprus has been evolving, with a growing emphasis on reducing quantity and increasing quality. This shift is seen in the gradual reduction of bulk wine production and the increase in bottled wines aimed at the export market, reflecting a trend towards higher-quality, more diverse wine offerings.

History of the Region

The history of wine in Cyprus is as ancient and intricate as the island itself, intertwined with myth, conquest, and cultural shifts.

  • Early Beginnings and Mythological Connections: Wine production in Cyprus dates back to the early fourth millennium BCE, marking the island as one of the oldest wine producers globally. The earliest evidence includes clay jars with wine deposits from around 3500 BCE. This proto-Cypriot wine culture was significantly influenced by the Canaanites and Phoenician merchants, who introduced advanced wine-making techniques and initiated the trade of Cypriot wines into pharaonic Egypt.
  • Hellenistic and Roman Periods: While references to wine in Cyprus during the later Bronze Age and classical period are scarce, the island's winemaking reemerged during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. This era is vividly represented by the second-century mosaics at the House of Dionysus near Pafos, illustrating the life and indulgences of the god of wine.
  • Medieval Flourish and the Age of Commandaria: The end of the Byzantine period marked a pivotal moment for Cypriot wine with the arrival of Richard the Lionheart in 1191. Captivated by the local wine Commandaria during his conquest, Richard highlighted it at his wedding, dubbing it the "Wine of Kings and the King of Wines." This period also saw the establishment of the wine estate of the Knights Hospitaller, La Grande Commanderie, which lent its name to Commandaria. This sweet wine, made from the indigenous Xynisteri and Mavro grapes dried under the Cypriot sun, became a hallmark of the island.
  • Ottoman Rule and Decline: The Ottoman conquest in 1571 ushered in a challenging era for Cypriot winemaking. With the Muslim ruling class forbidding alcohol production and consumption, wine production largely reverted to being for personal use among the Greek Orthodox Christian population. This led to a rustic and increasingly obscure wine industry.
  • British Colonial Era and Twentieth Century: The British took control in 1878, initially attempting to revitalize the wine industry. However, post-World War II saw a shift towards mass-produced, often fortified wines like Emva Cream, primarily for export to the Eastern Bloc. The collapse of the Soviet Union further strained this model, leading to a significant decline in vineyard area and wine production.
  • Modern Renaissance and Boutique Wineries: The late 20th and early 21st centuries have been a period of rejuvenation for Cypriot wine. The establishment of boutique wineries by a new generation of viticulturists, including Minas Mina, Sophocles Vlassides, Marcos Zambartas, Yiannis Kyriakidis, and Orestis Tsiakkas, marked a significant turn. These winemakers, often educated abroad, began producing distinctive wines that emphasized quality and showcased indigenous grape varieties. By 2022, Cyprus hosted about 50 independent wineries, contributing to approximately 15% of the nation's wine output.
  • European Union Influence and Future Prospects: Cyprus's accession to the European Union in 2004 brought about further changes, including the end of certain agricultural subsidies, which placed additional pressure on the industry but also incentivized a focus on quality over quantity. Today, supported by EU-funded projects and a flourishing tourism sector, the Cypriot wine industry is increasingly recognized for its quality and uniqueness, promising a bright future for this ancient wine-producing nation.

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