I’ve been planning to write about wine tourism for a while. To talk about the sheer pleasure of visiting vineyards, trying the wines, and learning a bit about different varieties and customs associated with wine. So where better to start than with my recent forays into wine tourism in Cyprus.
An Ancient Wine Tradition
Cyprus is blessed with ideal conditions for viticulture, particularly in the central region of the Troodos Mountains. It is an ancient tradition: archaeologists have found flasks used in wine production almost 6000 years ago. The Cyprus grape is even mentioned in the Old Testament.
The importance of wine in the classical era is shown by the fact that the Pafos Archaeological Park, on the west coast of Cyprus, has a whole house dedicated to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. This is a Roman villa from the 2nd century which is full of mosaics, including pictures of Dionysus revealing the secret of wine, and quaffing from his own cup while tempting a nymph with a bunch of grapes. There is even a mosaic with two drunken shepherds, the earliest known depiction of drunkenness.
One of the most famous Cypriot wines is Commanderia, which is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest named wine in the world. This is a rich, sweet dessert wine, also used as a communion wine in Cypriot churches. King Richard I of England is reputed to have drunk Commanderia at his wedding in Limassol in 1191, and to have declared it “the wine of kings and the king of wines”.
Discovering Cypriot Wine at the Cyprus Wine Museum
If you want to learn more, and to try some of the wines for yourself, a good place to start is the Cyprus Wine Museum, to the north of Limassol. We were shown round by Maria who explained a bit about modern wine production in Cyprus. Then we looked at the displays, which traced the history of wine making in Cyprus from the earliest times to the present day.
The museum was small and didn’t take long to explore, but for us the most important part of the visit was the wine tasting. Maria poured a succession of wines from different vineyards, starting with Xinisteri, made from a white grape that is native to Cyprus. Then there were a variety of rose and red wines, including the all-important Commanderia. When we had finished we bought another glass of red wine and spent some time relaxing in the sunny courtyard outside the museum.
Wine Tasting Trails in Cyprus
The Cyprus Tourism Organisation has produced a list of seven wine routes in different parts of the island. We were based in Larnaca, which we discovered wasn’t the best area for viticulture. However, the Mountainous Larnaka – Lefkosia route did have a couple of vineyards close to us, and we went to have a look.
The first mentioned was Ktima Dafermou, which turned out not to be offering wine tastings. But we got a friendlier welcome at Ktima Christoudia, close to Kato Drys. Here Alexia, the co-owner of the vineyard, let us try a selection from their production. This included Xinisteri and Commanderia, and the Christoudias Spourtico, billed as one of the top ten wines of Cyprus. There was even a sweet red wine named after Alexia herself!
A Tour of the Production Facility
An added bonus of Ktima Christoudia was that Alexia offered to show us the production area. We saw all of the machinery, starting with a machine to separate grapes from their stems. Then there were the vats and the bottling area, and the darkened room where the barrels were kept once they had been filled. One area of interest was a room where soutzoukkos were setting. These are a Cypriot speciality – sweets made from almonds dipped in grape jelly.
We came away with a few bottles of wine and a packet of soutzoukkos. One point to note before you embark on a bit of wine tourism: although there was an entry fee for the Cyprus Wine Museum, most vineyards in Cyprus don’t make a charge for wine tastings. There is therefore an expectation that you will purchase a bottle or two. This limited us a bit as we were travelling hand luggage only, and we could only buy as much as we could drink before we flew home!