Cyprus has always been a winemaking country traditionally producing table wine, with the notable exception of Commandaria. During the last two decades though, the island has seen the rebirth of the local varieties and the flourish of several small winemakers who by aiming higher, have actually achieved to raise the local wine scene and consequently wine tasting in Cyprus to new heights.
Because of the island’s hot and dry climate, vineyards in Cyprus are on high altitude (as high as 1400m) where the moderate night and day temperature swings yield ripe grapes with good acidity which in turn produce rich wine.
The local wineries work with classic varieties such as Cabernet, Merlot and Sauvignon blanc, but more importantly with indigenous varieties that can only be found here and are definitely worth a try. Maratheftiko, and Mavro in red, and Xynisteri with Spourtiko in white, are some of the most popular and extensively used.
Wine tasting Event
Not long time ago, I was invited to participate in a food and wine pairing event that was organized by Cyprus Taste Tours and Vassiliades winery (Oenou Yi) in Omodos—a village in the heart of Cyprus’ wine-making region, in south Troodos mountains. This small village lays on the bottom of a valley surrounded by hills with numerous vineyards on their slopes, and is renowned for its small wineries and excellent wine.
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Arriving in Omodos
The small bus (wine and driving don’t match) left us near the center of Omodos where we immediately set for a stroll. The biggest points of interest in the village are the tasting rooms that some of the wineries maintain around there and the centuries old monastery of Timios Stavros. Omodos is a very old settlement with narrow alleys surrounded by typical small two storey houses that cast their shadows on the paved stones, keeping them cool till the mid-day.
The wineries have beautiful set ups around the village in small spaces like old presses where you can taste their range of wines accompanied by cold buffets with local products. Along with wine, you can also try Zivania—a grape pomace distill similar to grappa which is consumed ice cold as a shot. With 40 to 45 per cent alcohol, it’s not for the faint of heart though, especially at ten in the morning.
Most of the wines were amazing but I tried to keep my tasting quantities to a minimum, knowing that the day would be long—in a good way. The small tour lasted for an hour and a half, and was a great way for us to be introduced to the place, the people and of course the wine.
The main pairing event would take place at Vasililiades winery which is located on the top of a hill just north of the village. As soon as we got there, my eye got caught on the new building with its modern-minimal design which dominated the landscape. Inside, we were given a very interesting tour which took us through the whole process of wine making from crushing and desteeming to fermentation and clarification followed by aging and finally bottling. The facilities were sparkling clean and with an art deco touch.
When the tour was over, we headed to playia—the lush restaurant of the winery with the astounding veranda that overlooks Omodos and many of Vassiliades family vineyards. The five course pairing event was about to begin and all that walking had opened my appetite and build my anticipation.
Five Course Food and Wine Pairing
The opener was a splendid apricot salad with baby leaves and goat cheese. The fresh salad was soon accompanied by a crunchy spinach and anari cheese filo with dried apricot and a bottle of Xinisteri.
Xinisteri is the most famous local dry white. Fruity and flowery, this golden hued wine was a perfect match for the filo and salad leaving a refreshing aftertaste sensation.
Next, was a pumpkin risotto with parsley, parmesan, goat cheese and red amaranth. I loved it! The risotto melted in my mouth exploding into a pleasing delight for my taste buds and the aromatic Rose Shiraz that followed, complimented the dish perfectly with its fruity palette.
After a small break that gave our palates the necessary time to recover, it was time for the main dish. Slow cooked pork braised with red wine and aromatic herbs, accompanied with parsnip puree, coriander seeds, mushrooms and red wine sauce. The pork’s taste was rich and the textures amazing. The puree balanced the strength of the meet ideally. Alongside, a full bodied red Maratheftiko paired the main dish perfectly. Firm, with earthy tones and strong finish, it’s definitely my favourite local variety and a wine that everybody should try when in Cyprus.
Last but not least was dessert, which I have to say was a pleasant surprise. Here, let me confess that I have a natural distaste for sweet wine. It just was never my thing. Now, to the desert; it was chocolate mousse with caramel ice cream paired with a vintage Commandaria. This is exactly where a good pairing comes into play. The mousse was splendid, but what was more amazing was that the sweetness of the chocolate, toned down the sweetness of Commandaria, revealing a mellow taste which is much more complex than I had thought, allowing me for the first time not only to actually enjoy it but also have a second glass.
To sum it up, the whole event was fascinating and very educational. Good wine tasting is—and should be—more than entertainment. It is an eye opening experience that expands our horizons with new tastes and combinations known only to few. This is even more true when it comes to foreign cuisines and local wines. And since wine and food is an inseparable piece of every civilization, we can never really explore and get to know any place without experiencing them first.
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Disclaimer: This tour was organized and offered from Vassiliades winery and Cyprus Taste Tours but Trip & Trail or the author got no compensation for writing or publishing this article. All views belong to the author.