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.
What a lovely acticity with an epic view! I would love to visit Cyprus one day and Ill def keep this in mind. BTW the chocolate mousse with caramel ice cream sounds heavenly
It was a lovely day and the mousse was indeed delicious 🙂
Oh wow your post really makes me want to go to Cyprus for a wine tasting now! I live in a wine region in Austria and we also have loads of tours like that around here. But the one you did seems extra special – they way you describe the food mhhh!!! Wine tastings are always a great experience, especially when they’re combined with delicious local dishes! Never heard of the sweet wine Commandaria before but I’d love to try it.
Glad to hear it Maria. Local cuisine plays a great part in this kind of pairings, and Cypriot cuisine which is basically Greek with many local twists, is delicious. Of course fresh local ingredients play a big role in it.
One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to taste all the local wine of the region. I haven’t necessarily had Greek wine so that would be interesting. Especially right on location!
You wouldn’t be disappointed.
I had a friend from Cyprus who would often talk about the amazing beaches there and the nightlife too but for some reason, he never told me that Cyprus was famous for wineries and had vineyards! I’d love to go for a wine tasting experience so this tour in Omodos sounds like a great one. Nothing better than wine tasting and pairing with local authentic cuisine! Oh, and I wasn’t aware, there are mountains in Cyprus too.
Actually it does! You can even ski for a month in winter! The culinary level is among the greatest in the world, I think.
We are not food bloggers, but we do love food adventures. And wine tasting is something that we really want to do. How does wine tasting work? Do you need to sip all wines on display? Guys who do that must have very high alcohol tolerance. Hehehe! Also, let’s say, you like a particular wine. How do you order that wine? I’m under the impression that if you want to buy some of the wine you like, the winemaker/vineyard owner goes to his cellar, fills up a container for you, then hands you that container. So it’s like fresh, genuine wine straight from the source. Is that how it’s supposed to work?
Well, sort of. First of all you can do as you like. There is no shame in taking a break or stop drinking at any point. Remember that wine tasting is about having a small sip and tasting the wine, you don’t get a whole glass (unless you want to). You can also spit the wine, you don’t have to take it down (I have to confess that I never do that though :)).
Finally it’s a good idea to know how the wine tasting will go. If I have to taste 10 bottles lets say I will just sip a bit from some and have a bit more from others that I like better. In any way have a wine tasting, it’s a great experience and the sommelier or tour guide will guide you through.
I LOVE visiting wineries when I travel. Besides getting to taste wine it’s an incredible way to learn about a region. I’ve never heard of Commandaria, but it sounds interesting. Like you, I don’t care much for sweet wine but I would give it a try!
I agree. Food and wine tours are a great way to be introduced into local cultures.
How cool was this? This looks like it was such a fantastic day! I love wine myself, though am certainly no expert with it. I totally love wine tastings though, I think it’s so much fun to taste the different wines and learn about the process to make them. That meal looked incredible as well, lucky you!
Indeed it was a great day.
It was so enjoyable reading your wine tasting experience. This is what I love about travel, experiencing what the place have to offer for their guests.
You had me at wine tour! This looks like a great experience and wow is there a more beautiful site to have it at? Now I feel the need to some wine!
So, I need to do this RIGHT NOW, Chris. It looks like it was the perfect experience, my friend. I also love the main photo up at the top there, you’ve got a hell of an eye for a good photograph. Keep up the good work, big guy,
Thank you mate! Hope to meet you guys for a glass soon 🙂
One of my girlfriends went to Cyprus last month and absolutely loved it! The wine tour looks like a wonderful experience and the architecture of Timios Stavros Monastery looks splendid!
I am so jealous you got to go to this event! It reminds me a little bit of the wineries I visited in Santorini. I would be sure to give Zivania a try, and Commandaria also sounds very interesting. That’s really cool that it goes back so far in history and that written records exist of it from thousands of years ago! The food pairings and the scenery overall look stunning and I’d love to go visit Cyprus someday, Chris!
I love Assyrtiko, it’s one of the finest whites in my book. Try Cyprus, you won’t be disappointed.
I love wine tasting! I tent to visit wineries when I travel, now trying to discover wine of my own country – Poland. Thank you for this post, I would love to visit there and taste.