Join the RevolutionBy journal wine writer Geoff Adams
It was with Cyprus’ reputation as a bulk wine specialist in mind that I approached my five-day trip to Aphrodite’s island with a touch of apprehension about what lay ahead of me. At this stage I should point out that any lingering misgivings I had about finding only lacklustre fruitless wines dressed up behind good-looking labels were pleasantly doused by the time I left the island. In fact in some cases I found the exact opposite, occasionally disappointing uninformative labels doing no justice whatsoever to an excellent wine. I think there is now without doubt considerable movement within Cyprus towards making clever, imaginative, high-quality wines, with the region’s wines at last beginning to express an as-yet undiscovered, fascinating terroir.
Since joining the European Union, Cyprus has returned to its ancient tradition of making fine wine. Fortunately for the producers of Cyprus, they have been given a real head start in the fact that their island is blessed with some of the finest viticultural conditions imaginable. The main winemaking regions of Cyprus lie in the south-west of the island where the indigenous varieties Maratheftiko, Xynisteri and Mavro, along with new plantings of Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, are cultivated high up in the mountainous interior. Here the vines benefit from extremely poor chalky limestone soil, giving the wines an enviable minerality within the fruit, while the altitude and influence of the Mediterranean imparts a fresh steeliness to both acidity and fruit.
I think is it important to consider the current state of the region’s winemaking evolution in modern terms. During the last decade or so Cyprus was rudely woken to the fact its future must lie at the fine-quality end of winemaking rather than in mass-production, and realised that their winemakers – present and future – are going to have to make the best use of a region which possesses a huge wealth of enviable and diverse – and to date much neglected – terroir.
But it’s not only history and great terroir that make good wine; the other most important ingredient is, of course, the winemaker. The big four wineries have all taken great strides recently, bringing new blood into their companies, investing huge sums into quality winemaking and grubbing up old lowland vineyards and planting new high-quality vines at higher altitude to make some very good wine. But, as is the norm with any wine revolution, it is a clutch of small cutting-edge pioneering producers who are really starting to nudge their region into the international spotlight. They are improving vineyard management and transport practices beyond measure, while making the best of the older indigenous vines and younger international variety vineyards to capture within their wines the unique characteristics of the region.
Every serious oenologist on the island who is using any of the three main high-quality indigenous varieties, Xynisteri, Maratheftiko and Mavro, are still in the throes of experimenting and gaining knowledge of how to produce the best results from these grapes. There are, nonetheless, some excellent indigenous varietal wines and indigenous/ international blends being turned out. There is still much room for improvement and it will be fascinating to observe the evolution of these varieties over the next decade or so. Also, there is some extremely positive work being done, mainly by the ‘cutting-edge’ smaller boutique winemakers, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and even Riesling.
It was somewhat difficult for me to define much of the terroir of the region through some of the unfamiliar indigenous varieties. I did discover through the international varieties that in general there is a noticeable freshness about the fruit and acidity of the wines, certainly with grapes grown at higher altitude in much cooler conditions, while the generally chalky limestone soil tends to impart a pleasing minerality, especially to those made from the white varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, as well as the indigenous Xynisteri. Cyprus has naturally high levels of acidity in its wines, but alongside this must be considered the high stress levels the vines must endure in the island’s dry non-irrigated terraced vineyards which receive non-stop sunshine for around nine months of the year. Because of this, extremely low yields of grapes are produced per vine. This might explain the terrific concentration of fruit I found in some of the best examples – big full-bodied wines which nonetheless lean towards elegance and balance rather than sheer power. I really liked the best of them!
I’ve already outlined my conclusions earlier on following this hugely enjoyable stay in Cyprus, therefore I shall end it here suffice to say that as far as fine winemaking in this incredibly promising region is concerned, watch this space!