The vineyards of Cyprus are among the very few in the world that were not affected by the vine louse, known as phylloxera. The catastrophic consequences of phylloxera led European vine-growers engrafting scions of well-known European varieties onto American vine stocks which are resistant to the disease. This resulted in vine plants resistant to phylloxera which produce grapes whose organoleptic or sense-related characteristics – ie colour, aroma and flavour – are not quite identical to those of the original European vine known as Vitis Vinifera.
In very few parts of the world, apart from Cyprus, the European vine is still cultivated. These are Chile, the Greek island of Santorini and some regions of Portugal and South Australia.
Indigenous White Grape Varieties
With 2200 hectares under cultivation, Xynisteri is the most widespread white grape variety in the Cypriot vineyard. Vinification at low temperatures (16º C) of grapes from select regions produces fresh, light-coloured, light wines with low alcohol content (11-11.5% vol.) which are not amenable to ageing and must be drunk when young and robust, one year at most after production.
Indigenous Red Grape Varieties
Maratheftiko or Bambakada
This variety makes for a very concentrated wine of which the tannin, fragrance, colour and structure are extremely close to those of a Cabernet. It is a very rare variety and it is estimated that only some 120 hectares are under cultivation in the whole of Cyprus.
Mavro, meaning black, is a very productive cultivar characterized by large juicy grapes that make it a superb table variety. Its potential, however, for red quality wine is limited as in most cases the wines produced from it are poor in colour, dull and simple in aroma and light in taste, are not amenable to ageing and should be drunk while still very young.
This variety accounts for a very small percentage scattered all over the Cypriot vineyards. In all there are about 170 hectares of Ofthalmo. When not irrigated, it can produce wines of a light colour, a distinctive intense aroma, thin body and very low acidity which are not amenable to ageing.
Foreign White Grape Varieties
Two types of Chardonnay wine have recently appeared in the market. The first type is made in stainless steel tanks and at a controlled temperature of 16º C. The result is a fresh, light-coloured wine with an intensely fruity aroma (reminiscent of peach, melon and exotic fruits) and a balanced refreshing and full flavour.
The second type of Chardonnay is made using oak casks. In the last five years Cypriot winemakers have started using these miracle-working wine vessels either for fermenting the Chardonnay must or for maturing the wine for 4 to 6 months.
There are about 110 hectares of Chardonnay in Cyprus. The variety has adapted beautifully to the Cypriot ecosystem and many of the island's future white wines will be using Chardonnay, either as the basic constituent or as a blending element.
Muscat of Alexandria or Malaga
In Cyprus there are about 280 hectares of Muscat of Alexandria scattered all over the island. When ripened correctly it produces intensely aromatic wines, reminiscent of grape, with a distinctly sweet flavour which, in many cases, is not counter-balanced by the necessary degree of corresponding acidity. Winemakers often add a small proportion of Malaga to Xynisteri to give the wine a more intense aroma.
The variety was introduced into Cyprus both because of its high productivity but also because of its contribution in the making of what, until some years ago, was called "Cyprus sherry". Today there are some 90 hectares of Palomino grapes.
In Cyprus the Riesling variety covers an area of no more than 30 hectares. Cypriot viticulturists have not shown much interest in the Riesling variety for it does not seem to adapt easily to the prevalent xerothermic landscape of the island. Riesling is known to thrive and yield best in rather cold climates.
Only 10 hectares of this variety are currently cultivated on the island. In the future the Sauvignon Blanc variety could probably play the role of an "améliorateur" in blends with more neutral white varieties of the Cypriot vineyard.
This excellent white grape variety has been grown in Cyprus for several years. Some 50 hectares of this variety are scattered throughout the island. The variety is very productive and easy to cultivate. The Cyprus Semillon may be a lower-performer than its counterparts in Bordeaux, but it gives full-bodied, balanced white wines. A number of wine-producers have recently been using a smaller or larger proportion of Semillon in their final Xynisteri blend, thus adding flavour and fragrance, mass and balance to the Xynisteri base as well as extending the "life-span" of the wine.
Foreign Red Grape Varieties
About 140 hectares of this variety are under cultivation on the island. Its role and importance have declined over the years, as Cypriot vine-growers show a clear preference for other more dynamic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and also the indigenous Maratheftiko.
Over 470 hectares are grown in Cyprus with this French variety. Very few local wine-producers bottle wines exclusively made from Cabernet Franc. They prefer mainly to blend Cabernet Franc with smaller or larger quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, believing that the inscription of the latter on the label of the bottle, makes for bigger sales.
Its remarkable adaptability to a variety of soils and climatic conditions has brought it to Cyprus as well, where there are today around 380 hectares of this variety, increasing year by year. The first attempts to produce wines from this variety some fifteen years ago, produced rather tart, inelegant wines, most of which had an intensely acrid and sour flavour due to harsh tannins and high acidity.
The situation has changed in the last few years and there have appeared on the local market wines of this variety which have been allowed to mature in French oak casks, aided also by the process of malolactic fermentation. As a result these wines are more refined, balanced and full-bodied and some of them can stand comparison with Cabernet Sauvignon wines from other countries.
Wines made from this variety can be light and soft and when very young, are more intensely aromatic and pleasant to the palate than most reds. Cinsaut can also give finesse and suppleness when added, in small quantities, to blends of harsh wines. Cyprus is host to 120 hectares of the Cinsaut variety
In Cyprus there are about 165 hectares of Grenache Noir. The variety has adapted beautifully to local conditions and although theoretically it is not a very dynamic grape, in actual practice it has turned out to be an exceptionally important variety when used correctly in various blends with other more dynamic varieties, for example the Syrah and Mataro. Where Grenache excels, however, is when used in the production of rosé wines. The result is really impressive, for Grenache makes attractively colourful wines with intense, singular and fine aroma and full, savoury and balanced flavour. Such wines can compare favourably with good rosés worldwide.
Many Cypriot vine-growers consider Lefkada as an indigenous variety but it is not. The wine it produces has a very intense colour, a strong distinctive aroma and a particularly acrid taste, due to the harsh tannins of the variety. There are altogether 110 hectares of Lefkada in Cyprus.
Mourvedre or Mataro
The Mourvedre has come to be known by the name Mataro. Despite its exceptional adaptability to the landscape of Cypriot vineyards and its obvious capacity to produce uncommonly good wines which are amenable to ageing, it is often• under-estimated by Cypriot wine-producers who continue to show a preference for more trumpety names such as Cabernet Sauvignon.
This variety covers an area of 220 hectares all over the island. Mataro has adapted very well to the Cypriot ecosystem and it would constitute a good investment for Cypriot vine-growers and winemakers, provided the grapes are gathered when completely ripe, as the variety cannot reach its full potential when early picked.
Syrah or Shiraz
The best red wines in Cyprus are generally made from Syrah as well as Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. The Syrah variety appears to have fully adapted to the terrain and climatic conditions of the island and produces dark-coloured, fragrant and intensely flavoured full-bodied red wines for maturing (very often in oak casks) for several months before bottling. There are now 170 hectares of vineyards planted with Syrah.