5th to 8th May 2010, Limassol, Cyprus
Taking part in the 5th Cyprus Wine Competition earlier this year, as one of two international UK judges, was very appealing. I didn’t have to think too hard about this one as I’d never been to Cyprus and I was curious to learn more about and taste the native grape varieties. Besides, May sounded like the perfect time to go. The competition took place over three days culminating with a big awards ceremony at a gala dinner on the Saturday evening.
The tastings were scheduled for three days, from 8.30 am to 3.30 pm; each day we tasted over 50 wines, organised into flights by style. I had hoped that we would also get a chance to visit different wineries in the afternoon and get a feel for some of the Cypriot landscape but as it turned out there were so many wines entered that by the time we’d had lunch our day did not finish until 4.30pm; as we would be meeting again to go out for dinner at 8pm there was no time. In fact we only visited one winery – on the last day – but more of that later.
I did get to know some of the native Cypriot grape varieties well like the white Xynesteri, and the local reds Mavro and the characterful Maratheftiko. Another real bonus of the trip was getting to know fellow UK judge, Steve Daniel who, for those who don’t know, was one of the two key buyers at Oddbins when they were at their best and he significantly increased Oddbins range of Greek wines. Steve, now director of Novum Wines, is a real aficionado of Greek wine and even bought a house on Santorini some years ago. As a fellow judge he was not only a gifted taster but was full of interesting anecdotes about Greece and a great companion on the trip.
Our judging panel, chaired by Dr. Ioannis Paraskevopoulos, winemaker and Professor of Oenology in Thessaloniki, was very balanced in that it represented different aspects of the wine trade.
There were two Cypriot sommeliers who had won ‘Best Sommelier’ awards in 2001,2003 & 2009 and owned restaurants on the island, two female oenologists (one French, the other Greek (also a wine writer)), an Italian representative of the O.I.V, Nico Manessis (Greek wine writer), Steve Daniel and me.
Apart from the usual suspects, flights of Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Grenache there was very good balance of local Cypriot varieties.
For the native whites, Xynisteri proved to be a very interesting grape, sometimes a little like Sauvignon Blanc in its assertive green notes but more often, with its waxy texture, lemony aromas and flavours and a hollow mid-palate, also like Semillon. At its best though, it also has some vibrant citrus and floral notes, lively crisp acidity and savouriness on the palate.
Among the reds, Mavro is often described as making soft, easy-drinking style reds (and a lot of rosés) with light tannins in a sort of ripe Beaujolais-esque style. Maratheftiko was an interesting discovery – a bit more like the more well known Xynomavro of Naoussa in terms of structure, with high acidity and firm, rustic tannins. It also seems to lose colour fast, a bit like Nebbiolo. It needs to be carefully managed in terms of tannins before the best is achieved but it’s one to watch.
Among a few more interesting and unusual wines tasted was a white variety called Spourtiko; we only had one example but it produces a soft, easy, low-aromatic wine with a creamy mid-weight texture , a bit like some Pinot Blancs. Ofthalmo and Lefhada were two other reds that were new to me but we tasted so few examples that it was difficult to form an opinion.
A few wines that really stood out and impressed me were:
Petritis – a dry white Xynestri 2009 from Vasiliko Kyperountas Winery, which showed the quality which this variety can achieve, and which won Grand Gold.
St. John Commandaria, a sweet red wine from Keo Mallia Winery which also won Grand Gold.
Having taught so many WSET courses in the past where Commandaria was always mentioned in connection with Cyprus I was keen to taste this category. This wine had the complexity and quality of a great vintage Maderia, with layers of coffee, toffee and sultanas together with smoke and spice and a richly unctuous texture.
Perhaps the most surprising wine highlight of all was a gold-winning sweet white made from the more humble Muscat of Alexandria called Mosxatos 2009 from Agia Mayri Winery. This delightful sweet Muscat managed to have a complex range of flavours from the more typical (fresh grapes and flowers), to orange peel/grapefruit peel notes, providing intriguingly balanced bitter-sweet flavours.
It is made by a delightfully unassuming elderly couple who just seem to have an instinctive (and romantically elusive) knack with this variety. It was clear this wine was a favourite winner by the rapturous applause they received on Gala night. Finally a semi-dry rosé, Eros 2009 from Agroktima Ezousa caught my attention – it’ s a more light-hearted version of the intriguing Maratheftiko grape. It also won gold.
Another wine highlight for me was a bottle of Andessitis 2008, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvedre from Kyperounda Winery which I was given to take home. It is a very elegant, mid-weight wine with vibrant acidity and a smoky, graphite and mineral array of aromas and flavours – very elegant and well balanced. You would never dream it came from what is considered a hot, Mediterranean climate of Cyprus.
The Kyperounda Winery was our only visit; it is near a village of the same name – the largest village in the Pitsilia region of the Troodos mountains. Kyperounda is a medium-sized winery with an annual production of 300,000 bottles. It is owned by the Photos Photiades group, who brew Carlsberg for the Cypriot market. They have used the expertise of Greece’s largest wine producer, Boutari, to develop this new winery. Their 40ha plot of terraced vineyards at an altitude of 1400m above sea level is, I am told, the highest in Europe and one of the highest in the world. It is managed by skilled oenologist Minas Mina who studied oenology and viticulture at Athens University and whose Petritis 2009 Xynesteri had just won Great Gold in the Cyprus competition. We were treated to a vertical tasting of several vintages of Xynersteri, followed by a steep journey in jeeps to visit the vineyards and a quick walk around the winery.
© 2010 – 2012, Susan Hulme MW. All rights reserved.