With roots tracing back to 2000 BCE, the viticulture of Cyprus is an art form, its bounty utterly intoxicating.

Text: Eleni Psyhouli

Photos: Studio Tsokounoglou

Food Styling: Makis Georgiadis


A multitude of dedicated artisan winemakers, deeply committed to harnessing the full potential of ancient, indigenous grape varieties, serve as compelling incentives to embark on a journey through the flourishing landscape of Cypriot viticulture. This moment marks the zenith of Cypriot wines, including Commandaria and Zivania, firmly establishing their presence and importance on the global stage as PDO (protected designation of origin) and PGI (protected geographical indication) offerings.

Wine of the Gods

To truly understand Commandaria, you must savour it amidst its natural surroundings, which entails a journey through the serene landscapes of 14 mountain villages, each perched at an elevation of 500-900 metres. Collectively, they define a prestigious PDO region that includes the villages of Kalo Chorio, Agios Konstantinos, Agios Mamas, Lania, Doros, Monagri, Agios Pavlos, Louvaras, Gerasa, Kapilio, Agios Georgios, Zoopigi, Apsiou, and Sylikou. A visit to the Museum in Zoopigi, housed in a historic 1934 building –the village’s Cooperative Winery– is a must. Here, you can witness the timeless craft of winemaking, faithfully adhering to the ancient methods described by Hesiod in his Works and Days from the 8th century BCE. This process involves the transformation of sun-drenched grapes, primarily the Χynisteri and Mavro varieties, aged meticulously in oak barrels, yielding a sweet, velvety elixir – arguably the world’s oldest wine with a designated origin.

Today, Cypriots consume less than 10% of their wine exports, with the United Kingdom, Eastern countries, Australia, and the United States showing a strong appreciation for these unique wines. From the days of Homer, the sweet wine of Cyprus or nama, often referred to as the Apostle of Wines and celebrated as the wine with the most names and aromas, held a revered status worldwide. Even Richard the Lionheart marked his nuptials with this King of wines and wine of kings. The name –Commandaria– traces back to the Lusignans who, upon conquering the island, established the Fief of the Grande Commanderie. Afterwards, it was designated as the wine of the Divine Liturgy, and its fame declined a bit during the Ottoman period, but witnessed a new heyday during British rule.

Commandaria is best without accompanying food. Its intricate bouquet, shaped by factors like ageing and composition, offers an array of flavours, including honey, carob, cinnamon, cloves, carnation, raisins, cured figs, vanilla, caramel, and coffee. It is an ideal choice to kickstart or conclude a meal or even as an ingredient in cocktails. Traditional Cypriot custom pairs it with almonds or soutzouko, a sweet treat made with grape juice and nuts. With the innovation of modern gastronomy, Commandaria transforms culinary wonders, provided it’s presented in the right glass: one with a wide base that tapers to a wide rim to capture, then gracefully release, its harmonious bouquet of aromas.


During social events in Cyprus, whether against a backdrop of sea views or mountain breezes, zivania is called for. This beloved PDE aperitif, the island’s most iconic spirit, crafted the same way since the 14th century, draws its name from the local term for grape pomace. Mention of the spirit dates back to Homer as zivannon, a potent libation enjoyed by the Cyclopes on the island of the Laestrygonians. It is crafted as follows: grape pomace is blended with indigenous wine varieties, undergo fermentation, and are distilled in labiko, the Cypriot name for a traditional still. This process yields three unique variations of distillate. With its aromatic blend of ripe grapes, raisins, and spices, zivania boasts a clear, velvety texture of 40% alcohol content. Always enjoyed chilled, this spirited libation truly comes to life when paired with a medley of delectable meze, including nuts, soutzouko, and an assortment of cheeses. It also partners harmoniously with local cold cuts, sausage, and sun-ripened, oregano-infused tsamarella (a dish of goat’s meat). In certain villages, a touch of cinnamon infuses the liquor with a reddish hue. The contemporary cocktail scene has developed a particular fondness for it. Try it aged or mixed with grapefruit juice and mint leaves. As zivania matures, its bouquet of aromas becomes richer and intensifies.


Greek and Cypriot PDE ouzo share no discernible differences and are made the same way. Both trace their origins to a captivating urban legend; during the Turkish occupation, a cloth merchant from Tirnavos experimented with an enhanced recipe for the prevalent boiled raki found in Greece. Delighted with the outcome, he christened this novel rendition as ‘ouzo Massalia,’ comparing its elegance and quality to the exquisite silkworm cocoons exported to France under the Uso Massalia label. Ouzo boasts a distinctive aroma infused with notes of aniseed, fennel, Chios mastic, and an array of aromatic plants used in its distillation and infusion processes. Remarkably, ouzo is not a singular entity but rather as diverse as the distillers who craft it. Variances in the number of herbs and the closely guarded, unique recipes of each producer result in a spectrum of intensities and aromas, yielding a multitude of distinct ouzos.


The growth of Cypriot vineyards has been nothing short of remarkable. With the emergence of numerous modern wineries open for visits, Cyprus has swiftly risen to the forefront of European winemaking. This transformation is a testament to the dedicated efforts of winemakers who have successfully infused new life into ancient, indigenous grape varieties, bestowing upon them a refreshing, contemporary character.

Xynisteri and Mavro reign as the most prevalent grape varieties, accompanied by Maratheftiko, Vamvakia, Ophthalmo, Giannoudi, Promara, and Spourtiko. These varieties are fertile ground for pioneering producers to explore, uncovering their latent potential. Xynisteri, a white grape variety, yields a pale-hued wine with a delicate fruity aroma, evoking the qualities of Alsatian Pinot Blanc. Conversely, Mavro, covering 60% of Cypriot vineyards, is the red grape variety that thrives in barren and fertile soils. Cyprus’ wine scene unfolds along distinct paths, each offering a captivating journey to discover the individuals behind each label. This concerted effort traces its roots back to the dedicated pioneers of the 1990s. Amid this renaissance, hidden gem wineries beckon visitors to partake in tastings. Among the paths, the Laona-Akamas route stands out, weaving together a tapestry of enchanting coastal stretches, picturesque highlands, lush valleys, and untamed forests in this unspoiled, poetic region. The Vouni Panayia-Ambelitis route, nestled at an elevation of 800 metres, boasts a stunning panorama of the island, featuring pine forests, verdant mountain peaks, and unspoiled flora and fauna. The Pitsilia route uncovers pine-clad landscapes, vineyards, remarkable Byzantine landmarks and two of the island’s most significant wineries tucked away within a cluster of 14 mountain villages along this picturesque journey. Furthermore, the wine villages of Limassol, located on the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, host the highest concentration of wineries, with 20 villages serving as the traditional heart of Cypriot viticulture. Exploring Cyprus in a Glass provides an excellent opportunity to unearth the unique hinterlands rich in beauty, tradition, and history that lie beyond its urban facades.

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