By Alix Norman
Sun, sand and the clear Mediterranean sea. Halloumi, lounza and mouth-watering olives. Aphrodite, the Crusaders, Venetians and Phoenicians… all the things for which Cyprus is known. But there’s no possible way the list would be complete without one of the most important aspects of our island’s history and culture: our wine. And it’s this that the Cyprus Tourism Organisation is celebrating this November with close on a month of lectures, excursions, exhibitions and tastings during Cyprus Wine Month.
“It’s almost a month of events, organised by the CTO and co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, in which we’re trying to familiarise people with Cyprus’ wines,” says Maria Socratous, a tourist officer in the CTO’s strategic department whose areas of expertise include wine. “We have an emerging product here in Cyprus, and in the last decade or so, we’ve started producing some really good wine based on our unique indigenous varieties such as Xinisteri, Mavro, Ofthalmo, Spourtiko. And so it’s a good time to educate people about our local product; it would be a shame not to take advantage of the amazing wine history of the island.”
As the perfect geographic location for early trading and commerce, Cyprus’ wines were long revered in the known world. With a history of winemaking that can be traced back nearly 6,000 years, it’s believed that the first wines in the Mediterranean region were produced in Cyprus – long before the Paphos mosaics depicting Dionysis were created. And then, of course, there’s the rich history of Commandaria: the Wine of Kings and the King of Wines; a popular drink at festivals celebrating Aphrodite over 4,000 years ago; nicknamed ‘Nectar of the Gods’ by Evripides; served at the wedding of Richard the Lionheart, and winner of the first ever ‘best wine tasting competition’, which included wines from all over Europe and France.
“Wine is embedded in our culture,” says Maria. “We drink when we’re happy, when we’re sad, even in the church – it’s part of who we are.” And with a host of events celebrating Cyprus’ wines, the CTO is hoping to bring this love of all things viticulture to the people – both locals and tourists alike.
“Regardless of whether people drink wine or if they’re interested in wine, what we’re trying to do is really develop some interest in the wonderful varieties of indigenous products,” Maria explains. “So we’ve set up a month of events to enthuse and educate all ages.” The list of happenings is truly extensive, with all ages, interests and levels of knowledge catered for.
Wine month opens on Tuesday with an inauguration of a photography exhibition at the Philoxenia Conference Centre in Nicosia, during which 47 competition-winning pictures relating to wine, vineyards, wine routes and so forth will be displayed for the duration of the event. “The exhibition is a result of a competition we held,” Maria explains, “and the winning photos are by people from all walks of life, both professional and amateur.”
The following two days, November 12 and 13, see the start of a highly informative seminar series, entitled ‘Wine – History, Tradition and Culture. Cyprus Wine in Our Lives’. Presented by Dr Andreas Emmanouel – doctor in viticulture and oenology, president of the Cyprus Oenophile Club, president of the Cyprus Wine Experts Committee and lecturer at the Limassol Institute of Technology – the series is aimed at those who already known quite a bit about the nectar of the gods, and will focus on the natural cycle of the vine, local varieties and how to taste wine in the proper manner.
Events continue with a series of excursions along a variety of wine routes, in which participants will be able to visit a number of wineries, taste the produce and enjoy lunch at a local tavern. Taking in such wineries as Zambartas, Ayia Mavri, Nicolaides, Shoufi, Christoudias, Dafermou, Karseras, Zenon, Linos and Vlasides – and more, though obviously not all in one day – these all-day events are sure to be a hit. The two Commandaria Days (on November 22 and 23) follow a similar format, with those who are intrigued by what is, perhaps, the island’s best known and most-loved wine following Wine Route 5:
The Commandaria Route. And with all transport free of charge (participants pay only for their lunch, and the odd entry fee or wine tasting fee when and if it exists) those who want to see some of the beauteous Mediterranean scenery in good company, while enjoying an epicurean experience are certainly in for a treat.
With more events than can be mentioned in one place, the CTO has certainly attempted to cater for all tastes, if you’ll pardon the pun. There’s even a Children’s Day on November 23 (don’t worry, there’s no underage drinking, though there will be viticultural face painting, games and crafting for youngsters), a Wine Exhibition running throughout (in which wineries from all over the island will showcase their products), and a Musical Night (with finger food and wine accompanied by the piano and flute) bringing the events to a close on November 24.
“The idea,” says Maria, “is to hold Wine Month every year. This may be our first, but hopefully we’ll be establishing an event that really gets people interested in the wonderful world of Cyprus’ wines.” With parallel events also taking place at a number of wineries around the country, there’s certainly more than enough going on to really sink your teeth into (or roll your tongue around) this month; success, it seems, is assured. After all, we’re the island of love – and that love surely includes our wonderful wines.
The first Cyprus Wine Month
Organised by the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and co-funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Events run from November 11 to November 24. For a full programme and further details of the events, visit www.visitcyprus.com. Bookings for all events are encouraged; call the following numbers to reserve a place: Nicosia 22 674264 / Limassol 25 323211 / Larnaca 24 654322 / Paphos 26 930521 / Ayia Napa 23 721796