Recent archaeological evidence suggests that winemaking on the island of Cyprus dates back to 3500 BC, more than 5500 years ago. A mere thousand years ago the island’s sweet wine Commandaria had a reputation second to none in Europe. Winemaking declined with the Ottoman conquests in the 16th century. The British took over Cyprus in 1878, winemaking resumed on Cyprus, but the industry concentrated on bulk wine that it would ship to bottlers abroad. Cyprus became an independent republic in 1960, but it was not until its membership in the EU in 2004, and the subsidies that followed, that winemakers there set their sights once again on fine wine.
Cyprus’s major grape is the Mavro, which simply means “black” in Greek. It accounts for half of production, and is not where the potential quality lies. The imported grape Syrah has better prospects for red wine in this hot dry climate, as do the local reds Maratheftiko and the tannic Lefkada, The indigenous white Xynisteri grape accounts for a quarter of production and makes wine of notes from the higher altitude vineyards.
Cyprus evidently has some good wine in its future, but its real success now is the revitalization of the hyper-sweet Commandaria, made from dried red Mavro and white Xynisteri grapes in fourteen select villages on the slopes of the Troodos Mountains.