Why should restaurateurs look at the table wines of a country such as Cyprus which, until recently, has been noted largely for its luscious sweet Commanderia dessert wine and for Cyprus sherry?
There are good reasons. Now that sherry is to become a protected regional term describing only the wines of Jerez in Spain, it is not surprising that Cyprus, which produced so much sherry and must (unfermented grape juice) for the production of British sherry, should be thinking hard about shifting the emphasis of production, and exporting more of its table wines to the UK.
Moreover, there is in Cyprus an awareness of the potential of modern temperature-controlled fermentation methods, of the use of international grape varieties and of modern marketing ideas.
Wine has been produced in Cyprus for 4,000 years. Phylloxera never reached the country so all the vines have their own roots rather than relying on grafted stock. Although experiments are being done with international grape varieties, Cyprus has 20 indigenous varieties, which, used skilfully, can give distinction to the wines.
The government's Wine Institute in Limassol, established in 1971, is a focal point for the development of new ideas.
It is sometimes easy to forget that this island in the eastern Mediterranean is, geographically speaking, as much a part of the Middle East as it is of Europe. Since 1974 the northern third of the island has been occupied by Turkey. The wine-growing areas are in the southern and western districts of TroÁ®dos, Limassol and Paphos.
Four drinks companies dominate the wine industry. They are Keo, Sodap (a wine co-operative), Etko and Loel. Brand names such as Othello (red) and Aphrodite (white) are familiar in Cypriot restaurants in Britain, and their wines are now beginning to appear on supermarket shelves. Meanwhile, small independent wineries are doing much to strengthen the image of the island's table wines.
One man who has his fingers on the pulse of the Cyprus wine industry is an Englishman, Patrick Skinner. A former marketeer for Austrian wines, he is now resident in Cyprus and devoting his energies to encouraging wine growers to compete internationally.
With experience of wine making in his own vineyard in Edenbridge, Kent, before he left for Cyprus, he is well placed to indulge his passion for wine and its culture. He lives in the ancient wine-growing region of Vouni at the base of the TroÁ®dos mountains. It is to one of his neighbours, Goergaki Yiallouros, that I turn to for an example of the quality of which Cyprus is capable and to make a recommendation. His modern winery at Ayios Amvrosios has temperature-controlled cellars and can produce 100,000 bottles of wine a year. Though he does not think that the Mavro grape, dominant in the region, has sufficient acidity and bite to produce a wine of international quality, he has made 100% Mavro wines which, duly aged, have proved of high quality.
He has also experimented with Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Blended with introduced varieties such as Carignan Noir and Mateo, Mavro forms the basis of his robust, fruity Agrabani red wine which is shipped to the UK by Bottle Green and sold by the Safeway supermarket chain. His Ambelidha white, made from two local grapes Xynisteri and Malvasia Lunga, are also shipped by Bottle Green for Safeway. The winery could prove a good source of restaurant and wine bar wine which is both distinctive and suited to the British palate.
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