Cyprus is home to the oldest named wine still in production, a sweet dessert wine named Commandaria. It is a protected Cypriot product with a controlled appellation of origin.

You can find Commandaria at any supermarket and some traditional restaurants also serve it after dinner as a digestive. It matches very well with nuts, dried fruit, dates, mature cheeses (including aged halloumi) and some types of dark chocolate.

Commandaria is amber in color and very sweet, with a flavor that reminds one of raisins, caramel and dried fruits. These flavors originate from the distinctive wine-making process that involves sun-drying the grapes before pressing and fermenting, yielding these smoky caramelized tones. This process is a documented ancient wine-making style that dates back to 800 BCE, making Commandaria the oldest named wine still in production.

Commandaria is usually fortified to reach an alcoholic content of up to 20%, even though many times its alcoholic content is already at 15% after fermentation and aging. Even though it is not required to fortify the wine, this practice has been adopted in the commercial production of Commandaria as it halts the fermentation process and stabilizes the wine. This fact, along with the bell-shaped bottle used for Commandaria, have contributed to the misconception that Commandaria is a liqueur.

All four major wine producers in Cyprus mass produce their own brand of Commandaria, but it is also produced by local wine producers in the 14 villages on the foothills of the Troodos mountains that constitute the designated Commandaria appellation of origin zone.

Commandaria is a wine that has been enjoyed for millennia, by crusaders, knights and kings. Richard the Lionheart is said to have served it at his wedding in Cyprus and referred to it as “the wine of kings and the king of wines”, while it is believed that Commandaria won the first ever wine tasting competition.

So, if you want to taste a bit of history and maybe even feel like a king for a while, open a bottle of Commandaria and let the smells and flavors take you on a journey through time and legend!

 

Commandaria is a delicious, amber-coloured, sweet, fortified wine, with aromas and flavours of raisins, coffee, chocolate and caramel.

 

History of Commandaria

Commandaria has a rich history, said to date back to the time of the ancient Greeks, where it was a popular drink at festivals celebrating the goddess Aphrodite. A dried grape wine from Cyprus was first known to be described in 800 BC by the Greek poet Hesiod and was known as the Cypriot Manna.

In the 12th century, during the crusades, Richard the Lionheart is said to have enjoyed it greatly at his wedding in Cyprus and to have pronounced it “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Near the end of the century he sold the island to the Knights Templar, who then sold it to Guy de Lusignan, but kept a large feudal estate close to Limassol to themselves.

This estate was referred to as “La Grande Commanderie”. The word Commanderie referred to the military headquarters whilst Grande helped distinguish it from two smaller such command posts on the island, one close to Paphos (Phoenix) and another near Kyrenia (Templos). This area under the control of the Knights Templar (and subsequently the Knights Hospitaller) became known as Commandaria.

When the knights began producing large quantities of the wine for export to Europe’s royal courts and for supplying pilgrims en route to the holy lands, the wine assumed the name of the region. Thus it has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production.

Although today it is produced and marketed under the name Commandaria, it has been referred to with several similar names and spellings in the past. In 1863, Thomas George Shaw in his book Wine, the vine, and the cellar refers to this wine as Commanderi while in 1879, Samuel Baker refers to it as Commanderia. In 1833 Cyrus Redding in his book A history and description of modern wines makes reference to the wine of the Commandery.

Legend has it that in the 13th century Philip Augustus of France held the first ever wine tasting competition. The event, branded The Battle of the Wines (La Bataille des Vins), was recorded in a notable French poem written by Henry d’Andeli in 1224. The competition which included wines from all over Europe and France, was won by a wine from Cyprus widely believed to be Commandaria.

The Commandery region itself fell into the control of his descendent Philip IV in 1307 after suppression of the Knights Templar.

Another legend has it an Ottoman sultan invaded the island just to acquire Commandaria.

And the grapes used to make this wine were the same grapes exported to Portugal that eventually became famous as the source of port wine.

Source: Wikipedia

 

Xynisteri sun-dried grapes about to be used for Commandaria production at Fikardos Winery

 

Production of Commandaria

Commandaria is made exclusively from two types of indigenous Cyprus grapes: Xynisteri and Mavro. The grapes are left to overripe on the vine and when sugar content reaches acceptable levels (corresponding to high must weight) they are harvested. More specifically, Xynisteri is picked when at around 12 degrees Baumé (°Bé) and Mavro at 15-16 °Bé.

The grapes are then laid out in the sun to further increase the sugar density through evaporation. When the must weight reaches 19 to 23 °Bé the juice is extracted thorough crushing and pressing. Fermentation takes place in reservoirs and will arrest naturally due to the high levels of alcohol achieved at around 15%. The above process has to take place within the confines of 14 designated villages that lie in the Commandaria Region: Agios Georgios, Agios Constantinos, Agios Mamas, Agios Pavlos, Apsiou, Gerasa, Doros, Zoopigi, Kalo Chorio, Kapilio, Laneia, Louvaras, Monagri and Silikou

Commandaria, by law is aged for at least four years in Oak Barrels but this can take place outside the above designated area within Cyprus under strict control and under the conditions laid down in Cypriot legislation.

Once fermentation has been completed, at a minimum alcohol level of 10% (which is often exceeded), the alcoholic strength of Commandaria may be increased by the addition of pure 95% grape alcohol or a wine distillate of at least 70% alcohol. However, after this addition, the wine’s actual alcohol content may not exceed 20%, while its total potential alcohol (including its sugar content) must be at least 22.5%. Thus, Commandaria may be a fortified wine, but fortification is not mandatory.

Only grapes from vineyards that have been planted for at least 4 years are allowed. Vine training must follow the goblet method and watering is prohibited. The grape harvest may only commence after the vine products commission of Cyprus has given the green light, based on the average sugar content of the grapes. Xynisteri grapes must demonstrate a sugar content of 212 g/L while Mavro can only qualify with a reading of 258 g/L and above. The sugar concentration is then raised by laying the grapes in the sun, usually for 7–10 days, to a strict window of 390 to 450g/L.

In February 2006, the Wine Products Association of Cyprus selected an official Commandaria wine glass, manufactured by Riedel, an Austrian wine glass company.

Commandaria has a rich history, said to date back to the time of the ancient Greeks, where it was a popular drink at festivals celebrating the goddess Aphrodite. A dried grape wine from Cyprus was first known to be described in 800 BC by the Greek poet Hesiod and was known as the Cypriot Manna.

In the 12th century, during the crusades, Richard the Lionheart is said to have enjoyed it greatly at his wedding in Cyprus and to have pronounced it “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” Near the end of the century he sold the island to the Knights Templar, who then sold it to Guy de Lusignan, but kept a large feudal estate close to Limassol to themselves.

This estate was referred to as “La Grande Commanderie”. The word Commanderie referred to the military headquarters whilst Grande helped distinguish it from two smaller such command posts on the island, one close to Paphos (Phoenix) and another near Kyrenia (Templos). This area under the control of the Knights Templar (and subsequently the Knights Hospitaller) became known as Commandaria.

When the knights began producing large quantities of the wine for export to Europe’s royal courts and for supplying pilgrims en route to the holy lands, the wine assumed the name of the region. Thus it has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production.

Although today it is produced and marketed under the name Commandaria, it has been referred to with several similar names and spellings in the past. In 1863, Thomas George Shaw in his book Wine, the vine, and the cellar refers to this wine as Commanderi while in 1879, Samuel Baker refers to it as Commanderia. In 1833 Cyrus Redding in his book A history and description of modern wines makes reference to the wine of the Commandery.

Legend has it that in the 13th century Philip Augustus of France held the first ever wine tasting competition. The event, branded The Battle of the Wines (La Bataille des Vins), was recorded in a notable French poem written by Henry d’Andeli in 1224. The competition which included wines from all over Europe and France, was won by a wine from Cyprus widely believed to be Commandaria.

The Commandery region itself fell into the control of his descendent Philip IV in 1307 after suppression of the Knights Templar.

Another legend has it an Ottoman sultan invaded the island just to acquire Commandaria.

And the grapes used to make this wine were the same grapes exported to Portugal that eventually became famous as the source of port wine.

Source: Wikipedia

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