Commandaria Wine from Cyprus

Antonis Varnava

Today, the most famous Commandaria producing community is Zoopigi.

This illustrious wine, Commandaria, was produced by growers of the “rural society” in each house individually. Let’s find out where the name came from, what the ingredients, the features and components of this complex wine are; how it was produced in the past and what how it has been shaped into the wine that it is today.

The Cyprus Commandaria is a passionate, delicious, sweet wine traditionally produced without foreign artificial sweeteners, and without added colors. It is a mixture of native black grapes and white grapes of Xynisteri, although, it has been known to be made using only black or only white grapes. The main feature of Commandaria, which is offered as a dessert wine, is its delectable taste and wonderful scent, which satisfies the full spectrum of human senses. The best Commandaria in aroma, color and sweetness is produced when integrating the two indigenous grape varieties, Xynisteri 85-90% and mavro (black) 10-15%  .

The name Commandaria was given to this red passionate wine by the “Ioannites”, the St. John (the Baptist) knights of Jerusalem, who were one of the religious military battalion’s who settled in Cyprus near Colossi, in 1192 AD. This battalion had a military administration, “commanderie” or “Commandaria”. Coincidentally, the most famous, elevating wine was produced in this region, whose production was adopted, perfected and traded with enviable success by the St John Knights who had given to it the name of “Commandaria”.

Commandaria is produced in some villages on Limassol district, which are located in hilly areas. These regions have calcareous soils, limited rainfall, drought conditions and the vines are not irrigated as they are satisfied only with rainwater. These conditions, i.e. high temperature, sunshine, decreased humidity during the summer months, the altitude factor – above sea level-, the soil type and the specific processing of the grapes, stimulate Commandaria’s special flavor and distinct aroma, giving the wine a greater aromatic finesse and intensity.

After harvest, the grapes are placed onto a canvas that is called a “clothes-horse” on the rooftops for 4 to10 days or more, depending on the weather conditions, as to be dehydrated by the effect of solar radiation. After the temperature rises and is brought up to 20 Celsius – 21 Celsius for the black grapes and up to 18 Celsius – 19 Celsius for the Xynisteri, the grapes are ready for pressing. This process takes place at all the small wineries of Commandaria makers.

The grapes are compressed through the first mill-grinder and then are transferred to be pressed. Great attention is paid during the pressing process so as to deliver the appropriate pressure so the grapes’ seeds and pigtails do not break. If they do break and the tannin is released, this adds an unpleasant flavor to the wine.

The flowing wine is then placed in cylindrical tanks that are made out of reinforced concrete or galvanized material, which is fermented. At the end of fermentation the degrees descend to 15 Celsius.

In December the transfusion is completed – air free. Around late January early February the delivery of the new produce commences for further processing and standardization. After filtering the Commandaria is transferred to a cellar for aging in oak barrels of 500 liters.

As mentioned earlier the old Commandaria was produced by growers in each house individually, i.e. growers working on their own and in a unique “crafty way”, using more of their muscle power than anything else. The traditional way of producing Commandaria, has been passed on, from generation to generation, and is accurately applied to this day, as it was centuries ago.

However as the industry has developed the production process has become more organized. Instead of muscle power, the industry now uses electricity and modernized technology.

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