Zivania Drink from Cyprus

Antonis Varnava

Zivania is a traditional Cypriot alcoholic beverage. Zivania is a  distillate produced from the pomace of grapes that were pressed during the wine-making process mixed with high-quality local dry wines produced from local grape varieties of Cyprus such as  Xynisteri and Mayro. The distillation of zivania takes place in special traditional apparatus similar to those used for the production of Tsikoudia in  Crete. Zivania is characterized by its taste and aroma. It is colorless and pleasantly alcoholic with a light aroma of raisins. Its typical alcohol content is 45% by volume. Zivania contains no sugars and has no acidity.

Zivania has been produced in Cyprus since the time the Republic of Venice ruled the island, around the end of the 15th century. Evidence of its continued production during the Ottoman and British occupation of the island comes from writers such as the British writer Samuel Baker who in 1879 reports: “…the refuse of skins and stalks is laid upon one side to ferment for the manufacture of raki, or spirit, by distillation…” Since 2004, Zivania has been protected under EU regulations as a product unique to Cyprus and as such cannot be produced in any other country and marketed under that name.

In order to produce zivania of the highest grade, mature healthy grapes of the best quality are used. The grape must used for the fermentation should be of less than 13°, Baume in order to get complete fermentation. As soon as the fermentation process completes (i.e. producing less or equal to 0° Baumé reading) the wine and pomace mixture is transferred to the main container of the distillation apparatus, called kazani and the distillation process begins. The first zivania that comes from the distiller has the highest alcohol content, while the last taken out of the apparatus has low alcohol content and it is called porakos. Depending on the pre-distillation mixture, different qualities of zivania are produced:

  • Only wine is used for the distillation
  • Wine and pomace are used for the distillation
  • Pomace with water and weak zivania are used

Zivania is usually stored in clean wooden or galvanize metal containers that can be sealed in order to contain evaporation. During transportation good care is taken not to damage the containers or allowing leakage or evaporation of zivania.

In Cyprus, other than enjoying zivania as an alcoholic drink, it is used for several other purposes. Zivania is used to treat wounds, for massaging sore body parts, as a remedy for colds and toothaches or as a warming-up drink during the cold months of winter, especially in the villages of the Troodos Mountains.

In old times, the main alcoholic drinks Cypriots consumed were wine and zivania. In some villages of Cyprus, cinnamon was added to zivania giving it a nice red color and a fine aroma and flavor. As zivania ages it gains a stronger flavor and aroma. Aged zivania has been valued very highly and is kept for consumption during special occasions or as a welcoming treat for visitors. Even nowadays at some villages in Cyprus, local will welcome visitors with zivania served together with dried nuts, soutzouko or small appetizers like Cypriot loukaniko, lountza and tsamarella.

To establish the authenticity of zivania chemical studies were contacted to investigate which of the metals analyzed constitute diagnostic parameters that establish authenticity. The results of the studies establish that zivania is related to the unique geological and climatic conditions existing on the island of Cyprus.

Zivania is served ice-cold with the local meze, soutzoukos or dried fruit and nuts.

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