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Cyprus Commandaria: The wine of kings

Cyprus is considered the island where Aphrodite was supposedly born, risen up from the foam (aphro in Greek) produced by the sea waves hitting on rocky coasts.

This island which was chosen to give birth to the Greco-roman mythological goddess of love, beauty and pleasure, is also known for the production of the oldest wine in the world, commandaria: The wine of kings and the king of wines, as King Richard the Lionheart said during his wedding in Cyprus, at the 12th century.

Commandaria

Commandaria, the amber-coloured sweet dessert wine made from sun-dried grapes of the varieties Xynisteri and Mavro, in the Commandaria region of Cyprus on the foothills of Troodos Mountains has a rich history. It represents an ancient wine style documented in Cyprus back to 800 BC (Greek poet Hesiod named commandaria as the Cypriot Manna, food from haven) and has the distinction of being the world’s oldest named wine still in production, with the name Commandaria dating back to the crusades in the 12th century.

During the Crusades, Commandaria was served at the 12th century wedding of King Richard the Lion-heart to Berengaria of Navarre, in the southern coastal town of Limassol; it was during the wedding that King Richard pronounced Commandaria “the wine of kings and the king of wines”. Near the end of the century the Lion-heart sold the island to the Knights Templar who then sold it to Frankish nobleman Guy de Lusignan, but kept a large feudal estate at Kolossi, close to Limassol, to themselves. This Kolossi 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 and another near Kyrenia. This area under the control of the Knights Templar (and subsequently the Knights Hospitaller) became known as Commandaria. When the Knights Templar began producing large quantities of the wine for export to European 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.

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 (fr. 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 sweet wine from Cyprus widely believed to be Commandaria. The Commandery region itself fell into the control of his descendant Philip IV in 1307, after the suppression of the Knights Templar.

Another legend has it that the Ottoman sultan Selim II invaded the island just to acquire Commandaria; also that the grapes used to make this wine were the same grapes exported to Portugal that eventually became famous as the source of port wine.

Commandaria 2

ZIVANIA: the heavier alcoholic spirit of Cyprus

Cyprus has another legendary alcohol beverage the zivania, its colorless and alcoholic with a light aroma of raisins. Its alcohol content varies, with 45% by volume being the typical value. Zivania contains no sugar and has no acidity. In order to produce Zivania of the highest grade, mature healthy grapes of the best quality are used.

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 Ottoman and British rule of the island comes from writers such as the British writer Samuel Baker who in 1879 reported that “…the refuse of skins and stalks is laid upon one side to ferment for the manufacture of raki, or spirit, by distillation…”

Since 1989, Zivania’s name has been protected under EU regulations.

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, locals welcome visitors with zivania served together with dried nuts, Turkish delight, or small appetizers like cheeses and sausages.

Other than enjoying zivania as an alcoholic drink, Cypriots is using it 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.

After they are harvested,the grapes are set in the sun for a week to ten days, a process that serves to concentrate their natural sugars.

Commandaria gets its name from the Gran Commanderie, an area surrounding the well preserved Kolossi Castle which is located west of Limassol. Commandaria gets its name from the Gran Commanderie, an area surrounding the well preserved Kolossi Castle which is located west of Limassol.

 

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