Among the many drinks that mature in oak barrels of Cypriot wineries, this noble elixir stands out. It is called a national treasure, is used during all holidays and is used at the Liturgy; an annual festival is held in his honor. We are talking about Commandaria – the most famous wine in Cyprus.
What is Commandaria
Commandaria (Κουμανδαρία) is a strong dessert wine known in Cyprus since ancient times. The sweetness of this aged drink is perfectly balanced with alcohol. The strength can vary from 12 to 20%, but in most cases it is 15%.
The wine has amber, cognac or golden brown color with dark cherry reflections. The velvety taste manifests itself with notes of dates, walnuts, currants, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, licorice and spices. The long aftertaste has hints of dried figs, nuts and dark caramel.
The aromatic palette is formed by grape syrup, quince jam, prunes, apricot, raisins, cloves and oak bark. In some varieties, the fruity and woody aroma is diluted by the tart overflows of tobacco, chocolate and roasted coffee beans.
History of the drink
The history of Commandaria – the oldest wine not only in Cyprus, but possibly the whole world – begins in the 8th century BC. e. The first mentions of “divine nectar made from sun-dried grapes” are contained in the writings of the ancient Greek poet Hesiod.
Wine, originally called “Nama”, was highly valued by the nobility and clergy of Cyprus. The fragrant thick drink was a guest of honor at festive feasts and was used in Christian worship. Nama became Commandaria in the 12th century. The English king Richard I, who conquered the Mediterranean island in 1191, soon sold it to the Templars. The knights who settled on the blessed land named it Commandaria. The same name was given to the local wine.
The finest hour of the sweet potion struck in 1213, when the aromatic treasure of Cyprus won the first wine tasting competition in Europe, organized by the French king Philip Augustus. And 150 years later, Commandaria became the main drink at London’s “Feast of the Five Kings”.
Since 1990, the Cypriot wine Commandaria has the status of a protected appellation of origin. Only the wineries of 14 villages located on the slopes of the Troodos mountain range have the right to produce the drink.
Subtleties of production
For the manufacture of Commandaria in Cyprus, only two varieties are used – red Mavro and white Xynisteri. It is they who have the characteristics necessary to obtain the ideal drink: long aging and suitability for drying in the sun. The harvest begins in mid-September, when the berries on the vine are already overripe.
The fruits are spread in a thin layer on huge plastic sheets and dried in the sun for 7-10 days. After this period, the grapes, having lost a large amount of moisture, turns into raisins, containing the maximum concentration of sugar. The resulting raw material is pressed. The extracted juice is placed in fermentation tanks, where it is stabilized for 2-3 months under the influence of yeast fungi.
After the completion of the fermentation process, the fermented liquid with a strength of 10-16% is placed in oak barrels. According to the legislation of Cyprus, Commandaria must be stored in this wooden container for at least two years, during which the already aged wine is periodically mixed with young wine. The finished drink, enriched with a tart oak aroma, is bottled in dark glass bottles.
Winemakers in Cyprus know dozens of Commandaria varieties, differing in aroma, color and taste. Today the most popular brands of dessert wine are:
- St. Nicolas commandariawhose delicate taste is fraught with a harmonious combination of figs, orange peel, sugar ginger and bitter mocha. The refined aroma intertwines echoes of caramel, peach and apricot. Commandaria St. Nikolay is sold in Cyprus at a price of 9-18 € for a 0.75 liter bottle of wine. The cost of an elite variety – vintage St. Nicholas Commandaria Сenturion 1991 – about 70 €.
- St. John Commandaria… The aromatic base of the drink is enriched with spices, dried fruits and the astringency of oak wood. The complex velvety taste clearly shows notes of caramel, spices and prunes. The color ranges from dark amber to brown. Average price – 13 € (for 0.75 l).
- St. Barnabas commandaria differs from its colleagues in the shop in amber color with a light onion tint. Poured into a glass, the wine reveals aromas of coffee, raisins, dried apple and chocolate, gradually turning into the freshness of mint. The cost of a 0.5 liter bottle of St. Barnabas starts at 8 €.
- Commandaria alasiafilled with balanced flavors of walnuts, dried fruits, dark chocolate and oolong tea. This bright and juicy wine has a sweet-honey aroma and rich cognac color. In the shops of Cyprus, Commandaria Alasia can be bought at a price of 11-18 €.
In 2007, Commandaria Alasia, leaving 3,500 competitors behind, won the highest award at Vinalies Internationales, a prestigious international wine competition organized by the French Union of Oenologists.
Each type of wine has its own “sphere of use”. For example, vintage varieties enclosed in exclusive vessels occupy an honorable place in the collections of connoisseurs of noble drinks. Inexpensive stamps, like hundreds of years ago, are used by clergymen of Cyprus for the sacrament of the Sacrament.
How to drink Commandaria properly
The most famous wine in Cyprus is used both at the beginning and at the end of a meal. As an aperitif, Commandaria is usually drunk chilled to 6-9 ° C. It would be useful to add a couple of ice cubes to the glass. The optimum temperature for wine served in the afternoon should not exceed 16 ° C.
For tasting Commandaria, wide-bottomed tulip-shaped wine vessels, as well as Madera glasses or squat cognac glasses are suitable. They sip sweet ambrosia in small sips, slowly enjoying the multifaceted bouquet.
A skillfully selected snack will help you to fully appreciate the taste nuances of wine. Ice cream, fruits, nuts, candied fruits, suzukos, as well as strudels and apple pies with a slight sourness will be a perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the drink. An exquisite gastronomic symphony will be created by the Commandaria duet with the traditional cheese of Cyprus – spicy fried halloumi.
The combination of wine and chocolate desserts should be treated with caution. The strong taste and rich aroma of chocolate can overpower the delicate sweetness of Commandaria.
Where to buy Commandaria
There is no problem buying the famous dessert wine on the sunny island. Recognizable bottles with sweet, fragrant contents fill the shelves of popular supermarkets (Alfa Mega, Papas, Carrefour) and wineries in the country. But if you want to get the best Commandaria in Cyprus, forget about the usual tourist routes.
The authentic drink, once admired by European kings, can be bought in shops at local wineries, such as the Lamburi winery, located 40 km from Limassol, in the village of Kato Platres. The products of the kingdom of Dionysus, which has a history of more than 300 years, are not sold in regular stores. The local wine line mainly consists of elite varieties supplied only to the country’s prestigious alcohol shops.
Information for those who are wondering how much the premium Commandaria varieties cost in Cyprus: you can buy a bottle of first-class sweet nectar from the Lamburi winery for 25-60 €.
Ancient monasteries – Kykkos Monastery in Nicosia and Chrysoroyatissa Monastery in Paphos – also bear the title of the island’s wine Mecca. Commandaria, made according to ancient recipes, can be bought in shops at local wineries. The prices here are quite affordable – a 0.5-liter bottle costs about 10 €.