Article and photos © Nicos Neocleous
|Nicos Neocleous with George Araouzos outside the Tsiakkas Winery|
The driver looked at me through his rear view mirror, his dark brown eyes betraying a nervousness that was now very conscious. Several seconds passed and there was no reply. Suddenly, he swung a hard left turn and flung the aging Nissan into a side road. From there, a series of fast and sharp turns separated the quite side streets that were the quickest route to where I wanted to go.
I opened my left palm and used my right fist to punch it. Bloody hell! How could I have forgotten THAT! It was 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday 20 October 2004, and I had been on my way to the airport to take a flight to Cyprus. I had not been to the "Island of Paradise" since February so I felt a trip was definitely "on the cards." More important, I had been invited to a family friend's wedding in Cyprus in four days time. Having diligently packed my suitcase and sports bag (including several bottles of wine for the trip), I had forgotten my suit, shirt and tie!
The minicab driver pulled up outside my place and I dashed inside. Exactly 3 minutes and 25 seconds later, I was back in the car, having picked up what I needed. I would have made it in less than 3 minutes, but I had wasted valuable seconds deciding on which tie to choose. It is important to get that "relaxed Cypriot wedding" look just right, so I chose an Italian silk tie that I knew would do the job.
Aside from a wedding and other pursuits, I had also decided to visit a few wineries. Here are my notes from those visits. I would like to thank my cousin George Araouzos for taking the time and trouble out of his busy life to tour me around these wineries.
Friday 22 October 2004
|A rare bottle of 2003 Domaine Hadjiantonas Shiraz|
Thoros Hadgiantonas (pronounced "Doh-ros Ha-gee-ann-to-nas") is a professional airline pilot with Cyprus Airways. In his spare time he makes wine, having started approximately three years ago. He is a 'garagiste' in the true sense of the term, in that his tiny operation is located in a garage on his property. However, the equipment that he has purchased recently is all new. Thoros is determined to make the best wine he can and he is passionate about quality. He has been on a number of wine courses and has signed up for more of them in the near future. His 'winery' is situated in Paraklisha, which is about 6 miles (10km) outside of Limassol (second largest town that is located on the southern coast of the island).
Thoros used to buy in all of his grapes from vineyards located in Pera Peti, Pakhna and Paraklisha. He now owns a single vineyard of Shiraz which is located at Macheras, near the capital Nicosia. The grapes that he has access to or will be able to use in the future are:
- Shiraz (9 year old vines)
- Agioritiko (pronounced "Ayio-ree-tee-kho") (2 year old vines)
- Sauvignon Blanc (2 year old vines)
- Xinisteri (pronounced "Xi-ni-ste-ree") (2 year old vines)
He made his first experimental vintage in 2002, which he drank himself or gave away to family and friends. In 2003 he produced 3,000 bottles of Shiraz but had to destroy about 1,800 bottles worth when frogs fell into one of the open topped fermentation tanks! This was the first 'commercial' vintage. Other wines made included 300 bottles from the "St George" grape variety and 300 bottles of rose from Shiraz. In 2004, his total production was 7,000 bottles of Shiraz and 4,000 bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.
- 2003 Domaine Hadjiantonas - Dry white wine: Xynisteri (Cyprus)
This 11% alcohol wine is a pale lemon colour. A faint pine tree nuance with a little oxidation as well. A touch of sherbet, tight limes with a soft mid palate and a short finish. Definitely a glugging wine. 80/100.
- 2004 Domaine Hadjiantonas - Rose - cask sample - (Cyprus) cCY£5 (£6, US$11, €8)
Pale pink, with light raspberry, strawberry and a hint of bubble gum. Good mouthfeel with a hint of bitterness, there was a nice core of red fruits on the mid palate and a pleasant dry finish.
- 2003 Domaine Hadjiantonas - Shiraz (Cyprus)
The Shiraz fruit for this wine was sourced from a vineyard in Macheras (Nicosia). Bought in, the winemaker asked for 6-7 bunches per vine, as opposed to the usual output of around 15 bunches per vine. The landowner charged him more for this reduction in output, which he was prepared to pay for.
This 14.5% monster spends 365 days in new Italian oak, then a month in bottle before it is released for sale. Opaque purple, with a light mauve rim. Plenty of soft vanilla oak with lashings of rich plum fruit. The drying tannins are evident and a good core of acidity is noticeable at present. The plum fruit are in the background but do try to shine throughout the positive length. This wine needs time to settle down but is definitely a worthy effort. One of the best Greek Cypriot wines I have ever tasted. Perhaps suffering a little from bottle shock but still impressive, hence 88/100.
- 2004 Domaine Hadjiantonas - Shiraz - cask sample (Cyprus)
Opaque purple, the nose reminds me of very ripe dark fruits with a wild herb element. A lovely rich blackberry fruit set with a core of acidity down the middle. Surely a good future for this wine. Impressive.
- 2004 Domaine Hadjiantonas - Cabernet Sauvignon - cask sample (Cyprus)
Opaque red, a hint of green pepper and new oak on the nose. Very tight, slightly green but with a good structure. Obviously too young to evaluate properly but seemingly well made.
- 2000 Pakhna Wines - Cava Yiaskouri - Shiraz (Cyprus)
Opaque purple, the nose reveals red plums with a green pepper element as well. A silky palate, medium bodied, the drying tannins show to my palate a hint of under-ripeness. A decent wine made in a noticeably less extracted style than Thoros' wines. 82/100.
|Vineyards at Pakhna Village|
After the tasting, Thoros wanted me to try what he and many others consider being the benchmark Shiraz made in Cyprus. This has won awards at wine competitions outside of Cyprus, so I grateful accepted a pour in my glass.
Friday 22 October 2004
|Nicos Neocleous and Alexis Tsielepis stand in front of one of Alexis' collection of Greek Cypriot paintings|
As my good friend Alexis had moved back to Cyprus, I knew that this would be a good opportunity to see him again. We had much to catch up on and so a venue was agreed. I declined an initial invitation to hold an offline at the restaurant we dined at last time, as that would have meant a post dinner Greek dancing session. The last time we managed this, I damaged my knees performing a complex series of jumping moves and I had been in severe pain for days. This had been mainly due to the uneven wooden dance floor. We thought it safer to have a quiet dinner at his place and these were the wines we drank.
- 1997 Chateau Zanatzia (Keo) - Cabernet Sauvignon (Limassol, Cyprus)
This 12.5% alcohol wine showed a dark and slightly dull cherry red. The first sniff reminded me of green pepper, old oak barrels and a slight hint of volatile acidity. Medium bodied, rustic and with a smooth cooked plum character. A decent start to the evening's proceedings. 82/100.
- 1995 Clos des Papes rouge (Chateauneuf du Pape, France)
Decanted 30 minutes ahead of time. Opaque red, with an animalistic character. Complex, saddle leather and 'hot horses'. Slightly sweet, a funky mid palate with noticeable acidity and a few waves of chunky red fruits finishing in a decent length. This is still young but is an excellent wine. 91+/100.
|A view from Tsiakkas Winery|
Tsiakkas Winery visit
I had been reliably informed that Tsiakkas Winery (situated near the village of Pelendri) was not only situated in a picturesque part of the island but made some of the best wine on the island. It is approximately 1,100 metres (3,610 feet) high and my guide for the tour was none other than Mrs Marina Kolokasithou. She and her husband Costas founded the winery in 1989 out of their passion for wine. It has gone from strength to strength and now exports their wines to countries like the UK, USA (New York based importer), Russia, Denmark and Switzerland. Now the winery can rely on the winemaking talents of Sophoclis Basilis, who trained at UC Davis, California (USA).
|Nicos Neocleous & Mrs Marina Kolokasithou standing outside the Tsiakkas Winery|
Their production is centred on three main grape varieties:
- Cabernet Sauvignon (approximately 14,000 bottles per annum)
- Chardonnay (approximately 14,000 bottles per annum)
- Sauvignon Blanc (approximately 6,000 bottles per annum).
A Riesling (approximately 3,000 bottles) was produced in the past but was stopped due to lack of demand. In addition, they are also blend several grapes varieties to make a red table wine. This contains Grenache, Mataro (Mouvedre), Cabernet Sauvignon and an indigenous variety called 'Bambajes' ("Bam-ba-jess"). Bambajes literally translated means bunches of cotton wool and it is thick skinned with not much juice and is similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in appearance.
The winery owns two of its own vineyards and these grow Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay organically. One is situated in the village of Pelendri (6 Cypriot acres, 2 acres, 0.8 hectares); the other is in Agro village (6 Cypriot acres, 2 acres, 0.8 hectares). The wineries vineyards are only able to supply 15% of the grapes needed so the other 85% of grapes are bought in from producers with whom they have agreements.
|Barrels of wine maturing in the cellars of Tsiakkas Winery|
- Tsiakkas Winery - 2003 Mavro Red Dry (Pelendri, Cyprus)
Light red plum with a clear rim. Some very light wood but the fresh red fruits dominate on the nose. A tight core of delicate red fruits, slightly bracing acidity and a decent, clean finish. 82/100.
- Tsiakkas Winery - 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon (Pelendri, Cyprus)
Dark cherry red optic, plenty of toasty new oak with blackcurrant flavours shining through on the few sniffs I took. Full bodied, good palate feel, certainly not overtly fruity with dry tannins and a sound structure. The length is nice with balanced acidity and is drinkable now. However, it would certainly be able to be drunk in two to three years time. 86/100.
- Tsiakkas Winery - 2002 Merlot (Pelendri, Cyprus)
This is an experimental wine and is the first vintage that they have made a pure Merlot. Bottled four months earlier, the medium strawberry optic led me to a grapy nose with hints of wild herb and light cherry. Medium bodied, some crunchy light red fruits with an expanse of clean acidity and a dry finish. Certainly a leaner style and may be a surprise to Merlot drinkers. In my opinion a little more extraction of fruit would have given the wine more substance and character. 82/100.
|Grapes being unloaded and processed at the Mallia Winery|
Keo is one of the four biggest wine producers on the island and the Mallia Winery was established in 1927. Aside from the main winery at Limassol, there are three wineries located near to the vineyards, namely at the villages of Mallia, Arsos and Pera Peri. However, the Mallia Winery is the location where the best wines are made, as well as the rest of the extensive Keo range.
Here are some interesting facts that I learnt during my brief tour:
- Although Keo owns approximately 170 acres (69 hectares), they still buy in most of their grapes. It is amazing for me to hear that they process 15 million kilograms (33 million lbs) of grapes every year.
- They have used oak chips to flavour some of their wines since 2000.
- Their top wine is called Heritage and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with Maratheftiko (pronounced "Ma-ra-thef-ti-ko").
- I spoke to the 'flying winemaker' called Frans van Dorsser. He is originally from New Zealand and was hired via a consulting group called Cellar World (based in London). His mission has been to improve the basics across the range, like winery hygiene, picking times for the grapes and so on.
Lunch at the Psilo Dendro (literally translated means "tall tree")
This restaurant is up in the Platres mountain range and is renowned for its fine traditional Cypriot style lunches. The restaurant owns their own trout farm, and they supply other restaurants as well as their own. We sampled several tasty dishes and fresh salads, all washed down with a bottle of the local wine.
After lunch, we drove down to Kato Platres. It was St Demetrios Day (26 October) and he is the patron saint of the village. Aside from an open church and a special religious service, there was an open market in the main street. I managed to purchase a choice selection of local delicacies.
Visit to Nicosia
Nicosia is the capital city of Cyprus and remains the only divided capital city on the world. The last one before that as Berlin, which was reunited in 1989. The forced division was caused by Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in July 1974. The northern part of the island is still occupied by Turkish soldiers and Turkey is the only country in the world that recognises this occupation. There is a buffer zone that divides the city and this part of the city is called the 'Green Line'. As Alexis was working there, I decided to pay him a visit. Prior to a very tasty lunch in a modern style Italian restaurant where the cool and hip twenty and thirty something's hang out, I wandered around taking in the sights and sounds. Here are a few photos that I took.
|An old Cypriot poster|
My winery visits had introduced me to a number of quality producers of Greek Cypriot wine. It will be interesting to retaste these wines with further bottle age. In particular, Domaine Hadjiantonas and their boutique winery impressed me with their quality, passion and commitment. With more boutique producers than ever before, the Greek Cypriot wine scene will become even more interesting in the future. Since Cyprus joined the European Community in May 2004, there is now a much larger marketplace for it to sell its products. It remains to be seen how well Cypriot wine producers will be able to gain market share in this competitive arena.
October 2004 (Published in February 2005)