Probably the oldest appellation of Origin in the Whole World
Commandaria wine is as much a part of the present, as it is of thousand of years which have preceded; rich in aroma, subtle in taste, romantic and noble wine. It might be the wine that the Great philosopher Plato described as the most valuable drink ever given by Gods to Man.
Historically, Commandaria has been the pioneer of the concept “Appellation of origin.” Indisputably, Commandaria is the wine with the oldest tradition, as far as the method of production and the appellation of origin are concerned.
Homer and Euripides praised the excellence of the Cyprus wines and the special wine Nama, known today as Commandaria, which was regarded as a highly superior wine. Its unique production methods were recorded in 800 BC, which makes it the oldest recorded and named wine in the world. Nama was renamed by the order of the Knights Templar as Commandaria.
In 1210, the Knights of the Order of St. John came to Cyprus and they took an estate north of Kolossi, which became their chief headquarters, known as the “Grande Commanderie”. The area north of Kolossi was named by the Templars and the Knights of St. John “Vin de la Commanderie” thus giving the name of their headquarters to the superior distinctive to Cyprus sweet wine produced in that area.
During the reign of the Knights of St John, Commandaria wine quickly spread throughout the civilised world, while the highest consumption levels were recorded in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
Estienne de Lusignan, writing in 1580, praises the wine of Cyprus as “the best in the world”. This, he writes, is confirmed by Saint Bernard, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Gregory and Saint Hilarion, Archbishop of Cyprus. The latter amends the latin text of the Song of Solomon as: “Botrus Cypri dilectus meus in vinea Engadi”. Saint Gregory mentions that Solomon planted in his garden some vines which he had transported form Cyprus (de Lusignan 1580, 222).
The French historian De Mas Latrie calls this wine “une des especes superieures de ces vins justement renommes” (De Mas Latrie 1873, 568).
Though there is no historical basis to the story that the sweet wine of Cyprus was the main inducement of the Turkish Sultan Selim II for attacking and conquering Cyprus in 1571, it should be construed as compliment which, were it true, might have been the cause of many of the island’s misfortunes down to the present day.
Under Ottoman rule the wine industry did not flourish – not only on account of vine diseases, but mainly because it was subject to an arbitrary triple taxation: a 10% tithe was levied on the grapes, 10% on the wine produced from them and 8% on its exports (Hill 1952, 244; for more details see Luke 1921, 229-311).
During the years of British Colonial Rule, which began in 1878, a spanking new interest emerged with regard to the production, standardisation, and sale of Commandaria to the civilised nations of the time.
Today, the production and circulation of Commandaria is regulated through Law. Furthermore, the name is officially recognised as an appellation of origin by the E.U. Annual production fluctuates between 1500 and 2500 hl.
The region of Commandaria
An article under the title “Exeptra Cypria” edited by C.D. Cobham, Cambridge University Press, 1908, refers to the writings of Constantius, Archbishop of Sinai, in his visit to Cyprus in 1776.The Archbishop notes that
“One product of the island has been up to this time fostered with great zeal and care, and is still one of the chief articles of export-but even this, like the rest, has felt the presence of tyranny-this is its delicious wine. This fragrant nectar of Zeus, expressed and flowing from the vines which abound in the shrine of his beloved son Bacchus, is drawn from a part of the island called Comanderia, for here was the lot and inheritance of the Comandery, the order of the Templars and Knights of Malta, which lies between Mount Olympous and the towns of Nemesos and Paphos. The excellent wine is one of the things greatly in request in Europe.”
The Commandaria Region is characterised as upland and mountainous low yielding – high quality production region. During the Crusaders times, the region consisted of sixty villages in total which were under the control of the “knights Commanderie”. Ever since, the name of the area, now confined to the following 14 villages has been associated with Commandaria wine and even its method of production, unique to this geographical area, has been maintained to the present day.
Agios Georgios ZooPigi
Agios Constantinos Kalo Chorio
Agios Mamas Kapileio
Agios Pavlos Laneia
Commandaria is produced only from the traditional grape varieties “Xynisteri” and “Mavro”. The density at which the vines are planted varies from 2000 to 2750 per hectare depending on the time at which the vineyard was developed.
Mavro, also known by the name “Local Black”, was first noted by the Count of Rovasenda (1877) as “Cipro Nero”. H. Goethe (1887) provided the first botanical description of Cipro Nero under the name “Cyperntraube blaue”. Professor P. Mouillefert of the Grignon Agricultural College (1893) refers to Mavro or “Staphili-Mavro” and notes that “it is by far the most widespread on the island”.
The name Xynisteri first appeared in 1893 in the “Rapport sur une mission viticole ά I’ ile de Chypre” by Professor P. Mouillefert. Cipro Bianco, “from the island of Cyprus with five-lobed leaves and oval grapes” mentioned by the Count of Rovasenda (1877) probably refers to the same variety, which gives some idea of the great age of systematic cultivation on the island.
Vinification and Maturity
Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that today, the method of making Commandaria is very similar to the one mentioned by the celebrated Greek poet Hesiod, in the 10th century B. C. in his book “Works and Days”, describing to his brother Perses how a special sweet wine is made:
“When Orion and Sirius come into mid-heaven, and rosy-fingered Dawn sees Arcturus, cut off the grape-clusters and bring them home. Show them to the sun ten days and ten nights, then cover them over for five, and on the sixth day draw off into vessels the gifts of joyful Dionysus”.
A description of the method used in making Commandaria during the Crusades, which is similar to the method described by Hesiod, above, is found in the writings of the traveler Fr. Estienne de Lusignan who visited Cyprus and wrote in ηis book “Description of the Island of Cyprus” as follows:
«In Cyprus, there is a certain grape-vine, yielding a variety of grapes, which grows in the mountains, and ripens at the end of July, whose grapes nevertheless are not gathered before the end of September. When they have been gathered, they are put on the roofs of the houses, and remain there in the sun for three days, so that its ardour may consume whatever water might remain in them. Then, being trodden, and the pips and stalks removed before fermentation, the wine which afterwards is made is of a great perfection.”
Today the vinification and maturity process are regulated through the Wine Products Council (Commandaria) Decree 214 of 2005.
The wine is produced within the region and may be removed only after fermentation is completed. Irrigation is generally prohibited and the yield must not be greater than 450 kilos per acre.
Harvesting is permitted once it has been ascertained that grapes have ripened and acquired at least 13ο baume for Xynisteri and 14ο for Local Mavro. After exposure of the grapes to the sun, the baume must be at 21-23 degrees.
The wine produced at the end of fermentation must have an alcoholic strength of at least 10% without fortification and the volatile acidity, expressed as acetic acid should not exceed 1.5 gr per litre. It is also permitted to fortify the wine by the addition of wine alcohol of 95% to 96% vol. or with eau de Vie de Vin, of 70% to 86% vol.
Though the minimum age provided by the legislation is 2 years, in wood, the wine is practically bottled only after a long maturation and careful blending through the traditional system known as the “mother” system (mana), the principle of which is the topping up of selected old stocks with younger ones. The “mother” system, introduced by the ancient inhabitants of the island secures uniformity and high quality.
The Wine Experts Committee, (W.E.C.)
The W.E.C evaluates the organoleptic characteristics of “Commandaria” wine samples, with a view to either certify the authenticity and quality of the samples or disqualify them as inappropriate for the production of quality wine psr. The assessment of the organoleptic characteristics is subject to standardised procedures clearly determined by the applied national Regulation and serves the purpose of safeguarding and guaranteeing the conformity of taste and quality of the wine. Both the grape must and the final wine product are subject to examination by the W.E.C.
The wine, prior to bottling, is subject to further examination and final approval by the W.E.C. Subject to this approval, a Quality Certificate is issued. On the basis of the Quality Certificate, the Wine Products Council issues the relevant “Certificate of Recognition of a Wine with Appellation of Origin” valid for one year.
The production of Commandaria has very strong economic, social and environmental aspects to the local inhabitants of the region. It provides employment to a relatively large fraction of the inhabitants of the region and keeps the villages far from the devastating effects of further urbanization.
It is also of vital cultural significance to the inhabitants of the region since Commandaria remains an integral part of their civilization and history. It is not exaggerating to say that the quality and tradition of Commandaria reflect the skills and charismas of the local inhabitants. The official recognition of Commandaria as an appellation of origin by the E.U. has significant and apparent effects on the economy of the region as it recognises and safeguards the name and provides further prospects for the wine in today’s competitive environment.