Cyprus can proudly lay claim to the world’s oldest wine still in production – that of the delicious sweet dessert wine Commandaria.
Thought to date back to 800 BC, references to the consumption of a wine named ‘Cypriot Nama’ is believed to have been Commandaria before it was given its current name during the crusades in the 12th century. It was thought that the wine had therapeutic qualities and it was widely used as a tonic.
Richard the Lionheart celebrated his capture of Cyprus and his marriage to Berengaria in Lemesos (Limassol) with Commandaria, declaring it “the wine of kings and the king of wines”. In 1192 he sold the island to the Knights of St. John and the Knight Templars, who then sold it to Guy de Lusignan, but kept their headquarters at Kolossi. Commandaria was mainly produced in Kolossi – which was called ‘La Grande Commanderie’ – and it was here that the wine found its name. Commandaria was considered so good in ancient times that it even won the first recorded wine tasting competition the ‘Battle of the Wines’ in the 13th century, held by the French king Philip Augustus.
Sweetly similar to sherry, Commandaria has been made in the same manner for centuries, and in the same 14 winegrowing villages of the island. The indigenous grape varieties of Mavro (red) and Xynisteri (white) are picked late and dried in the sun to enhance their sugar content, giving the drink its distinctive taste. The dried grapes are then pressed, with the run-off collected and fermented in tanks or huge earthenware jars – much like those used in bygone times.
No visit to the island is complete without picking up a bottle to take home, not just as a drink, but also as a sweet piece of the island’s history!