By Lucie Robson
This weekend, the Limassol Wine Festival returns to the vibrant coastal city following last year’s Covid-19 hiatus. The 2021 event, which takes place in the Limassol Municipal Gardens between October 9th and 16th, marks the 60th-anniversary milestone of a festival that puts large and small Cypriot wine producers centre stage across a week of tasting, lectures, and entertainment.
International varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Mourvèdre (Mataro) thrive in Cyprus, but it’s the island’s unique indigenous varieties that are beginning to take their share of the spotlight. With their distinct characters and food-friendly flavours, the likes of Maratheftiko, and Xinisteri are firm favourites among wine lovers. However, there is a range of other Cypriot grapes that are nudging their ways to the forefront, more than a few of which have recently earned top medals at international wine competitions.
With the return of the Limassol Wine Festival, what better time to take a look at the noteworthy wines made from native Cypriot grape varieties? Read on for a dive into much-loved grapes – and new future favourites!
White Cypriot Grape Varieties
A glass of Promara is rare indeed but a handful of pioneering wineries have saved this ancient variety from extinction and are investing in its production. Its name loosely translates as “early ripener” and, with its fresh, aromatic character and – with the right treatment in the winery – an ability to age, many savvy Cypriot wine lovers tip it off as having great potential.
Colour: Light straw to deep lemon.
Aromas and flavours: Depending on the altitude of the vineyard and how it’s vinified, Promara can display orchard fruit, citrus, blossom, stone fruit, melon, and honey notes.
Food pairing: With its light to medium body and gentle acidity, Promara pairs well with salad, chicken, fish, pasta dishes.
If you like a good Pinot Gris, you may enjoy Promara.
Another grape that has been rescued from obscurity by several wineries is the native Spourtiko. It earned its name, which derives from the Greek word for “burst,” because its delicate skins are prone to splitting open while it’s still on the vine. This refreshing, lightly aromatic variety comes into its own through delicate processes in the winery. A fun fact about Spourtiko is it helps pollinate the popular Maratheftiko grape.
Colour: Light to medium golden.
Aromas and flavours: Spourtiko can display light Jasmin, grapefruit, lemon, and bergamot.
Food pairing: Its lively acidity and floral notes make Spourtiko an ideal partner for poultry and chicken dishes. It’s also the perfect aperitif because of its clean bright palate.
Spourtiko can express a different personality depending on how it’s treated in the winery. If you like delicate floral wines at one end of the scale or oak-friendly whites at the other, it’s worth trying Spourtiko.
What a pretty name! Morokanella is another indigenous grape (and a hardy one at that) that’s gaining ground across the island’s vineyards as vintners discover the clean, beautiful, and versatile wines it can produce.
Colour: Light to medium lemon.
Aromas and flavours: Orchard and stone fruit, lime, and floral hints. With oak it can have lovely smoky notes so check the winery’s notes for how it’s vinified and the length of maturation.
Food pairing: Dry, with nice minerality and full of pure flavours, salads, light pasta dishes, fish, and Asian cuisine go well with Morokanella.
If you like a very youthful Riesling (no bold petrol tones!) or Torrontés from Argentina, it’s worth tasting Morokanella.
Arguably the flagship white of Cyprus, Xinisteri is second in cultivation only to Mavro and needs little introduction to Cyprus wine fans. Most of the island’s fifty-plus wineries produce at least one style of this wine and, with its crisp, refreshing character, it’s not going to go out of fashion any time soon. A fun fact about Xinisteri is, along with Mavro, it’s used in the production of the famous dessert wine Commandaria.
Colour: Light to medium green-lemon.
Aromas and flavours: Green apple, lemon, grapefruit, florals, herbal, and, in warmer sites, ripe stone fruit and tropical notes.
Food pairing: Dry and acidic, Xinisteri is perfect with fish and seafood plus vegetable-rich dishes. Its bright acidity makes it ideal for rich and fatty foods like salmon steak and tempura vegetables.
If you like Albariño or Vinho Verde, try Xinisteri (if you haven’t already)!
Red Cypriot Grape Varieties
This variety is, if not yet the king of Cyprus grapes, certainly in line to the throne! It’s fairly vulnerable in the early stages of its annual growth cycle, so its expansion has been limited. However, with its rich flavours and acidity, it has secured a firm place among red wines made from indigenous grapes with a growing number of wineries including it in their ranges. Its future looks bright!
Colour: Ruby red to purple.
Aromas and flavours: Cherry, black fruit, plum, spice, and vanilla from oak.
Food pairing: This powerful red has all the factors to make it a good match with game, steak, and souvla.
Yiannoudi balances rich fruit with acidity in a medium to full body, so if you like the classic northern and central Italian reds, it’s worth sampling this native grape!
Not strictly a native grape as it came to Cyprus from Greek isles in the Byzantine times, it has however been adopted as a native variety over the centuries and its local cultivation exceeds that of its original Hellenic home. A few wineries are showcasing its intense red fruit and earthy hints making pure varietal Lefkada while others use it in blends to add structure and concentrated flavour.
Colour: Deep ruby.
Aromas and flavours: Sweet and sour cherry, black fruit, and cloves plus a touch of vanilla thanks to oak.
Food pairing: This rounded wine is ideal for red meats and a hard cheese board.
If you like New World Syrah/ Shiraz, chances are you’ll enjoy a glass of Lefkada.
Although not as widely cultivated as Xinisteri and Mavro, Maratheftiko is widely seen as being the island’s signature grape, and one that can produce wines to rival leading world reds. It’s all down to careful experimentation in the vineyard and winery which Cypriot vintners are undertaking with a passion. Most Cyprus wineries include a Maratheftiko varietal or blend in their wine range and the finest are worthy of wine nerd-level savouring and contemplation! A Maratheftiko fun fact is it can’t self-pollinate like most varieties, so it needs to be planted with grapes like Spourtiko for a helping hand.
Colour: Deep ruby or purple.
Aromas and flavours: Concentrated red and black cherry, black fruit, spice, liquorice, firm and elegant tannins.
Food pairing: Full-bodied Maratheftiko is the ideal wine for heavy-duty red meat dishes.
If you like Zinfandel, chances are you’ll adore Maratheftiko. Likewise, if you admire a good Cabernet Sauvignon, this Cypriot variety will please your palate. Although the latter has different flavours and aromas, it’s similar to the Cyprus grape in its powerful tannins, acidity, intensity, and structure.
Mavro means “black” in Greek and this grape’s name reflects the deep purple-blue appearance of its skin. Mavro is the most widely planted grape of any colour in Cyprus. Not as common as Maratheftiko as a varietal wine, it generally works best as rosé wine or in blends where it displays tannins and red fruit notes. Notably, it partners with Xinisteri in the production of the ancient world-renowned, award-winning sweet wine Commandaria.
Aromas and flavours: Red fruit, florals, pepper, and astringent tannins.
Food pairing: In Commandaria, it goes like a dream with platters of cheese and dried fruit as well as sweets like chocolate desserts, fruit tarts, and crème brûlée.
If you like an aged Port, it’s worth trying Commandaria – arguably the finest expression of Mavro. If deep pink, fruity rosés are your thing, you’ll enjoy a glass where Mavro features.
As grape harvest draws to a close and the Limassol Wine Festival opens its doors, raise a glass – preferably filled with a local red, white, rosé, or sweet vino – to what Cyprus has to offer the world of wine. Cheers!
Author: Lucie Robson
Lucie Robson is a Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) graduate who writes for wine companies in Europe, Asia, and North America, including Vivino and the UK-based International Wine and Spirit Competition