“On this island there is a treasure which only the king of kings deserves to hold”.

According to tradition, these were the words of Sultan Selim II, “the Drunkard”, when in 1571 he wanted an excuse to occupy the island of Cyprus. Truth or lies, the treasure referred in this popular legend, is none other than that of the sweet wine commandaria. And this wasn’t the first time that this royal wine was praised. Before the Ottoman Sultan, there were the Frankish travelers and Venetians abbots, geographers, Apostles, and ancient writers, from Homer to Strabo.

Commandaria, this sweet nama with long history, is the oldest wine with a Protected Designation of Origin, which, however, managed to secure in 1990, 800 years after its appearance.

Commandaria, was the creation of the Order of the Knights Templar. When they bought Cyprus from Richard Coeur de Lion, they split the island into three administrative units called Commanderies. The largest of these was that of Limassol, with Kolossi as a base, in which vineyards of excellent quality were cultivated. The Knights – excellent connoisseurs of wine making – created this unique wine which took the name of the administrative unit and made Cyprus known and sought-after in European salons.

The 14 villages of Cyprus that produce commandaria today belong strictly in the area of commandaria: Agios Georgios, Agios Konstantinos, Agios Mamas, Ayios Pavlos, Apsiou, Gerasa, Doros, Zoopigi, Kalo Chorio, Tavern, Lania, Louvaras, Monagri, Sylikou. Because of the relative legislation stipulating that no more than 450 kilos per tenth can be produced, the grapes are rich in aromas and flavours, giving excellent wine product. From the Middle Ages until today, commandaria is made from mixing the varieties Xynisteri and Mavro (Black).

It is a “sun-dried” wine, as it is called, due to the ancient practice of wine making. The harvest starts in mid-September, which is the appropriate period of maturation of the grapest. The grapes are left exposed to the sun for about ten days, dehydrate, and thus sugar is more condensed, while they expose their characteristic aromas. Then, with the fermentation, the yeasts metabolise the sugar that they themselves have created and the wine that is produced remains sweet.

By law, the wine must then be aged for at least two years. During the ageing process, the aromas are enriched with those of the oak and the oxidation and create a rich and harmonious whole with touches of vanilla, pepper and coffee. This is a bouquet created by a combination of the over-matured grapes on the vine, drying in the sun, the fermentation and the maturation in the barrel.

Commandaria stands out not only for its aromas, but also for its very sweet flavours. When it comes into contact with the palate leaves raisin flavours, such as dates, figs, and roasted nuts such as hazelnuts and walnuts. When commandaria is aged for more than ten years, the flavours become even sweeter and reminiscent of caramel and fruit. The texture is viscous and velvety with a long aftertaste.

Today, more and more wineries are attempting the creation of commandaria, maintaining and perpetuating the Cyprus wine tradition.