Among the many drinks that mature in oak barrels of Cypriot wineries, this noble elixir stands apart. It is called a national treasure, is used during all holidays and is used at the Liturgy; an annual festival is held in its honor. This is the Commandarium, the most famous wine in Cyprus.
What is the Commandaria
Commandaria (Κουμανδαρία) is a strong dessert wine known in Cyprus since ancient times. The sweetness of this aged drink is perfectly balanced with alcohol. The strength may vary from 12 to 20%, but in most cases it is 15%.
The wine has an amber, cognac or golden-brown color with dark cherry reflections. The velvety taste manifests itself in notes of dates, walnuts, currants, honey, vanilla, cinnamon, licorice and spices. In the long aftertaste there are shades of dried figs, nuts and dark caramel.
The aromatic palette is formed by grape syrup, quince jam, prunes, apricot, raisins, carnations and oak bark. In some varieties, fruit and woody fragrances are diluted with tart spices of tobacco, chocolate and roasted coffee beans.
The history of the Commandarium, the oldest wine not only in Cyprus, but also possibly in the world, dates back to the 8th century B.C. The first mention of the “divine nectar made from sun-dried grapes” is contained in the works of the ancient Greek poet Hesiod.
The wine, originally called “Nama”, was highly appreciated by the nobility and clergy of Cyprus. The fragrant thick drink was a guest of honor at festive feasts and was used in Christian services. Nama became a Commandarium in the 12th century. King Richard I of England, who conquered the Mediterranean island in 1191, soon sold it to the Templars. The knights who settled on the blessed land called it the Commandarium. The same name was given to the local wine.
The starry hour of sweet potion broke out in 1213, when the fragrant treasure of Cyprus won the first wine tasting competition in Europe, organized by the French King Philip Augustus. And 150 years later, the Commandaria became the main beverage at London’s Five Kings’ Feast.
Since 1990, the Cypriot wine Commandaria has had the status of a protected name. Only 14 villages on the slopes of the Troodos Mountains have the right to produce the drink.
Fine points of production
Only two varieties of grapes are used to produce the Commandaria in Cyprus: red Mavro and white Xinisteri. It is they who have the characteristics necessary to obtain the ideal drink: long aging and suitability for drying in the sun. The harvest begins in mid-September, when the berries on the vine are already overripe.
Fruits are laid out in thin layers on huge plastic sheets and dried in the sun for 7-10 days. After this period, the grapes, having lost a lot of moisture, turn into raisins containing the maximum concentration of sugar. The obtained raw materials are pressed. The extracted juice is placed in fermenting vats, where it is stabilized for 2-3 months under the influence of yeast fungi.
After the fermentation process is completed, the fermented liquid with a strength of 10-16% is placed in oak barrels. According to Cypriot law, the Commandaria must be stored in this wooden container for at least two years, during which already aged wine is periodically mixed with young wine. The finished drink, enriched with the tart aroma of oak, is poured into dark glass bottles.
Cypriot winemakers know dozens of varieties of the Commandarium, differing in flavor, shade and taste. Today, the most popular brands of dessert wine are:
- St. Nicolas Commandaria, whose delicate taste conceals a harmonious combination of figs, orange peel, sugar ginger and bitter mocha. The exquisite fragrance is intertwined with the echoes of caramel, peach and apricot. St. Nicholas’ command is sold in Cyprus at a price of 9-18 € for a bottle of wine with a volume of 0.75 liters. The price of the elite variety – vintage St. Nicholas Commandaria Centrion 1991 – about 70 €.
St. John Commandaria. The aromatic basis of the drink is enriched with spices, dried fruits and oak wood tolerance. The complex velvety flavour of the beverage clearly shows notes of caramel, spices and prunes. The color varies from dark amber to brown. The average price is 13 € (for 0.75 l).
- St. Barnabas Commandaria differs from his colleagues in amber color with a light onion hue. Overflowing into a glass, the wine opens with aromas of coffee, raisins, dried apple and chocolate, gradually turning into the freshness of mint. The cost of the 0,5-liter bottle of St. Varnava’s Commandment starts from 8 €.
Commandaria Alasia, filled with balanced taste of walnuts, dried fruits, bitter chocolate and oolong tea. Bright and juicy wine is distinguished by its sweet honey aroma and rich cognac color. In the shops of Cyprus you can buy Alasiya commandarium at a price of 11-18 €.
In 2007, Commandaria Alasia, leaving behind 3,500 rivals, won the highest award at Vinalies Internationales – the prestigious international wine competition organized by the French Union of Oenologists.
Each type of wine has its own “sphere of consumption”. For example, vintage varieties enclosed in exclusive vessels occupy an honorable place in the collections of connoisseurs of noble beverages. Just like hundreds of years ago, Cypriot clergymen use inexpensive brands for the sacrament of Communion.
How to drink the Commandarium correctly
The most famous wine in Cyprus is consumed at the beginning and end of the meal. As an aperitif, the Commandarium is usually drunk chilled to 6-9 °C. It would be useful to add a couple of ice cubes to the flute. The optimum temperature of the wine served in the afternoon should not exceed 16 °C.
Both tulip-shaped wine vessels with a wide bottom and mader glasses or stocky cognac glasses will be suitable for tasting the Commandarium. They soak up the sweet ragweed in small sips, taking their time to enjoy the multi-faceted bouquet.
To fully appreciate the taste nuances of wine will help skillfully selected snack. Ice cream, fruit, nuts, candied fruits, suzukos, as well as strudels and apple pies with light acidity, which set off the sweetness of the drink, will be perfect accompaniment. A refined gastronomic symphony will be created by the Commandarium duo with traditional Cypriot cheese – spicy roasted halloweens.
The combination of wine and chocolate desserts should be treated with caution. The strong taste and rich aroma of chocolate can interrupt the tender sweetness of the Commandarium.
Where to buy Commandaria
Buying the famous dessert wine on a sunny island is no problem. Recognizable bottles with sweet fragrant content fill the shelves of popular supermarkets (Alfa Mega, Papas, Carrefour) and wineries in the country. But if you want to buy the best Commandment in Cyprus, forget about the usual tourist routes.
The authentic drink, once admired by European kings, can be bought in the shops of local wineries, such as the Lambouri winery, located 40 km from Limassol, in the village of Kato Platres. The products of the kingdom of Dionysus, which has more than 300 years of history, are not sold in the usual shops. The local wine range mainly consists of elite varieties supplied only to the country’s prestigious alcoboutiques.
Information for those who are interested in how much the premium varieties of the Commandaria cost in Cyprus: you can buy a bottle of first-class sweet nectar in the winery of Lambouri for 25-60 €.
Ancient monasteries such as the Kikkos Monastery in Nicosia and the Chrysoreroyatissa Monastery in Paphos also bear the title of Wine Mecca of the island. The commandarium, which is made according to ancient recipes, can be bought in the shops of the local wineries. Prices here are quite democratic – a 0.5-liter bottle costs about 10 €.