Commandaria: Cyprus’ Wine That Has Stood the Test of Time
Cyprus, an island country in the Mediterranean, is known for many things. It is Europe’s sunniest island, for instance, and it has a history that stretches back over 11,000 years, making it one of the Mediterranean’s oldest civilizations as well. But there is one thing that stands out even more than that: Cyprus’ legendary Commandaria wine.
The Oldest Wine with a Name
There are a lot of great wines in the world, but not all of them have a history as deep and rich as Commandaria – and even fewer of them have had a distinct name for centuries. Commandaria is the oldest named wine in the world that is still in production today, and has been around since at least 800 B.C.
The earliest mention of this wine was in an ancient Greek poem written by Hesiod, who referred to it as the “Cypriot Manna.” It was once a popular beverage to drink at festivals, particularly those that honored Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Fast-forwarding to the 1100s, during the time of the Crusades, it was also enjoyed at King Richard the Lionheart’s wedding. He loved it so much that he called it “the wine of kings and the king of wines.”
After King Richard sold the island of Cyprus to the Knights Templar, the Knights then sold off the land again, but kept an estate there called “La Grande Commanderie.” “Commanderie” described the military headquarters, and eventually it became known by the locals as the “Commanderia.” This is how the wine got a name that eventually stuck with it through the centuries to come.
The Knights knew that they had something special with this wine, so they began producing it and exporting it to the rest of Europe and even to their “holy lands” in the Middle East. Over time, the island changed hands more than once, but those who conquered it always maintained the wine production. It is even said that the wine was so good that a sultan from the Ottoman Empire invaded Cyprus just to get his hands on some Commandaria!
Characteristics of Commandaria
But just what, exactly, is it about Commandaria that makes everyone from kings to your average, modern-day person fall in love with it?
The answer lies in the taste. Commandaria is a very sweet dessert wine, meant to be imbibed after dinner as a digestif. It is made from grapes that are dried on the vine, and are then pressed and fermented, giving the wine a unique flavor of raisins mixed with hints of other dried fruits and caramel. The amber-colored wine has been produced in this way since its origins in 800 B.C. (or earlier), because it is a process that yields such great results.
After the fermentation and aging stages, Commandaria usually has an alcohol content of around 15 percent, but it can reach 20 percent if it is fortified with a distilled spirit. Because of its sweetness and the percentage of alcohol it contains, many people mistakenly believe this wine to be a liqueur.
There are four major wine producers in Cyprus who each have their own line of Commandaria, but this isn’t the only version of this wine you will find on the island. There are also many smaller, local wine producers who make Commandaria on their own in the hills of the island’s mountainous landscape.
In the year 1878, over 150,000 kilograms of grapes were turned into Commandaria, of which 200,000 liters was then exported around the world. In 2005, the number of grapes had increased to 449,290 kilograms, but the amount of wine that left the country was lowered to 82,728 liters.
According to our friends from SummerHeadlines.com and their extensive travel guide to Cyprus, the best way to taste high-quality Commandaria is to visit Cyprus, where you can get it straight from the source. As if you needed another reason to visit this beautiful, sunny island country!