At the end of a fine meal in Cyprus you may be offered a glass of Commandaria dessert wine. While the ‘olde worlde’ style label hints at the amber-coloured wine’s rich history, it might surprise visitors to learn that this is in fact the world’s oldest currently produced named wine, having aquired the Commandaria name as far back as the 12th century. A look at its past not only reveals the interesting history of the wine itself, but also provides an important part of the story of Cyprus.
Richard the Lionheart
The story of Commandaria really takes hold in 1191. It was in this year that Richard the Lionheart, King of England, conquered the island of Cyprus and sold it to the Knights Templar. They in turn were keen to cash in and sold the island on to the French nobleman Guy de Lusignan, who had for a long time battled to build his interests in this strategically important area of the Mediterranean.
Richard had already sampled the delights of Commandaria wine, having had it served at his wedding in Limassol. When the Knights Templar disposed of their claim to Cyprus they kept the estate of Commandaria for themselves and it became known as the Grande Commanderie (there were two smaller military outposts on the island).
From Crusaders to Winemakers
As the knights took over the area that was home to Cyprus’s finest vineyards they soon increased production of their wines. As well as keeping themselves stocked up on alcohol and selling their produce to passing pilgrims, they began exporting Commandaria wine to the royal houses of Europe, who had heard of its fine reputation.
One story suggests that there was a wine tasting competition (possibly the world’s first) in the 13th century hosted by Philip Augustus of France, and that Commandaria emerged from the contest as the winning tipple.
Commandaria in the 21st century
With such an illustrious past it is no surprise that the sweet Commandaria wine producers are keen to celebrate their 4000 year old history. The name Commandaria can only be used for wines grown in a particular cluster of 14 villages on the south facing slopes of the Troodos mountains in south west Cyprus.
Travel through the regions and you can visit several wineries and see both the traditional and modern methods of production. Most importantly, you can of course sample a glass of Commandaria wine for yourself. You may even agree at once with Richard the Lionheart, who described it as “the wine of kings and the king of wines”.