ZAMBARTAS & VLASSIDES WINERIES | Limassol wine Villages, Cyprus - June 27th, 2015
posted on 21/08/2015

When I started this blog I did not expect to make new friends through it. Yet when Alexandros Alexandrou, a wine enthusiast from Cyprus, discovered my work in February 2014 he contacted me and suggested Cyprus as a future wine destination. Almost one year and a half later, on the occasion of a business trip to Cyprus, the wine exploration of the island could finally become a reality!

 

Cyprus lies southern than the northern shores of Africa. The heat prompts the best producers seek for higher altitude vineyards.

 

 

On our way to the wine villages of Limassol...

  Alexandros was a great guide!

 

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia. Its strategic location between Europe, Middle East and Africa made it a bone of contention over the centuries by Romans, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians and Venetians as well as later empires like the Ottoman and the British. Cyprus is an explosive mix of European, Oriental, Arab and British influences. Its closest soil of Greek territory is Stroggilo island, the one recently acquired by Johnny Depp, or Kastelorizo, if we only consider inhabited territories.

 

This is the route we followed from Limassol to the wine villages of Limassol, at the foothills of Mount Troodos


Alexandros just arrived at our hotel in Limassol to pick us up, so we’ll discuss more on the road! We drive towards the wine villages of Limassol, one of the five wine regions of the island and probably the most important one. This region is located at the southern foothills of Mount Troodos, with its highest peak being Mount Olympus (1,953 m.). We are planning to visit three wineries: Zambartas, Vlassides and Tsiakkas. Off to our first destination then, village Saint Ambrose and Zambartas Winery!

 

ZAMBARTAS WINERY

 

 

The view from the winery's balcony

 

Little vineyard cultivated in 'Kouzoupes' (bush vines)


We arrive at the small, family winery of Markos Zambartas. Marcos is a young wine professional with vision and knowledge. He has studied Chemistry in London, Oenology in Adelaide and has also worked in Australian McLaren Vale, New Zealand and French Provence. Very smart choice of studies as Australia is a country with many warm climate regions, so studies there can offer very useful tools in the winemaker of Cyprus. Zambartas Winery is fairly new –it was founded in 2006-, starting in another establishment initially with an annual production of only 4,500 bottles. They moved in today’s winery in 2008 and current annual production has reached 75,000 bottles.

 

 

Discussing with Markos about Commandaria

  In the tank room

 

We take a tour around the winery starting from the maturation cellar of Commandaria, the famous dessert wine of Cyprus. Markos explains Commandaria is usually produced using two local Cypriot varieties, white Xynisteri and red Mavro. There are two types of Commandaria: Vintage, from a specific vintage, usually offered by small, boutique wineries and multi-vintage ones. We also get to know that Commandaria was not fortified in the old days; instead it was vinified using sun-dried grapes in the same way as our Vinsanto. In the later era of Cyprus wine industrialization the 'fashion' of fortification was spread –I guess for cost reasons- but most qualitative producers are now returning to the old production method. The wine to bear the historic name has to be vinified into the PDO zone of Commandaria and is allowed to mature anywhere in Cyprus.

 

 

Small tanks for micro-vinifications...

 

...with family names instead of numbers!

 

 

Into a temperature-controlled container that serves as a cellar (à la Australia!)

 

Maturation of red wines as well as their white single vineyard  Xinisteri!

 

Right after we returned to the tasting room where we tasted seven of their wines along with Markos Zambartas. And here are my notes:

 

  • Semillon - Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (50% Semillon, 50% Sauvignon Blanc) - Exuberant nose with much tropical fruit (mango, melon) and stone fruits (peach, apricot). Very discreet barrel, with half Semillon fermenting and maturing in it. Moderate acidity with exuberant, warm nose that predisposes for high alcohol even though it is quite moderate (12,5%). I found this wine very similar in style to the whites of Crete with Passepartout properties: it can be easy paired with food, while it is also very pleasant consumed alone.

  • Xynisteri 2014 - More austere and fine nose, probably the result of cultivation at 850 meters with aromas of green apple, lime and hints of pineapple. An ideal wine to accompany fish, with medium+ acidity and a slightly higher alcohol level (13% abv) that however feels lower, maybe because of its aromatic finesse. The fruit for this one is cultivated in bush vines that are called 'Kouzoupes' here in Cyprus.

  • Xynisteri Single Vineyard 2014 - From Platres single vineyard planted in 1988 and also trained in 'Kouzoupes'. Similarly austere nose but slightly more complex with mild, discreet barrel and brioche notes. Nonetheless it is much more expressive on the palate, rich, with medium+ to high acidity and a long finish.

  • Zambartas Rose 2014 (50% of Lefkada, 50% Cabernet Franc) – Let’s move on to the best-selling wine of the range. Nose of maraschino, sour cherries, ripe red fruits, pomegranate and sweet spices. One of the most full-bodied rosés I've ever tasted with alcohol at 13.5%. The color is closer to a light red rather than a rose and is addressed to red wine drinkers during the summer period. As about the name of the first variety of the blend, it is the red variety Vertzami which came to Cyprus in 1956 from Lefkada and known in Cyprus as ...Lefkada!

  • Epicurean 2014 (65% Mourvèdre, 35% Giannoudi) - These two Mediterranean varieties are absolutely complementary to producing this red wine: Mourvèdre contributes berries while Giannoudi offers more floral aromas. In the beginning we needed to stir our glasses to unfold the aromatic properties of the wine: berries, flowers, red fruits and a blood character reminiscent of meat maturation. This one was the first wine of the tasting to offer elements of cold climate wines. Cultivation is at 650 meters and alcohol level is 13.5%.

  • Maratheftiko 2013 - The red variety Maratheftiko -unlike most other commercial grape varieties- is not hermaphrodite; to be fertilized and produce grapes it should be planted with some male vines in the vineyard (usually the male Cyprus white variety 'Spourtiko’). But even so not all grapes are fertilized plus the variety ripens unevenly so the berries need to be thoroughly shorted! This is a labor-intensive wine and therefore more expensive to produce. But it is worth it! It is complex and has a combination of dense black fruit with young, sour fruit aromas. Indeed, the acidity of the wine is even greater than that of white Xynisteri! Very high, ripe tannins and aging in 10% new and 90% old oak barrels, mainly French and some American ones, for up to three years. With its full body and alcohol at 15% it cries for pairing to beef steaks and other grilled meats. Exceptional!
 

Wine tasting with seven wines of Zambartas Winery

 

Getting to know more about the wines of Cyprus


A delightful tasting with exceptional wines

 

 

 

 

  • Lefkada-Shiraz 2013 (65% Lefkada, 35% Shiraz) - Dense red and black fruits, sour cherry (reminiscent of Agiorgitiko), vanilla and licorice with high, ripe tannins and high acidity; still very young. Fermentation in stainless steel tanks and racking to the barrels after (80% new barrel for 12-14 months).

 

Markos’s work is really remarkable and everyone given the opportunity should look up for and enjoy his wines! We take some panoramic photos from their beautiful balcony before saying goodbye and depart to Kilani village and Vlassides Winery!

 

VLASSIDES WINERY


An interesting route brought us to the new winery of Vlassides family. We don’t have the pleasure to meet the owner and oenologist Mr. Sophocles Vlassides as he is abroad these days. But we are welcomed by Themis, also an enologist, who undertook to guide us and offer us a tasting of their wines.

 

 

Approaching the vineyards of Vlassides Winery

 

The vineyard in front of the winery


As we toured the modern and functional winery, Themis narrated the winery’s history. It all started by Fannis Vlassides who had been a winemaker in one of the large Cypriot wine industries. At some point he decided to utilize his family property in Koilani by planting vines. Some years later his son Sophocles, having also studied enology at UC Davis in California, returned to Cyprus and gave shape to their wine vision. Their vinification and storage facilities were initially scattered around Kilani village, so a need for a single winery emerged; one that would gather all their activities. They moved to the new winery in 2012 in the middle of their 5 hectare single vineyard Koloni, two kilometers outside the village. The producer overall cultivates 16 privately owned hectares of vines at an altitude of 700-1.000 meters and complements this by also buying grapes from cooperating growers.

 

 

The brand new Vlassides Winery

 

Themis talked to us about the winery's history and the production procedures

 

 

A walk in the vineyard

 

Works towards establishing a new vineyard right in front of the winery entrance


We should mention the winery started in 2000 producing 20,000 bottles per year and gradually increased its production reaching 120,000 bottles today, with 5% of them exported to Austria and Germany. Returning to the tasting room, we tasted six very remarkable wines:

 

  • Vlassides white 2014 (83% Xynisteri, 17% Sauvignon Blanc) - Nose of flowers, tropical fruits, banana, mint and medicinal notes. A little bitterness in the mouth, moderate acidity, alcohol at 13% and medium body. Pleasant wine with bitterness being the only flaw.

  • Vlassides Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (100% Sauvignon Blanc) – Shy nose with little grapefruit, lime, flowers and dried herbs. I would expect a more expressive nose after a 12-hour pre-fermentation skin contact. However the palate is much more elegant and beautiful, with medium+ acidity and a pleasant aftertaste.

  • Vlassides Rose 2014 (80% Shiraz, 20% Sauvignon Blanc) - Second release for this wine that is a result of 6 hours’ maceration from the Shiraz juice. If we exempt its deep color which is due to Shiraz, aromatically and taste-wise it is reminiscent of Provence rosés: nose of medium intensity with floral notes, red fruits, cherries and a fattier, oily palate. A wine that can easily be paired with food. I would more likely call it a lunch wine rather than a reception wine. Alcohol is at 13%. Well done!

  • Shiraz 2013 - Concentrated ripe black fruits, black cherries, berries, sour cherries, spices, ground pepper. Moderate acidity, high, ripe tannins, high alcohol (15%), full body and a long aftertaste. Maceration for one week, malolactic conversion in the tanks and maturation in one year old oak barrels for ten months.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 - Absolutely typical Cabernet with black fruit, cassis, blackberries, green peppers, spices, vanilla and smoke. High acidity and high tannins with a chalky texture on the palate. The 18-month maturation in new French oak barrels makes the wine denser which, combined with the high alcohol (15%), makes it ideal to accompany rich dishes (grilled beef steaks and the like!).
 

The six wines of Vlassides Winery that we tasted

 

A great effort with the reds leading the way

 

  • Private Collection 2011 (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz) - The third excellent red wine in raw convinces me the winery’s strong point is its red wines (and the rose of course!). Nose aromas of ink, black fruit, plum, black cherry, red fruits soaked in alcohol and tobacco. Medium+ acidity, high tannins, high alcohol (14,5%) and full-body make up another exuberant wine!

 

With Themis and Alexandros into the cellar of Vlassides Winery

 

The winery’s work is at a great quality level and shows potential for even greater achievements in the future! We thank Themis for her hospitality and we get into the car. Alexandros will take us to the last winery of the day. Our wine adventure in Cyprus continues!


(to be continued)


Photos: Stavroula Mariamou

 

Gregory Kontos, DipWSET


Wine writer and taster, sommelier graduate and WSET Diploma holder, with an appreciation for food, traveling, music, friends and bon vivant things in general. Co-partner at Aegean Food Exports and founder of Aegean Wine Selections, a Company focused in Greek wine exports. He is married to Stavroula Mariamou and they have a son. 

 

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