Medieval History of Cyprus Wine

Cyprus Wine History- Medieval to the 19th Century

[This is a 3 part series – to read part 1 about the Ancient History of Cyprus Wine, click here or to read about modern Cyprus wine, click here].

Cyprus wine history is related to the island nation’s own history. It depends on who was ruling the island, and what they preferred to drink. Since ancient times, Cyprus wine has been sought after by people within the region. And that’s why it came as no surprise that those who ruled over the island have control over the wine industry. Winemakers in the island had faced hard times over centuries of ruler changes from the Lusignans to the Venetians and to the Turks.

Cyprus Wine during the Lusignan Rule

During the time of the Lusignans, Cyprus had close connections with Crusader nations, especially France. It was during the 12th century when the sweet Cyprus wine was renamed to Commandaria. The name came from Gran Commanderie, which is an area found in the west of Limassol and where the headquarters of the Knights Templars was previously located. The wine was the main source of wealth for the knights.

Richard the Lionheart was said to be one of the fans of Cyprus wine after tasting it during their stay in the Commandaria regions. It was said that the first Commadaria wine was made in the Kolossi Castle that was owned by the Knights Templars. And from there, the production of the dessert wine has spread all over the island nation.

It was during this era when the Commandaria wine was awarded as the best in the Battle of the Wines, which was the first recorded competition for wine tasting. The contest was also known as The Battle of the Blends.

The Battle of the Wines was organised by King Philip Augustus of France and was immortalised by the 1224 poem made by Henry d’Andeli. Aside from Cyprus wine, wine samples from France, Spain, and other parts of Europe were tasted by an English priest. The wines were rated as Celebrated or Excommunicated. The Commandaria from Cyprus was judged as the overall winner.

Old Commandaria Label

Cyprus Wine History during the Ottoman Occupation

Wine production during the Ottoman occupation was reduced. This was caused by high taxes on Cyprus wine and the Islamic tradition. During that time, winemakers will hide the amount of vintage they have in their storage. Grape growers would bury a portion of their produce to hit the actual amount of their harvest.

Cyprus Wine under British Rule

It was only after Cyprus became under British rule that the wine industry started to grow again. The British Empire changed the tax laws regarding wines, and local winemakers started to expand their operations. It was during that time when the foundation of ETKO was built. At present, it is one of the biggest wineries in the country.

It was thanks to the British Empire that people know get to enjoy wines from the top winemakers in Cyprus. After Medieval to the 19th Century, the next part of the Cyprus wine history series will tackle the Modern Era of the wine industry in the island nation.