Noble Knights and a noble Wine

What is the connection between one of the world’s oldest wines and the Knights of the Crusades? The image of a knight in full battle gear charging forward on his equally armour-clad horse doesn’t really go together with the gentle sipping of a delicious sweet wine. Rather, one imagines that it is a hefty goblet of beer that the knight swings after a day in battle.

But the truth is that Cyprus’ sweet, delicate Commanderia is forever associated with the Knights. In fact, it even gets its name from them.

Richard the Lionheart

In 1191, during the Third Crusade, the English King Richard the Lionheart conquered Cyprus. It all started with a storm that drove them ashore in Limassol. Komenos, who was ruling Cyprus at the time, did not want to help them but instead kidnapped Richard the Lionheart’s sister and fiancée. This didn’t really appeal to the belligerent English king, so he simply conquered the island. (Perhaps its strategic location and fertile hills may have had something to do with it too. Who knows?)

The Knights

After some back and forth, he then sold the island to the Knights Templar. An organisation that, despite its name and reputation, was more of a bank and monastery than a fighting force. The Knights of St John (referring to John the Baptist in Jerusalem) were a religious military order. So yes, they had the full kit of armour, swords and so on. But they also farmed, and like monasteries and monks the world over, they tended vineyards and produced wine for a living. These new owners of the island set up their command post, ‘La Grande Commanderie’, in the castle of Kolossi, just west of Limassol, and established a centre for the wine trade.

The name

The wine produced came from specific villages and vineyards in the area, a wine that had already been produced for a long time. But now it entered a new phase. You could say that the Knights monopolised the wine trade, both within Cyprus and for export. Before, this high quality wine had gone by many different names, such as ‘Nama’, or simply ‘Wine from Cyprus’. But now it got its name from the command post. “La Grande Commanderie” where the wine was sold and hence the name we know today: Commandaria.

And when you think about it, there is perhaps not much difference between the Knights of the Crusades and a sweet wine from Cyprus. Both have met and are met with prejudice and misunderstanding. But when they emerge from the mists of history and you get to know them, you see and appreciate their complexity, finesse, knowledge and commitment.

Through history, Commandaria remains and still are, a drink worthy of Kings and Saints alike. Something I will soon tell you more about in the next post.

Maria Scharffenberg
Sommelier und Dozent