A Mediterranean cornucopia of flavours

Maybe not the biggest, but very important

Facing challenges and working hard for a medal are concepts we know from sport and life, but they can also be found in the field of wine. Across the wine world, there are many important awards where producers rely on an organisation to evaluate the results of their hard work with transparency, professional honesty and fairness.

Some of these awards get bigger year by year, with wines numbering in the thousands and judges numbering in the hundreds.

Other competitions are smaller in size, but all the more important in impact. Such as, for example, the wonderfully organised event the 14th Wine of Cyprus Award. During 6 days, 7 international jury members under the leadership of Prof. Dr Antonio Morata, Oenologist, Unimadrid  have been evaluating 163 different wines. That may not sound like much. But it is an entire country’s wine industry that has been evaluated. More precisely, those wines produced in Cyprus and which have sold at least 1,000 litres in the previous year.

Cyprus, the wonderful gem

Cyprus is a small wine-producing country, with about 1730 hectares, but is a unique gem in the centre of the warmest area of the Mediterranean.

About 100 producers spread over half a dozen wine regions work hard generation after generation and the results of these last years are highly satisfying. Each year, higher and higher quality standards are achieved. But perhaps more importantly, the producers in Cyprus are also showing the wine world that a fair production, respecting origin and tradition, is perfectly mixed with innovation in processes and vines, with a common strength and deep respect between them. Imagine this amazing island where each producer supports the others in the way he or she can, moving machines to help those who do not have enough of them to meet the different harvest times.

From the end of July to the end of October is the most difficult time in the field, the various grapes have different ripening times and it is also varies according to the level of cultivation above sea level; some of them are above 1,400 metres.

The competition

I apologise. I was so taken by this beautiful island and the warmth I was met with that I almost forgot why I was there, to judge their wines and grapes.

During the Award session, the Judges analysed both the Autochthon grapes Xinisteri, Maratheftiko, Yannoudi, Mavro, and the international ones Sauvignon Blanc Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shyraz, Merlot. The evaluation comprends all the aspects of the sensoric analysis, visual, olfactive, in there the judge must analyse a wide spectrum of sensations, the technical one, in there my colleagues’ oenologists gave an incredible support on the technical knowledge, the aromatic sensation, and the authenticity of the grapes. On the autochthonous grapes, the technical analysis by George Kassianos, President of the Sommelier Association of Cyprus, was incredibly valuable. He provided details on climatology, differences between vintages and the characteristics of the native grapes of Cyprus, the only country that has always been free of phylloxera.

The Sommeliers interpretate the aromas, flavours, and taste also in the quality aspect, the balance, and the best pairing opportunities with both national and international dishes.
Open discussion in the Jury to underline characteristics of the wine, which sequence of tasting are in a coherent flight of wine with common characteristics.

As the wine is poured, there is a silent, almost religious devotion, as each jury member concentrates on their glass, smelling, looking, tasting the contents. Every Judge give the evaluation, signs the report and consign them all together to be given to the President, who announces the evaluation. The highest and lowest scores are excluded and the final score for the wine is the average of the other five.

The best of the best

The result for all the wines was almost always unanimous, with one common comment we made at the end of the competition: Cyprus wines are truly a cornucopia of gourmand products with so many tasting opportunities evolving every year.  For example, Xinistery, which is traditionally consumed young, fresh and intense; but in recent years stubborn producers showed the market that the ageing potential of this wine reaches levels of finesse and intensity that are a voyage of discovery for your palate. Also the gentle mix between roughness and roundness of the Μαυροδάφνη Mafrodafne or Yannoudi  are a specular representation of the clima of this country in there you can spend the morning skiing and the afternoon on the beach.

The celebration

On the last day of the event, the Ministers of Agriculture, Economy and Energy, and their representatives, awarded medals and prizes to the producers who received the highest marks for their great work.
Also those who will not be returning with a medal this year were there. Colleagues and wine lovers celebrated together with the technician from the Ministry of Agriculture, the head of the organisation, the jury, the journalist and the guests. We all tasted the winning wines side by side.

The atmosphere was that of a historical village, where everyone celebrated the wine festival together. Tomorrow will be another sunny day of hard work, all in cooperation.

Thank you for the honour of being part of this wonderful event and thank you for giving me the opportunity to contribute with some of my knowledge and experience!

Umberto Galli Zugaro
Sommelier and Docent
Präsident Europäische Sommelier Schule
Member of the Jury of the 14th National Wine Award of Cyprus
21-27 May 2023