It’s thought that grapes were cultivated in the Black Sea area around 8,000 years ago, a practice that spread south-eastwards to surrounding areas, including Cyprus. Exactly how far back wine production in Cyprus goes is unknown, but wine was being traded at least as early as 2300 BC.
Dr. Porphyrios Dikaios, a major figure in Cypriot archaeology and once curator of the Cyprus Museum, carried out excavations on the outskirts of Erimi village between 1932 and 1935. During these excavations, several fragments of round flasks were unearthed and stored in the Cyprus Museum, still unwashed. They were dated to the chalcolithic period (between 3500BC – 3000BC). In 2005, the chemical signatures of 18 of these were examined by a team of Italian archaeologists led by Maria-Rosaria Belgiorno. Twelve showed traces of tartaric acid (a component of wine) proving that the 5,500-year-old containers were used for wine.
Evidence now suggests that there has been a wine industry in Cyprus continuously longer than anywhere else in the world.
Facts are supported by legend and ancient history. The Song of Solomon praises Cyprus wines. The Greek poet Euripides writes of pilgrimages to Cyprus to taste the wine, which at the time was known as “Cyprus Nama”.
Legend has it that Dionysos, the god of wine, taught the first mortal to make wine: this was Ikarios, and the scene is depicted in a mosaic in the House of Dionysos in Pafos where other wine-related scenes also appear. Further archaeological evidence of viticulture and winemaking can be seen in museums around the island.
Cyprus is said to have produced the oldest known wine in history, “Cyprus Nama”, used in celebrations by worshippers of Aphrodite.
King Richard the Lionheart made the local wines famous during the Crusades by exporting them for the first time to England. “I must return to Cyprus if only to taste this wine again”, he is reported to have said.
Similar praise came from Sultan Selim in the 16th century. “We must capture Cyprus”, he told his generals as he sipped Commandaria. “Within this island there is a treasure which only the king of kings is worthy of possessing”.
Visitors to the island find tours of the different wineries fascinating, learning about the grape varieties, the soil, the more modern methods now used to produce some very fine wines – and, of course, tasting the wines.