In conversation with George Kassianos, about the wine industry in Cyprus and how to identify a good wine.
“Cyprus wines show great potential. It’s like opening a treasure chest and discovering new things, new gems.” This praise comes from one of Greece’s two Masters of Wine, Yiannis Karakasis who was recently in Cyprus for an event organised by Cyprus’s own wine celebrity, head Sommelier and ‘Godfather’ of wines, Georgios Kassianos in association with Kyperounda Winery, Fikardos Winery, Tsiakkas Winery, Tsalapatis Wines, Cyprus Commandaria Club and Annabelle Hotel.
You are highly respected in the Cyprus’ wine industry, branded as the ‘Godfather.’ What interested you to launch a career in wines?
Hmm…the Godfather? Well a famous Cypriot winemaker with a successful winery in Greece recently referred to us Sommeliers as the “Mafia” of wine so yes, the Godfather is very appropriate. Interestingly, I never tasted wine until I was 20. The teen culture of the late 70s and early 80s in Cyprus was dictated by beer, brandy and whisky. It was while I was a student in London, studying Hotel Management, that I developed my interest and passion for wines. After a short trip to France and Burgundy, I was finally hooked! Evening classes at the Court of Master Sommeliers, more trips and tastings, as well as working in Michelin star restaurants like 92 Park Lane of Nico Ladenis, became part of my wine education experience.
I decided on a career in hotels but in 2003, following my return from London to Cyprus after 14 years, I started writing about wines and was soon back into the world of wines, participating in competitions, in tasting panels as a judge etc. In 2008 I became President of the Cyprus Sommelier Association and am proud to say, soon became renowned in Cyprus as one of the main Sommeliers. The honour of this title soon led to membership of various committees, the Wine Product Council, the Winemakers’ Association, the Ministry of Agriculture Oenological Department; all for the sole purpose of promoting wine and in particular Cyprus’ wines. As wine professionals, we focus on encouraging the younger generation to specialise in the profession.
Cyprus as a wine producing country and tourist destination, needs more wine professionals and initiatives to expand on training opportunities in the industry. I’m still in hotel management and believe it important to give my knowledge and experience gained, back to the industry.
Is there a record of how many different types of wines are produced in Cyprus?
Cyprus produces all types of wines except sparkling. The majority is still wine, and of course fortified as in Commandaria. It is rare for a winery to attempt sparkling wines, as it’s a huge investment and grapes with high acidity are needed. Cyprus has four protected geographical regions and five protected denomination of origin regions
Why are wines in Cyprus more expensive than the imported ones?
Economies of scale, (in grape production, bottles, corks) labour costs and the fact that certain countries receive subsidies for exports because of the volume of production – for example Spain, Italy and Latin America. Bulk purchasing too, plays a role.
Has the EU supported the Cyprus’ wine production industry?
Thankfully yes. The EU has supported Cyprus’ wine production with funding for new wineries, promoting Cyprus’ wines and wineries in local programmes and at special events.
You’ve served most of your career with the Thanos Group, and spent 19 years with Annabelle Hotel. Do you feel about the All-Inclusive concept and what has the CTO – (Cyprus Tourism Organisation) done to support winery visits?
Certainly for me personally, all-inclusive is an anathema. This is where the hotel industry has lost its appeal by attracting low spenders using hotel quality resources. The local community suffers too, from hotel guests who stay in the hotel and do not venture out to experience local culture and antiquities, which are considered less important by all-inclusive visitors.
The CTO produced the Wine Routes Guide which helps promote Cyprus’ wine industry in the correct way. However, unless the private sector takes over the Wine Routes, then it will be just another project known to very few who accidentally discover it. Wineries and local communities should take more advantage of the Wine Routes, and above all, start promoting the local varieties.
What can be done to improve the Cyprus wine industry?
Improving the quality of wines through better operations in the vineyards, appointing more professional Oenologists, improving the wineries to receive visitors, focus on exports, exploit the Wine Routes, make Cypriot wines known to international magazines, help to educate professional Sommeliers, promote the wines abroad at known exhibitions like Vinexpo and Provine and merge the two associations of wine makers into one.
How does one taste wine?
- Use the right glass and serve at right temperature. Check the colour and clarity by tilting the glass away from you. Check the colour from the rim edges to the middle of the glass. Move on to the wine’s opacity. Is the wine watery or dark, translucent or opaque, dull or brilliant, cloudy or clear? Can you see sediment?
- Swirl the wine and then smell. A wine’s aroma is an excellent indicator of its quality and unique characteristics. Swirl the wine and let the aromas mix and mingle, and sniff again
- Finally, taste. Start with a small sip and let it roll around your mouth. There are three stages of taste: the Attack phase, Evolution phase and the Finish.
- The Attack Phase is the initial impression that wine makes on your palate and comprises four pieces: alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity and residual sugar. These four puzzle pieces, display initial sensations on the palate and will ideally be well-balanced. These four pieces do not display a specific flavour per se, but meld together to offer impressions in intensity and complexity, soft or firm, light or heavy, crisp or creamy, sweet or dry, but not necessarily true flavours like fruit or spice.
- The Evolution Phase is the wine’s actual taste on the palate and when one discerns the flavour profile of the wine. In a red, one might notice fruit – berry, plum, prune or fig; perhaps some spice – pepper, clove, cinnamon, or maybe a woody flavour like oak, cedar, or a detectable smokiness. White wines would offer flavours of pear, tropical or citrus fruits, or the taste may be more floral in nature or consist of honey, butter, herbs or a bit of earthiness.
- The Finish is appropriately labelled as the final phase and refers to how long the flavour impression lasts after it is swallowed. This is where the wine culminates, where the aftertaste comes into play. Did it last several seconds? Was it light-bodied (like the weight of water), medium-bodied (similar in weight to milk) or full-bodied (like the consistency of cream)? Can you taste the remnant of the wine on the back of your mouth and throat? Do you want another sip or was the wine too bitter at the end? What was your last flavour impression – fruit, butter, oak? Does the taste persist or is it short-lived?
Do you have a have a favourite wine?
I have many but my favourite region is Burgundy. I am an obsessed Pinot Noir fan. I appreciate a good Xynisteri from Cyprus and recently Promara and Spourtiko, as well as Yiannoudi and Maratheftiko reds. I love the salinity and minerality of an Assyrtiko from Santorini or a good German Riesling, a Provence Rose and a Syrah from Cote Rotie or Hermitage. Oh and did I forget Pinot Blanc from Alsace or an Aged Amarono Barolo or Barbaresco… Xinomavro…the list is endless, like my passion for wine!
Photographer ©Jim Crowe