Commandaria is a sweet dessert wine made in Cyprus from the white Xynisteri and the red Mavro grapes, which are grown on the southern slopes of the island’s Troodos Mountains. Commandaria has one other special ingredient: history. It’s widely recognized as the oldest wine still being manufactured, with records of its production dating as far back as 800 B.C.
The grapes are picked only when they are ripe or even overripe, bumping up the sugar content. After drying them in the sun, vintners then press and ferment the grapes for up to three months before finally aging them in oak barrels for at least two years. The end result is a strong, sweet dessert wine with aromas of caramel and cocoa, and flavors of raisins, figs, and honey. Occasionally fortified, Commandaria has an alcohol content that hovers between 15 and 20 percent.
The name “Commandaria” dates back to the Crusades. In the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart captured Cyprus and even held his wedding there. It’s believed that he served the local wine at the festivities, calling it “the wine of kings and the king of wines.” When King Richard sold the entire island to the Knights Templar in 1191, the knights began producing large quantities of the sweet drink, naming it Commandaria after the region under their control.
The Cypriot dessert wine thrived in European markets over the following centuries. In fact, a wine believed to be Commandaria won what was likely the first recorded wine-tasting competition. The event, held in the 13th century, was hosted by King Philip Augustus. The French king gave Commandaria yet another royal endorsement, calling it “the Apostle of wines.”