Thursday, September 25, 2014


A year ago, I posted a couple of videos on Gaia Winery's project to find out how their Thalassitis Santorini P.D.O. Assyrtiko will age underwater. Each season, about 350 bottles are locked in a steel cage and dropped in an undisclosed location off the coast of the island to be unveiled exactly five years later. This fall, the plan was to extract the 2009 Thalassitis and sample it to gauge how it fared in the depths of the Mediterranean. A few days ago, the Gaia team went to fetch the bottles and only found three of them intact. A storm had rolled through the area in 2010 and dragged the cage more than 200 meters. Of course, a tumbling cage leads to broken bottles and spilled wine. In any case, the rescued bottles drank quite well; Yiannis Paraskevopoulos was surprised by the smoky characteristics of the wine, even saying that it felt like a Santorini Assyrtiko that had spent time in oak barrels. Here's your video proof.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Late To The Show

My mind is failing me. Just realised I forgot to post on the 2014 Decanter World Wine Awards. As usual, The Rock's wineries partook in the soiree and many of them (again, not as many as in previous years) were awarded medals. Cyprus' best performing wine was Aes Ambelis' Commandaria, a wonderful version of the Cypriot classic that received a Gold Medal and that I had sampled earlier at Barrique Wine & Deli. Below is a comprehensive list.

Gold Medals

Aes Ambelis Commandaria

Silver Medals

2013 Aes Ambelis White (Xynisteri/Semillon)
2013 Ktima Gerolemo Xynisteri
2012 Makkas Winery Red (Maratheftiko/Shiraz/Lefkada)
2013 Sodap Kamantarena Rose (Shiraz/Lefkada)
2005 Sodap Saint Barnabas Commandaria
2011 Zambartas Wineries Maratheftiko
2012 Zambartas Wineries Maratheftiko

Bronze Medals

2013 Ktima Gerolemo Off-Dry Rose (Maratheftiko)
2012 Ktima Gerolemo Maratheftiko
2013 Vasilikon Winery Xynisteri
2013 Vasilikon Einalia Rose (Shiraz/Maratheftiko)
2013 Ktima Gerolemo Riesling
2013 Sodap Kamantarena Xynisteri
2012 Zambartas Wineries Shiraz-Lefkada
2013 Zambartas Wineries Xynisteri

Commended Medals

2011 Aes Ambelis Omiros Maratheftiko
2013 Aes Ambelis Rose (Marathefitko/Lefkada)
2013 Ktima Gerolemo Xynisteri
2013 Makkas Winery Rodostafylo Rose (Maratheftiko/Lefkada)
2013 Makkas Winery Xynisteri
2011 Makkas Winery Maratheftiko
2011 Makkas Winery Merlot
2009 Sodap Stroumbeli Maratheftiko
2013 Sodap Kamantarena White (Xynisteri-Semillon)
2010 Sodap Lefkada

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Case of Questions with John Kouphou, Executive Chef at Elea Estate, Paphos

Twitter has been very kind to me. I've "met" loads of interesting people and made several wine-related contacts. One of those is John Kouphou, Executive Chef at Elea Estate in Paphos since 2010, fellow wine aficionado, passionate Arsenal F.C. fan and Twitterati. He's worked in Dubai at The Atlantis and The Palm and has cooked up storms for a slew of celebrities including Bobby De Niro, Michael Jordan and Charlize Theron (lucky dog!). I haven't yet paid him a visit to sample his innovative Club House cuisine but it's on my never-ending bucket list. In any case, he was kind enough to set aside his sparkling spatulas and take a crack at the blog's short-but-sweet case of questions. Let's see how he fares.

Why wine?

CJK: Wine fits with any mood, social gathering (i.e., friends, family), time of day or [even] time of year.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you?

CJK: I was around seven years old during the 70s and my parents used to drink Mateus rose. I remember the shape of the bottle.

All-time favourite bottle of wine?

CJK: Chablis Premier Cru.

Favourite wine-producing region? Why?

CJK: Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand. [Its] oaky, acidic, crisp smokiness.

Your favourite food-and-wine pairing?

CJK: Any [involving] seafood.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

CJK: The big wineries [Editor's note: I assume Chef John refers to KEO, LOEL, ETKO & Sodap] need to take a leaf out of the small bespoke wineries.

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

CJK: If the big wineries invest time and money in small wineries, we will be on the right road.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

CJK: The endless possibilities of food and wine pairing.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your business?

CJK: To continue to be innovative.

Who is your favourite wine personality? Why?

CJK: Kate Goodman [Host of a revamped Food and Drink on BBC Two.] She is a straightforward wine talker.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behaviour?

CJK: I worked with a 4-foot Portuguese sommelier in the past. He was always drunk! [Smiley face] 

Of course, your all-time favourite island  wine?

CJK: I love the Zambartas Cabernet Franc/Lefkada Rose. You can taste the raspberries and pomegranate. Beautiful.

You can find Chef John on Facebook ( and on Twitter (@chefjohn_). He works his culinary magic in Paphos at Elea Estate.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

New Kid In Town

On The Rock, many business people (I use that term rather loosely) love to jump onto the latest fad like pigs to a sty. Last summer, it was Frozen Yoghurt. Everywhere you went, Fro Yo stores spread like homegrown mint, the Old City home to about two hundred of them. This year, cheap yet somewhat stylish souvlaki eateries have taken over, I believe as a result of our bank accounts' bouts with undernutrition and the populace's infatuation with grill marks.

For the past several years, wine bars have too surged in popularity thanks to the success of establishments like Vinocultura and Silver Star, both of which originally launched as cavas. Some of these new additions are quite faithful to their trade and deserve to be known as proper wine bars, while others, in my opinion, are just jumping on the wine-wagon to reap its rewards. For instance, I recently went to one of these so-called new wine bars and, to my consternation, was served a chilled-to-the-bone glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I couldn't care less how you spin it, that's not acceptable if you want to specialise in wine.

Bar, Cava and Deli from Outside
On the same road as Nicosia's powerhouse restaurant Pixida, you will find Barrique Wine & Deli, the city's latest wine-related addition and one that definitely merits its nomenclature. Open from 9:30 am to 2:00 am, the multipurpose establishment works as wine retailer, delicatessen and wine bar. The space is quite open and modern with sleek lines, dimmed lighting, a long bar with stools and contemporary furniture. There is a large sparsely decorated outdoor patio, again a bit too dark for my taste, and plenty of parking in an empty lot behind the establishment.

What first caught my attention though was the cava that sits in the middle of the room, a pair of short backlit shelves stocked with a great selection of wines, many of them only available at Barrique. Here you will find Zuccardi from Argentina, Douloufakis from Crete, and Apaltagua from Chile, to name a few. These can be consumed at the bar for a small surcharge, a practice impossible for me not to commend. Additionally, there are thirty-two wines by the glass that are properly dispensed by Napa Technology's Wine Station, a service first provided in Nicosia by Vinocultura and now mirrored by the new kid in town. The delicatessen, which sits to a side of the cava, is also impressive and offers customers charcuterie, cheeses and other deli items for consumption in situ or to take home. On one occasion, My Zolpidem Supplier brought us as party favours an unctuous goat cheese, chunks of Mimolette and Parmigiano-Regiano, Napoli salami and prosciutto, all of excellent quality except for the latter which was sliced thick like bacon. Personally, I was thrilled to see Laguiole cheese knives, along with other wine-related accessories, for sale by the deli; these make excellent house-warming or wedding gifts.

Logo & New Zealand Pinot Noir
The bar itself specialises in wine (duh!) and cold foods. You will not find any cooked/hot dishes at Barrique. Charcuterie and cheese platters, bruschetta, fresh salads, bread baskets and other similar offerings compose a well-thought-out menu. On our only visit there, a weeknight in late July, we had a small cheese platter (included both a soft and hard selection), a serving of (properly sliced) prosciutto, another of dressed-up bresaola and bruschetta with olive paste and tomatoes. Given the high quality of the ingredients used by Barrique, it's difficult to get wrong. However, one thing I believe will bother many locals are the smallish portions, something that is not taken lightly on The Rock by the patrons of meze. As for the wine, we stuck to glasses of Prosecco, South African Chenin Blanc, New Zealand Pinot Noir and Aes Ambelis Commandaria, the latter, in my opinion, the star of the evening. Overall, the service was of a high standard (maybe a touch too eager to please at points) and the prices were reasonable for several servings of wine and a few platters.

Kudos to Barrique on a great start, and Zuccardi Bonarda, see you soon.

Whine On The Rocks' Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Squashing It

Entrance, Fikardos Winery
At first glance, there's not much to Fikardos Winery. Located in an industrial area off the main road to Tsada from Paphos, the converted warehouse does not have the awe-inspiring views of other Cypriot wineries nor is it surrounded by vineyards. A small, simple lobby with a long table for tastings and white walls showcasing multiple awards at local and international competitions lead to a large open area where owner and winemaker Theodoros Fikardos, Cypriot wine's mad scientist, plies his trade. Fikardos Fikardos, Theodoros' dashing, well-spoken oldest son, greeted The Wife, Ph.D., and me by the entrance and immediately engaged us in conversation while we awaited the arrival of Elena Sophocleous Toth of and her charming entourage of husband + kids.

Father & Son
Per Fikardos' account, the winery was established more than twenty years ago with the fall of the Soviet Union. A significant decrease in Cypriot exports of sherry and raisins meant vineyards were readily available and wine production became a viable option for small business owners. Technical consultants were brought from abroad to study the island's terroir and determine which varieties best suited Cyprus. This push, said Fikardos, introduced noble varieties like Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and partly displaced indigenous varieties, a move that is now being rectified as winemakers are more eager to work with Maratheftiko ("The diva of the Cypriot vineyard!" said Elena), Xynisteri and lesser known grapes like Promara, Spourtiko and Giannoudi. Theodoros, who owned a restaurant and had a tingling for wine, took the plunge and set up his operation at its current location, a space so massive Fikardos has considered building a squash court for those slow days at the office. Fikardos also told us they had plans to build a new winery in Pano Arodes, next to their three-year old vineyards, but the financial crisis struck and put a halt to that.

With a glass of free-run Semillon juice as thirst quencher and a few bunches of chilled Cabernet Sauvignon grapes as snacks, our visit was less tour and more lively conversation about all-things Cyprus wine followed by an extensive tasting of Fikardos' portfolio.

Squash Anyone?
On Wine Competitions: Fikardos made it clear that it is too expensive to send all of their wines, or at least many of them, to compete for accolades. Some contests charge up to 500 Euros per allotment, he explained. What they do is randomly select a few to ship off and hope for the best. I asked about the lauded 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Grand Gold Medal winner in Thessaloniki, and he chuckled. His father wasn't planning on attending the event until he got a call from an excited friend urging him to show up for the announcement of the results. Upon receiving the award, the Cab sold out within days, except for a few bottles that are available at the winery for 25 Euros a pop. I've had this wine on two occasions and it's remarkably good even though I thought it needed to age for a few years. The inky deep violet wine has a bouquet marked by cassis, dark berries, coffee, leather and dark chocolate, and a palate dominated by smooth, chewy tannins, an excellent full-bodied structure and hints of black berries and cinnamon with a long sour finish.

On Fikardos' Wine Portfolio: It's widely known throughout The Rock that Theodoros Fikardos loves to experiment when making wine. At one point in time, the winery had more than twenty different labels out in the market. His son, who recently completed his studies in Food Marketing and Economics, has been trying to curtail his father's penchant for experimentation. The winery now produces 14 wines (6 whites, 2 roses and 6 reds if I am not mistaken), and Theodoros is only allowed to add one if he removes another. Talk about pressure. For instance, after many years, their Lefkada has been discontinued. There is a fifteenth wine, Sunnama, a limited edition dessert wine made Commandaria-style but with the Malaga variety that is available only at the winery for about 20 Euros. I asked whether they had ever experimented with bubblies, and Fikardos told us they hadn't as the costs to produce a good sparkling wine (via proper methods) are rather prohibitive.

Tasting Room
Their Most Popular Wine: Without a doubt, said Fikardos, it's Valentina, a semi-sweet rose that screams spicy food and remains the preferred choice of many visitors. If I recall correctly, Fikardos mentioned that sales of Valentina amount to more than half of the winery's total sales. The Wife, Ph.D., and I had it following our afternoon at the winery with pollo saltado, a piquant Peruvian chicken stir fry, and it matched nicely. This Cabernet Sauvignon-Mataro rose has a vibrant bouquet of candied strawberries, cranberries and pomegranate with similar candied flavours on the palate without being cloyingly sweet.

On Spourtiko: Fikardos Winery is one of two local wineries currently working with Spourtiko, an indigenous Cypriot variety that has taken a backseat to better-known Xynisteri. The grape is very thin skinned and therefore fragile, and the bunches are loosely packed. One positive of this variety, he said, is that it helps Maratheftiko (what a diva!) pollinate. This grape makes a very delicate, fresh and easy drinking white (we sampled the 2013) with aromas of lemon zest, white flowers and a touch of passion fruit. It is light bodied with decent acidity yet relatively short with hints of tangerine, lime and sour fruits dominating throughout.

Baptising Their Wines: Theodoros Fikardos names most of his wines after either family/friends or Greek goddesses. Valentina, for instance, is his daughter, and Leonardo, a higher-end red that varies in makeup from year to year (2012 is a single-estate Shiraz), is his youngest son. An amused Fikardos told us he cannot complain as his name is on every single bottle released.

Fikardos & Our Line-Up
Family Pride: Fikardos is very proud of the winery as the ultimate family-run business. Decision-making on all fronts is done in a democratic manner involving the winery's six team members. Outside help is brought in occasionally, yet Fikardos foresees their team multiplying once their grapes in Pano Arodes reach proper maturity and require more meticulous care throughout the season.

Long gone are the days when Cypriots matched their meals with whiskey, says a pensive Fikardos. The younger generations are learning more and more about wine, attending lectures, participating in tastings, visiting wineries. Of course, I concur. We bid adieu, until next time. Our cars are heavier from the bottles sideways in our trunks, our taste buds tingle from the line-up. Fikardos Winery is in good hands, we tell ourselves. Yes, it definitely is.