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.


Matt Stowell said...

Thank you for writing about Fikardos, a winery often neglected by other wine writers in Cyprus. Theodoros is a man of great integrity, generosity and courage, and we have enjoyed his wines since first meeting him seven years ago. He follows his passion more than most other winemakers here and is never a slave to market trends. Nice article, Mateo, all around.

Mateo Jarrin Cuvi said...

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, he's quite passionate about what he does and I always look forward to his latest experiments. Hope all is well with you!

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