Terroir and Tasting Cyprus Wine at Vassiliades Ekfraseis Winery

By Brian Lemay 13 comments


So, I have just had the most fascinating visit
with a wine maker who is really a romantic figure, a rebel, a poet. I have just been talking to Christos Vassiliades
of Vassiliades Ekfraseis Winery. The man has a vision. He believes in his terroir, and with good
reason. He has some of the highest vineyards in the
whole of Europe. He is determined to put Cyprus on the map. He is not going to accept the comfort of the
indigenous variety making him distinct, he wants to go for international varieties and
prove that the terroir in Cyprus can show off international varieties such as Sauvignon
Blanc, such as Pinot Noir, and meet international wines an an equal and excel and do better. The Vasiliades Ekfraseis Winery is located
on the Pitsilia Wine Route, in the Limassol region of Cyprus. It is based in Chandria village, 12 hundred
meters above sea level. Chandria is the second highest village on
this mountain, and has a permanent population of only 220 people. Imagine my surprise to be invited to this
sleepy little village to chat about one of the newest wine projects on the island. The first thing that struck me when I met
Christos Vasiliades was his intensity. Words were pouring out of him in torrents. And every statement was a definite, uncompromising
pronouncement. Yet, I liked him instantly. There is a vulnerability behind the bravado. He is proud, he is knowledgeable and he is
passionate about wine and elegant winemaking. The physical isolation that the rugged terroir
of the Madari hills has imposed on Christos comes at a price. Christos is completely out of sync with every
other winemaker on the island. His vineyards are so high up that harvest
time for him comes many weeks after everybody else has moved to vinification. In fact, his highest vineyard isn’t ready
for harvest till December! His nervous energy was contagious. Rather than immediately proceed with the tasting
of his wines we abandoned the tasting room and took our discussion outside. When we stepped outside, Christos pointed
at the wall behind the tasting room and asked: Do you see that? Do I see what? He explained. The Troodos mountain range is composed entirely
of oceanic crust that was pushed up when the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided
millions of years ago. The rocks used to build the wall he was pointing
at, were once at the bottom of this prehistoric ocean. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that
the higher one climbs on Troodos mountains, the deeper into the primordial ocean one dives
– with marine fossils testifying to that effect. And this is the ground all of Christos’s
vines have to battle with for nutrients. And why should you care, you ask. One word: Terroir! Terroir refers to the natural environment
in which a wine is produced. It includes factors such as the soil, the
climate and the elevation. Drawing nutrients from a rocky soil that used
to be buried at the bottom of an ancient ocean is unique enough, but the vineyards of the
Vasiliades Ekfraseis Winery are also amongst some of the highest in Europe, if not the
world. Christos’s Sauvignon Blanc vineyard sits
at a breathtaking 14-hundred metres above sea level. His Pinot Noir vines, at 13-hundred metres
above sea level. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are, of course,
grape varieties commonly grown in France, not Cyprus. This was a specific choice by Christos Vasiliades. The peak of Madari can be warm and bright
but is also beaten by rain, blanketed in snow and smothered in perpetual early morning fogs. Actually, does this sound like a French wine
region to you? Mr Vasiliades selected grapes that matched
the terroir, rather than try to force indigenous varieties to brave the weather. Christos is also intimately aware of the microclimate
of every vineyard he owns. Because of the variable geography of the Madari
hills, each vineyard is exposed to unique climatic conditions. Depending on its slope gradient, aspect and
elevation, each vineyard enjoys a different exposure to wind, rainfall, humidity and frost. Mr Vasiliades takes all of these factors into
account before making any decision specific to a particular vineyard. I was given some amazing facts. At this altitude, a hectare of vines will
produce 300 kilos of grapes. For comparison, a hectare of vines in the
valleys could produce eight-times that amount. In fact his best loved and highest plantation,
inherited from his grandfather, sits at an altitude of 15-hundred metres. It is home to Xynisteri vines so old and so
distressed that they barely produce 80 kilos of grapes per hectare! We further discussed that these small yields
mean that the 5* hotels and restaurants that eagerly stock his wines keep running out and
he is not in a position to simply provide them with extra bottles. In theory, that just makes his wine more desirable,
but the possibility that one of these venues might decide to no longer stock his wines,
because of this limited supply, is a real danger that is never far from his thoughts. I experienced the frustration of these shortages
first hand. His Sauvignon Blanc and his Pinot Noir were
available to sample in the tasting room, but no bottles were available for us to buy. Christos invited me to walk through his vineyards
with him. This Chandria village vineyard was also inherited
from his grandfather. Watching him move through his goblet shaped
vines served to emphasise his connection to every plant. Every single job needs to be performed manually,
including carrying harvesting baskets overflowing with grapes up and down the treacherous slopes. And Christos is indeed very hands-on in his
approach. He pointed out to us that his grapes were
at a far earlier stage of maturation compared to grapes in the sun-drenched valleys. The berries were smaller, the skins were thicker,
even the leaves were tougher to the touch. The vineyard is densely and randomly planted
with chest-high goblet vines. The thought of planting in neat rows so grape
harvesters could drive through them never occurred to Christos’s grandfather and it’s
not an option available to him either. We chatted for another twenty minutes amongst
the fruit and then it was time to make our way back down the mountain. Wow! My ears popped! We have just descended 1200 metres in 90 minutes. We are back in Larnaca, we have brought two
bottles from the winery, and we have found a third Vasiliades Ekfraseis bottle in a supermarket
on the way. Yes, we tasted most of the labels in Chandria
earlier this afternoon. But I’m afraid the video footage is overexposed. It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon, in July. Let’s do that tasting again, shall we? This time in a situation where we can control
the lighting a bit. We respect you tasters too much to show you
bad footage. You need to see what we are so excited about. So we have three bottles of Vasiliades Ekfraseis
dry wine, the Xynisteri white, the Mavro rosé, and the pale, light-bodied Mavro red wine. All three of these labels are perfect summer
wines! Let’s taste them! The 2017 Vasiliades Ekfraseis Xynisteri is
a 100 per cent varietal bottle. On the nose, this wine is redolent with aromas
of holiday jasmine, under-ripe pear, green apple and new lemons. In the glass, this wine is crystal clear,
it is the colour of pale straw, and it looks as bright as it tastes. On the first sip, you will find tastes of
fresh parsley and grass, not like Wimbledon lawn, but the long grass you crush under your
feet when you walk through the fields of a mountain village. At 12.5 per cent Alcohol, it is light bodied
but somehow still coats the tongue with its rich texture. This wine has a refreshing acidity and minerality
which makes it very food-friendly. As a pairing I would recommend a prawn salad. It will love the dark leafy greens. This 2017 medium dry rosé by Vasiliades is
made entirely of Mavro grapes. On the nose, this wine bursts with aromas
of strawberries and cherries. In the glass, it shimmers like a pink rhinestone,
promising crystal-coolness and freshness. On the first sip, the mild sweetness amplifies
all the fruit but there is plenty of acidity to balance everything out. I love the intriguing aftertaste of kirsch
flavoured bonbons. At 13 per cent alcohol this is a fuller bodied
rosé than I anticipated. As a pairing I would recommend a pasta salad
with tangy goat cheese and aromatic sundried tomatoes. Finally, this Vasiliades Mavro is not like
any other Mavro that I have experienced. On the nose, it is overflowing with aromas
of summer berries, violets and lilies. In the glass it twinkles like a ruby stone,
promising thirst-quenching coolness. On the first sip, you will find roses and
strawberries, and a quaint echo from my childhood, “Nero Triantafyllo”, rose cordial topped with iced water. At 13.5% it’s medium bodied but tastes lighter
because it is free of the brazing tannins one usually expects from Cypriot reds. Instead, this is a summer red, It is light
enough to serve straight out of the fridge – and when you live on an island like Cyprus
where summer lasts at least 9 months, this is not a small point. As a pairing I would suggest that Cypriot
classic, pork souvlaki in a pita that is overstuffed with a tomato, cucumber, onion and parsley
salad and crowned with a drizzle of light tahini sauce. This is an unfinished story. Vasiliades Ekfraseis is a young winery that
is looking to establish its identity. It is carried exclusively on the shoulders
of a single man: Christos Vasiliades. And what defines Mr Vasiliades is his need
for balance. He looks for balance in the terroir he is
working with and in the wine he creates. And his mantra is simple: “A good wine is
a balanced wine.” Having visited him and his winery and having
tasted the wine, now, finally, the name of the winery makes sense. Ekfraseis is the Greek word for expressions. Each bottle he creates is an expression of
the Troodos mountain range: ear-popping altitude, low atmospheric pressure, temperature extremes. And the minerals, metals and fossils of the
ocean floor that one day reached for the sky.

13 Comments

WineScribble

Jul 7, 2018, 5:21 pm Reply

Thanks for watching, Taster! Which winery visit left an impression on you? Comment below 🙂

Marios Sheherlis

Jul 7, 2018, 10:20 am Reply

To begin with I would like to congratulate you in a job well done of bringing out in details of what it means to the winemakers to have good quality wine from Cyprus it is a fact that we are still not known I so much in Europe about our good quality wine but as I have said before we have good wine makers in Cyprus that are doing their best export to show what we have and to put us on the map as good wine makers we have the ability we have the knowledge we have the grapes we have the land we have passionate people so let's just hope within the next year's you will be amongst the high rated good quality wine Islands but I would like to leave you with a small message we are still a small island we make good wines and there is a big Demand on it I understand all the winemakers that don't have enough to support us but one day I hope all that would change they will keep the standards and be able to support restaurants hotels and people that buy their wines good luck on all the videos that you're making I am happy that somebody is doing something about it I'm sure this people they've already tried I'm not saying that they failed but it's time now that we have to show the world Who we are in wine making @lovecypruswines

Orestis Tsiakkas

Jul 7, 2018, 8:25 pm Reply

An excellent video yet again! Thank you for promoting our winemaking on the island!

Fay Ap.

Jul 7, 2018, 8:11 am Reply

Excellent video.The scenery is beautiful,the wines are delicious,balanced, AMAZING!Great applause to the winemaker.

Erasmia Charalambous

Jul 7, 2018, 12:15 pm Reply

The best!!! 👇👍🍷

Anna Paradisi

Jul 7, 2018, 12:24 pm Reply

Ekfraseis vasileiadis have made me a hit at parties ! A must try and buy !!!

Savvas Sofokleous

Jul 7, 2018, 12:27 pm Reply

Το καλύτερο χωριό βγάζει τα καλύτερα κρασιά!!!

Alexandros Alexandrou

Jul 7, 2018, 9:05 am Reply

A great Wine Communicator talking about a passionate winemaker.

Alexandros Alexandrou

Jul 7, 2018, 9:08 am Reply

McVine as a surname is a little difficult to believe but an appropriate one for WineScribble.

Vassilis Soteriou

Jul 7, 2018, 8:14 am Reply

Hi Annabelle! Thank you for yet another great presentation on local wineries; the story unveiled behind each of your presentations is amazing! Looking for an expert tip…can the Mavro rosé pair with fresh salads other than pasta that you suggested!? Would chicken or bacon in the salad destroy the pairing or best to pair with the Xynisteri white? Thank you in advance 🙂

Alex Moskofian

Jul 7, 2018, 1:30 pm Reply

These recommendations are not helping my diet! But you have to love everything about this video. It makes your mouth juices flow, with beautiful scenery add!

Casleah Herwaldt

Aug 8, 2018, 4:21 pm Reply

Love your content! This video officially made me add cypress to my bucket list!! Looks absolutely incredible and the wine sound to die for!

Christos Vassiliades

Apr 4, 2019, 8:58 am Reply

Αν και έχουν περάσει ηδη οκτώ μήνες, και παρόλο που έγινε επανειλημμένα αναπαραγωγή με παρόμοια θεματολογία απο άλλους παραγωγούς σε πολύ πιο ιδανικές συνθήκες, συνεχίζει να έχει με διαφορά τις περισσότερες προβολές στο κανάλι. Ευχαριστώ για την υποστήριξη

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