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There are many people in the world who know more about Cyprus than me, but after the other night I'm willing to wager that there aren't that many people in the US who know more about Cypriot wines than I do (of course, I will now receive 70 emails from Cypriot wine experts calling my bluff here, but them's the risks of the job). And, in my newfound expertise—acquired the other night at a very engaging wine dinner put on by the Cyprus Embassy at Ammos—I can state that the wines of Cyprus are surprisingly good. They seem, unsurprisingly, to be benefiting from the same winemaking renaissance that hit Greek wine a few years back. I was particularly impressed by the 2003 KEO Heritage ($17), a vibrant, berry-driven red made from the native Maratheftiko variety (try saying that fives times fast). It had a nice underlying earthy depth, and is a steal for the price. (If you're in NYC, you can track it down at Grand Wine & Liquor in Astoria, which always has a great selection of Greek wines as well.) Also impressive, or at least interesting, was a 2006 Fikardos Winery Spourtiko (not sure of the price), made from the apparently very delicate Spourtiko grape—it's known for having such a thin skin that it bursts when you pick it, basically. The wine was grassy (like new-mown lawn), clean and crisp—an appealing summer quaffer, but I suspect extremely difficult to track down, alas.
Of course, one significant detail about Cyprus as a wine producing region is that it is home to Commandaria, the oldest named wine still being produced. Pharoahs drank it (a bit unclear what they called it, though), Crusaders drank it (that's where the Commandaria part comes in—the word was also the name of the headquarters on Cyprus of the Knights of St. John), and, with somewhat less historical significance, I drank it the other night. If you like dessert wines at all, I'd suggest tracking down the St. John Commandaria (we tasted several; it was the best). Sort of on a line between Tawny Port and Oloroso Sherry, it's also its own thing entirely, with fig, prune, dark chocolate and nut flavors, but not terribly high alcohol, as it's not fortified. With a moderate chill, it was delicious. The best news? It runs a mere $14 a bottle.