The Future of Cypriot Wine with Demetri Walters, Master of Wine

[CYPRIOT WINE]

DEMETRI WALTERS ON CYPRIOT WINE

MASTER OF WINE, WINE CONSULTANT, EDUCATOR & EVENTER

  • Making a Career Out of Wine
  • Becoming a Master of Wine
  • Cypriot Wine & Winery Recommendations
  • Xynisteri and Commandaria
  • The Future of Cypriot Wine
  • Demand for Cypriot Wine in the UK
  • The Effects of Covid-19 on the Wine Industry
  • Food and Wine Trends 2020

Demetri Walters, Master of Wine, is a wine consultant and leading wine educator. He is one of just over 400 Masters of Wine worldwide. His father was in the army and his childhood was spent in various overseas locations. Demetri’s mother is originally from the village of Pachna, where his family still owns property. This is where his initial love for wine first started. After working for the leading wine merchants, Berry Bros. & Rudd, for almost twenty years, he now lives in London and travels the world as a wine consultant and wine educator. He holds regular wine events on an international basis. He returns to Cyprus at least twice a year, not just for a holiday, but also for teaching, attending wine events, judging and meeting with individual wine producers.

HAVE YOU ALWAYS LOVED WINE?

I have had an interest in wine for as long as I can remember. I know that at the age of twelve, I enjoyed my first taste of Commandaria wine and loved the feeling! My grandfather had vineyards in both Pachna and Avdimou, and I used to enjoy accompanying him on his occasional visits to the vines when we were on holiday in Cyprus. For me, gardening and horticulture, in general, were a natural fit.

HOW DID YOU MAKE WINE YOUR CAREER?

Following a career in property and surveying, I decided that I wanted to make a career out of wine and started studying over twenty years ago. Wine is, essentially, about making things grow, so I enjoy the viticultural side. Whilst doing my exams, I was interviewed for a position with Berry Bros. & Rudd, who were the leading wine merchant in the UK at that time. This gave me the push I needed to change my career and go in a new direction entirely. Life was showing me the way.

Initially, when I joined Berry Bros. & Rudd, I worked in their wine cellars. I loved it as it gave me access to their excellent wine knowledge. During my career with them, I moved around different departments, but I most enjoyed being involved in their wine events. Berry Bros. & Rudd was established in London in 1698 and grew to be one of the leading wine suppliers in the world. They have been the official wine supplier to the British Royal Family since the reign of King George III. Eventually, I moved on to be involved in their wine events.

HOW DID YOU BECOME A MASTER OF WINE?

After a lot of hard work that involved a lot of blind tasting and wine assessments. I was tested on so many wines and asked questions such as: What is it? Where is it from? How does the style reflect the terroir? And then, ultimately, how would you promote and sell this wine?

As well as the practical side, I also had the theory to cover. The exam was divided into five parts over four days. They covered every aspect of wine, including viticulture, the business of wine and quality assurance, to name just a few of the subjects.

CAN YOU RECOMMEND A CYPRIOT WINE AND PAIR IT WITH THE RIGHT FOOD?

Mavro Field Blend, Margelina from Zambartas Wineries. It is light and fragrant and puts one in mind of several grapes, including Pinot Noir. I would drink this with a variety of complex flavoured meat or vegetable dishes. It has sufficient tannic and acidic freshness to make sense of both fat and oil, plus, it is proof that Mavro, and old vines, including some white grapevines, can really come up trumps as a field blend.

Other interesting ‘off-beat’ wines to look out for in Cyprus, include Vouni-Panayia’s ‘Micro-Vinifications’, including their skin-fermented Orange Wine, indigenous white grapes such as Morokanella and Promara. They are excellent food wines.

CAN YOU RECOMMEND A CYPRIOT XYNISTERI WINE?

With Xynisteri wine there are so many outstanding producers nowadays, ranging from the cooler climes of the Paphos district to the higher Pitsilia range. Xynisteri just gets better and better. Depending on where it grows, it can resemble Assyrtiko, but with lower acidity, as with Riesling, and can also possess a slightly stone-fruited aroma akin to Promara and Spourtiko. My recommended producers and there are others too, would be Ezousa, Kyperounda, Zambartas and Tsiakkas wineries.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR LOVE FOR COMMANDARIA?

Where to begin with Commandaria? Do you prefer the Tawny Port-esque rendition of Keo or the return to the unfortified Nama-style of Tsiakkas and Kyperounda? Either way, Commandaria is one of the great sweet wines of the world and needs to be treasured. It can be enjoyed all year round, as a wine of contemplation, or as an accompaniment to fruit cake – I kid you not, or a bowl of mixed nuts, particularly walnuts. Or, celebrate with Commandaria at Christmas. If only communion wine was this good!

HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF CYPRIOT WINE?

To a large degree, the future of Cypriot wine will always be governed by tourism. It will also depend on creating an active export market for Cypriot wines. Wines from Cyprus really do offer so much to the rest of the world.

The rediscovery of indigenous varieties is significant. Sometimes, they all get lumped together in one vineyard, but each grape variety must stand out. In a world which is awash with wine, Cyprus offers individuality through its own grapes. If you are going to grow a Cabernet Sauvignon grape from Bordeaux, in Cyprus, you are going to have an uphill battle. I believe the wineries should concentrate on their unique grapes such as Maratheftiko, Mavro, Kanella, Lefkada, Opthalmo and Xynisteri, to name but a few. Quality is everything in the future, and Cyprus needs to set itself apart; to distinguish itself.

I do also believe that Cypriot wine has a tremendous opportunity and will benefit from the latest gourmet fashion. There is a massive craze to dine on small sharing plates at the moment, with a variety of dishes, such as Tapas or Meze. Hellenic wines cope very well with all manner of textures and flavours on the table. This is the strength of our wines. If we look at Xynisteri, it is such a versatile wine, which pairs well, not only with fish but also with oily vegetables and pork. If the Mediterranean way of eating continues, our versatile wines will undoubtedly benefit. Cypriot winemakers should certainly make the most of this opportunity.

In London, I see this food craze more and more. One of my favourite places to eat is Noble Rot, where we eat lots of small dishes that would never work with just one single wine. This is the great strength of our indigenous grapes here in Cyprus. The other unique characteristic of Cypriot wine is that it is new and exciting. People suffer slight fatigue with Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs and Chardonnays. Very often, friends have been blown away by the quality and versatility of Cypriot wine.

ANY PARTICULAR WINERIES IN CYPRUS TO MENTION?

There are many good wineries in Cyprus that I can think of, which are right up there on the international wine scene. During my travels to Cyprus, I have been very impressed with the wines from Zambartas Winery, Kyperounda Winery, Tsiakkas Winery, Ezousa Winery, Vasilikon Winery and Vlassides Winery, to name just a few. Of course, there are many other quality options as well. Some Cypriot wineries do certain wines particularly well. Vouni-Panayia Winery does an exceptional job due to the fact that they concentrate on the indigenous grapes and experiment with their micro vinification processes. Other wineries refer back to history and experiment with storing their wines in Amphoras. Kyperounda and Tsiakkas wineries are both producing fine Commandaria, and other wineries here are doing extraordinary things in Cyprus.

WHY AREN’T THERE MORE CYPRIOT WINES AVAILABLE IN THE UK?

For a wine to be successful in the UK, it needs to be consistently bought and therefore requires a considered approach in terms of publicity. We need the Cypriot Government to get very serious about exporting their wines and support the wineries in Cyprus.

I believe there would be a high demand for Cypriot wines in the UK, especially with the current food trends and the versatility of the grapes. We do, however, need to be careful, as the UK wine market is one of the most competitive wine markets in the world, and any wine needs to be priced to sell. I am happy to report that I am currently working with the Cypriot High Commission in London on this matter.

WHAT DOES YOUR JOB INVOLVE?

Before COVID-19, I travelled the world, attending wine and training events in Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and the Arab Emirates. I also took part in many private events across Europe. In an average year, I would normally do between 180-200 wine tastings. I handled the training of staff at a great many exclusive restaurants in London, Manchester and Belfast, and taught Virgin Atlantic cabin crew all about the wine they carried.

I have been lucky enough to be able to talk about my passion for wine and be part of some world-class events, such as ‘Music and Wine at the Albert Hall’ in London and ‘Sculpture in the Park’ in Belfast.

I thoroughly enjoy teaching and talking about wine to an audience of limited wine knowledge. It is wonderful to pass on my expertise to my students and to give them a sound wine knowledge foundation from which they can build. To be the principal point of contact for teaching someone about wine is a great honour.

I have also worked with several celebrity chefs on menus and wine pairings, including Michel Roux Jr, when we made a series of Bordeaux First Growth Dinners together.

WHOM OR WHAT HAS INFLUENCED YOUR WINE CAREER?

I have always been fascinated by fortified wines. In particular, I am a fan of Madeira, as I like its ability to age. In connection with this, I would like to mention Patrick Grubb, who is also a Master of Wine. He gave a very different view of Madeira to the world.

Also, two terrific friends who encouraged and influenced me to enter the wine industry when I was a younger man. They saw how much I loved wine and working with the soil.

Furthermore, I am very taken with the natural efforts of some of the vineyards in Italy and always impressed by people who have a natural approach to winemaking

HOW HAS COVID-19 AFFECTED YOUR SCHEDULE AND THE WINE INDUSTRY?

Obviously, with my diary, I have had a lot of cancellations due to the need to travel to foreign destinations, but it is not all doom and gloom. During Lockdown, a lot of the wine retail businesses did quite well. This success also followed through to wine businesses that were selling online. However, it is the on-trade (sales to restaurants, venues, airlines, etc) wine businesses that have found it difficult, as they are unable to supply the now closed or restricted venues.

I would typically be so busy training the trade about wines in businesses, such as restaurants, hotels and airlines, but the face-to-face wine business has disappeared. Today, though things are starting to get better, restaurants are reopening with a much shorter wine list. We are living in restrictive times, and the whole world, including all industries, have been affected by COVID.

While there have been few retail events or direct opportunities to speak with the public, I have really enjoyed the Zoom events which have taken place online. Through the 67 Pall Mall Wine Club, I have held several classes whereby the guests were sent small bottles of wine to enjoy during the Zoom webinar. I have also taught many private classes on Zoom/Webex & other platforms for people who have wanted to learn more about wine.

I believe that the businesses without an excellent online platform have suffered throughout the pandemic. They have now woken up to the fact that they need to be technologically enabled, as it is essential for today’s world and the situation we face.

WHAT FOOD AND WINE TRENDS ARE YOU SEEING AT THE MOMENT?

I am certainly seeing a lot more white wine these days, compared to previous times. As mentioned before, I do think that people are always on the search for a new experience – a wine that they have never tried before. We are also seeing a significant shift towards new wines on the whole, and not just in Cyprus. Indigenous varieties and Orange wines are indeed prevalent at this time, and I see a tremendous future for Orange wine where white grapes are fermented with the skins left on.

Another focus in today’s world is both Organic and Bio-dynamic wines. These are doing extraordinarily well. Some of the most celebrated producers have always done biodynamic, but they have just never shouted about it. I agree with anyone trying to limit residual chemicals in the soil. We do not want to ingest them. I know they have a cumulative effect on the body. I am a great advocate of natural wine and like the idea of minimum intervention in the winemaking process. Wines should not be subjected to pesticides and herbicides and should be grown using only natural products where possible.

Regarding food trends, we are seeing more and more that there is a desire to buy local produce. In the UK, we see this as people want foods grown within a 20-mile radius of their home. As with organic wines, people also want foods grown or produced with minimal chemicals and additives.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD?

Obviously, with my international travel, I am fortunate to eat at some of the top restaurants in the world. When I am home in London, I love to eat at The Palomar on Rupert Street in Soho. I eat there on a pretty regular basis as it is a Middle Eastern restaurant serving small dishes, and it reminds me of Cypriot food. The food is traditionally from modern-day Tel-Aviv but is influenced by the cultures of North Africa, Spain and the Levant. It is an Israeli restaurant on the edge of Chinatown! One of the things that I do enjoy, and it might be a reaction to all the formal dining during my career, is to eat with my hands. I also particularly adore Cantonese Cuisine as I lived In Hong Kong as a child. I always look forward to a business trip there and will eat anything except exotic species. I also really enjoy the old-fashioned clubby style of food. I also appreciate the simple things. Nothing makes me happier than a plate of Barbouni, chips & salad at the Kyrenia bar in Avdimou.

WHAT WAS THE LAST WINERY YOU VISITED BEFORE COVID 19?

I enjoyed a wonderful day at Tillingham Vineyard in Rye. It is an excellent organic winery with a great emphasis on the latest biodynamic techniques. They are developing Orange wines fermented on the grape skins in Georgian Qvevri; these are large earthenware pots similar to Pitharia in Cyprus. I am very interested in using clay as a fermentation vessel. I genuinely look forward to seeing more of this in Cyprus. As a child, I clearly remember seeing this technique being used in Cyprus with the Pitharia and, today, it is being used all over the world by some serious wine producers for both red and white wines.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

I am really looking forward to getting back to face-to-face meetings. My consultancy work with vineyards and businesses around the world involves a lot of foreign travel, so it will be nice to get on a plane again.

However, I am also enjoying the time to concentrate on my future book on Cypriot wines, which, I hope, will be published in a couple of years. There is a lot of history and information to be researched. Whilst I love the history, it is the romance and stories of the vineyards that fascinate me.

For more information on Cypriot wine and wineries in Cyprus, and to keep up-to-date with the latest news from Demetri Walters, Master of Wine, visit his website here.

Interview by Sarah Coyne

Published by Cyprus in Style December 2020 | #InStyleBusinessNetwork | Demetri Walters, Master of Wine | Wineries in Cyprus | Cypriot Wine

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