IN AN ancient iron deed box in ETKO’s Limassol headquarters are the early records of this wine making firm, created by Christodoulos Haggipavlu in 1844. This is the year the founder first started keeping a daily diary and ledger, which now holds some historical value, as ETKO was the very first commercial wine company in Cyprus.
Though the history of wine making in Cyprus can be traced back to the time of Homer, wine making in modern Cyprus dates only from the 19th century onwards – just four decades before the island came under British rule. Christodoulos Haggipavlu was born in Limassol in 1798. He was the first to set wine making as a flourishing industry. His firm also has the distinction of being the first to introduce brandy making into the island, in 1871 via Haggipavlu’s two sons, Demetris and Demosthenis.
In 1947 the firm divided into two subsidiaries: ETKO Ltd for the production of wines and Haggipavlu Co., which undertakes the production of spirits.
The ETKO winery was built in 1969 with a 40 million-litre capacity and grapes were brought in from their own established and controlled vineyards.
In 1970 the company purchased Chateau Zanadjia, and with co-operation of the Cyprus Oenological department and talent of Jean Branas – a famous French oenologist – the first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted.
The famous Ino (named so after one the company’s directors, Ino Haggipavlu) dry red was then born and the next step was the establishment of a regional winery. Where better than the village of Omodhos? Olympus Wineries Ltd was completed here in 1992. With Cyprus on the brink of joining the European Union, the company has extended beyond their own shores and create a winery in one of the famous wine producing areas of Greece. Olympus.
Since 1999, Hellas AE has been cultivated two varietal wines, produced from the famous Moschophilero white grape and the Agiorgitiko red grape in the Peloponnese.
A success story so far, but CEO Antonis Haggipavlu and his team did not stop there. Around that period, a young industrious Cypriot oenologist – a graduate of Dijon University in France and post graduate of Davies University in California – joined the firm. Heavily influenced by his French counterparts, Thoukis Giorgiou set about the project of planting varieties such as Chardonnay, Shiraz and Merlot. Omodhos hosts these new vineyards on the Afames mountain peak and Ayios Amvrosios is the location of an innovative new ecological vineyard, the results of which we shall enjoy in a couple of years.
The Thoukis strategy is clear. Total control of vineyards and the planting of better quality grapes for better results, and wines which are able to be marketed abroad with confidence. Not one for sitting behind a desk browsing a spread sheet, you will often find Thoukis wandering in the vineyards for this is a man dedicated to ensuring his vision becomes a reality.
On a recent visit to Olympus winery, I realised the revolution has just begun with ETKO. I had a chance to try a rosé from Cabernet Sauvignon vintage 2003, a 2003 Shiraz with oak chips, and an outstanding 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon for Ino. The future looks bright.
Recently ETKO launched two new wines to add to the varietal collection. Other than Chardonnay and Chardonnay fumé for whites, Cabernet Sauvignon for reds ETKO has added a Shiraz and a Merlot to their list. These wines are now considered the flagship of the company along with Ino, Semeli and Despotika of Olympus winery. They unveiled their new products last week and I had a chance to taste all five of them. Here are the results.
To the taste:
2002 Chardonnay Olympus Winery, ETKO
Unoaked chardonnay from the Omodhos area with a yellow greenish colour, aromas of white flowers, and a flint of citrus in bitter orange and lemon. The tropical fruit site is reminiscent of star-fruit and mango. Medium bodied to the palate with light citrus palate, lemon peel is predominant with a touch of vegetation. At alcohol volume 11.5 per cent this is a lighter version of chardonnay, a good aperitif and ideal to accompany your seafood salads too, served at 11°C.
Price approximately £3.80
2002 Chardonnay Fumé Olympus Winery, ETKO
Oaked Chardonnay from Omodhos, kept for six months in French barrels. This is a Chardonnay with a different character golden yellow – an effect from ageing in oak barrels. Toasted bread to the nose with a cardamom and cinnamon spice, and a touch of vanilla essence. More vanilla on the palate, crispy and lemony with white flowers this wine served at 11°C is ideal for smoked trout or salmon, seafood in cream sauce and marinated chicken in yoghurt and spices.
Alcohol volume 13 per cent and price approximately £5.50
2002 Merlot, Olympus winery, ETKO
The result of five years old vineyards – and the first ever Merlot varietal vinified in Cyprus. Vineyards are in Omodhos too, aided by the high altitude of 650 metres above the sea level this famous grape of Bordeaux is fermented for seven months in French oak barrels. Further ageing takes place in the bottle for five more months before it is released in the market. A young wine, deep ruby colour, plums and cherries with a touch of tobacco and vanilla pods to the nose. To the taste, roast with spice notes, herby with yet "uncontrollable" tannins. For a first try, this wine is just beginning to display evolved savoury notes. Slight imbalanced acidity but this is because it's still fresh. Save one bottle for next year as this wine will definitely get better. A good first attempt. Served at 17°C with alcohol volume at 13.5 try it with your charcoal-grilled T-bone steak, or fried beef liver. I dare try this one with grilled tuna too served at lower temperature.
Price approximately £4.50.
2002 Shiraz, Olympus winery, ETKO
The label says grapes from Chateau Zanadjia, which means lower altitude vineyards. This is the second varietal to be introduced in the market. Aged also for seven months in French oak barrels and further ageing in bottles for five months, this vivid red young Shiraz is intense and brooding to the nose with red fruits, thyme and oregano herbs and mixed spice. Medium body and high in tannins, it has a firm palate with good oak, balanced alcohol but acidity is high – a result of being still young. Chalk minerality pierces the sumptuous raspberry fruit. Alcohol volume 13 per cent this wine served at 17°C will be ideal for fried liver, roasts – especially lamb, beef stew and hard cheese.
Price approximately £4.50, but save a couple of bottles for the next couple of years as it needs more maturity.
2000 Cabernet Sauvignon, Olympus winery, ETKO
A project that has been running for a few years now, this dry red is not oaked but it is kept for three years minimum to be aged in bottles. Deep red colour, entrancing spicy scents are piercing the nose with green pepper and mint. To the palate this is a rounded full-bodied wine, balanced acidity and good use of friendly tannins. Fruits are found in cherries blended with cassis, I have enjoyed its long aftertaste. It is ready to drink at 18°C with mature hard cheeses, and definitely a partner to my rare pepper steak or lamb with thyme sauce.
Alcohol volume 12.5 per cent and price approximately £3.80.