Marinos Demetriou, sommelier at the newly renovated Columbia Beach Resort, talks to us about wine pairings, the art of oenology and the exciting names emerging from Cyprus’ vineyards.
What exactly does being a sommelier entail?
A sommelier is responsible for creating the whole wine experience for guests from start to finish. As well as managing the cellar and keeping abreast of global trends, being a sommelier is also about tending to the enjoyment of what a perfectly paired wine can bring to an overall dining experience. This is one of the most exciting parts of the role: being able to speak with diners on a personal level, seek out their likes and dislikes, and share your knowledge with them accordingly in helping them select a wine for their meal.
What sparked your interest in oenology and how did you turn it into a career?
When I was younger, I found myself utterly intrigued by this sphere: blending and producing alcoholic beverages, and truly appreciating each drink’s essence, is an often overlooked art form. Even though I’m qualified in the fermentation and distillation of all alcoholic beverages, my interest has always been the promotion of wine: sharing this passion with others. I’ve spent many years teaching bar management and oenology in Athens, and I even established a wine bar in Athens.
What is your favourite dish served at the resort and which wine would you pair with it?
That’s a difficult question! The kleftiko at the Apollo Tavern is a must for all visitors. Kleftiko is essentially slow-cooked (very slow-cooked!) lamb in the oven. It has a rich history in Cyprus, and is a beloved dish the island over. At Apollo Tavern, diners will enjoy sampling this wonderfully tender shank alongside a thick wheat and coriander base, with artichokes and yoghurt, producing a hearty and yet delicate dish.
As to which wine I would pair with it? Definitely a red wine with some acidity, such as a Rosso di Montalcino. Originating from the heart of Tuscany, in the same defined area as its ‘bigger brother’, the Brunello di Montalcino, this expression is younger, fresher, and fruitier than its sibling, making it a good match for the juicy kleftiko.
Pinpointing a favourite dish and corresponding wine at our gourmet Italian restaurant, Bacchus, is a little more difficult! The team of chefs at Bacchus really exercise their poetic license, with the menu being in a constant state of evolution. Creativity literally effervesces off the plate at Bacchus, so I would recommend guests look to our special wine list, Cellar Treasures, which is an exclusive collection of rare wines and vintages that have been dusted off from the depths of our cellars. Whatever dish you choose, Cellar Treasures boasts an equally unique wine to match.
Can you tell us about Cypriot wines? How do they differ from other wines?
With nine months of summer and high temperatures near to year-round, the environment gives rise to more concentrated wines in Cyprus. The grapes ripen at a much quicker pace than in other countries – the harvest in Cyprus begins in July and is completed by August’s end. In contrast, grape harvests in other countries typically take place between late September and November.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this. The key advantage is that when grapes ripen quickly, there is a much more intense concentration of aromas and sugars, with little water. A disadvantage is that some of the grapes’ qualities are a little coarse because they haven’t had time to slowly develop and thus reach their full potential.
It’s often told that Cyprus’ wine roots date back to antiquity, and this is true. We are one of the oldest producing wine regions in the world, and are indeed home to the oldest named wine still in existence: Commandaria. King Richard the Lionheart himself – upon passing through Cyprus during the Crusades – proclaimed it to be the ‘wine of kings and the king of wines’.
It’s exciting to see this rich heritage being taken full advantage of, with many of the local wineries now being spearheaded by a new generation of oenophiles who have gone abroad to study, bringing back refreshed knowledge and technologies. Enormous strides have been taken in winemaking in Cyprus: the industry is rapidly evolving. I’m looking forward to the coming years!
Any particular names guests should look out for?
I’d recommend two particular indigenous grape varieties. The first is the Xynisteri grape variety. Every winery in Cyprus produces a white wine made from Xynisteri. Due to its more organic, mineral taste, the Xynisteri is always blended with an additional variety, producing many different characteristics, from acidic straight through to aromatic.
As for red, visitors should definitely look out for the Maratheftiko variety. It’s such a unique variety: it’s honestly dissimilar to anything else I’ve ever tried. The Maratheftiko grape has great density, and produces tannins that are strong, without being aggressive or bitter. Plus, it has a very special aroma. Unlike the green pepper aroma typical of a Cabernet Sauvignon, the Maratheftiko’s ‘greenness’ is better expressed as being herb-infused and botanic. Its undertones are reminiscent of key herbs used across the Cypriot cuisine landscape, such as thyme and rosemary.
Have you chosen any unusual or lesser-known wines for the wine cellar?
Well, certainly for our guests coming from abroad, I feel compelled to turn once again to Cypriot wines when considering lesser-known options. For white, I’m excited for guests to sample the Cypriot version of Chardonnay. Mystes – produced by a winery in Paphos – is a slightly aged Chardonnay, which conjures amazing aromas of grapefruit and orange, and possesses a smooth, long-lasting finish. I think red wine enthusiasts will be delighted when trying a specific Shiraz created by a winery in Limassol. It’s quite fresh, strong, and juicy, and pairs very nicely with any meat-based dish.