Commandaria was the favourite sweet wine of the Plantagenet Kings of England. The wine merchants of England had great liking for Commandaria and it seems that they made a good profit out of it and so gave a banquet in honour of King Peter I and four other kings at the Vintners Hall in 1362 at which undoubtedly Commandaria was the main means of refreshment.
In course of time the demand for Commandaria gradually increased and its greatest consumption during the reign of Elizabeth I, who gave the monopoly of sweet wines to her favourite, Sir Walter Raleigh.
Outside England Commandaria was exported to the main centres of the civilized world until the occupation of Cyprus by the Turks in 1571. Great quantities of Commandaria were sent to Venice because the “Most Respectable Democracy” waived all duties because it was used as a tonic. In Genoa, at Leghorn, at Trieste, in Constantinople, the Islands of the Archipelago, Smyrna, Syria and Egypt, Commandaria was in great demand among its connoisseurs.
Many tourists and scholars who passed through Cyprus at different times and came to know the Cyprus wines make a point of referring to it as being one of the noteworthy characteristics of Cyprus; others wrote hymns of praise about it. Much was written, and many, about the Cyprus wine but in this note only a few and little can be written.
Stephen Lusignan (1573) and Tomaso Porcacci (1576) wrote that the wines of Cyprus were perfect in taste and aroma, that they had such therapeutically powers that they gave it to their sick as a medicine and were held in great esteem in Venice and in Rome. The Frenchman de Villamont (1588) finds them superior to the Malvoisie and other wines of the East.
In Cyprus the Dutchman Van Bruyn (1683) finds Commandaria a hundred years old wines of such age are available today-“as superb and very strong wines”.
The Reverend Clarke, professor at Cambridge (1801) writes about the great fame of the Cyprus Wine-Commandaria – which can give life to the dying and finds it resembles the famous Hungarian Tokay. Dr. Kotschy who visited Cyprus with Dr. Unger in 1862 in the book “Island of Cyprus” mentions the famous Commandaria produced from the vineyards on the slopes of Olympus in the district of Limassol.
Not only by prose-writers but also by a great number of poets have the praises of Commandaria been sung.
Lamartine in 1832, when in Cyprus, enjoys Commandaria. Alfred de Musset in 1833 celebrates his amours with Georgia Sandy in Venice by getting drunk every night with Commandaria, at the safe “Jacomuzzi”. Arthur Rimbaud was overwhelmed by Commandaria when he came to Cyprus in 1880, Commandaria inspired the English poetess Elizabeth Browning to write one of her best songs “The Wine of Cyprus”, a poem great in inspiration and in writing, comprising twenty-two octets.
“The Cyprus Wine” writes Elizabeth Browning “is as sweet as the Lyre of the Muses. It has the colour of a lion or Rea and shines much better than ever did the eyes of the Papho Goddess; it is as light as her step, and the honey produced by the swarthy bees of Hymettos cannot surpass the sweetness of the wines of Cyprus”.
The fame of Commandaria had the misfortune to reach Sultan Selim II (The Sot) who seemed to have much rather preferred Bacchus and Aphrodite to Mohammed. A certain Jewish wine-merchant of Portugal gave the Sultan samples of Commandaria which so greatly pleased him that he ordered his commander in Chief Lala Mustafa and commanded: “We must capture Cyprus. Within this island there is a treasure which only the king of Kings is worthy of possessing”. And thus Cyprus was conquered by the Turks in 1571.
The knights and in general the crusades started a new era for Cyprus which became the cross-road in the adventures of the capture of the Holy Sepulchre. With their passage through Cyprus the knights and Crusaders took with them to their countries among other things vines and knowledge of the preparation of Commandaria which they tried to copy.
It has been ascertained that in the 15th century vines from Cyprus were planted in Madeira by the Portuguese, whence the Madeira wine has been produced, similar to the Cyprus Commandaria. Something similar is the case of the Hungarian Tokay wine which is similar to a good Commandaria. The Marsala wine also seems to be a copy of Commandaria. Thibaut IV the most renowned Count of Champagne, returning from the Crusades came to Cyprus to visit his cousin, Alice, Queen of Cyprus. In Cyprus it seems he was overwhelmed by its vineyards, its wines and its roses because it was looked upon as the most acceptable and covered present to be given, vine and roses. The vines were planted in the area of the Marne and from these grapes the world-famous Champagne was produced.
The present of Cyprus to Thibaut reminds one of the offerings to the Cyprian Goddess. Wine was one of the most lavish offerings because it is natural that Dionysus, God of Nature, Mirth, the vineyard, wine and drunkenness is adored side by side with Aphrodite. In Cyprus every year long feasts were held in honour of the Paphian Goddess to which her admirers came from all parts of Hellenism. In these banquets great consumption of the wine assumed named “Cypriot Nama”, judging from the ancient Greek epigram which mentions someone trying quenching his thirst with “Cypriot Nama”, was made. “Cypriot Nama”, in all probability may have been the name given before that of Commandaria.