Ask Chuck

Location: Whitby, Ontario, Canada

Born in Malta but in Canada since age 5. Has written three books and presently does several columns about wine and food for various magazines.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Rocky Mountain High------A Visit To Virginia`s Wine Country

Beginnings: Day One Of Virginia Wine Country  November 2nd 2014  
Be advised that I abhor airports! It used to be fun---this traveling! The airport used to be a point of pleasurable anticipation. One could go and lounge around---checking a few stores and eventually wander to a dining spot to have a breakfast or lunch or dinner or just a quiet drink. That is now all gone because of some cowardly asses who think that they can strike fear into travelers with their threats of destruction. It used to be fun----it used to be!
Now, the fun and anticipation has been changed to a rush! Get to the airport! Check your bags and don`t be late as you walk through the security lines and check points---removing belts, shoes and emptying your computer bags, purses and wallets into a tray. Once through one form of security, if one is going into the United States, a second even more time consuming line of security and protocol has to happen. All because of some misguided persons wishing to disrupt the lives of many innocent individuals just wanting to get from point a to point be quickly. It`s not quick anymore. The fun really has gone out of air travel and going to the airport was not on my top experience lists.
The limo picked me up very early (around 6 am) for a ten thirty flight to Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. I tend to be very anal when it comes to airports and travel. Enough time must be given to potential problems which could seriously alter the flight plans. Thus I was at Pearson some three hours earlier. My first quandary presented itself immediately upon arrival. I found my way to the Air Canada flight monitor to check for my flight to the USA. No flight was listed. I checked the main monitor and found a flight going to Dulles at ten thirty am but it was a United flight. Upon checking with an agent walking by at the time, I found out that this was my flight and that Air Canada Flight 3910 was actually United Airlines Flight 5098. No one had informed me of that and no one had written any such material on the ticket.
I waited, read and waited some more before my time came to head for the security area. In went with the usual----remove belt, remove shoes, remove jacket, empty computer case, empty pockets etc. etc. and was escorted to the gate where I had to remove my shoes, my jacket, my belt, my pocket change and empty my computer case etc. etc. That took almost an hour and a half of additional search time.
Once through I made my way to the gate which seemed at the far reaches of the airport. It was almost the last gate.
My flight was on a 72 passenger jet which would take about an hour and a half to fly to Washington.
The flight left on time and we actually made great time----arriving about ten minutes early.
I certainly was not prepared for Dulles which was one confusing airport for a first time visitor. I had checked the Dulles website which made no mention of a train that had to be taken to a different terminal. If it wasn`t for some very nice people, I would have ended up wherever but not where I was supposed to go.
I found my way around then it hit me! THIS was the airport of Die Hard 2 fame---you know the one with the caption ``Die Harder``  and featuring the plot to ``rescue`` a drug dealing general from a South American country on his way to be incarcerated within the United States. You know the plot! It was snowy, cold and the ``bad guys`` took over the control of the tower ---holding a large number of fuel deficient flights in the air over Washington hostage.
Yep I was in that airport and while there were a great deal of people, there wasn`t any great excitement going on! I waited for several hours until the shuttle bus picked me up and then circled until all the wine writing group was picked up.
 It took some time for the British wine writer members of the Circle of Wine Writers to clear customs but after much waiting, we were on our way to the hotel-----an ultra new. ultra luxury hotel in Virginia.
The Salamander         
 I remember telling my daughter Taryn that I was "at least going to be away from horses and barns for a few days" since I usually spent most of my time catering to her "hobby" related to the Equestrian past time. Little did know of the surprise that awaited me.
The Salamander hotel describes itself in this manner 
"Set on 340 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains amid Virginia’s famed horse country and lush vineyards, and just 35 minutes from Washington Dulles International Airport"
"Horse Country"----"famed" at that! I got that certain queasiness in the pit of my stomach that said, "Oooops, I think you are IN horse country!" That all came to fruition when I got to the hotel.
The hotel was amazing------actually better than amazing! Recently built it is an ultra luxury hotel that is immersed in the local equestrian history. It consists of twenty five acres dedicated to equestrian activities with a 14,000 square foot stable with 22 stalls, nine paddocks of at least one acre, trail ride areas, a huge outdoor riding area with ThorTurf footing and dining/viewing areas within the stable. The resort itself has a state-of-the-art kitchen supervised by top chefs. The rooms all have tremendous views of the some 340 acres of scenic beauty ----200 of which are dedicated to conservation.
Inside the hotel are reminders of the equestrian influence area through pictures, paintings, ribbons and statues of riders and horses. This place is a Mecca for any rider but for those of us lowly persons who do not ride (and especially for "broke" fathers whose daughter's compete in the Hunter/Jumper category) there was so much to see and do. For wine lovers, the wineries close by and the excellent cooking at the hotel would keep any gourmet, wine expert and/or life aficionado enjoyably busy for months if not years! 
I laughed at myself as I thought of the prophetic yet ironic statement I made to my daughter Taryn as I prepared for this trip to Virginia. "At least I am going to be away from horses and barns-----!" I laughed as I sat down at the side of my bed and stared right at a picture of a horse jumping over an "Equestrian Eventing" obstacle!  Since the group was so late in leaving the airport we opted to go to our first winery late rather than put it off until the next day so after we registered and freshened, we were off to the first of many wineries on this trip, Boxwood Winery in Middleburg, Virginia.
Boxwood Winery
The group of Circle of Wine Writers was basically familiar with each other since many of them had traveled with each other before. This was with the exception of two of us plus our driver Devon. I was made to feel immediately comfortable and the other, a young Russian lady by the name of Tanya, was also well received. Our driver with his excellent personality and driving skills was to become a very appreciated and contributing member to our team. There were two other individuals whose hard work made our trip possible and who accompanied us on this tour: Annette Boyd, Director of the .
Virginia Tourist Corporation and Christi Braginton, International Media Manager for the same.
Boxwood is located not far from the Salamander Hotel in Middleburg. Priding itself on its Bordeaux style blends, it grows five  varieties of grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.  Four styles of wine are produced: "Boxwood", "Topiary", "Trellis" and "Rose".   Boxwood is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Topiary consists of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Trellis consists of  mainly Merlot with small proportions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot added.  The Rose wine is produced from a blend of all the varieties grown at the winery. 
The winery which started in 2001 was the brainchild of  entrepreneur Jack (John) Kent Cooke, son of theti former Canadian business person who made it very big in the United States. Mr. Cooke invested a huge amount of money in Boxwood in order to make it a "star" attraction compared to other wineries around the Globe. He obtained the best French Bordeaux Clones in order to make wine that was similar in style to that of the French Bordeaux.  
Boxwood's winemaker is Adam McTaggert is a Canadian winemaker educated at Brock University in St. Catherine's Ontario who was hired by Mr. Cooke to oversee the wine production. Cooke's daughter Rachel Martin is the Executive Vice President and chief spokesperson for Boxwood. She studied Oenology and Wine Evaluation at colleges in Napa and Bordeaux.
Presently there are some 16 acres under vine. The winery is State-of-the Art with a magnificent tasting area.  Great care is taken to make sure that the grapes are hand harvested and berries hand selected for berry fermentation and eventual French oak aging.
CWW group were given a tasting of several wines made at Boxwood. 2008 Boxwood Red (50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot), 2009 Topiary (50% Merlot, 48% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec), 2011 Trellis (60% Merlot, 40% blend of Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, Petit Verdot), 2011 Topiary (68% Cabernet Franc, 32% Merlot) and 2012 Boxwood Red (56% Merlot, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot).
While all the wines were excellent, my favourite was the Trellis which had both power and elegance combined.  
It should be noted that famed viticulturist and consultant Lucie Morton was also involved with the success of this vineyard. More about this famed person later on in my blogs.
It was quite late when we finished our tasting at Boxwood and then we were off to a delicious meal at the Grandale Restaurant in Neersville. This four star restaurant is noted as being one of the top 50 restaurants in Northern Virginia. After a fine meal it was back to Salamander Hotel for a good night's sleep.
End of Day One


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Virginia: Day One and Two

Virginia Preamble          
About 400 years ago English settlers tried to produce a wine industry in Virginia! They met with little success since what they did not know was that the vinifera grapes they were using were being destroyed by various diseases----one that would, in the late 19th Century, almost decimate the vineyards of  Europe.
President Thomas Jefferson, a great wine expert, spent almost 30 years  growing grapes and trying to make wine. His work responsibilities which kept him away from his beloved Monticello home as well as the difficulties in growing vinifera vines left him frustrated.    
Success in making fine wine was later reached in Virginia with a grape called "Norton".  In 1873 it won "Best Red Wine of All Nations" at the World's Fair in Vienna and a gold medal in Paris.
Some believe that this grape may have been a "natural cross" between vinifera species and a wild native grape variety. As it happened in Canada  in the early 19th Century where a German winemaker by the name of  John Schiller founded a winery in Cooksville, Ontario with "natural hybrids" he purchased, the Norton grape was successful in proving that Virginia could make wine.
Enter Gianni Zonin in 1976! A member of one of Italy's most prominent wine families, he saw what many others did not---that Virginia was an excellent place to grow vinifera. With ways to control the devastating effects of vine diseases and pests, he purchased the 800 acre estate of 1812 Governor James Barbour. The estate now produces over 40,000 cases of wine per annum.
Virginia's wine has industry flourished and now with over 255 official wineries operating in the state, it ranks fifth in acreage and grape production.
The wineries have unique names such as North Gate, Box Wood Vineyards, Flying Fox, Wild Wolf, Tarara, and Deer Rock. There are many more of course.
Virginia's signature grape is the Viognier, which is certainly well made. However the other wines I have tried have shown the same excellence as that of the above grape. The Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay are certainly excellent examples of character driven wines.
The Bordeaux blends or Meritage Wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot) are equally well made.
Some interesting wines also involve a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat and/or the Portuguese grape, Touriga Nacional  with a Cabernet Sauvignon mix. 
Despite the high summer humidity which sometimes drives the vintners to distraction,  grapes do grow well here and include Syrah (Shiraz), Nebbiolo, Sauvignon Blanc, Vidal, Petit Manseng,
and a host of other varieties.
Virginia is a wine paradise which is certainly a World contender producing robust, powerful reds and whites.  


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Day Seven: The Way Home!

I awoke around 2:30 am  though I had a call arranged for 3 am. I have a natural  time clock that seems to wake me up when I need. I was showered and dressed by three am and then down to the lobby to wait for my taxi by 3:30 am. The hotel had breakfast waiting for me and the taxi arrived pronto on time.
The way to the airport was fee of traffic and we made great time. I was at the airport, checked in and waiting for my 6:30 am Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna by 4:45 am.
I arrived in Vienna around 8:45 am and quickly found my way to the gate for my 10:15 flight to Canada.
The flight took off on time and I just reminisced about the trip and that wonderful country island called Cyprus.    

Day Six: The Longest Day Can Be So Much Fun!

On The Way To Kourion
I had decided the night before that I would be overly tired to go out on the town with Stelios and his friends. However, we did make plans for him to come up to the hotel the evening of this, my last day in Cyprus. So my conscience was clear and as my eyes opened up to begin my day the only thought I had was will I survive this day of hectic schedule and ------most of all-----how am I going to get all these damn wine bottles in my suitcase for the trip back home.
Everyone wants to give you something! Wine was a given though it was difficult to refuse a gift with the excuse that "It will be too heavy in my luggage"! Sanyo Nuts gave me a huge amount of trail mix composed of almonds, walnuts, peanuts etc. Others gave me lace and so on.
I still had the large jar of walnut dessert that I had obtained during the first day of my visit to Kolani.
Thinking about what to do, I hopped out of bed and proceeded to shower and dress. I was saddened not to see Elena at breakfast as her smile made my day and since I had to leave at 4 AM next morning I really had no time to say goodbye.
I had my usual for breakfast and met Andri. We were off bright and early to Kourion to tour some historical sites.
 Steeped in antiquity, Kourion is said to have been founded by the Argive Greeks (from the city of Argos) however the earliest known settlement is dated at around 4500 to 3900 BC. It lasted until an earthquake destroyed it in the Middle Ages. There are some very intact sites in Kourion one of which truly impressed me.
Gladiator's Beware
Kourion’s Greco-Roman Amphitheatre could sit over 2000 people and was used for Gladiator events. As I stood in the middle of the amphitheatre I could imagine the wild crowds yelling---much like would happen today at a boxing or wrestling match but with one exception----the loser died. One thing was most impressive in this theatre. If I stood in one spot, I could hear my voice echoe throughout the theatre. No microphone was needed. If I stood a few inches in front or either side, nothing would happen.
House of Eustolios
Another, the House of Eustolios, consisted of a complex of baths and a number of rooms with 5th century A.D. mosaic floors, was once a private Roman villa. Later it became a public recreation centre during the Early Christian period. The House of Achilles and the House of the Gladiators also have beautiful mosaic floors.
There was much to see in Kourion and I left feeling that I had only scratched the surface of the story.
Andri was a wealth of information----she was more like a human encyclopedia but one could only take in so much.
Onward to Paphos (or Pafos) 
Paphos is the name of one of six districts made up of a number of small villages. Paphos is also the name of name of the capital city of the district.  It lies on the Mediterranean coast about fifty kms from Lemesos or Limassol. The city is an ancient one with many references to the Goddess Aphrodite. The city was also visited by Saint Paul in the 1st Century AD.
Paphos has been selected as the European Capital of Culture for 2017. It is also on the list of cultural and natural treasures of the World's heritage.  
Petra Tou Romiou
We stopped at the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite. The legend has it that Aphrodite was conceived by the God Zeus and an earth goddess. However many writings say that Aphrodite was born of the foam in the sea. The area she was born from "Petra Tou Romiou" means "Rock of the Greek" but is also known as "Aphrodite's Rock". Another legend has it that if one swims around the rock three times, he or she will become eternally handsome/beautiful. I was told that since that has already happened to me-----I didn't have to try (LOL)!  
Aphrodite was supposed to have been perfectly beautiful but a bit "stuck on herself". Her husband was a crippled god of forge and metal work however it is said that Aphrodite really liked Ares, God of War! Figures----women seem to like bad boys----even Goddesses!

Fikardos Winery, Mesogi Village (Paphos District)    
Located on the extreme south western slopes of the Troodos Mountains, Mesogi is a small village in a sense, whose time has come. Years ago it was in the country with a background of rolling hills but urbanization has caught up to it and the area that used to be farmland is now being built up. The village is still on the tour circuit however and is famed for its Basket Weaving.
The village also has another attraction and that is Fikardos Winery which is part of Fikardos Distileries Ltd. We met with owner/director Theodoros Fikardos who invited us in to taste his wines.
 Fikardos Winery makes a range of red, white and rosé local table wines. New French oak barrels are used for maturing some red wines, and for the fermentation of Chardonnay Fume Xilogefiro.
In addition to indigenous grapes Fikardos uses international grapes to create fresh, young, fruity wines in both varietal and blended styles, as well as wines suited to aging.
Theo invited us to taste his wines from "barrel" and one by one we tasted about 14 different wines. It is hard to say which I liked best since most were not yet mature but certainly his wines---even though immature from the tank (barrel) showed so much promise. I did enjoy his Xynisteri/Semilion blends as well as his Cabernet/Matro Blends. His Maratheftiko also impressed me.
We had a great visit and a great chat. Then it was time to move on to our next destination on this long but very interesting day. During all this I kept on thinking----man, I will not feel like getting up at two thirty tomorrow morning.
Latchi Fishing Shelter    
Latchi transformed from a fishing shelter into a full grown marina and a fish meze along with aperitifs  is the rule of the day.It is hard to believe that this "shelter" was only a decade old. 
Back then and before, Latchi consisted of carob warehouses and just one restaurant, Yangos & Peter. Nowadays Latchi has become one of the major attractions of the area and is nationwide known as the best place to eat fish.
Latchi also used to be the main area for sponge diving but an unknown disease killed all of the sponges, putting an end to the trade . 
After a very brief look at the Fishing Shelter we were off to Akamas!
In Akamas and Baths of Aphrodite
By now those who read my blogs know that I try to include as much history as "untiringly" possible. One can just beleaguer to the point of boredom. It is also apparent that every part of Cyprus---including even every particle of sand on its beaches----is steeped in history. Akama is no exception but I will be very brief.
It is named after the son of Theseus (Minotaur, Argonauts) Acamas who apparently was one of those who hid in the Trojan Horse during the war with Troy.
It lies in he extreme north-west part of Cyprus and geographically rises on one side and declines sharply on the other (Promontory).
The area is famous for its environmental features such as a breeding ground for Loggerhead Turtles as well as a sanctuary for many species of flora and fauna. It is also home to the legendary "Baths of Aphrodite".  
Baths of Aphrodite 
Just past Latchi Fishing Shelter and on Akama's tip is situated the famous baths where she used to bathe. This natural pool grotto surrounded in greenery lies at the end of a small nature trail. Myth also has it that this is where Aphrodite met her lover, the handsome Adonis (Man she really got around! Reminds me of someone I know!) when he stopped off for a drink while hunting. The moment he drank the water, Adonis fell in love with the goddess. I tried some of the water but the only reflection I saw was my own and------really decided against it!!!!!
Andri and walked down the very charming Nature Trail with its many interesting types of flora. Not too much fauna with the exception of some birds.  The day made this trail even more beautiful however as it is situated on one of the best and most scenic points in Cyprus.
Baths of Aphrodite Restaurant
We stopped off at this restaurant and were seated at the most gorgeous scenic view overlooking the quaint beach and the blue Mediterranean. I could see people snorkeling and sunbathing some one hundred feet below.
The food was amazing and of course it was fish Meze style. We got the works, fish of several varieties, shrimp, calamari, vegetables and on and on. Everything was done to perfection and was ----ever so fresh. Of course there were the usual attributes such as bread, olives, yoghurt and wine. I had my usual coffee---must have looked bad--me, a supposed wine writer opting for coffee. You know, I never really thought about that---maybe better change my ways OR---start writing about coffee instead!
Droushia Village      
About five to ten kms from where we were lies the Droushia Village with its old stone houses, carved doors and excellent scenery where one can view so much in so little time. From here one can see the Troodos in the distance or Akamas or the Mediterranean.
Here we visited the "Sapfo"  (or Sappho) Agrotourism House (N.B. Throughout this trip, I have found that the spelling of certain names changed from one particular writing or another so I usually put down two versions should there be any conflict).
Sapfo Traditional Agrotourism House or Sappho Manor House
Located in the center of Drousia village, The building was built in 1912. It was renovated and reconstructed to its original look using all similar materials to the original and under the strict supervision of the Cyprus authorities.There are  seven spacious apartments all with  their own bathroom/toilet facilities and kitchenette.The property is thoroughly modernized and has a strikingly nice swimming pool. 
After the short stay at the Manor House we were off to see historical sites at the "Tombs of Kings" not far from Pafos town.
Tomb of Kings

  The "Tombs of the Kings" is the impressive necropolis that is located just outside the walls  north and east of Pafos town. It was built during the Hellenistic period (3rd century B.C.). The 'Tombs of the Kings' was the place where the higher administrative officers and personalities as well as the members of their families were buried. The necropolis was continuously used as a burial area during 3rd and 4th centuries A.D.). Christians may also have used the site for their burials. The tombs may also have been used to house groups of people during the Middle Ages.
Most of the tombs are characterized by an underground, open aired rectangular courtyard carved into the natural rock.  Doric style pillars supported the porticoes in the yard. The burial chambers were dug into the walls.
The construction was impressive and must have taken many years to complete. Sad that the tombs were looted in the past. So much could have been learned.
Andri and I were soon off to our almost last stop of the day----The Mosaics at Pafos (Paphos).
Mosaics Galore  
The Mosaics of Pafos are represented by several Roman villas each having a thematic point to it.
The House of Dionysos (2nd Century AD) concerned mainly the God of Wine. The House of Theseus (2nd Century AD) dealt with mythology such as  Theseus killing the Minotaur.  The House of Aion (4th Century AD) shows more mosaics about Greek Mythology such as "Leda and the Swan", "Dionysos's Bath", "Dionysos's March". 
The House of Orpheus (3rd Century AD) had more legendary mythology in the depiction of Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion. In The House of Four Seasons (3rd Century AD) each of the four seasons were depicted by a mosaic---all were female with the exception of Winter which was depicted as male-----could he be the original "Man For All Seasons"? 
In all the mosaics had everything one wanted and has even today in movies---kinky sex, violence, lesbian affairs, incest and of course hunting. It seems that the Greeks (and Romans) didn't live by war and conquest alone. They stopped off and had some fun also.
Bye the time we finished our tour of the Mosaics, we were starting to get tired. It was quite a schedule but it was worth it. As I said before, Andri was such a wealth of knowledge and a charmer that she made time fly by.
We went to our last destination and that was Pafos harbour.
Pafos harbour is a very beautiful spot which has a lovely marina and many cafes and restaurtants. The athmoshere is electric in watching all the people sitting, having a coffee or smoke and enjoying the summer sun. Boats come and go and the smiles are everywhere. 
Andri and I had a cappuccino and a smoke. We then said adieu to the area and then back to the hotel where she and I parted ways. It was all good.
I went back to my room to get a call from Stelios who wanted to pass by for a visit. 
It was around eight thirty when Stel.came to visit and we met in the lounge of the Med Beach Hotel. We had some Cypriot beer and talked about the trip. He also bought me a litre of singel malt Glenfiddich scotch which I thought was over the top considering the price but he said that the icewine I gave him was also expensive in Cyprus so we were even. We had become good friends  but all good things must come to an end and we had to part and I had to get ready for the trip home.
End of Day Six         

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Day Five: Another Winery, Another Village, Another Church, More Great Sites

Dafermou Winery
Of course the day started much the same as any other day with me rising early and having a great breakfast down in the Mediterranean Hotel's Garden. I had my usual two pots of coffee and of course there was Elena's smile along with one of her peers who sang as he served.
Andri was on time but as usual I was late. It was not going to be a hugely busy day but we did have some ground to cover. I said to myself as I sipped the coffee, "Tomorrow will be another story!"
I was supposed to go out later on in the evening with Stelios and his friends for a night on the town but was not sure how tired I would be when we got back from touring.
We were off to our first spot----The Dafermou Winery is located above the Lefkara Valley and is an ultra modern facility that makes some fine wine.
We were met by Savvas Phakoukakis who gave us a brief tour and tasting of the wines available. We tasted some fine whites and roses as well as some top notch Maratheftiko. At the winery they make a number of blends such as a red Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah, a rose Cabernet/Syrah and a White Sauvignon Blanc, Xynisteri, Chardonnay. The wines are very well made with excellent integration  and style.
 Lefkara Village
We enjoyed visiting this winery and soon we were off to visit Lefkara Village which is famous for its Lefkaritika or embroideries as well as its silver crafts. As a point of reference, Lefkara is situated on the southern slopes of the Trodoos Mountains.    When we arrived we saw groups of women along the narrow streets working on their craft much like their mothers and their grandmothers did before. Pictures within a museum show how this has not changed since the faces and dress styles were different but the work was the same.
Lefkara, like many of the other villages, is quite old and has been uninterruptedly  inhabited for many centuries. It is said but unproven that Leonardo Da Vinci came here and purchased  some lace. Nice story but not sure of the accuracy but that is what the villagers stated. It would be nice if it did happen.
Nicosia (Known also as Lefkosia)
Nicosia is Cyprus's largest city, its capital and also its main financial centre. Nicosia's history goes back to at least 2500 BC and subsequently came under the rule of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Romans,Turks and the Byzantines. Richard the Lionheart conquered Nicosia and most of Cyprus in the 12th Century after which it came under the auspices of the Knights of St. John who sold it.
There was a period of Frankish rule after which came the Genoans and Venetians.
The Ottomans invaded Nicosia in the 16th century and remained until the Island of Cyprus came under British domination in the late 19th Century.
In 1960 Nicosia became the capital of the Republic of Cyprus.
Nicosia is split with the northern part being under Turkish occupation since 1974. The southern part remains a vibrant and industrious city.
Nicosia was no different this day. Full of crowds shopping, I briefly stopped to look down Ledra Street at a restaurant called "The Berlin Wall" aptly named since behind it lay a wall that has split a city as well as a country.    
Ledra Street  
Andri and I visited Ledra Street which is the main shopping area of Nicosia. It is loaded with various stores and one can not help but notice that even the golden arches of McDonald's  with its local flavour advertised such as the Helloumi Breakfast (I call it the McHalloumi).
There are a multitude of restaurants which serve a plethora of foods and dishes. Not far is the Archbishop's Palace and St. John's Cathedral.
St. John's Cathedral (Agios Ioannis)
This Gothic church was renovated in the latter half of the 17th Century after it became part of the Orthodox church. Prior it was a Benedictine Monastery until the 15th Century. Inside there are amazingly beautiful and very in tact wall paintings which depict stories from the Bible. It is considered the official state church. The paintings and frescoes were all  intact and absolutely beautiful.
Cyprus Archeological Museum 
Andri took me to the Cyprus Archeological Museum. One of the most amusing times I had on this trip occurred then when she had trouble finding a parking space. She did find one but was afraid that she would get a summons for staying there. She saw a police officer and went up to him to basically say "I am parked there and will be there for about an hour---is it okay since I have a guest from abroad?  The officer looked at her and said--"I can't promise you will not get Andri was livid and was at a quandary as what to do until one of the museum personnel recognized her (she is a licensed guide) and found a space in front of the Museum. Problem solved ------but funny!
The Cyprus Museum was founded in 1888 and has been in existence since. The basic reason for at least part of its founding was to stop the theft of historic relics and articles from Cyprus by expeditions and politicians of other countries. The first law concerning Archaeology in Cyprus was enacted in 1905 and followed by a 1935 law furthering of officialism of the Museum and its goals.
The present museum consists of 14 rooms---each of the room follows a historical chronological and thematic path.
 The exhibits represent Cyprus's prehistory and history. One of the items that truly sent my imagination running was actually a bed that was found in a 7th Century BC tomb at Royal Necropolis of Salamis. The bed was accompanied by a throne (chair) and could easily have been a bed frame from a local modern furniture store. The tomb incidentally was complete with chariot, horses in full battle gear and other treasures.
Andri and toured the museum but soon it was time to go onto our next adventure which was-----lunch!
Kathodon Restaurant  
The Kathodon Restaurant is located within a stone's throw of the "buffer zone" that separates Turkish held territory from that of Cyprus. In fact I could see the Turkish flag flying above the buildings in the distance. The Kathodon was very inviting both inside and out. I usually judge a restaurant's worth by its washroom cleanliness and I must say that I soon felt very comfortable in both the hygiene and quality of the food. No wonder this restaurant is rated 8th or 9th among 237 other restaurants in Nicosia.
The food was amazing and came "Meze" style. The owner specifically included some octopus when he heard I loved seafood. The repas was indeed delicious and varied. The food was accompanied with the usual entree of three types of yoghurt. The salads were amazingly good and fresh and the dishes that came sent my taste buds to new heights.
Soon it was time to go to our last destination but it was about one and a half hours away from Nicosia. Time was not waiting for anyone so we finished up our coffees and off we went.
Larnaka is the third largest city in Cyprus. Once again it has a colourful history just like that of Limassol (Lemesos) and Nicosia (Lefkosia). Its history goes back to at least 1200 BC and probably much further. It is built upon the ruins of a much earlier ancient city called "Citium".
 Apart from having an international airport, Larnaka is famous for its historical sites such as the Church of Saint Lazarus, the Aquaduct which was built in the 18th Century and many sarcophagoi, which are called Larnakes. The city is therefore aptly named.
Church of Saint Lazarus
If one can remember the story, Lazarus was a great friend of Jesus Christ and died while Jesus was away preaching. Jesus did not return to Lazarus until after four full days of his death. By that time, Lazarus was wrapped and sealed in a tomb since bodies began to decompose quickly during those days.
Jesus wept when he found out that his friend had passed and he went to the tomb and ordered Lazarus to awake. It should be noted that the smell of the body was already being noticed. 
The rock was flung away and Lazarus appeared still in his wrap and walking.  
Lazarus later fled Judea and settled in Cyprus where he became a bishop. He died some thirty years after his resurrection and was said to have been buried where the church now is. Some of his bones are on display in the church.
The church itself is quite ornate and unfortunately was damaged in the 1970's and had to be partially restored.
After the church Andri and I drove to the "Foinikudes" which is a very pleasing stretch of beach front promenade that many use for a relaxing and utterly gorgeous scenic walk or to stop and have a coffee or cappuccino while watching the crowd and the rolling waves as they come ashore from the blue Mediterranean.
After a nice cappuccino, and off we went to return to Lemesos for a good rest in order to prepare for the next day to come which was going to be a long one!
End of Day Five   


Monday, October 27, 2014

Day Four: A Trip Down Lemesos Lane

It was day four and I woke up feeling as though I belonged to this area. Not a stranger; yet so enthused and enlightened as though there was so much to learn and see. I was hungry since I missed dinner the night before----on purpose as I was well too aware of my major failing and that is good food attracts -------and the food was both plentiful and good!
I decided to work on my blog and articles that night. The hunger was there this morning however and I quickly showered and went to have breakfast.
The Mediterranean Beach Hotel was lavish with its buffet breakfasts and there was much to enjoy. I was "good" however and limited myself to one plate of eggs, bacon, some cold cuts, grilled zucchini and olives. The smiling young lady who served me leaned that my penchant for coffee knew no bounds and a large coffee pot was "plonked" on my table with a mischievous grin that basically meant--"There you go---enjoy your cups of coffee----you really love your coffee don't you!"
I did and I appreciated the second pot that she brought over also!
The time went quickly and I realized that it was time for me to meet my new guide. I was late!
 I climbed up the marble staircase from the hotel garden where the breakfast area was located and met my new guide, Andri, in the hotel foyer near its main entrance.
Slim, a petite five four with a distinctive pretty face hidden by a striking pair of dark glasses, Andri gave the large smile that I had become accustom to from those I had met in Cyprus so far.
Today we were going to visit Lemesos or as it is also known as Limassol.
The day was the same as the last three---sunny, blue sky up above and warm. It was a perfect day to tour the town I was staying in.
Old Limassol And Food Market
Limassol is a splendid mixture of old and new. Amongst the modern roads and luxury hotels is a plethora of ancient and medieval archaeological  sites  such as Limassol Castle which was built in the 12th Century and later demolished by Turkish invaders. It was rebuilt later in the 16th Century. It is here in the Chapel of St. George that Richard married his fiancee, Berengaria de Navarre.
We toured more of the old town  It was bustling like any vibrant city would be doing.
An interesting spot was the food market, which was much like many southern European markets of its type---full of vegetables, fish, poultry and other odds and ends for sale. The one thing that denoted the market from others that I have seen in other areas of Europe was the huge archway that formed its entrance.
"Do you know why the arch is so tall and large?, asked Andri. I shrugged my shoulders in a "No!"
"In the old days they delivered their goods by camel so the arch had to be high and large for both beast and rider!" she said.
It led my mind to a time gone by without  planes, trains and automobiles and I wondered what it must have been like.
Limassol Marina
Our next stop was the Limassol Marina which showed the modern Limassol to its fullest. Here, docked within the marina were boats of every kind and size but one thing said a great deal about them, they were expensive and not your average outboard motor or fishing boat. It seemed that the rich and wealthy of the World certainly knew the marina well.
The marina had other attributes such as out door cafes where one could eat and have a Cypriot "Super" Coffee in the open air. Moored at the dock was a replica of an ancient Greek/Cypriot ship which looked much like I imagined the ancient vessels which roamed the seas around Cyprus looked like. As a matter of fact, one such vessel which was transporting wine was discovered in 1999. It was packed with 2500 amphorae and was dated at 2300 BC.
Andri and I stopped to have a coffee before heading on our way to our next destination in the Troodos Mountains to a village known as Agios Mama.
Agios Mama and The Rebecca (Revecca) Winery
Agios Mama is located on the southern slopes of the mountain chain and is in the Commandaria region famous for its sweet wine. We visited the Rebecca Winery and were heartily welcomed by lovely Elena Iwannou and after being given the grand tour we shared some delicious wine pairings with the Commandaria wine. Helloumi Cheese was perfect with the wine as were the fruit and nuts that the owners so graciously gave us. One thing that I did notice was the grape trellis that was overhead. The bunches of grapes had little umbrella like structures which were to protect the vines from predatory animals and the sun.  
The wines of Rebecca are made with mainly Xynisteri and Mavro grapes though small amounts of Cabernet, Chardonnay, Maratheftiko and Matro (Mourvedre) are used.
The wines are amazingly good and made with tradition in mind.
We said good-bye to Elena and moved to our next destination which was Kapopetria village.
Kapopetria Village   
This village is located close to 700 metres above sea level.  It has some geographic prominence since it lies where the Kargotis and Garillis Rivers join to flow as one river to Morphou Bay.  Dating back to the seventh or eighth century, the village also shows some activity in ancient times through the discovery of statues dedicated to the Goddess Athena and Hercules. The village is also famous for its association with UNESCO via the Church of "Saint Nikolaos tis Stegis".
St. Nikolaos tis Stegis (Saint Nicholas of the Roof)   
This Remanent of an old monastery is so named since it has additional steep pitched timber roof to protect it from the weather. The church itself houses Byzantine art from the 11th through 19th Centuries and has been declared a World Cultural Heritage  by UNESCO.
After we had our tour of the church we went and walked down the old village cobbled streets. I marveled at the great amount of flowers such as Bougainvillaea, roses and lilies that lined the houses and balconies. This amid the rolling hills of the mountains, weathered but cared for houses and doors plus the golden sunshine certainly made the whole experience fairy tailish and picturesque.
We stopped at a restaurant called Linos where we sat down to have our lunch with a variety of dishes accompanied with some rose wine.
Nestled high (900) metres within almost the centre of the Troodos Mountains is the Village of Omodos. The village is famous for several things among which are George's Bakery where one finds special traditional "Arkatena" or sweet buns as well as "Siousioukkos" which look like stuffed sausage but are actually made from boiled wine batter (Paluze) and walnuts.
The village also has a host or artists which produce jewellery, art and art reproductions. The village is famous for its wine festival and its Church of the Holy Cross which is said to have actual pieces of the cross that Christ was crucified on as well as the skull of the fifth apostle, Saint Phillip.
One item that was also of interesting was the ancient wine press that seemed still operative. The visit was inspiring and relaxing but on the way back to Limassol (Lemesos) it was the magnificent scenery of the mountains shrouded in mist that gave rise to my imagination and appreciation.   
We arrived just in time for supper but since I had such a fine meal at Omodos, I was not hungry so I vegged since tomorrow was another day and another adventure.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cyprus Day Three: Touring The Food Distributors

A Time For Cheese----Helloumi Cheese That Is!
Stelios picked me up at 8:30 am the following morning and we were off but not to a winery. Today it was to visit several dairy producers, a produce exporter and a dried fruit/nuts exporter.
Our first visit was to Charalambides Christis Ltd. Where we met Elena Charalambous, Research and Development Manager and Mr. Giannis Billis, Plant Manager.
Charalambides was first initiated in 1945 by Takis Charalambides which through the years went through several incarnations before joining with Dairy Kristis (Christis) which was founded in 1961. The present company produces a large variety of products ranging from milk, coffee products,juices, yogurt and cheese. It has formed several important partnerships with other companies such as that with La Delia Foods Ltd. in distributing their famous Lamprianidi sausages. The company exhibits much social conscience through its associated partnerships for research with Cyprus University in producing more nutritious products. It also supports athletics and sponsors various athletic competitions, as we as "Participation" and educational programs. One interesting factor is the company's involvement with "Project Dairius" which is a pilot project aimed at the processing and eventual recycling of dairy products for a safer environment. In addition to this, there is even a partnership in the production of the "McHellumi Breakfast Muffin" with, you guessed it, McDonald's. Both calorie conscious an delicious it would be a nice treat here in North America. As you can see Charalambides-Christies is a unique company that makes a fine array of products.                
After a brief meeting were we were given an overview of the dairy business, we proceeded with a tour of the dairy plant. The company is very particular against any type of infection from the outside so gowns and caps (even my bald head) had to be covered and we had to step into a disinfection solution even though we were given shoe covers to wear.
We saw the milk production as well as the production of a number of products but the most interesting was the production of the Halloumi Cheese.
It's Been A Halloumi Of A Day
The process of making Halloumi is multi faceted. Traditional Halloumi is made from either goat, or sheep's milk or a blend of the two. However cow's milk is also being used in its making. The cheese is white and somewhat salty to the taste. Charalambides-Christies makes a number of styles of this cheese which can be grilled over a stove or griller since it has a high melting temperature. The result is an absolutely delicious dish.    
The traditional method that has been passed through generations begins with the collection and heating of milk in a large cauldron. Unpasteurized milk is sieved into the cauldron using cheesecloth or other filtration  in order to clean any impurities. It is then heated to about 32-35°C. Rennet is added to start the curdling process and after about half an hour, the milk begins to turn into soft cheese/ soft curds. The curds are then cut to small pieces (depending on the preferred size of halloumi) and are placed either in specially woven basket moulds or wrapped in large cheese cloths where they are mechanically pressed to drain the excess whey and this is followed by the re-cooking of halloumi in the whey so as to give the appropriate firm texture.
The temperature is then raised to 900C and the halloumi pieces are heated up for approximately 30 minutes until they get a fine texture. The cheese takes on an additional texture and taste.
Salt is sprinkled atop as is dry mint. Halloumi is formed and cut either into bell shaped forms or squares. It is cooled and is ready for eating. Halloumi may also be left to mature into a hard texture if kept in salt water for a month or so and could be stored for up to a year without refrigeration.
 Delicious To The Last Bite!
Grilled Halloumi is a true experience. It can be eaten in a number of ways. Raw is good but grilled or fried is better. The cheese does not melt and takes on a crispy brown colour and has a "squeaky clean" texture on the palate that is delicious as a side dish with salads, pasta, ravioli,watermelon, fruit, bread, pita or it can be quite good with honey since the saltiness of the cheese interacts well  with the sweetness of the honey OR try it with the oldest wine brand in the World, Commandaria. This sweet dessert wine is a perfect match with the cheese and the cheese/wine pairing is taken to new heights.  It is a unique cheese with a history as old as any culinary product in the Middle East.
Our visit with Charalambides-Christis was indeed a very interesting one and I couldn't help but smile every time I went passed a McDonald's sign and saw the McHallumi Breakfast (their spelling) billboard on the road.
Lefkonitziatis Dairy Products Ltd.
Lefkonitziatis Dairy was founded back in 1960 and processes milk and produces a series of traditional dairy products. Halloumi and Yoghurt are the main products the company manufactures today.  It relocated to the Ayios Athanasios industrial area within the City of Limassol in 1997. Limassol.We met with Mr. Antonis Botsaris and discussed the products that were made at the dairy and shared some nice Halloumi during the meeting. 
Aside from milk, Lefkonitziatis products include both folded and non folded Halloumi, Yoghurt, Feta Cheese, Anari, Regular Cheese and Kefir.
Anari referred to above is a cheese that is made from the whey obtained from either the making of Halloumi or Kefalotyri cheese.
The whey is heated to about 65-70 degrees Centigrade and either goat or sheep milk added. The temperature is raised to the Boiling Point. Curds form as the heating takes place and are skimmed off the top and placed in a drainage cauldron. The product which tastes like ricotta cheese is mild and can be eaten after it is made. Sometimes the Anari is allowed to mature and dry for a long lasting hard cheese. Salt is usually added for flavour.
The hard, dry Anari is used similar to grated Parmigian cheese over pasta etc. The soft can be used for soups, pastries (Pourekia) both sweet and savory, cheese cake and cheese filling.    
Kefir is a cheese made from the addition of a yeast/bacterial mixture called "Kefir" to ferment sheep or goats milk used in the making of the above cheese. A fermented drink the same name also exists.
The liquid is either "cold strained" or heated to allow the curds and whey to separate. The curds are allowed to set and then stained again. The resulting cheese is very tasty and similar to a brie cheese.
All the above cheeses and products are highly nutritious and healthful.  
The visit to these dairy establishments was quite interesting. Alas here is where Stelios and I had to part ways as another guide--Marios was taking over for the day. I gave my adieu to Stel but as it would become apparent in the next few blogs, Stel and I have remained in touch in a great friendship.
Onward To Nicosia  
Marios proved to be a quiet but very apt travelling partner. The first place we went to was Alion Vegetable and Fruits Co. Ltd. Where Theodoros Zavos gave us a tour. I immediately liked Theodoros who was a passionate yet very hospitable host. He made me laugh when he found out our similar passion for good scotch. "Let's have some now or do you want to wait until after the tour?" were his first words.
Tour was conducted through a state-of-the-art facility for first rate produce preparation, packaging and shipping of vegetables and herbs to over 25 countries. The company was established in 1990 as a packing and exporting company of fresh fruit and vegetables. In 2008 the new contemporary packing facility in Pera Chorio Nisou, Cyprus was opened.  The new space offers a much more comfortable area to select, pack, store and preserve vegetables and fresh herbs. 
Theodoros's enthusiasm was infections as we went from one packaging area to another. The packaging was exceptionally well done with a good view of each vegetable and herb in a very well protected package of cellophane and carton. 
As we were on our way through the premises, Theodoros pointed to a door leading into a room. "This" he said, "is the most important room of the whole company. It is where all the great ideas are born!" We walked into the kitchen and before one could say "Scotch" out it came!
Shortly there after and after much prodding from Marios (who was taking on a strong appearance to Tibor, "Two in a Vineyard's"  former guide in Austria) I hesitatingly pulled my self away from the scotch and to the car for our lunch meeting with Aliki Iordanou of the same ministry as Stel and Marios. 
We went into downtown Nicosia to a restaurant called EYOCHIA which is part of the "More" restaurant chain. Place was welcoming and very well arranged. 
Here we had traditional Cypriot dishes and deserts such as lamb, chicken and well prepared grilled vegetables. The serving table was full of Mediterranean dishes as well as international fare. The style was buffet and the wine a Maratheftiko/Syrah blend was excellent though I also enjoyed what they called "Super Coffee".  which is made of the finest Arabica and Robusta beans and leaves a huge sediment in the cup. But strong------well let's say it makes the hair of you chest curl a bit. Great stuff for a coffee addict such as I!   
Aliki Iordanou was a stunningly lovely woman who held a very responsible position in the Ministry. We all enjoyed our buffet of fine Cypriot fare and ended it with some superb deserts such as Mahalepi which is a white creamy dessert that is made from corn starch, milk or cream, gelatin, sugar and almonds. Served cold and it is delicious. Another dessert called "siousioukkos". It is from boiled grape juice batter (paluze) and made with  nuts threaded on a string and cooled/drained after being dipped in the batter. Another dessert was fruit such as pears and peaches immersed in rose water. All healthy and excellent to the taste.
After my usual five or six cups of coffee Aliki and I said good bye and Marios drove us to our last tour of the day------E. Neophytou Trading Ltd. owner of the Serano Brand of dried fruit and nuts.
We met Mr. Giannos Neophytou at his office where we were welcomed openly by this very pleasant man. He introduced us to his family who worked with him as well as many of his employees.
This company's organization and in-house laboratory allows it leverage in various areas such as : product design, research and development, manufacturing, packaging, environmentally controlled warehousing, sales and service. 
Established in 1974, it supplies many countries with dried fruit, nuts and trail mixes to many countries and a huge diversity of products.
The day ended with the owner giving me a selection of his products to bring back with me to Canada.Then it was back to Limassol and back to the Mediterranean Beach Hotel.
End of day three.