Our man in Cyprus - meet our new ambassador, Nicos Andreou

Nicos Andreou, a primary school teacher in Limassol by day, has turned a life long passion for food and wine into a viable side-hustle
Helen Arnold
By Helen Arnold
Published 22-February-2024
Interview / Cyprus

Nicos Andreou is Star Wine List’s new ambassador for Cyprus. Though his main job is primary school teacher, he has for long been one of the most respected professionals on the wine and food scene in Cyprus, and on his website fineanddine.com.cy he writes reviews and interviews chefs, sommeliers, winemakers and other people in the business.
Here, the Nicosia local talks to Helen Arnold about why the island’s dining and drinking scene has never been more vibrant, and why the reputation of local wine is on the up.

How would you describe the current dining and drinking scene in Cyprus?
"Cyprus is at its best when it comes to gastronomy and wine. There are high-quality restaurants in every city of Cyprus, with the emphasis on Nicosia and Limassol, while in other cities like Paphos, Larnaca, Protaras, and Ayia Napa, there are also very good restaurants, mainly within the five-star hotels. Wine holds a significant place in restaurants, with many wine bars offering good food constantly emerging, and a lot of people visiting wine cellars to taste local as well as imported wines."

How much has changed in recent years, and what have been the biggest changes?
"What has changed significantly in recent years is that cuisine professionals have entered the restaurant scene. You'll find excellent chefs with degrees and experience from award-winning restaurants abroad in good restaurants. Also, through the enormous support from the Cyprus Sommelier Association, many individuals working in the food industry have obtained sommelier diplomas, thus ensuring a high level of service in the wine industry."

"Another change is that many chefs listed in the Michelin Guide, mainly from Greece, are being called upon by restaurateurs to act as consultants. We also have big names such as Nobu Matsuhisa and Giorgio Locatelli who have come to the island and completely designed the menu for the restaurant that bears their name."

What do you think are the highlights of Cyprus’ hospitality sector – and what do you think it could improve upon?
"There are several restaurants on the island that are definitely worth exploring. They have an identity, where the emphasis is on good ingredients and presentation, and where all customers, be they meat lovers, seafood enthusiasts, vegetarians or even vegans are catered for. Certainly, there are many places where the wine list alone is a reason to visit, with many of them having professional sommeliers and up to 1,000 top wine labels in their collection."

"Where we could aim higher—though I'm not referring to all dining establishments—is in the realm of service. I know it's a global phenomenon, but I must mention it. Unfortunately, we don't see much interest in working in the service industry, but also in the kitchen, and this certainly affects the levels and standards we would really like to have."

Cypriot wine has become a major trend; the white Xynisteri and the red Maratheftiko are found on every restaurant list

What are the biggest drinking trends you are seeing in Cyprus at the moment?
"Cypriot wine has become a major trend; the white Xynisteri and the red Maratheftiko are found on every restaurant list. Also, old grape varieties that have been cultivated to a greater extent in recent years in Cyprus, such as Yiannoudi, Morokanella, Spourtiko, and Promara, have made their mark. Finally, the globally renowned Commandaria, which is now usually served chilled as a dessert wine, is also a trend. Gin and gin-based cocktails seem to be here to stay, while at the same time, some micro-breweries have emerged, thrilling beer enthusiasts."

What wines, styles and regions are particularly in demand?
"There is significant demand for Cypriot and Greek wines. Undoubtedly, France, Italy, and Spain account for a considerable part in restaurant wine lists, while there is also substantial demand for New World wines, with Chile, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand taking the lead. I would say there is interest in Cypriot varieties, and among the imported varieties, there is considerable interest in Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Assyrtiko, Malagouzia, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon."

The large volume of imported wines has also created competitive conditions, so to survive, one must produce an equally high-quality product

Do you think the reputation of Cypriot wine is improving, and if so, why?
"Yes, Cypriot wine is currently at a very high level, despite not yet reaching where we want to be as a country or as professionals. The main reasons are that there is now, behind every winery, a team of professionals supporting it. There is expertise—oenologists, food chemists, sommeliers, agronomists—all contributing to producing good wine. With this background, the knowledge is transferred to the viticulturist, who has the support of a team of people with extensive experience and education. Another reason Cypriot wine has risen so high is that in many wineries, the new generation, the children of the first winemakers, who have studied oenology or related fields abroad or in Cyprus, are actively involved in vineyards and wine-making.

"Another significant reason is that many winemakers now own their own vineyards, thus being able to better control the entire process from scratch. The large volume of imported wines has also created competitive conditions, so to survive, one must produce an equally high-quality product. Proof of the upward trend of Cypriot wine is undoubtedly the enormous demand for its export to numerous countries worldwide."

How price sensitive are consumers in Cyprus?
"Most people will choose a wine up to €10, while in restaurants, several sales are made with wines priced between €25 and €40. However, there are also quite a few sales of more expensive wines in the most luxurious restaurants, with Champagne being among the top-selling higher-priced wines, as well as still wines from France and Italy."

In your day job you are a primary school teacher. How did you become the respected wine and food expert you are today?
"My main hobby is visiting restaurants, wine bars, wineries, and hotels and writing reviews about these experiences. I also greatly enjoy discussions and interviews with famous chefs, sommeliers, winemakers, and oenologists, which are subsequently published on the pioneering online portal my sons created – fineanddine.com.cy."

What do you hope to achieve as Star Wine List’s Cyprus ambassador? "I would definitely like to contribute to spreading quality wine to as many places as possible on our island. This will enable every wine enthusiast, whether local or visitor, a beautiful oenological and gastronomic experience, enjoying domestic and foreign varieties at the right temperature, in suitable glassware, and perfectly paired with food. In this way, I hope to contribute to the overall enhancement of Cyprus's tourism offer."

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