Kamal Kouiri certainly knows his Greek wine. As wine director and general manager of New York City’s famed Molyvos for over a decade, he has put together a list compiling over 400 bottles from 60 grape varietals, representing over 50 of the country’s wineries. Wine Enthusiast has recognized the restaurant as one of the city’s five best wine bars and bestowed Kamal with an Award of Unique Distinction.
You don’t have to be well-versed in Greek wine to enjoy it. By keeping in mind a few simple suggestions to test the waters, you can be on your way to being a full-on Greek-wine enthusiast in no time! I love turning people on to Greek wine. One of the reasons I travel to Greece so frequently is to “hunt down” and discover the most unique and high-quality wines from all over Greece and serve them to our guests at Molyvos. I like to think of our wine list as a passport to Greece: Each region has its own unique terroir, distinct qualities and Greek soul that shine through each sip.
First, a little background. The country has been producing wine since ancient times, and it’s always been a consistent staple at any meal, consumed daily. Greek wines were meant to be enjoyed with food — it’s the Greek way. Over the last 15 years, the Greek wine industry has seen tremendous improvement with the modern techniques of viticulture, a focus on indigenous grape varieties and the management of vineyards. The vinification process has also seen tremendous improvement in new and upcoming young winemakers who chose to study all over the world before bringing their skills back home to Greece. This has resulted in an increase of great and consistent wines.
Although Greek wine is still relatively unknown, we’re noticing a change in how it’s being received by our guests at Molyvos and in its availability, as more and more local wine shops are carrying Greek wines in their stores and non-Greek restaurants are offering small selections from some of the bigger producers. Travelers also help put popular destinations like Santorini and Crete on the map, establishing a familiarity with the old wine regions. In addition, the Mediterranean diet — often named one of the healthiest in the world — has been receiving a lot of praise, in relation not only to the foods consumed but also to the overall stress-free lifestyle, which embraces strong familial ties and friendships, exercise and the enjoyment of food, wine and celebration.
Now, when you look at a Greek wine list, it can seem intimidating. We try to offer something for every palate, whether it’s your first time trying Greek wine or you’re into finding something truly unique and obscure. Here’s what you need to know to order something you’ll like.
If you typically drink Sangiovese, then try the red grape varietal Agiorgitiko. Gaia Wines makes a great one. It has a deep red-black color, complex aromatic profile, good structure and great volume, with flavors of sweet cherries, licorice and warm spices. It pairs wonderfully with roasted meats.
If you enjoy drinking Nebbiolo, the red Italian-wine grape that grows predominately in the Piedmont region, then I’d say try Xinomavro, grown on 90-year-old vines by Alpha Estate in Amyndeon, Florina. The wine exhibits notes of forest berries, leather and spices, with hints of ripe blackberry and vanilla. It has a full mouth, rounded tannins and balanced acidity. Dishes like the traditional moussaka — which incorporates spiced ground lamb and beef, potato, eggplant, pepper and yogurt béchamel — are the perfect match for the flavor profile of this grape.
Is Pinot Noir your go-to glass? Then try a Xinomavro Ramnista by Ktima Kir-Yianni, Naoussa in Imathia. It has flavors of ripe strawberry, cherry and black pepper, and the process of barrel-aging produces hints of licorice, ginger and undertones of vanilla, with robust tannins offering a firm structure and a lingering, fruity finish, making it an excellent pair for red meat and game. Personally, I love to enjoy this Xinomavro with our clay-pot lamb shank that’s served with orzo, tomatoes and Kefalotyri cheese.
If you like to drink Albariño from Spain, look no further than Thalassitis, 100 percent Assyrtiko from the volcanic island of Santorini by Gaia Wines. Thalassitis is a bone-dry wine with strong character and a full body. It is well structured with crispy acidity, distinctive minerality and delicate honeysuckle flavors. This wine is best enjoyed with seafood, grilled sea bass or even heartier dishes like roasted lamb.
If you like dry wines such as Muscat, try exotic Moschofilero from Mantinia, Peloponnese by Domaine Spiropoulos. Made from USDA organic grapes, this wine has flavors of rosewater, grapefruit and mandarin, along with limestone finishes and nice, fresh acidity. Enjoy it as a perfect aperitif or as a complement to a sumptuous array of spicy dishes and sushi.
If Chardonnay is your jam, try a Chardonnay from Greece! I recommend Ktima Pavlidis Chardonnay from Drama, one of the coolest areas of Greece. A Chardonnay with Greek soul, it is a very elegant wine with great structure, notes of honey, delicate vanilla and hints of oak. It is balanced and finishes crisp, with fresh acidity. Have it with grilled fish, oysters, pastas with cream sauce and a wide variety of fatty cheeses, like Graviera Kristi and Ladotyri from the island of Lesvos.
Now that you have some suggestions in your back pocket, I have a few tips for those of you who would like to be extra-adventurous. Here’s what awaits you should you decide to taste some unknown Greek varietals.
Each region in Greece produces its own distinct wines, but there are a few areas in particular that I’m keeping a close eye on.
The region of Trynavos of Thessaly, particularly the minuscule production of the Limniona grape by Domaine Zafeirakis on the foothills of Mount Olympus, produces terroir-driven wines. I’ve grown quite impressed with the work of young winemaker Christos Zafeirakis, who took over the family business after completing his studies in Bordeaux and Piedmont in 2004. In no time at all, he has skyrocketed to domestic fame for his expressive, elegant wines and embraced the organic viticulture. I just tasted his 2011 Limniona, and it’s truly splendid.
Another lesser-known grape is Savatiano, a typically misunderstood variety of white grape, which grows predominately in the region of Attica. Domaine Papagiannakos at Markopoulo takes a different approach with this indigenous grape, and produces it from a low yield of 50 year-old vines that grow in non-irrigated limestone soil. This produces great lean, fresh Savatiano that is terroir-driven. Our staff is eagerly awaiting his 2014 vintage!
The last region that I’ll mention is Amyndeon in Florina, the northwestern part of Greece. This is an ancient wine region that is flourishing thanks to the efforts of winemakers and owners Angelo Iatridis and Makis Mavridis of Alpha Estate. After introducing their rosé and a blend of Xinomavro and Syrah in 2013, I’m looking forward to three brand-new wines: small productions of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Fumé and a late-harvest blend of Malagousia and Gewurztraminer. We cannot wait to showcase a few of these wines at our wine dinner.
Molyvos is hosting a wine dinner with Alpha Estate’s Angelo Iatridis on Tuesday, March 24. Contact the restaurant directly at 212-582-7500 to make a reservation ($95 per person).
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