Kamal Kouiri of Molyvos in NYC on Packing Up the Cellar and Orange Wine - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Kamal Kouiri of Molyvos in NYC on Packing Up the Cellar and Orange Wine

Kamal Kouiri has been with the Livanos Restaurant Group for over two decades, with his primary focus on the group’s NYC locations, Hudson West and the flagship, Molyvos. The latter had its last service on New Year’s Eve, 2021, as the building prepared for renovations. The group plans to reopen this spring, in a space with more room to show off his wine selection, which is the largest all-Greek list in the US.

On closing up shop

The last three months of year were crazy busy, really insane. We were working with 60% of our staff; everyone was working a lot of hours—six days, Sunday off. We were running for our lives. Especially come October, it exploded. But then Omicron came in; we saw it in the last week of December; then it was like someone turned a switch off. But for me, it’s been super busy. To move the restaurant, I had to do I don’t even know how many trips. Worse than opening a restaurant! I packed up almost 500 cases of wine. I touched every bottle that we have. I don’t trust anyone else to do it. And I enjoy this. I blessed the cellar by spraying a bottle of red on the floor, just to have that wine smell.

On wine sales this year: As in past years, Alpha Estate still dominates.

I feel like it’s a flagship for Molyvos. It’s a name people like and know and ask for it.

On Greek wine variety

There are things like Alpha that people demand; and then things I want to showcase—like the Papagiannakos Savatiano, which was just showing great. Or Sigalas Kavalieros Santorini. At the end, we had regulars coming in twice a week, and I just wanted to share the bounty of the wine list. We were doing verticals from Rapsani; from Gai’a, Skouras, Hatzidakis, and magnums of Nychteri. I was happy to share them as a thank-you gift, and also to open people’s horizons of what Greek wine is about.

On Santorini pricing

I can charge $80 or $90 for a bottle but by the glass, I can’t charge $25. Even though you’re drinking something very rare, with history, an amazing sense of terroir, high quality, and an amazing ability to pair well with food, people are not ready for it. Still, there are some people who come in and say, “give me Santorini,” and they are ready to pay the price for it.

On Santorini vs assyrtiko

Santorini first, than assyrtiko. “Assyrtiko” is a little tougher because of the pronunciation but it’s easier for Greek wine now, because people come in and show me what they want on their phone; they don’t have to say anything. With Greek wine, the words were always the problem but not with digital media anymore.

On trends

Orange wines. We didn’t do big numbers, but a few years ago, we’d do a few bottles a month. Now, [orange wine] is everywhere—people know it, or they’ve at least heard of it, and they are curious. And if they say, “I’m curious about this orange wine but I’ve never had one,” we give them a taste. Sometimes they like it, sometimes it’s not for them. But they are asking. The young generation most of the time.

On general differences from pre-pandemic times

It feels like guests appreciate the restaurant more than they did before. They are hugging us, coming in and saying thank you for staying open. There’s a connection; it’s a sentimental thing. A lot of people met there, businesses were built, marriages made, kids came back with their mother and father—25 years is a lifetime. Plus what the pandemic did mentally to a lot of people—they missed the chance to mingle, missed connections.

is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.

This is a W&S web exclusive. Get access to all of our feature stories by signing up today.