Kamal Kouiri has compiled what may be the best Greek wine list in the world, 400-plus labels strong and rich in older vintages that he’s stored himself in he cellars at Molyvos in midtown Manhattan. A decade ago, an all-Greek list was more challenging than today, when, he says, people walk in asking for Santorini.
Gaia Estate’s Wild Ferment Assyrtiko is not a typical Santorini, and yet it makes third place on your Top Ten.
Yesterday, a gentleman asked for a Burgundy, and I said, ‘I’m so sorry, we carry only Greek wine. But let me try you on this.” I gave him a glass of the Wild Ferment and when I came back, he said, “Great chardonnay!” He was so surprised when I told him what it was. People are never disappointed. It has all the things they are looking for: structure, minerality, salinity, partial oak. Also, I like to serve it with some age—at least one year; I just finished the 2010.
Also, assyrtiko, it’s not an obscure grape anymore; a lot of people come and ask for it. Not only that but they ask, ‘What styles do you have?’ It opens a conversation: ‘Well, in the island, there are different terroirs, microclimates, soil compositions, and then you have winemaker styles—oak, partial oak, Nykteri style…’ It’s a little like Burgundy, each village having a different style.
Alpha Estate’s Hedgehog Xinomavro was your number-one wine by the bottle for the last few months—not so expected for a grape with a difficult name and a tannic personality.
Assyrtiko and xinomavro: Those are the grapes right now. I have four to five xinomavros by the glass, just to see how people feel about the different styles, and they drink them all. And one thing I’ve seen in the last few years is that my customers *love* Alpha Estate; I don’t have a problem selling. Maybe it’s the style of the wines—almost New World but with nuance of terroir; they are cool-climate wines.
The other grape they ask for is malagousia. Don’t know if it’s just New York, but they are loving it. Moschofilero is always strong, but malagousia has taken off higher than any other grape. And the two that do best—Gerovassiliou and Alpha Estate—are two different animals. But this also works for us: You have the cool climate, more fragrant version to catch those customers who want something more restrained, or the apricot-filled, richer one.
What are the most exciting regions in Greece right now?
I believe—even though they are old regions—Crete and Amyndeon. In Crete, they are organizing themselves. They are no longer focusing on bulk wines but on organic, single-vineyard, high-quality wines. Lyrarakis and Nikos [Karavitakis] have been doing that for a while now, and everyone is following. One of the most exciting wines this year was Karavitakis Vidiano: It’s fantastic. People don’t know it yet. And you can’t drink it young; when the 2015 comes in, open the 2014. The fruit settles down, the minerality comes up. Nikos [Karavitakis], the kid, is putting in effort, really coming along. The new generation is changing things on Crete.
Amyndeon was abandoned, has been more focused on fruits and vegetables, but now it’s coming back. Everyone is buying in. I hope they are focusing on xinomavro and malagousia, but the cool climate works really well for the international varieties as well, especially gewurztraminer, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, even pinot noir.
There are a couple good ones! I don’t even want to talk about it, though. People ask me for it and I say I don’t want to buy more because they’ll take over. Burgundy is still Burgundy, and it drives what people want to drink. So we have a couple, one from Biblia Chora in Kavala and the other from Alpha in Amyndeon. They are interesting because in the Biblia Chora, you can see influence of the sea, and the Alpha shows the cooling effect of the mountains and the reflection of the lakes. Two different styles, both terroir-driven.
You know me, I am all about the indigenous varieties. But right now, I tell producers I don’t care what you are going to make; make me good wine my guests will enjoy and can afford. I put this wine on the list, Kir Yianni Four Lakes; it’s a blend of chardonnay and gewurztraminer. I had it this summer—I went to the island of Tinos, had it with some seafood, and I loved it. I don’t care that it’s chardonnay. We want to showcase what’s in the bottle, not on the label.
Match of the year?
For me what I really liked is the vlakhiko from Glivanos: amazing, gamay-ish, lots of flavors, just enough oak. They also hold the wine awhile; they just released 2009. It’s a mountain wine—and what grows together goes together. Have it with some lamb, potatoes with garlic; perfect.
is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.