Kamal Kouiri directs the wine program at Molyvos, a Greek restaurant focused on seafood. Five years ago, he switched from a list with wines ranging across the Mediterranean to an all-Greek list, now offering 470 selections. Stephanie Johnson talked with Kouiri about the move and how guests have reacted.
Why did you decide to shift to an all-Greek wine list?
The quality of Greek wines had been improving, with more winemakers starting to do things like use indigenous yeasts and make single-vineyard wines. A lot of the best Greek wines never used to leave the country, but since the financial crisis in Europe, Greece has focused more on export markets so there are a lot more good, small-production wines available in the US market.
What has been the reaction from your guests to the all-Greek list?
Of our top ten wines, all but two are from indigenous Greek varieties. A few guests who come in may have heard of assyrtiko or been to Santorini, but otherwise most of the wines are new to them. We try to help them find a reference point. We do carry some Greek wines made from international varieties, like chardonnay, but they have to have a Greek soul. International varieties can open the door for wines from indigenous grapes. If a guest says they like Chablis, we let them try a minerally style of assyrtiko. We also have over 50 wines available by the glass, so that our guests can try many different wines and figure out what they like. By the end of the evening, many guests ask for the names so they can go out and buy the wines.
What are some of the other things you’re doing to help people understand Greek wines?
We do several wine dinners each year to help educate guests about Greek wines, and host winemaker dinners whenever we can. Staff education is also very important. We work with about 70 different indigenous varieties, so even staff members who might know Greek food need help with the wine. We do staff tastings almost daily to keep that education moving along.
About 46 percent of your wine sales are white wines, which is fairly high. What accounts for that?
Greek whites have gotten more attention and press recently, and people tend to be more familiar with some of the whites like assyrtiko, athiri, and moschofilero. We also have a lot of female guests who prefer to drink white wines. And some of the Greek whites can stand up to lots of different dishes, even lamb. I think malagousia will be the next white variety to make a big impact; there are already lots of different and interesting styles of malagousia available here.