Nicholas Brown has been working in restaurants since he was 17, but he’d never imagined he’d be pouring Greek wine with abandon back then. After a stint at Ray’s on the River, on the banks of the Chattahoochee, he got wind of an opening at Kyma, a then-new Greek restaurant making waves in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta. He started as a server in March 2003, and worked off and on until August 2014, when he took on the role of beverage manager. “The more I tasted, the more I got into it. And with Greece, the winemakers are so personable; I can pretty much call any winemaker in Greece and have a chat with them about any wine. And they always come here when they are in town.” Since Brown has come on, in fact, he’s been cutting back on the non-Greek wines on his list.
How many of your customers are familiar with Greek wines?
Over half have no idea. But they are a little more open now to trusting what we recommend. Since we have Greek food, they often want us to pair the dishes with Greek wines, and business people are open to having us recommend a red and white from Greece. I’ll tell them to name a grape and I will take that flavor profile and pick a grape that matches it. If they like Napa cabernet, I can give them high-end Greek wine. This has gotten easier over time, too—now I’m trying to get rid of the California wines on the list, because we have more Greek wines that fit those profiles. The non-Greek section shrinks daily; it’s down to ten percent.
Nearly half your wine sales are by the glass.
I’ve completely changed the glass program. Now I have at least 25 wines by the glass, and I change the selection every two months. The one wine on both lists is the Sigalas Assyrtiko—I go through three-hundred bottles just by the glass. I can leave that one. And Papantonis [Peloponnese Meden Agen Agiorgitiko] also has been on there forever, and [Skouras] Megas Oenos the entire time. It’s easy to get into a rhythm with these wines—they sell well, they’re at a good price. We track what people drink, so they don’t even have to ask for what they like anymore. That’s how Boutari Moschofilero is still as popular as it is: because it was the moschofilero by the glass for 14 years. But I like to also change it up; having so many wines by the glass lets people try many different things. And If they come to like something, in two months they have to buy a bottle, because I’ve changed up the list and it won’t be offered by the glass anymore.
Half of your top ten best-selling bottles are Santorini whites.
Because of the seafood focus here, assyrtiko is the best match, and it’s a grape that guests might actually know because of all the publications writing about Santorini wines. Plus, for people who like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, it fits in the middle. Not all of them. The [Gaia Santorini] Wild Ferment—that’s all hand-selling; we average six bottles a month. But that one does well if you have more wine-oriented people, or a tasting dinner—we do lot of auction dinners and we make a menu, pair it with wine; I can throw some crazier stuff out there. For a wild-ferment assyrtiko, I’ll put it out there with fish, like the salt-crusted lavraki—with the salinity, the funkiness of the wild ferment, how it has that pungent feel, it matches really well.
Any regions you are particularly excited about?
Crete is the best up-and-coming region. The producers have been working together to promote themselves as a group, which the other regions don’t always do. They picked vidiano as their white champion grape, and now all the vintners make it in some way. Now they are working on picking a red; it looks like they are going to go with mandilari, but think they might go with kotsifali; they make it in every way, from rosé to dessert. They are still discovering new things—at Lyrarakis, they found a new grape in 2012 or ‘13 and made an experimental wine last year. And dafni is the craziest grape I’ve ever had—even eating the grape is like eating bay leaves.
is W&S’s editor at large and covers the wines of the Mediterranean and Central and Eastern Europe for the magazine.