Kamal Kouiri has been the wine director at Molyvos for 20 years, where he manages the largest Greek wine list in the US.
How has your wine team changed during the past year?
The team is now a skeleton crew. Things changed dramatically in NYC March 14th. January was great, despite Dry January. February was solid, better than the previous year’s February. Then it became a lost year. We’ve been here for 23 years, so we need to stay open for clients who depend on us. But we’re operating with 10% of usual staff.
How does wine fit in your take-out program?
Takeout was always a big thing for us. We don’t charge too much money for some wines. We became like a small retail spot for people to have wine outside [the restaurant]. What we call our bread and butter wines, where there’s a lot of value, we reduced those, but we have over 800 wines, including a lot of rare things. We discounted more heavily things we had a lot of inventory on. We have indoor dining with a wine list that is discounted. And then there is a retail list of different wines, more narrow and focused, and designed to move.
How do you distinguish your restaurant’s wine retail side from a regular retail shop?
The fact that customers are spending more time at home, and looking to try something at home…especially with Greek, since most shops won’t offer the variety that we offer, we have been successful. We have a trust with our regular customers from when they were in the restaurant, and now they still want to feel that, even though they’re not dining in-house with us.
Compare your top-selling wine for 2020 with your top-selling wine for 2019.
Acheon Winery Mavrodaphne Laura Nobile was a new wine that I found on my last annual trip to Greece. I always try to find some new, small-production wines and look with a local importer to bring them in. Some years, these are the top sellers, some years not. I have a lot of years of experience to know what the customer is looking for. This year, it was just a wine that people really love. There was one barrel made, and we brought in a pallet. Last year it was a Vidiano.
Rosé continued to perform well when we had outdoor dining in the summer.
It’s a circle of summer, sunshine. You need to have an emotional attachment to the wine you’re drinking. Rosé reminds you you made it through the winter. It’s the flagship of that emotion.
Besides rosé, the wines that people were drinking were all crisp, lean, with good fruits, you can get two bottles and your palate can stay fresh. This year, it’s been more about two bottles of wine rather than one but at lower prices, not going for the special bottling in the Fourth Quarter. Rather than a $150 Burgundy at another spot, they’re getting two Greek wines for 60 each with us. I think we’re seeing an uptick in Greek wine sales because people are specifically not going for the big French or Italian meal. There are a lot of things that people are going to cut out, but they’re not going to cut out food or drinking. Just changing the price bracket.
I also run our sister restaurant, Ousia. It has outdoor dining, and it’s a different animal there. At Molyvos, we sell 60% white. Outdoors at Ousia, it was 80-85% whites and rosé.
How has the pandemic changed your role at the restaurant and how might that impact your approach to your job when the restaurant reopens for indoor dining?
I miss tasting and visiting with reps, line-up education with servers. We usually do education twice per week and hear feedback from the guests. I don’t like a static wine list. We change frequently. At the end of the day, the wine list is for the guests, not for me. I’m usually going 200% to keep it dynamic. I am missing that. And the interaction with guests. Now you’re keeping the time for conversation to a minimum for safety reasons.
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