If perseverance pays off, proof can certainly be found in the 750 Greek wines on the list at New York City’s Molyvos. It’s the largest exclusively Greek wine program in the country, says wine director and general manager Kamal Kouiri, as well as the culmination of his 25-year love affair with all things Greek. Kouiri also serves as wine director at Ousia, a sister restaurant in the six-property Livanos Restaurant Group, and has coaxed the list toward a singularly Greek focus.
Ousia opened on 57th Street just off the West Side Highway in 2016. Since launching, Kouiri has been steadily adding Greek wines to its 320 bottle selections ($42-$180 a 750-ml.). Ousia’s 30-40 wines by the glass are priced at $12-$18. Both Molyvos’ and Ousia’s lists are comprised of 60% red and 40% white offerings. “Greek winemakers made quality white wines before the reds, which were too heavy on the oak and somewhat over-extracted,” Kouiri says. “Now, the reds are showing a better balance between oak, fruit, and acidity.”
True to their origins, both restaurants offer ouzo—an anise-flavored aperitif that’s popularly known as Greece’s national drink ($10 at Ousia/$10-$15 at Molyvos)—and tsipouro, an unaged Greek brandy. Ousia offers a tsipouro tasting flight of three 1-ounce pours for $17, and individual expressions from $10-$20. Molyvos features tsipouro in cocktails ($12-$15) like the Blood Orange Martini, made with Tsilili tsipouro of Thessaly, Cointreau liqueur, and blood orange juice.
For the average customer, Greek wines require a bit of a crash course in regional varietals before anyone feels comfortable ordering. “Guests are intimidated because they have never seen the names of many Greek varietals,” Kouiri says. To counter this, Ousia’s new wine list describes each varietal, listing its prime growing regions, viticulture, and terroir. Staff training and customer approach can also help. “We’re very open minded with customers and don’t oversell,” Kouiri adds. “We pour 1-ounce samples to taste as an exploration. We’re taking them out of their comfort zone, so we try to give them a taste.”
To help customers make a wine decision, Kouiri draws a parallel between better-known regions or varieties and their Greek counterparts. “We take into consideration the fruit profile, acidity, minerals, and texture,” he explains. If a customer loves Sancerre, for example, he’ll recommend a 2017 Gaia Thalassitis Assyrtiko from Santorini ($72 a 750-ml.); if Sangiovese, a 2017 Ktima Mitravelas Agiorgitiko from Nemea ($60); if Burgundy, a 2015 Hedgehog by Alpha estate Xinomavro from the Amyndeon appellation in Florina ($60); and if Cabernet Sauvignon, a 2014 Ktima Argyros Mavrotragano from Santorini ($90).
To keep things fresh, Kouiri frequently rotates wines by the glass. “I don’t leave a wine on for six months, because I want to showcase other wines and continue to build our list,” he says. Top bottle sellers at Ousia and Molyvos include the 2016 Domaine Papagiannakos Old Vines Assyrtiko from Attica ($60 a 750-ml.); the 2016 Lantides Estate Golden Vines Cabernet Sauvignon from Peloponnese ($47); the 2016 Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia from Epanomi ($68); and the 2017 Wild Path Gentilini Robola from Kephalonia ($60).
Looking ahead, Kouiri says Greek rosé is part of the trend, and is becoming a year-round choice for patrons. He also plans to add more natural and organic wines to his wine lists, noting that sparkling wine is showing more traction, not just as an aperitif but as a meal pairing. “There are great sparkling wines from northern Greece, notably the Amyndeon appellation, as well as in Arcadia, the heart of Peloponnese,” he says. The Molyvos sparkler selections by the bottle include the Tselepos Villa Amalia Brut Méthode Traditionnelle from Arcadia ($68), and the Domaine Karanika Brut from Amyndeon ($82).