Saturday, February 22, 2020

A Case of Questions with Mark Squires, Journalist, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate

Imagine starting off your professional life as a lawyer and then giving it all up once those velvety tannins, that piercing acidity, the eternal caudalie and notes of [insert your favorite aromas] of a fine wine hit your palate like a teenager struck by wave upon wave of unadulterated lust.

Something like this seemingly happened to Mark Squires, one of Robert Parker Wine Advocate's main wine reviewers. In the late 1980s, following his discovery of fine wine during a series of visits to France, Mark Squires jump-started his second career, teaching wine classes and writing about his newfound love during his spare time as an attorney in Philadelphia. In 1995, he launched his own website, one that established him as a preeminent reviewer, being frequently featured in Food & Wine, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Enquirer and Business Week. A few years later, Mark Squires joined the Wine Advocate team, becoming the company's go-to guy on all-things Portugal (lucky man!), while also covering Eastern Europe, Virginia (Go Hoos!) and our beloved Rock, among others.

We've miraculously managed to snag an interview with Mark, who had plenty to say about Cypriot wines and his rise as a wine journalist from the ashes of the legal world. Whatever you do, read his embarrassing episode involving wine; it's one of the best we've featured so far. First growth "blend" anyone?

Why wine? 

I tried some. I liked some. I became obsessed. It's better than being a lawyer.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you? 

As a child I was introduced on occasion to hideous sweet wines largely for religious events. It's a wonder I ever tried wine again. But I eventually came to like things like Mouton Cadet in my early 20s. It didn't get serious for another few years though—when I started trying things like Mouton Rothschild, Mondavi Reserve Cabernet and Arnoux Vosne-Romanée.

All-time favorite bottle of wine? 

Impossible to answer—depends on the mood, the occasion, the meal. I have never believed in "it has to be this one." I'm eclectic and I like many things. I can enjoy inexpensive but interesting wines just as much as fabulous trophies. In fact, these days I'm kind of sick of trophy wines. Too much money for too little thrill.

With Manuel Lobo of Quinta do Crasto in Douro

Favorite wine-producing region? Why? 

As suggested in the prior answer, I'm eclectic. I like some things more than others, to be sure, but I like diversity. Many things that aren't absolute favorites still have a place. It would be boring to drink the same things over and again, even if they were my absolute favorites. That said, I do especially like Bordeaux, Riesling from various places, and Port from Portugal. But a lot of times I'm reaching for Moschofilero or Loureiro or...well, there is no end to this answer in theory.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing? 

I think Cab'n'Cow—that is steak and Cabernet Sauvignon (or a blend). I have to say in white that Assyrtiko (maybe especially oaked Assyrtiko) goes very well with linguini and white clam sauce.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine? 

Cyprus has some interesting grapes—which I feel is important in terms of creating an identity. But it sure is hard work promoting grapes like Morokanella, Promara and Maratheftiko. There needs to be more producers doing these wines AND educating people about them. First, you have to have a critical mass of good producers. Then, you have to work on getting the message out. No one is just going to beat down the door because you have good wines. Both parts matter. Honestly, I think selling wine is harder than making it these days.

With Assyrtiko magician Paris Sigalas at a London event

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

It's going to be a slow but (hopefully) steady course upwards. I think the days when there is a "big bang" and some region suddenly arrives—those days no longer exist. There is too much competition. Every region like Cyprus has to be prepared to be slow and steady. Take small victories every year. Keep plugging away. Keep educating on the grapes and terroir. Get a foot in the door in international markets. Keeping prying it open, a little at a time. Don't get discouraged.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world? 

I love being introduced to new things. I hate being the "same old, same old" guy. I mostly cover emerging regions, and that has given me the ability to see wines from Mantinia, Naoussa, Santorini and so on that I might never have seen. I understand everybody has a lot to choose from. It's hard finding the time to taste everything. This job leads me into interesting areas and makes me pay attention. I've acquired new favorites that I will drink for the rest of my life.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your career in the wine industry? 

It is probable that I will still be doing this, but I don't really have a five-year plan.

Collecting awards in Lisbon

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

Hard question. So many good choices, but how about Randall Graham (Bonny Doon Vineyard)? He's just so funny.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior? 

So many. So many are unprintable. With others, if I told you, I'd have to kill you. Here's a gentle one: I was a member of a group that was having a big night—we had all the first growths in Bordeaux, plus some things like Petrus and what not, from a particular year—1985 as I recall. We had so many wines that, alas, we were even spitting and dumping wines of that caliber a little. Yes, a travesty. (And honestly, that's why I don't like those crazy tastings any more.) The dump/spit bucket was kind of full. One of the guys, drunk, looked at some other clients in the restaurant who were kind of staring us, and decided to go around and offer them pours from the dump bucket. They didn't realize what it was. Everyone seemed happy. I tasted a little too—a blend of Margaux, Latour, Mouton, Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc, etc—it was actually good. If you could ignore the sanitary aspects. Hey, the alcohol kills germs.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot wine? 

I'm a fan of Commandaria, but I always shy away from words like "favorite" and "best." They are too much a matter of taste and a matter of the moment. Let's concentrate on things off-the-beaten-track, and recent, since those are things I'm focusing on now. I really liked the Vouni Panayia 2017 Woman in the Wine Press I just reviewed recently.

You can reach Mark via email, Twitter and Instagram.

Monday, January 13, 2020

A Case of Questions with Susan Kostrzewa, Editor-in-Chief, Wine Enthusiast

As I scour the Internet's endless vats of information, I often come across personalities that have a deep interest in The Rock's wine. It may be a chef with Cypriot roots working abroad or a blogger who's visited Cyprus to write about its indigenous varieties. Regardless of who it is, it's always exciting to come across this treasure trove of names and discover their different opinions on Cyprus wine.

I first came across Susan Kostrzewa's brilliant coverage of Greek wine a few years ago to only later find out she also has a soft spot for The Rock, reviewing Cypriot wines for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, one of the world's leading sources for wine accessories, storage, information, education, events and travel. Susan has been at Wine Enthusiast for the past 14 years, writing and editing wine, food and travel articles, while also serving as the magazine's Editor-in-Chief and overseeing its tasting programs.

Below are her thoughts on Cypriot wine and her career in the wonderful world of wine.

Why wine? 

Wine is connected to fine living, culture, travel, enjoyment, community, celebration, food. All of the great things in life. 

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you? 

My early appreciation of wine happened when I was living in California. The first wine that really impressed me was a Rochiolo Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from Sonoma. 

All-time favorite bottle of wine? 

That’s a tough one to answer because there are so many delicious wines I have had the privilege to taste. But I think some of my favorite wine moments are connected to memorable travel experiences. Drinking Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc (South Africa) from the back of a safari Jeep with giraffes walking by in the Singita preserve is an example of this…I’ll always remember that bottle and that moment. And of course drinking Commandaria, the oldest named wine in the world, after visiting Petra Tou Romiou was also a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. 

Favorite wine-producing region? Why? 

Another tough question but in all honesty I think Cyprus and Greece are both incredible because of the history of their varieties and the incredibly rich wine cultures and lifestyle they offer. There are not many places in the world that can boast thousands of years of winemaking history and enjoyment. I think this is fascinating to most global wine drinkers and they are still learning about the incredible wines and experiences to be had in these places.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing? 

I love oysters and Chablis…fresh, clean, always delicious! 

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine? 

I would not say they are missing the product…just the exposure. It would be great to see more promotion of the Cypriot wine industry in America via more events and tastings. Cyprus has an incredible wine culture, history, is a beautiful tourism destination…it has all of the elements needed to attract wine lovers. More people need to know about it. 

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

I think now is the time for regions like Cyprus to tell their story in international markets and definitely to promote the many millennia of wine history found there. American consumers are increasingly adventurous and looking for affordable but delicious new products with an interesting story. Cypriot wines offer this. Producers like Tsiakkas are working hard in new markets and creating world-class products, which helps the entire category. I think if that continues the category will grow in wine-focused markets like New York. It’s also important that sommeliers know about the wines, because when they taste them, they usually fall in love with them and their story. 

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world? 

Learning something new every day and working with people from so many different cultures. 

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your career in the wine industry? 

Perhaps to eventually travel more and educate people around the world about wine. 

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

Laura Catena, the owner of Bodega Catana Zapata, is an inspiration and a force to be reckoned with. I have great respect for her and her tireless work growing awareness of Argentina. She’s also an emergency room doctor on top of that so she’s a true hero. 

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior? 

I think like most wine professionals there was a time when I was not very skilled at using a spit bucket at public tastings. I probably missed a few times but that was years ago! I’m a pro now! 

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine? 

A nice, crisp Xynisteri is a great island wine! But I’m pretty partial to Cristal Champagne, and the winemaker at Louis Roederer, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, is a true artist. I could happily drink that every day. 😊

You can reach Susan Kostrzewa via email, Instagram and Twitter.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

International Sommelier Competition Coming to Cyprus!

I'm not sure how many of you have heard, but Limassol will be hosting in 2020 the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale's (ASI) Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa competition. This should be a wonderful opportunity to showcase The Rock's wines and our little island as a great wine tourism destination. Check out the event's first press release below and stay tuned for plenty of more news on this world-class event coming to our shores next November.
ASI Contest of the Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa 2020 to be held in Cyprus
"1 Year to Go!"

Limassol, Cyprus -- Candidates from 3 African and 37 European countries will soon be squaring off in Cyprus for the title of “ASI Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa 2020.” The competition, to be held in the city of Limassol from 16-20 November 2020, will offer a colorful and press-friendly presentation of world-class wine professionals.
The wine-loving nation is proud to be hosting such a high-caliber event. “We are excited that in one year from today, the finest talents in wine service from all over Europe and Africa will gather on our island to determine a winner of the continental contest,” says Georgios Kassianos, President of the Cyprus Sommeliers Association.
His association is expecting many important guests. Each competing country will send a delegation including the candidate, the president of its national sommelier association and a journalist. Invitations will also be extended to all ASI presidents outside Europe and Africa as well.

Limassol was selected as host city in 2017 at the ASI’s General Assembly in Bordeaux.

Known as the international business hub of Cyprus, Limassol features both eye-catching historical flair, including a castle and historic center, as well as modern amenities such as a flashy marina and modern boutiques. And of course high-quality restaurants ready to treat travelers and locals to fantastic wines.
Georgios Kassianos
Two years into preparations, the event’s organizers express confidence that all will come together well. “The planning committee along with the ASI Technical Committee are promising a well-organized competition and a spectacular final. Journalists and presidents will tour the Cyprus vineyards and taste Cyprus wines,” Kassianos says. The ASI’s international sponsors will have a chance throughout the five day event to promote their products through organized workshops and participating at Bar Des Sommeliers, he added.

ASI President Andrés Rosberg expressed confidence in the event and its organizers: “Cyprus is a land of fantastic beauty, exquisite food and fascinating wines, domestic and imported. It is the perfect island meeting spot for a competition expected to draw the savviest wine professionals from two continents. It’s going to be a fantastic event.”

The winner of the competition will be offered an invitation to compete in the next ASI’s Best Sommelier of the World Contest. The site for that event, scheduled for 2022, will be determined by a vote among ASI members in late 2019.

A dedicated website as well as Instagram and Twitter will also be announced soon.

Source: Association de la Sommellerie Internationale

For more information, please contact:

Liora Levi
Head of Media and Communication

Michèle Chantôme
Secretary General ASI
Director PR, Communication & Marketing

Georgios Kassianos
President Cyprus Sommelier Association

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Case of Questions with Kyriakos Kynigopoulos, Consultant, Burgundia Oenologie

Originally from Greece, Kyriakos Kynigopoulous moved to France almost forty years ago where he has established himself as a world-class consultant for wineries in Burgundy and beyond.

First as head of SGS Oenlogie and then running his own company, Burgundia Oenologie, Kyriakos consults domaines throughout the world on how "to modernize their way of working and refine the style of their wines."

In his capacity as a consultant, Kyriakos has spent a myriad of years helping Cypriot wineries fine-tune their wines, combining "the rigor and objectivity of the researcher with a grain of philosophy applied to the most advanced concepts, while being constantly on the ground."

We recently had the chance to break bread and share some wine with Kyriakos as part of an event sponsored by Kyperounda Winery, so we thought it'd be wise to get his take on everything that's transpiring in The Rock's wine scene. À votre santé!

Why wine?

Wine and vines are my passion since my youth. My love for wine and vines is a result of my love for nature.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you? 

The wine that first caught my attention in Greece was Rapsani 1979 when I was 20 years old and then in Burgundy, the one big wine that impressed me, was Musigny Grand Cru 1990, Comte De Vogue, when I was 33.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

All-time favorite wine is Montrachet for whites and Musigny for the reds.

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

My favorite wine-producing region is Burgundy. I live and work there for 37 years now and I was a part of the wine revolution.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

My favorite food-wine pairing is lobster with Pullingy Montrachet Premier Cru La Truffière.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

The most important thing that is missing from the Cyprus wine industry is a given value to the local varieties of wine like Xinisteri, Promara, Maratheftiko, Giannoudi... and also to produce wine in different "terroirs."

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

Cyprus wines already won the local market after 10 years of quality progress and now is the right time to export the wines abroad.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world? 

My favorite part of my job is meeting different people in different countries all over the world and sharing with them the same love and care for vineyards and wines.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your career in the wine industry? 

My Five Year Plan is to discover new lands of wines and meet new people.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

My favorite wine personality is Pablo Alvarez from Vega Sicilia who succeeded to create a myth around his wines.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior?

An awkward situation that very often happens is when sommeliers are insisting on their opinion about my wine selection with a "class" about what is wine and vintage.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

My all-time classic favorite island wine is Assyrtiko from Santorini and my favorite coffee is Kona from Hawaii, both volcanic!

You can follow Kyriakos on his website, Twitter or Instagram accounts.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Personal History of Cyprus Beer

Wannabe with Alesmith's IPA at Brewfellas
My first tryst with Cypriot beer was not unlike that first time a teenage boy has sex: short-lived, rudderless and as plain as a greenhouse cucumber in the dead of winter.

It was 2005 and I sat at Washington DC's iconic and now defunct beer tavern The Brickskeller, having just polished off a Belgian dubbel or tripel. I had been dating The Wife, PhD, for several months and—in what now rings like a premonitory alarm to my eventual move to The Rock—I chased my first tipple with a KEO, a Cypriot pilsener-styled lager and the island's favorite beer.

You must understand that, as a fresh-faced twenty-seven year old, my knowledge of the proper progression of beer consumption was limited to randomly alternating between pale ales—Sierra Nevada (still my favorite beer) and Bass—and Sam Adams Boston Lager with an occasional Chimay Blue thrown in to class shit up. Hence, my first impression of Cypriot beer was, uhm, watered down.

Cyprus can get as scorching hot as Emily Ratajkowksi in an animal print bikini. Or a topless Ryan Gosling eating a churro. So it makes perfect sense that locals and tourists alike would want a crisp, light beer that doesn't overwhelm the palate with intense flavors and a thick torso. Even for the hopsessed, this style of beer has its moments. During my first or second summer on The Rock, I spent one sunny afternoon at Zefkas (the good one) above Fig Tree Bay pounding innumerable large bottles of KEO with good friends and then stumbling to the sea—volleyball and buzz in tow—to spike, dig, set and serve the sunset away.

Self-Appointed King of Happy Times
For years, The Rock's beer market was pretty much limited to KEO, Leon (the island's first beer) and Denmark's Carslberg, the latter two brewed by the Photos Photiades Group. All three have similar flavor profiles: they are clear and light and refreshing and as harmless to the palate as a lukewarm boiled potato. Personally, I prefer KEO as it has a decent hoppiness to it, while Carlsberg, which is a far cry from being the best beer in the world, reminds me of the $5-for-a-6-pack Natty Light I used to consume as a penny-pinched college student. No, that's not a compliment. Then again, don't ever put me through a blind tasting of the three because it will just confirm that you shouldn't be reading this blog as a source of knowledge. Praise the Lord my writing ain't gospel truth.

Early on into my arrival to Cyprus almost fourteen years ago, a handful of microbreweries surfaced to mixed success. Declaring itself Cyprus' first microbrewery, Prime Microbrewery opened its doors in Sotira by Ayia Napa and offered the market six (decent-ish) beers—a Cyprus Pilsner, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Golden Ale, Belgian Wit and Oatmeal Stout, with the Wit being my personal favorite.

Rumors had it that Prime's facilities were among the most technologically advanced in Europe, but every time I attempted to pay them a visit, they were either too busy or the phone rang unanswered for what seemed like the time it takes me to polish off a pint. Yes, eons according to my friends. Some time in 2017, Prime closed its doors, stopped production and broke my heart with nary a visit. Not all might be lost, however, as it seems Octo Microbrewery, a new project housed in Prime's former headquarters, has opened its doors, recently releasing a hoppy lager and an ultra-light session IPA. I had hoped to get invited to their official launch, but that has come and gone, so now I'm back to relying on my own creepy Latino charm to get my foot in the door.

Aphrodite's Rock Brewery in Tsada
After a protracted battle against bureaucracy, Aphrodite's Rock Brewery opened in 2009 just outside Tsada in Paphos, slowly building a steady following among British expats and tourists in the area. I don't make it out west often enough to visit, but whenever I'm on my way to Polis, there's an obligatory stop at Aphrodite's Rock to buy a six-pack and track its development. Last time I was there—six long years ago—I thought the beers were alright with my favorite ones being the Lian Shee Irish Red Ale and London Porter. However, in my old age I've discovered I have an issue with British real ales—I find them under-carbonated and, hence, soupy for my taste. Purists (and Brits), come at me. [Pulls up trousers, pounds sagging man boobs, raises fists and puffs.]

Furthermore, finding a large variety of beers at pubs or supermarkets ten years ago was not the easiest of tasks. My go-to bar upon arrival was Plato's, an architectural gem I truly believe should reconfigure itself as a gastro pub that matches a strong beer selection with high-end and creative bar food à la Granazi, which—side note and shout-out to chef David A. Lakes—serves the best bar food in Nicosia. Back when I was a regular patron, Plato's carried a large range of Belgian beers but hardly an IPA except for BrewDog's ubiquitous Punk IPA. Still, it was the only place where someone open to experimenting with beer could feel at home.

Who Would Have Thought? An IPA Fest on The Rock
Nicosia's (and to a certain extent the island's) beer scene ultimately changed for the better in 2010 with the opening of Brewfellas, which is without question The Rock's best beer bar and my favorite watering hole. It's even Little Miss Despot's preferred place to grab a bag of crisps and see daddy work his way through half-a-pint on Saturday afternoons and slowly say goodnight to his liver. Plus, I cannot wait to introduce Little Miss Miracle (yes, new addition to the Whine On The Rocks household!) to this budding family tradition. Good parenting they call it.

What Brewfellas managed to do (and still does) so wonderfully well is fill a huge gap in the market and cater to those of us who are brave enough to try something new and empty our bank accounts, per diems, trust funds and pocket change for whatever that new is. Dimitri Kemanes, Costas Siahinian and company are hopsessed and have a huge soft spot for American microbreweries. With Brewfellas' launch almost ten years ago came a slew of American, British and European IPAs, alongside Imperial Porters, Stouts, Saisons, Sours, Pale Ales, Unicorns (The Alchemist's Heady Topper was once on tap and I missed it) and the kitchen sink. They routinely organize unique private tastings and keep us on our toes by revealing on a weekly basis new beers to discover and creating unwanted marital strife. If only I had married a beer lover.

Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?
With Brewfellas' emergence, what followed was a deluge. Let's not talk causality here as this post ain't meant to be your be-all and end-all history of Cypriot beer. New microbreweries have risen from the empty, rusty cans of KEO and Carlsberg to satisfy The Rock's increasingly sophisticated palate. Pivo Microbrewery, True Ale Cyprus Brewery, Barrel House's Mad Pan Handcrafted Projects in Larnaca, Radical Way Brewing, Humor Beer, Turkish Cypriot OO's Craft Brewing Co., and Hula Hops Brewing, to name a few, have started sourcing the island with beers that cater to both lager fans and those with actual taste buds. Of course, some of the beers produced still require fine tuning, but it's the spirit and push for bigger, better and bolder beers that counts, right? Having sampled beers from most of these breweries, I must say that Pivo, Humor and Hula Hops (now seemingly on hiatus) lead the way in the delivery of quality, consistency and taste.

Pivo Microbrewery's Standard Offerings
I think the best beers ever produced by Cypriot microbreweries are Hula Hops' Cyprus Citrus IPA and Pivo's Hoppy American (Easy) IPA and their 2017 limited release India Pale Lager, which would sit alongside Greece's Fix Dark (you have so many questions right now, don't you?) as a staple in my refrigerator as go-to beach beers.

So here's my personal challenge to all these new microbreweries out there—cook up an Imperial Stout aged in old Commandaria barrels and (hopefully) join the list above. Plus, I'll pay big bucks for a case, even more so if you let me name it and write the back label. [Editor's note: Homie is desperate for writing jobs and has a serious drinking problem.]

Furthermore, as a result of this growing interest in beer, during the past five years or so, a myriad of beer festivals have sprung like (both good and bad) weeds. Some are just excuses to bring Greek pop stars to regale the masses and sell them the usual suspect beers imported by The Rock's major distributors. I've attended some of these "beer" festivals in both Ayia Napa and Nicosia, and there wasn't a single beer I couldn't procure myself in a supermarket. Beer selection might have improved during the past few years, but when you have Sakis Rouvas—Greece's version of Justin Timberlake going through a mid-life crisis as a Dublin-based busker—serenading twenty thousand crazed fans, you know it's not about the beer.

The Full Pint 2018
Of all these festivals, one truly stands out for its genuineness, passion and overall good vibes—The Full Pint, the annual event organized by the Cyprus Homebrewers Association. What started off with four brave souls peddling their home-brews to curious bystanders at Faneromeni Square in Old Nicosia has turned into a major event for local beer drinkers. Dozens of home-brewers now congregate each spring in Nicosia's Municipal Gardens to showcase their latest concoctions. Yes, some beers are obviously better than others, but the overall event is still a whole lot more revelatory, true and fun than the competition. A shout-out to Yiannis from The Beer Lab, Nicosia's main shop for home-brewing equipment, for his Black Dino Stout, which will belatedly receive five Sparkling Spatulas for Best Brew at the 2019 The Full Pint.

Another interesting development has been the evolution of beer menus at established bars. Case in point, Moondog's Bar & Grill, which has undoubtedly set itself up as Nicosia's best sports pub. Upon opening, their beer selection was quite basic with nary an IPA in sight. However, if you visit Moondog's these days, their menu is chock-full of IPAs and other beers that weren't available before. They've slowly but steadily ramped up their selection in parallel with this growing interest in beer on The Rock. Plus, they have the best marketing ploy by any eatery or bar on The Rock—inviting their customers to be featured as models in their annual and thematically-diverse beer menu. If y'all ever need a bearded, voluptuous cross-dresser with a penchant for dark beers and reciting Neruda's love poems, I know a guy.

Cheers to the Future of Cyprus Beer!
So things are looking up for The Rock's beer scene. Palates are evolving, more beer lovers are joining the ranks of the producers, a myriad of beer-themed events continue to sprout like Cascade hops bines in the Pacific Northwest. While there will always be a space in our hearts (and sultry dad bods) for a pint of KEO, the future of beer in The Rock lies elsewhere. Time for the Church of Cyprus to step up its game and bless us with a holy IPA and for that other brewery to stop pretending it brews the best beer in the world.

What's your #CyprusBeerStory?

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Case of Question with Georgios Hadjistylianou, Head Sommelier, Amara Hotel

Fat Fish has always been one of my favorite taverns in Limassol, particularly because of its meticulously sourced and thought-out wine list.

This shouldn't come as a surprise considering the grizzled gentleman behind the restaurant's undying success.

Georgios Hadjistylianou, whose twenty-five year career as wine guru has stretched from New York City to Limassol with stops in Crete and Morgon in France, has been at the helm of Fat Fish since 2008. In 2017, he also opened Vinothiki, a small cava that purveys terroir-driven wines from some of his favorite producers and regions. Today, in addition to these aforementioned pursuits and often rocking his signature flat caps, he stars as the head sommelier for Amara, yet another five-star luxury hotel that opened in Limassol to regale the Russians.

We sat down with Georgios to get some insight into his life in wine and give him a shot at name-dropping more than an up-and-coming hip-hop artist looking for sponsorship opportunities and some spare change. Ka-ching!

Why wine? 

Other than humans and animals, it's the only other "living thing." And not to mention, the best and most civilized conversations I've ever had was with wine.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you? 

When in Birmingham at 20 years old, we had a wine tasting class at Birmingham College and it was myself with a friend who were responsible for cleaning up, but instead we went to a bar for a beer. Well, we never made it back on time. When we entered the classroom the next morning, the room smelled scrumptious; it's still to date one of the best smells I've ever experienced.

All-time favorite bottle of wine? 

Sorry, it can't be one as there are a few,  around 10 to 20-plus. Like in 1999, the Bordeaux tasting of 1982s, 1983s and 1985s at the Windows on the World. Also, my last day in New York City, the 1962 sweet Riesling at Harry's Restaurant. And back in 1997, the first time I tasted Austrian wines. And so on...

Favorite wine-producing region? Why? 

That's not possible. Barolo, Barbaresco, Tuscany, Loire Valley whites & reds, Rias Baixas, Chablis, Beaujolais, Burgundy (though way too expensive these days) and, of course, Naoussa and Santorini.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing? 

The one that's a slam dunk. [Editor's note: A 360 windmill à la Dominique, we hope.]

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine? 

Sparkling wine and less manipulation on its wines.

Georgios & His Beloved Morgon

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry? 

Getting more exciting with indigenous varieties.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world? 

Exploring wines, as well as offering people interesting and exciting wines.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your career in the wine industry? 

Since December 2016, after my time in France, I've decided not to work more than 8 or max 9 hours a day. I don't have a five-year plan. In early June 2019, I started working as the head sommelier at the newly opened Amara hotel in Limassol with plenty of great opportunities. Plans are good; however, I prefer taking things a day at a time!

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why? 

It is not possible to pick one. I'll start from the Barolo rebels—the late Bartolo Mascarello, the late Giuseppe Citro Rinaldi, and the late Theobalto Cappelano. Then there's the late Serge Hochar in Lebanon, the late Haridimos Hatzidakis, the magician of Santorini, the Tatsis brothers in Goumenissa, Evriviades Sclavos in Cephalonia, Yianis Economou in Sitia, Crete, Josko Gravner & Stanko Radikon from Friuli, Laureano Serres & Juan Ramon Escoda & Carmen Sanhuja, Elena Panteleoni, Elisabetta Foradori. I feel like I'm forgetting some—Egon Muller, Donhhoff, Dr. Loosen, Joh. Jos. Prüm, Josef Leitz in Germany, Johanes Hirsch, Schloss Gobelsburg, Nikolaihof, Emerich Knoll. It can never be just one.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior? 

Nothing really major.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine? 

As with the personalities, same here. I just cannot select one. 1959 Musar white, 1976 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Riesling Spatlese, 2001 Gravner Ribolla Gialla Anfora, 1992 Gravner Ribolla, 2000 Stanco Radikon Ribolla Gialla Collio Radikon, Salvo Foti, Roumier, Rouget. How can I select one wine? Sorry but that's not possible!

You can reach Georgios on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vinothiki's website.

Monday, July 22, 2019

On Making A Grand Entrance

Talk about making a grand entrance. Perched immediately above Omodos, The Rock's (unofficial?) wine capital, Oenou Yi - Ktima Vassiliades stands out like a bottle of La Tâche in a lineup of village blends.

Inaugurated in 2018, Oenou Yi, the brainchild of Limassol's Christodoulos G. Vassiliades, is undoubtedly the blockbuster of wineries in Cyprus. It's luxurious and shiny and hardly shy about using expensive marble, tall windows and mirrors to coat walls and cellar floors and everything else in between. From my description, you'd imagine a gaudy, over-the-top winery styled by a bejeweled Latin American nouveau riche like myself, but it's not. I think the place exudes class and sophistication without overstepping that boundary into tackiness.

The winery, which I believe has been designed as an events and recreation space, includes conference rooms, a small swimming pool, a forthcoming spa, a high-end restaurant (more on this later), a posh tasting room and nautical miles of cellar space. During our short tour, I was mesmerized by the amount of space reserved for oak barrels. Fikardos Fikardou of Fikardos Winery has joked with me in the past about building a squash court in his winery. However, in Oenou Yi's two cellar rooms—one for Commandaria, the other for dry wines—you could build two indoor tennis courts where Baghdatis fans could play Around the World, ideally downing shots of zivania at each crossover, and still have enough room to actually age liters upon liters of wine. Oenou Yi is also planning on building bedrooms or offering space for people to stay in Omodos. I must admit that it's not my preferred style of winery but there's plenty of room for this type of all-inclusive, wine-themed experience in the current Cypriot market.

And the wines they are currently producing show plenty of potential. Aikaterini-Evangelia Mylona, who trained in Spain, France, Argentina and New Zealand and is one of three females winemakers on the island, has worked on a pretty large portfolio of wines ranging from light whites made of Xynisteri to oaked Maratheftiko and Commandaria and everything else in between.

During the tasting, which takes places in their impeccably classy tasting room, Mikhail Vakhromov, who trained in hospitality management and leads the drinking component of the tour, garrulously guided me through my lineup of wines (and will definitely try to sell you a copy of Madeline Puckette's Wine Folly). Mikhail, who doesn't have a background in wine, has been learning on the job and does plenty to engage the customer and keep them interested in what is being tasted. Case in point, if you're visiting, make sure to ask Mikhail to show you how to properly taste zivania—you'll either fully understand the traditional Cypriot drink and all of its nuances or choke on the spirit as the vapors rush up your nostrils and stumble off your stool. Yes, I almost fell.

Personally speaking, my preferred tipples were the 2018 Playia White blend of Xynisteri, Malaga and Assyrtiko, which was a bit fuller and more complex (tropical!) than the 100% Xynisteri, and the 2017 Playia Cuvée Spéciale, which works well with The Rock's favorite charcoal-fueled hobby. A special mention is becoming of the 2016 Geroklima Maratheftiko, a heavy-hitting red that's been aged in new oak for two years. Yes, it's big and bold and woody but there's plenty of jammy fruit, well integrated tannins, and a rounded smoothness that would work wonders with a Stegosaurus-sized, marbled steak. It's definitely not my style of wine but I  enjoyed it enough that I purchased a bottle and will let it sit for three to four years before revisiting.

Now the winery's restaurant, which is called Playia (slope in Greek), was a revelation. With a menu created by Andreas Andreou, the talented chef who put Skinny Fox on The Big Fig's (Nicosia for those of you late to the game) culinary map, the food is the best one can currently find in any winery on The Rock and probably the most gourmet meal anywhere up in the Cypriot mountains.

The menu has been carefully constructed, leaning towards Cypriot-inspired dishes using local ingredients and modern techniques. We kicked off the meal with a salad of baby leaves, crispy halloumi cheese, dried figs, grapes, roasted walnuts, raisins, sesame seeds, and a basil and grape syrup vinaigrette, which was bountiful, fresh and well-balanced, deftly walking the line between sweet and sour. This was followed by a pork loin braised with red wine and aromatic herbs, parsnip purée, coriander seeds, roasted mushrooms, and parsnip roots with a red wine sauce, and tagliatelle with prawns, tomato, basil, parsley, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, cream and lobster bisque sauce. Both dishes were perfectly executed, packed with flavor and refined in presentation. Plus, I really appreciated the pricing policy on the wines consumed onsite; a glass of wine runs for about three to four Euros and bottles are sold without the typical restaurant markup.

So the next time you're up in Omodos, swing by and pay them a visit. Have a taste of their wines, revel in Playia's well-designed and executed menu, take a dip in their pool. Make a day out of it and live the life of a Latino nouveau riche who's stumbled upon a wealth of wealth here on The Rock. You'll only be doing it with a hell of a lot more class.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Case of Questions with Annabelle McVine, Wine Scribble

Since releasing her first Cypriot video blog almost a year ago, Annabelle McVine, the cheeky, fun-loving dame behind Wine Scribble, has taken The Rock by storm.

For the past eleven months, Annabelle has been on a tear, interviewing Cypriot oenologists, organizing funky food-and-wine pairings and reporting from the trenches at a myriad of wine-themed events.

With her trademark fiery red bob, matching lipstick and bubbly personality, Annabelle has endeared herself to The Rock's wine world, becoming a timely breath of fresh air to all of our vinous festivities.

As one of Wine Scribble's biggest fans, we thought we'd reach out to have her tell us her story.

Why wine?

I tend to get bored easily, but wine never bores me. Wine always has something to say that is worth listening to. With wine, especially European wine, and the boutique wineries, there is an explosion of permutations and iterations, every country, region, winemaker, blend, label and vintage is different. And just when you think you are getting the hang of it, then the weather changes and the next year tastes different to the year before.

Wine is also an interest that allows me to practice my writing, filming, photography and research skills. All of these activities I greatly enjoy.

First wine that really captured your attention? How old were you?

I was in Plovdiv in Bulgaria on an academic EU project in my early 20s, and I was served an aromatic white that made me sit up and pay attention. I asked the waiter what it was and he told me the variety was called Traminer. Until that point, my position had been always that white wine was not worth bothering with. That bottle awakened me to the fact that white wines can be nuanced, complex and aromatic. To be fair to non-red wines, the only white wine that I had tasted until this point was the usual Cypriot-wedding house-glass of ‘weiß-plonk’.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

Oh, now you are making this difficult. Do I strike you as the kind of girl who would restrict herself to a single option? Have you seen my shoe collection? [Editor's Note: We love shoes too.]

Annabelle McVine & Unidentified Local Fanboy

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

If we are talking about my fantasy wine region holiday that I have not yet taken, then it would probably be something Tuscany based. Have you seen the pictures of Tuscany on Instagram? It looks amazing. 

However, my favourite wine producing region that I regularly visit and stick my stilettos into its earth: Krasochoria in Limassol. When you speak to the locals and learn more about the history of the Krasochoria, you soon realise that they don't just love wine, they eat, drink, sleep wine. It is an integral part of their existence, and I have a lot of respect for such unadulterated passion.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

Cypriot Yiannoudi and a medium rare rib-eye steak, with all the trimmings. It is poetry.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

Sophisticated online communications, both between the wine industry members and with the wine consumers. To clean this statement up, I mean no disrespect to our wonderful winemakers, and it is not their job to be internet communications experts, but what Cyprus is missing is a clear brand identity as a wine destination. We have wonderful tastes, aromas, growing regions, indigenous grape varieties, so many things that appeal to a modern millennial market in search of a wine adventure - but no one is saying this out loud to the market segment that can travel and discover Cyprus and Cyprus wine.

 What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

At this stage, I feel it would be more salient to paraphrase from my recent interview with Sophocles Vlassides, who told me that about ten years ago the winemakers started to cultivate the indigenous local grapes such as Yiannoudi and Morokanella. It takes a long time to convert an experiment in this space to a mass market product that is consistent and enjoyable for everyone. So, what do I see for the Cyprus wine industry in the coming years? It would be more products based upon the local indigenous grapes, more sophisticated cultivation of these grapes, which can be difficult to work with in the vineyard, and more market awareness for the consumer making a choice at the point of sale.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

Getting to know the Mediterranean wine lovers around me, the viticulturalists, oenologists, wine merchants, chefs, sommeliers, and people like you and I, who have taken to the Internet to talk about our favourite subject.

What is your “Five Year Plan” for your business?

Communication is my passion. That’s why I enjoy writing, photography and making videos.

I want to keep growing as a visual story-teller and a film-maker. I want to spend the next few years focused on growing the WineScribble Instagram account and the WineScribble YouTube channel. There are so many great stories yet to be told about the people involved in Cyprus and Mediterranean wines.

However, I realise that in the process I am learning an incredible amount about communication on the Internet. It would be great to run seminars to disseminate everything I have learned about visual storytelling and engaging a large audience. I think I have worked out a secret formula here. In 9 months my Instagram is approaching 14k followers and my YouTube channel has almost 14k video views. I think this is pretty unusual with such a niche topic and without the help of any professional marketing agency. This is just me, a camera, a good eye for a picture/story and a good understanding of how today’s Internet works. I think there are people who would love to know how to replicate this success to pursue their own dreams, passions and business start-ups, and I would love to help them make these aspirations a reality.

Annabelle McVine & Orestis Tsiakkas Tasting Mavro Mouklos

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

I have a lot of respect for the older generation who moved into the wine business without formal education in wine-making, leaving behind regular careers for a dream. Without them, the current generation of oenologists and viticulturalists wouldn’t have had wineries to return to. They are the foundational stones of our wine industry. I haven’t met everyone that I want to yet, but three of these gentlemen have been very welcoming to me and my project so far. I should name and thank Costas Tsiakkas (Tsiakkas Winery), Andreas Kyriakides (Vouni Panayia Winery), and Charis Athinodorou (Ktima Gerolemo) for respecting this project and making themselves available to chat, answer questions and support me.

Any embarrassing episodes involving spilled wine, corkscrews, sommeliers or drunken behavior?

I cannot even start to make a list of all of the things that have gone wrong during filming. It is epic. I am the proud owner of a deeply traumatised goldfish that experienced a profound existential moment when a sparkling wine cork launched itself and landed in the fishbowl. If you look closely during the video called ‘The Sparkling Wine Adventure’ you can see the epic B-Roll segment of me unwrapping the foil, releasing the cage, but never actually removing the cork. It removed itself. At speed.

Also, for the purposes of the video titled ‘Vineyard Terroir’ I scripted myself to fail at making a Merlot Chocolate Cake, but in fact I failed at failing. The cake baked fully before the staged power-cut, and to make it look like a flop I had to behead a perfectly good cake and turn it into brownies. My mother has never let me forget the waste of cake.

I am not known for my dexterity, in fact quite the opposite. I did spend a few months annihilating corks as I tried to master the art of using the Waiter’s Friend corkscrew. It is a running joke in my office that I can talk about the wine, I just can’t open the wine.

Of course, your all-time favorite island wine?

You know what? I am not going to name a producer, that would be quite unfair to everyone else that scores 9.9 on my list instead of 10. I shall let you know that I do love the Maratheftiko and Yiannoudi wines that I am tasting right now. I love what these wines taste like right now, and I love what these wines will grow up to be in the future. Here’s to the local volcanic terroir! Cheers!

You can reach Annabelle on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or her website.