Wednesday, November 24, 2021

A Case of Questions with Kalia Christoforou, Sommelier

Ask any hardcore Cypriot and they will tell you there's someone from The Rock on every corner of the world. Case in point, this blog has tracked down a Cypriot sommelier plying her trade in the City of Angels, a short twelve thousand kilometers away from the center of the world. Yes, Cyprus is dead smack in the middle, you heathens.

Originally from Larnaca, Kalia Christoforou kicked off her professional career as a budding actress, taking on acting opportunities in New York, London, and Los Angeles. As a way to make ends meet, however, she dove headfirst into the food and beverage industry where she has worked as a trainer, operations manager, head of food and beverage, and wine director, a role she has fully embraced. She's even had the opportunity to taste some DRC, as you all know, this blog's unicorn wine. So life must be looking up for her in the fast-paced restaurant world.

Over this past summer, when COVID had given us a seemingly brief respite from lockdowns, investing in crypto out of boredom, and making sourdough starters, Kalia was on The Rock where she visited countless wineries, documenting it all on her Instagram account. [Sarcasm alert!] Since we're so on top of things here on this blog [End of sarcasm alert!], we reached out to get her take on Cypriot wine after not having visited the island for more than five years.

Why wine?

I didn’t choose wine. Wine chose me. I've never dreamed or imagined myself being involved in such an industry.

Wine came into my life by a pure accident, and it has stuck with me ever since. Why wine? Wine because it brings people together. Wine because it makes people happy. Wine because it's the healthiest and most ancient alcoholic beverage, also connected to longevity. Wine because it allows you to taste part of the land's history, the culture and tradition. And wine simply because it tastes great.

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

One of the perks of working in the hospitality industry is the fact that you get to try some really good food and wine. You would expect me to say that the first wine that captured my attention was either a bottle of elegant DRC, a stunning first growth Bordeaux or a powerful Super Tuscan, but in my case, the story doesn't go like this.

Before I even got the chance to taste many of those legendary wines, back in the days when I started working as a server in New York, I was offered the opportunity to taste an up and coming, at that time, wine from Paso Robles. I was immediately amazed by its beautiful, rich, chocolatey flavor, velvety texture, and complex character. I knew right away that I was tasting something special. That very moment I decided that I wanted to discover and learn more about the amazing world of wine. I never looked back ever since. The wine was Daou Soul of a Lion. I must've been 26 back then.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

I would say, the one I am about to discover and taste next. For me, there is no such thing as a favorite bottle of wine. Of course, I like the classic, highly regarded ones, but I am always super excited to taste something I haven't had before. Even wines made from uncommon varietals, inexpensive yet of a great quality, from non-popular wine regions. It is a very hard question to answer because I tend to enjoy and appreciate many different ones, depending on my mood, the food I am eating, the time of day, the season and year.

Kalia Christoforou Mavro Mouklos
With one of the blog's favorite Cypriot reds!
Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

I honestly don't have a favorite one. There are wines I like and don't like from many different wine regions. I generally tend to gravitate towards the old world, classic wine regions as they offer more versatility, complexity, and character than the new world ones, that offer the same consistent yet very predictable flavor profiles. After all, I get bored easily.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

I can't stay away from the classic pairing of cheese, bread, and wine. For example: A white or red Burgundy with a nice soft brie cheese and sourdough bread. Even a Greek salad with fresh juicy tomatoes, feta cheese, olives, and a soft pitta bread paired with a good quality Chablis, Assyrtiko or Xynisteri. I can literally live on just that for the rest of my life. Champagne and caviar is another favorite, but who can have that on a regular basis? In addition to the above, if I was to choose a not-so-common favorite pairing that would be grilled salmon with a nice Pinot Noir or a Cru Beaujolais.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

Over the past 20 years winemaking has improved so much in Cyprus. The younger generation of winemakers study abroad, expand their knowledge, and return with a great thirst and energy to innovate the way they approach the local indigenous varieties to showcase their best potentials. I've been honestly very impressed by the passion and love some of these producers put into their wines.

One thing that's missing, in my opinion, is maybe a little bit more support from the government, to help them market their products correctly, promote, and introduce our unique and amazing wines (including the most quintessential Cypriot wine, of course, Commandaria), to the rest of the world. I've seen great efforts being made by many Cypriot producers, however, fighting alone isn't always easy nor enough. Until recently, both Greek and Cypriot wines had a bad reputation of being nothing but vinegar to the rest of the world. This isn't at all accurate and well, it is certainly time to change this false misconception.

Checking this year's vintage on The Rock
What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

Worldwide recognition. I am ashamed to admit that I didn't think much of Cypriot wines till I was convinced otherwise. Upon my recent visit to the island, after five years, I was introduced to some phenomenal local varieties that can produce delicious, good quality wines. Even a more sophisticated version of a well-crafted, beautifully aged Commandaria, nothing like the ones I had in the past, left me by surprise.

I see a great future ahead for the Cypriot wine industry. Not only do we have so many talented and skillful producers, as well as unique raw materials, but wine culture around the world has been shifting in our favor. More and more wine professionals and wine lovers are turning toward the not so common, non-classic wine regions, in pursuit of new uncommon yet very old wine grape varietals as well as old traditional techniques.

What Cypriot wine would you match with grilled halloumi, The Rock’s greatest contribution to mankind?

Halloumi is a unique type of cheese that's extremely versatile. It changes flavor profile and texture depending on its preparation. It can be served hot or cold, sweet or savory. Even though there are a lot of wines that pair well with it, I would say that a nice off-dry Riesling (to balance the salty element of the cheese) or Xynisteri (to complement its mild delicate flavor) will be perfect. However, the best pairing for Halloumi cheese, in my opinion, would be nothing else but Commandaria. The rich, sweet, raisiny, toffee and caramel flavors combined with the salty, slightly tangy yet super delightful Halloumi cheese, can provide a wonderful contrast of flavors, leading to a match made in heaven.

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

The fact that it gives you the opportunity to eat and drink like a king without having to be one. Taste things you couldn't afford tasting otherwise.

All jokes aside, I love the interaction with people. The fact that I get to entertain, educate, and introduce restaurant guests to things they never had before, creating a unique and memorable experience for them that way. I also enjoy the sense of community that surrounds the restaurant world. The fact that it allows you to expand your network, meet amazing people from around the world, and connect with other professionals who happen to share the same passion and interests as you.

Kalia at Vassilikon Winery (?)
Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin (AKA Madame Cliquot). Not only was she the first lady in the Champagne industry, but she was also an extremely smart pioneer as well as a talented businesswoman. She invented the riddling table in 1816, transforming champagne into the clear, effervescent drink we all know and love today. There is a lot to learn from such a powerhouse of a woman, on a professional level. Driven from the story, she teaches all of us that the way to success is determination, fearlessness, having a progressive way of thinking, remaining focused, and having good faith and great passion for what you do.

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

I had a guest one time who got kicked out of the restaurant, on a busy night, because he and his 3 friends got super drunk and started to misbehave. They then showed up the next day around 4:30pm, stood at the bar and said that they wished to make up for the previous night's incident. He requested the wine list and placed an order for a $3000 bottle of DRC "Corton". He immediately offered myself and my boss a glass while insisting on pouring the wine himself. Before you even know it, the entire wine was spilled all over the bar counter. He then turned towards me, apologized, and so casually asked me to bring another bottle which he let me handle this time. Despite the crazy incident, they only stayed at the restaurant for 30 minutes, paid for both bottles and left. It was the most random, easiest, and fastest $6500 I've seen a restaurant make so far in my restaurant experience.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot (or other island) wine?

There are truly so many different ones I like. However, you can't go wrong with a good quality Xynisteri or Assyrtiko when it comes to whites and a well-made Maratheftiko or Yiannoudi even, from the reds. To show my respect to all the producers, I'd rather not mention specific names.

You can reach Kalia on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Case of Questions with Chuck Byers, Canadian Wine Journalist & Television Producer

From the land that gifted us Alanis Morissette, Ryan Reynolds, Wayne Gretzky and the indomitable maple syrup comes the blog's latest interviewee.

Chuck Byers, who ended up in Canada by way of Malta, has had a passion for wine since 1972 when a friend introduced him to a vintage bottle that is still in his possession, albeit empty. Following some preliminary studies in wine, Chuck jumped head in, penning a popular newspaper column on our favorite beverage and working on a series of local television shows titled Wine Companions, Wine Talk and Wine Dining. It's been a steady climb up since then, both as a wine writer and television producer, authoring books left and right and setting up many series covering far-flung wine regions in Canada, Europe and beyond. Chuck is a proud member of Canada's Wine Writer's Circle and the Circle of Wine Writers in the UK, and has been fortunate enough to visit us here on The Rock as part of his adventures in wine.

What does our first Canadian guest have to say about Cypriot wine? Find out below!

Why wine?

I got into wine for all the wrong reasons. I was working in an office and felt that I needed some form of raison d'être to impress my fellow workers. Keep in mind this was the early 70's and the “James Bond Era” was in full swing. I wanted to have a “shaken not stirred” persona. So, what better way to get “noticed” than to become known as a knowledgeable wine person? I purchased a book by New York wine columnist Terry Robards and read and reread it! I began purchasing wine from the Rare Wine Store and studying each bottle. My attempt to become “impressive” backfired in a way since I found out that wine was more than just a beverage. Wine was history, geography, science and culture and, most of all, wine was indicative to humanity. I became intrigued with the many aspects of wine in history and each bottle developed a whole profile in that what I was holding in my hands had living, historical and geographical significance. I was “hooked.”

When I open a bottle of wine, I realize the labour that went into making it: the dreams of the winemaker and the people and region it comes from. I also think of the time aspect of when it was made! What was going on in its world at the time and also what was going on in my world. So much to ponder and reflect. A good example is Cyprus. When I taste a Commandaria, visions of Richard the Lion Heart spring to mind such as the events leading up to his wedding on the island. I also think of the massive history of Cyprus and its people. Aphrodite, ancient history and Achilles. There is so much involved with wine that one can never know it all and that is what I love most about wine. Always a discovery!

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

My first foray into wine and one that certainly captured my attention was when I was seven years old. I had been a fan of pirate movies and always saw them gulping down copious amounts of wine. My mom had a bottle of red wine on the table getting ready for some celebration and I snuck a huge gulp. I ran to the washroom and spat the harsh, mouth-puckering beverage out into the sink and wondered what all the fuss was about. I never tried wine again (albeit a bit of sacramental wine, which was quite sweet) for a few years.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

In much of my writing I have always contended that atmosphere was about 75 percent of the contributor when it comes to enjoying wine. The “all-time” favourite and memorable wine was a simple bottle of Yago, wrapped in a burlap bag, some 40 years plus ago. I remember coming home from work on the afternoon of a beautiful sunny day. Upon entering my home, I was greeted with the smell of a beef stew that my wife was making at the time. On the television was a movie called King's Pirate. I opened the bottle and cut up some crusty bread and helped myself to the stew. It was divine.

The wine was not even close to being expensive but, to truly be memorable, all the parts have to come together. I have tasted some of the world's best, and make no mistake about it, they are superb wines. However, while the quality does impress in an esoteric way, true memorable experiences have a combination of factors that make them so!

A postscript to this is a time that I was visiting my in-laws in Malta. My brother-in-law took us to a seaside restaurant. The evening was perfect and my meal was a mushroom smothered filet mignon. We laughed and enjoyed each other's company and the bottle of La Valette red wine was absolutely perfect with the meal. Again, the wine was not one of great price or reputation but it was so perfect for that evening. Enough said!

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

Very difficult to say which is my favourite since each region has its specialties. I loved Umbria's Montefalco region for its superb Sagrantino grape and the super cuisine, as well as the beauty of the countryside. Malta is my home country and of course I have a liking for its wine. Cyprus comes close to being one of my most favourite areas. Anyone who has experienced the Troodos Mountains knows what I mean and of course the ancient grape varieties are amazing. So many regions and so many wines!

I guess if I had to pick my favourite I would have to pick a tie between the Similkameen Valley of British Columbia and Prince Edward County in Ontario. The Similkameen Valley is unique as it is part of the northern extension of the Sonoran Desert and Canada's only desert area. It has many superb wineries that produce concentrated red wines and delicious white wines. Canada's answer to Burgundy is Prince Edward County, which relishes its Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc varieties.

However, truly, I say every region I have been to around the world has its own uniqueness that cannot be emulated elsewhere. Anyone who has tried a Cypriot red Maratheftiko or white Xynisteri from Cyprus knows what I mean. Then there are the superb wines from Nova Scotia where French hybrids show that they can make some of the best wine anywhere. The Marechal Foch from wineries such as Jost Vineyards has to be tasted to truly understand their potential. Up and coming are the wines of Prince Edward Island and anyone who has visited the Eastern townships of Canada's Quebec Province knows of the breathtaking scenery and fine wine. Then of course is Portugal with its historic regions and wines. Every wine region in every country has its special places.

Visiting Hadjiantonas Winery in Limassol

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

Nothing beats a large fillet mignon and a bold Syrah or Malbec. I have enjoyed it with many wines but I love that combination. My meat is medium cooked and the wine with at least five years of age! The delicious blending of wine and meat is heavenly. As a runner-up, I love salmon fillet with Pinot Noir either from Prince Edward County or Niagara.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

The only thing that is missing is probably a price point to make it marketable around the globe. I fully support the trend of wineries moving toward their “indigenous” grape varieties. These ancient grapes are worthy of saving. I have also been impressed with the use of cosmopolitan varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In fact, when I was last in Cyprus, I went to a winery called Tsiakkas and tasted a super Merlot that was so concentrated that it had me fooled. However, globally, there is a flood of Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay in the market. It would be nice if more of the indigenous wines were able to make it to market. The beginning would be or could be if the wines were in demand locally. Visitors to the island need to know that these wines exist and thus can develop a taste for them. Education here is the key. Personally, I love Cypriot wines and food!

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

This pandemic tragedy has not been kind to any country with wine. So the road up will be even more difficult. The financial situation in Cyprus also is a factor. At this point Cyprus must reach out and educate those wine writers about its wine and cuisine. When the pandemic is lessened and people start traveling more, writers must be encouraged to write about the great wines and cuisine of Cyprus. I would be more than willing to encourage those to come down. To save the country money, I would suggest that a cost sharing model be encouraged with writers such that they pay for their air travel expenses while Cyprus covers the land portion. Fair. Unless a massive form of education takes place, I fear that not only Cypriot vineyards will suffer, but also all vineyards around the globe will suffer with the small wineries being affected first.

What Cypriot wine would you match with grilled halloumi, The Rock’s greatest contribution to mankind?

Fikardos’ blend of Mataro and Cabernet rosé would be a nice match. For more of an indigenous taste, I would have rosés from Tsiakkis, Zambartas and Ezousa. While a Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc or Xynisteri would go well, I would think that a rosé would fill my bill! Light, refreshing and a nice acidity to cut through the cheese’s creaminess. 
I smell Maratheftiko
What do you enjoy most about your work in the food & wine world?

Of course, I love the travel and meeting new and interesting people, as well as making lifelong friends with those I meet. It is the endless or seemingly endless types of wine and varieties of grapes that has kept my interest in wine going. No one can call him or herself an expert since that entails knowing everything about the subject but there is so much and, after some 40 years, I find that I have merely scratched the surface on the subject. Food is also in that genre since never have I visited a place or country and been bored with the same old. It is this endless variety that keeps my mind moving forward. I would care to say that I do not believe I will ever reach the summit of completeness even if I lived for five lifetimes.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

You do ask very open questions since I have met so many that I like. My mentor was the late great Alex Eberspaecher who was a great writer/consultant in travel, food and wine. He inspired me to move forward and took me under his wing. Alex will always be the one who made me “jump” from merely writing about wine to living it.

One of my favourites has always been Canadian author and columnist Tony Aspler. I have followed his exploits and his writings. The author who I began studying wine “with” was one I never met or spoke to. Terry Robards was the columnist for the New York Times and wrote a book aptly called “New York Times Book of Wine.” This was and will always be the book that I “cut” my teeth on. I read and reread his book until I could almost quote it from memory. I can say without a doubt that, other than Alex, he is my favourite personality. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many wine personalities but the above two or three were the ones who influenced me the most.

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

Ah! Yes many! My most embarrassing was many years ago when I was starting out and “feeling my oats”! I was new to the wine field and had a bit of knowledge, which can be very dangerous! I went to a wine tasting at one of Toronto's famous residences called Casa Loma. It was built in castle form at the turn of the 20th century and now was a historic place to visit, as well as hold special events. I arrived somewhat early but found my way to a room that was all prepared with wine buckets and wine bottles out on tables. There was staff preparing tables with bread and butter, etc. So, I wandered around and felt that I could grab a glass and begin tasting; after all, I was invited and was a wine aficionado! I poured a small bit of wine in the glass, smelled, swirled, smelled, sipped, slurped and then spat the wine into one of the buckets. I saw a number of people looking at me funny and one of them who looked very official came over and asked me what I was doing.

“I am here for the tasting,” I said rather indignantly.

“Sir,” came the response, “You are in the wrong room! This is a wedding party. You are tasting the bride's wine and spitting into the flower bucket!” Red-faced, I slid away quickly like the snake I felt like!

On another occasion, I was supposed to give a seminar to a group of restaurateurs. Just prior to going, I accidentally fell and injured my ribs to the point of being in great pain. I did not want to cancel my seminar so I obtained some muscle relaxants from my wife and went. By the time I got there I was feeling no pain but unfortunately my whole bodily functions were compromised. I was demonstrating the proper way to uncork a bottle using a two-pronged wine steward called Ah-So, which one would slide between bottle and cork. I ended up splitting the bottle and causing a mess. Obviously, I never charged the owner for the seminar! Things happen but we use these as learning situations.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot (or other island) wine?

I love Maratheftiko. The wine has an interesting history and has a very interesting way of propagation. Unlike most vines, it cannot fertilize itself when kept with its own species or variety of vines. Thus, it needs to be grown with other species in order to fulfill its destiny. I find the wine flavourful and concentrated but with a great elegance. I have tasted some older wines made from this grape and found them to be capable of some maturation. The colour can be ruby to purple with cherry and violet on the bouquet. Depending on the winemaker, the wine can have other attributes such as vanilla, oak spice, etc.

You can reach Chuck via his blog and on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

A Case of Questions with Matthew Stowell, Food and Wine Writer

One of my first paid writing jobs was with the now defunct Cyprus Gourmet, a local food and wine magazine started by Patrick Skinner, a dapper British expat who lived in Vouni and moved back to the UK many years ago to live (and chase dreams) in a revamped countryside windmill.

My editor at the time was Matthew Stowell, a talented American writer, journalist and occasional filmmaker who's been in and out of the The Rock more times than a cruise-ship captain docking in Limassol to do shots of zivania with girlfriend #5.

Matthew has had quite an adventurous and eclectic life. He's worked as a cook, bartender, construction worker, VW mechanic, taxi driver, proofreader, New York City bookshop owner, paralegal and English teacher. As a writer, he's served as a dance, visual arts and music critic for newspapers in Boston, San Francisco and Chicago, and written hundreds of articles on food and wine both in the US and Cyprus. Furthermore, he's been a finalist for the 1978 Virginia Prize for Fiction and the 2009 First Amendment Writes Poetry Prize, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. Matthew is the proud author of two detective novels (Roll Away the Stone and Blind Faith), a collection of poems (The Look of Love) and a book of dramatic works (Three Screenplays and A One Act). Most importantly to this blog's readers, he is the author of the island's latest wine guide, Stowell's Guide to the Wines and Wineries of Cyprus. Matthew is back on The Rock so we reached out and picked his brain on one of his favorite subjects. And make sure to buy his book!

Why wine?

I have been aware of wine and had respect for it since I was a child. I grew up in a large family and we drank wine with dinner—not every day, not with hot dogs and beans, but if the meal was put together as a substantial dinner, my father would send me down to the basement for a bottle of wine. So for me, a meal isn’t a meal without wine.

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

When I was a teenager, I confess I liked Liebfraumilch. It was popular then and went down smoothly, but it didn’t really impress me as anything special. The first wine that truly grabbed me and made me sit up and study the label was a Petite Sirah (a cross between Peloursin and Syrah) from the Sonoma Valley in California. I was in my early twenties and living in San Francisco, working as company manager for a modern dance company.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

During those same years in California, I was gifted with a bottle of Chateau Latour from the year of my birth, 1949. My girlfriend and I hitch-hiked down the coast to Big Sur and in a cabin at Deetjin’s Inn we shared the wine. It was an incredible experience. My girlfriend only took a sip then wanted to go for a walk. I told her, “You go ahead. I’m going to drink this wine. I’ll try to save you some.”

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

I really love the wines of Cyprus. When I’m away from the island (at the moment I’m stuck in Mexico City) I crave Cypriot wines above all others. There’s just something about it that speaks to my soul. Next would be Bordeaux, Burgundy, Tuscany and the Douro Valley in Portugal.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

Steak and Maratheftiko.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

In my opinion, nothing. Some people complain that Cyprus doesn’t export its wines, they can’t find Cypriot wines in their home countries. That is because most Cypriot wineries are too small to produce enough bottles for a larger market. Let’s say some New York importer falls in love with a Xinisteri or Maratheftiko and tells the winemaker, I want 100,000 bottles a year, otherwise it’s not worth my while. Most Cypriot winemakers could not do it, or if they did, there would be nothing left for Cyprus. But I think this is a good thing. Keep it small. It’s more conducive to creating top quality wine.

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

A few more wineries will open. More experimentation with various grape varieties will take place. The quality, as it has over the past 20 years, will continue to improve.

What Cypriot wine would you match with grilled halloumi, The Rock’s greatest contribution to mankind?

You should always douse grilled halloumi with fresh lemon juice so I would probably drink a single vineyard Xinisteri (well chilled), a dry Rosé or maybe a Morokanella.

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

The people in the food and wine business in Cyprus, for the most part, are intelligent, passionate and generous individuals who enjoy the good things in life and love to share them, so I am always pleased to spend time with them. But I particularly enjoy introducing Cypriot wines to those who are unfamiliar with them, especially to people who have the antiquated opinion that our wines are inferior to those of France, Italy, Spain or the Americas.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

J. Liebling, a food (and wine) writer for the New Yorker about 70 years ago. He once quoted a playwright friend of his who, admonishing his cook, said, “The wine cellar is becoming a disgrace—no more ‘34s and hardly any ‘37s. Last week I had to offer my publisher a bottle that was far too good for him, simply because there was nothing between the insulting and the superlative.”

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

I hadn’t been truly intoxicated since high school when I overindulged at a wine presentation/dinner at the Columbia Steak House in Limassol. Before dinner, when we were supposed to mingle in a bar area, I was nervous among so many strangers and could not say no every time a waiter approached with a tray of glasses of the new Zambartas rosé. And it was amazingly good wine! I forgot that there were several more wines to sample with dinner, but I dutifully sampled them and got so woozy I couldn’t speak English (or any form of Greek). Akis Zambartas had to drive me home, but we laughed together like newly minted oligarchs.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot (or other island) wine?

I was visiting some in-laws in Limassol who didn’t drink much wine, but they knew I was passionate about it. As I was leaving, the hostess dug around behind some books in their library and pulled out a 15-year-old bottle of Ayios Elias (from the Chrysorroyiatissa Monastery in Panayia) and handed it to me. I opened it a couple of days later, and it was extraordinary! It was also solid proof that Cypriot wines had ageing potential.

You can contact Matthew via email or Facebook.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A Case of Questions with Terry Kandylis, Beverage & Wine Director, Lucas Restaurant Group

As you all know by now, this blog's interview involves a standard case of questions that (hopefully) elicits non-standard (i.e., wild, remarkable, insightful, embarrassing, etc.,) answers. In today's case, if our Editor had gifted us with the flexibility to drop one of the usual questions, we would have straight-up asked Terry Kandylis, former Head Sommelier at London's iconic 67 Pall Mall, how he went from studying physics in Athens to getting physical with wine as one of Europe's best sommeliers.

Prior to his stint at 67 Pall Mall, Terry, who's originally from Greece, spent time fine-tuning his palate at acclaimed restaurants such as The Fat Duck and The Ledbury in the UK, while wrapping up his WSET diploma and advanced level of the Court of Master Sommeliers exam. As a professional sommelier, Terry was also crowned Best Sommelier in Greece in 2015, the UK's Best Sommelier in 2016 and winner of the 2013 Sommelier South African Cup.

Now Terry is heading Down Under where he will live and work just a skip and a hop away from the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Geelong and countless other world-class Australian wine regions. There, Terry will manage wines and drinks for the Lucas Restaurant Group, a consortium of Asian-inspired eateries in both Melbourne and Sydney.

Since Terry has been to Cyprus on several occasions and has plenty of friends on The Rock, we thought we'd reach out before he heads southeast on his next adventure in this wonderful world of wine.

Why wine?

I fell in love with hospitality, to be surrounded by people, different cultures and languages. Wine came naturally. It's our social lubricant, the medium to spark the most amazing of conversations, and I was fascinated by how it can make your senses travel and how it can remind you of childhood memories, people, places. 

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

I came relatively late into the industry, so I was around 23 years old. The first one that really captured my attention was a 1983 Cos D’Estournel. It's my birth year, so it was quite special to try something as old as you are.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

1978 La Tâche. I have and had the privilege to try amazing wines in my life and haven’t tried yet a more complex, seductive and poised wine than this. If the nine Muses could be impersonated into a bottle of wine, then that’s it.

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

Burgundy! Because they make wines that can speak to the soul.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

Anchovies, olives and Sherry.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

It's missing the brand name at the moment. It could be a variety or a region. Or both combined. Unfortunately, sweet wines sales have been declining for decades now, so Commandaria is a hard sell. If you look into Greece’s recent success with Santorini, I think there is definitely global interest and potential with indigenous varieties from amazing terroirs. And Cyprus has to show to the world that it has both beautiful indigenous varieties and a unique terroir.

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

Maybe not dissimilar to Greece, people will start to recognise the potential of the local grapes. And hopefully they will become more confident in their wine-making, allowing the varietal typicity to shine and the terroir to speak through their wine-making, rather than their wine-making covering the terroir.

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

I do enjoy spending time with generous and passionate people that really care about their regions and the environment, value life and its gifts, and have a vision for a better world.

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

I am moving to Australia and Melbourne, in particular, so I will say that’s part of my 5 year plan of where I see myself.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

Gerard Basset. I had the chance to meet him in person and interact with him. His ethos, humble approach and continuous thirst for knowledge and generosity to help the people in our industry make him stand apart. A true gentleman and a real loss to the industry.

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

I despise drunken behaviour and believe that, as our ancient ancestors used to say, greatness comes in moderation. Our job might have lots of colourful moments and heaps of fun, but it hides many dangers that every professional should know how to avoid and deal with. And it's a serious job as we need to take care of our guests and protect them.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot (or other island) wine?

I apologise in advance to my Cypriot and Greek friends. I love islands and volcanic wines in particular, but my favourite island wine is Madeira!

You can find Terry Kandylis on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Case of Questions with Adam Montefiore, Wine Trade Veteran & Wine Writer

The Eastern Mediterranean has a seemingly eternal history of winemaking. Countries such as Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, to name only a handful, have been making wine for eons and eons, longer even than the time it takes me to compose a blog post.

One of the most important wine personalities chronicling this history, particularly when it comes to Israel, is Adam Montefiore, British born, who moved to Israel more than thirty years ago and devoted his life to championing his adoptive country's wine.

Throughout his career, Adam has worked for Israeli wineries, helped develop a global brand for the country's wine industry, lectured about his drinkable passion at important universities and participated as a judge in international wine competitions. Today, he offers educational services and promotes Israeli wine as a partner in both the Israel Wine Experience and Handcrafted Wines of Israel, while leading his own consultancy through which he helps a number of leading wineries, hotels, restaurants, retailers and private collectors.

Most remarkably, Adam has promoted Israeli and other Eastern Mediterranean wines via his writing. He penned the book The Wine Route of Israel and has contributed to Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book, Oz Clarke's Pocket Wine A-Z and Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine and The World Atlas of Wine. To this day, he works as the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post and is an active member of The Circle of Wine Writers.

Since Adam has visited The Rock and knows Cypriot wine quite well, we thought we'd reach out and see what he has to say about Israel's next door neighbor and the state of its wine industry. L'chayim! 

Why wine?

I started in beer working for Bass Charrington, then the largest brewery and pub owner in the UK, who produced or marketed beer, wines, spirits and soft drinks. The company had wine interests being owners of wine shippers Hedges & Butler, Bordeaux negociants Alexis Lichine and Chateau Lascombes. They put me on a WSET course to make up the numbers in 1979. On completing the course, we were given a copy of Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. That was the beginning. Gradually I slipped from beer to wine, which I found more absorbing, complex and broad. Who would know then, that I would later be a contributor to Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book for, to date, over 25 years?

Why wine? I would like to answer with the famous monologue by Robert Mondavi. Without quoting it in full, I can simply say it ends with the simple sentence “Wine is life.” Through wine I experience agriculture, art, technology, archaeology, history, gastronomy, religion, tourism, geography and peoplehood. It is so much more than a drink. It has a broad literature and I enjoy reading and talking about wine as much as drinking it.

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

The first wine I noticed was Palwin, a sacramental wine, which was served at our Passover meals. This was my earliest wine memory. The wine was red, sweet and to my mind as a child, it was tasty. It was a thrill to drink it, because it felt slightly naughty. With regard to age, seeing the bottle on the table was an early memory. I could have been anything from five years old upwards, but imagine I was a little older when I was allowed to taste it. Whatever age it was, I looked forward to be given a sip of the forbidden fruit.

The first wine I purchased, drank and enjoyed was a brand called Hirondelle. It was a bland, harmless wine with no obvious character, but it was cheap coming in a liter bottle and was easy drinking. Perfect for the new wine drinker. I must have been about twenty when I first purchased this as my first wine of choice.

All-time favorite bottle of wine?

An all-time favorite wine is as difficult to pinpoint as a favorite meal. However, I will never forget the first great wine I drank. It was a Château Mouton Rothschild 1971. This was an epiphany moment. I will never forget the color, the deep concentration of fruit and the aroma of cigar box. For the first time I understood the depth and quality of this subject called wine. It was the first luxury wine I tasted, and though it sounds corny, it really opened a window in my mind.

Favorite wine-producing region? Why?

I love the wines of the Eastern Mediterranean. This is a fascinating wine region that gave wine culture to the world, and in terms of both volume and quality, it really was the France & Italy of ancient times. The region as a whole made terrible wines for 2,000 years but recently there has been a very exciting revival. It is a region of mountains, sea, stony soils, hot sun, indigenous varieties, mud coffee, anise flavored spirits (Arak, Raki & Ouzo) and East Med cuisine, which is becoming so popular. It is also a region where the wine producing countries are unfortunately divided by war, discord and religion. However, taking the Eastern Med countries together, it is a whole new world of wine, in one of the oldest wine producing regions on earth. I have been a passionate advocate of the Eastern Mediterranean as a quality wine region for over thirty years.

Outside the love of my life, my favorite wines are made from Riesling and Pinot Noir. I love Italy, in particular Piedmont and Tuscany, can’t ignore Bordeaux and recently became captivated by Portugal after visiting for the first time.

Your favorite food-and-wine pairing?

I don’t believe in matching food and wine, though as an exercise it is fun and rewarding when you get it right and reach the satisfaction of 1+1=3. I suppose, showing my British roots, a good vintage port and a ripe stilton cheese is a combination that is hard to beat. I also get a kick of drinking food and wine from the same region or terroir. Generally though, I drink the wine I want and the food I want and get along fine. I think we can spend too much time on pretentious exercises. In the end, wine is to enjoy with a meal, but it is important to remember, that the idea of professional tastings, wine scores and competitions, which we spend so much time on in the wine trade, is not really what wine is all about.

What is Cyprus missing when it comes to wine?

A national identity, branding and an international presence. I believe the industry lacks confidence and should be bolder in being outgoing and less provincial. Cypriot wineries have a great product and a wonderful story. I wish the marketing was more international, assertive and informative.

What do you foresee for Cyprus’s wine industry?

The move to higher elevation vineyards and the trend of wineries owning their own vineyards will continue. The wonderful range of indigenous varieties (Maratheftiko, Yiannoudi, Promara, Morokanella, etc.,) will continue to be explored and developed further. Xynisteri is so much better from high altitude vineyards and I have even tasted some old vine Mavros with enchanting aromas. I believe in the wines and am sure we will be hearing a great deal more of Cypriot wine in the future.

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

Food, wine and friends is a holy trinity, like a three-legged stool. If one is missing it all falls. Sharing wine with friends, along with good food is the best. Meeting and learning about people, places and their wines is a wonderful experience. I am so fortunate my hobby is my profession. In any case, in truth we are not in the wine business, but the people business. It is all about connections, with a shared passion.

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

I spent most of my career working with only three companies: Bass Charrington in the UK, and then the Golan Heights Winery and Carmel Winery in Israel. Now I am on my time, independent and self-employed, and having fun. I am the wine writer for the Jerusalem Post, for whom I have written since 2010. I manage my own wine consultancy business and I am a partner in the Israel Wine Experience. My five year plan is to continue what I love to do: writing, educating, consulting and lecturing about wine.

Who is your favorite wine personality? Why?

Two heroes of mine were Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild, who taught us so much about wine, branding and marketing. They were in my opinion giants and the greatest wine personalities of the 20th century. Both effected change and were great innovators.

Currently, I believe Jancis Robinson MW stands above all others as a wine critic, wine writer and communicator. Her depth of knowledge is unparalleled and she carries her dominant position with grace and generosity. She can produce wine books of the greatest scholastic depth, yet also has the ability to communicate at eye level with the beginner. Hard to believe both these abilities are contained in the same person. What a gift!

I have also enjoyed the beautiful wine literature of Hugh Johnson, who writes like a poet. His books have accompanied me from my first, youthful steps in wine and even now I can lose myself in his prose.

(As a declaration of interest, if relevant, I should point out I contribute to The Oxford Companion To Wine, The World Atlas of Wine and, as already mentioned, The Pocket Wine Book.)

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

Yes many. What comes to mind is a tutored tasting when I nosed a wine and began pontificating about it in great detail. After five minutes of giving intricate details, someone took pity on me and whispered in my ear what was painfully obvious to everyone else: “I think you may be talking about the incorrect wine.” Unfortunately I was on auto-pilot, talking about the next wine on the list, but not about the wine in everyone’s glass! Embarrassing, but hilarious too.

Of course, your all-time favorite Cypriot (or other island) wine?

I can’t name one wine. I enjoyed a ten year old Ezousa Maratheftiko 2009 and an eighteen year old Vasilikon Cabernet Sauvignon 2001. Other wines that come to mind that I will look out for are the Zambartas Xynisteri, Vlassides Shiraz, Zambartas Maratheftiko and Tsiakkas Commandaria. If we are talking tradition, I can’t ignore an old ETKO Centurion Commandaria, but I can’t remember the vintage.

You can reach Adam via his website or LinkedIn.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Anatomy of a Sommpetition

Welcome to this running diary of the 5th Best Young Sommelier Competition held on November 22, 2019 at Kyperounda Winery, way up in the heart of the Troodos mountain range!

9:30 am: I park across the street from Kyperounda Winery, the best halloumopitta on The Rock warming my lap and innards following a brief stop in Astromeritis' Ste-Ma Bakery, as they set up the winery's reception area for the sommpetition.

There are three separate tables of judges consisting of the crème de la crème of The Rock's wine and food world. There is Andreas Kyprianou of Vinocultura, Paola Papacosta of Cypriot & Proud, CySomm's trio of Georges (Kassianos, Loukakis & Zacharoglou), Vassos Manoli of Pralina Experience, Stalo Arambantzi of Four Seasons, Charis Stylianides of O'Vrakas Taverna, Minas Mina of Kyperounda Winery, Teddy Kandylis of 67 Pall Mall in London and countless others. Serving as Master of Ceremonies, Sotiris Neophytides, now Head Sommelier at Amara in Limassol. Just as in the case of the annual Cyprus Wine Competition, if the soirée had been somewhat less sophisticated and legitimate, I might have been invited as a judge to muddle things up.

We're informed that 3 of the 9 sommeliers move on to the final where they will go through a blind tasting of wines and spirits and a serving component while being bombarded with questions by the judging panel who pretend to be not-so-petulant customers at a high-end restaurant.

10:00 am: To avoid any biases, all judgments are done blindly. Hence, each participant is donned with a unique number and the judges do not know what number is assigned to whom. If only justice out in the real world were this straightforward and transparent.

MC Neo starts rifling out numbers like a race caller at the Kentucky Derby. 306! 482! 920! I'm waiting for an excited octogenarian with bad hips, a flowered ankle-length dress and patchouli-scented perfume to yell out "Bingo!" and jump on stage to claim her prize. What does she win? A  camouflage crock pot, of course.

The deserving finalists!
Jessica-Stella Thoma of Parklane Resort and Spa in Limassol, Adrian Andronache of Rous Restaurant in Nicosia, and Konstantinos Grigoriou of Fereos Fourpoint Distribution are the designated finalists.

10:40 am: More numbers are barked out; this time to determine the order of the proceedings. To my disappointment, no one yells out "Bingo!" Adrian goes first, followed by Konstantinos and then Jessica. Game on, somms.

“I'm excited. It's the first time I manage to reach the final. I'm glad to be here, everything is a plus from this moment on,” Adrian tells MC Neo.

Each table before the somm poses a set of specific challenges. Table 1 orders two glasses of Commandaria (one on the rocks) and an ice cold Cypriot beer. Table 2 is looking to pair a set menu designed by the executive chef of Pralina Experience in Nicosia with individual wines. Table 3 requests a bottle of red wine, which the somm has to properly decant and serve, and a chilled shot of Cypriot firewater. Each table has to be cleared in six, seven (with one minute to look over the menu) and seven minutes, respectively. About the time it takes me to write half a sentence for this post while Little Miss Muse chooses to go out boozing with her girlfriends and leaves me stranded on the deserted island of ineptitude.

Adrian's somm style is obvious from the get-go. He is super chatty, delivering plenty of information to his clients and offering up suggestions, many times at a supersonic (give me gin n' tonic) speed. When Stalo asks for an ice cube in her Commandaria, Adrian brings up dilution, talks about the Cypriot landmark wine being better as a digestif and suggests instead serving her a sparkler, G&T or other cocktail. Besides being accommodating, Rous' somm is also very thorough in providing extra information on the drinks requested, from the aging process for Kyperounda Winery's Commandaria to the history behind Leon, The Rock's first beer.

The menu for Table 2 (as we later find out) consists of actual dishes served at an event hosted by the Cypriot President for foreign dignitaries.

For the sake of simplicity and as a tribute to my past life as a number cruncher for an energy consulting firm, I'm going to break out a table to summarize this portion of the event.

Some observations from Press Row, the best seat in the house:
  • A relative dearth of red wines are selected, which is understandable considering the menu. My one question mark would be Konstantinos' choice of Yiannoudi to match the grouper.
  • Kyperounda Winery's Chardonnays, which I love, got mentioned more than Donald Trump tweets. Maybe the somms thought said choice would endear them to the judges and the event's official sponsors?
  • I appreciate the sommeliers' efforts to (almost exclusively) list Cypriot wines for each dish.
  • Commandaria is king, queen, prince and princess of this wine court.
Now back to your regular programming.

Table 3 involves serving a red wine and zivania. A quick play-by-play analysis of Adrian's "performance" offers beginners like myself a good introduction to the world of wine service.

Adrian Andronache
Adrian sets up a wine basket with a napkin and towel and checks each single glass to make sure they are not smudged with magenta lipstick or suspicious fingerprints or streaks of lamb grease before setting them on a tray and distributing them among the judges. He lights a candle. Gently, with nary a sound, he uncorks the bottle of Kyperounda's Andessitis he's picked for the guests. He asks who would like to taste the wine and makes sure the cork is in good condition. He pours himself a glass, swirls it in the decanter and returns it to his glass. Takes a whiff and tastes the wine to make sure it does not smell/taste like wet cardboard or rotten eggs or [insert wine fault of your choice]. Then he decants the bottle over the candle to make sure there's no sediment being transferred into the receptacle. Serves a glass for the table's designated taster. Adrian wraps up by offering a pairing for the wine of choice, asks to remove the cork and pops out a fancy gold gadget—it looks like a mini bell or a thimble attached to a rod—to tactfully burn out the candle. Personally, I would have gone the licked fingers or birthday cake blowout route. Andreas Kyprianou probably trained him well.

11:00 am: Now we enter what's probably the toughest part of any wine competition or certification—the blind tasting (or random guessing game if you have the level of training of an Ecuadorian wine blogger).

There are six black glasses with spirits that must be identified correctly, and one glass of wine that must be described in great detail (think a three-minute run-on sentence on your favorite beverage). Of course, the candidate must also venture a guess based on their sensorial talents.

Again, to cut through my wordiness, here's a table summarizing the candidates' tasting notes and guesstimates.

More observations from Press Row, the best seat in the house:
  • From where I sit, the three seem to do a decent job describing the wine, despite their guesses being all over the place. They move from point to point quite quickly and offer enough detail for the audience to get an idea of what they were experiencing.
  • Considering that the event is sponsored by Kyperounda Winery and Photos Photiades Ltd., I wonder whether the candidates studied the company's wine portfolio ahead of time. As a participant, I might have assumed that the wine before me was one provided to the competition by the sponsors.
  • The wine is the 2018  Roxani Matsa Estate Malagouzia from Attica in Greece. Yes, imported to The Rock by Photos Photiades Ltd. [Editor's Note: Insert your favorite smart-ass GIF].
Finally, the six black glasses are a combination of Commandaria (fortified and non-fortified), Zivania (oaked and unoaked) and citrus liqueurs, a selection that didn't pose too many challenges to the participants.

11:20 am: – Konstantinos is up next.

“As expected. Stressed,” he tells MC Neo.

Konstantinos Grigoriou
As soon as he gets started with Table 1, it becomes quite apparent that Konstantinos' style is the polar opposite of Adrian's. There is hardly an introduction and very little talking and information shared. He jumps straight into the serving, pouring the couple glasses of Commandaria, setting a glass with ice next to them, and offering up a Carlsberg, which, if we're being honest, wouldn't fly had I ordered a Cypriot beer. There's little flare to his presentation; Konstantinos works his way through the challenge, seemingly more focused on getting the job done in a fast, efficient and satisfactory manner rather than charming his customers or offering them interesting insights into their selections.

Once he hits Table 3, his nerves are rather visible. The wine glasses rattle on the tray as he places them on the table. Konstantinos says the wine he has picked does not necessarily need decanting but he will do as the client wishes. He cracks a joke about the candle also offering ambiance and uses his fingers (unless I imagined it) to burn it out once it's done romancing the room. Then, he runs out of time while suggesting a beef filet to pair with the wine.

12:05 pm: Last but not least, it's time for Jessica's shot at the title.

“Where’s the exit?” she quips.

Jessica-Stella Thoma
She follows in the same style established by Konstantinos. There's no small talk or introduction or second-guessing the judges. Jessica asks the judges if they want to try the Commandaria and what beer they'd prefer—Carlsberg or Leon. [Editor's Note: Leon. Duh.] Like Konstantinos, she seems nervous and doubts some of her moves.

This pattern continues onto Table 3 where again there is hardly any chitchat or questions to the judges. She stumbles while trying to light the candle, asks a judge whether she should try the wine for him, presents the table the cork and wraps up her waltz by suggesting braised veal cheeks as the perfect accompaniment to the red wine she has decanted.

She recovers following a shaky start and bumps Konstantinos off second place in my final podium predictions.

12:40 pm: Oh! A surprise! We love surprises!

The candidates are asked to identify the grapes behind some of the world's most famous labels, a few more obscure than others but an entertaining exercise nevertheless. Each bottle is flashed on a screen for 10 seconds and the somms have to write out the grape on their flip chart.

Of course, I decide to play along and make a fool of myself. From 1 to 10, here are my guesses: Merlot & Cabernet Franc, Shiraz (GSM), Sangiovese, can’t see (squinting), Shiraz, my eyes fail me again, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc (?) (stop blaming your poor eyesight) and Malbec.

Did I get any right? I doubt it. Now back to my cave.

Wine Scribble was there too & here's plenty of footage better than my writing.

12:50 pm: What's a sommpetition without wine for the attendees? We are handed glasses of Kyperounda Winery's 2018 Akti Rosé, its Provence-style, coral-toned blush rendering the overcast and cold morning forgotten.

13:15 pm: It's finally time. The scores have been tallied and the results are in.

Press Row, the best seat in the house.
Pralina Experience's Vassos Manoli thanks Kyperounda Winery and Photos Photiades Ltd., for hosting the event and reminds us we have a date come November 2020 for the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale's (ASI) Contest for the Best Sommelier of Europe & Africa that will be hosted in Limassol. [Editor's Note: This was pre-COVID-19 so things are now up in the air. Bonus question: If Coronavirus were a grape variety, what would it be? We vote for Zinfandel. Wait, should I duck or are we all in agreement?]

Drum roll please.

In third place, Konstantinos Grigoriou. Second place to Jessica-Stella Thoma. And this year's grand winner is Adrian Andronache. As I had *cough, cough* predicted.

A few final observations from Press Row, the best seat in the house:

I believe a huge part of a sommelier's job involves charisma. Personalities, however, vary to large degrees. Some are more personable and engaging while others are more reserved and strictly focus on efficiently serving customers without any unnecessary interruptions or fanfare. Both of these personalities were on display during this competition, and I guess a customer's preference ultimately depends on his or her own personality and needs. Of course, proper etiquette, wine connoisseurship and respecting your cash-carrying customers are non-negotiable.

In any case, all three candidates, despite the understandable nerves amassed by performing as young professionals on a big stage before peers and fanboys like myself, did admirably well and have bright futures in the hospitality sector on The Rock.

Congratulations to all three and until next year!

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.