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.

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