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.

No comments:

Post a Comment