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.

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