Exploring Greece’s Undiscovered Wines at Molyvos

January 4, 2015 Updated: June 24, 2015

An update of the interior of Molyvos in 2012 to look like a space reminiscent of the Greek islands, and the appointment of Diane Kochilas, a Greek television chef and cooking personality as collaborating chef, has changed the focus of the menu.

The food was always upscale Greek, but in the past it was much closer to classic Athenian cooking, with its heavy emphasis on Ottoman-style dishes.

Fresh vegetables, fish, and seafood are the basics of the current menu as well as specialties of the Greek islands; and the dishes are considerably lighter than in the past. Adding to the seaside Mediterranean feel is a beautiful fish display that showcases the restaurant’s fresh daily offerings.

Fish raised in mariculture pens in remote Aegean coves are flown in daily from Greece. Sea bass (lavraki), gilthead bream (fangri), large porgies, red mullet; all were swimming in the sea 24 hours before and are charcoal-grilled in Molyvos’s kitchen together with octopus and sardines from Portugal, one of the very few non-Greek seafood offerings.

A great starter was a quintet of classic dips that included Santorini fava, melitzanosalata, tzatziki, and taramosalata plus a plank with three cheeses—a really nice feta, kaseri, and kefalograviera—accompanied by char-grilled pita bread. Drizzled with olive oil and topped with capers, dill or olives, it was an excellent reminder of feasts I had the year before last while visiting wineries on Santorini Island.

Prawns and Artichokes a la Polita is a dish of grilled prawns with olive-oil stewed artichokes, leeks, fennel, and lemon sauce that was created in Turkish Istanbul by Greek cooks toiling in the Sultan’s kitchens. Artichokes a la Polita, is classic Athenian cooking and the prawn addition enhanced what was already a terrific dish.

Main courses are similar to what a Greek islands woman would serve to her family, and the desserts I had were truly inspired.

Exceptional Wine Cellar

But the main reason for our visit was the exceptional Greek wine cellar of Molyvos.

Wine director Kamal Kouiri has handpicked an extensive selection of bottled Greek wines, practically every outstanding wine that has been produced in Greece in the last 10 years.

About 60 wines are available by the glass, changing on a regular basis to expose guests to unknown Greek producers. The wine list includes about 540 vintners altogether.

In addition he has procured many brands of ouzo, the anise-flavored aperitif so beloved by Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese gastronomes. He has even managed to find exceptional retsina, a resin-scented wine that used to be the wine standard of every Greek taverna and restaurant, but is no longer. As I always say “This is the best tasting turpentine one can ever drink!”

White wines from assyrtiko, moschofilero, malagousia, viognier, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, roditis, muscat, and malvasia are there from the best Greek wineries that create both monovarietal wines and blends.

The Aegean islands are well-represented, with both well-known grape varieties, such as sauvignon blanc and assyrtiko and little known varietals, such as sideritis and kidonitsa.

The exceptional assyrtiko wines of Santorini are epitomized with over 50 bottles that include recent vintages of monovarietals and also blends with athiri and/or aidani (other white grape varieties that thrive in the volcanic soil).

The white wines of Crete are also well represented with such little known varietals as assyrtiko of Sitia, vilana, dafni, thrapsathyri and plyto, individually vinified at the Lyrarakis winery, plus malvasia aromatica and vidiano from other Cretan producers.

Much more unusual are bottles from producers in Paros (assyrtiko-malagousia blend from Moraitis), Ikaria (begleri from Afianes Wines), Lesvos (kalloniatiko-fokiano-muscat-gdoura blend from Oenophoros Winery) and robola or robola-based blends from Kephalonia.

Additionally, the island of Samos is represented by the sweet muscat of Samos, one of the earliest moscato d’ Alessandria clones to appear in the Mediterranean.

However, there are also exceptional white bottles from Greek Macedonia; labels that represent such great wineries as Alpha Estate, Gerovassiliou, Ktima Pavlidis, Kir-Yannis, Nikos Lazaridis, and Kostas Lazaridis among others. There are also beautiful white wines from the vineyards of the Peloponnesus, Thessaly, and Thrace.

The white collection is mind-boggling!

And the red collection is exceptional as well with excellent bottles from every wine producing area of the mainland plus the islands.

There are long verticals of red wines from the two main red Greek grapes xinomavro and agiorgitiko from Macedonia as well as the Peloponnese, as well as blends of both iconic grapes with other Greek or international varieties.

Cretan kotsifali is also present with a number of blends with another Cretan varietal mandilari and such international grapes as syrah and merlot. On the list, I found one of my favorite Cretan wines, a blend of mourvèdre, grenache and syrah called nostos from the Manousakis winery. A few years back, on a visit to Crete, I had discovered that winery, had nostos en-primeur and I was enchanted by it.

Another wine category, dessert wines, is also well-represented with bottles from both white—the most popular—and red grapes and I would highly recommend the different versions of vin santo from many Santorini wineries and mavrodaphne from Mercouri Estate in the Peloponnese, near Patras.

It is worth visiting Molyvos, not only for good food but excellent, little-known wines. If you do, ask wine director Kamal Kouiri to recommend what to have with your dishes. You will not be disappointed!

Manos Angelakis is a well-known wine and food critic based in the New York City area. He has been certified as a Tuscan wine master, by the Tuscan Wine Masters Academy, as well as being an expert on Greek, Chilean, and Catalan wines. He judges numerous wine competitions each year and is the senior Food & Wine writer for LuxuryWeb Magazine, www.luxuryweb.com, and The Oenophile Blog, www.oenophileblog.com.