A moment in time with Costas Mouzouras of Gotham Wines
After Gotham’s 6th Annual Kosher Wine Extravaganza, we had a real treat when we sat down with Costas Mouzouras – the head wine master at Gotham Wines. Gotham is the wine purveyor that put on the kosher wine event, and the wines were chosen by Costas, which gave the event a real professional feel, while still feeling homey and not stuffy. Costas led a one hour wine tasting which my novice friend and I, both found to be a real eye opener. He talked through how a professional does a wine tasting which my friend found very informational, and I loved the nuggets of information that I did not know of, like how French wood manifests itself in the front of your tongue, while American oak manifests itself on the back of your tongue.
Costas came to NY in 1988 to attend Queens College and soon after landed a job at Gotham Wines, because they had flexible hours, which are imperative to a busy college schedule, and because as Costas puts it – “I have been tasting wine since I was born”. Since then he has been the driving force in bringing kosher wines to Jews in NY and around America. In 1989 he started stocking Baron Herzog (1986 being their inaugural vintage), Gan Eden (1985 was their inaugural vintage), Hagafen (1980 was their inaugural vintage), along with a few Israeli wineries. In 1989, most people thought that Israel produced sweet and toxic wines, excepting for Yarden. Still, Costas had the foresight to start stocking and teaching his customers about a few wineries in Israel that were actually quite good. The Israeli wineries that were showcased at that time, were the Tishbi Winery, the Carmel Winery, and the Golan Heights Winery (AKA Yarden). The Tishbi Winery is a family owned and run business that was founded by Jonathan Tishbi. Jonathan’s family has been tending grapes and vineyards for more than a century on the advice of Baron Rothschild. In 1985, he decided to keep some of the grapes for himself, and start producing wines from it, since than the winery has grown into a million bottle wine producing facility. The Golan Heights story is no less impressive, they too started in the mid 1980s – 1985 to be exact, and have single handedly changed the perception of Israeli wine, by creating a winery that would become the platform from which all subsequent Israeli wineries would mimic. The winery produces some 7 million bottles and is by far the top producing winery in Israel. The Carmel winery is one whose history goes as far back as the 1882, when a cooperative of wine makers and wine growers founded a winery on the behest and funding of Baron Edmund de Rothschild. Since then, the wines produced were weak to say the least, because the grapes grown were not of the noble variety. There was the famous 1901 Cabernet Sauvignon No 1 vintage and the subsequent 1970 Cabernet Sauvignon. Outside of those two clear anomalies, the winery was good at producing sweet sacramental wines, and otherwise undrinkable dry wines. That all changed in the past decade or so, when the winery decided it needed to focus on making world class wines, along with its cash cow sacramental and low label wines. It has been a massive success, and one worthy a full cheering section.
Clearly, all of this could not have been seen by Costas still, he put his name on the map when he put his name and reputation at stake, as he started importing these startup wineries from Israel. Since then, Costas has grown the kosher wine section from a few shelves to more than an entire room. If the wine extravaganza is a sign to anything, it is that Costas saw the business potential, and the need for a store to showcase kosher wines some 20 years ago, and he continues that tradition today with the yearly wine expos. That kind of fortitude was clear from the short amount of time we spent together with the tall and striking man from Cyprus. He was honest with the wines he poured, including the dud of an otherwise wonderful 2004 Yarden Ortal Merlot, which he could have pushed onto many of the customers at the table. Still, he was clear about how to taste the wine, give it a chance to breathe and see if the barn yard aromas and flavors were a flaw in the bottle or a passing phase. Until when he pronounced the wine dead on arrival and making it clear that the vintage was not a problem, but rather the bottle was flawed. His clarity and wine knowledge was evident, as was his tenacity to get things right, when we watched him setup the event – he made clear that the event needed to be handled in a timely and orderly fashion.
It was a truly wonderful event for all those who had the chance to attend; it was done in a professional and enjoyable manner that allowed people to be free to learn and participate in a non-hostile and non-snooty atmosphere. I really, hope more people attend next year, where they will – I am sure – be treated to a top notch and professionally run event that gives the customer an opportunity to taste the largest and most diverse collection of kosher wines possible under a single roof. Congratulations to Costas, his staff, and Gotham Wines, for putting together an event I hope to be returning to often.