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Time to put the sommeliers in the spotlight: George Kassianos

The reason why I started with this column is because to my opinion it are always the chefs that are put in the spotlight and the sommeliers deserve that same recognition as they are as important for the restaurant experience as the chefs are...

Cyprus must have a good breeding soil for top sommeliers as today we're about to introduce yet another cypriot top sommelier George Kassianos who is president of the Cyrpus Sommelier Association and manager/head sommelier of the Thanos Luxury hotel group

George Kassianos lived almost all his life in Cyprus, but has done his Hotel management studies (started in 1984 - 1994) in the UK and that is also where the 'wine bugs' bit him ... After his studies staid for 6 more years to build up some experience in the restaurant world in London... But after 16years of a loooot of UK rain George was craving for sunny days again and decided to return to his motherland Cyprus to start a wonderful career in the Cyprus Luxury hotel branch.

The least you can say is that George is an incredible source of wine knowledge that he loves to share as much as possible both in his country as abroad and both live as in writing as he writes for several Greek magazines and papers.

Hope you enjoy reading and exploring the world of this wonderful inspiring sommelier!

What is your favorite wine region to work with?

Was and is Burgundy, simply because more than any other wine region in the world, it is completely influenced by its 'terroir'. Barolo comes second for same reasons.

What does it take to be a good sommelier according to you?

Gone are the days of the haughty, tail-coated sommelier with a French accent, a silver 'tastevin' chained around his neck, and a glint of disdain in his eye. Exploiting the insecurity of diners who sometimes knew little more than "red with meat, white with fish," those masters of intimidation were adept at coaxing well-heeled patrons into spending far more on wine than they had intended.

A good sommelier is not stuffy and traditional anymore. Friendly with unpretentious manner he or she are in equal parts scholar and salesman, psychologist and diplomat. A good sommelier has to be a good listener, Ethos, professionalism and pathos for the subject complete a question that is not often asked.

Is the job of a sommelier underestimated/valued?

I believe the job of the sommelier is underestimated. Servers don't really like sommeliers because they don't think they work as much. I try to show them I'm working as hard as they are. That might include busing a table or filling a glass. But I also need to empower the wait staff to sell wines, and hold regular tastings for the entire staff, not just the sommeliers. Bosses who employ sommeliers see the benefit in sales and added value of their establishment as well.

When and how did you get the passion for wine?

When as a first year student of Hotel Management in UK back in 1984 when I had to study the French Appellation laws and bought by first wine which was a Chablis and a Fleurie. The a book on wine published by Marks and Spenser was given to me by my uncle as a present did the along with my first visit to France did the trick and the rest is history.

Who is your big example in the wine/sommelier world?

It has to be Gerard Basset the guy won everything and he is a true professional. I have been following his career since the early eighties and he was always the God of the standards for what a (modern) Sommellier should be.

What is your approach for pairing wines(or other beverages) with dishes?

I always prefer to know the wine and then choose the dish or even create id based on wine. Antithesis or harmony of flavors works for both accounts. If I have to match a certain food with wine I identify the key ingredients on the plate and then taste thee flavors and then several wine options come. Best way is to experiment (not with most guests of course) and then we can discover some daring pairings. The sky is the limit.

Which wine region would you recommend everybody to visit and why?

This is a hard question but to understand wine its connection with earth and climate – the terroir – it has to be Burgundy first and foremost in France. As mentioned before there are many other regions that are closed and love to visit myself, however, Burgundy is still my choice.

For which wine would you make a big sacrifice to be able to taste?

The list is endless and it is a rare Burgundy, if I ever find a 1985 Richebourg It was created by Henri Jayer, a winemaker widely considered a visionary in the business who died in 2006 at the age of 84. It is estimated at €14.000 but still I am dreaming…

What is your most wonderful memory of hotel management school?

It probably was the time when our team won the competition for best theme night creating also the menu and matching the food and wine. This was in 1986 and the theme was Decades starting with the 30s up to the 80s with various photo clips on London through this period of 50 years. I remember I shocked people for choosing a Chilean red… we were given the chance to cook and present the food at Dorchester with the help of the great chef Anton Mosimann. It was an honor to work with this man even for two days.

A culinary or wine experience everybody should have had besides have a meal at your restaurant, shop,etc…?

I can name hundreds from around the world but as a Cypriot if you ever get the chance to eat home cooking in a village or even better in some of our wineries, food matched with Cyprus wine (type of food always depending on the season) I will then consider this a unique experience. Lots of food, there is variety, fresh, simple and slow cooked, slow eat it takes hours and it may involve dancing and singing. Joie de vivre…

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