Evan Turner, sommelier and wine director at Krasi Meze and Wine in Boston’s Back Bay, leads the largest Greek wine list in the country. Previously second to New York City’s Molyvos, a 25-years-running restaurant that closed temporarily in December with plans to reopen this year, Krasi Meze and Wine is now leading the way in introducing New England to Greek wine.
Turner describes himself as “just a guy who was very lucky to live around the world, thanks to my stepfather who teaches English as a second language. We lived in Greece for about seven years and the nation captivated me immediately. I remember the very first meal I had in Greece down to who sat where. I ‘took to Greece like a duck to water,’ as my mom used to say.”
Turner worked in the restaurant business for several years as a bartender before becoming a sommelier. In 2005, he moved to Houston and worked his way up the Court of Master Sommeliers “until about 2008,” he says, when he decided Greek wine was it.
He conceived and opened the popular Helen Greek Food and Wine — a James Beard semi-finalist — in Houston in 2015 before being offered the opportunity to run the wine program at Krasi. “I could not resist, so here I am,” he says.
When Turner first arrived at Krasi in February 2020, he worked only a month before being furloughed because of the pandemic. But his story would not be a Greek tragedy —13 months later, in April 2021, he returned to Krasi. By the way, Krasi is the Greek word for wine.
Here, Turner shares with VinePair why Greek wine is having its moment in North America (and why it’s taken so long); his favorite bottles; his “village” of mentors; and the “smashing success” of his recently debuted Wednesday Wine Symposiums, which launched in December, and are definitely not as rigorous as a Socratic seminar.
1. Your passion and enthusiasm for Greek wine is impressive. What is it about Greek wines that jazzes you the most?
How much time to ya’ got? Seriously though, to boil it down to a few points, I would say this: Greece created nearly everything we take for granted when it comes to winemaking and wine culture. Shoot, my job exists because of the Greeks. So, to promote and drink their wines is to wrap yourself in history and a part of our culture that is as important as any we hold dear.
Additionally, Greek wine is unique with over 300 indigenous varieties found nowhere else in the world. Finally, over 80 percent of Greek wineries are under 20 years old — the Greek wine industry is like a Phoenix rising from the ashes of centuries of suppression by the Ottomans and decades of neglect caused by a myriad of issues that plagued Greece in the 20th century. To help support these glorious wineries and their brilliant wines is an honor. I am a better person for having lived in Greece. This is the least I can do to repay them for all they gave to me.
2. What is the most popular Greek wine right now that you serve?
Without a shadow of a doubt the most popular wine we serve is a semi-sparkling orange wine from a producer in Northwest Greece called Domaine Glinavos. The wine itself is named Paleokerisio, and I am certain it is a wine that Hunter S. Thompson would drink by the gallon, were he alive today. It is a trippy wine of epic proportions.
3. And what is your favorite that you serve?
Grab a glass and strap in, kids, it is going to get freaky up in here. For me to name a favorite is hard. Were I to name just one, the other wines might seek revenge. They are Greek, after all. That being said, let me throw this one out there: Domaine de Kalathas Pappou. It is from the island of Tinos, might be a white wine, might be an orange wine. Who knows? Made from a blend of three grapes found only on Tinos, in a way is part winemaking, part magic. I drink this and I am always stunned by its vibrancy and variety.
Additionally, it is named “Pappou” which is Greek for “granddad,” the nickname they gave me at Krasi because I am 100 years older than everyone else. I would complain about it but I’m too busy being grumpy about other things. It also allows me to start sentences with, “Well, back in my day…”
4. What is the beauty of drinking Greek wine? Is it the perfect pairing with incredible Greek cuisine?
I think it can be described by two things: One, you are drinking history and culture with every sip you take; two, Greek wine is so brilliant with so many types of cuisine, not just Greek. They are lower in alcohol, higher in acid and tannins, typically see less time in oak, and are almost all organic or biodynamic. They are the ultimate food-pairing wines. One last thing, actually: You drink them and you immediately feel like you are in Greece. You cannot beat that.
5. How do you select and build your wine list at Krasi?
I always think of the wine program as the obedient lieutenant to the kitchen. So, I am always thinking that the list must have wine that works well with what the chef is creating. You eat seasonally; so should you drink the same way. That said, fun must be had! The owner of Krasi, Demetri Tsolakis is a fiend for wine and has a brilliant palate. He also loves to get a hold of rare bottlings and carry wineries no one else in the States has. So we do a lot of unicorn hunting as well. It is a blast.
6. What do you think will trend next year in Greek wine? I understand Greek red wines are coming into their own in the States.
Greek wine just keeps growing. Leaps and bounds, really. Just a few years ago, diners knew nothing of Greek wine except that of the dreaded “R” word: retsina. [Today] guests come in with more and more knowledge. We have a way to go. However, you can feel the tipping point coming. Yes, Greek reds are really having a moment. When The New York Times is writing about you, something must be happening. Long the red-headed stepchild to white wine from Greece — bad wine-related dad joke there, had to do it — reds from Greece are finally getting their due with a level of grace and nuance found almost nowhere else.
7. I realize that Krasi has the second most popular selection of Greek wines in the States, behind NYC’s Molyvos. How many bottles? And is there a goal to become No. 1?
We have over 300 selections right now. Molyvos in New York is first with nearly 700, I think. I would love to catch them but we would need to move to a bigger restaurant, and I doubt the wine director at Molyvos, Kamal Khouri, would ever let it happen.
8. You recently debuted Wednesday Symposiums to educate and celebrate Greek wines. Does it work similar to a Socratic seminar? What inspired you to do this, and how has it been received?
Wednesday Symposiums are far less rigorous than a Socratic Seminar; I am not asking open-ended questions and expecting lively debate about Assyrtiko and its influence on the state of nothingness and the journey of humans towards truth and beauty. Like an ancient symposium, it is a time to drink with friends, have a lovely time, and maybe learn a bit along the way. It got started because I adore teaching — and the thought was, why not let me get behind the bar and teach guests some while letting them try some exciting new wines? The result has been a smashing success. I could not be happier with how it is going.
9. Do you have a mentor?
Does Greece count? I would say there are a few people I look to for inspiration, guidance, and a good kick in the ass when I need it. Vanessa Trevino Boyd, a brilliant sommelier who is outstanding in all the areas I stink at as a somm; I watch her to improve on my flaws. Aaron Von Rock, who not only has the baddest name in wine, [but] is so precise and eloquent — it has always been a joy to watch him work. Sean Beck, who is a beverage director in Houston and if they had a Mount Rushmore for sommeliers, he’d be on it. Ted Diamantis, who owns Diamond Wine Importers — Ted has carried more water and fought harder for Greek wine than anyone, full stop. We all stand on his shoulders. Finally, Dionysios Greventis. He represents a new wave of Greek wine importer, has a palate befitting his name, and brings a poetry to Greek wine that inspires me constantly. I guess it took a village to make me a sommelier.
10. Greek civilization, of course, has been around forever. Yet, why do you think Greek wine is not as popular in the United States as French and Italian wines, let’s say?
Pretty simple, really. Between the Ottomans occupying Greece for over 400 years, then a century of strife and war, while the rest of the world was growing its wine culture, nothing was happening in Greece. As I mentioned before, over 80 percent of Greek wineries are 20 years old or younger. This has all happened this century.
11. Who are three people you’d love to share a bottle or two of Greek wine with at a dinner party? And which bottles would you share?
OK, here I go: I would absolutely have to serve reds made from my favorite red grape, Xinomavro. Wines like Dalamara Paliokalias, Karydas Estate, Diamantis Single Vineyard, Kir-Yianni, and Alpha Estate. Regarding whites, I would go with the grape that put Greece on the map, Assyrtiko. Producers like Hatzidakis, Sigalas, Economou, Akra Chryssos, and Ligas all come to mind. I am sure I would pull out other bottles but those would be a great place to start.
Well, I would have to have Homer there. Anyone who described the Aegean as the “wine dark sea” needs to be at my dinner party. Thomas Jefferson — sorry, Hamilton — for his love of Greek culture and his obsession with wine. I would also try to get him to work on truly making everyone free and equal after a few bottles. Finally, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who writes and stars in “Fleabag.” If you have to ask why, we cannot be friends. Can I get one more? Oscar Wilde. I mean, come on.