Posted on | January 2, 2013
Written by | W.R. Tish
Hristo Zisovski, Beverage Director/Chef Sommelier, Ai Fiori, New York City
Raised flipping burgers and pancakes in his father’s Greek diners, Hristo Zisovski went on to the Culinary Institute of America before embracing the wine side of the business. In 2001, he became the assistant beverage director at three-star restaurant March, and began his journey to becoming a Master Sommelier. At his next stop in NYC, Jean Georges, he spent seven years as the Chef Sommelier, receiving the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Wine Service. In November 2010, Hristo joined Ai Fiori, the Altamarea Group’s new restaurant at the Setai Hotel, where his wine program quickly gained notoriety.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Do you have a go-to wine region or type?
HRISTO ZISOVSKI: I always try to have a balanced list—we are known for Italy and France, but we have California, Spain, Austria, everything. As a sommelier I try not to even point to things on the list until I get to a certain point of understanding with the guest.
TBN: What’s a favorite current pairing?
HZ: I really love our lamb dish with gamey reds, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Bandol, or a Sagrantino. Something with some meatiness.
TBN: How many distributors do you do business with at Ai Fiori?
HZ: Over 100.
TBN: What software do you use to manage your list/inventory, and why?
HZ: BinWise. It is an internet-based software easily accessible on any computer. It helps manage my ordering and deliveries; subtracts and records daily sales; gives me a live current inventory while populating our wine list. I can print that as a pdf and make the same exact list available as a link on our website. I also can count our inventory in less than three hours.
TBN: Do you have a strategy for displaying wines at the restaurant?
HZ: We have a large centralized table for wines by the glass and for opening and decanting. Another table in the front serves the same purpose. I want people to come in and feel the excitement. There’s always work going on at the table. It becomes a focal point of the restaurant.
TBN: What are some recent trends you have noticed in wine?
HZ: Qualitywise, everywhere, wine is getting better. The hot areas that I see now, in Italy, are Sicily, Lombardy and Liguria. Beaujolias is still offering great value. I am also seeing very good Portuguese wines, both white and red.
TBN: How does management measure the success of your wine program?
HZ: We’re a young company, so year-to-year sales figures are not always the best indicator. Numbers are black and white, but you want those numbers to explain what they are. Increased sales come from creating regulars, which depends on creating an experience. Starting from scratch in a new, growing company is fun because any one night could be a new relationship. Creating that environment and culture is important to this group. It’s not just what’s going on, but how can we adjust to make it better.
TBN: What tips/words-of-wisdom do you find yourself frequently telling your staff?
HZ: I believe New York is the most sophisticated city in the world for wine. We have that platform, that opportunity in this city. I tell them to make every moment count—that first impression especially. If they can create a couple regulars a week and keep good notes on what they like [in Open Table], they are going to do well. You want to be memorable in a good way.
Ai Fiori, New York City
Cuisine: Modern interpretations of regional dishes from the Italian and French Riviera
Selections on wine list: 1,000+
Bottles in inventory: 8,000
Price range of list: $42 to $9,600
Average bottle price: $100
Sweet spot on list: $125-$175
Wine list strengths: Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany, Southern Rhône, Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne
Wines by the glass: Sparkling (4) /
White (8) / Rosé (1) / Reds (9) / Sweet (8)
Price range by the glass: $13-$40
Preservation system: Vacu-Vin; Perlage (for bubbles)