Hristo Zisovski, Beverage Director/
Chef Sommelier, Ai Fiori, New York City
BY W. R. TISH
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:
have a go-to wine region or type?
I always try to
have a balanced list—we are known for
Italy and France, but we have California,
Spain, Austria, everything. As a som-
melier I try not to even point to things
on the list until I get to a certain point of
understanding with the guest.
What’s a favorite current pairing?
I really love our lamb dish with
gamey reds, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape
or Bandol, or a Sagrantino. Something
with some meatiness.
How many distributors do you
do business with at Ai Fiori?
What software do you use to
manage your list/inventory, and why?
BinWise. It is an internet-based
software easily accessible on any com-
puter. 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
Do you have a strategy for
displaying wines at the restaurant?
We have a large centralized table
for wines by the glass and for open-
ing and decanting. Another table in the
front serves the same purpose. I want
people to come in and feel the excite-
ment. There’s always work going on at
the table. It becomes a focal point of the
What are some recent trends
you have noticed in wine?
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 Por-
tuguese wines, both white and red.
How does management measure
the success of your wine program?
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 impor-
tant to this group. It’s not just what’s
going on, but how can we adjust to
make it better.
What tips/words-of-wisdom do
you find yourself frequently telling
I believe New York is the most so-
phisticated 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.
Modern interpretations of
regional dishes from the Italian and
Selections on wine list:
Bottles in inventory:
Price range of list:
$42 to $9,600
Average bottle price:
Sweet spot on list:
Wine list strengths:
Tuscany, Southern Rhône, Provence,
Wines by the glass:
Sparkling (4) /
White (8) / Rosé (1) / Reds (9) / Sweet (8)
Price range by the glass:
Perlage (for bubbles)
AI FIORI, NEW YORK CITY