05 July, 2016

Armchair Travel to Greece via the Wines of Ktima Gerovassiliou and Cuisine of Kokkari

Kokkari's spit roasted meat
Maybe a Greek vacation isn't in the cards for your 2016.  You can still armchair travel via a bottle of amazing authentic wine.  Even better, if you can pair that wine with food that matches.  Both in flavors and sensibility, food and wine can transport you safely and conveniently, if you know where to go.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be a guest of  Ktima Gerovassiliou as they poured their new releases at the wonderful  Greek restaurant Kokkari in San Francisco.

"Ktima" means "estate" in Greek.  This 138 acre parcel in the north of Greece close to Thessalonika at the edge of the Epanomi region  is where they grow fruit to vinify delicious wines.  To fully armchair travel, imagine yourself on these sandy clay slopes with a view of bird-rich wetlands on one side, the Aegean on two sides and facing Mt. Olympus.  The maritime effect as well as mild climate are ideally suited to growing grapes, with that tricky alchemy of balancing ripeness and acidity.  They make it look easy

Thrass Giantsidis, whose smile is a welcoming as Greek sunshine and whose handshake is definitely farm strong,  headed up a team to showcase their wine and also highlight how food friendly these offerings are.  No better setting than Kokkari in San Francisco' s FiDi, to feel transported to the Mediterranean.  Bonus: no interaction with the TSA.

Estate White/Ktima Gerovaissiliou
We started with an array of Greek appetizers and Greek wines.   2014 Ktima Gerovassiliou Malagousia expressed floral notes in its aromas and a touch of salinity on the palate, which I loved.

The next wine was the  Ktima Gerovaissiliou 2014 Estate White ($24).  This blend of 50% Malagousia and 50% Assyrtico has aromas of white flowers and exotic citrus that burst from the glass. It had refreshing acidity and smooth texture with its lemony flavors and finish.  Kokkari served it with taramasalata, which is a Greek meze of carp roe , olive oil, lemon and a starchy base that when blended becomes a creamy, briny delight. With lemon as the bridge ingredient and acidity contrasting with the creamy texture, this was a delicious and harmonious pair.  I could not get enough. This wine is available at K&L Wine Merchants in SF for $23.99

Avaton/Ktima Gerovaissiliou
I have a confession: Lamb is not my favorite thing.  I always try it and usually do not enjoy it.  However at Kokkari, the lamb is of exquisite quality, as mild as authentic Grecian lamb and purveyed whole.  After dry aging, the meat is prepared in wood fire, which produces delicious results.  More delicious to me, when paired with the luscious Ktima Gerovasilliou "Avaton" ($60).   This red blend is made with 50% Limnio, 25% Mavrotragano & 20% Mavroudi, which are all red Greek grapes.

 Limnio is credited with being the oldest Greek variety as it was mentioned in the works of Aristotle.  Flavor this delicious is how things get to be classics.  Definitley a great match for the grilled and smoky lamb, this plush wine had wonderful complexity with flavors of plums, earth, tobacco and also firm tannins to make the overall body match.  Separately, these varieties can be harsh. But when blended together and carefully co-fermented in large foudres, the result is a pleasing blend and a natural match for grilled meat, especially lamb.  I love it when experimentation works.

You can try for yourself as this is available at Craft beer and Wine in Alameda.  We met the owner and can vouch for his authentic love of Greek wine.

So when vacation envy of my friends that *did* manage to get to Greece this year sets in, I know I have a place to go where the food is authentic.  And for my home cook stylings, great wines to grace my table and invoke a sense of a classically beautiful and delicious place: Ktima Gerovassiliou

Many thanks to the Ktima Gerovassiliou team and to Feast PR for the invite and dinner

07 June, 2016

Food & Wine Pairing - David Kinch's Tomato Soup and Tuella - $5.99 wine from Trader Joe's

Learning the nuts and bolts of why some wines taste good, better and best with some foods is fun.  More fun when your team is Gina Bettancourt, Kim Giuliano and me!

The last night of our Food and wine pairing class was a food and wine smackdown, where every course was a synergistic pair and everyone was a winner

For our entry, we selected a viciously difficult dish to pair on purpose 

Selecting the Dish
We wanted to pick a food that would challenge us to use our learnings to find a synergistic match.  It also had to be a Hot First Course as well as be easy to transport and serve with limited kitchen space.

We determined a riff on David Kinch’s Garlic Panna cotta with Tomato soup would be perfect.  The recipe can be found here:
David leads the team at the lovely, two Star Manresa in Los Gatos 

We made a change in serving format to accommodate a smaller tasting portion.  Since tomatoes are not in season we used canned San Marzano tomatoes.  We also tried to adapt the recipe to substitute parsley for basil to make it easier to pair, however we all preferred the sophistication of the basil.  The components and ingredients of this dish proved to be challenging but we learned a lot in the process.

The tomatoes are sweet and high in acid so could pair well with bright reds such as a Barolo, Rosso or Barbaresco.  It could go with a crisp Pinot Grigio.  The creamy panna cotta would go well with a white wine with good acidity to cut through the richness of the cream. The challenge was to find something that would pair with both elements when they are combined into one dish. We anticipated dealing with two textures, a shifting flavor profile and both vegetable and animal fats.  All in all, we felt we would learn the most from starting with a difficult dish.

Selecting the Wine
Once we decided on a dish to serve, we started the search for a wine that would be a synergistic match. We thought it best to try a large selection of all the possibilities and get advice from many different sources.

Kim was passionate about selecting Italian wines and Italian varieties vinified locally.  She focused on finding some high acid Italian whites which included Pinot Grigio.  She also found some Barberas, both Italian and a local favorite.  She researched pairing suggestions by asking friends and wine clubs as well as getting advice from information published by various sources including cruise lines that do food and wine pairing on cruises to Italy.

Gina sourced some unoaked chardonnay as well as looked for interesting high QPR wines.  She determined a wine based on Port varieties might balance both the acid and warm climate fruit character. As well, she was looking for affordable every day wines to go with the everyday nature of tomato soup.

I researched pairing and got advice from several local wine shops as well as a somm at Ella’s, a restaurant which is featuring San Marzano tomato based soup.  Initial recommendations highly favored Old World white wine with strong acid profiles. Focusing on interesting exotic varieties like Mencia, Vitkovska, I looked for wines from the Old World, especially Spain and Friuli.

In the end, we tasted through 27 wines.  Two were flawed.  We selected a Top 10 and walked those favorites through pairing with the soup.

Determining the Match
After tasting through seventeen wines, we determined our top tenWe selected the wines we perceived to have sufficient acidity and fruitiness to stand up to the tomatoes and looked for interesting matches. We re-tasted and walked those wines through the Wine and Food Pairing Decision Tree.  The results surprised us:
We initially thought a white wine would go best.  Research and advice from experts pointed towards high acid whites.  However, the Cava and the Chardonnay were steamrollered by the sweetness in the food.  We moved to the Chenin Blanc thinking that the fruitiness would carry this wine, but the acidity in the food overpowered the wine, leaving a white that initially tasted brisk and inviting, flat and thin.  The Kante Vitkovska is a lovely wine. When we tasted it alone, it seemed like such a good match intellectually, we almost went for the soup right then and there.  Unfortunately, the creaminess of the panna cotta flattened it and resulted in a no match.  And so all the white wines were eliminated.
Moving on to the reds, we found they all conquered the decision tree and landed to the right of good match.  So we were able to move forward toward synergy. 
The Barbera proved too intense.  The wine overpowered the soup.  The Mencia was gentler in its letdown.  It was in the persistency phase where we realized the delicious wine never got to that harmonious gelling with the tasty soup.

So we were left with our top three:
The Spanish Blend was third.  Laya, a young red from the Almansa region of Spain is comprised of 70% garnacha tintorera and 30 % monastrell. It saw 4 months of aging in new French oak.  The resulting silky wine laden with black and red fruits with a solid backbone of acid made a better than good match.  The touch of herbaceousness went well with the undercurrent of basil in the soup.

The Hito from Cepa 21, a line of Bodegas Emilio Moro, came in second.  100% Tinto Fino, this Ribera Del Duero offering saw 8 mos. in French Oak.  It had a brightness in color and flavor along with persistency, elegance and delicious, well integrated fruit character.  Texturally, it had the tannins to stand up to the soup as well as the creamy panna cotta and was a close contender for synergy.

We swooned over the combination of the soup with the Tuella Duoro 2014. A blend of Touriga FrancaTinta Barroca and Tinto Cao from Douro, Portugal, this wine made an excellent combination with the soup.  This wine does not have a typical brawny structure you woudl expect from a Duoro red.  The softness of the tannins along with the dark fruit of the port grape varities made it work.  In the end, the slight smoky notes of the wine in concert with the structural harmony in acidity, sweetness, tannins, intensity, and persistency made us perceive it as a synergistic match.  Bonus: At $5.99 a bottle, we felt the Quality Price Ratio made it the undisputed winner of wine pairing decision bracket

26 May, 2016

Happy #ChardonnayDay - A BrixChicks Favorite: Mer Soleil

Happy Chardonnay Day!  The day you get to visit a much admired vineyard is always a great one.

So for me, getting to roam around the Mer Soleil vineyard was a dream fulfilled.   Our wonderful visit was led by Charlie Wagner himself , the Mer Soleil winemaker and viticulturist, who generously showcased some older vintages.

First, the vineyard; it's a gorgeous spot, quiet and windswept.  Really really windswept.  I felt like a spinnaker, and folks from the winery said it was mild.  Wind tempers the fruit providing a delicious cooling effect.  It sounds trite and you can read and read and read about the effect of wind,  but actually having the wind try to steal your ponytail makes the phenomenon real in a way nothing but experience can.  Charlie said this "natural refrigeration" both keeps the temperatures low and extends the growing cycle.  Extends the cycle comparatively to the family's other properties in Napa, which includes Caymus.  In Napa, bud break can be around a month later, yet Mer Soleil grapes are still harvested later.

The Wagners selected this beautiful spot specifically to grow and vinify Chardonnay as the Napa properties are tuned for Cabernet.  Coastal area wind makes Mer Soleil special. Typically the local fog will turn off right as wind starts up, so a hot day will stay about 90 degrees.  This cooling contributes to a making a quality chardonnay grape since the climate both fosters ripeness and preserves acidity.

Reserve&Silver in the glass. Wind in the hair
Mer Soleil is a 450 acre ranch which the Wagners bought in 1988.  Previously a ranch, the vineyard had been fertilized by cattle for 100 years,  Today it is dedicated to Chardonnay except for some acres where Viognier for the Conunudrum white blend is grown. Soil is consistent and rich. Strong aquifers provides consistent water as well.  Goldilocks hydration means the grapes have to struggle and amount that can be categorized as "just right".

All this, along with Mer Soleil's skill with winemaking, contributes to delicious Chardonnay, which is done in two styles:  Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay, which is oaked and Mer Soleil Silver which is unoaked.  

We were lucky enough to be able to try both as well as some older vintages of the Reserve, which let us us experience different shades of gold:

Mer Soleil Reserve, 2009  Lovely deep gold color comes with age on this 100% Chardonnay.  We were able to taste for ourselves how the honeysuckle on the nose of a current realease, with a  a few years, morphs into truffly notes. Charlie says botrytis influences the changes.  I found the notes of truffle honey delightful, especially in finish.

Mer Soleil Reserve, 2004  Five more years turned the 100% Chardonnay a dark gold.  The trufflled honey notes of the '09 deepened into a more savory true truffle character.  Notes of apples and  honey were reinforced by the silky texture.  The wine retained a lot of freshness as well.

We tasted the older wines in a magnum format, which Charlie said slows down the aging process.

Mer Soleil Reserve 2014  The current release tumbled out of a 750mL with day bright gold color.  This Chardonnay has a freshness with honey,  apples vanilla and spice in aromas. It has a silky texture with spices and  pear in mid palate.  Mer Soleil doesn't control the malolactic fermentation instead, the winemakers just inoculate and let it the wine go to find itself.

Mer Soleil Silver 2014
"Lisbon lemon!" Photo credit WineHarlots
Lovely clear pale color in the wine foreshadows a delicious Chardonnay.  Nice acidity and savory flavors including touch of  Lisbon lemon.  This 100% Chardonnay is aged  4-5 months in concrete.  This provides oxygenation without wood ,  The tanks breathe and the wine evaporates.  It also preserves more acidity which Charlie likened to a "Sauvignon Blanc on steroids"  Maybe that's why BrixChick Janesta loves Silver event though she prefers Sauvignon Blanc in general.  Look for the signature grey glass bottles, whose style echoes the  concrete tanks

Estate Grown Mer Soleil "silver" lemons

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay and Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay are two different styles that go with seasons.  Both will go well on your table!  Since they grow lemons on the estate, I was able to pick a fresh Lisbon lemon and create the most delicious lemon arugula pizza. Putting all my food and wine pairing learning to use, I was able to create home made deliciouness of "grows with...goes with" as the bright clear lemon flavor married with the lovely wine

Celebrate #chardonnayday with a wonderful offering from Mer Soleil

Read more about this amazing place, wine and team here:

Many thanks to the Wagner family for hosting me at the SLH Gala and to Balzac Communications for the invitation.