Brilliant light straw-yellow. Medium viscosity. Elegant, crispy, zippy, lemon juice aromas, Fine minerality mingles wonderfully with zesty citrus flavors, seamless harmony of rich fruit and acidity. Great, nervy flavor makes mouthfeel outstanding and persistent. Superb quality for pleasant price.
PDO Santorini, 92 points.
Erroneously I never gave Greek wines their proper due. I always thought of them as scarily named budget wines not worthy of my time. Maybe it was the deep seated fear of enunciating a name so hard to pronounce for a snooty sommelier and feeling embarrassed. I mean there are so many easier to verbalize alternatives not to have to go through that level of shame, why do it? Then I met this absolutely seductive wine from Domaine Sigalas and now want to move to Greece, scream opa! and discover what I have stupidly been avoiding all my life.
Paris Sigalas started making wines inside the patriarchal home he was born into before expanding into a more modern facility in the same village. He is on a single handed mission to make the native Assyrtiko grape as famous and beautiful as the island they grow on. Domaine Sigalas is located on the Island of Santorini long known for incredible towering cliffs, beautiful villages and one rather catastrophic volcanic eruption. The grapes come from 50-year-old vines found in three different vineyards in the northern part of the island. The poor soil, which predictably is composed of black lava, volcanic ash and pumice, produces low yields of astounding fruit.
The microclimate is what really makes this area so special. It rarely rains and the winters are mild. The spring can be very rough on the naked vines. Strong winds pummel the young sprouts with volcanic sand leading grape growers to adopt a unique method of pruning called “kouloura”, or wreath pruning. The canes are trained into basket shaped wreaths which form a natural protective barrier from blowing sands as well as the blistering summer sun. The vines are kept cool during the hot months by breezes gently blowing across the Mediterranean during the day and a special nocturnal humidity which falls like a gentle rain known as “pousi” by locals. The actual vinification process is fairly traditional with fermentation occurring in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperatures. The straw colored wine with hints of green hue has a beautiful citrusy nose, great lingering depth and a wonderful minerality. This is the perfect summertime seafood wine guaranteed to match anything you can throw at it.
Entranced by the wine, I was already deep into Greek mode by this point. It didn’t help too that my five-year-old son Beau had been seized by the moment as well. Like a miniature Telly Savalas, he wandered through our kitchen with a lollipop dangling out of his mouth muttering “Players Club, baby”. I rushed out to my local seafood store and grabbed some precooked octopus’ tentacles drenched in virgin olive oil, herbs and lemon juice to throw on the grill.
Cooking octopus can lead to the same irrational tendencies as not wanting to order Greek wines in a French restaurant. There are many myths about the best “secret” way to tenderize the notoriously tough octopus. They range from Italian nonnas covertly dropping wine corks in the poaching liquid, Vietnamese fishermen using defunct clothes dryers to tumble them into tender submission to dumping enough vinegar in the cooking liquid to make you pucker.
I settled on a method found not by reading ancient Italian cookbooks, incanting spells from the Greek Magical Papyri or even watching a tattooed Food Network chef scream ‘bam’ every time he swings an octopus over his head. But rather by listening to my Mexican sous chef Alejandro recount a tv show he once saw. Unable to sleep one evening he watched a travel show on Italy. As filler video not central to the main story, they showed an old man steaming fresh octopus in a sealed vessel with nothing more than aromatic herbs and a simple mirepoix of vegetables. The secret seemed to be sealing the cooking vessel with bread dough and allowing the sea beast to steam in its own juices. Octopus are comprised mostly of water and always release a considerable amount on their path to being fork worthy.
Alex, as we called him, strolled into the kitchen the following day like someone who had been to the mountain and received a holy tablet from God himself. He asked if he could try cooking the octopus a brand new way. Combining the new found method with a MacGyver moment and a real Mexican get-er-done mentality Alex produced the best octopus I ever ate in my entire life. He took a five pound Spanish day boat octopus and put it into a stainless steel pot with finely diced carrots, onions and celery flanked with fresh thyme, bay leaf and a generous sprinkle of herbs de Provence. He baptized the beast with white wine evoking a prayer and sealed it to its fate wrapped not in bread dough, which we did not have, but industrial strength plastic wrap and a crown of aluminum foil. The pot was set on a burner and began to sputter and steam. Little pops and explosion could be heard under the foil cover causing all of to secretly worry we would be drenched in searing octopus juice. 45 minutes into it the top puffed up like an errant batch of jiffy pop popcorn threatening to explode at any moment. Cooks detoured away from the line fearful both of Alex’s possessed gaze and an exploding octopus. One hour after the ceremony began it ended. We let it sit for another thirty minutes before drawing straws to see who would get near the pot. Alex the exulted, carefully unwrapped the foil and peered within. A tear welled in his eye. What he saw was as beautiful to him as the face of Christ to a believer. He tenderly removed the octopus and placed it on his cutting board. One slice into the flesh and we both knew we had a winner. The most tender, vibrant purple colored octopus ever with a beautiful natural salinity.
Cooking octopus is a two-step process. How you cook your octopus is up to you. Online will detail many more methods in great detail, some including a visit from a witch doctor. Perhaps you are lucky like me and can find pre-cooked octopus at your neighborhood fishmonger. The final step involves splashing extra virgin olive, fresh lemon juice and whatever herbs you have on hand onto the octopus. Get a charcoal fire super-hot and drop the octopus on. You want a really good char to the meat. When it is cooked throw it onto a cutting board and cut into large sections. Toss in the following vinaigrette and enjoy. As Telly Savalas once said “Who loves ya, baby?”
This article is reprinted from one I wrote previously. I started writing a weekly column for my friend Massimo Marinucci’s excellent wine shop in Pound Ridge, New York. Opened in 1993 he has grown and expanded into the cellars and hearts of serious wine drinkers around the world. Check out his amazing offerings.
Chef François de Mélogue, author of ‘Cuisine of the Sun’
“Good full red. Captivating aromas of ripe red cherry, mocha and violet complicated by an herbal nuance. Sweet, dense and juicy in the mouth, displaying bright flavors of dark cherry, flowers and spices. Finishes very smooth, savory and spicy, with outstanding energy and focus and plenty of early appeal. This complex, multilayered wine strikes me as the best I have ever tasted from Feudi del Pisciotto.” 93 points Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media
Cerasuolo. If I had to use one word to fully describe Paolo Panerai’s excellent wine ‘Giambattista Valli’ that would be it. Cerasuolo means cherry like. This wine is so chockfull with bright cherry, pomegranate and strawberry flavors I had to wonder if my wife didn’t swap the wine with fresh cherry juice to fool me.
The wine is named after noted designer Giambattista Valli as part of a collection meant to celebrate Italian fashion. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the sole Sicilian DOCG wine and is made from two native Sicilian grape varieties, Nero d’Avola and Frappo.
The thin skinned Frappo grapes give the wine it’s beautiful iconic cherry flavors, aromatics and acidity but are notoriously low in tannins and structure. So, as a contrast, winemaker Alessandro Cellai adds a slightly larger percentage of Nero d’Avola, the famed black grape, to provide Cerasuolo with the body and structure needed to transform this blend into a cellar worthy powerhouse of a wine. He ferments the juice in stainless steel using natural yeasts for ten days then ages it in used French barriques for 12 months before bottling.
I don’t want to appear like all I know how to cook is Italian dishes. But when you serve such a beautiful wine that captures the very soul of Sicily it seems almost a crime not to eat the food it was born to marry with. Owner Paolo suggested beef as a perfect complement. I ran with that and even perhaps got a bit carried away in the excitement. I started with beautifully cured bresaola (air dried beef) rolled around a peppery salad of arugula and fresh shaved 24-month old parmesan dressed in a hint of fruity Italian olive oil and thick aged balsamic vinegar.
When I first tasted the wine alone I wondered if it might be too acidic and young to drink now. Any questions of its youth disappeared with every bite. The ruby red wine danced with the cured bresaola and arugula in my mouth. This is an elegant wine that will age gracefully for years, if not decades. We nibbled on a fresh pizzetta of shaved mortadella, taleggio cheese and caramelized sweet onions as the wine continued to soar and come into its own.
For the main course I prepared an earthy grilled bistecca I felt would complement the wine beautifully. I accompanied it with a melting pot of French and Italian rustic flavors. Rapini quickly stir fried with olive oil, hot peppers and shaved garlic. Ricotta gnocchi tossed with the season’s first green garlic and cherry tomato confite and a plateful of chickpea Socca, a flatbread/crepe hybrid typical of Southern France. Meat is the foundation upon which greatness is built. It never loses its meatiness but acts as a base that supports a multitude of other flavors. I left the traditional world by dusting my ribeye with powdered chaga mushrooms instead of porcinis. Chagas, foraged off of birch trees in Northern Alaska, are known as the ‘gift of God’ or ‘mushroom of immortality’ by Siberians because of their healthful benefits. They have been used as a powerful herbal remedy for well over 5,300 years. Better known for their anti-oxidant qualities rather than their edibility they score an astonishing 1104 orac units per gram compared to 165 for acai and the paltry 24 units for blueberries. Their flavor is best described as earthy with vanilla overtones.
In a crazy way the Giambattista Valli reminded me of a heartier pinot noir with its bright cherry flavors. It cozied up perfectly to the grilled beef and Mediterranean fare. This is a rustic dish will become an integral part of your grilling repertoire.
Chef François de Mélogue, author of ‘Cuisine of the Sun’
Bistecca with Chaga Mushrooms
‘Founded by Russ Raney in 1986, Evesham Wood is based on the idea that small is beautiful. To maintain a high level of quality, we rely on two basic principles: obtaining optimally ripe low-yield fruit from the best possible sites in the Willamette Valley, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking process. That approach is alive and well today, and is evident in every bottle we produce.’
– Winemaker and owner, Erin Nuccio
The Evesham Wood 2014 ‘Blanc de Puits Sec’ was a wine I had a preconceived notion about. When I looked at the label I fixated on it being a Gewurztraminer rather than the beautiful, dry Pinot Gris it is, or at least mostly is. In addition to the 85% Pinot Gris, there is about 15% Gewürztraminer and a smattering of Kerner, Rieslaner, Traminer and Pinot Blanc blended in. One deep smell of bright jasmine tea, roses and honeysuckle and I knew I was holding a winner.
Blanc du Puits Sec, named after the dry well (Puits Sec) that sits in Erin and Jordan Nuccio’s 12.5 acre parcel, comes from the original vineyard planting in 1986 by original owner Russ Raney. The grapes are grown tightly-spaced and nestled on a low terrace on the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills ridge. It’s a beautiful non-irrigated organic wine pressed from whole clusters and fermented in stainless steel with an alluring nose of rose, spice, lychee and pear.
Because I erroneously thought of Alsace and Gewurztraminer, my first thoughts on pairing ran more in that direction. One very important factor in food and wine pairing is to pay attention to the wine style in addition to the varietal. Pinot Gris’ are prime examples. Italian Pinot Grigio tend to have brighter acid and more of a Sauvignon Blanc style (without the grass), lending themselves to pair flawlessly with caprese salads and rich preparations of chicken and shellfish. New world styles tend to be spicier and more viscous and pair even better with rich dishes. The Blanc du Puits Sec falls somewhere between the Italian style and what is traditionally considered as the Oregon style. Because of that, it is a very versatile wine that will accompany a range of dishes from simple oysters or a simple tuna carpaccio to richer pasta dishes and even some less aggressively spiced Asian preparations. It is the perfect summer wine able to adapt to whatever you are cooking.
I settled on an enriched Pasta alle Vongole as the perfect match. I used succulent Manila clams freshly dug by friends in Washington state tossed with rich butter, fragrant olive oil and pasta. This is a fantastic pairing. The cleaner style of the wine brought out the sweetness of Manila clams and complemented the hints of citrus found in the lemon zest. The wine got more of an intense pear flavor and a bigger mouth feel. Which proves my belief that food needs wine and wine needs food.
Chef François de Mélogue, author of ‘Cuisine of the Sun’
Bucatini alle Vongole
DON’T FORGET TO PICK UP A COPY OF FRANCOIS’ NEW WONDERFUL BOOK, “CUISINE OF THE SUN”