Wine and Food Pairing – By Chef Francois de Melogue
GRILLED OCTOPUS PAIRED WITH SIGALAS SANTORINI (GREECE)
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’
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