Akrotiri continues to give up secrets about Minoan society 4,000 years ago, and the similarities to our own modern comforts are pretty incredible....
Perhaps the ancient Minoan towns that populated Santorini Island and Crete 4,000 years ago looked similar to this modern-day view.
Standing on the edge of the caldera and looking out into the sea, it's difficult to imagine that beneath these peaceful, lapping waves lurks one of the world's most powerful volcanoes, and that this calm view was one of armageaddon-like destruction during the Minoan Explosion sometime between 1500 and 1627 BC.
The volcanic eruption all those millenia ago buried in ash and pumice an ancient Minoan town that archeologists refer to as Akrotiri. This bustling sea-faring town boasted three story houses with a market square, paved streets, artistic wall paintings, advanced furniture, toilets and plumbing, pipes and 'air conditioning' systems, and evidence that ancient wine was traded through this town. The sea-faring Minoans had some sort of warning of the volcanic eruption, because no human remains were left at the site. Perhaps early smoke, sulfur, and pre-volcanic earthquakes caused their organized departure. Archeologists posit that although they made it off the island, the people of this town most likely perished on their ships in a tsunami that followed the explosion. The volcanic explosion weakened other Minoan outposts to the point where other cultures and civilizations could easily move in and take over their cities. Imagine what the world could be like today if some of the Minoan technologies could have been advanced on thousands of years ago.
These plaster casts of wooden beds are just one example of the craftsmanship and handiwork of the Minoans.
Here, you see a glimpse into a bustling marketplace where amphorae filled with grains, oils, and wines supplied the locals with daily needs.
A closer looks shows a view of an amphora that held grain-- the contents were usually hinted at by the designs on the pottery. In the amphora in the upper left of the photo you can see the grain design painted on the outside of the clay.
Akrotiri continues to give up secrets about Minoan society 4,000 years ago, and the similarities to our own modern comforts are pretty incredible....
Today, the Margaret River is a thriving wine region of Australia, popular for similar varieties upon which Napa Valley has built its bread & butter, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. But back in the early 1960s, there was no wine in the Margaret River-- that legacy belonged to South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Planting vines at Vasse Felix in 1967 signaled a turning point that brought this wine region into the world's eye.
Vasse Felix is named after a historic figure: Thomas Vasse. During storms in the early 1800s he was swept overboard on his ship, and though some presumed him dead, other legends abounded about his ultimate fate: Was he adopted by Australian locals? Had he been picked up by an American ship & taken back to Europe? Had he been jailed?
Tom Cullity, a cardiologist who purchased his first vineyard site for $75, named his winery 'Vasse Felix' ('Lucky Vasse'), humorously rebranding history's view of local legend Thomas Vasse. But the winery had to throw most of their first vintage (1971) overboard when local birds ate much of their crop. Determined not to share Vasse's fate, Cullity brought in a falcon to scare off the birds... but he flew away on his first release. (However, you can still find this feathery wanderer on every Vasse Felix wine label).
After a few vintages, things turned around. One of Cullity's early riesling vintages garnered some early support for the region. In 1972 he made his first cabernet sauvignon vintage, which would soon become a benchmark wine for the Margaret River. And, of course, today, these high-quality wines have helped set the course for the Margaret River's wine scene.
Recently, a friend shared this beautiful bottle of 2001 Vasse Felix 'Heytesbury', and it was like peering into the history of Western Australia's wine history. Heytesbury is old-vine cabernet sauvignon, with syrah, petit verdot, and malbec blended in (84% cabernet sauvignon, 8% syrah, 6% malbec, 2% merlot). They hefty alcohol (14.2) blends in to the rich, dark wine, and savory tertiary aromas presented in a way that made this wine great with meats.
Happy New Year, everyone! Charlottesville, Virginia has the most restaurants per capita of any city in the US, with the exception of New York City. It's easy to find a delicious meal in this town, and here are a few of my favorite bites from the past year (one for each month!), with the drink pairings that made them magical.
January: The Adam's Apple
This might be the best lunch under $10 in Charlottesville. Fresh turkey, local bacon, creamy goat cheese, crispy & tart apples, peppery arugula, sweet apple butter, and spicy garlic aioli-- all on crumbly & wholesome sunflower-wheat toast. The sandwich's name evokes an Eden-like perfection, but hints at how sinfully delicious this can be...
Foggy Ridge 'Handmade' hard apple cider
Cidermaker Diane Flynt has an unwavering commitment to high-quality cider, epitomized by her 'Handmade' expression from apples grown in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All of the fresh apple aromas in this sparkling cider bring out the apple elements in the sandwich. This cider is also a great way to wash down a hearty meal John Adams-style, who drank a tankard of cider every morning with breakfast.
February: Bacon Wrapped Dates
Mas - Chef Tomas Rahal
A great tapa is one of life's simple pleasures. These sweet & savory morsels are always on my list of things to try for anyone visiting Charlottesville. Mas has a wide array of tasty, fresh tapas, and while I've never left food on any plate I've ordered, there are a few of their specialties that stand out above the rest... like these dates. They come to you right from the oven in a cast iron skillet, the bottom snapping and crackling with lava-hot bacon drippings. The most difficult part about eating these is the 5 minutes they sit in front of you while you wait for them to cool down-- but on a cold and snowy day in February, a steaming skillet of bacon-wrapped dates is one of the best ways to warm up.
Crisp bubbles are one of the best ways to wash down anything with bacon fat. Since 1881 the family has been making wine, and their contributions toward viticulture and vinification have made a great impact on Cava production over the 20th century. A staple on Mas' awesome wine list, this is a great go-to glass selection that will pair so well with just about any tapa.
March: Mushroom Pizza
Dr. Ho's Humble Pie
Ok, this might be slightly outside of Charlottesville, but it is close enough to be a part of Charlottesville's pizza lore, so here it is: The mushrooms are local, the crust is fresh, crunchy, & chewy, the staff is sassy, the beers are freezing cold, and you can play magnetic scrabble at the tables-- could this be America's ultimate pizza house? It's definitely worth the 15 minute drive outside of Charlottesville proper.
Brasserie de la Pigeonelle 'La Loirette' (Touraine, France)
This farmhouse ale from the Loire Valley is a great treat with pizza-- it's not too funky or feral (as some farmhouse ales can be), but it still has some body and earthiness to it, making it an excellent pairing with mushroom pizza.
April: Icing Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies
Perfectly cooked chocolate chip cookies with just the right amount of crunchiness and chewiness, made into sandwiches stuffed with vanilla icing..... This would satisfy even the most discerning Sweet Tooth. The sugar rush mixed with a little coffee makes for a great mid-day pick-me-up.
Locally roasted coffee from The Mudhouse is always fresh, rich, and tasty. This coffee shop fuels most of the local business on Charlottesville's downtown mall, and it has also played a hand in writing countless college papers (there are always several students studying in the cafe). The baristas are seasoned professionals who know how to have fun-- and they pull great shots.
May: Olive Oil Cake
Parallel 38 - Chef Alfredo Malinis Jr.
This tasty and moist olive oil cake comes to you with a giant ball of goat cheese ice cream balanced on top.
Neudorf chardonnay (Nelson, NZ)
Neudorf chardonnay grapes are from a special clone with hen & egg symptoms. The big ripe berries in the bunches give the wine its lush richness while the small unripe berries add a pop of bright acidity. The combination is mellowed in oak, and the dense with with hints of vanilla and peach brought out the best in the olive oil cake.
June: Mushroom & Swiss Burger
Citizen Burger Bar
Citizen Burger Bar, a new burger joint on Charlottesville's historic downtown mall, serves satisfying burgers and fries and has one of the most extensive and well-procured beer lists in town. Sometimes it's the simple things, and when you have a protein craving there is nothing more satisfying than this local mushroom & Swiss burger with simple fries and a beer.
Lagunitas DayTime Ale (dry hopped)
The bright lemony-pine flavors you get from dry-hopped beers practically jump out of the glass. This lively beer acted as a type of palate cleanser between each rich bite of the meaty burger.
July: Heirloom Tomatoes from Radical Roots Farm
Charlottesville Farmer's Market
A late-summer visit to Charlottesville's farmers market will lead you to stroll by the tents of several local farmers. The produce at Radical Roots always stands out: they are hard-core organic farmers, they have one of the most incredible heirloom tomato programs I've ever seen, and the quality of produce is pretty hard to beat. Grab a bag of fresh-cut arugula and a hand full of tomatoes, then all you need is a little olive oil & salt to finish one of the best meals of your life.
Shafer Frohlich 'Felseneck' GG riesling 2010 (Nahe, Germany)
All the herbaceous and complex savory aromas you get from the natural yeast riesling ferment pairs perfectly with a warm, sun-ripened tomato picked a few hours prior from the organic fields at Radical Roots farm. This is one of the loveliest rieslings on the planet, and to have it with something so fresh and vibrant as a sun-warmed heirloom tomato is pure joy.
August: House Made Corn Tortellini with Mushrooms
The Red Pump - Chef Todd Grieger
The Red Pump opened in the summer of 2014 on Charlottesville's historic downtown mall. This tortellini dish from their opening menu was an incredibly memorable way to experience the freshest corn of the season.
Giacommo Fenocchio 2013 arneis
The oily richness of arneis against the sweet burst of perfectly ripe corn kernels and the earthiness of fresh mushrooms created one of the most hedonistic food and wine pairings I've had in a long time.
September: Maitake Mushroom & House-Made Ramen
The Clifton Inn - Chef Tucker Yoder
This is one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted in my life. Chef Yoder's house-made ramen noodles with a tasty pan-seared maitake mushroom satisfied the most limbic desires with its beauty, simplicity, and tastiness. Though Chef Tucker has recently left The Clifton, his ramen is something to follow wherever he may land.
Lopez de Heredia 'Tondonia' 2002 (Rioja, Spain)
The old-school wines from Lopez de Heredia are released when ready, and exhibit the earthy side of tempranillo. This 2002 went perfectly with the mushroom and noodles.
October: The B.F.P. (Big Fluffy Pancake)
Brookville - Chef Harrison Keevil
On one of the first crisp days of fall, it seemed as if the entire city was out strolling on Charlottesville's downtown mall. This type of morning was perfect for a lazy brunch, and perfect for a B.F.P., which truly is a gigantic, 'big fluffy pancake' (see the quarter for size comparison). The middle-- saturated with maple syrup and butter-- contrasted the crunchy, fluffy edges.
Virginia Fizz mimosas
A delightful reminder that a good brunch can set the tone for a whole season, the fresh squeezed orange juice topped with Thibault-Janisson's sparkling chardonnay, 'Virginia Fizz,' was a simple pairing for this perfectly-cooked, huge pancake.
November: Braised Lamb Shoulder with Licorice
Palladio - Chef Melissa Close-Hart
Chef Close-Hart is changing restaurants and will soon be running an eatery in Belmont; but in her final months at Barboursville Winery's Palladio Restaurant she made this delicious dish. The braised lamb shoulder was wrapped in a flaky dough and served with a licorice sauce that brought out all the anise aromatics of the Barboursville 'Octagon' 2010.
Barboursville 'Octagon' 2010 (Barboursville, Virginia)
2010 was a groundbreaking and benchmark year for Virginia wineries. It was one of the few years in the last decade when most of the state had a beautiful vintage (previous vintages were marred by drought, rains, earthquakes, and hurricanes). Barboursville's 'Octagon,' a reserve Bordeaux-style blend, has long been a bellwether for quality wine in Virginia, and the 2010 was complex and rich, with a bright acidity that balanced this hearty dish in a great way.
December: French Onion Soup with Mountain View Farm Swiss
Petit Pois - Chef Brian Jones
Caramelized onions, beef broth, toasted baguette and local McClure 'Swiss' cheese-- when French onion soup is done right it can be one of the most delicious bowls of soup on the planet. It's great for all involved.... except the dishwasher.
Ar Pe Pe 'Rosso di Valtellina' 2012 (Lombardia, Italy)
The smooth tannins of the Ar Pe Pe nebbiolo married perfectly with the meaty beef broth, and the bright acidity cut through the bubbling and crunchy Swiss cheese. The wine is delicious on its own, but with a hearty dish like this it became something truly unforgettable.
*note: I write Petit Pois' wine list, so I feel ethically compelled to state my association with this restaurant; but extended exposure to the French Onion Soup has only strengthened my resolve that it belongs on this list!
This year, my favorites revolved around hearty staples, as opposed to cutting-edge molecular gastronomy or high-end haute cuisine: burgers, pizzas, tapas, sandwiches, noodles... maybe I'm just at a point in my life where I want to get back to the basics of dining, but 2014 was the year of the satisfying, hearty, quotidian meals. And it was great!
The Yarra Valley sits just north of Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, and is one of the cooler climate regions of Australia that is well suited to varieties such as pinot noir and chardonnay. Some of the lovely chardonnays of Australia come from this part of the country.
The first vines went down at Tarra Warra in 1983. This 'Estate' wine is a blend of chardonnay from across their vineyard holdings, and it's fermented partially in tank and partially in barrel. The oak is evident on the palate, and elegantly so.
In the future, I wouldn't wait so long to drink a vintage, but I was curious about bottle evolution under screwcap. Whereas most wines chardonnays would be well past their prime after ten years, this one had some life in it, though I do wish I had opened it a few years sooner.
I'll always remember the first time I had the Arkenstone wines at a lunch circa 2009. They're made by Sam Kaplan-- an inquisitive and thoughtful winemaker-- whose style had that unique balance of power and restraint. When this wine was made these were baby vines, recently planted in 1998, and the 2006 was their first ever release. I'm not a fan of the sauvignon blancs that scream for attention-- but here was one that had depth and power, yet a stoicness to it. It reminded me of a great white Bordeaux. But aside from evokation of other regions, the wine had its own distinct personality. It was quiet, yet full of strength-- just like Sam himself.
Recently I revisited the inaugural vintage of Arkenstone's sauvignon blanc. The 2006 was richer than I remembered it-- time had worked a number on this one. Tartrates had fallen away, acids had mellowed, and a seemingly riper fruit manifested. Still though, the wine was lush and pleasurable. This is truly a unique producer on Howell Mountain.
Turkey Flat boasts some of the oldest vineyards in Barossa, and also the world. One vineyard dates back to 1847, originally planted by Johann Frederick August Fiedler. Fiedler was from Selisia, a former region in Central Europe that now mostly covers modern-day Poland and some small areas of Germany. In the mid-1800s many Selisians fled to Australia to escape religious persecution. Many of them laid down vines, some of which still thrive, and pepper Australia with pockets of historic vineyards from this bygone era. In Fiedler's day, the estate was known as 'Turkey Flat,' named for the wild turkeys that once roamed the area.
In subsequent years, a butcher shop was run on the property, which, today, has been renovated into the cellar doors.
The grapes for the Turkey Flat rosé come from a dedicated rosé vineyard and are destined for rosé right from the start (and not-- as so many rosés are-- the castoff byproduct of a red pressing in an attempt to make a red wine more intense).
Turkey Flat Vineyards 2012 Rosé (Barossa, Australia)
67% grenache - 22% shiraz - 9% cabernet sauvignon - 2% dolcetto
The darker side of rosé, as you'd expect from these varieties. Aromas of ripe plums and herbs, with a fruity mid-palate.
Ata Rangi-- long a bellwether of Martinborough pinot noir-- is a quintessential expression of New Zealand's famed 'Gumboot Clone,' a clone claimed to have been brought to New Zealand in the work boot of a traveler who had taken a clandestine cutting from Domaine Romani Conti. To me, the Gumboot (also called Abel) clone is the dark side of pinot noir-- it's rich and spicy, and it marks most Martinborough pinot noir with its classic potpourri.
Winery founder Clive Paton has quite an active life outside the winery, including forrest conservation, rugby, and cricket; but decades ago, he helped define Martinborough style when he planted Gumboot cuttings his late friend Malcolm Abel had given him. He is living history, and Ata Rangi winery is a new beginning for Martinborough agriculture. In fact, Ata Rangi translates to 'New Beginnng,' or literally 'Dawn Sky' in Māori.
Here, winemaker Helen Masters runs a tight and focused ship. She & her vineyard managers farm sustainably and the 2011 pinot noir speaks of Martinborough terroir. Though there is much Gumboot in here, they also blend in other clones for complexity, resulting in a rich and complex pinot noir that excels on many levels. The warmer-than-usual 2011 vintage made this a ripe bottling. Because the stem and seed phenolics were so ripe, they used about 10% of whole clusters in the fermentation which also increased the power, density, and complexity of this wine.
Petit verdot is a grape variety that you rarely see on its own-- it has difficulty ripening in most climates, but a few growers in Virginia are doing very well with it. Success with the variety at King Family has inspired other producers to work with it as well. 2007 was a warmer year in Virginia, so long-ripening varieties like petit verdot came through with a nice harvest.
In these early stages of the Virginia wine industry, it can be difficult to see the imprints of regionality on wines made from young vines. King Family Vineyards was one of the earliest wineries to establish home vineyards in Virginia's Monticello AVA. They are one of the few wineries with currently mature vineyards, and they work with all estate fruit. Because they have some of the older vines in the region, tasting King Family current release wines is a nice gauge of some of the potential of the Monticello AVA.
King Family Vineyards Petit Verdot 2007
Tertiary aromas beginning- wet underbrush, dried leaves, but also a dense black fruit character. A meatiness starting to emerge.
This is obviously a bordeaux variety, but mysterious in its provenance to blind tasters.
*2007 tasted in 2014
Cool-climate syrahs have captured my fancy over the last couple of years, and I've been particularly interested in domestic versions that are able to capture the grace of this particular grape variety. Kivelstadt's 'The Inheritance' is an organic, small production (200 case!), native yeast-fermented syrah. The grapes are from a tiny vineyard in Sonoma, and they produce this great example of the new-wave, high-quality, cool-climate syrahs that are changing the wine landscape.
I hunt for these beauties in regions that are known for growing grape varieties that favor a slightly cooler climate, such as pinot noir. Syrah and pinot noir share a unique dialogue: syrah can just ripen in places where pinot noir can thrive; it can live on the fringe in a pinot noir-prominent region. If a region is known for pinot noir, I look into who is growing syrah there, and that's a wine that has potential to be extraordinary.
Such syrahs can still be dense and powerful, but instead of presenting jammy fruit aromas and flavors, they tend to be herbaceous and smokey, peppery, highly interesting, and perfect with savory food.
Kivelstadt 'The Ineritance' syrah 2009 (Sonoma, CA)
200 case production - 30% whole cluster - 18 mo in French oak - 30% new oak
Jordan runs the winery with the help of his parents and good friend, Alex Pomerantz. In addition to 'The Inheritance' syrah, the team also makes a skin-fermented white wine, old-vine carignane, a pinot noir, and a few others. 'The Inheritance' refers to something Jordan's parents have established for him, and something he hopes to pass on to his own children. Jordan's surname is a blend of both his parents' last names (Nancy Kivelson & Tom Angstadt); and the winery as a whole is an extension of the family's unique amalgamation of kinship and identity.
Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Tondonia' Reserva red 2002 (Rioja, Spain)
Aromas and flavors of dried plums, dill, and mushroom. Tertiary aromas of umami, soil, soy, mushrooms, & dried leaves. Though the wine looks medium bodied, the rustic tannins fill the palate, a burning acidity creeps through it all, and a powerful yet soft overall perception . This is a wine I want with meat-- powerful enough to withstand even the heartiest grass-fed cuts, but not so dark as to overshadow what is on the plate.
I’m Erin, and I’m thirsty for drinks and the secrets they hold. Wine is my main game, but I’ve been known to love a cocktail here and there, and who doesn’t like a good beer on the regular? This blog is for wine/spirits/beer geeks. No beverage will be left unsipped!