Sunday, May 16, 2010

Santorini Dreams Become Reality

This story begins here, one of the many excellent posts on Peter Liem's now defunct personal blog. I remember reading it a couple of years ago and thinking "hmmm, Santorini, huh? Certainly sounds good from Peter's description. If I see one of those I'll try it."

Actually, this story really begins in June of 2005 when BrooklynLady and I were in Crete on our honeymoon. We ate some phenomenal food there. I'll never forget driving from the northern part of the island over some hills to the south, down winding breakneck roads in a crummy little 2 seat stick shift rental car, goats on the side of the road staring at us, the Mediterranean (that part of it called the Libyan Sea) taking up the entire horizon. We pulled up to some or other little beach and there was a restaurant, and they offered us a round red plastic bucket with maybe 10 plump sardines in it. They wanted us to select from among them for our lunch. Those fish, a simple salad with a cheese the name of which I have forgotten, but it is similar to feta, only much softer and creamier, and some blistered pita-type bread...hard to beat. The wine, let's just say that beer was a better option, and that's mostly what we drank in Crete.

I've never really looked for the wines Peter recommended, and maybe that's because I've never had a Greek wine that I could get excited about. But then a week or so ago my friend Adam wrote to me from a trip down south to tell me that he tasted something that he loved, something new to him. A wine from Santorini called Sigalas (one of the producers that Peter recommended). Okay, that's it, my turn to try them.

I bought a bottle, understood that it would be too young to drink, but that would not stop me from opening it almost immediately with something tasty from the fish people. And when I went to the market I saw this:

And I thought of stuffing the sea bass with oregano and thyme, lemon slices, green garlic slices, chopped black olives, and of drinking it with my Santorini wine, and imagined that it would be good.

So I gutted, salted, and stuffed, and scattered, but minus the oregano - didn't see any at the market. And I decided that some very thinly sliced white onions would be good too. The fish went in the oven and I opened the bottle just to see what was happening in there, to let it stretch out a bit before we really went at it. At first it was very lactic and yeasty, and very saline. If I didn't know what I was drinking, I might have begun my thinking in Muscadet.

The fish was done, I made a simple salad with a lemony dressing and mushed some Feta cheese through my fingers in a lame attempt to recreate the softer version that we had in Crete, and I cut two thick slices of good white bread. We were ready to go.

Did you know that there is, apparently, technique involved in artfully removing the flesh from a roasted sea bass? I know how to carefully lift the bones off one side of the fish, but there's that tricky initial set of cuts to make. I knew enough to salt the skin so it lifted away like paper. but I did an ugly job of it, let me assure you. I need a lesson in this department.

Anyway, we had our version of simple and delicious, evocative of our Greek honeymoon dinner. And this time the wine was utterly superb. BrooklynLady had no idea what it was and part of the way through her first glass she walked into the kitchen and said "What is this? I really like it."

2009 Sigalas Santorini, $20, Imported by Diamond Importers, Inc. In the 30 minutes or so it took for me to get dinner on the table, this wine found blossomed. If you read the link to Peter's post you already know that these are old vines, and that the vineyard techniques and the terroir are unusual. The wine tastes familiar and unusual at the same time. It really reminds me of a great Muscadet in its phenotype, but whereas Muscadet's complexities veer off towards things like fennel or anise, and briny ocean, this Assyrtiko's complexities are smokey and savoury. This wine had top notes of fresh lemons, minerals, and a creamy lactic tone, a middle layer of savory herbs and something almost brothy, and a bottom layer of smoke and ash. It is full of character, deeply complex, perfectly balanced, and altogether compelling wine. I'm very excited about this wine, and about Santorini, and I will be buying more.


Director, Lab Outreach said...

Ni hao, BG. Try this one if you see it: Gaia Estate Assyrtiko Thalassitis. It's a nervy white with a hint of glycerin, like a bastard child of Sancerre and Mosel. From an old, own-rooted vineyard on Santorini.

Do Bianchi said...

Assyrtiko is so awesome, BrooklynGuy. I love it. Sometimes it's like drinking seawater... Tracie P and are supposedly tasting a 93 Assyrtico next week.... great post and I've heard that the Sigalas is awesome...

Matt M said...

I had the '08 Sigalas at Kefi on the UWS a few months ago and had the same reaction.

Anonymous said...

Nice job! BTW, how was the sea bass? I catch them all summer long on Long Island. A delicious fish if ever there was one. Cheers.

baltimoeronvino said...

Silly question---When do you salt the skin on the bass? Right after you take it out of the oven, or before you put it in?

Brooklynguy said...

JD from HK!! Good to see you, and I hope the transition has been smooth. I have my eye on some of that exact stuff.

Bass was delicious, but I'm simply no good at making them look nice on the plate after roasting.

hey baltimoeronvino - salt it liberally before you put it in the over.

AJ said...

Hatzidakis is pretty amazing stuff. 150-year old vines on the island's highest plateau, wild yeast fermentation in onyx, and then bottled unfiltered.

It's a rich wine, too much so for most fish.