Inside Source

This is a collection of posts from various sources.

A New Story in Chile’s Forgotten Winelands

April 13, 2017


Part 1:  Meeting Pedro Parra

In early January of 2017, Andrea and I left Chile’s capital, Santiago, to meet the renowned terroirist Pedro Parra for the first time.  Five hours into our drive, we exited Ruta 5 at Chillán to leave Chile’s long Central Valley and drive west, away from the breathtaking Andes, which form the border with Argentina. We continued toward the Pacific Ocean and into the ancient granitic hills of the Itata Valley, a place Pedro claims to be Chile’s promised land.

As we got closer to the Pacific the wind picked up, gusts blowing our car from side to side, slowing us down while the trees lining the highway bent wildly back and forth.  As we entered Pedro’s hometown of Concepcion, the summer sky was bright blue and fresh, unlike the gray, smoggy ceiling above Santiago.  The further into the city we went the more the wind howled.  Along the right bank of the Bio Bio River, we passed through clusters of Chile’s modern commercial buildings, dilapidated midcentury, multicolored apartments and many shanties of the poor (very typical in any Chilean city). Eventually, we found our way to a street corner where we saw a familiar face that we’d only seen in photos.

Standing alongside his German importer, Dirk von Streit (a tall German with Chilean heritage), Pedro immediately extended his hand to me for a warm shake and gave Andrea a big hug.  Right away, it seemed like we’d known each other forever. Andrea even joked that maybe I had met her just so I could cross paths with this Chilean scientist, who shared my lifelong fascination with rocks.  Every kid has unique interests, and mine happened to be a curious obsession with rocks and seashells.  I was so in love with them that when I was about five, I asked an old lady at church who usually wore seashell necklaces and bracelets if I could have them when she died.  I’m sure she really appreciated that—at least she smiled.

Andrea drove our car so I could ride with Pedro and start the conversation I’d been wanting to have since I was a boy, and we all headed towards Pedro’s Itata vineyards, about 45 minutes away. In the passenger seat of his SUV was his rock hammer, a tool no geologist or terroir specialist would leave home without.  He put on Wayne Shorter and we rolled down the road, windows open because his air conditioner had just broken.  We leaned on the center console so we could hear each other over the jazz and the rushing wind, keeping our eyes on the mirrors so we didn’t lose Andrea, following in her mother’s bright red, roller-skate-sized Chinese-made car; it may be one of the slowest new cars in the world, so Pedro took it easy getting into the Itata.  He asked me a little bit about myself and I told him the story of how had he foiled my big research plans in Chile…

For quite a while now, I’ve been developing a strong interest in Chile, my wife’s native country. I read about Pedro’s work a number of years ago while researching geological formations in Chile’s cooler southern regions, and years before I discovered him, I visited what was then Chile’s “new frontier” of cold climate terroirs, the Casablanca Valley.  The articles about the Casablanca were far more interesting than what I found when I got there.  At the time, my opinion was that Casablanca hadn’t even remotely pushed the boundaries of cooler climate grape growing, contrary to what has been written about it in various wine publications.

Pedro stated that it’s actually very easy for wines from Casablanca to ripen to well over 16% alcohol in most years.  I was convinced there had to be more interesting soils in significantly cooler areas of Chile, terroirs that could express distinct personalities beyond cellar and vineyard techniques that force wines from uninteresting soils to be something they were never meant to be.

For almost ten years, I had the idea to explore geological formations in the south of Chile and plant experimental vineyard blocks to vinify and isolate high quality terroirs.  I was ready to make the move on my project and even got a couple of talented winegrowers interested in joining me.  Just when I was ready to pull the trigger, I was stopped short after reading a few articles about Pedro’s work; he was already doing something exactly like what I wanted to do.  Besides having the home court advantage, he was far more qualified, holding a Master’s Degree in Precision Agriculture and a PhD where his main focus was terroir.  It was bittersweet, but Pedro spared me from a lifetime of research and experimentation.

I let him know just how thrilled I was with his work.  He smiled, acknowledging this shared idea—one of a couple of ideas we would come to realize that we shared. “But Chile is deeply wrong with wine.”

Part 2 of 6, “Of Rocks and Wine,” will post next week.

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Zucchini pasta

October 10, 2016

The two prevailing names for zucchini suggest a split personality. The Italian name, which we obviously employ in the U.S. too, Zucchini, is a sort of silly word that sounds a bit like a clown who performs at kids’ birthday parties. (Oh, yes, there it is: ) On the other hand, the name favored by the French and English, Courgette, sounds gallant, like a courageous corvette or cougar with jets.

Given this pointed discrepancy, I see two prevailing attitudes toward this summer squash: those who esteem and admire it (the courgettes) and those who are uninspired and go out of their way to avoid it (the zooks). Well, I’ve been a fairly vocal member of the latter group for most of my life. Outside of ratatouille and a dish I was once saw a recipe for but failed in my attempt to produce it (sun-dried zucchini), I just don’t see the point. At best its flavor is extremely mild, poised somewhere between faintly bitter and sweet. At worst, it’s insipid, with no flavor at all and a slimy, mushy texture. So what gives?

So the other night I learned a much more compelling approach from an Italian chef, who was inspired to become a chef in part because of this dish. Zucchini, stand up and be proud. The zucchini hero was Antonio Giordano. During his eight years as chef of Terroni in Los Angeles, he earned raves for his perfect pizzas and meticulously handmade pastas. He recently quit to prepare to open his own restaurant, which will also be in Los Angeles.

The dish is sometimes called Spaghetti alla Nerano for the town that inspired it on the Sorrentine Peninsula of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, where Antonio grew up. The story is that the dish was invented by Maria Grazia in 1952 in her eponymous restaurant in Nerano. With its azure waters, resplendent beaches, and towering cliffs to the sea, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most spectacular areas of Italy. But before its towns like Positano became popular with jet-setting Hollywood celebrities (Bogie, Sinatra) in the fifties and sixties, it was poor region. For summertime tourist traffic, the area is remote—its snaking roads cling to incredibly narrow, vertiginous cliffs that make for punishingly long journeys into the population centers. Instead of a steady stream of commerce, these spectacular cliff side villages had to rely on the fishing trade and carving narrow terraces out of the cliffs to establish flat spaces on which to grow produce and grapes. This Zucchini Spaghetti, an incredibly simple, but soulful dish is from the simple, powerful cuisine of necessity

“For me, this pasta says Amalfi,” Antonio said as he quickly sliced four medium zucchinis into thin rounds. “I grew up eating it, because it was a dish of the summertime. Zucchini grows like crazy in the bright sun on the coast, and every house grows a ton of basil.” Indeed, basil is the primary addition to the zucchini, as its incisive, minty edge provides a piercing counterpoint to the squash’s soft, mellow base tones. Besides the pasta, the only other additions are some grated cheese (Antonio used Parmesan), a dash of butter, and some olive oil.

“This is the simplest, easiest version,” Antonio noted, “but it works pretty well.” While the pasta water is coming to a boil, Antonio begins cooking the onions in a large pot with the olive oil before adding the zucchini rounds. At first they sizzle, but he continues to stir them every few seconds as they start to release their liquid. “I’m cooking them down,” he says, “so the zucchini becomes the sauce.” He’s embracing the mushiness, turning weakness into strength, continuing to stir until about half the zucchini is broken down. He keeps the pot on low, letting some of the liquid boil off. When the pasta’s just before al dente, he pulls it out and adds it to the zucchini, along with the butter. A little bit of the pasta water goes in and the cheese, and he stirs it all until combined. The heat goes off and he stirs in the fresh basil, just before serving. With an Amalfi white, say a Falanghina, the dish is comfort food. This quick and easy dish is no place for a courgette—it’s all about the zucchini.

Recipe for Zucchini Pasta
Serves 4-6

1 Onion, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
4 medium zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds (equal to about 1 quart, when chopped)
Salt and pepper
12 ounces (1 package) spaghetti
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons cold butter
1 cup chopped Basil Leaves

1. Boil a large pot of salted water.
2. In another wide-bottomed pot, add half the olive oil and warm over medium-high heat and begin cooking the onion, until it has softened a become translucent.
3. Add the zucchini and stir until it’s all covered in oil.
4. When water is boiling, add the spaghetti and give a stir.
5. Keep sautéing the zucchini until it starts to break down, letting some of its water boil away. There will still be some chunks, but some of it will turn to purée.
6. Just before the spaghetti is al dente (when it’s still a bit tough against your tooth), use tongs to pull it out of the pasta water and place it into the zucchini. Alternately, drain the pasta into a strainer, while reserving about a half cup of the pasta water.
7. Turn off the heat under the zucchini, add the butter and cheese, and toss the spaghetti until well integrated. You’re looking for a nice silky coating with the cheese-zucchini-butter emulsion. If it needs a little water, dash in the reserved pasta water until the desired consistency is reached.
8. Finally, toss in the garlic, mix it up and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of cheese.

Wines that work
Here are some options that will heighten your cooking and eating experience.  All of which

Chateau_Cremade_Blanc_2008Château Cremade – 2008 Palette Blanc: This top-notch pick for this dish comes from the tiny Provençal appellation, Palette, just within the city limits of Aix-en-Provence.  While this French wine is more often paired with courgette over zucchini, it will be a masterful pairing for this dish.  If you’ve ever been to the south of France, you know you will find just as much zucchini as you would in Italy.  $36

Domaine-de-la-Vieille-Julienne-lieu-dit-ClavinDomaine de La Vieille Julienne – 2013 Côtes du Rhône Blanc, ‘Clavin’: Following the theme from the south of France, this biodynamically-made white wine, principally made of Grenache Blanc and Clairette, is one of the greatest overachievers in southern French white wine.  We get only 20 cases for the entire west coast and they are a treasure to have around.  $26

2013_Jean_David_Cotes_du_RhoneJean David – 2013 Côtes du Rhône Rouge: For a red, at only $17 retail, this complex and thoroughly delightful wine with a simple wine’s price will be impossible to beat.  Like many great wines, this organically farmed (since 1979!) offering needs a ten minute warmup to begin its entourage of sweet red flowers kisses, cranberries, red currants, pastry spices and fresh mission figs. The palate takes on the seriousness of this wine showing that it is not a mere Côtes du Rhône, but a wine finely-tuned with fresh acidity and polished, but refreshing tannins.

Rudy Show – Rejected Concepts

September 27, 2016


Little in the world of wine was more exciting than the recent news that cable giant USA Network is producing a show that may be inspired by wine forger Rudy Kurniawan. According to Variety, “Connoisseurs” will center “around Clay Park … a brilliant con artist who dupes the wealthiest, most powerful people in the country into paying millions for fake wine, but his hustle forces him into a deadly bargain with an organized crime syndicate, puts him in the cross-hairs of the FBI, and unearths the details of a tragedy that fractured his family years ago in Korea.” Attached to the show as lead is Korean-born actor John Cho, best known as Sulu in the recent Star Trek movies.

Producers deny that Rudy was the inspiration (issuing the statement, “It’s clear that this show is not based on the real life story of Rudy Kurniawan. The real Kurniawan was born in Indonesia, not Korea.”) Nevertheless, newly found documents make it clear that USA must have been exploring tv shows featuring Kurniawan-inspired characters for a while. The documents, rescued intact from stacks destined for the shredder, were made public last week. Below are concepts that were clearly rejected for one reason or another. (Read More…)

Beaune Vivant

September 16, 2016


If one of the world’s greatest vignerons, Jean-Marc Roulot, trusts him to guide the precious wines of Domaine Roulot, what can we expect from David Croix’s personal domaine? The answer was expressed most succinctly by Clive Coates eight years ago in his book The Wines of Burgundy: “I expect great things here,” he wrote of Domaine de Croix. And indeed, the domaine has delivered.

There can be no question that David Croix is one of the outstanding talents in Burgundy. We’d continue to call him “young”—as he has been tabbed for more than a decade—but the 36-year-old has made exceptional wines for long enough now that he no longer requires an age qualifier. An adult in full possession of his powers, David’s ascent has been steady and observable, starting with his first stint as an (actually) young winemaker in charge of turning around the negociant Camille-Giroud (which he did). His star continued to rise in 2005 when he and an investor group took over the old, burnished Domaine Duchets and its outstanding holdings in Beaune and Corton to create Domaine des Croix. Now, in addition to running Domaine des Croix, David has stepped down from Camille-Giroud to serve as winemaker for Jean-Marc Roulot. Not only an honor and a compliment, this is an unprecedented opportunity for Croix to continue his development alongside a modern master.

Roulot’s wines, however, will always be Roulot’s. With Domaine des Croix, David Croix has nothing less than an opportunity to change the way we view Burgundy, because the holdings Croix bought from Domaine Duchets are mainly centered on the village of Beaune. With its whopping 42 Premier Cru vineyards, Beaune is the largest yet largely forgotten commune of Burgundy. It’s overlooked because an overwhelming amount of its vineyards belong to the big negociant houses of nearby Beaune. How does this limit Beaune as a wine region? Because in the hands of large companies, the wines will never be pushed to reach their greatest potential: the attention to farming and winemaking by negociants will never compare to the work of a talented, small domaine. Once bottled, the wines disappear into large portfolios, becoming lost among the hundreds of labels the negociants produce. There’s simply no one to advocate for these terroirs, to represent them in the marketplace. The result is a never ending cycle of unfulfilled promise: The absence of parental love, the lack of individual attention condemns the wines to be forever what they are, what they ever have been—solid if unspectacular, tasty but lacking charm and personality.

David Croix

David Croix can change this. He can be the one. With his skill propelling his portfolio of excellent Beaune premier crus, Croix can command new attention to Beaune. He can raise expectations. We only have to be there to listen and pay attention. On Beaune’s vast hillside, David’s vineyards stand out, sumptuously teeming on a spring day with a of thicket of organic life, bursting with wildflowers and herbs and butterflies. Domaine de Croix doesn’t possess official organic certification, but one look at the plots suffices to explain his practices, which respect vineyard life in all forms. His winemaking is straightforward and without flash. David prefers to quiet his own influence that we may hear the vineyards speak. Above all, he prizes balance—extractions are tailored for the sites; the wines develop flesh and body, but not too much or too little. Each wine expresses a solidity, a respect for structure, and a frame for aging.

One of the most compelling qualities about David is his directness. He answers all questions with honest answers, no candy-coating, no embellishment. His wines have similar qualities; they’re honest and direct. Respectful. We must remember that wine is a collaboration between people and nature. These are beautiful things to see: a humble young winemaker who has been diligently practicing his art for years reaching new heights; the joy of an entire wine zone getting the attention it deserves.

To find David’s wines, click here

Baby Artichokes

July 28, 2016

Small Artichokes

Both humble and exotic, the artichoke is a transporting food—to pick one up and turn it in our hands is to look back through time at one of the oldest cultivated foods with culinary roots back at least to the Greeks. Given the color and the ruggedness of the plant, it’s easy to imagine them growing in the scraggly soils of windblown islands beside the vast blue Mediterranean. A superfood and one of the healthiest things on earth to eat, artichokes are actually flower buds (as are capers), relatives of the thistle. Here is an excellent post on their distinguished history.

For me fresh artichokes bear a sweet sentimentality. They were a delicacy in my family; we’d prepare them in the most basic way, steamed and served whole with a side of mayonnaise for dipping the leaves and heart. Later in life, when I had to good fortune of being in Rome in the right season, carciofi alla giudia, the great deep-fried delicacy of the Eternal City, made a huge impression. Closer to home, I’ve always been grateful to eat one of Frank Ostini’s signature grilled artichokes at his restaurant, the Hitching Post II, in Buellton on California’s central coast. (Frank’s also an excellent winemaker.)

But of all the kinds of artichokes and their various preparations, the most irresistible for me is the baby artichoke. Unlike, say, “baby” carrots that are simply milled down from broken pieces of larger carrots, baby artichokes are harvested when tiny, only the length of a pinky finger. They’re mature, simply buds that didn’t grow larger. Their unique pleasure lies in the fact that they never formed that fibrous “choke” and thus are completely edible with a bit of trimming. You can just pop them whole into your mouth. Baby artichokes are highly nutritious, to boot, even showing higher levels of antioxidants than their bigger siblings.

Trimming the baby artichoke is easy. Just slice off the spiky tip with a sharp knife. Then peel away a few of the tough, outer leaves. I’m pretty ruthless in this–while it does significantly diminish the size of the already small vegetable, trimming down to the green, thin, inner leaves results in a tender morsel that is easily chewed. If you’re not going to cook them right away, float the little guys in a bowl of water spiked with the juice of half a lemon; it keeps them from premature browning.

Cooking is just as simple. A skillet is all you need. You can fry them in a half inch of oil with or without the garlic. I take an approach that uses less oil, cooking them flat side down in a skillet lightly coated with olive oil until they’ve browned. Then I add a bit of liquid—any sort of stock works well or vermouth or white wine and cover for a few minutes until the outer leaves are tender. Scoop them from the pan and into a bowl. When they’ve cooled, toss with maldon salt, a squeeze of lemon, and a chiffonade of fresh mint. They’re wonderful as an antipasto to munch on next to some olives, nuts, or salumi, to be washed down of course with an aperitif.

But what kind of aperitif? The bitterness in artichokes makes them palatable with classic Italian-style bitters like Campari or Cynar, which is flavored in part with artichokes. Mix these liqueurs over ice with soda water, and you’re in business. Of course, I also like the challenge of putting artichokes against wine, as they are the food world’s most notorious wine killer. This murderous bent is thanks to the presence of the compound cynarin, which Harold McGee notes, “apparently inhibits the sweet receptors on our taste bus, so when it’s swept off the tongue by the next bite, the receptors start up again, and we notice the contrast. Because they therefore distort the flavor of other foods, artichokes are thought to be an inappropriate accompaniment to fine wines.”

However, some people may not experience this. As Jane Adams Finn wrote in the Washington Post in a 2001 piece, “It seems that cynarin, unique to artichokes, can lend a sweet aftertaste to other foods and drinks. It also seems that the ability to taste this sweetness could be genetically based. Some notice the effect, others do not. Pass me the wine. I’ve never noticed a thing.”

I certainly have noticed the artichoke’s ability to warp a wine, but it’s easily gotten around. First, in my preparation, the addition of the mint seems to moderate cynarin’s effect. Somehow, it just keeps flavors steady and in line. Second, the wine must simply be tart, bone dry, crisp, and unoaked. Any sweetness from residual sugar, a high degree of fruitiness, or oak treatment will be seized by the artichoke and twisted into a dissonant flavor. Look to dry, prickly whites, sparkling wines, light reds, and roses that finish with a clean and brisk.

Here are a few excellent choices from the Source’s portfolio:

Nico’s Way

July 23, 2016


I had been looking forward to my day with Nicolas Rossignol and the opportunity to do another deep dive into Volnay and Pommard, the famous neighboring red-wine villages of the Côte de Beaune that are so close to one another but are so famously different. Rossignol is one of the best visits a Burgundy lover can make, as rare is the domaine with so many high quality crus of both Volnay and Pommard. It was to be lunch followed by a day of conversation, vineyards and wine. Just as I arrived, the sun finally broke through the dreary clouds on this mid-June day and set the tone for my afternoon.

As instructed, I pulled up in front of the church just before noon and waited. The church bell rang and within minutes vineyard tractors sped in from all directions; it was lunchtime in France and everything but eating and drinking comes to a halt. I waited in front of the church, before, circumambulating it in five-minute intervals to make sure I wasn’t somehow missing him.

After 20 minutes and four orbits around the church, Nico’s truck finally turned up the main road. Dressed simply in blue jeans and a black sweater with close-cropped, prematurely grey hair (he’s only 42), he greeted me warmly and parked before we turned up the street and into Volnay’s newest restaurant, L’Agastache. Our perfectly prepared three-course lunch (tempura cuttlefish with zucchini, followed by saddle of veal with sautéed chanterelles, and a strawberry-rhubarb dessert) was excellent. We supported it with a bottle of 2009 Roy-Jacquelin Pommard Les Rugiens, selected by Nico, who assured it would be nearly impossible to find outside of Burgundy. By the third glass, the wine had opened up and was showing the depth and complexity one expects from (arguably) Pommard’s top cru. (Read More…)

Rad Pork

July 18, 2016


Years ago, one freezing February in Friuli I pulled into the town of Gorizia, near the Slovenian border. I was bundled up tightly, as the temperature hovered around forty degrees, which made me all the more surprised to find the town square packed with people, eating, drinking, and making merry. I approached, curious to find out what could be causing this improbable, wintry revelry, only to discover just as unbelievable a source: Radicchio. I had happened on the festival for Rosa di Gorizia, a highly prized version of radicchio, which, when its leaves are pulled back, resembles a rose. Hundreds of people, wrapped in coats, scarves and hats drank wine as vendors tending outdoor kitchens couldn’t grill and fry these lovely magenta vegetables fast enough.

Italians revere what we fail to appreciate in America, where radicchio languishes primarily as a streak of color in green salads. They revel in its versatility. They roast it, grill it, deep fry it in batter, caramelize it, cut it into ribbons and toss it with pasta, they stir it sweetly into risotto. Radicchio perfectly articulates Italians’ famous predilection for bitterness, which we simply don’t share. Cookbook writer Barbara Kafka explained more about it than I ever could back in this 1988 Times piece. So, I won’t belabor its culinary genius. Rather, I’ll mention something that never gets brought up: Radicchio is brilliant with wine. (Read More…)

The Greatest Forgotten Hill

August 25, 2015

Guiberteau 2011 "Breze"

The first time I stood on the hill, I didn’t think much of it.  It’s a quiet place just outside of the famous French wine town, Saumur.  To tell you the truth, there wasn’t much to admire besides a quaint, but lifeless, chateau sitting on top of it. This insipid wonder attracts droves of tourists every year to snap photos and walk away with a lousy souvenir wine from the chateau.  Indeed, the recent history of this chateau is one of making downright terrible wines. This hill, however, has a glorious history that has been almost completely forgotten –until now…

My addiction to this hill began (Read More…)

Further into Pandora’s Box

July 25, 2015

For many years, I knew of this great geologist working her way through Burgundy. I saw her work for the first time when I received a disc, via Wasserman and Co., that Bruno Clair sent to help me with a Côte de Nuits educational seminar I was putting on. The disc, a dossier commissioned by the town of Marsannay, contains geological research submitted with the town’s request that certain lieu dit sites be elevated from village-level to the rank of premier cru. Her work is an extraordinary geological survey of Marsannay. The research goes as deep as you could imagine; any deeper and you’d be digging a hole with no end. (Read More…)

Meeting Peter Pan

June 25, 2015

Peter Pan

I met Peter for the first time in a small and unassuming house, deep in the Austrian wine country.  He lives in a quiet town, Spitz, tucked into the far western end of the country’s most famous wine region, the Wachau.  The first time I heard about Peter was from my friend Sariya, who supplies me with great Austrian wines.  She insisted that I meet this guy because she was sure that we would get along.  She said that he was very interesting and that he and I are a lot alike.  I wasn’t sure how to take that, but Sariya knows that I am a bit of a Peter Pan myself: feet rarely on the ground and head always in the clouds.  It’s true, like Peter Pan, I would prefer to never grow up. (Read More…)