Farmstead Cheeses and Wines: Jeff's Blog

An occasional blog from and about Farmstead Cheeses and Wines, Alameda and Montlcair Village's choice for fine wines and artisan cheeses. Peppered with comments, Jeff's musings and articles in local publications, as well as photos from Jeff and Carol's travels in search of the best food and wine, the Farmstead Blog is a fun way to keep in touch with the store.


07
Jun

Napflion and Nea Kios

We arrived in Napflion after a drive through Argos, all the time Ted telling us about the history of the area. The town of Napflion was built by the Venetians, and later (like all of Greece) taken over by the Ottoman Empire until the Greek war of liberation in 1821.

The town is built on the Argolic Gulf in the northeast Peloponnese. Most of the old town is on a peninsula jutting into the gulf; this peninsula forms a naturally protected bay. The town was the capital of the first Hellenic Republic from 1821 to 1847, and boy howdy, it’s quite beautiful: marble streets, a grand piazza of Italian design, picturesque churches and hotels climbing up the hill towards the old fortress, which dominates the town.

We checked into our hotel, some of us opting for rest, while others explored the town below. My room was over 250 years old, and was built into the hillside like a brick line cave! Very mysterious and evocative!

Near nightfall, we gathered in the van for a short drive across the gulf to Valsamis – a taverna on the water that specialized in fish. There, we met George and Amalia Skouras of their eponymous winery, as well as Lydia Passadaiou, their vivacious and charming export manager.

In Greece, you don’t just order fish, you march into the kitchen and inspect the fish – then order. This we did – with the proprietor showing us baskets and baskets of fresh fish and seafood. Amazing!

We selected many, and ate them all – from sardines and smaller smelt-like fish that had been deep friend , to freshly caught shrimp, mullet, squid, octopus, and bass. Ten, eleven, twelve courses of fish, fish liver, more fish, topped by some fish!

And all washed down with lots and lots of Skouras’ white wines!


06
Jun

Greece 2013 – Photo Gallery – Days 8, 9, 10, 11


05
Jun

Greece 2013 – Days 8, 9 10 – Peloponnese

On our way out of town, we stopped at an organic Florina pepper factory and restaurant, run by two brothers who were as passionate about ther products as one can be.  There were peppers stuffed with crisp cabbage, smoked peppers, pickled peppers, pepper flakes, pepper powder, marinated peppers and dried peppers, peppers mixed with tomatoes, peppers mixed with eggplant, sun dried and stewed.   The quality was so wonderful that it was hard to decide what to buy.

The brothers’ restaurant was on the shore of one of Greece’s largest lakes, and we sat out on the terrace and had a lovly , rustic lunch that included some amazingly flavorful Porcini mushrooms, all washed down with some great Alpha Malagousia.

We piled back in the van or the short ride to Thessaloniki Airport, our last internal flight back to Athens airport, where we would start the last portion of our wonderful Greek wine adventure – the Peloponnese and the wines of George Skouras.

We landed in Athens  and found our new van for the relatively short drive to Nafplion, a very charming seaside town, which would be our home base for the next three days.


03
Jun

Greece 2013 – Days Six And Seven – Amygdeon, Nympheon, Alpha, Peppers

Our dinner destination was Konto Soros in Xino Nero, where the owner chef has lovingly recreated and elevated Florina cuisine to a new gastronomic level.  Our host was the charming Angelos Iatridis, founder and owner of Alpha Winery, makers of world class wine based on traditional Greek and French varietals.

Our dinner lasted three hours, consisting of many  courses, of which the pork loin medallions in small Greek pasta, a local delicacy called Florina peppers,  and the white asparagus stood out.  The wines were copious, including several Alpha reds from Magnum. 

Angelos is a charming man with an infectious laugh, and the evening was spent drinking, laughing, taking photos of food and each other and posting them onto social media.

Then it was back to the Nymphes for the night.

In the morning we piled into the van for the drive to Alpha winery in Amygdeon.   Angelos met us at the door, and we piled into cars for a short drive into the vineyards where we walked the rows, as Angelo showed us his state of the art underground watering system, weather stations, and infrared camera ports for second by second monitoring of grape ripeness and stress levels . 

Despite his love for high technology, Angelos is at his heart a farmer, and it was really cool to see his menagerie of hybrid boar/pigs. goats, chickens and turkeys.

His winery is equally state of the art – with computer driven and monitored temperature control and electronic monitoring of every aspect of the winemaking process.

Then it was time for a tasting of the Alpha wines – 17 wines – including older vintages of both Alpha red and his 100% Xinomavro.  As I mentioned earlier, Xinomavro can be a finicky grape, prone to astringent green tannins if not managed with care.   Angelo’s approach is to achieve phenolic ripeness and marry it with a judicious, but not overly heavy, dose of French oak.

I had tasted many of Angelo’s wines before – they are all very well made with great acidity, deep fruit and nice length. 

After the tasting, we left the winery for a few hours of r’n'r back in Nympheon, including an amazing meze lunch accompanied by lots of Tsipouro – Greek grappa, which went surprisingly well with the food.

Then several of my colleagues and I went on a great hike with Ellene  – a five mile circuit that included rocky outcroppings, vistas of dramatic valleys, lots of aromatic wildflowers, and bears,  several of the close enough to touch, but thankfully separated from us by a few fences.     It was a welcome walk that was both breathtaking and relaxing – a feeling I often get from being out in nature.

Then it was back to the Nymphes Hotel for a few moments of rest before driving out to Florina to a Teverna that specialized in Meze – Greek small plates.   Though not as good as the food we’d had in the Mezeria in Nymphes a few hours before, this was hearty fare, punctuated by lots and lots of yummy alpha wines. 


03
Jun

Greece 2013 – Photo Gallery – Days 6 and 7


31
May

Greece Day Five- Hurricane, Noussa, Nympha

We arrived home late from Sigalas’ cousin’s home – past two a.m., and had to be up and ready by 5.  The winds had been increasing in intensity all day, and by the time i went to bed, they were howling. I was able to fall asleep, but only for  few moments, as the sound of the winds were increasing even more.

I had never heard wind like that, and I thought of that city in Oklanhoma that had just been levelled by a tornado.   From what I could hear, the winds were at least 60 miles per hour, with stronger gusts!

I must have dozed off, because my alarm was ringing.  I peeked outside and one of my colleagues was outside – he hadn’t slept either.  In fact, most of our party was working on one hour’s sleep;it ws going to be a rough day’s journey to Nympheon.

It was about 200 feet from my room to the parking lot, and in that 90 seconds it took from my door to the van it felt as if I had been sandblasted.  There was small grit in my ears, on my scalp, and probably every explosed place on my body.     I was sure that our plane wouldn;t be able to take off!

But, given that we were on the top of the ridge in the town of Oia,  Santorini, and the airport was at sea level in Thira, and how winds are much stronger at mountain crests than they are at sea level, what was hurrican force at the top, was just very windy – sustaained about 20 miles and hour – at the airport.

Two flights later we were in Naoussa, in northern Greece, at Karydas winery, home of perhaps Greece’s only Grand Cru Xinomavro.  We were met by the Karydas family – Petros the winemaker, and his parents.  Their home and winery are in a modest building situated in front of their small single vineyard (2.5 hectares),

We walked the vineyards and learned a bit about the finicky Xinomavro grape – the fruit has up to five seeds, so picking at phenolic ripeness is important beacuse unripe seed cause an unpleasant green astringency in the wine.

In fact this region is one of the few viticultural regions worldwide to benefit from Global Warming, as the warmer climate over the last six-seven years has allowed the grape to achieve a more uniform ripeness from vintage to vintage.

Unlike the others in my party, I hadn’t tasted the Karydas wine before (they only make one wine);  it was stunning. Muted red berry fruit with grippy tannins – was this Greece’s Barbaresco?  It sure shared a lot of similarities with Nebbiolo, including it’s ability t shine with food, as I was to find out later. 

We tasted the current vintage (2009), and then older vintages dating back to 2000.  Man, these were serious wines!

After the tasting and quick tour of the winery, we repaired to a table set under a beautiful spreading walnut tree.  The shade was inviting, as was the spread set before us – meat  and rice-filled Dolmas topped with lemon egg sauce (called ‘Galaxina’), barbecued sausages and pork/vegetable skewers, Greek salad, garlic and dill Tzadziki, fresh homemade bread, and lots of amazing Karydas wines.

The meal was lovely, as was the company, which included a  guest and friend of the family – Stelios Boutari – owner for the famed Kir Yanni winery.  A genial man whose command of colloquial American was soon revealed  (Stelios spent his college years in the US), he reinforced the opinion that the Karydas wines were some of the best in Greece – and the vineyard one of the best in the country.   

From there we travelled over the mountains to Florina, in the northwestern most corner of Greece, touching both Albania and the section of the former Yugoslavia that’s now called Skopia or Macedonia.  Florina prefecture is quite mountainous,and beautiful, with lakes, mountain streams, and a great diversity of flora and fauna, but the jewel in the crown of Florina is Nympheon – where many of Greek’s elite keep a second home. The terrain was mountainous, tree covered, with lots of lakes, and the houses are made of local stone with thick walls and tin or slate roofs. The region is home to wildlife preserves – one for bears and the other for wolves.

We were greeted by Ellene, the lovely proprietor of Nymphes (‘Nymphs’ in Greek), a lovingly restored guesthouse in the traditional style of the region.

Now, before you chuckle about the name of the hotel, please understand that Nymphs in Greek mythology were immortal non-gods who were associated with natural or woodland sites. Euridice and Calypso are proobably the two Nymphs that many Americans would probably recognize.

We unpacked, had a cocktail on the terrace, and then piled into the car for the short drive to dinner


30
May

Greece -Photo Gallery Day Five and Six – Northern Greece


28
May

Greece 2013 Day Four Santorini

Today was a day of exploring the island a bit and taking it easy.  I woke early, as is my norm,  and had breakfast on my terrace overlooking the sea. 
It was considerably cooler today, which was a welcome relief.

The rest in my party assembled slowly, bleary eyed.  I had left the bar well before them last night, and I left at 3:30 a.m!  We piled into the cars at about noon for the drive back to Selene restaurant, where Georgia , the restaurant’s general manager and sommelier was to give us a presentation on the local specialties of Santorini.

Santorini is home to several foods that are unique to the area, and uses some familiar products in unfamiliar ways. They use three parts of the caper plant (buds, berries, and leaves), and the tomatoes that they grow are some of the sweetest I have ever had.

We’ve been sampling them since we arrived, but it was wonderful to have them presented to us with background, context and recipes.

The presentation took about an hour, capped by a tomato fritter taco cum sandwich that was to die for.

They we drove a few miles to Akoritini, an archeological site, where they had unearthed from the volcanic ash a perfectly preserved Bronze Age town from 1600 BC- 3700 years ago. The site was amazing – they are still uncovering and discovering artifacts. This culture had early multi story buildings, framed windows, a cooling system, and piped hot water….

Then we drove a few miles to the seashore to go to an unassuming local fish restaurant called “The Cave of Nikolas “. Ted ordered some food and a few bottles of Ouzo. He explained to us a bit about Ouzo culture and uses, and we sampled some.

The food started coming out – homier versions of the food we’d been sampling the past few days – favas, tomato fritters, etc, plus some fresh and slightly aged cheese. Ted told who we thought was the waiter that I was a cheesemonger, and he started to tell me how he made the cheese – from sheep and goat milk, how the young cheese was TWO DAYS OLD, while the aged was about four weeks old. Fantastic.

He went on to tell us about the favas grown on his farm, the tomatoes, ditto, the zucchini, ditto. This fellow – who owned the restaurant with his mother, had been working at the place since birth (” I was born here and I will die here – probably with a serving tray in my hand.”), and whose practices – well beyond farm to table or Slow Food, were just they way things were done, the way his family had always done things, the way his children will do things. You just grew and made everything you possibly could.

When Doug asked him about wine, he disappeared and came back with a glass of amber colored stuff. This was amazing stuff — barrel fermented, under flor, co-fermented with Thyme, and aged for about four years in barrel. Oxidative, complex, nutty like a dry Oloroso, with many “Orange wine” notes. Like a slow food, non-hipster version of a Georgian white.

We drove back to the hotel, rested for a few hours and then went out for an early dinner (for Greek standards – 8:30) to a simple and unassuming restaurant in a small village nearby. This restaurant served up all sorts of local specialties – meat oriented this time – braised goat, air dried spicy beef , rustic pork sausage, braised pork shoulder in white wine – plus some local cheeses, as well as typical Santorini specialties.

After dinner we walked a few yards to Paris Sigalas’ cousin’s home for rum and cigars. It needed to be an “early night” because we had a plan to catch n the morning.

The hotel was going to the the airport at 5:30 for our 7 a.m. flight, so it was up at 4:30 in time to be ready for the flight to Thessaloniki to explore Noussia and Nymphion


28
May

Greece Day Three – Santorini and Sigalas

If you were to Google `Santorini wine`, or `Greek White Wine` , chances are you’d come up with an article or a mention of Paris Sigalas – arguably one of the world’s great winemakers and the master of the Assyrtiko grape.

I’d met Mr. Sigalas before in San Francisco, and had a lovely evening with him and Ted Diamantis at my friend Sara Floyd’s home several years ago.    He’s an articulate and passionate ambassador for Greek culture and wine, and today we were spending the day with him in the vineyards and at his winery.

An indigenous grape, Assyrtiko has been cultivated on Santorini for thousands of years, and the island’s volcanic `soils` – an inorganic mix of ash, pumice, and  black and red rock which help to for deliver the wines` characteristic minerality, acidity  and aromatic profile.  Assyrtiko wines are citrusy, aromatic, and bright with a smoky quality that lend themselves to both immediate drinking and extended aging, when the wines take on secondary petrol notes that you’d associate with the Mosel, rather than with Greece. 

The grape is cultivated in a traditional and unusual way, growing on the ground, trained to grow in a circular, basket shaped `koulouri` which provides both shelter from the near constant winds , and shade from Santorini’s often hot climate.    The grapes are grown on their original root stock as the dense ash soils are inhospitable  to the Phyloxxera louse that ravaged much of the world’ s vineyards in the 19th century.

Paris has been making wines on the northern part of the island since 1991 – when he started making wine in the basement of his island home.  He built a modern facility in 1998, and has been slowly experimenting, exploring, and raising the quality levels of his wines and grape production on this sleepy island.

He practices organic viticulture, which is easy to do here as the constant prevailing winds and dry climate take care of the rot, mildew and many insect problems that plague other more humid an cooler regions. In addition to Assyrtiko, he grows the white varieties Adani and Athiri, as well as the red Mavrotagano and Mandilaria , making both tablee wines and dessert wines, including Vin Santo, which was invented here on the island thousands of years ago.  (in fact, the island’s original name ~Santo Erini~  gave the famed dessert wine it’s name numberswiki.com

“vino santo”….

We met at the winery in the morning,and then took a short drive to the vineyards, seeing vines as well as the ancient terraces that he hopes to reopulate with grapevines someday.  (There was a great earthquake on the island in 1954, and most of the population left Santorini, leaving many if not most of the vineyards in disrepair and neglect.  The island’s cultiated grapevine acreage is still a fraction of what it was pre-1950s).

I have been in many vineyards over the years, and seen poor soils before, but i’d seen `soils` quite like this.  It’s hard to believe that anything could grow here!  The secret to the grape’s ability to grow here lie in the pumice stone that makes up a good part of the material in the soils.  The pumice acts as a sponge, soaking up rainwater during the infrequent rains, then giving up the water in dry times. 

We walked around several plots, stopping to see his experiments with dense trellising (successful with red wine grapes, not so much with white varietals), looked at some road cuts in order to understand the soils profile better, and then repaired to the winery for an epic tasting and lunch.

There we sampled 18 wines – including older vintages of both single vineyard, regular bottling and barrel aged assyrtikos. I had never tasting older Assyrtiko before, and their similarity to older dry Rieslings cannot be downplayed. These were complex, aromatic gems, that with age, develop a muted dried fruit and smoke character that I’d never quite tasted before!!

Then it was time for lunch – a lovely spread of local, typical dishes: a roasted eggplant with an intense tomato coulis, local fish carpaccio, Santorini Favas, Santorini squash with an avocado tzatziki, a selection of local cured meats and cheeses, all accompanied by copious amounts of Sigalas’ wines.

Then it was back to the hotel for a brief rest, to get ready for a dinner with Mr and Mrs Sigalas at Selene, a michelin starred restaurant that prepares modern re-workings f traditional Santorini fare.

The meal was stunning, creative and well paced, with bold flavors and plenty of Sigalas’ wines, including an `08 Assyrtiko from Magnum.
After the meal, we landed at the local bar, a tiny, friendly smoky place. I left on the early side – at 3:30 a.m.!


27
May

Greece 2013 – Day Three – Photo Gallery

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