Knoll Smaragd   •   Comments »

A rare opportunity is taking us back to the town of Unterloiben in the Wachau region of Austria for this next feature.  Back to nearly the exact same address, actually.  Alzinger was the focus of our last Austrian feature.  In the same town, directly across the street in fact, is the venerable winery of Emmerich Knoll.  (The `K' is not silent.)  This must be one of the most talented corners in the entire winemaking world.

Due to some behind the scenes movement, a very special list of wines recently became available.  On this list were several vintages of Knoll Gruner Veltliner and Riesling from various different vineyards.  I can't think of another time when we have been able to buy a 4-year, sequential vertical of a single wine of this caliber. This generally takes 4 years of buying and cellaring to pull off.

Here we have the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Gruner Veltliners from the Kreutles Vineyard.  This vineyard sits at the bottom of the slope that rises behind the town of Unterloiben, just beneath the Loibenberg Vineyard.  (You may remember the Loibenberg Vineyard from the Alzinger feature.)  The Kreutles vineyard is in the area where the slope starts to level out.  It is still hillside, but it is much less steep than the Loibenberg and it has deeper soils.  Looking at the two sites it is easy to see why the soils are deeper.  One can almost see the topsoil sliding off of the incredibly steep slopes of the Loibenberg and accumulating in the Kreutles.

The grape here is Gruner Veltliner and the wines are all Smaragd level.  Smaragd is a designation that indicates the level of ripeness (or more accurately the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest) and is generally meant to indicate quality as well.  Smaragd is the highest level -- meaning the ripest wines.  They are considered to be the premier wines of the region.  The association of ripeness with quality is one I generally have issues with; and indeed many producers make Smaragd wines that I find over-ripe, blurry and often times sweet.  The wines listed here are ripe, no doubt, but they have precision and focus and they are completely dry.

Gruner Veltliner is one of those grapes that is hard to mistake.  I imagine that many Court of Master Sommelier candidates have been delighted to detect the textbook white pepper, celery, star fruit or grapefruit notes wafting from one of their blind tasting glasses.  I am always enthralled by the intriguing blend of fruit and vegetable aromas that I get from Gruner Veltliner.  It is the Platypus of phenolics in the wine grape world.  Celery salt and ripe stone fruit?  Who would have thought of that combo?

Although I love the producer, vineyard and grape variety here, the real treat is the array of vintages.  This type of arrangement is called a Vertical tasting.  The wines are all the same except for the vintage.  Another type of tasting is a horizontal tasting in which the vintage is the same but the producer of each wine is different.  These types of tastings are like mini Rosetta Stone opportunities.  They allow one to see the magic and mystery of wine more clearly.  Nothing is every truly crystal clear in this cloudy realm of wine, terroir, sense of place and personal impression, but these tastings give us some useful landmarks.  They lay a grid over our random points of impression and allow us to make references to other impressions and from these references infer something meaningful about a site, grape or winemaker.  It is hard to discern from one wine where certain attributes of the wine are coming from.  Is it the style of the winemaker or something inherent about the grape or is it something unique to the specific site?  One wine does not give us enough reference points to truly deduce these things.  But, if we taste through 4 wines from the exact same vineyard produced in the exact same way by the same winemaker, we can start to figure some things out.  There will always be mystery, for it is inherent in wine, but vertical and horizontal tastings shed some very interesting light into the vinous darkness.

A few notes about each wine:

2010 -- This wine is the most cagey of the bunch.  The acidity is very `crispy', as they like to say in Austria.  It is quite ripe but the acidity balances the fruit perfectly.  It comes across as a medium bodied wine with a lot of energy.  Equally about fruit and spice.

2009 -- This is the most opulent of the group.  It is more dense and ripe then the others.  It comes across as oily and tacky on the palate.  Lots of concentration here.  The spice quality is evident for sure, but it takes a back seat to the fruit.

2008 -- This wine is the outlier.  There was botrytis in 2008 and it is very evident in this wine.  There is a note of honey with herbs and spices along with super ripe fruit and a sharpness that feels like you are smelling the acidity.  (This is common with botrytis and sometimes reminds me of burnt honey or honeycomb.) The nose is huge here -- it seems as if it could go in the sweet direction, but in fact it goes the other way. The palate is very dry, almost austere.  The wine is actually lighter in the mouth than on the nose.  This is a very interesting and cool wine.  A textbook example of botrytis.

2007 -- This wine is the beauty of the line-up.  Very elegant and integrated.  The extra time in bottle has probably attributed to this, but the vintage is also a favorite of the winemaker.  It is very clear and bright -- the fruit has a brilliance to it and everything seems to be just right.  A very balanced wine.

Posted October 9, 2012 • Filed under Wine, • Discuss

Nopalito Podcast with Eddie Dick   •   Comments »

Click here to listen to the podcast and learn about the brand new fried chicken torta, Cermita Poblano con Milanese de Pollo (and lots of other stuff too)

This podcast marks the 9th in our series. Today, for the first time, we explore the cuisine of Nopalito with Chef Eddie Dick. Last week, we posted a column on our blog called "The Nopa Paradox". The basic premise of the article explored the quandary of sibling restaurants with very different identities. There are musings on how Nopa, the popular elder sibling, and the cuisine of Nopalito, have perhaps been a hindrance to a complete understanding of the Nopalito experience.

Last Friday, we sat down with Eddie to discuss these matters. Eddie, a former Sous Chef at Nopa, has been with Nopalito for the past 5 months. And while Chefs Gonzalo Guzman and Jose Ramos were also once chefs in the Nopa kitchen, (in fact, from the onset) the food of Nopalito is distinctly theirs. It's been over three years and two restaurants since the days of Ramos and Gonzalezs' epic family meals that spawned those two restaurants. So it seemed that Eddie, with fresh eyes, would be interesting to talk to about Nopalito.

And Eddie is a great talker. He's plainspoken in a way that tips off his Kansas roots. He's articulate, thoughtful and genuinely an interesting guy. Over the course of 40 minutes, we covered his childhood and how an absence of restaurants actually helped his sensibilities on food ("when I was 7 years old I had my own garden.. everyone knew the worst grocery store had the worst vegetables"), his 3-year stint in Japan, and how the Nopalito empanada, humble as it may seem, can be a 3-day affair.

The best case scenario for food lovers is to listen to Eddie carry on about food. He reminds (or perhaps informs) us that quesadillas at Nopalito are done to order. Once a ticket comes in, someone begins to roll out the masa. He also teaches us about the corn fungus/delicacy, which can be found in the aforementioned quesadilla with squash.

His description of salsa oozing from the empanada and his talk of fried bamboo shoots, is so graphic it is arresting-an incredible account of enjoying food from the perspective of someone who knows it, loves it and can talk about it. Whether or not you've experienced Nopalito, this podcast will be an enlightenment. You will be better positioned to enjoy our food and inspired to find enjoyment in your own. We hope you enjoy the podcast.

Podcast (9.3M MP3 file)

Posted September 4, 2012 • Filed under Podcast, • Discuss

La Cocina: A Podcast and Profile   •   Comments »

In light of this weekend's big food event, we had a discussion Margarita Rojas, Marketing and Communications Manager of La Cocina, the event organizer. Click Here to listen to the podcast.

La Cocina- In San Francisco's Mission District, there are many cocinas, but there is only one, La Cocina. In just seven years, this organization has grown from the inside out of its neighborhood in the Mission, and is now one of the premiere models in the US for joining community development and social enterprise.

For those of us in the business of food, the La Cocina brand, if not entirely understood, is unanimously respected. This is made evident by the breadth of chefs who've endorsed the organization through sharing their talents or outspoken support. It's usually both.

What seems most likely is that people are familiar with La Cocina because of the massive annual SF Street Food celebration. So familiar in fact, that over 80,000 people are expected to join them this weekend for the festival.

And as if that weren't enough, this year the event has been expanded to include to a Friday Night event called, Night Market. We're happy to say Nopalito is participating in the inaugural event, so we met Margarita yesterday to learn more about the Night Market and the organization in general.

Impressions from the Podcast Monday lunch hour on what has to be the busiest week of the year for Margarita Rojas (or for that matter, anyone associated with La Cocina), is a tall favor. But Margarita is a nice lady.  She moved from Medellín, Colombia four years ago and has been with La Cocina just over two years. Despite a long weekend volunteering with some of the La Cocina food vendors at Outside Lands, and the onslaught of the work week ahead, she was gracious throughout. We learned a little about her own story of becoming a face and voice of La Cocina, and the origins of "The Kitchen". You can check out the podcast by clicking this link. Below, some facts and impressions about the organization:

  • La Cocina likes to use the term "informal businesses". Presumably this is in reference to the (functional) black market businesses that serve ethnic communities.  While these businesses are assets for community, it's also clear that the greater long-term value is in formalizing these businesses. For the business of food, La Cocina helps do this
  • The La Cocina mission is Cultivating Food Entrepreneurs
  • The founding of La Cocina is an interesting story. Unlike most NGO's, there was no single visionary. Instead it was the construct of three dinstinct community organizations, who saw the value of creating food entrepreneurs in low-income, ethnic communities. They also have a particular interest in supporting the women of these communities, which makes sense in light of the groups founding "mothers". Here's a quick summary of those groups:
  • Arriba Juntos- An organization started by three community activists in the 1960's. Arriba Juntos means, "Upward Together". At it's core, the organization was to support the Latino immigrant community with various social services, ranging from education to medicine. They've remained true to the mission and are still active.
  • The Women's Initiative for Self-Employment- This is exactly as it sounds. They provide high-potential, low-income women with the training, funding and ongoing support to start their own businesses and become financially self sufficient.
  • The Women's Foundation of California- This organization is a bit more broad. They're an established grant making nonprofit, who've been active for 30 years. In addition to the grantgiving, their website states that they've been involved in advocacy for a wide range of issues from gay rights to environmental health.
  • It's nice to see that these respective groups were able to come together to form a singular entity for a shared interest. So often, effective collaboration is a challenge in the nonprofit sector.  It's also noteworthy that each of the respective organizations are independently active.
  • La Cocina also had an anonymous donor that helped launch the organization. I guess if we wanted to identify the singular visionary person that are so often identifiable with nonprofits, we would choose this person.
  • At it's core, La Cocina is actually a kitchen. It is a functional commercial kitchen where startup food businesses can operate legitimately. It's even available to rent for caterers and chefs who would like to use the space. With 85 food carts participating in this weekends SF Street Food Festival, it's easy to see how a hospitable commercial kitchen could make so many friends in the industry.

This Weekends Events

SF Street Food Festival- This is La Cocina's signature celebration since 2009. It is really hard to believe that it has grown this big, this fast. Part of this must be credited to the organization itself for working tirelessly on policy to recognize and formalize mobile food businesses. It is also shows (what we already knew) that the citizens of San Francisco are food obsessed. And that's why it's such a remarkable place to live.

Night Market- Margarita described Night Market as "a more intimate" event than SFSFF. Which, technically is true, but the reality is they're expecting over 1,500 people. There are food vendors coming from around the country (Scott's BBQ, anyone?) and many participating restaurants from the city including our own. This is a fundraising event, so unlike SFSFF, this one's a $25 ticket. You can buy one here. We hope to see you all there this weekend!!

Many thanks to Margarita for her time on such a busy week, and Caleb for leading such a tremendous organization. To all of the amazing staff, supporters, and alum of La Cocina, you all are a truly a special group that changes lives. Thanks for all you do!

Posted August 20, 2012 • Filed under Podcast, • Discuss

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