A Day of Terroir

16 11 2010

I always find it startling when a day seems to develop a theme that comes out of nowhere.  A few weeks ago I had scheduled a big day of events, but I was a bit weary after a long night at the finale to SF Cocktail Week, the Chartreuse karaoke gong show (and not I did not win but I did not get gonged either).  I knew I had a vodka tasting and a wine dinner but sometimes the details of these invitations become a blur (although I do remember that the Mondavi wine event invite was a box of dirt0, so I forgot exactly what the events were really focusing on until I actually showed up!  It sort of hit me unexpectedly that the theme of the day was Terroir or Sense of Place, ironically I was supposed to teach a class about the subject the next week, so it was very apropos.

The concept of terroir is more often reserved for wine tastings so it was very unique to have this presented as a theme by a spirit brand.  Luckily spirits companies are keyed in to the sleeping patterns of spirits pros so the lunch event for Karlsson’s Gold vodka started at 1pm.  When I walked in some of the attendees reminded me of my vocal musings the night prior.  Master Blender Börje Karlsson was on hand to talk about the very unique vodka that he produces.  Vodka can of course be produced from almost anything, wheat, rye, quinoa, potato, grape… and of course each base produces a product that has a unique flavor profile, but the irony is that many producers who chat up the public about the base of their vodka also have a vodka that is distilled multiple times resulting in an almost flavorless product.  Great if you are sipping on a Screwdriver at work and don’t want your boss to smell it on your breath or if you do not like the taste of alcohol, but this may be a reason that I have not been a huge vodka fan.  I do not want to drink just to drink, I am a flavor addict.  Karlsson’s Gold is truly different, it could be said it is a vodka with terroir.

Karlsson’s Gold is made from virgin new potatoes from Sweden’s Cape Bjäre and is distilled only once.  This part of Sweden is famous for their potatoes in fact!  There are seven varieties of potato used to make Karlsson’s gold and much like wine each potato harvest provides different conditions, some years more starch, some less (vintage variation!).  I found it interesting to taste through the range of different potato varieties grown in different locations.  Each was labeled with the region it was from and even the name of the farmer!   There really was a huge difference amongst them, as well as significant vintage variation.  Most people assume that spirits are unchanging and this cannot be further from the truth.  The 2004 Solis was supremely powerful and aromatic, 2005 spicier and 2006 more neutral.  Upon some research I discovered that the 2004 crop was one that matured very quickly and apparently when ripening is fast it creates more complexity and strength in the flavor of the potato.  2005 was a cooler year and resulted in slower ripening giving the 2005 more smoothness.  Who knew!?  The key is taking all these distinct components and blending to produce a product that is consistent, harmonious and delicious.  Karlsson’s Gold is a great amalgamation of the various types of potato and offers a spirit that actually has a lot of flavor.  The beauty is it can be used in cocktails but is also really enjoyable on the rocks with cracked black pepper.  It is truly a testament to the skill of Börje Karlsson.  It was such an interesting event!

Then after a short break to sweat off the booze it was off to Saison in the Mission.

I had never been to Saison, what a perfect location for a tasting about terroir.  Robert Mondavi Winery hosted the event featuring their wines and winemaker Genevieve Janssens.  I am proud to say she actually took my Tasting Terroir class at the Culinary Institute of America once, I am sure she was just reinforcing information she was already familiar with but it was an honor to have her in class.  It just goes to show her dedication to Terroir.

What was most unusual and refreshing about the event is that it took quite a while to get a glass of wine in hand!  We all gathered around the outdoor patio and were immediately struck by a very unique set up of tasting stations featuring not glasses of wine but glasses of soil!  This took taste of place to a whole new dimension.  The idea was inspired by an installation created by Laura Parker who was on hand to guide us through this exploration into soil.  The idea is to smell the soil, taste a food grown on that soil and reflect the relationship between the two of them.  It may seem a little bit strange at first, but anyone who has experienced the outdoors can appreciate the experience if they just let go a bit.  I have vivid memories of my grandparent’s house in West Nanticoke, Pennsylvania and the soft lush smell of the stone walls covered in moss after a rain.  There is something incredibly primal about the smell of dirt, especially if you have ever dug for potatoes on a farm.  So that’s not to say that I immediately recognized the 131 Omni silty clay loam and could blind sniff that dirt versus the 122/123 Coombs Gravelly Loam on which Mondavi’s To Kalon Vineyard sits, but it was interesting nonetheless.  We tasted a sugar snap pea from by J.E. Perry Farms in Fremont (with that first Omni silty clay loam) with the soil gathered from the same furrow on which the pea was grown.  Soil collected from Bodega Artisan Cheese in Bodega was smelled with a taste of their feta.  It was a really unique way to kick off the evening, then we moved on to some of the Mondavi To Kalon wines, including the famous I Block Fume Blanc.  The To Kalon Vineyard in fact has nine different unique soil types, add in slopes and drainage and the complexity starts to become overwhelming, so we welcomed pairing these with a delicious meal, garden beans and river vegetable, chicken liver mousseline with huckleberry and rosebud was a killer combination with the Robert Mondavi 2008 Pinot Noir, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 and 1996 with a rare Sonoma lamb and a tasty summer berry dessert with yuzu ice cream with their sprightly Mostcato d’Oro.

The two events paired seamlessly as did the combinations of spirits, wine, food and friends to create a truly unique day in the dirt.







Trivia Fact: The seven varieties of potato used in Karlsson’s Gold are Solist, Gammel Svensk Röd, Sankta Thora, Princess, Hamlet, Marine and Celine.

Try their signature “Black Gold” 3 oz of Karlsson’s Gold Vodka with fresh cracked black pepper on the rocks.

Trivia Fact: The nine soil types of To Kalon Vineyard are 103 Bale Loam, 0-2% slopes, 104 Bale Clay Loam, 0-2% slopes, 105 Bale Clay Loam 2-8% slopes, 116 Clear Lake Clay, Drained, 122 Coombs Gravelly Loam, 0-2% slopes, 123 Coombs Gravelly Loam, 2-5% slopes, 146 Haire Loam 2-9% slopes, 168 Perkins Gravelly Loam, 2-5% slopes, 182 Yolo Loam, 2-5% slopes



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