Cooking to the Wine: Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri Santorini with Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream

Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri Santorini with Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson. Photo by Greg Hudson..
 
I’ve never been to Santorini, but I often feel like I can taste it when I open a bottle of their wine.

This is particularly true of wines made from Assyrtiko (also spelled Assyrtico) which is naturally  high in acidity, so it tends to have a sunshiny brightness which is usually accompanied by a salty minerality. I often feel momentarily transported.

In addition to the ability to take you on a sensory vacay to the Aegean Sea, the wines of this Greek Island are interesting for many reasons. It’s a pretty fascinating spot. First of all, the island is the remnant of an ancient volcanic cone and the volcano’s activity carved out dramatic cliffs and lagoons.

As you might assume, Santorini enjoys a warm, Mediterranean climate. What you might not expect from an island surrounded by water is that it gets so little rain that it qualifies as a desert.

There are also some serious winds blowing across this island. The winds are so fierce, in fact, that they can actually stop photosynthesis. You can probably imagine that grapes hanging around in these winds would take a pretty bad beating. Growers here developed a very unique training system to protect the precious grapes. They wrap the grape vines and their canes into a basket shape called a Kouloura (I’ve also seen it referred to as a stefani), which forms a protective shield for the grapes that hang in the center. 


Picture borrowed from Domaine Sigalas' site.

The dry, windy conditions and sandy, volcanic soils also mean that this island is almost entirely free of phylloxera, since this annoying pest hates all of those things. Therefore, most vine here can remain on their own roots.

Altogether, the conditions on the island result in very low yields, but the grapes that do grow are of really good quality with great intensity and concentrated flavors. The sunshine means the grapes fully ripen easily creating plenty of sugars. High altitudes and cooling winds equals great acidity.

You can probably guess that the wine history here runs very deep as well. There’s proof that vineyards existed as far back as the 17th century BC. The eruption of the volcano, however, wiped everything on this island out in around 1620 BC. Vineyards were resurrected on the newly volcanic soils in around 1200 BC and they have been cultivated ever since. That’s about 3000 years of uninterrupted vineyard  cultivation!

 

THE WINE AND PAIRING

Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri Santorini with Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson. Photo by Greg Hudson.

Today’s wine is the Domaine Sigalas AA Assyrtiko-Athiri Santorini 2015. This Domaine was founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Christos Markozane and Yiannis Toundas. Sigalas started out by making his wines at the family home, before eventually moving the to a new facility in 1998.

Their goal is to creatively blend the traditions of the region with the best of winemaking technology. They’ve also been a pioneer of organic farming in the region since 1994. They both grow their own grapes and source from local producers

Keeping with that respect for tradition, they concentrate on native grapes, most particularly with Assyrtiko. Here Assyrtiko is blended with some Athiri. This is a common combination in Santorini as the two grapes complement each other well.

Assyrtiko tends to have searing acidity. This grape tends to be brimming with citrus and mineral notes. It also gains nutty tones as it ages, which it can do well thanks to all that acidity. It has the ability to make wines everywhere on the spectrum from super crisp and dry, to richer dessert styles.

Athiri is not as well known, but is widely planted in Greece. It’s much less acidic than Assyrtiko, and tend to show floral characteristics, so it brings a little softness as well as aromatics when the two are blended together.

The wine had a golden hue on the day Greg and I opened it. It was a 2015 bottling, some age but not particularly old, but it was more golden than I would have expected–however, nothing alarming. Assyrtiko is also an oxidative grape, which could explain it. It was also otherwise in good condition and showed a good amount of complexity.

On the nose, we picked up notes of grapefruit skin, deep lemons tones along the lines of preserved lemons, as well as golden flowers, with mineral and stones. 




Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson. Photo by Greg Hudson.


The wine was textured on the palate with a touch of cream to the mouthfeel, while still being medium bodied and really bright. There were notes of green and golden apples, kumquats and bitter melon. There were also hints of blanched almonds, yellow flowers, and a salty finish. That savory preserved lemon note persisted and became the inspiration point for our dish.

I have preserved lemons I made on hand, but you can also buy them. They have their own particular flavor, but if you can’t find any, use fresh lemon zest/juice. It’ll have a different flavor, but should still be quite tasty. I decided to use them to subtly infuse flavor into an cauliflower purée. You can adjust the texture of this purée to suit your taste–anywhere from thick like mashed potatoes, or thin and saucy by adjusting the amount of liquid you add. I opted for a thick cream consistency.

Seafood seemed in order. We opted for scallops for the lightly creamy texture to match that in the wine. (I know I just posted another scallop dish recently, but we actually hadn’t had them in a while.) A few roasted veggies finished things off. I topped everything with additional preserved lemon and olives, as well as a healthy drizzle of the buttery goodness left in the pan after searing the scallops.

The textures of the food and wine matched brilliantly. Depending the composition of the bite, the food brought out the briny notes in wine at times, and the preserved lemons at others. The combination actually smoothed out the wine a bit. Greg noted that there was a hint of wildness to the wine when sipped on its own, that was tamed when sampled with the food. They totally fit.



THE GEEKY DETAILS

From Skurnik's Website

Grapes: Assyrtiko 75%, Athiri 25%.
Terroir: Located in Imerovigli, the sub-region of Oia Santorini, Sigalas’s Assyrtiko  basket trained vines (Kouloura) average 50 years of age, and are tended in black lava, volcanic ash and pumice soils. 
Winemaking: Fermentation in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperature. The wine comprises of pressed Assyritiko juice, and 100% free run juice of Athiri. 50% full cluster.
Farming Practice: Practicing Organic



MONEY TALK


Wine-searcher.com
has the average price for this vintage as $21. I think that’s a good amount of complexity for the price point I’d call this a Solid Buy heading towards an Overachiever. 



Domaine Sigalas AA Assyrtiko-Athiri Santorini 2015. Photo by Greg Hudson

OTHER POSSIBILITIES


This wine had some texture, so while yes, all kinds of seafood should work here, this would be also be lovely with a lemon chicken or even light pork dishes. Grilled Halloumi would be delicious as well!

For other options with this dish, I’d look for other wines with that combination of briny minerality, texture, and freshness. A richer Albariño comes to mind. I mentioned my other recent scallop dish earlier, and it think a more textured Sauvignon Blanc like the one from Macari in that post could also be a good match.


Also, be sure to check out these articles for other pairings that work with Greek wines:

Cooking to the Wine: Tetramythos Roditis with Stuffed Calamari and Salsa Verde  
8 & $20: Pork Flautas with Guacamole and Rosé


Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson. Photo by Greg Hudson.

 

Scallops with Roasted Zucchini and Cauliflower on Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Purée


Makes about 4 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 50 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes

INGREDIENTS


1 large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
2 zucchini or summer squash, cut into large chunks
4 to 5 garlic cloves, sliced
2 oz can of sliced black olives, drained
Preserved lemons, ⅛  to ¼ cup minced (Less for milder flavor and more for more intense flavors. Preserved lemons can be made at home or purchased.)
Approximately 1 lb large scallops, 4 to 5 person, rinsed and dried with paper towels
½ cup olive oil, plus more for cooking
2 Tbsp Butter
Salt
Pepper



INSTRUCTIONS


1. Preheat oven to 425°F .

2. Toss the cauliflower and zucchini separately in ¼ cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place the vegetable on greased roasting plans, continuing to keep them separate, then put each in the oven. After twenty to twenty five minutes, check on the cauliflower to make sure it is cooked through. If tender throughout, remove half the cauliflower from the oven. Toss the rest of the vegetables and return them to the oven to continue cooking for another 10 to 15 minutes or until they are browned to your liking. Add the olives and half the preserved lemons during the last five minutes of cooking to warm them up.

3. While the vegetables finish roasting. Place the rest of the cauliflower in a blender with half the garlic, and half the preserved lemon. (Tip: add some of the preserved lemon’s liquid as well, for additional flavor.)  Run in the blender and gradually add olive oil, followed by approximately ¼ cup warm water. Run until the mixture is completely smooth. Add more olive oil/water for a looser texture or less for thicker texture closer to that of mashed potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and adjust flavorings as desired. Keep warm until ready to serve.

4. Melt the butter and heat a generous amount of oil in a large pan. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Once the oil is very hot, carefully add the scallops to the pan. Cook the scallops for a couple of minutes per side, or until they have developed a golden brown crust and are no longer translucent. Remove from heat and season lightly again with salt and pepper to taste.

 5. To serve, place a swipe a scoop of the cauliflower purée on the plate, topped with some of the vegetables, and 4 to 5 scallops per plate. Drizzle everything with generous spoonfuls of the butter mixture  the scallops were cooked in. 


Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson. Photo by Greg Hudson.
Scallops, Roasted Veggies, and Preserved Lemon Cauliflower Cream. Recipe by Nicole Ruiz Hudson. Photo by Greg Hudson.



*****
Check out the rest of the Wine Pairing Weekend Group's pairings for Greek Wines:



Additional sources used for this post:
The Oxford Companion to Wine, via JancisRobinson.com  

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14 comments

  1. I might seriously be making this dish this week. Will have to figure out where to buy preserved lemons or do you have a recipe for that? This sounds incredible and I have some nice Albarino in the cellar!

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    Replies
    1. Let me know how it turns out! There are lots of super easy recipes online (I've linked to one in the ingredients list) but you can also easily order them on Amazon if they don't have them at your local store.

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  2. Great article, Nicole, and what a mouthwatering pairing. I’m adding this combo to the list!

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  3. Great article, Nicole, and what a mouthwatering pairing. I’m adding this combo to the list!

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  4. I love this pairing! It has transported me to the Greek islands, where I'm sampling all the amazing food and wines available. Yum!

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  5. Nicole great post and pairing! This dish sound so delicious, you had me with preserved lemon cauliflower purée!

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  6. Isn't it so cool how they maintain the vines in the crown shape?

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    Replies
    1. It's one of my favorite fun facts to share with people about the vines on Santorini! Hope to actually see them some day!

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