Three Takes On Theopolis Symphony

The zombie apocalypse has changed how we do pretty much everything around here. In the before times, I would regularly get together with tasting groups to explore wine topics and taste through bottles on that theme. While we can’t really get together in quite the same way at the moment, we’ve found other ways to explore wine together and stay in touch.

I participate in one group that's made up of all badass women in the wine industry that has been particularly good at finding creative ways to continue to have interesting discussions on wines from home. We’ll often order wines from the same winemaker to explore and discuss via zoom, usually from women winemakers. Since we’re all tasting the wines in our own homes, everyone ends up with different pairings. Some work and some don’t, but it’s always interesting to hear what others have come up with and compare notes. This gave me the idea to invite two of my friends from the group to collaborate on this post exploring one wine, showing what we each thought about it, how we each decided to pair it, what factored into the combo, and how those pairing turned out. This way you get to hear from more than just me for once!

My collaborators today are Maura Passanisi and Adriana Fabbro. Maura is currently the chef at High Treason in SF, and she was the driving force behind the Della Donna Wine Festival, which I collaborated on with her. (We’re currently considering the options for how best to reimagine Della Donna for the new world – stay tuned!) Adriana can currently be found at Wine on Piedmont, a wonderful, independent wine store here in Oakland, although she’s worked in many areas of the wine biz. She and I first met while volunteering at B√Ętonnage last year.

This actually brings us to how we came to discover today’s winery – Theopolis. This year, B√Ętonnage went virtual under new direction, headed up by my friend Katie Canfield and Rebecca Johnson. They put together a wonderful slate of virtual panels diving into different topics affecting women in the wine industry. Adriana and I both listened in on most of the panels this year, and agreed that one of our favorites was a session entitled Stirring It Up: Color, Wine, and Feminism. (I moderated a panel on a related topic at the 2019 forum, entitled Pathways to Inclusion: But How, Really?, which you can still listen to on the website.)

Women winemakers, in general, have difficulty getting visibility in the wine world. It’s even more difficult for BIPOC womxn. I was a little surprised that I hadn’t previously come across the women winemakers featured on this panel given their accomplishments, especially since I’m often on the lookout to support women-led wineries. However, I also came to the realization that I can definitely do more to search out and support wines from BIPOC winemakers. Being Hispanic myself (among other things), I feel it is all the more important to do so.

I know my friends felt similarly. Moreover, I think we were all somewhat surprised that we hadn’t previously come across or weren’t better familiar with Theodora Lee and here winery, Theolpolis Vineyards. As such, we decided to remedy the situation and ordered a few bottles to check out.


THE WINE

Theodora Lee’s story was particularly impressive to me as winemaking is her second successful career.  Prior to winemaking, she was a senior partner and trial lawyer for SF law firm. She arrived to the Bay area from Texas in 1987, and over the years she developed a passion for wine through the influence of her vineyard-owning law firm mentors.

Her passion led her to take several viticulture classes at UC Davis, and ultimately purchase sheep land in the Yorkville Highlands of Anderson Valley. In 2003, Lee planted her vineyards and established Theopolis Vineyards. The vineyards yielded excellent fruit, and as a result, Lee decided to bottle her own wines in 2014. 

Theodora Lee. Photo borrowed from winery's website.


For more of Theadora Lee’s story and the background of Theopolis Vineyards, check out this article and interview on Uncorked Monthly or this article on VinePair.


Symphony

Theopolis is best known for it’s Petite Sirahs, however, as a group we’ve chosen to explore the Yorkville Highlands Symphony (average price $22). I was intrigued by this bottling as I had never come across the Symphony grape, which is a crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris.

The grape was developed by Harold Olmo, a viticulturist and professor at UC Davis. Over a career that spanned almost 50 years, Olmo developed more than 30 new grape varieties that have come to be known as “Olmo Grapes.” He started work on Symphony in 1948, but it took over 30 years to complete and produce a viable cultivar. The grape wasn’t introduced commercially until 1981 and it was patented in 1983.

Both of Symphony’s parent grapes are somewhat aromatic, Muscat very much so, and Grenache Gris is resistant to drought and grows well in warm climates. The original intent behind combining these characteristics was to create an aromatic grape that would do well in California’s hot Central Valley. It’s had limited success there but is also grown elsewhere in the state including in Lodi, the Sierra Foothills, as well as the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino. Varietal Symphony bottlings are fairly rare, but it is more commonly used in blends.


THE PAIRINGS

Ok, let’s finally move on to what the wine tasted like and what we paired it with! Here are each of our takes on the vino. Personally, I think it’s interesting to see that relatively similar components worked well in some cases, but not in others depending on small variations in flavor combinations.  Maura had a bottle of the 2016 vintage, while Adriana and I had the 2017, so we’ll start with the ‘16 first.

For their part, the winery makes the following recommendation for the 2017 vintage of this wine:
“It is well suited to pair with seafood, spicy food, Southeast Asian food, cheese dishes or simply to take on a picnic.”


Maura


Food and wine pairing is not an exact science. There is no right or wrong answer, and no matter what anyone says, no hard and fast rules. It's a malleable art, one with theories and guesses, suppositions, and assumptions. There is much grey between black and white. You might think a pairing will be amazing and feel flustered when it falls flat. On the other hand, you might not think at all about pairing and be happily shocked at the outcome.

For this pairing, I was trying to specifically match wine to food, specifically Theopolis Vineyards' 2016 Symphony from the Yorkville Highlands. I tasted the wine: smelled very floral and fruity, tasted very fruity with nice acid balance to keep it fresh and crisp, with a little weight and body. Right off the bat, I had ideas: "this should go with this, it'll be great with that." Unfortunately, as with many things in art, those initial ideas did not pan out.

My first try was sushi: sunomono salad, negihama roll, plus some nigiri (including fresh crab). I thought fish and rice, plus cucumber in bright vinegar would be a perfect pairing with a fruit-forward, crisp white. Maybe even some savory soy sauce as a counter to the fruit. It turns out I was wrong. The savory components completely dulled the fruit of the wine, rendering it rather bland.

 
My second try was a plate of figs and prosciutto. Figs to match with the fruit, and salty prosciutto to counter it. This was better, but again, the food really dulled the wine. No luck.


My last try was thankfully successful. I paired the wine with soba noodles, in the cold style with dipping sauce, from local maker Soba Ichi. It worked very well. Both the wine and the food enhanced each other, as it should be. It is difficult for me to understand, as it has strong savory and umami notes, much like the sushi, without the brightness of the ginger, or the vinegar in the sunomono salad, but there you have it. Perhaps it was a low-pressure day? Flower day according to the Biodynamic calendar? Maybe my tastebuds were primed? Who knows, and that is both the challenge and the fun, of pairing.

Soba noodles for the win!


Adriana

I wasn’t planning on going this direction but Dungeness crab was on sale at Whole Foods and it felt like a sign from the universe . . .

Theopolis Symphony 2017. Photo by Adriana Fabbro

When I think of Theopolis’ Symphony white — medium-bodied, extremely aromatic with good acidity and tropical fruit notes —  I think of summer evenings at the beach, on someone’s porch, cracking open fresh, briny, steamed crabs over newspapers with the smell of sunscreen and rugosa roses lingering in the air. And as an east coaster, I still haven’t gotten over my excitement for local Dungeness crabs, which reward the savage messiness of crab butchery with more (and sweeter) meat. 


I defer to fellow East Coaster turned sustainable West Coast seafood chef, Becky Sellengut, for recipe inspiration and made her chilled cucumber-coconut soup with Dungeness crab (inspired by a Jean-Georges recipe). I like the play on the fusion theme given this “fusion” grape variety. The dish combines a chilled French-style soup (Vichyssoise) and Vietnamese flavors (coconut milk, cilantro, fish sauce, lime, sriracha) with a Pacific Northwest twist – Dungeness crab 

The wine’s acidity isn’t overpowered by the lime-tartness in the soup, while the wine's generous tropical fruit accentuates the sweetness of the Dungeness Crab. Cilantro is notoriously hard to pair, but this aromatic, fruity wine plays nicely with it.

This is a relatively low alcohol, fresh and fruity wine so it could definitely hold up to spicier flavors as well.

 

Unfortunately, it didn’t pair as well with the more photogenic Vietnamese shrimp and grapefruit salad. (Pictured right.)

The recipe for Becky Sellengut’s Chilled Coconut-Cucumber Soup can be found in her book Good Fish: 100 Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast.


 Adriana also noted that the wine paired very well with chicken momos (i.e. dumplings) on another occasion.

 
Adriana also tried the 2015 Estate Grown Petite Sirah which she notes was “peppery and phenomenal with A+ Burger’s rich and tangy A+ Burger (bacon cheeseburger with jack daniels honey bbq glaze and fried eggplant). Would also recommend with Korean bbq.”


Nicole

I had the benefit of reading my friends’ pairings and notes before I opened my bottle, which allowed me to cheat a bit and perhaps gave me an upper hand in zeroing in on pairing ideas quickly. I admit that I originally considered being lazy and ordering in Thai, but then got a craving for fried fish and thought I’d play with that idea instead.

When I opened the bottle, I smelled a heady mix of honeysuckle, tropical flowers, ginger, tangerine, Meyer lemon, and mixed tropical fruits like papaya and mango. On the nose, the fruit notes came across as very ripe, bordering on overripe, however, they shifted a bit on the palate. While there was still a tropical spirit to flavors, the flavor became tarter and/or green in their characteristic. I picked up green melon, kiwi, green papaya, white peach, as well some of those ripe citrus flavors, along with some lime zest on the finish. There were notes of honeycomb and a lanolin texture, as well as hints of sweet herbs along the lines of lemongrass.  It was round and textured with medium to medium + body, with enough fresh acidity to balance the texture.

Rather than steering me towards any single cuisine, the tropical feel of this wine made me think of equatorial foods in general, and I tried to play with that idea in the flavors I brought to my dish. We’d also recently been gifted a haul of wonderful, mouth puckering passion fruit from some friends. I brought Greg in to consult on the pairing ideas, and we both immediately thought that they might work nicely in a pairing for this wine.


Ultimately, I decided to make a fruity, savory sauce with the passion fruit, lemon, and red onion to serve over fried panko-breaded rockfish, with a side of simply prepared green beans with a hint of heat from red pepper flakes.

We loved the combo! I thought the wine matched the weight of the fried fish nicely, while simultaneously becoming more refreshing in the combination, elevating the tart, crisp side of those tropical fruit notes in the wine. The hints of herbs in the wine’s flavor profile also vibed nicely with light hints of cilantro in the sauce, as well as the green beans.

Panko Breaded Rockfish with Passion Fruit Salsa and Stir-fried Green Beans

If making all of these together, I recommend making the salsa first, then set it aside so the flavors can marry. Make the green beans next, then keep warm while you focus on the fish.

fish, passion fruit, salsa, fried fish, seafood
dinner
Servings: 4 to 6
By: Nicole Ruiz Hudson
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Panko Breaded Rockfish with Passion Fruit Salsa

Panko Breaded Rockfish with Passion Fruit Salsa

Prep Time: 15 MCooking Time: 20 MTotal Time: 35 M

Ingredients:

Passion Fruit Salsa (approximately 1 cup)
  • Pulp and seeds of 1 to 2 passion fruits
  • Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • ⅛ to ¼ cup olive oil, or to taste (If you like your salsa to be more tart, use less of the oil, and if you prefer it less tart use more.)
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro, or fresh chopped cilantro to taste
  • Pinch of salt, to taste
Panko Breaded Rockfish
  • 3 rockfish filets, cut into 2 portions each (feel free to substitute in another mildly flavored fish)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Cooking oil of your choice, for frying (I used canola)

Instructions:

For the Passion Fruit Salsa
  1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl to taste, and let it sit for at least to 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to marry and come together.
For the Panko Breaded Rockfish
  1. Fill a large skillet with enough oil to reach a depth of at least 1/4-inch, then heat over medium-high heat.
  2. While the oil is heating, place the flour, eggs, and panko in three separate bowls. Season the eggs with salt and pepper.
  3. Dredge each fish fillet lightly through the flour, making sure to shake off any excess. Dip the fillets in the egg next, followed by the panko, making sure to coat each fillet as completely as possible.
  4. Working in batches if needed, place fish in the pan in a single layer, making sure not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown and cooked through, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Season with salt. Serve immediately topped with the salsa and with the green beans on the side (recipe follows).
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator

sides, veggies, vegetables, stir-fry
sides
Servings: 4 to 6
By: Nicole Ruiz Hudson

Simple Green Bean Stir-fry

Prep Time: 10 MCooking Time: 10 MTotal Time: 20 M

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
  • ⅛ tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • Salt
  • Cooking oil of your choice, for frying (I used peanut oil, for the high smoke point and the hint of nutty flavor.)

Instructions:

  1. Fill a large pot with water and salt generously, then bring the water to a boil on the stove-top over high heat. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add the green beans and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the green beans for the heat, drain, run under cold water (or better yet, plunge into an ice bath), and drain again.
  2. Heat oil in a wok or a large frying pan, add in the red pepper flakes, followed by the garlic cloves. Add the green beans to the pan, and season with salt. Toss well to coat and continue to cook for another 2 minutes, or until the green beans are warmed through again, and just starting to brown in spots. Taste, drizzle with additional oil if desired, and sprinkle with salt to taste.
Did you make this recipe?
Tag @thesommstable on instagram and hashtag it #sommstable
Created using The Recipes Generator


Photo credit on the fish and green bean pictures to Greg Hudson.

 

Update: After I shared this post, my friend Molly  (@msmollyroses) was inspired to create her own pairing for this wine, adding a 4th take. She paired her bottle with hunter-style pork schnitzel with mushroom ragout, purple cabbage and potatoes and reports that it also made a delicious match.


This made me so happy! If a post ever inspires a match that you love, please do share them with me!

 

 

Check out these posts related to some of our favorite Della Donna:


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2 comments

  1. So glad you wrote about these wines! I was interested in purchasing them and now have such a good cheat sheet!!!

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