Food Pairing Profile: Joanie Bonfiglio Karapetian (Volume X)

This month’s collection, California Soil, Italian Soul, comes straight from the heart. These six delicious, impossible-to-find wines are all from my home state of California, and produced from some of my favorite Italian varieties. So where else was I to turn for food pairings but to one of my most beloved Italian-American wine geeks?

Joanie Bonfiglio Karapetian is Southern California’s champion of Italian wine; she is herself equal parts Italian and Californian, and she lived and studied in Bologna, Italy as I did. She sells some of the most exciting imports in the state as a representative of AI Selections, and her blog – “Italian Wine Geek” – comforts me every time I find myself missing Italia. It was so much fun to share my interview questions with Joanie and to read her responses. Check back soon for her food pairings recommendations for our current selections!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

JK: After I graduated from the University of Bologna I returned home to California without a clue as to what I would do next.  A degree in Comparative Literature and that year studying semiotics with Umberto Eco cemented my passion for language and literature, but convinced me that I was not cut out for a career in academics.  Luckily I found a local businessman in Southern California who was looking for a bilingual Italian-speaking-secretary of sorts, to help him with his budding Italian wine import company. At the time I knew nothing about wine, except for Lambrusco and Pignoleto, which we drank in the trattorie of Bologna, as “vino sfuso” on tap out of clunky glass carafes.

I spent 4 years working for this company, getting to know the producers and their wines, and I found a deep-rooted connection there.  It was a revelation- my passion for literature and art and language all had roots in the same place as these funky Italian wines.  Erbaluce from Caluso is a part of Piemonte’s history, just as much as Dante is part of Toscana’s antiquity.  These wines are a part of human history in Italy, just like Michelangelo’s sculptures and Botticelli’s paiting.  However, the fascinating part about wine is that this history is ALIVE today in the cultivation of these varietals.

I was totally convinced- this was where I needed to be!

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

JK: I didn’t realize that this was my ultimate childhood comfort food until I was in college and I would go home to visit my mom.  I always wanted her to make a “Mommy Sandwich”… Toasted English muffin with a fried egg and Canadian bacon.  Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like a hug from Mom.

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

JK: Today I find food most comforting when somebody else is preparing it for me!

I love stopping by Terroni in Los Angeles around noon.  Max Stefanelli will almost always try to feed me something.  A pizza, a porchetta sandwich… what a beautiful thing in the middle of all that traffic and chaos and noise, to have somebody offer you a second to sit down and share a quick meal together.  Positively civilized.

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

JK: I like bubbles in general as “go-to” wines… sparkling wines make people happy, and they go with everything. Champagne is definitely my favorite region, but price points from that area have led me to explore other bubble-growing zones.  I love Franciacorta for example- I always have a cold bottle of Ca’ del Bosco in the fridge.  It’s the law of the land.

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

JK: This depends on what day of the week it is.  During the week when I come home from work with a bag of open bottles, I usually have something I want to drink with my dinner from that day’s sales calls.  In this case I am inspired by the wine and I end up cooking something to go with the wine. (By the way, the answer can always be the Mommy sandwich.  Eggs and pork- also go with everything)

Other times, if I have a great ingredient on hand, I like to think about which special bottle I will open to go with the food.  For example, if my friend Erik Sun has hunted down a wild boar, there will definitely be Sangiovese or Nebbiolo on hand!

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

JK: I don’t know if I’m famous for it, but my favorite dish to make is a simple roasted chicken.  It is a comforting dish I think everyone relates to (except for you vegetarians- you can have a salad.)  I like to throw a bunch of root vegetables and whole garlic heads under the chicken while it roasts. Season everything really well with salt and pepper, maybe a bit of thyme or rosemary. This makes the house smell amazing and cooks everything together in one dish. Simplicity is key.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

JK: I do copious amounts of research before travelling- especially regarding where to eat!  I feel so lucky to be a part of the food & wine industry- hospitality among this business is unparalleled.  For people like me who really appreciate and value a great meal, being linked in to other people in the business is so rewarding.  I love supporting good people crafting excellent menus and wine lists!

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

JK: My mom’s family has been in the California farming business for two generations now. I love supporting local agriculture in southern California by shopping at farm stands and Farmer’s Markets… however I live in the suburbs near the beach so this isn’t really practical most of the time.  I do buy local from wherever I shop, and thankfully some of the smaller chains are starting to make that easier to do.  Support small farms!  It’s the only way we will be able to feed ourselves as a country in the future.

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

JK: This is tough.  Requires a special kind of reverse-anthropomorphic-thinking that I am not quite sure my brain is capable of.  What grape am I?  I suppose on some days I aspire to be Nebbiolo, but I only make it to Concord…

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

JK: I am definitely more intuitive than anything else.  Wine is emotional for me- when I have a special bottle I save it for a time when I can open it with food prepared by people I care about, and share it with friends.  In fact, I think I pair wines with specific people before anything else.  I have a bottle of 1985 Vernaccia di Oristano in my cellar waiting for my friend Geoff.  I find things at shops and think, “I should buy this for the next dinner with the Earlys or the Loudys..”  I have a bottle of 1976 Produttori Barbaresco on hand that I carried back from Italy, earmarked for my husband… and so on.

Food Pairing Profile: Steven Morgan (Volume IV)

There is no better pairing than to the person who you are dining with.” – Steve Morgan

Like any creator (or parent), I do my best to treat each edition of Le Metro equally, to infuse every one with my own love and energy. It’s important to me each individual collection be in balance, both internally and in regards to its siblings. But it’s inevitable that every once in a while one theme that I’m working on will carry me to new heights of excitement.

Such was the case last fall when I was developing Volume IV: Volcanic Vines. The volcanic soil of southern Italy – particularly that of Sicily’s Mount Etna – is some of the most alluring terrain on the planet for wine lovers. (Not to mention the romance of the local culture, which I’m certainly not the first person to enjoy writing about.) Once the wines were selected, I knew that I needed some serious help to properly showcase their distinctive minerality.

So I recruited one of the big guns of wine & food pairing: my old sommelier buddy Steve Morgan. After years working in some of New York’s greatest restaurants – including Del Posto and the Tribeca Grill - Steve is now part of the wine team at Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, where pairing is religion. When he received the samples that we sent him he was (at least) as excited as I was about them, and he provided  some captivating tasting notes along with the culinary advice for this collection. You can download the full PDF here for free! (And by the way, if you’re interested in purchasing a print of this edition or any other, please let us know.)

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

SM: I always wanted to be a writer and though I enjoyed restaurants I was constantly denying that wine or restaurants were going to be the path I would take.  But needless to say breaking into the comic book/children story writing world is not something easily done.  So my parents decided to have their 35th Anniversary in Italy and invited my brother and I to join for a part of it.  I had been enjoying my study of wine and food and figured that if I was going to go to Italy I might as well find a way to work somewhere and decide if this is something I might like to do.  I was fortunate enough to be connected to Elisabetta Foradori who invited me to work for her.  I think that in my mind I also thought that this would be a great opportunity to focus on writing away from all the noise of the city.  The first day I arrived completely clueless of what my job was going to be, but she asked that I come on a tour and tasting with her and two German guests who were visiting the vineyard.  Watching her walk the vineyards, touch the vines, and the earth and how eloquently she spoke of her wines, her history, her quest for Teroldego.  I was like, ‘Fuck! This is a real life superhero!’  And I got that introducing wines by people like her was storytelling, and that there were mythic people like her running vineyards all over the world, and that I might be able to tell their stories.  The wines were also awesome, but I knew they would be just by seeing her in her vineyards. 

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

SM: Amusingly it was a drink that was most comforting.  Apple Juice.  I used to refuse to drink anything else.  Food-wise, I would say my dad made a hell of a good fried salami sandwich.  Rye bread, yellow mustard, and fried salami.  

AE: What does “comfort food” mean to you today?

SM: Unfussy food.  Few ingredients prepared well.  Ethnic food. Especially when I was living in NYC comfort food was also whatever was prepared for a potluck dinner party.  It was whatever brought a great group of people together.  It can also be found in a restaurant that makes you feel like you could return once every week or two. 

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

SM: Dry or Off Dry Riesling, Petit Chablis/Bourgogne blanc, Friuli and Alto Adige whites.  Cheap, crisp, high-acid whites. 

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

SM: I used to build a meal around the wine, but I have been smarter about my purchasing lately.  Focusing on having a wide selection because if I’m opening a bottle, I am usually hosting.  And there is no better pairing than to the person who you are dining with. I also want to make sure it’s something that I enjoy as well.  So if they want red wine with the fish I am making, than I want them to be happy and not to force something on them that they may not enjoy.

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

SM: I am fortunate to have stolen many recipes from the chefs in my life.  Friends and family.  Some of them are chefs and some stole them from others themselves.  A personal favorite that I will use on a date when looking to impress is actually an old Blackbird recipe that in the pre-internet days my mom got Paul Kahan to write for her.  Halibut with roasted mushrooms, spinach, and basil puree.  It takes 20 minutes and at the same time knocks it out of the park.  Also is a good foil to some dry riesling. 

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

SM: Talk to food and wine friends first, and then if they can’t help I  find a place to grab a glass of wine and start chatting up the staff.

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

SM: Farmer’s markets.  The amount of color and flavor is overwhelming.    

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

SM: First and foremost it would be an Italian variety. What makes most Italian wines to me is a sense of harmony in conflict.  Aggressive acid and tannin.  Fruit that is dried or so fresh its explosive.  Wines that can be bitter, floral, herbal, but not always so subtle.  I would love to say nebbiolo, but something like freisa makes more sense.  I would lean towards the dry over juicy side, subtle notes of herbs and flowers, but still boasting the ripping acid and drying tannins.  I will never be king and don’t want to be.

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

SM: It was intuitive, but during my time thus far at Alinea it has become scientific and super focused.  Knowing every reason why something works or where that one pitfall is that takes a pairing from great to good or fine.

Introducing Le Metro “Aboveground!”

We’re pleased to announce our event series for 2014: Le Metro “Aboveground.” 

Our first function of the year celebrates the last days of San Diego’s acclaimed Farm House Cafe. Farm House Wine Director Deirdre O’Dwyer will join the Le Metro team and members of our community for dinner as we sip the selections from Volume IX: Seduced by Syrah while enjoying Farm House delicacies. For $75 (all-inclusive), the meal will feature six wines, family-style appetizers, individual entrees, and desserts to share.

This dinner sold out before we were even able to announce it, as Farm House is closing at the end of the month to seek new digs and the hard-to-find wines in Volume IX will soon be gone. But we’ll be hosting intimate events like this every month now, so keep your eyes open and make sure you’ve signed up for our email bulletin (at the top of this page)! You never know where we’ll pop up next.

Ready your palate, open your mind.

Check out our friends at Farm House!

Food Pairing Profile: John Enfield Lockwood (Volume V)

John Enfield Lockwood is one name in California wine that you may not have heard yet (if you don’t read the San Francico Chronicle…) but surely soon will. I’ve been keeping my own eyes on John since we met down in Argentina in 2008 when he was working at Melipal and I at The Vines of Mendoza, and one of his wines is included in our current release, Le Metro Volume IX: Seduced by Syrah. If I’ve waited this long to introduce his wine to you, it was only as I sought proper context for it. His Enfield Wine Co. label is a rising star here in the Bear Republic, and he was recently named in the SF Chronicle as a Winemaker to Watch in 2014. (I’ve also just deposited 6 bottles of his 2011 Syrah in my own wine cellar.)

When I was selecting Argentine wines for Volume V: Argentina Express back in October, there was nobody better than John to turn to for help with the food pairing suggestions. You can download the full PDF of that edition for free here (and you should, as it also includes Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews‘ Elaine Chukan Brown’s first contribution to the Le Metro Wine Zine), and I put him to the test with my Food Pairing Interview, below. As usual I found the responses to be both fun and telling. Enjoy!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

AE: Tell me about that pivotal moment when you decided to dedicate your life to wine. (Come on, we’ve all got one…)

JL: I had just started working with David Mahaffey, it was October of 2004 and we had just finished a long hard day of harvest work and his wife Linda showed up with burritos and David popped a bottle of the same wine that we had been making that day and we ate and drank and watched the sunset over the mayacamas and yes . . . now I’m here.

AE: What food(s) did you find most comforting as a child?

JL: Chips and salsa!

AE: And what does “comfort food” mean to you today?

JL: I think in a general sense all “good food” provides comfort, but these days as a super-busy self-employed dad who does ALL the cooking, comfort foods are the simple staples I can fall back on that are easy to prepare and still deliver, like whole chicken legs in the cast iron in the oven. Side-note, but wine has definitely been my #1 comfort food for a long time now.

AE: Do you have a go-to “house wine” that you always have stocked at home?

JL: Not really, I enjoy constantly tasting different wines, new and old. That being said I always have some good Cru Beaujolais around (Regnie, Morgon in the house!) and I have a fair amount of Failla from working there for so long. The 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot is drinking unbelievably right now!!

AE: When you’re planning a meal, do you generally develop it around the food, or the wine?

JL: I do both, it totally depends on the audience.

AE: Is there a dish that you’re famous for among your friends?

JL: Ooh, tough to say, I like to cook a lot. Maybe my Moroccan Chicken w/olives and lemon peels, super savory, or my dry-rub beef ribs w/ fenugreek (try it at home!!) which almost make beef ribs cool again.

AE: How do you decide where to eat when you’re traveling?

JL: I obsess over it unnecessarily, then (hopefully before midnight) I usually end up just picking a place and more often than not it ends well.

AE: What is your favorite place to shop for food?

JL: Farmers markets . . . period!

AE: Imagine yourself as a culinary ingredient or grape variety. What would you be, and why?

JL: Culinary ingredient I’d have to be a chile pepper, even though they DO NOT go with wine, I’m a massive addict and used delicately the flavors are sublime. Grape – jeez man, really putting me on the spot. I don’t know if I can do that. It would be a battle royale. No, I can’t make that call, sorry, but I love how different and expressive they each can be, and I love how at their heights they each are capable of capturing both the place where they were grown, and the story and the history and the art of the people that took care of them.

AE: Would you consider your approach to food & wine pairing to be more scientific or intuitive?

JL: I’d have to go intuitive with a dash of science ; )

Volume IX Food Pairings!

With this month’s release, Volume IX: Seduced by Syrah, I’ve moved the food pairings for our monthly selections over here to the blog to leave more room for vino in the Le Metro Wine Zine.

The pairings for Volume IX were developed by Emily & Jody Towe of j. brix wines, whose 2012 La Belle Rêveuse Syrah is included in this collection. (Score for us – only 25 cases of this wine were produced!) Having  had the pleasure myself of enjoying the wines from this collection over a home-cooked meal with Emily, Jody, and our families, I can promise that these two know their way around the kitchen as well as they do the cellar.

If you missed my interview with Emily and Jody last week, check it out! And if you’d like to try the full collection of wines along with my written profiles and Elaine Brown’s illustration, please request your own edition here before it’s too late.

Aaron Epstein, Curator

  1. j. brixLa Belle Rêveuse: The Beautiful Dreamer likes it spicy: Rack of lamb rubbed with Moroccan spices, served over cumin-toasted quinoa with cilantro and roasted carrots.
  2. Domaine Faury, St. Joseph: This wine is a natural match for a perfectly executed, simple meal: Skirt steak, haricots verts, and halved fingerling potatoes roasted in duck fat, finished with sea salt and parsley. 
  3. Fausse Piste, Garde Manger: Juicy burgers (veggie burgers would work too, if you’re so inclined) topped with layers of flavor: a slice of roasted beet, a fried egg, and a dollop of jalapeño aioli on a brioche bun.
  4. Enfield Wine Co., Haynes Vineyard Syrah: This one has us hungry for everything fresh and bright — fennel-sausage flatbread with broccoli rabe, fresh ricotta, and Meyer lemon zest.
  5. Charles Cimicky, Invisible Man Shiraz: Bring on the Southern Hemisphere boldness, and match it Southern style: barbecue brisket, collard greens with bacon, black-eyed peas, and buttermilk cornbread.
  6. ShinglebackBlack Bubbles Sparkling Shiraz: The combination of sweetness and tannins in this fizz makes you crave complementary versions of both. Try it with a cheese board of oozy, bloomy-rind Brie; Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue (smoked over hazelnut shells); and a sweet, nutty aged Gouda. Also, you must add a bowl of toasted hazelnuts.

Emily & Jody Towe, j. brix wines

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