By Greg B. A little while ago I was fortunate enough to attend an event featuring Santa Julia’s wines from the Zuccardi family, as well as a 4 course meal of pairings. This all sounds standard, but I had the pleasure of meeting one of the members of the Zuccardi family, Julia (from whom this line of wines are named by her father), an Argentinian chef Ana Soledad Rodriguez Armisen, who prepared these traditional Argentinian dishes to pair the wines but who also worked with the owners and staff of the Black Olive’s hotel in Fells Point. As you can already tell, the stage was set for a lot of fun.
I arrived in the very nice and very swanky Black Olive hotel, the Inn at The Black Olive, a relatively new building nearly on the water on a quieter side of Fells point facing Harbor East. While I did not get a chance to investigate the rooms, judging from the downstairs dining and market area, the layout of the hotel, the elevator and the top floor dining/bar area with outside porch area known as the Olive Room (available for renting out for events), I think we can all rest assure that it is a top notch hotel. And, given the Black Olive’s sterling reputation as a restaurant, we can assume that the same can be expected from this location. Upon exiting the elevator, I was immediately greeted by my media contact, Christie, who introduced me to Julia Zuccardi, a spunky, well dressed, small in height but large in presence woman who immediately handed me a glass and told me to get sampling. Is there a better entrance to an event like this? I think not.
The room was filled with a good number of media folks, as well as the owner and son of the Black olive, milling about discussing the new hotel, the extremely humid weather, the great wine at hand and just making general conversation. The mood was good, and about to get better.
“We like to make good wine, with good values” – Julia Zuccardi
I managed to sample several of the wines at hand on the bar, but missed the wines on a table setup on the other side of the room. And, I was told, I missed some of the best wines. There apparently existed a Tempranillo that was out of this world, but I had found out just a bit too late! Below are the wines I enjoyed right off the bat:
- Santa Julia [+] Malbec 2010 – Fresh berries, like cherries dominate the nose, while the palatte is greeted with a berry, slightly chocolate and a hint of tobacco flavor. The wine is well structured and has a medium finished. For a wine with an SRP of $10, this is a fantastic buy (and they only get better). 13.7% abv
- Santa Julia Malbec Reserva 2009 – Take the previous malbec and give it a small shot of steroids. With darker fruits than the previous malbec and a whole lot more jamminess, this is a fantastic malbec. Again, at an incredible price ($12!!)14% abv.
- Santa Julia Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 – SRP $11, A rich wine, equally full of fruit aromas as the 2010 Malbec but with different characteristics. Slightly peppery and more sweet than tart, these fruits are dark and enjoyable. A delicious Cab Sauv and again, for $11, an impossible deal to pass up!13.5% abv
- Santa Julia Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva 2009 – Among the richest, spiciest cabernet sauvignon than I have known in a while. Darker richer flavors of tobacco, leather and vanilla-flavored pipe tobacco. Add to this mix flavors of blackberry, cherry and figs, and you’ve got one deliciously dark wine that goes down easy, is full bodied and has an enormously long finish. Again, priced so low, if you didn’t know this wine was so good, you might pass it up on the shelf for a cheap one. $12 SRP, 14% abv.
Even while I was enjoying the company and the wine, I noticed there were two taps in this bar, one which had a beer I had never heard of (and have since forgotten the name of). I made a mental note to return.
Once the meal began, we were immediately greeted by an empanada. Typically of smaller size so they’re easily eaten as finger foods, these were a little larger in size for our more Americanized palates. I wasn’t complaining, the larger the empanada gave me more time to enjoy just how damn good it was. With a few sips of Malbec and an empanada on my plate, life was good. Add some chimichurri sauce to that, to bring some acid to the uber beefy, rich filling, and you’ve got yourself a very robust, hearty and delicious meal. A robust malbec is needed to handle this, and the Malbec Reserva did a fine job.
The first real course of the meal was a deliciously rare slice of beef, chimichurri sauce (Recipe found below) on top, served over a toasted peice of bread. Simple, classic, delicious. The wine for this pairing was the Santa Julia Rose, a bright and fresh rose that had a small hint of carbonation, lightening the palette and cleansing it for the next bite of fresh beef. The fruits and the sweeter rare beef were quite a nice combination!
Next, we had a salad. The salad itself was very light and refreshing, featuring grapefruit slices, tasty bitter greens and croutons made from the seed pods of a native Argentinian tree, which add a really nice gingerbread-y type flavor to the dish. But the star of the dish was the trout gravlox. Amazing. I could eat this all day for weeks and never get tired of it. And while the meal was amazing, of course the wine was superb. The Torrontes served with it was a rich grapefruit, tropical fruity wine of perfectly balanced acidity and packing tones of flavor. Up to this point, it was the best torrontes I had ever had. But I was about to get a lesson in patience.
We were then served a bottle of the sustainable Torrontes from Salta, which blew the first torrontes out of the water. If the first one was the best, it was now second, easily supplanted by this magnificent wine. Aromas of pineapple, grapefruit, tropical fruits and flowers permeated the space around the the table as the wine was poured. It was magnificent. If I see these wines on shelves in stores, I will not restrain myself from buying them. Talk about the perfect wine for summer….
Next up for the meal meal was quinoa risotto with a grilled shrimp. Perfectly cooked shrimp, which chef Ana Armisen was using to take advantage of Baltimore’s good sea food and combine with typical flavors of Argentina. The Risotto was cooked with less stock and more fruit juice (lemon) to really infuse the citrus flavor into the risotto… and it worked. Creamy, textured and delicious, I purchased a bunch of quinoa the next weekend, with the intention of trying to reproduce this dish. I anticipate a failure by comparison, as the mixture of oils, charred flavor, sweetness of the shrimp and acidity and flavors of the lemons turned this dish into a treat to eat. Now, imagine eating this with the Torrontes from Salta, and you’ve got yourself one of my ideas for a great summer evening, preferably spent outside with friends.
Of course, what meal is finished without a dessert? In this case the dessert was a simple cream cheese/ricotta cheese served with a quince sauce and paired with yet another masterful execution of a wine from 85% Torrontes grape and 15% Viognier. The late harvest showcases some great knowledge of the grape and wine making, as they extracted honeysuckle, very light molasses and deep, rich tropical fruit aromas and flavors. The wine itself was sweet, but it was not overbearingly sweet, rendering this late harvest wine something that might be palatable on it’s own. But, paired with a creamy and fatty cheese dessert that begged for some sugar, this wine danced with the quince sauce flavors on the palate, exciting them and simultaneously refreshing your mouth, leaving you ready to enjoy another bite.
While I did miss the other table, and was sad to have to leave the company of such fun and exciting vintners, chefs, local chefs and media folks, the day did draw to a close. I missed several of their wines, but will absolutely be on the lookout for them in the stores. Below are some of the stats for the wines we enjoyed with dinner. Next time you pass a bottle on a store shelf don’t resist the urge to
take one home with you!
- Santa Julia Rose NV – 12.5% abv, SRP $13, 100% pinot noir grape
- Santa Julia Torrontes [+] – 13.8% abv, SRP $10, 100% Torrontes
- Santa Julia Chardonnay 2010 – 12.5% abv, SRP $11, 100% Chardonnay (organically grown grapes)
- Santa Julia Tardio 2009 – 9.5% abv, SRP $13 (500mL), 85% Torrontes, 15% Viognier