Spartan Wine at Estate Theodorakakos

We discovered a wonderful organic winery here in Sparta the same way we’ve discovered great food and wine producers all over California: by taste. 

We have been exploring organic local wines while in Sparta (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it). One of the wineries really stood out for us based purely on the quality of the wine. The winery is called Estate Theodorakakos, and it’s located just outside Sparta. 

Our friend Kostas arranged a tour of the winery and joined us in the tour. 

The vigneron and winemaker, Georgios Theodorakakos, personally gave the tour and answered all of our questions, with Kostas translating everything. 

The winery is family owned, and it started more than a century ago. Although the vineyard always avoided pesticides and herbicides, they didn’t get an organic certification (called “biological” in Europe) until 1996. 

The Laconia region (the area around Sparta) has been a grape-growing and wine-making region for at least 4,000 years, predating the foundation of Ancient Sparta by more than a millennium. 

Centuries ago, the area was famous for producing Malvasia, one of the most prized wines in Mediaeval Europe. (Today, Malvasia is a modern internationally used group of grape varieties originating in the Peloponnese.)

Tragically, the Ottomans suppressed winemaking with punitive taxation when they ruled Greece from 15th century until 1821. Laconia’s vineyards mostly died off and Byzantine-era Greek winemaking methods were lost.

One of the most exciting things about Estate Theodorakakos is that they focus on local grape varieties, some of which are cultivated only in this area, including Kydonitsa and Mavroudi. 

Kydonitsa, a widely use variety in ancient times, was actually discovered growing wild in Laconia, and rehabilitated at Estate Theodorakakos. 

The winery uses other ancient Greek varieties, including Monemvasia, Thrapsa, Assyrtiko, Roditis and Agiorgitiko. 

Most American wine drinkers have never heard of any of these grape varieties. So the fact that you can buy Estate Theodorakakos wines in the United States is something everyone should take advantage of. These are what Estate Theodorakakos labels look like for wines exported outside of Greece. 

Estate Theodorakakos wines are also sold in the UK, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Japan and China.

What's so great about white tea? Everything.

If you drink caffeinated beverages, we recommend that you choose organic white tea because it boosts your immune system, slows the aging process, facilitates weight loss, protects you from disease and even strengthens your teeth. More on all that below. First, what is white tea exactly? 

White tea comes from the same plant (Camellia sinensis) as green tea, the kind served in Chinese and Japanese restaurants, as well as black tea, which is the tea used for iced tea, English Breakfast tea and other ordinary teas served in Western homes and restaurants. The differences between white, green and black tea are in the particulars of harvesting and processing

Black tea is the most processed. After harvesting, mature tea leaves are first "wilted," which means they're dried for a few hours. The leaves are then "bruised" to break down the plant's chlorophyll and release tannins in a process called enzymatic oxidation. While this process changes the flavor and improves the tea's durability for long-term storage, it also destroys a lot of the plant's nutrients. Some call the process "fermentation," but that's a misnomer. 

Green tea is also from mature tea leaves, which are picked, then "wilted," or dried, then heated via a frying, steaming or other process, before being dried again. 

White tea is the least processed. First, white tea is usually the buds and young tea leaves, or just the buds. It's then "wilted," then dried. That's it. White tea is also less "processed" by you, the drinker. Instead of pouring rapidly boiling, 210-degree water on the tea, as is the accepted process for black tea, white tea traditionally uses water heated only to about 185 degrees. (When a tea kettle first starts to make a quiet "white noise," that's about 185 degrees.) 

Although the Chinese have been drinking white tea for centuries -- possibly millennia -- researchers have just begun discovering its incredible health benefits in the past ten years. It turns out that nutrients are concentrated in the buds and young leaves that white tea is made with, and the minimal processing retains those nutrients best. 

Very recent research in Germany has found, for example, that substances in white tea inhibit the growth of new fat cells in the body, and also promote the breaking down of existing fat cells. 

Another study in the UK has found that white tea contains anti-aging properties. It contains substances that protect the structural proteins of the skin, specifically elastin and collagen, from the enzymes that create aging-related symptoms, including wrinkles. Researchers found that white tea reduces inflammation associated with not only wrinkles, but also rheumatoid arthritis and some cancers. 

White tea has more polyphenols (specifically a powerful class of flavonoids called catechins), even than green tea, which have been found to reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer

White tea may also help you fight off bacterial infections, including staph infections, strep throat, pneumonia and dental bacteria. White tea also contains fluoride -- although not quite as much as green tea -- so it's good for your teeth. Plus, it doesn't stain your teeth the way coffee and black tea do. 

More benefits: You don't take it with milk or sugar, neither of which is on the Spartan Diet. You drink white tea at a lower temperature than other teas. Because white tea should be drunk weak and in larger quantities -- and, because you re-brew leaves three or four times -- it can take quite a while to drink white tea. That protects you from the sudden caffeine shock of guzzling a coffee drink, and also from the inevitable crash.

White tea is very likely the healthiest caffeinated beverage around, the extra-virgin olive oil of the caffeine kingdom.

White tea seems like it's more expensive than other kinds. However, you use less of it, and you can brew three or four pots with the same leaves. 

Our favorite white tea companies are Serendipitea and Rishi, which has a wonderful variety of awesome white teas (we prefer Rishi's Snow Buds when they're available, and White Peony when they're not). Buy in bulk to save money.

White tea.

The Secret to Making Bread with Teff

One of our favorite grains is teff, a staple food common in Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

Teff is very high in protein, fiber and iron and calcium. It's also delicious. 

Teff is used primarily to make a naturally leavened, highly fermented bread called injera

The cooking of injera is similar to the making of crepes. The dough is a batter, and it's ladled onto a large, flat clay plate called a mogogo, then covered partly through the cooking process. 

It makes sense that a teff bread would be made with a batter rather than a dough. Teff is so stick and unruly as a dough flour that it wants to turn any dough you try to make into a blob, even at low hydration levels. The reason is that when it first comes in contact with moisture, it absorbs it rapidly, but then releases some of the moisture slowly. That's why it's so difficult to use teff to make more conventional-styled bread loaves.

A blog called Farine reveals the secret to using teff with wheat bread: Cook the teff first before adding it to your dough. You do this by pouring boiling water on the teff to make a thick paste, which you later add to the dough after it has stabilized. 

Modern wheat is not on the Spartan Diet, so we recommend combining teff with emmer wheat, which is another sticky, unruly flour. One solution is to make teff and emmer rolls in cast iron muffin pans. 

Bread made with teff and wheat.