Thursday, June 22, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) The Hawthorne patio will become your go-to destination for tropical tiki drinks and boozy blender beverages. Returning this year, Swizzle Sundays at The Hawthorne invites guest bartenders from around the city to work the blenders on the patio from 5:00pm to dusk, serving up island-inspired favorites.

The full summer line-up includes:
June 25th – Tim Cooper of 86 Co. Caña Brava Rum
July 2nd – Eric Anderson of Hendrick’s Gin
July 9th – Sean Frederick of Plantation Rum
July 16th – Willy Shine of Jagermeister
July 23rd – Bob McCoy of Privateer
July 30th – The Hawthorne’s own Jackson Cannon
August 6th – Kerrin Egalka of Compass Box
August 13th – Jesse Lauden of Island Creek Oyster Bar
August 20th – Yuna Asriyan of Absolut Lime/Elyx
August 27th – Colin Asare Appiah of Bacardi

Please call 617-532-9150 for reservations.

2) Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and the team at Harvest welcome guest chef and author Walker Stern from Battersby for a special “The Book and the Cook” dinner. On Sunday, June 25, from 6pm-9pm, Harvest's cookbook series "The Book and the Cook" will host famed Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen author and Battersby Restaurant co-owner and chef, Walker Stern. Battersby, the small New York eatery, opened its Brooklyn doors in 2011. Since then, it has risen to fame for its thoughtful dishes, expert technique, along with a unique and welcoming environment.

Guests will enjoy dishes from Chef Walker Stern’s cookbook Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen for guests to enjoy, complete with wine and beer pairings. Guest Chef Walker Stern, will step out of his four by six-foot kitchen and into Harvest for a guest chef dinner, collectively prepared with Harvest Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey.

The menu for the evening is as follows:
RECEPTION
GOUGERES WITH MORNAY SAUCE
Chicken Liver with Shaved Mushrooms and Balsamic
Chiarli Cleto, Lambrusco, Modena Spumante Rosé
FIRST COURSE
WATERMELON SALAD WITH SHISHITO PEPPERS AND FETA
Villa des Anges, Pays d’Oc Old Vine Rosé
SECOND COURSE
GRILLED TUNA WITH PIPERADE AND SPANISH HAM
Chimay Rouge, Belgium
THIRD COURSE
PAN-ROASTED CHICKEN WITH SUMMER FRUIT PANZANELLA
Julien Sunier Fleurie Beaujolais 2014
FOURTH COURSE
FENNEL SEEED PANNA COTTA WITH LEMON CONFIT
Evolucio Tokaji 2012

Cost: The Book and the Cook dinner is $70 per person (inclusive of a signed book, beverage pairings, tax & gratuity) and includes a reception and seated dinner.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 617-868-2255 directly to book seats or visit https://www.eventbrite.com/the-book-and-the-cook-battersby-at-harvest to purchase tickets.

3) Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge, which recently celebrated its Five Year Anniversary, is offering Unlimited Sushi on Monday evenings, starting at 5pm.  The Unlimited Sushi costs $29/person and there are no menu substitutions, no sharing and no to-go options. There are 11 options on the menu, essentially all Maki rolls, from Spicy Tuna to Return of the Hamachi Tartare.

For reservations, please call 6170295-0001

4) Gather, the modern American restaurant located in Boston’s home for innovation, District Hall, will be hosting two Game of Thrones themed Brunches to celebrate the upcoming Season 7 premiere. GoT fans can join Gather for themed food and drink specials alongside other Game of Thrones inspired activities to celebrate the Season 7 premiere all weekend long.

WHEN: Saturday, July 15th, and Sunday, July 16th from 11am-3pm
Guests wishing to join Gather’s realm for brunch should make reservations for inside seating, as seating is limited, by calling 617-982-7220.
Patio seating will be available first come, first serve and weather permitting.

5) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things rosé at their third annual Rosé Rumble. This Rosé Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Wednesday, July 12th, the third annual rosé rumble will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here: https://roserumble3.eventbrite.com/.

This should be an excellent event and I strongly recommend you check it out.

6) Puritan & Company Chef Will Gilson will be teaching a hands-on cooking class at the Milk Street Cooking School Master Class on how to prepare a New England Clambake at home on Wednesday, July 19th from 6pm-9pm in the Milk Street Test Kitchen, 177 Milk Street, Boston.

In this hands-on Master Class, students will learn tips and facts about the seafood used and secret techniques for ensuring a properly cooked feast that highlights the best of our simple summer ingredients. The class will also cover wine and cocktail pairings, since clambakes are the perfect party food.

Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased by logging onto www.177milkstreet.com

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Spanish Sippers: Albariño to Viura

As Summer arrives, and temperatures rise, many people opt for a chilled white wine, either on its own or paired with food, from chicken to seafood. You have plenty of options for white wine from all over the world, from Portuguese Vinho Verde to Alsatian Riesling, from Sicilian Grillo to Georgian Rkatsiteli. You also should consider whites from Spain, which can be affordable and delicious, and I have two specific recommendations for you today.

Back in 1999, José Miguel Arambarri Terrero started a winery in Spain, eventually enlisting the assistance of his sons, Ricardo and José Miguel. They eventually expanded their operations, adding wineries, and are now producing wine in 15 Denominations of Origin (D.O). Their overall company became known as Vintae and they export many of their wines to the U.S.  I've written about a few of their wines before, finding them excellent values, and the two wines I'm recommending today fall into that category as well. Please note that both of these wines were media samples.

The Atlantis line, launched in 20015, consists predominantly of white wines, from different D.O., which are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Atlantis line does include a single red, a Mencia from  the Bierzo D.O. I recently sampled the 2016 Maetierra Atlantis Albariño ($12), from the Rias Baixas D.O., which is made from 100% Albariño, undergoes stainless steel fermentation, sees no oak and is only 12.5% ABV. I enjoyed this wine with some Shrimp Scampi and even used some of the wine to make the sauce.

With a light golden color, the wine presented an appealing, fruity aroma and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and delicious. There were tasty flavors of apple, melon and pear with a medium-body and a pleasing finish. An easy drinking wine, it presents with more complexity than many other wines at this price point. It is enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but also pairs well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes. It was a big hit with the other guests and it didn't take long before the bottle was empty.

Bodega Classica, located in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, produces Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Rioja line launched in 2003, which was named after Diego Lopez de Haro, the founder of the city of Bilbao, and his descendent, as 12th century lieutenant in Castille. Their wines are produced using traditional Riojan winemaking methods and the grapes comes from some older vineyards, with some being over 100 years old.

The 2016 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Blanco ($10) is a white Rioja, made primarily from old vine Viura with some other grapes which are not identified. It is matured for about three months in French oak and has a 12.5% ABV. I found this wine to have a lighter golden color than the Albariño and a more floral nose, accented by some tropical fruit flavors. On the palate, it was crisp and dry with bright lemon notes, a mineral backbone, and some floral accents. It seems a little leaner than the Albariño, with a pleasing finish, and it too worked well with the Shrimp Scampi. It is also enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but will pair well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes.

Both wines are excellent values which would be great for the summer, though they can be enjoyed year round too. Spain delivers once again on delicious and inexpensive white wines.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cheers For The Flying Dog "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale

I've found a new beer that appeals to me!

As my readers well know, that is a rare occasion, as the bitterness of many beers turns me off. While at TasteCamp 2017 in Maryland, we had an impromptu BYOB at our hotel one evening. Todd Godbout, the writer of Wine Compass, brought a beer which he thought would appeal to my preferences, the "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale from the Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland.

The Flying Dog Brewpub was established in Aspen, Colorado in 1990, and in 1994, became a distillery in Denver. In 2006, they purchased a brewery in Maryland, which turned out to be such a success that they decided to close their Denver brewery. They are now the largest brewery in Maryland, producing a wide variety of different beers.

One of their seasonal offerings is their Heat Series, "a radical exploration of brewing with hot chilies, ..." Currently, that series includes four beers, the Cherry Bomb Gose, Chocolate Habanero Stout, Experimental Pepper IPA and the Shishito Rice Ale. I only had the opportunity to taste the Shishito Pale Ale, though I am intrigued by the idea of the Cherry Bomb Gose.

The Shishito Pale Ale is produced with the Speciality Malts of brown rice, carapils, biscuit and acidulated, as well as the Saaz Hops and two Yeasts, Sake and Ardennes. It is also brewed with Shishito peppers, a generally sweet Asian pepper where about one in ten is spicy. This Pale Ale has a 5.3% ABV and 20 IBU.

I found this beer to be light, crisp and refreshing, lacking bitterness and with just a whisper of spicy heat, mainly on the finish. There are some subtle malty undertones and a couple hints reminding me of a Sake. It would be an excellent beverage on a hot, summer day. If you dislike most beers, especially due to their bitter nature, I strongly recommend you give the Shishito Pale Ale a try and I think you will find that you enjoy it.

Much appreciation to Todd for introducing me to this tasty beer.

A Glimpse Into The Culinary Treasures of Frederick, Maryland

We flew down to Maryland the day before TasteCamp 2017 was scheduled to begin, so we had some free time to explore the city of Frederick. The downtown area is filled with a myriad of shops and restaurants, as well as some interesting architecture and museums, such as the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. There are parts of Frederick with many chain shops and restaurants but the downtown is more unique, small businesses.

For breakfast, we ate at Cafe Nola, kind of a hip cafe with an outside patio. It is well known for its breakfast offerings, some with a southern flair. The breakfast entrees generally range from $10-$18, including items such as French Toast, Croissant Sandwich, and Corned Beef Hash. They have a fully stocked bar so you can enjoy a cocktail such as a Bloody Mary Heat ($8), which is made with a house-infused habanero garlic vodka.

I opted for the Shrimp & Grits ($15), which is made with cheddar grits, Andouille sausage and bacon. The grits were creamy and cheesy and there plenty of plump shrimp, spicy sausage and crisp bacon pieces. A hearty dish, excellent comfort food.

We also ordered the Chesapeake Benedict ($18) which consists of jumbo lump crab cakes, atop English muffin and topped by poached eggs and an Old Bay hollandaise sauce, with a side of roasted potatoes. The crab cakes were very good, filled with plenty of sweet crab and not lots of filler. The hollandaise was interesting with the Old Bay, complementing the crab cakes. The potatoes were also nicely crisp. Again, another good breakfast choice.

My only issue with the restaurant was that the service was a bit lackluster, especially after we received our food. Our server didn't return until we were nearly down with our meal, failing to refill our beverages. The restaurant wasn't significantly busy and there didn't appear to be any reason for the lack of proper service. It could be outside the norm. The food though is definitely very good and I would recommend you check it out if you are ever in Frederick.

For dinner, after considering a number of potential choices, we opted for Spanish cuisine at Isabella's Taverna & Tapas Bar. It is a casual spot with a large bar (and has a Happy Hour tapas buffet for those at the bar). They have a full bar though the wine list wasn't too compelling to me, as they had only a small amount of Spanish wines, as well as plenty of other wines from numerous wine regions across the world. Though small, there were some good choices in Spanish wines but in the end, we opted for red Sangria, which was fruity and tasty, though not overly sweet.

The food menu was more interesting, and accompanied by a page of daily specials, with some traditional Spanish dishes as well as some of their own takes on tapas. On the menu, you'll find Soups & Salads (like Gazpacho), Cheeses (like Queso de Cabrales), Seafood (from Fried Calamari to Pan-Steamed Black Mussels), Meats (from Iberico de Bellota to House-Made Chorizo), Vegetables (from Papas Bravas to Brussel Sprouts), six different types of Paella, and a few Entrees (like Grilled Sirloin). Prices are reasonable, with a number of dishes costing $10 and less.

The Queso Frito con Alemendras y Salsa Vinagreta ($6.75) consists of three balls of fried house-breaded goat cheese & almond fritters with a tangy shallot vinaigrette. The crispy coating led to a creamy goat cheese center, accented by crunchy pieces of almond, with a bright acidity from the vinaigrette. Quite tasty and a pleasant way to start our dinner.

The Manchego Frito ($12) was made of a slice of baguette, topped by plenty of fried Manchego cheese, fig jam, and pear. The melted Manchego was delicious, with a mild tang and nuttiness, and was enhanced by the sweet fruit of the fig and pear. Another very good choice.

The special Paella del Dia (Tapas portion/$26) was made with cured Iberico ham, scallops, shrimp, peas, and pimento. The scallops had a crisp sear and were moist and tender, while the plump shrimp had more texture to them and the Iberico was slightly spicy. The rice was cooked nicely and I was impressed with this version of Paella, and I would have liked to order one of the entree sizes as well.

The Gambas al Pil Pil ($8.25) is a dish of hot sizzling shrimp in a spicy garlic oil with caramelized onions. Usually, I don't see onions in this dish, but they added a bit of sweetness to the spicy oil.  It was nice to dip our bread into the dish and sop up the oil.

The Datiles Rellenos ($9) were crispy bacon wrapped Spanish dates stuffed with chorizo and sitting atop a mild goat cheese cream. Salty and slightly sweet, with creaminess from the goat cheese, this was a more decadent dish. A nice blend of flavors and textures and I strongly recommended this dish.

Our final dish of the evening were the Langostinos del Golfo Asados con Arroz Negro ($9), cilantro roasted Gulf shrimp on black rice & a saffron butter sauce. The shrimp was tasty again, and the black rice was earthy, with a briny note. And the saffron butter sauce added a hedonistic touch to the plate.

Service was excellent and I was very pleased with all of the dishes we ate. There was plenty of other items on the menu I would have liked to try too. I just wish the wine list was larger, with more Spanish options. Overall, Isabella's earns my recommendation.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rant: Agricultural Illiteracy & Chocolate Milk Ignorance

How now, brown cow! And thanks for your chocolate milk. 

Do you know the source of chocolate milk? Does it come from brown cows? Some people seem to think so. In April, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy conducted a survey of 1000 adult Americans, asking them a series of questions concerning milk. According the results of this study, 7% of adult Americans, about 16.4 million, believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows!  And to make matters even worse, 48% of the survey respondents weren't sure where chocolate milk comes from.

This should be such a simple issue but it seems to boggle many Americans. It is agricultural illiteracy, food ignorance, indicating a significant disconnect between the sources of the food we eat and what we find on our plate. Other studies, dealing with different types of food, have also indicated such ignorance, such as numerous Americans not realizing that hamburger comes from beef. For too many Americans, all they seem to care about is eating and drinking, without any type of interest in where those foods and drinks originate. As such, they often don't care whether the ingredients are local or not, whether they come from large, factory farms or small, family-owned operations.

This ignorance of food origins can have a substantial impact in a myriad of ways. First, it ignores issues of sustainability because if you don't know or don't care about the origins of your food, then you aren't paying attention to sustainability issues. For example, if you just buy and eat shrimp, without any question as to its origin, you could be eating shrimp that is raised unsustainably. If you don't know that your pork is coming from some huge, factory farm, you may not realize how much pollution is generated by that farm.

Second, you probably don't understand the nature of food pricing, especially at restaurants. For example, if you think all hamburger is the same, that the origin doesn't matter, then you can't understand why some places charge $5 for a hamburger and other spots charge $15 or more. You'll complain that the later spot is way over priced, despite the fact they may be using a higher quality hamburger, from a local farm, and also using higher quality toppings.  

Third, you probably don't really know what you are ingesting. If you think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, then you're likely to consider chocolate milk to be a natural product, when it actually has been flavored with various ingredients, which will vary from chocolate milk to chocolate milk. What you ingest is very important to your health, and you should properly understand the origins and nature of your food.

I could go on and on about the other reasons you should better understand the sources and origins of your food and drink. You need to spend a little time educating yourself about food. The advantages and benefits to doing so are myriad. With more information, you'll eat and drink better. And who doesn't want to do that? You can wallow in your ignorance if you so desire, but the quality of your life would improve with some knowledge.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky: From Spain, With Sherry Love

When you think of whiskey, one of the last countries that probably comes to mind is Spain, despite the fact that they have been producing whiskey since the 1960s. It was only recently that I had the opportunity to taste a Spanish whiskey and I was thoroughly impressed, considering it one of my new favorite whiskies.

Let's start with a little history. In 1958, businessman Nicomedes García Gómez formed Destilerías y Crianza del Whisky S.A. (Whisky DYC), a Spanish distillery and it started producing whiskey in March 1963. During its first year of operation, it produced about one million liters and by the 1980s, that amount increased to about 20 million liters annually. In 1989, the company was sold to the Pedro Domecq Group  and then later sold to Beam Suntory. The company currently operates two plants, producing only about 2.3 million liters annually, though they still have the capacity to distill much more.

And now let's touch on the recent past. While perusing the shelves at Julio's Liquors in Westborough, I stumbled upon the Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky ($114.99), a Spanish whiskey that was aged in Sherry barrels. It intrigued me, especially as I knew that Equipo Navazos bottled some amazing Sherries. I figured that if they were involved in this whiskey, then it was likely going to be very good so I took a chance and purchased a bottle, which would turn out to be a very smart buy.  

I would later learn that Jesus Barquin & Eduardo Oreja of Equipo Navazos chose to partner with Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits’ to produce a series of Spanish spirits, including brandy, rum, grain whiskey and malt whiskey. This Malt Whiskey was produced in the DYC distillery, using malted barley that was grown in Spain. It was distilled in a traditional pot still, being released at cask strength, 52.5% proof. Only 900 bottles of this whiskey were produced.  

What helps to make this whiskey unique is that it spends all of its time in the barrel, about four to six years, in three Palo Cortado Sherry casks from Valdespino. Other whiskies may be finished in Sherry casks for a short time, but few, if any other, spend all of their time in Sherry barrels. In addition, few whiskies spend time in Palo Cortado barrels because it is a rarer Sherry, and also happens to be one of my favorite Sherry types.

This Malt Whiskey presents with a nice, dark amber color and its complex aroma is enticing, a blend of harmonious fruits and spices. You could easily sit and enjoy the diverse nose of this whiskey for quite some time before taking a sip. However, when you do sample it, your palate is going to be seduced by the complex, and sometimes subtle, melange of flavors that caress and tantalize. It is sweet, briny and savory, with plenty of fruit, from apples to raisins, as well as lots of spicy notes. Honey, caramel, and malt with clear Sherry notes and a long and lingering finish that satisfies to the last wispy taste. It is elegant and compelling, unique and delicious, a well-balanced whiskey that will surprise and delight. My highest recommendation!

If you are a whiskey lover, you need to explore what is now coming out of Spain, especially the releases from Navazos Palazzi. I've heard of other Spanish wineries that starting to produce whiskey too. This could be the beginning of an intriguing whiskey industry in Spain.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) The Artbar, at the Royal Sonesta, is starting off their Summer Series with a special Opening Party on Monday, June 19, from 5:30pm-7:30pm. The evening will feature sips from Jenny Johnson & Champy with summer bites from Executive Chef Brian Dandro. You will also get to sample and vote for Champy-inspired cocktails submitted by three of Boston's cocktail enthusiasts. There will also be Jazz music on the Patio, hosted by Rich DiMare.

To make Reservations, please call 617-806-4122

2) On Friday, June 23, from 7pm-10:30pm, Uncommon Feasts is hosting a pop-up dinner event to celebrate Summer with a feast showcasing the best flavors of the season, with ingredients sourced locally from New England. The event will be held at the Church of Our Savior, 25 Monmouth Sweet, Brookline. Start with platters of small bites to have with refreshing negronis, natural champagne, and rosé, while you make some new friends. Then take a seat to enjoy a plated first course, followed by family-style main course, cheese platters, and dessert, all with wine pairings from The Wine Press. Enjoy live jazz by the talented Eduardo Mercuri throughout the evening and as the night winds down, end with a little digestivo before heading out into the warm evening air.

Jyoti & Aaron from The Wine Press will be serving up negronis and biodynamic natural wines for the evening. Mandy from Hummingbird Events will be setting the scene for the evening. Mandy approaches event planning the way Michelle approaches her menu planning, with a highly customized and personalized touch. Abby & Eric from Myrth Ceramics are generously providing some of their beautiful ceramics for the feast to be served in. Beth from Elizabeth LaDuca Photography will be capturing images throughout the evening. Eduardo Mercuri will be providing live music throughout the evening. Eduardo is a talented Brazilian jazz guitarist and Berklee alumni.

Menu
Appetizers: House cured salmon with minced herbs, James Beard's favorite spring onion sandwiches, sweet pea pancakes with pickled vegetables, fava bean purée on crisps, French breakfast radishes with handmade butter, chicken liver mousse crostini
First Course: housemade pork rillettes with pickled rhubarb and spring onions. served with dandelion greens with mustard vinaigrette and platters of sourdough bread
Main Course: roasted lamb served with sauteed greens, fried stuffed squash blossoms with romesco, summer Farmer's market salad
Cheese Platter: That will be entrusted to their favorite cheesemonger
Dessert: berries and cream, assorted cookies Moroccan mint tea, Masala chai
Housemade digestivo

Cost: $125 per person
Purchase tickets at Eventbrite

3) Get Fired Up for Summer at the Posto Block Party on Wednesday, June 21, from 5:30pm-7pm. The fun-loving team at Alpine Restaurant Group want you to get a sizzling start on summer at their Posto Block Party with pizza, prizes, refreshing drinks and more! Outdoor games like Corn Hole and Giant Jenga will be on hand, and a DJ will provide party vibes all night long. Grab your crew and head down. Oh...and four legged friends are welcome to join in the fun.

EAT UP: The Posto Mobile pizza truck, will be cooking up wood fired pizzas to order.
DRINK UP: An outdoor bar will have Aperol Spritzes and Rosé available by the glass
GET LUCKY: Try your luck at the "Slice 'o Life" prize wheel to win pizza inspired give-aways!
WHERE: The Posto parking lot located at 187 Elm Street in Somerville.
HOW: The event is free to guests 21 and older. Make Reservations through Eventbrite

4) Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar invites guests to join their team as they travel to tropical paradise every Tuesday evening. To kick off summer, Rosebud American Kitchen is channeling tropical vibes at its new Tiki Tuesdays. Rosebud will be switching to "island time" at 5 p.m. every Tuesday with a special menu of tropical dishes and drinks; island beats; and a decked out staff.

Rotating specials include drinks like Rosebud Tiki Punch, Pineapple for Two, House Mai Tai, Popsicle Shots, and entrees such as the Big Kahuna Burger with Kalua Pork & Grilled Pineapple.

WHEN: Every Tuesday night beginning at 5 p.m. Kitchen is open until 11 p.m. Bar is open until 1 a.m.
To make reservations, please call (617) 629-9500

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) Sake on the auction block? In Billionaire and Stir Public Relations, there are new articles mentioning that on June 10, an auction was to be held by Acker, Merrall & Condit (AMC) in Hong Kong. As a first, four Sakes were added to the auction list, all which had scored highly in the Wine Advocate. The four Sakes included Kameno-O Sannen Jukusei Daiginjo (98 points), Iwanoi Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo (95 points), Kinteki Junmai Ginjo (91 points) and Manazuru Junmai Daiginjo (90 points). The first two Sakes are estimated to garner from $1,000 to $3,200 each. The AMC site hasn't listed the winning bids yet.

Are these collectibles which will acquire the same cachet as fine Bordeaux or Burgundy? I think that is very unlikely as Sake isn't generally produced to be aged. For most Sake, it will last about a year or so after release. If these Sakes at auction are purchased, they would need to be consumed in a relatively short time period unlike fine Bordeaux and Burgundy. You couldn't store this Sake in your cellar for ten years and be certain it would still be palatable. Sure, there will be plenty of wealthy people who purchase these Sakes right now, just because they received high points and are seen as desirable, but once they realize it can't age well, then maybe the desire for such expensive bottles will diminish.

2) Ice cold Sake for the summer? The Mainichi has published an article about a new Sake that is supposed to be served at a sub-zero temperature. Ishii Shuzo Co. produced this Sake which will be sold with a special cooler bag intended to keeps the Sake at a temperature of minus 2 degrees Celsius. The Sake, a Junmai Ginjo, is referred to as yukidoke ("melting snow") as allegedly the Sake in your mouth will remind you of melting snow. Sake consumption in Japan declines during the summer so the brewery wanted to do something to combat that decline. This Sake, which goes on sale in July, will cost about $60 U.S. but appears that it will only be available in Japan. I am intrigued though it is going to be difficult to acquire one of these unique bottles.

3) A Sake brewery in the UK? Southwark News has reported that the first Sake brewery in the U.K. is set to open soon. Named Kanpai, the brewery is owned by Lucy Holmes and Tom Wilson, who will soon get married to each other. Their first batch of Sake will be about 600-700 bottles and will be available at the Selfridges department store and the Hop Burns and Black Craft Pub. They will start with a Junmai and a Nigori, and also are attempting to crowd fund for additional monies for their brewery. It is exciting to see new Sake breweries sprouting up around the world.

4) A Sake brewery in France? The Asahi Shimbun reports that two French brothers, Christophe and Stephane Fernandez, are currently working at the Komatsu Syuzoujou Sake brewery in Usa’s Nagasu district in the northeastern part of the Kyushu region. As they learn about how to brew Sake, their ultimate goal is to produce Sake in France using French rice next winter. The Sake they have started making in April should be available in France in the fall. "They aim to create a sweet and sour taste with 13-percent alcohol content, relatively low for sake, for their “junmaishu” that will go well with cheese and dessert." Seems Europe is seeing a small boom in new Sake breweries.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rant: TasteCamp, Summer Travel & Local Beverages

As you start to plan your summer travel, deciding which places to visit, please give strong consideration to visiting local wineries, distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies. Frankly, many people don't realize the number of these alcohol producers even in their own state. For example, as of 2015 in Massachusetts, there were approximately 55 licensed-farm wineries, 15 hard-cider producers, over 60 breweries, and about 20 distilleries.

Did you realize Massachusetts has that many producers? How many of those producers have you visited? How many of those producers have you tasted their products?

There are now wineries in all fifty states, and the vast majority also have numerous distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies. It is a great time for those who enjoy alcoholic beverages, so much new to explore and taste. No matter where you travel, you'll find some interesting producers you can visit, sampling their drinks. On your vacation, spend time visiting historical sites, enjoying the landscape, and dining out. However, leave yourself a little time to explore these exciting, local produced beverages.

I know that some people worry that these producers, especially the wineries, might not be very good, that they make inferior beverages. However, I think that if you explore deeper, if you sample from a number of these producers, you might be very surprised at the quality you can find. And every year, producers all across the country up their game, creating even better beverages than prior years. Don't prejudge these producers but approach them with an open mind, and let your palate judge the quality of their drinks.

Yesterday, I returned from a weekend visit to Maryland where I, and about 30 others, attended TasteCamp 2017. The concept of TasteCamp was created by Lenn Thompson, of the The Cork Report, back in 2009, and it consists of a weekend immersion into a lesser known wine region, outside of the big wine states like California, Washington and Oregon. We have previously visited places including Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Quebec, Virginia, Niagara and Vermont. Attendees come from both the U.S. and Canada, and though many of the attendees are from the East Coast, some attendees come from as far as California.

At TasteCamp, attendees visit a variety of producers, tour vineyards, taste dozens of wines, dine on local foods and holds an exciting BYOB dinner. The basic concept has evolved over time so that it is no longer limited to wine, now also including beers, ciders, meads and spirits. A key principle for TasteCamp is "drink local," consuming products that are locally produced, usually from local ingredients. There is little reason to limit ourselves to wine when local producers are making so many other interesting and tasty beverages too. This is a great example of what I meant when I wrote my prior Rant: Drink Writers, Burst Your Bubble.

Though TasteCamp usually has a few, limited sponsors, the attendees shoulder the lion's share of expenses for the trip, including their transportation, lodging and some meals. This year, we owe a debt of gratitude to Maryland WineMaryland Distillers Guild and Brewers Association of MarylandWith its limited size, TasteCamp is a more intimate event, allowing you to get to know everyone in the group, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones too. The focus of the event is on tasting, both food and drink, and there aren't any seminars or events about writing, blogging, photography, or similar activities.

I previously attended a wine conference in Maryland back in 2013, learning that Maryland wines had an image problem, including among many of its residents. I found that numerous people still didn't fully understand the quality of wines that Maryland produced. Some felt that Maryland made only sweet wines. However, I tasted a number of excellent wines, seeing the potential in Maryland and it was great to learn more about the various wineries which were seeking to produce quality wine. And this past weekend, I found that the Maryland wine industry has improved in the last four years and is providing even more fascinating and delicious wines, as well as other excellent alcoholic beverages.

Some of the highlights of TasteCamp included: Wines from Old Westminster Winery, Black Ankle Vineyards, and Big Cork Vineyards; Spirits from McClintock Distilling Company and Tenth Ward Distilling Company; and Mead from Orchid Cellar Meadery. And I know I still missed tasting excellent products from some other Maryland producers. During the next few weeks, I'll be writing about my experiences, highlighting some of the best I encountered. Maryland is certainly a compelling destination for those who want to explore delicious and interesting wines, spirits, beers, and more.

TasteCamp helps to illustrate the belief that liquid wonders can be found in many local regions all across the country. In all of the regions we have explored, we have found plenty of interest and each spot would make for a compelling vacation destination. Throw away your preconceptions about the wine and drink industries in various states and be adventurous, gaining first-hand experience of what these local producers are creating. You might not like everything you find, but I'm sure you will be surprised at the quality and diversity you find, and will also locate some treasures which will delight your palate.

Be adventurous. Expand your palate and sample something new. Explore local drink producers.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) Now in its milestone 20th year, Chefs in Shorts brings together a group of the area’s top culinary talents who fire up the grills and create their best dishes during this expansive outdoor, summer-in-the-city barbeque hosted at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. Join some of Boston’s best chefs on June 23 for an evening of grill-offs, desserts, beer, wine and fun to again benefit Future Chefs, a local nonprofit focused on first careers in the culinary arts. Attendees also will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite creation.

This year’s featured chefs include the following:
Host Chefs:
Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center: Karen Hodsdon, Pastry Chef
Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center: Richard Rayment, Executive Chef
TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel: Robert Tobin, Chef

Participating Chefs & Venues:
Aloft-Element Boston Seaport Hotel: Darren Sylvin
Artbar: Brian Dandro
Babbo: Mario LaPosta
Back Deck: Paul Sussman
Bar Boulud: Robert Differ
BOND at The Langham, Boston: Mark Sapienza
Brasserie JO: Nicholas Calias
Cask ‘n Flagon: Paul Bushell
Coppersmith: Jason Heard
Deuxave: Shaun Velez
District 45: Julia Slowinski
Earls Kitchen + Bar: Nick Hrynkiw
Five Horses Tavern: Beth Schunke
Flour Bakery + Café: Frank Francione
Future Chefs: Jason Carpenter
Harvard Club Boston: Dean Moore
Kashmir: Harjit Pabla
La Casa de Pedro: Stephanie Conni
LaVallee’s Bakery: Andy LaVallee
Local 149: Corey O’Shea
LTK Bar and Kitchen: Patrick Keefe
Lulu’s Allston: Sarah Wade
Oak & Rowan: Brittany Ross & Justin Shoults
Ocean Prime: Mitchell Brumels
Philip R’s Frozen Desserts: Philip Rotondo
Precinct Kitchen + Bar: Matt Sentas
Salty Pig: Joshua Turka
Sapore Ristorante + Bar: Wallace Christopher
Scampo at The Liberty Hotel: Alex Pineda
Serafina: Brendan Burke
Tavolo: Alex Horowitz
Tip Tap Room & Bukowski Tavern: Brian Poe
Top of the Hub: Stefan Jarausch
TRADE: Kimmy Jaski
Verde Farms: Cassie Marantz
W Boston: Derek Barragan
Worden Hall: Milton Barahona

Additionally, revelers will be treated to tastes from celebrity chef Allen Campbell as well as Backyard Farms, Eva’s Pastries and Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs.

WHEN: Friday, June 23, from 7:00pm-10:00pm
COST: $90 per person (includes admission with complimentary beer, wine and culinary tastings)
TICKETS: Advance tickets are required: https://chefsinshorts2017.eventbrite.com. Tickets will not be available at the door.
MORE INFO: This event is strictly ages 21+ and requires proper identification.
BENEFICIARY: Future Chefs’ mission is to prepare urban youth in Greater Boston for quality early employment and post-secondary education opportunities in the culinary field and to support them in developing a broad base of transferable skills as they transition into the working world.

2) This summer, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Boston’s Back Bay will offer homemade, booze-infused ice pops, paired with Prosecco or Rosé Sparkling Wine. Perfect to enjoy on a hot and sunny afternoon, these summer treats with an adults-only twist have never tasted so good. Pastry Chef Tom Ponticelli has prepared flavors such as the Raspberry, Peach, Rosé and Blueberry, Lime, Prosecco. Available for a limited time only at Davio’s Boston from June 21st to August 31st.

COST: The Davio’s Boozy Ice Pops are available for $15 each.
Must be 21 to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages with a valid ID.

3) Executive Chef Nick Calias’ summer series, roofTOP Chefs, returns to The Colonnade Hotel’s RTP every other Tuesday, beginning June 13. The casual cookout-style, poolside tasting pop-up will once again donate 100% of ticket sales ($30 per person) to Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry. Each chef will make their own tasting menu of 2-4 dishes, with a complementing dish from Chef Calias.

Attendees get to soak up the sun, hang out with the chefs, sample small bites and enjoy full access to Boston’s only outdoor rooftop pool, which sits 12 stories above the streets of Back Bay. Tickets are available at rooftopchefs.eventbrite.com

The roster of guests chefs features:
June 13: Jason Santos, Abby Lane, Back Bay Harry's, Buttermilk & Bourbon
June 27: Karen Akunowicz, Myers+Chang
July 11: Julie Cutting, Cure Bistro
July 25: Tony Maws, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Craigie on Main
August 8: Rich Garcia, Crescent Hotels
August 18: Josh Ziskin, La Morra, The Heritage of Sherborn
August 29: Fred Bisaillon, B-ACK Yard BBQ, Surfside Smoke
September 5: Matt Drummond, Loco
September 12: Jen Royle, Dare to Taste

4) Executive Chef Matt Drummond, recently appointed Bar Manager Kaitlyn Fischer and the Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar team are introducing summer Rum Punch Lunch. Southie’s funky neighborhood taco joint is bringing back their popular summer Friday lunch tradition, but with a boozy new twist – the Rum Punch Lunch. Guests can enjoy inventive Rum Punch specials each week, like Watermelon and Pineapple Punch Bowls, created by beverage maven Kaitlyn Fischer and served in a hollowed watermelon.

Rum Punch Lunch is the new weekly excuse to skip out of work early and jumpstart the weekend. In addition to an lineup of Loco’s signature tacos, fresh raw bar items, and killer margaritas, the Rum Punch specials are available exclusively during Friday lunch service (11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.).

For additional details, call 617-917-LOCO

Monday, June 5, 2017

Rant: Total Wine, Low Prices & Consumers

"In every configuration, on every level, Hamilton had designed the law to charge small producers who could least afford it a higher tax. And the most significant effect of the higher tax was that it would, as Hamilton said, have to be passed on to consumers. Small producers would have to raise prices. Big producers could lower prices, sharply underselling the small distillers, taking over their customers, ultimately driving small producers out of business. Closing down local whiskey economies, the whiskey tax pushed self-employed farmers and artisans into the factories of their creditors."
--The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland

I've been fascinated while reading The Whiskey Rebellion, a history of the infamous Whiskey Tax. In addition, I've seen parallels to some of the current issues facing the alcohol industry, on both a national level as well as in more locally in Massachusetts. Locally, there is a battle currently being waged between large alcohol retailers and the small ones, with economic survival on the line. And with the potential advent in changes to the current alcohol laws in Massachusetts, we are unsure how those changes will ultimately affect all of the various retailers.

A new Alcohol Task Force recently held their first public meeting, and the purpose of this task force is it to "examine the legal and regulatory framework governing the alcoholic beverage industry in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." Six public hearings were to be conducted, and three have already been held. In addition, interested parties can submit their concerns, suggestions, or recommendations directly to the Task Force. Many would agree that some Massachusetts alcohol laws should be changed, but there may be less agreement on which ones need changing.

One of those interested parties is Total Wine & More, a large national chain of alcohol retail stores, which is pushing their own agenda, including through the creation of Consumers First, to promote their concerns. Based on that website, there are two basic issues they wish changed, cumulative quantity discounts and alcohol coupons. At its most basic, they simply want more ways to reduce their prices so that they can attract more consumers.

Despite the name of their website, I get the impression that it is more about "Total Wine First" rather than consumers. The only two issues they have highlighted will greatly benefit them, giving them a larger economic advantage over other alcohol, smaller retailers. If it were truly about "consumers first," then I would expect to see a wider range of topics addressed, and not just the two that will most benefit Total Wine. Just seems too self-serving for me.

With approximately 170 Total Wine stores across the country, and the fact that approximately 85%+ of their stock at each of those stores is the same, it means they can purchase huge quantities of alcohol, acquiring much larger discounts than small, independent and local alcohol retailers can possibly achieve. That allows Total Wine to price some of their products at costs significantly lower than numerous other retailers, sometimes even lower than what those smaller stores pay for wholesale. The two issues Total Wine wants changed would only widen that economic gap.

If you take the time to compare prices at Total Wine with other local wine stores, you will find that not all Total Wine prices are lower than other retailers. However, on some of the largest and most popular brands, Total Wine has incredibly low prices, which seem geared to lure customers into the store, with the hope they buy other products which provide a higher profit margin. When I toured the Everett store, I was informed that their average customer spends over $100 per visit.

People don't just stop by Total Wine for a single bottle of wine as they might do at a smaller retail store. Total Wine understands that once they get someone inside the store, seeking that bargain bottle, the customer is very likely to buy much more than one bottle. The customer will stock up on alcohol, buying multiple bottles, if not cases.

We should then ask ourselves, how important is price to consumers?

There was some recent discussion on the topic of Total Wine and pricing on Facebook, begun by Charles Draghi, Chef/Owner of Erbaluce. I've been thinking about the issue of price and consumers for some time, not only for alcohol retailers but for restaurants as well. It seems to be a significant issue, and an area where consumers need much more education. It is easy to make one's decisions solely on price, opting for whatever is cheapest, yet that can be short-sighted, failing to consider all the other value that may exist at a higher cost.

To me, the best alcohol retail stores possess three key elements: a diverse & interesting selection, good service with knowledgeable staff, and reasonable pricing. Pricing is important but it shouldn't be the sole determinant of where you shop. You can't ignore the other two elements and you also have to understand exactly what you get for the price. As a caveat, we need to be cognizant that there are plenty of people who will shop based only on price, seeking the lowest they can find, and they are unlikely to change their stance. For the rest of us, we should try to think more about what those lower prices may entail. Our purchasing decisions can have a wide ranging impact.

For example, one of my most significant complaints about large alcohol retail chains like Total Wine is that they lack sufficient diversity. Because the stock in all their stores across the country is nearly the same, that means they have to purchase large, national or international brands, with significant production figures. Those are not the type of wines that generally interest me. You are extremely unlikely to find wine from small wineries at Total Wine as with their low production, they can't supply enough wine for Total Wine. As an aside, Total Wine's Sake selection is very poor too, as most Japanese breweries don't export to the U.S. in sufficient quantities to interest Total Wine.

The only way to find wines, beers, and spirits from such small wineries, breweries and distilleries, is at the smaller, more independent wine stores. We should cherish the diversity that is available at these retailers, expanding our palate beyond just the major national brands. In addition, by supporting these smaller alcohol retailers, you are giving your support to those smaller wineries, breweries and distilleries. They need your support, so they can continue to produce their interesting and diverse beverages. Total Wine doesn't support such small wineries, instead giving their primary support to very large wineries.

It is also the smaller retailers who can be at the forefront of new trends, introducing consumers to new and fascinating drinks. As an example, Georgian wines are quite hot right now though only about 25,000 cases of Georgian wine are currently exported to the U.S. Are you likely to find them at Total Wine? No, because Georgia doesn't export a sufficient quantity to interest Total Wine. The only place you will find Georgian wines are the independent retailers who cherish diversity.

If you want to find a fascinating and diverse selection of wines, you should check out places like Streetcar Wine & Beer, Social Wines, and The Wine Bottega. You will probably never see any of the wines they stock carried at Total Wine. By supporting these three wine shops, and others like them, you are supporting small, local businesses as well as the small wineries they patronize. And if you want a small, local discount wine store, check out Bin Ends Wine. You'll find excellent prices there along with a nice diversity of wines.

The wine world needs diversity, where both large and small wineries across the world can co-exist. A large chain of alcohol retail shops which neglects those small wineries does a major disservice. It fails to offer sufficient diversity to its customers and fails to introduce consumers to some of the hottest trends in the wine world. Consumers should not be driven by price alone, but should more carefully consider the reasons behind those low prices, and what they might be missing.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
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1) The Boston-based restaurant group Legal Sea Foods has partnered with the Hyannis-born snack food company Cape Cod Potato Chips for a promotion that offers a fresh take on the traditional dish. Legal Sea Foods’ “Fish & Chips” promotion will launch on the first day of summer, June 21, and run through July 19 at their restaurant locations along the East Coast. Guests will get a taste of Cape Cod, literally as well as figuratively, as each dish is named for the fishhook-shaped peninsula and made with Cape Cod Potato Chips.

Guests will find some crunch with each munch when ordering any of the three features: Caped Crudo-sader Nachos ($14.95) is tuna crudo atop Cape Cod Potato Chips, peppadew peppers, chives, guacamole and sour cream. The Sandwich, Cape Cod ($13.95), named after the oldest town on the Cape, is a beer-battered cod sandwich with a Cape Cod Potato Chip coating, bacon, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayonnaise. The Corn on the Cod ($22.95) is cod baked with Cape Cod Potato Chip crumbs, corn-roasted tomato relish and a carrot cucumber salad. All three dishes will be available at both lunch and dinner.

Legal Sea Foods’ executive chef Rich Vellante and his culinary team experimented with countless recipes and kinds of chips and, in the end, came up with dishes that highlighted both the versatility and flavor profile of the Original Cape Cod Potato Chip.

“The chefs at Legal have done a wonderful job in making three unique dishes incorporating our kettle-cooked potato chips. Summer never tasted so good,” said Rod Troni, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Cape Cod Potato Chips.

It’s a fun collaboration between two Massachusetts brands,” said Roger Berkowitz, president and CEO of Legal Sea Foods. “We’ll let the chips fall where they may, but we think our guests will really enjoy these dishes.”

All Legal Sea Foods restaurants (in MA, RI, NJ, PA, Washington DC, VA, GA) will offer the Cape-inspired menu features.

2) On Wednesday, June 14, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Craggy Range (Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand). Craggy Range Winery was established in 1997 when Australian businessman Terry Peabody visited New Zealand and was introduced to Master of Wine, Steve Smith. Terry, who had promised his family an enduring family wine legacy, sensed a new and exciting possibility in New Zealand with its exceptional climate and the spirit of the people. Together with Steve Smith, the men pursued the Single Vineyard Philosophy of winemaking (to select and source the best land and vineyards in the country, and to plant the vines perfectly suited to that terroir) and made Craggy Range the first in the Southern Hemisphere to adopt such an approach from multiple regions of the country. Under their leadership and guidance, Craggy Range has become one of the most technically advanced wineries ever built in New Zealand and is renowned for its uncompromising standards and meticulous craftsmanship.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Craggy Range’s wine ambassador, Janet Pouchot, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with her selections from the Craggy Range vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Pemaquid Oyster on the Half Shell, Champagne Mignonette
Georges Bank Sea Scallop Escabeche, Grilled Crostini
Marcona Almond Arancini, Honey Mustard Aioli
Craggy Range “Kidnappers Vineyard” Chardonnay, Hawke’s Bay, 2015
FIRST COURSE
Pan-Seared Icelandic Cod (watercress, baby arugula, orange segments, aged white wine balsamic vinaigrette)
Craggy Range “Te Muna Road Vineyard” Sauvignon Blanc, Martinborough, 2016
SECOND COURSE
Grilled Idaho Rainbow Trout (porcini mushrooms, Italian couscous salad, grilled artichoke relish)
Craggy Range “Te Muna Road Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Martinborough, 2012
Craggy Range “Calvert Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Bannockburn- Central Otago, 2007
MAIN COURSE
Tuna Steak Au Poivre (white bean & bitter greens ragout, black truffle compound butter)
Craggy Range “Te Kahu” Meritage Style Blend, Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay, 2011
Craggy Range “Sophia” Meritage Style Blend, Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay, 2013
CHEESE COURSE
Vermont Aged Gouda, California Aged Cheddar, France Brillat-Savarin (mixed Mediterranean olives, honeycomb, toasted baguette)
Craggy Range “Le Sol” Syrah, Gimblett Gravels Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay, 2013

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Terra Nostra: Savoring Portuguese Cuisine & Wines

Throughout the past ten years of The Passionate Foodie, I've been an ardent advocate of Portuguese wines. They are delicious and diverse, with hundreds of indigenous grapes, often mixed together into intriguing blends. They are food-friendly, excellent for pairing with a wide range of cuisines. They also are often great values, presenting plenty of inexpensive and tasty options. I could go on and on, such as discussing the wonders of Port and Madeira, but I want to present a few recent stats to show the growth of Portuguese wines in the U.S.

In 2016, exports of Portuguese wines to the U.S. reached about 1.56 million cases, an increase of about 90,000 cases from the previous year. Between 2010 and 2015, the value of Portuguese table wine exports grew by 18.4% while volume grew by 8.2%, indicating that more higher priced wines were exported to the U.S. The best selling Portuguese wines in the U.S. are those from the Vinho Verde region, consisting of approximately 50% of all imports. There is plenty of room for growth of Portuguese wines in the U.S., and it is clear consumers need to learn more about wines from other Portuguese regions, such as the Douro, Dao, and Alentejo.

Each year at the Boston Wine Expo, I make sure to sample some Portuguese wines, always stopping by the tables of LGL Imports. LGL Imports (Luiz’s Grocery & Liquors, Inc.) is a family owned company that was established in 1977, and began importing Portuguese wines and spirits in 1979. Several years ago, I met Luis Oliveira, whose father started the company, and Luis is carrying on that business. During these past years, a number of wines from LGL Imports have ended up on my year-end Top Ten lists. Their wines have often presented some amazing values, including even some wines that cost under $10! Plus, they have some compelling wines that are higher end too.

Recently, Luis invited me down to Fall River, to taste some wines at their warehouse, and then to dine out at a local Portuguese restaurant, drinking more of their wines. It was an excellent evening, with plenty of amazing food and wine, as well as interesting company and conversation. It was plenty of fun, and if I didn't have to face an hour drive home, I might have stayed up all night drinking with them. Luis told me that Azoreans hate to end an evening, and they all would have continued drinking until the morning arrived.

I don't often get to Fall River but maybe that should change, especially because all of the Portuguese restaurants. We dined at Terra Nostra, a casual spot that has been around for nearly thirty years. The current owner is Gus Oliveira, who purchased the place about 14 years ago. I met Gus and he was very pleasant and personable. It was obvious from observing him during the course of the evening that many of the customers must be regulars as they all seemed to know and like Gus. This is clearly a popular neighborhood spot.

A great crew of guys. Gus, the owner, is the first person on the left side of the picture, and he is seated next to Luis. We didn't lack for food or wine.

As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I was immediately taken in by the glass-cases of wine just inside the entrance. It indicated to me that this restaurant was serious about their wine, that they wanted to showcase Portuguese wines. On the other side of the cases is a small, fully stocked bar, and there is also another set of wine shelves and shelf-displays further inside the restaurant. There is a homey and welcoming atmosphere in the restaurant.

The Wine List is primarily Portuguese, with only about 12 California wines (big names that are pricier). You'll find about 50 Red Wines (most under $30/bottle), 13 Whites ($16-$25/bottle), 10 Sparkling Wines, and 4 Rosé Wines, as well as Ports & Madeiras. They carry numerous wines from the LGL Imports portfolio. Overall, there is plenty of diversity on the wine list and the prices are extremely reasonable and affordable.

The Food Menu is equally as diverse and affordable. On the menu, you'll find: Appetizers, 11 choices from $6.95-$10.95, such as Pasteis de Bacalhau (Cod Cakes); Soup/Salad, 2 Soups & 1 Salad, all at $3.50, such as Calo Verde (Green Kale Soup); Fish, 4 choices from $11.95-$17.95, such as Filetes Dourados (Golden Fish Fillet); Seafood, 3 choices from $11.95-$16, such as Arroz de Marisco (Seafood Rice); Steaks, 7 choices from $11.95-$18.95, such as Bife a Portuguesa (Portuguese Style Steak); and Chicken, 4 choices from $10.95-$13.75, such as Alentejana de Galinha (Chicken Alentejana). Essentially, everything is under $20, making this an affordable destination for most anyone.

They also have a number of daily specials and take note of the top of the board, which states, "We serve fresh potatoes and vegetables cut daily!"

We began the evening with an Azorean Cocktail, made with Maracuja Do Ezequiel, an Azorean passion fruit liqueur, plus some fruit juices. Though it was a little sweet for my preference, I enjoyed the blend of its fruit flavors and can easily understand its popularity. I think this would also work well as a frozen cocktail.

The meal began with a delicious Pate, creamy and flavorful, earthy and spicy. We had a basket of fresh rolls, and I smeared the pate atop the bread, making for a tasty start to the dinner. We also had a Fresh White Cheese ($4), a home-made cow cheese, that was also creamy, with a nice, clean flavor.

Our first wine was the 2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde, a blend of 70% Alvarinho and 30% Trajadura. Bright, clean and crisp, with pleasing notes of lemon, citrus, and mineral hints. An excellent aperitif wine and a perfect summer sipper, it also pairs well with seafood and cheese.

The next course was the Chouriço a Bombeiro ($6.95), a Flamed Chouriço, and you can see the hint of blue flames below the sausage. The Chouriço, with a nice char, was tender and moist, smoky and spicy. I could have made a meal of just a couple Chouriço. Highly recommended!

The Ameijoas a Bulhao Pato ($9.95) was a dish of Little Necks steamed in white wine, garlic, and olive oil. Tender clams in a compelling broth. One of my favorite parts of this type of dish is the broth, hoping for something delicious in which I can dip a crusty bread. This dish didn't disappoint in that regard, presenting a flavorful broth with plenty of garlic. Also highly recommended.

One of the Specials was a Cow's Leg Stew ($12), which might not sound appealing but you really need to taste it. The savory stew had plenty of veggies and fatty pieces, bones and marrow of the cow.    A bit chewy, the fatty pieces still possessed plenty of flavor, probably sopping up some of the gravy. It is a hearty dish and you just need to be a little adventurous.

Another Special was the Lapas Grelhadas ($14), grilled Limpets, which are a type of sea snail with a single shell. They are a speciality in the Azores and Madeira, and I've never tasted them before, and don't recall ever seeing them on a menu either. They almost look like a slice of sausage, roughly circular, and were a little chewy, with a briny taste. Definitely the bounty of the sea, enhanced by some lemon and I believe some garlic too. A very interesting dish and I would order them again.

Our next wine was the 2015 Adega De Borba White, a blend of 70% Arinto, 15% Alvarinho, and 15% Verdelho. With an alluring aroma, the palate presents with delicious flavors of apple, citrus and even a little tropical fruit and a hint of oaky spice. Good acidity, a pleasing finish, and a nice balance make this a very good wine.

The Bacalhau na Brasa ($17.95) is a charbroiled Cod sautéed in onions, garlic and red pepper and served with olives, boiled potatoes and broccoli. The Cod was superb, flaky, tender and flavorful, with a nice light sauce and fresh veggies.

The next wine, pictured on the left, was the 2013 Caves Velha Serradayres Reserva, a blend of Syrah, Touriga Nacional, and Castelao. It is smooth, with restrained tannins, and plenty of black fruit flavors, with a hint of cherry. It also has some mild spice notes and would be best served with a hearty dish or meat, from a burger to grilled ribs.

The Bife a Sao Miguel ($11.95) is St. Michael's Steak, a top round steak with a wine sauce, fresh garlic, pepper, French fries and an egg. Cooked medium, the steak was good, enhanced by the egg yolk and a side of hot sauce. The Fries were crisp and fluffy inside, a nice addition to the plate.

Maybe my favorite dish of the evening was another of the Specials, the Roasted Rabbit ($14), which was tender and moist, flavorful and with a crisp coating. The sauce enhanced the rabbit and I could have consumed the entire dish on my own. I love rabbit and this certainly was one of the best rabbit dishes I've had in some time.

The 2013 Adega Borba Reserva is a favorite wine of mine, one I've tasted on multiple times. A blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet, the wine spends about 12 months in French oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. As I've said before, "this is a delicious, complex wine and an excellent value. Though it is a powerful wine in some respects, that power is restrained within a velvet glove, presenting a silky smooth taste. There are lush black fruit flavors, plenty of intriguing spice notes, and some exotic herbal accents. This is another wine which would benefit from pairing with meat dishes. It is an impressive wine and one I highly recommend."

Our final savory dish was the Lombinhos Na Brasas ($11.95), a Grilled Pork Tenderloin with a mushroom sauce. Delicious and tender pork, with an earthy sauce.

The 2012 Montes Claros Garrafeira is a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonêz, and Tinta Caiada, and spent a year in the barrel and then 30 months in the bottle. It is a deep and bold red wine, with rich black fruit flavors and a prominent streak of chocolate. The tannins are restrained, presenting a silky mouthfeel as well as a lengthy, satisfying finish.

The final wine was the 2013 Vallegre Vinhas Velhas Reserva Especial, a blend of Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and Tinta Francisca, from 60+ year old vines. It had been decanted that evening and presented as deep and dark, complex and smooth, spicy and tannic. Concentrated flavors of Rich ripe plum and flavors, with hints of chocolate and leather. So much going on in this wine, it is sure to impress. Highly recommended.

For dessert, we ended with Grilled Pineapple, which was soaked in Port, Passion fruit liqueur, and anise. It was so juicy, with an interesting blend of tropical fruit flavors and a hint of anise. Even those at the table who hadn't wanted any dessert were compelled to have some of the pineapple. A fine way to end the evening.

Terra Nostra impressed, with plenty of superb dishes, and presents an excellent value as well. The wines paired very well with the various foods, reinforcing my passion for Portuguese wines. I owe big thanks to Luis and friends for such a fun and tasty evening, one I hope to repeat again in the future. If you are ever in the Fall River area, I strongly recommend you check out Terra Nostra. And I also strongly recommend you drink more Portuguese wines, and look for those from LGL Imports.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer White Wines? Think Alsace and Dopff & Irion

"As I've said repeatedly before, Alsatian wines are generally not on the radar of the average consumer but they should be. They can often provide excellent value and taste. They are enjoyable while young but can also age well. They can provide a sense of history, as well as showcase state of the art wine making. At their most basic though, they are delicious."

Wine exports from Alsace to the U.S. have increased by about 24% since 2011. The U.S. is currently the 3rd largest import market by value though there is still plenty of room for growth for Alsatian wines. As summer approaches, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with some of the young, fresh white wines from Alsace, perfect summer sippers. Let me present a couple examples, value white wines that deliver on taste.

The Dopff & Irion winery has its ancestral roots hundreds of years in the past, back to 1574, and the Dopff family were also the first, at the beginning of the 20th century, to create sparkling wines in the Alsace region. In 1945, René Dopff took over the reigns of the winery, breaking away from some of the old winemaking techniques and giving precedence to terroir over grape variety. In this direction, he split the vineyard at Château de Riquewihr into four estates, naming them Les Murailles, Les Sorcières, Les Maquisards, and Les Amandiers. Each estate was dedicated to a specific grape variety. The total estate ranges across about 27 hectares, a large estate compared to the myriad of tiny vineyards in Alsace, often less than one hectare.

I previously enjoyed the Dopff et Irion NV Crémant D'Alsace Brut Rosé, which made my Top Ten Wines Over $15 (and Under $50) of 2014. Made from 100% Pinot Noir,  I likened it to a dish of strawberries and cream. Though dry and crisp, there was a rich creaminess to the wine, with plenty of delicious red fruit flavors, including plenty of strawberry. Complex and with a lingering finish, I found this to be a compelling wine, as well as an excellent value for the price.

I've now tasted two other Dopff et Irion white wines, and they too are compelling and delicious, excellent value wines.

The 2015 Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Blanc ($12.99) is produced from 100% Pinot Blanc, sourced from 300 selected vine-growers. The wine sits on the lees for about 4 months, is then filtered, and sits in stainless steel for several months before bottling. With a light golden color, it has a delightful fruity aroma, and on the palate, there are bright notes of peach, citrus and lemon. It has a rich mouthfeel, with a nice crisp acidity, and a clean finish. It is an easy drinking, but not single-note, wine and a very good value at this price. This would be delicious on its own while sitting outside though it would also pair well with seafood, light chicken dishes, and cheese.

The 2015 Cuvée René Dopff Crustacés ($12.99) is a blend of 80% Sylvaner and 20% Pinot Blanc, sourced from 300 selected vine-growers. The wine sits on the lees for about 4 weeks and sits in stainless steel for about six months before bottling. This wine had a slightly brighter golden color than the Pinot Blanc but had an equally delightful fruity aroma. On the palate, it is crisper and leaner, with delicious apple and citrus notes, a backbone of minerality, and a pleasing finish. Like the Pinot Blanc, this wine is an easy drinking, but not single-note, wine and a very good value at this price. As the label notes, this is an excellent wine for crustaceans and shellfish. I would love to pair this with a plate of oysters, shrimp cocktail and a chilled lobster tail.

When you seek out summer white wines, think Alsace. And the wines of René Dopff are a great Alsatian choice.