Monday, April 14, 2014

Rant: Don't Bottle Yourself In (Part 2)

Are you a fan of the "juice boxes" of the wine world? In other words, do you purchase wine packaged in Tetra Paks?

One month ago, I told my readers: "Stop ignoring the Tetra Pak." As I also mentioned, "Tetra Paks are better for the environment in a number of ways, making it a more sustainable choice than a bottle." However, that won't matter to many people unless the wine in the Tetra Pak tastes good, and I believe that the quality of wine in Tetra Paks has been improving over the years.

Food Production Daily recently posted an intriguing article about Tetra Paks, noting the growth of this product. In 2013, about 1.7 billion liters of wine were packaged in Tetra Paks, a growth of 3% from the prior year, and constituting about "7% of the world's share of still wines." That seems like a substantial amount of wine, much more than I expected. And as the category is growing, it seems that more and more people are accepting of this packaging.

The article also notes that the best markets for Tetra Paks currently include Spain, Argentina, Russia and Italy. The U.S. is not mentioned as one of these top markets which is probably not surprising as it doesn't appear there is much wine available here yet in Tetra Paks. However, there are at least a few very good wines available, and hopefully more will come in the near future. I agree with the gist of the article that more quality wine needs to be packaged in this way, to avoid acquiring a reputation that only "cheap" wine gets placed into a Tetra Pak.

As the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose sold out of nearly all of the Tetra Pak wines that were recently brought in, it is clear that local consumers are willing to take a chance on these wines. They especially make an attractive choice as summer approaches, as they are a convenient option for taking to the beach, camping, boating and more. No glass to break, no need for a corkscrew, compact size.

So what is stopping you from enjoying wine in a Tetra Pak?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Legal Harborside is saddling up for “the most exciting two minutes in sports” by hosting a Kentucky Derby party for the books. Guests can head over to Legal Harborside’s rooftop to catch the run of the roses as all eyes will be on the top contenders at Churchill Downs. Revelers should dress to impress for Millionaires Row with a prize awarded at the end of the evening for “Best Derby Hat.

Tickets to the party include festive tunes from a live deejay, one Mint Julep per guest, a Triple Crown of passed hors d’oeuvres (pulled pork sliders, shrimp & corn hush puppies, mini chicken & waffles) and an Oyster Bar (WiAnno, Merry Bay, Wellfleet, Naked Cowboy) from 6-7pm.

When: May 3 from 4:30pm – 7:30pm
Cost: General admission: $60 per person
Reserved couch: $400 per group (up to six people)

Tickets and tables may be reserved online. Tickets purchased are non-refundable and have no cash value. Limited tickets and table reservations are available. Access to the event will only be granted to guests with a ticket receipt and 21+ ID. Guests may order food a la carte from the full 3rd floor menu. Roof opens to the public at 7:30pm.

2) From June 2-8, 2014, Campari® and Imbibe magazine will present Negroni Week nationwide when a portion of proceeds from every Negroni sold at participating bars and restaurants will be donated to the charity of their choice. In addition, Campari will donate $10,000 to the top fundraising establishment’s charity.

Last year through Negroni Week, we were able to give back by simply enjoying one of my favorite cocktails,” says Jonny Raglin of Comstock Saloon in San Francisco, one of the original Negroni Week supporters. “Cocktails are really only improved by supporting those in need.”

Last year, more than 120 bars and restaurants across the U.S. participated in the inaugural Negroni Week, including renowned cocktail destinations such as PDT in New York; Son of a Gun and Spare Room in Los Angeles; Imperial in Portland; and many more. “What started as a grassroots movement to aid charities through a cocktail is now an orchestrated effort around the world, giving bartenders and Campari fans a chance to give back to causes that matter most in their communities,” said Umberto Luchini, Head of Marketing, Campari America.

Negroni Week 2014, held in partnership the U.S. Bartender’s Guild (USBG), uses the classic Negroni cocktail - one part Campari, one part gin and one part sweet vermouth – as the catalyst to help raise funds for worthy causes. "We launched Negroni Week not only to celebrate one of the world's great cocktails but also to create a unique platform for charities nationwide," says Imbibe publisher Karen Foley. "It's such an amazing way for bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts to join forces for the greater good."

Bars and restaurants interested in signing up can go to This is also where consumers can find participating bars and restaurants in their area. Negroni fans nationwide will be encouraged to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #NegroniWeek, with surprise giveaways to supporters throughout the week.

Invented in Florence, Italy, in 1919, the exceptionally easy-to-create and even easier-to-enjoy Negroni is considered an aperitif – a drink traditionally consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite. It can be served up in a cocktail glass or on the rocks, and it is always stirred, never shaken.

Several local bars have already committed to participating, including:
jm Curley
Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar
Brick & Mortar
Russell House Tavern

3) Scheduled for Sunday, April 13, the fifth annual Boston Lamb Jam brings together a slew of talented chefs and their tastiest American lamb-based dishes to compete for top honors in categories like Best in Show, People's Choice and Best Leg, Ground, Shank and Shoulder.

The event starts with a VIP hour tailored to the most ardent lovers of American lamb. From 2:30-3:30pm, guests will get to snack on lamb charcuterie from acclaimed chefs Jamie Bissonnette of Toro and Coppa, Will Gilson of Puritan & Co., Louis DiBiccari of Tavern Road and Dante de Magistris of dante. VIPs will also get to sample sheep's milk cheese, wine and beer, and Elijah Craig bourbon-based cocktails courtesy of mixologist Joy Richard and the renowned bar team at Citizen.

At the main event, which takes place from 3:00-6:00pm, fans of lamb will get to try samples of two dozen lambtastic dishes presented by chefs from Boston, Providence, Portsmouth and Portland. Reigning champion Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow, who took home a trio of trophies last year, will be defending his title against first time participants like Graham Botto of Back Bay Grill in Portland and Matt Louis from Portsmouth's Moxy. There are more than a few repeat performers, too including...

Michael Scelfo, Alden & Harlow
Brian Alberg, Red Lion Inn
Brian Dandro, ArtBar
Brian Rae, Rialto
Robert Sisca, Bistro du Midi
Cassie Piuma, Sarma
Brian Reyelt, Citizen
Nuno Alves & Chris Douglass, Tavolo
Peter Davis, Henrietta's Table
Jim Solomon, The Fireplace
Daniel Bojorquez, La Brasa
Justin Melnick, The Terrace

Nemo Bolin, Cook & Brown
Beau Vestal, New Rivers
Champe Speidel, Persimmon

Graham Botto, Back Bay Grill
Austin Miller, East Ender
Niko Regas, Emilitsa

Matt Louis, Moxy
Evan Hennessy, Stages at One Washington

Attendees will be able to sip on lamb-friendly wines and beers from 12 of New England's best breweries (like Mayflower, Harpoon, Rising Tide and Smuttynose, just to name a few), take part in the make-your-own spice rub station and learn the ins and outs of animal butchery at a demo with Nuno Alves of Tavolo.

A portion of the proceeds from the Boston Lamb Jam will support Lovin' Spoonfuls, a local organization that facilitates the recovery and distribution of healthy, perishable food that would otherwise be discarded.

Where: The Royal Sonesta, 40 Edwin H Land Blvd, Cambridge, MA 02142
VIP Tickets ($90): GA Tickets ($60):

4) Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer is celebrating their 15th year of sweet success in the city. This year, some of the area’s premier restaurants and bakeries will be joining forces to help raise money to benefit breast cancer research and care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Establishments will choose one dessert to feature for a week where 100% of the proceeds from sales will go directly to the Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer organization.

This year, top area restaurants have kindly pledged to donate all of their selected dessert’s proceeds to join in the battle against breast cancer including: Cask ‘n Flagon’s Chocolate Torte (homemade flourless chocolate torte served warm with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream and hot chocolate sauce - $6.75); Haru’s Tempura Cheesecake (coconut with mixed berry coulis, or traditional with sake claret coulis - $9); Legal Sea Foods’s Boston Cream Pie (chocolate sauce, rum caramel sauce, toffee almond crunch - $7.95); and, The Tip Tap Room’s Blackberry White Chocolate Bread Pudding (whiskey caramel glaze - $7.95).

WHEN: Available May 5th through May 11th at participating restaurants
WHERE: Participating restaurants include the following:
· Cask ‘n Flagon – Fenway (62 Brookline Avenue, Boston)
· Cask ‘n Flagon – Marshfield (804 Plain Street, Marshfield)
· Haru (55 Huntington Avenue, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Copley Place (100 Huntington Avenue, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Prudential Center (800 Boylston Street, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Park Plaza (26 Park Plaza, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Chestnut Hill (43 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill)
· The Tip Tap Room (138 Cambridge Street, Boston)

5) Frances Mayes, the bestselling author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” brings her line of Tuscan Sun Wines to New Hampshire for the first time on Friday, May 16 for a private dinner event at Tuscan Kitchen, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Salem, New Hampshire. This will be followed by a wine sampling and book and bottle singing event on Saturday, May 17 at Tuscan Market, an artisan Italian marketplace and trattoria. Created in partnership with Curious Cork Imports, each Tuscan Sun Wine was hand-selected by Mayes herself to embody a different concept that touches on the Tuscan lifestyle.

The private dinner with Frances will take place on Friday, May 16 with two seatings at 5:30pm and again at 8:30pm at Tuscan Kitchen. Reservations for the private dinner is limited to 50 people per seating and is $125 per person. This includes a gourmet dinner, a signed bottle of Tuscan Sun Wines, and a signed cookbook. For reservations, please visit

The book and bottle signing will take place the following day on Saturday, May 17 from 11:00am– 3:00pm at Tuscan Market, 63 Main Street in Salem, NH, right next to Tuscan Kitchen. Fans will be able to meet Frances Mayes, taste the wines and have Frances autograph her bottles, books, and the movie which make the perfect keepsake or gift. Frances’s wines, her cookbook, “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook,” book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” as well as the 2003 movie adaptation of her book of the same title will be available for purchase at the event.

The line of Tuscan Sun Wines includes three reds and one white. Each wine has an Italian name and an English translation and showcases the vision of Frances Mayes:

· Pensiero (A little gift) 100% Pinot Grigio
· Permesso (May I come in?) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
· Tondo Tondo (Just perfect) 100% Sangiovese
· Auguri (My best to you) 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot

These wines bring to life a sense of wonder through the simple joys that my life in Italy has given me,” said Mayes. “I hope that by sharing them with the world, others can also attain a bit of the enjoyment I’ve gained from my experience here, if only for a moment as they sip these glorious wines.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sake Today Magazine: A Review

A magazine devoted to only Sake? What an excellent idea for a new, niche magazine, especially if John Gauntner, the famed Sake expert and Sake Dendoushi ("Sake Evangelist") is behind the endeavor. Now that the first issue has been released, how does the magazine measure up?

The inaugural issue of Sake Today: Celebrating The World Of Sake Culture was recently published, a project founded by John Gauntner and Ry Beville. The magazine can be purchased online for about $10, which includes the cost of shipping. Retailers can purchase copies, at a discount for resale, though I am not aware of any local stores currently stocking this magazine. The original plan was to publish two issues a year, though it is possible that they may change to a quarterly release schedule.

Comprised of 60 pages, the magazine has about 11 full pages dedicated to ads, all from Sake breweries. First, that is a smaller percentage of ads than many other magazines, giving you more content. Second, it is cool that all of the ads are Sake-related, and not for items like cars and watches. Even the ads stay true to the Sake focus of the magazine.

There are 10 Sake articles within the magazine, with 2 by John Gauntner and 2 others without any attribution. Gauntner's articles start things off, with a Welcome To The Inaugural Issue as well as How To Choose Sake: Three Rules. Both are informative and well written articles, presenting lots of great introductory info. In the Welcome article, Gauntner discusses a bit about the history of Sake, as well as noting current consumption patterns, brewing trends and more. That Welcome article is great for Sake lovers of all knowledge levels. In the Three Rules article, Gauntner offers basic advice for buying Sake which should especially help those new to Sake. For example, seeking out the term ginjo is a very good idea.

Next, there is a Filtered Wisdom article providing informative answers to 9 commonly asked Sake questions, such as how to store Sake to how does Sake pair with food. The Sake & Agriculture article talks about rice farmers, also discussing how the rice affects Sake. Though this is a bit more of an advanced topic, it is written in an easily understood manner, so will be educational for all. Did you know that nitrogen use in the rice fields will affect the levels of amino acids in Sake?

You will then find Otsumami, which very briefly mentions that the Japanese prefer to drink Sake with small plates of food, called otsumami. There are plenty of photos of such dishes, but no descriptions of what each photo depicts. The article notes that the Sake Today website will have descriptions and recipes, but the site does not yet possess that information. Thus, this is the weakest article in the magazine, lacking identifying information. I will note that the photography is compelling, which applies to the entire issue. Visually, the magazine is aesthetically pleasing, which certainly reflects the Japanese love of beauty in all its forms.    

Tokyo: A Sake Lover's Bar Guide lists 9 bar recommendations as well as 6 Sake shops, providing a valuable guide for anyone visiting or living in Tokyo. Besides discussing Sake, there are also mentions of some of the best bar snacks at these places, from fried fish cake pillows to sauteed eggplant. This type of article would be great to see for many different locations, both inside and outside of Japan. Regionality in Japanese Sake provides a glimpse at some of the differences you will find in Sake produced in different parts of Japan. For example, Sake from eastern Japan may be light and refreshing while western Sake is bolder and more assertive. Another intriguing article that touches on issues of terroir.

Craft Beer, Craft Sake notes how the craft beer movement has caught on in Japan too, with a number of Sake breweries getting involved in brewing beer too. There is a special spotlight on the Konishi Brewing Company and even some information on Nogne, a Norway brewery which makes beer and Sake. There is also an article on Sakaya, an all-Sake store in New York City which has long been one of my favorite stops when I visit NYC. The final article discusses Shuki, ceramic vessels for drinking Sake, from ochoko to guinomi. Forget Riedel glasses, and embrace some traditional Japanese pottery.

Overall, I was very pleased with this first issue. It contains a nice diversity of well-written articles complemented by some great photography. The magazine is very friendly to those new to Sake, but also contains articles that will appeal to those with much more knowledge about Sake. My only issue with the magazine is that I wish it were larger. 60 pages seems very thin, especially compared to other niche magazines. However, as this was only the first issue, I suspect the size of the magazine will grow in subsequent issues, especially as more interest develops. There is a definite need for a magazine dedicated to Sake and it appears John Gauntner has compiled a good crew to bring that to life. I recommend that everyone interested or curious about Sake get a copy of Sake Today.

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) Wine in kegs is a new trend but what about Sake? SakéOne, a Sake brewery in Oregon, has recently launched a Sake in a keg, using their Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo. This Sake uses certified organic Calrose rice that has been polished down to 60%. The keg, holding 19.5 liters, features the Nitro Keg system, which uses 75% nitrogen and 25% carbon dioxide to maintain freshness and the Sake's flavor profile. The Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo Saké is now on tap at restaurants in Oregon, California, Washington, Illinois, Nevada and New York.

I think this is an excellent idea, and a great way to keep Sake fresh at a bar or restaurant. Having Sake on tap should be a compelling selling point, and a great way to introduce people to Sake. Bars and restaurants can sell the Sake on its own, or integrate it into their cocktail programs. With the trend of wine in kegs, Sake can hop on that wagon and spread to a wider audience. Kudos to SakeOne for moving forward in this direction.

2) Sake brewed in Scotland? Well, the Japanese emulated Scotland and now creates some of the best whiskey in the world. Can Scotland replicate this success, but in the realm of Sake? One Scottish brewery wants to give it a try. Both the Daily Record and The Scotsman reported on the plans of the
Arran Brewery, a beer brewery located on the isle of Arran. The brewery purchased land in Dreghorn where they plan to construct a Sake brewery. They have already been brewing a tiny amount of Sake but now want to take it to a commercial scale. This would probably be the second Sake brewery in Europe, the first being Nogne in Norway.

Curiously, Arran plans to export most of their Sake to Japan, partially thinking that the popularity of Scotch whiskey in Japan will extend to Scottish Sake too. As Sake consumption in Japan has been decreasing over the years, maybe it isn't the best market for Scottish Sake. Sure, there would be the novelty of the Sake at first, but could it hope to compete with all of the domestically produced Sake? That seems doubtful. Arran Brewery might be better served trying to primarily sell to the European market, or even the U.S. market. They could then export a smaller portion to Japan and see how well it does there before committing a larger portion of their production.

3) With summer coming, a fresh pitcher of Sangria sounds good but what about some Sake Sangria?   Over at Rocket News 24. they have a simple recipe for creating Sake Sangria and it is made from only Sake and fruit. It is more like an infused Sake as you let the fruit sit in the Sake for a day. The article even mentions how to make a Sake Smoothie with the alcohol soaked fruit. Why not give it a try?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Rant: The Crime Of Transporting Wine

You've probably broken some Massachusetts wine laws and didn't even realize it. And even if you were aware of those laws, you probably have ignored them. It is not as if the police typically enforce those laws, though the possibility exists and recent examples of police action in Vermont may not bode well for those of us in Massachusetts.

The law in Vermont states that you cannot transport into the state more than 6 gallons of wine, the equivalent of about 30 bottles of wine. In December 2013, during a traffic stop, the Vermont State Police arrested a man for violation of this transportation law. The driver had purchased the wine in New Hampshire and was taking it to New York. Though the exact amount of alcohol was not mentioned, it was noted it totaled over $44,000. Then, in March 2014, the State Police stopped another driver who was transporting 33 gallons of wine he purchased in New Hampshire. The police confiscated 27 gallons of the wine and charged him with Illegal Vinous Beverage Importation. Though such arrests are rare, having two such arrests in a short time period is worrisome. Does it indicate a new trend to enforce the law?

This could happen in Massachusetts too. Under MA General Laws Chapter 138, Section 2, it states: "No person shall manufacture, with intent to sell, sell or expose or keep for sale, store, transport, import or export alcoholic beverages or alcohol, except as authorized by this chapter;..." So, if you travel to a New Hampshire liquor store, buy a single bottle of wine and bring it back to Massachusetts, you have broken the law. One bottle, one case, or two cases, it is all the same. And according to Rick Gerrish, the director of marketing for the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, more than 50% of their sales are to out of state buyers, including about 28% from Massachusetts. That is a lot of law breakers.

To legally transport wine from New Hampshire, you need to apply for a special permit: Application for a Special Permit to Import Household Effects/Gifts Into Massachusetts. You will also have to pay a small fee for your alcohol, such as 55 cents per gallon of still wine and 70 cents per gallon of sparkling wine. Spirits cost the most, at $4.05 per gallon. How many people though avail themselves of this special permit? In 2009, only 168 special permits were issued and in 2013, the number had barely changed, to 169. These permits cover not just wine transported from New Hampshire, but also wine from any other state. Bringing wine home with you from a vacation? That is probably illegal too unless you possess one of these special permits. Have any of my readers ever obtained one of these permits?

Even transporting wine within Massachusetts can cause problems with the law. According to MA General Laws Chapter 138, Section 22"Any person may, but only for his own use and that of his family and guests, transport alcoholic beverages or alcohol, without any license or permit, but not exceeding in amount, at any one time, twenty gallons of malt beverages, three gallons of any other alcoholic beverage, or one gallon of alcohol, or their measured equivalent;..." This means that if you transport more than 15 bottles of wine in your car, you would be in violation. So if you buy two cases of wine at your local store, you legally are not allowed to transport it to your home without a special permit. Isn't that crazy?

These laws are rarely enforced so why even have them? Why have these Swords of Damocles hanging over the heads of wine lovers? They are relics of Prohibition and the time to change these laws is now. Unfortunately, it is doubtful anything will be done by our legislators in this regard. House Bill 294 is still languishing, awaiting a vote, and the length of time it has taken to even get to that point has been far too long. However, the more consumers speak up, the better. They need to contact their legislators, to demand action. Let us work together to change these relic laws and enable wine lovers to get whatever wine they desire.