Friday, February 5, 2016

Boston Wine Expo: The Wines You Should Taste

Next weekend, the Boston Wine Expo is coming to town and you might be planning on attending this huge wine event. If you attend the Grand Tasting, you'll be confronted with over 1800 wines, an overwhelming amount of wine. As you can only sample a tiny fraction of those wines, which should you choose to taste?

Last month, I provided some Advice For Attending The Boston Wine Expo, twenty suggestions for making the most of your expo experience. My first suggestion was to make a plan of which wine regions and/or specific wineries tables you want to visit and taste. Rather than waste your time wandering around the hall, you should have an idea of what you want to taste. I suggested you check the list of participating exhibitors and spend some time deciding on where you want to go.

I'm also going to provide you with my own suggestions for which wines you should check out, partially based on another prior suggestion I gave to my readers: Take this opportunity to expand your palate and try different wines, hoping to find new wines to enjoy. With all the diversity of wines available, it makes little sense to spend your time drinking the same wines you drink at home all the time. Be willing to experiment and taste something different.

This list will include many of the tables where I will also sample wines as I too like to taste new wines, to expand my own vinous horizons. In addition, I may add to this list in the days up to the Expo, as additional exhibitors are added to their website.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana (Table 515)
This is one of the best Sherry bodegas in Spain, and I was fortunate to visit the winery back in 2010. They will be showcasing their delicious La Gitana Manzanilla as well as a number of non-Sherry wines they produce. I haven't previously tasted these non-Sherry wines so am excited to sample them. I expect them to be quality wines based on my experience with their exquisite Sherries.

Portuguese Wines (Tables 261, 263, 265, 360, 362, 364, & 372)
As I've often said, Portugal produces some of the best value wines in the world and if you want inexpensive, but delicious, wines then you need to explore Portugal. Portugal has lots of intriguing, indigenous grapes, making their wines unique in a number of ways. Both their white and red wines are compelling. Portugal also makes fine, higher end wines as well, including amazing Ports. Take some time to explore what Portugal has to offer.

Moldovan Wines (Table 764)
Where is Moldova? You might not know anything about this Eastern European country, which was once part of the Soviet Union, but it has a lengthy history of wine production. They will be showcasing at least five wines, including a Sparkling, two Whites and two Reds, made from indigenous grapes of which you probably never have heard. I haven't had Moldova wines before so I definitely will be checking out this table. I don't know if the wines will be good or not, but I am compelled to explore these new wines.

Greek Wine (Table 720)
Greece is another country with a lengthy history of wine yet not enough consumers know about their fascinating wines. There are plenty of indigenous grapes in Greece, and they make a full gamut of wines, whites, reds, sparkling, dessert and more. I've found plenty of excellent Greek wine at prior Expos and recommend you check out what they have to offer this year.

Georgia Wines (Table 354)
The country not the state. Another country that once was part of the Soviet Union, Georgia might be the birthplace of wine production. It now produces some interesting wines, including some made in a very traditional manner in qvevri, earthenware vessels. I've enjoyed a number of Georgian wines before and continue to seek out new ones too. Why not try something different?

90+ Cellars (Table 437)
A Boston company, 90+ Cellars sources wines from all over the world, offering excellent bargains on a full array of wines. They will have plenty of good wines available for tasting at the Expo. This year,  keep an eye out for the 2012 L'Amis Barbaresco, which I reviewed at an Expo preview event. They also have a few newer wines, including the Magic Door Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa, CA), Magic Door Rosso Toscana IGT (Italy), and the 90+ Cellars Lot 121 Cuvee Royale (Cotes du Rhone, France).

Expand your palate and seek out wines new to you!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

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) Chef/owner Deborah Hanson of Taberna de Haro states: "How to sum up the complexities of biodynamic wines? Where mastery meets mysticism, is my simple explanation. Based on Rudolf Steiner's philosophy of holistic farming, biodynamic viticulture seeks to nurture the vineyard to a state of complete health and vigor so that the grapes she produces are impeccable, and naturally so. The wine made from these grapes has unique texture, vivacity, and charm, not to mention complexity and staying power. The winemakers committed to this philosophy are deep souls with a profound connection to their vineyards. The more of them I meet, and the more I taste their wines, and the more I think about the state of agriculture today, the more drawn I am to this holistic theory, that so deliciously expresses itself in my glass. I'm intrigued and I'd love to share it with you."

To share her thoughts, Deborah is hosting a wine event, Where Mastery Meets Mysticism: A Tasting of Biodynamic Spanish Wines on Wednesday, February 10, from 7pm-8pm.

Five wines will be paired with five courses of tapas., including:
Les Argiles Blanc 2014
Salt-cod & fennel eggs
Orto Blanc 2011
Fideuá of sepia & romescu
Pedra Roja 2013
Roasted eggplant gratiné
Finca L'Argata 2012
Pork loin in samfaína
Mibal 2013
Piquillo peppers stuffed with braised lamb

Cost: $75 per person (plus tax and gratuity)
Reservation and pre-payment required so please call 617-277-8272 in the evenings. This event will be limited to 10 participants.

2) South Street Diner is hosting an all-day Mardi Gras celebration in honor of Fat Tuesday – the last day of the Carnival season. Owner Sol Sidell is recreating that Bourbon Street feel right inside the walls of South Street Diner on Tuesday, February 9, from 11am to 11pm.

Stop in and enjoy an all-you-can-eat jambalaya feast for $6 and enjoy a full New Orleans style Mardi Gras menu including beignets, crawfish, shrimp po’boys, king cake, alligator sausage and “Lucky Dogs.” The staff will be fully decked out in Mardi Gras garb with beads to hand out to customers as well and traditional New Orleans Zydeco music will be blasting from the jukebox throughout the entire day.

For more information, please visit www.southstreetdiner.com or call 617-350-0028.

3) Pastoral Chef/Owner Todd Winer, co-owner George Lewis, and the rest of the Pastoral Artisan Pizza Kitchen and Bar team invite guests to spend their Valentine’s Day weekend at the Fort Point eatery. This Valentine’s Day weekend, Pastoral Artisan Pizza Kitchen and Bar will be hosting weekend-long events in the name of love (and good food).

Friday, February 12th:
For dinner on February 12th from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Pastoral will be offering guests prosecco paired with local wood and salt-roasted oysters for two for $40.
Saturday, February 13th:
For dinner on February 12th from 5 pm. to 10 p.m., Pastoral will be offering guests discounted Italian wine and prosecco deals, specially added menu items, and house-made, hand-crafted chocolates for the table.
Sunday, February 14th:
Opening its doors for extended hours on February 14th, Pastoral’s brunch from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. will feature house-style jazz from DJ Chris Roxx and friends, music from DJ Sandy Poirer from Shag, a photo booth, specialty coffee drinks, craft cocktails, and small-plates brunch menu. For dinner from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sunday night, Pastoral will be offering family-style dining specials to enjoy with not just one loved one, but all of your loved ones.

4) The Painted Burro team invites guests to a join them in celebrating love this upcoming Valentine’s Day weekend with menu specials or in celebrating singledom at their anti-Valentine’s “Let’s Give Them Something to Taco ‘Bout” karaoke night.

Valentine’s Day Weekend Menu Specials: Enjoy Valentine’s Day weekend while dining on brunch and dinner specials at the Painted Burro. In addition to their regularly available menus, The Painted Burro will also offer special menu items for brunch and dinner service on Saturday, February 13th and Sunday, February 14th.

Available for brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, February 13th and Sunday, February 14th, The Painted Burro will be offering Lobster Benedict with poached eggs, chipotle hollandaise, refried beans, and a griddled English muffin for $21.

Available for dinner from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, February 13th and Sunday, February 14th, The Painted Burro will be offering Cotuit Oysters with lime, shallots, pickled onions, and tequila mignonette for $12; Grilled New York Sirloin with chipotle-roasted potatoes, white asparagus, oyster mushrooms, red wine demi glaze, and tequila butter for $21; and a Mexican Banana Split for Two with coconut-avocado ice cream, chipotle-chocolate ice cream, dulce de leche ice cream, caramelized bananas, tequila-soaked cherries, and horchata whipped cream for $12.

“Let’s Give Them Something to Taco ‘Bout” Karaoke: Before the boxes of chocolates are eaten and sappy cards are exchanged, The Painted Burro will be hosting “Let’s Give Them Something to Taco ‘Bout” karaoke night for singles to have fun and poke fun at the red rose, teddy bear-filled holiday. On Tuesday, February 9, at 9 p.m., The Painted Burro invites guests to sing their (achy breaky) hearts out while enjoying specialty “cupid is stupid” cocktails, dressing up with anti-Valentine’s Day photo props, taking a swing at a “broken heart” piñata, and munching on funny conversation heart cookies.Performances to the likes of “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “All My Single Ladies” are encouraged while duets and love ballads are not allowed!

For reservations, please contact (617) 776-0005

5) This Valentine’s weekend, Brian Poe is bringing “The Love Game” to the Tip Tap Room in Beacon Hill. For three nights, from February 12-14, Chef Poe will serve up a wild game-laced menu that features a series of bold, flavorful dishes designed to tame one’s animalistic desires.

“The Love Game” menu is available as a five-course prix fixe and each course also is available at a la carte pricing:
Elk Carpaccio (green peppercorn studded tenderloin, deviled egg puree, garlic toast points, flash fried capers, lemon oil)
Miso Soup (charcoal roasted pheasant, pineapple sake salsa, lemongrass coconut foam)
Duck Confit Salad (yellow rocket, rosemary chimichurri vinaigrette, goat cheese, caramelized onion chips, Beacon Hill bacon)
Venison (Denver leg, truffle celery root puree, purple carrots, maitake mushroom demi)
Chocolate Mousse (salted caramel ice cream, crisp cocoa tuile, candied hazelnuts)

COST: Five-course prix fixe: $75 per person (items also are available at a la carte pricing)
For reservations, please call: (857) 350-3344.

6) It’s Mardi Gras in New England which generally means restaurants will be adding the word “Creole” and “Cajun” in front of dishes on menus everywhere. But, how true is this to authentic Mardi Gras fare? Chef Paul Turano, chef/owner of Tryst restaurant, in Arlington, has taken it upon himself to bring authenticity to his special Mardi Gras dinner being held on Tuesday, February 9, from 5pm-10pm.

Served in addition to Tryst’s regular menu, Mardi Gras diners can look forward to experiencing an à la carte special menu featuring Shrimp & Grits with Cajun butter ($12), Crispy Cod with kohlrabi pickled slaw, andouille & red pea rice ($21) and Beignets with bourbon caramel and vanilla sugar ($7). That’s not all, guests will be able to enjoy authentic cocktails and Hurricanes galore.

Reservations are highly recommended. Please call 781-641-2227.

7) The Committee team and newly appointed Consulting Wine Director Lauren Friel have introduced a new line up of exotic Greek spirits to their beverage program. In addition to recently overhauling the wine program, Lauren Friel is introducing traditional Greek spirits of rakomelo, ouzo, tsipouro, mastiha and arak that are unusual to the American public. The Greek and Mediterranean spirits are served table side in shooter glasses, 300ml for 1-2 people or 500ml for 2-4 people. Servers present the spirits with rocks on the side allowing guests are invited to pour as little or as much as they would like.

Mastiha, a liqueur made from the resin of the mastiha tree and grown on the island of Chios, is centuries old and made by a technique that is passed down through generations. Tsipouro dates back to monk production in the 14th century, is made with grape pomace and is similar to a pisco, while rakomelo is a blend of the anise flavored spirit raki and honey.

The full menu includes the following:
Rakomelo (House-made with Tsikoudia, honey, clove, and cinnamon served warm)
300ml $26, 500ml $44
Ouzo 
--Plomari Lesvos, Greece
Glass $8, 300ml $34, 500ml $58
--Barbayanni ‘Aphrodite’, Lesvos Greece
Glass $6, 300ml $26, 500ml $44
--Mytilini Lesvos, Greece
Glass $5, 300ml $22, 500ml $36
Local Spirits
--Idoniko Tsipouro, Drama
Glass $8, 300ml $34, 500ml $58
--Haraki Tsikoudia, Crete
Glass $6, 300ml $26, 500ml $44
--Homericon Mastiha, Chios
Glass $8, 300ml $34, 500ml $58
--El Massaya Arak, Lebanon
Glass $7, 300ml $30, 500ml $50

Pairing these spirits with various meze is a tradition that Greeks celebrate with admiration. Some of the new meze that were just added to the menu and pair well are the kounoupidi (whole roasted cauliflower, mostarda, kasseri), chestnut stifado (braised chestnuts and shallots, sweet potato), keftedakia makedonias (greek style meatballs, walnuts, tomato-prune salsa) and loukaniko (fennel sausage, braised leeks, florina pepper coulis, smoked manouri cheese).

In addition to launching the new spirit offerings, Friel has introduced a new list of exclusively Mediterranean wines at Committee as well as launched a new monthly wine dinner series highlighting different regions of the Mediterranean. Reservations can be made by calling the restaurant at 617-737-5051.

8) This Valentine’s Day weekend, love over brunch or romance under moonlight at The Elephant Walk in Boston’s South End neighborhood. Executive Chef Nadsa de Monteiro is bringing exotic flavors and standout features to her special Valentine’s Day menu which will be served in addition to the regular brunch and dinner menu.

On Saturday, February 13 and Sunday, February 14, from 11:30am-4pm, guests are invited to brunch outside the box, with staple items that include Crêpe au Canard ($12), a French crepe filled with duck braised in soy tamarind juices, portobello mushroom, crème fraiche and scallion alongside dressed baby greens, and Oeufs Brouillés au Kapik Khing ($11), cage-free scrambled eggs, PT Farms pork belly slow-cooked with Khmer spices and cucumber pickles served with sage sautéed potatoes or mixed greens. As the sun sets , and dinner begins, travel abroad with features that include Côtelettes d’Agneau Grillées, Ravioles aux Champignons ($29) New Zealand double lamb chops grilled, wild mushroom ravioli in red wine-rosemary sauce and kale sautéed with garlic, or bring Cambodian flavor to the forefront with Saraman, ($26) beef short ribs slow cooked in a rich Khmer curry with cardamom seeds, cinnamon, star anise, lemongrass, coconut milk, tamarind and shrimp paste; served with turmeric coconut rice and pickled vegetables, both available gluten free.

Opt for the brunch Bloody’s, aimed to spice up the dullest of lovers with a mix of chilies, lime juice and tuk trey (a spicy Cambodian dipping sauce), blended with vodka and Elephant Walk’s very own unique Bloody Mary mix ($9), or choose from Elephant Walk’s carefully curated wine list to toast to the perfect evening.

For more information or to make a reservation please call (617) 247–1500.

9) Up for a good challenge, to devour a huge burger? Fuddruckers Reading is hosting a special event for Fat Tuesday, February 9, a 3-Pound Burger Challenge! Can you devour a 3-pound burger in one hour?

For $19.99 you get a 3-pound burger, 1-pound of Fudd fries and a bottomless Coca Cola beverage. Additional burger toppings, like cheese, are extra, but their condiments bar is still free (with stuff like pickles, peppers, tomatoes & more). If you can finish the 3-pound burger and fries in one hour, you will receive the following:
--2 free meals toward a future visit
--1 free t-shirt stating your victory
--Undeniable respect from friends, family and colleagues

The restaurant will be open on Tuesday, from 11am-9pm, and the challenge is available all day but there is a 24 hour notice required. Call to make a reservation, (781) 942-4891.

Which of my readers is up for the challenge?

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Porch: Southern Fare in Wakefield

It's only been open for two weeks but it's already making its mark. The Porch, located on Tuttle Street in Wakefield, took over the location of the short lived Mola Bakery. Since its opening, I've stopped by a couple times for lunch and wanted to provide some preliminary thoughts on this new restaurant. As usual, please remember that this restaurant has only been open for two weeks and, like any newly opened restaurant, still needs some time to work out any initial kinks. The restaurant shows much potential and is a welcome addition to Wakefield's culinary scene.  

It is a small restaurant and you order at the counter and then sit at a table (or takeout). There is an open kitchen where you can see much of the food being prepared, though their smoker appears to be located elsewhere, maybe in the basement. The restaurant is open from Wednesday to Sunday (so is closed on Monday & Tuesday). On Wednesday to Saturday, it is open from 11am to 9pm, and on Sunday, 11am-4pm.

It can seat roughly a dozen or so people

The Menu is listed on a chalkboard behind the counter, and is subject to change. For example, on my second visit, the menu had already changed, adding Large Size Sides at $6. The Menu is relatively small, with four Sandwiches ($7-$9), one Salad ($6) and four Platters ($10-$13). You'll also find six Sides ($3/small, $6/large) and one Dessert ($3). In addition, there are some larger Family Style meals ($26-$28), which are made for four people. The Menu includes a nice variety of Southern basics, from Fried Chicken to Pulled Pork, from Collard Greens to Cole Slaw.

I think starting off small is a good idea, allowing the restaurant to concentrate on those items and ensure they are fresh and delicious. It also allows them to modify the menu based on feedback, to keep what is popular and make changes if something isn't selling well. Everything is made from scratch so there is also plenty of work involved even for a relatively small menu. For example, I asked about why they didn't carry Corn Bread and was told that they had to make an initial decision to make either Biscuits or Corn Bread, and they opted for Biscuits. In the future though, they might add Corn Bread.

On my first visit, I chose the North Carolina Pulled Pork Platter ($12) with a Side of Mashed Potato and the Bag o' Biscuits. I also added a piece of Fried Chicken. To drink, I tried the Sweet Tea ($2), which is sweet iced tea and tastes like many sweet teas I have tasted in the South.

The Pulled Pork is 1/2 pound of smoked shoulder, in a North Carolina style, and is accompanied by some Carolina Vinegar Sauce. They have their own Smoker and the pork is very tender and flavorful, with plenty of meat and very few fatty parts. The vinegar sauce makes for excellent dipping, adding a nice tang to the smoky meat. A winner of a dish and it is available as a sandwich as well.

On my first visit, the boneless Fried Chicken was a little overcooked, just the coating being fried a bit too much. However, the flavor of the coating was still very good, a nice combo of spices, and the chicken itself was very moist and tender, exactly what you want from a good piece of fried chicken. I suspected that they would work out the cooking issue in the near future.

I wasn't impressed with the mashed potatoes but the Bag o' Biscuits certainly made up for that disappointment. You receive three biscuits in a bag with a tub of honey butter. On my first visit, I received biscuits straight from the oven. Hot biscuits with sweet honey butter were just perfect. The biscuits were well made, with that crusty exterior and lighter, fluffier interior. Another winner and highly recommended.

On another visit, I enjoyed The Banty ($8), a Fried Chicken sandwich with pimento cheese, bread & butter pickles, and iceberg lettuce (though I had them omit the lettuce). This time, the chicken was fried much better, a clear improvement in a short time. The pickles were tasty, adding a nice crunch and mild sweetness to this dish, and the pimento added some spice and moistness to the sandwich. I got a side of Mac & Cheese, and received a generous portion of cheesy goodness.

As I've mentioned before, I generally dislike Meatloaf, though there have been a few exceptions. I'd heard some good things about The Porch's Meatloaf so I gave it a try, and I'm so glad that I did. With a nice crusty edge, the meatloaf was dense and moist, flavorful and tasty, accompanied by a spicy ketchup. The chef told me that he adds gelatin to the recipe to ensue it is moist, without the necessity for lots of bread. You can order the Meatloaf as a sandwich or on a platter, and I will certainly order it again. Another winning dish, especially coming from someone who is extremely picky about meatloaf.

For Dessert, they have Chess Pie ($3 a piece/$22 for a whole pie), a Southern specialty that I haven't seen available at too many local restaurants. It is basically a type of custard pie, though cornmeal is commonly added to it. It was rich and tasty, though a dollop of fresh whipped cream might have enhanced the dessert.

Overall, there is much to like about The Porch and with a little more time, it will work out the initial kinks. The owners are personable and seem very open to suggestions. I think their prices are generally reasonable for the quality and quantity of food you receive. The restaurant has plenty of potential and I wish them all the best. I'll continue to dine there and will report back again once more time has passed and the restaurant is in its full groove. I recommend my readers to check it out, to enjoy their dishes, from Pulled Pork to Meatloaf.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Osteria Nino: Piemontese Wine Dinner

Osteria Nino, one of my Favorite New Restaurants of 2015, recently hosted their first wine dinner of 2016, a celebration of the wines and cuisine of the Piedmont, a region in the northwestern corner of Italy. Piedmont is known for its beef and white truffles, Barbaresco and Barolo. Executive Chef Walace Benica created a four course meal of traditional Piedmontese dishes while Director of Wine Sam Alberts and Steven Chevalier of Ideal Wine & Spirits Co. selected and supplied the wines.

I was invited as a media guest and we all sat at a communal table to enjoy the food and wine, as well as good conversation and some education about the wine. Everything, as usual, was delicious and everyone I spoke to near me also greatly enjoyed the meal. Both Sam and Steven spoke during the meal, talking about the various dishes and wines, as well as taking any questions. Their next wine event will be in March and I highly recommend you check it out.

We began the evening with a flute of Masuret Prosecco Extra Dry, an easy drinking, dry Italian sparkling wine with tiny bubbles, pleasant fruit flavors and a hint of floral notes. It is made in the Charmat method and has an 11.5% ABV. A value sparkling wine for everyday drinking.

The first course of the evening was Bagna Cauda, seasonal vegetables with an anchovy & garlic dipping sauce. "Bagna Cauda," which translates as "hot bath," is a traditional Piedmontese dish, thought to have originated during the late Middle Ages as a dish to celebrate the grape harvest. It is commonly a seasonal dish, served during the winter, and involves dipping vegetables, whether raw or cooked, into a special dip. The dip is simply prepared with ingredients such as anchovies, garlic, and olive oil though variations can be found as well.

We were provided a large platter of raw vegetables, including kohlrabi, watermelon radishes, black radishes, red radishes, carrots, and peppers. The dip was delicious, a bit briny with plenty of garlic flavor, and made for a compelling dip for the veggies. It was also tasty to dip bread into this sauce and I suspect the dip has many other uses as well.

With this course, we sipped a wine from the Guidobono Winery, their 2014 Guidobono Langhe Nebbiolo. Made from 100% Nebbiolo, and with a 14% ABV, this wine is fermented in stainless steel vats and then 50% is aged in large, used oak barrels for about eight months. Nebbiolo allegedly received its name from the word nebbia, which is Italian for "fog," as there are frequent fogs in the Piedmont region. This is intended to be a more entry level Nebbiolo, one lacking the aging found in Barbaresco and Barolo, and which is meant for drinking now. Chevalier stated that "Nebbiolo is the Pinot Noir of Italy," a sentiment shared by others as well, who see many similarities between Burgundy and the Piedmont.

With a light red color, this wine has a pleasant nose of cherries with a hint of spice, and on the palate is smooth and fruity, easy drinking but far from simple. With soft tannins, good acidity, and a delightful blend of red fruit and spice flavors, it would be an excellent choice for many different dishes, from a simple pizza or burger, to a nice pasta dish. And at about $14, it is a very good value too. I would buy this by the case to ensure I always had a bottle on hand.

The second course, another traditional Piedmontese dish, was Gnocchi al Castelmagno e Noci, housemade gnocchi with Castelmagno cheese & hazelnuts. Castelmagno cheese, made from cow's milk, extends back at least to the later 13th century and it is said the cheese was named after San Magno, a Roman soldier who was martyred in the Cuneo mountains. Hazelnuts are also well known in Piedmont and there is even Protected Geographical Indication for Nocciola del Piemonte, the hazelnuts of the region.

The gnocchi were soft and pillowy, a light pasta covered with the melted Castelmagno, which added an interesting cheesy tang to the dish and the hazelnuts provided a crunchy texture and nuttiness to the smooth gnocchi. These aren't the heavy, dense gnocchi you find at some other restaurants, but rather light gnocchi which will make you crave another dish. Osteria Nino makes all of their pastas very well and you'll never go wrong ordering one of their pasta dishes.

Our next wine was from the Cantina del Pino, a small winery in Barbaresco, which takes it name from a lone pine tree set atop a hill. Their 2010 Barbaresco is made from 100% Nebbiolo and was aged for two years in oak and eighteen months in the bottle. The grapes come from vineyards in the communes of Barbaresco and Nieves.  Regulations state that Barbaresco wines must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, with at least 1 year in oak, prior to release. Barolo must be aged for a longer time. Another significant different between Barbaresco and Barolo is the soils in the areas where they are produced, a topic worthy of its own article.

The 2010 Cantina del Pino Barbaresco (about $40) is from an excellent vintage. It has an intriguing nose of black fruit and subtle spices and a touch of floral notes. On the palate, it possesses restrained tannins, excellent acidity and deep, complex flavors of black cherry, blackberry, violets, black pepper and spicy accents. It is dry and elegant, with a lengthy finish. Absolutely delicious and a nice accompaniment to the gnocchi dish. It isn't cheap but this is an impressive wine that is well worth a splurge.

The final savory dish, another traditional Piedmontese one, was the Bollito di Manzo, braised short rib with carrots and cabbage. Traditionally, the beef was boiled with some vegetables, ensuring the beef would be tender. This short rib was certainly tender and flavorful and your fork alone was needed to break the beef into smaller, bite-sized pieces. The broth was also savory and tasty, helping to provide additional flavors to the carrots and cabbage.

For this meat dish, we had a 2010 Barolo from the Odder Winery, which has been producing wine since the 1860s. To be labeled DOCG, a Barolo must have at least two years aging in oak and at least one year in the bottle prior to release. Their 2010 Barolo (about $45) is made in a traditional style, aged in various sized Austrian and Slavonian oak barrels. This is a more muscular wine, though still with a sense of elegance, of restrained power. The tannins are more moderate, with a complex melange of flavors, including black cherry, plum, violets, spice and some earthiness. It also possesses a fuller body, a lingering and intense finish. This wine is still relatively young and will improve more with time, though it already shows much potential. Splurge on this wine and put a couple bottles in your cellar for a few years.

For dessert, we savored the Torta di Nocciola, a chocolate & hazelnut cream cake. Creamy, with plenty of chocolate flavor, and a nutty crunch, this was an excellent way to end the meal. It wasn't too heavy though it was loaded with flavor.

Our final wine was the Cocchi Barolo Chinato (about $50), a unique Piedmontese digestif. The story claims that Barolo Chinato was invented by Giuseppe Cappellano, a 19th-century pharmacist. Cappellano thought Barolo could be therapeutic, especially if he added some botanicals to the wine. One of the botanicals was quinine bark, giving Chinato its name. Some sugar was also added and then the blend was aged some. Today, producers all have their own secret recipes for creating Chinato and it is thought to be a great pairing with chocolate. I've had Chinato before and it can be intriguing, with such a complex taste profile.

The Cocchi Barolo Chinato possessed that complexity, being bitter and herbal, spicy and sweet, with black fruit flavors. The flavors blend harmoniously and you should slowly savor it, to revel in its unique taste profile. It is hard to describe the taste in words, as there is so much going on in this wine. It worked well with the Torta and I can understand why people say it is such a great pairing with chocolate.

This Piemontese wine dinner was a culinary pleasure and indicative of the quality that Osteria Nino  brings to the table all the time. They remain consistently good and continue to receive my highest recommendation. I dine there frequently and will continue to do so. If you haven't been to Osteria Nino before, then make the trip to Burlington and enjoy their delicious Roman-inspired cuisine and well-curated Italian wine list.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Rant: Vermont, Hybrids & Respect

I feel sorry for grapes like Baco Noir, Marechal Foch, LaCrescent, and Marquette. Though they are used to make wine in a number of U.S. states, they far too often get very little respect from wine lovers because of their parentage. These grapes are hybrids, not pure vitis vinifera like Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Because they are not considered "pure," a fair number of people look down upon them, sometimes even shunning them.

Is this grape racism or pure snobbery? Shouldn't these hybrid grapes be judged by the quality of their wine rather than the identity of their parents?

As I previously mentioned, this June, I'll be attending TasteCamp 2016, which will be held in scenic Vermont. Approximately forty bloggers, writers and their guests will attend TasteCamp, tasting our way through Vermont's wineries, breweries and distilleries. Some of the wines we will taste will be made from hybrid grapes and this won't be our first time. In previous TasteCamps, we also sampled wines produced from hybrids. Personally, I've enjoyed a number of those wines and know a fair number of other attendees who also enjoyed them.

In addition, on prior visits to Vermont, I'vve enjoyed wines made from hybrids including grapes such as Sabrevois, St. Croix, Louise Swenson, and Frontenac. In fact, Boyden Valley Winery produced an amazing ice wine from Frontenac, which could compete with many excellent dessert wines produced from vitas vinifera. I expect to find some other delicious hybrid wines at TasteCamp 2016.

Vitis vinifera is the common grape vine, the one most used for making wine, especially the so-called "great" wines. All of the major grapes of which you are familiar are likely these types of grapes, from Pinot Noir to Syrah, from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Blanc. Hybrids are a cross of two or more Vitis species, such as vitis vinifera and vitis labrusca. They are often created by people seeking a hardier grape, especially for colder northern climates. Because they are not pure vitis vinifera, some people turn up their noses at these hybrids, refusing to believe they can produce quality wine. Drop that pretentiousness and judge these wines by their taste.

Sure there are poor quality wines made from hybrids, but there are plenty of poor quality wines made from vitis vinifera too. Yet there are some excellent wines made from these hybrids as well, and a wine lover would be hard pressed to guess they were hybrids simply from tasting the wine. You should approach a wine without prejudices or biases, willing to taste the wine and let it stand on its own. If you do so, you will probably find plenty of delicious wines that you might never have experienced otherwise.

Stop being a vitis vinifera snob!