Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Slow Wine Guide Tasting: Italy, California & Oregon (Part 1)

When you're confronted with about 300 wines available for tasting, you have to make some hard decisions. In only four hours, no one can properly taste and give respect to all of those wines so you need to be very selective as to which of those wines you'll sample. Forced to be selective, I knew that I'd miss out on tasting some interesting and delicious wines. However, I was pleased to find some compelling wines which were well worthy of attention.

The 2019 U.S. Slow Wine Tour visited five cities, starting in San Francisco and ending in Boston, where it took place at the City Winery. The Tour was intended to showcase the release of the 2019  Slow Wine Guide, a wine review guide which doesn't use numeric scores to assess wine. This guide is an offshoot of the Slow Food movement, which was established in Italy, in Piedmont, by foodways activist Carlo Petrini as a way to protect the world’s gastronomic traditions.

Their website states their basic philosophy, "Slow Food believes that wine, just as with food, must be good, clean, and fair--not just good. Wine is an agricultural product, just like any of the foods we eat, and has an impact on the lives of the people who produce it, as well as on the environment--through pesticides, herbicides and excessive water consumption which are all commonplace in conventional wine production." The first edition of the annual Slow Wine Guide, centered on Italian wines, was published in 2010, with an English translation released the next year. To review their wines, they visited each winery, spoke about their agricultural practices & wine production, blind-tasted their wines, and then composed their reviews.

In 2017, Slow Wine decided to expand their coverage to California, so they traveled there, visiting and evaluating hundreds of wineries. The 2018 Slow Wine Guide was the first to include reviews of California wineries, 70 in all. For the 2019 Slow Wine Guide, they expanded their California coverage to include over 130 wineries. In addition, they have added coverage of Oregon, including about 50 wineries. As their website states, "Oregon’s commitment to sustainable wine-making and respect for the terroir is consistent with Slow Wine’s principles and its mission to support local agriculture."

In addition, they note, "Like last year’s book, the 2019 guide isn’t intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive: it’s a growing, living, and breathing almanac that’s meant to give voice to the new wave of America’s viticultural renaissance." Next year's guide will continue to grow, including more wineries from California and Oregon, and possibly reaching out to other U.S. states as well. Though the inclusion of other states might take a bit longer.

I didn't know until I arrived at the Slow Wine tasting that approximately 300 wines were available for sampling. I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the event. Representatives of 85 wineries were present, including 79 from Italy, 3 from California and 3 from Oregon, each pouring about three wines. Some of the Italian regions covered include Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Marche, Piedmont, Veneto, Puglia, Sicily, Tuscany, Umbria, and more. There were also three joint tables, representing the Prosecco DOC, Lugana DOC, and Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, which added about another 50 wines. Some of the wineries were seeking importers but a significant amount are already available locally.

In the tasting event guidebook, some of the wineries and wines were marked with various symbols or phrases, indicating something special. The wineries might be marked with a Snail, Bottle, or Coin while the wines might be marked as Slow Wine, Great Wine or Everyday Wine. In short, the Snail indicates those wineries whose values align with the Slow Food movement, the Bottle indicates high quality, and the Coin indicates excellent value. The Slow Wine designation represents "an expression of place, originality and history," while the other two phrases are self-explanatory.

The tasting was spread out over three rooms, and though it was well-attended, by various representatives of distributors, wine stores, restaurants, the media, and more, it generally didn't feel too crowded. There was a table of food, snacks to help cleanse your palate, and there was plenty of bottle of water too. The event seemed to run well and I encountered plenty of other attendees that I knew. There was a casual vibe, though plenty of work got done as well.

A few of my highlights of the tasting included a Tannat/Malbec blend from Oregon, a delicious Italian Rosé made from a blend of Barbera, Groppello, & Sangiovese, and an Italian wine made from a grape that only a single winery in the world is allowed to produce. In the next couple weeks, I'll be writing in detail about some of these highlights as well as some of the other wines I tasted, sharing the best of what I tasted.

To Be Continued...

Monday, March 18, 2019

Rant: "We Don't Know How To Talk About Seafood"

"We don't know how to talk about seafood."
--Barton Seaver

It might seem strange to hear that sentiment spoken at the Seafood Expo North America (SENA), but if you think more carefully, maybe it's the perfect place to discuss this statement. This sentiment was espoused by Barton Seaver two years ago at a panel conference at SENA, yet it continues to resonate with me. As I attend SENA 2019, exploring what the seafood industry has to offer this year, his words are the forefront of my thoughts and it's worth taking a look back at Barton's thoughts. Those thoughts remain as significant and relevant now as they did then.

Barton Seaver, who currently lives in Maine, has been a successful Chef and is now a seafood activist, educator, speaker, and author of 7 books. His website states, "Barton is a firm believer that human health depends on the health of the ocean and that the best way to connect the two is at the dinner table." He is a powerful and persuasive speaker, with an easy, personable style and an infectious passion for seafood. Barton is a compelling advocate for the seafood industry,

When he began his remarks at the panel conference, he started with: "We don't know how to talk about seafood." He continued his speech, noting that we don't have a great definition of "sustainable seafood," especially as there are so many elements to the concept of sustainability. Although many, if not most, of the exhibitors at SENA tout the sustainability of their products, they all have different definitions of what that constitutes. And each year that I attend SENA, it seems the definition of sustainability expands to include additional concepts.

Another important issue that Barton raised is that seafood often isn't included in discussions about "good food" despite it being maybe the only type of food with the term "food" actually in its name. We don't talk about "landfood" or "airfood." We don't talk about "beef-food" or "chicken-food." We need to look at seafood more from a cultural viewpoint.

Barton also mentioned that seafood suffers from "otherness," being seen as different from other foods. Over time, seafood lost its identity, partially from the advent of refrigeration and a decrease in home cooking. When people commonly think of proteins, they usually don't include seafood in their thoughts. It is also the only food that is considered guilty before being innocent. It is something people think must be analyzed, to determine whether it passes a person's standards or not. These same individuals don't conduct that same analysis with their beef, chicken, or pork. A person will ask whether a salmon is farmed or wild, but that same person is unlikely to ask whether chicken is from a factory farm or not.

The culinary aspect of seafood scares people, who feel intimidated when trying to cook and prepare seafood. Education is definitely needed in that regard. Currently, Americans eat almost only 10 species of fish, 8 if you group the types of catfish together. Other fish and seafood is not seen as having the same value as these 10 species. Our fishermen catch so many other species and this is an unsustainable economic situation. We demand the market supply for fish rather than take what is caught. We must all start eating other species of fish and seafood, going beyond the common 10. We need to put less pressure on those common 10 and also help fishermen who catch all the other species.

Barton then raised an issue I hadn't considered before, but which makes much sense. He stated that one of the biggest obstacles to sustainability is the recipe. The problem is that recipes usually are composed to use a specific type of fish. For example, you will find recipes for Cod and Mussels, Salmon and Crab. Some seafood cookbooks break down into chapters for these specific seafood types. However, Barton feels that recipes shouldn't specify the fish type but be more generic, such as a "light, flaky whitefish."

The idea is to encourage home cooks to seek outside the common 10 and use other seafood species, which are similar to the common ones they already enjoy. That is excellent advice, though such a cookbook would probably need to have a list somewhere, grouping seafood species by the generic definitions within the cookbook. For example, the average consumer doesn't know what dogfish is like, so they would need to have some guidance as to what type of recipes it would fit within. Barton also had advice for Chefs, that they should not ask for specific species but should ask for what is fresh. In addition, they should "sell the dish, not the seafood."

Barton then moved on, stating that we need to "end the conversation of wild vs farmed." He feels it is an artificial distinction, that we should treat them both the same and stop arguing about aquaculture. Those sentiments were echoed in a panel conference I attended yesterday, and I'll be writing about that conference in the near future.

As Barton says, "Seafood is such an amazing opportunity" and "Seafood sustains us." He also noted how valuable it is for our health, how numerous studies show that eating sufficient seafood can reduce your risk of heart disease by about 36%. A doctor from Tufts once told him of the 3 Ss of good health: Wear Seatbelts, No Smoking, and Eat Seafood.

"Fish lacks story." Barton is not the first sustainable seafood proponent that I have heard make this point, and its validity is without dispute. Barton feels we need to use other methods to connect people to seafood, and shouldn't start with the seafood. We need to connect it more to cultural issues. For example, we can talk about social issues such as the fact that 52% of the people involved in aquaculture are women. Aquaculture provides plenty of jobs and that is a great story. In addition, we should consider the story of how we keep fishermen in business, the civic values of helping members of our community. We all should "Talk about sustainability in any measure that is meaningful to you."

Barton Seaver provided much to ponder and I hope it helps spark something within my readers as well. People need to eat more seafood, for an abundance of reasons, from improving your own health to helping local fishermen make a living. Stop treating seafood as an enemy and treat it as you would hamburger or fried chicken. Don't treat seafood as an "other."

(This is partially a reprint, with some revisions, of sections of a prior post, but one which is especially relevant as I attend SENA 2019, and which discusses many points which remain as significant now as they did two years ago.)

Friday, March 15, 2019

Vale do Bomfim & Pombal do Vesuvius: Portuguese Delights

With a history extending back to 1882, Symington Family Estates is one of the largest and most important producers in the Douro region of Portugal. They own well-known brands including Graham's Ports, Cockburn's Port, Dow's Port, Warre's Port, Quinta do Vesuvio, and more. The Douro is well known for its Port Wines, but the region also makes some excellent still wines. You can check out one of my previous posts, The Douro River Region: Beauty & Thriving Amidst Adversity, for some background on this area. I received a couple media samples of two of Symington's Douro still red wines, and I was't surprised by their quality.

Quinta do Vesuvio, which can trace its history back to the 16th century, was acquired by the Symingtons in 1989, and its 1000 acre estate is located in the upper Douro. It is considered one of the best, and largest, vineyards in the Douro Superior. The 2015 Pombal do Vesuvio ($28), the winery's second wine, is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 45% Touriga Franca, and 5% Tinto Amarela. The Portuguese term "pombal" translates as "dovecote," and refers to an ancient dovecote, where pigeons or doves were housed, which is in the middle of the vineyards. It was an exceptional vintage, the weather cooperating throughout the year. giving rain when necessary.

The wine went through fermentation in stainless steel, and then was aged for about 10 months in French oak. At only 13.5% ABV, the wine had a rich, dark red color with a pleasing nose of red fruits and floral notes, a touch of violets. On the complex palate, the red and black fruit flavors were prominent, accented by some dusty spices, bright acidity, well-integrated tannins, and some underlying minerality. The finish was long and satisfying, and there was a mild earthy touch as well. Definitely an excellent food wine, with everything from pizza to burgers, steak to pasta with a hearty ragu. An excellent choice to experience what the Douro has to offer in still red wines.

The 2016 Dow Vale do Bomfim ($12.99) is from the Quinta do Bomfim, which was acquired by Symington in 1896, making it their oldest owned estate. The quinta is located just beside the town of Pinhão, and consists of a 130-acre property with over 160,000 vines. This still wine is a blend of 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional and 50% Field Blend of indigenous grapes. All of the grapes come from the same vineyards they use for their Vintage Ports. The wine spent about 6 months in neutral oak, has a 13.2% ABV, and is an excellent example of the great values you can find in Portugal.

With a dark red color, it possesses an appealing fruity aroma with floral accents. On the palate, there is a tasty melange of red and black fruit (especially cherry and plum), peppery spice with some licorice notes. Mild tannins, a moderately long finish, and decent complexity for this price point. An easy drinking wine which provides better quality than many other wines at this price point. This wine will pair well with a wide range of foods, though it can be enjoyed on its own as well. Highly recommended!

Drink more Portuguese wine!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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) Way back in 2007, while I was traveling across Spain, I visited the Parés Baltà Winery in the Penedes region. It was a fascinating visit, and we got to taste plenty of their delicious and well-made wines. Since then, I've often enjoyed their wines locally and now you will get a couple chances to meet the good people of Parés Baltà and enjoy some of their wines paired with compelling food.

On Tuesday, March 26, from 6:30pm-8:30pm, Tres Gatos is hosting Marta Casas and her husband Josep Cusiné Carol, the winemakers from Parés Baltà, for a Catalan Spring Wine Dinner. Parés Baltà is a small family owned traditional winery that goes back to 1790. The two women at the helm of the winemaking are both oenologists and produce high quality organic wines and Cavas with grapes from their 5 estates, situated around the winery and in the mountains of Penedès.

Chef Stephen Marcaurelle is creating a four-course menu to pair with select wines Marta Casas and her husband Josep Cusiné Carol will be pouring. Price is $65 per person (includes four-course dinner, wine, and talk).  Reservations are limited so please call at 617-477-4851 for this opportunity.

And on Thursday, March 28, from 6pm-8pm, Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington is hosting An Evening In Penedès: A Parés Baltà Wine Dinner. Wine Director Laura Staley recently took an unforgettable trip to Parés Baltà, and tales and photos upon her return have inspired Chef Matt Celeste to create a menu influenced by the coastal bounty of the Spanish region. Paired with our shared passion for hospitality, co-owner Joseph Cuisiné and winemaker Marta Casas are joining us at Island Creek Oyster Bar Burlington to host a special evening that will transport you to their homeland through a tasting of their wines. What began as a Cava house has become a leader in producing organic and biodynamic wines far beyond the sparkling wine the region is known for. Come escape the New England Winter and lose yourself in the warmth and romance of the region.

Tickets are $125 and include five courses, eight wines, tax & gratuity. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

3) Do you like Pinot Noir? Do you like Oregon Pinot Noir? If so, you might want to check out Pinot In The City, which will be held on Thursday, May 2, from 6:30pm-9pm (with VIP access at 5:30pm), at the Castle at Park Plaza. 60 wineries from Oregon’s Willamette Valley will be coming to this event. The tasting event features owners and winemakers pouring a selection of wines, including library and current releases, paired with delicious Pinot noir-friendly small bites. Not only will there be Pinot Noir, but there will also be Oregon Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sparkling Wines and more.

Tickets cost $90 for General Admission & $130 for VIP Admission and can be bought through Eventbrite. Tickets are limited and must be purchased in advance; there will be no ticket sales at the door.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Rant: The Seafood Expo: Why Aren't You Going?

This upcoming Sunday, thousands of fascinating and tasty creatures from the sea, a deluge of seafood, will descend on Boston. This epic event is one of the top food events of the year, but it seems to be ignored by most local writers and bloggers. Why aren't you planning on attending the Seafood Expo North America (SENA)?

Starting on Sunday, March 17, and ending on Tuesday, March 19, SENA returns to Boston, and it is probably the largest seafood event in the country. If you are a writer, from freelancer to a blogger, and cover any topics related to seafood, from recipes to sustainability, then I strongly encourage you to attend. As I have said repeatedly before, "the seafood show is fertile soil for a myriad of story ideas as each exhibit booth has its own unique and interesting story." Any writer who attends this show should easily find the seeds for at least a dozen stories, and likely many more.

SENA is a huge trade show, and last year there were about 1341 exhibitors, representing 57 different countries, showcasing a wide diversity of products and services. The total exhibit space is about 258,630 square feet, broken down into 30+ aisles of the Expo, so just walking through the show makes for great cardio exercise. With the vast number of exhibitors, you're sure to find plenty of fascinating stories. Even if you attended all three days, you still wouldn't have enough time to visit all of the booths.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about a myriad of seafood issues, to talk to numerous seafood businesses, to explore the seafood industry. You can discover more about different countries, such as by visiting the pavilions for Japan or Iceland. In addition, the show is fun, with plenty of delicious seafood samples, from lobster to oysters. Ever had salmon bacon? Fried alligator? You never know what might be available to sample at SENA. SENA presents a range of interesting conference panels too, and this year you can attend ones such as  "Seafood Trends & Preferences at Home & Away from Home" or "Changing the Narrative on Sustainable Aquaculture in the Culinary Community." You can also attend the annual Oyster Shucking Competition.

We all know that seafood is at the crux of some of the most important food issues in the world. The range of seafood topics touches on so many crucial matters, from sustainability to health, climate change to slavery. Seafood is integral to the economic health of many local businesses, from fishermen to restaurants. The potential extinction of certain fish species is a major concern that needs to be addressed. These are all issues which need much more coverage by the media, and which you can make your own contributions.

Why do I care? First, I view our local writers and bloggers as a community and I believe we all benefit by helping each other, giving recommendations for excellent events. Second, I feel that seafood is a vital topic which more people need to write about so that we raise attention to all of its urgent issues. That will benefit all of us in many ways. It is with greater exposure and cooperative efforts that we can cause change in the seafood industry. Third, it is a sad fact that there are four times as many negative articles about seafood than positive ones, and we need to change that ratio.

So I hope to see you next weekend at the Seafood Expo North America.