Friday, December 15, 2017

2017: Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite spirits and drink-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2017. I have already posted my Top Wine lists as well as Favorite Wine-Related Items. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits, Sake, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more spirits, Sake, cocktails and drink-related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Achievement in Spirits Writing: This year, I'm especially proud of my article, An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal, where my research uncovered a wealth of documented references to Pechuga Mezcal, a type of mezcal that has been flavored with meat, as well as maybe some fruits and spices. Prior to my article, there were bottles from the 1930s that were labeled Pechuga but there was no known documentary evidence prior to that time. However, I found over 30 different written references to Pechuga before the 1930s, extending as far back as 1864. There is still more research needed in this area, but I was pleased to contribute my efforts to expanding the known history of this fascinating type of Mezcal.

Favorite Whisky Dinner: A great theme, killer whisky, and delicious food all combined to make the  Robert Burns Scotch Dinner at Civic Kitchen & Drink a wondrous experience. It was my first Burns Night celebration and I marveled at the ritual, the toasting, and the intriguing food, including Haggis, which I actually enjoyed very much. There was plenty of Scotch, each unique in its own right, and all quite tasty and complex. The crowd was fun and it was more than just a simple dinner, but an intriguing experience and the memories will remain for a very long time.

Favorite Blended Scotch Whisky: This year, I've attended two Compass Box tasting events, though I've only written about one of them so far. However, it is clear to me that Compass Box and its owner John Glaser are producing some excellent blended Scotches. I've enjoyed most of the portfolio that I've tasted and am impressed with the diversity of their whiskies. Their limited edition Double Single thoroughly impressed it, a silky smooth, complex and well-balanced whisky with a fascinating melange of flavors. There were hints of vanilla and caramel, berries and tropical fruit, herbs and spices. Each sip seemed to bring something new to my palate. Highly recommended.

Favorite Irish Whiskey: Tullamore DEW, the "official Irish whiskey" of the Boston Red Sox, is offered at the Tully Tavern, in Fenway Park, especially in the Monster Mule, a variation of the Moscow Mule that is made with 1 part Tullamore DEW, 4 parts Ginger Beer, and lime juice. They have a nice portfolio of whiskies, but my favorite was the Tullamore DEW 14 Year Old Single Malt which is matured in the usual three types of barrels, but then also spends a little time in Port and Madeira casks. On the nose, there are pleasant notes of apple and tropical fruit, and the palate also presents this fruit flavors, accompanied by a complex mix of vanilla, spice and caramel, with an elegant creaminess that caresses your palate. The finish lingers for quite a time and I can easily see myself sipping this all evening.

Favorite Whisky Rant: It is an issue which deserves attention but seems unlikely it will acquire what is needed. In my Rant, Whisky, Sherry Barrels & A Lack Of Transparency, I discuss how a number of whiskey producers are using Sherry-style barrels, from outside the legal Sherry region, but those barrels are still be labeled as Sherry barrels. Sherry is a protected term and it should be respected and honored yet some whiskey producers are failing to do so. We need more people to know that this problem exists and then hopefully a united effort and get whiskey producers to change their ways on this issue.

Favorite Spanish Whisky: Have you ever tasted whisky from Spain? Spain isn't a significant producer of whisky but you may hear more about Spain in the near future if whisky like the Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky becomes more well known. Produced from malted barley grown in Spain, the whisky spends about four to six years aging in Palo Cortado Sherry casks, which is definitely a rarity in the whiskey industry. This whisky 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. Your palate will 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.

Favorite Unique Whiskey: At The Townshend in Quincy, Palmer Matthews, their Bar Manager, introduced me to Dry Fly Distilling Straight Triticale Whiskey, which might be the only straight Triticale whiskey in the world. Triticale is a hybrid of rye and wheat which was created in Scotland in the late 19th century. I enjoyed a shot, chilled by a single large chunk of ice, and found the whiskey to be intriguing, with a nice spicy kick up front, which then became soft and almost sweet. As I love Rye whiskey, I savored the spicy element of the Triticale, but also liked how the wheat softened it more on the finish. If you want something more unusual, but still quite tasty seek out this Triticale.

Favorite Maryland Rye Whiskey: During a visit to the Tenth Ward Distilling Company, I had the chance to taste a few of their products and I was most taken with their Lindsay Stunkle Rye Whiskey which is named after a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger from Frederick, Maryland. This limited-release whiskey is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at a whopping 120 proof. It is released twice a year, in June and November, and is intended for home aging. It is spicy and potent, enhanced by the addition of a little water, and will definitely appeal to rye lovers. There is complexity to its taste and a lengthy finish, and I would love to see this aged in the barrel for a number of years.

Runner-Up Favorite Maryland Rye Whiskey: Also from the Tenth Ward Distilling Company, a more unique Rye whiskey is the White Caraway Ryewhich is made from a mashbill of 80% malted rye and 20% malted barley, and comes in at 95 proof. The spirit is mashed with caraway seed so it is intended to taste more like rye bread, though it may also remind you of Scandinavian Akvavit. I was captivated by the intriguing flavors of this spirit, as it certainly reminded me of spicy rye bread, with a hint of mint. Though you could drink this on its own, I think it would be best used in creating some fascinating cocktails.

Favorite Gin: As I've said before, I'm not usually a fan of gin, disliking the over-powering juniper flavor I find in many, but I have enjoyed some that I felt were more well-balanced. Certainly a more unique gin, the Pierde Almas 9+ Botanicals is actually a hybrid Mezcal/Gin, using Mezcal as the base spirit and then adding nine botanicals, including juniper, coriander, star anise, fennel seed, orange peel, cassia bark, angelica root, orris root, and nutmeg. On the nose, the piney aroma of juniper is dominant though beneath that aroma were more subtle herbal notes. Once you taste it, the Mezcal elements make themselves known, and it is an intriguing and complex spirit. There are plenty of citrus notes up front, with an interesting melange of spices and herbs, as well as a smoky edge, especially on the finish. The piney notes of the juniper became much more integrated into the whole, and the other botanicals joined the complex mix. This is definitely a sipping spirit, which is quite enjoyable neat, and each sip seems to bring new flavors to your palate.

Runner-Up Gin: From the McClintock Distilling Co. in Maryland, their Forager Gin is a vapor infused New-World style gin using about 18 botanicals inspired by native herbs found in the Appalachian wilderness. On the nose, there is a strong juniper aroma with subtle hints of other botanicals in the background. On the palate, the botanical mix is more balanced, and the complex melange of flavors delights the mouth. There are elements of fruit, mainly citrus, and floral flavors, with a sprinkle of spice elements. The gin should be served chilled, and would be delicious on its own, or used in cocktails.

Favorite Rum: Rum actually has a lengthy history in the Oaxaca region, a place best known for Mezcal. However, little Oaxacan rum makes it out of Mexico, which is a shame. One of the recent exports is the stellar Paranubes Rum, brought to you by the good people of Mezcal Vago. Made from sugar cane juice, and not molasses, the Paranubes is made in a very traditional manner, the current producer being at least the 3rd generation in his family to produce this rum. Its aroma is very funky and prominent, with a saline character that reminds me of the smell of the ocean or an olive tapenade. The aroma doesn't follow through much on the palate, which instead brings a mild sweetness, a touch of grassiness, and some citrus and tropical fruit flavors. It is more light and elegant, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It reminds me of a Rhum Agricole, and its distinctive and unique aroma and taste certainly sets it apart. The Paranubes can be consumed on its own though it also would work well in a variety of cocktails.

Favorite Unique Rum:
From Navazos Palazzi, which also made the Spanish whiskey I previously mentioned, comes another unique spirit, a Cask Strength Rum, aged in Sherry barrels. The base rum had been distilled in the Antilles, where it aged for five years in ex-Bourbon barrels, and then given to a Spanish Sherry bodega, where the rum further aged in Oloroso barrels for 10 years. The color of this rum was deep and dark, though with some translucence, reminding me in some ways of an aged Oloroso Sherry. I was enamored with the complex aromas that wafted up, seducing my nose. There was fruit and spice, nuts and chocolate, and it was a pleasure just to sit and enjoy the aromas. On the palate, I was initially pleased with the relative dryness of the rum. It wasn't one of the prominent sweet rums but rather its sweetness was of a more subtle nature, with underlying caramel, vanilla and molasses flavors. And the complexity of the nose was duplicated on the palate, such a compelling melange of flavors that seemed to present something new each sip I took. There was a certain nutty and saline character that reminded me of Sherry, but also bright citrus and plum notes. There were plenty of spicy elements, with a backbone of umami, and hints of leather. Elegant and fascinating, this rum had a pleasing, lengthy finish.

Favorite Mezcal: Pierde Almas, which made the Mezcal/Gin hybrid mentioned above, is primarily a Mezcal producer and they have an amazing portfolio. My current favorite is their  Maguey de Lumbre Mezcal, made from a rare and little-known agave. The aroma is more subtle, with hints of citrus and smoke, and the first taste is pure gustatory pleasure, a hedonistic revel in the complexities and flavors of the Mezcal. This was a compelling Mezcal and once I started looking deeper, it only became even more intriguing. Citrus notes dominated the flavor profile but there was much complexity providing harmony to the spirit. There was also a mild smokiness, subtle herbal accents, and wispy spice notes. Just sit and sip it and you'll realize the fascinating complexity of this spirit. The taste was clean and smooth, an elegant pleasure, something to slowly savor on a summer evening, though you could certainly enjoy this year round.

Favorite Pechuga Mezcal: Pierde Almas also produced my current favorite Pechuga Mezcal, the Mezcal de Conejo, which is produced using a rabbit. Pechuga is a type of mezcal that has been flavored with meat, as well as maybe some fruits and spices. Once I tasted this Pechuga, I was immediately struck by the anise notes in this Mezcal and then I could detect the ripe fruit flavors, especially pineapple, a mild smokiness, and a touch of a more wild and gamey element. It was complex and intriguing, a unique melange of flavors which should please any Mezcal lover. You wouldn't know this Mezcal was made with rabbit, but it still would make for an interesting addition to your Easter dinner.

Favorite Shochu: Shochu, a distilled spirit made in Japan, can be made from many different ingredients though sweet potato is considered one of the best choices. While dining at Tori Shin in New York City, I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Shochu, the Tenshi no Yuwaku, which is a sweet potato Shochu that was fermented in Sherry casks for about 10 years. This is a more unique Shochu as few are ever aged this long. It's name translates as "Angel's Temptation," a reference to the Angel's Share, the amount of spirit that evaporates over time while it ages in a barrel. I enjoyed it neat, finding it rich and creamy, with intense Sherry notes, hints of sweetness, and plenty of complexity.

Favorite New Liqueur: A collaborative effort between companies in Britain & France, the Escubac seems to have its roots in Ireland. It is a "juniper-free botanical spirit," made from a base of neutral sugar beet alcohol with the addition of 14 botanicals. After it is distilled, they infuse it with saffron and sweeten it with raisins, vanilla, and sugar. The Escubac has some sweetness up front but it wasn't cloying or overly sweet, and it was complemented with a mix of citrus and herbal notes, with intriguing spice notes and a touch of bitterness. I was pleased with its complex and intriguing melange of flavors, and it can easily be used in a variety of cocktails.

Favorite Baijiu: With many Americans, the Chinese spirit Baijiu suffers an image problem, often considered to have a terrible, off-putting taste. Though there are some Baijiu with very strong aromas and tastes, others have much lighter and appealing flavors and are worthy of attention. Made in New Zealand, Taizi Baijiu, the creation of two Chinese brothers, would be a great introduction to Baijiu for anyone. With its clear color, the Baijiu has an intriguing nose of berries and licorice, and on your palate, the berry flavors are very prominent upfront with more licorice notes on the finish. It has a slightly oily texture, but drinks very smooth and balanced, and you wouldn't realize its high alcohol content. There is an underlying complexity, more subtle notes, including some herbal elements, accenting the Baijiu. One of the best Baijiu I've ever tasted, I highly recommend it.

Favorite Chicago Bars: On a whirlwind visit to Chicago, I was fortunate to visit two cool and compelling bars, including Income Tax and Estereo. Income Tax, which has been open for a year, is cozy and elegant, with a lengthy bar and a casual, welcoming vibe. Their drinks list is diverse and interesting, and they carry some Sherry by the glass. Their food is also quite tasty, and is great for pairing with a glass of wine or a cocktail. Service is excellent as well, and it is the type of neighborhood bar you really should frequent. Estereo is also a neighborhood bar, specializing in spirits from Mexico, Central America, and South America such as Cachaca, Pisco, Mezcal, Tequila, Sotol and more. Great cocktails, incredible diversity in their spirits, knowledgeable staff, and a fun & lively atmosphere make this a great place to drink.

Favorite Sherry BarTaberna de Haro wins this category hands-down, once again, as there is no other local restaurant which comes close. With over 60 Sherries, including some rarer bottlings, Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen has compiled an amazing Sherry list, offering a good number by the glass. The Sherries pair very well with her Spanish cuisine and I could easily sit at the bar all night sampling different Sherries, from a bone dry Fino to a sublime aged Palo Cortado. If you are ever in the area, you must stop here and try some Sherry.

Favorite Restaurant Cocktail: The Schrodinger's Coupe is available at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, which makes several other Baijiu cocktails too. The Coupe is made with Baijiu, curaçao, grapefruit, lime and plum bitters. It's Baijiu taste was accompanied by some sour fruit flavors with a hint of grapefruit. It wasn't overly sweet and was a refreshing summer drink.

Favorite Restaurant Hot Cocktail: While at a Burns Night dinner at Civic Kitchen & Drink, we began the evening with the Ginger Rabbie, a hot cocktail, made with Towiemore Classic Scotch, tea, molasses, and ginger. It was similar in some respects to a hot toddy, only mildly alcoholic, lightly sweet, and with a pleasing taste of tea and spice. Great for the winter.

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: The Kirin-Zan Junmai Daiginjo, which comes in a cool pentagonal blue bottle, is a superb Sake, elegant and complex, with such an alluring taste. It is clean and bright, with subtle citrus notes, some peach and melon, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. It is said to be "reminiscent of a clean mountain stream," and it possesses such a sense of purity, a Sake that pairs perfectly with nigiri. This is a Sake which impresses and I highly recommend it. Find it locally at Pabu Boston.

Favorite Junmai Ginjo Sake: I was impressed with the unique Hakkaisan Snow-Aged Junmai Ginjo, which spends three years in an insulated storage room chilled only by 1000 tons of snow! It is a Genshu, undiluted by water, and has a high acidity. I found the Hakkaisan to have a more subtle aroma and on the palate presented an elegant, deep complexity with hints of melon and a touch of anise. It was full-bodied and smooth with rich, savory umami. A hedonistic pleasure that is extremely food friendly. It can be found locally at Reliable Market.

Runner-Up Favorite Junmai Ginjo Sake: While dining at Torishin, a killer Yakitori restaurant in New York City, I ordered a carafe of Fukuju Junmai Ginjo and it was so delicious I had to order a second carafe. The Sake was simply superb, with a dry, clean and elegant taste with plenty of fruit notes. It was silky smooth, drank so easily, and I could have sat all night savoring this Sake. Highly recommended.

Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Sake: The Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai Sake is produced from Gohyakumangoku rice, and is a typical Yamahai Sake, with delicious earthy notes, high acidity and plenty of umami. It is easy drinking, smooth, and complex with a hint of citrus, smoke, and sweetness. Simply a delicious Sake, which will pair well with many different foods, from mushroom risotto to a grilled steak.

Runner-Up Favorite Kimoto/Yamahai Sake: The Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto Sake has a high acidity and it was quite compelling, a mellow and smooth-drinking Sake with plenty of delicious umami. It has a richness to the mouthfeel, a lengthy and satisfying finish, and is something I could sit and drink all day. There is a mild earthiness to the Sake which enhances the totality. A well-made and delicious Sake, it would be an excellent pairing with umami dishes, especially mushroom or truffle-based ones, and would also go well with various meats.

Favorite Sake Store: It is difficult to find a local wine shop that carries a large and diverse Sake selection. However, Reliable Market, in Union Square, Somerville, has been enlarging their selection, and stock many of their Sake in refrigerated cases. You'll find plenty of Sake, of all types, in regular-sized bottles as well as half-bottles, at a range of price points. They also carry both local Sakes, Dovetail (from Waltham) and Blue Current (from Kittery, Maine). Reliable Market probably has the best and largest Sake selection in the Boston-area and you should check it out.

Favorite Sake News: Back in April 2015, I posted an article, An Expanded History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., which discussed the early history of Sake breweries in the U.S. My research for this article included combing through hundreds of old newspapers, picking out tidbits of information that hadn't been previously collected into a single resource. It was a fascinating exploration, expanding my knowledge of this topic, and revealing intriguing facts which contradicted what many previously believed. This year, a Japanese man, who runs a packaging company, wrote an article for a Japanese Sake journal based upon my article and I wrote out it in My History of U.S. Sake Breweries Inspires A Journal Article. And fortunately, I got to meet the author last month when he visited Boston, and we drank plenty of Sake together.

Least Favorite Sake News: In Ugh! More Stinkin' Scores For Sake From Wine Advocate, I express my displeasure at the Wine Advocate for continuing to provide "scores" for Sake. I've been ranting about this issue since 2013 but it is more recently that the Wine Advocate has started providing Sake scores on a more regular basis. Their main effect seems to be raising prices and they don't seem to be sparking much discussion or interest on Sake. Even on the Robert Parker bulletin boards, Sake discussion is all but nonexistent. The scores aren't really helping anyone, and are probably hurting more, so they should be eliminated.

Favorite Beer: I dislike most beer, as I am very sensitive to the bitterness of hops and that taste turns me off. Every once in a while though, I find a beer that does appeal to me. This year, I was impressed with the The Flying Dog "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale. This beer is brewed with Shishito peppers, a generally sweet Asian pepper where about one in ten is spicy. 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.

Favorite Cider: From the Asturian region of Spain, the 1947 Sidra de Nueva Expresion is
is a Petillant Semi-Dry Cider, produced from a blend of 14 apple varieties, all from their own orchards, with a rough breakdown of about 75% sharp, 15% bitter-sharp and the rest bitter-sweet. Fermentation occurs in an open chestnut vat, with wild yeasts, and I was quite surprised that they also allow it to mature in the open vat for about 12 months! The vats are old, some being as much as a hundred years or more, and are quite large, about 15,000 liters. It possesses a strong, appealing apple aroma and on the palate, it presents as mostly dry and crisp, with strong apple flavors and only the slightest hint of sweetness. It also has a  mild effervescence, enough to be a nice palate cleanser and excellent for food pairings, and a lengthy pleasing finish.

Favorite Pear Cider: For the second year in a row, this Asturian pear cider, the Viuda de Angelón Sidra de Pera is the winner. The pear trees are wild, organic and over 70 years old. Once the pears are picked, they are first fermented in stainless steel, with wild yeasts, and then mature for about four months in chestnut vats. Then, they undergo a second fermentation in the tank. This is an impressive Perry, with a harmonious blend of earthiness with subtle pear flavor and a mild effervescence. It is dry and refreshing, with lots of depth. It would be excellent on its own or paired with food, especially something with umami.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Cocktail: At Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, they have several cocktails, and I was impressed with their Sumiao Citrus, which is made with white grapefruit juice, lemon, simple syrup, blood orange puree, and orange garnish. This was an interesting concoction, not overly sweet, and was quite refreshing. The fruit flavors blended well together, presenting a tasty melange of flavors. If you aren't drinking something alcoholic with your meal, then this would be a good option.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: Switchel used to be popular in New England in the 17th century, and now seems to be making a bit of a comeback. At Russell Orchards in Ipswich, I bought their version of Switchel, which is made from with apple cider vinegar, apple cider, maple syrup, ginger and water, with the vinegar and cider made on their premises. It is unpasteurized so needs to be refrigerated. The Switchel possesses a distinctive ginger aroma and it is prominent on the palate too. It is dry with a prominent vinegar aspect, subtle apple notes, and a ginger backbone. It is refreshing and I see how it can be quite refreshing on a hot day. Plus, it makes for a great cocktail ingredient.

Favorite Canned Non-Alcoholic Drink: At Gre.co, a fast-casual Greek restaurant on Newbury Street in Boston, they have a few canned drinks including the Tuvunu Greek Mountain Tea, which is made from Sideritis, an indigenous perennial. The tea is flavored with brown cane sugar, wild blossom honey, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. It was delicious, with only a mild sweetness, and pleasing tea notes and an herbal backbone. It is refreshing and you could easily drink can after can without feeling bloated or overwhelmed by sugar as you can be with soda.

What were some of your favorite spirits and drink-related items this year?

Thursday, December 14, 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) On Sunday, December 31st, Bar Boulud, Boston, invites guests to ring in 2018 with a festive and elegant Five-Course Prix-Fixe New Year’s Eve Gala Dinner. Beginning promptly at 8:00 p.m., revelers will gather in the lobby of the adjacent Mandarin Oriental, Boston hotel for a welcome reception, complete with celebratory sips and decadent canapés such as: fresh Oysters topped with a Champagne gelée and Citrus Cured Scallops laced with caviar and crème fraîche.

As the night progresses, guests will be seated at 9:00 p.m. in Bar Boulud where they will enjoy a five-course dining experience featuring savory French-inspired dishes including: Rohan Duck Breast, tender Wagyu Beef and Aurora, a delectable dessert comprised of hazelnut milk chocolate cream, raspberry espuma, and moelleux au chocolat crafted by Pastry Chef Robert Differ.

While diners treat their taste buds, live jazz music will add to the evening’s ambiance. Enhancing the experience further, guests will also have the option to add a wine pairing with each course, hand-selected by Sommelier David Bérubé.

Cost: $195 per person (optional sommelier-selected wine pairings for $125 per person)
To make Reservations, please call 617-535-8800

2) Hanukkah begun on December 12th and will continue to the 20th. Kane’s Handcrafted Donuts is celebrating Hanukkah by offering Sufganiyot, mini-jelly donuts traditionally eaten during the celebration of Hanukkah.

These deep-fried Israeli delicacies commemorate the miracle of one night of oil lasting for eight in the ancient Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Kane’s Sufganiyot are filled plump with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

In modern Israel, over 18 million sufganiyot are consumed in the weeks around the holiday. More people enjoy the fried treat than fast on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The Israeli Defense Forces also purchase more than 50,000 of the donuts each day of the eight-day holiday to boost the morale of its troops.

These donuts are available for order by the dozen at both Kane’s locations, in Saugus and Boston.

3) Loco Taqueria + Oyster Bar, South Boston’s funky neighborhood taco joint, is launching Winter Lunchin’ Land starting this Friday, 12/15 at 11:30am to 5pm and running until the end of January. Normally, Loco Taqueria is not open for lunch. Winter Lunchin’ Land also kicks off with live entertainment from Sam Chase this week from 1-5PM, the artists for the following weeks will be announced via social media.

Winter Lunchin’ Land has all of the Loco favorites from Executive Chef Matt Drummond’s such as ten different Tacos (such as General Tso, Chicken Tinga, and Cola Pork Carnitas), Tuna Ceviche, Grilled Street Corn, Sheet Pan Nachos, Lobster Toast, Bacon Guacamole, and Loco Taco Salad.

Accompanying the menu are a number of new winter cocktails from Beverage Manager Kaitlyn Fischer. These new cocktails are available during Winter Lunchin’ Land only, including:
The Grinch - tequila, crème de menthe, rumchata, bailey’s, candy cane rim
Cousin Eddie (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) – vanilla vodka, amaretto, brandy, Averna, chocolate, whipped cream
Ralphie (A Christmas Story) – Captain Morgan, Averna, angostura bitters
Sticky Bandit (Home Alone) – cabrito reposado, Werther’s cinnamon mixture, lemon, garnished with Werther’s candy rim
Dallas, Denver, Orlando (Four Christmases) – mezcal, grapefruit juice, pineapple rosemary simple, grapefruit bitter
Billy Mack (Love Actually) – Myers rum, lime, banana, cardamom, sherry, orange bitters
Kevin McAllister (Home Alone) – two scoops vanilla ice cream, Captain Morgan, root beer, chocolate sprinkles

Make Reservations by calling 617-917-LOCO

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

2017: Favorite Wine-Related Items

What were some of my favorite wine related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2017. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15 and Top Wines Over $50 lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine-Related Items, which are not specific wine recommendations. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Analysis Of Top Ten Wines: In my three prior Top Wine lists of 2017, I mentioned a total of 36 wines, which included wines from 13 different countries, three more than last year. Tied at the top were Georgia and Portugal, each with 6 wines (and I'll note Spain was in first place last year). Alsace came in second place with 5 wines and Spain, California and Greece ended up tied in third place, each with 3 wines. Moldova and Israel each hold 2 spots while France, Italy, Chile, South Africa, Germany, and Great Britain each hold 1 spot. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into 5 Sparkling, 9 Whites, 2 Rosé, 18 Reds, 1 Fortified and 1 Dessert Wine. Sixteen of the wines were first tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, where I often find a significant number of intriguing wines.

Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial wines which can be found in almost any wine store or instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight three such stores which continue to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, Wine Connextion in North Andover, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed.

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End
Central Bottle Wine & Provisions in Cambridge
Wine Press in Brookline
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain

Favorite Wine Breakfast: As a rather novel wine tasting, representatives of Chapel Down, an English winery, held a tasting of a couple of their Sparkling Wines at a breakfast at Bar Boulud. Smoked Salmon & Eggs atop English muffins with delicious bubbly. In my post, The British Are Coming! Chapel Down Sparkling Wine, I wrote about my experience, impressed with the first two English Sparkling wines I've ever tasted. The English climate is similar to that of the Champagne region during the 1960s-1980s. And their chalky soils are similar as well, so it isn't a stretch to understand why English Sparkling wines have become such a hot item.

Favorite Wine Dinner: A deconstructed Flammekeuche with some killer Alsatian wines, surely a combination for success. At Bistro du Midi, I dined with Jean-Frédéric Hugel, of the famed Alsatian winery Hugel et Fils, discussing Wines Without Make-UpAlsatian wine pairs so well with various foods and you should always have some in your cellar. Besides the delicious food and wines, there was plenty of interesting conversation, especially concerning the philosophy that wine is made in the vineyard, not the cellar. And two of the wines from this dinner ended up in my Top Wine lists.

Runner-Up Favorite Wine Dinner: This category was a tie, between a Moldovan wine dinner and a Portuguese wine dinner. The Moldovan wine dinner at Moldova Restaurant, in Newton, exposed me to Moldovan cuisine for the first time, accompanied by numerous tasty Moldovan wines, including two which ended up on my Top Wine lists. I strongly recommend you dine here to experience a taste of Moldova. The Portuguese wine dinner at Terra Nostra, in Fall River, was such a fun evening as I was hosted by the good people of LGL Imports, a distributor of Portuguese wines. The food was excellent, including some intriguing Portuguese dishes including Grilled Limpets and Cow's Leg Stew. The wines were compelling as well, which wasn't a surprise, and I would definitely dine here again the next time I was in Fall River.

Favorite Regional Wine Tasting: At the 2017 Boston Expo, the Wines of Georgia had a major presence, with approximately 18 producers showcasing their wines. I ended up tasting about sixty of their wines, a broad swath through their intriguing and delicious offerings. You can read about my experiences in multiple articles, including Boston Wine Expo: Giorgi Samanisvili & Wines of Georgia, Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Georgia (Part 1)Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Georgia (Part 2), and Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Georgia (Part 3). A number of wines from this tasting also ended up on this year's Top Wine lists. With 8000 years of history, Georgian wine has much to offer, and you can read numerous reasons to taste their wine in another of my articles, Drink More Georgian Wine! 

Favorite Wine Seminar: Also at the 2017 Boston Wine Expo, I attended one of their wine seminars,  Quinta Vale D. Maria, Port & The Douro, which was informative, fun and absolutely delicious. This Portuguese winery has an interesting history and the owner, Cristiano Van Zeller, was an excellent speaker, explaining their history and philosophy. The wines we tasted, especially the comparative ones, were fascinating and we even got to taste a wine from 1870! Two wines from this seminar ended up on my Top Wine lists. As was mentioned at this seminar, "Port is the greatest poetry in wine."

Favorite Large-Scale Tasting: This year, this award goes to the 2017 Boston Wine Expo, a huge consumer wine event. I ended up tasting about 175 wines and spirits, and sixteen of those wines ended up on my Top Wine lists. The Expo has its issues, primarily due to the large crowds that attend, but there are ways to maximize your wine exploration and enjoyment, from attending the Seminars to focusing your tasting on certain regions and/or wine styles. Unfortunately, it seems that there won't be a Boston Wine Expo in 2018.

Most Unique Wine Pairings: What wine would you pair with a showerhead? Or an ornate faucet? I had the opportunity to make such pairings, using only Georgian wines. At a Georgian Wine presentation at Lefroy Brooks in New York City, we tasted the attendees through four Georgian wines, pairing each wine with one of the bathroom creations from Lefroy Brooks. It was an unusual pairing combination but lots of fun. The attendees loved the wines and the company enjoyed the presentation so much that they had us do it again for them in Chicago this past October, which was also another big success.

Favorite Sangria: Quincy has become a fascinating culinary destination and one of the new restaurants is 16C, which is owned by Kerri Lynch-Delaney, who is the niece of famed Chef Barbara Lynch. Sitting at the bar, I opted for their Red Sangria, which is made with blood orange, dragonfruit, and raspberry. The different fruits are what intrigued me, and I was very pleased with the Sangria. It was fruity, with a nice depth of flavor, and with only a mild sweetness. I'm picky about Sangria and this is actually one of the best versions I've tasted in quite some time. I could have easily drank a few of these without feeling like I was in a sugar coma.

Favorite Wine Travel Event: This past June, I attended TasteCamp Maryland, exploring the food and drink or Maryland. TasteCamp is always one of my favorite events as a small group of wine writers get together to explore a wine region, though the event has expanded to include additional alcoholic beverages as well. Maryland was a compelling destination, with delicious and interesting wines and spirits, such as those of McClintock Distilling Co. and Tenth Ward Distilling Company. We were based in Frederick, which has some delicious restaurants, though we traveled a bit to various regions within Maryland. I very much look forward to the next TasteCamp, wherever it might be.

Favorite Wine Rant: My weekly Monday Rants cover a wide range of food and drink-related issues and my favorite one dealing with wine this year was Rant: Become A Wine Activist. It touched on an article written by Peter Weltman, which states "Wine transcends borders and bridges cultures, and it can be used to improve lives if we make the right purchases." Though wine is often seen as a mere luxury, its purchase can possess the power to help people as "Financial support of a country’s wines contributes to the well-being of regions, countries, and producers." I like how this article helps to elevate the status of wine, and how it can benefit people from all over the world. It is definitely an idea we all should embrace when engaged in wine buying.

What were some of your favorite wine-related items this year?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

2017: Top Wines Over $50

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

Welcome to my third, and last, Top Wines List. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15 and Top Ten Wines Over $15. It is now time for my Top Wines Over $50. This isn't a Top Ten list as there aren't always sufficient wines at this price point that I've tasted and deemed worthy for inclusion. Like the prior lists, this list includes wines that not only did I enjoy, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

1) 2013 Katlav Cabernet Sauvignon ($70-$75)
From Israel, this wine, made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, possessed an alluring aroma of black fruit and spice. It was a more elegant, complex and subtle wine, which might have needed a little time to open up. However, its potential was clear, with such a fascinating depth of flavor, smooth tannins, a beautiful melange of flavors, and such a lengthy and satisfying finish. This is not an over-the-top wine, but still shines forth and I would have loved to spend an evening with this wine.

2) 2006 Quinta Vale d. Maria Douro Red (about $70)
This intriguing Portuguese red wine is a field blend of 40 indigenous grapes, the vines averaging about 60 years. This wine is usually aged for 20-22 months in 65%-75% new French oak. The wine has an excellent aging potential, at least twenty years, and it could age even longer. This 2006 wine was complex and delicious, with notes of black cherry, blackberry, ripe plum, a hint of eucalyptus, and a strong, spicy backbone. The tannins were restrained, being a very elegant wine, with a long and luxurious finish. Throughly impressive, this is the type of "wow" wine which will make you savor each compelling sip. This wine would probably be best paired with food, especially beef, wild boar, game meats or other hearty dishes.

3) Quinta Vale d. Maria 2007 Vintage Port
From the same Portuguese winery, this Port is made from a field blend of more than 25 indigenous grapes, from vines aged 25-60 years old. The wines are aged in ancient (more than 100 years old) oak and chestnut wood Port casks, as well as small stainless steel vats, for about 18 months. The color of this Port was rich and dark, with alluring aromas which will seduce you into sampling it. This Port was excellent, delicious and complex, with a nice freshness to it and plenty of primary fruit flavors, both red and black fruits, from cherry to plum. It was powerful though not overwhelming, well balanced and fascinating. I would love to taste this again with much more age on it.

4) 2010 Chapel Down Three Graces ($50)
Sparkling wine from England? Yes and there are plenty of reasons why excellent bubbly is now being produced in that country. The 2010 Chapel Down Three Graces is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, and 7% Pinot Meunier. About 10% of this wine includes reserve wine from 2009, and there was a tiny bit of oak in that reserve wine. It was fermented in stainless steel, underwent 100% malolactic fermentation and spent about five years on the lees. It was disgorged a few months before release. With a 12% ABV, wine had a pleasing golden color, with lots of tiny bubbles as well as fruit notes on the nose with a touch of toast. It has a clean and crisp taste, with lots of freshness, and tasty apple flavors and hints of citrus, but with more brioche elements and a lengthy, pleasing finish. It is complex and elegant, delicious and intriguing.

5) 2007 Hugel Schoelhammer Riesling (about $140)
This famous Alsatian winery scored a major hit with this 100% Riesling, the first release which comes from the historic Schoelhammer vineyard. It took the winery 5-6 years to decide whether this wine should be bottled and sold or not. Then, it took another five years before they placed the wine on the market. It is a special, terroir-driven wine which should be able to age for one hundred years. This is an incredible wine, complex and beguiling, with sharp acidity, rich mineral notes, and some intriguing fruit flavors, including some green apple and lemon with a mild saline character. It is dry and full-bodied with a lingering finish that continues to please long after you swallow a sip. It is strong enough to stand up to pork but would be great with more subtle seafood as well.

6) 2009 Hugel Vendange Tardive Gewurtraminer (about $55)
Also from that same winery as the Riesling, this is a late harvest wine, produced from Gewurtraminer, from a great vintage. It's nose alone was complex and alluring, calling to you like a mythical Siren. It was certainly an impressive wine, lush and decadent, with a mild sweetness, balanced by its crisp acidity, and with a complex melange of concentrated flavors that will tantalize your palate. You'll find orange, apricot, cardamon spice, floral notes, herbal accents and much more. Try pairing this wine with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, the famed Spanish ham from the black-footed pigs.

Alsace and Portugal are tied for first place, each occupying two spots, while Israel and Great Britain each occupy one spit. Of these six wines, there is 1 Sparkling Wine, 1 White wine, 2 Red wines, 1 Fortified wine, and 1 Dessert wine. Three of the wines were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo, an event where I often find a number of excellent wines.

Not all expensive wines are worth their high price but these wines well worth the splurge. These are the type of wines that words often cannot do justice. These are wines to experience and savor, not to dissect and analyze. These wines should be shared with others, with family and friends, to share the experience. With the holidays near, why not splurge and buy one of these wines.

If you have some of your own recommendations for unique and compelling wines over $50, please add them to the comments.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2017: Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50)

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

Welcome to my second Top Ten Wine List. Last week, I posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, which I hope you enjoyed and found useful. Now it is time for my Top Ten Wines Over $15, though these wines also cost less than $50.

Like the prior list, this list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws. Please also note that this is technically a Top 12 list as three Sherries are tied at one spot.

1) Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($20.00)
A Sparkling Muscadet? This was my first such wine and it won't be the last. Made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grape, this French wine is certified organic and was fermented by the Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pétillant-Naturel. It has a low 9.8% ABV, meaning you can have an extra glass without worrying much about getting too tipsy. As I raised the flute to my nose, visually delighted by the tiny bubbles, I was entranced with this wine, loving its appealing and intense aromas, such beautiful fruit with a wisp of the ocean. On the palate, there was lots of crisp acidity, delicious citrus notes, and a steely minerality with an herbal hint. It was fresh and tasty, each sip making you crave more. Highly recommended!

2) 2016 Vigneto Saetti Lambrusco Salamino di Santa Croce ($18.99)
This Italian Sparkling Lambrusco was produced from 100% Salamino di Santa Croce, from 40+ year old organic vines. The wine was a deep, almost purple color, with an alluring aroma of berries, violets, mild spices, and a hint of earthiness. On the palate, it has a creamy effervescence, with enticing, dry and juicy flavors of black cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum, with an underlying earthiness and mild spice notes. The tannins are well-integrated, the acidity is strong, and the finish is lengthy and pleasing. It was easy drinking but with plenty of complexity, the type of addictive wine which you'll likely finish the entire bottle before you know it.

3) 2011 Artevani Qvevri Aged Rkatsiteli ($30-$35)
One of the top three wines I enjoyed at the Boston Wine Expo, this Georgian wine is impressive on many levels. Artevani is a family-owned winery, seeking to produce more natural wines, reflective of terroir, and combining ancient traditions with modern technology. This wine is made from 100% Rkatsiteli, from seventy-year old vines, and is fermented in qvevri for about 24 days and then aged in qvevri for another 8-12 months. With a rich amber color, the wine presented with a fascinating aroma, an alluring mix of herbs, spices, and dried fruits. On the palate, I found a complex and intriguing melange of flavors and it was actually difficult to describe everything happening in my mouth. It was full bodied, with nice acidity, and a lengthy and satisfying finish. This is the type of wine you slowly savor, enjoying the new and surprising flavors you encounter with each sip.

4) 2016 Valdespino Ojo de Gallo Palomino Fino ($15.99)
This Spanish wine is made from 100% Palomino Fino, the grape usually used to produce Sherry, but the producer chose to make an unfortified version. The organically cultivated grapes are 20-25 years old. Fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts, and then it is aged for about 6 months on the fine lees. With a 12% ABV, it has a nice golden color and the nose reminded me immediately of a Fino Sherry. On the palate, it also was reminiscent of Fino Sherry with a bright salinity, citrus flavors, a strong minerality backbone and savory notes. It was crisp and very dry, with a lengthy and pleasing finish. It was fresh, elegant and complex, an intriguing wine that certainly shows the potential for Palomino Fino in unfortified, still wines.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, based in Santa Cruz, California, produces a fascinating range of intriguing and delicious wines. Another of my top three wines from the Boston Wine Expo was their 2014 Clos de Gilroy “Cuvée Particuliere", which is produced mainly from Grenache with a little bit of Mourvedre. It was more of an Old-World style wine, with bright red fruit flavors, some peppery notes and a mild earthiness. It was complex and intriguing, an elegant and delicious wine that calls out for lamb or wild boar, or a hearty Italian ragu. The wine easily seduced my palate and it was hard to refrain from draining the bottle on my own.

6) 2015 Metrick Mourvèdre ($31)
Alex Russan, with his Alexander Jules Sherries, has been on these prior lists multiple times and this year he earns a spot for his non-Sherry wines. His Metrick Wines explore the different wine regions of California and the 2015 Metrick Mourvèdre is a blend of 85% Mourvedre, 5% Marsanne, 5% Counoise, and 5% Syrah. The wine was fermented in 50% stainless steel and 50% concrete. 95% of the juice was free run, and it was then aged for about 11 months in concrete. It was bottled unfined and unfiltered, and has a 12% ABV. This wine was thoroughly impressive, a light bodied and savory elixir. A complex blend of herbs, olives and earthiness dominated the taste, with subtle hints of berry. It was so ethereal on the palate, with a compelling taste, including a lingering finish, which made me crave a second and third glass. I would pair this with an herbed, roast chicken or a mushroom risotto, or maybe a venison steak.

7) 2015 Alapiani Shavkapito ($25)
Another Georgian wine, I was thoroughly impressed with this wine produced from the indigenous Shavkapito grape which is even in Georgia. Its name means "vine with a black cane" and is said to be terroir-reflective. The grapes were sourced from a vineyard in the Okami village of the Shida Kartli region and the wine was fermented and aged in qvevri. With an alluring aroma of black fruit and herbs, the wine presented with a fascinating melange of flavors, including ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry, along with herbal accents, a smoky note, and a touch of spice. Lots of complexity, smooth tannins and a lengthy, pleasing finish.

8) 2016 1865 Pinot Noir ($18)
Finding excellent Pinot Noir for under $20 is difficult so I was extremely taken with this Chilean wine. Made from 100% Pinot Noir, from the El Platero Vineyard in the Valle Del Elqui, the wine was aged for about eight months in a combination of foudres, concrete eggs and barrels. With a 13.5% ABV, the wine has a light red color, and an alluring and complex nose of red fruits and touches of earth and spice. Those aromas will draw you in and you won't be disappointed once you taste it. The wine is elegant and light bodied, with a complex and fascinating melange of flavors, including bright red cherry, more subdued black cherry, subtle spice notes, and underlying hints of earthiness. There was excellent acidity, mineral notes, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It was well-balanced and compelling, reminding me in different ways to Burgundian Pinot as well as Oregonian Pinot, yet still with its own unique character.

9) 2013 Ktima Gerovassiliou Avaton ($47)
I love Greek wines and this is a killer wine, compelling and delicious. It is a blend of three indigenous Greek grapes, including 50% Limnio, 25% Mavrotragano & 20% Mavroudi. This wine is fermented and aged in French oak, has a 14% ABV, and has an inky dark red color, with an alluring aroma of black fruit, mild spice, and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, the wine is muscular and big, though it is still elegant and the tannins are well restrained. There are complex & rich flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, and blackberry, enhanced by a spicy backbone, good acidity, and a hint of herbs. It is delicious and well-balanced, with a lengthy, pleasing finish. It would be great paired with hearty dishes, from a grilled steak to a leg of lamb.

10) 2016 Rară Neagră de Purcari ($22-$23)
Another tasty wine from Moldova, this Rară Neagră de Purcari was impressive, luring me in from my first sniff of its compelling aroma. The wine is made from 100% Rară Neagră, was fermented in stainless steel, aged in French oak barriques and has a 14% ABV. The aroma is very savory, with black fruit accents and subtle spicy notes. On the palate, it is medium-bodied, with soft tannins and good acidity. It presents an intriguing melange of bold flavors, ripe black fruit, spicy notes, hints of vanilla, and an almost meaty undertone. A lengthy finish completes this well balanced and delicious wine.

This is always my toughest list to compile because there are numerous other excellent wines which I could have added. I had to ponder long over which wines to actually select for the main list, meaning that I had to eliminate other worthy wines. To give some credit to those other worthy wines, which almost made the Top Ten list, I have an Honorable Mention list. These are also wines you definitely should check out.

Honorable Mention

1) 2015 Metrick Chardonnay ($36)
This Metrick Chardonnay is made with grapes from the Sierra Madre Vineyard, planted in 1971 and sustainably farmed, in the Santa Maria AVA. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees, in stainless, for about 11 months. It underwent malolactic fermentation, allowing it to be bottled unfiltered, and has a 12% ABV. I found this wine to be crisp and clean, with bright citrus notes and some minerality. There was some richness in the mouthfeel and it came across as elegant and delicious. I paired this wine with some stuffed clams and it was an excellent pairing. It was obvious that this Chardonnay would be perfect with seafood, from sushi to oysters.

2) 2015 Batono Qvevruli Tetri ($20)
This Georgian wine is an intriguing blend of three indigenous grapes, 40% Kisi, 40% Mtsvane and 20% Rkatsiteli. It was produced in both qvevri and oak, and was a fascinating and delicious wine with a unique melange of spice, dried fruit, herbal accents and a touch of eucalyptus. Each sip brought a new flavor combination to my palate and this is a very good value wine to savor and enjoy over time. This wine would work well with seafood dishes and roast chicken.

3) 2016 Alpha Estate Rosé ($19.99)
You should enjoy Rosé year-round and this Greek Rosé should please you. Made from 100% Xinomavro, it spent two months on the lees and has a 13% ABV. With a bright pink color, this wine has a delightful fruity nose and on the palate, it is crisp, dry and fruity, with tasty flavors of strawberry and cherry and subtle floral notes. It has a medium-body, with a lengthy, satisfying finish.  This would certainly be a food-versatile wine, from oysters to burgers, roasted chicken to pizza. Though sipping it on its own, while relaxing poolside, would be quite the pleasure as well.

4) 2013 Adega de Borba Reserve ($18-$19)
Another excellent value Portuguese wine, this is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Castelão and Alicante Bouschet. The wine spent about 12 months in French oak, and then another 6 months in the bottle. This is a delicious, complex wine and though it is also powerful 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.

5) 2013 Vallegre Vinhas Velhas Reserva Especial (about $21)
Another tasty Portuguese wine, this is an intriguing blend of Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão and Tinta Francisca, from 60+ year old vines. It presents as deep and dark, complex and smooth, spicy and tannic. Concentrated flavors of Rich ripe plum and flavors, with hints of chocolate and leather. A well-balanced wine with plenty of acidity and a lengthy, satisfying finish. So much going on in this wine, it is sure to impress.

6) 2015 Artevani Saperavi ($24)
The Georgian winery of Artevani also produced a compelling organic Saperavi, made from an old recipe and which sees no oak. With a dark red color, it presented with a fruity aroma, and a rich palate of red fruits with a hint of earthiness. It was smooth, with low tannins, good acidity, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. A wine that would pair well with plenty of different foods, from pizza to burgers.

7) 2011 Ktima Biblia Chora Biblinos ($35)
Another fascinating Greek wine, the Biblia Chora Biblinos is made from 100% of an unknown grape that was discovered on the slopes of Mount Pangeon. DNA testing couldn't identify the grape but it was able to verify that it was vitis vinifera, of Greek origin. Essentially this is a lost grape, one whose origins could extend back to the ancient Greeks, and it might never be identified. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then aged in French oak for about 12 months. With a 14.5% ABV, the wine is inky dark in color with an interesting aroma of black fruit with some light floral notes, like wild violets. On the palate, there is an intriguing and complex melange of flavors, with ripe plum, blueberry and black cherry up front and leading to some spicy and savory notes, especially on the long and lingering finish. Good acidity, some rich voluptuousness up front, and well-integrated tannins. The savory aspect, hints of herbs and roast meat, was compelling and I was well enamored with this wine.

8) 2013 Ramat Negev Ramon Petit Verdot ($39.99)
This Israeli winery saw its origins back in 1997, with a desire to establish a winery that was based only on local produce. Their Petit Verdot, from a single vineyard, spent about 18 months in new French oak and then six months in the bottle. With a powerful spicy aroma, this wine is deep and dark but with restrained tannins. It possesses juicy blackberry and plum flavors with a touch of blueberry, a spicy aspect, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is a wine that is probably best paired with food and it should also impress many wine lovers.

9) 2015 Survivor Pinotage ($18-$20)
This South African wine is made from 100% Pinotage and it was aged in 95% French and 5% American oak for about 18 months. Pinotage can be a divisive grape but I've always been a fan, and this example was compelling. I found it to be smoky and spicy, with deep flavors of plum and black cherry, with hints of vanilla, spice and bacon. The tannins were well integrated, it had a lengthy finish, and would be an excellent accompaniment with lamb, steak, or other roasted meats.

10) 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir ($30)
Pinot Noir is probably not something you think of much when you consider German wines but maybe you should based on this fine example. It has only an 11.5% ABV, an amazingly low alcohol level compared to most other Pinot Noirs. This wine has a very light red color and on the nose, its present an alluring scent of cherry, mild spice and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you'll be impressed with its elegance and complexity, its bright acidity and delightful flavors of red fruit, spice notes, earthy elements and a touch of herbs. With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this is a killer Pinot, one that can easily compete with Pinots from any other region. It seems like a wine reflective of place, and it was easy to finish the bottle over the course of an evening.


Summary

Eight countries made the list this year, as opposed to seven last year. Georgia and California occupy the most spots on my Top Ten list, each with two spots. The rest of the list is occupied by France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Greece, and Moldova. The list is also broken down into two Sparkling Wines, two White wines, one Rosé, & five Reds.

On the Honorable Mention list, seven countries made the list and Georgia, Greece and Portugal occupy the most places, each with two spots. The other regions include California, Israel, South Africa and Germany. The list is also broken down into two Whites, one Rosé, & seven Reds.

When you combine the two lists, Georgia is in first place with four spots while California and Greece are tied for second place with three spots each. Portugal has two spots while France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Moldova, Israel, South Africa and Germany all have only one spot. In addition, you'll find two Sparkling Wines, four White wines, two Rosé, & twelve Reds. Eight of the wines on these lists were tasted at the Boston Wine Expo.

I have plenty of other recommendations for wines at this price point on my blog. There are top notch wines from countries all over the world, made from an incredibly diverse selection of grapes and you can still find plenty of values too. My advice is that you seek out wines outside of your comfort zone. Explore the multitude of diversity in the wonderful world of wine. Taste and try anything new, unique or potentially interesting. I am sure your search will lead to new favorites.

If you have some of your own recommendations for wines that are over $15 but under $50, please add them to the comments.