Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Brazilian Wine: Salton's Bubbly to Tannat

The wines of Argentina and Chile are already fairly well known to wine drinking consumers. Uruguayan wines are just starting to gain entry through the door, impressing those wine lovers who have tasted them. Brazilian wines have just started knocking at the door so what will you find if you open that door?

You probably would be surpassed by the scope of the Brazilian wine industry, with about 84,000 hectares of vineyards and over 1100 wineries, most which are small. The history of wine production extends back to 1532, when vines were brought from Madeira, though the initial vineyards fared poorly due to the hot climate. The environment would remain a constant challenge and most of the vineyards are currently located in the southernmost region of Brazil, away from the equator.

About 8 years ago, I tasted my first Brazilian wines at a Brazilian rodizio restaurant and I very much enjoyed a red blend. Since then though, I've had Brazilian wines on only two other occasions, including at another rodizio restaurant, though both experiences were pleasant. I rarely see their wines available at any wine store so I'm sure most people have never tasted a Brazilian wine.

I recently received a media sample of two Brazilian wines from Vinicola Salton, including a sparkling wine and a Tannat.  Vinicola Salton was founded in 1910, but its roots extend back earlier, when Antonio Domenico Salton moved from Italy to Brazil. He settled in the Italian Dona Isabel colony in Rio Grande do Sul and was an amateur winemaker. His sons, Paulo, Ângelo, João, José, Cézar, Luiz and Antônio, started Paulo Salton & Irmãos, growing grapes and producing sparkling wine and vermouth. Salton, which is now the oldest, continuously operating winery in Brazil, remains a family business and sparkling wine is still their specialty.

The Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut ($15-$17) is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Riesling that was produced using the Charmat method. With an alcohol content of 12.5%, the bubbly had an appealing nose of floral and citrus notes. On the palate, it was dry with a nice acidity, flavors of green apple and pineapple, and a mild creaminess. Very clean flavors, a moderately long finish, and with plenty of character for the price. It would be a good food wine, and is a nice option at this price point, rather than many of the sweeter sparkling wines you often find at this level.  If this is a representative sample of the potential of sparkling wine in Brazil, it would be great to see more of it available in the U.S.

I've tasted dozens of Tannat wines from Uruguay, so my personal bar for Tannat wines is high. I've seen its potential, at all price points, so I was curious to taste a Brazilian example. The 2013 Salton Classic Tannat Reserva Especial ($10-$12) is made from 100% Tannat, aged for a short time in American oak. With an alcohol content of 13%, the wine was a dark red in color with an aroma of chocolate and black fruit. On the palate, it is a bit rustic, with moderate tannins, and flavors of chocolate, blackberry, black cherry and some herbal accents. This is a wine that would benefit from pairing with food, especially burgers and BBQ. It is a goof wine, just not as soft as many Uruguayan Tannats at this price point, but that is merely a matter of preference, not quality.

Let's hope we see more Brazilian wines coming to the U.S., to better explore their potential.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

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.. **********************************************************
1) Vine Brook Tavern, located in downtown Lexington, has starting serving lunch Tuesday-Sunday from 11:30am-3pm. A creation of Marcus Palmer and Brian Lesser, Vine Brook is a contemporary American tavern offering classic, refined American fare, warm hospitality, and outstanding service. American cuisine and a blend of farm-to-table produce from local Lexington farms is the theme for Executive Chef Chris Frothingham’s menu.

Here are some of the items available:
New England Clam Chowder with smoky bliss potatoes
Quinoa & Kale with shaved cauliflower & brussels, carrot, sesame miso vinaigrette
Salmon Burger with sticky soy, wasabi aioli, shiitake & cilantro
Lobster Roll shucked daily, mayo, chives and coleslaw
Quiche made daily with arugula salad
Fish & Chips house made tarter sauce, beer battered cod, coleslaw

Vine Brook Tavern also offers an extensive selection of wines, craft micro-brews, and cocktails. Featuring over 20 mostly American wines, Vine Brook Tavern serves these wines through its custom cruvinet system at proper temperatures. With twelve beers on tap and twelve more in bottles and cans, Vine Brook Tavern features a wide selection of craft micro-brews as well as quality production lagers and ales. Of course, the spirits mustn’t be left out, which is why Palmer has enlisted some of Boston’s finest mixologists to create a fantastic mix of modern and contemporary cocktails.

2) Beginning May 18, Prezza will introduce a new pairing special at the bar and in the dining room that is available through June. Macaroni Mondays offers three housemade pasta selections for only $8 each on Mondays from 5:00pm-7:00pm. Chef Caturano’s featured pasta dishes include Tagliatelle with meatballs; Gnocchi with San Marzano tomatoes and basil; and, Orecchiette with sausage, broccoli rabe, chili flakes and parmigiano.

For those looking to imbibe, Prezza will offer a trio of premium red wines by the glass that come paired with a complimentary order of one of the three “Macaroni Mondays” featured pastas. From the Prezza wine cellar, there is Beni di Batasiolo Barolo ($17), Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) and Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva ($15).

By popular demand, Chef Caturano is bringing back Crispy Shrimp Tuesdays for a limited time. Each Tuesday from 5:00pm-7:00pm at the bar and in the dining room, Prezza will dish out three U-10 Crispy Shrimp with Italian Slaw and cherry pepper aioli for only $8.

For summer wine enthusiasts, Prezza will feature three premium white and rose varietals by the glass which will come paired with a complimentary order of the Crispy Shrimp: Chateau Miraval Jolie-Pitt Cotes de Provence Rose ($14); CADE Sauvignon Blanc ($15); and, Duckhorn Vineyards Chardonnay ($16).

3) On June 22, Red Sox Designated Hitter David Ortiz is bringing the flavor of his native Dominican Republic to Boston at the third annual “David Ortiz Children’s Fund Gala” hosted at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. Proceeds from the festive fundraiser will benefit the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, in partnership with MassGeneral Hospital for Children and the World Pediatric Project, which provides critical pediatric healthcare to children in New England and the Dominican Republic.

Tickets now are available for the island-inspired soiree where revelers will have the opportunity to mix-and-mingle with Boston’s biggest names in sports and entertainment. Guests also will enjoy a Dominican-themed cocktail reception, live Latin music and entertainment as well as a three-course seated dinner – hosted by Big Papi himself – in honor of the special works and the beneficiaries of the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. All guests will have access to an exclusive silent and live auction featuring unique memorabilia and priceless experiences.

WHEN: Monday • June 22, 2015
6:00pm – 7:00pm: VIP Cocktail Reception
6:00pm – 7:00pm: General Cocktail Reception
7:00pm – 10:00pm: Seated Dinner in the Ballroom

--General Admission (includes access to the general cocktail reception and the dinner program):$450 per person; $800 for two people
--VIP Tickets (includes access to the VIP cocktail reception with David Ortiz and other celebrities, the dinner program, an autographed David Ortiz baseball and a photo opportunity with David Ortiz): · $1,250 per person; $2,250 for two people

HOW: To reserve tickets, please visit: www.davidortiz.splashthat.com. Tables and sponsorship opportunities are available by contacting Radegen Sports Management’s Alexis Walberg at 212-727-2142 or AWalberg@radegen.com.

4) In honor of the seasonal opening of Fiorella’s outdoor patio, the restaurant is encouraging people to celebrate sun, family and friends on Tuesday, May 26, from 11:30AM – 4PM as it hosts a special day of delicious food and libations and beautiful weather.

Guests to Fiorella’s can treat friends and families to a complimentary lunch entrée courtesy of the restaurant with the regular purchase of any entrée. “We want to welcome our neighbors, friends and essentially our extended family back to a summer full of amazing outdoor dining. We have a lot of amazing events planned for our patio including special wine dinners, tastings, and receptions. We’re looking forward to welcoming everyone back,” said Remon Karian, Owner of Fiorella’s.

Guests can vie for dishes like Tilapia Cannellini featuring fresh tilapia poached with capers, tomatoes & cannellini beans prepared in a delicious lemon and wine sauce served over a bed of fresh spinach & rice pilaf ($14), or the Vegetable Chicken Salad with sautéed chicken and mushroom, zucchini, summer squash & broccoli over a house salad, topped with red onions, cucumbers & olives in a balsamic dressing ($10). Guests can also try one of Fiorella’s classic pastas, artisanal sandwiches, or enjoy one of its thin Neapolitan style pizzas cooked in a 700˚F wood burning brick pizza oven.

Customers must purchase one entrée at regular price, this offer is only valid on Tuesday, May 26th, 2015 from 11:30AM – 4:00PM and is only available on the patio on a first come, first serve basis.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2013 Joan d'Anguera Altaroses: A Garnacha Prize

The Priorat wine region of Spain receives plenty of accolades and media attention. Wine lovers often know about the region and its highly prized wines. Priorat wines though can be expensive, often making them more a special occasion wine. A lesser known wine region almost completely surrounds Priorat, and some of its wines can be similar to Priorat wines, but at much lower prices. This is the Monsant DO.

The Monsant DO was created in 2001, though wine making in the region extends back to at least the ancient Romans. The region has about 2000 hectares of vineyards, and much of the terrain is mountainous. White and red grapes are grown, including Chardonnay, White Grenache, Macabeu, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Red Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo and others. There are around 60 wineries in Montsant, and they export about 60% of their production with Germany being their top importer and the U.S. taking second place. I enjoy the taste of Montsant wines, and especially like that many of them are very affordable.

At the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, where I work part-time, I recently purchased the 2013 Joan d'Anguera Altaroses ($17), and I enjoyed it so much I had to buy a few more bottles. The Cellars Joan d'Anguera is located in Catalunya, and the estate extends back approximately 200 years. Josep d’Anguera is famous for having introduced Syrah to Montsant, and since his passing, his sons, Joan and Josep, have taken over, though with the assistance of their mother, Mercè. Joan and Josep have moved forward to create their own style of wines.

In 2009, the brothers transformed the vineyards to organic farming, as well as beginning the process to become Biodynamic. In 2012, they received their Demeter Biodynamic certification. Their wine production methods have also seen changes from the days of their father. For example, they only destem partially and mature their wines in much less new oak, choosing to use more older oak, foudres and cement tanks. In addition, they have focused more on Grenache wines, rather than the Syrah their father brought to the region.

The first vintage of Joan d'Anguera Altaroses was in 2011, but the 2012 vintage was their first Biodynamic wine. The wine was crafted to resemble the traditional wines of the region, a lighter style of Grenache, and that is also why they chose to refer to the grape as Granatxa, the old Catalan term for Grenache. The grapes for this wine are about 15-40 years old and they were fermented in concrete vats using indigenous yeasts, It was matured for about 12 months in old oak barrels, and is unfined and unfiltered.

The wine is light red in color, with a pleasing aroma of red fruits and spice. On the palate, it is light bodied but with a compelling melange of flavors of dark cherry and strawberry, rich spice, and an earthy undertone. Mild tannins, nice acidity, and plenty of elegance. It is an easy drinking wine, but with plenty of character, especially at this price point. With its light body, it would work well during the summer, from roast chicken to burgers. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Puritan & Co. Natural Wine Dinner

Puritan & Co., located in Inman Square, is one of those restaurants that shows a true passion for wine. Sommelier Peter Nelson has composed an interesting and diverse wine list and on the first Wednesday of each month, he hosts a special Wine Wednesday event. A five course dinner, created and prepared by Chef/Owner Will Gilson and Chef de Cuisine Alex Saenz, is paired with five different wines specially chosen by Nelson. Each Wine Wednesday has a specific theme, and the number of available seats varies, though it generally is an intimate event.

I was invited as a media guest to May's event, the Au Naturel Wine Wednesday, which showcased five natural wines. Twelve people attended this dinner, sitting at a communal table, including Jackson and Scott from Mise Wines, who supplied the wines and discussed them during the meal. Explaining why he chose the wines for the evening, Jackson stated he aimed for diversity in the wines, and also wanted wines that would represent Spring in France. Most of the wines were Biodynamic, and all were from small producers, each trying to produce more natural wines, with minimal manipulation.

Overall, I was pleased with all of the wines, finding a few of them especially impressive, and the food was also delicious and satisfying, and paired well with the various wines. The intimacy of the dinner, getting to discuss and share these wines with others, was an added benefit. It was casual and fun, a tasty gathering which I would highly recommend to all wine lovers.

My favorite wine of the evening was the first one we tasted, the 2011 Château La Tour Grise Chenin Blanc “Les Fontenelles,” (about $25). From the Loire Valley, this wine is made of 100% Chenin Blanc and has an alcohol content of 13.5%. The winery has two different parcels of Chenin, each which is treated the same, but as they have different terroirs, the wines are very different. This wine had an intense orange-brownish color, which will change to a more clear, yellow color if left decanted over night. The wine had a mild, funky aroma, a common element to most of these wines, though the aroma generally went away with some time in the glass.

My palate was intrigued by the complex and intriguing flavors of this wine, from its strong minerality to its honey and apricot notes. Plenty of acidity, floral notes, a savory aspect, and more led to an impressive wine. The wine's umami aspect meant it would pair well with a variety of foods, and I wished I had saved some for the later course with the earthy snails. A killer wine which I highly recommend, and which I need to add to my cellar.

Our first food course was a Chilled Sorrel & Buttermilk Soup with squid and zucchini noodles. The creamy soup had a nice mix of bright lemon and herbal flavors, with an interesting textures from the noodles. It made for a fine Spring or Summer dish, and went well with the Chenin.

The second wine was the 2012 Roland Pignard Morgon (about $25), a fine Beaujolais. The winery owners are elderly, but still do everything themselves, by hand. It is also said by some that Morgon is the heart of the natural wine movement. With an alcohol content of 12.5%, this light red wine had plenty of delicious strawberry flavors with a mild earthiness. As easy drinking wine with character which elevates it over many simple wines. I usually prefer Beaujolais from Morgon so this wine appealed to me.

Next up was a Sprout Salad with a mixed blend of sprouts, a fried poached egg and Burgundy snails. That egg was the star of the dish, with a delightful crunchy coating and that lush, gooey yolk. The earthy snails were a tasty treat as well, especially when slathered in some egg yolk. The Beaujolais went well with this dish, and I can see this wine pairing with many Summer dishes.

The 2012 Jacques Maillet “Autremont Rouge” (about $27), has an alcohol content of 13%, and is from the Savoie region. The word "autremont" means "differently" and this wine is a blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Gamay, and 20% Mondeuse. The producer, Maillet, once worked with a co-op which used chemicals in its vineyards. Maillet became ill and it took him three years to recover, leaving him with a determination to never again work with chemicals, which led to him making his small estate Biodynamic. This wine had an intriguing aroma, with strong floral notes but another elusive scent, something I couldn't readily identify but which seemed familiar. The wine was light bodied, with plenty of red fruit flavors, mild earthy notes, smooth tannins and floral elements. Avery pleasing wine with lots of complexity.

This wine was paired with Black Bass with asparagus, Marcona almonds, and wheat berries. The flaky fish was complemented by the ground Marcona almonds, and the wheat berries added some nutty notes too.

We moved onto the 2012 Domaine Ledogar Cinsault “Les Brunelles,” a wine (in magnum) from the Languedoc-Roussillon which is made from 100% 80-year old Cinsault, This wine had the strongest barnyard aroma though it settled down with time. On the palate it had a strong, earthy backbone with smooth tannins, tasty black cherry and raspberry flavors and a lingering finish. A compelling wine, this was also a great choice for the accompanying dish.

The Crispy Skin Duck & Alliums, with ramps, vidalia, and scallion oil, was my favorite of the five courses. The large piece of duck was quite thick, cooked mostly rare, and was absolutely sublime. It was extremely tender, with crispy skin, and each piece just melted in my mouth. I'd order that duck again and again. The onion paste streaks were also tasty, with both sweet and savory notes.

The final wine of the evening was the 2002 Château Le Payral “Cuvée Marie-Jeanne,” ($40) which has an alcohol content of 11.5% and is from the Saussignac region. Made from 100% Semillon that has undergone Botrytis, it is only made in exceptional years and will remind you of Sauternes. It is rick and thick, with good acidity, a balanced sweetness, and lovely flavors of honey, apricot, dried fruits and floral notes. A true treat.

Dessert was a Frommage Blanc Panna Cotta which was made with sweet, red strawberries and some pickled green strawberries. The taste of the creamy panna cotta was enhanced by the sweet and sour strawberry flavors, with the pickled ones adding a very different, and tasty, aspect to the dessert.

Compelling wines and cuisine, this Au Naturel wine dinner was a big hit, and the others at the communal table all seemed satisfied and pleased with all that we ate and drank. Seek out the wines from this dinner, and also make reservations for a future Wine Wednesday event at Puritan & Co. The next Wine Wednesday will be held on June 3.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rant: Diversity & Blogs

Diversity is important for all of us, helping to broaden our experiences, to open our minds to new ideas, and to eliminate our biases and prejudices. The person who only drinks Chardonnay would benefit from tasting a variety of other white wines. The person who only eats Italian food from the Olive Garden would benefit from dining at other Italian restaurants. Broadening the horizons of what you eat and drink opens you up to so many possibilities.

The benefits of diversity concern far more than just food and drink. They touch on all aspects of our lives, and it is a topic many people have been addressing. It is a topic that can be controversial at times, but we should not avoid it because of that fact. We need to meet it head-on, to embrace diversity and cherish its positive aspects. Diversity will only make us better human beings.

As a small contribution to this issue, I want to address one aspect of diversity, to showcase people of color who blog about food & drink. I previously highlighted women who blog about wine, and it was an extremely popular post (and also is due for an update).  It helped to bring to the forefront all the valuable contributions and unique voices of these bloggers. We need to expand our scope and learn of the unique viewpoints from people of color as well.  

I've been blogging about food and drink in the Boston area for over 9 years, and the vast majority of bloggers I see at local events are white. I have spoke of this before, stating we need to find ways to attract more people of color to these events. An initial step would be to identify those people of color who blog, to showcase their talents. This could be a motivation for other people of color to get involved and start blogging too.  It will also present blogs with different voices, a way for all of us to expand our own experience and knowledge.

Initially, I would like to create a list of people of color who live in Massachusetts and blog about food and/or drink. In time,I will expand the list to people outside of Massachusetts but I want to start off small first, to make it a more manageable project.

To create this list, I need help. I need local people of color to contact me about their blogs. Please send me the name of your blog, its URL and a brief description of what you write about. You can email me, message me on Facebook or contact me through Twitter. Once I have a number of entries, I will post a directory to these blogs, so that everyone can learn about these blogs and hopefully start following them.

If you have any questions, feel free to add them to the comments or contact me directly.