Monday, January 18, 2021

Rant: It's A Terrible Time For Wine

2020 was a terrible year for wine, and 2021 is starting off in that same way. It's possible, and hopefully so, that later this year, it will become a much better time for wine. We need it to become better. We need our wine experiences to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Why has it been such a terrible time for wine? Is it because 2020 was a bad vintage? Many wine stores have done very good business in 2020, so what has been so terrible?

We need to remember that wine is best when shared with others, and because of the pandemic, we have been very limited in our ability to drink wine with our family, friends, and others. Thus, we have been largely prevented from enjoying wine in its best manner. We can enjoy a glass of wine all by ourselves, but it would be so much better if we could drink and share a bottle with others.

If you think back, calling forth memories of the best wines you've ever drank, I suspect those memories always involve other people. I doubt, except for the rarest of exceptions, that your best wines were drank all alone. The shared enjoyment of a wine enhances the entire experience, and makes it so much more memorable.

I've sipped a wine, thoroughly enjoying it, and then waited and watched while a good friend then sipped that same wine. I've looked into his eyes, seeing the joy there as he tasted the wine, and then watched his entire face light up in pleasure. Wordlessly, there was a connection there, a shared enjoyment that was mutually understood. Eventually, words would come, a conversation about the wine, and our mutual feelings would be vocally expressed. That shared pleasure elevated the enjoyment of the wine, making it taste even better. 

And when a group of wine lovers get together, sharing multiple bottles over the course of an evening, it can be quite a magical night. We lacked those evenings in 2020, and still cannot experience such an event. We are missing out on the best of wine, and maybe the vaccines will help us return to times when we could gather together and share wine. 

I want to freely share wine once again! What about you?

Monday, January 11, 2021

Rant: Duck Wings > Chicken Wings

As a general rule: Duck Wings are much better than Chicken Wings.

Unfortunately, chicken wings get all the attention and they're available in numerous restaurants, most often as an appetizer. There are even restaurants that specialize in chicken wings, offering them with a variety of sauces, as well as with or without bones. Chicken wings are a popular snack for watching sporting events, especially as they are easily made at home. 

However, how many restaurants do you know that serve duck wings? It's likely that you don't know any, or maybe just one or two.  I'm only aware of a handful in the local area that serve them. And when was the last time you prepared duck wings at home? Again, most people have probably never done so. Duck wings just don't get the proper respect they deserve. 

Part of the reason for the ubiquity of chicken wings is likely that they are usually inexpensive. I've seen some restaurants and bars offer wings for as little as 25 cents each. In addition, about 9 billion chickens are killed annually for food, so there's plenty of available wings. Only about 31 million ducks are killed each year, roughly equivalent to 0.3% of the amount of chickens. 

Chicken is generally a mild meat, and the sauce used on the wings is vitally important. Some might say that chicken wings are essentially a rather bland vehicle for the sauce. The most compelling, and tastiest part of the chicken wing might be its skin. 

Duck wings on the other hand are abundant with flavor. The taste of the duck, with its crispy skin, rich flavors and bit of gaminess, are compelling. It is definitely not a mild or bland meat, and that is why they are better than chicken wings. Any sauce and seasonings on the duck wings is intended to complement the taste of the duck, and is not as important as it is with chicken wings. 

Duck wings may have less meat than chicken wings, and might be a little tougher if not cooked properly, but neither of those is reason enough to choose chicken wings over duck wings. I would much rather have less meat, if it has more flavor, than an abundance of much less flavorful meat. I've eaten plenty of chicken wings over the years, but they rarely are especially memorable. I've eaten far less duck wings, only due to their lack of availability, but they are usually memorable.
 
For example, A Tavola, in Winchester, occasionally has Crispy Duck Confit Wings as a special appetizer. One of the last times they offered them, they were made with kale, pickled tumeric watermelon rind, and agrodolce syrup. These Duck Wings, pictured above, were killer, with delicious crispy skin atop moist, tender and flavorful meat. Each bite brought such gustatory pleasure, and they were one of my top ten dishes of 2020. Chef Carli will likely be offering Duck Wings again very soon, maybe even this week, and I highly recommend you check them out.

As another example, Spicy World, in Malden, offers Soy/Flavored Duck Wings,  which are topped with crushed peanuts and onions. The wings were meaty and tasty, with that richness you find in duck that you generally don't find in chicken. The texture and flavor of the peanut added an intriguing element to the duck.

It bears repeating: Duck Wings are much better than Chicken Wings.

Friday, January 8, 2021

New Sampan Article: Peking Duck Delights & Some History

The most interesting feature of Chinese life to me was that on board their boats, or sampans, as they are called....Upon these boats live whole families of three and even four generations."
--The Fall River Daily Herald, November 20, 1888

As I've mentioned previously, I've a new writing gig, contributing to Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England. I've previously written thirteen articles for Sampan, including:


My newest article, Peking Duck Delights & Some History, is now available in the new issue of Sampan. Who doesn't love this famous Mandarin dish, with its delightful crispy skin and tender meat. Delve into the history of Peking Duck in the U.S., from its first references in 1900, to its first appearance in a Boston area restaurant in 1958. Joyce Chen was the first to bring Peking Duck to the Boston area. The article also discusses China King, owned by Doris Huang, who made one of the best Peking Duck dishes in Chinatown. Unfortunately, China King closed at the end of 2020, but I've heard that Doris intends to relocate her restaurant and bring her famous Peking Duck back to the area. 

I'm currently working on a new article for the Sampan. 

What is a "sampan?" The newspaper's site states, "A sampan is a popular river boat in traditional China. This small but useful vessel, by transporting cargo from large boats to the village ports, creates a channel of communication among villages." And like that type of boat, Sampan delivers news and information all across New England, and "acts a bridge between Asian American community organizations and individuals in the Greater Boston area."

Sampan, which was founded in 1972, is published by the nonprofit Asian American Civic Association, "The newspaper covers topics that are usually overlooked by the mainstream press, such as key immigration legislation, civil rights, housing, education, day-care services and union activities. These issues are crucial to the well-being of Asian immigrants, refugees, low-income families as well as individuals who are not proficient in the English language."

There is plenty of interest in Sampan which will appeal to all types of readers, from restaurant reviews to historical articles, from vital news stories to travel items. In these current days when racism and prejudice against Asians and their restaurants is high, it's more important than ever that accurate information about the Asian community is disseminated and promoted. We need to combat the irrational prejudices that some possess, and support our Asian communities just as we would support any other element of our overall community. We are all important aspects of a whole, and we need to stand together.

Support Sampan!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Origin of Chinese Duck Sauce: Did Boston "Invent" It?


If you dine at local Chinese restaurants, you’ve probably been served a container of duck sauce, a versatile sweet and sour sauce that is commonly used for dipping fried foods, from eggrolls to chicken fingers, fried wontons to crab rangoon. You might also pour some duck sauce on your fried rice or pork strips. If you order take-out, you might receive a small plastic tub of duck sauce or maybe you’ll get tiny plastic packets of duck sauce.

It has become such a familiar sauce that you can find it at non-Chinese restaurants too. For example, at sub shops and roast beef joints, it’s a common accompaniment for chicken fingers. At many general grocery stores, duck sauce is readily available for sale, and you don’t need to go to a specialty Chinese shop. The Chinese refer to "duck sauce" by various names, including so moue jeung, soo moy jung, su-moi-jung, soo-moy ding, and shuen moy jeung.

What is the origin of this curious sauce?

It doesn’t appear anyone can definitely provide its origin story, though theories abound, most believing it acquired its name in the U.S. Many believe the sauce was possibly plum or hoisin sauce, which was renamed "duck sauce" in the U.S. because the sauces were originally a Chinese accompaniment for duck. Some theories are more specific, stating duck sauce was originally the sauce used for Peking Duck. Americans allegedly loved Peking Duck, becoming familiar with this sauce, which was renamed to make it easier for them to  pronounce or understand. It's also possible that duck sauce was an American variation of plum or hoisin sauce. 

Let’s see if we can clear up some of the confusion, and locate more details of its possible origins. And could Chinese restaurants in Boston have been the first to use the term “duck sauce?”


Going back in history, we can see that plum sauce existed in the U.S., and not one based on the Chinese version. One of the earliest newspaper references was in the Buffalo Daily Republic (NY), August 29, 1849, where a family was poisoned by a plum sauce. A German silver spoon, which shouldn’t have been used, had stirred the plum sauce while it was cooking. The problem was that the mix of the silver spoon and a sour substances caused issues “as the arsenic, of which the ware is in part composed, is acted upon by the acid and dissolved, thus filling the substance with poison.

There were additional, albeit brief, mentions of plum sauces in the Marshall Statesman (Michigan), December 9, 1857, Wellsboro Agitator (PA), February 12, 1862, Ottowa Free Trader (Iowa), January 10, 1863, Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), January 11, 1869, and Logansport Pharos Tribune (IN), October 3, 1893. None of these references were connected to Chinese plum sauce.

One of the earliest references to Chinese plum sauce was in the Bloomington Leader (IL), January 29, 1894, in an article on the Chinese New Year. The article described a Chinese feast including “…dried mushrooms, shark’s fin, dried oysters in the shell with seaweed flavor, plum sauce, betel nuts, peanut oil which is used like olive oil, cuttle fish,..” Curiously, there was no mention of duck so maybe the plum sauce was also used for other dishes.

The Buffalo Evening News (NY), January 5, 1900, briefly mentioned a non-Chinese dinner menu that included Roast Wild Duck and plum sauce. So, some Americans were combining duck and plum sauce before the Chinese version became commonplace.

The San Francisco Call (CA), February 9, 1908, was the first newspaper to mention the specific uses of Chinese plum sauce, stating, “…sweet plum sauce, into which the Chinese dip their fish and meat,..” It obviously wasn’t restricted to using only for duck, and seemed to be a much more versatile and widely used sauce. Could plum sauce be the origin of "duck sauce?"

It’s fascinating that the first newspaper reference I found concerning Chinese “duck sauce” was in the Boston Herald, January 15, 1927. The paper mentioned a dinner at an unnamed Chinese restaurant on Hudson Street which served “sauces of soy, sauces of mustard and duck sauce.” Did the term “duck sauce” thus originate in Boston and spread from there?

Unfortunately, no details or explanation were provided on the nature of this duck sauce. It seemed that the article assumed people already knew about duck sauce. Was it a renamed plum sauce? Or hoisin sauce? Or was it a variation of one of these existing Chinese sauces?


Hoisin sauce is commonly used with Peking Duck, but it doesn’t seem a likely candidate for being “duck sauce.” From my prior history of Peking Duck, we know that Peking Duck was a rarity in the U.S. during the 1920s. It wasn’t until 1958 that the first Chinese restaurant in the Boston area served Peking Duck. So, it makes no sense that the duck sauce mentioned in Boston had anything to do with Peking duck. Nearly all of the Chinese restaurants established in the U.S. from the 19th century to the 1920s were Cantonese, and they didn’t serve Peking duck.

Peking Duck was originally created for the elite classes in the north of China while the Cantonese had their own version of roast duck, and it was popular with the common people. Cantonese roast duck was served in American restaurants, including in Boston’s Chinatown, at least as far back as the late 19th century. Plum sauce was used with Cantonese duck, so it seems a far more likely candidate for “duck sauce” than hoisin sauce.

In general, plum sauce was made from plums, sugar, vinegar, salt, and ginger but there were acceptable variations, which might include other fruits, like apricots, as well as garlic, soy sauce or other items. American Chinese restaurants might have purchased plum sauce from Chinese grocery stores, or they might have made their own, and their versions might differ from other such Chinese restaurants. So, "duck sauce" could easily be a variation of plum sauce. 

The next reference to “duck sauce” didn't appear until over eleven years later, in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), September 19, 1938, which noted that Chinese foods were becoming popular. The article stated that “...another favored dish is barbecued roast pork in duck sauce served with white meat chicken balls, dipped in rice flour batter and fried with black and white mushrooms, pimientos, bamboo sprouts and water chestnuts.” Duck sauce with roast pork?

Although plum sauce was used with roast duck, it wasn’t restricted to that use. The Chinese also used plum sauce with roast meats, such as pork, and that obviously carried through in their American restaurants. In fact, in many later American newspaper references, duck sauce was more often mentioned in connection with roast or barbecued pork than with duck. It actually wouldn’t have surprised me if duck sauce had been called “pork sauce” instead, as Americans were using it for pork far more than duck. 

Returning to the theory that the name "duck sauce" originated in Boston's Chinatown,  we see that it appears to be the first documented reference of that term. Second, there wasn't another documented reference for another eleven years. Why was there such a lengthy gap? And that second reference was in New York, and it's easy to believe the term had spread from Boston to New York during that 11 year period. Other writers have though that the term probably originated on the East Coast as it seems far less prevalent on the West Coast, and a Boston origin fits in with that belief. This is all only circumstantial evidence, but it is persuasive in some respects, especially as there isn't any evidence to the contrary. . 

September 1938 also saw the publication of Cook at Home in Chinese by Henry Low (pictured above). Henry, with forty years of cooking experience in Chinese restaurants in the U.S., had been the head chef at the Port Arthur Chinese Restaurant at 7-9 Mott Street in New York City. He also may have been the inventor of the Egg Roll, the Tchun Guen (of which there is a recipe in his cookbook). During the 1930s, various newspapers stated Henry was the best Chinese cook in the country.

Low’s cookbook briefly mentioned “duck sauce” though it didn’t provide a recipe. The book stated, “Duck Sauce* (so moue jeung) A kind of chutney good with any kind of duck.” The asterisk mentioned it “May be bought at a Chinese grocery store.” So, it appears that "duck sauce" was the American name for a common Chinese ingredient and not the name for an American variation of a Chinese same. Only the name was different. Based on its Chinese name, this duck sauce also seems to be plum sauce. 

Interestingly, the book also mentioned, “Plum Sauce (hoy seen jeung) Nice to serve on plate with mustard. Good for everything.” However, the Chinese name refers to Hoisin sauce, and not what we usually think of as plum sauce. This is more evidence that duck sauce is not Hoisin sauce, or some variation of such.

During the 1940s, duck sauce started becoming mentioned a bit more. As I mentioned previously, it was being used primarily for other foods instead of duck. The Berkshire County Eagle (MA), May 8, 1940, printed an advertisement for The China Clipper restaurant which offered a dinner special, Barbecued Chinese Roast Pork with Duck Sauce, for 50 cents. Again, we see roast pork and duck sauce.

The Boston Globe, July 13, 1942, printed a request from a reader who was seeking a recipe for Chinese Duck Sauce. As we see, these early references are either from Massachusetts or New York. It wouldn’t be until the second half of the 1940s that duck sauce references seemed to arise from other regions. This lends some credence to the theory that the term "duck sauce" might have originated in Boston's Chinatown.

The Houston Chronicle (TX), January 20, 1946, also had a restaurant ad, which mentioned the dish Chin Kin, Crisp Egg Rolls with duck sauce. The ad states, “This is a delicacy that was impossible to prepare during war years due to lack of quality ingredients.” The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), October 8, 1947, wrote about a discussion with Chef Peter Wei, who worked at the local Ruby Foo restaurant, and he mentioned “Egg roll dipped in Chinese mustard and Chinese duck (plum) sauce...” Duck sauce in Canada? It makes sense as the Ruby Foo restaurants generally copied most of the menu items from the Boston location of Ruby Foo.

Another restaurant, also in Texas, advertised in the Gladewater Daily Mirror (TX), May 15, 1949, and their menu included “Chinese Roast Pork with Hot Mustard and Duck Sauce; Chinese Barbecued Spare Ribs, Hot Mustard, and Duck Sauce; Chinese Egg Roll with Hot Mustard, and Duck Sauce.” Once again, duck sauce was used for other dishes besides duck.

It would be in the 1950s when mentions of duck sauce seemed to explode across the country. The Minneapolis Star (MN), July 12, 1950, discussed a New York City Chinese restaurant where “Chinese delegates to the United Nations, who told me that the cold roast pork with duck sauce was as fine as that served in Peking.” The Johnson City Press (TN), September 27, 1951, stated that the “soy, oyster, duck and plum sauce produced here are said to equal the imported varieties in flavor.” This article differentiated between duck and plum sauce, although they might have meant hoisin sauce rather than plum sauce.

Back in Boston, the Boston Traveler, January 16, 1952, advertised about Ruby Foo’s Chinese foods, which included a new item, Chinese Duck Sauce. It was a “Sparkling new condiment for use on meats, fish, poultry” and sold for 59 cents for a 12 ounce container.

The first newspaper recipe for Duck Sauce also apparently appeared in the Boston Globe, February 6, 1952. The ingredients included consomme, onion, green pepper, mushroom, tomato, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, ginger root, and broth. Other duck sauce recipes would appear in other newspapers, though this was a more unique recipe, unlike the others which would later be published. It was also mentioned in this Globe article that the Chinese serve duck sauce at their restaurants with pork or barbecued spareribs. Once again, its use with duck wasn't mentioned. 

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), May 1, 1952, published an article mentioning that duck sauce is “frequently mixed with hot mustard to use with shrimp as well as other dishes.”

Also that year, a Chinese cookbook was published with a duck sauce recipe. The Chicago Tribune (IL), July 13, 1952, noted that The Chinese Cook Book, a new book by Wallace Yee Hong, contained a recipe for duck sauce. The recipe for Duck Sauce (Soo-Moy Ding) called for 4 cups fresh plums (skins and stones removed, mashed), 3 cups fresh or dried apricots, 2 cups apples, pears, pineapples, strawberries or peaches; 1 cup of vinegar, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 cup chopped pimentos. The recipe stated, “Note: Duck sauce is a kind of chutney, used especially for roast duck. It was used for pork in the old times. Now it is used for any kind of meat or salad, also with rice.

Another recipe was provided in the Boston Traveler, September 9, 1952, for “Plum or ‘Duck Sauce.’ The ingredients were very different from the earlier Boston Globe recipe. The ingredients included 1 cup plum jelly, ½ cup chutney, 1 tablespoon vinegar; and 1 tablespoon of sugar. It was said to be served with egg rolls, shrimp, lobster, barbecued spareribs, and Chinese roast pork.

Next, the Chicago Tribune (IL), October 24, 1952, printed that “Oriental duck sauce is what the Chinese people call ‘soo moy jung’ and use to enhance the flavor of their poultry, meats and fish. The sauce is a sweet and pungent condiment, a cross between chutney and thick plum jam in flavor. Serve this sauce and a hot mustard sauce in two small dishes accompanying egg rolls, fantail shrimps, and other Chinese favorites. It’s good with spareribs and hamburgers, too.” Once again, duck isn’t one of the recommendations.

Some more brief mentions occurred in other newspapers. The Petoskey News-Review (Michigan), January 22, 1953, stated, “But most tempting were tidbit strips of pork broiled over charcoal and dipped in hot mustard and then in duck sauce.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (NY), May 21, 1953, mentioned, “Duck sauce, sometimes called plum sauce, so frequently served at Chinese restaurants is a popular item.”

Duck sauce was becoming so popular that non-Chinese Americans started getting into its creation. The Tulsa World (OK), July 31, 1953, noted that an American company was producing a new sauce, called Sparib, for barbecued meats that resembled Chinese Duck Sauce. The article mentioned “This sweet and pungent sauce, made of fruits and spices can be turned into a barbecue sauce, a salad dressing, or a canapé spread." The Sparib sauce sold for about 49 cents. 

The San Antonio Express (TX), July 7, 1955, published a grocery store advertisement for Sparib, noting, “Sparib Sauce (Duck Sauce) for indoor and outdoor cooking. Sparib adds that ‘very special touch’ to hamburgers, hot dogs, dish, fowl and spare ribs, too!” 

Duck sauce and egg rolls was a common combination during this time period. The Evening Star (DC), June 30,1954, mentioned that one of their readers was seeking a recipe for duck sauce, which was often served with mustard sauce for egg rolls at Chinese restaurants.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), May 5, 1955, provided a recipe for “Plum or Duck Sauce” from the The House of Chan Cookbook by Sou Chan, which was to be served “..with egg rolls, shrimp, barbecued spareribs and other Chinese dishes.” The recipe called for 1 cup plum jelly. ½ cup chutney (chopped very fine), 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 tablespoon sugar. The ingredients were then beat together until smooth.

A little more definition for duck sauce was provided in the Evening Star (DC), April 12, 1956. In an article on Chinese condiments, it stated, “Su-moi-jung (duck sauce) has no connection with duck per se, but it is a favorable condiment for Chinese roast duck. It’s a blend of sweet and sour, and flavored with the aromatic juice of peaches and apricots.

Finally, duck and duck sauce. The Berkshire Eagle (MA), July 24, 1956, discussed the Chinese roast duck at the China Clipper Restaurant. The servers brought large bowls of duck sauce and hot mustard, which were to be mixed together so people could then dip their duck.

The Boston American, December 2, 1956, published a recipe for Chinese Egg Rolls, noting they were served with “Plum Sauce (also called Duck Sauce).”

The Daily Times (MD), March 29, 1957, printed an ad for Cantwell’s Oriental Foods, noting they sold Su-Moi-Jung, Chinese Duck sauce.

The Kansas City Star (MO), April 3, 1967, discussed duck sauce. “It is really a kind of chutney, which may be thinned down to suit, a sweet-sour sauce used originally for duck—hence its name—now used with pork and other meats, with the egg rolls or even over plain rice.” It ia also known as soo-moy-ding and shuen moy jeung.

An interesting origin story was presented in the San Francisco Chronicle (CA), July 17, 1972: It stated, “Duck sauce is a common but incorrect spelling of Chinese Duk Sauce, which is a rather sweet sauce made of peaches, apricots, vinegar, sugar and spices. It is usually served in small dishes and often is accompanied by hot mustard.” This was the only mention I found though to "Chinese Duk Sauce.

The Alton Evening Telegraph (IL), July 21, 1971, discussed the Chinese and plums. “The Chinese have a centuries-old romance going with the plum. The first wild plums were found growing in China over 2,000 years ago, and in the years intervening, this luscious fruit has been used both in the finest Chinese art and in the finest of Chinese cuisine.” The article continued, “One of the most famous sauces of all time is Chinese Plum Sauce, used in exquisite oriental recipes for duck and pork.” So, it seems possible that duck sauce could have just as easily ended up being called pork sauce. 

During the 1970s and 1980s, a few companies, like Kari-Out (based in New York), W.Y Industries (based out of New Jersey) and Yi Pin Food Products (based out of New York), sprouted up, producing plastic packets of duck sauce. Kari-Out, founded by Howard Epstein in 1964, first started making plastic packets of soy sauce, though they initially had trouble breaking into the market. With air travel in the 1970s becoming affordable, Epstein provided soy sauce for a number of airlines, and he was also able to travel across the country and find other customers.

In 1972, Kari-Out added packets of duck sauce to their portfolio, and currently, they are one of the main producers across the country. Their orange colored duck sauce packets are ubiquitous at Chinese restaurants from coast to coast. If you examine one of their packets, you’ll see their ingredients include water, high fructose corn syrup and/or sucralose, corn starch modified, apricot (sulfited), salt, vinegar, citric acid, caramel color, 1/10 of 1% sodium benzoate, FD&C Yellow #5, #6, and FD&C Red #40.

************
We have more clarity on the origins of "duck sauce" though a definitive answer is still elusive. It seems that "duck sauce" is probably another term for plum sauce, and was used at least as far back as 1927. In the U.S., the basic plum sauce recipe may have been adapted at times, maybe because of ingredient availability or to appeal to American tastes. Plus, it's possible that the first use of the term "duck sauce" may have originated in Boston's Chinatown, in the 1920s, and spread across the East Coast and then westward. Duck sauce remains as popular as it ever has been, and it would be fascinating if Boston's Chinatown played a part in its creation.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-related related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2020. I've already posted my, My Favorite RestaurantsMy Favorite Food-Related Items, and My Favorite Wines. It's time now to cover my Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-Related Items. As I said before, these Favorite Lists will be different, and smaller, from prior years due to the pandemic. However, there are still items deserving of being highlighted, and I will endeavor to showcase them. 

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.

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, year after year, 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 Press in Brookline and Wine Press in the Fenway
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain
Marty's Fine Wines in Newton
Bauer's Wine & Spirits in Boston

Favorite Wine Dinner: Each year, the Boston Wine Festival holds a series of interesting, high-end wine dinners and I attended the Wine & Soul dinner in 2020. Wine & Soul, a Portuguese winery which was founded in 2001, is owned by a husband-and-wife team, Jorge Serodio Borges and Sandra Tavares DaSilva. Sandra presided over the dinner and was personable and charming, humble and knowledgeable. They are very concerned about producing wines that reflect the terroir of their vineyards. Three of their wines from this dinner ended up on my list of Favorite Wines of 2020. In addition, Chef Daniel Bruce created a compelling dinner, from Slow Braised Pork Belly to Char-Grilled Colorado Lamb T-Bone. A great marriage of food and wine. 

Favorite Spirit Dinner: A virtual Scotch dinner? Rebecca Gardiner, the Boston brand ambassador, presided at a GlenDronach Scotch dinner over Zoom. The participants were sent samples of the Scotch and food was supplied by The Haven in Jamaica Plain. The Scotch was excellent, especially the 18 Year Old, and they were truly aged in Sherry barrels (which makes a significant difference to me). The food, from the Scotch Eggs to Fish & Chips, was delicious, and went well with the Scotch. Rebecca did a great job explaining about the distillery and its products. Overall, the event was fun, educational and very tasty. 

Favorite New Wine ListKrasi, a new Greek restaurant in Boston; opened early in 2020 and has an extensive, all-Greek wine list, with over 180 selections. It is a phenomenal list, showcasing some of the best Greece has to offer, as well as presenting many unique wines. Even the most adventurous wine lover will find wines made from indigenous Greek grapes they have never tasted before. In addition, the wines are generally more natural, often certified organic or Biodynamic. Krasi's Wine Director, Evan Turner, recently won the 2020 Iron Sommelier competition for his curated list of Greek wines.

Favorite Restaurant Wine Lists: I want to highlight several restaurants which this year offered some intriguing and excellent wine lists. 
     A Tavola: They have a small, well-curated all-Italian wine list and their wine buyer, Lynsey Robbie,  participated in my Mind of a Sommelier Interview. Some of their wines I enjoyed this year include
2016 Pietra Pinta Nero Buono, 2015 Duca di Salaparuta Lavico Nerelo Mascalese, 2014 Lorenzo Mattoni Montefalco Sagrantino, and 2016 Colombera & Garella Bramaterra
     Coach Grill: This suburban steak house has many of the typical steak house wines, as well as some more unique wines. In general, the list is reasonably priced, better than you will find at many similar steak houses. This year, I enjoyed the compelling 2017 Haute Pierre Delas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which sold for  $97. As this wine usually sells at retail for $55-$60, the mark-up was very reasonable, and even could be considered a bargain. 
     Island Creek Oyster Bar: Laura Staley, the wine director at Island Creek, has created a fascinating wine list, with many more unique choices, and there is always something intriguing for adventurous wine lovers. This year, I was greatly pleased with the 2016 Andrew Rich Marine Sedimentary Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Pure pleasure on the palate.
     Frank: In Beverly, Chef Frank McClelland's new restaurant is one year old, and their relatively small wine list, about 35 choices by the bottle, includes Sparkling, White, Red, Rose, and Orange wines. It is fascinating list for wine lovers with lots of great choices, especially many more natural wines. I sipped the 2019 Frank Cornelisson Etna Rosato "Susucaru", which was an excellent food wine.

Favorite Cocktail Spot: Besides its impressive Peruvian cuisine, Tambo 22 also makes impressive cocktails, often using Peruvian ingredients. The Bloody Mary con Rocoto (a South American chili pepper) is delicious with a pleasing spicy kick. The 22 Old Fashioned is made with Four Roses Bourbon, Salted Honey, Peruvian Chuncho Bitters, Orange, and a Bourbon Soaked Cherry. The Chuncho Bitters are produced from a combination of over 30 peels, herbs, roots, barks and flowers from the Peruvian forest. Tasty, not overly sweet, with a nice touch of salinity and intriguing herbal notes. They make an excellent Pisco Sour, and one of their Pisco Sour variation adds Chicha Morada, a purple corn-based drink, which added a tasty, almost red berry flavor to it.

Runner-Up Favorite Cocktail Spot: Ellis Square Social also has an excellent cocktail program, presenting plenty of inventive and intriguing cocktails The Proper Mai Tai is made with a rum blend, house made orgeat, and clement shrub, and was a fruity and tasty drink. The Ellis Square Manhattan, made with a house solera bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, was well-made and an excellent accompaniment with BBQ. The DB Cooper, made with white and dark rum, white peach, fassionola, honey, and grapefruit bitters, was complex and delicious.. 

Favorite Spirit/Cocktail Histories: This year, I wrote three fascinating historical articles which touched on spirits and/or cocktails. 
     Moonshine? A History of Sotol in the U.S.: Was Sotol ever legally distilled in the U.S.? Although some claim that occurred, the evidence is to the contrary, with definitive evidence that Sotol distillation, to produce alcohol for consumption, was illegal. Sotol was illegally distilled in Texas, which isn't a surprise, but legal production didn't exist. 
     Historical Tidbits About Shochu in the U.S.: Shochu, a distilled beverage from Japan, is a niche spirit in this country, although American newspapers have been writing about it for over 130 years. Check out numerous American references to Shochu, and learn more of its intriguing history.
      A History of the Sherry Cobbler (2 parts): What was the origin of the Sherry Cobbler? I present much of the history of this delicious cocktail, including a discussion of some of its origin tales. And what is Dolly Madion's connection to Sherry Cobblers?

Favorite Sparkling Sake: Produced by a female Toji, the Fukucho "Seaside" Junmai Sparkling Sake, which underwent a secondary fermentation in the bottle, had a fruity nose, especially citrus notes, with a touch of the scent of fresh bread. On the palate, it was lightly bubbly and very dry, with a complex melange of flavors, especially lemon, lime, green apple, melon, and pear. A pleasing and well balanced fruit salad, accented by a mild rice taste. It was also very crisp and fresh, a fine accompaniment to seafood, from oysters to lobster. 

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: The Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjomade with Yamada Nishiki rice, was an elegant, aromatic and complex Sake, with a compelling melange of flavors, including melon, strawberry, peach, and lychee, with some underlying minerality and whispers of intriguing spices. It was medium-bodied, luscious on the palate, and with a lingering finish. There was a hint of sweetness in this well balanced Sake, though overall it presented as dry. Plus, it was very reasonably priced for a Daiginjo.

Favorite Honjozo Sake: The Tensei "Endless Summer" Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake was rich and full-bodied, said to be from the high mineral content in the water used in brewing, and possessed delicious flavors of melon and pear, with an underlying salinity to it. It was essentially a briny melon, mouth-watering and compelling, and a perfect summer beverage. And its rich, bull-bodied nature also mad it a nice pairing for grilled foods.

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Takahiro Nagayama "Noble Arrow" Namazake Tokubetsu Junmai was a fascinating and complex Sake, aromatic and rich in flavor, with creamy notes and an underlying minerality. Its higher acidity was clear, providing a delightful crispness to its taste. There were flavors of melon and green apple, with a mild minty note on the finish. It reminded me of some mineral-driven French white wines, though you won't forget it was Sake. As such, it was delightful on its own, but would pair well with foods that those French whites do, such as oysters and other raw seafood.

Favorite Namazake: Produced by a 400+ year old brewery, the Ryujin "Dragon God" Junmai Daiginjo Namazume Sake undergoes a single pasteurization rather than the usual two. It is pasteurized before it undergoes a year of aging, skipping the pasteurization that commonly occurs just prior to bottling. This was a compelling and delicious Sake, with an alluring aroma of white flowers and citrus. On the palate, it was bright and fresh, with a hint of sweetness and flavors of citrus and pineapple. It was silky and light, complex and intriguing. This Sake could easily be enjoyed on its own, although it would also pair well with a variety of foods, from seafood to chicken dishes.

Favorite Sake Educational Resource: For some of the latest and most fascinating current information about Sake, you need to read the Sake Industry News by John Gauntner. It just celebrated its first anniversary, and each twice-monthly issue contains numerous intriguing news articles, sure to interest all Sake lovers, and with information you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. I've learned plenty from this newsletter and eagerly look forward to each new issue. There's not enough Sake news available out there, and Gauntner is filling a much-needed niche. If you're interested in Sake, you definitely should subscribe. 

Favorite Drinks Book: Published in September, The Japanese Sake Bible by Brian Ashcraft, provides a comprehensive introduction for neophytes, but there is plenty more for existing Sake lovers too. Besides basic articles, there are other articles touching on Sake subjects rarely touched on by other Sake books, from seasonality to regionality. It also contains a buying guide with notes on 100 Sakes, including Sakes produced by non-Japanese breweries. This is certainly the best Sake book published in recent years.

Favorite Beer: Nashua, New Hampshire has at least a couple beer breweries and I visited a couple this past year. My favorite beer was the Mixed Berry Entanglement from Spyglass Brewing Company, This was a Kettle Soured Ale, made with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. A Kettle soured beer is made in stainless steel, rather than in a wooden barrel like a traditional sour, and is a much quicker process. I very much enjoyed this beer, with a delicious melange of fruit flavors, a pleasant tartness, and a clean, refreshing taste. I really liked the addition of the blueberry flavor. 

Runner-Up Favorite Beer: Also in Nashua, White Birch Brewing, produces some Berliner Weisse-style beers, which they describe as a "German style sour wheat ale." Their Berliner Weisse beers are traditionally made, as well as unfiltered and unpasteurized. My favorite was the Squeeze My Berries, made with blackberry and raspberry, and I'll note that this beer was almost named Tickle My Berries. The tasty berry flavors were bright and there was almost a bit of pulp in it. Very refreshing for the summer. 

What were some of your favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-related items this year?