Thursday, March 5, 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)  In anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day, Davis Square watering hole Saloon will host an Irish whiskey pairings dinner celebrating the tastes of County Cork on March 10 at 7pm. Emceed by Saloon’s resident malt man and Beverage Director Manny Gonzales, this four-course Éire-inspired menu has been designed by Executive Chef Dana Love and features Irish whiskey pairings hand-selected by Gonzales from Saloon’s expansive whiskey portfolio. Throughout the dinner, Gonzales will impart his wisdom by giving them a liquid tour of the Midleton section of County Cork.

The menu will be presented as follows:

FIRST COURSE
Spinach Salad (applewood smoked bacon, pickled red onion, fig vinaigrette)
Powers John Lane 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Whiskey
SECOND COURSE
Cauliflower Soup (Marcona smoked almonds, cracked white pepper, Banyal gastrique)
Red Breast 12 Year Single Pot Still Whiskey
THIRD COURSE
Smoked Beef Short Ribs (potato cake, caraway braised cabbage, crispy leeks, Guinness reduction)
Midleton Very Rare
DESSERT COURSE
Honey Bread Pudding (crème fraîche ice cream, Irish whiskey caramel, candied orange zest)
Jameson Black Barrel

Cost: $55 per person
Advance reservations required. For tickets, please visit: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/celebrating-county-cork-whiskey-dinner-tickets-14950302758?aff=es2.

2) The Massachusetts Cheese Guild encourages the discovery and enjoyment of cheese made by the Commonwealth’s 20+ artisanal cheesemakers all year-round. In early spring, however, a unique natural phenomenon makes this the best time of the year to indulge in fresh goat cheese. Why?

On Massachusetts goat farms, February and March are when female goats (called does) give birth (called freshening because pregnancy refreshes their milk supply) to their babies (known as kids). The kids are nursed with milk that is ultra-rich in butter fat and milk solids. As they produce far more milk than their offspring require, the excess milk from lactation is turned into cheese. Experts and enthusiasts agree that fresh goat cheese (chevre) tastes markedly better in the spring than at others times of the year.

Beginning in early April, be on the lookout for fresh goat cheese produced by Massachusetts Cheese Guild’s artisan members. The following examples are sold in better specialty shops and grocers, at farmers markets, and at the farms’ own stands.

Chevre from Crystal Brook Farms, Sterling
Less than 3 days elapse between milking the goat and the finished cheese. 65 new kids born this month alone, reports the farm.

Chevre from Valley View Farm, Topsfield
Also fresh artisanal goat feta, a camembert style, and goat Tomme. Sold primarily on the North Shore, but who wouldn’t want to seek out cheese made from the milk of does named Maple, Caramel Truffle and Milkshake?

Capri brand chevre from Westfield Farms, Westfield
Available everywhere in 10 flavors including plain, Hickory Smoked, Wasabi and Chocolate (use it for the cheese pie recipe below)

Monterey Chevre from Rawson Brook Farm, The Berkshires
A favorite of top chefs in that region; this bucolic farm sees the arrival of 120-130 kids each spring.

Ruggles Hill Creamery, Hardwick
Makes ten types of goat cheese, from barely aged Ada’s Honor to a grey-molded tomme called Greta’s Fair Haven, which is aged 60 days or more.

Chocolate Goat Cheese Pie Recipe
Courtesy, Westfield Farms

INGREDIENTS
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup milk
32 oz. Capri Chocolate Goat Cheese, at room temperature
4 beaten egg yolks
3 TB all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
4 egg whites whipped until stiff

Dissolve the granulated sugar into the milk, then add the goat cheese, egg yolks, flour, and vanilla. Next. fold the beaten egg whites into the cheese mixture. Fill the crust described below and sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top. Bake in a 350° degree oven for one hour. Do not over bake; the cheese pie will firm up when cooled.

GRAHAM CRACKER CRUST
Buy one from the supermarket, or make this easy one:
Crush 1 1/2 cups graham crackers until very fine.
Stir in 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar & 6 TB melted butter til blended.
Reserve 1/3 of the crust for a topping and pat the rest into an 8” pie pan.
Bake for 15 minutes at 325 before adding the filling.
Finish baking as indicated above.

3) Bergamot Chefs Keith Pooler and Dan Bazzinotti along with Beverage Director Kai Gagnon will recreate Bourbon Street at Bergamot on March 11, from 10pm-1am, with a “Pop Up” New Orleans Celebration.

The Bourbon Street “Pop Up” is $20 per person and that includes all the food. There will be a cash bar featuring Bourbon Street specials as well as New Orleans Jazz music to get revelers in a celebratory mood. Select Dishes that will be featured include:
- Chicken Etoufee
- Barbecue Shrimp
- Sausage Po’ Boy
- House-made Beignets

For tickets, please call 617-576-7700

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Boston Wine Expo: Castra Rubra, A Bulgarian Winery

Prior to the Boston Wine Expo, I'd done some research into the wine exhibitors at the Expo and found there would be a table of Bulgarian wines. I have very little experience with these wines so was excited to stop by their booth and try their wines. The wines, all from the Castra Rubra Winery in the Thracian valley, are imported by Bottles & Barrels Ltd. and are currently available in Massachusetts. I don't know any specific wine stores that carry these wines, but I recommend you keep an eye out for them.

Wine making in Bulgaria has an ancient history, extending back at least a few thousand years to the Thracians. Interestingly, during the 1980s, Bulgaria was the second largest wine producer in the world but that fell apart with the collapse of communism. In recent years, the wine industry has been rebounding, and the quality of their wines has been improving. As such, you may soon start seeing more Bulgarian wines on store shelves and restaurant lists.

The Castra Rubra Winery extends back only to 2004 when they started planted vines in the Thracian Valley.Construction on their winery began in 2006 and their first wines were released from the 2007 vintage."Castra Rubra" is Latin and translates as "red fortress" and refers to an actual fortress that was discovered by archaeologists in 2007. The fortress was located on the Via Diagonalis, which once connected Rome to Constantinople.

Presently, the winery has about 200 hectares of vineyards, growing two indigenous grapes, Rubin and Mavrud, as well as some international varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Alicante Bouschet, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Syrah, and Petit Verdot. Their winemaker and executive consultant is Michel Rolland, and they also have two oenologists, Plamena Kostova and Anton Dimitrov. I had the opportunity to taste six of their wines and overall I enjoyed them. I would have liked to see more use of their indigenous grapes, to gain a better sense of Bulgaria itself and its lengthy vinous history.

I began the tasting with the 2011 Pendar Sauvignon Blanc (about $12), which is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc. "Pendar" refers to a "coin" and you'll find one on their label. The wine was crisp and clean, with a mild grapefruit flavor and added citrus notes. There was some underlying minerality and it was a pleasant wine, one that would appeal to many wine drinkers. The second white wine was the 2011 Via Diagonalis (about $15), which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, and Chardonnay. This was an intriguing wine with a complex blend of peach and pear flavors, with herbal accents and some minerality. It was crisp and dry, with a very satisfying finish. At this price point, I would highly recommend this wine as it presents something more unique and tasty.

The 2009 Pendar Red (about $12) is an interesting blend of 55% Rubin and 45% Merlot. Rubin is an indigenous grape, a cross between Syrah and Nebbiolo. This wine spends about 8 months in new French oak and has an ABV of 14%. With lots of red fruit aromas and flavors, there was additional complexity with spice notes and hints of earthiness. The tannins were noticeable but restrained and there was a nice, spicy kick on the finish. This is an easy drinking wine with character, which could be enjoyed on its own though pairing it with food might be a better option. Highly recommended.

The 2008 Via Diagonalis Red (about $15) is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Rubin and 5% Mavrud. This wine spends about 8 months in 50% new French oak and has an ABV of 14%. This wine is a bit deeper and more tannic than the Pendar, with more black fruit flavor, some vanilla and a touch of leather. This is definitely a food wine. The 2010 Dominant Red is a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet spends about 8 months in new French oak and has an ABV of 14.5%. This was an easy drinking wine with red and black fruit flavors, plenty of spice and moderate tannins.

The final wine was the 2009 Butterfly's Rock (about $30) is a Bordeaux-style wine, a blend of 50% Merlot 50%, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc and 10% Syrah. This wine spends about 24 months in new French oak and has an ABV of 14.5%. This is a silky and elegant wine, with deep, ripe black fruit flavors, a spicy backbone and well-integrated tannins. It tends to be more Old World in style, and is complex, well balanced and delicious. This wine should probably be decanted before drinking, and should age well. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Boston Wine Expo: Top 3 Portuguese Wines

With a limited amount of time at the Grand Tasting of the Boston Wine Expo, you can only sample a small percentage of the wines that are available. I always make time to taste some of the Portuguese wines, as they offer some excellent values, as well as great taste. I love the fact that Portugal possesses an abundance of intriguing indigenous grapes, which can provide a unique taste to their wines. You can find tasty Portuguese wines for under $10 which are better than similarly priced wines from most any other wine region. Portugal is rich in vinous history, and their wines pair very well with an abundance of foods. If you're not drinking Portuguese wines, you need to rush out and sample them.

This year, I asked them to choose me their top three wines, with the only caveat that they must be produced only from indigenous grapes. As you will see, the choices are all excellent values, and show a diversity of purpose. I enjoyed the taste of all three and believe the recommendations were well chosen  These wines would make a very good and affordable introduction for any wine lover to the wonders of Portuguese red wines,.

2011 DFJ Vinhos Vega Douro Red ($9.99)
We start off with an inexpensive, easy-drinking quaffer, a wine that is enjoyable on its own but which also would be a pleasant accompaniment for burgers or pizza. The Vega is a blend of three grapes, including Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. The wine is aged for about 3 months in new French barrels and then spends another 3 months in the bottle. I found the wine to be smooth with bright red fruit flavors and a touch of vanilla. It possesses more character than many similarly priced wines, and I could easily drink it on its own. I also would pair with many plenty of casual meals. We have been in the middle of a rough winter, but I look forward to sparking up the BBQ and this wine would be a nice choice on that day.

2011 Quinta da Padrela Red ($12.99)
The second wine costs a few dollars more but is still a very affordable option, and worth every penny. This wine is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, and Touriga Nacional,and was aged for about 12 months in French oak barrels. This is another smooth, easy drinking wine but with the addition of some restrained tannins and spicy elements. There is still plenty of tasty red fruit flavors, but also a bit of ripe plum. Though you could drink this wine on its own, I think it might be better paired with food, though again it only needs something simple, from pizza to tacos. This would also be an excellent BBQ wine, so stock up now for the upcoming summer.

2011 Adega de Borba Red ($18-$19)
For the final wine, the price increases several dollars more, but it's still under $20. A blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez, and Alicante Bouschet, the wine spent 5-12 months maturing in stainless steel before bottling. This is the biggest wine of the three yet it is still silky smooth, with lush black fruit flavors and a long, spicy finish. There is a herbal undertone with an exotic element that will tantalize and intrigue your palate. It provides the most complexity of the three wines, and its balanced taste will please almost any wine lover. It is worth the higher price, though this wine definitely would benefit from a food pairing, such as a nice steak or lamp chop.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Rant: Forget Perfection & Love Flawed Wines

These are the words of Nate Berkus, a decorator, product designer, author and speaker. Though he was referring to design, the sentiment has much broader implications, and could be a truism in most situations. For example, I believe it applies to wine and I think you might agree once you give consideration to the thought.

Last week, I spent a few days in Atlanta, Georgia, attending the Design Blogger's Conference, which was presented by Esteem Media, Adam Japko, the founder and CEO of Esteem Media, created an exciting, informative, and fun conference. Though the conference is centered on interior design bloggers, Adam always adds a wine element to the event. In addition, many of the panel sessions have applicability well beyond interior design. The words of Nate Berkus.resonated with me, and led me to some thinking, considering how it all connected to wine.

What is a perfect wine?

Some might say that a 100 point wine is perfect, as there is no higher score available. However, that score is a subjective assessment, and different people would score the wine differently. The same person might even score the wine differently, under different circumstances. There is no single wine that all wine lovers would agree deserves a 100 points. Perfection is more an ideal than a reality. It is a goal that will never be reached. There will never be a perfect wine.

If no wine is perfect, then it can be said that all wines are flawed. By "flaw," I am not referring to the "technical" flaws which can plague some wines. I'm using "flaw" in a more general sense, in a wine's distance from the ideal of perfection. As such, we all drink and enjoy flawed wines, and we give little consideration to that fact.

I have never heard a wine lover say that they sought a perfect wine. Instead, I often hear that they want wines of character, and I believe it is a wine's flaws that give them character. Now, you might not consider the wine to be flawed, but I'm certain others might disagree. For example, the presence of brettanomyces, commonly referred to as brett, can have a negative or positive effect on the taste of that wine, dependent upon the amount of brett as well as the palate of the wine lover. Some wine drinkers have a low tolerance for brett while others enjoy a much higher content. The latter find that this "flaw" gives more character to the wine.

Think about your favorite wines and consider what they possess in common. I suspect that your favorite wines are those who you find most interesting, but which others might consider to possess some type of flaw. It is not perfection you seek, but rather imperfection. You want to drink flawed wines, to revel in their unique character. Perfection would be boring, and who wants to be bored with wine?

Thursday, February 26, 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) The 11th annual event A Taste of Ginger will be held on Monday, March 23, from 6:30-9:30pm, in the beautiful Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, with a goal of raising over $300,000 for Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI). The AADI works to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, and also collaborates with Joslin as they work to find a cure.

Each year, the event draws hundreds of supporters and foodies who gather to enjoy a lively evening, which includes the opportunity to meet and taste the cuisine of Boston’s most celebrated chefs, including Joanne Chang, Jasper White and Jacky Robert amidst the beauty of the MFA.

Jennifer K. Sun, MD, MPH will be honored for her contributions to the AADI’s mission and her active role within the Asian American community. Dr. Sun is an Ophthalmologist at Beetham Eye Institute, an Investigator in the Section on Vascular Biology at Joslin Diabetes Center, and an Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School.

The event will be co-chaired by C. Richard and Deborah Carlson as well as Wesley and Summer Chen; WHDH-TV, Ch. 7’s Janet Wu will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies.

Tickets are $250 per guest, and can be purchased online at: www.joslin.org/ginger.html

2) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson and his talented team pay homage to Italy’s Hillside Vineyards of Northern Italy in the next installation of “Wine Wednesdays”. Puritan & Company offers guests a taste of Northern Italy which includes a multi-course dinner prepared by Chefs Will Gilson, Alex Saenz and their talented culinary team. The Northern Italy wine dinner is $95 per guest and reservations are required. The hillside vineyards in northern Italy produce wines of considerable charm and complexity due to the altitude and cooler temperatures. This month’s wine dinner will focus on three producers operating under these extremes.

The selections featured are:
2012 Guglierame Ormeasco Sciac-Trà, Liguria
2012 Guglierame Ormeasco di Pornassio, Liguria
2013 Furlani Bianco Alpino, Trentino
2013 Furlani Rosso Alpino, Trentino
2012 Diego Curtaz “Dï Meun,” Val d’Aosta
2012 Diego Curtaz Torrette, Val d’Aosta

WHEN: Wednesday, March 4; Arrival is 6:45pm and Wine Dinner starts at 7:00pm
For reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

3) As I've said before, you should patronize local restaurants, many who have been negatively affected by our snowy winter, Dine Out Boston, hosted by the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (GBCVB), begins Sunday, March 1 and runs through Friday, March 6, as well as Sunday, March 8 through Friday, March 13. Dine Out Boston features a flexible pricing structure for restaurant owners and guests, alike. Restaurants have the ability to customize their lunch and dinner menus by choosing to offer lunch for $15, $20 or $25 and dinner for $28, $33 or $38. Additionally, restaurants can offer as many courses as they desire at their selected price.

Since 2008, the GBCVB has used this dining program to give back to a different local Boston charity each year. To date, over $300,000 has been raised for charities through the online auction component of DOB. The charitable partner for March 2015 is ArtsBoston, Inc. Gift Certificates provided by participating restaurants will be up for auction starting March 2, with all proceeds benefitting ArtsBoston.

This March, they also invite social media enthusiasts to share their Dine Out Boston experiences and qualify to win a $100 Gift Card to a participating restaurant. Simply take a picture of your meal, tag your location, and then share over Facebook or Instagram using #DineOutBoston. The GBCVB will award two gift cards per day, one over Facebook and one over Instagram.

For more information please visit www.DineOutBoston.com. Check out Dine Out Boston on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dineoutboston, Twitter at www.twitter.com/dineoutbos, and Instagram at www.instagram.com/dineoutboston.

4) On March 10, at 6:30pm, Legal Oysteria will host a wine dinner with the Marchesi Antinori wine company. Since 1385, the Antinori family has been involved in the production of wine, which spans through twenty six generations. The family has always directly managed the estates with innovative decisions along with fundamental respect for tradition and for the territory in which they have operated.

Legal Oysteria will team up with Brand Ambassador, Marco Deary, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with selections from the Marchesi Antinori vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Pancetta-Wrapped Shrimp
White Bean and Calamari Salad Bruschetta
Ricotta and Roasted Grape Crostini
Col de’ Salici Rosé de’ Salici Brut, Veneto, NV
FIRST COURSE
Pan-Seared Mahi Mahi (Sunchokes, Olives, Sun-Dried Tomatoes)
Antinori “Pèppoli” Chianti Classico, Toscana, 2011
La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Toscana, 2011
SECOND COURSE
Braised Beef Cheeks (Tuscan Kale, Ricotta Gnocchi)
Marchese Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva, Toscana, 2010
THIRD COURSE
Slow-Roasted Porchetta (Charred Broccoli Rabe, Garlic Confit, Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Pian delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino, Toscana, 2009
CHEESE COURSE
Taleggio
Pecorino Toscano
Parmigiano-Reggiano
Tignanello, Toscana, 2011

COST: $85 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling (617) 530-9392