Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Montefalco Rosso & Sagrantino: "Winter Wines"

In my previous article, Umbria, Montefalco & Sagrantino: Wine Rising From The Shadows, I discussed the intriguing wines of Montefalco and the Sagrantino grape. I went into the history of the region, discussed traditional food pairings and offered suggestions on how to spread the word about these wines which remain unknown to many wine drinkers. I've continued my exploration of the wines from this region, participating in a recent virtual tasting of six more wines from this region.

The Montefalco Consortium, and Colangelo & Partners PR presented a media tasting event, on UStream TV and Twitter, which was led by Filippo Bartolotta, a wine journalist and educator, and a representative of each winery also attended. A number of writers, including myself, received media samples of six wines and participated in the tasting. You can read the numerous Tweets that were generated from this event on Storify.

Bartolotta did a great job of leading the tasting,and my only minor complaint was that the tasting was only an hour long. We easily could have spent much longer talking with the winery representatives, learning more about the region and their wines. These virtual tastings can be educational events and the chance to ask questions of winery representatives can be invaluable. I've participated in numerous virtual tastings and this was one of the best organized ones. Kudos to Bartolotta!

For background on the region and its wines, check out my lengthy prior post, and I'll mention a few additional items here which I learned from the tasting event. The harvest is currently occurring in Montefalco though not everyone has started harvesting their Sagrantino grapes yet.  The best recent vintages were said to be 2008 and 2011. Montefalco Rosso wines, which are currently blends  with Sangiovese, Sagrantino and other grapes, are somewhat "entry" level wines, intended to be more easy-drinking. In addition, Rosso is considered more of an every day wine while the Sagrantino DOCG wines are more for special occasions, primarily because they are more expensive.  However, if you have deeper pockets, you can afford to drink Sagrantino far more often.

As I mentioned in my prior article, the legal blend for Montefalco Rosso will change next year, and only a blend of Sangiovese and Sagrantino will be allowed. I asked what this might entail for Rosso wines and I was told that it should lead to wines with more structure and longevity. Sagrantino itself can easily age for 20-30 years, and with time, it gets smoother and more complex. The secret to its longevity is its tannins and acidity. It was also said that these are more "winter" wines, which pair well with hearty stews and game meats. Though I agree they go well with hearty winter dishes, I still would enjoy them in the summer with a thick grilled steak.

The 2011 Colpetrone Montefalco Rosso ($19.99) is produced by a winery that has about 140 hectares of vineyards and produces about 200,000 bottles annually. This wine is a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino and 15% Merlot, and 60% is aged in steel vats while the other 40% spends about 12 months in French oak. It finally spends about four months in the bottle before release, and about 70,000 bottles are produced annually.

Why Merlot? It was mentioned that the grape came to Italy a long, long time ago so it seems natural to use it. With an aroma of red fruit and vanilla, I found this to be an easy drinking wine, soft and lush, with brought cherry and raspberry flavors, enhanced with prominent vanilla and mild spices. This is a wine for pizza and burgers, uncomplicated and appealing to the majority.

I previously reviewed the Perticaia Montefalco Sagrantino, which impressed me, and you can check out that review for some background info on the winery. For this event, I got to taste their 2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso ($27.99), a blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15%, Sagrantino and 15% Colorino which was aged for 12 months in steel vats and then 6 months in the bottle. This is a fresh and fruity wine, with pleasing cherry and raspberry flavors, a slight rusticness and mild tannins. There was some depth of flavor and it offered more complexity than some other Rosso wines. Another excellent example from this winery.

Onto the Sagrantino DOCG wines....

The 2008 Tenuta Castelbuono "Carapace" Montefalco Sagrantino ($37) is produced by the Lunelli family which also produces Ferrari Trentodoc, a famous sparkling wine. They started Tenuta Castelbuono in Umbria in 2001, producing their first wine in 2003 and becoming certified organic in 2014. "Carapace" is the name of the winery building which was designed by contemporary artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, took six years to build, and opened in 2012. It has a large copper-covered dome engraved with fissures  that resemble furrows in the earth.

This wine, like all Sagrantino DOCG, is made from 100% Sagrantino (using their best grapes) and it was aged for 24 months in large oak casks and at least 12 months in the bottle. With an alluring nose of red and black fruit accompanied by hints of licorice, I was captivated by this wine. It was elegant, with well integrated, smooth tannins and a complex blend of flavors, including black cherry, blackberry, and raspberry. There were also hints of spice and licorice, with a lingering and satisfying finish. A very well-made wine. Highly recommended.

The 2009 Antonelli Montefalco Sagrantino ($45) is from an older winery, which was founded back in 1881 by Francesco Antonelli, who bought the estate and planted vines. The estate now consists of 170 hectares with 40 under vine.  This wine was aged for 6 months in lightly toasted 500 liter barrels, then spent 18 months in 25 hectoliter barrels. After that, it spent about 12 months in glass-lined cement vats and another 12 months in the bottle. Besides a fruity nose, there was also a strong herbal aroma to the wine, and those herbal elements came out on the palate too, especially some mint notes. With moderate tannins, black fruit flavors were prominent, accompanied by the herbal aspect. It also had a strong acidity, which cries out for a hearty stew or thick steak. This was maybe the most different Sagrantino of the four.

I previously reviewed the Scacciadiavoli di Pambuffetti Montefalco Rosso, which I strongly recommended, and you can check out that review for some background info on the winery. For this event, I tasted the 2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino ($40), which was aged for 16 months in new oak and then 9 months in the bottle. This is dark and brooding, a muscular and rustic wine with ripe black fruit flavors, spicy elements and plenty of complexity. Despite its power, it is well-balanced and doesn't overwhelm. To accompany this wine, you need a thick slice of wild boar or a hearty ragu. This wine is sure to keep you warm this winter and gets a strong recommendation.

The 2009 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiabo ($60) is from a winery founded by one of the pioneers of Sagrantino, which I mentioned in my prior article. Without such pioneers, Sagrantino could have passed away into obscurity, if not extinction. Eight to nine years ago, the first wine I tasted and loved from this region was the Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Rosso.

The 2009 Sagrantino spent about 22 months in French oak and another 6 months in the bottle. This was another wine of power but also of elegance.. The complex melange of flavors are intense and subtle, multiple layers that intrigue and delight the palate. Ripe black fruit, earthy undertones, hints of vanilla and spice, and moderate tannins. It possesses a lingering finish that seems to go on and on, and you will yearn for glass after glass. It is well worth its price and it was the first bottle that was empty in my house the night of the tasting. It garners my highest recommendation.

So why aren't you drinking Montefalco Rosso and Montefalco Sagrantino?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Rant: Restaurants, The Land of Opportunity

As I was drafting this post, I saw a Facebook post from Chef Charles Draghi of Erbaluce which directly dealt with the issue I wanted to address. Chef Draghi stated: "In over 30 years of running restaurants (I had my first managerial position at age 18,) I have never once had a U.S.-born person apply for a position as a dishwasher. Ditto for the positions of over-night cleaner, or early morning prep cook/receiver."

In 2014, there were approximately 15,251 eating and drinking places in Massachusetts, providing about 330,000 jobs (which is about 10% of all jobs in the state). The restaurant industry provides maybe the greatest opportunity for anyone to make a living, no matter their level of education, social class, place of origin, experience level, and much more. Your willingness to work hard is often the most important factor in obtaining a job in this industry.

Kitchens often owe a huge debt to immigrants who perform some of the most basic, and still very important, duties, from dish washing to prep work. Yet how often do they get credit for all of their hard labors? Not enough! If they so desire, they can eventually work their way to different positions. I don't think there is another industry which is so open to providing these immigrants jobs. Chef Draghi understands and it was great to see him acknowledging their role.

Non-immigrants too can find plenty of opportunity in the restaurant industry. For example, the position of server has helped many people make a living and provide for themselves and their families. It can be very hard work, but the barriers to entry are often low, giving opportunity to those with little experience. In time, those servers acquire experience which can be used to get better jobs in the industry.

Sometimes we think of the restaurant industry as a luxury, yet we must consider the vital role it plays in our community, in our economy. It provides numerous jobs which can help some of the neediest of our community. It is about more than famous chefs and mixologists. It is also about everyone from dishwashers to barbacks, servers and prep cooks. We need the opportunities that this industry provides. It makes us a better society.

Stop looking at a restaurant and seeing only their celebrity chef. Look deeper and note all of the people who contribute to the success of that restaurant. Give them kudos for all of their hard work, work that many others might not choose to do. Support restaurants as they support our community. With the holidays coming, they will be working harder than ever, and deserve respect and recognition for all that they do.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Kanpai, It's Sake Day

Raise an ochoko today and celebrate Nihonshu no Hi, or as known in English, Sake Day.

Saké Day originated over 35 years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Sake Brewers Association and is now celebrated worldwide. Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Sake (酒) is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (酉), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Sake Day. It is probably also due, in part, to the fact that October is generally considered to be the official start of the Sake brewing season.

What are you doing to celebrate Sake Day? Let me provide some additional ways to learn about, experience and support Sake.

1) Today, and today only, you can get a FREE copy of the e-book of my first Tipsy Sensei novel, Demons, Gods & Sake, This exciting, supernatural thriller pits Nate Randall, a Boston-based Sake expert, against an Oni, a terrible Japanese creature, which seeks an ancient artifact of great power. In his quest to thwart this evil, Nate encounters other adversaries, including a ruthless Yakuza clan. However, he also acquires a mysterious ally, a sword-wielding man with his own secrets. The action spans the globe, from Boston to Japan, and the stakes have never been higher for Nate. Grab a copy of this novel tomorrow, which has ten 5-Star reviews on Amazon, while it is FREE.

2) You might also like to buy my newest Tipsy Sensei novel, Halloween Nightmare At Fenway, which was just published a month ago.  Nate Randall faces a new threat, an evil spawned from the darkest aspects of World War II. His samurai companion, Hato, will also face a personal challenge, a deadly swordsman who may be even more skilled than he. Can they stop the evil from putting into place their diabolical plans during the World Series at Fenway Park? The Tipsy Sensei will be challenged like never before.

3) If you want to learn more about Sake, check out my numerous educational posts at All About Sake. You'll learn about the basics of Sake, pairing Sake & food, Sake customs and legends, and much more. There are links to over 105 posts, so there is plenty to explore and learn. In addition, if you want some Sake recommendations, then please check out my Collected Sake Reviews, which has over 100 reviews of a diverse range of Sake. This is all an excellent starting point for your exploration of the wonderful world of Sake.

What has been the most popular Sake post on my blog? The clear choice is The Science of Sake & Food Pairings, an exploration for some of the scientific reasons why Sake pairs so well with many foods. Not only is it my top Sake post, it is also in the top ten most popular posts of all time on my blog. Another Sake-related post on this top ten list is the Health Benefits of Sake.

More recently, one of my most popular new Sake post has been Blue Current Brewery: Making Sake In Maine, which is about the first Sake brewery to open in New England. Though still relatively new, they are spreading across Maine, including to many non-Asian restaurants, and their Junmai Ginjo is delicious. Another of my most popular Sake posts this year has unquestionably been An Expanded History Of Sake Brewing in the U.S. I did lots of research for that article, combing numerous old newspapers and other sources to put together the most comprehensive history of the earliest Sake breweries in the U.S.

4) I've created the Sake menus for two local restaurants and you can go to either spot to enjoy delicious cuisine with some interesting Sakes. At Thelonious Monkfish in Central Square, Cambridge, you can enjoy their Asian fusion cuisine and Sushi with Sake. And at Tasting Counter in Somerville, near Union Square, you can order ten Sakes with your nine-course dinner, making it the the non-Asian restaurant with the largest Sake menu in the Boston area. The cuisine is phenomenal and pairs very well with the diverse selection of Sake.

5) Please know that I am available for hire for all your Sake related matters. I can work with restaurants, wine shops, distributors, schools, and other businesses as well as private individuals. I provide a diverse selection of services, including: Educational seminars, from basic classes to more advanced; Sake tastings, from small private affairs to larger groups; Sake and food pairings, from appetizers to dinners; Consultations on Sake recommendations for stocking in wine stores or restaurants; and other Sake events and activities.

If you are looking to hold a different event, something beyond the usual wine tasting, why not try a Sake event instead. Sake pairs with all types of cuisines so a Sake dinner could be held at any restaurant, from Italian to French, Spanish to a Burger joint. If you are interested in any of these services, just email me and we can discuss the possibilities.

Have a great Sake Day! And I hope to see you at a Sake event in the near future.

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)  Wendy Issokson, owner, Chill On Park, has added two new fall ice cream flavors and a new fall coffee to the menu at Dorchester’s popular ice cream and coffee shop at the corner of Dorchester and Park. Dutch Apple Pie and Pumpkin Oreo are the two new ice cream flavors for Fall, and Pumpkin Spice is the new coffee. “Of course we have to celebrate the icons of Fall – apples and pumpkin – and they are already staff favorites” shares Wendy Issokson.

New At Chill On Park This Fall:
After School Special: 10% off beverage, ice cream and bakery, Mon-Thurs, 3-5pm for students
Family Night Tuesdays: Every Tuesday evening, 6pm-8pm
*Specially priced kids ice cream cone or cup, $2.50....add one topping for 50 cents
*Free kids gift and balloon with any ice cream purchase. (One gift per child with purchase).
*Tweet #MBTA to @CHILLONPARK and your morning coffee is on us! (offer good 9am-6pm, Mon-Fri, for a small coffee or tea)
*CHANGE FOR CHARITY: Chill On Park announces its new community donation program. Each month Chill On Park highlight a local charity or program, and accepts spare change. For September and October the beneficiary is The Codman Square Health Center.

2) On October 20, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will host a wine dinner with Boisset Family Estates, the popular Napa Valley-based winery. Legal Harborside will team up with Boisset’s President, Jean-Charles Boisset, to host a four-plus-course Burgundian Californian dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with choices from their bounty. Since 1961, Boisset and his family have produced world-renowned wines from some of the most prominent winegrowing regions.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Scallop Mousse, Brioche, Pickled Squash, Local Honey
Country Ham & Gruyère Croquette, Apricot Mustard Aioli
King Salmon Tartare, Rhubarb, Fennel, Dill Crème Fraîche
Macomber Turnip Soup, Caviar, Fines Herbes
JCB “No. 21” Crémant de Bourgogne, NV
West Coast Abalone (trio of apple, crispy speck, brussels sprout leaves)
Jean-Claude Boisset, Bourgogne Aligoté “Les Moutots,” 2013
DeLoach Estate Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2013
Sunburst Farms Trout (five-spice spätzle, beetroot emulsion, sage brown butter)
DeLoach “Block 1950” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2013
Jean-Claude Boisset, Ladoix Premier Cru “Hautes Mourottes,” 2013
Roasted Squab (mushroom consommé, braised swiss chard, foie gras, poached pear ravioli)
DeLoach “Maboroshi Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2013
Jean-Claude Boisset, Chambolle-Musigny, 2013
Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche (black currant preserves, rosemary anise tuile)
Buena Vista “Raison d’Etre” Merlot, Sonoma, 2013

COST: $125 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

3) Trick-or-treating isn’t just for kids. Come see what Seaport has to offer grown up trick-or-treaters on Friday, October 30, from 7pm-10pm, at the 6th Annual Halloween on the Harbor. Flaunt your creative costume while collecting treats and prizes at some of the Seaport District’s best bars and restaurants.

Trick-or-treaters will kick off the evening at TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel before choosing to either walk or hop on one our dedicated Boston DUCK boats to travel to any of the participating Halloween on the Harbor locations. Guests will enjoy ghoulish cocktails, appetizers and treats while receiving passport stamps at each stop.

Various venues will also offer prizes for best costume. Proceeds from the $5 ticket price will benefit the Friends of the Fort Point Channel, which offers free community programming for kids and adults in the area.

Tickets can be purchased at: http://hoth2015.eventbrite.com
This event is strictly 21+ and guests must bring a valid ID and proof of EventBrite ticket purchase.

TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel
Capiz Lounge at the Renaissance Hotel
M.J. O'Connors
Whiskey Priest
Atlantic Beer Garden
Jerry Remy's Sports Bar & Grill
Temazcal Tequila Cantina

4) Culinary Arts Director Kevin DiLibero and the Papa Razzi Metro team invite guests to celebrate October as Pizza Month with a new promotion that allows guests to enjoy Neapolitan pizza offerings for half the price Monday – Friday from 4pm-6pm & 9pm-11pm pm in the bar and lounge.

Papa Razzi Metro, in Burlington, is celebrating Pizza Month. Guests can now enjoy half off pizzas for the month of October at the bar and lounge. Papa Razzi Metro serves certified authentic Neapolitan pizza that is "the truest of the true form of pizza."

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

WuBurger: Woburn's Newest Burgers

A recent study, the Burger Consumer Trend Report by Technomic, states that 39% of consumers purchase a burger from a fast food restaurant on a weekly basis. If true, this could explain the reason for the explosion of burger joints in the Boston+ area. In the suburbs, one of the newest burger additions is WuBurger, which opened in Woburn earlier this month. It's still new, but as a preliminary opinion, based on four visits, it's a worthy spot for a delicious and inexpensive burger and you should make a trip there.

Located in a small strip of stores, with ample parking, WuBurger has walk-up windows where you can order your food or you can choose to sit inside. Inside, you order at the counter and then seat yourself. Dependent on the time, your food might then be delivered to you or you might be called to pick up your food. It has a kind of a casual diner feel and the food is prepared quickly so it is a good choice if you are pressed for time.

I like the fact that the only item they serve which is frozen is their waffle fries. The meat for their burgers is delivered fresh and they source some of their other ingredients from local farms and vendors. They are trying to elevate the quality of fast food and be more eco-consciious while still maintaining inexpensive, fast food prices. I went to their Family & Friends opening, and then went back on my own three other times. Each time, the quality of the food was consistently good. There were a couple minor service issues but that is typical of many places when they first open and I expect they will be remedied soon enough.

The star of the menu is their Burger, which comes as a Single Patty ($4.50) or Double Patty ($6.50) and is served on a Martin's Potato or Sesame roll. Complimentary Toppings include: Lettuce, Tomato, Raw Onion, Pickles, Relish, Ketchup, Mustard, & Mayo,  For $0.50 per topping, you can also add: Wu Sauce, Grilled Onions, Grilled Mushrooms, Jalapeno, American Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, & Swiss Cheese. And for $1.00 per topping, you can add Applewood Smoked Bacon, Blue Cheese, Fried Egg, Crispy Fried Onions, & Homemade Chili. There are plenty of options to customize your burger so you can experience something different every time you visit.

They have several other sandwiches ($3.50-$7.00) including a Veggie Burger, Grilled Cheese, Roast Beef Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Fried Chicken Breast, and more. For sides, the main options are Waffle Fries ($3) and Hand Cut Onion Rings ($4), and you can get them topped with Bacon, Cheddar Cheese Sauce or Chili ($1 each). However, on my most recent visit, they didn't have onion rings available as there appeared to be an issue with them. I'm not sure if they are back yet or not.

This is a Double Patty topped by a fried egg and cheddar cheese on a sesame bun. The burger was juicy and flavorful, enhanced by the egg and aged cheddar. The size of the bun was perfect for the rest of the sandwich. Just a damn good burger at this price.

The potato roll works well too, though my personal preference is for the sesame bun. I had some of the James River BBQ sauce on this burger which added some sweet spiciness to the burger.

The North Shore ($6.50) has Rare Roast Beef, American Cheese, and James River BBQ Sauce.  The roast beef was cooked a perfect rare, and was tender and flavorful, enhanced by the BBQ sauce. If anything, it might be a tad smaller than what you can find at other North Shore roast beef joints. But for taste, it is spot on.

They might be frozen, but the waffles fries are good, not overcooked and very few small pieces. If you want, you can get the cheddar cheese sauce on top or on the side. I also tried the chili and was very pleased with it. There are no beans in their chili and it is well spiced, meaty and delicious. I could have eaten a bowl of the chili on its own.

If you want dessert, they have a full menu of ice cream treats, with the ice cream sourced from Richardson's Farm.. The X-Thick Vanilla Frappe ($7) was good and thick, though still drinkable through  a straw. Have an ice cream cone or a sundae, frozen yogurt or soft serve.

WuBurger has gotten off to an excellent start and I recommend that you check it out. Grab a burger, waffle fries & a shake and enjoy!