Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year's Eve

Happy New Year's Eve to All!

I hope you all have an enjoyable and safe New Year's Eve and that 2008 ushers in a great year for you. 2007 was a good year and I am looking forward to what 2008 brings.

What can you expect from A Passionate Foodie in 2008?

You can expect plenty more posts about wine and food, plenty more reviews, news, and articles. I will personally be seeking out more new and unusual wines and regions to learn and talk about. I will continue to delve into Portuguese wines and talk more about China. I will seek out wines from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Plus I will be exploring more the wines of Oregon, especially as I hope to visit Oregon in the fall of 2008. I will visit more new restaurants, and seek out others that I have yet to visit. I will also be visiting restaurants in New York, Las Vegas and Oregon this year. My column in the Stoneham Sun newspaper will continue, exploring local restaurants and the world of wine.

And you can expect much more as well. If you have any suggestions, feel free to email me.

Cheers and dine with passion!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Golfo 7, Lot 2004

What an amazingly unique wine! At first you might consider this wine to be merely a stunt, but when you look more deeply into this wine, you realize it is very serious.

The Golfo 7 is is the first wine made from a unique joint venture. Seven top wine-makers worked together to create this wine, six from Spain and one from France. Each wine maker contributed a different varietal, all from different regions. 7 wine makers, 7 varietals, 7 regions.

This is the breakdown of the winemaker/winery, varietal and region:

Pascal Delbeck, Merlot from St. Emilion
Angel Anocibar, Petit Verdot from Abadia Retuerta
Ada Winery, Garnacha from Navarra
Viña Izadi, Graciano from Rioja
Joaquin Galvez, Cabernet Franc from Alicante
Oscar Aragon, Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero
Magaña, Syrah from Duraton

What is the composition of the blend? 50% of the wine is a blend, in equal proportions, of each of the seven varietals. The other 50% is a blend that is assembled and voted upon by all of the contributing winemakers. The wine was aged in oak for one year, fined with egg whites and bottled unfiltered. It has an alcohol content of 14.5%. The wine is officially a "Vino de Mesa" and as such, is not legally permitted to place a vintage on its label. But all of the grapes did come from the 2004 harvest so they placed "L.2004" (Lot 2004) on the label. Only 155 cases of this wine were made.

Interestingly enough, some of the proceeds from this wine will be contributed to the construction of a winery in Mozambique, Africa.

I first tasted the Golfo 7, Lot 2004 ($65) at a local wine tasting and was very impressed with it. I bought a couple of bottles and decided to open one bottle this evening. A potentially historic Patriot's football game is taking place this evening so I wanted something good to drink while watching the game.

This wine is inky dark in color and the nose is vibrant with cinnamon and dark berry notes. On the palate, the wine is lush with ripe blackberries, blueberries and black cherry. There are also elements of smoke, dark spice, and vanilla. Plus a few tastes I could not identify. It is a complex wine with flavors that flit back and forth, though all meshing into a well-balanced mix. The tannins are prominent but not overpowering. It has a very long and lingering finish that makes you desire even more. A very impressive wine that I would highly recommend, despite the price. We finished the entire bottle and I was tempted to open my other bottle.

I should note that the joint venture is making a Golfo 8, Lot 2005. I will be eagerly looking forward to tasting that as well.

The Passwords: Part 2

Do you enjoy a good mystery? Do you like to try to solve puzzles? If so, maybe you will enjoy "The Passwords," a new short story that I have written.

I have now posted the second chapter of The Passwords on my A Passionate Foodie: Fiction blog. Check it out and see if you can solve the mystery of the letter. The letter is a wine-related puzzle. Can you discover the location of the hidden cache?

The third chapter will be posted in a few days and the puzzle will then be revealed. Feel free to add your puzzle guesses to the comments.

I hope you enjoy the story!

Ocean Vodka

Yesterday I posted about Kissui Vodka, a new Japanese vodka made from rice. Today, while reading Bon Appetit (February 2008), I read about another intriguing vodka. When it rains, it pours.

Ocean Vodka is made on Maui in Hawaii! And no, it is not made from pineapples. They use 100% certified organic corn and rye. What really makes them unique though is the water they use. The water actually comes from about 3000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The water is desalinated and purified. It is used because it is very cold and very pure. The vodka is 80 proof and bottled in 750ml ($37) and 50ml ($5.49) bottles. There is a stylized palm tree on the bottle.

The vodka is currently available in California, New York and Washington. In addition, a portion of their profits is donated to organizations dedicated to the conservation of the world's ocean resources.

This is another new vodka that I hope to try soon. Will the deep sea water make a significant difference in the taste?

Friday, December 28, 2007

2004 Curran Syrah

A couple weeks ago, I reviewed the 2004 Curran Sangiovese. This evening, I decided to try another Curran wine, the 2004 Curran Syrah ($30). You can read more about the Curran winery in my prior review.

This Syrah is from Black Oak Vineyard, a new vineyard of three blocks of Syrah planted to four different clones. It is located in the warmer regions of the Santa Ynez Valley. Kris Curran ensures only the best grapes make it to her wine. The Syrah spends about two years in French oak barrels, about 50% which are new. The wine also does not see fining or filtration. It has an alcohol content of 14.6%.

This wine has an inky dark color and a nose of blueberries and a bit of spice. On the palate, it is full bodied and has a taste of lush blueberries, smoke and dark spices. It has a long finish, the smokiness lingering on your palate. It is not an Australian fruit-bomb Shiraz. It is more a dark berry and smoky wine with complexity. It is a well balanced wine with strong tannins which would benefit from drinking with food. It would stand up to a juicy, rare roast and might even go well with chocolate.

Like the Curran Sangiovese, I very much enjoyed this wine and would recommend it as a Drink & Buy. If you can not find it locally, you might be able to order it from Domaine547, where I ordered the wine.

Kissui Vodka

Vodka can be made from grains such as corn, wheat and rye. It can also be made from potatoes, such as one of my favorites, Chopin. France even makes vodka from grapes. And now there is a vodka made from rice.

Takara Sake, the makers of Sho Chiku Bai Sake, have begun to import the first Japanese vodka into the U.S. Kissui Vodka is 100% distilled from high quality rice. It is blended with Kyoto's famous Fushimizu spring water, noted for its purity. This is the same water used in several brands of Sake. They ise a special distilling process, called "Super-Allospas," though I am unsure of the specifics of this process. The vodka is 80%, like most other vodkas.

The label on the bottle bears a black and red Kabuki face, that looks kind of mean or angry. But, it is said that over the years the Kabuki has come to represent historical beauty.

Kissui Vodka may only be currrently available in California, though there is some indication that it might be available in New York too. I am very intrigued by this vodka. I love both premium sake and vodka, so think that a vodka made from rice could potentially be very good. I will try to obtain a bottle to taste and report back.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Yesterday, I gave you a recipe for Chocolate Waffles, a delicious dessert. But what about regular waffles, that excellent breakfast treat? Let me remedy that now by providing my friend Lori's recipe for waffle batter. This is simply the best recipe I have found for waffle batter. And I am very picky about my waffles.


2 large eggs (separating the yolks from the whites)
2 cups of flour
1 3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix the flour, milk, oil, baking powder, salt and egg yolks. Beat until smooth. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff and then add to the mixture.

Use the batter in a waffle iron as you would any other waffle batter. Makes about six 7" round waffles.

The Passwords: A New Short Story

Do you enjoy a good mystery? Do you like to try to solve puzzles? If so, maybe you will enjoy "The Passwords," a new short story that I have written.

I have posted the first chapter of The Passwords on my A Passionate Foodie: Fiction blog. Check it out and see if you can solve the mystery of the letter. The letter is a wine-related puzzle. Can you discover the location of the hidden cache?

The second chapter will be posted in a few days. Feel free to add your puzzle guesses to the comments.

I hope you enjoy the story!

Champagne & Martini Tasting

OurGlass Wine Co. will be holding a New Year's Libation tasting on Saturday, December 29th, from 2-5pm. This Tasting will include Champagne, Prosecco, Sparkling Wines, Party wines and martinis. Get some party ideas and taste some interesting drinks.

OurGlass Wine Co.
124 Broadway (Rt.1 N)
Saugus, MA
Phone: 781-941-8068

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Pinotage Club-10 Year Anniversary!

The Pinotage Club, an excellent website dedicated to the Pinotage varietal, is celebrating its 10th Anniversary! Peter May, the founder and site author, is a personable advocate of Pinotage and his site provides much interesting information about the varietal and its wines. Not only does he cover Pinotage in South Africa, but he also covers Pinotage wherever it is grown, including the U.S., Canada, Israel and New Zealand.

If you have never checked out Peter's website, then you definitely should do so. It is a very well written wine blog and ten years is a very impressive achievement. Pinotage is also an underrated varietal and there are many good wines made from it. Go to Peter's website and learn more about Pinotage and find many recommendations.

Ten Cane Raspberry Sashimi

While persuing the latest issue (12/18/07-1/14/08) of Stuff At Night, a photo caught my eye. At first glance, it seemed to be a bento box of tuna sashimi, bright red squares of raw fish. There were chopsticks picking up one of the pieces of sashimi. There were some strange spices and a liquid next to the sashimi. They did not seem the usual accompaniements for sashimi. Was this a blurb about a new Japanese restaurant?

I was amazed to discover that the photo was actually of a new and unique cocktail!

STIX is a new restaurant and lounge in Boston, having opened around November. They serve an eclectic, international cuisine, including some Asian and Mexican inspired dishes. They also serve a number of specialty cocktails, including the one depicted in the photo in Stuff At Night.

This cocktail is the Ten Cane Raspberry Sashimi ($15). The drink actually is served in a bento box. The Sashimi squares are made with Ten Cane rum that is gelatinized using a Boiron raspberry puree. The photo shows eleven squares and you do use chopsticks to pick them up. It is said to taste like a raspberry-lime rickey. You also get a side of lime juice and two flavored sugars, lime and raspberry. It also comes with some tuile cookies.

The photo alone certainly entices me to try this. And I give STIX kudos for the creativity of this cocktail. I am going to have to give it a try.

35 Stanhope St.
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-456-STIX

Winter Wine Sale-New Hampshire

Just a FYI of a good wine sale.

The New Hampshire Liquor & Wine stores will be having a Winter Wine Sale from January 2-27, 2008. Take an extra 15% off all wines when you buy 12 or more bottles, mixed or matched. There are only a small number of wines excluded from this sale.

Their wine prices are already good, lower than most average wine prices in Massachusetts. So, when you can get an additional discount, then it is well worth driving to New Hampshire and checking out what they have available.

The NH Liquor Commission is also presenting Wine Week, January 26-February 1. Check their website for more details.

Chocolate Waffles


Probably my favorite breakfast food. Slathered in butter, served hot from the waffle iron. I don't use syrup as I find it far too sweet. I don't like syrup on my pancakes or French toast either. Just butter for me.

I have a good friend, Lori, who sometimes invites us over for breakfast, for waffles. She has the perfect recipe for the waffle batter. The other day, we went over to Lori's for dinner and she made a special treat for dessert, Chocolate Waffles.

I had previously given her the recipe and she tried them out on us. And they were absolutely delicious. They had an excellent chocolate flavor without being overly sweet. The consistency was thicker than a waffle but not as thick as a brownie. We had some vanilla ice cream atop them which was a good combination. The waffles would certainly make a good base for a sundae. It is another great use for a waffle iron.

So, I want to provide the recipe for those chocolate waffles, to let you make this delicious treat.


1/2 cup melted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra large eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon water
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped walnuts

Mix the melted butter and cocoa together. Then stir in the sugar, eggs and water. Add the flour and salt and mix well. Finally, add the walnuts.

Preheat the waffle iron to a medium setting. Drop a teaspoon of batter into each section of the waffle iron. Close the lid and cook for about 1 1/2 minutes. The waffles are done if they do not stick to the top of the waffle iron. Let cool for a short time and then enjoy. Feel free to top the waffle with ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream or anything else you desire.

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen waffles.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Poll #12: Results

Poll #12 has now ended and the poll question was: What is Your Favorite Type of Sparkling Wine?

There were 34 votes and the most popular choice, with 16 votes, was traditional French Champagne. Though more than half of the votes, 18 in all, voted for something other than Champagne. I think people may be realizing there are other, good alternatives to Champagne. There are people as well who dislike the yeasty flavor of Champagne and seek a fruitier choice.

Spanish Cava was the second most popular choice, with 6 votes. That is my preferred alternative to Champagne. Italian Prosecco though was a close third with 5 votes. U.S. Sparkling wines came in fourth with 4 votes and "Other" came in with 3 votes. "Other" could include such matters as Australian sparkling wines.

So, onto Poll #13. The question is, as the New Year approaches: What Region's Wines Would You Most Like to Learn About?

You may vote for multiple answers in this poll.

Stoneham Sun: Past & Future

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the December 26 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column will be published tomorrow and is currently available online. The new column looks back at my prior columns as well as what the future holds for the column. I am also seeking feedback on my prior columns as well as suggestions for future columns.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here. Next week, in the New Year, I will present a restaurant reviews.

Dine with passion!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Xmas and Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my readers!

May the glad tidings of the season shine on you, your family and friends. May your celebrations go well and be fruitful with good people, delicious food and fine drink. May you give gifts that are well appreciated and which bring joy.

With the holidays upon us, there may be few, if any posts, over the next few days as I prepare and celebrate Christmas. This is one of my favorite times of year. I love sharing the holidays with my family and friends, enjoying their company as we eat and drink to celebrate the season.

Enjoy your own holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2007

2005 La Caplana Gavi di Gavi

The Gavi or Cortese di Gavi (DOCG) is located in the southeastern part of the Piedmont region, near Liguria. Only wines produced within the village of Gavi are permitted to bear the label "Gavi di Gavi". Gavi is made exclusively from Cortese grapes, an ancient varietal. Classic Gavi is supposed to be a simple wine with a chalky minerality to it.

The 2005 La Caplana Gavi di Gavi from Piedmonte ($14.99) is light yellow in color and has a nose of green apple. On the palate, those green apple flavors predominate with some mineral notes. It is a very crisp wine and pleasing to the palate. It is a simple wine in many respects, but also an enjoyable wine. The wine is balanced and definitely would pair well with seafood. That should not be surprising considering Gavi's closeness to the Ligurian coast.

If you want a different white wine, then give this Gavi a try.

Year of the Potato

Mashed potatoes, potato salad, au gratin potatoes, hash browns, potato bread, french fries...the list is endless. Even one of my favorite vodkas, Chopin, is made from potatoes. Potatoes are delicious and extremely versatile. And there seem to be very few people who don't like potatoes. What are your favorite potato dishes?

On a more serious note, the United Nations as declared 2008 to be the International Year of the Potato. Their website states: "The celebration of the International Year of the Potato (IYP) will raise awareness of the importance of the potato - and of agriculture in general - in addressing issues of global concern, including hunger, poverty and threats to the environment."

Their mission statement is "The mission of the International Year of the Potato is to increase awareness of the importance of the potato as a food in developing nations, and promote research and development of potato-based systems as a means of contributing to achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals."

There are all noble and worthy goals. Their website is filled with tons of information about the potato, from facts and history about the potato, potato production around the world, and much more. Plus the site will soon be updated with potato recipes, potato events, and more. Please take a look at the site and learn more about this very important agricultural product.

And have a potato for dinner tonight!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Year in Review: Part 2

Let us continue to look back to 2007.

In the first part of My Year in Review, I discussed the five biggest and most important food and wine events of the past year for me. Now I want to touch on some smaller events and items, including some of my favorites in certain categories.

This is certainly not a complete list. It is more just a small sampling of memorable matters I have posted about over the past year. Just several items that I want to emphasize though by no means are they the only memorable items of the past year.

Favorite New Restaurant: L’Andana is a new Italian grille in Burlington. It is the fifth restaurant owned by famed Chef Jamie Mammano, who also owns Mistral, Teatro, Sorellina and Mooo. L'Andana very much impressed me, with its creative dishes, large quantities and delicious food. You can read my multiple reviews of L'Andana. I look forward to returning there for many more good meals, as well as their future opening for lunch.

Favorite Dessert: The Wine Ice Cream by Mercer's Dairy of New York also impressed me this past year. You can read my review of their tasty products. It is a creamy ice cream with a distinctive flavor of wine. Though they currently are not available in any Massachusetts store, they can be mail ordered. I do hope they become available in the near future in Massachusetts.

Saddest Event: The most unfortunate event of the past year was the closure of Savory Tastes Cafe in Reading. This was one of my favorite restaurants and I was much saddened when I learned it would be closing. I am hoping though that in 2008, Chef Stephen Bell will open another restaurant in a new location. He is a very talented chef and I miss his cuisine.

Important Wine Event: The first wine auction in Boston was held this past September. Skinner, a large auction house, will hold about two wine auctions each year. They are partnered with the Lower Falls Wine Co. Their first wine auction had over 200 lots, including a number of rarities. Though I was unable to attend their first auction I do hope to attend their next one. I was fortunate enough though to attend their special pre-auction wine tasting which was an incredible event. They had an amazing selection of high-end wines available for tasting.

Favorite Food/Wine Movie: If you have not seen it yet, then go out and get the DVD of Ratatouille. Sure it is an animated movie about a rat who wants to be a chef. But it is a fantastic movie that foodies will love. It is also movie that both children and adults will enjoy. I just loved this film and I am sure I will watch it again and again.

Favorite Local Winery: For a few years, my favorite Massachusetts wines have come from Turtle Creek Winery. I visited their winery this year and it helped cement my support for this excellent winery. The wine maker, Kip Kumler, was a fascinating and passionate man. If you can find his wines, buy them. You won't be disappointed.

Favorite Cookbook: I have been reviewing a number of cookbooks over the past year. The stand out for me was Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh All-American Recipes from the Pacific Northwest by Kurt Beecher Dammeier. I loved the Chef's philosophy, his recipes and the whole style of this cookbook. Plus it was a visually pleasing book.

Favorite Food Book: I enjoy watching Bourdain and Zimmerman on television but found a new book in a similar wine, The Year of Eating Dangerously by Tom Parker Bowles. I was unaware of Bowles prior to seeing his book hit the stands. But it was an enjoyable romp across the world. Bowles is an interesting writer and his experiences are well worth reading.

Favorite Food & Wine Fusion: While in Spain, I visited the winery of Abadia Retuerta. Beside their fine wines, they also sold wine-infused salts. I have used them several times now, on everything from duck to beef, and love them. They certainly add flavor and I find them rather unique.

Double Corn Pudding

A moist, home-made corn bread fresh out of the oven, slathered with butter. So delicious although it is hard to find good corn bread. But there is an easy way to make an interesting and tasty corn bread substitute.

Try this recipe for Double Corn Pudding. It makes a great side dish for dinner.

Two large cans (each around 14 oz) of creamed corn
8 1/2 ounce package of corn muffin mix
Two eggs
Six tablespoons of melted butter

Mix all of these ingredients together and then pour the mixture into a shallow two-quart baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.
It can't get much easier than that. And it is quite delicious.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Is Size Important?

Is size important? Is bigger better? Or can small work just as well?

I am referring to the size of wine bottles. There are those who believe that bottle size is actually significant in the taste and aging of a wine. In this regard, bigger might be better.

Decanter magazine (12/07 issue) had an article titled "Does Size Really Matter?" by Beverly Blanning, MW. Unfortunately, a copy of the article is not on the Decanter website. But I recommend you pick up a copy of the magazine and read the article.

The article begins listing some advantages to half-bottles but notes that many producers are reluctant to make half-bottles and, more importantly, some feel the quality in a half-bottle is not as good as a regular-sized bottle. Or a magnum.

Why is this so? It is said that half-bottles do not age as well. And may even be more suspectible to taint. Though much of this is anecdotal, there may be some scientific basis as well. The amount of oxygen that can get into a bottle affects its aging, so a magnum sees less oxygen than a half-bottle and ages more slowly. Yet other factors may play a role as well. For example, a smaller bottle might be more sensitive to shock and temperature changes.

Blanning conducted a blind taste test to see if there was a difference between half-bottles and regular-sized bottles. She did note significant differences, preferring the half-bottles in a few of the tastings. The half-bottles often seemed to have matured faster.

Dr. Debs over at Good Wines Under $20 recently posted about the benefits of half-bottles and mentioned in the comments that she feels the size of the bottle affects some wines.

I really have little experience in this area so find it hard to have an opinion. I rarely have half-bottles, mainly because there are so few available in my local area. Of those half-bottles that I have drunk, most have been dessert wines. When I have had half-bottles of other wines, I have not been actively trying to compare how they stood up to a regular-sized bottle or a magnum. In addition, I drink few magnums.

Yet the basic theory does sound plausible. Wine certainly is suspectible to many different variables, so why not bottle size as well? It is something I never gave much consideration to but one which I will think about in the future.

What are your experiences in this area? Do you feel bottle size affects wine?

L'Andana: More Changes

It has been more than seven weeks since the opening of L'Andana in Burlington. It is about at that point where a new restaurant should start running well, having ironed out nearly all of their initial kinks.

My initial visits to L'Andana had gone quite well, except for some minor service issues. The food was innovative, plentiful and delicious. I was impressed and felt that L'Andana would be a big hit. So how was my latest visit? Has anything changed, either positively or negatively?

First, the menu has undergone some minor revisions, which appears to be partially due to the chef desiring to try new and different dishes. I like the various changes, making sure that the menu never becomes stale. They are more subtle changes, maintaining the basic feel of the cuisine. And some of the new dishes sounded very good.

For example, the Carpaccio is now made from Red Stag venison rather than beef. Very interesting and something I do wish to try. There is a new Cod Saute dish with olive oil whipped potatoes and a white clam sauce. The most changes appear to be with their pasta dishes. For example, the Pappardelle now comes with braised rabbit rather than oxtail.

I started with the Fonduta ($14), a skillet filled with four melted cheeses, thin slices of spicy sopressata, and large pieces of roasted garlic. I also received a large pile of crunchy Tuscan toast. You spread the gooey cheese mixture on the bread and enjoy. I loved the flavor of the cheeses with a nice spicy tone from the sopressata and lots of garlic. The skillet had plenty of the cheese and could easily serve two people.

I also very much enjoyed a small order of a new dish, the Tortellini ($14). This consisted of four over-sized tortellini stuffed with fresh Maine crab, some Mascarpone and chives. The tortellini were in a cured tomato and tarragon broth. These were superb, with lots of sweet crab meat rather than filler. The broth was flavorful and well complimented the tortellini.

The food was still as good as all my previous visits. But what about the service? This time, the service was excellent. Although I had a primary server, additional servers helped out throughout the meal. Everyone worked well together. In my prior visits, the service sometimes got a bit overbearing, such as the water pourer. This time no such problem existed. It appears they have resolved the minor service issues that existed before, as I expected they would.

I am very pleased with how L'Andana has progressed and I continue to highly recommend it. It has become one of my new favorite restaurants. You definitely should give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

86 Cambridge Street
Burlington, MA
Phone: (781) 270-0100

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

PRP Wine International Event

PRP Wine International will be holding a special warehouse sale this Thursday to Sunday, December 20-23. Their hours will be Thursday 4-8pm, Friday 4-8pm, Saturday 12-9pm, and Sunday 12-4pm.

PRP sells wine from small suppliers including Ferdinand Pieroth GmbH Winery (Germany), Pieroth Winery (Hungary), Vicomte Bernard de Romanet Winery (France), Conté Ottavio Piccolomini Winery (Italy), and Golden Grape Estate (California). They do private house tastings, hotel tastings and other private events. They have warehouse sales infrequently so this might be the time to check out what they have for sale.

I know little about PRP or their wines but am intrigued by this event so I will likely try to stop by at some time. You never know what wines you might find there. If you are in the neighborhood, why not check it out.

PRP Wine International
82 Spring Street
Everett, MA
Phone: 866-552-8200

Links and More Links

Take a look at the left hand column of my blog and you will see numerous links to other websites and blogs. The links are currently categorized into Food Links, Food Markets & Stores, Foodie Blogroll, Wine Links, Wine Blogs, Sake Links, Local Wine Stores, Massachusetts Wineries, and New England Wineries. There are well over 100 links listed.

Additional categories and links are added all the time so be sure to continually check the link lists to see what might be new.

One primary purpose of all these links is to serve as a reference tool, to let you more easily find links of interest, whether it be for a a wine store in your local area or a place to find menus for local restaurants. The links also tell you about places and items that you may not have been aware of before. Maybe you never heard of Savenor's Market or Turtle Creek Winery. Take some time and click on the links. See where they take you.

Another significant purpose of the link lists is to share with you links to other bloggers. Each blogger has their own unique style and take on wine and food. They may offer new information or just a different viewpoint on information you already know. For example, no single site can provide reviews of every wine available. So if you are interested in a wine that a particular blogger has not reviewed, you might find another blogger who has reviewed that wine. You might want a recipe for cinnamon rolls, but could compare recipes from a number of food bloggers to find just the right recipe for you. You might want to know more about "terroir" and thus are looking for different views on that topic so will check with several different bloggers.

As the New Year approaches, I am trying to update my link lists, especially links to my fellow bloggers. New blogs start up all the time or I learn of old blogs for the first time. Sometimes a blog just slips through the cracks. Linking to fellow bloggers helps the overall blogosphere community. It is a show of solidarity to each other. It is an easy way to increase traffic to the blogs. And it is certainly easy to do.

So to my fellow bloggers: When was the last time you updated your link lists? Are there blogs that you have forgotten to add? Why not make some additions as the New Year approaches?

If I have neglected to add someone's blog, please tell me.

My Year in Review

2007 has been an interesting, busy and delicious year for me. I began several new endeavors, ate plenty of fine food and tasted some excellent wine. As 2008 nears, it is time to take a look back at this past year, to savor some of my best memories and achievements.

I have already provided two summary lists for 2007, my Top Ten Wines Under $15 and my Top Ten Wines Over $15. Now is the time for a general summary of the past year, a rundown of several key events. These are the five biggest and most important food and wine events of the past year for me.

A Passionate Foodie: The biggest event obviously has to be the creation of my new food & wine blog, A Passionate Foodie. I had previously been a primary contributor to the Real World Winers blog, which had begun in November 2005. When that blog began to falter, and eventually shut down, I chose to start my own blog. I still had a strong passion for food and wine, and wanted to share that with others.

As I am the sole contributor to this new blog, I have complete control over its content and design. I am able to write about whatever interests me in the world of food and wine. With over 600 posts and over 37,000 hits, I am quite satisfied with how matters have progressed. I am proud of how my new blog has turned out and hope to continue to improve it. Please send me any suggestions that you have for my blog.

North Shore Winers: This past February, I created the North Shore Winers Meet-Up group. This group meets at various wine events, from tastings to classes. I select the events, from public tastings to private events that I arrange. So far, we have attended 24 different events. It is free to join the Winers and many of the events have been free as well. The group has grown significantly over the past year and we currently have over 210 members. Next year, we will attend plenty of different events and hopefully our membership will continue to grow as well. It has been great to meet so many other wine enthusiasts as well as to help educate people about wine. It has been lots of fun.

Stoneham Sun: This past August, I began writing a weekly restaurant and wine column for my local newspaper, The Stoneham Sun. So far, I have written 20 columns so far and continue to be going strong. The column has been diverse with local restaurant reviews, wine recommendations and more. The response to my columns has been very positive. I look forward to writing many more columns in the future and hope my readers continue to enjoy my column.

Spain Vacation: This past fall, I spent two fantastic weeks vacationing in Spain. I blogged about so much of my trip, from the superb restaurants to the excellent wineries. Booked through Cellar Tours, we planned a special food and wine vacation. We visited nine wineries, in five different wine regions. We dined upon so much delicious food. We experienced so much on this luxury tour of Spain, from Madrid to San Sebastian to Barcelona and more. And one of the highlights of the trip was getting to meet Ryan and Gabriella of Catavino, fellow wine bloggers. They were great people and we had a fun time together. Next year, I will likely travel to Oregon, to Portland and the Williamette Valley.

A Passionate Foodie-Fiction: I have also created a supplement to my blog, a new blog that is dedicated to my original fiction about food and wine. There is currently only a single short story there, The Perfect Wine, but more will be added in the future. I would love to hear your feedback on my short story.

Best wishes to all in the New Year!

Stoneham Sun: Champage & Sparkling Wine Recommendations

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the December 19 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column will be published tomorrow and is currently available online. The new column presents some Champagne and Sparkling Wine recommendations for the holidays. You can find recommendations from Rapid Liquors, OurGlass Wine Co., and the Wine Shop of Reading. I have also added three of my own Cava recommendations.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here. Next week, I will present some comments on the past year and plans for the new year.

Dine with passion!

Monday, December 17, 2007

2004 Curran Sangiovese

Over the weekend, I opened a bottle of the 2005 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir, just an incredible wine. I will write about it in the near future. The wine maker for Sea Smoke is Kris Curran. Though she makes only Pinot Noirs for Sea Smoke, she has her own label where she makes other wines.

Kris Curran started her own label, Curran, in 1997. She started out with Pinot Noir but it did not work out as she could not obtain the quality of grapes she sought. So, she chose a few different varietals instead, including Syrah, Sangiovese and Grenache Blanc. She sources the grapes from premium vineyards in the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley.

When I bought some Sea Smoke from Domaine547, I also decided to buy some Curran wines. I figured that if Kris Curran could do so well with Sea Smoke, then her other wines were probably quality wines as well. I bought some of her Curran Syrah, Sangiovese and Grenache Blanc.

As I was having Chicken Parmigiana for dinner, I decided to try a bottle of the 2004 Curran Sangiovese ($30). This wine has an alcohol content of 14.5%. The grapes for this wine come from the Rogun Vineyard, planted exclusively for Kris. This half-acre vineyard is located in the warm, eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley. The wine is aged in new French oak for about two years and then for another six months in the bottle.

This wine has a dark red color and a spicy nose. On the palate, it is full bodied and a taste of blackberries, ripe plums and smoky spices. There is a bit of vanilla as well. It has a long finish, the smokiness lingering on your palate. It is a well balanced wine with moderate tannins. It is a wine that should be drank with food and paired well with the spicy Ariabatta sauce on my Chicken Parmigiana.

I very much enjoyed this wine and would recommend it as a Drink & Buy.

A Sherry Push

Do you enjoy Sherry? Many in the U.S. know little of Sherry, often having negative preconceptions about it. As has been said before, additional education about Sherry would be beneficial. Well it seems that a significant move is being made in this direction, not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well.

Decanter magazine has an article mentioning that Fedjerez, the Sherry Triangle Bodega Association, will spend about 2.8 million pounds (about $5.6 million US) to market sherry in the U.S., Canada and Japan. About $2 million of that will be spent in the U.S. Exact details have not been provided though of what will be done.

For those in the U.S., this could lead to special Sherry tasting events such as the recent Portuguese wine tasting I attended. Hopefully it will lead also lead to fresher bottles of Sherry hitting the shelves of our wine stores. I look forward to a greater variety of Sherry becoming available in the U.S.

Sherry marketing is also being conducted in another Asian country. The Grape Wall of China reported on the recent establishment of the Greater China Sherry Association. Cesar Saldana, president of the Jerez-Xeres-Sherry DO, attended a special Sherry dinner in China. He has plans to increase the presence of Sherry in China. It is unclear whether this is a different program that that operated by Fedjerez.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Poll #12: What is Your Favorite Type of Sparkling Wine?

The Polls have returned!

Poll #12 asks: What is Your Favorite Type of Sparkling Wine?

Do you prefer to celebrate the holidays with French Champagne? Or Spanish Cava? Italian Prosecco? A Sparkling wine from the U.S.? Or something else?

As the holidays approach, plenty of Champagne and Sparkling Wine will be toasted at parties. So let us see which you prefer.

Dairy Dome: New Dishes

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am a fan of the Dairy Dome, a local restaurant in Stoneham. I have posted numerous times about this place.

Though long known for being an ice cream parlor, this year the restaurant greatly its offerings to include many different and delicious foods. I have posted before about many of those new dishes. Yet they have continued to add more and more to their menu. So I am back to tell you about some of what is new.

They now carry a homemade flatbread, like a thicker type of pita bread. I love good bread and this is absolutely delicious. You can get an over-stuffed sandwich or even a flatbread pizza. I especially liked the Chicken Cordon Bleu flatbread sandwich ($6.95), which was loaded with tender chicken, cheese and ham. This was quite a large sandwich and sure to satisfy the biggest of appetites. As for new sandwiches, they also have six different grilled paninis ($6.45).

Need something easy to feed your family? Dairy Dome has had family-sized dinners for some time. But now they have some new ones, including a homemade shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie. They are big enough to feed at least four people and cost less than $15 each. You bring them home, just pop them into the oven and soon you will enjoy. I have had both and did enjoy them.

With winter here, a good hot soup or chowder can really satisfy too. Dairy Dome has corn, which you can get in a fresh bread bowl with melted cheese atop it. The cheese was a nice touch and the chowder is very good. I have always enjoyed corn chowder and this was certainly a good dish.

They even make a variety of homemade pies, from apple to pecan, which are great for the holidays. The chocolate cream pie is decadently delicious. The pies are reasonably priced under $20, and should feed plenty of people. Stop by and pick up a pie for the holidays. Or order ahead to be sure you can get what you want.

Dairy Dome remains a very good choice for lunch, dinner, or takeout.

Dairy Dome
474 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: 781-438-9425

Dairydome on Urbanspoon

Champagne & Sparkling Wine-Woburn

What wine will you drink to celebrate the holidays?

Last evening, I led a group of 15+ members of the North Shore Winers to a Champagne and Sparkling wine tasting at Corporate Wines in Woburn.

This was a free event and there were about 15 Champagne and Sparkling wines available for tasting as a number of other wines. There were also cheese, crackers, fruit and chocolate-covered strawberriese food to nibble on. While tasting, we listened to some jazz music performed by Danny Harrington. Everyone in my group seemed very happy with the tasting.

My favorites of the tasting were:

San Giovanni Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine ($14.25)
Gran Gesta Brut Reserva Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine ($13.25)
Scharffenberger, California sparkling wine ($21.00)
Roederer Estate, California sparkling wine ($24.00)
Ployez-Jacquemart, French Rose Champagne ($55.00)
Circle Spring Reserve, Shiraz, Australia (18.00)

Corporate Wines
16A Cummings Park
Woburn , MA
Phone: 781-933-WINE

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Spanish Wines Get Dissed

I am disturbed. I am a major fan of Spanish wines, both of their inexpensive, high value wines, as well as their excellent higher-end wines. I have been to Spain, visited a number of wineries in five different wine regions, and was quite impressed with what I tasted. I have a good number of Spanish wines in my cellar, of all prices ranges.

I know my friends over at Catavino would agree with my sentiments. They know the high quality of numerous Spanish wines.

Yet I read an article today from someone who is not impressed at all with higher-end Spanish wines. In the Citizen's Voice, David Falchek wrote an article, "Spain’s wines fall short of potential." In this article, he explained his dislike for high-end Spanish wines.

David does have something positive to say about some Spanish wines. He stated: "The best wines, from a quality/value standpoint, were the $12 and under category where the wines were refreshing, enjoyable and unpretentious."

But he dislikes the more expensive wines. He thinks they are overpriced and the quality is not equal to comparably priced wines from other regions. He provides short reviews of five Spanish wines, only one costing over $20. Most of those wines do not fare well. He does claim to have "been to trade tastings where hundreds of Spanish wines are being poured..." And he was not impressed with the more expensive wines. Though he does not mention which higher-end wines he tasted.

I would like to know which high-end wines he has tasted. I have tasted a fair share of higher-end Spanish wines and have found plenty to impress me. I have reviews of many of them on my blog. I know plenty of others as well who have been impressed with such wines. To broadly dismiss an entire country's higher end wines seems to me to be an unjust generalization.

A quick look at some of his wine recommendations and articles from the Citizen's Voice seems to indicate a preference for wines under $20. Could he be biased against higher-end wines in general? If not, which higher-end wines does he think are worth the price?

I will keep supporting Spanish wines. I have met some of the winemakers that are creating wines I consider excellent, and worth their prices. I just posted earlier today about an exceptional Spanish dessert wine, well worth its high price. Taste the wines yourself. Give them a chance to show you their quality.

2003 Dolc De L'Obac

Last evening, I attended a work holiday party and brought a few special wines. Our host put on an incredible spread, including some delicious desserts. Creme Brulee, Fruit Trifle and Pavlova Cake. Everything was home-made and very appealing.

To accompany dessert, I brought a bottle of 2003 Dolc De L'Obac (500ml $90). This is a wine I had shipped to me from the winery in Spain. You can read out my visit to the Costers del Siurana winery in a prior post. They make some incredible wines and this dessert wine is one of their exceptional ones.

The 2003 Dolc De L'Obac is a blend of 80% Garnacha, 10% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged for about a year in French oak and has a 16% alcohol content. The wine has a very dark, almost inky color, and a nose of sweet, dark berries. On the palate, the wine has an intriguing and mild sweetness that avoids being cloying. It has a taste of ripe blueberries, blackberries and plum. It is a lush, rich wine with a long, lingering finish. It has a nice complexity that will cause you to pause and ponder over its flavors.

This wine was a great success and everyone who tasted it thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved its subtle sweetness and lushness. This was a superb wine and certainly worth its high price for a special occasion. Even those who do not generally like dessert wines are likely to enjoy this.

And it paired perfectly with the yummy desserts.

Friday, December 14, 2007



Raise your Sake cup and toast Haru, a new Japanese restaurant located below the shops of the Prudential Center.

Haru is part of a chain operated by Benihana, Inc. There are seven locations in New York City, one in Philadelphia and one in Boston. In Boston, Haru occupies the former site of Dick's Last Resort and it has been open for only about five weeks. There is a parking garage next to the restaurant and it is a short walk to the MBTA station.

I was invited to check out Haru and I was very much interested in visiting this new place. I love Japanese food and Sake and I am always up for checking out new restaurants. So this past Wednesday evening I dined at Haru. How did it rate?

I will preface my review by noting that as Haru is relatively new, it is still in that period where they are likely working out a few kinks. I will take that into consideration when assessing the restaurant. The same consideration I provide for all new restaurants.

As I entered the restaurant, the first thing that really stood out at me was the lounge area, which is to the right of the entry way. The long bar in the lounge is topped by onyx and is lit from below, presenting an enticing look. The lounge area has plenty of extra room for people who will be standing in the area. The rest of the restaurant also has a very hip and modern decor, but with subtle Asian influences. There is a long sushi bar and a fairly large dining area. The lighting is muted, giving an air of intimacy. Haru presents a very appealing ambience. It certainly does not feel like a chain.

The dining room looks out onto Huntington Avenue and I can see this as being a great people watching spot in the summer. There is one special table, at the back wall, that seats around eight people and is a bit set apart from the others. A good place for a special occasion and a bit more privacy. Though the other tables generally are spaced well, there is a bit of a problem for couples. They seem to break up four-tops for couples but leave only a minimal space between the tables. That closeness may annoy some people.

Haru has a full bar which includes numerous Sakes and specialty drinks. The specialty drinks include such items as Sake cocktails, Mojitos, and Champagne cocktails. These drinks cost $9-$10 which seems reasonable, especially for Boston where cocktails can sometimes cost $10-20. The cocktails come in stemless glasses, the cup portion sitting on a small, thick circular base instead. These glasses would be less prone to being knocked over than stemmed cocktail glasses. They carry a couple Japanese beers as well, Kirin and Sapporo, both on draft.

The Saketini, a combination of Vodka, Sake and Plum wine, with cucumber peels in it, was visually interesting and a popular drink at our table. It was not overly sweet and had a good, smooth flavor. The Komodo Dragon had vanilla vodka, coconut rum, pineapple juice and blue Curacao. It had a bit of sweetness and a nice coconut flavor. There was a Green Tea Margarita that sounded interesting though I did not taste it. Curiously, almost all of the Champagne cocktails are actually made with Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine.

For Sake, they stock about eight Sakes by the glass or bamboo pitcher, as well as another eleven available by the bottle. Their chilled Sakes included Nigoris, Junmais, Ginjos, and Daiginjos. A glass costs $11 or under. Bottles vary in price, ranging to over $100 for the Daiginjos. These are typical prices for quality Sake. I especially enjoyed glasses of the Kira and Kaori Sakes. They were smooth, flavorful and pleasing to the palate. They also carry Onikoroshi, the "demon-slayer", which I have had before. It is a very smooth and mellow Daiginjo.

Haru provides both lunch and dinner. For lunch, they have special Bento boxes and lunch plates, ranging from $12-$17. I will have to check out lunch sometime.

The dinner menu has Sushi, Sashimi, Maki rolls, Special rolls, Appetizers, Soup, Salad, and Entrees. Most of the menu is standard Japanese fare though they have a few unique appetizers and sushi rolls such as the Lobster Mango Ceviche and the Kiss of Fire Roll. Prices are generally reasonable for a Japanese restaurant. Average price for an appetizer is about $10. Average price for an entree (non-Sushi) is about $20. Sushi prices are higher than average though comparable to most other high-end Japanese places in Boston. I'll talk more about the Sushi prices later.

We began the evening with an assortment of Special Rolls. Presentation was excellent. The rolls were quite colorful and visually interesting. There was the Dice-K Roll, consisting of gold leaf, mango, avocado and spicy red and white tuna. The Boston unCommon roll also had gold leaf, as well as crunchy spicy salmon, tuna, avocado, mango and black tobiko. I believe there was also a Phoenix Roll, spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cucumber and kaiware. We had one other roll though I am not sure which one. I enjoyed the varied taste mixes of these inventive rolls. They are priced around $13-18.

I then moved onto some nigiri, which I generally prefer to maki. They have a long list of available sushi/sashimi. I ordered some tuna (maguro), otoro, white tuna, salmon (sake), smoked eel and sweet omelet (tamage). They sell their sushi by the piece rather than as a pair which is the norm. So, as an example, two pieces of the maguro, would cost $6.50. This is a comparable price to other high-end restaurants, though about $2 more than average Japanese restaurants.

So are you paying extra just for the location, just because the restaurant happens to be in Boston? Are you paying extra just because it is more of a high-end place? No, I do not believe that is the case at all.

The pieces of sushi are actually large, significantly larger than what you get in most average sushi places. So for the extra cost you are getting plenty of extra fish. And that makes the cost far more reasonable. The sushi tasted very fresh and was quite delicious. The otoro was as buttery smooth as it should be and the eel had a great smoky taste. This was excellent sushi and I was very pleased with it. I could have easily made an entire meal out of the sushi.

I also tried the Miso Black Cod appetizer ($13), which consists of a good-sized piece of Black Cod with grilled asparagus. The fish was flaky and tender, with a nice sweet glaze from the miso sauce. A dish I would recommend. I cannot say the same for the Shrimp Tempura ($8.50). I received four pieces of shrimp but the tempura coating was not crisp enough and almost seemed soggy. It was disappointing, especially as I am a big fan of tempura. The Crispy Calamari ($9) was a much crispier choice. There were plenty of rings of fried calamari with a thicker and crunchier coating. I also liked the spicy peanut sauce that came with the Calamari.

There were a few minor service issues though service was generally good. But, I am willing to give them some leeway on this as they are still relatively new and working out such issues. It mainly seems that a few servers need some additional experience. This is a typical problem with new restaurants. It is something though than can be fairly easily remedied and which should improve soon enough.

By the time I was finished with dinner, the restaurant was quite busy, nearly full. And this was only a Wednesday night. On a weekend, I am sure reservations would definitely be needed. It seems Haru has already become a popular place even though it has been open only for a short time.

After dinner, I moved to the lounge to spend a little time sipping Sake and chatting with a friend. The bartenders were very personable, helping to set a welcoming mood. One mentioned that on the weekends, the people are stacked four deep at the bar. I certainly can believe it, even for such a new place. It is an enticing, hip spot for a drink.

Overall, I was impressed with Haru. It has an excellent ambience, very hip and modern. The sushi is first-class and reasonably priced for the quantity and quality you receive. There are plenty of other dishes which sound interesting and which I would like to try. Their Sake and cocktails are diverse and very good. Service was good, though it needs a little improvement. This is a new restaurant headed in the right direction.

I will certainly be returning to Haru and hope to see you there as well.

55 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 536-0770

WBW #40: Petite Sirah Summary

Sonadora of Wannabe Wino has now posted an extensive summary of the 40th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, Petite Sirah.

Approximately 52 bloggers participated, including at least 13 for the first time. They reviewed about 75 bottles of Petite Sirah and there is quite a range of wines. Sonadora has done an excellent job of summarizing the multitude of reviews and it is well worth checking out.

Thanks to Sonadora for an interesting theme and great work on the summary!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Top Ten Wines Over $15

Welcome to my second Top Ten wine post. Previously, I posted my Top Ten Wine Under $15 and now it is time for my Top Ten Wines Over $15.

These are wines that during the past year I have both enjoyed very much and which I found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be unique wines, excellent examples of their varietal or great values. They standout for some reason. They are not necessarily the "best" wines that I have tasted, but they are compelling for their own reasons.

Each wine on the list is linked to my more detailed review. The wines are not listed in any particular order and all are definitely worth your consideration.

1. 2003 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, California ($50)
2. 2004 Cliff Lede Claret, California ($39)
3. 2003 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage, California ($36)
4. 2005 Sutton Cellars Carignane, California ($17)
5. 2004 Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($25)
6. 2003 Castello La Lecchia Chianti Classico ‘Bruciagna’, Italy ($30)
7. 2000 Lidakis Archanes, Greece ($18)
8. 2004 Filipa Pato Ensaios, Portugal ($25)
9. 2005 Bellum Providencia, Spain ($18)
10. 2004 KanonKop Estate Wine Pinotage, South Africa ($35)

As you can see, the make-up of this list is fairly different from my list of Top Ten Wines Under $15. California wines occupy half of this list yet there was only one California wine on the previous list. This list also contains a couple of countries, Greece and South Africa, that were not on the prior list.

I stayed away from adding more expensive wines to this list. Though I have had some exceptional wines over $50, they would be obvious choices for a Top Ten list. I wanted to provide something different, something beyond the usual choices.

I do have other recommendations for wines over $15 and you can find them by searching my blog. There are excellent wines in all countries, from all types of varietals. Seek out wines outside of your comfort zone. Seek out the unusual. Explore the multitude of diversity in the wonderful world of wine.

Grape Wall of China

Is the Grape Wall of China intended to keep out the barbarians who dislike wine?

Maybe, but it is also an interesting wine blog all about China. I was emailed by one of the blog writers, Jim Boyce, because of my recent posts about wine and China. He provided me the link to his site and I have been impressed by what I have read.

Grape Wall of China was begun in June 2007 and has numerous contributors, including winemakers, distributors, academics, educators and consultants.

The blog contains wine reviews of Chinese wines, news about China, info on Chinese harvests, marketing wines in China, interviews, and so much more. I have been reading plenty of interesting facts about the wine industry in China on this blog.

If you want to learn more about wine and China, this is definitely a blog you should check out. It is interesting to learn about a country that is really just getting into wine, and seeing how that transition proceeds.

Champagne Tasting Canceled

Just a note that due to the snow storm, tonight's special Champagne Tasting at the Spirited Gourmet in Winchester is being canceled. They will be tasting some of them instead at their regular Saturday afternoon tasting.

The Spirited Gourmet
600 Main Street
Winchester, MA
Phone: 781 721-9463

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Comic Book Selling Wine?

Would you expect a comic book to lead to increased wine sales? It may seem strange but it has happened in Asia. Mmmm...with the expanding wine market in Asia should wineries then start creating comics to promote their wines.

Decanter magazine has an article about a Japanese Manga, a type of comic, that has led to an increased demand for wines. This particular Manga is called "Kami no Shizuku" which translates as "The Drops of God." The plot revolves around a quest to find 12 wines "likened to Christ's disciples."

When the Manga has mentioned specific wines, the demand for those wines has suddenly spiked. A couple of the wines mentioned were the 2001 Despagne's Château Mont Perat and the Umberto Cosmo's Colli di Conegliano. Interestingly, the Manga describes the wines in unconventional ways. The "Mont Perat is likened to a concert given by the rock group Queen, with the wine's acidity taking the place of Freddie Mercury's vocals."

The Manga is a lengthy series and will likely continue for four to five more years. There are plans to translate the Manga in France and maybe even Italy.

Mangas have far more respectibility in Japan than most comic books do in the U.S. Though U.S. "graphic novels" (which is just a fancy name for comic book) have started to gain more credibility. Would it work for a U.S. comic to promote wine? It seems doubtful to me. It would be interesting to see someone try though.

As an Update: You can check out this article at which talks about French winemaker Thibault Despagne and his reaction to his wine being mentioned in the Manga. The article also goes into detail about this winemaker, his philosophy and ideas on wine.

Asian Wine Market Explodes

The demand for wine in Asia is growing dramatically. Today I read two articles about this expanding market.

Drinks International states that Asian wine consumption is growing at more than 7 times the global average. The global average is 1% but Asian growth is at almost 8%. India and China may be the largest Asian markets. By 2012, China may become the world's 8th largest wine consuming country.

Decanter mentions that China became one of the Top Ten wine consumers in the world last year. France is the biggest supplier of wine to Asia (39.3%), but Australia (10.2%), Chile (7.6%)and the US (13.8%) are making a major push in the Asian market. It is also interesting that it is thought the US will become the biggest consumer of wine by 2012. China and Hong Kong currently commands 62.7% of the Asian market, followed by Japan at 28%.

This certainly points to a large marketing opportunity for wineries, an enormous potential market.

Top Ten Wines Under $15

As 2008 approaches, it is a time for reflection upon the past year. It is also a common time for lists of the best, and sometimes worst, of the past year. Top Ten lists, Top 100 lists, and more. Wine Spectator already posted their own Top 100 list. Wine Enthusiast will soon publish their own Top 100 list. I am sure you may see plenty of such lists in magazines and online.

I will be posting a couple of my own Top Wine lists, one for Wines Under $15 and one for Wines Over $15.

First, I am providing here my Top Ten Wines Under $15. These are wines that during the past year I have both enjoyed very much and which I found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be unique wines or excellent examples of their varietal. They standout for some reason. Each wine is linked to my more detailed review. The wines are not listed in any particular order and all are definitely worth your consideration.

1. 2006 Verdad Rose, California ($13)
2. 2004 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna, Italy ($10).
3. 2005 Tenuta Pederanza Lambrusco “Grasparossa”, Italy ($13.99)
4. 2004 Conti Zecca Donna Marzia Negromaro, Italy ($9.99)
5. 2003 Vinho Tinto Palestra, Portugal ($8)
6. 2006 Vinho Branco "Grilos", Portugal ($13)
7. 2005 Falset Marca Falset, Spain ($9.99)
8. 2006 Ladera Sagrada Papa, Spain ($13.99)
9. 2005 El Burro Kickass Garnacha, Spain ($12)
10. 2006 Bodegas La Purisma Estio, Spain ($8.99)

As you can see, mostly Old World wines have made my list. I have tasted very few California wines this year that are inexpensive but also possess much character. I still feel that some of the best values in wines at this price point can be found in places like Spain and Portugal. They often taste like wines that would cost twice as much in other regions. The high number of Iberian wines on my list should please them over at Catavino.

I do have other recommendations for wines under $15 and you can find them by searching my blog. There are still many good buys available in this price range though you may have to do a bit of searching to find the best values.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #40: Petite Sirah

Do you think that Petite Sirah are baby Syrah grapes? Petite Sirah is its own separate varietal but it is certainly in the shadows of many other grapes. But now is the time to learn much more about this grape, and to find some excellent wines made from it.

Today is the 40th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday. Started by Lenndevours, Wine Blogging Wednesday is a day when many wine bloggers all drink wines based on a shared theme. Then, each blogger posts a wine review and links them to the central site.

Sonadora of Wannabe Wino chose the theme this time and it is "Petite Sirah." For more information on Petite Sirah, you can also check out PS I Love You, a Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization. They have plenty of resources to learn about this varietal, as well as to find numerous producers.

For my own Petite Sirah, I reached into my cellar to pull out a wine from one of my favorite producers, Sean Thackrey. For more information on him, you can read my prior post on this "maverick wine-maker."

The 2003 Sean Thackrey Sirius Petite Sirah ($70) comes from Eaglepoint Ranch in Mendocino County. This is actually the first time I have tasted his Sirius. I was not disappointed in the least. Sean Thackrey has once again created an incredible wine.

The Sirius has an alcohol content of 15.3%, a high alcohol content seemingly common about Petite Sirahs. Yet you don't get any of that heat that you sometimes do from high alcohol wines.

I decanted this wine for a few hours though I did take a taste when I opened the bottle. I could tell from that taste that this wine would be absolutely delicious. I already could detect plenty of dark fruits and spices. But after the decanting, the wine opened up even more.

The Sirius is an inky purple in color and it has an enticing nose of blueberry, violets and vanilla. On the palate it is a full bodied wine, a muscular wine that certainly will wake you up. It has lush fruit, with tastes of blueberries, dark cherry, blackberry. There are also flavors of licorice, smoke, and spice. You could think for hours about all the different flavors that seems to emanate from this wine. It has a very long finish that you don't want to end. Despite its power, it is a well-balanced wine so you are not overwhelmed. It has strong tannins but they too are not a problem.

I loved this wine. It was luxurious and enticing, tantalizing and delicious. Another superior effort by Sean Thackrey! It is not cheap but it is well worth a splurge. And if you enjoy this varietal, then you should definitely try it. I know Domaine547 was able to get some for me.

I should mention the other Petite Sirah wine that I might have had the other night at dinner as well. Why do I say "might?" Well there is some dispute over what type of grapes are actually in this wine.

I had the 2000 Sean Thackrey Orion ($109). The Orion is his top end wine, and it is very limited production, around 350-500 cases each year. Interestingly enough, Thackrey is not sure what varietals go into Orion. For a time, he thought it was Syrah but UC Davis researchers found that there was a lot of Petite Syrah in it as well. So now, because of the dispute, Orion is labeled as "California Native Red Wine. So, I have chosen to include it in WBW.

The Orion is an exceptional wine. It is inky dark in color with a nose of spices like clove and licorice. On your palate, you realize this is a complex wine as there are so many flavors swirling around your mouth. Dark berries, licorice, clove, cinnamon and so much more. Yet the tannins are mild. This is not an in-your-face wine. It is more subtle, more like a Bordeaux than an Australian Shiraz. It has a satisfying and lingering finish. Just a fantastic wine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

2004 David Coffaro Estate Cuvee

Want a low production wine that is an intriguing blend but that is also low cost? You probably don't have many options but I will give you one, the David Coffaro Winery.

The David Coffaro Winery is located in the Northern Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma County in California. It is only about twenty acres but there is quite a diversity of grapes planted there, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Barbera, Tannat, Sangiovese, Touriga, Lagrein, Aglianico, and more.

In 1979, Dave and Pat purchased the vineyard and for about 15 years they sold their grapes primarily to Ernest and Julio Gallo. Dave made a small amount of wine for personal consumption. It was not until 1994 that matters changed. The Coffaros decided to enter the realm of commercial winemaking. In their first year, they made about 400 cases. And each year that has continued to increase, to about 7,000 cases in 2006. The Coffaro portfolio now all use screwcaps. They started testing screwcaps in 2003 and by 2004 had completely changed over to screwcaps.

Their philosophy is that wine is often too expensive for the average consumer. So they wanted to be able to offer wines to as many people as possible. And they certainly do price their wines very reasonably, especially considering the wines are low production.

Coffaro wines can be difficult to find. They sell about 75% of our production through their Futures program. This is where consumers commit to buy wine before it is actually released, but at a significant discount. Only 10% of their production gets distributed to retailers, and most of them are in northern California. Luckily there are several local wine stores in Massachusetts that do sell Coffaro wines.

The 2004 David Coffaro Estate Cuvee ($27) is a blend of 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 31% Zinfandel, 22% Carignan, and 13% Peloursin. It is unfiltered and unfined, and has an alcohol content of 14.9%. Only 485 cases of this wine were produced. Peloursin is a new varietal to me. It is an almost extinct French grape and was combined with Syrah to make Durif, also known as Petite Sirah.

This Cuvee is a dark red in color with a fruity nose, the smell of cherries and strawberries. On the palate, it is a juicy wine, with lush berry flavors. It has mild but firm tannins and a moderately long finish. It has character and is an interesting wine. I thought it might be more tannic or muscular but it is a far smoother and easy drinking wine. A pleasure to drink with or without food. I recommend this as a Drink & Buy.

I have had a few other David Coffaro wines and enjoyed all of them. I certainly respect his philosophy and he makes some very intriguing blends. Seek out his wines and enjoy.

Stoneham Sun: What's New?-Part 2

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the December 12 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column will be published tomorrow and is currently available online. The new column is the second part of a two-part series discussing what is new and different on the local culinary scene. This week, learn about a new Stoneham restaurant, Pignone's Cafe. You will also get updates on three places I previously reviewed, including Savory Tastes Cafe, Georgie D's Place, and the Dairy Dome.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here. Next week, I will present some Champagne and Sparkling Wine recommendations for the holidays.

Dine with passion!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Catavino Newsletter

Do you enjoy Spanish and/or Portuguese wines? Do you want to learn more about those wines?

If so, you should check out my friends, Ryan and Gabriella, over at Catavino. They run an excellent wine blog that concentrates on Spanish and Portuguese wines. Now they have started writing a monthly newsletter that recaps their monthly themes.

Their first newsletter has been released and it is all about Port. The newsletter is 20 pages long, has over 40 tasting notes, a couple interviews, and more. I very much enjoyed the newsletter and think it is a great resource. I look forward to their future newsletters.

Rush over there and find out how to sign up for their newsletter. Don't miss out on this valuable educational and fun resource.

Champagne and Sparkling Wine Tasting-Woburn

This is the time for celebration and that can mean Champagne or Sparkling wine. But which wine should you choose? This week you can get some help. I already mentioned one tasting and here is another.

This Saturday, December 15, from 3:00-6:00pm, there will be a Champagne and Sparkling Wine Tasting at Corporate Wines in Woburn. This is a free event and there will be about 15 Champagne and Sparkling wines available for tasting, as well as 10 "Exclusive" Portfolio Wines.

There should be food to nibble on and there will also be jazz music from Danny Harrington. There will be a discount of 25% off of six bottles of wine (mix & match).

I will be leading a group of 25+ members of the North Shore Winers to this event. Hope to see you there!

Corporate Wines
16A Cummings Park
Woburn , MA
Phone: 781-933-WINE

Champagne Tasting-Winchester on Thursday

This is the time for celebration and that can mean Champagne or Sparkling wine. But which wine should you choose? This week you can get some help.

First, the Spirited Gourmet in Winchester will be hosting a special Champagne Tasting this Thursday, December 13, from 6-8pm. There will be a special discount of 20% of all the Champagnes that are tasted.

The Champagne line-up includes these nine:

NV Brut
Perrier Jouet Grand Brut
Beaumont de Crayeres
Duval Leroy Brut

1999 Veuve Clicquot Gold Label
1999 Nicholas Feuillate
1996 Henriot Millesime

Tete de Cuvee
1999 Perrier Jouet Fleur
1999 Dom Perignon
Krug Grand Cuvee

The Spirited Gourmet
600 Main Street
Winchester, MA
Phone: 781 721-9463

Menu for Hope 2007

Menu for Hope 2007 is an annual fundraising event in support of the UN World Food Program. It was started by Chez Pim about five years ago after the devastating tsunami that struck Southeast Asia.

Each year, food and wine bloggers from all over the world participate in a large online raffle, offering many intriguing food and wine-related prizes. $10 gets you a virtual raffle ticket toward the prize of their choice.

For every $100 donated, $85.65 will go directly to the charity. This year, the funds raised will be earmarked for the school lunch program in Lesotho, Africa. This was chosen because it is a model program in local procurement: buying food locally to support local farmers and the local economy. Instead of shipping surplus corn across the ocean, the WFP is buying directly from local subsistent farmers who practice conservation farming methods in Lesotho to feed the children there.

The prizes have been quite generously donated by food and wine bloggers and are well woth checking out. Adler over at Vinography is organizing the wine bloggers and you can see the list of prizes there.

Why not take a chance and give to a good cause. Check out the prizes and buy some raffle tickets. I will be doing so.

When Pigs Fly

Conveniently located near Kickass Cupcakes is a brand new store, When Pigs Fly, which sells a wide variety of all-natural, artisan breads. You might be familiar with their breads as they are available in some local stores.

Their bakery is located in York, Maine, and they have stores in Kittery, Freeport, Portsmouth and now Somerville. Their breads are made in small batches and it takes about 36 hours to bake a loaf of bread, from start to finish. They also use some seasonal ingredients so certain flavored breads may change depending on the season.

The Somerville store appears to sell all of their various breads. At most local stores, you only find about 4-5 varieties available. But now you can get flavors such as Whole Wheat, Low Carb Whole Wheat, Seeded Whole Grain, Tuscan Wheat, New York Rye, Cinnamon Raisin, Oat & Honey, Six Grain & Pumpkin Seed, Sourdough, Pumpernickel, Harvest Bread, Chocolate, Multi-Grain Anadama, Hog Heaven, Kalamata Olive & Roasted Red Pepper, Banana & Pecan & Maple and Brown Sugar, Orange & Roasted Pistachio and Cranberry, Sicilian Green Olive with Hot and Sweet Cherry Peppers and more. They also sell a couple types of rolls and a French baguette.

Most of the loaves cost $6. They are good-sized loaves and I think it is a reasonable price for what you get. They will allow you to sample any of their breads. I tried several of their breads and they were quite delicious. I really enjoyed the Banana & Pecan & Maple and Brown Sugar. I have had their breads before and enjoyed them. It was even better to get them fresher.

This is definitely a place to check out, especially if you love bread as much as I do.

When Pigs Fly
378b Highland Ave.
Somerville, MA

When Pigs Fly Bakery in Somerville

Kickass Cupcakes

Sunday was another culinary expedition to Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. One of the stops was Kickass Cupcakes in Somerville, a place I have wanted to visit for sometime. As their name indicates, they primarily sell cupcakes.

Their store is open six days a week, being closed on Mondays. Their cupcakes are baked fresh every day and they state they use the best ingredients. They have some simple cupcakes, vanilla or chocolate, with vanilla or chocolate buttercream frosting. They also have more exotic cupcakes such as Cinnamon Chai Pecan Sticky, the Mojito and Berry Crumbly. They also have special flavors each day. For example, on Tuesdays they have a Banana Cream cupcake. The cupcakes certainly look very appetizing. They cost $2.75 each though, which is pricey for a cupcake. So it would be $33 for a dozen cupcakes. You can also special order mini cupcakes for $1 each or supersize cupcakes at $3.75 each.

You can even order a deep-fried cupcake ($4 each) which consists of a cream-stuffed vanilla cupcake dipped in sweet batter, deep fried, and then drizzled with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. I had one of these and it was decadently delicious. Lots of great flavor and of course so much better fried.

Interestingly, you can even get special cupcakes for your cat or dog. The cat cupcake has cheese and catnip sprinkled on it. My cats though mainly ate the catnip and ignored the rest.

Kickass also can do special orders as well as limited delivery.

This is a place for a special treat. It is too pricey for a regular visit but it is worth a visit if you have not been there. I will return there to try some of their other cupcakes but I won't make it a usual spot on my trips into Somerville.

Kickass Cupcakes
378 Highland Avenue
Somerville, MA
Phone: 617-628-CUPS

Kickass Cupcakes in Somerville

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sakaya Sake Store

True Sake in San Francisco was the first all-Sake store in the U.S. I had the pleasure to visit this store and was amazed at all the varieties and brands of Sake available. You can also order their Sake online too.

As the popularity of Sake has increased in the U.S., it was only a matter of time before another all-Sake store opened elsewhere. And I am glad that this new store opened much closer to me, in New York City.

While reading the new issue of Food & Wine magazine (January 2008), I was alerted to a new all-Sake store. Sakaya just opened in New York City at 324 E. 9th Street (between 1st & 2nd Avenues). Though their website is under construction, you can check out their blog for some more info and photos of the store. The photos of the store certainly look interesting.

Sakaya is owned by Rick Smith, the former publisher of Food & Wine, and his wife, Hiroko Furukawa. They are supposed to have daily Sake tastings, to help educate the public about sake. The store will stock many different types of Sakes, including artisanal and rare Sakes.

I wish them much luck in their new endeavor and I will certainly add Sakaya to my itinerary on my next trip to New York City.


Sometimes a restaurant really needs little publicity. It is so popular already and word of mouth continues to sing its praises. So why add one more positive review?

As I have said before, all of our favorite restaurants need our support, no matter how popular they might seem. One more positive review certainly won't hurt. And it might garner a few more customers for the restaurant, helping it to survive.

Gavens in Middleton is a suburban steakhouse, easily accessible on Rt.114. It is a very popular place and reservations are usually necessary. I had heard much praise from some friends about this place. I had tried to walk-in one evening at around 6pm but they were already completely booked. So when I knew I would be in the area on a specific date, I made reservations.

The restaurant has both a dining area and a bar. I did not go into the bar area so cannot describe it. The dining area has three separate rooms and the restaurant actually seems a bit smaller than I thought. It is nicely decorated and presents an elegant ambience, though it is a bit casual as well.

The menu is typical of a steakhouse with appetizers, salads, entrees and sides. Appetizers include such items as Alaskan King crab legs, tuna, escargot, and lollipop lamb chops. Most of the entrees are beef, though they also have seafood, chicken, and duck. Sides includes a few different types of potatoes, various veggies and macaroni and cheese. What is evident is that their prices are very reasonable for a steakhouse, and less expensive than the typical Boston steakhouse. Entree prices generally range from the $20s to $30s, rather than the $30s to $40s at a usual Boston steakhouse. Gaven's is also less expensive than some other suburban steak houses.

The wine list is diverse and there are a fair number of choices under $50. Most wine prices seem to be around twice the usual retail price but there are some real bargains there as well. I almost hesitate to mention the bargain I found because it then might not be available when I return to Gavens. I found the 2000 Sean Thackrey Orion available for $109. This wine is priced at basically retail, with no real mark-up at all. There are wine stores selling this wine for over $109. If you can even find it at a wine store.

Sean Thackrey is an amazing and unique wine-maker and I love his wines. The Orion is his top end wine, and it is very limited production, around 350 cases each year. Interestingly enough, Thackrey is not sure what varietals go into Orion. For a time, he thought it was Syrah but UC Davis researchers found that there was Petite Syrah in it as well. So now, because of the dispute, Orion is labeled as "California Native Red Wine."

When the wine was brought to our table, I asked for it to be decanted, worried more about potential sediment than anything else. Our waitress had their sommelier come over and decant the wine for us. He mentioned that the Orion had not been selling so they had lowered the price. A lot of people are missing out on this wine. Sean Thackrey may not be well known to the average person, but they certainly would enjoy his wines if they tasted them.

The Orion is an exceptional wine. It is inky dark in color with a nose of spices like clove and licorice. On your palate, you realize this is a complex wine as there are so many flavors swirling around your mouth. Dark berries, licorice, clove, cinnamon and so much more. Yet the tannins are mild. This is not an in-your-face wine. It is more subtle, more like a Bordeaux than an Australian Shiraz. It has a satisfying and lingering finish. Just a fantastic wine.

Back to the food. Prior to receiving our appetizers, we got some warm bread, large slices of Ciabatta. The bread was very fresh and delicious, with a crusty exterior and a soft, thick interior. For someone who enjoys bread as much as I do, this was a great start to our meal.

For appetizers, we ordered the Gavens Salad, ($9) and the Sesame Tuna ($12). The salad included a large wedge of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onion, bacon, and all topped with a blue cheese dressing. The ingredients were fresh, the salad was large and it tasted very good. The tuna consisted of four long rectangles of tuna, seared on the outside and raw inside with sesame seeds on the seared exterior. A very good portion of tuna. The tuna came with a seaweed salad, wasabi and soy sauce. The tuna was silky smooth and quite delicious.

There were a couple entree specials and we ordered one of them, a petite filet mignon wrapped in bacon with polenta, peppers and pearl onions and in a wine sauce ($39). I also ordered The Classic, a petite filet mignon and a lobster casserole (market price $46). I should note that these items were probably the most expensive items on the menu. You can find plenty of entrees in the $20s. Their prices are very reasonable.

The petite filets are 9 ounces, while their regular filet is 12 ounces. The filets were very tender, grilled well on the exterior and rare on the inside, as requested. These were excellent pieces of beef, definitely on par with any other steakhouse I have been to. If this is the quality of all of their beef, then you won't go wrong with any other choices. The bacon on the special filet dish was a nice addition. All of the extras on the special were very good, including the polenta.

The lobster casserole was exceptional. There were plenty of pieces of lobster in a moist, buttery sauce with Sherry and tarragon. It was not dry in the least like some other lobster casseroles. I could have eaten this for my entire meal. It was a decadent delight.

We did not get dessert as we were already too full.

Service was very good. We had no complaints at all about the service. Overall, this was an excellent dining experience and I will definitely return to Gavens. I can easily see why this restaurant is so popular. Prices are very reasonable, food is plentiful and delicious. This steakhouse certainly can compete with any Boston steakhouse. Go and I am sure you won't be disappointed.

119 South Main St.
Middleton, MA
Phone: 978-774-0500 (Their website is currently not working)

Gaven's on Urbanspoon