Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spanish Vacation: El Celler de l'Aspic

Day Ten continues....

After our two excellent winery visits, it was time for lunch at El Celler de l'Aspic. This is considered one of the best restaurants in the Priorat region. Located in Falset, the restaurant seats about fifty people. Its owner, Toni Bru, creates innovative Catalan cuisine.

We actually sat in a small dining room on the second floor. There was some type of function going on in the main dining room on the first floor. This made it a more intimate lunch as we were all alone up there. And what a feast was coming up.
We began with an interesting white wine, 2006 Sant Bru. This is a blend of White Garnacha and Chardonnay. It was a nice crisp wine, with delicious citrus flavors. It lacked any bitterness and had a decently long finish. A good choice.

Our Salad came with Figs and Sliced Duck Foie Gras, with a vinegarette. What a start! The figs have to be some of the best figs I have ever eaten. Perfectly ripe, sweet and juicy. Far too open figs are over ripe or shriveled. But not these in the least. Plus, the Foie was so silky smooth and so creamy. I could have made a lunch of just this salad.

We moved on to a Seasonal Mushroom "Paella." This was a rice dish with different types of mushrooms. Though I am not a big mushroom fan, this was an excellent dish with very intriguing flavors. As I have said before, if a chef can make me eat what I usually do not, the dish is excellent.

Then came Hake with Aromatic Herbs. A simple dish but the fish was tender and sweet. I have really come to enjoy Hake and this was certainly one of the best pieces I have had so far.

We moved on to a red wine, a 1999 Capafons-Osso Mas de Masos. This wine is a blend of 35% Garnacha Peluda, 20% Garnacha Pais, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Carinena and 5% Syrah. This wine spends 12 months in French oak. This is an interesting wine, with bright berry flavors on the palate meshing with some spicy notes. It is nicely balanced with moderate tannins. It went well with our beef.

Our next course was the Solomillo Steak with Black Morcilla Sausage in a Red Wine Sauce. The steak was tender and flavorful. The Morcilla were delicious and the sauce complemented both foods. There was plenty of food on our plates.

We ended our meal with a white chocolate soup with wild berries. An excellent dessert and a great way to end this superb lunch. I was very satisfied, and full. I would highly recommend this restaurant to anyone in Priorat.

Spanish Vacation: Costers del Siurana winery

Day Ten continued...

Our second winery visit was to Costers del Siurana. Though that is its official name, it is more commonly known as Clos de l'Obac, the name of its famous wine.

The winery is located in the village of Grattallops and it was founded in 1987. The winery is operated by Carles Pastrana, a passionate individual who is credited with being one of the first in the Priorat region. The property was extensively renovated and the old vines, such as Garnacha, Tempranillo and Cariñena, were resuscitated.

Carles Pastrana led our private tour of the winery and he was very personable and informative. His passion was obvious as well.

The first wine of our tasting was the 2005 Kyrie, a white blend consisting of 35% White Garnacha, 30% Macabeo, 30% Xarello, and 5% Muscat (an old Catalan varietal). This is a white wine made to resemble a red. Rackings are used as if it were a red. It ages well and can be cellared for 10-15 years. It has a nice golden color with a nose of citrus notes. It is a full-bodied wine with restrained citrus flavors, especially lemon. It has a long finish. This is an interesting wine, recommended for those seeking a top notch white.

Our next wine was the 2002 Misere, a red blend of 27% Garnacha, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Tempranillo, 10% Merlot and 10% Carinena. This is a dark red wine. It is considered more elegant and feminine than the Clos De L'Obac. 2002 was also a food vintage, though not as much structure as 2001. I found it to be a silky wine with flavors of dark berries and a bit of spice. It tasted good and I could see why it was considered more elegant. It certainly is not a powerful wine. It is more seductive to the palate, and very enjoyable.

We then moved onto the powerhouse, the 2002 Clos De L'Obac. This is a blend of 35% Garnacha, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 10% Merlot and 10% Carinena. It is darker in color, almost purple. There are spicy notes on the nose. On the palate, this is definitely a muscular wine but it does not overpower. There are lush notes of blackberries and dried black cherries with intriguing spice flavors. It is a complex wine that seems to present a variety of flavors as it lingers in your mouth, especially on its long finish. An exceptional wine that showcases the best of Priorat.

The last wine we tasted was the 2003 Dolc De L'Obac, a dessert wine. This wine is made of 80% Garnacha, 10% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. It has a 16% alcohol content. It has a very dark, almost inky color, and a sweet nose. On the palate, the wine has an intriguing sweetness that avoids being cloying. It has good dark fruit flavors and would be a nice accompaniement with certain cheeses, chocolate or sweet desserts.

Costers del Siurana makes some incredible wines, a diverse selection that should appeal to many different people. I very much enjoyed them and even ordered some of the wines. I heartily recommend that you try these wines.

This is our excellent guide, Jessica, with me outside of the winery.

Spanish Vacation: Mas d'en Gil Winery

Day Ten begins...

Today was another beauty of a day, sunny and warm. It was also our last day of winery visits. We would explore the Priorat region, an area known for many exceptional wines. Our first winery would be Mas d'en Gil, a 125 hectate estate in the district of Bellmunt del Priorat. The estate has about 45 hectares of grape vineyards, as well as many olive trees.

The Rovira family bought the estate in 1998. They kept some of the old vine Garnacha and Carinena, as well as planting new varietals.

Our private tour began with a 4X4 drive into the vineyards, seeing the various varietals and vines. It is a beautiful property and they are certainly doing much to obtain the best grapes that they can. We even saw the olive trees, one of which you can see below.
As it was harvest time, grapes were being brought in to be sorted before starting the wine making process. We tasted some of the sweet and juicy grapes. They use much modern technology in their wine-making, seeking high quality, low production wines.
French oak is used for aging of their wines.
Our private tasting was interesting as not only did we get to try several excellent wines, but we also got to see how different vintages can affect the same type of wine. We tasted their Coma Vella and Clos Fonta wines. For both wines, we tasted the 2002 and 2003 vintages. And there were definite differences.

The 2002 Coma Vella is a blend of 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carinena, 20% Garnacha Pais, 15% Garnacha Peluda, 10% Syrah and 5% Merlot. It has an alcohol content of 14%. It spent 12 months in French oak. The goal of this wine is to make a more fruit driven wine that is accessible but which gains complexity over time. It is light red in color with lots of cherry fruit on the nose. There is also much cherry and plum on the palate. The finish is moderately long and it has mild tannins. There is also some mild spice on the finish though fruit predominates. I very much enjoyed this wine. 2002 was considered a wet vintage.

The 2003 Coma Vella is a blend of 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carinena, 20% Garnacha Pais, 20% Garnacha Peluda, 10% Syrah and 5% Merlot. It has an alcohol content of 14.5% and has spent 12 months in French oak. This wine differed from the 2002 as it was less fruit driven. Its nose had more black cherry smells. It was a bit more mineral on the palate with subtler fruit flavors. Its tannins were a bit more noticeable as well. Maybe with decanting this wine would open up more. I prefered the 2002.

The 2002 Clos Fonta is a blend of 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carinena, 25% Garnacha Pais, and 30% Garnacha Peluda. It has an alcohol content of 14.5% and has spent 14 months in French oak. This wine is designed to be more powerful and complex, a wine to savor over time. It is also a wine that benefits from decanting. This wine is darker red than the Coma Vella. It also has a more intense nose, with spicy notes of cinammon and anise. On the palate, this wine was silky, voluptuous and lush. It had a rich mouthfeel and subdued dark fruits with spicy overtones. It had a lingering finish that you do not want to end. It has moderate tannins. This was an exceptional wine. It is wines like these that makes Priorat outstanding.

The 2003 Clos Fonta is a blend of 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Carinena, 25% Garnacha Pais, and 30% Garnacha Peluda. It has an alcohol content of 14.5% and has spent 14 months in French oak. In most ways, this wine was very similar to the 2002. But, it seemed just a tinge harsher than the 2002, which could just be due to it being a younger wine. I think if the 2003 sits for a couple years it would be just as compelling.

Mas d'en Gil also makes olive oil and a sweet vinegar, Agredolc, and we got to taste the olive oil. They call it Oli and it is an extra virgin olive oil made from the Arbequina variety from one-hundred year old trees. The oil was clean, light and very tasty. Just a perfect olive oil. We took some home with us and have been using it in cooking as well as just for dipping bread and have greatly enjoyed it. We have some Agredolc as well, but have not had the opportunity to taste it yet.

This is an excellent winery, making some great products. It is very much a family business and they seem to be passionate people. Besides enjoying their wines, they have also helped hook me on Spanish olive oil.

500th Post

This is my 500th blog post!

A Passionate Foodie will soon, on November 9, have its 6th month anniversary. There have already been over 25,000 hits to the site and its readership continues to grow. I am very pleased with the growth of my blog. It has allowed me to share my passion for food and wine with numerous people. My plans are to continue strong with my blog, posting my further gourmet adventures.

I have also participated in the larger blog communities, especially the wine blogging world. I have met a number of nice bloggers, including a couple in person. There are many good blogs out there. You can find links to those blogs in my Links sections so please check them out.

Since starting this blog, I have also begun writing a newspaper column for the Stoneham Sun, my local newspaper. This is largely a restaurant review column, though it also deals with wine from time to time. The column has been going well and has been fun to write.

I also have continued to run the North Shore Winers, a wine meet-up group. With over 180 members, we have been attending numerous wine functions, from free tastings to educational classes. I have met many very good people through this group. It is free to join and we attend 2-4 events each month.

I certainly keep busy.

I am open to suggestions from my readers as to how I might improve my blog. Are there topics you would like to see me cover? Are there restaurants you would like to see reviewed? Are there types of wines you would like to see covered more? Feel free to add your comments here or email me your thoughts.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in my endeavors, and thanks to all my readers!


Today's Boston Globe newspaper had several wine-related articles that may be of interest to you.

Check out Plonkapalooza, an annual tasting of inexpensive wines. The tasting included 50 wines, all costing $12 and under. There were 25 reds and 25 whites. First, five local retailers nominated wines for the tasting. This list was winnowed down to 50 and those wines were blind-taste tested by several professionals. Here are their choices. These articles provide plenty of excellent recommendations for inexpensive wines so check them out.

There was also an article on young sommeliers. A number of local restaurants are targeting younger customers, as well as hiring younger people to run their wine programs. There is also an article listing recommendations from some young sommeliers.

Grapevine Travelers: Grand Fall Tasting

This Saturday, November 3, from 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm, I will lead a group of the North Shore Winers to a Grand Wine Tasting at The Grapevine Travelers in Medford. They are now two years olf and want to celebrate.

The Tasting will have 13 different vendors (10 wine vendors, 1 beer vendor, 1 martini vendor & 1 single-malt scotch vendor). There will be over 60 different wines, 8 beers, 4 single malt scotches & a variety of martinis! Tasty hors d'ouerves will also be provided. And there will be special discounts on purchases.

I have been to several of their grand tastings and they are always a good time. There will certainly be plenty of wines and other drinks to sample. So, come join us this Saturday!

Grapevine Travelers
18 High Street
Medford, MA
Phone: (781) 396-8463

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spanish Vacation: Tablao de Carmen

Day Nine continues...

While returning from Penedes, it suddenly started pouring out. It had been so sunny so where did the rain come from? We went back to our hotel and rested up a bit prior to dinner.

For dinner, we were going to see a Flamenco show at the Tablao de Carmen, located in the Andalusian section of Poble Espanol. The Poble Espanol is a small "village" built in 1929 for the World Expedition. It buildings and sections to represent the various regions of Spain. It has many artisan shops with jewelry, crafts, restaurants, and bars.

We arrived around 8pm to the Poble Espanol but unfortunately almost everything was closed. You could wander around the village but nearly all of the buildings were closed. There is some interesting architecture in the village.

The Tablao de Carmen pays homage to the famed dancer Carmen Amaya, a key figure in the history of flamenco. Carmen Amaya, Gypsy and Catalan, made her debut in 1929 in front of King Alfonso XIII on the grounds now occupied by Tablao de Carmen.

I know little about Flamenco dancing. It does tell a story and the music and dance help exemplify different emotions and moods. There is no formal choreography so each dancer improvises, dancing as they feel, following the music as they will. No two shows are thus the same.

I do know though that I very much enjoyed the show. The dancers, singers and musicians were all very talented. I could see the varied emotions and understand something of the story being told. The costumes were colorful and bright, and complemented the dancing. I was very glad that I had this opportunity to experience part of Spanish culture. We had excellent seats, though nearly all of the seats were very good.
We ate dinner here as well, mainly several different tapas though we could have had a set multi-course meal. The food was plentiful and fairly good. They also start you with a glass of chilled Sherry and later bring you a bottle of wine.
I definitely recommend that if you visit Spain to check out a Flamenco dance.

Spanish Vacation: Tribia restaurant

Day Nine continues...

After our two winery visits, it was time for lunch so we drove to the Can Bonastre complex. This is a winery, hotel (with only 12 rooms) and restaurant named Tribia. Tribia is the name of a white grape varietal that was cultivated in Catalonia during the Middle Ages. Can Bonastre has an incredible view of the Montserrat Mountain.

This is our guide, Jessica, just outside the hotel and restaurant.

Tribia has a small dining room that only seats maybe 20 people. The wall you can see has interesting wine-related decorations. The restaurant also has a window looking out toward Montserrat Mountain. The Chef is Carlos Milán Fernandez who, though he is young, is very talented.

Our meal began with a fine glass of chilled Cava. We then had a small tapa, some vegetables with mushrooms. Then we had Salmorejo, a typical Spanish cold soup. The soup has an intriguing mix of flavors and textures. This would be a theme for the whole meal, an intriguing mix of different flavors and textures.

Our next wine was the 2006 Can Bonastre Blanco, a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Xarello. It was fruity and crisp without a yeasty taste. Our next food course was salad with brandada of cod. This was like a salt cod mousse with lettuce and a romesco sauce. Delicious and very different. This was followed by Monkfish black rice with all i oli ice cream. I mixed the rice and ice cream together and it was very tasty.

The next wine was the 2004 Can Bonastre Crianza, a blend of 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Franc. This went well with the next dish of pulpitos (little octopi), confit of onion, potato and white botifarra. I liked it all except the baby octopi tentacles. We then had black chicken, very tender, with an interesting sauce.

A cheese plate came next with three different cheese, including a goat cheese and Idiazabal, figs and quince. Excellent cheeses that went well with the fruity sides.

Dessert began with the Game of peaches, several different peach items all together including cake, ice cream, ice and fresh peaches. Such an intriguing mix of textures and tastes. We next had a chocolate dish with fruit, vanilla sauce and chocolate. Another delicious dish. Finally, there was a selection of petit fours.

Overall, this was an excellent lunch. The dishes were inventive and delicious. The chef definitely knows how to mix textures and tastes to create interesting dishes. Can Bonastre would certainly make a great, high-end resort.

A view of the grounds of the hotel.

Spanish Vacation: Parés Baltà Winery

Day Nine continued...

We proceeded to our second winery in Penedes, the Pares Balta winery. Parés Baltà is a family owned winery with a wine-making tradition that extends back to 1790. There are currently three generations of the Cusiné family working at the winery. Joan Cusiné Cusiné led our private tour of the winery.

Parés Baltà has been certified organic since 2004 though they have engaged in organic practices for much longer. The vineyards are spread out over five estates, totaling 176 hectares. They grow a wide diversity of varietals, from indigenous Spanish grapes to non-traditional grapes. They produce Cava, white and red wines.

Above, you can see our excellent host, Joan Cusiné Cusiné. He truly is a passionate wine maker. It was more than evident in everything he said and did. He was a font of information and was very personable as well.

The winery produces two types of wines: the microcuvée and the classical. The microcuvée wines are very low production, produced only in excellent vintages and come from special vineyards. The classical wines are the more traditional wines, produced every year though the goal is to continue to improve them.

Parés Baltà also owns vineyards in two other regions, the Ribera del Duero and Priorat. They do not produce much wine from these other regions but are proud of what they do. They even produce olive oil.

For our private tasting, we received a booklet with extensive information on all the wines we would taste. This is an excellent reference on the wines and was a great aid. It would be nice for all wineries to offer such information for their tastings.

We began our tasting with the 2003 Cava Selectio Premiere Cuvee. This Cava is made of 57% Xarel.lo, 19% Chardonnay, 12% Macabeo, and 12% Parellada. It has a 12.3% alcohol content. It had a good color color and a nice fruity nose. On the palate, it was crisp, fruity and refreshing. The essence of what I enjoy in Cava. Before we tasted this Cava, Joan told us a story of a couple Japanese tourists who put their glasses of Cava to their ears. They listened to the bubbles, like a child listens to the ocean in a shell. Certainly an intriguing thought, a new way of using your sense of hearing with wine. You should give it a try.

Next, we tried the 2003 Cava Cuvee de Carol, made from 100% Chardonnay. It only has a 11.9% alcohol content. This Cava has a bright yellow color and also a fruity nose. It is a rich and creamy Cava, with more of a toasty flavor. This would definitely appeal to fans of Champagne.

We moved on to the 2005 Electio, made from 100% Xarel.lo. This is an unusual wine as there are few wines made from just this varietal. It is usually used in blends, especially in Cavas. It has a 12.85% alcohol content. It has a light yellow color. On the nose it has an almost medicine smell with sour apple notes. On the palate, it has a unique taste with delicious notes of green apple and pear. It is a crisp and smooth wine with a long, satisfying finish. I very much enjoyed this wine as it just seemed a very different white wine. And it certainly had an excellent flavor. Definitely a wine to seek out.

The 2001 Mas Irene is made from 79% Merlot and 21% Cabernet Franc. This wine has a 13.7% alcohol content. This wine had a very dark red color. It is a muscular wine, unlike the wimpy Merlots that too many wineries produce. It has strong spicy notes and a very long finish. The wine has a good structure and certainly is a hedonistic pleasure.

The 2005 Hisenda Miret is made from 100% Garnacha. It does have a higher 14.9% alcohol content. It has a medium red color and a nose of fresh berries. On the palate, there are flavors of cherries and blueberries with an accompaniement of spicy toast. It is a silky smooth wine with a lingering finish. The alcohol content is well balanced with the rest of the wine. This is another hedonistic wine, pure decadence on the palate.

The wines kept coming. Our next taste was the 2003 Absis, a blend of 61% Tempranillo, 19% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Syrah. This wine has a 14.5% alcohol content. It is considered the most masculine wine of Parés Baltà. I would agree with that assessment. The wine is inky purple in color. The wine has a bit of a closed nose though opens up with time, so decanting is recommended. This is a very powerful wine, muscular and beefy. It has strong plum and blackberry flavors with toasted spices. It has a very long finish. This wine should be accompanied by a thick steak. An excellent powerhouse of a wine.

We then moved on to the 2005 Gratavinum GV5, a blend of 75% Carinena, 15% Garnacha Negra, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is from the Priorat D.O. It has a 14.9% alcohol content. This wine has a very dark red color. It has delicious plum and sweet berry flavors. It has some mild spice notes as well though the fruit dominates. But it is more than a fruit bomb. It has good structure and balance with a long, satisfying finish. There is complexity to this wine that makes it very interesting. I recommend this wine.

Our final wine was the 2005 Dominio Romano which is 100% Tempranillo. This wine is from the Ribera del Duero D.O. It actually is not even for sale yet. The vines are about 40 years old and it spends 12 months in oak. It is a dark red in color and has dark berries on the nose. You get more spice on the palate though the dark berry flavors are definitely there. It has a nice silky feel and a long finish. A nice expression of Tempranillo.

We were not done though. Joan brought out some of their Gratavinum Olive Oil for us to try. This is an extra virgin olive oil and he brought out some fresh bread for dipping. This was a very clean, light and delicious olive oil. It had nice flavor and I had several pieces of bread with the oil.

This was an excellent winery tour, with a very passionate winemaker, and some delicious wines. Seek out Parés Baltà. I am sure you will find some wines that you will enjoy.

Stoneham Sun: The Melting Pot

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the October 31 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 a review of The Melting Pot, an excellent fondue restaurant in Bedford. If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Next week, my column will recommendations for Thanksgiving wines.

Dine with passion!

L'Andana: No Lunch Yet

I recently reviewed L'Andana, a new Italian Grille Restaurant in Burlington. I very much enjoyed dinner and had hoped to try them for lunch as well. But, I just learned that it won't be open for Lunch until December. So if you want to try them out, make dinner reservations.

OurGlass Wine Events

OurGlass Wine Co. in Saugus is keeping busy and has numerous upcoming events that you might be interested in.

November 3: At 3pm. There will be a Wine Seminar on German Rieslings. Deanna will be hosting this Seminar in which she will be tasting through and talking about Germany's great grape, Riesling. Did you know the different styles of Riesling, there are many. Qba's, Spatlese, Auslese, and Beerenauslese, do these terms mean anything to you? Deanna will show you the way! The cost is $25 per person.

November 3: At 6:30pm. There will be a special Wine Dinner, Artichokes in Italy.
Presented by Chef Dave Ventola of the North End Café and Ourglass Wine Co. This evening features the wines of VinUS, Italian Importer.

First Course: Portabella Mushroom Cap with Roast Shrimp, Fontina Cheese and Artichokes. Santome Prosecco Extra Dry
Second Course: Artichoke and Grilled Vegetable Risotto with Toasted Pine Nuts. Terre di Gioia, Pinot Grigio DOC 2005
Third Course: Mixed Greens with Fresh Artichokes, Goat Cheese, Pesto Croutons and Sun-Dried Tomato Vinagrette. Terre di Gioia, Pinot Nero Venezie IGT 2005
Fourth Course: Roulade of Chicken Breast stuffed with Spinach and Artichoke Puree. Served in a Crab Veloute. Marchesi Cattaneo, Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2003
Fifth Course: Chocolate Raspberry Torte. Casalone, Mariposa Brachetto 2006

$75 per person inc. tax and grat. RSVP, ASAP spaces are limited.

November 10: At 3pm. The World of French Wine. Does French wine confuse you? They name their wines after where they are from, and not necessarily the grape that's in the bottle. John will take you through his favorite regions of France and help you to understand this legendary wine growing country. From Bordeaux to the Rhone to the South of France to Burgundy, you'll love this journey. $25 per person.

November 17: From 2-5pm. With the Holiday season pretty much upon us, it's time to load up on the appropriate wines that pair perfectly with the festive foods of the season. We will be doing a pre-Thanksgiving tasting where we will be featuring a handful of exceptional Turkey Day wines. We are going to take it one step further and even have the foods of Thanksgiving there to taste with the wines.

December 3: From 3-7pm. Grand Holiday Tasting

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

Spanish Vacation: Jean Leon Winery

Day Nine Begins...

We left Barcelona early for a drive to the Penedes region to visit a couple of wineries. It was a beautiful morning and the weather would remain so until late that afternoon on our return trip to Barcelona. Just a perfect day to visit wineries. Our first stop was the Jean Leon winery. Jean León was a fascinating individual, a true rags-to-riches story. He was born in Santander, Spain in 1928. When he was 19 years old, he left Spain and eventually ended up in Hollywood. Though his own acting career never went anywhere, he still made his mark.

Jean Leon waited tables and met many famous actors. He made friends with James Dean and they partnered together to open the restaurant "La Scala." Dean's unfortunate death left Leon as the sole owner of La Scala. La Scala became a well respected restaurant, patronized by many actors and actresses.

Jean Leon was not satisfied though and eventually decided, around 1963, to embark on a new endeavor, to own a winery and create his own special wines. He eventually chose a vineyard in Penedes.

The vineyard consists of about 150 hectares though only about 100 are arable. Leon did not choose indigenous Spanish varietals though. Instead, he planted varietals, obtained from France, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chardonnay. The estate is divided into several sections, Pagos, and a single wine is produced in each section. The winery combines tradition with modern winemaking techniques. It was one of the first Spanish wineries to ferment white wines in oak casks. This is a more difficult procedure as you have much less control over the fermentation process.

Though Jean Leon is now owned by Miguel Torres, one of the conditions of the sale was that the winery would retain much of its independence. It would be essentially run as it always has been, making the same wines in the same manner. So, the wines have remained high quality, low production wines.

In our private tour of the winery, we learned much about the life of Jean Leon. We also got to see the fermentation area and the cellars with their myriad barrels. It was an interesting tour and very informative.

Our wine tasting was on an outside patio area, just perfect for the beautiful day.

We began with a 2006 Terrasola Sauvignon Blanc. The wine is made of 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% other varietals, the exact varietals which change every year. This is an inexpensive wine. I am not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc but I did enjoy this one. It had a golden color and much citrus on the palate. It did not have any grassy flavor. It was crisp and light. A good summer wine.

The next wine was the 2003 Vinya Gigi Chardonnay. The label of this wine, which is used on several of their wines, brings to mind the Lafite-Rothschild wine label. This wine is fermented in oak, as well as aged in oak. I was a bit hesitant with this wine due to all that oak as I don't like overly-oaked Chardonnays. Yet my fears were unfounded. This wine was a brighter gold color than the previous wine. On the palate, it was creamy and smooth with tastes of apple and a bit of floral note. The oak did not overpower the wine at all. This was one of the better Chardonnays I have had. An excellent example of this varietal. I definitely recommend this wine.

We then moved onto the 2004 Jean Leon Merlot. This is 100% Merlot and had a light red color. It has rich cherry flavors on the palate with some mild spices on the finish. Its tannins are mild and it is a smooth drinking wine. It has character and is not a one-dimensional wine.

The next wine was the 2001 Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva. This wine is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. It has a dark red color with a bot of translucence. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberries, black cherry and plums. There are also spicy notes, including vanilla and licorice. It has a long, lingering finish and is well balanced. The tannins do not overpower the wine. An excellent example of a well-made Cabernet.

The final wine was the 1999 Jean Leon Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva. This is a limited production wine and even has a special label, designed by a local Catalan artist. This wine was even darker in color than the Reserva. It was also more intense and spicier. Its additional time in oak obviously enhanced its spiciness. The fruit flavors are more intense as well. The tannins are moderate. This is definitely a complex, well-balanced wine, and should age well. I think it was an exceptional Cabernet and would highly recommend it.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Spanish Vacation: Pomarada

Day Eight continued....

After lunch, we headed to the airport where we would fly to Barcelona. It was a relatively short flight but by the time we arrived in Barcelona, night was falling.

A car met us at the airport and took us to our hotel, the Casa Fuster in the Gracia neighborhood. Jessica, of Cellar Tours, met us at the hotel for a drink. It was great to finally meet her after having exchanged numerous emails with her for months. Jessica had helped arrange our itinerary, offering recommendations as well as helping with my requests. It was her professionalism which was one of the reasons why I chose Cellar Tours in the first place. She would also be our guide for the next two days during our winery visits.

After the drink, Jessica left and we went up to our room. It was a spacious and beautiful room, with a terrace overlooking the main street, the Passeig de Gracia. We unpacked and then went for a walk. It was late, we were tired, and wanted some dinner, though something light.

For something a bit different, we stopped at Pomarada, a Sidreria and Pizzeria. We started with a Cider Sangria that used white wine and had a mild apple flavor. It was ok though nothing special.

Our meal began with a Salad, consisting of lettuce, walnuts, apple pieces, and goat cheese covered by a Balsamic vinegar. This was very good, with fresh ingredients and a nice mix of tastes and textures.

My wife ordered an open-faced hamburger topped with cheese and foie gras. The cheese was soft, thick and very tasty. The burger was quite thick, cooked perfectly and very juicy. I had a pizza with bacon, veal and BBQ sauce. This was a large pizza with a thin crust. There were plenty of toppings and it was a pretty good pizza.

We did not get any dessert. The meal was good, and just light enough for us. We returned to our hotel and crashed for the night, as tomorrow would be a busy day.

Spanish Vacation: Restaurante Victor

Day Eight continued...

While in Bilbao, we had lunch at Restaurante Victor, located in the Plaza Neuva. Established in 1940, Victor's cuisine is traditional Basque and it is a family-run restaurant.

The first floor is more of a tapas bar and you would never know there was a larger restaurant here. But, go through a door in the back and walk upstairs and you will find yourself in a casual and quieter restaurant. As we awaited our food, we began with a bottle of 1995 Vina Alcorta Rioja Reserva, a very good wine.

Our first course was a Seafood Salad. There was plenty of seafood but also a lot of mayonnaise, which I do not like. But my wife thought it was very good. The second course was thin slices of Iberico ham, very good, and then our third course was Chorizo. The Chorizo was spicy and delicious.

The food kept coming. Our next course were Spinach and Ham Croquettes. Now, I normally do not like spinach but I actually enjoyed these croquettes. They had a sweet taste and plenty of cheese. We next had a plate of Fried Regional Peppers which also had a sweet flavor. There was then a plate of Sauteed Mushrooms. The food seemed endless.

For our entrees, we had a choice of Hake or Lamb, so we got one of each. The lamb consisted of three delectable chops with mushrooms and thin-sliced potatoes. The chops were meaty, tender and flavorful. The Hake consisted of three large pieces of tender white fish with sauteed peppers. This was also very tasty.

For dessert, there was a delicious creme caramel cake. Sweet, plentiful and enough to send me over the edge. I was so stuffed after this lunch feast.

Service was excellent. And the food was quite delicious. I would highly recommend this restaurant.

Spanish Vacation: Day Eight

Day Eight begins...

We left San Sebastian today to travel to Bilbao, another important city in the Basque region. We spent the morning touring around, seeing various interesting sites. Such a beautiful coastline.

The above is an intriguing set of artworks located at the water.

Today was a bit sad though as this was our last day with our driver/guide Jose. Jose had been excellent, very professional, personable, informative and witty. He certainly enhanced the quality of our trip and he went out of his way to increase our enjoyment. I would heartily recommend Jose as a guide to anyone traveling in Spain. I wish Jose had been our driver/guide for the entire trip.

This is the famous Guggenheim Museum, designed by the renowned Frank Gehry. It is certainly a striking building.

This is a closer view of the Guggenheim.

This is a fun topiary of a puppy located in the front of the Guggenheim. It is made from various colored flowers so that is is very vibrant and colorful.

Another statue by the sculptor who designed the statues at the seaside above.

Grand Wine Tasting-Waltham

This past Saturday, October 27, from 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm, I led a group of the North Shore Winers to a Grand Wine Tasting at Gordons Fine Wine and Culinary Center in Waltham. There were over 160 wines available for tasting, including a good number of wines that retail over $50 a bottle. Every wine in the store, even if you only bought one, was discounted 21%. There was also plenty of food, with trays of cheese, crackers and breads spread throughout the store and servers circulating with a variety of other tasty hors d’oeuvres.

Members of my group, plus other people I met at the tasting, were very happy with this event. They got to taste many wines that they never had tasted before, and which they normally might not get the chance to taste. It did get crowded later in the afternoon so it was better if you showed up at the start of the tasting.

With so many wines available, I could only taste a fraction of them if I wanted to remain sober. So here is a list of the better wines I tasted. Just remember that there were plenty of other good wines available that I was not able to taste. You might also consider that many wines on my list are expensive but that is mainly because those were the primary type of wines I tasted. This tasting was a great opportunity to taste such higher-end wines.

2004 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon One Point Five ($78.99)
2004 Hess Collection Mountain Cuvee ($29.99)
2006 Corte Gardoni Bardolino Fontane ($14.99)
2004 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta ($74.99)
2004 Dominus Meritage ($124.99)
2003 Pio Cesare Fides Barbera ($39.99)
2004 Quintessa Meritage ($139.99)
2005 Miner La Diligence Syrah ($45.00)
2005 Chanson Beaune Clos des Feve ($94.99)
2001 Gaja Dagromis ($99.99)
2001 Il Poggione Brunello Riserva ($99.99)
2004 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon ($57.99)
2005 Two Hands Bella’s Garden ($69.99)
2004 BV George de Latour Meritage ($119.99)
2004 Hewitt Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99)
2005 Fondreche Cuvee Persia ($29.99)
2004 Artesa Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.99)
2004 Clardendon Hills Brookman Syrah ($109.99)
2004 Mastroberadino Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio Rosso ($16.99)
2001 Val di Suga Brunello di Montalcino ($54.99)
2003 Chateau La Lagune Haut-Medoc ($58.99)
2004 Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel ($33.99)
2004 Pedestal Merlot ($59.99)
2004 Sequel Syrah ($59.99)
2002 Anakota Helena Dakota Cabernet Sauvignon ($79.99)

My two top favorites of this tasting were the:

2004 Seven Golfo ($65.00): This was not on the scheduled list but is a very intriguing red blend. I will write a full review of this in the near future.
2004 Cliff Lede Claret ($38.99): For the price, this was an exceptional value. It easily is worth twice the price.

Gordon's has plenty of other wine tasting events scheduled for the near future so take a look at their website and see what is upcoming.

Gordons Fine Wine and Culinary Center
894 Main Street
Waltham, MA
Phone: 781-893-1900

Saturday, October 27, 2007

L'Andana: Now Open

L'Andana has now opened!

As I mentioned previously, L'Andana is a new Italian grille restaurant in Burlington. Famed Chef Jamie Mammano, who created the Commonwealth Restaurant Group, owns a number of exciting restaurants, including Mistral (French/Mediterranean bistro), Teatro (casual Italian bistro), Sorellina (regional Italian-Mediterranean cuisine), and Mooo (steakhouse). L'Andana is his fifth restaurant.

Chef David Blessing, who has cooked at Mistral and Sorellina, will be the chef de cuisine at L'Andana. It open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. It already has a listing on Open Table where you can make reservations. Though you cannot make reservations for dates before November 15. You can still call for reservations before that date. I should also note that L'Andana's website has little info currently but hopefully will soon.

I had dinner at L'Andana last night. As this was the first night it was open, you cannot expect perfection. They should still be ironing out matters. Generally, it can take up to 2 months for a restaurant to really get into the groove. Their menu will be subject to change during this time. Servers will be acclimating. Thus, allowances have to be given in any reviews.

I like the decor and style of the restaurant. It is elegant with a touch of rustic. The chandeliers look like they are made of a dark wood. There is a bar area, with about 8-10 seats at the bar and several tables for two. The bar seats may be a bit low for some people, maybe shorter people, and the bartender did seem cognizant of that fact. In the dining room, I am unsure whether some of the tables are too close together. As the restaurant was rather quiet, it was difficult to determine how it would look with a full crowd. Overall, I do think it presents a nice ambience.

The restaurant has a full bar, including a list of speciality drinks. The wine list by the glass is short, maybe five whites and five reds, a mix of regions. I would like to see a larger range of options for wines by the glass. Glasses range from $7-10 which is reasonable. I had a glass of the Dolcetto and it was a good wine.

The list by the bottle is fairly extensive, with plenty of Italian wines, including some less common choices. The list also has many California Cabernets and French wines. There are an assortment of wines from other areas as well. Prices tend to be on the higher end, though there are bottles for around $30-35. They also have a fair sized list of half-bottles.

The menu has appetizers, Charcoal Wood-Grilled entrees, a couple Saute entrees, four Pasta dishes (which can be had in two sizes) and two special Sides. Just note that this menu is still subject to change. In general, their prices seem a bit lower than the averages at Mistral and Sorrelina.

There are 10 appetizers, priced $9-18, with an average of about $12. These are salads, soups, mussels, pork belly, tuna and more. There are 8 Charcoal Wood-Grilled entrees, the stars of the menu, including salmon, swordfish, veal chop, several steaks and chicken. Prices range $22-42 with an average of about $35. The 2 Saute dishes include a Veal and a Cod, prices at $32 & 34. There are 4 Pasta dishes, priced at $12-14 for the small size, and $22-26 for the large size. You can get a Spaghetti and Meatballs, yet it is not the norm. The meatballs are made of American Wagyu and it has a Chianti sauce on it.

Before any of my food came, I was brought a couple pieces of bread, slices of a type of rustic loaf. The bread was warm and the top had been brushed with oil and herbs. The bread came with a dish containing oil, a tomato compote and a cooked, whole tomato. This was perfect for smearing on the warm bread and made a nice start.

I began with the Carpaccio: raw sirloin, amarena, gorgonzola picante, rosemary grissini ($15). This came out on a large oval plate which was covered by very thin slices of raw sirloin. Atop the slices were tiny bits of gorgonzola cheese and bits of amarena cherries (an Italian cherry). There were also two thin grissini, breadsticks. This was a tasty dish, the amarena and gorgonzola making a delicious pairing atop the sirloin.

For my entree, I chose the Veal Chop ($42), 16 oz. topped with a chestnut maple butter and with a side of sweet potato polenta. This was certainly a large chop, nicely grilled on the outside but not overdone on the inside. The meat was moist, tender and flavorful. The butter added an intriguing flavor as well. The polenta came in a black cast iron pot, though it seemed more like a pudding than the usually firmer polentas. It was very tasty, smooth and a bit sweet. And there was certainly a large portion of it.

I did order a side of the Truffle Parmesan Fries ($11). This was also a large portion and the fries were very delicious. Plenty of parmesan atop them, the fries were perfectly crispy on the outside and soft inside. Well worth ordering.

There was a list of desserts but my eyes zeroed in on the apple cider donuts with vanilla creme ($9). This consisted of three, home-made donuts with sugar coating them and a dish of vanilla creme for dipping. They were hot and decadently delicious. I was certainly quite stuffed by this point.

Service was very good. The only very minor issues were due to the newness of the restaurant. And they were all matters that I am certain will be cleared up very soon. For example, the menu has been changing so the servers still don't know everything on the menu. And I would not expect them to know the menu perfectly at this point. On any matter that did not involve the newness, they did very well.

Overall, I was very pleased with my experience at L'Andana. The food is plentiful and delicious. Service is very good and the ambience is pleasing. I also expect that matters will only get better and this restaurant is going to become a big hit. I will certainly return, for both lunch and dinner, to try out other menu selections. I definitely recommend that you check out L'Andana, and I expect that reservations will soon be essential.

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

Friday, October 26, 2007

Spanish Vacation: Martin Berasategui

Day Seven Continued...

For dinner, we drove to Lasarte, just outside of San Sebastian, to go to Restaurante Martín Berasategui. This is a Michelin Three-Star restaurant, considered one of the best restaurants in the area. It opened in 1993 and the chef, Martín Berasategui, has opened a couple of other restaurants as well, though this remains his flagship.

When you know you are going to a Michelin Three-Star restaurant, you have certain expectations. It is supposed to be the best of the best. You expect an exceptional meal and experience. The meal should immensely impress you. So, did Martín Berasategui fulfill my expectations?

The restaurant is very elegant and certainly provides an excellent ambiance. It is the type of place where you want to dress your best, though it is not required. The tables are separated enough so that conversations at other tables do not interfere with your own meal.

We started off with a glass of chilled Cava as we read over our menu. We had a set meal, the Great Degustation Menu which is a selection of the best of Martin Berasategui’s cuisine.

This included:
2007 Lightly Smoked Cod with powder of hazelnuts, coffee and vanilla
1995 Mille-Feuille of Smoked Eel, Foie Gras, Spring Onions and Green Apple
2007 Peach Gazpacho with cockles and Txakoli
2006 Oyster with water cress, rocket leaves and apple chlorophyll, lemon grass and fennel cream with oxalis acetosella
2007 Green Tomatoes Jelly with grey mullet roe, lemon and basil sherbet with olives juice and ginger and citric air
2006 Razor Shell Custard with soya sprouts, coffee, cinnamon and curry cream
2007 Farm’s Egg with beet root and liquid herb’s salad , carpaccio of Basque stew and cheese
2007 Soup of Chestnuts and Cardamon with pigeon cream and autumn sprouts
2002 Warm Vegetable Hearts Salad with seafood, cream of lettuce hearts and idionized juice
2007 Roasted Red Mullet with crystals of soft scales, consommé of cucumber, tomato and vodka emulsion and raw cauliflower
2007 Roast Araiz’s Pigeon with cream of apple, lime and basil and its toast
2007 Yogurt Liquid Bubble, mango and passion fruit sauce, mist of gentian and crunchy flowers
2006 Creamy Coffee Ice-Cream on top of a soft hazel nut and chocolate cake with whisky ice shavings

Our wine with our meal was a Santa Cantabria Crianza, and we later had a dessert wine from Navarra with our desserts. Both choices were excellent.

I really took no notes at dinner as I just wanted to savor the multi-course feast. I wanted to concentrate my efforts on the food and the experience. And it was a superb dinner.

Chef Berasategui does a bit of molecular gastronomy, working with such items as foams and bubbles. Yet he does not over do it. I thought his dishes were quite inventive and absolutely delicious. I ate some things that I would not normally because they were done so well and combined perfectly with the other ingredients. Even the pigeon was fantastic. The Mille-Feuille was exceptional and one of my favorite courses.

I was very full and satisfied at the end of the meal. It certainly ranked as one of the best meals I have ever had.

Service was impeccable, very professional and courteous. Multiple servers attended our table, placing our plates down simultaneously. We did not have a single complaint.

Before we left, we had the opportunity to meet Chef Berasategui and get a picture with him. It is good to see such famous chefs still working in their restaurants.

Spanish Vacation: San Sebastian-Day Seven

Day Seven:
Today it rained most of the day, sometimes hard and sometimes only a mist. We spent most of the day wandering around San Sebastian. In the morning, we spent our time in the more commercial area, where tons of small shops and stores are located. As we walked the streets, there were many interesting sights, fountains, statues, and more.

We also walked towards the shore, though it would have been a more beautiful view if the sun was shining.In the afternoon, our guide Jose took us for a walk through the Parte Vieja, including a few pintxos stops. Jose was an excellent guide, telling us much about the city and its landmarks. And we stopped at a few different taverns, drinking and dining on pintxos. We ate light for lunch, knowing that a feast awaited us for dinner that night.

Spanish Wine Tasting: Reading

Tomorrow, Oct.27, from 3-5pm, the Wine Shop of Reading will host a tasting of Spanish wines.

"Many of you may not know that Dion and I love Spanish wines. We prominently display our Spanish selections at the front of the store and many of our Best Buy bins are filled with Spanish choices. Our goal is to find unknown treasures, made by small independent family bodegas, that represent the best of Spanish wine available in America. How do we identify these wonderful wines? We'll let you in on a little secret.

"Almost all of our Spanish wines are from Jorge Ordoñez, the human dynamo who imports Spain's biggest, deepest wine portfolio to America. He draws from an astonishing portfolio - 13O wines from 4O wineries. Through the force of his personality and his practically limitless energy, Ordoñez, just 45, has changed the Spanish wine world, and especially the American view of Spanish wines.

The Wines
2006 Vega Sindoa Chardonnay -Navarra
2005 Vega Sindoa Cabernet/Tempranillo - Navarra
2006 Campos Reales - Tempranillo - La Mancha
2005 Mazzaron Tempranillo - Zamora
2005 Can Blau Garnacha/Syrah/Carinena - Montsant

The Cheeses:
Drunken Goat - Spain
Parrano Gouda- Italy
Farmhouse Cheddar- England
Prosciutto & Red Pepper Lolli-Pops

Wine Shop of Reading
676 Main St.
Reading, MA
Phone: 781-944-4521

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All Seasons Table

There is a new Asian restaurant in Malden called All Seasons Table so I decided to stop there for lunch and check it out.

It is a medium-sized restaurant and very elegantly decorated with tasteful Asian art. It presents a modern flair but with a sense of tradition. A nice ambience.

They have a full bar with an extensive list of Martinis and Polynesian drinks. What really intrigued me is that carry 8 different chilled Sakes, as well as having two different Sake flights. I chose the Daiginjo flight, 3 glasses of super premium Sake for $15. I very much enjoyed these Sakes. It is so good to find an Asian restaurant with more Sakes than just one brand.

The Lunch menu is quite extensive so there is something for everyone. There was even a menu of special lunches as well. There is Sushi, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian and Singapore dishes. If anything, you might need extra time to decide what to order. Lunches generally cost $8-12.

We began with some sushi, including maguro (tuna), tamage (sweet omelet), unagi (eel) and sweet potato tempura maki. The sushi certainly seemed fresh, good-sized and was tasty. I certainly had no complaints about it.

I then chose the Sesame Crispy Beef ($8.95). That comes with soup of which I ordered the Miso. You also get a choice of spring roll, crab rangoon or chicken wings. I chose the chicken wings. The soup was good and when the Beef came, it was a large plate of food. Next to a mound of rice were an ample portion of cripsy beef in a slightly sweet, dark sauce. The food seemed fresh and the beef was tasty. The chicken wings were large, meaty and had an interesting coating.

My mother ordered an appetizer combination plate with pork fried rice, chicken fingers, boneless spareribs and fried shrimp. Again, everything seemed very fresh and the portions were good-sized. The rice lacked bean sprouts, which I am glad about. The spareribs were very meaty and had a nice sauce. The chicken fingers were good, though with a tinge more batter than I care for.

Service was very good and the presentation was very nice as well. This is a step up from the usual Asian restaurants. I will definitely return as there are many other dishes I would like to try. I recommend that you check it out.

All Seasons Table
64 Pleasant Street
Malden, MA
Phone: (781) 397-8188

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Spanish vacation: Day Six Continued

Day Six Continues..

After leaving lunch, we headed to our hotel, the Hotel Maria Cristina, in San Sebastian. Located on the banks of the Urumea river, this was a stunning and luxurious hotel.

Below you can see the view from our balcony.

We just checked into out hotel, dropped off our luggage and got ready to go to the La Perla Spa. The Spa is located on the shore looking out into the ocean. We began our spa treatment in their Thalasso Fitness Circuit. This circuit consists of seven separate stations including a hydrotherapy pool, relaxation pool, jacuzzi, steam bath with ice room, cold water pond, seawater steam bath, and a dry sauna. The pools contain seawater. The jacuzzi looks out onto the beach. It is a great place to relax and to soothe aching muscles. And after this Circuit, we had massages. Also an incredibly soothing experience.

Later this evening, for dinner, we chose to wander the Parte Vieja, the old town, to stop at a few taverns for pintxos, the Basque version of tapas. You simply stop at whatever tavern looks interesting and sidle up to the bar. You then order a drink and select a few pintxos to dine upon. Don't drink or eat too much as you will stop at other taverns. There are usually a couple dozen selections available at each tavern. Even if you speak little or no spanish, you should not have much trouble. Just point at what you want.

Later that evening, we did stop at the local casino. We played a few slot machines and did win a little money.