Sunday, May 31, 2009

Second Anniversary Contest Winner

This month I celebrated the Second Anniversary of my blog. In commemoration of this special occasion, I held a contest where the winner would receive a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant or wine store of their choice. All you had to do to enter was post a comment. You also received a second entry if you told me of something special in your post.

The contest deadline has now passed and it is time to announce the randomly determined winner. Drum roll please.....

Congratulations to the winner: Jackie Church, the Leather District Gourmet.

Go forth to eat and drink with passion!

Chiyomusubi Tokubetsu Junmai

A couple nights go, I opened another Saké from my dwindling supply of those I purchased from Sakaya in New York City. Once again, I very much enjoyed this Saké and would definitely recommend it.

The Chiyomusubi Tokubetsu Junmai ($28.99-720ml) is made by the Chiyomusubi Sake Brewery Co., Ltd (founded over 140 years ago) in the Chugoku region of the Tottori prefecture. Their Koji , Tadayoshi Iwanari, has over fifty years of experience and uses local rice strains and spring water. This particular Saké is bottled before pasteurization. It was made from Gohyaku Mangoku rice, which was polished to 55%. This Saké has an alcohol content of 15.5% and a Saké Meter Value of +3, making it a slightly dry Saké.

This Saké had an intriguing, fruity nose, with aromas of peach and melon. On the palate, it had a rich creamy mouthfeel with delicious tastes of peach, apple and hints of pineapple. It was smooth with a lengthy finish. I enjoyed it very much on its own though it could easily pair well with food. I also think it would be a good introductory Saké for a newcomer. A good price for a very pleasurable Saké.

Icarus Closing: Final Specials

Icarus, the first restaurant to serve fine New England cuisine in this city’s South End, knows “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em,” and will close its doors forever on July 1.

Like the mythological figure it was named after, Icarus took flight in 1978. Its young chef, Chris Douglass, was hailed as a pioneer for offering diners upscale New England cuisine in a neighborhood that was un-gentrified to say the least.

Back then, people were less sophisticated about food; it was fine restaurants who introduced them to new tastes and ingredients,” said Douglass, who bought Icarus in 1999, and whose cooking has enjoyed four-star status and national acclaim for its early commitment to local sourcing and overall sustainability.

Today the Icarus neighborhood is home to a kaleidoscope of restaurants. The intense competition and the economy’s recent pinch to dining dollars, were challenges Douglass could not control. Instead, this beloved chef turns to a new neighborhood and a new dining direction for his next act.

Ever the pioneer for finding and feeding the residents of “under-served” neighborhoods, Douglass opened two casual, moderately-priced restaurants in (un-gentrified) Dorchester, MA. Ashmont Grill has been a runaway hit since it opened in 2006, and the Italian concept Tavolo followed in 2008. Both restaurants are located five miles away from the South End. The food is still sustainable and Zagat-worthy, and the sense of discovery and freshness in Dorchester reminds Douglass of his start.

Eating out now is more about the basics,” said Douglass. “Sure, diners will always want good food, but with the proliferation of food magazines and TV shows, people no longer look to chefs to teach them about it. They just want a place to hang out.”

How to say goodbye to such an icon as ICARUS ? With a fork. For the month of June, ICARUS will present a prix fixe menu of signature dishes from the past 31 years for $31. An assortment of events and commemorations – like a kitchen alum night and a jazz night -- will be held over the next few weeks.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saké's Hidden Stories by John Gautner

There are not many current books on Saké, maybe less than a dozen, available in English. Those books available are primarily educational and also usually provide some Saké recommendations. There is little though about the stories and personalities behind Saké, about the Toji (the master brewers) and Kura (breweries). Until now.

Saké's Hidden Stories: The Personalities, Philosophies, and Tricks-of-the-Trade Behind the Brew is a new E-book written by John Gauntner. The E-book was just published and consists of 156 pages, including photographs, charts and a map. Gauntner is a famed Saké authority and educator. He lives in Japan, working and interacting in the Saké industry. The Japanese media refers to him as the "Saké Dendoushi" ("Saké Evangelist"), for his intense devotion to the promotion of Saké. He has written other Saké books, which I have read and also recommend.

Gautner has been working on this new one for a number of years, and this is what he has to say about it: "Sake's Hidden Stories will give you a view to what goes on in the sake industry behind the brew we all love so much. The book goes into stories much deeper than the information we most commonly encounter; way beyond simply what ginjo-shu is, what junmai-shu is, or what the role of koji is. You will learn about the personalities behind the sake. You will see in just how much detail some brewers make sake, and how each is different in where importance is placed. And most significantly, something that has not been written about in any book on sake in English, you will meet more than a dozen brewers, and encounter their personalities. You'll see what makes them tick, what drives them in their work, and how their histories and idiosyncrasies affect the sake they brew."

This book sounded very interesting to me so I quickly ordered a copy and voraciously completed it soon after I received it. I thought it was fascinating, a compelling book with so many interesting stories. It fills a gap in the existing books about Saké and I strongly recommend it. I also hope that Gautner writes more books like this one.

The book begins with The Prologue: The Basics of Saké, which is a primer about Saké. It includes information about the different types of Saké, the brewing process, and much more. Though brief, it is actually fairly comprehensive and a very good introduction to the subject. Gautner has a casual, easy writing style so you won't be bored.

The book then is divided into thirteen chapters, each discussing a different Japanese brewery and the personalities involved. I loved the stories in each chapter, and learned plenty. There is such a diverse collection of characters involved in Saké brewing, many with fascinating stories. Here are just some of the things that especially caught my attention.

  • "Precise and efficient, rice milling machines like this are the one concession to modern technology that any brewery will agree to, no matter how traditional." (p.14)
  • Saké quality took off about 60 years ago when modern "seimaiki," or rice milling machines, were first developed. Until then, the highest degree of milling, was about 70%.
  • A brewery using bags of fake rice to help in the process of steaming rice.
  • I enjoy Dassai Saké and its name actually caused it some initial problems. "Dassai" is similar in sound to the slang word "dasai" which means "geeky" or "uncool." So would you drink "nerd" Saké?
  • A brewer who uses a stethoscope to listen and determine when the rice has been milled sufficiently.
  • A Saké called "Kikuyoi" whose written characters refer to "eternal happiness with a buzz." How is that for truth in advertising?
  • "Just like grapes for wine, sake rice is closely tied to region. In other words, a given strain of rice will grow well in one part of Japan, but move it just a relatively short distance away and everything changes. And, just like grapes, there are some rice types that are significantly better than others for sake brewing. Furthermore, just like grapes, each of the many strains of sake rice will lead to potentially different flavors and aromas in the final product." (p.60)
  • A brewery where a single man does everything, from brewing to sales! Even the smallest breweries commonly need three or four brewers.
  • A brewery that sometimes holds rap concerts inside it.
  • A slightly modified method of rice milling that gets rid of more fat and protein with less milling. Known as "Super-flat Rice Polishing," it has to do with the shape and geometry of rice grains.
  • A unique Saké known as "Holy Turtle."
  • A Toji, master brewer, who brews Saké during the winter and grows tobacco the rest of the year.
If you love good stories, then check out this book. If you want to know more about Saké, then check out this book.

Summer Ice Cream Delight: Mandarin Oriental

With the warm days of summer upon you, Asana and M Bar & Lounge will delight guests with a selection of delicious and refreshing ice cream treats created by Pastry Chef Nelson Paz. Served with sugar cones, guests can choose from a rainbow variety of ice cream flavors and toppings including Lavender Honey, Green Tea, Toasted Almond Candied Cherry and Tiramisu with candied citrus peel, praline almonds, crunchy meringue, butter crunch toffee and dark chocolate shavings. Sorbet flavors include Mandarin, Kiwifruit, Rhubarb Strawberry, Banana Mango and Green Apple. Guests can also choose from raspberry, hot fudge and orange passion fruit sauce to complete their dessert.

When: Everyday at lunch and dinner starting June 21st

Cost: $3 for one scoop, $5 for two, $7 for three.

Asana and M Bar & Lounge
Mandarin Oriental
776 Boylston Street
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 535-8800

Friday, May 29, 2009

Golden Kaan: Values Wines of South Africa

We all want good value wines, especially if we can find bottles that cost $10 or less. There are plenty of wines in that price range, but some are much better values than others. I recently received samples of three South African wines, all priced at $10, and found them to be very good values. And if the winery can make such delicious, inexpensive wines, then maybe their higher-end wines are quite interesting as well.

The Golden Kaan winery has been around for about five years and their grapes come from select vineyards from the Western Cape region of South Africa. They produce three ranges of wines: Golden Kaan Classic, Golden Kaan Winemaker's Edition and Golden Kaan Private Collection. The three wines I tasted are from their Classic range.
The 2007 Golden Kaan Chenin Blanc ($10) is made from 100% Chenin Blanc, and the grapes come from vineyards in the Paarl and Malmesbury areas. 30% of the blend was aged in French oak for about three months, while the rest saw no oak. Thus, the fruit was allowed to take center stage. The wine has an alcohol content of 14.2% and only 977 cases were imported into the U.S. I enjoy Chenin Blanc and South Africa often does well with this grape. This wine had a moderate yellow color and a nice citrus nose. On the palate, it was crisp with good flavors of melon, lemon and a hint of grapefruit. It was full bodied with a touch of creaminess to the taste. There is a bit of vanilla too and a decently long finish. This would be a good summer wine and should appeal to many people.
The 2007 Golden Kaan Shiraz ($10) is made from grapes in the warmer areas around Paarl. The wine saw some aging in American oak, has an alcohol content of 14.1% and 4668 cases were imported into the U.S. This ruby colored wine had an enticing, red fruit nose with only the merest hint of spice. Up front on the palate, there was plenty of juicy fruit, some nice cherry, raspberry and plum. The spice notes were most prominent on the finish though they were still restrained. Tannins were mild. The fruit takes front place in this wine, yet it has enough character to make it a good value. I was most excited to taste the 2006 Golden Kaan Pinotage ($10) as I really enjoy the grape, and I was not disappointed. This wine was aged in French and American oak, has an alcohol content of 14% and about 9236 cases were imported. The wine was dark red in color and had an appealing nose of dark berries and smoky spice. It really pleased my palate, with luscious flavors of black cherry, ripe plum and smoky bacon. It was much spicier than the Shiraz and had a fairly long and satisfying finish. Tannins were restrained and this would be a great BBQ wine. Even those who don't like Pinotage may find they enjoy this wine. A very good value at $10 and one I highly recommend.

Beverly Wine & Beer Co. Closing

Unfortunately, the Beverly Wine & Beer Co. will be closing their doors on May 29 at 8pm. I liked their store, especially as they often had some unique and interesting wines I rarely saw elsewhere.

In mid-June, Beverly Wine & Beer Co. will have a new name, owner and location. It will be called Henry's Wine Cellar and will be located adjacent to Henry's Foods of Beverly. Luckily, Kurt Reming will participate as the manager of this new store so you can expect good things from the new wine store.

I'll post more details about their Grand Opening when I receive them.

Aura: Father's Day Dinner

Aura Restaurant and Chef Rachel Klein invite all Dads to start their Father’s Day celebration early with a special Fine Dining, “Family-Style” evening designed just for the men of the house! Chef Rachel Klein created a Dad-focused menu complete with Braised Short Rib Gnocchi and a Ribeye Cowboy Chop.

Aura makes the night all about Dad – beginning with a special menu and ending with a parting gift from Narragansett Beer. Since every Dad likes a good competition, one lucky Dad will go home the winner of a Friday night stay at the Seaport Hotel for four which includes: another Fine Dining, “Family-Style” dinner at Aura, use of the health club/pool and parking.

In addition, there’s no need to be embarrassed by flying food and screaming at this Father’s Day celebration - children enjoy a “romper room” complete with toys, kid-friendly food, a craft table to make special Father’s Day cards and most importantly, a context where it’s okay for kids to act like kids and Dad to sit back and relax.

Cost: $30 prix-fixe menu for Adults, Children $3 - $7

When: Friday June, 19, from 5:30 PM to 8:00 PM

Reservations strongly recommended so please call 617-385-4300.
*First 20 Dads to sign up will be included in a drawing to win a Friday night stay at the Seaport Hotel and dinner at Aura for four!

Aura Restaurant
1 Seaport Lane (Seaport Hotel)
Boston, MA

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spiga: Lasagna, Bread Pudding & More

I recently attended a special Grand Opening reception at Spiga Trattoria Italiana in Needham. I have previously wrote about their new chef, the famed Marisa Iocco, and all of the other changes at this restaurant. Now I can give you some more first hand information about Spiga, and I feel this is a restaurant you need to visit.

It is easy to get to this restaurant as it is just a short distance off Rt.128. With all of the fast food chains nearby, Spiga is a bright spot for those seeking more than the usual chains. It is a small, homey place with an elegant marble topped bar and an outside patio. It has high ceilings and their oven is visible from the dining room.

I spent a little time conversing with the Proprietor, Carmelo Iriti. He is a passionate man, desirous of making Spiga an excellent restaurant. Bringing in Chef Iocco was an ingenious move and he has further plans for the near future, including revising their wine list, to add more boutique Italian wines.

Numerous hors d'oeuvres were passed out over the course of the night, each one delicious, indicative of a very talented chef. Before any of the food was delivered, enticing smells wafted through the restaurant, enhancing my hunger. I also had some Cavit Lunetta Prosecco, which was actually quite good, a bit creamy with nice fruit flavors and it was not too sweet.

We began the evening with a glass of Gazpacho, which came in either yellow or red (indicative of the type of tomato used). You drank it rather than used a spoon. Seven tomatoes were used to make the thick and richly flavored gazpacho. It tasted quite fresh, much better than any mere tomato juice. Next there were small Scallops with a roasted garlic puree for dipping. The scallops were tender and the puree had a zesty garlic flavor. Another seafood item was like a Cup of Seafood in stock or broth, including shrimp, scallops and lobster. The broth was quite flavorful and the seafood all appeared fresh. We also had quite large Shrimp with a light, avocado vinaigrette which I really enjoyed, even though I am generally not fan of avocado.

The bite-sized pieces of Lasagna were incredible! It had a meaty and tasty Bolognese sauce with veal, beef, lamb and chicken liver. The pasta had a nice firmness to it and I wanted to devour the entire plate of lasagna. I luckily was able to have a few pieces of it and I will be returning to Spiga for more. The Short Rib in parsnip cream and Italian oil was moist and tender.

We even had bite-sized pieces of Chef Iocco's famed Bread Pudding, another amazing dish. The bread pudding was incredibly light, with a fine vanilla flavor. But the small taste was but a tease as I craved an entire dish. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not open for dinner that night or I would have stayed after the party to have a full dinner and dessert.

Service was excellent and I did speak with a couple of the servers. They too impressed me with their passion and professionalism.

I forsee that Spiga is going to become a hot spot so I suggest you check it out now and be ahead of everyone else. I will be returning there next week to check out dinner. I will be sure to have more of the bread pudding and will be reporting back.

Spiga on Urbanspoon

The Beehive: Sting! 5

The Beehive will soon be holding their fifth installment in their continuing Art Series, Sting! 5: Pop Rocks. On Tuesday, June 9, from 6:30PM-8:30PM, The Beehive's co-owner and resident curator Jennifer Epstein and guest curator Evelyn Rydz will host this new show.

The artists in Pop Rocks bring into play the visual language of consumer and popular culture in combination with personal visual vocabularies to form dynamic portraits and recreate their everyday. Exploring aesthetics and signs of visual culture, the artists extrapolate from a variety of sources including: Hollywood movies, mass production packaging, fashion photography, cartoons, digital interfaces, anime, and corporate identity logos.

The artists’ work not only incorporates the symbols of visual culture, but also the means by which they are made. The digital period we live in blurs lines between the hand and the machine made, leaving most things looking and feeling processed. The artists’ work included in Sting! 5 juxtaposes traditional approaches with digitally manipulated modes of creating, extending from sewing, painting, photography, and sculpture to installation.

Like the candy, the work in Pop Rocks initially offers a visual taste of sweetness and play, subsequently releasing pockets of more complex surprises.

At Sting! 5: Pop Rocks, The Beehive will proudly premier Kenwood Vineyard’s limited release Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series 2004, with labeling created by artist Shephard Fairey (who currently has a solo exhibition at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art). In sync with one of the core motivations behind The Beehive’s art program, Fairey believes that art is not only intended for galleries and museums but should also be an integral part of the visual landscape. There will be bottles on exhibit at The Beehive and available for purchase for $150.00 a bottle, inviting guests to “consume their art”.

The Beehive will have great food, music and cocktails, like their special Pop Rocktail ($9) – (Pop Rock candy in a glass of Yulupa Cuvee Brut by Kenwood Vineyards) all night long! This is a not-to-be-missed evening of art, food and music! Dinner reservations always guarantee you a spot!

There is no cover charge and there will be a cash bar.

541 Tremont St.
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-423-0069

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Erbaluce: Passion Into Excellence

Last month, I told you about how I met Chef Charles ("Chuck") Draghi at the Spoonful of Ginger event. As we chatted, Draghi intrigued me about Erbaluce, his new restaurant, and I desired to dine there, to determine whether Chef Draghi's obvious passion translated into culinary excellence.

On the recent occasion of my mother's birthday, I took her to Erbaluce and my dining experience confirmed my hopeful expectations, that this restaurant is exceptional and well deserving of its accolades. I heartily recommend Erbaluce and certainly will be returning there soon.

Erbaluce is owned by Chef Draghi and his partner Joan Johnson. It is located in the Bay Village area, not far from the Park Plaza and Theater District. The restaurant was named after an Italian wine grape, one of the oldest white grapes of the Piedmont region and which may extend back to the ancient Romans. The term "erbaluce" is actually composed of two words, "erba" which means "dawn" and "luce" which means "light." Though I note that some translate the term as phrases such as "shining grass", "grassy light" or "bright herbs."

Chef Draghi has a lengthy and illustrious culinary resume. Many may remember Chef Draghi's from his fame at Marcuccio’s Restaurant in the North End. Well, Chef Draghi has returned, presenting his unique take on Italian cuisine, with a Piemontese slant though not a traditional one. His culinary skill remains as good as ever, if not even better.

The restaurant is small and cozy, with a more minimalistic decor. It certainly lacks pretentiousness. You can see partially into the kitchen, watching Chef Draghi and others prepare your meals. There is a long bar where you can have a drink and which also has its own separate menu.

The restaurant only serves wine and beer. The wine list has a page of about 17 wines by the glass ($7-$12) and five pages of wine by the bottle, nearly all Italian except for a few French Champagnes. These are carefully selected wines, including some more unique and unusual wines. They are generally not the well known producers, but more small, artisan producers. Though the list is somewhat pricey, there are almost 20 wines that cost under $40 per bottle. I found plenty of interesting choices and eventually decided on two.

The 2005 Albino Armani Casetta Vallagarina "Foja Tonda" ($56) is made from the Casetta grape, also known as Foja Tonda, which I had never had before. The ancient grape is indigenous to the Vallagarina region and nearly was extinct until Albino Armani resurrected it. Currently, only 12 hectares of this grape exist and Armani only produced about 2400 cases of this particular wine. This wine reminded me of a fine Burgundian Pinot Noir. Lots of restrained red fruit flavors, a touch of spice, and a pleasant earthiness. A lighter wine with plenty of complexity and character, it also paired very well with our food. I was really impressed with this wine and will be seeking this out at my local wine store.

I also ordered the 2004 Nino Negri Valtellina Superiore Sassella "La Tenses" ($68) which is made from the Chiavennasca grape, another name for Nebbiolo. The name of this wine has colorful origin. "Le Tense” derives from the domination of the Swiss Three Grey Legions (1512-1797) when the best vineyards were “tense,” meaning they were defended by the "arbostrari," the guardians of the vines. This was a bit of a heartier wine, with an enticing melange of flavors, including black cherry, plum, raspberry and dark spices. The tannins were moderate and the finish was lengthy and pleasing. An excellent wine for heavier dishes, such as steaks or wild game.

Their food menu changes often, dependent on what is fresh and in season, though there are some constants, such as the rack of wild boar. The menu is divided into First Courses, Pastas and Main Courses. There were about eight choices for First Courses ($9-$14), five Pasta choices ($21-$26) and seven Main Course choices ($26-$36). Though it is not on the menu, you can also get a Tasting Menu so if you are interested, just ask your waiter. There may also be Specials not listed on the menu.

One of the key aspects that differentiates Chef Draghi from many other Italian chefs is that he prefers to create sauces from vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices rather than butter, cream or oil. This generally makes for lighter dishes, though certainly full of flavor. You'll feel satisfied at the end of your dinner, though not bloated from overly rich dishes. Chef Draghi also uses what is in season, what is freshest, which is always a good thing. I found his cuisine to be innovative and enticing, flavorful and intriguing.

We began with several First Courses, sampling some of the appealing choices, including two evening specials. One of those specials was the Lobster Risotto, which was made with carnaroli rice, toasted in lobster oil (made from the coral). Then, a rich lobster stock was added with some fresh tomato juice to cook the rice, along with a little saffron, chopped lobster meat, parsley, mint, chopped tomatoes, and a tiny amount of mascarpone. The dish was then garnished with lobster meat that had been poached in extra virgin olive oil with fresh bay leaves. An amazing dish that was very rich in flavor, yet still remaining light. The rice was cooked just perfectly and there was an interesting creaminess to the sauce that did not overwhelm the dish. Definitely one of the better risottos I have ever had.

Another special was the Shad Roe, a delicacy only available for about five weeks each year in the Spring. It was sprinkled with chopped marjoram, thyme, parsley, mint, and white pepper, and then wrapped in a thin layer of caul fat and speck. It was roasted rare-medium rare, and served with a roasted red pepper and pink peppercorn sugo. Plus there were some sauteed fiddleheads on the dish. Imagine silky foie gras with a bit of brininess and some tasty herbs. A light, elegant dish with rich flavors that tasted decadent. And unless you knew what Shad Roe is, you never would have suspected you were eating fish eggs.

From the regular menu, the Mixed Greens and spring dug parsnips came with a poppyseed and spring herb dressing. Very fresh ingredients with a light, flavorful dressing. The Roasted Native Roe Scallops, with a shrimp and thyme vinaigrette, came in the shells making for an interesting presentation. The scallops themselves were tender and tasty, a light sauce atop the scallops adding flavor without overpowering the scallops.

These initial courses set-up a delicious introduction to Chef Draghi's culinary skill. They had all been quite tasty with interesting blends of flavors and textures. It was now time though to move onto the main courses.

The Roasted Potato Gnocchi, one of the pasta dishes, came with a ragu of veal, spring parsnips and white vegetables. The pillowy pasta was cooked just perfectly with a rich, meaty ragu and fresh veggies. Such a great collection of textures, from the soft gnocchi to the crunchier veggies. The Pan Roasted Rabbit, with a wild mushroom and black olive sugo, was an amazing dish with plenty of moist, tender meat with an earthier flavoring. One of the best rabbit dishes I have had in some time. I had to order the Rack of Wild Boar, one of their specialties, which was roasted with lavendar, rosemary and a grape musto. Two large, thick boar chops that were very tender and flavorful. They were not gamey at all, tasting like high-end heritage pork. The grape musto added some sweetness to the meat. This is a must order dish!

All of the dishes were reasonably priced for the quality and quantity of food you receive. Everything was moist, tender and flavorful, cooked just right. And you don't miss the heavy butters and creams that you'll find at other restaurants. Chef Draghi's culinary philosophy certainly works very well.

I still had some room for dessert and the menu has about eight choices ($7-$14), including a cheese plate. The Saffron Poached Pears come with mascarpone and a lavender caramel sauce. The pears were soft yet firm, not mushy at all. The saffron was restrained and the sweet caramel added some interesting floral notes to the taste. The Budino of Apples has an almond puree and cardamon creme anglaise sauce. The apples were cooked as well as the pears, not too soft and not too crisp, and the flavors of the almond and cardamon paired well with the fresh apple flavor. The most hedonistic of the desserts was the Giandjua, a dark chocolate truffle with hazelnuts, and minced apples marinated in honey and mace. Unbelieveably rich with a delicious melange of tastes.

Service was excellent, and our server was professional, knowledgeable and accomodating. I was extremely satisfied with this dinner, very impressed with the innovative and delicious cuisine. Chef Draghi is operating an excellent restaurant and you should dine there. Check out his passion and savor his dishes.

69 Church Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-426-6969

Erbaluce on Urbanspoon

New Pinotage Book by Peter May

Are you a fan of Pinotage? If not, you really should try some of the latest Pinotage wines because they may change your mind about the grape. This is actually a special time for Pinotage as it is the 50th Anniversary of the world’s first Pinotage wine.

Besides celebrating with a glass of delicious wine, you might also want to check out a new book all about Pinotage, the first book of its kind. Pinotage: Behind the Legends of South Africa's Own Wine was written by Peter May, who also runs the famed Pinotage Club blog. He is very passionate about Pinotage as well as very knowledgeable.

The book "...tells of Peter F May's infatuation with the Pinotage variety and follows his investigations into its origins. He identifies when it was created and first planted and he discovers the oldest living Pinotage vineyard. There's a history of winemaking in South Africa and a biography of Pinotage's creator, Professor Abraham Perold. In the second part of the book May discusses growing, making and marketing Pinotage wines with case studies of classic South African vineyards. Various styles of Pinotage are discussed, the Cape Blend controversy is covered and criticisms of the variety are analysed. In the third section of the book, May takes a look at Pinotage in other countries. His travels take him from South Africa to California and Virginia, Canada, Israel and New Zealand."

This book sounds quite fascinating to me and I have already ordered a copy. I love Pinotage so this book is very appealing to me. If you have read Peter's blog, you know that he is an excellent writer so you should look forward to the book. I will review the book in the near future, but you may not want to wait for my review to buy it.

You can order the book from its website, especially if you want a signed copy. Or you can order it through Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

L'Andana: Enoteca Menu

A few months ago, I told you about L'Andana's new Piattini menu. I really loved their small plates concept and the food was inexpensive and delicious. L'Andana has now expanded this idea, creating a new Enoteca Menu, an expanded list of small plates and inexpensive dishes in their bar and lounge. If you are looking for a good value when dining out, then you should check out this new menu.

The menu begins with some Bocconcini ("small mouthfuls" in Italian), which include one of my favorites, the Lemon & Mozzarella Arancini ($4). Then there are the Piatti Primi, seven small appetizers, priced $7-$10. Try the Crisp Sweetbreads Milanese or the Wood-Grilled Quail with Prosciutto, Marsala and Parmesan Polenta. The Piatti Secondi are more like small entrees, priced $12-$16. You could get Wood-grilled Sliders with smoked bacon, Fontina cheese and rosemary fries or a 7 oz. Wood-Grilled Sirloin with a salt-baked potato and grilled Romaine with Gorgonzola. Or try the Wood-Grilled Swordfish or Loch Duart Salmon.

They still have their Pizzas on the new menu: a Margherita, Sopressata and a Quattro Funghi. Plus, there are three desserts, including Chocolate Crema, Sorbetto/Gelato and Mixed Berries (all $3 each).

We all want value when dining out, especially in these tougher economic times, so it is well worth visting L'Andana and checking out the new Enoteca menu. Their food is excellent, they have some interesting cocktails, and good wines. So what are you waiting for?

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

SwissBäkers: More Enticing Products

I really enjoy when my favorite places add something new to their menus, when they expand their repertoire. The SwissBäkers in Reading, which I have previously raved about, has been doing this, showcasing new products, or at least products I had not previously seen on their shelves. And these new items are just as delicious as everything else they make.

The Swiss Swirl Cake is a small loaf, a sweet bread with hazelnuts, which makes for an excellent breakfast treat or a nice dessert. It is not overly sweet and the nuts add an interesting taste to the bread. The ChocoCake is also a small loaf, almost like a rich, soft brownie cake. It is moist with a strong chocolate flavor and a thick slice topped with ice cream would make for a great treat. As usual, both are made with fresh, natural ingredients.

You could also try the SwissStix or ChocoStix, packages of three short cookie "sticks." The SwissStix have a nice hazelnut flavor to them and are crisp on the outside and soft inside. The ChocoStix are similar but obviously have a chocolate flavor. I think this cookies would be enjoyed by everyone, from children to adults. A nice after school snack or a treat next to a cup of tea.

As an added incentive, SwissBäkers now issues frequent buyer cards, a Swiss Passport. Every time you make a purchase there, your card is stamped. When the card is full, after ten purchases, you get a free treat.

If you have not visited SwissBäkers yet, then what are you waiting for?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Grapevine Travelers: Spring Grand Tasting

I recently led a group of the North Shore Winers to the Spring Grand Wine Tasting at Grapevine Travelers in Medford. Their Grand Tastings are usually fun events with plenty of excellent wines available for tasting. There were twelve vendors, which included one beer vendor, and over 60 wines. I did not taste all of them but will list the favorites of those I did. To make it easier, I am listing the wines by distributor.

Adonna Imports: As I have said many times before, this is one of my favorite Italian wine importers (though they import a few wines from other countries). They deal with many boutique wineries, most being organic and/or biodynamic. Their wines are often excellent and good values.
--2008 Salzl Gruner Veltliner ($12.99): This Austrian white wine has an enticing, aromatic nose with delicious citrus fruit on the palate. An excellent summer wine that should please most everyone. It may not be a grape with which you are familiar but one taste and you will become a fan.
--2007 GD Vajra Langhe Rosso ($12.99): An excellent Italian producer and this wine is no exception. Light, bright red fruit flavors with some character. Another good choice for a summer wine.

Cafe Europa:
--2005 Il Nuraghe Tenute Soletta ($24.99): This Sardinian wine is made from Cannonau, also known as Grenache. Interestingly, each bottle in a case has a different label. This was a very elegant wine, with restrained dark berry flavors and a touch of earthiness. It reminded me a bit of some Rhone wines. This would make for an excellent food wine.

Classic Wines:
--2006 Villa Wolf Pinot Gris ($10.99): An intriguing wine with an almost smoky nose. On the palate it is dry with good citrus flavors and some minerality. An excellent value wine that is much different from the usual Pinot Gris you may know.
--2005 Tukulu Estate Pinotage ($18.99): Yes, I love Pinotage and this wine was no exception. Plenty of lush dark berry flavors, some earthiness and a lengthy finish with tastes of smoky bacon. The tannins were moderate and this would make for a great BBQ wine. This is also a Pinotage that should please most people, including those who claim not to like the grape.

Violette Imports: Another of my favorite importers, they carry mostly organic and biodynamic wines.
--2007 Corte Marzago Bardolino ($16.99): I actually tasted this wine at their last Grand tasting but I had not remembered that. Last time, I loved the wine and this time it was equally as good. This is a delicious wine and I highly recommend it!
--2007 Beau Thorey "Bogus" ($22.99): Love the wine, hate the name. This luscious wine has excellent ripe plum and blueberry flavors. It is a well balanced wine with a lengthy finish and nice structure. "Bogus" is the name of the wine-maker's dog and it is pronounced differently than we would say it in America. But, I still forsee problems due to the negative aspect of the term as it is used here. But, it is an excellent wine.

Masciarelli Wines:
--2005 Graziano Petite Sirah ($19.99): A less tannic Petite Sirah, it still has plenty of excellent black fruit flavors plus hints of spice. A nice BBQ wine that won't overpower the food.

MS Walker Wines:
--2007 Evodia Garnacha ($12.99): Another good value wine from Spain. Made from old vines, it is actually a lighter style Garnacha with moderate tannins. Plum, black berry and spice with a decently long finish. An easy drinking wine, great with or without food. Spark up the BBQ and grab a couple bottles.
--2007 Mont Gras Quatro ($17.99): A Chilean blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Malbec and Syrah. This was an excellent wine with a strong, smoky bacon flavor, ripe plum, vanilla, and blueberry. A lengthy and satisfying finish, plenty of character and just a delightful wine. You definitely should have this with food. At the price, this is a very good value and I made sure to get some.
--2005 Col Solare ($59.99): From the Columbia Valley of Washington, this wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and a tiny bit of Cabernet Franc. It is made in the style of a Left Bank Bordeaux and it really impressed me. A dark purple color, the wine is as smooth as silk with plenty of complexity in flavor. Dark berries, plum, blueberry, cocoa, leather and more. A very long finish which you don't want to end. Just an amazing wine and well worth the price. This is not a California fruit bomb Cabernet, definitely feeling much more French in style. Highly recommended.

Vineyard Road:
--2007 Domaine Goisot Aligote ($16.99): A crisp, fruity and delicious white wine. A perfect summer quaffer, sure to please many people. I bought this wine as I really liked it and highly recommend it.
--2008 Domaine du Rin du Bois ($12.99): An inexpensive French blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Dark berry flavors with hints of spice, moderate tannins and a decent finish. A good BBQ wine.

Still River Winery:
This winery makes Apfel Eis, an apple ice wine, which I have previously raved about. It was great to see them again and it seemed many of the attendees really liked their wine. They had some cheese to pair with the Apfel Eis, which is a nice pairing.

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

Travessia Tasting at Bin Ends

Bin Ends Wine has announced the exclusive retail launch of four locally-produced wines, the first-ever releases of Travessia Urban Winery in New Bedford, MA. Fully embracing the “treasure hunt” element of fine wine, Bin Ends identifies off-the-beaten-path, lesser-known wines and producers, allowing their store to offer customers superior wines at superior values. John Hafferty, co-founder of Bin Ends was drawn to Travessia for their innovative approach to wine making and affordable, high-quality wines.

Travessia Urban Winery began production in New Bedford in December of 2007. The winery was founded by Marco Montez, who hails from a wine making family based in the Trás-Os-Montes region of Portugal. Employing his family’s generations of wine making experience, Montez uses 100% Massachusetts-grown grapes to produce Travessia wines on-site at his urban winery. I have met Marco and he is a very personable and passionate individual.

The four wines, two Chardonnays and two Vidal Blancs, are available for purchase exclusively at Bin Ends Wine

· 2007 UnOaked Chardonnay: Made of 100% Chardonnay grapes, this is a dry white wine fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel tanks which helps preserve the true and original nature of the Chardonnay fruit.

· 2007 Chardonnay: Made of 100% Chardonnay grapes harvested in mid-October 2008 (following one of the driest growing seasons in the past 15 years), this is a dry white wine aged in a combination of new and old French oak barrels for six months.

· 2007 Vidal Blanc: This wine is made of 100% Vidal Blanc grapes, harvested from Running Brook’s Westport and Dartmouth vineyards in early November 2008. It is a semi-sweet white wine fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel tanks.

· 2007 Sweet Vidal Blanc: This sweet wine is made of 100% Vidal Blanc grapes, harvested in early November 2008, with a sugar content above 27%. It is a sweet wine fermented and aged entirely in stainless steel tanks. All of the sweetness in this wine comes from the original sugar in the grapes at the time of harvest.

On June 2, Travessia founder and Portugese-born winemaker Marco Montez will join Bin Ends in-store to celebrate this launch with a special tasting event of all four wines.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mutineer Magazine: An Improved New Issue

The latest issue, their sixth, of Mutineer Magazine (June/July 2009) is now available at local newstands. I previously reviewed their fifth issue and I was conflicted about it, liking some of it but also disliking other parts. I saw potential for the magazine so was very curious to see their next issue. Would it be any better, or would it just be more of the same?

Now that I have read the new issue, I am pleased to say the magazine has improved and I enjoyed it much more than the previous one. Like the previous issue, this one is 82 pages long and costs $4.50.

One of my most significant criticisms was that some of their articles about blogging were repetitive of what I had previously read online. I was not keen on paying for such articles, paying for what I had already read for free. The new issue though has little repetitive information and actually does not cover much about blogging. For example, their previous column, "From the Mutineer Blog," has been omitted. This is good as it only was excerpts from their online blog. There is another amusing bit of wine satire written by the Hose Master of Wine, which is good to see. There is also The Final Word by Tom Wark, of Fermentation, which is a repeat of one of his blog posts. That one-page article is basically the only repetitive one.

What else will you find within this issue? There is a Photo Log of pictures from all across the country including a photo taken at the Boston Wine School (though the photo misidentifies two people, Marc Bergeron and John Commando). Some of the other articles you will find include: Ask The Wine Adviser (wine Q&A); an interview with Shira Lane, the director of Got the Facts on Milk; book reviews; a restaurant review of Purple Cafe in Seattle; the architecture of Napa Valley; artisan distilleries of the Pacific Northwest (my favorite article this issue); information about Absinthe; an article on Maker's Mark; an interview with Max Riedel (of glassware fame); and much more.

There is also a compelling section on A Child's Right, a water relief organization which has been bringing clean, safe drinking water to children all over the world. There is a photo essay of children in Ethiopia as well as an interview with Eric Stowe, executive director of A Child's Right. Please check out this article and support this important organization.

Mutineer has also tried an experiment, using ScanLife EZcodes in some of the articles of the magazine. Your iPhone or Blackberry can take a photo of the ScanLife which will then be analyzed and take you to a website for additionl information. I found that it was not so easy to take a clear enough picture of the ScanLife so that my iPhone could decipher it. That might just be an issue of needing additional experience. But, I am not sure it is any easier to analyze the ScanLife than it would be to type in an URL into my browser.

This issue has once again provided a diverse selection of topics with plenty of good photography. I found many more articles in this issue that interested me. Plus there was very little that I had previously read online. I like that the magazine is clearly providing coverage for all types of beverages, and not just wine and beer. I hope that Mutineer Magazine continues to improve and I recommend you check out their latest issue.

New York Saké Week: June 1-5

Those lucky New Yorkers! They get to participate in the first New York Saké Week from June 1-5. The event is being organized by Southern Wine and Spirits, which also organized all the Saké at the recent UNLVino Grand Wine Tasting event I attended. They certainly seem to be very interested in the promotion of Saké and they deserve kudoes for their efforts.

Over 100 New York restaurants will be participating, just an amazing number of places, who have elected to help promote Saké. There will be many special events, including food pairings, tastings, education, and more. The goal is to expose people to the pleasures of Saké, and especially how it can pair with so many different cuisines.

For more information, check out the article in Nelson Wade Magazine.

Now wouldn't that be a great event for Boston too? I doubt we could arrange an event that large, though even on a smaller scale it would be worthwhile.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza

The third volume of the fascinating Oishinbo series has just been released and is titled, Ramen & Gyoza. Though it primarily deal with ramen noodles (and other noodles dishes) and gyoza (dumplings), it touches on various other topics as well, including Chinese food and factory farms. I enjoyed this volume very much and it is a fine addition to the series.

Like the previous volumes, this book begins with a recipe: Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen. Then there are eleven chapters and also like the prior volumes, the back of the book has a series of notes, many dealing with Japanese terms, concerning the text.

The initial chapter deals with two, competing ramen restaurants which are owned by twin brothers. They used to own a single, renowned restaurant but split up. But now, neither restaurant is doing well by the critics. It seems each brother is good at a specific aspect of creating ramen, and they make up for the other's weakness. It is only together that they make great ramen, and you learn about how good ramen is made.

Chapters Three through Five depict a competition to create the best Hiyashi Chuka ("Chilled Chinese Noodles" or "Chilled Ramen"). It is not a traditional dish and there is no standard version as of yet. These chapters touch on how overly processed foods don't taste right, though companies do it to save money. Factory farms are castigated while organic, healthy farms are praised. This is what many concerned about sustainability having been saying, yet the message comes in a comic book. Japanese manga can address some very important topics. One of my favorite lines is "In today's world it takes a lot of effort to eat things that are both safe and good." (p.93)

The next two chapters deal with a conflict between two villages, each trying to introduce a special local dish. The two villages will thus be battling over tourism. They each hire a food expert to help them design their new dish, yet those experts try to create something to unite the two villages, rather than divided them. A ramen dish, using fish and pork, is the winner, as each village specializes in either fish or pork and thus can contribute equally to the dish.

Chapters Eight to Ten deal with Gyoza, and a contest to create the ultimate gyoza. You learn how gyoza are prepared, including fried, boiled and steamed. There is even a dessert gyoza! The final chapter is about two Chinese men who go to a Japanese ramen shop. This section touches on potentially racist words and how countries should address each other. Very deep for a food comic.

This volume of the series was both educational and thought provoking. I definitely recommend the entire series to any foodie. I will continue to look forward to the next volume of the Oishinbo series.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Waters Crest Winery: Long Island

All of the Long Island wines I recently tasted during Taste Camp East are not the only Long Island wines I have been drinking. I received some samples from the Waters Crest Winery and have tasted a few of them with my wine buddies. The wines fit my general thoughts on Long Island wines.

The Waters Crest Winery is a family-run operation owned by Jim and Linda Waters. Jim was once a firefighter and he worked at Ground Zero after 9/11. He had an epiphany, deciding that life was too short and he chose a new career, to open a winery. The grapes they use come from local growers, and Jim selects only high quality fruit. I really like their philosophy, "At Waters Crest, Wine is our Passion."

The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.99) is a new release. The wine had a nose of cherry and eucalyptus and on the palate, there were plenty of cherry flavors as well as hints of spice and a mild earthiness. The finish was fairly long though there was a touch of bitterness at the end. Tannins were restrained and it was an easy drinking wine. All of my friends, as did I, enjoyed this Cabernet but we all felt it was over priced. There was insufficient complexity for me, and not enough depth of flavor. At half the price I might buy it, but I expect much more from a $40 wine.

The 2005 Waters Crest Campania Rosso ($35.99) is a blend of 73% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had a nice dark red color and an enticing red fruit smell. On the palate, it had a dry, almost austere, taste with flavors of raspberry and cherry. There were hints of spice and good acidity. Tannins were moderate and the finish was decently long. I enjoyed this wine as did a few others of my friends. Others felt it was too light, wanting a richer, more full bodied wine. Yet again, we agreed this wine was too expensive for what it delivered.
The 2006 Waters Crest Reserve Cabernet Franc ($34.99) is made from 100% Cabernet Franc. It was aged for 16 months in new French Oak and only 214 cases were produced. The nose was very enticing to me, a smoky bacon smell being most prominent. On the palate there were nice flavors of plum, blackberries and touches of spice. There were none of the vegetal tastes that I dislike in Cabernet Franc. My friends were divided on this wine, some liking, others not. Though I enjoyed the taste of this wine, I still think it is to expensive, especially considering the 2007 Shinn Estates Cabernet Franc, which was an amazing wine, and will only cost about $35-$40.

Overall, Waters Crest is making some good wines, but they did not impressive me sufficiently to justify their prices.

2nd Annual MA Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival

Mass Farmers Markets is pleased to announce the 2nd Annual Strawberry Dessert Festival – happening June 12th through June 28th. Participating eateries across the Bay State including restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and ice cream parlors will donate a percentage of proceeds from specially prepared strawberry dessert items to benefit the Federation of Mass Farmers Markets (MFM), the only statewide non-profit dedicated to supporting and promoting farmers markets. Diners “out & about” between these dates will be able to enjoy specially prepared strawberry desserts at participating eateries and know that they’ll be helping a worthy cause at the same time.

Now in its second year, The Mass Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival was created in 2008 to highlight the local strawberry season and raise much-needed funds for Mass Farmers Markets’ mission as the only state-wide non-profit organization dedicated to sustaining and strengthening our farmers market system.

Last year’s event was met with overwhelming success and our participants helped us raise the funding needed to keep farmers markets thriving in Massachusetts!

This year, the event has grown to include over thirty of the most beloved Massachusetts restaurants and eateries. Chefs at each establishment will create strawberry dessert masterpieces using locally sourced produce!

Some of the many participant-eateries signed up this year include: The Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro (Boston), Tremont 647 (Boston), Garden at the Cellar (Cambridge), Henrietta's Table (Cambridge), flora (Arlington), The Summer Shack (Cambridge), Burton's Grill (Boston), Bistro 5 (Medford), Highland Kitchen (Somerville), The Fireplace (Brookline), 51 Lincoln (Newton), Prose (Arlington), L’Andana Grill (Burlington), Haley House Bakery Cafe (Boston -- Roxbury), Tabella (Amherst), Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro (Foxboro), Tatte Fine Cookies & Cakes (Brookline & local farmers markets), Tomasso Trattoria (Southborough) and Watch City Brewing Company (Waltham) to name a few.

In addition, four Whole Foods Market locations in greater Boston (Charles River Plaza, Symphony, Brighton, and Fresh Pond, Cambridge) will donate 50% of proceeds from sales of their strawberry parfaits from June 12 – 21!

This year’s Chef Spokesperson, Pastry Chef Shannon Black from the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, had this to say about the festival: “The Mass Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival is a great opportunity for me to support local farmers and farmers markets while showing off the incredible taste of fresh, in-season, New England strawberries!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Premium Port Wines: UNLVino

One of the last tables I visited at the UNLVino grand tasting belonged to Premium Port Wines, Inc., the North American importer for the Symington Family Estates of Portugal. They import Port, Madeira, and Douro DOC still wines including brands such as W. & J. Graham's, Smith Woodhouse and Blandy's. I tried three of their offerings, and all of them I very much enjoyed. They made for an excellent ending to the wine tasting.

Smith Woodhouse, which was founded in 1784, was acquired by the Symington family in 1970. Its 25 acre vineyard, called Madelena, is located in the Rio Torto Valley in the Douro. It is a small producer, making less than 5000 cases each year.

I tasted their 1995 Late Bottled Vintage Port (about $30) which was bottled unfiltered after four years and then aged in the bottle for another 5 years before being released. As it is unfiltered, you should probably decant this Port. This wine had a deep, red color, almost purple. It fills our mouth with ripe dark berries, touches of spice and almost a bit of chocolate. It is a very smooth, easy-drinking wine with a very lengthy and satisfying finish. Complex, balanced and well structured. Overall it was an excellent wine, especially for the price. You could spend much more for a Vintage Port but this wine is very satisfying for much less.
Quinta do Vesuvio, which can trace its history back to the 16th century, was acquired by the Symingtons in 1989. Its 1000 acre estate is located in the upper Douro. They only produce a small quantity of Single Quinta Vintage Port. I tasted their 2001 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port ($75) and it was exceptional. It is very dark, nearly purple in color. It was silky smooth, with lush plum, blueberry and blackberry flavors. It has some minerality, mild tannins, and a long, long finish. Maybe more elegant and complex than the Smith Woodhouse LBV. This wine should probably last for quite a long time, and should get even better over time. Yes, it is pricey but if you are a Port lover, then this will excite you.
The Blandy family winery was founded in 1811 and they are only remaining original owners remaining in the Madeira trade. In 1989, they entered into a partnership with Symington. I got to try their unique Blandy's Alvada 5-Year Madeira (about $20). This wine was intended to be an entry wine for those new to Madeira, as well as catering to contemporary tastes. Most Madeira is made from a single grape but the Alvada is a blend of 50% Malmsey and 50% Bual and it was aged for 5 years in American oak casks in the traditional 'Canteiro' system. This wine was smooth and rich, with flavors of nuts, orange, spice, and honey. The finish was long and delicious. An interesting dessert wine and well worth checking out.

Bin Ends: Wine Seminars

Bin Ends, one of my favorite wine stores, is introducing a weekly series of in-store tasting seminars exploring everything fun about fine wine! Created by wine guru John Hafferty, co-owner of Bin Ends, the events are designed to be engaging and unintimidating. Each week, guests will enjoy simple wine-friendly food pairings as Hafferty fills their glasses and opens their eyes to wine topics, such as up-and-coming growing regions, winemaking techniques and rare varietals.

  • June 4: Straight Dope on Fine Wine - An Irreverent But Spot On Intro to Wine Appreciation
  • June 11: Californication - Decadent Pleasures From America's Fine Wine Heartland
  • June 18: Is That a Magnum Or Are You Just Happy to See Me - Fine Wine in Larger Format Packages
  • June 25 Bubblicious - Cava, Prosecco, and Other Super Sparkling Wines for Summer Entertaining
  • July 2: Straight Dope on Fine Wine - An Irreverent But Spot On Introduction to Wine Appreciation
  • July 9: Make Mine a Mutt - Fabulous Fine Wine Blends for All Occasions
  • July 16: What the Heck is a Gooseberry Anyways? The Wonderful World of Sauvignon Blanc
  • July 23: Last House on the Left - Great Value Bordeaux from Off the Beaten Path Left Bank Appellations
  • July 30: Red Wine on the Rocks - Discovering the Simple Pleasures of Chilled Red Wines
  • Aug 6: Straight Dope on Fine Wine - An Irreverent But Spot On Introduction to Wine Appreciation
  • Aug 13: Turf Wars - You Don't Need a Mouthful of Dirt to "Taste the Terroir"....or do you?
  • Aug 20: Those Crazy Calabrese - An Introduction to the Fine Wines of Southern Italy
  • Aug 27: Don't Cry for Me Argentina - Discovering Wine Beyond Malbec from South America's Fine Wine Hotspot

Time: 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm
Cost: $15 per class
Register: Email, or call 781-817-1212

Bin Ends
236 Wood Road
Braintree, MA 02185

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Stoneham Sun: Taza Chocolate

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the May 20 issue issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it also sometimes touches on other food and wine topics.

The new column has been published today and will be available online soon. The new article provides discusses Taza Chocolate, an artisan chocolate factory in Somerville. They use a traditional Mexican stone grinding method to make their chocolate. It is very distinctive and worth checking out. You can even tour their facility.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Dine with passion

Taste Camp East: Day 2, Part 3

After our lunch and wine tasting at Shinn Estates, it was time to move onto our next winery, Bedell Cellars. Bedell most reminded me of a Napa winery, a more grandiose winery. The winery was established in 1985 but the owner/wine maker, Kip Bedell, sold it in 2000 to Michael Lynne, former Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of New Line Cinema. Fortunately, Kip was kept on as the wine maker.

While on the large porch pictured above, Kip poured a selection of his wines for us. We did have some fruit, cheese and crackers, including quite a delicious blue cheese.

Here are my two favorite wines from our Bedell tasting.

The 2007 Corey Creek Vineyards Gewurtztraminer ($30) is made from 100% Gewurtztraminer in a dry Alsatian style. It is aged in 98% stainless steel and 2% new French oak, and only 240 cases were produced. It only has an alcohol content of 12%. This wine has an alluring and aromatic nose of exotic spices and restrained tropical fruit, the very distinctive Gerwurtztraminer smell. On the palate, the wine is crisp with nice minerality, tropical fruit flavors and a spicy backbone. It has a decent finish and should appeal to anyone who enjoys this grape.

The 2007 Bedell Cabernet Franc ($25) was only bottled a month ago so still it a little tight. But I think it has much potential. Yes, I know, another Cabernet Franc that I enjoyed. What a surprise. But this Cab Franc had plenty of interesting fruit and none of that green/vegetal taste that turns me off. It is a bit tannic so it is probably best paired with food. I think this wine is reasonably priced and I would love to try this in six months or so to see how it has opened up.

After Bedell, it was on to our last winery visit of the day, to Lenz Winery. Founded in 1978, the winery has almost 70 acres of vineyards and all of their wines are "estate" wines, meaning they almost always only use grapes they grow themselves. They are very proactive in the vineyards and "micro-manage each vine to ripeness each year."

Yet when they enter the winery, they are much more hands-off. They use French oak exclusively and their wines are generally considered more French than California in style. We met Eric Fry, the wine maker (picture above pouring wine) and he was quite a character. Very passionate, witty and down to earth.

The tasting itself was lots of fun as well as eductional. We got to compare wine that was still being created to the finished products. Eric would pour a plastic pitcher of the unfinished wine, asking us to guess the grape and that was certainly a difficult taste. As the unfinished wine generally had a paler color, I was stumped once when we tried a Pinot Noir which I thought might be a Riesling. Other attendees were similarly stumped.

Part of the tasting took place outside, around a large drain where we all spit. It was pretty funny to have everyone standing around spitting. Unfortunately, I did not take detailed tasting notes at this winery. A casualty of being the last winery after such a long day. But, I can tell you that I tasted plenty of delicious wines here, both whites and reds. Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, including some of their older wines. Good fruit, nice balance, fine structure. And the prices were usually very reasonable, including some wines under $20. You definitely should check out Lenz wines.

Yet our wine drinking was not over yet. For dinner, we went to Grand Cru Classes, a company that provides wine education. We were having a BBQ and most, if not all, of the attendees had brought wine for us all to taste and drink. There were dozens and dozens of bottles available, from all over the world, including wines from some less common U.S. states, brought by bloggers from those states. We drank, chatted, ate and savored the day. It had been a quite long day, but we had accomplished much. I certainly slept very well that night.

I left early on Sunday, sadly missing out on two more winery visits on the South Fork. I especially regret missing the Channing Daughters Winery as I have heard lots of positive feedback from other attendees who did go there.

Beacon Hill Bistro: Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito

Sipping the standard mint-infused mojito is kinda summer 2008. This year, spend those warm summer nights enjoying the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro’s latest creation, the Strawberry Rhubarb Mojito.

Leave it up to the Bistro to take a classic cocktail such as the mojito and mix it with a complex, yet delicious, strawberry rhubarb infusion made with fresh strawberries, rhubarb, and light rum. Mojito connoisseurs need not worry; the bold flavors of lime juice, sugar, and mint still enhance this refreshing $11 cocktail.


Strawberry/Rhubarb Infusion:
15-20 strawberries cut into halves
1 large stalk rhubarb chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 bottle 750 ml light Rum

3 oz infused Rum
¾ oz fresh lime juice
1 strawberry from tank
Pinch of sugar
1 sprig mint
Soda water

Muddle strawberry with sugar and mint leaves
Add ice, Rum and lime juice
Shake vigorously and pour into a glass
Add a splash of soda
garnish with top of the mint sprig and lime wedge

Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro
25 Charles Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-723-7575

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rhumbar: Las Vegas

A bartender can be an artist, especially if they are truly skilled at making cocktails. It can be real pleasure to watch a professional bartender in action, especially when the results are quite compelling. On my recent trip to Las Vegas, I visited a new bar, the Rhumbar at the Mirage Hotel, which really captivated my attention.

Rhumbar consists of two parts, an exterior patio looking out on the Strip and a stylish interior. The interior seems mainly colored white and green, meant to symbolize a mojito on a white sand beach, with intriguing and somewhat bizarre "sculpted chrome fighting cocks encased in glass" jutting forth from the walls above the bar.

I had drinks in the bar on several occasions, trying some of their 40 or so featured rums as well as some of their innovative cocktails. Their rum selection is quite extensive and diverse and I tasted shots of a couple amazing ones. Behind the bar I could also see their other liqueurs and alcohols, including many of the newest and hottest ones on the market from St. Germaine to Domaine de Canton. The bar also contains jars and containers of fresh fruits and other ingredients for their cocktails.

As for the cocktails, I must have tried maybe six or seven different ones, though the names of most escape me except for the Samba Swizzle. The bartenders who made the cocktails were very professional, and it was enjoyable to watch them creating their drinks. They were confident, skilled and very personable. And I enjoyed every cocktail I tried, from the sweeter ones to the spicy, hot ones. The cocktail list is diverse and there should be something there to fit all tastes.

At night, this is quite the hot spot and I highly recommend you check it out on your next visit to Las Vegas. And if you like cigars, they also have their own humidor with plenty of different brands available.

Ristorante Pavarotti: Improving

When I last visited Ristorante Pavarotti in Reading, it had only been open for about three weeks and I was rather underwhelmed. But I intended to return there after some time had passed to see whether it had changed or not. All new restaurants need some time to work out the kinks, to get everything in its proper place. I ate there again recently and was pleased to see that some positive changes have occurred, though I still have a couple issues with the place.

First, the wine list has not changed and I remain disappointed by their very limited wine-by-the-glass options. As they only serve beer and wine, I would hope could provide a more interesting selection.

Second, they have changed their bread, now offering fresh, warm sliced bread with their oil. The bread almost looked like a small loaf and I really liked it. This is a positive change, helping to set a good initial impression, hinting of the promises of good food that should soon be delivered. It certainly gave me hope.

Third, the food menu has undergone some modification, apparently adding some appetizers, changing a few items, and some of the prices may even be a little lower. Plus they had a number of nightly specials, including items like a veal chop and filet mignon. I should also add that many of the entrees now come with a variety of possible pastas, including fusilli, and not just ziti as before. There are all more positive changes.

I began with an appetizer of Mussels ($9.95) which came in a white wine sauce with cherry tomatoes. The mussels tended to be on the larger size, though they were fairly tender. The sauce was tasty, and a good place to dip my bread. Overall, a good dish though not exceptional.

My entree was the Veal Parmigiana ($18.95), which I believe is $1 cheaper than it used to be, and I had it with a side of fusilli. I did have to ask the waitress though about my pasta side as she did not volunteer any options. The veal was quite large and covered with plenty of melted cheese. It tasted good, as did the red sauce, and the veal was fairly tender. But like the mussels, though the dish was good, it was not exceptional.

I am glad that the restaurant has made some positive changes since its initial opening. It sells good food, at average prices, but I still have concerns that it is not competitive enough with all of the other local Italian restaurants. I don't think you get anything special here that you can't find at most other Italian places. So why would you choose this restaurant? You may enjoy your meal here but I don't think you will fine it memorable. I would like to see them do something different, unique, which would make them stand out in the crowd.

Ristorante Pavarotti
601 Main St.
Reading, MA
Phone: 781-670-9050

Ristorante Pavarotti on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 18, 2009

BiNA Osteria: Pasta Supreme

Azita Bina-Seibel and her brother, Babak Bina, already own two very successful restaurnts, Lala Rokh and Bin 26 Enoteca. They have tried for a triple play, opening a new high-end Italian restaurant on Washington Street in Boston. I believe this will be another successful endeavor for them.

The new restaurant, BiNA Osteria, is situated next to their new Italian market, BiNA Alimentari, which I previously gave a positive review. I had the opportunity to stop by the restaurant for a bite before a function I was attending. Based on my visit, I will definitely be returning to try more of their food.

The look of the restaurant is very modern, and even a bit minimalistic. It has a long bar and comfortable lounge area. They have a full bar and I tried one of their cocktails, the Caprese ($10), which contains Pepper Vodka, Tomato Water, Balsamic, and Basil. This was quite a unique drink, definitely reminiscent of a caprese salad. A very savory rather than sweet drink and I think it actually pairs better with food than would a sweet cocktail.

Their wine list by the glass ($7-$12) only has about a dozen or so choices, but they are interesting ones, most of the choices are from Italy though there are also some from France , Germany and Austria. I did have a delicous and fruit Chennin Blanc ($9) from the Anjou Blanc AOC, the 2007 ‘Sous La Tonelle’ by Domaine de la Bergerie.

Prior to the arrival of my food, I received some fresh sliced bread with "pig butter" which is actually lard. It comes with salt and herbs that you can mix with the lard top your bread. Sure people would likely not eat it if they called it "lard" but it is decadently tasty. It does seem to almost have a creamy, pork-like taste and I loved it atop my bread. I even got seconds because it was so good. Don't think about what it is and just enjoy.

For dinner, I opted for two small portions of two different pasta dishes. I began with the Spaghetti Alla Carbonara ($15) which is made with house made pancetta, a slow cooked hen egg, and pecorino. You break the yolk over the pasta and then stir it up. The pasta was cooked just right and the dish was quite flavorful with smoky bits of pancetta. It is small enough to be an appetizer though it has a certain richness to it that can be filling. The Potato Gnocchi ($17) came with lobster, calamari, chorizo, and Meyer lemon confit. The pillowy gnocchi were soft and light, complemented well by the tender seafood. The chorizo were thin, crisp circles adding spice and smoke to the dish. Another excellent choice.

So my initial impressions are very positive. I certainly will be returning here to try more dishes, maybe even the chef's tasting menu. Plus I want another Caprese cocktail.

BiNA Osteria
581 Washington St.
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 956-0888

BiNA Osteria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Denshin "Yuki" Junmai Ginjo

The other evening, I opened another new Saké, one of those I purchased from Sakaya in New York City. I think I am starting to get low on my Saké so it might soon be time for another road trip to NYC. Like the others Sakés I have had from Sakaya, this was very good and another that I would recommend.

The Denshin "Yuki" Junmai Ginjo ($32.99-720ml) is made by the Ippongi Kubo Honten brewery (founded in 1902) from the Chubu region of the Fukui prefecture. The brewery sits at the base of Mt. Haku, deep in Echizen which is known for its crystal clear water. "Yuki" means "snow," meant to symbolize that the Saké is as light as newly fallen snow. It was made from the famed Yamada Nishiki rice, which was polished to 55%. This Saké has an alcohol content of 15-16% and a Saké Meter Value of +5, making it a dry Saké.

This Saké has a subtle nose, lightly floral and the taste is also more subtle. It has a clean and light taste, with tantalizing hints of fruit and steamed rice. Very smooth with a lengthy finish. You can easily enjoy it on its own with light food, like a white fish or even a mild chicken dish. It would also be a good introductory Saké for a newcomer.

Okada: Las Vegas

Like steakhouses, Las Vegas has plenty of options for Japanese cuisine and sushi. Last year, as well as a couple other times, I dined at the famed Nobu located in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. I have always had excellent meals there but I decided this year to try someplace else. Like my steakhouse challenge, I needed to find a top notch Japanese restaurant. Hopefully, I would succeed as well as I did on the steakhouse challenge.

After much consideration, I chose Okada, Chef Masa Ishizawa's restaurant at the Wynn. This is certainly a beautiful restaurant with its lush gardens and waterfalls. It looks quite impressive and you expect that your dining experience will be equally impressive. Unfortunately, that was not my experience.

Maybe my expectations were too high as I was looking for an exceptional meal. I enjoyed my meal, it was very good, but it just did not "wow" me. And I don't think my meal was as good as those I have had at Nobu. And we had a couple minor service issues as well.

The sushi was very good, and fairly priced as you received two pieces rather than just one. The tempura shrimp was also very good, a nice light batter, as was the miso black cod. I was not as keen on their robata skewers, my chicken and fish being a bit dry. Their Sake was very expensive though they had a decent selection.

I find myself somewhat at a loss for words. Just not enough inspiration from this dining experience to ignite my passions.

Okada (Wynn) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Taste Camp East: Day 2, Part 2

Time for lunch. We dined at Shinn Estates, the meal being jointly sponsored by Shinn Estates, Macari Vineyards, and Jamesport Vineyards. While we ate, we would taste some wines from all three wineries. Plus, we would learn about their efforts at trying to create organic/biodynamic wines.

When we first arrived, lunch was still being prepared. They were slicing the Crescent Duck Breasts (pictured above) and I was nearly salivating in anticipation. I love duck and this looked so appealing, nice meaty prices with crisp skin and a thin layer of fat below the skin. When I finally got to taste the duck, it fully lived up to my expectations. Moist, flavorful and absolutely delicious. I could have eaten a couple pounds of that duck all by myself.

During lunch, two wines stood out to me. First, was the 2008 Macari Vineyards Rose (probably around $11-$12 though it has not yet been released.) It is a blend of five grapes and is made by the saignée method. This was very much an Old World Rose, dry, minerally and with restrained fruit flavors of strawberry and watermelon. It reminded me of a French Rose and at this price is a good value.

I was stunned though by our barrel tasting of the 2007 Shinn Estates Cabernet Franc. It was an exceptional wine which impressed many of us. Though I am not usually a fan of Cabernet Franc, this wine could make me a convert. It was the single best Cabernet Franc I have ever tasted. There was so much complexity in its taste, lots of spice and dark berry flavors. A very lengthy finish, great balance and structure. For me, it was a "wow" wine. As their 2006 Cabernet Franc was $39, I assume the 2007 will be at a similar price. Even at such a price, I would highly recommend this wine. If more Cabernet Francs were similar to this, I would be a big fan of the grape.

The owners and wine makers of Shinn Estates, Macari Vineyards, and Jamesport Vineyards are very passionate about organic and biodynamic wines. Joseph Macari, Jr. has been a pioneer in this regard. This type of agriculture is difficult on Long Island, especially due to the weather and soils. They do as much as they can but understand the realities and make necessary compromises at times. Yet they also engage in continual research and experimentation, trying to get closer and closer to fully organic/biodynamic. They are sincere in their beliefs and this is definitely not a marketing stunt.

Barbara Shinn also had the funniest line of the weekend, as she passed around a jar of manure. She basically stated that great wine comes from a horse's ass.

After lunch, we went out into the vineyard with David Page (in the center of the photo), Barbara's husband and co-owner of Shinn Estates. (Barbara is in the back of the photo). Though there had been some rain and overcast skies earlier, the sun now came out, making for a much better afternoon. It was bud break in the vineyard, which you can see pictured below.

We then moved to their barrel room to taste wines from about ten different wineries, places we would not be visiting this trip. There were plenty of wines from places such as Borghese Vineyard, Martha Clara Vineyards, Bouke Wines, Croteaux Vineyards, Harbes Family Farm, Lieb Cellars, Old Field Vineyards, Palmer Vineyards, and Sparkling Pointe.

I really liked most of the Roses I tried, usually Old World in style, dry but with good fruit. Croteaux Vineyards makes only Rose, from Merlot, and they have three different styles. I liked all three of them and they would be great for the summer. The 2008 Harbes Red Horse Rose was excellent, with bright strawberry fruit yet still dry and minerally. The 2008 Shinn Estates Rose was very nice: dry, creamy and with nice red fruit tastes.

Some of my other favorite wines included: 2000 Sparkling Pointe Brut Seduction, 2004 Sparkling Pointe Topaz Imperial, 2005 Borghese Pinot Noir, and 2005 Shinn Estates Cabernet Sauvignon.