Let me continue a review of my top recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2009. I have already provided a General Summary of 2009, my Favorite Restaurants of 2009 and my Favorite Food-Related Items of 2009. Now, this post will concentrate on my favorite wine and spirit related items. My last review post, on Saké, will get posted very soon.
This is certainly not a complete list. It is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.
Favorite Discount Wine Store: With our tough economic times, price is very important so discount wine stores are especially prominent. For the second year in a row, Bin Ends, a discount wine store in Braintree, takes this honor. With some of the best wine prices around, a diverse selection and knowledgeable staff, this store is a must visit. Plus, the store is at the top of using social media, not only to promote themselves but also to engage in a dialogue with wine lovers and their customers.
Favorite New Discount Wine Store: Though only open for a few months, the Wine Connextion, in North Andover, is making a strong beginning. Their wine prices are incredibly low, they have about 700 different wines and they sell Saké. With time, this store should get even better, adding some esoteric wines and high-end spirits.
Runner-Up New Discount Wine Store: Though I was initially very skeptical, I was pleased to see that my worst fears were not realized at the new wine/liquor store at the Stoneham BJs. Their prices are low, their selection gets better all the time, and they have plenty of free wine tastings. This is another wine store you should be checking out.
Favorite New Boutique Wine Store: For an adventurous wine lover, the opening of Central Bottle in Central Square, Cambridge, was a welcome blessing. With an intriguing collection of artisan and small producer wines, with about 90 at $15 or less, this is the place to find plenty of exciting wines. Plus, they sell cheese, meats, cicchetti, bread and more! The staff is knowledgeable and passionate and the store has a full list of upcoming events, including Thursday night Wine Bar. Make this one of your wine destinations.
Favorite New Suburban Wine Store: When Melrose finally allowed three stores to sell wine in town, Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet (which also has a Boston location), was one of the three. With a good selection of wine, including Saké, and gourmet foods, including a cheese counter, they are a very welcome addition to the local area. They have regular wine tastings and have plans for much more in the coming year.
Favorite Suburban Boutique Wine Store: I first visited the Belmont branch of Vintages: Adventures in Wine this year. It has an exceptional selection of more artisan and esoteric wines, all reasonably priced, with an emphasis on Italian wines. Plus, they have some outstanding wine tastings, some with the wine makers. An excellent wine lovers destination.
Favorite North End Wine Store: Kerri Platt, the owner of the Wine Bottega has made this North End institution an even more compelling wine store. Great selection, excellent wine tastings, a knowledgeable staff and lots of passion. If you are visiting the North End, make sure to stop by the Wine Bottega.
Favorite Portland Wine Store: I visited several wine stores in Portland, yet only one really stood out, the Browne Trading Gourmet Market. I was surprised by the diversity of their wines and Saké, including plenty of high-end wines. Prices were reasonable and the front of the store also sells gourmet foods, fresh fish, produce and more. One stop shopping for your food & wine needs.
Favorite Local Winery: The Travessia Urban Winery is located in downtown New Bedford, and produces wines using only Massachusetts grapes. The owner Marco is a passionate man, truly interested in producing the best wines that he can. And he has been producing some very good wines, at reasonable prices. Tour the winery and taste the wines and you too will understand why I like this winery.
Favorite Vermont Winery: This year, I got to taste wine from a number of Vermont wineries and one most impressed me, the Boyden Valley Winery. They only use Vermont grapes, hybrids, and the wines are delicious and reasonably priced. Their Vermont Ice Red, made from Frontenac, is even one of the best ice wines I have ever had. If you are in Vermont, seek out their wines.
Favorite Long Island Winery: While at TasteCamp, we visited several different Long Island wineries. My favorite winery was Paumanok Vineyards, which produces some killer wines including their Chenin Blanc and Petit Verdot. A close runner-up was Shinn Estates, which served us superb duck breast and makes a superb Cabernet Franc. Both of these wineries show the high quality that Long Island wines can reach.
Favorite Wine Dinner: This was a tie as it was just too difficult to choose only one wine dinner. First, there was the dinner at Bistro 5 with Paolo De Marchi, a famed Tuscan wine maker who owns the winery Isole e Olena. Great wines, food and company made this an exceptional evening. Second, there was the dinner at Erbaluce where Chef Draghi chose some very unusual Italian wines to pair with his always superb cuisine. The marriage of wine and food can be so exciting.
Favorite Wine Maker Tasting: Christoph Künzli, the winemaker of Le Piane in the Boca region of the Northern Piedmont, came to Boston to showcase some rare wines, aged Nebbiolo produced by Antonio Cerri. These were incredible wines and Christoph is such an amazing man, humble and passionate. Adonna Imports arranged the tasting and the Cerri wines are now available for sale.
Favorite Wine Tasting: It is very rare for me to attend a tasting of 20+ wines and like every single one of them. But it happened this year at a tasting of boutique wines from Israel. Wineries such as Tzora, Margalit and Tulip presented interesting and delicious wines and showed the true potential of Israel to produce excellent wines. Thanks to Richard at Israeli Wine Direct for arranging this tasting.
Runner-Up Favorite Wine Tasting: I found some excellent and exciting wines at the Wine Riot 2, including a few of my favorite wines of the year. Held at a local courthouse, a funky venue, the event was not overly crowded so it was fun to stroll through the tasting tables. There were wine classes, music and other amusing activities. There just needed to be more food available, including some freebies, to help people cleanse their palates as well as not get too intoxicated.
Favorite Wine Party: One of the highlights of the Boston Wine Expo weekend did not even take place at the Expo. It was a special Expo After Party held at the Boston Wine School, an intimate party with wine lovers, bloggers, wine makers, distributors and more. There was plenty of delicious food (including some superb duck breast), interesting wines as well as lots of enjoyable conversation.
Favorite Wine Magazine: Decanter, a British wine magazine, continues to impress me with its extensive coverage of many less common wine regions, often ignored or marginalized in other wine publications. Plus it has an amusing wine cartoon in every issue. I eagerly look forward to each issue of Decanter.
Strangest Wine Item: Should you drink wine based on the rhythms and configurations of the moon, planets and constellations? Some people believe, based on biodynamic principles, that there are specific days best suited to taste wine. Wine is supposed to taste best, with the most flavor, on "fruit" days and taste the worst on "root" days. I am very skeptical of this idea but it certainly intrigued me.
Favorite Wine Trend: We are starting to see the production of some high-quality Boxed wines and I love the idea. Besides being better for the environment, they are convenient, long lasting and inexpensive. Even some of the best local wine stores are starting to carry these boxed wines, a good indication that boxed wines are making their mark. Wineries, let us see more high quality box wines!
Favorite Single-Topic Wine Book: I love the Pinotage grape so was very excited to see the publication of a book this year devoted to Pinotage. Pinotage: Behind the Legends of South Africa's Own Wine was written by Peter May, the author of The Pinotage Club blog. The book is well written, informative and highly recommended. Read the book and drink some Pinotage.
Favorite Multi-Topic Wine Book: I do love learning esoteric facts about the world of wine so I was captivated by Is This Bottle Corked? The Secret Life of Wine, written by Kathleen Burk and Michael Bywater. This book contains over 85 short articles about a wide range of wine-related topics, an an eclectic mix of topics covering education, entertainment, history, literature, science and much more. This is a very fun and informative read.
New Wine Tasting Notes: I am excited that I have begun writing a new style of wine tasting notes for some of my reviews. I began using the new notes with the 2008 Heidi Schrok Muscat and have continued with several others since then. So far, thise new style of tasting note has been well received so I will continue using it in 2010.
Favorite Las Vegas Bar: With very professional and skilled bartenders, and a diverse selection of rums and spirits, the Rhumbar at the Mirage Hotel is a recommended destination. I have had numerous excellent cocktails here, as well as sipped some high-end rums. You can sit inside or at their outside patio.
Favorite Alcohol History Book: The King of Vodka by Linda Himelstein presents a biography and history of Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov and the vodka company he created, extending from the early 19th century through today. It is a fascinating story, how a serf became a very wealthy man through sales of vodka. Through Pyotr's story, we also see some of the history of Russia, the significant changes that occurred during the 19th century.
Favorite Cocktail Book: Check out Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails: From the Alamagoozlum to the Zombie 100 Rediscovered Recipes and the Stories Behind Them by Ted Haigh for a fun and informative look at largely forgotten cocktails. It provides plenty of recipes, as well as background information on all of them. Enliven your next party with this unusual recipes.
Favorite New Liquer: At Cochon 555, I first encountered Domaine de Canton, a French Ginger Liqueur. The Watermelon Mojito made with this liquer was quite delicious, the ginger not overwhelming the cocktail. Ginger can be a very refreshing flavor, and can add a nce touch to certain cocktails.
Favorite New Vodka: I was surprised when I first tasted Sobieski Vodka, a very inexpensive Polish vodka. For the low price, I was not expecting such a high quality vodka, nearly good enough for me to drink straight. At about half the price of Absolut or Smirnoff, it actually delivers twice as much flavor. This is my new every-day or party vodka.
For more wine and spirit related items, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything in this review post.
What were some of your favorite wine and spirit related items this year?