Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: Favorite Saké Items

What were some of my favorite Saké items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2010. I have already posted a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2010Favorite Food-Related Items of 2010, and Favorite Wine & Spirit Related Items.  This is my final list, my Favorite Saké Items of the past year. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. All of the items here get my strongest recommendation.

Saké Dominance: Saké continues to maintain a prominent role on my blog. My passion for Saké has only grown and I continue to promote it to others, to spread the word about this fascinating beverage. I want to destroy the stereotypes about Saké and shine a light on the truth, to show its diversity and complexity. It has been an exciting year for Saké and I am going to highlight some of the most interesting Saké events and items that have been on my blog.

Further Education:  This summer, I journeyed to San Francisco to attend John Gauntner's Saké Professional Course in San Francisco. Over the course of three intensive days, I expanded and reinforced my knowledge of Saké, while tasting over 90 different Sakés. The comparative tastings were extremely educational, helping you to really understand the effects of ingredients, production methods and more on the finished product.  There was a test at the end of the course, which I passed, and thus I became a Certified Sake Professional, one of less than 300 worldwide. It was a great class, and well worth taking if you love Saké. John was an excellent instructor, ensuring the material was fun and informative. I cannot recommend it enough.

Passionate Saké: I recently created a new Saké website, Passionate Saké, which is dedicated to my new Saké business endeavors. I am now available for hire to host educational classes, Saké tastings, Saké pairing dinners, and much more. Wine stores, distributors, restaurants, school and even private individuals can all benefit from my services. Please contact me to discuss potential events. Though the new site is only in its beginning stages, it will grow to become an interesting and more comprehensive Saké resource. You can also follow my new Saké-centric feed on Twitter at @PassionateSake.

Saké Tastings & Classes: I have presided over a number of Saké Tastings & Classes this past year, helping to promote this worthy beverage.  This included Saké tastings at the Wine Connextion and Urban Grape, and classes at the Pucker Art Gallery, Boston Wine School and T.W. Food. The response from the attendees has been largely positive, and many have been surprised by the diversity of Saké, often finding styles they enjoyed. Their preconceptions were changed and they now look at Saké in a different light. You can look forward to more tastings and classes in 2011. 

Saké Exports: Unfortunately, 2009 was not a good year for Saké exports. For the first time in the past nine years, Japanese exports of Saké decreased, by approximately 1.7% and Saké imports to the U.S. decreased by about 7%. But, the monetary value of Japanese Saké exports decreased by approximately 6.4%. So, it seems that the decrease in exports included mostly more expensive Saké. The conclusion seems to be that people are generally buying less expensive Saké, which is very similar to the wine situation due to the tough economy. 

Saké Promotion:  It was great to see Eric Asimov, a famed wine writer for The New York Times, cover Saké in his The Pour column. Asimov urged wine lovers to discover the joys of Saké and recommended Sakaya, the all-Saké store in New York City.  He also emphasized how Saké is very food friendly, and not just for Japanese food. It was so good to see this national exposure for Saké, and hope more national newspapers and magazines will cover Saké in 2011.  And if any of them need a writer to do so, please contact me. 

John Gauntner: Congratulations to John Gauntner, the famed "Saké Dendoushi" ("Saké Evangelist"),who was extremely busy this year with Saké activities.  First, he receives kudos for a very inspiring achievement. This year, he became a certified Master of Saké Tasting as well as a certified Saké Expert Assessor.  John is the only non-Japanese person to have both of the these certifications.  Second, John taught two Saké Professional Courses in the U.S., one in San Francisco (which I attended) and the other in Portland.  Third, John started a new educational Saké Blog, with weekly posts on the fundamentals of Saké and other related items. Fourth, he launched a Saké Dictionary & iPhone App and an audio file Japanese for Saké Lovers. Both are useful Saké resources.  And all of that is on top of his usual Saké activities.  Keep up the great work John!

Saké Enhanced By Mozart: There was an intriguing new article in the Toronto Star about the Ohara Shuzo, a brewery in the Fukushima Prefecture, which for the last twenty years has been playing music for the fermentation mixture during the third stage of the brewing process.  For two hours a day, they now play Mozart, having previously tested other music such as jazz, Beethoven and Bach.  They found Mozart worked best for them.  Can music really effect Saké production? 

Saké in Canada:  About two years ago, I posted about the first Saké brewery in Vancouver, Artisan Sakemaker, which opened in 2007.  The owner, Masa Shiroki, has now begun to grow Saké rice rather than import it from Japan. I am anxious to see how that goes, and I am hopeful that it yields success.  In other news, the Toronto Life reported a Saké brewery, the Ontario Spring Water Saké Company, will open in the spring of 2011. Owner Ken Valvur wants to create a brewery that adheres to Japanese tradition, and it will produce a variety of sake, including nigori, genshu, junmai and namazake. The brewery will also have a tasting bar, where freshly pressed sake can be sampled. Hopefully it will be open when I travel to that region later in the spring.

Saké & Diplomacy: When the Foreign Ministry of the Japanese government held banquets for foreign dignitaries, they used to serve mainly wine. Wine was considered easier to handle as well as easier to pair with food. Plus it was something foreign dignitaries were familiar with, and would enjoy. But Saké has begun to be served more and more at these dinners, promoting this national treasure.  Great news all around.

Favorite Japanese Saké: Though I have tasted many excellent Sakés this past year, the stand out was the Watari Bune Junmai DaiginjoI brought this bottle to TasteCamp for the BYOB event, and it received rave reviews from a number of bloggers.  It is not cheap, at around $125, but it is a very impressive Saké, which enthralls with its complexities. They don't get much better than this Saké and it truly is worth the price. This is a Saké that will live on in your memory for a very long time.  

Runner-Up Saké: The Kubota Manjyu Junmai Daiginjo is sublime, with a subtle nose of floral aromas and melon. It is lightly creamy in the mouth, with a clean, elegant and smooth taste. It is subtle and complex, definitely something to sip and savor, pondering the flavors that flit about your mouth. It is also pricey, $75-$90, but once again, it is an impressive Saké that is well worth the cost. 

Favorite Domestic Saké: Domestic Saké is continuing to improve and my current favorite is the SakéOne  G Joy Junmai Ginjo Genshu. It has a fruity nose, some melon and pear, and on the palate, is rich and creamy with flavors of melon, pear and even some pineapple. The finish is fairly long and smooth with hints of spice at the end. It is an easy Saké to enjoy, even for newbies, and at only $20 for a 750ml bottle, it is a good value too. 

Favorite Stores for Saké: There are only four all-Saké stores in the U.S., and I have visited two of them.  Sakaya, in the East Village of New York City, remains a great choice and I have not been disappointed in anything I have purchased there. This summer, I also returned to True Saké, in San Francisco, which was the first all-Saké store in the U.S. It has truly gotten even more compelling, its shelves nearly overflowing with a diverse selection of Saké, some exclusive to their store. It too gets my highest recommendation.

Favorite Local Stores for Saké: In the Boston+ area, finding good Saké can be difficult, but the situation has improved since last year.  More wine stores are stocking Saké, which pleases me immensely. Here are a few local wine stores which carry good Sakés and deserve your support:  Urban Grape (with over 30 Sakés), Lower Falls Wine Co., Ball Square Fine Wines & Liquors, Wine Connextion (excellent discount prices), and Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet.

Favorite Restaurant Saké List: Though the list is a bit pricey, Oishii does have a very impressive Saké selection, with everything from Junmai to Daiginjo, from Nigori to Koshu. It is available by the glass, tokkuri, half-bottle and full bottle. Go ahead and splurge and enjoy some fine Saké with top notch Japanese cuisine.

Favorite New Saké Book: Sadly, there exist only a small number of books on Saké, and we are lucky any year that a single new book gets published on Saké.  The Niigata Saké Book: A Prefecture Guide is an inside look at the Saké brewing industry in Niigata, as well as providing plenty of basic information about Saké. I would like to see other prefectures come out with similar books, though I must note this book is not without its flaws, including a very high price.

Most Misunderstood Fact About Saké: What is Junmai? Even people who consider themselves knowledgeable about the basics of Saké seem to make this mistake. They believe that a Junmai requires a seimai-buai of 70%, which means at least 30% of the rice must be polished away. Though that was once true, it has not been true for seven years.  As of January 1, 2004 the laws in Japan concerning Junmai changed, eliminating any polishing requirement for a Junmai.  Now, a Junmai is just any Saké that is made with only rice, water, koji and yeast
Second Most Misunderstood Fact About Saké: You will often hear that Nigori Saké is "unfiltered" but that is not true. All Saké must legally be pressed, or filtered, which is the process of removing the Saké lees. So how do the lees end up in Nigori?  Well, when pressing, a brewer uses a filter with larger holes so some of the lees enter the Saké, which is a legal loophole.  True, unfiltered Saké, called Muroka, is still pressed but it is not later charcoal filtered as is done with most Saké.

Favorite Saké Humor: Let me end with my own humorous list of Top Ten Rejected Saké Names.  I hope you enjoy. 

For more Saké related items, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything in this review post. You can also look forward to many more Saké posts in 2011.

What were some of your favorite Sakés and Saké related items this year?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010: Favorite Wine & Spirit Related Items

What were some of my favorite wine and spirit-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2010. I have already posted a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2010 and Favorite Food-Related Items of 2010.  This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine & Spirit Related Items.  This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. All of the items here get my strongest recommendation.

Favorite Discount Wine Store: With our continued difficult economic times, price is very important to consumers so discount wine stores have become especially prominent, and new ones are sprouting up all the time.  For the third 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.

Runner-Up Discount Wine Stores: This is a tie between the Wine Connextion in North Andover and the Wine Cellar of Stoneham in the B.J.s Wholesale Club in Stoneham.  Both were favorite picks last year, and have maintained their quality since that time.  Their prices are excellent, service is very good, and both can order wines for you, still at their usual discount. They both are also carrying more niche wines than last year.

Favorite New Boutique Wine Store: The Urban Grape has made its mark on the local wine store scene, carrying a interesting selection of wines, sake, beers, and spirits.  The sleek store, with its compelling Enomatic tasting machines, is appealing, though I am still not a fan of how they sort their wines by body/weight. But, I love that they carry over 30 sakes, and they hold some excellent tasting events. It has become a popular destination, and that will continue into the New Year.  

Favorite New Boston Wine Store: I was pleasantly surprised to find that the wine prices at Boston Wine Exchange were actually reasonable, and not inflated just because of their location.  They have a good selection of wines, beers, sake, and spirits, including some very nice high-end spirits. It is a convenient spot in downtown Boston and they run regular tasting events.     

Favorite Suburban Wine Store: The Lower Falls Wine Company remains my favorite suburban wine store, due to their diverse selection, good prices, excellent service and superb tasting events.  It is hard for me to visit the shop and not leave with a case of wine. I have discovered many new favorite wines here, and am sure I will find many more in the future. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mention Suburban Wine Stores:  I want to give some kudos to a few other suburban wine stores which deserve recognition for their good work.  These include the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, Vintages: Adventures in Wine in Belmont, the Spirited Gourmet in Belmont, and Wine-Sense in Andover. 

Favorite North End Wine Store: For the second year in a row, Kerri Platt, the owner of the Wine Bottega has made this North End institution a 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 Wine Store FeatureCentral Bottle in Central Square, Cambridge is an excellent boutique wine store, and they have a superb feature, their weekly Wine Bar. You can stop by to actually drink some wine, while dining on delicious food.  It is like a neighborhood bar held inside a wine store.  They often have special guests and themes for the Wine Bar nights, which make this is an even more compelling wine store.   

Most Disappointing Wine Store Trend: Why is it that some large wine stores, carrying 1000+ wines, cannot seem to carry a decent selection of niche wines too?  With that much inventory, they should be able to easily carry a percentage of niche wines, rather than a couple hundred of the same old wines. Do you really need to carry 200 Chardonnays?  Wouldn't 150 suffice, and then 50 different wines? Wine stores with far smaller inventories are able to carry and sell niche wines so why can't the big guys?

Favorite Vermont Winery: For a second year in a row, Boyden Valley Winery earns my top kudos.   They only use Vermont grapes, hybrids, and the wines are delicious and generally reasonably priced. Their Vermont Ice Red, made from Frontenac, is even one of the best ice wines I have ever had. I also tasted their new Vermont Ice Cider and Vermont Ice Apple Creme and also found them interesting and tasty. Yes, local wines can be good wines.

Favorite Sherry Bodega: This was a tough choice, as I visited several top notch bodegas in the Sherry region.  But, in the end I had to choose Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, which produces not only superb Manzanillas but also superb Aged Sherries. The owner, Javier, is a proud and passionate man and you knew that his sherries were labors of love.  Kudos must also go to Bodegas Tradición, Bodegas Harvey, Bodegas Sánchez Romate, and Bodegas Gonzalez Byass for the great sherries they are producing.

Favorite Finger Lakes Winery: While at TasteCamp 2010, we visited several wineries and tasted wines from many more.  But the winery that stood out the most to me was Heart and Hands, which produces incredible Pinot Noir and delicious sparkling wines. A small, family owned winery, it exudes passion.  Their wines are carefully hand crafted, and the quality of their wines should place them on the list of any discerning wine lover.

Favorite Paso Robles-Area Winery: The Bodegas Paso Robles, owned and operated by Dorothy Schuler, really captured my attention with its interesting story and unique wines. Dorothy uses only Spanish and Portugese grapes, and the resulting wines are high quality and extremely tasty.  The grapes comes from vineyards throughout California, wherever the type of grapes that Dorothy needs are grown. What other California winery makes a 100% Bastardo wine?  If you can find these wines, you definitely should check them out.  Or visit their tasting room in downtown Paso Robles.

Favorite Wine Maker Tasting: Getting to taste wine with the wine maker can be an informative event, helping you discern his intent, methods and philosophy.  This year, I got to meet wine maker Carl Sutton, of Sutton Cellars, at two different events: a Wine Bar at Central Bottle and a tasting at Spirited Gourmet.  Carl is a fun, laid-back guy, the type of person you would love to while away a few hours drinking wine. His wine philosophy is compelling as well, desirous of making low production, affordable wines that make you crave another glass.  Plus, he makes a killer dry Vermouth.   

Favorite Wine Region Tasting: This category is for those tastings held locally, and which consist of a collection of wines from a specific region. It was a tie between a Greek wine tasting held by Athenee Importers and a tasting of Austrian Wines by Winebow. Greek wines still don't get sufficient respect, despite the fact there are many excellent Greek wines out there.  I have been a fan of Greek wines for years, continuing to learn more about them all the time.  This tasting had a great selection of wines, and even gave me an appreciation for Retsina!  The Austrian tasting also had a great selection, giving me an even greater appreciation for Grüner Veltliner as well as a new appreciation for St. Laurent.  Please try wines from these regions and I am sure you will find some new favorites.

Favorite Single Grape Tasting: Though these wines are not yet available for sale in the U.S., I was fascinated by a tasting of Japanese Wines made from the Koshu grape. Reminiscent of a cross between Muscadet and Sake, these wines had real potential, though the price generally needs to be lowered for them to make it in the U.S.  The Koshu grape is intriguing, and can make some quality wines. This could become a hot new wine in the U.S. in 2011.

Favorite Educational Wine Tasting: I love history and niche wines, so a tasting combining the two is perfect for me and that is what I found at a recent Madeira tasting.  Madeira has a vibrant history, with a strong American connection, and the wines themselves are intriguing and delicious.  What other wine can taste so good after one hundred years of storage?  Madeira is underappreciated but has much to offer and should be on the radar of all wine lovers. And I need to do more research on this wine's rich history.  

Favorite Personal Wine Tasting:  This was a tasting years in the making, with a hand-picked selection of friends, and held at the home of my friend Adam (who hosts some great wine tastings). It was a Sean Thackrey Pleaides Vertical, eight different bottlings of this quirky red blend, one of my favorites. I had collected these wines over a course of years, and finally put them together for a vertical tasting.  It was a great event, made better by having good friends present, and the wines generally showed very well.  It will remain a very memorable tasting.

Favorite Wine Trip: I went on several wine trips this past year, and all of them were very good, from TasteCamp in the Finger Lakes to Paso Robles, California.  But, my overall favorite had to be my time in the Sherry Region.  Great people, sherry, food, travel, weather and more, contributed to a wonderful experience.  I learned much, had tons of fun, met interesting people, and simply enjoyed everything. This is a region I cannot recommend enough.

Favorite Wine Magazine: For the second year in a row, 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. With a new look, the magazine continues to deliver, and I eagerly look forrward to each issue of Decanter.

Favorite Local Wine Blogger: It seems the number of local wine bloggers had diminished over the last couple years.  A number of local food blogs do add the occasional wine post, but blogs dedicated 50% or more to wine are tougher to find. Rather than choose a favorite, I just want to give kudos to three wine bloggers who have been around for a time, have a passion for wine, and are producing some worthy words on wine.  They include Adam of Wine Zag, Dale of Drinks Are On Me, and Robert of Wellesley Wine Press.

Favorite Wine Trend: My favorite trend from last year was the production of some high-quality Boxed wines, and they have made slow, but positive, progress since then. I still love the idea and would like to see more producers availing themselves of this option. I think some of the stigma of boxed wines has lessened, and I have encountered little prejudice when I have shared them with family and friends. People are letting the wine speak for itself, rather than judging it by its container.  Keep up the forward progress.

Most Over Rated Wine Trend: Yes, and though it may garner me some criticism, I am very tired of hearing about the "importance" of the Millennials. I have spoken on this issue a few different times: Rant: Are Millennials the Future of Wine?Those Darn Millennials Again, and Rant: Barefoot Millennials. Currently, it is all just potential, and it may never become a reality.  And frankly, most Millennials currently seem to be drinking very inexpensive wines, including much mass-produced plonk, often under $10. What happens if Millennials decide to remain beer and spirits drinkers, both industries who are also courting them?

Favorite Wine Book: Though it is a short book, Terry Thiese's Reading Between the Wines is packed with ideas and thought-provoking questions.  It is very well written, opinionated (but in a good way), and covers many different wine issues. It is must reading for all wine lovers, and offers a starting point for many fascinating discussions. Highly recommended.

Favorite Wine History Book: For a nice taste of American history and wine, then check out The Wild Vine by Todd Kliman.  A well written and fascinating look at the Norton grape, you will be amazed at some of America's early wine history.  I learned plenty in this book and any history lover or wine lover will find much of interest here.   

Least Favorite Wine Book: I have read both The Wine Trials 2010 and The Wine Trials 2011, by Robin Goldstein and Alexis Herschkowitsch. Both times, I have questioned their methodology, and both times my questions have been largely ignored by the authors. Though they often push for a more scientific method to wine tasting, they seem satisfied to conceal their own methods.  They cite other scientific studies in their book, yet do not provide adequate details of their own tastings that led to the wines in their books.  This raises a large red flag in my mind. What do they have to hide?

New Wine Short Story: This year, I wrote a new, wine-related short story, The Veil of Flowers.  This is a rather unique story, told from an uncommon point of view. The story deals with Sherry but I don't want to give you any more hints and ruin the surprise.  I hope you enjoy this story and would like your feedback.

Favorite Hard Apple Cider: I tasted several different hard apple ciders this past year, and ultimately I cannot choose a favorite.  The top three included J.K.'s Scrumpy Hard CiderWoodchuck Hard Cider, and Magners Irish Cider.  Each is very good, but they have their own unique styles. So, it all comes down to which styley you might prefer. As I like diversity, there are different times I will enjoy all three of their hard ciders. Do you want something earthier, something with more bubbles, something sweeter?  Read my individual reviews of each, and find the style that best appeals to you.  (I inadvertently omitted mention of Farnum Hill Ciders which definitely belongs as part of this list for their delicious hard ciders.)

Favorite Pear Hard Cider: Pear cider, sometimes called Perry, is becoming more and more popular. In a Perry Showdown, I tried to discern my favorite, but it ended in a tie between Magners Pear Cider and Woodchuck Pear Cider. Both are equally good, yet different. It is more a matter of preference, or even your feelings at the moment.

Favorite Cocktail Book: For a more unique cocktail book, Japanese Cocktails by Yuri Kato will suit your desire. It contains over 60 cocktail recipes with chapters on Saké, Shochu, Whiskey, and More. Besides the recipes, there are also brief sidebars and sections describing Japanese alcohol, ingredients, history and culture.  It is a fascinating book and a welcome addition for any home bartender.

Favorite Cocktail Supply Store: For a small, but comprehensive, local cocktail supply store, The Boston Shaker in Somerville is a top choice. Glasses, mixing tools, bitters, books, and so much more can be found here. Plus, they run regular cocktail classes to assist all home bartenders. If you are a professional or an avid amateur, this should be your destination. 

Favorite New Liquer: The original Triple Sec, that orange flavored liquer, is Combier Triple Sec and it is different from its competitors. Using the original formula, and all natural ingredients, this Triple Sec tastes great, is not overly sweet, and is the perfect addition to cocktails. You might think it makes no difference in a cocktail to use inferior ingredients, but it certainly does. And for Triple Sec, I strongly recommend you use the Combier.

Favorite Non-Alcoholic Book: This is another fascinating history book, For All The Tea In China by Sarah Rose, and details efforts by England to steal the secrets of tea from China. It reads like a novel about Indiana Jones, and I bet you will find it a compelling read. Plus, you will learn much about tea and Chinese culture.  A must read.

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?

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)  In honor of National Soup Month, Legal Sea Foods will be declaring a ‘Legal’ Holiday on 1/11/11: “Chowda Day.” Available at all Legal Sea Foods locations for the duration of the day, $1 cups of their signature New England Clam Chowder will be served up as they have been at every Presidential Inauguration since 1981.  Cost: $1 per cup of clam chowder with purchase of an entrée

2) Legal Sea Foods is The Culinary Guild of New England are co-sponsoring an educational (and controversial) dining event concerning sustainable seafood on January 24, from 7pm-10pm at the Park Plaza location. Legal Sea Foods’ President and CEO Roger Berkowitz will present a four-course dinner, followed by a discussion "on the most current information concerning sustainable seafood fishing practices."

The Menu is:
--Fritters (Black tiger shrimp, duck cracklings, smoked tomato, and avocado sauce)
Paired with 2008 Hermann J. Wiemer Reisling, Finger Lakes, New York
--Cod Cheeks (Spaghetti squash, toasted pecans, melting marrow gremolata)
Paired with 2008 Schiopetto Sauvignon, Collio, Italy
--Prosciutto Wrapped Hake (Braised escarole, Rancho Gordo beans, blood orange marmalade)
Paired with 2009 Domaine du Viking Vouvray, "Cuvée Tendre," Loire Valley, France
--Citrus Almond Cake (Yuzu semi freddo, candied kumquats)
Paired with 2007 Jorge Ordoñez Moscatel Selección Especial No.1, Málaga DO, Spain

The most controversial aspect of their press release was the following: "Over the last few years, news reports on the sustainability of seafood have become more frequent, causing widespread discussion on what fish is sustainable, and therefore safe to eat. Unfortunately, this discussion is flawed by outdated scientific findings that unfairly turn the public against certain species of fish. In a direct effort to counter existing misinformation about sustainability, the menu for this event is deliberately designed to serve what is commonly believed to be outlawed or blacklisted fish.

This is certainly very provocative, and has raised numerous eyebrows in the sustainable seafood community.  For example, check out the Leather District Gourmet's response as well as the Don't Panic post on this matter. Many eyes are watching. 

I agree that the wallet sustainable seafood cards have some problems, but the criticisms here also appear to be overgeneralizations.  So I am very curious as to what will be actually said during this dinner. Legal has garnered a lot of publicity from the press release so it is up to them to live up to the hype.  "There will be an opportunity for CGNE guests to ask questions about what’s safe to eat, which species are indeed plentiful, and how to read between the lines of media reports." 

Hopefully, this will lead to a fruitful discussion on sustainable seafood.  But Legal better be prepared with lots of answers for the questions they will inevitably be asked.  Their failure to respond, or lack of information, could be very detrimental.  The Legal representatives at the dinner cannot pass the buck, claiming that others in the organization not at the dinner have the answers.  They must be fully prepared to discuss and debate the issues. 

Cost: $90 for CGNE members; $110 for non-members
Tickets are available for purchase online at

3)  The 6th Annual CityFeast will soon be held in the North End, a culinary event to Conquer Diabetes and benefit the Joslin Diabetes Center.  Six North End restaurants have joined together to support Joslin Diabetes Center's High Hopes Fund by hosting special five-course dinners with wine pairings. The High Hopes Fund supports Joslin’s efforts to improve the lives of people with diabetes—young and old—and to prevent and cure the disease.  Carla Gomes, the mother of a child with diabetes and owner of both Antico Forno and Terramia, founded CityFeast to help raise awareness of the disease and support Joslin Diabetes Center's mission of conquering diabetes in all of its forms.

Participating restaurants include Terramia, Antico Forno, Lucca, Tresca, Caffé Graffiti and Taranta.

Date: Sunday, January 30, 2011. From 6pm-9pm. 

Cost: $150 per person. (Ticket price includes tax and gratuity). Proceeds benefit Joslin’s High Hopes Fund. $100 of the ticket price is tax-deductible.

To purchase tickets: Visit and click on “CityFeast.”

I attended this event last year, enjoying a delicious meal and having a fun time mingling with the other attendees.  Please consider getting tickets to this year's event, supporting a great cause, and I am sure you will enjoy an excellent dinner too.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010: Favorite Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2010. Yesterday, I provided a list of my Favorite Restaurants of 2010 and now I want to address my favorites for other Food-Related Items, from markets to books, from ingredients to bakeries. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year. All of the items here get my strongest recommendation.

Favorite Local Farmer's Market: Yes, maybe this choice is a bit biased but the Stoneham Farmers Market greatly improved from the previous year (which was its first year).  They moved to a larger and more public space, the Town Commons, adding numerous vendors.  On many Tuesday afternoons, I would stop by the market to get fresh bread, cheese, local produce and more.  Next year, the market should get even better.

Runner-Up Local Farmer's Market: Though it may be a bit of a drive for those in the Boston area, the Newburyport Farmer's Market is worth the ride.  With about 25 vendors or so, there is a great variety of foods available, including some delicious meats, pastas and baked goods. There are even chairs and tables where you can sit, and enjoy some of the food from the market.     

Favorite Local Butcher: Though I still have not written in depth about it, which will happen this January, the Meat House is a winner.  Though it is a franchise of butcher shops, currently in about eight states, it has the feel of a local butcher shop.  The Arlington shop has a large selection of meats, including grass-fed beef and exotic meats, but also stocks many other food items.  It is a one-stop destination for all you need to prepare a delicious meal.  Service is very good, and they will provide you helpful advice on selecting and preparing meats.

Favorite Local Bakery: For the second year in a row, Swiss Bäkers is my top choice.  They produce a wide assortment of delicious Swiss products, adding new ones all the time. Their baking philosophy is simple and compelling: Authentic, fresh, and natural.  Croissants, preztels, breads, Berliners, Linzer cookies, Leckerli and much more.  They are also set for future expansion, with potentially a bakery and cafe set for Allston and maybe even food trucks.

Favorite Candy: Who would have thought that a wine store, the Beacon Hill Wine and Gourmet in Melrose, would carry my new favorite candy?  They brought in several South African food products, including Walters Handmade Honey Nougat.  The Nougat was very impressive, like a thick marshmallow in consistency and with a distinctive honey flavor, the sweetness restrained and pleasing.  Plus, it is artisan made, from natural ingredients, and comes in different flavors including Macadamia, Almond and Pecan Nut. Nougat never tasted so delicious.

Favorite Chocolate Shop: I was disappointed when Chocolee Chocolates closed, but that changed when they finally reopened on Dartmouth Street.  Though only open for four days each week, they still produce some of the best chocolates and chocolate-desserts in Boston.  Their Salted Caramels are heavenly, with a soft, gooey caramel center. Plus, who can resist their chocolate-filled Beignets? 

Favorite Chips: I never expected famed Chef Ming Tsai to be behind my new favorite chips, the Blue Ginger Multi-Grain Brown Rice Chips (Black Sesame and Sea Salt flavor).  They are light, crisp, tasty and very addictive. They might sound like something healthy (which they are), but devoid of taste, but they will surprise you with all their flavor.  Eat them as is, or use them with dips or cheeses.

Favorite Corn Bread:  Corn bread is one of my favorite foods, yet it is hard to find really good cornbread.  Too often, it is too dry or overly sweet.  But All Star Sandwich Bar in Inman Square makes a perfect one, just the right balance of proper moistness, a touch of sweetness, and a wonderful corn flavor. I would go there just for hot cornbread, smothered with butter.

Hot New Ingredient: For 2011, one of the hot new ingredients may be Kasu, which consists of sake lees.  It is a versatile ingredient, used for pickling, as a marinade or added during cooking to add flavor. It also enhances the umami flavor in foods. U.S. chefs are just starting to work with kasu, and it could be poised for a major surge.

Favorite Cookies: Angels Nougat Biscuits are another entry from South Africa, and also available at Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet.  These are shortbread biscuits, made with real butter, and contain crisp nougat chunks and nuts. The small cookies are big on flavor, with a strong buttery flavor, and the nougat adds an intriguing taste and texture to the cookie. 

Favorite Frozen Food: Do you like lobster but cannot get it locally? Well, the Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company in Maine sells a variety of frozen seafood foods, including their Lobster Ciabatta. The sandwich consists of Maine lobster claw and knuckle meat with lemon herb butter in a hearty ciabatta roll.  I was skeptical at first, but really enjoyed the sandwich and if you were not aware, you might think it was a homemade sandwich. It is a bit pricey, but then again it is lobster.

Favorite Food-Related Bookstore: For the second year in a row, Rabelais, a compelling food and wine book store in Portland, Maine, remains a favorite. But, this year it must share the love with Omnivore Books, in San Francisco.  Similar in many respects to Rabelais, Omnivore Books is a fascinating food and beverage bookstore, which enthralled me on my visit to San Francisco.  You'll find both new, used and collectible books, and they often run special events. Plus, they ship all over the country, making it easy even if you cannot make it out to California.

Favorite New Food Magazine: I love perusing the magazine racks at local book stores, as you never know what new magazine you might find, such as Cooking Wild. This new magazine covers cooking from the perspective of hunters, fishermen, and foregers, and provides a fascinating insight into wild game.  Each issue has well written articles, beautiful photography and about twenty recipes.  With local butcher shops now offering exotic meats, the recipes in this magazine can be very useful, even if you do not hunt or fish. 

Favorite Food Magazine: Last year, this was my favorite new magazine and it still remains a favorite. Culture: The Word on Cheese is an amazing magazine, all about the world of cheese. The articles are fascinating, cover diverse topics and are supported by compelling photography. I eagerly await each new issue and I have written about several of the prior issues, including #2, #3 and #4.  If you love cheese, then you must read this magazine.  

Favorite Food Manga: U.S. comic books are mainly about superheroes but Japanese ones, called manga, cover a much wider range of subjects, including food and wine. The Manga Cookbook is surprising good, and very useful.  Both novice and experienced cooks will find this cookbook useful to learn about Japanese cuisine. Despite the cartoon images, this is a serious and unique cookbook with plenty of interesting recipes, from Onigiri (rice balls) to Okonomiyaki (Japanese-style pizza). Highly recommended.

Favorite Cookbook:  The best cookbooks often have stories behind their recipes, and that does not always occur with celebrity cookbooks.  But Bobby Flay's Throwdown! is different, a cookbook based on the Food Network television series. You are not only provided with Bobby Flay's recipes, but you also get recipes from those he has challenged, as well as some background information on them.  The challenged represent some of the best chefs around the country so their recipes are compelling, and I found many that appealed to me.

(I must note that I don't yet have a copy of Joanne Chang's new cookbook, Flour: A Baker's Collection of Spectacular Recipes, but hope to remedy that soon.  I am a big fan of Flour Bakery and have heard only excellent things about her cookbook. So, if I do enjoy it, it would likely end up on my 2011 favorites lists.)

Favorite Eco-Conscious Food Book: What can a consumer do to be a more responsible and socially conscious shopper? Well, The Conscious Kitchen by Alexandra Zissu is a very useful and practical resource to help consumers navigate the sometimes complicated issues revolving this matter. It is a fairly comprehensive guide, and offers plenty of excellent suggestions and advice. 

Favorite Food Lecture: The Oldways Preservation Trust, a Boston-based non-profit, food issues think tank put on a seminar on Yupiks, Kwik'pak Fisheries & Wild Yukon Salmon.  The seminar was fascinating, especially the presentation by a Harvard doctor on the Significant Health Benefits of fish. The information was eye-opening, and presented in a easily understood manner.  One of the best educational seminars I attended all year.  And I cannot fail to mention the delicious salmon we got to taste either.

Favorite Local Food Policy Failure: Brookline recently passed a resolution calling for local restaurants and markets to stop selling crated veal. Yet they admitted it would make little impact, as well as ignoring the larger issues at hand, such as the other animals which are cruelly raised. Brookline passed an easy resolution, without teeth, attempting to seem enlightened and caring yet failing. They had an opportunity to make a difference, but chose not to do so.

Favorite Cooking Class: I was fortunate to attend Myers+Chang Inaugural Cooking Class and it was both educational and lots of fun.  We learned to prepare three dishes, including papaya slaw, scallion pancakes and dumplings. Chef Matthew Barros was an excellent instructor, and even led us on a tour of Ming's Supermarket after the class. Plus, the class came with a Dim Sum lunch which is always a treat.  Myers+Chang is continuing to hold cooking classes and I highly recommend them.

Runner Up Cooking Class: Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro presented a fascinating cooking class and demonstration centered on clementinesTuna Tartare, Escarole Salad and Brazo Gitano.  All were delicious, especially paired with Spanish Txacoli, and Deborah was a passionate instructor.  

Favorite Charitable Food Event: I attended a number of charitable food events this past year, and all were worthy, but my favorite was the 2nd Annual Chefs for the Cure, in support of The Massachusetts Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fight and eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease. Some great chefs presented plenty of tasty food, there were wines from Cleavage Creek Winery, and Alissa Bigelow put on a very amusing cooking demonstration.  Overall, a top notch event for a great cause.

Favorite Local Cooking Competition: There might be a little bias here as well, as I was one of the judges at Turner Fisheries Seafood Recipe Contest.  But, the contest was cool, where amateur cooks submitted seafood recipes and three finalists were then chosen.  Four judges, including myself, got to select the overall winner, whose recipe would be put on the restaurant's menu. That is certainly a great prize.  All three finalists were obviously passionate cooks, and it was enjoyable to be on the inside, as a judge, and get to sample all three dishes.  In the end, the Mussels squeaked out the wine.

Favorite New Local Food Blogger Site: The Boston Food Bloggers site is a new resource, collecting information on 200+ Massacusetts food and drink blogs.  The site is growing, adding new features all the time, and is a good starting point to learning about the local food and wine scene. 

New Food Short Story: This year, I wrote a new, food-related short story, called Feast For A Killer.  What would you do if an assassin showed up at your home while you were cooking?  The assassin is there to kill your husband, the man you love. Can your food save the day?  I hope you enjoy this story and would like your feedback.

For more food-related reviews and highlights, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everything that I enjoyed in this summary post.

What were some of your favorite food-related items this year?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2010: Favorite Restaurants

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

Last week, I provided a General Summary for 2010 and now I want to touch on some more specific items, including my favorites in numerous categories. This post will concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year while future posts will discuss my other food, wine, sake, and spirit favorites.  This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.  All of the items here get my strongest recommendation.

Favorite Brunch, Traditional Fare: For more traditional brunch items, albeit with a French flair, then you must make the trek to AKA Bistro in Lincoln.  Homemade croissants, hearty omelettes, quiche, Croque Monsieur sandwiches and much more. Consistent quality, excellent service, and absolutely delicious food. This has been an excellent addition to the suburbs.

Brunch, Traditional Fare-Honorable Mention: Who doesn't love chicken and waffles? Tupelo, in Inman Square, began serving brunch this year and is doing very well.  My personal favorite is their fried chicken (such a cripsy and flavorful coating with moist meat) and Belgian waffles, but I always get a side of the Fried Grits too.  In addition, Tupelo is inexpensive, making this a great casual choice. 

Favorite Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare: For the second year in a row, this category is won by Myers & Chang in the South End. Their non-traditional, Dim Sum weekend brunch consists of many creative and tasty Asian small plates, for only $3-$6 each. There is something for everyone, and you won't go away hungry or unhappy.  You can even sit at the counter and watch them cook.

Favorite Donuts: The chain donut stores just cannot compete with some of the small, independent donut shops out there.  And my big find this year was Donut City in Lynn, a new shop with a wide selection of fresh, delicious donuts and baked goods. If they were any closer to me, I would be buying their donuts every day.  This tiny spot puts to shame places like Dunkin' Donuts and Honeydew Donuts.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant: Though it is pricey, you get your money's worth at Oishii in the South End. From fresh sushi (in a wide variety of choices) to creative maki, from delicate tempura to innovative entrees, you will be very satisfied with the selections.  Their sweet potato tempura is superb, as well as the largest I have ever seen!  Plus, they have a lengthy and interesting sake menu. Go to Oishii and splurge.

Favorite Chinatown Restaurant: Xiaolongbao aka Soup dumplings. Such a simple but compelling dish, pork dumplings with a savory broth that bursts into your mouth when you bite into the dumpling. One of the best versions can be found at the Gourmet Dumpling House, and as it is often busy, the secret is out.  But you must journey there for this addictive dish.  And at only $6.50 for 8 soup dumplings, they are a great value too.

Favorite Asian Buffet: Another winner for the second year in a row, the Taipei Tokyo Cafe in Woburn offers a Japanese/Chinese lunch buffet for about $10 which cannot be beat.  You'll find everything from sushi to dumplings, fried rice to scallion pancakes. They bring out small portions of each dish, which helps ensure the food stays fresh, and they continue to restock the dishes when they empty. As it remains under the radar, it is never overly crowded like some other Asian lunch buffets.  Plus, it is BYOB and they don't charge a corkage fee.

Favorite Suburban Restaurant: For the third year in a row, Bistro 5, in Medford, is my favorite suburban place. Chef Vittorio creates intriguing cuisine, with the freshest of ingredients, and the restaurant has an intriguing wine list. I always have an excellent dinner there and it gets my highest recommendation.  You don't expect a restaurant of this quality in its location, but it is well worth the short trip.

Favorite New Suburban Restaurant: I previously mentioned that AKA Bistro has one of my favorite brunches, but the rest of their food is top notch too.  Go for lunch or dinner, and find both fine French and Sashimi dishes. You must try their homemade Miso soup, and their Mussels are exceptional.  I have yet to eat anything I disliked, and they get my highest recommendation too.

Favorite North End Restaurant, High End: If you want to celebrate, then you must make reservations at Prezza, which has some of the best Italian food in the North End.  The food is hearty, extremely tasty, and very well made. I have greatly savored all of the meals I have had their this year, and look forward to many more in the future.  They also have a lengthy and interesting wine list, heavy on the Italian wines.  Plus, though their regular menu is pricey (yet well worth it), they run numerous inexpensive specials, making it affordable for almost  anyone.  Another restaurant with my highest recommendation.  

Favorite North End Restaurant, Moderate: There are plenty of options in the North End, so where should you dine? The best choices are usually off the usual tourist paths, and one such gem is Nebo, run by two sisters.  They use the best of ingredients, and serve a delicious menu of Italian specialties, including exceptional pizza. This is a place for an intimate date, or to take the entire family for a weekend feast.  Plus, they have an extensive gluten-free menu.

Favorite North End Restaurant, Fusion:  Fusion is sometimes considered a bad word, but if done well, it can excel. Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta knows the secret, having created a superb fusion of Italian and Peruvian cuisine, not two that you would normally consider working well together. Taranta's dishes seamlessly meld these two cuisines, creating wonderfully flavorful entrees. This is a innovative restaurant not to miss.  

Favorite Italian Restaurant Outside the North End: With Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette behind it, you just knew Coppa had lots of potential.  And it livesg up to that potential, providing some incredible, and very affordable, Italian food. All of the food costs $15 or less, and the menu changes frequently, depending on what is seasonal and available. You'll find some excellent snout to tail cooking here, and other intriguing items like their blood sausage pepperoni.  It is a small, intimate spot and has enhanced the already exciting culinary scene in the South End.

Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: Boston is not the only place to get excellent Italian food. Pizzeria Posto, just off Davis Square, is getting better and better all the time.  With an top notch brunch, delicious pizzas and killer pasta, there is much to enjoy. Plus, it is reasonably priced, making it an even more compelling destination.  The menu changes seasonally and I have to emphasize again the superb quality of their pasta dishes. This is a restaurant that is going places.  

Favorite Suburban Steak House: Though I need to write an updated post for it, I want to give kudos to the Beacon Grille in Woburn, a high-end steakhouse which also gives all of its profits to a charitable foundation.  Their food, both at lunch and dinner, is very good, equal to the quality found at other comparable steakhouses.  And their prices are less expensive than some of the other similar restaurants. If you are in the suburbs, you definitely should check it out.

Favorite Unique Ethnic Restaurant: Nestled in a small shopping complex in Malden, you'll find Habesha, an Ethopian restaurant.  This was my first experience with Ethiopian food, and it was intriguing and delicious. Try the Minchet Aresh, made from ground beef with garlic and a berbere sauce, berbere being a mix of powdered chile pepper and spices. You don't use utensils, rather eating with injera, a type of sourdough flatbread made out of fermented teff flour. Give Habesha a try.

Favorite Fried Seafood: The North Shore has plenty of good fried seafood places, but the Clam Box in Ipswich earns my kudos.  The plates are plentiful, and the fried seafood is light and clean, without any gritty taste. Clams, scallops, lobster, shrimp, and so much more. It is a very popular place so get there early unless you don't mind waiting.  

Favorite Underappreciated Restaurant: Some excellent restaurants just don't seem to get sufficient credit or publicity. Though their high quality might be acknowledged, the restaurant name doesn't seem to come up often enough in restaurant discussions.  One such place is T.W. Food in Cambridge, an intimate spot with superb food and an excellent wine list. I have enjoyed a few top notch dinners there this year, including a recent Jura wines dinner. Yes, it is located a bit off the beaten path but it is well worth the trek.  You won't be disappointed in the least.

Favorite Desserterie: This was once again an easy choice and for the third year in a row, the award goes to Le Patissierlocated in the Troquet Restaurant in Boston. Pastry Chef Sarah Woodfine is extremelty, and her souffles especially pleased me.  Unfortunately, Sarah has left Le Patissier, moving out of state, so you can no longer find her culinary delights in Boston.  If you never had her desserts, you really missed out.

Favorite Pizza: This was a tough category as I enjoyed plenty of tasty pizzas this year, at places like Pizzeria Posto and Nebo.  But the winner was Coppa with their Blue Ribbon Pizza: mozzarella, tomato, braised oxtail, bone marrow, horseradish and the addition of blood sausage pepperoni.  A unique, savory taste, it stood out amidst plenty of other competing pizzas.

Favorite Comfort Food: Though I have not stopped by their storefront yet, I have tasted and enjoyed K.O. Catering and Pies' Aussie meat pie. The ground meat within the flaky crust is spiced well, and makes for fine comfort food. I do intend to make it to their store soon, and definitely want another meat pie, as well as to try some of their other Aussie foods. 

Favorite Chicken Dish: If you dine out, roast chicken is probably not your first choice for an entree. It just often doesn't seem special enough, and many of the roast chicken dishes you find fit that description.  But, Espalier has a Roasted Apple Street Farm Chicken dish which blew me away.  The chicken was cooked perfectly, incredibly moist with a delicious, crispy skin. It was better than almost any roast chicken dish I have had at home or elsewhere, and I would certainly order it again and again.

Favorite French Fries: Most sweet potato fries are just not appealing. They are often too limp and unsatisfying.  But, Clink, at the Liberty Hotel, has perfected their sweet potato fries, which are perfectly crisp on the outside, and fluffy and flavorful inside.  Very addictive, these should be the role model for all sweet potato fries.

Favorite Wine Dinner: This was another tough category, and in the end, I couldn't make a decision so there is a tie.  First, there was a phenomenal Sherry pairing dinner at Mooo, in their wine cellar. The food was superb, from butter poached lobster to some of the best scallops I have ever tasted.  Plus, the sherry pairings all worked very well.  The type of meal you savor in your memories for years to come. Second, there was the Vietti Wine Dinner at Prezza, with the wine maker Lucca Currado.  The food was phenomenal, such as the Rabbit Saltimboca and Goat Cheese Gnocchi.  And the Vietti wines were amazing, from the Arneis to the Barolo.  Most people are lucky if they have one such special dinner each year.  I was blessed to have two.

Favorite Non-Massachusetts Restaurants: I have taken several trips this year, both domestic and international, and one of those destinations had the hands down best food overall.  The winner is Spain!  Fresh seafood, tapas, gazpacho, angulas, and much, much more. This time, most of the food was paired with sherry, which did very well with the cuisine. If I had to recommend a single vacation destination, I would choose Spain.

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rant: What's The Purpose?

My Monday Rants have been a very popular feature on my blog, and today is the last Rant of 2010.  Instead of the usual Rant though, I wanted to examine the purposes behind this feature, to explain the reasons for its existence and what I hope to accomplish with it.  This will help my readers better understand my Rants, and maybe make those Rants better in 2011.

First, I have strong opinions and there are plenty of issues which interest me, for which I have a position that I want to advocate.  Some of these issues may be of relatively minor importance, though which still spark my passion, and some issues may be of global importance.  Some of these issues will also be controversial, and that is usually intentional.  I can sometimes be provocative, though my aim is to get people to think, to question everything.  We must engage in critical thinking and not just blindly accept matters.  My intent is not to make personal attacks, but to stimulate discussion.   

Second, I want to encourage discussion, and I love a lively debate.  I don't want to just tell people about my opinions.  I want to hear from my readers, to know their thoughts on the issues I raise.  I do not claim to be correct in all of my opinions, and am willing to debate them with anyone.  Together, with a vibrant discussion, maybe we can get closer to the truth.  Maybe we can cut through the rhetoric and discern the facts at the center.  But that only works if my readers are willing to engage me, to contribute to the discussions. So please post comments on my Rants, let me hear your thoughts.

Third, I sometimes want to stimulate action, especially when the issue is of great importance.  Discussions are great, and can be very useful, but sometimes they should lead to action.  There are vital matters out there, such as sustainability, and we need to do something about them, before they lead to worse problems.  But we do need to think before acting, to ensure that we are engaging in the proper course of action. So, together, maybe we can work on solutions and help make this a better world.  

I know I am not the only person with strong opinions out there, and that others too have Rants within them.  Would you like to express your own Rant, to share your thoughts with others?  If so, maybe you could write a guest Rant for my blog.  If you want to pen a guest Rant, just contact me to discuss it.  It would be lots of fun to see what my friends and others Rant about, and I am sure my readers would benefit from it too.

Happy New Year!          

2010 In Review: A Collection of Lists

At the end of each year, I compile numerous lists of my Favorites: the top wines, restaurants, foods, sake, spirits, and more of the year.  These summary posts help my readers more easily find my favorites of the past year, rather than seeking through hundreds of posts on their own.  The lists do not necessarily address the "Best" of anything, as I have not partaken of everything so cannot pass such judgments.  But, the lists contain items I highly recommend, and which I believe will strongly appeal to my readers.  Kudos go to all of those who are listed in my Favorites, as they have earned the accolades.

I hope you enjoy.

2010: Top Ten Wines Under $15
2010: Top Ten Wines Over $15
2010: Top Wines Over $50
2010 In Review: General Summary
2010: Favorite Restaurants
2010: Favorite Food-Related Items
2010: Favorite Wine & Spirit-Related Items
2010: Favorite Sake Items

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sake News

1) The continue spead of Sake always excites me.  So, I was ecstatic to learn that a new Sake brewery will soon open in Toronto!

The Toronto Life reported that Ken Valvur will open the Ontario Spring Water Sake Company in the spring of 2011.  Valvur wants to create a brewery that adheres to Japanese tradition, and it will produce a variety of sake, including nigori, genshu, junmai and namazake.  The brewery will also have a tasting bar, where freshly pressed sake can be sampled.  I have not been able to find a website for this new venture yet so check out the article for more information.

I met Ken this summer in San Francisco at John Gauntner's Sake Professional Course and I wish him the best of luck with this new endeavor!

2) John Gauntner also related some less than happy news.  Sake sales in Japan for October were down 10% though sales of whiskey have increased.

A survey was also recently taken of kura concerning sake exports.  A little less than half, about 500, of the active breweries responded, and of that number a little less than half indicated they currently export.  About another 22% indicated they would like to export, and about 32% indicated they did not want to or could not engage in exportation.  There is lots of room for growth for exportation, but it seems there is a significant percentage of breweries opposed to such.  Let us hope that if more breweries begin exporting their product, that it will encourage others to do so too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays To One And All

Happy Holidays to my family, friends and all of my readers!

May the glad tidings of this holiday season shine on you, your family and friends. May your celebrations be joyous and fruitful with good people, excellent conversation, delicious food and fine drink. May you give gifts that are well appreciated and which bring joy to your loved ones. May you thoroughly enjoy whichever holiday you celebrate at this season.

This is one of my favorite times of year. I love sharing the holidays with my family and friends, enjoying their company as we eat and drink to celebrate the season. It should be a joyous occasion, reveling in all of our blessings. For no matter what ills there may be, there still is much to appreciate. And that appreciation deserves recognition and sharing, and not only during the holidays.

Make sure you have a safe holiday as well. Please don't drink and drive, and drive safely and cautiously. We hope that everyone will remain around to celebrate the New Year as well.  And the rest of 2011 too!

Drink and dine with passion this holiday, as well as every day of the year!  Passion is what gives our lives meaning, what drives us toward excellence. A life devoid of passion is empty and shallow, and desperately needs change.  Seek out whatever makes you passionate, and revel in its delights.

Friday, December 24, 2010

2010 In Review: General Summary

As 2010 nears its end, I have been spending time looking back at this past year, savoring some of my favorite memories and achievements. I have already provided three summary lists for 2010, my Top Ten Wines Under $15, Top Ten Wines Over $15 and Top Wines Over $50.  And more lists are on the way.

Now it is time for a general summary of the past year, highlighting several key items and events. These are some of the most important food and wine items and events of the past year for me. Please note that I will be posting some more specific food, wine, sake and spirits lists in the near future. 

Thursday Sips and Nibbles:
Back in June, I introduced a new feature on my blog: Thursday Sips & Nibbles. Each Thursday, I compile a post of brief and interesting food and wine items that I encountered recently.  These items might include updates on previous posts, restaurant news, food/wine events, mini-reviews and more.  These items generally are not long enough for their own post, so it was more useful to bundle them together. So, I now have three regular features on my blog, including Monday Rants and Sake Sundays.  What new feature will I add for 2011?  Any suggestions?

Further Education:
This summer, I attended John Gauntner's Saké Professional Course in San Francisco.  Over the course of three intensive days, I expanded and reinforced my knowledge of sake, while tasting over 90 different sakes. At the end, I passed the course, becoming a Certified Sake Professional.  It was a great class, and well worth taking if you love sake. John was an excellent instructor, ensuring the material was fun and informative. I am now teaching classes about sake, holding sake tastings, and consulting about sake-related matters.  Please see my new site, Passionate Sake, for more information.

I am also currently studying for the Center of Wine Origins' Wine Location Specialist Certificate Exam. This course concentrates on Champagne and Port, giving an in-depth examination of these wines and I have found the study materials to be quite fascinating so far. The exam is in early January so I'll continue to study hard.  For 2011, I would also like to become a Certified Sherry Educator.

This was a very busy, yet quite exciting, year for travel, including both domestic and international.  As I have said before, travel to wine regions can be so educational, often giving you a much better understanding than what you can derive from any book or lecture.  Such travel can expand and reinforce your knowledge, as well as be quite enjoyable.  I strongly recommend that all my readers try to visit a wine region in 2011. I hope to continue my own travels next year. 

1) I attended two wine conferences this year, both TasteCamp and the Wine Bloggers Conference.  TasteCamp 2010 was held in the Finger Lakes, New York, and was slightly larger than the previous year. It was exciting to visit this wine region, and I tasted many very good wines, as well as some exceptional ones. It was great to see many bloggers again from the 2009 event, as well as to meet some new ones. TasteCamp is a more intimate event, and one whose primary purpose is to understanding a wine region.  Three of the wines from this region ended up on my Top Wine lists this year, so that is impressive. For 2011, TasteCamp will be held in the Niagara region, both the Canadian and American sides, and I plan on attending. 

I also attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference, which was held in Walla Walla, Washington, and it was quite an event. Far larger than TasteCamp, I met many bloggers I had previously known only online, or had not even known there. There were plenty of good wines and delicious food, as well as many activities. Numerous seminars were interesting and useful, and it was a great networking opportunity.  In 2011, the conference will be held in Charlottesville, Virginia, and I plan on attending.  I was glad to see that the conference would finally be held on the East Coast

2) I journeyed to San Francisco to take the Sake Professional Course, and got to spend some time touring the area too.  I have been to San Francisco before so my trip was a revisit to some favorite places, as well as an exploration of some new places.  Excellent restaurants such as Incanto, Ozumo and the Slanted DoorTrue Sake, the first all-sake store in the U.S. Omnivore Books, a fascinating food/beverage book store.  It is a fun city, and a place I would enjoy visiting again sometime.

3) Last spring, I attended a press trip to the Paso Robles region, and was intrigued by their food and wine.  It is an unprentious area, one that is up and coming and deserving of exploration. They produce some excellent Rhône-style wines, whites and reds, and at all price points.  There are also some delicious restaurants, many relying on local and sustainable ingredients. It is a scenic region, and a nice choice for a laid back vacation. Four wines from this region ended up on my Top Wine Lists.   

4) Lovely Spain! It is always a pleasure to visit Spain and this past fall I got to visit the Sherry region, including the cities of Jerez, Sevilla, Cadiz, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, as part of a press trip.  What a superb journey, with incredible food, wines and people.  It was my favorite trip of the year, and I have so many find memories of the region. From the Arabic baths to flamenco dancing, from baby eels to sherry (lots of sherry).  Plus, it was very educational, and my passion for sherry grew even greater.  I highly recommend that you visit this region of Spain! 

5) Earlier this month, I took another press trip, this time to the Collio DOC of the Friuli region of Italy. Though I have not yet written about my experiences, I can say that it was an excellent trip.  Great food, wine, people, scenery, history and more.  Lots of white wines, including Friuliano, Ribolla Gialla, and white blends. The weather cooperated, being sunny, though we could see the majesty of the snow-covered Alps.  You can look forward to a number of posts about the Collio region in January 2011.

My Monday Rants are probably the most popular feature of my blog, and can sometimes generate some interesting discussions.  But no other post this year generated as much controversy as Rant: Alton Brown, I Call You Out! In brief, I saw an Iron Chef America episode where it appeared that bluefin tuna was used as an ingredient.  Knowing Alton Brown's stance against the use of bluefin, I questioned the apparent use of it on the show he hosts.  Alton himself responded, as did numerous others. Plus, many others responded on their own message boards and forums about my post, often in a negative fashion.

Without delving into the specifics of the topic, I think this Rant was highly successful in generating discussion about a very important issue, the endangered bluefin tuna. Plus, it ensured that bluefin tuna was a banned ingredient on Iron Chef America.  For unknown reasons, Iron Chef America does not post a list of the ingredients banned on the show, and my previous efforts to secure such a list from them have been unsuccessful. Iron Chef America should be proud to ban unsustainable seafood from their show, and should make a public declaration of such. Why they have not done so still puzzles me.

I hope my Rants in 2011 continue to generate discussion on some important issues.

Niche Wines:
When it comes to wines and other alcohol beverages, I am very adventurous, constantly seeking out the unusual, rare, exotic, uncommon, and underappreciated drinks.  I love expanding my palate, tasting something new, trying to find something worthy. This year, it seems I have been more and more of a passionate advocate for niche wines and beverages, trying to encourage others to try them, to expand their own palates beyond the usual suspects, the common Cabernets, Chardonannys, Pinots and such.  Sherry, Sake, Greek wines, Madeira, Texas wines, Finger Lake wines, and more.  I grow weary of reading blogs about the usual suspects, wishing they would venture out into less familiar territory.  There is so much excellent wine out there, just waiting to be discovered by an adventurous drinker. 

Will any wine blogger make a vow for 2011 to be more adventurous with their palate?

My Readers:
I am once again very thankful for all of my readers this past year. My readership continues to grow and I have received more comments this year on my blog. I am glad for those people who have enjoyed and found my blog posts entertaining and informative. I hope to attract more readers in the new year, as well as to have more of a discussion with those readers I already possess. Please feel free to add your comments, so we can have a dialogue about the issues and items I write about.  I want this blog be more than just my writings, but also to be a stepping stone to fascinating discussions.