What were some of my favorite wine, spirit and drink-related items of the past year?
Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2011. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, Top Ten Wines Over $15 and Top Wines Over $50 lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine, Spirit and Drink Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.
This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. Some of the winners are the same as last year, and if so, I will provide a link to last year's list where you can read the details of that place or item. Consistency certainly deserves recognition. For more wine, spirit and drink related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.
Favorite Discount Wine Stores: With our continued difficult economic times, price is very important so many people want bargains. For wine, there are several excellent options, stores which provide not only good prices, but also an interesting selection as well as good service. I want to highlight three such stores which do an especially good job: Bin Ends in Braintree, Wine Connextion in North Andover and the Wine Cellar of Stoneham. I have highlighted these stores before and they have remained consistent, offering excellent bargain wines and you won't go wrong checking any of them out.
Favorite New Boutique Wine Store: Though it is actually not a newly opened store, it is new to me and I was very impressed with Winestone in Chestnut Hill. Owner Patrick Dubsky has created a haven for wine lover's with an intriguing selection of wines, good prices and helpful service. There is a PG-13 section, where you will find value wines under $13. There are also sections devoted to importers, showcasing the amazing wines some excellent importers, such as Adonna Imports, are bringing into Massachusetts. If you are near the Route 9 area, you must make a stop here to check out this store.
Favorite New Boston Wine Store: This winner of this category is actually a new store, which just celebrated its one anniversary. Bacco's Wine & Cheese, located near the Park Plaza, has a good selection and their prices have not been inflated merely because it is a Boston location. Plus, they have a cheese counter and serve sandwiches and other delicious foods as well. Kind of one-stop shopping for a tasty evening. Plus, they carry Sake which always endears a store in my heart.
Favorite Wine Shop, South of Boston: You might not realize that there is a fair number of wine and liquor stores in the Foxboro/Mansfield area but one boutique shop stands out to me, The Reserve Bin in Foxboro. Run by the the perky and passionate Kristin Braga, this is another wine lover's haven, with a diverse selection, including a large local wine showcase. You would be hard pressed to find another wine store that carries as many different local wines. They also carry sake, sherry and boxed wines, in addition to craft beers and cigars. Go visit the self-described "vegetarian ninja."
Favorite Suburban Wine Store: Once again, the Lower Falls Wine Company remains my favorite suburban wine store, due to its diverse selection, good prices, excellent service and superb tasting events. 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 consistently 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 third year in a row, the Wine Bottega is the winner. Consistency once again trumps.
Favorite Newport Wine Store: While visiting Newport, Rhode Island, you should stop by Bellevue Avenue and check out the Newport Wine Cellar. It carries artisan wines, craft beers and spirits and I found many fascinating selections there. This summer, they had a large selection of Rosé wines which impressed me. Price points range from under $10 to high-end and pricey European classics. Plus, next door, the owner also has a gourmet food and cheese shop, so you can find everything you need to fill your cravings.
Impressive New York City Wine Store: New York City has plenty of excellent wine stores and I wanted to highlight one independent store that was new to me and which I found particularly compelling. Ambassador Wine & Spirits has two floors of wine, including plenty of Grower's Champagne, Burgundy, older Ports & Sherries, and much more. In addition, they have a large and diverse selection of Sake and Shochu. You could easily while away the hours perusing the shelves and finding many intriguing bottles. It is a store that I will return to on any future NYC trip and which I recommend to anyone else visiting the city too.
Favorite Wine Dinner: In New York City, I got the chance to dine at the famed Le Cirque, experiencing an incredible Portuguese dinner with the wines of Herdade do Esporão. In fact, our chef for the evening was Miguel Vaz Oliviera, the winery's own chef. The food was amazing, the wines sublime and the company convivial. From Portuguese garlic soup to braised pork cheeks, from a killer Rosé to a superb Douro red. A memory for many years to come.
Favorite Single Winery Tasting: The wines of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region can be amazing, and Chateau La Nerthe is a stellar producer from this area. While enjoying lunch at L'Espalier, I got to taste an incredible line-up of La Nerthe wines, including older wines from 1982 and 1986, as well as a rare and unique 1995 Fin de la Nerthe, an eau de vie. These are not inexpensive wines but they are high quality and age-worthy wines sure to impress. Why not splurge for the holidays.
Favorite High-End Wine Tasting: This was an easy decision as the Wine Spectator Grand Tour had no peer. 200 amazing wines, plenty of food, little waiting time at any table. You rarely see so many high-end wines all together, and it was well worth the $200 ticket price. This was the first time the event was held in Boston, and hopefully it will return again some year soon. If you missed this tasting, you truly missed a grand event.
Worst Wine Tasting: Yes, I attended one disastrous wine tasting this year, the Inferno at Monticello. Though there were great intentions, to have an outside tasting on the grounds of Jefferson's historic Monticello, the intense temperatures, over 100 degrees, ruined any chances of a proper tasting of over 60 Virginia wines. It is a shame but hopefully the lesson was learned and there won't be a repeat of this disaster ever again.
Favorite Varietal Tasting: Muscadet just seems to be one of those under appreciated wines yet it is worthy of much attention. Made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, Muscadet can be transformed into a wide diversity of styles, and often can be a great value, even for aged Muscadet. At a Muscadet tasting at the Island Creek Oyster Bar, I got to experience a range of Muscadets, including one from 1995 (which only cost $25!). If you are looking for a interesting value white wine, check out Muscadet.
Favorite Wine Trip, International: This year, I visited four different countries for wine trips, including Argentina, Canada, Chile and France. In addition, I visited France on two separate occasions, checking out Champagne and Bordeaux. My favorite trip though had to be Argentina, which just brought together everything so well, including food, wine, people, weather, and more. The Mendoza region was beautiful, the people were so welcoming, the food amazing and the wines were very delicious. I would easily return there to further explore the region and highly recommend it to any wine lover. The other trips were all good too, but Argentina simply stands out at the top.
Favorite Wine Trip, Domestic: This year, I traveled to Niagara, Virginia, and Oregon on wine trips and my clear favorite was Portland, Oregon. Once again, everything on this trip coalesced so well, from the people to the wine, from the food to the sake. Portland is such an amazing food and drink city, offering much not matter what your personal preferences. I am very excited to be returning there in 2012 for the next Wine Blogger's Conference.
Favorite Wine Magazine: For the third 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. This is a magazine that continues to deliver, and I eagerly look forward to each issue.
Favorite Wine Book: After waiting four years for the English translation to be published, the first volume of The Drops of God did not disappoint. It is a Japanese manga, a comic book, about wine and has been highly influential in Japan. Besides entertaining, the book also educates people about wine, helping to reduce the intimidation factor. In addition, some of the language it uses, especially in describing wine is quite poetic. Every wine lover should read this book, and the second volume is being released today. I will be sure to get my copy.
Runner-Up Wine Book: Biodynamics is a controversial topic and wine writer Katherine Cole chose to cover the subject in Voodoo Vintners: Oregon's Astonishing Biodynamic Winegrowers. Though the book probably won't convert anyone, it is an easy read, helping to cut through some of the complexity of biodynamics. In addition, it tells some fascinating stories of Oregon wine makers, which are sure to interest any wine lover.
Favorite Wine & Food Pairing Book: Taste Buds and Molecules: The Art and Science of Food With Wine by Francois Chartier is a fascinating look at the science behind wine and food pairings, and Chartier helps you understand why some pairings work better than others. The role of aromas, volatile compounds, bridge ingredients and more are explained in a fairly easy manner, bringing plenty of new information to this topic. Sure, there may be no real rules for wine & food pairing, but there are good reasons why some pairings are effective.
Favorite Local Wine Bloggers: Locally, there is only a small number of blogs dedicated 50% or more to wine, being far outweighed by hundreds of local food blogs. But, of that small group, there are a number who deserve praise for their wine writing. First, kudos to two veteran wine bloggers who are keeping the passion for wine alive and consistently produce compelling work: Adam of Wine Zag and Robert of The Wellesley Wine Press. Second, as for newcomers, I want to give kudos to Rob of Fringe Wine, who covers more unusual grapes, blends and styles (which I think is a great idea).
Favorite Wine Blogging Advice: Some of the best advice for wine bloggers, or any bloggers for that matter, came from the famed Jancis Robinson at the Wine Blogger's Conference in Virginia. I summarized her recommendations into a more convenient acronym: AHOO (Accurate, Humble, Opinionated & Original). As the New Year approaches, I hope that all bloggers consider her advice and maybe make some changes to their blogs for 2012.
Top Wine Controversy: This past year, I have pushed to help protect wine place names, such as Champagne, Sherry and Port. As a lawyer and wine lover, I see the importance and rationale for such protection. In March, I penned a Rant, Protecting Champagne from the U.S., and followed up with a second Rant, going into more detail on the matter. This led to some questions on Twitter and a brief response from Barefoot Cellars, produced by E.& J. Gallo Winery, which calls some of their California wines "Champagne." I followed up for an explanation from them for why they used this term, but my inquiry was largely ignored, except for them to state it was legal for them to do so. But just because something is legal does not mean it is right. In April, I questioned a local Spanish restaurant, Tapeo, why they had four wines listed under "Sherry" when none of them were actually authentic Sherries. This led to a social media failure, as they wrongly ignored and then deleted my Facebook questions and comments on this issue. I will continue to pursue the protection of wine place names in 2012.
Favorite Bourbon: We need to welcome back Four Roses Bourbon, which was unavailable in the U.S. for over forty years but has returned. A distinctively American product, bourbon is probably most popular in the South, but it should be more popular everywhere. Four Roses is a more unique product, and the distillery uses ten different recipes to make their bourbons. Their portfolio has several different tasting bourbons, which should appeal to most preferences and I was certainly impressed, especially by their Single Barrel.
Favorite Scotch: One of a handful of family Scotch distilleries still existing in Scotland, Balvenie has plenty of experience and truly tries to produce an artisan product. Their product line is impressive, especially its diversity, including the use of several different types of finishing barrels, from Oloroso to Port barrels. The taste of their Scotches is sublime, and a glass or two would be perfect as winter nears. Their 15 Year Old Single Barrel might have been my favorite of their portfolio.
Favorite Domestic Distillery: Oregon is home to many smaller distilleries and I only got to visit one of them, but it was an impressive one, House Spirits Distillery. They make a variety of products, including gin, aquavit, whiskey and rum. Though I am not usually a fan of gin, I really enjoyed their Aviation Gin, which has a greatly reduced juniper flavor. Their aquavit is very intriguing as is their white whiskey. You can find their products locally and they are worth seeking out.
Favorite New Vodka: I am very particular about my vodka so when I find a new vodka that I enjoy, it is a big deal to me. At this year's New England Food Show, I really enjoyed the V-One Vodka, which though it is distilled in Poland, has roots in Massachusetts. It is a smooth and clean drink, the type of vodka I would sip just on the rocks. Plus, it is made from 100% Spelt, an ancient grain which adds a slight nutty element to its taste. And at about $25 per bottle, it is well worth the price.
Favorite New Liqueur: Seeking a new liqueur for the holidays? Why not consider Xante, a pear-infused Cognac liqueur. It possesses complex flavors, is not overly sweet, and has a prominent pear flavor. It seems to pair well with sparkling wine for a refreshing cocktail and was a huge hit at a couple parties. Though European women seem to prefer to drink it straight, I think it would be best in a cocktail.
Favorite Unusual Cocktail: For the carnivore cocktail lovers out there, get yourselves to The Gallows for their aptly named Abbatoir (which means slaughterhouse). This cocktail contains Batavia Arrack, Lillet, Tawny Port, as well as Veal Stock and Caramelized Onions! Meat in your cocktail? Yes, it actually works very well, providing a very savory note to the cocktail. And there are no chunks of anything in the stock, just delicious umami flavors. We need more cocktails like this.
Favorite Cocktail: While in Chile, I got hooked on the Pisco sour, a cocktail produced from the spirit Pisco. Pisco is making a resurgence in the U.S., though it had been very popular here during the Gold Rush. The Pisco Sour is made with Pisco, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup and an Egg White, and topped by Angostura Bitters. I prefer that it is not too sweet, and if made right, they go down very easy. Beware though the effects of too many Pisco Sours.
Favorite Beer: This is probably a category you never thought to see on my blog, given my general dislike for all beer. The taste of beer just doesn't appeal to me, but I did have one this year which I found palatable. The Lucky Buddha is a Chinese lager, brewed from all natural ingredients including malt, rice, water and hops. It is crisp, refreshing and light, with a mild flavor. Plus it comes in a green bottle shaped like Buddha, which is very cool! I am not sure what beer fans might think of this brew, but if you are not usually a fan of beer, give this a try.
Favorite Non-Alcoholic Drink: The drinking vinegars at Pok Pok and Ping in Portland, Oregon are worthy beverages. Fruit is macerated in vinegar and soda water is later added, creating a lightly carbonated fruit juice, low in sweetness and with a slight tartness. I really like the fact they don't taste as sweet as many other sodas, and feel more refreshing. They are available in some stores in Portland and will be coming to New York City in the near future.
What were some of your favorite wine, spirit and drink related items this year?