Thursday, April 28, 2011

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) Towne Stove and Spirits is ready to welcome Spring with a new menu, as created by Culinary Director Lydia Shire and Executive Chef Mario Capone. The revamped carte du jour at Towne will refresh some signature dishes by incorporating new seasonal flavors while adding in some future classics.

For “starters,” Towne Stove and Spirits will offer the following new options: English Pea Soup (with pork belly ‘bap’ - $14); Wild Yellowtail Hamachi Crudo (with white soy & avocado mousse - $21); Wood Grilled Mini Lamb Souvlaki (with orange lentil, magical ‘pani puri’ -$18); Angus Beef Tartare (with 40 ct. chips, crimson beets & hot horseradish dip - $22); and, Button Ravioli (a palest oyster mushrooms, morels & sweet Vidalia veloute - $18). Shire and Capone have also added two new “wood grilled pizza” options to their repertoire: Hawaiian (with bacon & drunken pineapple - $17); and, Lobster (with chervil & fresh favas - $26). The new Burrata (dressed Maine hot house tomato, flaky basil pesto croissant - $13) also graces the “salad” section.

Moving onto the “ocean + wood fired” section of the menu, the culinary team at Towne is proud to unveil: Halibut T-Bone & Half Lobster (with fava bean raviolini - $34); Swordfish & Octopus (skewered w/ fresh bay leaf, wood grilled with citrus sabayon & cous cous pearls - $31); and, Haddock (crisped with cockles &lemongrass cassava butter - $32).

Towne Stove and Spirits is also featuring new “carnivore + wood fired” options, including: Pappardelle (delverde with pot roasted veal breast and housemade ricotta - $16); Chicken (1/2 ROTO w/ whole lemons, sumac & aromatic ground zaatar - $24); Sugar Smoked Peking Duck (with steamed bun & sweet potato - $32); Duck (crisp with fresh cherry savory & towering puffed potato tart - $31); Statler Chicken Breast (wood grilled, panzotti of dandelion w/ walnut sauce - $27); Kurobuta Pork Chop (double, very special with kabocha squash flan & black currants - $30); Flank Steak (100% Wagyu with spaghetti aglio olio - $26); Sirloin (14-ounce prime, simply grilled or with bone marrow & parsley salad - $42); Rib Eye Steak (w/ Towne’s preserved cherry peppers & confit spring garlic - $39); and, Veal Cutlet Schnitzel (crisped with soft egg & rapini greens - $29).

For “sides,” Towne Stove and Spirits will now dish out the following: Fired Rice (Yangzhou, fresh peas & fresh rock shrimp - $10); Asparagus (skillet cooked with chile flakes & parmesan shards - $12); Simple Spinach Stir-Fry (Japanese aemono with sesame salad - $7); and, Ricotta Gnocchi (handmade with yellow tomato Bolognese - $12).

2) Spice things up on Thursday, May 5th, at Tryst, in Arlington. In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, Tryst is offering guests a free shrimp taco with the purchase of a “Tryst-a-rita,” Tryst’s house margarita. From 5pm-10pm,  guests will receive one of Executive Chef Paul Turano’s famed shrimp tacos for free when they order a margarita ($10) in the bar & lounge area or dining room. No food or cocktail substitutions. Limited to one shrimp taco per cocktail order.

3) On May 3rd, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early with a “Legal Holiday.”  Guests will enjoy four oyster-laced dishes paired with oyster-friendly wines. The menu will be presented as follows:

First Course
Raw Oysters on the Half Shell with Traditional Accompaniments
Paired with Domaine Pepiere “Clos des Briords” Muscadet, Loire Valley, 2009
Second Course
Oyster Stew with Cream, Leeks, Celery, and Fresh Herbs
Paired with Poema Brut Cava, Penedes, NV
Third Course
Fried Oysters with Brie, Spinach Salad, and Bacon Vinaigrette
Paired with Casa Marin “Les Cipreses” Sauvignon Blanc, San Antonio Valley, 2008
Fourth Course
Baked Tuscan Oysters with Pinenuts, Sun Dried Tomatoes, and Pecorino Romano
Paired with Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, Campania, 2009

WHEN: Tuesday, May 3rd at 6:30pm
COST: $35 per session (includes tax & gratuity)
Reservations required by calling: 617-530-9392. For online reservations, visit:

4) This Mother’s Day, The Back Bay Hotel is inviting everyone to toast the leading lady in their life with Stanhope Grille’s a breakfast buffet in the early part of the day. There will be an assortment of fresh fruit, cereals, fresh baked pastries and breads, eggs Benedict, omelets, home fries, bacon and sausage. During brunch hours, Stanhope Grille will serve a la carte specials including, but not limited to, the following: Irish Oatmeal Crème Brulee ($8); Flatbread Pizza ($11); Brioche French Toast ($14); Buttermilk Pancakes ($14); House Smoked Salmon ($15); The Grille Burger ($13); Florentine Omelet ($16); Steak & Eggs ($17); All American Breakfast ($17); and, Irish Breakfast ($19).

The Breakfast Buffet will run from 7am-2pm, and costs $23 per person.
(Please note that this entry was changed as I received some new info on their Mother's Day plans)

5) Raise a glass to Mom this Mother’s Day at the Wine ConneXtion located in North Andover, at a complimentary wine, mimosa and pastry tasting on Saturday, May 7, from 12pm-5pm. The Wine ConneXtion is collaborating with artisanal bake shop A & J King, located in Salem, and Ocean Spray®, as they pair some of A & J King’s freshly-made specialties, like chocolate bouchon, caramel bread pudding and seasonal tarts with champagnes and wines the Wine ConneXtion has to offer. In an effort to make sure that all moms have the day they deserve the Wine ConneXtion will be accepting donations which will benefit the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.

Make your Mother’s Day even more special using A & J King’s special Artisan Pancake recipe.

A&J King Artisan Pancakes
Makes 8-10 pancakes

1.5 cups milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 eggs
2 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1. Heat griddle or large pan to medium high.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
3. In a larger bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Stir the dry into the wet, using a whisk, until just barely smooth. Add more milk if necessary to achieve desired consistency.
4. Butter or grease the griddle and scoop your pancakes, making sure that they do not spread into each other. When the pancakes are golden on the bottom and the small bubbles rising to the surface to not fill back in when popped, carefully flip. Serve immediately, or reserve in a warmed oven until all are cooked.

6) Lolita will soon be offering Round Two, a Saturday brunch, "that keeps the party going from the night before."  Saturdays, beginning May 14, from 10am-4pm, you can enjoy specials on champagne bottle service and signature drinks (both boozy and non-alcoholic) and a menu of sweet and savory breakfast dishes.

Highlights from the Mexican-inspired brunch include:

“Burracho” (Drunk) Breakfast
Slow cooked beef brisket in red chili broth with poached eggs and avocado, served with a cheese quesadilla
The Shameful Benedict
Toasted cornbread, spicy chorizo sausage and poached eggs topped with chili con queso, served with red chili home fries
Fresh Fruit Ceviche
Watermelon, pineapple, mango, melon, berries and mint topped with hibiscus lime granita
Cinnamon Bun French Toast
A giant house made cinnamon roll soaked in Mexican vanilla custard and served with real maple syrup and ‘bun drizzle’
Red Velvet Pancakes Gigante
‘Cream cheese frosting’ syrup and real maple syrup

And don’t forget the drinks:
Aqua Frescas
Signature non-alcoholic cocktails of fresh fruits and juices, expertly iced
Triple X MilkshakeCreamy Mexican cinnamon-almond milkshake blended with rum
Specials on bottle service from Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot and Moet Imperial

Lolita will also serve traditional Sunday brunch (same menu; no champagne service) beginning May 15, from 10am-4pm

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Wines of Argentina: Twelve Things You Should Know

Since my return from Argentina, I have had time to reflect upon my experiences, to consider the wine industry of Argentina. Though the trip was sponsored by Winebow, a wine importer and distributor who represents several producers in Argentina, we visited more than just Winebow clients.  In fact, about half the wineries we visited were not Winebow clients, thus giving us a more balanced view of the region. In addition, I have done some additional independent research and reading into the wines of Argentina.

My time in the Mendoza province of Argentina was exciting, fun, compelling, educational and delicious. My understanding of this wine region has also been expanded and enhanced.  I have already written a couple posts about my travel experiences in Argentina, and you can look to even more in the future.  Now, I want to present a list of Twelve Things You Should Know about the wines of Argentina, to give you a foundation to understanding this region. When many people think of Argentina, then generally only think of inexpensive wines, and usually Malbec.  But the Argentina wine industry is far more complex than that, and worthy of your attention. 

Argentina already stands high in a few international wine categories. It is the world's 5th largest wine producer, the 7th largest wine exporter, and the 8th largest wine consumer.  There are over 1300 wineries in Argentina, though only about 400 currently export wine.  Interestingly, only about 3.5% of the land in Argentina is under cultivation, much of the rest being cities, mountains and such. The province of Mendoza is their most important wine region, producing about 70% of the wine in the country. Wine is the main agricultural product in Mendoza with olive oil occupying second place.

1) Argentina has a young wine industry.
Despite the fact that grapes were first planted in Argentina by the Spanish during the 16th century, their modern wine industry is still relatively new, only around twenty years old. They have certainly come far in this short time span, but also have much room for growth and plenty of potential.  There is still a youthful exuberance to be found in Argentina, an optimistic view of the future. They are not bound by hundreds of years of tradition, and thus have a fresh outlook on wine making. Yet they still have historical roots as many Italian and Spanish immigrants helped to develop the wine industry. For example, about 50% of the population of Mendoza is of Italian descent.  It is a combination of the Old and New World, which is often reflected in their wines.

2) Malbec is King.
Malbec is the signature red grape of Argentina, and the grape which has brought much fame to the region. Known by numerous other names, such as Auxerrois, Côt Noir and Pressac, Malbec was first introduced into Argentina in the mid-19th century, prior to phyollexera. The cuttings came from the Bordeaux region of France, not Cahors, the French region most known for its Malbec.  Argentina possesses plenty of old vines of Malbec, including some over 100 years old. It is currently their most planted grape, and there are about 22 recognized clones of Malbec. In 2010, Malbec constituted about 40% of Argentina’s wine exports though exports to the U.S. were about 60% Malbec.

Malbec can often be characterized as having an intense dark color, aromas and flavors of cherry, plum and strawberry, and soft tannins. But Malbec is not a singular grape, and can express itself in many different profiles, especially due to terroir.  Malbec has the potential to age well, and pairs well with meats, pastas, pizza, and other foods.  Until the early 1990s, Argentina mainly used Malbec as a blending grape, but then they began creating single varietal wines, discovering its great potential. Numerous low cost Malbec wines started to get exported and wine consumers embraced them, helping to put Argentina on the international wine map. In the future, Malbec will remain the signature grape of Argentina but you will see more and more different expressions of that grape.

3) Torrontes is Queen.
Though Pedro Giménez is the most widely planted white grape in Argentina, it is Torrontes which is their signature white grape. You should know that plantings of Pedro Giménez are declining, it is a different grape than the Spanish Pedro Ximénez, and that it doesn't make wines of much note.  No one knows exactly when Torrontes came to Argentina, and there are a couple possible origin stories.  Some believe it was an old Spanish grape, which no longer exists in Spain, while others think it may be a mutation from raisins which had been planted by Spanish colonists. Some evidence exists that Torrontes is a cross between the Muscat of Alexandria and Criolla Chica grapes. 

There are three types of Torrontes, each a distinct variety, including Torrontes Riojano, Torrontes Mendocino and Torrontes Sanjuanino. The Riojano variety makes the best wines, and most of the Torrontes in Argentina consists of this variety. Torrontes might remind you of Viognier, but it is more floral, closer to Muscat in nature and often has flavors of apricots and peaches. Torrontes grown in the Cafayate Valley is often considered the most prestigious. Torrontés pairs well with seafood, as well as spicy Asian cusine. I gained a new appreciation for Torrontes while in Mendoza.

4) Bonarda is the Prince.
Argentina is not relying solely on Malbec to carry its wine industry.  The Bonarda is another red grape which is gaining attention, and rightfully so. It is not the same grape as the Italian Bonarda, but is actually related to the French Corbeau, known in California as Charbono. It is a late ripening, high-yielding grape which can be difficult to grow. To produce high quality Bonarda requires effective vineyard management, especially to reduce yields. Currently, many Argentina wineries are producing only inexpensive, entry level Bonarda wines, but there is increasing interest in terroir, higher-end and aged Bonarda. It is a grape to watch, and seems to occupy a similar position to Malbec in the early 1990s.

5) Forget Malbec.
If Malbec is King, then why am I telling you to forget about it now?  I discussed this issue previously, and it was only reinforced by my visits to the wineries in Argentina. As Jose Zuccardi stated, "Malbec should express place, not the grape.” Wineries have started to concentrate on terroir, a sense of place, in producing their Malbecs. They have found that Malbec presents many different expressions dependent upon the terroir. Some wineries, like Altos Las Hormigas, feel the soil is the most important element of Malbec terroir while others, like Bodega Catena Zapata, feel that altitude is the key. Experimentation and research continue into this issue, and it is the future of the wines of Argentina.

Though you will continue to find inexpensive Malbec wines, you will begin to see more and more higher-end Malbecs, those indicative of terroir. This will lead to a greater variety of Malbecs, so that such wines will not seem one-dimensional. It is also thought that this will make wine much less of a generic commodity and more of a specialityh item. And as Malbec becomes more terroir driven, so Argentina will do the same with their other grapes, from Torrontes to Bonarda, from Chardonnay to Syrah. This is an important step forward for their wine industry.

6) Argentina is embracing science.
Science, technology and innovation are all very important to the Argentina wine industry. The wineries are availing themselves of every opportunity to improve quality and diversity. For example, a number of wineries in Argentina have hired the consultant Pedro Parra to examine and advise on their terroir.  Parra (which is coincidentally is the Spanish word for "grapevine") is a Chilean soil scientist and self-proclaimed terroir specialist. His name came up often during my visits to the wineries of Argentina.  Some wineries, such as Familia Zuccardi, are experimenting with a wide variety of grapes, to see which other ones might thrive in Argentina.  For example, Zuccardi is testing over 30 different grapes, such as Greco, Petit Manseng, Caladoc, Nero d'Avola, Ancellota and Sauvignon Gris. In addition, innovation in irrigation, canopy management, and much more also exist in Argentina. It is an exciting time in this wine region. 

7) Wine is made first for Argentina.
First and foremost, much of the wine in Argentina is produced to be drank in Argentina. In addition, 80% of the wine they drink is red. That should be expected due to the prevalence of the asado, the Argentinian barbecue, presenting a diverse selection of grilled meats.  Only about 27% of their wine is exported, with the U.S. being their primary market by a wide margin.  Though Argentina started some wine exporting around 1981, after some economic problems, their exports began to accelerate in the early 1990s. It is very likely that their wine exports will continue to increase each year.

If you visit wine stores in Argentina, you will find many of them carry only wines from Argentina. There are high duty costs for imported wines, which contributes to the sparcity of them in Argentina wine stores.  Thus, Argentinians have few options available to them besides drinking their own wines.  Jose Zuccardi feels that this strong Argentinian consumption is a good thing.  He stated, “Brands need roots in their own market.”  Those countries while rely primarily on exports, and which don't have a strong tradition of consuming their own wine, will have difficulty in the market.  

8) Wine is food.
Argentina has a very European view of wine, seeing it as food and not alcohol.  Even the President of Argentina once said that wine was an integral part of the food and culture of Argentina. Such a view is very different from what is apparently happening in the U.S., where there is a growing movement to divorce wine from food. In Argentina, wine is a natural element of their lifestyle, relished at each meal, not something to fear or require extensive regulation. As such, their wines are usually designed to be best accompanied by food. I believe this Argentinian viewpoint is a healthy one, and helps to promote a strong wine culture.

9) Irrigation is essential.
Mendoza is often characterized as a high-altitude desert oasis, and it only has approximately 200ml of rain annually, about 8 inches. Yet grapes basically need 700-800ml of water so irrigation is essential to the vineyards in Argentina. The Incas understood this need for irrigation for their own agriculture, and created thousands of kilometers of irrigation canals, probably more than any other ancient civilization.  There are four rivers in Mendoza which are used for irrigation, the water originating from melted snow and ice in the Andes Mountains.  In addition, there is an underground river which also can be used for irrigation.  But land in Argentina usually does not come with water rights, and a separate government license needs to be obtained for its use.

10) Hail is a significant peril.
Hail, especially in the Mendoza region, is a constant worry, an annual threat, and can be extremely destructive.  As hail can sometimes be as large as a fist, it can potentially destroy entire vineyards.  As one defensive measure, numerous wineries cover their vines with a variety of different nets.  The problem is that these nets have a negative side effect, decreasing the amount of sunlight that reaches the grapes by about 7-13%. So, some wineries won't use nets, accepting the peril of hail, to maintain their sunlight. Though hail is a danger to other grape regions around the world, Argentina has one of the most significant problems.

11) Altitude is important.
The average vineyard in Argentina is located at over 900 meters above sea level, a unique element to this wine region.  You'll even find vineyards as high up as 3,000 meters above sea level. This has been a fascinating learning experience for the wineries of Argentina, and they have discovered that changes in altitude result in a change in terroir.  It was known that higher altitudes provide a cooler climate, but much more has been learned too.  The famed Nicolas Catena, who has been a pioneer in high altitude vineyards, has done much research into this matter and believes that the most important climatic factor of altitude is sunlight density.  Sunlight density increases with altitude and this has a significant effect on taste, decreases pyrazines, and changes the aromatics from floral to fruit. More study will continue in this area, and the wines of Argentina will only continue to improve.

12) Argentina does not want to be Australia.
Discussions of the crisis of the Australian wine industry arose a number of times while touring the wineries of Argentina. Argentina wineries were clear that they wanted to avoid the problems that have assailed the Australian wine industry. They don't want Malbec to end up in the same situation as Australian Shiraz, extremely popular at one point and then shunned by many. They also do not want to glut the market with their wines, which certainly did not help the Australians.  Thus, avoiding those issues have factored into their decisions, from moving to more terroir driven Malbecs to having a solid base of wine consumers in Argentina. It is good to see that Argentina is willing to learn from the examples of others, and they seem poised to avoid the Australian issues.

I am looking forward to the development of the wine industry of Argentina. They already produce some excellent wines, and they seem on track to continue making even better wines in the future. Wine lovers should keep Argentina on their radar, and explore the new wines coming from this region. You will continue to find many value wines, but you will also find more complex, high quality wines which will excite your palate.

Argentina is just getting started.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rant: Holiday Posts Are The Yellow Tail of Blogging

Easter was yesterday and if you have been reading wine blogs, you probably would have found a number of posts recommending wines for Easter dinner, such as wines to pair with ham or lamb.  Every holiday, from New Year's Eve to Thanksgiving, numerous wine blogs, as well as print media, offer their wine recommendations. Such posts and articles are ubiquitous, and often very repetitive from year to year.  Originality is usually lacking so why do people continue to write these trite posts?

Holiday posts are the Yellow Tail of blogging.

Like Yellow Tail wine, holiday posts are usually simple, standardized and consumer friendly. You don't seek brilliance in Yellow Tail and you don't seek it either in most holiday posts.  Like Yellow Tail, holiday posts are not intended for the more sophisticated wine lover, but rather to help those people who know little about wine and want some assistance. For most bloggers, these posts are easy to write, simply placing down some standard wine recommendations. And as they write these same posts every year, the posts are usually consistent from year to year, "vintage" having no input into the posts.

The main reason bloggers write these articles is the same reason many wine stores sell Yellow Tail: to appeal to the masses.  As trite as these holiday wine articles may be, they still garner lots of traffic and many bloggers want all of that extra traffic. With at least one holiday each month, and sometimes multiple holidays, writing these posts is an easy way to increase traffic. And as they are trying to appeal to the masses with these holiday posts, bloggers are usually motivated to write something simple and basic. The masses are not seeking something complex, no matter how compelling.     

Some blogs see no reason to write holiday posts, and are not motivated by the desire of the additional traffic. This would be like the boutique wine store which chooses not to stock Yellow Tail or similar such products,  Or if they do write holiday posts, they strive for originality, to elevate their posts beyond the trite and commonplace. That is certainly a more difficult task.  Such posts are directed more to wine lovers than the masses, though even the masses could benefit from such articles. It is just less likely that the masses will read those posts.

So is writing the same old holiday wine posts selling out? Or a necessary evil to attract more traffic? Should wine bloggers seek to write more original holiday posts, even at the expense of not garnering as much traffic?  How do you feel about these holiday wine posts? Am I being too harsh to compare them to Yellow Tail? Or did I not go far enough?

Friday, April 22, 2011

3 Country Bistro: New Asian in Woburn

Downtown Woburn, a strip on Main Street, is becoming a mecca for small restaurants, from Brazilian to Mexican, from Pizza to Asian. I have recently had my eye on two new restaurants, the Brickyard and 3 Country Bistro. The Brickyard will be a pizza and burger joint, scheduled to open in the beginning of May. 3 Country Bistro just opened about a week ago and I stopped by yesterday for lunch.

The restaurant is small, seating only about 18 people, and offers Japanese, Thai and Korean cuisine. It is a casual place, with a tiny sushi bar, and is open for both lunch and dinner. They do takeout and also deliver within Woburn. It is a BYOB spot, so you can bring your own wine or beer.

It has an extensive menu, with plenty of sushi options, especially makimono, sushi rolls. Sushi prices are average, and sashimi orders consist of five slices of fish, not the usual three at most other places. There are five Korean entrees, ranging from Bi Bam Bab to Bulgogi.  Thai entrees include about twenty choices, including four curries and a few Pad Thai options. I was disappointed though that they did not have Massaman Curry. Japanese entrees include Tempura, Teriyaki and Agemono. Many of the lunch choices are under $10, and most dinner options are under $15.

For lunch, I tried some sushi, including maguro, unagi, tamago and a sweet potato tempura maki. The maki was so-so, with not enough sweet potato and lacking a sufficient crispness. The other sushi though were tasty, good-sized and seemed fresh.  I also tried a few of their appetizers, Gyoza, Tatsuta-Age and Tempura. The fried Gyoza were cooked well, plump and with a nice crunch. The Tatsuta-Age were larger pieces of chicken than many other places serve, which I like, and it had a pleasant tasting coating over moist, white meat. The tempura was good, though the batter could have been a little lighter. Presentation was very nice, with some nice mukimono, vegetable carvings, on the sushi plate. After lunch, they served me a dish of fresh, sliced fruit, with some fruit carvings.

As the restaurant has only been open for a week, matters could change. Hopefully it will improve over the next couple months as they work out the initial kinks. I had enough tasty food here that I will return to try more of their dishes, maybe some Thai next time. It may not replace any of my local Asian favorite restaurants, but it is worth checking out.

3 Country Bistro
379 Main Street
Woburn, MA
Phone: 781-376-8030

3 Country Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 21, 2011

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) On May 4th, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a special dinner featuring wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma County’s Ramey Wine Cellars. David Ramey, Owner and Winemaker of Ramey Wine Cellars, will be the guest of honor. Ramey will highlight his wines by pairing them with a unique Legal Sea Foods’ four-plus-course menu that will be presented as follows:

Hors d'oeuvres
Smoked West Coast Oysters
Cheddar Polenta Rondelles & Exotic Wild Mushrooms
Pulled Pork Empañadas & Pea Tendrils
Paired with 2008 Ramey Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast

First Course
Hake Ceviche (Micro Cilantro, Aji Amarillo Peppers, Red Onion, Citrus Segments)
Paired with 2008 Ramey “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros

Second Course
Wood Grilled Shrimp & Clam Pizzetta, Aged Gouda, Arugula Salad
Paired with 2008 Ramey “Hudson Vineyard” Chardonnay, Carneros
Third Course
Wood Grilled Marinated Rack of Lamb with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Quinoa Salad
Paired with 2007 Ramey Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa

Cheese CourseMorbier, Vermont Grafton Aged Cheddar, Taleggio with Bone Marrow Pâté, Toast Points
Paired with 2007 Ramey Syrah, Sonoma Coast

When: Wednesday, May 4th at 6:30pm
Cost: $85 per person (excludes tax and gratuity)
Reservations required by calling: 617-530-9397

2) Tamarind Bay announces “Spice & Wine,” a monthly dinner series held in conjunction with local specialty wine shop vinodivino. The three-course meal pairs Indian cuisine’s exotic blends of spices and complex flavors with wines from vinodivino. Examples of pairings include:

§ Loire Vallery Chenin Blanc | Crispy Samosas
§ Piedmontese Barbera | Spicy Tandoori Chicken
§ Rose of Southern France | Spicy Spinach and Mustard Sag Paneer

The “Spice & Wine” dinner also features:
§ Live cooking demonstration
§ Spice collection and recipes to take home
§ Wines from the dinner available for purchase at a discount

The “Spice & Wine” dinners are held once a month at both Tamarind Bay locations.
Harvard Square’s Tamarind Bay Indian Bistro & Bar
§ Every second Monday at 6:00 PM
§ May 9, June 13, July 11, August 8, September 12, October 10, November 14

Brookline’s Tamarind Bay Coastal Indian Kitchen
§ Every fourth Monday at 6:00 PM
§ April 25, May 23, June 27, July 25, August 22, September 26, October 24, November 21

Cost: $27/per person, excludes tax and gratuity
Please call to make a reservation.

3) Join Blue on Highland, located in Needham, this Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8th, for a day of celebratory elegance featuring menu specials and complimentary roses for the woman who makes it all possible.

Guests can indulge in the classic culinary stylings of Executive Chef Peter Tartsinis as he presents all-day specials such as: Lobster Cocktail with homemade cocktail sauce ($16) and Jumbo Shrimp and Grilled Filet with bernaise ($29), created exclusively for this year’s Mother’s Day celebration.

From 11am-3pm, their brunch menu will be offered featuring early morning classics like French Toast with blueberry butter and maple syrup ($10) and Sirloin and Eggs with brioche bread, mushroom truffle-butter and home fries ($14). Or try Margherita pizza with fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella ($9) or Lobster Bisque served with paprika oil and fresh cut scallions ($7).  Complement your selections with specialty cocktails such as the Peruvian 75 (cachaca, fresh lemon, champagne, $11), or "Coming Up Roses,” a delicate blend of champagne, razzberry rum, muddled rose petals and rose syrup (both $11), while taking in the smooth melodies of the Tom Wandell Trio during Blue on Highland’s live Jazz brunch. Dinner will be served 3pm-9pm. 

Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling 781-444-7001.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mercado Central in Chile: Fish Heads

Visting the Mercado Central in Santiago, Chile brought back visions of the International Boston Seafood Show, at there was so much fresh seafood displayed at the market.  And lots of fish heads!

The market contains dozens of stalls selling a diverse selection of local seafood, as well as booths selling produce, souvenirs, wines, and more.  It is worth a stop to check out the market, though the strong fishy odor in parts of the market might turn off some people.  It can also seem like a bit of a maze, as you wander down narrower side aisles.  I picked up some merken, a Chilean spice, and some Yerba Mate, herbs used to make a tea-like hot drink. I'll be talking more about those items in the near future.       

You'll also find numerous restaurants, many specializing in seafood, with assertive individuals trying to get you to dine at their restaurant.  Walk twenty feet through the market and it will seem as if a dozen people try to harangue you to dine at their place.  To avoid that, just keeping looking at all the displayed seafood, making eye contact only with the fish. Yes, that might be unnerving but would you rather deal with the hordes trying to get you to sit in their restaurant?

Sea urchins, with that tender, salty roe within them.

Barnacles may not seem like a tasty seafood, but they are related to crabs and lobster, and actually do have a good taste. It all depends on the method of preparation. These are the Picoroco Barnacles, a species of giant barnacle found off the shores of Chile.

These Conger Eels are very popular in Chile, and we were told repeatedly that they were not really eels. But later research seems to indicate they actually are a type of eel.  Maybe more people eat Conger if they think it is merely a different type of fish, and not an eel.  Try fried conger or conger eel soup.

Just some random fish shots, none of which look too happy to be there.

And I'll leave you with a photo of actual Fish Heads! 

"Fish heads fish heads
Roly poly fish heads
fish heads fish heads
eat them up, yum!"
--Barnes & Barnes

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Green River Sake: Consumer Friendly

Sake can be intimidating to many people so efforts to make it more consumer friendly are certainly welcome as well as needed. That is one of the primary reasons I found Green River Sake to be so compelling.

Though I previously posted Some Choice Selections from the New England Food Show, my favorite booth of the entire show belong to Green River Sake. I was fortunate to meet K. Mike Masuyama, Ph.D., (pictured above) from their US marketing office. He led me through a tasting of four of their sakes, as well as discussed the company, from its philosophy to its marketing. He was a fascinating man, obviously passionate about sake, and desirous to spread his passion throughout the U.S.

In Japan, Green River Sake Company is known as Midorikawa, as "midori” means “green” and “kawa” means “river.” The brewery, located in the Niigata region, has a history extending back to the early 18th century though it was not incorporated until 1884. It is a relatively small brewery, and though it relies on technology, it still avoids mass production. It is more a boutique brewery, using technology to help produce high quality sake on a small scale.  And based on what I tasted, they have been successful.

I really was intrigued by the pitcher they used to pour sake, which kept it chilled, but not diluted, by ice. Classy, aesthetically pleasing and functional.

Green River has created a line of sakes intended for the U.S. market. These sakes are meant to be consumer friendly, to avoid confusing and intimidating people. Their labels are simple, and almost completely in English except for the large kanji on the front label.  The labels also do not contain any technical details, such as the Sake Meter Value or Acidity level. The idea is to make the labels simple, to primarily describe the flavor profile of the sake without using any confusing technical terminology. When they sell their sake in Japan, the labels are different.  In addition, the color of each bottle and label is different, so consumers can more easily realize that they are different products.

Their sake sells for about $14-$21 for 300ml bottles, dependent on the specific sake.  It was thought that the smaller bottles would also be more consumer friendly, seeming like less of a risk to buy and sample. I have previously encouraged local wine stores to carry this bottle size as I agree it seems less of a risk for consumers. Green River has even geared the taste of the sake toward being being amenable to an American palate, though not by trying to make it sweet.

The four sakes I tasted included: Koide 12, Snow-Aged, Five Seasons and Beyond the Sea. Typical Niigata sake is often described as tanrei, which roughly translates as "clean-smooth-gracious," and it is a style that I greatly enjoy. Thus, these four sakes, which seemed to reflect the tanrei style, all appealed to me. I should also note that they all taste dry.

The Koide 12 is a Junmai Ginjo, and the rice has been milled down to 55%. It also has a slightly lower alcohol level, at 14%-15%, than usual sakes.  It has a smooth, clean taste with subtle yet complex flavors of melon, peach, steamed rice, and more.   

The Snow-Aged is also a Junmai Ginjo, milled to 60%, and has undergone "snow-aging."  The bottled sake is actually stored in an open warehouse, for about one year, where it is open to the elements. As this area of Niigata can receive up to 12 feet of snow, the sake can be buried beneath snow for much of the winter. Interestingly, though I thought this might be more subtle and elegant than the Koide 12, it actually seemed more assertive and bolder, though still being smooth and complex. The fruit elements were more subtle than the Koide and there was a more prominent herbaceous taste.

The Five Seasons is a Junmai sake which "can be enjoyed in four seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter, and an additional season of sake throughout the year."  The rice was milled to 60%, which technically would make it a Ginjo but they have chosen to label it as a Junmai.  This sake had a flavor profile somewhere between the Koide and the Snow-Aged.

The Beyond the Sea is also a Junmai sake, with rice milled to 65%.  It was the most full bodied of the four sakes, with more of a sense of umami.  It was smooth and clean, with subtle flavors of melon, Asian pear and hints of ginger. 

I would enjoy drinking any one of these four sakes, and agree they are very consumer friendly. They would make excellent introductory sakes, which could help correct a person's misconceptions about sake. Plus, sake lovers would find them very enjoyable as well.

I was also excited to know that they carry Sparkling Star, a dry sparkling sake in a 500ml bottle for about $20.  I did not get to taste this sake, but note that it is not sweet, like most of the other sparkling wines on the market. It is also completely clear, unlike many sparkling sakes which can be cloudy with some of the sake lees. I look forward to tasting this sake when it becomes available.

These sakes should be available in the Massachusetts market in the near future, distributed through Atlantic Importing Co., and I strongly recommend you seek them out when they are available. It would be good if other sake breweries tried to make their products more accessible to U.S. consumers.


Monday, April 18, 2011

Rant: Throwing Wine Away

Imagine throwing away a $100 bottle of wine after drinking and enjoying a single glass. That would be a terrible waste of a good bottle of wine. You might believe that such an occurrence happens only rarely in real life, that such instances are quite isolated.  Yet in actuality, it occurs quite frequently, all across the world. And the ones most often wasting the wine are wine lovers, including many professionals involved in the wine trade.

Recently, this matter came to my thoughts again while I spent about two weeks with nine other wine writers. We visited about a dozen wineries, tasting many different wines, including during meals. Most often we tasted and then spit the wine into buckets.  The buckets would eventually fill to the brim and need to be emptied, awaiting the next round of spat and discarded wine. There was so much waste and it poked at my sense of injustice. Just imagine how much money all that wine cost, and most of it ended up being discarded.

Such waste occurs at all large tasting events, as well as many smaller ones too. It is an accepted part of the wine industry yet is it truly necessary? Can the amount of waste be mitigated in some manner, and if so, how do we implement such a plan on a larger scale?  Could the reduction of such waste help to reduce wine costs?  And why doesn't anyone seem to care about all this waste?

The reasons for spitting at such events are clear, and justified. You don't want to become intoxicated, unable to taste any more or to embarass yourself in front of others. You may be there to take notes, to assess the wines for later review or purchase.  You thus need to remain sober, so that your mind is clear to make the decisions you need to make. This type of waste cannot be prevented.

But, spitting alone is not the problem. When you are poured a glass of wine to taste, you might only try one or two mouthfuls, leaving the rest in your glass. Those remnants will likely then be poured out into a bucket, more waste. And that waste can be an even greater an amount than what you spit into the bucket.

But that waste can be reduced. The simple solution is to reduce the amount of the pour so that you only receive a mouthful or two of wine in your glass. There is no need to overpour a sample glass, cognizant that much of it would be wasted. I have often seen overgenerous pours at tasting events, knowing that much of the glass will be thrown away.  It needs to stop, and is easily rectified. It only takes the will to put into action.

Stop discarding so much good wine!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wine Blogging Wednesday #72: Helping Japan--A Recap

It is time for the Recap of Wine Blogging Wednesday #72: Helping Japan.

As you will recall, on Friday, March 11, a massive earthquake, one of the largest in recorded history, struck northern Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami that has affected millions of people. Over 3,000 people have lost their lives and thousands more have remained unaccounted. The destruction has been so extensive that millions of families have been displaced in search of water, food and shelter far from damaged nuclear reactors. Obviously, this has been a terrible tragedy, pulling at every one of our heartstrings with the innate desire to help, to give something that might make their lives easier.

For this WBW theme, participants had two options, to either drink and review a Sake or drink and review wine that pairs well with Japanese cuisine. You could earn bonus points by reviewing multiple Sakés, pairing Saké with food, or drinking wine with Japanese food.

Unfortunately, we had a very low turnout for this event. So even more kudos go out to those who did participate. It is interesting too that most of the participants were from outside of the U.S., including three from Canada, one from Finland and one from Kenya. It is very pleasing to me that the participants largely seemed to enjoy the sakes they tasted.

Holly, of Wine Out Loud, is a first timer to WBW and tasted three sakes, earning bonus points.  All three were from the Hakutsuru Brewery, and included a Junmai Ginjo, an organic Junmai Ginjo and a Nigori.  She enjoyed these three sakes with some sushi and teriyaki chicken, earning even more bonus points.  I am pleased she enjoyed the sake, as well as the fact she shared them with some friends.

Todd, of Vermont Wine Press, also earned plenty of bonus points and kudos for drinking multiple sakes, paired with food, and with friends. He tasted the Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Junmai Ginjo, Tentaka Kuni "Hawk in the Heavens" Junmai, Kaguyahime "Radiant-night Princess" Junmai and Hakushika "White Deer" Junmai Ginjo. Their homemade dinner included brown rice miso soup, smoked salmon and avocado maki, squid and vegetable fried rice, and teriyaki chicken legs. Todd earns even more kudos though for reviewing the sakes in haiku, my favorite type of Japanese poetry.   

Bob, of 2001 Bottles - A Wine Odyssey, tasted a sake from Oregon, the Momokawa Organic Junmai Ginjo. He earns bonus points for pairing the sake with Japanese cuisine, and he enjoyed the Momokawa. Though not a sake, Bob also reviewed a Shochu. Though Bob's was from Vietnam, plenty of Shochu is made in Japan and kudos still go to Bob for trying something different for WBW.

Mshamba, of The Kenyan Wine Blog, posted an interesting video review of a sake, the Black Bottle Junmai. He really enjoyed this sake, and it was amusing to hear him talk about a sake he has previously tasted which was just terrible. I would not have expected sake to be available in Kenya, but I am glad that it can be found there.

Aleksi, of Aleksi Mehtonen, also did an extensive video review of a number of sakes at a restaurant in Helsinki. He earns bonus points for tasting many different sakes, and kudos for interviewing the sommelier who led the sake tasting. Aleksi really gave his all to this tasting and you should watch his video.

Bethany, of Second Ferment, chose to review a wine, Oroya, that pairs well with Japanese cuisine. Oroya is a Spanish white wine, a blend of Airen, Macabeo, and Moscatel, and was specifically produced to be paired with sushi. Bethany found it to work great with a variety of Japanese dishes, and her description of the wine makes it sound very appealing.

Matthew, of A Good Time With Wine, was another person with a video for WBW, which has an informative interview with Tara Fougner of Ty Ku.  Ty Ku produces sake in the U.S. and Japan, as well as soju and a soju-based liqeuer. Matthew seemed very excited to learn more about sake, and will even be posting more sake-related posts in the future. Keep an eye on his blog.  

Finally, you can check out my own WBW #72 post, a review of the first 100% organic Japanese sake.

Thanks very much to everyone who participated in WBW #72, and thanks very much to everyone who donated to help Japan through the links on these WBW posts. You can still give to this worthy cause by clicking on the American Red Cross site and donate whatever you can.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

WBW #72: Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo

(Yes, April 6 was Wine Blogging Wednesday #72, Helping Japan, so my post is a bit late but I was out of the country for two weeks.)

On Friday, March 11, a massive earthquake, one of the largest in recorded history, struck northern Japan, triggering a devastating tsunami that has affected millions of people. Over 3,000 people have lost their lives and thousands more have remained unaccounted. The destruction has been so extensive that millions of families have been displaced in search of water, food and shelter far from damaged nuclear reactors. Obviously, this has been a terrible tragedy, pulling at every one of our heartstrings with the innate desire to help, to give something that might make their lives easier.

The people of Japan need humanitarian assistance - they need our assistance - to help overcome the devastation. This is why Gabriella and Ryan Opaz of  Catavino and I came up of the idea of hosting an event to support Japan, using Wine Blogging Wednesday as our perfect vehicle.  Lenn, the originator of WBW, was quick to support the idea, allowing us to pitch Wine Blog Wednesday #72: Helping Japan. For this theme, participants had two options, to either drink and review a Sake or drink and review wine that pairs well with Japanese cuisine.  Of course, I chose to drink a sake.

I received a sample of the Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo, which may be the first 100% Japanese, USDA-certified organic sake.  You might see other organic sakes on the market, from producers such as Kikusui and SakeOne, but they use rice grown in the U.S.  The rice used for this Chikurin is grown entirely in Japan, and by the brewery itself. So why is there so little organic sake coming out of Japan?  

Most of the rice grown in Japan is cultivated on hillside terraces so water filters down through the terraces from the top of the hill.  Thus, if you want to be organic, all of your neighbors above you on the hill must also be organic, or their water would corrupt your efforts.  Plus, it can be difficult if your close neighbors use pesticides, which can easily blow in the wind onto your terraces.  So, being organic is very difficult in Japan, though I think it is likely you will see more organic cultivation in the near future. 

The Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo ($50) is made by the Marumoto Brewery, located in Okayama, and exclusively imported by Joto Sake, an importer of artisanal Japanese sake. The Marumoto Brewery, founded in 1867, was originally called Shimizu-ya (which means “spring water store”) because it was built at the site of an important water source. Marumoto launched the Chikurin brand in 1990, the first 100% estate bottled sake.

Marumoto is sometimes known as Nousan Sakagura, the "Farmers’ Brewery," because the farmers who cultivate the rice are also the ones who brew the sake. In addition, the rice is grown at lower yields, thus increasing the amount of starch in the rice while lowering the amount of proteins.  In 2009, they attained USDA organic certification, under the direction of Ecocert SA.

The name of the sake, “Karoyaka,” means “lightness.”  It is produced from 100% Yamada Nishiki rice, and has a rice polishing rate of 50%, which would qualify it as a daiginjo but the brewery has chosen to label it as a ginjo. This is obviously a high quality, and very artisan sake, which has also taken great work in the fields to produce organic rice.  So the price is clearly indicative of these intense efforts and thus, the sake is reasonably priced.        

This is a very interesting sake, with a harmonious and complex melange of flavors, and a clean and light profile.  There are herbal notes accompanied by some cherry flavor and hints of melon. And if you concentrate more, you can detect even more subtle flavors beneath those primary ones.  It is dry, with good acidity, and a pleasant and lingering finish.  It is supposed to pair well with oysters and white fish, and I do think it would work well in those regards.  I paired it with a simple roast chicken and enjoyed how the sake complemented the moist and tender meat.  This is a sake for connoisseurs who will enjoy its complexity, yet it is still very approachable for newcomers too. It gets my highest recommendation.

Please help the people of Japan overcome the effects of this terrible tragedy.  If you can give, please click on the American Red Cross site and donate whatever you can. Thanks very much.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a special Friday of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)  In a few weeks, chef-owner Jeff Fournier of 51 Lincoln restaurant in the Newton Highlands, will climb a ladder, fill a basket with fresh greens, herbs, tomatoes and berries, lower it to his kitchen door on a pulley, and keep on cooking.  With advice from experts at Boston’s last working farm (Allendale Farm), Jeff will soon be fulfilling his locavore fantasies. Growing produce steps away from the kitchen means peak freshness, savings, and no carbon footprint. Irrigated beds and a shade trellis for the 1,800 sq ft roof garden is under construction, and Jeff is hoping that his budget can support a small greenhouse for seedlings.

51 Lincoln also has begun serving weekday lunch, from 11:30am-2pm on Monday to Friday. Salads (3), sandwiches (5), pastas (4) and entrees like Roast Pork Tacos and Salmon over Quinoa are priced from $7 to $16.

During the month of May, they will offer 26 different recipes for soft shell crab during 26 nights of dinners (closed Sundays). You'll find dishes ranging from Cajun (on a Po’ Boy with BBQ Collards) to Chinese (tempura’d with sticky rice and mirin braised bok choy) to Calabrian (fra diavolo with homemade tagliatelle). Market prices.

2) 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar does not usually serve brunch but once a year Chef Antonio Bettencourt opens for brunch in honor of his first inspiration to enter the culinary arts, his mother. The special brunch is served à la carte with three courses to choose from. Guests can enjoy Chef Bettencourt’s take on brunch classics such as: Eggs Benedict with poached eggs, pancetta, brioche and hollandaise ($15.00) and Brioche French Toast with house-made brioche and vanilla roasted apples ($13.00). Diners can also make a distinct departure from the brunch norm and dine on delights such as: Hache featuring wild mushrooms, potatoes, pancetta and black truffle with poached eggs & brioche ($14.00) or Sformato with Parmigiano, haricots verts, roasted hazelnut vinaigrette & baby field greens ($9.00).

Pair your selections with from-scratch cocktails from 62’s Mixologist Jeremy Bogert featuring items such as: Nectar of the Gods made with Prosecco, fresh mint and lime, the 62 Sangria made with seasonal fresh fruit, or enjoy an Elderflower Mimosa or a classic Kir Royale all for $10.00 each.

Mother’s Day Brunch will be served on Sunday, May 8th, from 11am-3pm, reservations are required and can be made by calling 978-744-0062.  The restaurant will also be open for dinner on Mother’s Day from 5pm-9pm with Cocktails until 10pm.

3) The Beehive in Boston’s South End calls you south of the border on Thursday, May 5th, as they celebrate Cinco de Mayo with their annual event featuring live music and food & cocktail specials. Kick the night off with dinner as you listen to exciting Jazz-infused Mexican music by Aquas-Aquas with Rafael Alcala. Keep the night going with a special performance by a nine piece Mariachi band, Mariachi International from 10pm-2am. Mexican appetizers, entrées, desserts and cocktail specials will be served all night.

Fresh Guacamole, Charred Tomatillos, Corn Chips $11
Shrimp & Chorizo Quesadilla, Salsa Verde $12

Mexican “Fall Off the Bone” Roast Pork, Warm Tortillas, Rice & Beans $20
Grilled Mahi Mahi Tacos, Slaw, Salsa, Mexican Corn on the Cob $20

Mexican Chocolate Coconut Flan $8

Classic Patron Margarita $10.50
Patron Strawberry Margarita $10.50
Patron Red Sangria Mexicana $10.50

The Beehive is open from 5pm-2am.  There is no cover charge and dinner reservations are highly recommended by calling 617-423-0069. Sombreros welcome!

4) Butter Café and Bakery located in Walpole, will be celebrating Easter this year by giving its customers a free order of homemade marshmallow peeps with every order placed for the upcoming holiday. Customers merely need to mention that they’d like their free peeps when placing their custom order by calling 508-668-2123. This special is available now until April 23rd (orders must be placed on or before 4/23/2011). 

Recipe: Butter Café and Bakery Homemade Peeps (Makes about a pound)

Ingredients:3/4 cup light corn syrup
1 cup cold water
3 envelopes plain gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of Salt
Colored Granulated Sugar

--Prepare a 9 x 13 x 2 inch pan by covering the pan lightly with shortening.
--Place a half a cup of cold water in a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water and reserve.
--Put the corn syrup, sugar, salt and a half cup of water in a heavy medium size pan on low heat. Stir mixture until the sugar is dissolved and it starts to bubble.
--Cover it for about 3 to 4 minutes to make sure that the sugar crystals on the sides of the saucepan melt. Uncover and turn up the heat to medium high heat and insert a candy thermometer into the mixture.
--Boil the syrup without stirring. When the temperature reaches 240 degrees take off the heat.
--Pour the syrup into the gelatin mixture. After all the syrup has been added, turn the mixer to high and beat it for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture is really white. Now add the Vanilla.
--Pour the mixture into the pan and smooth it out. Let it sit at room temperature uncovered overnight.
--The next day, sift the colored granulated sugar onto a cutting board and turn the pan over in order to remove you’re soon to be Peeps. Tap the stiffened Marshmallow out of the pan and remove.
--Use your favorite “animal –like” cookie cutter and shape your peeps. Dip the cut sides of each strip into sugar to coat then cut each little bit. Shake to get rid of the extra sugar.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rant: Traveling to Wine Country

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

There are various levels of understanding all subjects, including wine. Your wine knowledge may derive from a book, an instructor, or numerous tassting.  Or you might travel to a wine region to gain further knowledge and understanding. That type of comprehension has been on my mind for the past week as I have explored the countries of Argentina and Chile.

Though it may seem self-evident, it bears stating to ensure clarity: Visiting a wine region will likely deepen your understanding of wine.  To meet the wine makers, to walk through their vineyards, to immerse yourself in the region's culture, all can contribute to a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the area and its wines.  To have the opportunity to question the staff of the winery, to obtain answers to matters which might have previously confused or puzzled you, can be invaluable. A winery's website may present their brief history and philosophy, but that is most often only the bare bones.  There is much richer detail to be found by speaking directly to the people of the winery.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

I have been learning plenty about Argentina and Chile. I have observed the lands, the vines, the soils, even spending a little time harvesting grapes in both countries. I have watched, and participated in, traditional dances, such as the tango, in both countries. Though not directly related to the wine, it is a valuable cultural experience, helping me to gain a better understanding of the people of the region.  And obviously I have been drinking many wines, including some which are not available in the U.S.  So many special experiences which cannot be equaled by merely reading a book. 

I strongly encourage all wine lovers to visit wine regions, so that you can gain a better comprehension and knowledge.  Wine writers are especially urged to do so, to give you a better perspective on wine regions.  Travel can be a great experience, one to broaden anyone's horizons.  You could visit a Caribbean island, and sit on the beach all day relaxing.  Or you could take a more educational vacation and visit places such as Spain, Italy, Paso Robles, or Argentina, and explore their wines, cuisine, and more. If wine is your passion, then such a journey should call to your heart.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener

Before you visit a wine region, be sure to do some prior research, so that you are not a blank slate when you arrive. You can then arrive with more informed questions, ones that cannot be answered simply by visiting the winery's website. When you get to the region, be proactive, asking questions, participating in as much as you can. If you are offered the opportunity to experience something different, like harvesting grapes, then take it. Try new foods, learn local customs, and have fun.  Seize the moment and squeeze every ounce of knowledge out of your trip.

There is no need to worry if your traveling budget is limited, just seek out wine regions and wineries more local to you. Every state in the U.S. now produces wine, and are likely within driving distance of at least a few of them. That will give you options, and then you can save up for a larger trip out of the country, or even just to a different state across the country from you.  For example, Massachusetts has 25+ wineries, and many wineries from the rest of the New England states are only two to three hours away.  The New York wineries are a slightly longer trip, but still very doable.

Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quiestest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Upon my return home this week, I will have the seeds for many fascinating stories about Argentina and Chile. Though I have a few days remaining in Chile, I suspect they will be as compelling as the prior days I have spent in South America. And I will share the fruits of my travels with my readers in the coming weeks.

If you have visited a wine region, do you feel that it led to a better understanding of the region and its wines?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mendoza: A Positive Initial Impression

Between Saturday and Sunday, I spent nearly twenty four hours in airports and on planes as I traveled from Boston to Mendoza, Argentina.  Most of that travel was uneventful and relatively painless, except for all the long hours it took.  But, there was one highlight, flying over the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina, part of which you can see above.  With my window seat, and clear weather, I was able to observe the Andes in all their breath-taking grandeur.

Though after a recent Twitter discussion with a couple of vegan buddies, it was hard not to think back to the book and movie Alive, where a plane carrying the Uruguayan rugby team crashed in the Andes, and some of the survivors resorted to cannibalism.  A bit morbid and gruesome (Ok, maybe more than a bit). But my flight had no problems and I safely landed in Mendoza.

After a short ride from the airport, we arrived at the Park Hyatt Hotel, a quite grand and elegant place. It has Old World charm but modern amenities, and you won't be disappointed staying here.  We ate lunch outside on their patio, Fred and I sipped rose at their wine bar/store, and even gambled in their casino.  In comparison to many U.S. casinos, it is fairly small, with a handful of table games and a bunch of slot machines. But limits are low, such as blackjack where you can play a hand for 10-25 pesos, about $2.50 to $6.00.  I have broken even so far so that is not too bad. It sure beats losing.

The hotel really knows how to make you feel welcome, and these lovely ladies manned the entry on Sunday.

Across the street from the hotel is the Plaza Independencia, a large, beautiful park which forms a busy center for the city. It seems that people are in the park all day and night, relaxing, walking, playing games, and more. There was an artisan fair on Sunday, kind of a flea market of sorts, though many of the vendors were selling new items.  Lots of jewelry, leather goods, incense burners, knives, and toys. 

There are a number of fountains in the park which appear to be popular spots to sit near.  Surrounding the sides of the park are a number of shops, cafes and restaurants, and there were some fast food vendors in the park as well.

The weather has been perfect, sunny and not too hot, with slightly cooler nights, though nothing where I needed a jacket.  And the weather should remain about the same for the rest of the week too. Even walking around the vineyards and wineries was very pleasant in this weather. But, the weather has delayed the harvest by a couple of weeks. 

Though this trip is sponsored by Winebow, a wine importer and distributor who represents several producers in Argentina, we are seeing far more than just Winebow clients.  In fact, about half the wineries we will visit are not Winebow clients. Their intention is to promote Argentina wine as a category, and not just their own client's wineries. For example, both of the wineries we visited on Monday are not Winebow clients. This has helped give us a more balanced view of the region, and I respect Winebow for arranging us to visit those wineries.

Much of our first day in Mendoza was free time, to relax and recuperate from our long flights.  But for dinner, we all walked a couple blocks to Francesco, an Italian restaurant, where we dined and drank wine with several winery representatives. The antipasto, pictured above, was a highlight, especially the fried olives. We got to drink several different wines, from a Zuccardi Torrontes to a Tomero Petite Verdot, a tease for the more in-depth tastings we would do the rest of the week.  Overall, I enjoyed all of the wines, and a couple were even impressive. The winery people were all quite personable, jovial and informative.  It was a nice, informal way to get an initial impression of them, as well as their wines. We even got to taste some Argentina olive oil, which was also impressive, especially that made with the Arauco olive.     

It has been a pleasure as well to reconnect with my friend Fred, and meet for the first time numerous other wine writers. Overall, it has been a very good group of people, and their combined knowledge and experiences have enhanced the trip.  We all have our own unique perspective on wine, and it is always beneficial to hear those perspectives, as they can positively impact our own.  Plus, we have had plenty of non-wine related conversations as well, from zombie flicks to CAFOs, from pets to favorite restaurants.

It is Monday night as I write this, after quite a full day visiting two wonderful wineries, and devouring some incredible food, from homemade empanadas to mounds of grilled meat.  I won't say much about Monday yet, except we have met some amazing people, tasted many glasses of interesting wine, and have learned plenty about Argentina and wine.  I already have taken many pages of notes, so you can look forward to numerous additional posts about my experiences in Argentina.

And I did get to eat a new animal as well!