Friday, September 30, 2011

Farmer's Market in Bordeaux: With Fish Heads!

While visiting Bordeaux, we stopped one morning in Sauveterre de Guyenne, which was established at the end of the 13th century. It was a bastide, a fortified town created on a grid pattern, with four access gates, though the walls were intentionally dismantled in the 19th century. The four gates still exist, and you can see one of them above.

I perused the market in the village square, which is held every Tuesday morning. It is essentially a large farmer's market, with plenty of produce, charcuterie, meat, seafood, and wine, as well as clothes, purses and more. Most of the food looked quite good, and the square is surrounded by a number of stores, including a couple bakeries, one where I had an amazing Croque Rustica sandwich.

It has become a custom for me to present fish heads photos from my trips, if at all possible. So I have several here for your viewing pleasure, garnered from the fish monger at the market.

That is one huge eyeball!

The middle one kind of resembles a puppy, skinless but still a puppy.

If he can wave his flippers faster, maybe he can fly away.

Thursday, September 29, 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)  Joslin Diabetes Center’s High Hopes Gala and World Diabetes Day Celebration promotes awareness and raises funds for diabetes clinical care programs and ground-breaking research initiatives at Joslin Diabetes Center. This fabulous black-tie event, established in 1999, benefits Joslin Diabetes Center’s High Hopes Fund, which supports the Center’s greatest needs in research, education and clinical care. The High Hopes Gala 2011 will honor Carol Meyrowitz, CEO of the TJX Companies, Inc.

The evening will include a lively cocktail reception, exciting silent and live auction, a raffle for a brand new 2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet donated by Herb Chambers, and performances by 2011 Gala Musical Artist Crystal Bowersox, a national recording artist and American Idol runner-up.

An astounding 285 million people worldwide have diabetes and that number is growing at alarming proportions. Joslin is working toward a cure, and a future without diabetes

WHEN: Saturday, November 19, from 6pm-Midnight
WHERE: The Westin Copley Place, 10 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA
For information on the High Hopes Gala or to purchase tickets:
Phone: 617-309-2531

2)  Nightlife impresarios Ace Gershfield and Salvatore Boscarino (6one7 Productions), alongside longtime friend and Red Sox front office executive Kellen Benjamin, are gearing up to celebrate their birthdays again in a fete fit for kings proving that good things come in “threes.” At the third annual “Casino Royale” event on October 15th, revelers will join the guests of honor at Boston’s State Room, thirty-three floors above street level, while overlooking Boston’s picturesque skyline in the perfect setting to capture the decadence of Sin City. “Casino Royale” will provide an exclusive performance-with-a-cause with proceeds to benefit The Home for Little Wanderers’ newest initiative, The Third Century Campaign, a $23 million dollar fundraising effort to provide a vastly improved therapeutic living and learning environment for some of the most vulnerable children in its care.

6one7 Productions has lined up a star-studded black-tie gala for the third consecutive year. Having donated over $30,000 to The Home for Little Wanders after last year’s event, 6one7 Productions will step it up another level this year by incorporating their latest business venture, Urban Legend Events, into the creation and execution of the soiree, alongside sponsors Urban Legend Events, Stoli Vodka and William Grant & Sons, have summonsed the essence and flavor of Sin City in a night-with-a-cause promising to line the Roulette-and-Blackjack-tabled affair with entertainment, a glitzy auction and unrivaled company.

Revelers will begin their jetsetter experience at 8pm where they will receive their gaming chips while enjoying complimentary hors d’oeuvres and themed libations. As the Vegas-style entertainment begins, supporters will be able to peruse the silent auction items and live gaming tables and also partake in a live auction boasting unparalleled experiences not to be recreated. The top three chip leaders will be rewarded with a multitude of prizes including signed sports memorabilia, tickets to sporting events, spa packages at Mizu and a Status Ride luxury car rental, to name a few.

To gain VIP access to this black-tie star-studded bazaar, guests are kindly asked to make a $150 donation to The Home for Little Wanderers. Tickets to the event include gaming chips, a four-hour premium open bar, passed hors d’oeuvres and a dessert bar. RSVPs and table reservations may be made by visiting:

3)  Beginning mid-October, Bin 26 Enoteca celebrates its 5th anniversary with a selection of $5 small plates and wine pours (plus a craft beer option). Designed to let the wine take center stage, Bin 26’s anniversary menu features a range of glasses alongside simple, Mediterranean-influenced dishes.

Small Plates
Saffron Risotto Balls
Bruschetta with Charred Scallion & Hazelnut Pesto
Bruscheta with Whipped Ricotta, Peppers Agrodolce & Pancetta
Zucchini Carpaccio
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Marinated Olives

Wine & Beer
Ca' Furlan Cuvee Beatrice Prosecco, Veneto, Italy NV
Procanico/Grechetto/Malvasia, Bin 26 Enoteca Solare Bianco, Umbria, Italy, 2009
Savignon Blanc, Fournier, Vin de Pays de Loire, France, 2009
Sangiovese/Merlot, Bin 26 Enoteca Solare Rosso, Umbria, Italy, 2009
Tempranillo, Altanza Domino de Heredia, Rioja DOCa, Spain, 2008
Reading Premium Lager

COST: $5 each for drinks and small plates.
WHEN: For 26 days, from October 17-November 11
Monday-Thursday, 12:00 PM-10:00 PM
Friday, 12:00 PM-11:00 PM
Saturday, 11:00 AM-11:00 PM
Sunday, 11:00AM-11:00 PM

4)  Those craving late night eats can now visit 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar located in Salem. Starting Thursday, September 29, and continuing indefinitely, 62 Restaurant & Wine Bar will be launching their new Late Night Bar Menu available only in the lounge every Thursday – Saturday from 10pm-11pm. Chef Tony Bettencourt will be offering a series of his small plates for only $4 each. The special late night menu will always be evolving letting guests try many standard favorites as well as small plate items that are only available during this time slot. Some items available are as follows:

Arancini Arborio rice fritters with mozzarella, tomato confit & basil Normally: $7
Chickpea Fritters Deep fried chickpea fritters & date compote Normally: $7
Mushrooms Pickled trumpet royale mushrooms, sea salt & extra virgin olive oil Normally: $7
Polpette Beef, pork & ricotta meatballs, pomodoro & soft polenta Normally: $9
Crudo Yellow fin tuna with citrus zest, wild fennel pollen, sea salt & extra virgin olive oil Normally: $11 -
Zucchini Blossoms Crisp-fried, stuffed with crab & ricotta with preserved lemon Normally: $12
Pork Belly Confit pork belly, spicy red cabbage salad with thai chile pepper and cilantro Normally: $9
Crostini Whole milk ricotta, black mission figs & chestnut honey Normally: $ 8
Baccala Potato and house-made salt cod fritters with lemon-caper aioli Normally: $7

Monday, September 26, 2011

Rant: Enjoying Doggy-Style in Bordeaux

Last evening in Bordeaux, I enjoyed some doggy-style at dinner and think many of my readers would have enjoyed it as well.

As part of a press trip sponsored by Planète Bordeaux, I came to Bordeaux yesterday and will be here until Friday.  Last night, we dined at Château Sainte Barbe and also met Laetitia Mauriac of Chateau la Levrette (pictured above on the far right). We tasted a few of their wines, including their White, Red and Clairet. 

The White, made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc, was intriguing, especially as it had been fermented in a barrel. It was unlike most other Sauvignon Blancs, which I very much enjoyed. The Red, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, had delicious fruit flavors with a spicy backbone, while the Clairet, using the same two grapes was much more spice dominant. None of these are expensive wines, and seem to offer a good value for Bordeaux wines.

Check out their wine label, which is simple with a silhouette of a greyhound. The name of their chateau, "levrette" is a French word which means "greyhound" and they wanted these wines to emulate the qualities of the greyhound, its nobility, loyalty and grace. In the U.S., this would be a compelling story and a number of people would buy the wine merely for the picture of a dog on the label. This certainly would not be a controversial wine.

But, in France, it is another matter as "levrette" has an additional, and more provocative meaning. It also refers to the sexual position of "doggy-style," something which would be evident to most French speakers, but which would go over the heads of English speakers. So, you could ask someone to enjoy some doggy-style with you, and only be referring to some wine.

But should such names be permitted on wine labels?  We know the U.S. TTB closely regulates what can appear on a wine label so would they permit a label that merely stated "doggy-style" in English? I think that would be difficult to get past them. Though you will find other suggestive labels that have been allowed from Menage a Trois to Foreplay. So maybe this label could slide by the TTB. I am sure some of the more prudish wine drinkers may frown upon such labels, but I think "levrette" was a clever double entendre. Sure, it was intended to be provocative but the wine inside the bottle was good, so this was not merely some marketing stunt, intended to sell inferior juice.

Kudos to Laetitia Mauriac of Chateau la Levrette!

What are your thoughts on their label?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Some Sake Day Suggestions

As I mentioned a week ago, October 1 is International Sake Day ("Nihonshu no Hi"). Here are a couple local Japanese restaurants where you can celebrate with a Sake or Sake Cocktail.

55 Huntington Avenue, Boston

They serve 15 different sakes by the bottle and eight types of chilled sake by the glass or bamboo. In addition, they feature a couple sake flights: Tasting of Four Sakes ($12) and Tasting – Top Flight ($19).

Plus, try one of their Sake Cocktails ($12 each):
§ One Night in Tokyo - vodka, orange juice and sweet sake
§ Sakerunner - sake, rum and island delights
§ Momotini - peach purée and sake
§ Ultimat Saketini - Ultimat vodka, sake and plum wine served “up”
§ Cherry Blossom - Svedka Cherry, nigori sake, cranberry juice and peach purée
§ Harupolitan - Shochu, Ty Ku citrus liqueur, pineapple juice, orange juice and a splash of Cointreau

1338 Boylston Street, Boston

They offer 18 different sakes, by the bottle, carafe or glass.

Plus, try one of their Sake Cocktails:
§ Cucumber Martini ($8) – VOX vodka, Thatcher’s Cucumber, sake, muddled mint, cucumber and fresh lime
§ Saketini ($8) – VOX vodka, Kuromatsu Hakushika sake (available in blueberry, lychee or pomegranate)
§ Samurai ($10) - Kaori sake, Belvedere vodka, fresh lime juice and a mint garnish
§ White Tokyo Cosmo ($8) – Stoli White Pomegranate vodka, Kuromatsu sake, triple sec, fresh lime and cranberry juice
§ Watermelon Demon Slayer ($10) – Fresh watermelon, Wakatake sake, Ketel One vodka


Friday, September 23, 2011

Rant: Too Critical Of Sustainability Proponents?

Are we too critical of seafood chefs and restaurants who are striving hard to be sustainable, while largely ignoring those who do little, if anything, toward being sustainable?

This question came to mind through comments posted in Wednesday's Rant, I believe that there are times when we can be very critical of those who should be our allies, as well as times when we ignore offenders who seem  not to care about sustainability. For example, this week I was critical of a seafood dinner being hosted by Chef Richard Garcia of 606 Congress, a chef who works hard to promote sustainability. Why didn't I instead target one of the local sushi joints that serves blue fin tuna and other endangered seafood?

It appears that sustainability proponents are held to a higher standard, to ensure that they are true to their stance and not merely assuming a guise as a marketing gimmick. In addition, these sustainability proponents are role models for the public, so they need to make a good and accurate example or it could damage the reputation of the entire seafood sustainability community. The issue of seafood sustainability is a complex one, and the public needs to be able to trust chefs and restaurants who claim to be sustainable. If the public notices discrepancies, it can further confuse or even anger them. We want these sustainable chefs and restaurants to succeed, and that entails pushing them to be their best, to be accurate, to be honest.

The restaurants which do not claim to offer sustainable seafood are not serving as role models. The public does not have any expectations when they dine there. And if any of the public is truly concerned about sustainability, then they are unlikely to dine at these restaurants anyways. Such restaurants can, and have, been called out at times, with pleas for them to become more sustainable. But it seems our efforts might be better directed in supporting those who are ready to embrace sustainability, making them more competitive against those restaurants which choose not to go that route.

When we are critical of a chef or restaurant, who is a sustainability proponent, it can anger the target, yet usually that target can put aside their ire and become willing to engage in a discussion, to explain their position and address any criticisms. The anger usually abates and a rationale and reasoned discussion occurs, with both sides learning something. They realize that the critic is more of a friend than a foe. With chefs and restaurants who do not espouse sustainability, criticism can also lead to anger but is less likely to lead to a reasoned discussion. It is not the type of discussion that chef or restaurant wants, so they will be unwilling to engage in such an effort. There are certainly exceptions, but it is much easier to deal with those who already desire sustainability.

With my criticism of Chef Garcia's upcoming seafood dinner, the end result was a more detailed explanation and discussion of the sourcing and sustainability of the offered seafood. This additional information can only benefit the public, and promote the idea of sustainable seafood. We might not have agreed about everything, but the discussion remained reasoned and never degenerated into ad hominem arguments. So I think ultimately, my criticisms and questions had a very positive effect. Others should have been asking similar questions, but they did not, so someone had to step up to the plate.

What are your thoughts on these issues?

Thursday, September 22, 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)   Rooftop-Grown Tomatoes, Greens and Herbs will be showcased on the September-October menu at 51 Lincoln in Lincoln. You will find offerings such as:

--Native Corn and Lobster Papardelle with Champagne Sauce
--Housemade Charcutierie: smoked duck breast ham …jalapeno chicken liver pate’ …suckling pig face …rustic pork salami
--Rooftop Heirloom Tomato Terrine with Rooftop Basil Emulsion
--L.I. Duck Breast with Apples & Apple Gastrique, lake-grown wild rice
--Berskhire Pork Osso Bucco, fennel-red current salad, potato puree
--Manila Clams & Pork Belly with Napa cabbage and fresh chilies
--Butternut & Ricotta Ravioli with Roasted Peaches & Amaretti Crumble
--Ward’s Farm Corn & Jicama Salad with Mache, Frisee, Cilantro and Goat Cheese, honey-lime-ginger vinaigrette

2)  Legal Sea Foods is kicking off their Oyster Festival with the “Shellfish Shindig” event hosted at the Charles Square location’s outdoor terrace. Guests will enjoy a variety of freshly shucked oysters for $1 each. Try the oysters with White Sangria, featuring bright lemony and floral flavors that perfectly complement the day’s catch of bivalves.

The event will be held Sunday, September 25, from 2pm – 4pm, and is open to the public. In case of rain, the “Shellfish Shindig” will be held in the atrium of the restaurant.  The Cost: A la carte pricing

3)  On Tuesday, Oktober 4, join The Beehive for “Oktoberfest Der Beehive,” an evening highlighting rustic German food and libations, as well as entertainment by the Oktoberfest German Band. Join The Beehive for an official celebration of Oktoberfest with the Goethe-Institute of Boston, the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Pass a mug of ice cold Harpoon Beer including Harpoon IPA, and Octoberfest as you enjoy the evening with Executive Chef Rebecca Newell's traditional Bavarian fare with specials such as: German Sausages and House Roast Pork Knuckle both served with Sauerkraut and potatoes. Not in the mood for dinner? Join the Beehive at 7pm when the Oktoberfest German Band takes the stage.

Doors open for dinner at 5pm, live music from 7pm-12am. No cover charge, cash bar, Dinner reservations recommended so please call 617-423-0069.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Rant: A Response To "Another Blacklisted Seafood Dinner in Boston?"

Two restaurants, nine months apart, host seafood dinners using some fish that are listed as Avoid on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Because of these dinners, one restaurant is demonized by some seafood sustainability proponents while no one criticizes the other restaurant. There is a major disconnect there, a strange incongruity in the treatment of these restaurants. I am seeking the reasons for that disconnect but have yet to uncover the rationale.

In yesterday's Rant, I raised some issues with the upcoming Head to Tail Fin Dinner being held by Chef Richard Garcias of 606 Congress. I had emailed Chef Garcias about the issues, and though I did not receive an email reply, I did speak with 606 Congress on Twitter and Chef Garcias also posted a detailed response on his blog, Chef's Daily Food Bank.

First, Chef Garcias claims that they are not hosting a "blacklisted" seafood dinner, though he does not dispute that the Seafood Watch has Cod (which was also served at the Legal Sea Foods dinner) and Monkfish are on the Avoid list. It is clearly the intent of Chef Garcias to serve only sustainable seafood but a couple of his choices are not without controversy. And in the original publicity for the dinner, no mention was made concerning this controversy. So why didn't sustainable seafood proponents raise this issue?  Are they just not paying attention? Or has the Seafood Watch program lost its relevance?

Second, Chef Garcias claims that the Seafood Watch fails to mention some aspects of the monkfish issue. He relies more on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which offers a different opinion than Seafood Watch, stating that monkfish are sustainable. He also said that the restaurant works directly with fisherman, scientists and environmental teams in determining the sustainability of seafood. Chef Garcias stated: "But there are so many factors that play into why a species may be blacklisted by one organization and considered to be a good choice by others." His thoughts echo much that was previously stated by Roger Berkowitz of Legal Sea Foods. I also am largely in agreement with these basic thoughts, and have previously voiced my own concerns about a blind adherence to these seafood lists.

Third, Chef Garcias provided detailed sustainability information on all of the seafood used in the dinner. Though it is admirable that he has presented this information, I have some concerns about his details about the monkfish. It states, in part, that: "Although deepwater gill nets and trawlers can have some negative environmental impact, gear restrictions and by catch laws have made this a fishery that is moving in the right direction." What bothers me is that Chef Garcias acknowledges the fishing may be causing some environmental damage, although it is on the road of improvement. One of the main concerns of the Seafood Watch with monkfish was the environmental damage caused by trawling. So, it seems inaccurate to say that monkfish is currently 100% sustainable, but rather it would be more proper to state the industry has gotten much better and will continue to improve.

I like much of what Chef Garcias said in his response to me, and much also echoes what I have previously stated and written about on the topic of seafood sustainability. It also is very similar to what Roger Berkowitz previously presented. Yet I still lack an answer as to why the sustainable seafood community did not publicly step forward to question the use of cod and monkfish in the Head to Tail Fin Dinner.  They were quick to pounce on Legal Sea Foods for the same issue, so why did they do nothing now?

The main difference appears to be that Legal Sea Foods chose to be openly provocative while 606 Congress chose to be more under the radar. So was Legal an easy and obvious target, while 606 Congress was more subtle and required some effort to discern? Or is Legal considered a proper target because it is seen as more corporate? It is wrong to treat these restaurants differently when they essentially did the same thing, using seafood that is listed as Avoid on the Seafood Watch list.

So I still seek some answers to my questions from the sustainable seafood community.

But thanks very much to Chef Garcias for his responses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rant: Another Blacklisted Seafood Dinner in Boston?

Back in January, there was a firestorm of controversy over a "blacklisted" seafood dinner held by Legal Sea Foods. The dinner offered Atlantic cod, white hake and Vietnamese farmed shrimp, all which are listed as Avoid on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list. Some of the reactions to this dinner were extreme, such as a call for a boycott of Legal Sea Foods, before the dinner even took place! My own response was more neutral, allowing Legal the chance to present their position on this blacklisted seafood at their dinner.

Roger Berkowitz, the President and CEO of Legal, certainly was intentionally provocative but he also wanted to open a discussion into important seafood sustainability issues. I followed up with Berkowitz after the dinner, for additional information on some of what he said during the dinner, such as on the Vietnamese shrimp farm and the OAWRS detection system. I am unaware of anyone else who followed up on these issues after that blacklisted dinner.

Next month, there will be another dinner with "blacklisted" seafood yet I have yet to see any opposition, criticism or controversy. In fact, the dinner appears to be supported by a number of sustainability groups, including Chefs Collaborative and Slow Food Boston. The advertisements for the dinner do not indicate the "blacklisted" status of any of the seafood, and in fact touts itself as a sustainable seafood dinner. Something doesn't seem right to me.

How is this dinner any different from the Legal Sea Foods dinner? Why is there no opposition, criticism or controversy? Why are sustainability groups supporting a dinner with blacklisted seafood?  Is it merely a matter of presentation, where Legal chose to be provocative while this other dinner has chosen to be more under the radar? Is Legal a convenient "enemy"? Won't this further confuse the public, who already have difficulty understanding sustainability issues?

On October 13, Chef Richard Garcias of 606 Congress will present a Head to Tail Fin Dinner, with a menu including Monkish Carpaccio and Deep Fried Cod Tongue and Cheek.  The Seafood Watch lists Monkfish as an Avoid. Atlantic Cod, which was also on the Legal Sea Foods blacklisted dinner, may also be an Avoid, dependent on the method of catch. So how do we know that these two menu items are sustainable or not? And why does it seem no one is questioning them? There seems to be a disconnect here, where one restaurant receives opposition for its blacklisted fish but another seemingly receives a free pass.  And that is not just.

I have emailed Chef Garcias about the Monkfish and am awaiting his response. It might very well be sustainable, but that does not change the fact that it is on the Avoid list and no one is speaking up about it. Such issues should be addressed up front, and not seemingly swept under the rug. What would the average consumer think if they consulted the Seafood Watch and saw that monkfish was Avoid, yet sustainability groups were supporting the dinner? It would only cause confusion, and consumers need clarity about these issues.

In addition, one restaurant should not be demonized for serving a "blacklisted" seafood dinner while another restaurant, doing the same thing, is supported and praised. The same rules should apply across the board to any restaurant serving "blacklisted" seafood. Sustainability groups take notice!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rant: Does Dunkin' Donuts Need Some Voodoo?

In New England, Dunkin' Donuts is extremely popular though it seems to sell more coffee than donuts. Yet most of its business occurs in the morning, and it is then when you will most likely have to wait in line, whether in the store or in the drive through. There are other donuts stores in New England, from chains like Honey Dew Donuts to small independents like Kane's Donuts in Saugus. Yet most of their traffic is in the morning as well. Stop by in the evening, if they are even open, and you will likely find a limited selection of donuts though you usually won't have to wait in any line.

Why is that so? Are donuts only a breakfast item? How often do you enjoy donuts at night?

I think that all of these local donut shops are doing something wrong. They should be busy at night, and not just in the morning. It can be done, they just need a touch of Voodoo, and I don't mean the Haitian religion. They need to be more like Voodoo Doughnuts, which has stores in Portland and Eugene in Oregon. I recently visited Portland and stopped by Voodoo Doughnuts on a Thursday evening at about 9pm. There was a line leading out the door! I don't think I have ever seen another donut shop with such a line at night.

They serve a diverse selection of funky donuts, including the widely popular Bacon Maple Bar, the Captain My Captain (which uses Captain Crunch cereal), the Dirt Doughnut (with crushed Oreos), and the Old Dirty Bastard (with crushed Oreos and peanut butter). They even make an assortment of Vegan Doughnuts. All of their doughnuts are made by hand so they are not made in large lots, and what you see in the glass cases is what is available. They are intended to be eaten on the day of purchase and they will not ship them anywhere. The only place you can get them is Oregon.

The customers are going there primarily for the donuts, not the coffee, and you see plenty of their pink boxes, containing a dozen donuts, walk out the door. When I asked people about Voodoo before I went to Portland, it received many raves, especially for the Bacon Maple Bar. It is more than just hype which brings people there at night. So why are their donuts so much more popular than what we currently have in New England? Does the northwest region have more donut lovers than New England? Or is it due to the quality and diversity of the Voodoo donuts?

I would like to think New England has plenty of donut lovers who merely need a special destination where they could procure some incredible donuts. I would certainly buy donuts at night if they were high quality and more unique products. How about you? Does New England need a "Voodoo-like" shop to satiate our appetite for fresh donuts?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Kanpai to Sake Day: October 1

It is my fervent hope that you will raise at least one glass of sake to celebrate Sake Day.

You might be more familiar with Cabernet Day or Chardonnay Day, but they have only been around for about two years. On the other hand, Sake Day ("Nihonshu no Hi") originated over thirty years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Saké Brewers Association. It is celebrated worldwide, though celebrations in the Boston area are still very sparse. Other U.S. regions, from New York City to Portland, Oregon, are more proactive in holding sake celebrations.

Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Saké () is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Saké Day. It is likely also due in part to the fact that October is generally the start of the Saké brewing season.

This year, October 1 is a Saturday so feel free to celebrate Sake Day all weekend. I am hoping that local wine stores and restaurants will do something to celebrate, whether it is a tasting, class or dinner. If you need any help, feel free to contact me. For everyone else, please attend a Sake event or hold one at your own home. At the very least, drink some Sake!

To help you plan and run your own Sake events, the good people at SakeOne brewery in Oregon have put together some helpful papers and documents. These are all free downloadable, editable PDFs, including invites, menus, bottle place cards, info sheets and more.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Disgorging Sparkling Wine With Rollin Soles of Argyle Winery

I was surprised at how little sparkling wine is produced in Oregon. With all that Pinot Noir, and a fair amount of Chardonnay, you would think the region would be ripe for sparkling wines. But only a handful of producers are making it, and the reason for that paucity is often cited to be the difficulty and high cost of production. So those few wineries making sparkling wine are pioneers, risk takers who have accepted the challenge.  It is also good to know that apparently none of the Oregon producers use the term "Champagne" on their sparkling wine labels.

While on a recent press trip to Portland, called Full On Oregon and sponsored by Travel Oregon, I encountered one of the largest producers of Oregon sparkling wine, Argyle Winery. Since 1987, Brian Croser and Rollin Soles, from their Dundee Hills winery, have been producing still and sparkling wines. All of their sparkling wines are vintage dated, and they use only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes to produce several different styles, from Blanc de Blancs to a Rosé. They do not seek to create a consistent taste year from year, but rather want a sparkling wine reflective of each different vintage.

I had the pleasure to meet and chat with Rollin Soles, pictured above, a Texan native who is the winemaker at Argyle.  He has a Bachelor's in Microbiology from Texas A&M and a Masters of Science in Enology and Viticulture from UC Davis, and has previously worked at wineries in California, Switzerland, and Australia. Rollin was a personable, down-to-earth man with a clear passion for wine making, especially sparkling wines. He was quick with a smile and endeared himself to our group.

Rollin came bearing an antique disgorgement tool and three bottles of Argyle sparkling wine. The tool had a wooden handle with a small claw at the end, to remove the crown cap atop the bottles. In brief, disgorgement is the process of removing the sediment from a bottle of sparkling wine, and Rollin goes into more detail on the video. Basically, you open the crown cap with the tool, and the sediment shoots out because of the pressure in the bottle. But Rollin did not intend to disgorge the wines himself, instead desirous of having three of the media attendees perform.

On this amusing video, you will see Georgia, myself and Linda all disgorge a bottle of sparkling wine, each in our own unique way. This was my first time disgorging a bottle of sparkling wine, and hopefully I will do better on any subsequent efforts. But there is nothing wrong with a little shower of bubbly. It was plenty of fun and I am very glad I had the opportunity to try it. We got to drink the sparkling wine afterwards, a tasty and fairly complex Brut, making me want to try more of their wines.


Thursday, September 15, 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 Tuesday, October 11, The Melanoma Foundation of New England, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide support and build awareness surrounding melanoma, presents: Shades of Hope, their their third annual gala at the InterContinental Boston. Bill Rodgers, a Marathon legend, will serve as the evening’s guest of honor for his extraordinary contributions to the cause. NECN’s TV Diner host and KISS 108’s Matty in the Morning Show co-host Billy Costa will auction off a series of luxury items including a one-week stay at Squaw Creek in Lake Tahoe, CA, an exclusive wine tasting in the comfort of one’s home, a five-night summer stay at a five-bedroom residence in Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, and an opportunity to be TV Diner’s “Diner for a Day.”

This year, the organization will unveil an unparalleled golden-themed event in the Abigail Adams Ballroom where supporters will don cocktail attire and accents reminiscent of the precious metal to exhibit solidarity for the cause. The room will be decked in the glittering tone to illustrate nature’s brightest force as well as the
Foundation’s mission and will be complemented by golden-themed cocktails and treats. The Melanoma Foundation of New England will also introduce the Wall of Hope this year, an inspirational and interactive montage showing the many faces of those affected directly and indirectly by melanoma.

WHEN: Tuesday, October 11. VIP Reception: 5:30pm – 6:30pm. General Reception: 6:30pm
COST: VIP Reception: included in Silver, Gold, Platinum and Premiere Sponsorship packages
General Reception: $150 per person
HOW: To reserve tickets or sponsorship packages, kindly contact the Melanoma Foundation of New England at: (978) 371-5613,, or visit:

2)  On Saturday, September 17 and Sunday, September 18, from 10am-4pm, all are invited to Smolak's Farm for a weekend of activities, including a chance to meet Johnny Appleseed who will be sharing his legendary tale and posing for photos in the orchards while helping children spread their very own apple seeds! The Bridle Path Orchard will be open to pick varieties such as Cortlands, Macoun, Golden Delicious, Imperial Red, Red Delicious, Northern Spy, Gravensteins, Macintosh and Mutsu apples, as well as Smolak’s very own varietal which are filled with various prizes from Smolak Farms Farm Stand & Bakery, and scattered throughout the farm. Entrance to the Apple Festival and apple-related activities are free for all!

After you’re done picking apples, families are invited to join in on the Children’s Farm Festival where you can visit the new animal petting area, take a hayride around picturesque farm, play with peers at the children’s play area, and ride a wide selection of rides that will be set up all weekend. Admission to the Children’s Farm Festival is free for adults, and children’s general admission begins at $3.00. Parking is free all weekend long.

3)  On Thursday, September 22, The Beehive will be hosting their second “Armenian Night” - featuring cuisine, libations and entertainment highlighting Armenian culture. It’s an evening with wide appeal for all with musical performances by the Musaner and Nor Quartet, and Armenian food specials prepared by Executive Chef Rebecca Newell such as deluxe mezze platters with assorted salads, char-grilled lamb chops with basmati rice and bean pilaf paired with apricot martinis to name a few!

This evening is brought to you in partnership with Hamazkayin-Boston, an Armenian educational and cultural society based in Watertown. It aims to nurture and celebrate the cultural heritage of the Armenian community in the Greater Boston Area by cultivating and promoting local, national and international Armenian artists and engaging the youth and young professional in local communities to raise interest and awareness toward and educational and cultural issue.

Performance Schedule: Yerevan Quintet from 7:00-8:30pm and Musaner from 8:30pm-12:00am

Musaner is a musical project directed by composer and pianist Ara Sarkissian. With regular performances at The Beehive, this uniquely evocative musical group encompasses original folk music compositions and arrangements from Armenia. Folk instruments from Armenia blend with the traditional language of a jazz band to create a new and original sound. While some compositions evoke the post-modernism of European composers, other arrangements rely on rhythmic and harmonic elements to stay close to the character of the original folk material. Performers include: Ara Sakissian/ Composer & Pianist; Ken Field/flute; Todd Brunel/clarinet; Daniel Bennett/saxophone; Martin Haroutunian/dap, zurna, pku, parkapzuk, duduk and shvi; Fabio Pirozzolo/percussion; Roberto Cassan/accordion; Bake Newman/bass; Gary Fieldman/drums.

Nor Quartet plays a contemporary take on traditional Armenian and Bulgarian folk melodies organized by modern jazz musicans Karen Kocharian and Ara Sarkissian.

WHEN: Thursday, September 22. Live Music from 6:30PM-1:00AM, Food & Drink from 5:00PM-2:00AM
INFO: No Cover charge, Cash Bar, Reservations Recommended by calling 617-423-6969

4)  From October 15-16, American Seasons on Nantucket celebrates the 3rd annual Hogtoberfest, a weekend-long culinary event centered on butchering and eating a whole, locally raised heritage-breed pig. Chef Michael LaScola of Nantucket’s American Seasons and Chef Matt Jennings of Providence’s The Farmstead and La Laiterie head back East to prep for Hogtoberfest, a Nantucket weekend of pure porcine pleasure. Armed with Berkshire-Tamworth pigs hand-raised on Nantucket’s The Faraway Farm, Michael and Matt (a three-time Cochon 555 champ) deliver a celebration designed to induct amateur pork fans into the ranks of true connoisseurs. The weekend itinerary includes:

Saturday, October 15: 
‘This Little Piggy’ Carving Demo – 10am, $15
Enjoy a back-of-house demo, led by Michael & Matt, on butchering an entire pig from snout-to-tail. Each low-on-the-pig cut earns a place on American Seasons’ dinner menu throughout the weekend.
Beer Master Class – 1pm, $25
Brewmaster Jeff Homer of Cisco Brewers demonstrates how pork & beer is truly a match made in heaven with a tasting that pairs craft brews with pork delicacies.
‘All Things Pork’ Dinner – starting at 5:30pm
Pig out on a range of pork specials during dinner service along with wines from American Seasons’ 500+ all-American wine list, including hard-to-find small production wines by the glass, as well as bottle-only artisan beers and pork-inspired cocktails.

Sunday, October 16
‘Three Little Nantucket Pigs’ Cocktail Hour – starting at 5:15pm, $15 ($10 with dinner ticket)
Sip a sampling of Three Little Piggies – Nantucket-inspired cocktails like the ACK Mojito, Cranberry Bog Martini and Raised in the Fog – made with Bully Boy spirits from Boston’s first craft distillery. Cocktails are paired with pork-packed hors d’oeuvres.
‘Ode to Pig’ Dinner – starting at 6:30pm, $110 ($120 with cocktail hour ticket)
Michael & Matt join forces to create a hog-heavy five-course dinner (plus snacks!). Each dish is paired with craft beer and selections from American Seasons’ extensive, all-American wine list.

RSVP: Please call 508-228-7111 for reservations, times and pricing. Space is limited.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Six More Things You Should Know About Champagne

There are plenty of fascinating items to learn and know about Champagne.  Yesterday, I posted Ten Things You Should Know About Champagne but I quickly realized there were more items that you should know.  So, here is a supplement to my original post, adding six more intriguing items about the realm of Champagne.

1) Champagne is versatile with most foods.
While touring the Champagne region, I drank Champagne with nearly every lunch and dinner. Steak tartare, cod, veal with morels, tomatoes & mozzarella, snails & pasta, cheese, chicken Milanese, and much more. The style and type of Champagne varied, dependent on the course, from bone-dry, no dosage cuvees to fruity Rosé Champagne. In general, the pairings went very well, the bubbles seeming to help cleanse the palate as well. It is probably rare for you to have Champagne with every course of a meal, yet it can be done and done well. It certainly would be a pleasant change from just pairing courses with still wines. Try Champagne with any type of food you have, and see what you think. Someone had to be the first person to try potato chips and Champagne, a pairing which works very well.

2) No dosage is a growing trend.
During the production process, after disgorgement, a liqueur de dosage, also known as a liqueur d'expedition, is added to the bottle. This dosage is usually a mixture of wine and sugar, and it helps to soften and sweeten the Champagne. The amount of sugar varies, and it will then determine the level of sweetness of the Champagne.  Yet there is a growing trend in the Champagne region to produce "non-dosage" Champagnes, which have no added sugar.

One producer stated that this trend was partially brought about by the greater consumption of sushi in France as well as the slow food movement. Producers may warn as well that "non-dosage is not for beginners." This is because the non-dosage Champagne can taste highly acidic and bitter, and could turn off many people. Some producers are opposed to non-dosage, adding that it will not age well so needs to be drank very young. One producer even stated that "Champagne without dosage is like a woman without makeup." I tasted several non-dosage Champagnes, and most were very acidic though not unpleasantly so.

3) Terroir exists in Champagne.
It is a given that terroir exists in the Champagne region, that it possesses a unique profile of climate, soils, topography and more. The region is subject to a dual climate of continental and oceanic, and this combination often leads to excellent rainfall, producing sufficient water for the wines to produce excellent fruit. The subsoil is predominately limestone, gives good drainage and a particular mineral taste to the wine.  Vineyards are generally planted at altitudes of 90-300 meters, mostly on south, east and southwest facing slopes. This terrain has many sites with good drainage and optimum exposure to the sunlight. So, one can say, though not all may agree, that all Champagne, even if blended, is reflective of the general terroir of the region.

But what about more specific terroirs, more individual plots of land?  Certain villages are recognized as being better than others, thus the creation of Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages. So a Champagne which only uses grapes from Grand Cru vineyards may be more reflective of specific terroir. In addition, there are now some producers who are creating single-vineyard Champagnes. Yet there will probably always be a question whether blended Champagnes can express terroir or not. Terroir is somewhat of an elusive term, so its applicability to a wine or wine region may relate to your own specific definition of "terroir," especially how specific that definition becomes.

4) Champagne is often expensive.
I have ranted about this topic before, despairing at the lack of good Champagne under $30. That makes Champagne more elitist, more of a special occasion wine. Though it would be great to promote Champagne as an every-day drink, the cost prohibits most people from being able to do so. The price is also a reason why sparkling wines from the rest of the world are more popular in the U.S., because you can often purchase them much cheaper than good Champagne. Sadly, for many of the large Champagne Houses, the added bottle cost comes from all of their intensive marketing efforts. Grower's Champagne is often a much better choice because it is less expensive but usually possesses high quality. Growers don't have the high marketing costs of the Houses, so they can afford to charge significantly less for their Champagne. That is where you will find the best value Champagnes.

5) Rosé Champagne is usually a blend.
A Rosé can be produced by mixing red and white wines together but that is prohibited across all of France, except oddly enough in the Champagne region. In Champagne, such blending is the norm though some producers are now using the more universally accepted Saignée method. The saignée method, where pink juice is removed during the fermentation of red wine, is thought by some producers to impart more flavor to the Rosé. Out of the Rosé Champagnes I tasted, I preferred those produced using saignée. 

6) Vineyard land in Champagne is expensive.
Land costs in the Champagne region are quite exorbitant, an average of $1-1.4 million Euros per hectare, or $1.4-$1.96 million US dollars.  A hectare consists of about 2.47 acres and produces an average of 10,000 bottles of Champagne. In comparison, the cost of vineyard land in Napa Valley can range from $100K-$350K per acre, with some areas even more expensive.  So, in general, Napa, which is usually considered an expensive locale for land is still less expensive than land in Champagne. These high land prices do contribute to the higher cost of their wines.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ten Things You Should Know About Champagne

Since my return from the Champagne region of France, I have had some time to reflect upon my experiences, to consider the Champagne industry. The press trip was sponsored by Le Comité Interprofessionnel Du Vin De Champagne (CIVC), an organization which brings together all of the Houses, Growers and Cooperatives of Champagne. Thus, the sponsors have no financial incentive to promote any specific producers over any others. Instead, they appeared to present us an overview of the region, from large Houses to small Growers. I believe this provided a more balanced view of the region, its issues, differing philosophies and more. In addition, I have done some additional independent research and reading into Champagne.

My time in the Champagne region was compelling and intriguing, enjoyable and exciting, as well as tasty and delicious. My understanding of this wine region and its sparkling beverage has also been expanded and enhanced. I have already written several Champagne related posts and you can look for even more in the near future. At this time, I want to present a list of Ten Things You Should Know About Champagne, to give you a foundation of some important matters to better understand this region and its wine. Though many people feel they have a basic understanding of Champagne, there are definitely nuances that they may fail to grasp.

But before getting into my list, let me start with some figures and statistics, so we better understand Champagne's place in the U.S. In 2010, the Champagne region produced about 319.6 million bottles, with France itself purchasing about 58% of that production. The largest export market is the United Kingdom, which purchased 35.5 million bottles, and the U.S. is in second place, having purchased 17 million bottles. In comparison, in 2008 (latest year I found data), Americans consumed 98.7 million bottles of domestic sparkling wine, nearly six times as much as they did Champagne. In addition, Americans consumed over 28 million bottles of sparkling wine from other foreign countries besides Champagne.

So, Americans are actually drinking only a small percentage of Champagne, much preferring domestic sparkling wines as well as sparkling wines from other countries besides France. So, in some respects, Champagne is an underdog in the U.S. market. There are probably a number of reasons for this and possibly more education would be beneficial. For instance, there are some people in the U.S. who believe they are drinking Champagne when they are not, simply because the label states it is "Champagne." I hope to correct some of these misconceptions.

1)  Real Champagne is only produced in France.
The term "Champagne" refers not only to a region in France but also refers to the sparkling wine produced in that region. It is a legally protected term, and there are ongoing efforts to support, enhance and enforce that protection all over the world. As I mentioned yesterday, the term Champagne also refers to more than just a place, and includes numerous regulations which are generally directed toward creating a high quality product. If you see a sparkling wine that uses the term Champagne, but it was not produced in this region of France, then it is not true Champagne. They might be legally permitted to use that term, by a loophole in the law, but that does not make it just. And there is no guarantee either that such a pretender followed any of the regulations that restrict the Champagne region and which help to enhance the quality of their product.

2)  Champagne is highly regulated.
In order to better enhance the quality of Champagne, numerous rules and regulations have been put into place. Though many of those regulations are constant, changes to these rules do sometimes occur. For example, the amount of permitted yields sometimes varies.  The regulations are fairly comprehensive, covering matters including which grapes can be planted, if new plantings can be made, planting density, pruning, pressing, aging, alcohol limits, harvest dates, and much more. In the U.S., you won't find most of these regulations, or similar rules, in the production of sparkling wine. In fact, you will find very rules at all.  The heavy regulations help to differentiate real Champagne from the pretenders.

3)  Champagne has a fascinating history.
The history of the Champagne region extends back a couple thousand years, to at least the time of the ancient Gauls. It is a fascinating history, including some of the most important individuals in European history, from Attila the Hun to Jeanne of Arc.  For a more detailed view of the early history of Champagne, up to the time of Dom Perignon, check out my three-part series. The regions's more recent history is equally as compelling and you can find several excellent books out there, such as The Widow Clicquot. The history of the Champagne region, which has seen numerous destructive wars and calamities, presents the resilience of the region, its ability to rebound from any disaster, similar to that of the Sherry region. Knowing this history can give you a deeper appreciation for Champagne, and how it became what it is today.

4)  The CIVC is a unique organization, helping to unify Champagne.
Le Comité Interprofessionnel Du Vin De Champagne (CIVC) was established in 1941, an effort to unify the Champagne industry against the Nazi occupation. The Germans appointed Otto Klaebisch to be their Champagne Führer, and it was his duty to provide Germany with all of the Champagne they desired. He primarily dealt with Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the head of Moët et Chandon, who realized that Champagne would have great difficulty supplying the Nazis' demands.  Thus, in April 1941, Vogüé brought together the Houses and Growers to provide a unified front, forming the CIVC.  The CIVC has continued to operate into the present, and is an unique organization for any wine region, bringing together both growers and producers. It has accomplished much for the Champagne region, without any government subsidies, from technical research and development to the protection of the Champagne name. Without the CIVC, the Champagne region might possibly be very different, and more likely in a negative way.

5)  The major Houses control much of Champagne.
The Champagne region is basically divided into Houses, Cooperatives and Growers, each with their own regulations and rules. Approximately 90% of the vineyards, broken down into about 280,000 plots, are farmed by about 15,000 independent growers, and most of them do not produce Champagne, simply selling their grapes. At least 2/3 of those grapes are then purchased by a handful of large Champagne Houses, who often own little, if any, of their own vineyards. Houses are known as a Negociant-Manipulants (NM), and that designation will be displayed on the Champagne label.  In terms of production, probably the largest House is Moet & Chandon which produces about 26 million bottles each year. What makes it even more significant for the U.S., is that the large Houses account for approximately 90% of all Champagne exports. Thus, most of the Champagne we will find available in local wine stores will have been produced by large Houses.

6)  Grower's Champagne is a potential revolution.
Growers, also known as Recoitant-Manipulants (RM), must harvest their own grapes and are only allowed, in limited circumstances, to purchase up to 5% of their grapes. In 2010, the Houses produced about 69% of all Champagne but Growers produced about 23%, with Cooperatives producing the rest. During the last ten years, these percentages have changed little, maybe by 1-3%. The problem is that most of the Grower's Champagne remains in France. In the U.S., only about 3.7% of the Champagne we import is from Growers. Italy imports the most Grower's Champagne, about 9%, of any market outside of France. Grower's Champagne is often seen as more terroir driven, and less often consistent from year to year, each year instead offering its own unique taste. It may also be seen as more artisan Champagne. Terry Thiese, the famed wine importer, has done much to raise awareness of Grower's Champagne in the U.S., and it stands poised to be the next big revolution of Champagne.

7)  Champagne is a single AOC.
Basically, the Champagne region is a single Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), a controlled designation of origin. Technically though, there are two other AOCs in Champagne, including Rosé des Riceys (Pinot Noir based rosé produced in Les Riceys in the Aube) and Coteaux Champenois (still wines produced anywhere in the region). Back in 1927, the Champagne region was defined and delimited and received official AOC status in 1936. The 34,000 hectares of vineyards cover 319 villages (crus) of which 17 are designated Grand Crus and 44 as Premier Crus. Plus, within that area are five main growing regions: Montagne de Reims, Vallee de la Marne, Cote des BlancsCote des Bar and Côte de Sézanne. The fact that Champagne is a single AOC de-emphasizes the role of terroir, as it does not really differentiate between the quality of the various subregions. For comparison, the Côte d’Or in Burgundy, which covers only about 8,450 hectares, has over 110 AOCs.

8)  Champagne has seven legal grapes.
Most people know that Champagne generally is produced from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. About 50 clones of those three grapes are used within Champagne, and the region is planted with approximately 39% Pinot Noir, 33% Pinot Meunier and 28% Chardonnay.  Much of the promotional material for Champagne mentions only those three grapes but four other grapes are actually legally permitted to be used in Champagne.  These other grapes include Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris, though those grapes constitute less than 0.3% of all plantings. Aubry is one of the Growers which produces Champagne using these four rare grapes. If you get a chance to taste Champagnes using these less common grapes, I strongly urge you to do so.

9)  Blending is vital to Champagne.
The key element to most Champagne is blending, allowing for a consistent taste year to year. Non-vintage Brut constitutes about 84% of all Champagne and it is a blend. Even Vintage Champage, only about 2% of all production, is usually a blend of different grapes and vineyard sites. Non-vintage Brut might be a blend of as many as 250 different component wines, including various vintages, reserve wines, different vineyards, and more. Rather than change a long standing blend, a producer might instead decide to create a new cuvee. Blending is said to have originated with Dom Perignon, who would receive tithes of grapes from the locals, which would then be blended together to make wine. Bruno Paillard, owner of a relatively new House, stated that blending is a "composition," a way to express your style like an artist. He feels that a Champagne label refers to a person not a place, as it is the person who has control over the blend, and governs the outcome of the Champagne.  Others feel blending elevates the "process" over terroir, and thus some producers are seeking to produce single vineyard Champagnes.

10)  Champagne is becoming more eco-friendly.
Protecting the environment, becoming more sustainable and reducing their carbon footprint are all vitally important in the Champagne region. The CIVC is helping to lead this battle and Champagne was the first wine region to undergo a carbon footprint analysis. For example, 33% of carbon emissions were found to be due to packaging and only 14% from transport. So they have created a new standard bottle for non-vintage Champagne, which is 2 ounces lighter, and which helps to reduce carbon emissions. Using a baseline of the year 2000, their goal is to reduce their carbon footprint by 25% by 2020 and 75% by 2050.  In addition, they have been working on waste management. Currently 92% of their waste water is treated while 75% of their waste products are recycled, with a goal of 100% in about five years. These programs should serve as a model for other wine regions who should also be very concerned about these same issues.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Rant: Protecting Champagne From The U.S. (Part 2)

"Champagne is sparkling wine produced only in the Champagne region of France."

This is a simple truism, one which I have often used myself, yet it also fails to capture the entire essence of what being "Champagne" entails. Though that sense of place is very important, there is more involved as well, additional characteristics which serve to differentiate Champagne from sparkling wines made elsewhere in the world. Understanding those differences will help you better comprehend why the designation "Champagne" should be protected.

Back in March, you will find my original rant, Protecting Champagne From The U.S., but I felt a need to expand on my prior post, especially after my recent visit to Champagne. I visited the offices of Le Comité Interprofessionnel Du Vin De Champagne (CIVC), an organization which brings together the Houses, Growers and Cooperatives of Champagne. One of their missions is to protect the name of Champagne, stopping counterfeits and preventing the misuse of the term. They currently have about 1000 open cases, and approximately 20% of their efforts are directed against counterfeits and 80% against misuse. They are aware of the many U.S. wineries which use the term "Champagne" and they desire to change that, a worthy albeit difficult task.

Besides the issue of place, Champagne also has another significant difference from other sparkling wines around the world. Champagne is highly regulated, with the intent of enhancing the quality of the final product, and probably no other sparkling wine in the world is as highly regulated. For example, sparkling wine in the U.S. has few regulations, so even if it says "Champagne" on the label, there is absolutely no guarantee that the U.S. producer followed all, or even most, of the regulations which exist in the Champagne region in France. So the difference is far more than just place, and those the multiplicity of differences range from the vineyard to the winery.

For example, Champagne regulates issues in the vineyard, including planting density, approved methods of pruning, maximum yields permitted per hectare, harvest dates, and more. They also regulate which grapes are permitted, when and where new vines can be planted, and how to be more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. Grape pressing has many rules, and only whole cluster pressing is permitted, which generally means mechanical harvesting can't be used.  Pressing centers must meet over 20 different approval criteria, including matters as pressing and racking capacity, daily press loads, type of press used, pressing and sulphuring, and hygiene standards.

The method of production, the méthode traditionnelle or méthode champenoise, has many restrictions, rules and limitations. For example, the alcohol level is limited to 13%, though there can be a variation of up to 0.5%.  There is a minimum length of time that the wine must mature in the cellar, at least 15 months. The wine cannot be bottled after harvest until at least January 1, and the wine must be sold in the bottle in which it actually undergoes secondary fermentation. Even the nature of the bottles is regulated, such as to weight and pressure resistance.

So, my opening sentence needs some revision, or at least an expansion, to more accurately depict the nature of true Champagne. So let me try this:  "Champagne is sparkling wine produced only in the Champagne region of France. That region is subject to comprehensive, strict and unique regulations, from the vineyard to the winery, which are intended to produce a better quality product."

So please understand that Champagne is unique for more than just its place, but also for how it is produced, in the vineyards and wineries. The public needs to understand that fact, so they become less confused about what is true Champagne. U.S. wineries which produce sparkling wine, far too often labeled as Champagne, do not follow those regulations, and thus have even less justification to use that term. It is time for U.S. wineries to stop using the term "Champagne" and stand on their own merits, rather than relying on the   reputation of the Champagne region of France.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

All About Champagne

Since my recent journey to the Champagne region of France, I have writing and planning a number of posts, several which you will find on my blog this upcoming week. It was a fascinating region, one that I recommend you visit, and I had the opportunity to taste plenty of delicious Champagnes. This is a region with a rich and vibrant history, and which remains relevant today as well. Though there is much tradition in Champagne, they are not adverse to change, and there are a number of mavericks and innovators in the region. Though you will find plenty of producers holding true to the traditions too.    

My journey was part of a journalist trip, sponsored by the Center for Wine Origins and CIVC, and we stayed in historic Reims, though we also traveled to several other villages in the region. Our itinerary included visits to eight Champagne Houses, Cooperatives and Growers, including Penet-Chardonnet, Philipponnat, Mailly Grand Cru, Bruno Paillard, Nicolas Feuillatte, Pierre Gimonnet, Jacquesson and Collard-Picard. We met winery owners and winemakers, toured vineyards and cellars, tasted many different Champagnes, paired Champagnes with our meals, learned much and had great fun.

I felt it would be very helpful to my readers to compile the links to my Champagne related posts in a single place. This post will be that repository, and as such will be constantly updated when I write another article about Champagne. Some of these articles were written before my trip, and others afterwards. The posts will be listed in chronological order, from oldest to newest.

An Early History of Champagne: Part 1
An Early History of Champagne: Part 2
An Early History of Champagne: Part 3
Bound for France: Champagne!
Rant: Protecting Champagne From The U.S.: (Part 2)
Ten Things You Should Know About Champagne
Six More Things You Should Know About Champagne
Grower Champagne: Viva La Revolución!
Champagne Day: October 28 (Plus a Contest!)
Champagne Collard-Picard: The Sublime Cuvee des Archives
Pierre Gimonnet & Fils: Trésors de Champagne
Champagne Bruno Paillard: The Art of Assemblage

And the following posts are not directly connected to my Champagne trip, but they deal with important  and relevant Champagne issues so I thought that they would be of interest.

Rant: Barefoot Cellars, Avoiding My Champagne Questions
Rant: Protecting Champagne From The U.S.
Rant: Champagne is Elitist
The Widow Clicquot & Champagne

Thursday, September 8, 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)  Today, I am flying to Portland, Oregon on a food and wine press trip, which is being sponsored by Travel Oregon. Around twenty or so writers and bloggers will be participating in this trip, though we will sometimes be split into different groups for varied activities. I'll be dining at places like Ping, which serves multi-Asian street food. I'll be drinking wines (probably lots of Pinot) from Oregon wineries such as Chehalem, Argyle, Abacela, Penner-Ash, King Estate, Apolloni and Troon. In addition, I will attend the Pinot in the City event, which will have over 100 wineries, along with samples of local foods. In addition, I will attend seminars on the local Cocoa Movement and Charcuterie Basics.

And on my own, I will tour the SakeOne Brewery, which I knew was a "must see" if I were traveling to Portland. They are producing the best and most exciting sake in the U.S. so I can't wait to see the brewery, to watch how it is done. Plus, I'll have the opportunity to visit an izakaya or two, and drink sake with other like-minded sake fans. A win/wine all around.

The 2012 Wine Blogger's Conference will be held next August in Portland, so this trip will be excellent research for me. I'll get an inside scoop on some of the best places for attendees to check out next year. So look forward to my future Portland posts.

2)  On Saturday, September 10, from 12pm-3pm, China Blossom, located in North Andover, will host the first annual Blossom Festival. In partnership with the Peabody Essex Museum, Chinatown Main Street, the Kwong Kow Chinese School, Chinese Culture Connection, Yang’s Martial Arts, Origamido Studio and Feng Shui expert Lidong Yu, China Blossom will highlight authentic cuisine as well as feature various Asian traditions, in an effort to garner visibility of traditional Asian cultures and cuisine within the community.

Free to the public, guests will savor traditional Asian specialties like sweet dumplings, mooncakes, and zongzi, with a chance to learn more about traditional rice wine during a sake tutorial. Brush up on your chopstick skills with “Chopsticks 101” where you will learn to use the vertical forks more efficiently before using them to dominate the marble contest. Enjoy butt-kicking kung fu and lion dance demonstrations, explore your Feng Shui destiny, and practice your paper folding skills, turning ordinary pieces of paper into origami. Try your luck in the wok races and sumo competitions before grabbing your very own bamboo plant and various Asian pastries to take home. Make sure you stay for the red balloon release, much like the traditional Chinese lanterns of the same hue; harness your artistic expression for the common good by releasing your email address into the sky to find a pen pal.

Ongoing: Balloon note writing
Ongoing: Origami demonstrations
Ongoing: Sumo competitions
Ongoing: Feng Shui consults and education
Ongoing: Sushi samples
1:00PM-1:05PM Lion dance demonstration
1:05PM-1:15PM: Kung Fu demonstration
1:15PM-1:30PM: Wok demonstration
1:30PM-1:45PM: Chopsticks 101 and contest!
2:00PM-2:05PM: Lion dance demonstration
2:05PM-2:15PM: Kung Fu demonstration
2:15PM-2:30PM: Sake tasting
2:30PM-3:00PM Balloon release

3)  On Tuesday, September 27, from 6:30pm-8:30pm, The Beehive's co-owner and resident curator Jennifer Epstein will host the 11th installment in The Beehive's continuing art series entitled, Sting! XI: Object Relations. This installment welcomes guest curator Jeff Perrott who has put together a group show with 11 Boston artists whose work centers around the principles of abstraction.

The ongoing event always signifies the launch of a new art installation at The Beehive and highlights an evening of live entertainment, food & libations along with amazing art. Jeff Perrott is an artist himself who lives and works in Cambridge, MA. His work has been exhibited internationally, is included in major museum collections including the Museum of Fine Arts. He is currently represented by LaMontagne Gallery in Boston. Mr. Perrott has been a key supporter and infrequent co-curator of The Beehive's art program since its inception.

The artists of Sting! XI: Object Relations invite viewers to participate in an active, open dialogue with the abstract art object. Instead of relying on illusory space, they employ the ‘real’ nature of the object itself – its materials, surface, scale, and geometry – and its physical relation to the viewer, to prod viewers into a deeper sense of their own ‘real’ nature. At the same time, their formal choices echo their particular concerns with that object relation, reflecting a personal approach embedded in the universality of their forms. Visitors to The Beehive will be witness to the broad diversity of mediums, materials and techniques utilized by this group of artists, including works on plexiglass, raw linen, tarp and aluminum, paintings made from carbon smoke, house paint and acrylic, in addition to photographs, fabric collages and carved mirrors.

Sting! XI: Featuring the work of:
Arisa Boit
John Guthrie
Andrew Mowbray (Represented by LaMontagne Gallery)
Ross Normandin
Joshi Radin
Isabel Riley (Represented by BK Projects)
Daniela Rivera (Represented by LaMontagne Gallery)
Jim Stroud (Represented by Galerie Mourlot, NY)
Bill Thompson (Represented by Barbara Krakow Gallery)
Doug Weathersby (Represented by Dodge Gallery, NY)
Brian Zink (Represented by Howard Yezerski Gallery)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Drops of God: Coming In October

For nearly four years, I have been waiting for this book to be released in an English edition. I first mentioned this book in an article, A Comic Book Selling Wine, on my blog in December 2007. Then, in May 2008, I mentioned how a French translation had been published. In June 2010, in a post titled, Bring On The Comics, I talked more about this book, noting that it might be published in English later in 2011. Now I am pleased to inform my readers that the English translation of Drops of God: Volume 1 will be published on October 4, 2011.

This first volume of Drops of God will be released as a trade paperback of 432 pages, with a suggested retail price of $14.95. I am unsure of how many issues of the original comic that this volume will include. Volume 2 will be released on December 13, 2011 and Volume 3 on March 12, 2012. At this rate, we might expect the release of 3-4 volumes per year. As the manga series began publication in Japan in November 2004, and it is still ongoing, it will be many years before all of the issues will be translated in English.

In Japan, the book is titled Kami no Shizuku, which translates as "The Drops of God." The book is a manga, a Japanese comic, and has a weekly readership of about 360,000. How many wine magazines have even close to such a readership?  The plot centers on a quest by two competitors to locate thirteen legendary wines. Whoever succeeds will then inherit an invaluable collection of rare wines. It is an extremely popular series and the wines that it mention suddenly become hot commodities. The book also describes wines in more unique ways, not using points or any type of rating system.  For example, the 2001 Despagne's Château Mont Perat was "...likened to a concert given by the rock group Queen, with the wine's acidity taking the place of Freddie Mercury's vocals."

In Decanter's Power List of 2009, Drops of God came in at #50, and it was stated to be "arguably the most influential wine publication for the past 20 years." But how will the U.S. wine lovers feel about Drops of God? Will it be as popular here as it has been around the rest of the world?  Will it help sell wine? Or will it be but a minor footnote?

I believe that its impact, at least in reference to selling wine, with be much lesser in the U.S. than it has been elsewhere. First, as the manga is seven years old, most of the information on specific wines will likely be dated. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to purchase wines mentioned in the manga and even if available, the prices may be prohibitive. At best, the manga might sell a few more wines, but that will be a mere drop in the bucket compared to how the manga has been received elsewhere.

I also feel that it is unlikely that the general public will embrace this manga, as we don't have a culture of adults who embrace comics like Japan or France. Too many people still see all comics as juvenile and below their maturity. How wrong they are though, as comics come in a such a wide range, with many written for an adult audience. The manga will appeal far more to wine geeks, and even some of them may not be keen on reading a comic about wine.

But Drops of God deserves attention, at least for in the ways it addresses wine knowledge and reviews. It is more down to earth, unpretentious and presents a unique style. It can provide lessons to wine writers in different ways to connect with their readers, in different ways to review wines without scores or rating systems. It is a clever book, which could be an intriguing primer on wine for anyone. A comic may not be considered a traditional wine book but that is also a strength. It can take risks, and both entertain as well as educate.

I urge all wine lovers to take a look, with an open mind, at Drops of God when it is published next month. Give it a chance and you might be surprised at how much you enjoy it.