Wednesday, December 12, 2012

2012: Favorite Wine Related Items

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

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2012. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15 and Top Wines Over $50 lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine Related Items, which are not specific wine recommendations. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Once again, this past year has been an economic challenge and wine prices have been on everyone's mind. Consumers want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap wines which can be found in almost any wine store or instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight two such stores which do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree and Wine Connextion in North Andover. These stores have remained consistent over time, offering diverse and interesting bargain wines and you won't go wrong checking either of them out.

Favorite Suburban Wine & Cheese Store: Though I have visited the Concord Cheese Shop in prior years, I hadn't been there for at least a year or so until visiting it a couple of times this past year. I was reminded once again why it is an excellent destination for wine, cheese and gourmet foods. The wine selection is diverse, prices are good and you will find some wines here that many other stores do not carry. And all of their cheeses, a myriad of dairy pleasures, will please everyone. This is another shop you should patronize.

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a list of nine wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls.
Winestone in Chestnut Hill.
The Reserve Bin in Foxboro.
Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose.
Vintages: Adventures in Wine in Belmont.
Spirited Gourmet in Belmont.
Wine-Sense in Andover.
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End.
Central Bottle Wine & Provisions in Cambridge.

Favorite Wine Magazine: For the fourth year in a row, Decanter, a British wine magazine, continues to impress me with its extensive coverage, including many less common wine regions, often ignored or marginalized in other wine publications. Plus it has an amusing wine cartoon in every issue. This is a magazine that consistently delivers fascinating articles and I always look forward to each issue. If you are not reading it, you should be.

Favorite Wine Book: Last year, my Favorite Wine Book was the first volume of The Drops of Goda Japanese manga, a comic book, about wine. Besides entertaining, the book also educated people about wine, helping to reduce the intimidation factor. In addition, some of the language it uses, especially in describing wine is quite poetic. During the past year, three more volumes have been released and once again I have selected it as my Favorite Wine Book. Check out my reviews of Volume 2, Volume 3 and New World. Every wine lover should read this series. Unfortunately, more volumes may not be published unless the books start generating more sales. Give this book a chance and you won't regret it.

Runner-Up Favorite Wine Book: The New York Times Book Of Wine offers an excellent selection of over 125 articles, written by about 28 different authors. It is not a collection of boring tasting notes but rather many thoughtful pieces on a great range of wine topics such as Spanish Sherry, the Japanese Koshu grape, serving alcohol to your children, Txakolina, Madeira, and natural winemaking. These are articles that everyone can enjoy, from those new to wine to the knowledgeable wine geeks. These articles will educate and entertain, and may even getting you thinking about wine in different ways.

Favorite Introductory Wine Book: For someone new to wine, Kevin Zraly's Windows On The World Complete Wine Course is an excellent choice. It presents a nice overview of the world of wine without deluging a reader with too much technical information. Though I have some issues with the presentation of certain wine information, it is still one of the best introductory books available. It is a fine starting point for a wine education.

Favorite Wine Dinner, Domestic: Indigenous and uncommon grapes, compelling wines, superb food, and great people all combined to create an exceptional wine dinner. Legal Harborside hosted Alessio Planeta of Planeta Wines, which owns six wine estates on Sicily. From a Sparkling wine made from Carricante to a red made with Nerello Mascele, many of the wines were fascinating and delicious, while the food, such as Ricotta Gnocchi with truffles and the Lobster Soup were amazing. It was fun and informative, tasty and stimulating.

Favorite Wine Dinner, International: This was an easy choice for a meat lover such as I. While in Chianti Classico, I had the honor of dining at the Antica Macelleria Cecchini, the renowned restaurant of Dario Cecchini, the signing butcher of Panzano. Dario is an extraordinary butcher and offers a prix fixe dinner with five courses of beef, some of the best beef you may ever eat. The steak tartare was simply prepared yet was outstanding, showcasing the taste of the quality beef and not hiding it behind lots of other ingredients. Plus, Dario is a true showman and made it an enjoyable experience. I could have dined here every night while I was in Tuscany. If you visit Tuscany, you must dine here at least once.

Favorite Single Winery Tasting: For the second year in a row, the same winery is involved in this category, though the location was different. As I mentioned last year, the wines of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region can be amazing, and Chateau La Nerthe is a stellar producer from this area. Last year, I tasted the wines at a superb lunch at L'Espalier and this year the lunch was held at Bistro du Midi. From the compelling Tavel Rosé to the 2009 Chateau La Nerthe "Clos de Beauvenir" Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, the wines did not disappoint. They paired well with delicious dishes such as the Coral Infused Chitarra Pasta with Maine Lobster. These are wines worth a splurge.

Favorite High-End Wine Tasting: The Vintus Tour presented 26 wineries, from all over the world, showcasing many higher end wines that reflected terroir, many which are also sustainable, organic or biodynamic. This was a stellar collection of wines, presenting many unique wines which impressed me, and it was a pleasure to get to chat with many of the wine makers. As it was a portfolio tasting, closed to the public, it was not overly crowded so you had the opportunity to take your time with the wines and ask the wine makers questions. Several of these wines ended up on my Top Wine lists.

Favorite Private Wine Tasting: My friend Adam, of Wine Zag, hosts a monthly blind tasting event which is always fun and interesting. Recently, he held a fascinating blind tasting of 90+ Cellars wines against a group of wines he handpicked to compete against them. This was an intriguing challenge and the results were enlightening. Plenty of great people attended the tasting and everyone enjoyed themselves. Unpretentious and casual, it was the type of wine tasting which would appeal to wine lovers of any knowledge levels. I look forward to Adam's next blind tasting event in January.

Favorite Wine Trip, International: Though it was also my only international wine trip this year, my visit to the Chianti Classico region was excellent, with great food, wine, scenery, people and more. Compared to other wine trips I have taken, it was certainly one of my favorites. My trip generated a dozen blog posts and several of the wines I tasted ended up on my Top Wine lists this year. Tuscany is so beautiful and the people were extremely nice. The food was often simple yet made from high quality and delicious ingredients. And so many delicious wines, from traditional Chianti Classico to compelling Vin Santo. It is a region I highly recommend.

Favorite Winery Visit: While in Chianti Classico, I was fortunate to get to visit the Isole e Olena winery, owned by Paolo di Marchi, the Philosopher-Peasant of Chianti Classico. I have met Paolo before but this was my first visit to his winery and it lived up to my expectations. You can read my thoughts in a two-part post (Part 1 and Part 2), but in short, the wines were superb, Paolo was fascinating and I learned much about the winery and the Chianti Classico region in general. I could have easily spent the entire day with Paolo, soaking in his knowledge and experience, while enjoying his amazing Cepparello.

Favorite Mega-Wine Event: Due to their size, large wine exhibitions can have their issues, especially due to the great crowds they generate. My favorite this year of these mega-events was the Mohegan Sun Wine Fest. Besides wine, they also present spirits, beer, and cider as well as plenty of food. The aisles between the tables are wide, there are two floors in the Grand Tasting and they seem to accommodate the crowds better than other events. In addition, besides a Grand Tasting, the Wine Fest has other excellent events such as an Elite Cru Tasting and a Celebrity Chef Dine Around. Several wines from this event ended up on my Top Wine lists this year and I look forward to this event next year.

Favorite Local Wine Bloggers: Locally, there is only a small number of blogs dedicated 50% or more to wine, being far outweighed by hundreds of local food blogs, some which occasionally touch on wine. But of that small group, there are a number who deserve praise for their devotion to wine. I see many of these people at local wine events and they have become good friends too. Kudos to Adam of Wine ZagRobert of The Wellesley Wine PressRob of Fringe Wine, Jason of Ancient Fire Beverage, Todd of Vermont Wine Media and Marie of The Life of Vines. Please check out their wine blogs.

Top Wine Controversy: During the past year, I have ranted, usually on Mondays, about a variety of wine issues. But one of the most popular rants addressed the question of why a number of restaurant reviewers ignore wine in their reviews? It befuddles me that a restaurant review, which should comprehensively address the offerings of a restaurant, would ignore an important element such as the alcohol program. In my rant, I used the Boston Globe to illustrate this issue, showing how their main reviewer often ignored or gave short shrift to the wine and alcohol programs of most of the restaurants reviewed during the summer. I never received any response but plenty of others voiced their agreement that reviewers did a disservice by ignoring restaurant beverage programs.

Favorite Wine History Post: History intrigues me and I very much enjoy researching and writing histories about wine, though I often try to reach quite far back into history, to see the true roots of a wine and its region. This year, I wrote a four part series on The Origins of Port, extending back to the Phoenicians and proceeding through the formation of the nation of Portugal. Many other histories of Port begin much later, like during the 17th century but I felt the true origins lay many centuries earlier. I learned much in my researches and hope my readers benefited from it too.

Favorite Local Wine News: In 2011, a new law allowed local wineries to sell their wines at farmers markets and festivals. I saw that as very positive for local wineries and a later study showed its success. In 2011, sales of Massachusetts wines increased by an amazing 66%, primarily due to their ability to sell wine at the markets and festivals. Great news for local businesses during these tough economic times. Let us hope their success continued into 2012.

Kudos For Sherry Love:  I love Spanish Sherry, from Fino to Oloroso, Manzanilla to Palo Cortado. Unfortunately, that places me in a tiny minority as Sherry, especially dry Sherry, is very much a niche beverage in the U.S. But locally, Sherry is gaining more love, especially by two restaurants, Tres Gatos and Taberna de Haro. Tres Gatos, in Jamaica Plain, now hosts Sherry Tuesdays, where you can sample sherries with pinchos. Taberna de Haro has recently expanded their restaurant and now carries 27 different Sherries, and will be adding more too. Both restaurants deserve big kudos for their passion and support of Sherry.

New Wine Job: Last February, I started a new endeavor, a part time job at the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose. It has been fun and educational, helping customers select wines, providing recommendations and more. It provides an interesting glimpse into the mind of the wine consumer and has also fueled a number of blog posts. Stop by the store some time and let me help you choose some wines. Besides the wine, the store also stocks some delicious gourmet and artisan foods, so you have one stop shopping for a party.

What were some of your favorite wine related items this year?

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