Monday, December 16, 2013

2013: 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 2013. 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: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial 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 three such stores which do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, Wine Connextion in North Andover, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. 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 Wine Stores: This is a list of eight 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 (where I also work part-time)
Vintages: Adventures in Wine in Belmont
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End
Central Bottle Wine & Provisions in Cambridge

Favorite Wine Magazine: For the fifth 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: Postmodern Winemaking: Rethinking the Modern Science of an Ancient Craft by Clark Smith is a fascinating, challenging and controversial wine book. It is a book for wine geeks, who want to better understand the complexities of wine making, as well as to rethink some conventional wisdom. You may not agree with everything Clark has to say, but hopefully it will make you ponder about these matters. Some of the science gets very technical, but that isn't a significant obstacle to enjoying this book.

Runner-Up Favorite Wine BookWinemakers of the Willamette Valley: Pioneering Vintners from Oregon's Wine Country by Vivian Perry & John Vincent especially hit an accord with me this year as I visited Oregon once again. The book provides background stories on many of the important pioneers of the Oregon wine industry, giving you an excellent overview of  the vinous wonders of that region. If you want to learn more about Oregon wine, this is a good introduction to the region.

Favorite Wine Dinner: Compelling wines, superb food, and great people all combined to create an exceptional Alsatian wine dinner at Craigie on Main. Two wines from this dinner made my Favorite Wine lists and the Slow-Roasted Pheasant Breast & Confit Leg was one of my favorite dishes of the year. Craigie on Main has long been one of my favorite restaurants, and Chef Maws didn't disappoint in this dinner. And the fine wines of Alsace were a real treat, showing their diversity, complexity and value. 

Runner-Up Favorite Wine Dinner: Sherry is such a food friendly wine, as well as delicious and intriguing, yet so few restaurants choose to showcase it at a wine dinner. Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro is a passionate Sherry advocate and the Gonzalez Byass Sherry dinner highlighted the versatility of sherry. With amazing sherries, great tapas, and excellent conversation, this was a fantastic experience. Kudos to both Chef Hansen and Gonzalez Byass.

Fascinating Wine Dinner Conversation: At a different Alsatian wine dinner, I met with Pascal Schiele, the Export Director of Gustave Lorentz, and we enjoyed oysters, seafood, Cremant d'Alsace, Pinot Gris, and more. Our conversation was intriguing as well, ranging from Charlie Sheen to the color of Pascal's blood. It made for a fun and tasty evening, and one I won't forget.

Favorite Wine Lunch: At the Meritage restaurant, I attended an excellent lunch & tasting of Portuguese wines, and some of those wines ended up on my Favorite wine lists this year. There is such great value to be found in Portugal, as well as some compelling high end wines. From cod to pork belly, the food was delicious and paired well with the wines. The wines of Portugal deserve far greater attention, and I am glad to be a passionate advocate for them.

Favorite Educational Wine Tasting: Chef Hansen of Taberna de Haro also hosted a special tasting and lunch with Bodegas Beronia, a Spanish Rioja producer. We did some fascinating comparative tastings, comparing different oak treatments, which was enlightening. This showcased the variations of Rioja, and we even had the privilege to taste their first wine, a 1973 Gran Reserva. A couple of the wines from this tasting also made my Favorite Wine lists.

Favorite Twitter Wine Tasting: At a Twitter wine tasting, people from all over the world drink the same wines and then discuss them on Twitter. I have been participating in these tastings for years, and they can be lots of fun. This year, I've done two Franciacorta Twitter tastings and they rocked! You can read more about Franciacorta  in these two posts: Fun With Franciacorta and Franciacorta: Bubbly That Needs To Be On Your Wine RadarThey were generally excellent wines and I learned much more about this compelling wine type. Franciacorta is not really that well known with most consumers but it deserves much more attention.

Most Unique Wine Tasting
: At Thirst Boston, I attended several seminars and one of the most compelling was a Vermouth seminar and tasting. Vermouth is actually a wine, albeit fortified and aromatized, and many people don't realize that fact. I tasted Vermouth from three U.S. producers (from New York, Oregon and California) and was intrigued by the different styles and tastes I discovered. Though maybe only 10 or so U.S. producers make Vermouth, that number is going to increase and now is the time to get interested in this growing trend.

Favorite Interview with Wine Personality: Adrian Bridge the CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, stated "Port is the oil of good conversation" and that was certainly true when I met him for dinner and we tasted several Ports. Adrian is passionate, hard working and an excellent conversationalist. We talked about much more than wine, though the wine discussions were fascinating too. He was very down to earth, and the conversation and wine flowed freely.

Favorite Private Wine Tasting: My friend Adam, of Wine Zag, hosts a monthly blind tasting event which is always fun and interesting. A group of 15-18 people are assembled, and we taste through about twelve wines, usually with some type of theme. From Champagne to Southern Italian reds, the themes range wide and the wines themselves range in price and style. The attendees include wine newcomers and more knowledgeable tasters, but there is a lack of pretension and the casual atmosphere is one of fun and discovery.

Favorite Wine Trip, Domestic
: I returned to Oregon this year, though I spent time in Southern Oregon on this trip. Southern Oregon doesn't get the press of the Willamette Valley, but is worthy of attention. I found plenty of excellent wines there, especially beyond the usual Pinot Noir. From Tempranillo to Blaufrankisch, Southern Oregon is experimenting with many different grapes, and Tempranillo is really working well. Plus, I got to spend a couple days in Portland, which is a food, wine and Sake mecca, including discovering killer cinnamon rolls. The small group of people with me on the trip also helped make it a memorable experience.

Favorite Wine Trip, International: My only international trip, to Quebec, is worthy of mention. The annual Taste Camp event was held over the border, in Quebec, and we explored the wine, beer, and food of our northern neighbor. I found some delicious wines, some which found their way onto my Favorite lists, and I even enjoyed a beer or two. Exploring Montreal was also lots of fun, especially checking out Chinatown (soup dumplings!). For those in the Northeast, Quebec is an easy drive, and highly recommended to check it out.

Favorite Winery Visit: A working cannon, paella for lunch, killer Tempranillo and a pioneer of Oregon wine. All of these elements combined to make a memorable visit to Abacela Vineyards in Southern Oregon. The visit was led by Earl Jones, the owner of Abacela, and he was a gracious host, providing an interesting tour and delectable lunch & wine tasting. It was like a touch of Spain in Oregon, and I could have stayed all afternoon, eating paella and drinking Spanish & Portuguese inspired wines.

Top Local Wine Controversy: This year, two legal controversies concerning wine have taken the spotlight in Massachusetts and I have written about both. The first issue involves shipping wine to Massachusetts from outside wineries and retail stores. A new bill to allow such shipping was brought forward for discussion, though it still remains in limbo, awaiting additional discussion and action. I have written about this issue in previous years and my latest posts include: Shipping Wine To Massachusetts: A Critique Of Andelman's Plan and Rant: MA Wine Shipping Needs Your Immediate Help. The second issue centers on removing the cap on liquor licenses in Boston. A Home Rule petition was submitted on this issue, and it too is still in discussion. Check out my posts: Restaurants & Liquor Licenses: Interesting Numbers, Rant: Andelman, Liquor License , Quotas & Food Trucks and Rant: Eliminating The Liquor License Cap? Maybe Massachusetts wine laws might see some positive changes in 2014.

Kudos to Local Massachusetts Wine: Massachusetts wines continue to improve in quality and I had the opportunity to taste a number of local wines again this year, which I reviewed in Westport Rivers: Local Wines Worthy Of Respect and Wayland Winter Farmers Market. All 50 states make wine, and the overall quality all across the country has been improving. I'm glad to see that Massachusetts is stepping forward too, though the wine industry is still relatively small, with plenty of room for growth.

New Wine Position
: This year, I was elected to the Board of Directors of Drink Local Wine and attended their last annual conference, which was held this year in Maryland. Drink Local Wine is a passionate advocate for local wines, especially the promotion of lesser known states and regions all across North America. The Board is composed of a great mix of people and it continues to move forward in supporting local wine, and planning for next year's conference.

My Wine Store Job: In February 2011, I started a new endeavor, a part time job at the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose so it will be my second anniversary there in a couple months. It continues to be fun and educational, helping customers select wines, providing recommendations and more. I garner an interesting glimpse into the mind of the average wine consumer and my experiences continue to provide fodder for ideas for new articles. Come see me some time at the wine shop and let me provide you some recommendations.

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


Thoughts on Design said...

Made my first stop of what will be many at BIn Ends in Needham this week after a job meeting in Newton. Walked out with a 12 bottle "sampler"... Will have to find a way to drop by your Melrose location to say hello. Hope to see you at another AJ tasting.

John Kelsey

Deborah Hansen said...

Richard is such a positive influence on our food and wine scene her in Boston! We are lucky to have such a passionate guy amongst us, championing what's important in life, like foodstuffs and wines and events with integrity!