Friday, December 12, 2014
2014: Favorite Wine-Related Items
Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2014. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, Top Ten Wines Over $15 and Top Ten 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 Wines Analysis: In my three prior Top Ten Wine lists, I mentioned a total of 42 wines, which included wines from 12 different countries. At the top was France, with 10 wines, four of them from the Alsace region. In second place was Portugal with 8 wines and third place went to Spain with 7 wines. About 60% of my picks came from just these three countries. Uruguay made a strong showing with 5 wines, and the Hudson Valley of New York had 3 wines on the lists. Chile, with two wines on the list, was the only other country with multiple listings. The rest of the lists included wines from Argentina, Austria, California, Croatia, Italy, Lebanon, and South Africa,
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 continue to 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. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed.
Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of 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
Vintages: Adventures in Wine in Belmont
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End
Central Bottle Wine & Provisions in Cambridge
Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose (where I also work part-time)
Favorite Wine Magazine: For the sixth 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: A comprehensive book about Spanish Rioja, The Wine Region of Rioja by Ana Fabiano, is an excellent resource. It possesses great photography, is easy to read, and provides lots of insight into the wine makers of Rioja. My favorite sidebar of the book was "Voice of the Vintners" which provides quotes from about 30 different wineries on Tempranillo. There is such poetry in those quotes, and they provide a fascinating insight into Rioja. If you read those two pages alone, I think you would actually have a nice grasp of Rioja.
Runner-Up Favorite Wine Book: An excellent introduction to the wondrous world of Sherry, I highly recommend Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World's Best-Kept Secret, with Cocktails and Recipes by Talia Baiocchi. It is an easily understood exploration of everything from how Sherry is produced to a listing of Bodegas and recommended Sherries. There are also plenty of Sherry cocktail recipes and some food recipes as well. I love Sherry and it is great to see others advocating for it as well.
Favorite Wine Dinner: For the second year in a row, an Alsatian wine dinner was selected for this category. Compelling wines, superb food, and great people all combined to create an exceptional experience at Puritan & Co. As usual, the fine wines of Alsace impressed, showing diversity, complexity and value. In addition, three wines from this dinner were mentioned in my Favorite Wine lists. I'd never been to Puritan before, and the food more than satisfied. I'm eager to return to try more dishes from their menu.
Runner-Up Favorite Wine Dinner: At Alden & Harlow, I dined with Cristóbal Undurraga Marimón, co-owner and winemaker at Viña Koyle, a Chilean winery. Superb food, excellent wines, and plenty of stimulating conversation. It was also my first time at Alden & Harlow, and it too was impressive, from the Chicken Fried Rabbit to the delectable Lamb. Two of the Viña Koyle wines ended up on my Favorite Wine lists.
Favorite Private Wine Dinner: My vacation in Las Vegas this past summer, with several good friends, was excellent, and we ate and drank quite well. Our dinner at Sage was exceptional, with compelling food and wines, two of which ended up on my Favorite Wine lists. The wine list had plenty of intriguing choices, and the mark-up actually was fairly reasonable. The Sommelier knew his wines well, and the group of us thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Favorite Wine Lunch: Taberna de Haro has the best Spanish wine list in the Boston, as well as the largest Sherry list. They make excellent Spanish cuisine as well, and this all combined for a special lunch showcasing the amazing Sherries of Alexander Jules, all three which ended up on my Favorite Wine lists. Sitting outside, we savored the Sherries and tapas while enjoying pleasant and interesting conversation. It almost felt like we were transported to the streets of Barcelona.
Favorite Large-Scale High-End Tasting: The Vintner's Reserve Lounge at the Boston Wine Expo presented an impressive selection of high-end wines, with plenty of tasty food. It was a major improvement over the last few Vintner's Reserve Lounges that I had attended. There were about 100 wines available for tasting, and it was a more leisurely tasting, without the large crowds that attend the Grand Tasting. Some of the wines from this event ended up on my Favorite Wine lists this year.
Favorite Large-Scale Tasting: The Mohegan Sun WineFest is a large, consumer wine event, which also showcases beer and spirits. In addition, there is plenty of food available at the event, to cleanse your palate and fill your belly. Its location, within a major casino, is also a plus, giving you plenty to do after the tasting is over. Several wines from this event have ended up on my Favorite Wine lists this year, which happens nearly every year.
Favorite Regional Wine Tasting: The Wines of Uruguay was such a delicious and informative event, a chance to try nearly 80 wines from 16 different wineries. Uruguay is an upcoming region which has previously been drinking most of their own wine. As their exports increase, you'll see their wines more and more on local shelves, and that is a very good thing. Sparkling, whites, reds and more. Lots of diversity, at all price points, and their signature grape, Tannat, is producing some amazing wines.
Runner-Ups of Favorite Regional Wine Tasting: The Austrians Like Them Young and Wines of Portugal tastings were also very worthy events. The Austrian wine event presented some nice comparison tastings of red wines made from indigenous grapes such as Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St. Laurent. The Portugal tasting presented about 200 wines, of all types, and offered a great overview of the wonders of Portuguese wine, from Vinho Verde to Port. Both events have wines on 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 at the same time on Twitter. I have been participating in these tastings for years, and they can be lots of fun. The Crémant d'Alsace & The Spartans At Thermopylae presented four delicious Crémant sparkling wines, and plenty of interesting conversation on Twitter. Alsatian Crémant may not be on your radar but it should, offering excellent taste at a very good value.
Most Unique Wine Tasting: While in the Hudson Valley, at one of the grand tastings, I got to sample the wines from Pazdar Winery, which included two chocolate wines! Previously, the chocolate wines I have tasted have seemed artificial and overly sweet. However, these were actually tasty and interesting wines, with real chocolate and a restrained sweetness. These aren't your normal type of wine, but they are well made and would appeal to many people.
Favorite Private Wine Tasting: My good 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. This is the third year in a row this tasting has garnered this honor.
Favorite Wine Trip, Domestic: This year's TasteCamp was held in the Hudson Valley of New York. It was informative and fun, and I discovered plenty of interesting wines and spirits. The region is beautiful and it was great to visit this developing wine region, which also possesses a rich and vibrant history. TasteCamp always does a good job of showcasing different wine regions, and this year was no different. Wines and spirits from this trip have ended up on my Favorite lists.
Favorite Winery Visit: While in the Hudson Valley region, our visit to the Hudson-Chatham Winery was a major highlight. Carlo Devito, owner of the winery, was an excellent host, leading us through a tasting of their wines, giving a tour of their solera, and feeding us lunch, including plenty of sliders. We saw Carlo's passion, and also saw the potential of hybrid grapes, such as Baco Noir. If you visit this region, you must stop at this winery.
Changes To Local Wine Laws: Last year, I wrote about two major legal issues, concerning wine, that took the spotlight in Massachusetts. Those issues involved shipping wine and removing the cap on liquor licenses. This year, positive progress was made on both issues, and hopefully that means additional positive changes will occur in 2015. First, in Rant: More Liquor Licenses Coming, I discussed how more liquor licenses were coming to Boston, and I hope these new licenses breathe life into certain neighborhoods. Second, in Rant: Caveats of Direct Wine Shipping, I explained how the new law allowing U.S. wineries to ship to Massachusetts is good news in some respects, but that there is still much more than needs to be done. Things are better this year for Massachusetts wine lovers, but let us hope it continues to improve.
My Wine Honor: In November, I received a great honor, being inducted as a Knight in the Brotherhood of Port Wine. The rank of Cavaleiro (Knight) is given to those who “have made a significant contribution to the understanding and prestige of Port Wine.” Only 13 people were inducted as Cavaleiros at the ceremony, and there are about 1300 worldwide. I took an oath to defend the honor of Port wine, so you can look forward to more articles about Port in 2015.
What were some of your favorite wine-related items this year?