Monday, August 21, 2017

Rant: After Labor Day, Expand Your Palate

Two weeks from today will be Labor Day, which many see as the end of summer although autumn won't officially arrive for a few weeks more.

Besides the change in the seasons, Labor Day is also the unofficial start of wine tasting season. From September to December, most wine stores will hold large-scale wine events, some where you can taste more than fifty wines. Even better is that most of those events will be free, or they will charge only a nominal fee. This is your opportunity to taste many dozens of wines, and you should seize the chance to do so. As I've mentioned many times before, the best way to learn about wine is to taste it, and taste even more.

The best way to learn through tasting is to expand your palate, to taste plenty of unfamiliar wines, to experience different grapes and to sample wines from new regions. You could easily attend these events and drink only wines you know but why do that? It won't teach you anything. It won't provide you a new experience. You learn something from what is new. And what you learn might also bring you much joy.

Sure, you probably won't like everything new you taste but that shouldn't be an issue. You are only sampling the wines, taking a sip or two, and it is probably for free. If you dislike a wine, if might help you understand what wines you will enjoy. And amidst all that tasting, you'll probably find a number of other wines that you do like, and may even find a new favorite. Take the risk, expand your palate and taste as many different wines as you can.  

And a little more advice. When you attend these tastings, take some notes so you remember which wines you liked. Don't rely on your memory alone because after tasting a couple dizen wines, you probably won't remember your favorite wine the day after. At the very least, use your smart phone to take a photo of the label. That is the easiest way to remember the wines that impressed you.

You'll thank me later for helping you expand your palate.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Viale, Cambridge’s modern-Italian restaurant, is introducing a signature hand-made pasta Brunch Menu, elevating the typical avocado toast with innovative pasta options. Executive Chef/Co-Owner Greg Reeves is looking to give his guests an authentic Italian feel while enjoying the popular weekend meal, using fresh, house-made pasta options and seasonal, locally sourced ingredients.

People have a stigma that pasta has to be filling or too heavy for certain meals, and when I was creating the menu for our brunch options, my main goal was to prove that wrong. You most certainly can incorporate a fresh, hand-made pasta option into a classic brunch dish, and I think guests will try these dishes and stop carb-shaming,” said Chef Reeves.

Viale’s Pasta Brunch Menu includes:
Chocolate Fettucini (peanut butter, coconut, and brown butter puffed rice) $12
Duck Egg Carbonara (bucatini, pancetta, and a poached duck egg) $17
Ricotta Cavatelli (chanterelles, Georgia peas, and basil pesto) $16
Potato Gnocchi (wild boar bolognese, grana, rosemary) $17

Still seeking adventure without the pasta? Enjoy unique twists on brunch staples such as Eggs Benedict with North Country bacon, egg, ricotta, and grana ($13), Crispy Duck & Buckwheat Crespelle with fried eggs, and roasted corn ($14), and the Brunch Burger with North Country bacon, fried egg, provolone, Russian dressing, and French fries.

Let the pasta balance out one of Viale’s hand-crafted cocktails like Prosecco Correcto with grappa di moscato, muscat grape shrub, grapefruit, prosecco, lavender ($12), School’s Out with earl grey montenegro, gin, orchard apricot, peach puree, lemon, becherovka ($12), and Victim of Venus with blueberry infused cocchi rosa, vodka, amaretto, lemon, creme de violette ($12).

To make a reservation, please call (617) 576-1900.

2) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson and fellow chef friends will be joining forces to pay homage to one of Cambridge’s culinary legends, Julia Child. On Thursday, August 24th, at 6:30 p.m., Puritan & Co.’s Will Gilson alongside other local chefs will celebrate the life and culinary adventures of one of the culinary world’s greatest heroes, Julia Child, with a family-style menu inspired by her classic recipes.

Each chef will prepare one course inspired by his or her favorite Julia Child recipe- offering guests a unique, collaborative dining experience. Contributing to the evening’s meal will be Leo Asaro of Tico, Dave Bazirgan of Bambara, Kevin O'Donnell of SRV, Shaun Velez of Deuxave, and Ellie Wallock, Puritan & Co.

This dinner will be seated in a communal style at larger tables with each dish served individually. Carafes of wine on each table will be kept full for all to share with Puritan and Co.’s full wine and cocktail list available for purchase.

Tickets cost $95 and can be purchased at

3) On Sunday, August 20th, Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca will transport guests to their Nonna’s kitchen for a classic Italian Sunday Supper. The multi-course meal will cost $40 per person with an additional wine pairing available for $20. A 5 and 7 p.m. seating are available and walk-ins/reservations will be accepted.

The menu will include:
1st course:
Tomato Bruschetta (Mozzarella di Bufala with Prosciutto di Parma)
2nd course:
Zucchini alla Parmigiana (Escarole and Beans)
3rd course:
Crema al Mascarpone with Frutta di Bosco

To make reservations, please contact (617) 421-4466

4) Chef/Owner Michael Schlow and the Tico Boston team invite guests to a unique experience with a choice between two featured Casamigos cocktails paired with light bites and mingling. On Tuesday, September 12th, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Tico will be hosting a unique experience featuring Casamigos Tequila cocktails, light bites, and sit-down, family-style dinner.

The evening will include a welcome reception featuring passed appetizers and a Casamigos cocktail; followed by an educational component; and will finish with a delicious family-style dinner. The Casamigos brand ambassador will share the history of tequila. 1oz pours of Blanco, Reposado, and Anejo will be sampled and sipped.

After the educational component a family style dinner will be served highlighting guests favorite menu items of the moment. The event is limited to 25 guests to keep everyone involved and attended to during the educational aspect.

Tickets to the 21+ event cost $55 (this does not include taxes, gratuity, or additional beverages) and can be purchased via the Eventbrite at

Monday, August 14, 2017

Rant: Food/Drink Writers of Color

"So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you'd like. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
--American History X

With the tragic events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia, the hate that is spewing from ignorant racists, the violence that has led to death and numerous injuries, we need to stand united against the forces that seek to divide our country. We need to embrace diversity, opening our minds to new ideas, and to eliminate our biases and prejudices. Embracing diversity will only make us better human beings. And don't we all want to be better people?

As a tiny contribution to this issue, I want to once again showcase local people of color who blog/write about food & drink. I previously highlighted women who blog about wine, and it has been an extremely popular post. It helped to bring to the forefront all the valuable contributions and unique voices of these bloggers. Now, I want to expand the scope and highlight the unique viewpoints from people of color as well. I have done this before but I think on light of recent events, it would benefit us all to post about it again.

I've been blogging about food and drink in the Boston area for almost twelve years, and the vast majority of bloggers I've seen at local events have been white. I've spoken about this before, stating we need to find ways to attract more people of color to these events. An initial step would be to identify those people of color who blog, to showcase their talents. This could be a motivation for other people of color to get involved and start blogging too. It will also present blogs with different voices, a way for all of us to expand our own experience and knowledge.

The following is an initial list of people of color, living in Massachusetts, who blog/write about food and/or drink. This is by no means a comprehensive list but provides a starting foundation. Check out these food & drink blogs and I am sure you will like what you find. If you are or know of any other local people of color with food & drink blogs that are not on this list, please have them send me their info, including their name, URL and a brief description of their blog, and I will add them to the list.

Embrace diversity!

Bianca of Confessions Of A Chocoholic

Chanie of Life By Zen: Chanie shares her adventures and experience with delicious foods, drinks especially great wines, and life in Boston. She cooks and is always testing new recipes or looking for fun foods but prefer to talk about her food adventures and dining experiences.

D. of A Little Bit About A Lot Of Things: This is a food and lifestyle blog. D has been been writing since 2010 and her photos have appeared in Boston Magazine, Boston Common, Thrillist, BostInno and others.

Fiona of Gourmet Pigs; Gourmet Pigs was started in Los Angeles in 2007 and Fiona moved to Boston in 2014. The blog reviews restaurants, bars, and events in the two cities and wherever she travels to around the globe.

Georgina of Notes On Lifestyle By Georgina

Jacqueline of Culinary Consulting

Jen of Tiny Urban Kitchen

Korsha of Korsha Wilson

Kristina of Appetite For Instruction

Lisa of Anali's Next Amendment: Lisa writes about life, food and current events. She’s been blogging since 2006 and is a freelance writer and attorney. She regularly writes for LegalZoom and manages Free Yoga Boston. She’s also an organizer and contributing editor at Kwanzaa Culinarians, where recipes and food stories from the African Diaspora are shared.

Markeya of Traveling Foodie In 4" Stiletttos

Tiffany of The Fab Tiffany is the Boston Editor of The Fab Empire, a lifestyle blog that caters to up and coming urban professional featuring notable people, events, eateries, nightlife and entertainment throughout the country.

Vanessa of Without A Measuring Cup

Yaimani & Yadira of The Two Riveras; We write with simple honesty on food, travel, sisterhood, current obsessions and the simple joys of life. Follow us as we share photos, stories and pieces of our adventures from Boston and beyond.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) A Jack's Abby Beer Social will be held on Tuesday, August 15, from 7pm-9pm, at Tavolo Ristorante. They will be showcasing five beers from Jack's Abby. Tickets get you a Jack's Abby beer glass and small pours of each beer, each served with a tasty pairing from the Tavolo kitchen. At the end they'll give you a full pint of whichever beer was your favorite. The event starts at 7 pm but please arrive a few minutes early to check in and get comfortable.

Limited space available so sign up soon!

Tickets are $40 and available through Eventbrite

2) Today is National S'Mores Day so let me provide you a couple ways to celebrate. First, you can get your fix at TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel. They are offering S’mores in a Crock ($9), a "warm, indulgent deconstructed s’mores bowl topped with vanilla ice cream." It is made with Graham crackers, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, and vanilla ice cream. Enjoy it in front of one of the fireplaces at TAMO or outside on TAMO Terrace.

3) Another option to celebrate National S'Mores Day is at ArtBar Cambridge. They have a special Fire Pit Menu served all summer by the beautiful fire pits overlooking the Charles River. They offer creative spins on campfire favorites, served in cast iron skillets, and are meant for sharing. For dessert, they offer their S’mores Skillet ($15) with home-made marshmallow, chocolate ganache and salted bourbon caramel drizzle. I've had this before and it is a decadent and delectable dish. Highly recommended!

The rest of the Fire Pit Menu:
3 Meat Chili Nachos ($13)-pickled jalapeno, shredded cheese
Crab Rangoon Dip ($15)-fried wontons
Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($13)-pita chips
Polenta Fries ($15)-chipotle aioli

Fire Pit reservations are recommended, so please call 617-806-4200

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cinnamon Rolls & A Mother's Love

Do you have a favorite recipe that your mother makes, something you've enjoyed your entire life and which still brings a smile to your face and gives you a happy belly?

Yesterday, my Monday morning was brightened by my mother (pictured above) baking one of my favorite foods, Cinnamon Rolls. I went over to her house and watched her whip up a few batches of cinnamon rolls, and I was able to savor them still hot out of the oven. Sheer bliss!

When my mother was 14 years old, and in the Girl Scouts, she learned a recipe for cinnamon rolls and she has been making them throughout her life. The recipe hasn't changed except sometimes she also makes an icing for them. As a child, I loved these cinnamon rolls and my love for them hasn't diminished one iota. They still make me so very happy. Besides being delicious (who doesn't love cinnamon?), they also are a sign of my mother's love. Plus, there is a bit of nostalgia there, a hearkening back to my childhood. They are a perfect comfort food, which I would eat year round. A simple item but with so much complexity attached to them.

Do you have a similar food or dish in your life, something your mother created, and still does, something indicative of her love?

These are the cinnamon rolls, ready to be placed into the oven.

And these are the cinnamon rolls, ready to eat. It takes much discipline not to devour the entire plate.

Let me share my mother's recipe for Cinnamon Rolls, so you can feed your belly and heart.

2 1/3 cup of Bisquick
2/3 cup of water
Stick of butter

Mix together the Bisquick and water with a fork until it forms a dough. Then spread a flat surface with some Bisquick as you might with flour. Roll out the dough into a large square.

Spread a thin coat of melted butter over the spread-out dough. Then mix cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle it over the dough. Roll the dough like a jelly roll and then slice the roll into pieces about three to four inches wide.

Place the pieces on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minuutes, until brown. Enjoy them while they are still hot.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Rant: Drink Holidays & World Baijiu Day

There is National Chardonnay Day and National Cabernet Sauvignon Day. There are also Wine Days celebrating Merlot, Moscato and Champagne. Plus, there are Drink Days celebrating everything from Rum to Egg Nog, Margaritas to Mai Tais. The basic idea behind such days is to promote a grape, wine, beer, spirit or cocktail, and savvy marketers take the opportunity to highlight and push their products. However, do we really need all of these wine/drink holidays?

For the more popular choices, like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, I don't think we especially need a special day to showcase these grapes. They are already hugely popular and there are many other grapes more worthy of attention, grapes which are less popular or less known. There are plenty of under appreciated grapes and wines, such as Assyrtiko, Rkatsiteli, or Sherry, which would benefit much more from their own special day. They need the publicity, to boost their sales and recognition. There are other alcohols worthy of more attention to, from Mezcal to Sake.

I would much rather see days celebrating the drink underdogs, helping to gain them recognition and new fans. I want people to broaden their palates, and taste something new for them. They need to be enticed to step out of their comfort zone. For example, Sake is still vastly under appreciated in the U.S. so having a day that celebrates and promotes it makes sense. Did you know International Sake Day has existed since 1978? That makes it far older than most, if not all, of the other wine and drink holidays.

This Wednesday, August 9, is World Baijiu Day, a holiday created by Jim Boyce, who runs the nightlife blog Beijing Boyce and wine blog Grape Wall of ChinaThe intent of the day is to raise awareness of Baijiu, to highlight its wonders beyond the borders of China. Even though Baijiu is the most popular spirit in the world, most Americans know little, if anything about it. As I've said before, Baijiu seems to be the Durian fruit of the spirits world, both having a reputation for funkiness which turns off some people, while others become fervent fans. It is a compelling beverage and I strongly encourage everyone to seek it out and sample some of its wonders.

When is the last time you saw a Boston-area writer pen an article about Baijiu? It is a rarity, indicating that more attention needs to be paid to this spirit. Not enough people are writing and talking about this unique beverage, despite its fascinating history, production methods, and customs. We need to change this and World Baijiu Day can help spread the word, and maybe entice more writers to talk about Baijiu.

Last year, I wrote seven articles about Baijiu, covering a diverse selection of topics, from Baijiu reviews to an detailed explanation of its production methods. This is a great place to start your education about Baijiu.  

Baijiu: The Durian Fruit Of The Spirits World (Part 1)
Baijiu: Its Unique Production Process (Part 2)
Baijiu: Drinking Etiquette & Some Reviews (Part 3)
Baijiu: Cocktails, Boston & World Baijiu Day (Part 4)
Baijiu: Food Pairings (Part 5)
Vinn Bajiu: Made in Portland
Baijiu: The Essential Guide To Chinese Spirits by Derek Sandhaus

In celebration of World Baijiu Day, there will be events held all over the world, from Beijing to Liverpool, Stockholm to Los Angeles. In the Boston area, there is a single restaurant celebrating this holiday: Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, a new restaurant in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Sumiao carries five different Baijiu, including three by the bottle, Maotai ($288), Wuliangye ($188) and Luhzou Laojiao ($118), and two by the glass, Hong Kong ($11) and Jiannanchun ($16).

In addition, they have four Baijiu cocktails ($14 each), including: Schrodinger’s Coupe with Hong Kong, curaco, grapefruit, lime and plum bitters; Ice Cold Fusion with Mianzhu Daqu, cognac, triple sec and lemon; Perpetual Motion with Mianzhu Daqu, blood orange, lime, elderflower liqueur and mint; and, Pyroclastic Punch with Hong Kong, Fruitlab hibiscus liqueur, passionfruit cordial and lemon. Check out my prior post about Sumiao, with my thoughts on all four of these delicious cocktails.

Baijiu is also becoming more readily available at liquor shops in the U.S., though previously you might not have even realized it existed. Baijiu may be hugely popular in Asia but it needs much greater exposure in the rest of the world, including in the U.S. It is a unique and delicious spirit and well worth seeking out. This is a Drink Day that I wholeheartedly support and hope that everyone else takes this opportunity to acquaint themselves with Baijiu. Stop by the new Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, experience some of their tasty Hunanese cuisine, and have a Baijiu cocktail. I plan on stopping there at lunch time for a Baijiu cocktail. Will I see you there?

Expand your palate and try something different and more unique. Drink some Baijiu and celebrate World Baijiu Day!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Diane Kochilas, award-winning cookbook author, television personality, consulting chef, teacher, and one of the world's foremost authorities on Greek cuisine, will launch her delectable cooking program this October - My Greek Table With Diane Kochilas.

Premiering October 4 on public television stations across the country (check local listings) with 13 episodes, the series takes viewers to the source, as Diane introduces the stunning vistas, fabulous food, easy, nutritious recipes, and the unmatched hospitality Greece is known for worldwide.

My Greek Table With Diane Kochilas is more than a travel-cooking show. The series is a thorough exploration of the original Greek-Mediterranean Diet, shot on location throughout Greece in places such as Crete, Santorini, Ikaria, Lesvos, Thessaly, Macedonia, the Peloponnese, and Athens, as well as in a beautiful kitchen in Athens.

Diane delves into the breadth and variety of Greek cuisine, with regional specialties, an array of delicious vegetable and bean dishes, healthy desserts, and, yes, those iconic classics, too, from Greek salad to souvlaki! There will also be an in-depth look at the key ingredients of the Greek-Mediterranean Diet: extra virgin Greek olive oil, real Greek feta and Greek yogurt, wild herbs and healing herbal teas, whole grain breads and rusks, greens and vegetables, fish, honey, wine and more. Everything Diane showcases in My Greek Table is accessible to her American audience.

"Greek cuisine is healthy, delicious and extremely varied. It goes way beyond baklava and gyros," says Kochilas, a New York native who now resides in Athens. "With My Greek Table, I want to reveal a country and a culinary point of view that feeds my soul and has shaped me into the person and chef that I am today."

2) On Thursday, August 10, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Michele Chiarlo’s extensive portfolio of Piedmont wines. A Piedmont staple, Michele Chiarlo and his family have been making wine in the region since 1956. With estates in the finest appellations of Piedmont, the Chiarlos produce fine Italian wine upholding the time-honored tenets of tradition, discipline, sustainability, passion and care. Cultivating over 110 hectares of vineyards across the Piedmont landscape, Michele now works alongside his two sons, Stefano and Alberto, to ensure that the rigorous quality expected of Chiarlo wines is properly maintained, as they expand their operations across the Italian countryside. With great respect for the terroirs and vines that make the tradition of Italian wine possible, the Chiarlos continue to make quality, artisanal wine firmly rooted in the traditions and history of the Piedmont region, distinguishing the family as one of Piedmont’s most honored winemakers.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Michele Chiarlo’s North American brand ambassador, Adam Verona, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Chiarlo family’s collection of Piedmont wines. The menu will be presented as follows:

Salmon* Tartare, Jalapeño Emulsion, Jicama Sticks
Octopus, Mediterranean Olives, Preserved Lemon, Grilled Crostini
Oysters* on the Half Shell, Caviar*, Sake Yuzu Vinaigrette, Lemon Drops
Michele Chiarlo “Le Marne” Gavi, 2015
Pan-Seared Halibut Cheeks (crispy pancetta, potato gnocchi, roasted tomato sauce)
Michele Chiarlo “Le Orme” Barbera d’Asti, 2014
Michele Chiarlo “La Court” Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Nizza, 2013
Braised Cornish Hen (wild mushroom ravioli, rainbow chard, truffle shavings)
Michele Chiarlo “Il Principe” Nebbiolo d’Alba, Langhe, 2014
Michele Chiarlo “Reyna” Barbaresco, 2014
Bone-In Ribeye “Bistecca Fiorentina” (roasted yukon gold potatoes, heirloom tomato salad)
Michele Chiarlo “Tortoniano” Barolo, 2011
Michele Chiarlo “Cerequio” Barolo, 2013
Key Lime Pie (zabaglione sauce, whipped cream rosette)
Michele Chiarlo “Nivole” Moscato d’Asti, 2016

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

3) TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel is offering three striped bass specials that will satisfy your cravings in the best possible way: Striped Bass Kabobs ($14), Striped Bass with Spicy Gazpacho, new potatoes & bacon ($30) and Beet-Cured Striped Bass, with tomatoes & watermelon. These specials will be offering in addition to the regular menu every day from 11:30am – midnight through the end of August.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai Sake: Earth & Umami

I often love the Kimoto/Yamahai styles of Sake, which can taste earthy with lots of umami and higher acidity. Because of their high level of acidity and umami, they can pair well with many different foods. Kimoto was the original method of production, basically where large oar-like poles, referred to as yamaoroshi, were used to stir the moto, the yeast starter. For hundreds of years, this process was conducted in Sake breweries all across Japan. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century, did someone realize that this laborious process was completely unnecessary.

In 1909, Professor Kinichiro Kagi, at the National Institute for Brewing Studies, realized that the use of the oar-like poles to mix the moto wasn’t necessary. The moto could be left on its own to complete the process, although a couple adjustments were required, including adding some more water and raising the temperature a bit. Yamahai is short hand for "yamaoroshi haishi moto," which roughly translates as "creating the moto without the use of oar-like poles."

To hone this new method, Professor Kagi conducted some experiments at the Suehiro Sake Brewery, located in Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture. Once Professor Kagi left the brewery, the next Toji working at Suehiro decided not to use the Yamahai process. Eventually though, the brewery would revive this method, using it for many of their premium Sakes.

As an aside, a few years after the discovery of the Yamahai process, brewers realized there was an even easier method. If they added lactic acid to the moto, they could cut the required time in half and it was also a much less risky method. This became known as the Sokujo method and is now the most commonly used method, though some breweries still make at least some of their Sake with either the Kimoto or Yamahai methods.

The Suehiro Brewery was founded, in 1850, by Inosuke, from the Shinjo family, which was a Sake supplier for the Lord of Aizu, Hoshina Masayuki. Inosuke eventually went out on his own, founding Suehiro, and it has been a family business for eight generations, becoming one of the largest Sake producers in the Tohoku Region.

The Suehiro Densho Yamahai Junmai ($26.99/720ml) is produced from Gohyakumangoku rice, which has been polished down to 60% (which technically would make it a Ginjo). It has a Sake Meter Value of +1, so it is basically neutral with a 15.5% ABV. This seems to be a very typical Yamahai Sake, with delicious earthy notes, high acidity and plenty of umami. It is easy drinking, smooth, and complex with a hint of citrus, smoke, and sweetness. Simply a delicious Sake, which will pair well with many different foods, from mushroom risotto to a grilled steak. It went well with our dinner of a stir-fry shrimp and noodle dish. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sparkling Muscadet: Oysters, Curry & A Tuna Melt

Muscadet & Oysters. It's almost a cliche wine pairing but there is also much truth to be found. Muscadet is a white wine, produced at the western end of the Loire Valley, near the city of Nantes, in the Pays de la Loire region. With its proximity to the sea, briny oysters are readily available in this region, and they commonly pair very well with the local Muscadet. However, Muscadet is versatile, pairing well with far more than just oysters.

The name “Muscadet” refers to common characteristic of the wine, which in French is “vin qui a un gout musqué,” basically translated as “wine with a musk-like taste.” Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which was probably initially planted in the 1600s, if not earlier, and was imported from the Burgundy region. Burgundy chose to uproot many of their own Melon de Bourgogne vineyards and today only a tiny portion remains. Melon didn't begin to attain dominance in the Loire until soon after 1709. What happened was that there was an extremely terrible freeze in 1709, destroying many of the other vines, but Dutch traders found that the Melon de Bourgogne was very hardy and encouraged massive plantings.

Melon de Bourgogne is a relatively neutral grape, similar in that respect to Palomino, the famous grape used to produce Sherry. French winemakers discovered ways to transform the Melon into compelling wines. One of the most important techniques is sur lie aging, where the wine stays in contact with the lees after fermentation. Other techniques include oak barrel fermentation, bâtonnage (stirring the lees),and extended maceration.

There are four main appellations of the Muscadet region: the generic AOC Muscadet (which covers the entire region); Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine (which produces about 80% of the region's wine); the Muscadet-Coteaux de la Loire; and the Muscadet-Côtes de Grandlieu. Muscadet is the most commonly produced wine in the Loire region. Muscadet wine is commonly light, dry, and may have a slight effervescence, which in the region is referred to as "pearls of youth." The flavors can include green apple, a certain yeastiness or even a touch of saltiness (like a manzanilla sherry).

As I wrote yesterday, though I've previously enjoyed a number of Muscadet wines, this past weekend was the first time that I've tasted a Sparkling Muscadet. While dining at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, we ordered the Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut ($40/bottle at the restaurant, $20/bottle at retail stores).

Julien Braud is from the small village of Monnieres in the Sèvre et Maine appellation, where he worked on the family estate, Fief aux Dames, which they have owned for over a century, producing Muscadet. In 2012, Julien decided to venture out on his own, taking three hectares of his family's estate, and now he currently possesses seven hectares. He practices organic agriculture, with the addition of some Biodynamic practices. In the winery, he uses natural yeasts and ages his Muscadet on the lees in glass-lined, underground cement vats.

The Julien Brand La Bulle De L'Oueste Petillant Brut is made from 100% Melon de Bourgogne grape, is certified organic, and was fermented by the Methode Ancestrale, also known as Pétillant-Naturel. In short, this method allows the initial fermentation to finish in the bottle, trapping carbon dioxide in the bottle, creating bubbly. It has a low 9.8% ABV, meaning you can have an extra glass without worrying much about getting too tipsy. Only 450 cases of this wine were made though, so it could be difficult to find, though locally it is distributed by Arborway Imports.

As I raised the flute to my nose, visually delighted by the tiny bubbles, I was entranced with this wine, loving its appealing and intense aromas, such beautiful fruit with a wisp of the ocean. On the palate, there was lots of crisp acidity, delicious citrus notes, and a steely minerality with an herbal hint. It was fresh and tasty, each sip making you crave more. We enjoyed the wine so much that we ordered a second bottle.

Though the Muscadet was wonderful with our oysters, it also went well with the fresh and bright Striped Bass Ceviche.

The Unshelled PEI Mussels, in a yellow curry broth with couscous, also went great with the Muscadet, its acidity helping to cut through the creamy curry. I would love to pair this Muscadet with Indian cuisine.

Even the Yellowfin Tuna Melt (one of my favorite lunch dishes at Island Creek) went well with the Muscadet. Again, the acidity of the wine dealt well with the creaminess of the sandwich.

Andrew, my good friend and fellow wine lover, loved the wine too!

I highly recommend this Sparkling Muscadet, especially at this price point. It is a great summer wine, especially paired with seafood, though it is also versatile and it would work with much more. It may not be easy to find at your local wine shop, but in Massachusetts that shop could order it from Arborway Imports. And if you dine at Island Creek Oyster Bar in Burlington, this would be a great choice on their wine list, especially considering its relatively low markup.