Thursday, September 28, 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) National Taco Day is October 4 and to celebrate, Margaritas Mexican Restaurants restaurants will once again offer the Taco Gigante Challenge throughout the month of October. The Taco Gigante ($12.99) is a mammoth, 12-inch, 2 pound Taco filled to the brim with lettuce, refried beans, rice, ground beef, chicken, carnitas, cheese, salsa fresca, bacon, queso, hacienda sauce, picante sauce, crema and pickled jalapeños.

Throughout October, if you can finish the entire 2-pound Taco Gigante you will get a spot up on Margaritas Wall of Fame and bragging rights. In addition, on National Taco Day itself, guests who order the Taco Gigante receive a voucher for one Taco Gigante to either conquer the Taco Gigante Challenge for a second time or dare a friend to take on the challenge at their next visit.

These specials will take place in Margaritas Mexican Restaurants in Lexington, Medford, Revere and Waltham.

2) il Molo, located alongside the Boston waterfront in the North End, is serving up $1 oysters on the half shell from 4PM to 6PM, Monday through Fridays. il Molo’s Executive Chef Pino Maffeo focuses on offering the freshest seafood in the city and something on the menu for everyone; oyster offerings include both sweet, crisp oysters from the east as well as plump, subtle oysters from the west, paired with made-in-house mignonette and cocktail sauce. . With this new dining deal, il Molo’s premium quality half shells are available for oyster-lovers on a budget; so, shuck and slurp your heart out without breaking the bank.

3) The SRV team and guest chef Cassie Piuma of Sarma invite guests to join them for complimentary cicchetti party on Wednesday, October 11, from 9pm-11pm. SRV will be hosting its first-ever cicchetti takeover with guest chef Cassie Piuma and guests will be treated to complimentary cicchetti (or Italian small bites) in SRV’s bar and bacaro area.

Reservations are not required. Featured cicchetti will not be available in main dining room. For more information, please contact (617) 536-9500.

4) On Tuesday, October 24th, at 6pm, A&B Burgers will present a four course, Marchesi Antinori Wine Dinner. Antinori Brand Ambassador, Marco Deary, will showcase his top labels alongside Chef Matthew DiBiccari's Italian cuisine. Matt came to A&B from Michael Schlow's Italian restaurant, Altastrada. Chef Matt will transform A&B's kitchen for one night only, into an authentic Tuscan kitchen.

The Menu is as follows:
First Course
Porchetta (Watercress fennel salad, truffle, lemon, shaved Grana Padano)
Wine Pairing
2016 Antinori, Bramito, Chardonnay, Umbria
Second Course
Hand cut Pappardelle with Rabbit (Pancetta, rosemary)
Wine Pairing
2015 Antinori, Guado al Tasso, Il Bruciato, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Syrah, Bolgheri
Third Course
Braised Beef Short Ribs (Tomato, fennel, creamy polenta)
Wine Pairing
2014 Antinori, Tignanello IGT, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tuscany, Italy
Fourth Course
Ice cream with Biscotti (Almond, apricot, honey)
2010 Antinori, Santa Cristina Vin Santo della Trebbiano and Malvasia

Cost: $95/per person (which includes tax & 18% gratuity)
Tickets must be purchased on Eventbrite
This event is 21+. IDs will be checked at door
Additional beer, wine, soda, and food is available for purchase at the restaurant

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Switchel: A Colonial Drink From Russell Orchards

While perusing the shelves at Russell Orchards, after picking up some of their excellent cider donuts, I noticed some plastic containers, next to the cider, which were labeled "Switchel." I wasn't familiar with the term and the drink seemed to be a mix of vinegar, cider and ginger. I bought a couple bottles to try at home and was later fascinated when I did some research on Switchel, which is becoming popular once again.

Switchel may be known by a number of other terms, including ginger-water, haymaker's punch, switchy, switzel, and swizzle. It is commonly a drink of water, vinegar (or cider vinegar), ginger, and a sweetener, which was originally molasses but nowadays may use honey, sugar, brown sugar or maple syrup. Other ingredients were also sometimes added, dependent on the location, including lemon juice and oatmeal.

The exact origins of switchel are unknown, though some sources allege it originated in the Caribbean, yet there doesn't appear to be much supporting evidence in favor of that theory. The main ingredients, ginger and molasses, do come from the Caribbean, but from different parts of that region and generally didn't come together. However, once those ingredients were exported to Colonial America, it seems they finally were combined together. If anything, the basic concept of combining fruit juices, spices, and other ingredients, to make punches and other drinks might have originated in the Caribbean but switchel itself appears to be more an American invention.

It is thought switchel started becoming popular in New England during the 17th century. It spread throughout the country, eventually becoming a favorite of hot and thirsty farmers, including some during hay harvest time, leading to it becoming known as haymaker's punch. Switchel was mentioned by a number of popular writers, from Herman Melville to Laura Ingalls Wilder. One of the earliest written mentions of switchel is in a poem from 1789. It is also said that in early 19th century Massachusetts, students at Harvard University loved to drink switchel and rum, though temperance advocates thought switchel on its own was a good substitute for an alcoholic drink. Combining switchel with alcohol, especially rum, seemed to be popular in many places, and not just Harvard.

The Switchel from Russell Orchards costs $3.95 for a 12 ounce plastic bottle, and is made with apple cider vinegar, apple cider, maple syrup, ginger and water, with the vinegar and cider made on their premises. It is unpasteurized so needs to be refrigerated and does have a sell by date. There is a distinctive ginger aroma from the switchel and on the palate, it is dry with a prominent vinegar aspect, subtle apple notes, and a ginger backbone. It is refreshing and I see how it can be quite refreshing on a hot day. It would also work well as a cocktail ingredient, and I'll be trying that very soon.

Next time you visit Russell Orchards for their superb cider donuts, why not pick up some Switchel too.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Paella Showdown: Schlesinger vs Bissonnette

Kramer: Have you ever had really good paella?
Morty: Not really.
Kramer: Oh, it's an orgiastic feast for the senses."
--Seinfeld episode "The Raincoats"

Last night, famed local chefs Chris Schlesinger and Jamie Bissonnette faced off against each other in a pugilistic cook-off to see which chef could create the Best Paella. This culinary competition took place in front of a packed crowd at The Automatic, and I attended as a media guest. All of the attendees were able to vote for their favorite Paella and the winner was.....

Well, I'll hold off on that announcement until later in this post.

Chris Schlesinger is a James Beard award-winning chef, the founder of East Coast Grill and the author of several books. Most recently, he opened The Automatic with his friend, legendary bartender Dave Cagle. Chris's Paella recipe has become famous, even featured in The New York Times. Jamie Bissonnette, of Little Donkey, Toro, and Coppa, is also a James Beard award-winning chef and can brag about his Paella too. He headlined this year’s Food &Wine Classic in Aspen, showcasing his Paella to the massive crowds. Two culinary powerhouses, creating their own spin on a classic Spanish dish.

Paella is a Spanish rice dish that likely originated in the region of Valencia, on the eastern coast of Spain, during the 19th century but its roots extend back over 1000 years. Over 1200 years ago, the Moors introduced rice to Valencia, which would subsequently become one of the most important rice-producing areas in all of Spain. The exact origins of paella are a bit murky and there are numerous origin stories, some which appear to have been created mainly to make a fascinating story.

For example, one story suggests that Moorish servants created paella-like rice dishes for their families using leftovers from royal banquets. Thus, it has been claimed that "paella" derives from the Arabic word "baqiyah," which means "leftovers." Another more fanciful tale states paella was created by a man for his lover, and that "paella" is a corruption of the phrase "para ella," meaning "for her." It seems more likely that the word "paella" derives from the Latin word "patella," which means "pan."

The term "paella," which is commonly used to refer to the food, actually refers to the "cooking pan" and not the rice dish itself, making the Latin origin apt. The dish is more properly referred to as "arroz a la paella" though most everyone nowadays just refers to the dish as paella. Interestingly, the term "arroz," which means "rice," is derived from Arabic, which makes sense as the Moors introduced rice to the region.

"Valencians have the confident belief, to me it seems well-founded, that nobody knows how to cook rice better than them."
---Francisco de Paula Martí (1818)

We know that during the 19th century, field and farm workers commonly prepared paella, using rice and whatever else was readily available, and cooking it over a wood fire. The first known written recipe for paella appeared in 1840. The first paellas, even in Valencia, didn't contain seafood, and might have instead snails, chicken, rabbit or duck, plus vegetables like green beans, tomatoes and onions. Over time, as seafood was common in the region, it began to be added to some paella dishes.    Today, there are many, many different varieties of paella.

The traditional paella pan is large, round and flat, with a relatively short height, allowing the rice to have maximum contact with the bottom of the pan. The expensive spice saffron has also become an important ingredient for paella. A number of different rice types may be used, including Bahía, Senia, Leda, Balilla, and Bomba, with the common element being that these rice types can absorb plenty of liquid and flavor. Bomba seems to be the top choice of many Spanish chefs. And please note that March 27 is considered National Paella Day.

Which wine should you pair with Paella? It will depend in part on what type of paella you are enjoying, whether it has more seafood or other types of meat. I would begin by suggesting you drink Spanish wine, though obviously plenty of wines from other regions would work well too. Sticking with Spanish wine, my top choice would be Sherry, especially a Fino or Manzanilla if the paella has seafood. If the paella is more meat heavy, then I'd suggest an Amontillado or Oloroso Sherry. A dry Spanish Rosé would also work well with most Paella. I'd even recommend Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine. With seafood-heavy paella, white wines, like Albarino and Godello, would be nice choices, and for meat-heavy paella, red wines like Mencia, Rioja, and Garnacha would work nicely.

About ninety people attended the Paella Showdown, with some people, including myself, sitting outside and the weather cooperated, a fine evening for sitting on the patio. As we enjoyed some wine, servers came by with appetizers, including Patatas Bravas, Datiles con Jamon, Tortilla Espanola, and Pintxo de Gambas. All of them were tasty, especially the Datiles con Jamon, dates with blue cheese, wrapped in Serrano ham. I was drinking an excellent Sherry, the Alexander Jules Fino 22/85, which was a superb pairing with the appetizers as well as later with the paella.

This is Chris' paella pan and it's obviously well-used.

On the other hand, Jamie's paella pan seems much newer. Will this affect the competition?

Jamie began cooking his paella first and the following are a number of pictures showing his progress.

While the paella cooked, incredibly alluring aromas wafted through the air, making us eager to taste the paella.

As you aren't supposed to stir the rice in the paella, Jamie is turning the large pan about a quarter turn, which will help mix everything.

Jamie added mussels to his paella.

And this is the finished paella, which looks beautiful!

Chris started his paella after Jamie was about half done with his paella.

Adding rice to the paella.

Chris dug these local clams himself.

The final product, which looks somewhat different from Jaime's paella, is also beautiful and enticing. Both paellas looked like what I've previously enjoyed in Spain.

We all got a plate of each paella and this is from Jaime's pan. It possessed a great depth of flavor, a nice balance of tastes and textures. Great paella possesses socarrat, which is the caramelized and crusty rice at the bottom of the pan. Some of that crunch existed in Jaime's paella and I was sure to empty my plate. Absolutely delicious.

The paella from Chris had larger pieces of pork and shrimp, and a greater amount of socarrat. It too presented with an excellent depth of flavor and a nice balance. Again, this paella was absolutely delicious, and it certainly was near impossible to decide which paella was better. Though they shared some common characteristics, each also had their own unique taste. Both dishes would please any paella lover.

The vote was taken and it was extremely close, with about 15 people abstaining from voting. In the end, with a 39-37 victory, the winner was Chef Jamie Bissonnette! With such close results, I think it is fair to say both chefs made stellar paella and well deserve kudos for their culinary skills. Paella is such a great dish and both chefs should be very proud of their efforts. This was an absolutely fun event and they may repeat it in the future. If so, I highly recommend you attend.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Rant: Why Don't Men Love Wine?

"Men collect, women appreciate--discuss."
--Rosi Hanson

For over ten years, there have been multiple studies showing that generally women purchase more wine than men. There are more men who collect wine, who amass large wine cellars, while women most often tend to buy everyday drinking wines. A recent Gallup Poll indicates how few men actually prefer wine to beer and spirits. Why is that the case? Why don't more men love wine?

50% of women prefer wine to either beer or spirits, with about 19% opting for beer and 28% preferring spirits. With men, only 11% prefer wine, while 62% choose beer as their primary choice and 24% choose spirits. So, roughly only one in ten men prefers wine to other alcoholic beverages. Another Gallup Poll, from July 2017, provides some more details on this result. That poll indicates "Less-educated and middle-income Americans also tend to choose beer" which may indicate wine still is seen as a snobbish beverage in some circles.

When men and women are combined into a single group, then 40% prefer beer over wine (30%) and spirits (26%). Over the past twenty years, the percentage of those who prefer beer has decreased from a high of about 46%, and it seems to be on a continued decline. Wine reached a high of about 39% in 2005, but has been on a decline since then. And spirits have generally been steady at about 20% but are on an increase at the moment.

The rise of craft beers and spirits has obviously played a part in some people choosing beer and spirits over wine. And there are cultural matters too which lead to those results, such as sports fans who will more often opt for a beer. Beer is also cheap for those who want to drink to get drunk. However, there also seems to be an image problem with wine, primarily with men. Wine just doesn't seem as accessible as beer or spirits. There is probably still a perception that wine lovers are elitist snobs. We need to shatter these images and preconceptions.

We need to make wine more accessible, to persuade people that wine is for everyone, no matter who you are. We need to normalize the consumption of wine so that it seems ordinary for any occasion, from watching a football game to just sitting in the backyard. We don't need to create specific "man" wines as the industry has done with some wines they specifically market to women, from Mommy's Time Out to Sassy Bitch.

Wine is for everyone, men and women!

Thursday, September 21, 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) Gordon Wilcox, CEO of Wilcox Hospitality Group; Dr. William G. Austen, Jr., Chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital; Brian Poe, chef & co-owner of The Tip Tap Room, Poe’s Taco Room at Lower Depths and Bukowski Tavern – Cambridge, will all come together on Monday, October 2, at 6:00pm, for the 4th annual “Chefs for Clefts” fundraiser at The Tip Tap Room to benefit the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Global Surgical Initiative.

Funds raised from the charitable fête will directly assist Dr. William G. Austen, Jr.’s “Cartagena Surgical Missions” that support children with facial deformities and cleft lips as well as burn victims in Colombia. During its existence, the Cartagena Surgical Mission has served more than 700 children who otherwise would have no access to care.

This festive “Night in Colombia” themed event will kick-off with South American music as well as complimentary Colombian-inspired cocktails and passed hors d'oeuvres, as prepared by The Tip Tap Room’s Brian Poe and David Spinazzola.

Brian Poe and chef friends Andy Husbands (Tremont 647; Smoke Shop), Jose Duarte (Taranta), Lydia Shire (Scampo), Rodney Murillo (Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse; Davio’s Cucina), Nick Calias (Brasserie Jo), Mark Sapienza (BOND at The Langham, Boston), Will Gilson (Puritan & Company) and Jason Bond (Bondir) – among others – each graciously have donated a three-course “dinner for ten” with wine pairings at their respective restaurants which will be up for bid during the live auction. Supporters also will have the opportunity to mix and mingle with some the city’s top culinary luminaries who will be present at this evening with a cause.

COST: General Admission (includes open bar and passed hors d'oeuvres): $80 per person in advance; $100 per person at the door
MORE INFO: To purchase event tickets or to make a donation to the Cartagena Surgical Mission, please visit:

2) On Monday, September 25, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, North End seafood destination il Molo will host its first-ever wine dinner inspired by the Southern Hemisphere’s unique wine culture. Featuring a four-course dinner specially crafted by Executive Chef Pino Maffeo, each dish will be complemented by hand-selected wines from vineyards across Australia and New Zealand. il Molo is teaming up with local wine making specialist Tom Tellier of Signature Brands for the evening, who will be on-site to guide guests through the nuances of the four wines.

Upon Arrival
Spy Valley Rose 2017 Marlborough, NZ
First Course
Tuna Crudo (soy, wasabi, olive oil, bread crisps)
Satellite Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Marlborough, NZ
Second Course
Watermelon Salad (Fried Oysters with sambal aioli)
Roaring Meg Riesling 2014 Central Otago Au
Third Course
Hay Roasted Trout (Warm Brussels salad, smoked raisin emulsion)
Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2014 Central Otago Au.
Fourth Course
Coconut Cake
House made vermouth

TICKETS: Tickets are $69 each (plus tax and gratuity) and can be purchased on Eventbrite
For more information or for grouped seating requests, please call (857) 277-1895.

3) The Mandarin Oriental, Boston has announced the return of Maki@MO, a pop-up sushi lounge located in the hotel lobby.

"An inviting place to gather socially and unwind after a busy day in Back Bay, guests are able sit amongst the lobby’s exotic blonde wood paneling and enjoy an assortment of traditional and signature hand-rolled sushi, appropriately paired with sommelier selected wines and a unique assortment of Japanese beer and whiskey."

Available through October 28, the select Maki@MO menu will be served as follows:
--Atlantic Maki tuna and avocado 8 pieces for $12
--New England Maki tuna, tempura flakes, and spicy mayonnaise 8 pieces for $12
--Boylston Maki crabmeat, avocado, cucumber and tobiko 8 pieces for $12
--Boston Maki salmon, avocado and cucumber 8 pieces for $12
--The signature Mandarin Oriental Maki crabmeat, avocado and cucumber, topped with a colorful display of salmon, tuna, shrimp and avocado 10 pieces for $18.

Serving Tuesday to Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., both casual seated dining and Maki@MO “to go” orders will be available. The Lobby Lounge at Mandarin Oriental, Boston is able to entertain 25 seated guests or a reception for up to 50.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Gin Lane 1751: Victoria Pink Gin

Juniper, a crucial ingredient in Gin, has been revered for at least two thousand years for medicinal purposes. Around the 16th century, it would be the Dutch who would finally distill a juniper-flavored alcohol, which they called genever, creating a spirit that was intended to be something other than a medicine. Around the 1690s, genever began to be exported to England and it quickly become the most popular spirit, especially with the lower classes, and it was renamed gin.

It helped that unlicensed gin manufacture was legal in England, so gin proliferated across the country.  By the 1730s, people in London were drinking an average of 2 pints a week. However, all of this gin consumption was alleged to lead to increased crime and other undesirable attributes so the government took some steps to curb consumption, starting in 1729 with a law that increased the retail tax on gin. Then, in 1736, another law was passed that imposed a draconian expensive license fee for gin retailers while also raising the retail tax. In essence, the fee was so high, only two licenses were ever obtained and consumption dipped for a short time.

However, illegal gin shops started to sprout up and riots occurred, protesting the 1736 Act. Eventually, the Act was changed, leading to decreases in the retail license fee and retail taxes. However, the government was still concerned about gin consumption, leading to The Sale of Spirits Act 1750 (known as the Gin Act 1751) which prohibited gin distillers from selling to unlicensed retailers and also increased retailer fees. The effect was to eliminate most small gin shops, limiting sales to larger distillers and retailers, and making gin more expensive for consumers. This was more successful and within the decade, the so-called Gin Craze had ended.

In homage to this Act, Gin Lane 1751 was established, a company which produces gin that hearkens back to Victorian times. The company is a partnership between Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers, an eighth generation distiller, and The Bloomsbury Club, a group of gin lovers and drinks industry professionals. As their website states, "Our beautifully handcrafted family of gins is of a classic Victorian style originating in an age when there was a bold predominance of juniper berries, hints of liquorice and a refreshing citrus finish. For your edification, we have created a well-balanced, complex gin of eight natural botanicals."

They currently produce four gins, including the London Dry Gin, London Dry Royal Strength Gin, Old Tom Gin, and Victoria Pink Gin, each priced at about $24.99 to make them more affordable. "Gin Lane 1751 is going back to gin’s roots with a bold yet refreshing profile along with three varietals that all have history and origin in the Victorian period.” Each gin is handcrafted in small traditional pot stills and contain eight natural botanicals, including juniper, orris root, Seville oranges, angelica, Sicilian lemon, star anise, cassia bark and coriander.

I received a media sample of the Victoria Pink Gin, which has a beautiful pink color from the addition of natural blended spiced bitters, and doesn't contain any artificial colorings or flavoring. It is said that the British Royal Navy was the first to mix gin with bitters, allegedly as a cure for sea sickness. You may see the Pink Gin cocktail at some local bars, which simply adds bitters to gin. The Victoria Pink Gin does that blending already for you, so you can drink it as is, or use it as a primary ingredient in a cocktail.

The Victoria Pink Gin possesses a prominent juniper aroma so there is no mistaking that it is gin. However, on the palate, this is a very balanced gin, with a complex and interesting melange of botanicals and a strong spicy element from the bitters. It is smooth and easy drinking, with a lingering and pleasant finish. The spiciness within this gin was intriguing, placing it above many other gins, and I think that element would elevate your usual gin cocktails. I'm very choosy about the gins I enjoy, and this is one I would strongly recommend.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2010 Gloria Ferrer Anniversary Cuvée: Plus Waffles & Bacon

Waffles, Bacon & Bubbly: The Lunch of Champions

This past Sunday, I enjoyed a delectable lunch of home-made waffles and bacon, accompanied by a bottle of Sparkling Wine. First, as I've long said, traditional breakfast dishes taste just as good if you serve them for lunch or dinner. Who says you can't have a stack of blueberry pancakes for dinner? It isn't easy finding restaurants serving such breakfast items for lunch or dinner, but you can always prepare them at home. I love waffles and I'll eat them at any time, whether it's noon or nine in the evening.

Second, I've also said on multiple occasions that more people should drink Sparkling Wine with food. It can make an excellent pairing for a wide diversity of dishes. Unfortunately, many people primarily see bubbly as a celebratory wine, something to have before you begin eating. It most often is the opening toast to a dinner and other wine is brought out for the actual meal. However, we have to get over that preconception and embrace Sparkling Wine and food pairings, drinking bubbly during the entire course of your meal.

It doesn't have to be a special occasion when you break out a bottle of bubbly. I opened a bottle of Sparkling Wine on Sunday just because a friend came over for lunch. That was special enough for me. And I also thought it would go well with Waffles & Bacon! Bacon & bubbly is an easy pairing, as bubbly often goes well with salty dishes, from oysters to potato chips. And as for my waffle, smothered in butter, the crisp bubbly cut through the fat of the butter. It was simply a fun and tasty pairing, not a usual pairing, but experimenting with wine pairings is a worthy endeavor.

For my waffles and bacon, I chose a sparkling wine from Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, a media sample I received. The roots of this winery extend back to the 16th century, to the Ferrer family which would eventually produce Sparkling Wine, creating the Freixenet Cava in 1915. During the early 1930s, Pedro Ferrer Bosch traveled to the U.S., desirous of producing Sparkling Wine there but had to return to Spain near the start of the Spanish Civil War. It would be up to his son, José Ferrer, and José's wife Gloria, to follow Pedro's dream.

In 1982, José and Gloria purchased 160 acres in the Carneros region of Sonoma County, planting about 75% of the land with Pinot Noir and the rest with Chardonnay. Four years later, they opened as Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, being the first Sparkling Wine producer in the Carneros region. Since then, their holdings have grown to about 335 acres, and they produce a number of still wines as well. Sustainability is very important to them, and they were among the first wineries in California to implement the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices.

The Gloria Ferrer 2010 Anniversary Cuvée ($40) was produced from a blend of 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay, the grapes from their estate vineyards in Carneros. Only the first press of the grapes was used for this wine and it is also a blend of 14 separately fermented lots, all from the 2010 vintage. The 2010 vintage was one of the coolest on record, and produced excellent grapes with plenty of concentration and character. The lots were fermented about 6 months prior to that blending and then the blended wine remained in the bottle, on the lees, for another five and a half years before it was disgorged.

This Sparkling Wine presents an alluring aroma, enticing fruit flavors with a hint of vanilla, as well as tiny and persistent bubbles. On the palate, it is elegant and crisp, with a creamy mouthfeel and delicious tastes of pear, green apple, vanilla, and light spice notes. There are even subtle red fruit flavors flitting within your palate, especially on the lengthy and satisfying finish. Plenty of complexity, bright acidity, and pure hedonistic pleasure. And this Cuvée paired very well with the waffles and bacon, elevating that simple lunch. The Cuvée would pair well with many different dishes, from oysters to lobster, burgers to pizza. Highly recommended!

The next time you're planning a wine pairing for your lunch or dinner, consider a Sparkling Wine. And then consider the bubbly from Gloria Ferrer.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Rant: Become A Wine Activist

In about two weeks, I'll be giving a presentation, in Chicago, on Georgian wines, similar to one I gave in New York City back in April. I'll discuss the history of Georgian wines, taste the attendees through four different wines, and explain why they should drink Georgian wines. Near the end of that presentation, I'll also ask them to become wine activists.

I've long been a passionate advocate for wines which are not as popular as they deserve. For example, I've previously written Ten Reasons To Drink Georgian Wine as well as Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine. I've reviewed plenty of Georgian and Greek wines, recommending many excellent examples of wines from this compelling countries. I've also reviewed and promoted wines from countries such as Israel, Armenia, Lebanon, and Uruguay. In some respects, this means I've been a wine activist, using my platform to economically assist these regions, trying to get more people to buy and drink their wines.

This became much clearer to me after reading a recent article in SevenFiftyDaily, "How Wine Buyers Can Become Activists" by Peter Weltman, a sommelier and writer in San Francisco. Peter describes how his view of being a sommelier shifted, of how he became more of an activist by "leveraging wine’s privileged standing to improve people’s lives." He even has a hashtag for his activism, #BorderlessWine, which you might have seen on social media. In this article, Peter states that, "With our wine purchases, I believe, we can help advance regional peace, provide support for farmers in war-torn regions, have a voice in geopolitics, and aid in economic recoveries."

Wine is often seen as a mere luxury, something of little importance in the greater picture considering all of the problems in out world. However, wine purchases can actually have a significant impact in numerous ways, even on a global basis. Such purchases are vital to the economies and political stability of numerous countries. It can be a valuable export, provided other countries are willing to buy their wines. To assist these countries, we should consider that potential impact when we decide which wines to buy for our consumption.

In his article, Peter discusses wines made in Israel, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Palestine, and Georgia. Those are all the types of wine regions I especially enjoy exploring and writing about. One of Peter's primary points is that "Financial support of a country’s wines contributes to the well-being of regions, countries, and producers." Countries like Greece, whose economy has undergone much turbulence, can economically benefit if more people purchase their wines. Georgia, which is still recovering from when Russia controlled the country, would also benefit from more people buying their wines. With our wallets and pocket books, we can help to bring about positive change.

Your support of wines from these regions should be easy because these countries are making plenty of delicious and interesting wines, often from unique and indigenous grapes. They often have lengthy wine histories, extending thousands of years into the past. They produce all types of wines, reds, whites, rosé, sparkling, dessert, fortified, and more. Wine lovers can learn so much by exploring these regions. I've introduced numerous people to wines from these regions and most often receive positive feedback from these people.

I strongly urge you to read Peter's article and then give much more consideration to which wines you purchase. Try to support and improve these regions by purchasing their wines, as well as spreading the word about their wines. If you are so inclined, become more of an advocate for these wines, becoming an unofficial ambassador. I'll continue my own passionate advocacy, maybe with an added impetus of being more of a wine activist. Please join me in this endeavor.

As Peter concludes, "Wine transcends borders and bridges cultures, and it can be used to improve lives if we make the right purchases."

Thursday, September 14, 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) It's that time again, the Annual Heirloom Tomato Celebration at Bistro 5 in Medford. From Wednesday, September 13th through September 28th, Chef Vittorio Ettore and team will offer seasonal favorites, highlighting the Tomato, into 5 different dishes, including a dessert. Every year, Chef Vittorio Ettore and team put in countless hours trying to come up with unique ways to incorporate the tomato and they always create some amazing dishes. Bistro 5 is an excellent restaurant year-round, but the tomato celebration is always special.

Heirloom Tomato Tasting Menu 
--Tartare of pineapple and plum tomatoes, with avocado and olive bread chips
2016 nortico, alvarinho, portugal
--Escargots with speckled roman tomato brulee, saffron bubbles, and pancetta dust
2015 gilbert picq, chablis
--Lobster pappa al pomodoro with green zebra tomato, with cucumber and radish
2016 valentino ‘mucci’, rosato, cerasuolo d’bruzzo
--Duck breast with compressed carbon tomatoes, with chanterelles, dauphine potatoes, and corn puree
2013 marco bonfante ‘stella rossa’, barbera d’asti
--Basil torta with persimmon tomato gelato, meringue, and lemon cremeux
2015 felton road, riesling, new zealand

Cost: 3 courses $55 (with wine pairings $20 more), 5 courses $75 (with wine pairings $30 more)
**All our heirloom tomatoes are sourced from Kimball Farms in Pepperell**
To make Reservations, please call 781-395-7464

2) Paella rocks! Such a classic Spanish dish and I love it, from the crispy rice to the tender seafood. Just look at that amazing picture above of a huge Paella pan. Thus, I was excited to learn about an upcoming Paella Showdown between two famed Boston chefs. In such a showdown, the attendees can't lose, getting to enjoy two different Paella recipes.

On Monday, September 25, starting at 6:30pm, you can witness Paella on the Porch Showdown: Chris vs Jamie at The Automatic, located at 50 Hampshire Street, Cambridge. Chef Chris Schlesinger will face off against Chef Jamie Bissonette in a pugilistic cook-off to see which chef can create the Best Paella!

Chris Schlesinger, a James Beard award-winning chef, founder of East Coast Grill and author of several books, opened The Automatic with his friend, legendary bartender Dave Cagle. Chris's Paella recipe has become famous, even featured in The New York Times. Jamie Bissonette, who is also a James Beard award-winning chef, can brag about his Paella too. He headlined this year’s Food &Wine Classic in Aspen, showcasing his Paella to the crowds.

As they say, There Can Only Be One Paella On The Porch Champion!

Chris said, “I welcome Jamie to our patio for the ultimate paella cookoff. There’s a deep sense of camaraderie in the Boston chef community, and this will be a whole lot of fun!

And Jamie has said, “I can't wait to throwdown with Chris this year. It's such an awesome event and I'm stoked to be a part of it all."

Price: $45.00/per person, includes food and one glass of Ameztoi Rosato. Guests will vote for the Champion Paella.
To make Reservations, please call 617-714-5226. I suspect this will sell-out quickly so I recommend making reservations quickly.

3) On Monday, September 18, at 7:30pm, Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca Chef Mario LaPosta and his team of sommeliers invite guests to join them in welcoming Michele Bernetti, son of founder Massimo Bernetti of estate Umani Ronchi, who will be showcasing his wines alongside Chef LaPosta’s menu. Bernetti will be bringing a few bottles that are not available in the US, but will come directly from the winery’s cellar.

The featured menu/wines will include:
Focaccia w/ Caciocavallo & Salumi
Calamari Fritti
2016 Umani Ronchi Terre di Chieti Pecorino
Maccheroni alla Chitarra with Lobster, Brown Butter, Butternut squash
2012 Umani Ronchi Casal di Serra Vecchie Vigne Verdicchio
Pecorino-crusted Lamb (Sweet Pepper Marmellata)
2010 Umani Ronchi 'Pelago'
2014 Umani Ronchi 'Jorio'
Apple SottoSopra (Brown Butter Gelato)
NV Umani Ronchi MAXIMO

Cost: Tickets are $95 and can be purchased by logging onto

4) Kings Dining and Entertainment’s 1200 employees, in 10 locations in 5 states, commit to fundraising for hurricane relief and will be donating proceeds from various promotions to hurricane relief efforts. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Irma and Jose, Kings Dining & Entertainment will be hosting a fundraising drive throughout September to help their neighbors affected in the south.

Kings, which has locations in Doral, FL, Orlando, FL and Raleigh, NC, has felt the effects of these hurricanes firsthand and has seen the devastation they have caused their guests and supporters. Kings is determined, through its charitable arm: Kings Cares™, to work with their employees and the communities they operate in to raise money to donate to the American Red Cross disaster relief.

There are multiple ways to give back, and have fun while doing so. The following options will be available at all Kings MA locations starting on September 13th:

--Monday, September 18 and Monday, September 25: 50% of Kings’ gaming sales will go directly to hurricane relief efforts. Bowl for Hurricane Relief bracelets will be available at each of Kings’ locations for $5 each, with all profits going directly to relief efforts.
--For every $10 that any Kings’ guest donates through Kings’ “Bowl for Hurricane Relief” GoFundMe page (, that guest will be entered into a raffle to win a King Pin Room party at the Kings location of their choosing.
--For every corporate event booked at Kings between September 25th and September 29th, Kings will donate $100 to hurricane relief efforts.
--Kings locations are available to partner with individuals to host group fundraisers at Kings to support hurricane relief.

Additional details can be found at

5) Chef/Owner Matt O’Neil, of the new Ledger restaurant in Salem, in conjunction with Executive Chef Daniel Gursha, Chef de Cuisine Craig White, and Pastry Chef Michelle Boland, is starting Sunday Brunch on Sunday, September 17. Available weekly from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Ledger’s brunch menu remains true to the restaurant’s mission of serving New England-inspired dishes elevated by today’s resources and culinary techniques.

Pastry Chef Boland will serve an array of decadent, fresh-from-the-oven-treats like gooey Cinnamon Rolls, warm Banana Bread, and “Jordan Marsh” Blueberry Muffins, along with a rotating selection of homemade Donuts. Ranging in price from $11 to $24, Ledger’s hearty brunch dishes consist of evolutions and riffs on famous classics, with highlights including Banana Bread “Foie-sters” (griddled banana bread, rum caramel sauce, seared bananas, and house-made foie gras butter),  Chicken and Waffles (buttermilk fried chicken, corn waffles, green chile butter, honey hot sauce, pickles), House-Cured Pastrami Hash (hot-smoked Creekstone brisket, fried egg, Sparrow Arc breakfast potatoes), Prime Skirt Steak Frites (green pepper & sunflower relish, two fried eggs, Sparrow Arc breakfast potatoes), and a baked-to-order Buttermilk Pancake (candied nuts, crème fraiche, Morningwood maple, and macerated fresh fruit) $12.

There will also be some brunch sandwiches including a Breakfast Burger (North Country bacon, fried egg, cheddar, smoked hollandaise, brioche bun) $19, mammoth EBLGT (fried egg, North Country bacon, farm lettuce, fried green tomato, aioli, brioche) $11, Open-Face English Muffin (Ducktrap smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, chiles, red onion, farm greens (+$10 for caviar) $15, and Sausage and Biscuits (housemade breakfast sausage, buttermilk biscuit, scrambled egg, sweet pepper) $14, all accompanied by crispy Sparrow Arc breakfast potatoes and a tangy dill pickle spear.

Brunch cocktails include the 22 oz. Bloody Mary, (secret recipe) along with the Apple Pie Mimosa (French vanilla vodka, caramel, apple cider, prosecco), Banana Bread (caramel-infused vodka, banana liqueur, Frangelico, cream, cinnamon pecan rim), Not Your Average Mimosa (orange-infused vodka, orange juice, bitters, champagne) Sunrise On Washington (grapefruit vodka, Aperol, champagne), and refreshing Paloma (platinum tequila, lime, grapefruit soda, salt rim), along with a duo of Red and White Sangrias.

To make a reservation, please call 978-594-1908

6) Six years ago, I asked Where Is The Filipino Love? I lamented the lack of Filipino restaurants in Boston and Cambridge, noting the tiny amount of Filipino restaurants throughout the U.S. Since that time, there have been small inroads into bringing Filipino cuisine to the Boston area, and a new group is hoping to continue introducing Bostonians to this complex and compelling cuisine.

BOSFilipinos has recently launched with a mission to "connect the Greater Boston area to the Filipino community through content (expect tons of food) and programming." Their site has a blog about all matter Filipino as well as a list of upcoming Events.

They will be hosting their first pop-up in a couple of weeks, on Monday, September 25, at Saus, located at 33 Union Street, Boston. There will be two seatings, one at 6pm and the other at 8:15pm.

The tasting menu will be presented by Chef Roland Calupe, from the Milagros Project, and looks amazing, including:

--Scallop Kinilaw (local scallops marinated in coconut vinegar, chili, and herbs)
--Ilocos Empanada (fried empanada made of rice flour and annatto with vigan style pork sausage, green papaya, and egg)
--Pancit Molo (savory wonton dumpling soup with shrimp, pork, and garlic)
--Chicken Inasal Steam Bun (grilled chicken marinated in lemongrass annatto and garlic in a steam bun with scallions and aioli)
--Pork Rib Adobo (braised pork ribs in soy sauce, spiced vinegar, palm sugar, bay leaves, and peppercorn)
--Sinangag (a Filipino meal wouldn’t be complete without garlic rice)
--Leche Flan with Lavender Ube Halaya (sweet egg custard with lavender scented purple yam sauce)
*Unfortunately, for this event, there will be no substitutions available.

Cost: $65 per person
Tickets can be purchased here:

7) On Wednesday, September 20th, from 7pm-10pm, Bar Boulud and Chef Daniel invite guests to celebrate the greater breadth of France’s culinary heritage with a five-course Rhône Valley Wine Dinner, featuring elegant and focused pours from Domaine Yves Cuilleron.

Pairing hand-selected varietals with regionally-inspired dishes from Chef de Cuisine Michael Denk and Pastry Chef Robert Differ, the menu will showcase French countryside classics. The five-course Rhône Valley Wine Dinner will be served as follows:

Soupe de Châtaignes (chestnuts, celery, Swiss chard, sausage caillette)
Yves Cuilleron, Marsanne, Collines Rhodaniennes, 2016
Homard aux Choux (lobster, Savoy cabbage, grapes, coral custard)
Yves Cuilleron, Saint Joseph Blanc, Digue, 2015
Loup de Mer (fig, fennel, sauce Syrah)
Yves Cuilleron, Syrah, Collines Rhodaniennes, 2015
Canard aux Navets (roasted duck breast, turnips, glazed onions, mushrooms, sauce au sang)
Yves Cuilleron, Saint-Joseph, L’Amarybelle, 2014
Yves Cuilleron, Côte-Rôtie, Madinière, 2014
Bombe au Chocolat de Lyon (genoise cake, ganache, praline ice cream)
Tarte aux Pommes (crème fraîche)

COST: $175 for five-course menu with wine pairings (Ticket price includes tax and gratuity)
Tickets are available on

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Mooncusser Fish House: Initial Impressions

Excellent seafood is becoming more and more common in the Boston area as a number of new seafood restaurants have been opening within the last few years. One of the latest openings, at the end of July, was Mooncusser Fish House, located in the Back Bay. Ian Calhoun and Vincent Vela, who previously opened 80 Thoreau in Concord, have now chosen to open a seafood restaurant in Boston.  80 Thoreau Chef Carolyn Johnson has also brought her culinary skills to Mooncusser and the result of this collaboration is dish after dish of compelling seafood creations.

Mooncusser is actually divided into two parts, the Moon Bar located on the first floor and the actual Mooncusser Fish House on the second floor. The Moon Bar, pictured above, is the more casual dining area while the upstairs is more high-end. The upstairs area has a minimalist design aesthetic with several large windows that look out onto Columbus Avenue.

Recently, I dined at Mooncusser with a couple good friends, Adam and Andrew, and I wanted to provide some initial impressions of the restaurant. This is not a comprehensive review, especially as the restaurant has been open for less than two months, but I wanted to bring attention to the restaurant based on my dining experience. I've long encouraged people to eat more seafood so I'm always pleased to see a new seafood restaurant which hopefully will get more people enjoying fish and other seafood.

The wine list is compelling, diverse and interesting, with plenty of classic wines, from Bordeaux to Barolo, while also celebrating less common wines, from Spanish Txakoli to Greek Moschofilero. The list is long, without being overwhelming, and should please a wide range of wine lovers. It helps if you know the usual retail prices of the wines on the list (or can Google them) as the mark-up seems to vary dependent on the specific wine. You'll find a fair share of wines that are more reasonably priced at about twice the average retail, with others are closer to three times.

We began our evening with a bottle of Grower Champagne, the 2008 Pierre Gimmonet "Cuvee Gastronome" 1er Cru ($120). I've visited this winery before and love their portfolio of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes. And this bubbly didn't disappoint, with lots of crisp acidity, fine bubbles, complex flavors and a satisfying finish. And as this wine retails for $60-65, the mark-up is very reasonable.

Later in the evening, we also ordered a bottle of an Austrian wine, the 2008 Pichler Riesling Smaragd. A superb Riesling, it was dry with lots of acidity, stony minerality, and delicious peach and apple flavors. Lots of complexity made each taste bring something different to my palate, and it paired very well with a variety of seafood.

We began our dining experience in the Moon Bar, thinking to have some wine and an appetizer or two, though we ended up sharing a number of small plates. The menu in the Moon Bar includes numerous Small Plates ($6-$15), and Sandwiches & Entrees ($15-$24). Of the 17 options, only 3 do not have any seafood such as Marinated Olives and Spicy Greens Salad. This is definitely a restaurant for primarily seafood lovers. They have also just started Lunch Service in the Moon Bar and the lunch menu is slightly different from the regular menu. One of the main differences is the addition of several salads, and you can add a variety of seafoods atop those salads.

Upstairs in Mooncusser, you can opt for a 5-Course Tasting Menu, or select your own dishes off the menu, which is divided into First Courses and Main Courses. There are 8 options for First Courses, priced $10-$18, and there are a couple of the same dishes found in the Moon Bar, but priced $1 more. You could opt for the Seared Gnocchi (with uni, chanterelles, mustard) or Pan Fried Soft Shell Crab. The only non-seafood option is the Baby Kale Salad. There are 9 choices for Main Courses, priced $28-$42. You could opt for Monkfish or Stuffed Skate, and they also have 3 non-seafood choices including Lamb, Guinea Hen, and Stuffed Squash.

At the Moon Bar, with our Champagne, we ordered a number of dishes, revelling in the seafood. The Fried Scallop Ravioli ($15) are made with potato & chives and include a side of green goddess sauce. The Ravioli were light and crispy, with a tender, sweet piece of scallop within. Very tasty.

The Smoked Salmon Choux Buns ($6), a warm choux with chives & paprika, were light with an intriguing smoky flavor accompanying the salmon flavor. Kind of a savory seafood donut which worked well.

The Grilled Squid ($15) comes with escarole, cranberry beans, charred corn, parsley, chili, lemon, and corn aioli. The squid was tender and flavorful and the rest of the dish seemed fresh and clean.

The Grilled Swordfish Souvlaki ($17, though this dish was comped to us) is made with garlic, oregano, lemon, cucumber, tomatoes, chickpeas, yogurt, and pita. They use the swordfish belly so it is very tender and moist, with nice charred bits. Again, everything was very fresh on the plate and this would be a healthy and delicious option.

The Smoked Salmon Pate ($12), made with horseradish, dill, dijon, & lemon and accompanied by walnut toast, was another winner. The creamy pate burst with flavor, and the nuttiness in the bread was an intriguing addition.

The Fish Tacos ($18) are made with beer-battered fish-of-the-day, cabbage slaw, cilantro, red onion pickles and Thoreau sauce (which is on their burger at 80 Thoreau). Tasty tacos with lightly battered, moist and tender white fish, and fresh toppings.

We finally adjourned to the second floor, to Mooncusser itself. Two of us opted for a First course of the Mooncusser Chowder ($12), made with skate, clams, smoked scallop, creme fraiche, & barley crackers. This was quite a large bowl of chowder and I loved the complex flavors within this chowder. It wasn't overly thick or thin, just the right consistency, and there was plenty of seafood within its depths. This was probably one of the best values on the menu and highly recommended.

Another friend ordered the Scallop Tartare ($16), made with corn, purslane, & truffle. You don't often see Scallop Tartare and I got to taste this dish, finding it to be delicious, with silky scallop, enhanced by the sweet corn and truffle accents.

For a Main Course, two of us ordered the Grilled Tuna ($40), with wild rice, walnuts, & peaches. The two large pieces of tuna were cooked perfectly, seared on the outside and raw within, and it was silky and tender, rich and flavorful. And the peaches were amazing, a nice sear on the outside with lots of juicy sweetness within.

And our other friend chose the Whole Grilled Black Bass ($40), with saffron, cherry tomatoes, & chickpeas. Again, this was a perfectly cooked fish, with plenty of tender white flesh within.

Everyone should be eating more seafood as it is one of the healthiest foods you can consume. And Mooncusser delivers with plenty of delicious and interesting seafood dishes. Chef Carolyn Johnson has created an intriguing and tasty menu, which isn't a surprise considering her great work at 80 Thoreau.

Have you been to Mooncusser, and if so, what were your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

2013 Psagot’s Edom: Nectar of Israel

Israeli wines suffer from an image problem, and many wine stores contribute to this issue though it probably isn't a conscious intent. Many consumers equate Israeli wines with only Kosher wines, so they will choose to ignore Israeli wines unless they are actively seeking a Kosher wine. Many wine stores separate their wines by country or region, such as France or California. Yet when it comes to Israeli wines, these same stores generally don't have an "Israel" section but they have a "Kosher" section," where all the Israeli wines are placed. So why wouldn't an uninformed consumer consider all Israeli wines to be Kosher?

Although many Israeli wines are Kosher, recent years have seen a surge of Israeli wines, especially produced by boutique wineries, imported into the U.S. which are not Kosher. These wines are worthy of being placed in their own regional section, and not hidden in a wine store under the Kosher label. I've tasted a number of these wines, finding many to be high quality and delicious. It is time consumers learned more about these Israeli wines. It is also time that wine lovers embraced quality Kosher wines just because they are tasty wines.

Wine making in Israeli extends back to biblical times but when Muslims eventually took control of the region, winemaking took a serious hit, especially when Muslims tore up many of the vines, destroying the indigenous grapes of the region. It wasn't until the late 19th century that winemaking returned, due to the efforts of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Sir Moses Montefiore. It isn't a surprise that they planted French varietals in Israel, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Chardonnay. It is those type of grapes which still dominate in the vineyards of Israel.

Na’ama & Yaakov Berg planted some vineyards in 1998, founding the Psagot Winery in 2003. The term "Psagot" translates in Hebrew as "peaks" and also refers to an Israeli settlement, in the West Bank, located on Mount Tawil. This settlement was established in 1981, receiving its name not only because it was located near the peak of the mountain, but also because the settlement was intended to reach a "peak" in settlement and the study of the Torah. The winery is located in this region, with a fantastic view of the Wadi Kelt and the Edom mountains. There are also several other wineries in this region.

One of the more unique aspects of the Psagot winery is that they have two barrel storage cellars, one which is a more modern version, and the other which is in a cave that dates back to the Second Temple era (530 BEC-70 CE). This cave was found to contain some ancient winemaking equipment. The replica coin depicted on their wine label is a copy of an actual coin (from 66 CE-73 CE) that was found when they were excavating the cave. The cave maintains a 90% humidity and temperatures up to 18 degrees Celsius.

Currently, the wine produces about 10 different types of wine, with a total annual production of approximately 300,000 bottles, exporting about 65% of that production. They produce a number of single varietal wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Shiraz and Chardonnay, as well as a Bordeaux blend and a Port-style wine.

I received a media sample of their Bordeaux blend, the 2013 Psagot’s Edom ($35), which is a blend of 63% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then underwent malolactic fermentation in French and American oak barrels. It was finally matured in French and American oak for about 14 months.

The wine possesses a deep red (almost purple) color, and an appealing nose of dark berries and mild spice. On the palate, it is a full-bodied wine with smooth, well-integrated tannins, and lush, enticing flavors. There are rich flavors of ripe plum, blackberry and black cherry, accented by intriguing spice notes, hints of vanilla, and a touch of minerality. This well-balanced and complex wine drinks easily and ends with a lengthy, satisfying finish. Though you could enjoy this wine on its own, it also would pair well with hearty foods, from roast lamb to a pasta Bolognese. I enjoyed this wine with grilled burgers and it worked well together.

For those concerned with such matters, this wine is Kosher, but I hope most people see this as an Israeli wine and not just a Kosher wine. This is a wine that most wine lovers would enjoy and which deserves a place on their table. As people begin to start drinking more full-bodied reds as the temperatures drop this fall, the 2013 Psagot Edom would be an excellent choice!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Rant: Without Hospitality, A Restaurant Fails

"Hospitality is the virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity."
--Chevalier Louis de Jaucourt in Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers

In short, hospitality is the warm, friendly reception and treatment of your guests. It is important in many areas, including restaurants, but it doesn't seem everyone understands its vital role. That failure can have a negative impact on a restaurant's bottomline so a restaurant owner needs to ensure that hospitality is a crucial element of their operations. It is said to be part of the hospitality industry.  However, it may sound simple, but sometimes it isn't, and mainly through those blind to the potential problems.

Anyone working at a restaurant in the front of the house is responsible, for one degree or another, for providing hospitality. This is certainly obvious for the host/hostess and servers, but also includes the bartender, sommelier, manager, and even the owner, if they spend time in the front of the restaurant. It doesn't matter how good a restaurant's food and drink, if their hospitality is lacking, it will end up turning away customers. And those people will likely complain to others about the lack of hospitality which could lead to the loss of even more potential customers.

This post was spurred on by a recent discussion with some good friends about specific restaurants and hospitality. Mention was made of the owner of a high-end restaurant who is seen as brusque and impersonal as well as the sommelier at another high-end restaurant who seems detached at times, and fails to present the type of warm hospitality you expect at such a place. Both restaurants have excellent food and drink, but these prominent individuals, who fail to provide a high measure of hospitality, can turn away customers who otherwise would frequent such restaurants.

Naming names won't accomplish anything so don't even ask. If you've been to those restaurants, it should be more than evident there is a problem. What I am hoping is that all restaurants take a new look at themselves and ensure they are working hard to present the best hospitality that they can. Examine all of your staff, including yourself, to ensure you are coming across as personable and friendly. Some people, because of their personalities, may not be the best for the front of the house. If they can't change, to learn to do better, they maybe they should be moved to another position.

People dine out not just for food and drink, but for the experience. They want to be treated well, as a beloved guest, so if the hospitality is lacking, their experience suffers. And they won't want to repeat such a failed experience. Have your chef make the best food possible, have your sommelier compile a killer wine list, have your bartender concoct an awesome cocktail program, but don't forget the importance of hospitality.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Direct Wine Shipping & Local Wine Shops

As we near the holiday season, we approach the time when wine stores generally make their greatest amount of sales, their most profitable period of the year. Consumers tend to buy more wine for holiday parties and gifts. They are more willing to splurge, and purchase more expensive bottles of wine. I've worked at a local wine shop for a number of holiday seasons and have witnessed this consumer surge. Staff recommendations to customers become very important.

It is also during this season that I've written a number of articles, providing advice to consumers on selecting wine. Much of that advice involves choosing the right wine store and relying on the expertise of the wine shop staff in helping make your selections. I've been very supportive of local, independent wine stores however it isn't a blind support. My support, of any person, company of institution, needs to be earned and there will be issues where I hold a different opinion than wine stores. That certainly has come to the forefront this week.

On Monday, I posted Rant: MA Wine Lovers, We Urgently Need Your Help!, throwing my support behind bill, H3891, sponsored by Representative John Lawn, Jr., which would allow Massachusetts residents to "purchase and have shipped to them wine from out-of-state wine stores, Internet retailers, wine auction houses and wine-of-the-month clubs." There is a hearing on this bill scheduled for September 12, and I urged wine lovers to support this bill by sending emails to the Committee members prior to the hearing. And a number of them did so, as well as sharing the post for greater exposure.

However, I also heard, both online and offline, from a number of wine store owners, all essentially opposed to this bill. The basis of their opposition is that they fear they will lose business if this bill becomes law. In addition, so far, none of them has provided any facts or statistics to support their allegations. There is nothing to indicate what percentage of business, if any, they might lose to direct shipments of wine. Are their fears unfounded?

Even if Bill H3891 doesn't become law this time, it is only a matter of time before a similar law will be enacted. Back in 2006, a law was passed that barred many wine shipments from entering Massachusetts but it was later ruled unconstitutional, a decision affirmed by the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010. Since that time, Massachusetts alcohol laws have been expanding, making numerous changes to the industry, from expanding the number of liquor licenses a single entity can possess to BYOB in Boston. As well as the recent change that permitted out-of-state wineries to directly ship to Massachusetts consumers. It is inevitable that the law will change to allow all direct wine shipments, and not just from wineries.

Back in 2014, as the bill to allow direct shipment from wineries was being considered, I already indicated that I hoped the law would also change to allow direct wine shipments from out-of-state wineries and online retailers. So, my support of the idea behind Bill H3891 shouldn't surprise anyone.  And in January 2016, I posted Rant: No Predictions, Only Desires, and stated: "Massachusetts has slowly been releasing the reins on wine control so there is much of which to be hopeful. A law was finally passed permitting wineries to ship to consumers in Massachusetts but we still need a law allowing online and out of state, brick & mortar retailers to ship to Massachusetts consumers. Let's see a push for this expansion in the wine shipping law."

Some of the latest statistics behind Direct to Consumer Wine Shipping come from an annual collaboration between ShipCompliant by Sovos and Wines & Vines, in the 2017 Direct To Consumer Wine Shipping Report. DtC wine shipments, despite their growth, still constitute only a small percentage of wine sales. The top five states that avail themselves of DtC wine shipments include California 31%, Texas 9%, New York 6%, Washington 5%, and Florida 5% with only 1.6% of DtC sales from Massachusetts.

In 2015, the first year Massachusetts allowed DtC wine shipments, the total value of those shipments was about $27.5M, and in 2016, that amount increased to about $39M. The average price of the wine shipped to Massachusetts was $41.79, which is higher than the country-wide average of $38.69. Massachusetts wine lovers are tending to purchase higher end wines directly from wineries. The report predicts that, "The state will likely see above average growth in 2017, but nothing astronomical."

The report also notes in its conclusions primary reason for the expansion of DtC channels, "That said, growth in the DtC shipping channel is reflective of changes in the wine industry itself. In particular, the ongoing consolidation of the wholesale distribution tier and the continued difficulty small and medium-sized wineries have in gaining access to wholesale distribution are important factors in wineries’ increased reliance and focus on direct shipments. The wholesaler consolidation will likely drive increased DtC shipping going forward." Over the year, I've spoken to numerous wineries who have indicated their frustration in trying to find a wholesaler who will sell and give sufficient attention to their wines.

As such, there are thousands of wines available in the U.S. which cannot be purchased in Massachusetts. There are plenty of wine lovers who want access to those wines, who want the ability to purchase any wine that is available in the U.S. Why shouldn't they have such access? As the current DtC statistics indicate, DtC shipping is still only a tiny percentage of wine sales and most people are opting for higher end wines. Allowing DtC wine shipping won't shut down local, independent wine shops. Such stores face a far greater threat from local, big-box wine stores than DtC wine shipping.

Good local, independent wine shops are needed, providing experienced staff to help make wine recommendations. And I have long supported such good shops. Over ten years ago, in the second post to my blog, I wrote Choosing a Wine Store, and it remains as relevant now as it did back then. The article provides my criteria for wine stores, from Selection to Service. Each year, in my annual Favorite posts such as 2016: Favorite Wine-Related Items, I provide some specific recommendations for my Favorite Wine Stores and Favorite Discount Wine Stores.

I've also give consumers plenty of advice on purchasing wine. In my Rant: The Best Way To Buy Wine, I state that "... my best advice is to ask the wine store owner, manager or employee for advice on selecting your wines. It is simple advice but can be extremely effective, with the caveat that you need to shop at the right wine store." In my Rant: The Lazy Way Of Buying Wine As A Gift, I continue that advice, "What you should do is stop at your local wine shop and ask for recommendations, for more unusual and different wines, for wines that are excellent values."

And in Rant: Holiday Wines--Don't Be A Cheapskate, I address the question of "How do you find these inexpensive but interesting wines?" First, "...the easiest path is to seek out one of the better discount wine stores," and I provide a few specific recommendations. Second, I mention that,"At whatever wine shop you visit, it might be best to ask the wine store staff for recommendations of value wines. They should be able to direct you toward those inexpensive wines which will be more interesting and delicious than those cheap commercial wines."

I've also jumped into the discussion of big-box wine stores in my Rant: Total Wine, Low Prices & Consumers. "To me, the best alcohol retail stores possess three key elements: a diverse & interesting selection, good service with knowledgeable staff, and reasonable pricing. The only way to find wines, beers, and spirits from such small wineries, breweries and distilleries, is at the smaller, more independent wine stores. We should cherish the diversity that is available at these retailers, expanding our palate beyond just the major national brands. In addition, by supporting these smaller alcohol retailers, you are giving your support to those smaller wineries, breweries and distilleries. They need your support, so they can continue to produce their interesting and diverse beverages."

Direct to Consumer Wine Shipments are inevitable and wine stores must find ways to deal with it. Currently, it doesn't appear that such shipments will have a significant impact on local wine stores, certainly nowhere near as much of an impact as the growth of big-box wine stores. These shipments will help wine lovers gain access to many thousands of previously unavailable wines. However, those same wine lovers will still patronize their local wine shops, and there are multiple reasons why that will occur. Yes, I support local, independent wine stores but I don't see these direct wine shipments as a serious threat to them.