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 https://umanironchidinner.splashthat.com

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 (Gofundme.com/kingscares), 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 http://www.KingsCares.com.

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: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/milagros-project-bosfilipinos-filipino-food-pop-up-tickets-37512451753

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 Eventbrite.com: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/rhone-valley-wine-dinner-with-chef-daniel-boulud-tickets-37254937521

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.

Thursday, September 7, 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) From September 14 to October 11, Legal Sea Foods’ will bring half-shell hedonism to mollusk mavens and oyster newbies during their ninth annual “Oyster Festival.” For four weeks, a sequence of in-restaurant menu features and a shuckout event will celebrate everything oysters and all are invited who share the belief “the world is your oyster.”

Bivalve specialties will be available for the duration of the Oyster Festival and include Fried Oysters (three for $10) in four preparations (buffalo, BBQ, Sriracha lime and BLT); Baked Oysters (three for $12) available in a quartet of options (lobster spinach, crab & cheese, scampi and roasted); Oyster Stew ($14.95); and, the Legal Sea Foods teams will shuck seasonal standouts at their raw bars daily for those who opt to go au natural. Legals also suggests washing it down with the official drink of the 2017 Oyster Festival, the Skiff Cocktail, with Absolut Vodka, aromatized wine, lemon, botanicals and celery bitters ($11).

On September 16 at 2pm, Legal Sea Foods’ al fresco Charles Terrace (20 University Road, Cambridge) will host their annual “Shellfish Shindig” event that has shucked oysters by the bushel for only $1 per slurp. First-come, first-served; get 'em while they last! (Complimentary admission.) In the event of rain, the “Shellfish Shindig” event will take place inside the atrium of the Charles Square restaurant.

The Oyster Festival is celebrated at all Legal Sea Foods locations throughout Massachusetts, with the exception of airport venues.

2) On Tuesday, September 12, at 7pm, Ledger, a progressive new restaurant conceptualized by Chef Matt O’Neil and located in the heart of historic downtown Salem, will host acclaimed Chef Maria Sinskey of Napa’s renowned Robert Sinskey Vineyards for an intimate five-course wine dinner featuring the cuisine of Executive Chef Daniel Gursha and Chef de Cuisine Craig White.

Guests in attendance will not only enjoy five exquisite courses artfully prepared with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, each paired with a hand-selected varietal from Sinskey’s Napa Valley vineyard; they’ll leave knowing the exciting story behind each pour, along with insider knowledge of what it takes go from vine, to vintage.

A true reflection of the restaurant’s commitment to serving traditional 19th century New England-inspired dishes elevated by today’s resources and culinary techniques, the menu will be presented as follows:

1st Course
Salad of Summer Melons (stracciatella, speck, verbena dressing)
Pairing: Pinot Blanc Los Cameros 2013
2nd Course
Live Scallop Crudo (cherry, green apple, sunflower oil)
Pairing: Abraxas Vin de Terroir Scintilla Sonoma Valley Vineyard 2014
3rd Course
Confit Duck Leg (mulled cherry, celery root, lacinato kale)
Pairing: Pinot Noir Los Cameros 2013
4th Course
North Star Smoked Lambchetta (huckleberry, local grains)
Pairing: POV Los Cameros 2012
5th Course
Pear Tarte Tatin (frangipane, pinot gris ice cream)
Pairing: Pinot Gris Late Harvest Los Cameros 2012

COST: $129 per guest (gratuity not included)
To make a Reservation, please call 978-594-1908

3) Every Wednesday, Kendall Square’s newly opened Sumiao Hunan Kitchen will be offering their twist on the classic Wing Wednesday deal by offering a complimentary order of their popular Nom Numb Wings with the purchase of a Tiki for Two cocktail. Combining Dewars White Label Scotch, Beefeater Gin, Mixed Juices and Cruzan 151, the Tiki for Two is a timelessly sweet, shareable drink that pairs perfectly with the spiciness of Sumiao’s Nom Numb Wings.

Seasoned with dried hot chili and peppercorn oil, Sumiao’s Nom Numb Wings are bursting with complex umami flavors. Whether a seasoned wing eater or not, guests are sure to love the robust, rich flavor of Sumiao’s Nom Numb Wings.

COST: Purchase one Tiki for Two cocktail ($30), receive one complimentary order of wings.

4) On Tuesday, September 12, from 7pm-9pm, Tavolo will host a special 9th Anniversary Party, celebrating all those years of serving high-quality Italian food, drinks, and hospitality in Dorchester's Peabody Square. Chris Douglas, chef/owner of Tavolo, was one of the pioneers in the South End as the chef/owner at Icarus, closing in 2009 after a 31-year run. He then opened Ashmont Grill and Tavolo, both a short walk from the Ashmont T Station on the Red Line.

Tavolo is a casual, neighborhood restaurant serving housemade pasta, pizza, and excellent Italian food. They recently completed an extensive renovation, including 2 gorgeous murals by local artist, April Clay. Weekly events include special Sunday Suppers (3 courses for $30), Monday and Tuesday cicchetti specials, trivia every Monday, and a weekly dinner on Wednesdays where chef chooses a region of Italy and highlights it with a 3-course meal for $30.

The 9th Anniversary Party will include fall menu samples from their new Executive Chef, Eric Buonagurio. Eric's first job at 17, was with Chef Jason Santos at Gargoyles on the Square in Somerville. He also worked with Jason at Blue Inc. (sous chef), Abby Lane (sous chef), and Back Bay Harry's as executive chef. Eric opened Parla in the North End as executive chef. Eric developed a passion for gardening and the outdoors at a young age, as his grandfather, father, and brothers shared their knowledge and experience. He is an avid gardener, hiker, and outdoorsman who has been foraging for wild mushrooms and herbs for 4 years.

Eric states: "I love produce and the gratification of starting a seed, nurturing the plant, and producing food from it. I'm passionate about being close to where food comes from and really trying to understand all aspects of cooking from sourcing the food, trying different techniques, and creating new dishes. I love the challenge of exploring new ingredients and flavors with the changing New England seasons. I'm excited about preparing food that tastes great, but is also beautifully presented. My priority at Tavolo is to cultivate strong relationships with local foragers and farmers like the folks at Langwater Farm in Easton, MA. They offer true, local organics and amazing produce that I'm proud to continue featuring on our menu."

There is no cover charge for the 9th Anniversary Party and there will be a cash bar.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo: A Killer Value

It's often said that it's easy to find an excellent $50 wine but it's much more difficult to find an excellent $10 wine. There are certainly plenty of wines available for $10-$15 but not all of them are of the same quality. The best of those value wines over-deliver for their price, and you would have paid, without question, even more money for those wines. It's always an exciting time when I find one such wine, an inexpensive wine that is both complex and delicious.

You can find a number of these excellent value wines coming from Spain, and the importer Vintae is distributing some of these values, such as these two White Wines. Back in 1999, José Miguel Arambarri Terrero started a winery in Spain, eventually enlisting the assistance of his sons, Ricardo and José Miguel. They eventually expanded their operations, adding wineries, and are now producing wine in 15 Denominations of Origin (D.O). Their overall company became known as Vintae and they export many of their wines to the U.S. I'm here to showcase another of their wines, a great value Garnacha, which I received as a media sample.

Proyecto Garnachas de Espana is a project started by winemaker Raul Acha, who is also the Technical Director of Vintae. Raul is from Rioja, where Garnacha was once the main grape before Tempranillo eventually took center stage. He wanted to resurrect the importance of Garnacha and searched other areas of Spain, mainly in the Ebro Valley, for the best Garnacha, seeking sites that would reflect the intriguing terroir of this grape. Part of the reason for the decline of Garnacha is that some feel it has a complicated viticulture and is more difficult for production. However, Garnacha can make some amazing wines so it is important to ensure this grape thrives.

I received a media sample of the 2015 Proyecto Garnachas de Espana La Garnacha Salvaje del Moncayo ($11.99), which is made from 100% Garnacha from the Valle del Ebro and has a 13.5% ABV. It is fermented in stainless steel and then is aged for five months in new French oak barrels. Initially, I found a more subtle aroma on this wine, mild fruity notes with hints of spice. On the palate, the wine immediately impressed, presenting delicious black fruit flavors, enhanced with a touch of earthiness and spice, and there was even some minerality beneath it all. The tannins were well integrated, presenting a smooth and easy drinking wine, with a moderately lengthy and satisfying finish. It didn't take long for us to finish this bottle.  

This is a killer value wine, presenting more complexity than many other wines at this price point. You could easily enjoy this on its own, or accompanied with food, from pizza to ribs. I enjoyed this wine with some burgers and it was a tasty pairing. This is the type of wine you should buy by the case, to ensure you always have a bottle on hand in case you have guests stop by your home.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Rant: MA Wine Lovers, We Urgently Need Your Help!

Massachusetts wine lovers, we urgently need your immediate assistance! It will only take about one minute and the potential benefits are great. 

In 2014, Massachusetts passed a Direct Shipment law, allowing out-of-state wineries to ship to consumers in the state. This was a great start and numerous wineries took advantage of this new law, acquiring licenses so that they could ship to local consumers. However, the law applies only to wineries and doesn't include out-of-state retailers. Thus, Massachusetts residents are still unable to order from online retailers or cool wine stores in other states.

However, that may change soon but your help is needed to enact this great and positive change.

Wine Freedom provides information about a new 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." Retailers would only need to acquire a license, for an initial fee of $300 and $150 in subsequent years, to be able to sell and ship to Massachusetts consumers.

What a great thing if this bill becomes law! You would be able to order almost any wine available in the U.S., vastly expanding your vinous choices. Under the current law, you can order from U.S. wineries, but opening up matters to online retailers and stores would also allow you to purchase international wines that have not previously been available in Massachusetts. We desperately need this bill to pass.

As an added bonus, Massachusetts would receive significant revenue from taxes on these wine shipments, which Wine Freedom states would be "upwards of $2 million." Obviously, the added revenue could assist our state budget, providing monies for programs that might otherwise had been cut or reduced.

On Tuesday, September 12, Bill H3891, which has been assigned to the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, is set for a hearing at 2 pm. Now, here is the part where we need your urgent assistance to "contact their members of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure now and urge them to support and sign on as a sponsor of this legislation." All you have to do is go to this webpage and take 30 seconds to fill out the form, which will get emailed to all of the committee members.

PLEASE, PLEASE FILL OUT THIS FORM! It takes almost no time to fill out this form and we need you to do so immediately, prior to the upcoming committee hearing on September 12. If you love wine, then why wouldn't you want access to thousands of additional wines that were previously unavailable to you? Expanding your wine choices benefits all of us. Massachusetts wine laws have been slowly changing, in a positive way, and we need to continue that streak by allowing direct shipment from not just wineries, but also wine retailers and stores across the country.

Join me and other wine lovers in Massachusetts and lend your support to this bill. All it takes is filling out the form on this webpage. It would also help if you spread the word, telling your family and friends to fill out this form too. We need as many people as possible to give their support to this bill and let the Committee know about our support.