Tuesday, October 31, 2017

An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal

(This is a revised/expanded version of a prior article I wrote on the history of Pechuga Mezcal. I've added a number of additional documented references to Pechuga, roughly doubling the prior amount, and also felt the history would benefit from standing on its own.)

Tequila gets far more publicity, as well as more shelf space at bars and restaurants, than Mezcal but Mezcal is more than worthy of your attention, being complex and intriguing, and often made by more traditional methods. In short, Mezcal is a distilled spirit from the agave plant and Tequila is actually a type of Mezcal, though the average consumer is probably unaware of that fact.

For some background information on Mezcal, please check out several of my prior Mezcal articles, including Rant: 400 Rabbits Say "Drink More Mezcal"Mezcal Bars in the Boston AreaMezcal & BeyondAmuleto Mexican Table, Mezcal Vago & "A Slap To The Face", and Ten Reasons To Drink Mezcal. With this new article, I want to concentrate on a more unique version of Mezcal known as Pechuga.

Pechuga is basically a flavored version of Mezcal in which one of the steps of the distillation process includes some type of meat. The Spanish term "pechuga" basically translates as "breast" and commonly refers to a "chicken breast" though it can also refer to the breast of any type of poultry. Despite the name, Pechuga is not limited to the use of poultry. Currently, you'll find versions of Pechuga made from a variety of animals, including turkey, deer, goat, cow, pig, rabbit and even iguana.

Was chicken breast the first type of meat to be used to produce Pechuga? Currently, the answer is unknown though the earliest known documented reference to Pechuga mentions chicken. Obviously Pechuga was invented some time before the earliest written reference so we cannot say for a surety that chicken was the first meat used to create Pechuga. A different meat could have been used for the first Pechugas yet maybe then there was a change at some point to the use of chicken. Maybe chicken was less expensive than other options.

My own theory, which needs far more evidence, is that turkeys may have been the first animals used in the making of Pechuga. The turkey is native to Mexico while the chicken was an import brought by the Spaniards. Turkeys were, and still are, eaten and used in numerous Zapotec rituals, while turkeys and their eggs were also commonly given as gifts for celebratory occasions. Pechuga is often said to be commonly consumed for holidays and celebratory occasions so why wouldn't the symbolic-rich turkey be used? Far more research into that question is needed.

To make Pechuga, a Mezcal is commonly distilled for a third time with a raw piece of meat suspended inside the still. In addition, various fruits, herbs, nuts, grains and/or spices are added into the still. Pechuga is sometimes referred to as a harvest Mezcal as it is commonly produced during November to January, when the wild fruits are ripe, such as apples, plums, red plantains, pineapples, and more. The specific recipe of that melange of ingredients will vary from mezcalero to mezcalero and as there is no legal definition for Pechuga, the recipes can be quite diverse.

The base Mezcal is usually produced from Espadin agave, as it is one of the most common, hearty and least expensive agaves. Placing all of the various ingredients into the Mezcal will tend to overwhelm any subtlety of the agave so it would make little sense to use some of the rarer agave varieties to make Pechuga. The heat of the still will cook the meat and the vapors will pass through and into the meat. Sometimes, a few mezcaleros will conduct this process during the second distillation instead of adding a third.

How does the meat affect the taste of the Mezcal? Some claim the meat helps to mellow and soften the Mezcal, and others state it gives the Mezcal a fuller body. If you taste a Pechuga, you probably won't be able to identify the specific type of meat that was used, but will likely detect more savory notes, and possibly even some gamier elements. Every Pechuga I've tasted has been intriguing and delicious, as well as very different from all the others.

Though Pechuga is relatively rare, it can be found in the U.S. market, primarily due to the work of Ron Cooper of Del Maguey. Around 1999, Cooper, after a few years of fighting the bureaucracy, was the first to bring Pechuga into the U.S. market. Currently, they sell two Pechugas, one made with chicken and the other with Iberico ham. Since then, a number of other Mezcal producers, including Pierde Almas (using a rabbit),  El Jolgorio (using a guajolote, a creole turkey rooster ), Wahaka (one also using a guajolote and another which is a vegan version), and Fidencio (using chicken breast). As Pechuga is made in small batches, it tends to be very pricey, and you can expect to pay $100-$300 a bottle. Some restaurants and bars sell Pechuga by the glass or a small cup so you can taste one without shelling out the money for an entire bottle.

The origins of Pechuga are murky, both its date of origin as well as the reasons behind its initial creation. When I initially surveyed the current information about Pechuga, there was some evidence that it reached back at least to the 1930s as there were glass bottles labeled Pechuga from this decade. As for printed evidence, the earliest was alleged to be a book from the 1950s which mentioned a Pechuga made from baby goat breast that was added during the second distillation. It seemed likely that Pechuga originated before the 1930s, but the evidence seemed lacking.

I decided to seek more evidence about Pechuga's origins, beginning with a search through some newspaper archives. I didn't have high expectations but knew the searches wouldn't take too long so it wasn't a major investment. My efforts quickly paid off as I uncovered a newspaper article from 1901 mentioning Pechuga! That alone was exciting but I then used that article as a springboard for deeper research, uncovering numerous other Pechuga references, especially in a number of Mexican newspapers and books.

At this time, I've discovered printed documentation of Pechuga extending back to 1864, meaning it is over 150 years old. In addition, I've located multiple printed references to Pechuga, ranging from 1864 to 1930, which provide more insight into this unique type of Mezcal. Despite my fascinating discoveries, there are still significant questions remaining about the history of Pechuga. Additional research is certainly needed to address the unknowns and I strongly suspect there is more to find out there.

The oldest documented reference to Pechuga that I found was from August 1864, indicating that the existence of Pechuga extends back over 150 years. In the Boletin de la Sociedad Mexicana de Geografia y Estadisticathere was a lengthy article, Memoria Sobre El Maguey Mexicano Y Sus Diversos Productos, written by D. Manuel Payno (August 1864). There is a passage in this article that stated: “El primer producto que se obtiene y que se llama vino ordinario, sufre una segunda destilacion, que pro duce el vino refino, que se expende en el comercio con un grado de 46° (Gay Lussac). Las primeras porcio nes que pasan en esta segunda destilacion, toman el nombre de flor primera, segunda, etc. Hay un vino que - rectifican añadiéndole gallina y no recuerdo qué otras cosas bien poco volátiles, que llaman vino de pechuga, el cual lo preparan solamente para regalo."

This passage mentions "vino de pechuga," which was made by adding chicken and other unstated ingredients. This is basically what we know as Pechuga, a Mezcal which adds meat and other ingredients. The passage also notes that this Pechuga was prepared only for a gift, something for a celebratory occasion, which is also something which fits much of what we know. Unfortunately, there were no other references to Pechuga in Payno's lengthy article.

One issue we may have with finding older references to Pechuga is that it might be difficult if the term "pechuga" is not used. At some point in history, a mezcalero decided to add meat to his Mezcal still and it may not have had a special name at that point. Who knows how many mezcaleros emulated this pioneer before someone finally decided to name it Pechuga? Then, we don't know how long it took after that for someone to mention Pechuga in a book or newspaper.

It's interesting that the next documented reference I found is from a Colorado newspaper, Out West (November 21, 1872), which provided a travelogue, written by Rosa Del Monte, who journeyed with a group to various parts of Mexico. At the Hacienda de Quesaria, the group had breakfast, checked out their sugar mill and were amazed by "chicken wine." As the passage states: “But the most remarkable product of the estate is “Chicken Wine.” As any-one may imagine, we greeted the member of the party who made the discovery with shouts of derision, but he stuck to his statement, and soon a bottle with “Vino de Pechuga” (the breast of a chicken) on the label was produced. We tasted the decoction, and found it very bad rum, with no perceptible taste of feathers. Three barrels, worth $36 the barrel, are made daily, and two chickens are boiled in every four gallons of the wine. Such is the fact—but the reason why remains a mystery to this day.”

This is a fascinating passage and the writer might have been confused as to the actual method of production of the Pechuga. This was likely created with Mezcal and not wine, as Pechuga is sometimes referred to as "vino de Pechuga," despite no actual wine being involved. It is also surprising that this Pechuga is allegedly made every day, and not just as a gift as mentioned in the Payno article. This is also the first time we have a price for Pechuga, $36 per barrel, though it is unsure whether that is in U.S. dollars or Mexican dollar.

During the 1870s, a number of Mexican newspapers printed ads for the sale of Pechuga, which seems to indicate it was being produced for more than just gifts. The El Padre Cobos (November 2, 1873), and in a number of other issues during the next few months, posted an ad: "Gran Lecheria! En la calle de la Alcaiceria entre los numeros 27 y 28 se vende leche pura garantizada desde las cinco de la manana adelante y chocolate superior de varias clases, al estilo de Guadalajara. Proximamente se recibera de esa ciudad un abudante surtido de vino de Pechuga febrido in Tequila, Frijol garbancillo y Cigarros de la Conchita y el Buen Gusto todo legitimo y a precios comodos."

This ad mentioned that an assortment of "Vino de Pechuga," which was made in Tequila, would soon be available for sale. This article thus indicates Pechuga was being made in the Tequila region, though there isn't any indication it was made exclusively in that area.

Later in that same newspaper, El Padre Cobos (January 18, 1874)and in a number of other issues during the next few months, posted a revised ad, noting "..: vino de Tequila comun y de pechuga, tan puro como no se ha tomado nunca en esta capital;.." This ad highlighted the high purity or quality of these products, including the Pechuga.

The El Libreto (January 4, 1875) also ran an ad for "... del Pechuga legitimo y Tequila puro de la mejor clase." This ad emphasized "legitimate" Pechuga, which could indicate that fake Pechuga was also being sold on the market.

An article in La Bandera Nacional (October 6, 1877) mentioned: "Hay alli un tequila, legitimo pechuga, que a los jalisciences les recuerda Jalisco, un vino de Papa Clemente, que hace sonar con el Vaticano, un jerez que entusiasma a los espanoles; pero mas que todo esto, se recomienda la amabilidad de quien despacha." This references "legitimate" Pechuga that reminds some people of a Sherry wine from Spain which is favored by the Pope. This is certainly high praise for the Pechuga, as well as raising once again the potential issue of fake Pechuga.

In La Libertad (March 13, 1878), and in a number of other issues during the next month, there is an advertisement mentioning: "...Tequila de Pechuga de la fabrica del inteligente Sabas Cruz. Por su gusto y aroma parece un balsamo, y no se sacia uno de saborearlo: tiene ademas virtudes medicinales." Besides mentioning once again that the Pechuga comes from Tequila, there is also the first reference to Pechuga possessing "medical virtues," though no specifics are provided.

Later that month, La Patria (March 31, 1878) noted that Jesus Flores won a prize at an exposition for his "vino de Pechuga." Unfortunately, the article didn't provide any additional details about this winning Pechuga but now we see that Pechuga was sometimes entered into competitions. More evidence of Pechuga at competitions will later be seen from other sources.

Almost a year later, La Patria (February 1, 1879) ran an advertisement from a seller, Nicolas Andrade, of Tequila and Pechuga. The ad lists the prices, in Mexican dollars, for various containers, from a cup to a barrel. It is interesting to see that Pechuga generally cost twice as much as Tequila. A cup of "Grande Tequila" costs $0.03 while a cup of Pechuga cost $0.06. A bottle of Tequila cost $0.37 while a bottle of Pechuga cost $1.00. A Jar of Tequila cost $3.50 while a Jar of Pechuga cost $7.00. A Barrel of Tequila cost $25.00 but there wasn't a price for Pechuga by the barrel. It is hard to say the reason for the higher cost of Pechuga, whether it was due more to rarity or whether it was because it was considered to be of higher quality. Or maybe a combination of both.

More prices were provided by the El Municipio Libre (April 3, 1879), in an advertisement by a liquor store. Mescal de Tierra Caliente cost $1.50 for a bottle and $20.00 for a Box (though there is no indication how much the box contains). Tequila Superior cost $3.00 for a bottle and $40.00 for a Box. And "Legitimate" Pechuga costs $7.00 for a bottle and $90.00 for a box. These prices are higher than the other advertisement though Pechuga is still the most expensive. What is also curious is that this ad states its Pechuga is "legitimate," continuing to raise the question whether some people were selling fake Pechuga. Maybe that is why the other seller's prices were so cheap.

La Patria (April 26, 1879) notes a recommendation for a vendor of "...en particular el exquisito vino pechuga para familias, que por sus virtudes higienicas ha merecidos el titulo de elixir mexicano:" The phrase "el elixir mexicano," the "Mexican elixir," was in italics. This is another reference to Pechuga being healthy for you, noting its "hygienic virtues," though once again, there are no specifics listed.

In 1880, Mariano Barcena presented a study, La 2. Exposicion de “Las Clases Productoras” y descripcion de la ciudad de Guadalajarato the Secretary of Development. There was a list under the heading, Bebidas Azucaradas y Otras, which included a number of Pechuga references, usually as "vino de Pechuga." There were also references to “vino de Pechuga y almendrado” (Pechuga and Almonds), “Pechuga Almendrado,” and “Pechuga Naranjado” (Orange Pechuga). These terms seem to indicate the additional ingredients added to the base Pechuga. It raises the question then whether originally Pechuga only contained chicken, or another meat, and not the fruits, nuts, and such known to be used to create later versions of Pechuga. This study also mentioned that Sr. D. Carlos G. Sancho presented a "very good" Pechuga.

Pechuga apparently was entered into international competitions, as noted in El Monitor Republicano (April 22, 1880) in the following passage: "Vino Tequila de Pechuga, Almendrado, llamado Vino de Tertulia, fabricado por Librado Escamilla, en Guadalajara, y premiado en la ultima Exposicion Universal de Paris. Conocidas ya las cualidades del Vino Tequila para la cuaracion de diarreas cronicas, anemia, malas digestiones, reumatismo, falta de apetito e irregularidades en las enfermmedades del sexo femenino, se hace mas recomendable la preparacion del Vino de Tertulia, porque su gusto exquisito lo hara agradable y facil de tomar a las Senoras y ninos."

This passage mentioned a "Pechuga Almendrado," which was also called Tertulia Wine and made by Librado Escamilla in Guadalajara. There is no explanation for why it is called "Tertulia," though that term translates as "gathering," and thus might be an indication that the Pechuga is a drink for gatherings. This specific Pechuga is also said to have been given an award at the last Universal Exhibition in Paris, likely in 1878, indicating this Pechuga was considered high enough quality to be entered into a competition, as well as good enough to win. There aren't any details though as to the nature of the competition, and what the Pechuga might have faced.

In addition, this fascinating passage provides details on the alleged health benefits of Pechuga, which can be used for the treatment of chronic diarrhea, anemia, bad digestion, rheumatism, and a lack of appetite. It is also noted that this Pechuga Almendrado can help irregularities in the diseases of women, especially as it is considered smooth and easy enough for both women and children to drink. This won't be the only reference to Pechuga Almendrado being especially appropriate for women.

In the Anales del Ministerio de Fomento de la Republica Mexica (1881), there are references to a few specific producers of Pechuga, Jesús Flores is noted to be the owner of a wealthy distillery in Tequila and produces a variety of Mezcals, including Pechuga and Alemendrado. He was also the only person win a first class medal in the first Guadalajara Municipal Exhibition. Sabás Cruz received an award for his Pechuga at the recent Exposition in France. And Cárlos Sancho is mentioned as making a very good Pechuga.

For a more technical reference to Pechuga, El Monitor Republicano (July 23, 1881) has an article, "Inspeccion De Bebidas Y Comestibles," which notes: "..; por ultimo, el aguardiente de tequila llamado vino de pechuga, vino de familia, es un verdadero elixir en el que hay buena proporcion de azucar y alguna sustancia aromatica, adiciones que aumentando la densidad del liquido hasta hacer flotar en su superficie el alcohometro, obligan a destilarlo para conocer su riqueza; hecha esta operacion en esos aguardientes de las cuatro cantinas aludidas, dieron como termino medio 38.5 por ciento; sometiendo esos elixires a las manipulaciones indicadas para buscar las reacciones caracteristicas de la presencia del alumbre o del acido sulfurico, el resultado fue claramente negativo." In short, this passage notes that Pechuga is a "true elixir" and contains a good proportion of sugar and some aromatics and these additions increase the density of the liquid.

In 1882, the Memoria de la Primera Exposicion Industrial De Queretaro, y Lista de los objetos presentados en la misma ("Memory of the first exhibition industry of Queretaro and list of objects presented"), written by Celestino Diaz, had a couple references to Pechuga. First, it mentioned that Francisco A. Vargas won a First Class Award for his "Pechuga Naranjado." Second, it mentioned two bottles of Pechuga that were made by Mariano R. Velazquez. There was a third reference too, using a different term for Pechuga, which was wasn't clear unless you were already aware of this other term.

There was a mention of "mezcal de sustancia, que los Srs. Becerill y Ordonez fabrican en San Angel." From another reference I found, I was aware that "mezcal of substance" was another term for Pechuga, and I'll mention that later in this article.

Published in January 1884, the book Estudio quimico-industrial de los varios productos del maguey mexicano y analisis quimico del aguamiel y el pulque ("Chemical-industrial study of various products of Mexican maguey and chemical analysis of aguamiel and pulque") was written by José G. Lobato and contains the following passage: "El estado de Zacatecas posee varios distritos mezcaleros; pero entre ellos el de Pinos es muy notable por las plantaciones y cultivo de sius magueyeras, que producen much mezcal, alcohol de primera y segunda clase, llamdos chorrera el primero, y pechuga el sugundo. Esta misma denominacion se les aplica en San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, Queretaro y otros Estados."

This passage mentions that the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, has several Mezcal producing districts and that the Pinos district is notable. This district is best known for two classes of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga. It continues noting that this also applies to other Mexican states, including San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, and Queretaro, indicating the prevalence of Pechuga Mezcal.

Another passage in that same book goes into some additional detail, "El mezcal de pechuga de San Luis Potosí, de Pinos en Zacatecas, de Tequila en Jalisco, etc., es un alcohol muy aromático, muy sápido, muy carminativo, debido esto al aceite esencial del maguey, al ácido agávico y á la agavina encontrada por el Sr. Fernandez en 1876, con moti vo del análisis que exprofeso ejecutó, comisiónado por el Ayuntamiento de Guanajuato con motivo del envenena miento de este alcohol por el plomo."

It is stated that the Pechuga of San Luis Potosí, the Pinos in Zacatecas, and Tequila in Jalisco, are very aromatic and full-bodied. Strangely, it's also stated that these mezcals are "carminativo," which translates as carminative, meaning they can induce or prevent flatulence. Mezcal has long been said to cure many ailments, but mentioning its carminative properties along with it being aromatic and full-bodied seems to be a strange combination. The passage also mentions that these qualities are considered to be due to the essential oil of the maguey plant, agavic acid and its agavina (natural sugars).

An advertisement in the  El Correo de San Luis (April 23, 1885) (and May 19) noted its low prices, for "Vino de Pechuga Almendrado," which is also stated to be "propio para las senoras por su suavidad y buen gusto," ("suitable for ladies for its softness and good taste"). This is the second reference I've seen that refers to women as a specific demographic for this type of Pechuga. Is it only because almonds were added to this Pechuga? This reference seems to raise more questions than it answers.

There is a brief mention in El Amigo de la Verdad (January 28, 1888) of several classes of Tequila, including Sweet, Tequila with Walnuts and Pechuga Almendrado.

There is a reference to Pechuga being sent to the U.S. in the El Tiempo (October 10, 1889), noting an American steamship traveling to San Francisco with a load of 60 barrels of Mezcal and 1 barrel of Pechuga. It seems Pechuga wasn't as popular in California as was Mezcal.

There is an interesting passage in the El Abogado Cristiano Ilustrado (June 15, 1890) noting: "Hombre! me occure ahora que si--como se dice el autor de aquella cita resulta ser un Jesuita, este escribio ese parrafo, de que tanto bombo hace La Ilustracion, bajo la influencia del jugo fermentado de las uvas de Engadi o del pechuga de Tequila al que no dejan de ser afectas las gentes de sotana." This seems to discuss a priest who might enjoy wine from "Engadi" grapes or Pechuga.

An advertisement in La Patria (July 2, 1890) states: "El afamado deposito de vinos de Tequila propiedad del Sr. Aurelio Gutierrez, situado en la calle de Manrique num. 1, acaba de recibir un magnifico surtido de Pechuga doble, Pechuga almendrado y Tequila de la bien reputada fabrica de la Sra. viuda de Martinez." It notes a vendor who recently acquired an assortment of Tequila, including Pechuga Doble ("Pechuga Double") and Pechuga Almendrado, which came from the well-regarded distillery of the widow Mrs. Martinez. This is the first reference I've seen to Pechuga Doble.

An intriguing book, El Maguey. Memoria sobre el cultivo y beneficio de sus productosby Jose C. Segura, was published in Mexico in 1891. Jose Segura (1846-1906) was an agronomist engineer and a professor at the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, having written several other books and numerous articles. This book, published in Spanish, discussed the many uses of the agave plant, including its use in making Pulque and Mezcal. It is probably worth a deeper examination as it may contain other intriguing information about agave, Pulque, Mezcal and more. It would also help if there were an English translation.

Segura references Pechuga, though he used a different term, referring to it as a mezcal of "sustancia," substance, a term which we saw earlier in this article in an 1882 book. Segura wrote "Dos clases de Mezcal se conocen en el Sur de Mexico: el mezcal de cabezas, que es el que se obtiene destilacion del liquidoen donde se han puestoa fermentar las cabezas, y el que llama de sustancia, que es el que se obtiene distilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera. Tambien acostumbran en algunas partes, aromatizar el mezcal, destilandolo sobre cascaras de fruta." This passage states that the mezcal of sustancia was distilled with chicken or legs of veal. There was also a mention that sometimes fruit peels are added to the mezcal to help aromatize it.

Finding prices for Mezcal and Pechuga is always interesting. The Boletín de Agricultura Minería e Industrias (January 1, 1892) references "pechuga almendrado" with a barrel priced from $16-$18 in Mexican dollars. For comparison, a barrel of "Mezcal Tequila, buena clase" is priced from $10.75-$11 and a barrel of "Mezcal Tequila, doble o de punta" (double or pointed) from $18-$20. As such, Pechuga is more expensive than some other Mezcals, but not all types.

In the El Municipio Libre (August 1, 1895) there is an article about the upcoming National Exhibition of 1896, where various Mexican states will exhibit some of their best products. The article states: "A mas del aguardiente se elabora en algunas haciendas vino de mescas que es muy apreciado, con especialidad el de pechuga y almendrado." This basically indicates that some haciendas, which produce Mezcal, specialize in Pechuga and Almendrado.

In the Saturday, January 5, 1901 edition of The Oasis, an Arizona newspaper, they published an article, Mescal Making, though the author of the article was not identified. The article discussed the Mezcal being produced in the Sahuaripa district of the Sonora state in Mexico, stating the area was "...noted far and wide for the excellence and quality of the mescal there produced,..."

There was a further explanation of how Mezcal was produced, including information on its quality levels, which mentioned Pechuga. “Of the finished liquor there are three qualities determined by the number of distillations to which subjected. The product of the first distillation is called “vino,” and is the cheapest grade of mescal. The “vino” when subjected to a second distillation loses about thirty per cent in weight and then is known as “Bacanora.” This is a much finer and more expensive liquor than the “vino.” In the third distillation the “Bacanora” loses another thirty per cent, by weight, of the “vino” and the product, known as “pechuga,” is a very fine and costly liquor, within reach of the purses of the wealthy only. It is a soft, smooth liquor, having all the strength of the “vino,” contained within forty per cent of its weight but losing none of its fiery qualities and pungent taste.”

It is important to note that this article didn't specifically mention that Pechuga was made with meat, but it was stated to be produced from a third distillation. Did the author misunderstand the actual nature of Pechuga? It doesn't seem logical that this Pechuga didn't include meat. Why else refer to it by a name meaning "breast," especially "chicken breast?"  There doesn't appear to be any other historical evidence that the term Pechuga was ever used for anything but Mezcal flavored with meat. I think it is probably most likely the author made a mistake, an omission error, failing to mention the addition of meat in Pechuga. We also see that Pechuga was very expensive, and tasted soft and smooth, though still possessing the fiery character of Mezcal.

As an aside, on Saturday, May 24, 1902, The Oasis published a second article, Mezcal Manufacture, mentioning Pechuga. However, the article was simply an expanded version of their prior article, using much of the same information, and didn't add anything new about Pechuga.

In El Agricultor Mexicano (June 1, 1901)there was a passage "En el estado de Zacatecas, que cuenta con mucho distritos mezcaleros, el mas notable es el de Pinos que produce un alcohol supremo, y que es de dos clases, la de primera se llama "chorrera" y "pechuga" la de segunda." It mentioned the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, which had many Mezcal producing districts with the Pinos district being considered the best. The Pinos district was best known for two types of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga.

The term "mezcal de sustancia" appeared again, in the Diccionario de Aztequismos: ó sea, Catálogo de las palabras del idioma Nahuatl, Azteca ó Mexicano, introducidas al idioma Castellano bajo diversas formas, written in 1904 by Cecilio A. Robelo. The book provided a list of various types of Mezcal and defined "Mezcal de sustancia" as "el que se obtiene destilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera." That basically states that it is made by distilling the mezcal with chicken or veal legs.

Prices also arose again, in the Periódico Oficial del Estado de Zacatecas (July 16, 1910) which notes bottles of pechuga almendrado for sale for $0.75 each while different brands of tequila cost only $0.25 to $0.46 per bottle. Pechuga was thus clearly more expensive, three times as much as the cheapest tequila.

An advertisement in El Informador (August 14, 1930) is intriguing as it states: "Alegre sus dias de campo obsequiando sus amistades con Tequila "Providencia," "Pechuga Almendado" que da gusto al paladar mas exigente." That roughly translates as "Cheer up your field days by giving away your friends with Tequila Providence, Pechuga Almendado which gives taste to the most demanding palate."

It is abundantly clear now that Pechuga wasn't a 20th century invention, but extends back at least to 1864, over 150 years ago. These are fascinating finds, and I hope that it might lead to even more such discoveries in the future. We may have peeled back several layers of the "onion" of Pechuga but there are plenty of other layers to still uncover.

Have you tasted Pechuga? If so, what were your thoughts? What are your thoughts about this history of Pechuga?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Rant: Halloween Candy Isn't For Children

Stop lying to yourself! You don't buy candy to pass out to children who go trick or treating on Halloween. You buy that candy so you can enjoy it yourself. It's a holiday where you can gorge yourself, without shame, on chocolates, licorice, and other candies. Just be honest about it.

I've heard many people say that the number of children who come trick or treating to their homes has been decreasing over recent years. However, I don't hear them saying that they buy less candy. They to continue to purchase those huge bags filled with dozens of tiny candy bars or other treats. And they specifically buy candy that they enjoy themselves, knowing they will get to eat most of that candy. Sure, they may pass out a small percentage to the children that show up, but most of the candy will never make it outside. It will be consumed by the purchaser and their family.

You'll probably end up eating too much candy, in too short of a time. And blame the fact on not enough children showing up at your house. Just stop lying to others and yourself. Just admit that most of the candy is for yourself. In the end, the honesty will make you feel better. And you won't have to gorge down all of that candy so quickly. Instead, you can take your time, enjoying just a little candy at a time.

Sure, there are some exceptions, people who buy candy they dislike so they won't eat them even if not enough children show up on Halloween. And there will be some people who have numerous children show up on Halloween so that they have little, if any, candy remaining at the end of the night. However, those are exceptions and the majority of people will eat lots of excess candy during the days after Halloween.

You also don't need the excuse of the Halloween holiday to buy and enjoy candy any time of the year.  Candy is delicious, and you can enjoy it in moderation year round. It's a bad habit to horde all of the candy for a single time of the year (or maybe two if you count Easter). Do you really need all of that sugar within a few days?  Nah, it is much better to spread out your candy love throughout the months and stop bingeing on Halloween candy.




Friday, October 27, 2017

Wines Without Make-Up: An Alsatian Dinner With Jean-Frédéric Hugel

Back in August 2008, I participated in one of the first Twitter Wine Tasting events, held by Bin Ends, and which featured Etienne Hugel of Hugel et Fils. Etienne participated from Alsace, having remained awake until early in the morning so he could join us on Twitter. We tasted through five Hugel wines, from the Gentil to their Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer, and the general consensus was that these were delicious and compelling wines. Sadly, Etienne Hugel, at only the age of 57, passed away in April 2016, though the rest of his family continues to operate their successful winery, continuing his legacy.

Flash forward to October 2017, and I had the honor of attending, as a media guest, an Alsatian wine dinner at Bistro du Midi, with special guest Jean-Frédéric Hugel, Etienne's son (pictured above). Ray Osborne, the new Head Sommelier at Bistro du Midi presided over his first wine dinner, acting as an excellent host. Some of the other attendees included Brett Marcy, from the importer Frederick Wildman, representatives of the distributor MS Walker, and Len Rothenberg of Federal Wine & Spirits. Overall, it was a tasty and informative evening, with plenty of delicious food and wine, accompanied by lively conversation and a jovial atmosphere.

Jean-Frédéric was both personable and humorous, leading us through a discussion of Alsace, its wines, and the Hugel winery. He began the evening with a bit of history, highlighting the Golden Age of Alsatian Wine. Back in the 15th-17th centuries, the region of Alsace, which wasn't a part of France at that time, was considered the shining star of Europe and its wines were the most expensive in Europe. In addition, especially due to the efforts of Dutch merchants, about 600K hectoliters of Alsatian wines were annually exported all across Europe. Alsace's proximity to the Rhine river, the most important artery of communications in Europe, was a significant reason for Alsace's prominence.

Everything came crashing down in 1618, as the Thirty Years's War began, and would eventually devastate much of Central Europe, including Alsace. For example, as the war began, the town of Riquewihr, well known for its beautiful architecture was occupied by about 2200 inhabitants. It was also known as a winzerdorf, a wine village (and I love that term!). However, by 1648, at the end of the war, the town was nearly empty, with only about 122 residents remaining. Vineyards were abandoned and the quality and amount of wine decreased dramatically.

Back in 1639, while the war raged, Hans Ulrich Hugel settled in Riquewihr, entering the wine business and eventually became the leader of the powerful Corporation of Winegrowers. Despite the devastation sustained by Riquewihr and Alsace, Hans persevered and the Hugel family began its lengthy history of wine production, nearly 380 years. 

Today, it's the modern era of Alsatian wine, a new beginning for their industry, trying to recapture the glories of the past. The Hugel winery currently owns over 25 hectares of vineyards in Riquewihr, almost half of in the Grand Cru zone. Within those vineyards, the vines average about thirty years of age, have low yields, are hand harvested, and fertilizers are not used. The winery produces about 110,000 cases annually, with twenty different wines each vintage, and approximately 90% of their wine is exported to over 100 countries.

Jean-Frédéric provided some intriguing insight into Alsace and winemaking. He noted that culturally, Alsace is neither French nor German, though it might share some elements with each, especially as those countries have both owned the region multiple times. Instead, he stated it would be better to think of the Rhine river when thinking of Alsace. That is the key to the region, and historically it certainly played a major role.

He also stressed another important point, which can be summed up in the adage that: "In the vineyards, you make wine. In the cellar, you ruin wine." To Jean-Frédéric, vineyard management is much more important to the final product in the bottle than the work in the cellar. As he said, "it takes more than a person to make a wine" and during harvest, everyone is a vintner. He would rather have people ask the identity of the vineyard manager rather than the name of the winemaker.

Jean-Frédéric also believes that there is too much interest in the way the wine is made in the cellar, such as the type of yeast, length of fermentation, maceration periods, oak maturation, etc. Though those factors play their role, he feels that the majority of the interest should be properly directed toward what happens in the vineyard, such as cover crops, organic farming, herbicides, replanting, selection, root stock clones, soil probing, and more. Those factors play the most dominant role in the final product.

I've heard a similar sentiment from other winemakers, and have to agree that many wine writers, including myself, have devoted far more attention to what occurs in the cellar. That probably should change and we should pay more attention to vineyard management than we currently do. Jean-Frédéric was proud that their wines are "as natural as it comes," describing their wines as being "without make-up." That is certainly an interesting description for Hugel's wines.

Jean-Frédéric told me that every Monday there is a family meeting at the winery, discussing potential changes and other issues. He notes that there aren't any serious revolutions at the winery, merely little tweaks at various times, though those tweaks can add up over time to make big changes. He also noted that their wines have possessed the same label for 25 years and probably need a little refreshing. Though they are very good at making wine, they are not as good at marketing their wines. Jean-Frédéric mentioned that their approach to winemaking is simple in many respects, as they make wine as if they had to drink it all themselves. How many wineries actually follow that concept?

I asked Jean-Frédéric about the biggest challenge faced by the winery and he stated that it was the reputation of the Alsace region, and trying to get consumers to embrace it. He noted that sommeliers and the wine trade already have a passion for Alsatian wines, but it still needs to seep down to the average consumer. Part of the problem is that too many wine stores lump in Alsatian wines with their German wines so consumers are confused about the differences. They need their own identity, to stand out as a separate region with its own uniqueness.

I've echoed this sentiment numerous times in my own writings, noting how Alsace needs greater recognition with consumers, especially considering they make so many delicious and excellent wines. You should check out some of my prior articles on Alsatian wines, to understand better why you should be drinking these wines. A number of Alsatian wines have also been included in my annual Top Ten Wine lists.

I suggest you read some of my Alsatian articles including Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve Recommendation, Alsatian Wines & Pheasant at Craigie On Main, Gustave Lorentz: More Alsatian Wine Treasures, Crémant d'Alsace & The Spartans At Thermopylae, 2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc: Alsatian For The Win, Puritan & Co.: Alsatian Wine Advice, Schoenheitz Winery: A Taste Of Beauty, Boston Wine Expo: Wines of Alsace & Luxembourg, and Summer White Wines? Think Alsace and Dopff & Irion.

Our five-course dinner was prepared by Executive Chef Josue Louis (pictured above), who has worked at Bistro du Midi since its opening and was promoted to Executive Chef in April 2016. Like Alsatian wine, this chef is worthy of more attention for the fine culinary offerings he prepared.

Our first course was a Romesco Soup, with stuffed calamari. The calamari was stuffed with raisins, olives and swiss chard, olive, and the soup was lightly spiced with a little chili. The savory soup had a mild kick of heat, and the tender calamari had a hint of salt and sweet. A well-composed, intriguing and tasty dish.

The first wine pairing was the 2015 Hugel Gentil (about $12), a blend of 50% Sylvaner & Pinot Blanc, 22% Pinot Gris, 15% Gewurztraminer, 7% Riesling and 6% Muscat. "Gentil" is an old word meaning "Noble," and refers historically to the Noble Grapes of Alsace, which were permitted to be used in a blend. This is the only blend that Hugel produces and they don't have a specific recipe for it. They simply have a broad idea of how it should taste and make the blend each year, with the grape percentages varying year to year. I should note that the 2015 vintage was considered exceptional in Alsace, and actually all across France.

This was an excellent value white wine, with lots of character and complexity at this price point. From its aromatic nose to the delicious melange of flavors on the palate, this was a wine for everyday drinking, especially with food. There were tasty flavors of pear, lemon and melon, with a hint of spice, and plenty of crisp acidity. It was fresh with a pleasing finish and pairs well with seafood. A Must Buy!

I also wanted to highlight that all of Hugel's wines possess good acidity. Acidity is a flavor enhancer and also cuts through fat. As such, you can drink their white wines throughout a meal, without a need for red wines. Though they do make a red wine, a Pinot Noir, if you really want one.

My favorite dish of the evening was the Flammekeuche, a deconstructed version with pork belly and goat cheese. Alsace has a love affair with pork and it is sometimes said that "Pork is the national vegetable of Alsace." The pork belly in this dish was tender and succulent, enhanced by the creamy goat cheese, creating a wonderful taste. My only complaint was that I wanted more of this dish and probably would have been satisfied just devouring a few more plates of this rather than having anything else.

The 2014 Hugel Cuvee les Amours Pinot Blanc (about $14) is a blend of 50% Auxerrois and 50% Pinot Blanc, and it does not spend any time in oak. This wine is dry and crisp, full-bodied and elegant, with delicious fruity flavors of pear and lemon. Pleasant clean flavors and a lengthy finish. Another excellent value at this price point.

The next course was Loup de Mer, with parsnip, crispy kale, and a Pinot Noir barigoule. The flaky white fish had a delightful crispy skin and was paired with a red wine, a Pinot Noir, which is the only red permitted in Alsace. Only about 8% of the wine production in Alsace is Pinot Noir. The 2012 Hugel Pinot Noir (about $16) is made from 100% Pinot Noir and sees no oak maturation. It's important to realize that though some people seem to think acidity is primarily for white wines, it is also important for red wines too, bringing freshness. The cool climate of Alsace gives increased acidity to all of its wines, white and red. The wine has an intriguing aroma of black fruit with a mild herbal note. On the palate, there is cherry, ripe plum and raspberry, with a hint of earth and herbs.  A pleasant, easy-drinking wine that worked well with the fish.

The fourth course was a Pork Loin, with coco beans, quince jus, and champagne mustard (though I failed to get a photo of this dish). The pork was tender and flavorful, cooked perfectly and certainly would please any lover of pork. Would you normally pair pork with a white wine? Well, they certainly do so in Alsace and we got to experience such a pairing, with the 2007 Hugel Schoelhammer Riesling (about $140).

This is the first release of this wine, a 100% Riesling which comes from the historic Schoelhammer vineyard, which has marl-rich soils. It took the winery 5-6 years to decide whether this wine should be bottled and sold or not. Then, it took another five years before they placed the wine on the market. It is a special, terroir-driven wine which should be able to age for one hundred years. This is an incredible wine, complex and beguiling, with sharp acidity, rich mineral notes, and some intriguing fruit flavors, including some green apple and lemon with a mild saline character. It is dry and full-bodied with a lingering finish that continues to please long after you swallow a sip. It is strong enough to stand up to pork but would be great with more subtle seafood as well. Highly recommended.

Finally, dessert was a Cardamon Cake, with almond brittle, ginger cremeux, and pear ice cream. This was a tasty and creative blend of flavors and textures, sweet and spicy. A fine ending to our dinner.

The final wine was the 2009 Hugel Vendange Tardive Gewurtraminer (about $55), a late harvest wine from a great vintage. It was certainly an impressive wine, with a mild sweetness, balanced by its crisp acidity, and with a complex melange of concentrated flavors that will tantalize your palate. You'll find orange, apricot, cardamon spice, floral notes, herbal accents and much more. It's nose alone is complex and alluring, calling to you like a mythical Siren. It is lush and decadent, and Jean-Frédéric said that it was an aphrodisiac, the best possible pairing for your "honey," the one that you love. He also stated that he loved pairing this wine with Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, the famed Spanish ham from the black-footed pigs.

Once again, I found plenty of reasons to enjoy and recommend Alsatian wines. The Hugel winery produces some excellent value wines as well as higher-end wines of great complexity and quality. Jean-Frédéric was a passionate and persuasive advocate for Alsatian wines as we as his own winery. He gave me much fodder for thought and it was a sheer pleasure to share a table with him.

I'll repeat once again, Drink More Alsatian Wine! 

Thursday, October 26, 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.
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1) The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth is pleased to announce that Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast will be held November 2-11.  More than 40 restaurants and breweries are participating in this event during a New England autumns, with fall foliage in the mountains and plentiful fall bounty on the tables. Chefs from Greater Portsmouth, including Portsmouth, Dover, Hampton, New Castle, Rye, Exeter and Kittery, Maine are creating special prix fix menus celebrating the season.

Restaurant Week menus are offered at $16.95/lunch, $29.95/dinner per person; and some restaurants extend the $16.95 value price for dinner as well.

From viewing the menus, I'm especially interested in restaurants such as Agave Mexican Bistro, The Franklin, Black Trumpet, and Moxy.

2) On Sunday, November 12, from 12pm-2pm, Post 390 invites Bostonians with a sweet tooth to the annual Rise and Rumble Donut Throwdown where guests will be able to sample and vote on a variety of creative donut and ice cream flavors for the coveted title of Rise & Rumble Champion.

The event will feature creative donut creations from Boston’s top pastry chefs including Lauren Kroesser (Honeycomb Hamilton), Joshua Livsey (Harvest), Christina Larson (Bar Mezzana), Danica Lockett (Post 390), Valerie Nin (Grill 23 & Bar), Meg Thompson (SRV), Ellie Wallock (Puritan & Co.), Craig Williams (Williams Family Baking Co.) and ice cream from JP Licks, FOMU, Gracie’s, Honeycomb Creamery, Parlor Ice Cream Co., Picco, and Rancatore's Ice Cream & Yogurt.

Tickets are available for $35 per person (inclusive of Post 390 brunch buffet and coffee bar). To purchase tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/rise-and-rumble-donut-throwdown-2017-tickets-38872720353

3) Boston’s first Hunanese restaurant, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, is debuting seasonal menu additions on both their lunch and all-day menus. Sumiao’s weekday midday menu offers up 16 creations ($13 each) that come with a choice of hot & sour or tomato-mushroom soup. Newcomers include the vegetarian Cinderella, a dish with pumpkin and lily, and the Twice-Cooked Avocado Meatballs packed with ground pork, egg, tofu, green peppers and fermented black soybean.

Available on the all-day menu, there are starters like the Melted Gold Soup with pumpkin and millet ($5); the hometown favorite Spicy Dried Baby Fish with dried anchovy, red chili and fermented black soybean ($8); the popular Sumiao Gyoza with pork and a five-spice dipping sauce ($8); and, Sumiao Shang Gan with chili bean sauce, dried chili, garlic and scallion ($8). Noodles ($12) are hot off the wok, like the new Beef & Egg Rice Noodles with hard-boiled egg, Shanghai green homemade pickles, cilantro and peanut in addition to the Scallion-Flavored Noodles with lard, cucumber and chili bean sauce.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen also is debuting a collection of chef-created specials that celebrate some of the province’s most popular dishes with modern twists. For adventurous palates, order up the Angry Frog, a dish with bullfrog, duojiao, shiso, red peppers, garlic, scallion and chili oyster sauce (MP). For seafood lovers, there is Steamed Duojiao Tilapia which is caught fresh daily and served from skin to fin with seasoned soy sauce (MP); Steamed Garlic Butterfly Shrimp with aged orange peel, garlic and pepper ($28); and the classic Daikon Radish Fish Ball in Broth finished with seedless red dates, vermicelli and chicken broth ($20).

Carnivores can get their meat fix by chowing down on two types of racks, Hot Ginger Ribs ($22) and BBQ Rib Festival ($26); the intensely-flavored House Crispy Duck with steamed buns, cucumber, pepper, scallion and seafood sauce ($36); Pork Tripe with green and serrano peppers ($16); and the Free-Style Meatballs with ground pork, fish, egg, vermicelli and black pepper ($18).

4) On Thursday, November 2, become immersed in the flavors of fall at Bar Boulud with an exclusive five-course harvest-themed menu, crafted by Chef Daniel Boulud and Chef de Cuisine Michael Denk, which will pay homage to New England’s seasonal bounty.

The Harvest Dinner menu will be served as follows:
First Course
Wild Mushroom Tarte Flambée
Second Course
Sunchoke & Leek Soup (porcini cream, espresso cocoa dust)
or
Chicory and Choux Salad (apples, Brussels sprouts, kale, pancetta-mustard vinaigrette, hazelnuts)
Third Course
Daniel’s Stuffed Pumpkin Grand-Mère (Gruyère, bacon lardon, sourdough)
Fourth Course
Saumon au Syrah (baked in fig leaves, fennel confit, beurre rouge)
or
Tourte de Saison (veal sweetbreads, baked foie gras and pork puff pastry, huckleberry)
Dessert
Poire Belle-Hélène (poached pears, black walnut ice cream, dark chocolate sauce, pear tuile)

COST: $65 per person (beverages, tax and gratuity not included)
To make a reservation, please call 617-535-8800

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

From 1865 Selected Vineyards: A Killer Chilean Pinot Noir For Under $20

It's difficult to find a compelling Pinot Noir for under $20. Most under that price point are too simple, wines without character. They may be drinkable but they won't bring a smile to your face or a twinkle to your eye. However, when you find a sub-$20 Pinot Noir of complexity and elegance, a wine that tasted blind would make you think of a $30-$40 wine, then you've struck vinous gold.

Last week, I struck that vinous gold.

I had the pleasure of meeting Matias Cruzat (pictured above), the winemaker for the 1865 label of Viña San Pedro in Chile, for a private tasting of several of his wines. Viña San Pedro is the second largest winery in Chile, having been founded in 1865 in the Curicó Valley by the Correa Albano brothers. The winery has a number of different labels, and in 1997, they created the 1865 label, a nod to the date of their founding. The concept behind that label is to produce single-varietal wines from different terroirs, those which best represent the grapes.

Currently, they produce seven wines under the 1865 Selected Vineyards label, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Syrah, Carmenere, and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are also two higher end categories under this label, including 1865 Special Editions and 1865 Limited Edition. The production of the 1875 wines often include use of concrete eggs (especially for the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc) and foudres (large wooden casks of French oak, from 1000 to 5000 liters).

Matias has been working for the winery for 4.5 years, and has prior experience working at wineries in California and South Africa. He was born in the U.S., to Chilean parents, as his father studied for his MBA in the U.S. and also worked for Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati, Ohio. Overall, Matias is personable and engaging, upfront and intelligent. He is also a passionate advocate for his 1865 wines, as well as the wines of Chile.

The 1865 wines I tasted all cost under $20 retail, typically $17.99 at your local wine store, and are imported by United Liquors. At this price point, they are excellent values. Matias stated that as the cost of land and grapes are much lower in Chile, they are able to offer much better prices on their wines than you might find from other regions, such as California and Oregon.

The 2017 1865 Selected Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc is a 100% Sauvignon Blanc from the Santo Domingo vineyard in the Leyda Valley. The vineyard is only about 3.5 kilometers from the coast, one of the closest to the ocean. The vineyard also has primarily granitic soils and many fossilized shells have been found in the soil. The closeness to the ocean allows the grapes to ripen more slowly, leading to more aromatic wines with a strong mineral component. Only about 5000 cases of this wine were produced.

Fermentation takes about a month and about 20% of the grapes spent time in neutral French oak foudres, giving contact with the lees. The 2007 vintage was tough, a warmer vintage. The wine has a pale yellow color with the aroma of citrus and a touch of green pepper, the typical green of Leyda Valley. On the palate, Matias notes that the wine is unlike "New World explosive Sauvignon Blanc."  I found the palate to be complex, with intriguing citrus, including a touch of grapefruit, and mineral notes, a crisp acidity and a touch of green pepper. An interesting white wine with plenty of character at this price point.

The 1865 2015 Selected Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Las Piedras vineyard of the Valle Del Maipo. The Cabernet spent about 12 months in 95% French and 5% American oak, with 50% first use and 50% second use barrels. About 50,000 cases of this wine were produced, so you should be able to find this readily available.

The Cabernet possesses a dark red color with a fruity aroma with hints of spice and a touch of chocolate. On the palate, it is soft and elegant, with low tannins, and a delightful melange of cherry, plum, and blackberry with subtle spice notes and a lengthy finish. Matias mentioned that the Maipo Valley is well known for the soft tannins in its grapes, one of the most important aspects of that area. With its softer tannins, this Cabernet doesn't need a steak to tame its tannins, and can also pair well with everything from a burger to a Bolognese. It might also work with a rich fish like Salmon or Tuna. This is a Cabernet with plenty of character and complexity at this price point, making it a very good value.

And to me, the clear winner of the tasting was the 2016 1865 Pinot Noir. Matias mentioned that he is obsessed with Pinot Noir and it's clear that he has created a stunning example in this wine. He noted that though some Pinot Noir had been planted in Chile many years ago, it is only within the last 10-20 years that anyone has become serious about it. The grapes for this wine come from the El Platero Vineyard in the Valle Del Elqui. About ten years ago, they planted their first vineyards in Elqui, starting with Sauvignon Blanc and then later planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The vineyard is about 20 kilometers from the ocean and the region is both coastal and Andes, a cool climate region that once grew grapes primarily for producing Pisco.

The wine was aged for about eight months in a combination of foudres, concrete eggs and barrels. It has a 13.5% ABV, as Matias stated he didn't want to make a high-alcohol Pinot Noir. Matias also stated that this wine was produced in the same fashion as he would produce a high-end Pinot Noir. As only 1500 cases of this wine were made, it won't be around too long and could be more difficult to find, but I highly recommend you seek it out.

This Pinot Noir has a light red color, and an alluring and complex nose of red fruits and touches of earth and spice. Those aromas will draw you in and you won't be disappointed once you taste it. The wine is elegant and light bodied, with a complex and fascinating melange of flavors, including bright red cherry, more subdued black cherry, subtle spice notes, and underlying hints of earthiness. There was excellent acidity, mineral notes, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It was well-balanced and compelling, reminding me in different ways to Burgundian Pinot as well as Oregonian Pinot, yet still with its own unique character.

I could not rave enough about this wine. I tasted it without knowing the price and would have thought it easily cost $30-$40, and been worth that price. When I learned it cost less than $20, I was stunned. Initially, I was told it was less than $15, but later research indicated that was the wholesale price and it retails about $17.99. At that price, it is still a killer value and it receives my highest recommendation. I'm planning on stocking up on this wine and encourage all wine lovers to do the same.  

Kudos to Matias for producing such delicious and compelling wines at a great price point.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Rant: Two Rules Of Choosing Holiday Wines

As the holidays approach, it's time for wine blogs, magazines, newspapers, and more to present their recommendations for holiday wines, from Thanksgiving selections to Christmas dinner choices. The majority of these articles seem repetitive, presenting similar choices to what they presented in the years before. Originality is too often lacking in those articles yet they still garner plenty of attention from consumers, who are seeking advice and recommendations.

I am hoping to offer something different, to alter consumer's thinking rather than provide specific wines they should drink on the holidays. Let me provide two rules for choosing holiday wines, two rules which are intended to change your perceptions in selecting those wines.

First, stop being a cheapskate!

During the holidays, many people stock up on wine to serve their guests at various parties and celebrations. Often, because they are buying bottles in bulk, their primary concern is price. They generally want to purchase wine that costs $10 per bottle or less and usually end up buying the large, commercial "value" wines, such as the Barefoot or Yellow Tail. It takes almost no thought to buy such wines. Though such wines might be drinkable, they aren't going to impress anyone. You've chosen to take the cheapest route possible, in both price and time.

If you're hosting a holiday party, don't you want to impress your guests? Don't you want them to leave the party talking about the great time they had? It only takes a little extra work, and maybe price, to elevate your wine selections. Or would you rather be known as a wine cheapskate by your guests, who know you bought cheap wine with no real thought? They might not say anything to your face, but behind your back they will be talking about your poor choices.

I certainly understand the need to control your wine costs when you are providing for a number of guests. You certainly don't need to buy $50 wines to impress your guests. You don't even have to spend $20. I've brought a number of $10-$15 wines to parties that the other guests loved and wanted to know where they could buy them. There are good and interesting wines around this price point, if you know where to seek them out. If you want your holiday celebration to be even more popular, then you need to serve those type of wines. The extra effort will elevate your party and please your family, friends, and other guests.

What should you do?

To start, seek out one of the better discount wine stores. These places often carry a good selection of wines costing $15 or under, much more than you will find at a regular wine store. You can find plenty of variety in these inexpensive wines, whites and reds, domestic and imported. You will find wines comparable in price to those large commercial "value" wines but which offer much more character, taste and value. My top recommendations for discount wines stores, places I shop regularly, include Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Make the effort and drive to one of these great shops and find better value wines. The investment of time will pay off, creating many happy guests at your next party.

If you some reason you can't make it to one of these discount wine shops, you still have options. 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 wines inexpensive wines which will be more interesting and delicious. You should also remember that most wine stores offer a discount for bulk purchases, sometimes as few as 6 wines, which is another way to save money on your purchases.

But if for some reason you can't ask a store employee for some recommendations, then my best advice for selecting a good wine that is $15 or under, and sometimes even $10 and under, is to buy a Portuguese wine. At this time, I think some of the greatest value wines are coming out of Portugal, especially at the price point. Chances are that if you purchase a Portuguese wine costing $15 or less, you will find a delicious and interesting wine. And there are plenty of Portuguese wines available in that price range. There is probably no other wine region where you can find as many good wines at that price point.

You also should know that paying a few dollars more for your wine can make a big difference. When you start considering wines priced from $10-$15, your options increase drastically. You can find some interesting wines from all over the world in that price range, though they still offer value. And if you are buying in bulk where the wine store offers a discount for larger purchases, you can save enough money so that the wines end up priced closer to $10 per bottle.

So this holiday season, don't buy the same old cheap wines. It won't take much effort to select some better choices, and still very inexpensively. In the end, you'll impress your guests, make your holiday party more memorable, and drink better wines.

Second, stop buying that same old fruitcake!

Most of the wine articles you'll read right now offer very similar advice, recommending the same types of wines again and again. For example, you'll see many suggestions for Pinot Noir and Riesling for Thanksgiving, the same wines that have been recommended by these articles year after year. You might have served them at Thanksgiving last year (and previous years) but can any of your dinner guests actually remember which wine was served? Doubtful.

Because they are so ordinary, they usually become very forgettable. They are the "same old fruitcakes" the same old traditional wines that everyone serves and think little about. Wouldn't you rather ditch those trite old fruitcakes and serve wines that are more memorable? There is nothing wrong with these fruitcake wines, They can be tasty and fitting for your meal, but why just stick to such wines? You can do more and make your dinner or party even more exciting.

A Thanksgiving meal is diverse, with many different flavors, from savory to sweet, and many different textures. No single wine is a perfect pairing with all these different dishes. And you can serve whatever wines you want. There are no rules. As such, you have an opportunity to serve a diverse selection of wines, to serve wines that will surprise and please your guests. For example, I've recommended serving Sherry or Sake for Thanksgiving.

This same idea applies to when you are buying wine as gifts for family, friends, and others. Don't you want to give something memorable to the recipient? It is easy to give someone a bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. They are probably the same type of wines the recipient might buy on their own. Instead, why not splurge and buy something different, something the recipient might not buy on their own but which they would enjoy. Stop sending "fruitcakes" and go for something more exciting.

You have plenty of options for more exciting gift wines. Pick something local, such as a Massachusetts wine, or something from another New England state, or even from nearby New York. Or find wines from less commonly known regions such as Georgia, Moldova, Lebanon, Israel and more. Find wines with less common grapes such as Mencia, Assyrtiko, Petit Verdot, Grillo, Zweigelt, and Touriga Franca. Choose some different sparkling wines such as Franciacorta or Cremant d'Alsace. There are so many options available that it is easy to opt for something besides the same old fruitcakes.

All I want is for people to be more open in their holiday wine choices. Don't be lazy and choose the same old wines when there is an abundance of excellent choices out there. There are so many thousands of different wines available so why limit yourself to a mere handful? The holidays are a time many people splurge so splurge on diversity.

Thursday, October 19, 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.
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1) On Thursday, November 2, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and the team at Harvest welcome Yankee Magazine Lifestyle Editor and cookbook author Amy Traverso of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook for a special “The Book and the Cook” dinner, using recipes from Amy's cookbook. The Apple Lover's Cookbook celebrates the beauty of apples in all their delicious variety, taking you from the orchard to the kitchen with 100 recipes, both sweet and savory.

The dinner will feature a quintessential fall menu that celebrates New England apples, expertly prepared by Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett. Guests will have the opportunity to meet the author while enjoying the freshest flavors of the season. The dinner will include a four-course menu complete with a reception and beverage pairings.

Cost: Price is $65 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity), and includes a signed copy of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 617-868-2255 directly to book seats. Or buy tickets through Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-book-the-cook-dinner-the-apple-lovers-cookbook-by-amy-traverso-tickets-38818961559

2) On Wednesday, November 8th at 6:30 p.m., Puritan & Co. will host a special natural wine dinner with Donkey & Goat Owner/Winemaker Jared Brandt. 

Alongside a multi-course meal prepared by Chef Will Gilson and conversation with Brandt, guests will be treated to pours of a selection of Donkey and Goat’s natural wines made from sustainably (or more) farmed vineyards in the Sierra Nevada, Mendocino and Napa.

Tickets are $95 plus tax and gratuity and can be purchased here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dinner-with-donkey-goat-winemaker-jared-brandt-tickets-38522158814.

3) Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca Chef Mario LaPosta and his team invite guests to join them on Wednesday, October 25, at 6:30pm, to explore the flavors of Valle d’Aosta. The evening will include a tasting of four different courses, along with wine pairings from the region that is renowned for its ski resorts and medieval castles, Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, and Monte Rosa. Although much less is known about its wines than other regions, Valle d’Aosta vineyards produce some of Italy’s finest.

The menu includes:
1st course:
Poached Pear and Fontina D.O.P. Focaccia
Ermes Pavese 'Blanc de Morgex' Prie Blanc 2015
2nd course:
Veal Cutlet (Cabbage and Oregon Huckleberries)
Bouquetin Gamay 2015
3rd course:
Carbonade "Valdostana" (Braised Heritage Goat, Sweet Onions, Polenta)
Danilo Thomain 'Enfer d'Arvier' Petit Rouge 2013
4th course:
Apple Sotto Sopra (Vanilla Gelato)
Maley 'Pommerbe' NV

Tickets are $95 and can be purchased by logging onto https://valledaostawinedinner.splashthat.com

4) Chris Schlesinger and Dave Cagle, co-owners of The Automatic, announce HELL NIGHT, OCTOBER 30th, as the best (and only) way they know how to celebrate Halloween. “Let’s keep it hotter than hell” is the motto, with “super spicy food and drink specials” on the menu the night before Halloween.

VIP guest for the evening will be Dr. Pepper, (aka George Greenidge) – Hell Night’s Legend himself. Schlesinger and Cagle have special honors planned for Dr. Pepper….could it be a Hotter Than Hell Sausage for all those sausages Greenidge serves outside Fenway Park? Or could it be new red plastic peppers for his Hell Night outfit? Perhaps a lifetime supply of Inner Beauty Sauce? Only the Devil knows.

Some of the spicy appetizers that have been announced for HELL NIGHT at THE AUTOMATIC include:
3 Drunk Devils on Horseback (Blue Cheese + Bacon dripping in Cherry Pepper Jam)
Jamaican Jerk Wings (Scotch Bonnet Mango Sauce)
Frito Pie from HELL (Chili, Longhorn Cheese, Inner Beauty Sauce)
Martins Molten Lava Shrimp Ceviche (Rocoto Chiles, Toasted Cancha, Plantain Chips)
Ginger Shrimp + Pork Dumpling Roulette (Soy Sesame, Black Vinaigrette)
More To Come!

RESERVATIONS: Make reservations by emailing reservations@theautomaticbar.com
This event is extremely likely to sell out so make your reservations ASAP.

5) On Monday, November 6, at 6:30pm, Terramia Ristorante, located on Salem Street in the heart of Boston’s North End, is celebrating the long-standing history of Duca Di Salaparutra with a five-course Sicilian wine dinner. With more than 190 years of winemaking, Duca di Salaparutra is the award-winning and leading wine group in Sicily where each wine is made with expression of specific local areas and of a long wine-making tradition.

At this exclusive dinner, guests will as they enjoy a carefully curated Italian menu paired with Duca di Salaparutra vintages. The meal will start with Cozze Piccanti with sautéed mussels and spicy Organic Marzano tomato seafood broth. The second course follows with Capesante with pan seared sea scallops and veal truffle reduction. Indulge in the Bolognese with traditional ground veal, beef, pork meat tomato ragu. As the night continues, guests can enjoy a delicious Bistecca with Prime Filet Mignon, truffle potato mash, and red wine reduction. Finish the evening with Piatto di Formaggi Italiani featuring chef’s selection of Italian cheeses and dry fruits. Ciro Pirone, Director of Italian Wines at Horizon Beverage Company will be on hand to discuss the nuances and history behind each and every wine.

COST: The dinner is $70 per person (+tax and gratuity).
Reservations are required and can be made by calling Terramia at 617-523-3112

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Exploring Moldova Restaurant & Moldovan Wine: Part 2

As I wrote yesterday, I was recently invited by Andrei Birsan, the owner of Vins Distributors, a wholesaler of Moldovan wines, as a media guest to taste some of his portfolio, as well as to experience Moldovan cuisine at the Moldova Restaurant in Newton. At the dinner, we were joined by Artur Andronic, who owns the restaurant with his wife Sandra.

Artur and Sandra are natives of Moldovas and they initially opened an Italian restaurant in Newton but quickly realized it just wasn't for them. They decided instead to open a Moldovan restaurant, celebrating their heritage, which would also be the only such restaurant in Massachusetts. Hiring a Moldovan chef, they also received much input from their families about the cuisine and recipes, and finally opened in April 2016. It turned out to be an excellent decision as this is a restaurant you need to experience, to enjoy Moldovan cuisine and the warm hospitality of Artur and Sandra.

Moldovan cuisine consists of numerous traditional European foods, from beef to pork, potatoes to cabbage. It also draws influences from Romania, Greece, Poland, Ukraine, and Russian, as well as the former Ottoman Empire. Thus, many of the dishes will look familiar to the average person, though the names may look inscrutable.

The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, and is a relatively small, but comfortable spot. The bright colors and designs on the walls are aesthetically pleasing, and include a map to give you a better idea of the geography of Moldova. Artur was a gracious host, personable and knowledgeable, and it was a pleasure to dine with him and learn more about Moldovan cuisine. Though I've previously enjoyed Moldovan wines, I'd never before had their cuisine so this was a welcome experience.

I've already mentioned the wine list at Moldova Restaurant, but I'll also note they have a full bar, serving various cocktails, and a small beer list. In the future, they hope to add some Moldovan beers to that list. You'll also find some non-alcoholic choices including Compot, a home-made, traditional Eastern European fruit punch. Next time I dine here, I'll have to try the Compot.

The Dinner Menu has a compact range of diverse choices, including: Appetizers (5 choices, $7.95-$11.45), such as CLĂTITE CU GĂINĂ ȘI CIUPERCI (Chicken and mushrooms crepes) and FASOLIȚĂ (Bean paste with caramelized onions); Soup & Salad ($6.45-$8.95), such as ZEAMĂ (Heart warming chicken soup with homemade noodles) and SALATĂ DE VARZĂ (Fresh cabbage salad with scallions, parsley and olive oil); Placinte La Tiger (5 choices, $7.95-$8.95), a traditional pan-fried pie with various fillings); Entrees (3 choices $16.45-$17.95), such as FRIPTURĂ DE GĂINĂ (Roasted chicken, stewed in broth with onions and garlic, served with pickled vegetables and traditional polenta with feta cheese and sour cream on the side); and Chef's Specials, (3 choices $18.95-$24.95), such as CÂRNĂCIORI DE GĂINĂ (Grilled chicken sausages, served with fresh cabbage salad, baked potato topped with sour cream and scallions, pickles and home made hot sauce on the side); Sides (5 choices at $5.45-$8.95), such as CARTOFI ȚĂRĂNEȘTI (Country style pan fried potatoes with onions and herb); and Desserts (2 choices at $8.95-$9.45).

Though the full menu is also available for Lunch, there is a Lunch Special ($10.95) which includes: Soup or Salad, plus a Side & Entree or a Pie, with a nonalcoholic drink.

We began with a traditional Plăcinte la Tigaie, a thin, pan-fried pie with various fillings, and I'll note that the term "plăcinte" derives from the Latin "placenta," which means "cake." They serve five different types, filled with items such as potatoes, cabbage, apples, and cherries. I opted for the PLĂCINTĂ CU BRÎNZĂ ȘI VERDEAȚĂ ($8.95), which is filled with cow cheese and herbs. Traditionally, they use sheep's milk cheese but that is difficult for them to source locally so they chose to go with cow's cheese instead. The filling is made with egg whites, local feta, cottage cheese, dill and parsley, but they don't add any salt. The pie is thin, flaky and crisp, reminding me a little of a scallion pancake (without the scallions), and the cheese filling is creamy and lightly salty. A tasty start to dinner, it is an excellent comfort food and I would love to try it with some of their other fillings. And the PLĂCINTĂ paired very well with the Sparkling Wine!

Artur wants to add a sampler platter to the menu, showcasing several of the different dishes so patrons can experience a range of different items. As such, he had his chef put together a sampler for my visit and I was glad to have the opportunity to try a number of different items rather than just a single dish. In the near future, you'll probably see a similar platter available on the menu.

The first dish was the SARMALE ($16.45), cabbage and grape leaves, stuffed with rice, chicken, tomatoes, carrots, fried onions and herbs, and served with sour cream. Please note that the above Sarmale was only made with grape leaves and not cabbage. The rice plays the prominent role in this dish, and with the chicken it is a very traditional and inexpensive Moldovan dish, especially prepared by the women in the household, and they are always served at Moldovan parties. These were delicious, with a slight crunch to the grape leaves and plenty of flavorful filling, with lots of rice and finely chopped chicken and veggies. They make for a tasty snack and pair well with white wine.

The second sample were the MITITEI MOLDOVENEȘTI ($19.45), grilled minced beef and pork rolls that are normally served with fresh cabbage salad, baked potato topped with sour cream and scallions, pickles and a home made hot sauce on the side. "Mititei" means "little ones." This is not as much a traditional Moldovan dish as it is more of a traditional Romanian one, however it has become one of their most popular items at the restaurant. This is a meaty and well-spiced "sausage," with a nice char, and it was enhanced by the compelling and flavorful hot sauce, though I didn't find it especially hot.

The final sample was the FRIPTURĂ DE MIEL ($24.95), roasted lamb, stewed in special wine and rosemary sauce, and normal served with roasted vegetables. The lamb is cooked for over four hours, braised and then roasted in the oven. All that slow cooking has made the lamb extremely tender, and you certainly don't need to knife to cut it. Your fork will suffice. The lamb also is superb, with a hint of rosemary, and plenty of juicy, tender meat, lacking that gaminess which turns off some people to lamb. As a lamb lover, this dish impressed me immensely and I highly recommend it.

Artur mentioned that Moldovans don't like to let any food go to waste, so they will use bread to sop up any leftover sauce in a dish. At his restaurant, they make their own country-style bread, which has a soft but thick consistency, just right for dipping into sauce.

One of their sides is TĂIEȚEI ($5.45), home made noodles topped with butter and served with feta cheese. These are very traditional, hand-cut noodles, made from scratch, that are commonly used in soups. They are served with feta to add more flavor to them. The noodles had a nice consistency, not too soft or too hard, and with the salty feta, they made for a nice side. I could easily see these noodles used in other dishes too, such as soup or topped by the lamb stew.

Another side was the MĂMĂLIGĂ ($5.45), a very traditional dish of polenta served with feta cheese and sour cream. They use a different type of corn flour which makes it more yellow as well as a bit harder than other polenta. Commonly, you mix the polenta with both feta and sour cream. It certainly had a firmer texture and the feta gave it a nice salty and creamy kick.

Dessert was CUȘMA LUI GUGUȚĂ ($9.45), sour cherries crepes with home-made whipped cream and chocolate. This is an extremely popular item on their menu, and they have even run out some nights when many customers ordered it. It was certainly a hedonistic pleasure, plenty of creaminess, tart sour cherries, and that spongy texture of the crepes, with a chocolate accent. It's easy to understand the popularity of this dessert and it was a great way to end a compelling Moldovan dinner.

The Moldova Restaurant is unique and interesting, with plenty of diverse and delicious food. Much of it is comfort food, sure to please your palate and belly. The welcoming vibe of the spot is also a compelling reason to visit. Plus, the fact they carry Moldovan wine makes a visit more of a total Moldovan experience. Kudos to Artur and Sandra Andronic for opening this restaurant, indicative of their passion for Moldova. I strongly encourage my readers to check out the Moldova Restaurant for lunch or dinner.