Monday, June 25, 2018

The Sound Of A Guitar: Tio Pepe Fino En Rama Sherry

It bears regular repeating, and I can't say it enough, so Stop Neglecting Sherry! Having written over 40 articles on Sherry, it's clear that I'm a passionate advocate for this unique, fortified wine from Spain. It remains a niche wine, under appreciated by far too many wine lovers, and I want that to change. Today, I'm here with a review of a recently released Sherry, one representative of a growing and exciting movement in the Sherry industry, the En Rama style.

When Fino and Manzanilla Sherries age within the barrel, a layer of flor, a film of yeast, develops atop the liquid. Generally, the flor prevents oxidation and also contributes to the Sherry's aromas. For some time, Sherries have commonly undergone heavy filtration to eliminate flor residue and other impurities, as well to make a more stable and lighter wine. However, such filtration also can strip out some of the flavor, texture and color of Sherry. There is now a growing movement to produce some Fino and Manzanilla without heavy filtration, and these type of Sherries have now become known as En Rama.

En Rama Sherry is either unfiltered or usually lightly filtered, allowing the Sherry to taste more like it does directly out of the barrel. It tends to be more intense and complex, with richer colors and aromas. En Rama Sherry is often released in the spring, as that is the best time for the flor, when it is most active and thick over the wine in the barrel. This category is less than 20 years old and it is only within the last few years has it become more easily available locally, in both restaurants and wine shops.

Back in 2010, González Byass, released their first En Rama, using their famed Tio Pepe Fino. Coincidentally, I visited the González Byass Bodega in 2010, though there wasn't any discussion of En Rama at that time. You can check out my prior article for more background on this compelling bodega, which produces a full line of compelling Sherries. Each year, González Byass releases a new Tio Pepe Fino En Rama and 2018 is their ninth release. I recently received a media sample of this new En Rama and was thoroughly pleased with its taste and complexity.

The Fino En Rama is a blend, bottled in April, of 62 carefully selected barrels from the La Constancia and Rebollo cellars. The wine in these barrels, which spent 4-5 years in the solera, is made from Palomino grapes from the famed Macharnudo vineyards. The winemaker, Antonio Flores, has nicknamed this release Armonía Perfecta ("perfect harmony."), also noting that 2018 is "the very best interpretation of vine and cellar, chalk dust and long hours spent selecting this very unique, fresh wine: harmonious, like the sound of a guitar in the stillness of the afternoon."

For the first time, as well as the standard 750ml and 375ml bottles, the En Rama will also be available in a limited quantity of magnums. Many recommend that you consume En Rama within several months of purchase, with the assumption that it won't age well. However, that train of thought may be changing, and some now believe it can age, though obviously aged En Rama will taste very differently over time. With the release of an En Rama in a magnum, it may be support for aging this En Rama, especially as this vintage was so special.

With a 15% ABV, the Tio Pepe Fino En Rama ($27/750ml) has a bright golden color and is aromatic, with intriguing notes of toast and the briny nature of the sea. On the palate, it is fresh and dry, with a complex and intense melange of citrus, almonds, and the taste of the ocean. The finish has a tinge of bitterness, which doesn't detract from the taste, and lingers on your palate for quite a time. It is not as light and subtle as more heavily filtered Fino Sherries. I'm a big fan of this style and love the intense expressiveness of this Tio Pepe.

I'd recommend serving this Sherry slightly chilled and it would pair well with plenty of dishes, from fried foods to seafood, charcuterie to even pork. I enjoyed this Sherry with a simple dish of Fish Sticks, and it worked great. Share a glass of Sherry with friends and family. And I highly recommend you check out the Tio Pepe Fino En Rama.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Rhaetian Wines, Favorites of the Ancients: Alto Adige-Südtirol

Strabo, a Greek historian and philosopher, wrote that Rhaetian wine was highly esteemed. Pliny, a Roman natural philosopher, mentioned how Virgil praised Rhaetian wines as second only to the famed Falernian. Suetonius, a Roman historian, penned that Augustus Caesar claimed Rhaetian wine as his favorite above all others.

Can you still find Rhaetian wines, and if so, where?

The Italian region of Alto Adige - Südtirol is the most northernmost wine region in that country, bordering Austria and Switzerland, and sits amidst the Alps and the Dolomites. About twenty-five hundred years ago, this region was home to the Rhaeti, a confederation of alpine tribes, and they are known to have grown vineyards and produced wine. Around 15 B.C., the Romans conquered the Rhaeti, making this region a province of Rome, and continuing the practice of viniculture, especially as they found this region excellent for vineyards.

So, by drinking the wines of the Alto Adige - Südtirol region, you can drink wines of the terroir so highly prized by the ancient writers mentioned above, as well as Augustus Caesar.

I recently attended a trade tasting and seminar on the wines of the Alto Adige-Südtirol, which was moderated by Tim Gaiser, Master Sommelier. The rest of the panel included Judith Unterholzner, the Sales Director for Cantina Keltern and Erste+Neue, Harald Cronst, the Export Manager for Cantina Kurtatsch, and Gottfried Pollinger, the Managing Director of Nals Magreid, The seminar opened with their joint philosophy, "We live wine." Such a beautiful philosophy.

We were then presented with a bit more history, noting that in 1853, the first wine cooperative was established in the region and such cooperatives have remained very important. It wasn't until 1919, after World War I, that Alto Adige-Südtirol became a part of the country of Italy. The region attained DOC status in 1975 and in 2007, the Consortium of Alto Adige-Südtirol was formed. Currently, the region consists of approximately 13,300 acres of vineyards, planted at altitudes from 600 to 3,300 feet, and the soil is primarily volcanic porphyry. It is one of the smallest wine regions in Italy, only about 1% of Italy's total production, however 98% of their wines are of DOC/DOP quality, indicative of the high quality of their wines.

The Alto Adige-Südtirol has 7 subappellations, with about 70% of their wines produced by 12 cooperatives, 25% produced by 33 wine estates, and 5% produced by 100 independent wine growers. Production consists of about 60% white wines and 40% red wines. The primary white grapes include: Pinot Grigio 11.9%, Gewurtztraminer 10.7%, Pinot Bianco 10.2%, Chardonnay 10.1%, Sauvignon Blanc 7.5%, Muller-Thurgau 3.9%, Kerner 1.9%, Moscato Giallo 1.7%, Sylvaner 1.4%, Riesling 1.4%, and Gruner Veltliner 0.3%. The primary red grapes include: Schiava 13.7%, Lagrein 8.8%, Pinot Nero, 8.4%, Merlot 3.5%, Cabernet Sauvignon and Franc 3%, Moscato Rosa 0.2%, and Other 1.2%. During the mid-19th century, international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon began being planted in the region.

The region has both Alpine and Mediterranean influences and is one of the warmest in Italy, with over 300 days of sunshine and large diurnal shifts. Annually, it receives about 32.5 inches of rain, and vines only need 26 inches so they receive the water they need despite all the sunshine and warmth. This is also a region that is well known for its apples, with over 8,000 growers, and it provides about 10% of all European apples. That is significant considering the tiny size of this region. It is also known for making over 90 different types of cheese!

In 2017, the Alto Adige-Südtirol produced about 3.1 million cases of wine, exporting about 1/3, and their main export markets are Germany, the U.S., and Switzerland. As such, they are very much niche wines which you need to seek out. Their wines tend to have pure, natural flavors and high acidity, and  nearly all of their wines spend some time on the lees. Cooperatives are significant, bringing together many tiny farmers, mostly organic, giving them plenty of flexibility and opportunity. To join a cooperative, a farmer must join with all of their vineyards. Finally, the wines of Alto Adige-Südtirol are great food wines and often very good values.

We then proceeded to some comparison tastings, two wines of six different grapes, three white and three red. Of these pairings, I'm going to mention my personal favorite of each comparison.

We began with Pinot Bianco, also known as Weissburgunder, which was first planted in 1852 and now comprises about 1334 acres in the region. Tim Gaiser stated that Pinot Bianco is the "perfect wine in the glass." The Alois Lageder winery, established in 1823, is currently owned and operated by the 5th and 6th generations, Alois and Alois Clements Lageder. The winery is also committed to Biodynamic agriculture. The 2016 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Haberle is made from 100% Pinot Bianco, from 21-49 year old vines, and the wine was aged for about 8 months in casks (85%) and stainless steel. With a 13$ ABV, this wine was elegant and complex, with bright fruit notes, from peach to pear, citrus to apple, and a crisp acidity. There are also some underlying mineral notes and a pleasing finish. An excellent summer wine, and which would pair well with seafood and vegetables.

We moved onto Pinot Grigio, also known as Rulander and Grauburgunder, which was first planted in 1848 and now comprises about 1554 acres in the region. It is the most planted variety however the locals don't consume it a lot. The Cantina Tramin winery was founded in 1900, and currently is a cooperative of about 650 growers and 1164 acres of vineyards. The 2016 Cantina Tramin Pinot Grigio Unterebner, made from 100$ pinot Grigio, was aged for 14 months in a mix of 30-40hl casks and 500 liter tonneux. At 14% ABV, it is a more full bodied wine, with citrus flavors, especially lemon, crisp acidity, and savory notes, especially on the finish.

For the final white, we went with Gewurtztraminer, an indigenous variety that is the oldest white variety documented in their records. About 1418 acres are planted, and it was noted that this grape produces the most sugar so it possesses a rounder mouthfeel and works well with spicy dishes. The 2016 Elena Walch Gewrutraminer Vigna Kastlelaz, made from 100% Gewurtztraminer, from 18-25 year old vines, spent about 7 months on the less in stainless steel. With a 14.5% ABV, this wine was extremely aromatic with intense spice notes, some floral elements and a backbone of minerality. Complex and interesting, this would be great with Thai to Indian cuisine.

Our first red grape was Schiava, of which I'll go into more detail later in this article. The Castel Sallegg winery, founded in 1851, is a family run firm of winegrowers, owned by Count von Kuenberg. Their winemaking philosophy is "be genuine." The 2017 Castel Sallegg Lago di Caldaro Scelto Classico Bischofsleiten, made from 100% Schiava, is a single vineyard wine that was aged for 4 months in stainless steel and has a 13.2% ABV. Light bodied, the wine has a nice depth of flavor, with more savory notes, subtle red fruit flavors and a spicy backbone. Very interesting and complex, this wine also has a long, lingering and satisfying finish.

Next we moved onto Pinot Nero, also known as Blauburgunder, which has been grown in the region since the 19th century and there are now 1095 acres of vineyards. The Colterenzio Winery, founded in 1960, is one of the newest cooperatives with 300 winegrowers and 741 acres. Sustainability is very important to them. The 2015 Colterenzio Winery Pinot Nero Riserva St. Daniel, made from 100% Pinot Nero, was aged for 12 months in 35hl casks and barriques, and has a 13.5% ABV. Made more in a Burgundian style, this wine was light bodied with lots of bright red fruits, including some sour cherry, and mild spice notes. Elegant and tasty, it would be a fun summer wine, and would go well with burgers and hotdogs.

The final red grape was Lagrein, occupying 1156 acres, which is an indigenous grape deeply rooted in Bolzano and its first documented mention goes back to 1318. The Cantina Bolzano was formed in 2001, from a merger of two wineries, Gries and St. Magdalena, and is now a cooperative of 220 growers and 864 acres of vineyards. The 2015 Cantina Bolzano Lagrein Riserva Taber, made from 100% Lagrein, was aged for 12 months in French barriques and has a 14% ABV. This is a fruity wine, with concentrated flavors, subtle spice notes and hints of violets. It is an easy drinking wine, which would be delicious on its own or paired with food.

I was especially taken with the Schiava wines. It is an indigenous grape, whose name derives from the word "slave," which was first documented back in 1195 and played a primary tole in the region during the 16th century. It is also known by the German names Vernatsch and Trollinger. Currently, though it has lost some popularity recently, there are about 1972 acres of vineyards, primarily in Bolzano, Merano, Oltradige, and Bassa Atesina. Schiava is said to be a workhouse vine (which may explain its name and derivation), fertile with lots of heavy vines, and more of a prima donna than Pinot Noir. It tends to be light bodied and easy drinking, with almost no tannins and light acidity. Time stated that it was the "best wine for breakfast, lunch and dinner," and is an excellent food wine, especially in the summer when it can be served with a light chill. Just note that you probably won't see the name of the grape on the wine label, just its appellation.

After the seminar, there was an open tasting of other Alto Adige-Südtirol including two additional Schiava wines, both which I tasted.

The 2016 Cantina Bolzano St. Maddalena Classico Huck am Bach, made from 100% Schiava, was aged in large oak casks, and has a 13% ABV. This was an intriguing and complex wine, with plenty of cherry and plum flavors, mild spices notes, a floral wisp, but also a meaty taste, with a smoky finish. Medium-bodied, the wine also had mild tannins and a lengthy finish. Quite delicious and would pair well with grilled meats. Highly recommended.

The Cantina Kaltern was a cooperative founded in 1900 that now consists of 650 growers and 1164 acres. The 2017 Cantina Kaltern Schiava, made from 100% Schiava, was aged for 4 months in stainless steel and large oak casks, and has a 12.5% ABV. It was light bodied, with prominent red fruit flavors, a spicy backbone and crisp acidity. It wasn't as complex as the other Schiava, but still was more than a simple wine. This would be a good wine on its own or paired with meat dishes, or even salmon and tuna.

Augustus Caesar was definitely onto something as the Alto Adige-Südtirol are compelling, food friendly, and delicious.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

2015 Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel & What is Tribidrag?

"The varieties most prized for wine are the Zinfandel, Riesling, Chasselas, Burger and black Malvasia."
--Daily Alta California, July 9, 1878 (referring to Napa)

Have you ever tasted a wine made from the Crljenak Kaštelanski or Tribidrag grape? You probably have, though didn't know it, because you're aware of the grape by a different name, Zinfandel.

The historical origins of Zinfandel had been a mystery for some time, with plenty of speculation and study efforts. Finally, DNA research, through an endeavor by Dr. Carole Meredith, a professor and geneticist at the University of California at Davis, and her team determined that Zinfandel is actually a Croatian grape, known as Crljenak Kaštelanski, Tribidrag and Pribidrag. The oldest known name for this grape is Tribidrag, extending back to the early 16th century, so that is the primary name of which it is now known. This term has roots in a Greek word which means "early ripening."

Within California, Zinfandel has long been a popular grape, as can be seen in the newspaper reference, from 1878, I earlier quoted. During the late 19th century, Zinfandel was one of the kings of the California vineyards, and there are thousands of references to it in newspapers of that period. Though nowadays, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay have garnered much of the attention, Zinfandel remains an important grape in California.

I recently received a media sample of the 2015 Chateau Montelena Calistoga Zinfandel ($39), the famed winery which put California wine on the international map with its success at the Judgment of Paris in 1976. The 2015 vintage was tough, the end of a four year drought in California, one of the driest in history. However, Zinfandel is tough, a survivor, and thrives on drought conditions. During 2015, the drought in the spring caused vine stress, and then the hot summer led to an increased density and ripeness of the grapes. There were low yields but the grapes were impressive, leading to an impressive wine.

The wine is made from 100% Zinfandel, a blend of old and new vines, with the oldest having been planted in 1972 when Jim Barrett founded Chateau Montelena. The wine spent about 16 months in French, Irish and American oak, 15% new, and has a 14.5% ABV. This is one of the first wines I've seen using Irish oak. The wine has a dark red color, though still partially translucent, with an intriguing aroma of spice and black fruit, an alluring blend that will tantalize your nose. On the palate, the spice notes are initially predominant, merging into flavors of ripe plum, black cherry, vanilla, and a certain meatiness, with a smoky edge. The lingering finish presents some chocolate notes along with more spice. The wine is well balanced, complex, and absolutely delicious, especially paired with some dry aged steak tips.

Though this is a big wine, it isn't overly so, and the alcohol level is lower than a number of other Zinfandels which seem to be pushing 16%. I especially liked the meaty element to this wine, its more savage nature, which I haven't found in many other California wines. This wine earns a hearty recommendation, and is well worth its price point.

"The better the claret the less alcohol it contains, and our wine-makers have already reached, in the Zinfandel, a brand which is certainly as light and non-alcoholic as the best light brands of Bordeaux. If all the people of California drank Zinfandel, the temperance problem would be practically solved,..."
--Sacramento Daily Record-Union, July 15, 1882

Monday, June 18, 2018

Rant: Explore The Different, Don't Drink The Same

Last week, I attended the 2018 Vini d’Italia Experience, an Italian wine tasting event organized by the Gambero Rosso, a media company that produces a famous annual guide to Italian wines. The 31st edition of the Vini d’Italia "... is the result of a year of work by an expert team of 53 tasters who have travelled the country (including Switzerland’s Canton Ticino starting this year) visiting wineries, interviewing producers and tasting 45,000 wines. The book reviews 2,485 wineries and a total of 22,000 wines, noting wines of distinction with bicchieri (glasses). This year, just 436 Tre Bicchieri have emerged -- fewer than 1 percent of the wines tasted."

At the tasting event, which was held in Boston for the first time ever, there were 45 Italian wineries, offering about 125 wines for sampling. When you encounter so many wines at a tasting event, how do select which wines to taste? You probably can't taste them all so you need a game plan, an idea of which wines you will select and which wines you won't. This is a dilemma faced by both consumers and the trade at large wine tasting events. Hard decisions must be made.

Unfortunately, some people choose to sample the familiar, to taste what they know. At such an Italian tasting, they might stick to Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, and Chianti. They learn little from their experience, wasting the opportunity to expand their palates. They could drink those familiar wines at any time, almost anywhere. They might be their favorites, but that doesn't mean they couldn't acquire a new favorite. Only if they took a risk and tried something different.

Though there are over 10,000 known wine grapes, it is thought that there are only about 1400 or so in commercial production. I've probably tasted at least 400 different grapes, and I'm always seeking to add to that list. At the Vini d’Italia event, I found five wines with grapes that were new to me, quite a find. I tasted each of those wines because I want to expand my palate, to taste as many new wines as possible. I want to explore all the vinous world has to offer.

Of those unique grapes I tasted, most of them were produced by only a handful of Italian wineries, and in one case, by a single winery. Many of them were seeking importers, meaning the wines might not be available locally any time soon, if at all. This was a rare opportunity to experience these  grapes and if you failed to avail yourself of the chance to taste these wines, you lost out. And as these were also delicious and intriguing wines, you lost out even more.

Stop just drinking the familiar. Doesn't it get boring? Do you eat the same old things all the time, never venturing out of your comfort zone to try something different? Be vinous adventurous and seek out new and different wines, broadening your horizons. The world of wine is much larger than Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc.

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Compelling White Ragu From il Casale: The Recipe

As I posted earlier today, I recently attended a Tuscan-inspired wine dinner at il Casale Belmont, and was throughly impressed with their Fusilli fatti in casa con ragù "bianco" di carne e salamino di cinghiale (Handmade fusilli with "white" meat ragù and diced wild boar salami). This "ragu bianco" is traditional mostly in northern Italy, including Tuscany, and it is made with cream rather than tomatoes.

I previously wrote, "This was simply a perfect dish, with homemade pasta cooked just right, plenty of savory and tender meat, a touch of earthiness, and a cream sauce that added plenty of flavor. The sauce was neither cloying or overly heavy, and I could easily have devoured a couple more plates. Each bite was scrumptious and this dish probably will end up as one of my top ten dishes of 2018. It is rare to see a ragu bianco at local restaurants, and that really needs to change if this dish is an example of what can be created."

Chef Dante de Magistris and his culinary team at il Casale were generous enough to provide me the recipe for their White Ragu and have allowed me to share it with my readers. When I previously mentioned this dish on social media, it garnered some attention and people were certainly curious as to how it was made. So, now you can make this dish at home, though I still recommend you check out il Casale in Belmont or Lexington.

If you prepare this White Ragu, please get back to me about your results. And I will do the same, as I have definite plans to make this delicious recipe.

White Ragu alla Bolognese (Serves 10)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground veal
¼ pound pancetta, chopped coarsely
¼ pound mortadella, chopped coarsely
¼ pound chicken liver, chopped coarsely
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
6 tablespoons good quality tomato paste
2 cups red wine
6 cups brodo or chicken stock, hot
2 cups heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large deap saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add beef, pork, veal, pancetta, mortadella, chicken liver and sage. Cook until all the meat is lightly browned. Drain excess fat and add onion, carrots and celery. Lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring until the onions are translucent and the carrots and celery are softened.
2. Stir in the tomato paste, and allow to cook with the tomato paste for 5 minutes. Turn the heat to high, add the red wine and allow the wine to reduce by ¾ the way. Add one cup of the hot meat broth. Cook, stirring occasionally to scrape up any residues sticking to the bottom of the pan, until all the broth has evaporated. Repeat this process twice more adding one cup of broth at a time. After the third cup of broth evaporates, add the remaining 3 cups of broth, lower the heat to a simmer and cook uncovered until sauce is thick approximately 2 hours.
3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add heavy cream to Bolognese sauce and allow to simmer for 2 minutes.
5. Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil, add the tagliatelle or your favorite pasta and cook until al dente. Strain pasta, toss with the bolognese sauce and a generous handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Though you can buy your choice of pasta to use with this White Ragu, I'm also including il Casale's recipe for their Tagliatelle pasta, if you are especially ambitious.

Tagliatelle pasta (Serves 10)

1 pound ‘00’ flour
10 egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs (total weight should equal 11 ounces)
1 tablespoon salt

1. Place the flour on a pastry board or in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour, crack the eggs into the well and add the salt. Using your hands, beat the eggs, drawing the flour into the eggs a little at a time.
2. When the dough begins to hold together and the eggs are completely absorbed into the flour, it is ready to be kneaded. If you are using a bowl, move the dough to a flat work surface to knead. Flour your hands lightly. Work the dough with your hands until it forms a ball. Knead for 5 minutes by folding the dough toward you and then pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands, rotating the dough at quarter turns between each fold. You may have to add a little more flour to the dough and/or your hands during this time if the dough starts to stick. After you have finished kneading, and the dough is nice and smooth, wrap it in a clean, damp dishcloth and let it rest for 20 minutes. Divide the dough into 6 pieces.
3. Using a pasta machine, run each piece of dough through the machine, starting with the greatest thickness and moving down to the next smallest thickness each time through the very last, thinnest setting. Allow the dough to rest for about 10 minutes after you have rolled it out, or until it feels semidry to the touch. Roll each sheet of pasta, as for a jellyroll, and cut the rolls horizontally into ¼-inch strips, using a sharp knife. Unravel these strips and you will have your tagliatelle. Allow the strips to sit for about 10 minutes spread out, on wax paper, or a floured dishcloth.

Buon appetito!

San Felice Wine Dinner at Il Casale: Chianti Classico to the "Little Fist"

Tuscany is a historically rich area, and many famous personages lived in, passed through and/or enjoyed the Chianti and/or Chianti Classico region. From the famed poet Dante Aligheri to the extraordinary Leonardo da Vinci, from Amerigo Vespucci (where we derive the name America) to Giovanni da Verrazzano (the discoverer of Manhattan), from Galileo to Machiavelli. Michaelangelo was especially fond of the wines of this region and gifted some of their wines to the Pope. Plenty of ordinary people have passed through this area too, including myself, and it was sheer pleasure to witness the beauty of the region and enjoy their compelling cuisine and wines.

Earlier this week, I was invited as a media guest to attend a Tuscan-inspired wine dinner at il Casale Belmont, showcasing the Chianti Classico and Brunello wines of San Felice Winery. Chef Dante de Magistris and his brothers, Filippo and Damian, co-own il Casale, an Italian restaurant which opened back in 2009 in Belmont on the site of a former firehouse. Belmont is their hometown and when the firehouse was in operation, it once made a call to a fire at the de Magistris home.

Chef Dante and his brothers have just opened a new restaurant, The Wellington, located across the street from il Casale. As Chef Dante and his brothers are rather busy with this new endeavor, Chef Daniele Baliani (pictured above) took the lead on presenting the cuisine for this wine dinner. Daniele has worked with Chef Dante and the entire team on and off for 24 years at both il Casale Belmont and Lexington. Daniele started his career back in 1987 and spent some time studying and working in Tuscany.

The demand for this dinner was so high that the restaurant shut down regular service for the evening, hosting only the wine dinner. Now, when you have so many people, over 100, all enjoying the same dishes, at the same time, there is always a slight worry that it will overwhelm the kitchen, and that your dishes will be less than hot when they reach your table. However, that was not the case at all, as each dish we enjoyed was at an optimal temperature. Their professional kitchen is obviously well experienced in dealing with such crowds and know exactly how to handle the situation. Overall, the dinner was superb, with excellent food, wines, and service.

The event offered a five course dinner, paired with Chianti and Brunello wines, and presided over by Marco Secola (pictured above), a native of Florence, Italy, and the U.S. East Coast brand ambassador for San Felice Winery. Besides speaking on the microphone, so everyone could hear his comments, Marco also made sure to stop by all the individual tables at least a couple times, for a more personal talk about the wines and the winery, including showing photographs of the beautiful estate.

The village of Borgo San Felice extends back to at least 714 AD though the Pieve San Felice, a church, traces its root back to the ancient Etruscans. A "pieve" was originally a rural church with a baptistery, though it later also referred to the larger community based around that church. Throughout the Middle Ages, the village of San Felice was frequently the site of battles between the cities of Florence and Siena. Finally, in the 18th century, the village became the noble of the Del Taja family, who were based in Siena. One of their descendants, Giulio Grisaldi Del Taja would become a founder of the Consorzio del Chianti Classico in 1924.

During the 1970s, the land and vineyards in San Felice were acquired by the Allianz Group, an insurance and investment corporation. They invested heavily into creating a state of the art winery, though ensuring sustainability was an important objective. They now have a total estate of about 650 hectares, extending over two territories, Chianti Classico and Montalcino. Within Chianti Classico, they own over 140 hectares of vineyards, as well as about 17,000 olive trees. In Montalcino, they own the Campogiovanni estate, with 20 hectares of vineyards.

They are also involved in experimentation, especially concerning the biodiversity of vines. In their Vitiarium, they have been cultivating and studying about 270 grape varieties for about 30 years, seeking those which might grow best in their terroir and trying to save others from extinction. This is impressive research, well needed, and their results could benefit many other wineries in Italy, as well as elsewhere.

We began the evening with an aperitif of a glass of 2016 San Felice Perolla Vermentino ($15), which is made from 95% Vermentino and 5% Sauvignon Blanc. The wine matures on the lees for a month and then ages in the bottle for an additional two months. The wine is fresh and crisp, with pleasant tastes of grapefruit and lemon, with hints of tropical fruits on the finish. It is an easy drinking wine, intended to whet our appetites for what was to come.

The next wine of the evening was the 2017 San Felice Perolla Rosato ($12), a blend of 65% Sangiovese and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, made in the saignee process. It had an alluring aroma and was pure deliciousness on the palate. Light bodied, crisp and dry, with bright red fruits (especially strawberry) and a savory touch. Refreshing and an excellent summer wine, it would also pair well with a variety of foods. And at this price, it is a very good value too. I plan on buying maybe a case of this wine to enjoy during the summer.

The First Course of the evening was Insalata di gamberetti con fagioli su bruschetta al pomodoro, olio al basilico (Rock shrimp salad with cannellini beans on tomato bruschetta with basil oil).
Tuscans love cannellini beans, and they were tender, enhancing the taste of this dish, with the small shrimp, bright tomatoes, and basil notes. A good blend of textures and flavors, this went well with the Rosato. Off to a very positive step.

The Second Course, and my absolute favorite of the night, was the Fusilli fatti in casa con ragù "bianco" di carne e salamino di cinghiale (Handmade fusilli with "white" meat ragù and diced wild boar salami). This "ragu bianco" is traditional mostly in northern Italy, including Tuscany, and it is made with cream rather than tomatoes. This was simply a perfect dish, with homemade pasta cooked just right, plenty of savory and tender meat, a touch of earthiness, and a cream sauce that added plenty of flavor. The sauce was neither cloying or overly heavy, and I could easily have devoured a couple more plates. Each bite was scrumptious and this dish probably will end up as one of my top ten dishes of 2018. It is rare to see a ragu bianco at local restaurants, and that really needs to change if this dish is an example of what can be created. (And the recipe for this fine dish will soon be made available!)

With the Fusilli, we had two wines, both Chianti Classico. First, there was the 2014 San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva ($25), made from 100% Sangiovese, which spent about 24 months in oak, 20% in small barriques, and 1 year in the bottle. It was made in a more traditional style, which is my preference, and was quite good, with good acidity, notes of cherry and black fruit, mild spice notes, and low tannins. It was delicious, but definitely does best when paired with food, especially meat or a hearty dish. To me, this is an example of a very good traditional Chianti Classico.

The second wine was my personal favorite of the evening, the stellar 2014 San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($50). In 2013, the Gran Selezione designation was created, intended to represent the pinnacle of quality, akin to a Grand Cru, and it has different regulations than the Riserva category. Gran Selezione must be at least 80% Sangiovese, the rest chosen from a small group of approved grapes. It must also be aged for at least 30 months, rather than the Riserva 24 months. This new designation has been enmeshed in some controversy but it appears to be here to stay and we should be judging the wines on their merits.

This Gran Selezione is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, with the rest a blend of indigenous grapes including Abrusco (for color), Pugnitello (for structure), Malvasia Nera (for aroma and fruit), Ciliegiolo (for aroma and fruit) and Mazzese (for spice). The wine was barrel aged for about 24 months, 50% in large Slavonian oak casks and 50% in 225 and 500 liter French oak barriques. It then spent about 8 months aging in the bottle.

This was a WOW wine, impressive and compelling. The aromas seduced my nose, giving evidence of the quality that I would find within the wine. On the palate, it was silky smooth, with plenty of complexity, including ripe plum, black cherry, mild spice notes, hints of earthiness, and wisps of additional flavors that seemed to flit in and out. Well-balanced, fine acidity, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It was the epitome of elegance and well worthy of the designation of Gran Selezione. This is a wine to slowly savor over the course of an evening, relishing each sip, finding new flavors within each taste. It is worth its price, and I bought two bottles during dinner. And I probably should have bought more. My highest recommendation!

The Third Course was a Quaglia Arrosto alle erbe aromatiche, cous-cous al pistacchio, molasse di melograno (Roast quail with aromatic herbs, pistachio couscous, and pomegranate molasses). Another excellent dish, the quail had tasty crispy skin, and was tender, flavorful and meaty, with few bones. And the nutty couscous was a fine addition to the quail. Quail definitely has a different taste than chicken, and the chef made a great choice in opting for it. Quail is popular in Tuscany and should be more popular locally too.

With the quail, we enjoyed the 2013 San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino ($65.00), made from 100% Sangiovese. The wine spent 3 years in Slavonian oak and 500 liter tonneaux, and then 12 months in the bottle. It was bold but elegant, with intense black fruit flavors, moderate spice notes, and moderate tannins. It was complex, savory and delicious. A fine example of what Brunello can offer. This wine will age very well, and didn't overwhelm the quail.

The Fourth Course was Wellington di manzo con spinaci, salsa al tartufo nero con gratin di patate tartufate (Beef Wellington with sautéed spinach, black truffle sauce and truffled potato gratin). This course was in honor of their new restaurant, The Wellington. The pastry was flaky and buttery, and the beef came out perfectly medium rare, enhanced by the subtle truffle sauce. The beef was tender and flavorful, meaty with a nice intensity. And the potato gratin was tender, cheesy and quite scrumptious.

Accompanying the Wellington was the 2013 San Felice Pugnitello ($55.00), made from 100% Pugnitello, an indigenous grape whose name means "little fist." This grape was nearly extinct but a vine was found on a small farm and sent to the University of Firenze in 1981. DNA testing indicated this vine had no known relationship to any other grapes. The University then collaborated with San Felice, which planted the vine, and it turned out Pugnitello was the most successful of over 250 grapes that San Felice had under experimentation. The grape acquired its name as the clusters resembled little fists.

San Felice's first release of a Pugnitello wine was in 2006, and they currently only produce about 500 cases of it each year. This wine spent about 18-20 months aging in 225 liter French oak barriques and then 8 more months in the bottle. It was made more in an international style. It has a deep, dark color and on the palate, the black fruit flavors are intense, accompanied by strong spice notes, vanilla, and hints of leather. It also has moderate tannins, good acidity, and is muscular yet still elegant with a long, long finish. It pairs well with beef and I certainly would like to try other examples of Pugnitello,  as at least a couple other wineries now make wines from this grape.

The Fifth Course, our dessert, was Cantucci tipici della Toscana....per intingere (Tuscan style almond dip in the Vin Santo) and Tartufi al cioccolato per la tavola (Chocolate truffles for the table). The biscotti, dipped in the wine, was pleasant though it was the truffle that captivated me, with its rich chocolate and creamy interior.

The San Felice Belcaro Vin Santo ($25.00/375ml) is a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes, which ages for 10-15 years in small, oak barrels. It is sweet, but balanced with strong acidity, and has intriguing Sherry notes, with flavors of caramel, dried fruit, citrus and salted almonds. A fitting end to this excellent evening.

I'll note that all of the San Felice wines are available from Cuvée Fine Wines, a Belmont wine shop located close to il Casala.

il Casale held an impressive wine dinner, delivering well on all levels. The food was compelling, the wines were interesting, and the service was exceptional. If you haven''t dined at il Casala before, then now is the time to change that. And you really should seek out the wines of San Felice, especially their Rosato and the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione.

Now, I need to check out the new The Wellington,

Thursday, June 14, 2018

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) Loretta’s Last Call celebrates Flag Day this year by teaming up with Crown Royal's "Packages For Home". Stop by on Thursday, June 14, from 4pm-8pm, to eat, drink and support those who fight for our lives each and every day. Attendees will receive one complimentary drink, snacks, giveaways and much more. Supplies such as toiletries, food and postcards will be handed out to fill Crown Royal bags that will be sent out to our troops overseas. Flag Day at Loretta's is a fun time for a good cause.

To RSVP please email or call (617) 421-9595.

2) Friday, June 15, is National Lobster Day, and in New England the lobster may be the king of seafood. Here are several of the local restaurants with lobster specials that day.

Newly renovated, Anthem Kitchen + Bar kicks up a comfort classic this National Lobster Day with their Lobster Mac and Cheese made with fresh, native lobster meat, a creamy four cheese sauce and toasted crumb topping. Bonus: their patio has a bird's eye view of all the excitement happening this summer in Faneuil Hall.

Chef and restaurateur Michael Schlow channels the tastes of South America at his latin inspired restaurant Tico. Executive Chef Leo Asaro will help you spice up National Lobster Day with his Lobster Tacos with fresh lobster meat, avocado, bacon and pickled onion. And try a Margaritas with that.

For those looking for a lobster dish with an Italian spin, head over to Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, in Boston, for their specialty Lobster Risotto entrée made with Maine lobster, fresh herbs, asparagus and topped off with a decadent lobster cream. This rich and flavorful dish will give you a refreshing alternative to the traditional lobster roll.

TAMO Bistro + Bar’s outdoor Terrace at the Seaport Hotel is open for lunch and dinner just in time for National Lobster Day. Try their signature Lobster Roll served in a warm buttered bun with your choice of fries or a salad. Kick off summer in style and celebrate the night away on the beautiful outdoor patio as you listen to live music from the DJ from 7-11PM.

3) On Wednesday, June 13, starting at 5pm, Committee Ouzeri + Bar is launching a Natural Wine Bar Pop Up on their patio. Wine Director Lauren Friel (who is also opening Rebel Rebel at Bow Market) will be showcasing a modest list of all natural Greek wines. They’re offered at a much lower mark up than usual, hence the Democratization of Wine. These will be rare selections that are hard to find and will change monthly. The pop up will also offer wine flights and accompanying meze. This will be on a first come, first serve basis on the patio only beginning at 5:00PM.

The Natural Wine Bar Pop Up will kick off with the following selections, which guests can opt to enjoy with our without suggested meze pairings:
--Slavos ‘Tsaousi,’ Kefalonia
--Domaine Nerantzi ‘Koniaros,’ Macedonia
--Papras ‘Oreads,’ Thessaly

The pop up will run every Wednesday through August 29. This pop up is also in celebration of Committee’s new wine list which now features both 100% Greek AND 100% natural selections (And as I've said before, it is courageous for a restaurant to stick to a wine list that is 100% dedicated to their cuisine. With so many wonderful Greek wines available, there still will be plenty of wines to appeal to all preferences.)

4) Puritan & Company is bringing back their seasonal Market Mondays, but this time with a twist. Stop by on a summery Monday evening to try the carefully curated menu based off of what's green at the farmer's markets right now. These farm fresh specials are now not only totally vegetarian, but available to be ordered all at once. Order "the whole shebang" for $85 and enjoy the crisp, special dishes between 2-3 people. Or simply order a number to yourself, à la carte.

Note: If a guest in your party isn't vegetarian, don't fret as Puritan & Company's regular menu is also available in addition to their Market Monday offerings.

Puritan & Company's Market Monday Menu for June includes:
--Smashed Pea Toast (mint, feta, basil, everything crumble) $10
--Asparagus Soup (poached egg, berbere oil, brown butter croutons) $11
--Seared Snap Peas (radish, sweet soy, pistachio dukkah) $9
--Roasted Beets and Carrots (Great Hill Blue, spiced carrot puree, watercress) $10
--Dill Spaetzle (young onions, morels, mustard butter) $14
--Baked Lasagna (braised greens, potato, ricotta, aged pecorino) $18
--Grilled Lettuce (parmesan custard, tempura peas, meyer lemon dressing) $10
--Warm Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler (vanilla ice cream, lemon curd, basil) $10
--"The Whole Shebang" $85

This isn't my type of menu but I trust the kitchen team at Puritan that they will be putting out some awesome vegetarian dishes.

5) PABU is ringing in summer with a number of reasons to visit the modern izakaya and sushi bar in the heart of Downtown Boston. From outdoor festivities to snacky specials and new libations, PABU has a little something to suit every summertime desire.

PABU Summer Kickoff Party
Thursday, June 21, 4:30-5:30PM
To kick off the official start of summer, PABU and Downtown Boston BID are hosting a Summer Solstice sidewalk celebration at the Downtown Crossing Steps right outside the restaurant. PABU staff will be passing out complimentary Sushi Hand Rolls, there will be a DJ spinning summer tunes, fun contests, games, freebies and more. And to extend the party, PABU will be offering their special Happy Hour menu all night long.

Happy Hour
Monday-Friday, 4:00-6:00PM & 9:00-10:00PM (in bar & lounge area)
As the summer rolls on, get out and enjoy the evening with PABU’s Happy Hour menu. Featuring assorted snacks and sushi from Chef Ben Steigers, such as:

Robatayaki Skewer ($3) – cut of the day grilled over binchotan
Tokyo Fried Chicken Karaage ($6) – soy-ginger marinade, spicy mayo
Hand Roll ($6) -choice of: spicy tuna, salmon, scallop, hamachi or negihama
PABU Ribs ($7) – red chili glaze, kewpie, sesame
And more...

New Cocktails
PABU’s bar program highlights Japanese ingredients, hospitality and most importantly, kaizen, a desire for constant improvement. A few of the new seasonal selections:

Shiso Fine ($13) – el tesoro blanco tequila, aperol, shiso, fever tree club soda
Crane Kick ($14) – rhum agricole, yuzu, lemongrass
Woman on the Other Shore ($18) – ki no bi japanese gin, yuzu, lemon, togarashi bitters

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Portuguese Pleasures: More Port & Douro Wines

This afternoon, I'll being having lunch aboard the NRP Sagres, a Portuguese tall ship that is currently docked at the Fan Pier, so it is only appropriate that I write about Portuguese wines today. I recently attended a Porto & Douro wine event, with representation of four different estates, though unfortunately, two of them were very late to the event and I didn't get to taste their wines. However, I was able to sample Douro still wines and Ports from Symington Family Estates and Quinta de Santa Eufemia.

Symington Family Estates represents brands including Graham's Porto, Cockburn's Port, Dow's Ports, Quinta do Vesuvio, and Smith Woodhouse Port. At this event, they presented wines from three different estates.

The 2015 Dow's Vale do Bomfim ($12.99) is from the Quinta do Bomfim, which was acquired by Symington in 1896, making it their oldest owned estate. The quinta is located just beside the town of Pinhão, and consists of a 130-acre property with over 160,000 vines. This still wine is a blend of 40% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional and 35% Field Blend. It spent about 9 months in neutral oak, and presented with as a light bodied wine, with cherry and plum flavors, mild spice notes, and low tannins. For a wine of this price point, it is moderately complex with some intriguing licorice notes on the finish. Definitely a good value wine!

The 2015 Post Scriptum de Chryseia ($20-$25) is from Prats & Symington, their 2nd tier wine. Nine years ago, I reviewed their 1st tier wine, the 2003 Chryseia, and was thoroughly impressed. This wine too is impressive, especially at this price point. It is a blend of 64% Touriga Franca, 28% Touriga Nacional and 8% Tinta Roriz, spending about 12 months in French oak. It has bright red fruit flavors, nice acidity, a spicy backbone and an elegant nature. Definitely very approachable, with good complexity, a lengthy finish and a wine that is very food friendly. Highly recommended.

As for Ports, the Dow 2011 Late Bottled Vintage Port ($25-$30) had an amazing taste and aroma, being more dry than sweet, with concentrated black fruit flavors, notes of dried fruit, spicy accents, and plenty of complexity. Well balanced, this is a powerful Port yet still restrained, more elegant than muscular. And you can easily enjoy it now without a need for further aging. Pure deliciousness. The Dow 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($35-$40) is another well balanced wine, where the fortification is well integrated into the whole. It seduces your palate, with its complex and striking melange of flavors and intense black fruit. One of the best 10 Year Old Tawnies available, it is sure to satisfy all lovers of Port. Highly recommended.

And then a superlative Port, the Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($60-$65). It is actually about 24 years old, made from high quality wines, and is complex and intriguing, more dry than sweet, well-balanced and delicious. Caramel and salted nuts, dried fruit, a wisp of citrus and black cherry, hints of spice and good acidity. Another Port to slowly savor over the course of an evening, chatting with good friends, paired with blue cheese or creme brulee. Each sip will bring something new to your palate, and you could get lost within your glass. Highly recommended!

The Quinta de Santa Eufemia was founded in 1864 by Bernardo Rodrigues de Carvalho and it is now managed by the 4th generation. Located on the left side of the Douro River, the vineyards occupy more than 50 hectares, planted with field blends of 20+ grapes. They produce both table wines and Ports, and I got to sample both types. I've enjoyed some of their wines previously and my feelings didn't decrease an iota with this tasting.

The Quinta de Santa Eufemia Douro ($13), a blend of 4 indigenous grapes, is easy drinking and pleasurable, with fresh red fruit flavors, mild tannins, and a touch of spice. Great on its own or paired with food, from pizza to burgers. The 2013 Quinta de Santa Eufemia Douro Reserva ($17), a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Bastardo and Tinta Amarela, spends about three months in oak barrels. There were more black fruit flavors, plum and black cherry, and enhanced spice notes, with silky tannins and a lingering finish. This is a wine best paired with hearty dishes and beef.

I previously found their Ports to be generally elegant and well balanced, presenting complex and delicious flavors. The 2007 Quinta de Santa Eufemia Colheita Port possessed a light color, with bright fruit flavors, underlying spice notes, good acidity balancing the sweetness, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is a Port which will age well and I would have loved to slowly sip a glass while enjoying a hunk of blue cheese.

As I said before, and supported by a further sampling, their Quinta de Santa Eufemia 10 Year Old Tawny Port is one of the best in this class. The fortification was well integrated into the Port, and it possessed a more subtle sweetness, enhancing the complex melange of delectable flavors. It is a Port to savor and enjoy over time, sharing a glass with good friends. The 2008 Quinta de Santa Eufemia Vintage Port is still young, with vibrant fruit flavors, savory notes, a mild sweetness, and plenty of complexity, albeit a bit of tightness. This needs more time to age and it will become a killer Port. Quinta de Santa Eufemia knows how to produce excellent Port.

My favorite of their Ports is probably their 10 Year Old White Port ($25) They also make 20 & 30 Year Old White Ports (and I have a bottle of 20 Year Old in my wine cellar). The wine is a blend of Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Moscatel Galego, and Rabigato. As I wrote before, "With a beautiful amber color, it possessed an alluring nose of floral and herbal notes, and on the palate the taste was complex and intriguing, a bit of an oxidative style. It had a tough of honeyed sweetness though it finished dry, and that finish lingers long in your mouth. It is surely a Port to slowly savor, enjoying the multitude of flavors that pass over your palate." This Port was included in my 2014: Top Ten Wines Over $15

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Les Vins Georges Duboeuf: The Beauty Of Beaujolais

"A gouleyant wine was one that was light, supple and benevolent, free of complexes and pretension, one that slipped with pleasurable ease down the gullet. The adjective could be properly applied only to Beaujolais. With no other wine did it make any sense at all. Beaujolais owns gouleyant the way the Loire Valley’s white wines of the sauvignon grape own their curious nose of pipi de chat (cat pee) or gewürztraminers their characteristic signature of rose petals and litchis."
--I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

The poor Gamay grape.

It's said that the ancient Romans were the first to use Gamay grapes to make wine, though they never could have foreseen the threat Gamay would one day face. Over 600 years ago, on July 31, 1395, Gamay faced execution as if it had committed some heinous crime. Philip the Bold, the Duke of Burgundy, had great enmity for the Gamay grape, claiming it was overly bitter, possessed of a foul taste, and was even a "disloyal plant." He much preferred the Pinot Noir grape and ordered that all Gamay vines be cut down or uprooted, in favor of Pinot Noir. The fate of Gamay looked grim.

Fortunately, many farmers chose to ignore the order, especially as Gamay vines were so much easier to grow than Pinot Noir. Forty years later, Philip's grandson also tried a similar ban on Gamay, but he too had little success in his endeavor. We owe a debt of thanks to those farmers willing to battle this prohibition. The survival of Gamay is a benefit to all of us because it produces some delicious and interesting wines.

Recently, I attended a media lunch and wine tasting at Brasserie Jo, meeting Barry Ibboston, the New England Sales Manager for Quintessential Wine, and Romain Teyteau, the North America Export Director for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf. The 2016 vintage of Beaujolais, both white and red wines, was highlighted at the tasting, with a couple 2015 wines thrown into the mix. Overall, the wines were very good values, most under $22, and they showcased some of the diversity of the region. These are also wines which would be excellent choices for the summer, tending to be lighter and some of red wines even benefit from a slight chill.

For some wine drinkers, they are primarily familiar with the Beaujolais region through Beaujolais Nouveau, a light, fruity wine released each November. Though some show disdain for the Nouveau, Romain states that it is the most complicated wine to produce, as you must work at it for many consecutive hours, and they have to institute 24 hour shifts. There is so little time for error so everything must be done perfectly, to ensure the success of production. This disdain for Nouveau sometimes translates into disdain for all Beaujolais, generally from those who know little about Beaujolais.

"Sure we’re Beaujolais, the vignerons of the crus were saying, but we’re also Moulin-à-Vent and Fleurie and Morgon and Chénas. Our wines are exceptional, vins de garde that can keep for years and years. People should realize they can’t compare them to primeur, and they shouldn’t expect to be able to get them for the same price, either."
--I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

Beyond Nouveau, there is much more to this region, as you will also find Beaujolais AOC, Beaujolais Superieur AOC, Beaujolais Villages AOC and Beaujolais Crus. There are ten Crus, villages, in the Beaujolais region, including Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgan, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour. These Cru wines are intended to reflect the terroir of the specific area, to be wines of more depth and complexity. They are age-worthy and intriguing wines, worthy of your attention.

Red Beaujolais wines are made from Gamay, an ancient red grape, and the wines tend to be light, low in tannins and high in acidity. But, like any other grape, the wines can vary in their flavor profiles, dependent on various factors. It can produce high quality wines, though not enough people seem to realize that is possible. As an aside, Voltaire, the French writer, historian and philosophy was a huge lover of Beaujolais, once ordering 3000 bottles.

The famed Georges Duboeuf is a négociant, representing over 400 winegrowers in Beaujolais, some who have been with him for many years. In 1964, he founded Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, which currently represents wines in Beaujolais, Mâconnais and Southern France. He is sometimes referred to as the “King of Beaujolais” for his ardent advocacy of Beaujolais, especially the promotion of Beaujolais Nouveau. He currently controls about 10% of the production of all Beaujolais wines.

At the tasting, and representing the Duboeuf wines, was Romain Teyteau, who was born in Paris and whose father's family is from Bordeaux. In 2010, Romain moved to Montreal, and sold wines for a Canadian winery. Later, he became the brand ambassador for Georges Duboeuf in New York and Canada, and then in 2013, he was promoted to become the North America Export Director for Duboeuf wines. Romain was personable and charming, passionate and intelligent. The tasting was more fun and interesting due to his presence.

"If you bottle a wine, you can give it spirit or make it dumb. The right time to bottle is important."
--Georges Duboeuf

Les Vins Georges Duboeuf offers two main labels of wines, the Flower label and the Cru label. The Flower label consists of appellation based wines which are produced from grapes they purchased, or wines they bought and blended. They bottle hundreds of thousands of cases of these wines, but note that the Flower Label is a wine style, rather than a quality level. These are wines that are intended to be balanced with fruit, unoaked, possess good acidity, and be approachable, though they can also age well. Duboeuf created a label of a bouquet of flowers back in 1970, a pioneering step when most French wine labels of that time were rather boring and conservative.

As for the Cru labels, these are wines that are nearly all made by independent estates, and which Duboeuf sells for them. Duboeuf may purchase all or only a portion of their production, marketing the wines for them, helping expose the wines of these small producers to a greater audience. These wines are all about terroir, showcasing the specific Cru.

Romain discussed a few Beaujolais vintages, noting how the 2015 vintage was warm and exceptional, similar to that of 2009. The 2016 vintage is a "classic" vintage, similar to 2011, and had a late harvest, near the end of September, which was the latest in decades. It was one month later than the 2015 vintage, and it also had the hottest summer in a long time. 2016 is a vintage for Beaujolais lovers, offering freshness, bright red fruit flavors, a lighter body, and good acidity. The 2016 vintage wines should now be on the market and they are well worth seeking out.

"For the Duboeuf brothers, the only right Pouilly-Fuissé was a perfect Pouilly-Fuissé: bright gold with glints of green, mellow, richly redolent of ripe fruit, grilled almonds and nuts, but at the same time balanced with enough of the citric touch of acidity to prevent it from turning soft and flabby."
----I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

We began the tasting with three white wines from the Mâconnais region, where Duboeuf was born and raised. The Mâconnais region, which has a vinicultural history extending back at least to the ancient Romans, is in the south of Burgundy, west of the Saône river, and it is well known for its Chardonnay wines.

We began with a 2015 Pouilly-Fuisse ($34.99), part of the Flower label, and only 5000 cases of this wine were made. It is produced from 100% Chardonnay and has a 13.5% ABV. It was rich and crisp, with tasty flavors of green apple and pear, salted nuts, a hint of spice, and a lengthy finish. This would pair well with lobster, or maybe even a lobster roll.

The 2016 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse ($34.99), with only 1000 cases available, is an homage to the winemaker's father. The vineyards are on soil with lots of clay and limestone, and it is said that,
"Soil is in love as it sticks to your sole." Made from 100% Chardonnay,  and with a 13% ABV, about 10% of the wine was aged in new French oak. It was even richer that the Pouilly-Fuisse, with good acidity, delicious flavors of green apple, pear, and vanilla, with some floral notes. Again, another wine that would do well with lobster.

My favorite of the three was the 2016 Domaine les Chenevieres, Macon-Villages ($21.99), with 5000 cases available. The family estates go back about 200 years and they vinify each parcel of their vineyard separately. Made from 100% Chardonnay, with vines that are over 20 years old, this wine has a 12.5% ABV and saw only stainless steel. It has an interesting and fresh taste, lots of crispness with flavors of green apple and citrus, with a backbone of minerality, and a lingering finish. It was suggested this would go well with goat cheese, and I think it would also pair well with many types of seafood. A very good value at this price point.

With these wines, we had a Tarte Flambée Classic, kind of an Alsace-style pizza, topped with onion and bacon. It was delicious, with a crisp flatbread and plenty of toppings, and went well with the wines, especially the Domaine les Chenevieres.

I also enjoyed the Escargot en Cocotte, snails in garlic butter, though I think they went better with the red wines, though the Domaine les Chenevieres was a good pairing too, helping to cut through the richness of the dish.

"... the wine he loves is a reflection of what the gamay grape gives best when it is handled by a skillful vigneron: a clearly defined rush of fruit reminiscent of fresh-picked red berries, jamlike in the richer crus, but still totally dry, marked with the refreshing nip of acidity that adds the necessary body to its soft tannins."
----I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

Moving onto the red wines, we began with a Flower label, the 2015 Beaujolais-Villages ($12.99), with about 90,000 cases produced. Made from 100% Gamay, it has a 13.5 % ABV, and it was a given a slight chill before we tasted it. The wine is light-bodied, with plenty of tasty red and black fruit flavors, and a hint of spice, especially on the finish. It is easy-drinking and delicious, a fine summer wine which is very food friendly as well. A pizza and burger wine.

Moving onto the Cru wines, the first is the 2016 Domaine de Quatre Vents ($21.99) from the Fleurie Cru. This region is well known for its pink granite soils, which make the vines go deep into the soil, and wines from this region tend to have a floral aspect to them. Duboeuf has worked with this producer since the 1950s. Made from 100% Gamay, with a 12.5% ABV, this wine is aged in new French oak for about 8 months. On the nose, the aroma of violets is noticeable and on the palate, those floral elements are found as well. There are also pleasing red and black fruit flavors, notes of baking spices and vanilla, and some white pepper. The tannins are silky, the finish is lengthy and it is a very pleasant wine.

The 2016 Chateau des Capitans ($21.99), from the Julienas Cru, is the only estate in Beaujolais that is actually owned by the Duboeuf family. The name of the Cru is derived from Julius Caesar, and their wines are noted for their richness and spice. The chateau is about 300 years old, and there are 10 hectares of vineyards around the house, with another 2 hectares elsewhere. Made from 100% Gamay (from vines over 50 years old), with a 13.5% ABV, a small portion of this wine is aged in new French oak for about 8 months. This was a bit bigger of a wine than the Fleurie, but still elegant and silky, with delicious red fruit flavors and more subtle spices notes. There was plenty of complexity and a lengthy, satisfying finish.

My favorite of the reds was the 2016 Jean Ernest Descombes ($21.99), from the Morgon Cru. The wines from this cru tend to possess an earthy character, reminiscent of Burgundy. It is said to have the "fruit of Beaujolais and the charm of Burgundy." In general, most of my favorite Beaujolais wines come from this Cru. The Descombes estate was the first grower that Duboeuf started working with, back in 1968, when he started Les Vins George Duboeuf. Made from 100% Gamay (vines from 50-100 years old), with a 13% ABV, this wine was vinified and aged in cement tanks. It possesses a captivating aroma, one that quickly lures you into the bottle. The red and black fruit flavors are intense, with crisp acidity, spice notes, and an earthy undertone. It is elegant and complex, intriguing and delicious. Highly recommended, especially at this price point.

With the reds, I enjoyed a Croque Madame, a tasty fried ham and cheese sandwich topped by two eggs, and accompanied by French fries. As a fan of these sandwiches, I was pleased to find this was one of the better ones I've eaten.

He’s the James Bond of the Beaujolais,” said Bocuse."
--Chef Paul Bocuse, referring to Georges Duboeuf, in I'll Drink to That: Beaujolais and the French Peasant Who Made It the World's Most Popular Wine by Rudolph Chelminski

Break out of your misconceptions about Beaujolais and explore the diversity of their wines. Let Georges Duboeuf be your guide to some of the best wines of the region and learn more about the Crus of this area. These are wines that belong on your table, whether on their own or paired with food. Enjoy them year round, and I'm sure you'll find plenty of reasons to drink them this summer.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Rant: A Flawed Greek Festival

Where's the Greek wines?

Yesterday, I visited a local Greek festival, interested to check out their Greek cuisine and wines. There were gyros and souvlaki, pastitsio and moussaka, loukoumades and baklava. A smorgasbord of Greek cuisine offerings. However, there were a just few wines displayed, and only one of them was Greek, an Agioritiko, the others being from California. Not displayed, though offered on their drinks menu, was a Retsina too.

Why would you offer California wines at a Greek festival???

The festival was intended to showcase and celebrate Greek culture, and I believe that should extend to the wines they offer as well. There is no reason why they couldn't offer only Greek wines at the festival. There are plenty of inexpensive, but tasty, Greek wines available if cost was an issue. And the attendees, many who are Greek, aren't there to enjoy a taste of California. They are there for a taste of Greece. As was I.

I've long been a passionate advocate for Greek wines, having written over 25 articles, and you can find links to all of those posts in All About Greek Wines & Spirits. There are so many reasons why you should drink Greek wines and we need to expose more consumers to the wonders of those wines. So, at a Greek festival, which is open to the public, it would be an excellent opportunity to showcase the intriguing wines of Greece rather than the wines of California. It could have been a teaching moment, to share the tastes of Greece, their unique indigenous grapes.

This would also apply to any other cultural festival, where they should be proud to offer only the drinks of their country or region. Whether the festival was Italian or Spanish, German or Chilean, there isn't a need to sell California wines when all of those regions produce an ample supply of delicious wines that reflect their heritage.

It is a simple thing, for a cultural festival to embrace their wines. A Greek festival should offer only Greek wines. Let's hope future festivals better understand this easy concept.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Animal Alcohol: Lamb Wine, Pigeon Blood Wine, Spirit of Goat & More

You might have enjoyed a Bloody Mary cocktail with a slice of bacon or even a chunk of lobster. Or maybe you've sipped a fine Pechuga Mezcal, where some type of meat (such as chicken, turkey, deer, goat, cow, pig, rabbit and even iguana) is used in the distillation process. You might also have seen bacon-infused bourbon or smoked salmon vodka. There is no shortage of people willing to blend meat and alcohol. In Asia, they have been using animal products in alcohol production for hundreds of years.

Some of the first mentions of "Lamb Wine" connected to China and the Tartars appear to be from Jesuit missionaries during the the late 17th and early 18th centuries. This occurred during the 61 year long reign of the Kangxi Emperor, the fourth emperor of the Qing dynasty. He was the longest reigning emperor in Chinese history and considered one of their greatest. The information on Lamb Wine is scant, and sometimes contradictory.

In The general history of China. Containing a geographical, historical, chronological, political and physical description of the empire of China, Chinese-Tartary, Corea, and Thibet by Jean Baptiste Du Halde (a French Jesuit), there is mention that the Chinese refer to "lamb wine" as Kau-yang-tsyew, and it might have originated with the Tartars. It is allegedly a very strong and nutritive drink but there isn't any information on how it is produced.

A General Description of China, Volume 2 by Abbe Grosier mentions that the Tartars make lamb wine, and that Emperor Kangxi used to drink it sometimes. Abbe also describes lamb wine, "It is very strong; but has a disagreeable smell. The same may be said of a kind of spirits procured from the flesh of sheep." It is interesting that there appears to be both a lamb wine and a spirit made from sheep. That distinction is mentioned in other references as well.

A New General Collection of Voyages And Travels Consisting Of The Most Esteemed Relations, Which Have Been Hitherto Published In Any Language: (published in 1747) stated that there is a strong spirit, made with mutton, which Emperor Kangxi enjoyed, though most other people, except for Tartars, felt it had a disagreeable taste. There is also a lamb wine, known as Kau-yang-tsyew, which is made in the Province of Shēn-si. It too is said to be very strong and have a disagreeable smell. None of it is exported outside the country.

In The History of Alcohol in the Far East - China, Japan, Philippines, Islands of the Pacificby Emerson, Edward Randolph, there is mention of a spirit produced from sheep, and that the method of production is a unknown to Europeans. There is note that the alcohol originated with the Tartars, and a clear difference is delineated between lamb wine and the sheep spirit. Emperor Kangxi allegedly promoted the manufacture of lamb wine as it was one of his favorite drinks, though many other Chinese disliked it.

There is a question as to how the lamb wine is produced, as mentioned in China: Its Costume, Arts, Manufactures, &c, Volumes 3-4 by M. Bretin (1812). The book states, ", which is made in the province of Chen-Si, and which is named Cao-Yang-Tsieou, or Lamb-Wine. It is not very clear how lamb's flesh can be employed in making wine." I'll also note this provides an alternative spelling to the previous term of Kau-yang-tsyew. 

A U.S. newspaper even reported about Lamb Wine though they had little to add, except that it was apparently made with milk. The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), February 18, 1912 published,
"..., while another drink is 'kau-yang-tsyew,' or lamb wine. This is made from a young lamb and milk, and is said to be exceedingly intoxicating." The Tartars are also known for an alcoholic beverage called Kumiss, which is basically fermented mare's milk, so the use of milk in the "lamb wine" isn't much of a stretch.

There is an older source which provides more guidance and detail on the production of lamb wine, and which includes the use of milk. In Miscellanies: Stories and Essays, Volume 3 by John Hollingshead (1874), "The Mantchoo Tartars, for example, the conquerors of China, prepare a wine of a very peculiar nature from the flesh of lambs, either by fermenting it, reduced to a kind of paste, with the milk of their domestic animals, or bruising it to a pulpy substance with rice. When properly matured, it is put into jars and then drawn off as occasion requires, and it has the reputation of being very strong and nourishing. Whatever remains after supplying domestic wants is exported into China or Corea under the name of lamb wine. The Chinese term for this liquor is Kan-yang-tsyew, and it is as great a favourite with the emperors as sherry was with George the Fourth." This also shows that this version is merely fermented and not distilled, though there is other evidence of the distilled version.

In Beverages, Past and Present: An Historical Sketch of Their Production, Together with a Study of the Customs Connected with Their Use, Volume 1 by Edward Randolph Emerson (1908) we find that the lamb wine is distilled. "The Chinese are indebted to the Tartars for their kau-yang-tsyew or lamb wine. According to the tales of ancient travellers, the method of making this beverage, which is described as being pleasant to the taste and remarkably wholesome, was to dress a young lamb as for cooking, then by gently pounding the flesh gradually make it into a pulp. It is then placed in milk and allowed to ferment, after which it is carefully distilled. It is a very intoxicating beverage and its use is greatly restricted. At one time it was the favourite drink of the Emperors, but, on the whole, it cannot be said to have had the general indorsement of the people." It seems that based on the number of comments of the strength of the alcohol, it is possible the distilled version may have been the more common. If so, this is almost like a Chinese version of Pechuga Mezcal.

In India, they have their own versions of a Pechuga Mezcal-like drink, where they distill alcohol using the meat of various animals. In a source I already mentioned above, Miscellanies: Stories and Essays, Volume 3 by John Hollingshead (1874), there is mention of these spirits. "Of a similar description, perhaps, is the spirit made at Surat, denominated spirit of mutton, spirit of deer, spirit of goat, which derives its name from the practice of throwing into the still a joint of mutton, a haunch of venison, or a quarter of a goat." Surat is a large port city in India. It appears they use at least three different meats to make their spirits, placing them into a still like Mexicans would do to produce Pechuga.

Another source, A Book of Bombay by James Douglas (1883), adds some information about these spirits. "In 'addition to these, Grose tells us of three drinks which now burst upon the bibulous world of Bombay with astonishing effect. The three viands which now divided public attention were the spirit of Deer, the spirit of Mutton, and the spirit of Goat, to such marvellous ingenuity are men driven to invent new names for liquors to quench their thirst. These drinks were in great vogue, and the way they got their names was this: - A haunch of venison, a joint of mutton, or a quarter of goat was thrown into the vat when the arrack was being distilled, and while correcting its fiery nature, imparted a new flavour which was considered mighty fine. The blend of each at these spirits was different; every man had his favourite, some the one, some the other, the deer no doubt from its wild gout, outrunning the other animal spirits in the chase." It mentions the same three animals, though this time includes the nature of the spirit, arrack, a common alcohol in India and which can be made from a variety of ingredients.

Returning to China, the Uighur people of the Xinjiang region have their own wine-making tradition which may extend back to at least the 7th century, if not earlier. They produced a wine known as Museles, to which they add a variety of ingredients, from saffron and cloves, to pigeon blood, pigeon meat or lamb. The museles would also be aged for a couple months in ceramic vats. The Express Tribune, June 4, 2015 mentioned that the wine is, "Deep red, its unusual ingredients give it a pungent, musty nose and a sweet-sour, spiced taste, akin to a vermouth." The Uighur view museles more as a medicine than an alcohol. The Uighur still produce museles in their villages, and it is likely some still add animal meat or blood to their wine, though it isn't commercially available.

What are your thoughts on the addition of meat to wine or spirits?