Friday, December 14, 2018

2018: Favorite Wine-Related Items

What were some of my favorite wine related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2018. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50) and Top Wines Over $50 lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine-Related Items, which are not specific wine recommendations. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Analysis Of Top Ten Wines: In my three prior Top Wine lists of 2018, I mentioned a total of 36 wines, which included wines from 9 different countries and regions, four less than last year. In first place was Portugal, with 10 wines, and I'll note that last year, Portugal and Georgia were tied for first place, each with 6 wines. France came in second with 6 wines, including 3 from Alsace. Spain and Italy tied for third place with 5 wines each. Uruguay and California each had 3 wines, while Germany had 2 wines. Rounding out the lists, Turkey and Australia each had 1 wine. As for wine types, the lists are also broken down into 4 Sparkling, 3 White, 4 Rosé, 18 Red, 6 Fortified and 1 Aromatized Wine. 

Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial wines which can be found in almost any wine store or instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight three such stores which continue to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, Wine Connextion in North Andover, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed.

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End
Central Bottle Wine & Provisions in Cambridge
Wine Press in Brookline and Wine Press now in the Fenway
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain

Favorite Private Wine Dinner: The wines of Uruguay are still new to many but they deserve your attention. I had the opportunity to taste several Uruguayan wines from the portfolio of Bodega Garzón: Uruguayan Treasures, From Albarino to Tannat, finding plenty of treasures, from Albarino to Tannat, Cabernet Franc to the high-end Balasto. Three of their wines ended up on my Top Wine lists this year. And we got to enjoy this wines while dining at the compelling La Bodega By Salts, savoring some Uruguayan cuisine. Such delicious food, paired with excellent wines, combined to elevate the evening.

Runner-Up Favorite Private Wine Dinner: When you're savoring a dish of Escargot en Cocotte, snails in garlic butter, at Brasserie Jo, you probably crave some French wine. I had an enjoyable and fascinating lunch there with Romain Teyteau, the North America Export Director for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, which led me to write about The Beauty Of Beaujolais. We had plenty of stimulating conversation, while tasting some delicious wines, including some killer Beaujolais. A couple of those wines even ended up on my Top Wine lists.

Favorite Public Wine Dinner: This was an easy decision as Il Casale in Belmont thoroughly impressed me with their San Felice Wine Dinner. They sold out the entire restaurant, indicative of the popularity of their wine dinners, and I understood the reasons. The food was superb, the wines were amazing, and service was professional. They made it seem easy to serve around 100 guests the same multi-course dinner. A couple of the Italian wines from this dinner ended up on my Top Wine lists. Plus, I was stunned by one of their incredible dishes, 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). It was one of the best dishes I ate in 2018. I also attended a wine dinner, dedicated to Olio Taibi & Olive Oil, at their Lexington location, which was just as well done. I give my strongest recommendation that you attend an Il Casale wine dinner.

Favorite Regional Wine Tasting: With a fascinating and delicious portfolio of nine, family-owned Greek wineries, from all across Greece, An Odyssey Greek Wine Tasting with Cava Spiliadis was a stellar tasting event, one that was open to the public. I've long been an advocate for Greek wines and it is tasting like this that can be so persuasive to consumers. The wines were diverse, a myriad of styles and flavor profiles, as well as approachable and food-friendly. Every wine I tasted had its merits and I loved learning more about the indigenous grapes of Greece as well as its terroir. Plus, Post 390 presented plenty of tasty food to accompany all of the wines. You need to Drink More Greek Wine!

Runner-Up Favorite Regional Wine Tasting: Puritan & Co. hosted an informative and fun tasting of Georgian wines, which I wrote about in two parts: Georgian Wine: All About Context (Part 1) and Georgian Wine: All About Context (Part 2)Georgian wines are another passion of mine and I take almost every possible opportunity to taste their wines. With 8,000 years of vinous history, over 500 indigenous grapes, and a tradition of the qvevri, Georgia has plenty to offer a wine lover. There was even an intriguing discussion about skin contact wines that raised some compelling issues. You need to Drink More Goergian Wine!

Favorite Formal Wine Seminar: At the City Winery, I attended an educational seminar about the wines of the Italian region of Alto Adige - Südtirol, which were once known as Rhaetian Wines, Favorites of the Ancients. We did some comparison tastings of wines from various grapes, including Pinot Bianco, Schiava, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Nero, Lagrein and Gewurtztraminer. I was particularly taken with the Schiava wines and want to find more of them to sample. Overall, the wines were delicious, food friendly and compelling, sure to please any wine lover.

Favorite Informal Wine Seminar: This year, Sommelier Theresa Paopao created a Wine School At Asta, an afternoon wine lounge inspired by New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov’s monthly column. I visited the restaurant during the month she showcases the Fiano grape, offering seven Fiano wines from the Campania region of Italy. They were all available by the glass as well as in flights of three wines. Theresa explained all about the grape and the various wines, evidencing her passion and knowledge. Plus, you could pair the wines with various special and delicious dishes created by the restaurant. Excellent food and drink in a fun and informative atmosphere make this a compelling event and hopefully they will continue their Wine School in 2019.

Favorite Restaurant Wine List Change: At Committee, one of my favorite Greek restaurants, Wine Director Lauren Friel instituted significant changes to their wine list, compiling an All Greek, All Natural Wine Program. The list is diverse, exciting, reasonably priced and has plenty of delicious options. And this past summer, they held a Natural Wine Pop-Up on their patio on Wednesday nights, helping to promote their new list. The wines pair very well with the various Greek dishes and every wine lover will find something to excite their palate. Lauren has done a great job with this new list and I will repeat, You need to Drink More Greek Wine!

Favorite New Wine List: Though The Table at Season To Taste has been open since 2016, I only just dined there recently. And I look forward to dining there again very soon. Besides their excellent food, they have an intriguing wine list, curated by Jesse Eslin, their Wine Director, which changes on regular basis with their changing food menu. The wine list has plenty of intriguing and small production wines, the type of wines that excite an adventurous wine lover. The evening began well with a German sparkling wine made from the rare Elbling grape, and continued on that same level throughout the dinner. If you love wine, you need to make a trip to The Table at Season To Taste.

Favorite Wine Pairing: Last New Year's Day, I chose to celebrate with a large pot of Lobsters, paired with two different bottles of Crémant d'Alsace. Sparkling wine is a versatile food wine and often pairs very well with seafood. With the sweetness and rich of lobster, especially dipped in drawn butter, it helps to have a wine with good acidity and these Crémant wines possessed that trait. Plus, their tiny bubbles helped to cleanse the palate between bites. The complex flavors of the two Crémant wines also complemented the delicious lobster. It was a killer pairing, well appreciated by everyone at the table. And such a hedonistic way to begin the New Year.

Favorite Wine Travel Event: This past October, I visited Portugal, touring Porto and the Douro region. It was an amazing trip, filled with so much fun and excitement, great food and wine, intriguing museums and historical sites, and much more. A number of the wines from this trip ended up on my Top Wine lists this year. And I'll be mentioning some of the culinary highlights in other Favorite lists next week. Check out my page of Collected Linkswhich will lead you to all of my 20 articles about the trip to Portugal. And I'll likely add a couple more articles next month.

What were some of your favorite wine-related items this year?

Thursday, December 13, 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) Orá Trattorizza Owner Jo Megwa and Chef Luis Cano invite guests to kick off 2019 with an Italian-inspired brunch on New Year’s Day, Tuesday, January 1, 2019, from 9:30am-3:30pm. Menu items range from $10 until $16 and include options such as:
--Nutella Stuffed French Toast
O--ra Fitness Omelet with roasted vegetables, egg whites and goat cheese
--Avocado Toast
--Gluten Free Pizza
--Traditional Ora Pizza Menu
--Ora Mista Salad and Ora Rucola Salad

Brunch cocktails were created by veteran mixologist Jefferson Ryder at the Charlesmark Hotel and include the following:
--Oranj Jeana: Ketel One Oranje, Grand Marnier, fresh lemon and orange juices and a float of champagne ($13)
--Crantini: Finlandia Cranberry and Lime Vodkas, Triple Sec, White Cranberry Juice ($12)
--Bloody Mary: Titos Vodka, Tobasco, Bloody Mary Mix, Feta Stuffed Olives and a Cajun Rim ($12)

For more information and reservations, please call 857-239-8437

2) Nobody knows quite where or when it originated but somehow, ordering Chinese food on New Year’s Eve has become an American tradition and one that Sumiao Hunan Kitchen in Kendall Square will cheekily embrace this year by putting a high-quality, Hunanese twist on the quintessential Chinese “Combo Plates.” Decadent and gluttonous, these two creative takeout options from SHK will be available from December 28-31 and will serve as one last “hurrah” before the healthy New Year’s resolutions kick in:

Pan-Seared Wheat Bao (4)
Steamed Pork Bao (4)
Pork Soup Bao (5)
Scallion Twisty Roll (4)
Sweet Twisty Roll (5)
Purple Yam Bao (4)

THE “BASIC L-19” COMBO ($150)
Scallion Pancake (2)
Avocado Meatballs
Sumiao Gyoza (8)
String Bean with Eggplant
Beef with Broccoli
General Tso’s Chicken
BBQ Rib Festival
Kung Pao Shrimp
Hunan Street Noodles
Sumiao’s Fried Rice

Combos available for takeout only; order online at or call the restaurant at: 617-945-0907

3) Puritan & Co. invites guests to join them this Christmas Eve for a three-course holiday menu. With reservations available from 5 to 8 p.m., the menu costs $50 per person with an optional wine pairing available for an additional cost.

The menu includes:
A la carte
Six local oysters with traditional accompaniments ($15)
First course options
Tuna crudo with celery, apple, fennel, caviar
Roasted pumpkin bisque with vadouvan curry, lobster, citrus cream
Braised chicken & black truffle pie with wild mushrooms, leeks, herb crust
Pesto-stuffed burrata with apples, chicories, radish, speck
Second course options
Grilled organic salmon with salsa verde, farro risotto, broccoli rabe
Roasted pork shoulder with spaghetti squash, marble potatoes, rosemary gravy
Braised beef short rib with potato, glazed carrots, seared brussels
Pumpkin agnolotti with hen of the woods, hazelnuts, brown butter, sage
Selection of dessert

To make reservations, please call (617) 615-6195

4) On Tuesday, December 18th from 6-9pm, join City Bar in the Westin Waterfront Hotel for a night out in support of Strong Women, Strong Girls Boston – a mentoring organization for girls in grades 3-5 with the goal of helping them develop skills for lifelong success. Tickets include champagne and spiked hot cocoa sampling, an Insta-worthy selfie station, and an appearance from a very special Mrs. Claus! There will also be some fun raffle items, including tickets to Laugh Boston and dinner at MJ O’Connor’s, custom fur ISlides, Red Sox tickets, and more.

Strong Women, Strong Girls works to empower girls to imagine a broader future through a curriculum grounded on female role models delivered by college women mentors, who are themselves mentored by professional women. Strong Women, Strong Girls strives to support positive mentoring relationships between college women and pre-adolescent girls in underserved local communities with the vision that every girl realize her inner strengths to dream and do.

Tickets are available for $35 via Eventbrite and will benefit Strong Women, Strong Girls.

5) Throughout the week leading up to Christmas, Chef Pino Maffeo of North End seafood restaurant il Molo will bring back his Feast of the Seven Fishes a la carte menu. The waterfront restaurant owned by Donato Frattaroli is known for serving up fresh, locally sourced seafood and ingredients in the city, and this traditional, Italian Christmas Eve dinner will be no exception.

The seven dishes, which are priced between $16 and $38, are inspired by the own family traditions and Italian roots of the il Molo team. Guests can choose from a hand-crafted spaghetti dish in the form of Lobster Fra Diavlo, a Baccala “Two-Ways” plate uniting fried baccala and a baccala salad dressed with pickled vegetables, chili peppers, oil and lemon as well as a rare, stuffed “Seppie” (Italian for cuttlefish, or large calamari) stewed in a plum tomato sauce and Razor Clams served with cherry tomatoes. Other highlights include Clams Oreganata, Branzino, and Stuffed Lobster (MP). For dessert, Struffoli (pan-fried dough tossed with honey and sprinkles) will be offered to all guests as a complimentary treat from the kitchen.

The a la carte menu will be served from 4:00pm to 8:00pm Monday, December 17 through Monday, December 24. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 857-277-1895

6) The Feast of the Seven Fishes, known as La Festa dei Sette Pesci, is a deeply rooted Italian Christmas Eve tradition, originating in Southern Italy and honoring the vigil prior to a religious holiday when no meat was served. Join Davio’s Lynnfield on Monday, December 24, from 4pm-10pm, to celebrate the Feast of Seven Fishes with good food and great company. The three-course prix-fixe menu, prepared by Executive Chef Andres Tavares, will feature unique and delectable seafood courses in addition to the à la carte menu.

Baked Stuffed Clams, Crab Meat, Focaccia Crumbs, Oregano, Lemon
Squid Ink Spaghetti, Braised Octopus, Calamari, Olives, Capers, San Marzano Tomatoes
Oven Roasted Swordfish, Grilled Shrimp, Fingerling Potatoes, Maine Lobster Sherry Beurre Blanc

COST: The prix-fixe menu is $75 per guest (excluding tax & gratuity).
Reservations are recommended by calling 781.944.4810.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

2018: Top Wines Over $50 (Plus My Wine of The Year)

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

Welcome to my third, and last, Top Wines List. I've already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15 and Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50). It is now time for my Top Wines Over $50. This isn't a Top Ten list as there aren't always sufficient wines at this price point that I've tasted and deemed worthy for inclusion. Like the prior lists, this list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local area, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

I'm also going to note that this is the first year that I am announcing an overall Wine Of The Year! One wine simply stood out so much this year that I saw the need for such a declaration. And I will begin my list with that very wine...

1) Bodegas Yuste Conde de Aldama Amontillado Sherry ($210)
It was a very easy decision to select this phenomenal and unique Sherry as my Wine Of The Year. First, it may be the oldest wine I've ever tasted. This Sherry is an average of 130-150 years old, and its solera was begin sometime from 1740-1750, before the U.S. was even a country. Second, you need to read my detailed review for more details about its history and production, as well as my full tasting notes. For me, this wine may be as close to perfect as any wine will ever be. Third, it certainly helped that I shared this bottle with some very close friends at a fantastic birthday celebration. Fourth, even at this price point, I think the wine is a bargain and if I ever see it again on a wine store shelf, I'll buy it without question. How often can you say that about a $200 wine? I cannot recommend this wine highly enough.

2) 2014 San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($50.99)
This Italian wine is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, with the rest a blend of indigenous grapes including Abrusco, Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera, Ciliegiolo and Mazzese. This is a WOW wine, impressive and compelling. The aromas seduce your nose, giving evidence of the quality that you'll find within the wine. On the palate, it is silky smooth, with plenty of complexity, including ripe plum, black cherry, mild spice notes, hints of earthiness, and wisps of additional flavors that seem to flit in and out. Well-balanced, fine acidity, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It is the epitome of elegance, a wine to slowly savor over the course of an evening, relishing each sip, finding new flavors within each taste.

3) Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($60-$65).
Port doesn't get enough attention, and when it does, Vintage Port seems to get the spotlight. However, there are plenty of other excellent Port types available, such as this one. This Port wine 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. A 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.

4) 2015 Bodegas Garzón Balasto ($120)
From Uruguay, the 2015 vintage was the first release of this wine, a blend of the best grapes of the vineyard, including 45% Tannat, 25% Cabernet France, 20% Petit Verdot, and 10% Marselan. The grapes were fermented in concrete tanks and then the wine spent about 20 months in untoasted, large French oak casks. This is a powerful, muscular wine with concentrated red and black fruit flavors, yet it still possesses a beautiful elegance. The tannins are restrained, helping to rein in its power. There are also subtle spice notes, nice acidity, a hint of earthiness and it possesses a lingering and pleasant finish. This is a wine built for aging, though it is still impressive now.

5) 2014 Kay Brothers Amery Vineyard Block 6 Shiraz ($119.99)
An Australian wine made from 100% Shiraz from a vineyard that was planted in 1892. 122 year old vines! This wine, with a 14.5% ABV, aged for at least 22 months in 1/3 new, 1/3 second, and 1/3 third use French and American oak puncheons. It possesses a rich, crimson color and an alluring nose of spice and black fruit. On the palate, the wine is elegant and silky smooth, with a complex melange of concentrated flavors of plum, black cherry and raspberry, with a strong spicy backbone, well integrated tannins, and pleasing acidity. It is well balanced with a long, lingering finish that completely satisfies. This is nowhere close to a jammy, fruit bomb but rather the type of high quality wine that seduces your senses.

6) 2013 Bedrock Wine Co. Griffin's Lair Syrah, Sonoma Coast ($50-$60)
A blend of 88% Syrah and 12% Viognier, this California wine possesses a dark, almost purplish colored wine, emitted an alluring nose of black fruits and spice, with subtle, almost fleeting aromas of other elements, such as herbal and floral notes. You can detect the complexity of this wine from the start, and that complexity is further elaborated on the palate. Full bodied and intense, it is lush and seductive, possessed of an intricate melange of flavors, including plum, black cherry, vanilla, dark spice, and an underlying earthiness. Such a long and lingering finish, each sip providing pleasure for minutes at the least. The tannins are well integrated, the silky feel of the wine caressing your palate. A hedonistic and complex wine that will please almost any wine lover.

This year, six countries and regions have a single spot on the list, including Spain, Italy, Portugal, Uruguay, Australia, and California. Of these six wines, they also consist of 2 Fortified Wines and 4 Red Wines. The Uruguayan wine may be the most surprising wine on the list as most people wouldn't expect such an amazing, high-end wine from this up and coming wine country. For myself, the biggest surprise may be the Australian wine, as I've tasted little from this country in several years after having had too many disappointing wines. It's time for me to sample more Australian wines.

Not all expensive wines are worth their high price but these wines well worth the splurge. These are the type of wines that words often cannot do justice. These are wines to experience and savor, not to dissect and analyze. These wines should be shared with others, with family and friends, to share the experience. With the holidays near, why not splurge and buy one of these wines.

If you have some of your own recommendations for unique and compelling wines over $50, please add them to the comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

2018: Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50)

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

Welcome to my second Top Ten Wine List. Yesterday, I posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, which I hope you enjoyed and found useful. Now it is time for my Top Ten Wines Over $15, though these wines also cost less than $50.

Like the prior list, this list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stood out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I highly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers will also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

1) 2014 Domaine Albert Mann Extra Brut Crémant d'Alsace ($24)
This Crémant d'Alsace is a blend of Auxerrois, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir. With a fine golden color and a myriad of tiny bubbles, it possesses an alluring aroma, with elements of fresh fruit. On the palate, the Crémant is fresh, crisp and dry, with delicious flavors of green apple, pear and hints of lemon. Though it is fruit driven, there is complexity in the palate as well, with a touch of minerality and hints of spice. There is a light, elegant creaminess to this wine with a lengthy, pleasing finish, ending with more fruit notes. At this price point, it is also an excellent value.

2) 2014 Domaines Schlumberger "Les Princes Abbés" Pinot Noir ($25) Pinot Noir from Alsace is rare and that needs to change. This wine is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, from vines of an average age of 19 years. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged on the lees for about 8 months in old wooden foudres. This is a wine of silky elegance, of bright, fresh red fruit flavors, a hint of spice, and a wisp of earthiness. Excellent acidity, some floral accents, soft tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Such a well balanced and delicious wine, its elegance is so compelling and its complex melange of flavors pleases me immensely.

3) 2016 Georges Duboeuf Domaine les Chenevieres, Macon-Villages ($21.99)
This French wine is made from 100% Chardonnay, with vines that are over 20 years old, this wine has a 12.5% ABV and sees 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. This wine would go very well with goat cheese, as well as many types of seafood.

4) 2016 Georges Duboeuf Jean Ernest Descombes, Morgon ($21.99)
Another French wine, fro the Morgon Cru, this wine is made from 100% Gamay (vines from 50-100 years old), with a 13% ABV. It 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.  Many of my favorite Beaujolais wines come from the Morgon Cru and this is an excellent example of what that Cru has to offer.

5) 2015 Darting Winery Pinot Meunier ($21.99)
This German wine is made from 100% Pinot Meunier, from the Pfalz region, and has a 13.5% ABV. It is rare to find single varietal Pinot Meunier. This wine has a light red color, with a touch of sediment, and a mild, pleasing aroma of red fruit and spice. It is a light-bodied wine, subtle and elegant in its presentation, with delicious flavors of cherry and cranberry, a mild spicy backbone and a hint of earthiness. Nice acidity, a lingering finish, and interesting. Overall, it is delicious and paired perfectly with a dinner of lamb lollipops.

6) Gonzalez Byass La Copa Vermouth ($25)
Vermouth is actually a wine, an aromatized wine, and many people seem to forget that fact, which is why you rarely see Vermouth on Top Ten Wine lists. They are worthy though of more recognition. The La Copa Vermouth is a blend of 75% Oloroso Sherry and 25% Pedro Ximinez Sherry. It is rare to find any Vermouth made from Sherry. Some of the botanicals that are used in this Vermouth include wormwood, angelica, savory, clove, orange peel, nutmeg, quinine, and cinnamon. On the nose, its complexity is first experienced, a wonderful melange of spices, salted nuts, and citrus notes. On the palate, you will be intrigued by its complexity, balance and elegance. There is a superb blend of spices and herbs, with nuts, caramel, a touch of plum, candied orange and more. The Sherry influence is prominent and well integrated. There is balanced sweetness with hints of bitterness, exactly what you want from a fine vermouth. It's smooth with a lengthy, satisfying finish and is wonderful on its own, though it also works well in a Manhattan.

7) 2015 Post Scriptum de Chryseia ($20-$25)
This Portuguese wine is impressive, 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. Simply delicious.

8) 2015 Bodegas Garzón Cabernet France Reserve ($27)
Uruguay is producing some interesting and delicious wines, and this wine, made from Cabernet France, is an impressive example of their potential. With a rich purple color, the wine has alluring aromas, lots of ripe fruit and hints of spice. On the palate, there are delicious black and blue fruit flavors, enhanced by mild spice notes and a hint of herbal notes. There isn't a prominent flavor of green peppers, which delights me. The tannins are well integrated, the finish lingers, and there is a touch of mint on the finish too. This would be a great wine to pair with grilled meats or even a pizza.

9) 2015 Scheid Vineyards Pinot Noir ($36)
From California, this wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir, a blend of grapes from two estate vineyards, and it is aged for about 9 months in neutral French oak. With a 14.1% ABV, the wine has an appealing nose of red and black fruits with a hint of spice. On the palate, the wine is light bodied and silky, with a complex melange of flavors, from cherry to blackberry, cranberry to plum, with subtle spice notes, a touch of vanilla, and a hint of smoke, especially on the lengthy finish. An elegant Pinot, this is a wine to slowly savor over the course of an evening.

10) 2015 Kocabağ Öküzgözü ($19.99)
This is the first wine from Turkey that I've ever reviewed and it won't be my last. Öküzgözü is an indigenous grape with high acidity and mild tannins, tending to make soft, easy drinking wines similar in some respects to Gamay or Pinot Noir. This wine possesses a medium-red color with an interesting nose of black cherry and raspberry, with a few spice notes. On the palate, it is light bodied, with plenty of acidity, and delicious ripe plum and black cherry flavors, enhanced by a mild earthiness and hints of spice. It has a very Old World feel to it, with mild tannins, a moderately lengthy finish, and is simply tasty.

This is always my toughest list to compile because there are numerous other excellent wines which I could have added. I had to ponder long over which wines to actually select for the main list, meaning that I had to eliminate other worthy wines. To give some credit to those other worthy wines, which almost made the Top Ten list, I have an Honorable Mention list. These are also wines you definitely should check out.

Honorable Mention
1) 2016 Alto do Joa Tinto ($15-$17)
This compelling Portuguese wine is a field blend of 20 grapes, including Alvarelhão, Bastardo, Chasselas Suíça, Cornifesto, Dona Branca, Folgasão, Formosa, Jaen, Mourisco, and Tinta Amarela. With a dark red color, and an alluring nose, I was captivated by this wine from my first taste. It is elegant and silky smooth, with well-integrated tannins, good acidity, and a touch of rusticness. Its complex melange of flavors includes ripe plum, black cherry, fig, dark spices, and a subtle earthiness. A long and lingering finish tantalizes and satisfies. It over delivers for the price and was pure pleasure on the palate.

Another Portuguese wine, this Sparking wine is made from 100% Touriga Nacional, which is certainly more unique. Almost a Rosé in color, and with tiny bubbles, there are mild red fruit notes on the aroma. As soon as I tasted a sip, bright berry flavors burst on my tongue, such a pleasurable taste and sensation. Dry and crisp, once I got past the berries, there were subtle notes of almond and plum, as well as a lingering finish. If I could have easily transported it home from Portugal, I would have bought a case of this bubbly.

Portugal is taking dominance on this Honorable Mention list. This Port has 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 at a very reasonable price.

And one more Portuguese wine, a rare aged White Port, made from a blend of at least Malvasia Fina, Gouveio, Moscatel Galego, and Rabigato. It is fermented in traditional lagares, granite treading tanks where the grapes are trod on by foot. It was aged for about 9 months in stainless steel and then for at least more 20 years in wooden casks. Sniffing your glass, you'll be seduced by an alluring blend of honey, floral and herbal scents, with wisps of citrus. On the palate, the complexity of the aromas is still evident, with each sip bringing something new to your mouth. There is a mild sweetness, well balanced by its acidity, with bright honey notes, citrus flavors, and touches of herbs. It is more full bodied and rich, with a long, lingering finish that soothes and satisfies. It is well worth the effort to seek it out, especially due to its complexity and superb taste.

This fascinating Sherry is produced from Palomino grapes all sourced from the Macharnudo Alto, making it a single-vineyard Sherry, which is rare in the Sherry industry. It is also one of the few Sherries that is still fermented in cask, in American oak, with nearly all other Sherries fermented in stainless steel. This Amontillado begins its life by spending from eight to twelve years under flor, like a Fino Sherry, and then spent another five to eight years without flor, aging oxidatively, averaging about 16-18 years in total. This Sherry has a compelling aroma, and the complex taste is nutty with rich caramel, vanilla and spice, as well as lots of acidity. It also possesses a long and pleasing finish. When I think of this Sherry, I think of it as delicious and comforting, fueling my belly and soul.

An En Rama Sherry is unfiltered or lightly filtered, which tends to produce a Sherry that is more intense and complex. With a 15% ABV, the Tio Pepe Fino En Rama 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.

Made from 100% Pinot Noir, this Alsace bubbly is produced by the méthode champenoise and remains on the lees for about 12 months. With an appealing nose of red fruits and a touch of spice, this is a delicious and lush Crémant with ripe flavors of strawberry, cherry and raspberry. Dry, crisp, and clean, with a fine effervescence, this is a true crowd pleaser. At this price, it is an excellent value for the taste and complexity found within the bottle. 

This Italian wine is made from 100% Sangiovese, which spent about 24 months in oak, 20% in small barriques, and 1 year in the bottle. It is made in a more traditional style, which is my preference, and is quite good, with nice acidity, notes of cherry and black fruit, mild spice notes, and low tannins. It is 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.

From Uruguay, thus wine is made from 100% Albarino, selected from the best seven plots in the vineyard. About 80% of the grapes were fermented in large, concrete tanks (without epoxy) and the rest were fermented in untoasted oak barrels. The wine spent about 8 months on the lees. This is an impressive wine, elegant and complex, something meant to be slowly sipped and savored. It has a richer texture, great acidity, and more savory notes with only underlying and subtle fruit notes. The finish is long and satisfying, simply a stellar wine. 

10) 2015 Windvane Carneros Pinot Noir ($45)
This California Pinot Noir, from the Carneros region, possesses a medium red color and an enticing aroma of red fruit with mild, underlying spice notes. On the palate, the complex wine presents delicious and intense flavors of red cherry and blackberry, enhanced by mild spice notes and plenty of acidity. Medium-bodied, the finish is fairly lengthy and satisfying, ending with a silky crispness. Paired with Chinese sausages, the acidity of the wine helped to balance the sweetness of the sausages, and its flavors worked well with the spices and flavors of the sausage.


Eight wine countries and regions made the list this year, the same amount as last year. France dominates, occupying four spots, which include two wines from the Alsace region. The rest of the list is occupied by Germany, Spain, Portugal, Uruguay, Turkey and California. The list is also broken down into one Sparkling wine, one Aromatized wine, one White wine and seven Red wines.

On the Honorable Mention list, six countries made the list, compared to seven last year. Portugal dominates this list, with four spots, and Spain takes second place with two spots. The rest of the spots were taken by France (Alsace), Italy, Uruguay, and California. The list is also broken down into two Sparkling wines, four Fortified wines, three Red wines, and one White wine. Last year, there weren't any Fortified wines on this list.

When you combine the two lists, France (with three from Alsace) and Portugal are tied for first place, each with five spots. In comparison, last year's leader of this combined list was the country of Georgia with four spots, while Portugal had two spots and France only one. This year, Spain occupied three spots while Uruguay and California both had two spots. Rounding out the combined list are Germany, Turkey and Italy, each with one spot. In addition, the combined list includes three Sparkling wines, four Fortified wines, one Aromatized wine, two White wines, and ten Red wines.

I have plenty of other recommendations for wines at this price point on my blog. There are top notch wines from countries all over the world, made from an incredibly diverse selection of grapes and you can still find plenty of values too. My advice is that you seek out wines outside of your comfort zone. Explore the multitude of diversity in the wonderful world of wine. Taste and try anything new, unique or potentially interesting. I am sure your search will lead to new favorites.

If you have some of your own recommendations for wines that are over $15 but under $50, please add them to the comments.

Monday, December 10, 2018

2018: Top Ten Wines Under $15

What were some of my favorite wines of the past year?

As 2019 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor many pleasant memories. As 2018 winds down, I'll be posting my annual series of Favorite Lists over the next few weeks, covering food, wine, spirits and other drinks. These lists should provide a comprehensive summary of my favorites from this past year, allowing my readers to more readily locate such gems, the best of my recommendations.

My first Favorites List of 2018 is my Top Ten Wines Under $15. This list includes wines that not only I enjoyed, but which I also found to be particularly compelling for various reasons. They might be especially delicious, something more unique or just excellent values for the price. They all stand out, for some particular reason, above the other wines at this price point that I have tasted this past year.

This is a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" wines out there. It is primarily the wines which spoke to me the loudest, even when they were subtle wines. These are all wines that I strongly recommend and which I believe many other wine lovers would also enjoy.

The wines are not listed in any particular order and each choice is linked to my more detailed prior review. All of these value wines are worth your consideration but please also note that the prices are approximations and the actual price may vary in your area. In addition, some of the wines might not be available in your local region, though you might be able to order them from the winery or an online store, dependent on your state's shipping laws.

1) 2018 Les Vins Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé ($13.99)
This is the first year that this wine was imported into the U.S. and it made an impressive debut. With a bright pink color, this wine has a nose of bright red fruit, and on the palate, those red fruit flavors, especially strawberry and cherry are prominent, though with minor notes of citrus too. It is dry and crisp, with some underlying minerality, and has a pleasing, though short, finish. Easy drinking, it is an excellent food wine and a very good value.

2) NV Vilarnau Cava Brut Reserva ($14.99)
This Spanish Cava is a blend of 50% Macabeo, 35% Paralleda; 15% Xarel.lo, three indigenous grapes, and is aged for over 15 months in the bottle. With a nice golden color, small bubbles, and 11.5% ABV, this Cava presents a pleasing aroma of fruit, including apple and citrus. On the palate, it is fresh, crisp and dry, with a tasty blend of green apple, citrus and pear, enhanced with a touch of toast, and a moderately long finish. For inexpensive bubbly, it is an appealing choice.

3) 2015 Schlossmühlenhof Dornfelder Rotwein Trocken ($14.40/liter)
This German red wine, made from the Dornfelder grape, has a deep, opaque red, almost purplish, color. On the nose, it is appealing, with enticing black fruit flavors enhanced by mild floral and spice notes. On the palate, it is silky, with mild tannins, and a delicious melange of juicy black fruit, intense spice and nice acidity. It is more elegant rather than powerful, with a lingering, pleasing finish. There is plenty of complexity for a wine at this price point and is a sheer pleasure to drink. This is definitely a food-friendly wine, a versatile wine that pairs well with pizza to tuna. And at this price, for a full liter, it is a fantastic bargain.

4) 2017 San Felice Perolla Rosato ($12)
A blend of 65% Sangiovese and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, this Italian Rosé is made in the saignee process. It has an alluring aroma and is 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 will also pair well with a variety of foods. I bought a case of this wine to enjoy during the summer and continued drinking some into the fall.

5) 2017 Planeta Rosé ($14)
This Sicilian Rosé is a blend of 50% Nero d'Avola & 50% Syrah and I believe it to be an excellent value wine. It is crisp, light and full of tasty red fruit flavors, from strawberry to raspberry, with subtle hints of peach. Easy to drink, very food friendly, and perfect year round. I've been a fan of this winery for a number of years  and this is definitely one of their best wines under $15.

6) 2016 Feudo Maccari Noto Nero d'Avola ($14)
Another Sicilian wine, this red is silky smooth, with bright cherry, raspberry and plum flavors, enhanced by some pepper and spice notes. Nice acidity, well-restrained tannins, and a fairly long finish. It is an easy drinking wine, which can be enjoyed on its own though it also pairs well with plenty of dishes, from pasta to pizza, burgers to hotdogs. Simply delicious.

7) 2015 Dow's Vale do Bomfim ($12.99)
Portugal offers plenty of excellent value wines, which is why you often see them on my annual lists. This Portuguese red wine is a blend of 40% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional and 35% Field Blend. It spent about 9 months in neutral oak, and presents 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!

8) 2017 Quinta de Covela Avesso (About $12)
My trip to Portugal this year led me to some fine vinous treasures, including this Portuguese white wine. It is made from 100% Avesso, an indigenous grape, which makes it more unique. The aromas are subtle, with hints of peach and pear, and on the palate, the wine is crisp, dry and fruit, with bright tastes of pear, green apple and a hint of more tropical fruit. With a medium-body, the wine is certainly delicious and mouth-watering, with a pleasing and fairly long finish. Easy-drinking, this wine is enjoyable on its own, or paired with seafood, light chicken dishes, and more.

9) 2017 Quinta de Covela Touriga Nacional Rosé (About $12-$13)
From the same winery as the Avesso, this Rosé, made from 100% Touriga Nacional, possesses a very pale pink color and its aroma is almost savory, with mild notes of red fruits. On the palate, it is light and crisp, dry and elegant, with delicious notes of strawberry and cherry, as well as wisps of floral notes. Such a fine example of Rosé and definitely the style I prefer. Another excellent value wine.

10) 2016 Quinta do Vallado Douro Red (About $10-$12)
Also encountered during my trip to the Douro region, this Portuguese red wine is s a blend of 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 5% Sousão and 25% mixed grapes from old vineyards. About 70% of the wine is aged for 16 months in stainless steel tanks while 30% is aged in 225 liters used French Oak barriques for 16 months. With a nose of red fruit and spice, this was also an easy drinking and delicious wine, with prominent cherry and raspberry notes and spice accents. Low tannins, good acidity and a pleasing finish. A wine for everyday drinking, which would pair well from burgers to pizza.

Five countries made the list this year, the same as last year. Portugal took the lead with four spots on the list (not a surprise in the least), followed by Italy with three spots. Germany, Spain and France each occupied one spot. Last year, Alsace took three spots on this list but isn't included this year, though you will see their wines on another of my Favorite Wine lists. As for wine types, the list is also broken down into four Rosé, one White, four Reds and one Sparkling. Last year, there weren't any Rosé wines on this list.

The cancellation of of the 2018 Boston Wine Expo certainly affected this list as I usually find several excellent value wines there which then end up on this list. It also seemed that I found less wines, new to me, under $15 this past year. That may be indicative that wine prices have actually been rising, as a number of news sources have predicted they would this year.

I have other recommendations for wines under $15 on my blog and you just have to search for them. Even if some wine prices are rising, you can still find value wines all over the world, in every region, though some regions provide a greater range and diversity of value wines. It is important to remember that though wine stores sell plenty of wines in this price range, not all of them are of equal value. Wines in this price range do not have to be one-dimensional wines that all taste the same.

You can find wines of character and complexity, though you might need to spend a little more time seeking them out. Wine blogs can help you in that regard, pointing out wines that you might not otherwise know about. Tasting the wines before you buy them is another way to find such values. Or simply ask your trusted wine store staff for advice and suggestions. For more advice on finding value wines, please check out my recent article on the subject.

If you have some of your own recommendations for excellent wines under $15, please add them to the comments.

Thursday, December 6, 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) Because December is for savoring the holidays with loved ones, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen in Kendall Square is giving you every reason to do just that. The contemporary and vibrant Hunanese restaurant will be decked out in sparkly festive décor, setting the mood for a Christmas-themed dining experience designed to spark holiday spirit - amongst even the grinches.

All month long, enjoy special chef creations such as Snow Pea Shrimp (pepper, scallion, garlic and seasoned soy sauce, $22); Merry Tomato Eggs (stir-fried eggs with tomatoes, $15); and Happy Yin Yang (mountain yam, black fungus, carrots, green and red peppers, $22). From December 21 to December 31, a decadent and healthful Christmas Roasted Chicken will be a must-try, made with organic, cage-free whole chicken and served with red and green accompaniments: beets, cherry tomatoes and broccoli ($58).

From the bar, there will be four new cocktails on the spotlight: a bubbly duo including the Lychee Bellini made with lychee liqueur, lychee puree, sparking, lychee garnish ($10) and the Pama Mimosa with pomegranate liqueur, cranberry juice, champagne, fresh cranberries and rosemary ($10); a steamy Spiked Apple Cider with Myers dark rum and a dried apple slice ($8); and the White Christmas, bursting with the quintessential winter flavors of eggnog, white chocolate liqueur, Southern Comfort and cocoa powder ($8). Sumiao’s November Hot Toddy will also be available for another 31 days, bringing you lemon-honey black tea, whiskey, house made lavender clove reduction, Disaronno and a lemon twist ($7).

2) Enjoy time amongst friends and family this holiday season with a variety of festive events at Bar Boulud, Boston and the Mandarin Oriental, Boston, including the following:

Family Bûche de Noël Decorating Class – December 8 & 15
Aspiring bakers and pastry enthusiasts of all ages are invited to join Chef Robert Differ and team for an exclusive Parisian holiday dessert decorating class. Participants will be presented a pre-rolled Bûche de Noël that serves as a confectionary canvas, allowing students to focus on all of the fun aspects of holiday baking without the stress of measuring, mixing and manipulating. After crafting this holiday-themed dessert, participants will depart with a recipe to recreate the iconic sweet at home, along with a freshly baked (and decorated!) Bûche de Noël to enjoy with friends and family. Tickets for the event are $98 per person and available on EventBrite.

Ruinart Champagne Dinner – December 13
What better way to toast the holiday season than to sip on bubbly with Guillaume Grillon, Maison Ruinart Market Manager; Bar Boulud Head Sommelier David Bérubé; and Bar Boulud Chef de Cuisine Brian Arruda as they host a festive four-course menu paired with the Maison Ruinart tradition in all forms. Accompanying menu includes Burrata Salad, Potato Gnocchi and much more. Bar Boulud’s Ruinart Champagne Dinner is $195 per person including tax and gratuity. View the full menu and make reservations here.

Holidays Champagne Afternoon Tea – Daily Through Jan. 6, 2019
After braving the cold this holiday season settle down at Mandarin Oriental, Boston for a Holidays Champagne Afternoon Tea. Whether you are looking for a fancy retreat or just a dash of warmth, join us daily from 1 P.M to 6 P.M in the Lobby Lounge for $78 per person. Listen to the crackling fireplace while enjoying a cup of house-blended tea, toast the holidays with a glass of bubbly and indulge in afternoon tea classics reimagined by Pastry Chef Robert Differ. Details and tickets available on EventBrite.

Christmas Day Brunch and Dinner at Bar Boulud
A festive feast awaits you on Christmas Day at Bar Boulud. Sit down with your family for a buffet of signature creations and crowd pleasers including Viennoiserie, a Brunch Egg Station, Coq au Vin, Artisanal Cheese and Charcuterie Boards, a Smoothie Station and more. Bar Boulud’s Christmas Day Jazz Brunch will be served from 11:30 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. for $98 per person and $46 per child under 12 years. Christmas Day Dinner will then be offered from 5:30 P.M. until 10 P.M. The prix fixe menu is $95 per person and features first course, main course and dessert; supplemental offerings to make your holiday dinner even more luxurious include the Petit Plateau of lobster, oysters, tuna tartare, peekytoe crab salad and shrimp cocktail, as well as black truffles shaved over house tagliatelle. To enjoy a feast before the feast join for Christmas Eve Dinner, also available 5:30 P.M. until 10 P.M. for $95 per person. To view the full menu and to make reservations, visit

3) Does it feel cold enough to ski the French Alps right about now? Let's stay warm and cozy instead, and just toast one another with beautiful wine from the Savoie region. Jesse Eslin, Wine Director, at the Table at Season To Taste, has collected extraordinary wine from the Savoie region of the French Alps and is creating a five course wine dinner with Chef Carl Dooley. It's the perfect season to experience the wine of the French Alps, without the cold!

The Savoie Wine Dinner will be held on Wednesday, December 12, from 5:30pm-9:30pm. The cost is $175 per person, which includes five courses, wine pairings, tax and hospitality. You can make a Reservation by calling the restaurant at 617-871-9468.

4) Chef David Vargas, of Vida Cantina, announces a new event this holiday season: Hip Hop Holiday: A Not So Silent Night, a celebration of art, music, street food and cocktails, and benefits Gather, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending local hunger through collaboration and leadership.

Vargas shares, "I have always wanted to do something like this during the holidays - to bring everyone in the community together to have a great time with food and music and to make a difference. I am so excited and grateful to this incredible team for making it happen this year!"

The event takes place December 15, at 7pm, at St. John's Masonic Lodge, 351 Middle St., Portsmouth, NH. Street food is by Vida Cantina and cocktails by The Nice. The music headliners are STL GLD & RAYEL; with DJ's Teeba and DJ Skooch. There will be live painting by Stephen Godlieb, Michael Valotto, and Marisa Kang.

Tickets are $20. and are available in advance via Eventbrite, or stop by Vida Cantina and The Nice to purchase tickets.

5) Celebrate Christmas Day at Chopps American Bar & Grill with a Three-Course Christmas Tasting Menu. The Dinner will be available from 1pm-6pm, and the full regular dinner menu will also be available.

The tasting menu includes:
--Maine Lobster Soup (cognac, tempura lobster)
--Baby Arugula (quinoa, wild mushrooms, feta, yuzu)
--Potato Crusted Atlantic Cod (roasted mushrooms, chestnuts, za'ata)
--Sweet Potato Ravioli (brown butter, sage and walnut)
--Butternut Squash Ravioli (hearty greens, sage butter, parmesan)
--Ginger Bread Cake (glazed, cranberry compote, gingerbread gelato)

The Cost is $49 per person and you can make Reservations by calling 781-221-6643

Monday, December 3, 2018

Rant: Splitting A Plate At Matadora

The restaurant industry is a competitive field, with far too many restaurants closing after only a short time in existence. There are a myriad of factors which can help a restaurant survive, and sometimes those factors are small, seemingly inconsequential, but which can have a great impact. Under the umbrella of "good service," there is much that can be done to make your guest's experience special, even if it is something minor. It can be those little things that resonate with your guest.

Over the weekend, I dined, with a friend, at Matadora, a Spanish tapas restaurant located in the Hilton Boston/Woburn. We enjoyed several tapas, from the Flaming Chorizo to the Basque Street Corn. Then, we decided to split the Matadora Burger, which is topped with Jamon Serrano, Queso de Bola, and Roasted Garlic Aioli. As we ordered that burger, our server made a simple offer which was a service win.

The server offered to split the burger for us, to cut it in half and serve it on separate plates for us. Very simple but also very meaningful. We would have split the burger on our own without complaint. I don't expect a restaurant to split such a dish, but when they offer, it elevates their level of service in my eyes. It is such little things that make a restaurant stand out from similar places. I've been to other restaurants which have made the same offer, to split an entree onto separate plates, and it always pleases me to see such a level of service.

I understand that though this seems like a minor thing, it involves the kitchen veering from their usual course of plating, to cater to a special order of sorts. However, that extra work should lead to a more satisfied guest, happy for receiving that special bit of service. When restaurants offer a menu of small plates, with a handful of larger entrees, it is common for guests to share a number of small plates and then split an entree. Thus, splitting that entree in the kitchen can be a great idea, making your guests more grateful.

This is but one example of a simple bit of good service which can benefit a restaurant. There are plenty more out there. What bit of service pleases you when dine out at a restaurant?

Thursday, November 29, 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) Making plans post-New Year's Eve revelry can be tough both mentally and physically, but  Puritan & Co. is here to help. On January 1st, the folks at Puritan & Co. will be throwing a brunch celebration based on their favorite hangover cure, the Vegas buffet.

Tickets are available for one of two seatings- 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tickets include as many trips as you'd like to a loaded buffet offering housemade pastries, raw bar, ribeye and smoked pork loin on the carving station, bagels with cured fish and every schmear you've ever dreamt about, sourdough waffles, and more; one complimentary bloody mary, spritz, or mimosa. There will also be a cash bar available.

Tickets cost $100 and can be purchased here: Eventbrite. Refunds can be made up to 7 days before. If you'd like to buy tickets for a large group, please send a note to

2) On Tuesday, December 4, from 7pm-10pm, Chef Daniel Bruce and the team at the Rowes Wharf Bar are excited to welcome LOUIS XIII Cognac for a reception and three-course dinner hosted by Brand Ambassador Philippe Vasilescu. Enjoy one of the world’s most coveted and expensive spirits while indulging in an inspired three-course meal.

First created in 1874, Louis XIII Cognac is an exquisite blend of up to 1,200 grapes eaux-de-vie sourced 100% from Grande Champagne, the first cru of the Cognac region. The spirit ranges from at least 40 years to 100 years in age. Each decanter is individually numbered and designed after an original 16th Century flask, made from fine crystal. The classic 750ml Louis XIII decanter retails for $3,000. Louis XIII is a product of Remy Martin.

The full menu for the Louis XIII dinner is as follows:
2009 LOUIS Roederer Cristal Champagne
First Course
Caviar Topped Flash Seared Sturgeon Popped Amaranth, Cognac Cream
LOUIS XIII de Rémy Martin
Second Course
Mint & Fennel Laced Slow Roasted Colorado Lamb Chop (Crispy Wild Mushrooms, Baby Rabe, Black Garlic, Pearl Onion Confit)
2003 Château Cos d'Estournel
Grand Finale
Apple Tart Tatine
Grapefruit Sorbet, Smoked Caramel Fennel Pollen
LOUIS XIII Rémy Martin

Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite for $350 per person (including tax and gratuity). This is a 21+ event.

3) Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey and the entire team at Harvest welcome guests to indulge in a tasty doughnut pop-up that is inspired by the classic holiday movie, The Grinch. On Saturday, December 8th, starting at 10am, the Grinch is stealing more than Christmas with a very special doughnut pop-up. Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey, a doughnut devotee and finalist on the Food Network’s Holiday Baking Championship, has crafted a series of festive creations.

The custom doughnuts are $3 each (plus tax) and available in the following seasonal flavors:
Where are you, Christmint (Mint Chocolate)
Who Pudding (Eggnog)
Max Snax (Gingerbread)
Cinn-dy Lou Who (Cinnamon)
You’re a Green One, Mr. Grinch (Pistachio)

Guests are encouraged to arrive early as Joshua’s doughnut pop ups are known to sell out early.

4) On Wednesday, December 5th at 7 p.m., dbar will treat guests to taste of bubbles paired with a four-course dinner. The Best of Bubbles Wine Dinner will feature seasonal parings such as crab cake  with various sparkling wines.

The full menu will include:
Pear and Frisée salad, Hazelnut Vinaigrette, Laura Chenel Goat Cheese
Bollicini Prosecco Veneto, Italy
Crab Cake, Delicata Squash Ribbons, Bernaise, Grilled Lemon
Pol Roger White Foil Champagne France
Roast Pork Loin and Brunos BBQ Ribs, Black eyed peas and collard Greens, Crispy Shallots
Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco Emilia Romagna, Italy
Créme Brulée with Spiced Plum Sorbet
Cavas Hill Cuvée Panot - Cava Rosé Penedès, Spain

Cost: $65 per person.
Reservations can be made by phone at (617) 265-4490.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My Favorite Fiction of 2018: Lots Of Book Recommendations

What were your favorite fiction books this year?

Back in December 2011, I started a series, Authors, Alcohol & Accolades, which asked some of my favorite authors about their preferred drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. There have been 11 editions of this column so far, with more coming in the future. The inspiration for this series is that I am a voracious reader, of both fiction and nonfiction, and I wanted to combine that interest with my love of food & drink. The series has proven popular and it has been fascinating to explore what authors enjoy drinking.

Each year, as an addendum to that series, I've been posting a list of my Favorite Fiction Books, including books of Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Crime/Thriller. During the past twelve months, I've read over 200 books, both fiction and non-fiction, which provides a large pool for my choices. Most of the books on these lists were published in 2018, though there are some exceptions which were published in prior years but which I didn't read until this past year.

Onto my Book Recommendations...

First, let me provide my Top Three Reads Of The Year, those three books which thoroughly impressed and engaged me, compelling works which I've already read at least twice this year, and which I'll read again in the future. These exceptional books have my highest, and unqualified, recommendation.

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang
A compelling fantasy, based in part on Chinese history, this is a grim and riveting novel, depicting the horrors of war, including the moral decisions that may be made. In part, it is also a coming of age novel, detailing how a determined, young peasant girl is able to enter an elite military academy and become a potent force against those seeking to destroy her country. The history of China is well integrated into this tale, the characters are interesting, and the magic system is intriguing. And the ending has a powerful and shocking impact! Such an impressive debut novel from R.F. Kuang and I eagerly await the sequel.

The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky by John Hornor Jacobs
I've long enjoyed the work of John Hornor Jacobs and this could be the best thing he's ever written. It is a superb novella on several different levels. It is very well-written, evoking such powerful emotions with poetic & beautiful language. On the surface, the book is about an odd friendship, fueled in part by a shared origin in a repressive South American regime. Then, the story becomes about so much more, such as cosmic horror and mundane evil, love and hope. It is absolutely riveting from start to finish, and on a reread, you will find more of the nuances that you might have missed from a first read.

The Midnight Front by David Mack
I was hooked on this book from the very beginning and I remained so until the very end. An impressive and riveting supernatural thriller, this book focuses on a magical war during WWII. The magic system, where wielders derive their powers from demons, is intriguing and well developed. The magical battles are intense, complex and fascinating. The various characters are interesting and their moral dilemmas helped to elevate the novel. WWII was well integrated into the narrative and you experience a number of the most important aspects of the war. The novel can be dark at times, as expected, but overall there is a thread of hope pervading through the text. Plus, alcohol, from wine to spirits, plays a role which especially pleased me. This is another book where I highly anticipate the sequel.

Second, let me provide some of my other Favorite SF/Fantasy/Horror Novels of 2018. Please note that these books are not in any specific order of preference.

Starless by Jacqueline Carey
Priest of Bones by Peter McLean
Iron Gold by Pierce Brown 
Blood of the Four by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence 
The Point by John Dixon
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Shadowblack and Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell 
The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence Schoen
Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan
A Veil of Spears by Bradley Beaulieu 
Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

And these two books deserve some recognition for simply being fun, popcorn-novels.
Chicken Dinner: A Novel of Battle Royale by Timothy Long
Kill Hill Carnage by Tim Meyer

Third, here are my Top 10 Favorite Mystery/Crime/Thriller Novels of 2018. From gritty noir to more high-tech thrillers, this books are exciting and riveting, sure to get your blood pumping and your heart racing.

Into The Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Super Con by James Swain
The Far Empty and High White Sun by J. Todd Scott
Hellbent by Gregg Hurwitz 
Raven's Sword by Adam Baker
Blood Standard by Laird Barron
Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

Fourth, here are My Favorite Novellas of 2018. Novellas often seem to get ignored on many other "Best Of" lists but I believe they are definitely worthy of attention, especially considering the high quality novellas that are appearing more frequently.

War Cry by Brian McClellan
Invasion, Scorched Earth, and Bitter Harvest (Seeds of War #trilogy) by Jonathan Brazee and Lawrence Schoen

All of the books on this list garner my earnest recommendation and you should check them out. They would make great holiday gifts for others, or even yourself. Please support an author, a small, independent business person, and buy more books. And if you read and enjoy a book, please leave a review of that book online and also tell your friends about it. The author would greatly appreciate your efforts.

What were some of your favorite books this year?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Alsace Pinot Noir: For Thanksgiving & Much More

When you think of wine from Alsace, you're most likely to think of their white wines, from Riesling to Gewürztraminer, from Pinot Blanc to Muscat. You might be hard pressed to identify a red grape used in Alsace, though if you're a fan of Crémant d'Alsace, especially their Rosé versions, you might know Pinot Noir is grown there. In fact, Pinot Noir is the only red grape authorized for Alsace AOC Red wines and Rosé.

Don't feel bad if you didn't know Alsace produces Pinot Noir wines. Unfortunately, only about 2,800 cases, a mere drop in the bucket, of Alsace Pinot Noir were imported into the U.S. in 2016. That makes it a very tiny niche wine and it needs to grow and grow, as Alsace Pinot Noir is delicious and compelling, worthy of notice.

Within Alsace, Pinot Noir is planted in nearly 11% of their vineyards, and they produce about 105,000 hectoliters of wine with Pinot Noir, which appears to include Crémant d'Alsace, Rosé and Red still wines. Pinot Noir has a lengthy history in the Alsace region, with some claiming it extends back to the ancient Romans. During the 15th and 16th centuries, Alsace Pinot Noir was even more valued than all of their white wines. For unknown reasons, that changed over time so that their wine wines came to dominate.

Within the various terroirs of Alsace, it has been learned that Pinot Noir grows best in their clay and limestone soils, while Pinot Noir grown in more gravel and sandy soils is best suited for use in Crémant d'Alsace and Rosé. In addition, due to climate change, temperatures in Alsace have risen, making it easier to ripen their Pinot Noir. Some of the best areas to grow Pinot Noir are also designated Grand Cru, but only for white wines. Currently, Pinot Noir cannot be designated as Grand Cru though there are efforts to change this and it seems likely that within several years, Grand Cru Pinot Noir will be authorized.

In general, Alsace Pinot Noir tends to present bright red fruit flavors, crisp acidity, and vibrant freshness. Many are intended to be consumed while young though some have the potential for aging. Oak aging is sometimes used, and when it is, it is more of a light touch, allowing the fruit to take center stage. Curiously, their Pinot Noir is usually bottled  in "flutes," those bottles you most commonly see used for Riesling.

Pinot Noir is often recommended for Thanksgiving, a complement to turkey, and this year I enjoyed three Alsace Pinot Noirs with my Thanksgiving feast. Beside the turkey, we also had a honeymoon roast. All three were excellent wines, as well as each having its own distinctive characteristics. My guests each had their own personal favorite of the three wines, though they too enjoyed all three. This isn't the first time I've tasted Alsace Pinot Noir, but it certainly has provided me even more reason to promote this compelling niche wine.

Please note that two of the Pinot Noirs (the Ostertag and Schlumberger) were media samples while I purchased the Binner on my own. I'm also presenting the wines in order of their vintage, from the youngest to oldest.

Domaine Ostertag isn't as old as some of the historic Alsace wineries, but it still makes an impact in the region. In 1966, winemaker André Ostertag returned to his family estate and founded Domaine Ostertag. André had previously trained in the Burgundy region, which obviously gave him experience with Pinot Noir. At his family's estate, he improved vineyard management and in 1997, he started instituting Biodynamic agriculture in his 35 acre vineyard. The winery produces three wine ranges, including Vins de Fruit (expressive of the grape variety), Vins de Pierre (expressive of terroir), and Vins de Temps (expressive of overripeness or noble rot).

The 2016 Domaine Ostertag "Les Jardins" Pinot Noir ($27) is made from 100% Pinot Noir, from 20+ year old vines. The wine was aged in stainless steel tanks for about nine months, has a 12% ABV, and is certified Biodynamic. This wine was the darkest red of the three, with an intense aroma of red and black fruits, and a touch of an earthy smell. On the palate, the wine presented with a complex blend of bold flavors, including red cherry, black cherry, and strawberry, with a prominent earthy element, a touch of the savage. Good acidity, with a fairly long and satisfying finish. It especially paired well with our honeymoon roast.

Domaine Christian Binner is nearly 250 years old, having been established in 1770. The estate now owns vineyards in the Kaefferkopf, Schlossberg and Wineck-Schlossberg Grands Crus and other parcels in Ammerschwihr, with most vines averaging 35 years old, and the rest between 60 and 100 years old. It has been sustainable farmed for about 35 years and in 2012, the winery built an eco-friendly winery, whose roof is covered in soil. They produce a wide range of wines, from Crémant d’Alsace to Late-Harvest.

The 2015 Domaine Christian Binner Pinot Noir ($33) is also made from 100% Pinot Noir, with 60% of the grapes an average age of 35-years old and 40% being over 60 years, including some that are over 100 years old. The wine was aged for about 11 months in 100 year old wood vats. It is also certified Biodynamic, unfiltered, has a 13% ABV, and has no added yeast or sulfites. This wine also had an alluring nose of red fruits and earthiness, with a hint of spice. On the palate, it was lighter than the Ostertag, but with a similar flavor profile in many respects, though tending more toward red fruits rather than black ones. It's earthiness was also milder than the Ostertag. A well balanced wine, with a lengthy, pleasing finish, it paired well with the turkey, as well as a the roast.

Domaines Schlumberger got its start in 1810, when a small vineyard was added to their textile business. Since then, the estate has grown significantly, owning over 330 acres in Geubwiller, and also vineyards in the Grands Crus of Kitterlé, Kessler, Saering and Spiegel, making them the largest Grand Crus owner in Alsace. The estate is now operated and managed by the 6th and 7th generations of the Schlumberger family. The estate has about 30 acres of Pinot Noir, with 20% planted in the Grand Cru Saering.

The 2014 Domaines Schlumberger "Les Princes Abbés" Pinot Noir ($25) is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, from vines of an average age of 19 years. The wine is fermented in stainless steel and then aged on the lees for about 8 months in old wooden foudres. This was a wine of silky elegance, of bright, fresh red fruit flavors, a hint of spice, and a wisp of earthiness. Excellent acidity, some floral accents, soft tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Such a well balanced and delicious wine, it went perfectly with the turkey. And I loved this wine! That elegance was so compelling and its complex melange of flavors pleased me immensely. Highly recommended.

Overall, all three Pinot Noirs were excellent choices, helping to showcase the diversity of Alsace, as well as being illustrative of its terroir and quality. It's a shame so little Alsace Pinot Noir finds its way to our shores and hopefully that will change in the near future. If you love Pinot Noir, I strongly encourage you to seek out those from Alsace. Plus, check out Crémant d'Alsace Rosé, which is also made from Pinot Noir.