Friday, May 25, 2018

Wine School At Asta: Theresa Paopao Presents Fiano

Fiano is an indigenous Italian grape that might extend back to the time of ancient Rome. It has been theorized, without definitive evidence, that Fiano might be the same grape written about by Pliny the Elder and Columella, referred to as Vitis apianes ("Vine of the bees"). Besides its potentially ancient origins, Fiano also produces delicious and interesting white wines.

If you want to learn more about Fiano, then I strongly recommend you visit Asta, a tasting menu restaurant located at 47 Massachusetts Ave. in Boston. Theresa Paopao, Asta's sommelier, has recently started a Wine School, an afternoon wine lounge inspired by New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov’s monthly column. Asta's Wine School is in session from Tuesday to Friday, from 4pm-7pm. Recently, my good friend Adam Japko and I stopped by Asta to check out the new Wine School and we both were equally impressed.

Back on April 26, Asimov's Wine School post dealt with Fiano, so this month, Theresa is highlighting that grape. Theresa has selected seven Fiano wines, from the Campania region of Italy, to showcase, six single-varietal and one blend. All of the wines are offered by the glass, though you can also order a horizontal or vertical flight of three wines. I'd suggest you try the flights, as comparison tastings are an excellent way to better understand the various expressions of a grape. Not all Fiano wines are the same.

This Wine School is completely causal and informal, and Theresa will provide you as much, or as little, information as you desire about Fiano and the wines. Theresa is very knowledgeable and personable, and is a fine host for wine school. Her own passion for wine can be infectious and you won't regret stopping by to taste some wines.

In addition, Wine School offers a small list of à la carte dishes which have been specifically created to pair well with your wine. We ordered a few of the dishes and they were delicious, the usual high quality we expect from Asta. The Whipped Salt Cod, atop toast, is a relatively simple dish, but was well executed and addictive. Creamy and salty, with that touch of the sea, it did pair very well with the various Fiano wines. And it is something I'd love to replicate at home. The Pickled Mussels were another relatively simple dish, beautifully executed, and absolutely tasty. The Octopus, atop a Johnnycake, was cooked perfectly, being tender and flavorful. Fiano and seafood is an excellent combination!

Fiano is primarily grown in the Campania region of southern Italy and on the island of Sicily.
In 2003, the area around Avellino in Campania received DOCG status. Fiano di Avellino DOCG wines must contain at least 85% Fiano, and the rest may include Coda di Volpe, Greco, and Trebbiano. Fiano, which produces low yields in the vineyard, faced possible extinction in the later half of the 20th century, but a small group of producers chose to save it, planting more vineyards, especially in the Avellino region. Fiano wines are commonly said to possess intense aromas and strong flavors, and can age well.

Adam and I decided to taste all seven Fiano wines, both flights and the single blend. The horizontal flight ($17/three 2 oz pours), included three wines, all from the same vintage but from different producers. The wines included the 2016 Terradora di Paolo, DOCG Fiano di Avellino ($15/glass), 2016 Vadiaperti DOCG Fiano di Avellino ($12/glass), and 2016 Case d'Alto DOCG Fiano di Avellino ($14/glass). All of these wines saw only stainless steel, and possessed crisp acidity, mineral elements, bright citrus flavors, and honey notes. Yet each possessed its own individuality as well and your favorite will be based on your personal preferences.

My favorite of the three (though I enjoyed all of them) was the Vadiaperti, as besides being simply delicious, it possessed an intriguing complexity, with notes of honey, pear, apple and lemon, bright acidity, mineral elements, and salted nuts. I could easily enjoy this wine on its own, though it went well with the seafood as well.

The vertical flight ($17/three 2 oz pours), included three wines, all from the same producer but from different vintages. The wines included the 2014, 2015 and 2016 vintages of the Casebianche Cumale DOP Fiano Cilento. The Fiano grapes for these wines is from 10-20 year old vines, and the wine sees only stainless steel and then a couple months of bottle aging. In general, these wines all presented with crisp acidity, mineral elements, hints of brininess, bright citrus flavors, and some herbal notes. The 2016 vintage was obviously the freshest and most bright, with the two other vintages starting to get more savory and less fruit notes. I preferred the 2014 vintage, enjoying its more savory aspect, with an almost umami element.

The final wine of the evening, which Theresa referred to as a "Super Fiano," was the 2015 Sangiovanni Paestum, IGT Italy ($7/2 oz taste or $18/glass), a blend of 85% Fiano, 10% Trebbiano, and 5% Greco. The wine spent about 8 months aging in stainless steel. I was enamored with this wine, finding it to be complex and intriguing, delicious and compelling. So much going on in the glass, with notes of honey and citrus, saltiness and bright acidity, minerality and herbs. It possessed some similarities to the other Fiano wines, but had its own uniqueness as well. It paired well with all of the seafood, though I could easily sit outside and sip this on its own.  

Theresa did a great job of selecting wines for her Fiano Wine School and you can still taste the wines tonight or next week at Asta. Next month, Theresa will follow the theme of Asimov's next Wine School article, so look forward to see which region, grape or style gets chosen. Asta's new Wine School is a great way to casually taste and learn about some new wines, while enjoying some delectable small plates, paired with the wines.

Thursday, May 24, 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.
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1) On Thursday, May 31, from 6pm-8pm, CHOPPS American Bar and Grill welcomes guests to the outside Terrace at CHOPPS to celebrate the summer season with a Tunes & Tequila event featuring live music from Ward Hayden, appetizers from Chef Steve Zimei and summer cocktails by Maestro Dobel Tequila and Hanger 1 Vodka.

Tickets are available for just $20 per person and include a variety of mini cocktails and passed hors d’oeuvres from Executive Chef Steve Zimei. Zimei’s hors d’oeuvres for the evening including Double Cut Bacon Bites, Kobe Meatballs with shaved parmesan and tomato sugo, Bocconcini, Tomato and Basil Skewers, Bruschetta with whipped avocado marinated tomato, and goat cheese, and Chicken & Waffles with pink pepper corn butter.

Tickets are available on Eventbrite. Call 781-221-6643 directly to book seats.

CHOPPS always puts on fun and tasty events, and the specific hors d’oeuvres being served for this event sound delicious. I will be attending this event and hope to see some of my friends there as well.

2) On Tuesday, June 12, at 6:30pm, you are invited to indulge in wines from Tuscany’s San Felice Winery alongside a five-course meal at il Casale Belmont. Countless generations of Tuscan farmers have produced exceptional wines at the San Felice Winery and on June 12, Bostonians will have the chance to experience the best of Italy’s Chianti and Brunello wines. Traditional techniques developed by native villagers have fused with modern advancements to celebrate the region’s wine, while also preserving the Chianti landscape. The team at il Casale Belmont, led by Chef/Owner Dante de Magistris, invite guests to learn more about San Felice at their Chianti and Brunello Wine Dinner.

With roots tracing back to antiquity, San Felice’s land has been utilized by many over the years—ranging from nuclear families to the Papacy. 1970 saw the vineyards come into their current ownership of the Allianz Group. The company worked arduously to restore the land to its prime form, where they now produce some of Italy’s most famous Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino Bolgheri wines. Marco Secola will be in attendance to further illustrate the colorful history of San Felice.

And while wine certainly takes center stage this night, il Casale’s menu will serve as a stellar accompaniment. The full menu is as follows:

First Course
Insalata di gamberetti con fagioli su bruschetta al pomodoro, olio al basilico
Rock shrimp salad with cannellini beans on tomato bruschetta, basil oil
San Felice Perolla Rosato (2017)
Second Course 
Fusilli fatti in casa con ragù "bianco" di carne e salamino di cinghiale
Handmade fusilli with "white" meat ragù and diced wild boar salami
San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Riserva (2014)
(served side by side with)
San Felice Il Grigio Chianti Classico Gran Selezione (2014)
Third Course
Quaglia Arrosto alle erbe aromatiche, cous-cous al pistacchio, molasse di melograno
Roast quail with aromatic herbs, pistachio couscous, pomegranate molasses
San Felice Campogiovanni Brunello di Montalcino (2013)
Fourth Course
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
San Felice Pugnitello (2013)
Fifth Course
Cantucci tipici della Toscana....per intingere
Tartufi al cioccolato per la tavola
Tuscan style almond biscotti....to dip in the Vin Santo
Chocolate truffles for the table
San Felice Vin Santo

Wines will be available for purchase at CUVEE Fine Wines, just doors down from il Casale Belmont.

Price is $125 per person inclusive of tax and gratuity. Reservations are suggested and can be made by calling 617-209-4942. Tickets are also available on Eventbrite.

3) At this year's Seafood Expo North America, one of the hottest new fish was the Ōra King Tyee Salmon, farmed in New Zealand. A product of a nearly 25 year old sustainability program, these salmon area raised in the Te Waikoropupu Springs. These salmon easily run over 30 pounds and they have recently come available on the commercial market, although they only sell (worldwide) about 40 salmon each month. Originally from British Columbia, the Tyee salmon are quite large, maturing over the course of four years rather than the usual two. The taste is supposed to be exquisite, and the flesh has plenty of healthy Omega-3s.

The Ōra King Tyee Salmon has received Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) certification from The Global Aquaculture Alliance, and Best Choice from Seafood Watch. Get over your fears about farmed salmon as they don't apply in this case. The media likes to publish scare stories about seafood, even if they are based on out-dated and inaccurate information. This is high quality, sustainable farmed salmon which should please any palate.

Locally, Legal Harborside has recently acquired a 30 pound Ōra King Tyee Salmon which is now on their menu, until they run out, though they will acquire another salmon in June. It will be prepared in two ways:
--Ora King Tyee Salmon Tartar (whole grain mustard, fried capers) $19
--Pan-seared Ora King Tyee Salmon (wild mushroom ragout, pea greens, genovese sauce) $48

This is the perfect opportunity to taste this rare salmon, and Legal may be the only restaurant currently serving this fish.

4) Chef Kevin Scott and the Scorpion Bar Boston team are kicking off a brand-new Taco Tuesday special. Every Tuesday from 4pm until 10:30pm, Scorpion Bar Boston will offer a special build-your-own taco option for just $3 per taco. Guests can build their ultimate taco with an extensive selection of tortillas, protein, toppings, salsa, sauces, and cheese – for thousands of possible taco combinations. Taco Tuesday specials will be available at the bar and in the dining room, as well as on the terrace at Scorpion Bar with bistro windows that overlook Seaport Blvd.

Taco Tuesday guests will receive a checklist to build their personal taco creation. Start with your pick of tortilla (gluten-free corn options available), then choose from a selection of 10 protein options, including traditional Carne Asada, Chicken, and Pork as well as vegetarian-friendly options like Quinoa, Red Rice, and Black Beans. Stack your taco with toppings like pickled onions, roasted squash, pickled jalapenos, charred tomatoes and more, before topping it off with your choice of salsa including options like cucumber pico de gallo and pineapple jicama salsa, followed by sauces that range from avocado puree to zesty Cholula aoili, and topped with your choice of cheese.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Grexico at Committee: Fusion Cuisine At Its Best

Fusion cuisine can get a bad rap, albeit with some justification based on some very poor examples of fusion. However, most international cuisines are actually fusions, using and adapting various ingredients, techniques and recipes from different cultures. For example, Japanese tempura has its roots in Portugal and in Peru, Japanese immigrants helped to create Nikkei cuisine, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines. In Boston, Taranta is a restaurant that serves a superb fusion of Peruvian and Italian cuisines. And recently, I enjoyed a new fusion cuisine, one which is worthy of its own restaurant.

To honor Cinco de MayoCommittee created a special "Grexico" menu, fusing Greek and Mexican cuisines. They stated part of the inspiration, "Fusing the two cuisines is a new trend that is starting to pop up around the country, most recently with fast casual Souvla and Tacolicious in San Francisco teaming up to create Souvalicious Lam mole tacos earlier this month." The menu was only available for five days but I fervently hope it returns, or they decide to open a new restaurant dedicated to this fusion, as the food was absolutely delicious and the fusion worked so very well.

Much of this special menu was created by Sous Chef Luis Figueroa, with assistance from Chef Theo Tsilpanos, as many of these dishes are recipes Figueroa grew up eating. Figueroa has over a decade of culinary expertise, garnering experience as a chef and kitchen manager, with a pedigree including Grill 23 & Bar and Mistral. With Mexican roots and expertise in Mediterranean cooking, Sous Chef Luis Figueroa combines Latin flair with modern Greek cuisine.

About this menu, Figueroa stated, "Mexican and Greek flavors work well together because there is a big focus on freshness and working with what’s around you in both cultures. Mexicans eat like Greeks! Our feasts are similar, the tables are always full. They have pita, we have tortillas. They have tzatziki, we have guacamole. We are also surrounded by sea and we have a lot of dishes that involve seafood. Like the Greeks the grilling and seasoning of whole fish is similar. Mexican grandmas are very similar to Greek grandmas as recipes are passed down from generation to generation."

The full Grexico menu included 3 Drinks, 6 Antijitos ("little cravings"), 3 Tacos, 1 Dish for the Table, and 2 Desserts. I was invited as a media guest to sample the menu and I was impressed with the intriguing balance of Greek and Mexican ingredients in each dish. These were well-crafted recipes, executed well and made me crave more.

During our dinner, we sampled several different cocktails. The Baecation ($14) is made with Wray & Nephew overproof rum, Cynar, Licor 43, banana syrup, coconut, and lime. It certainly would be a fine summer-time cocktail, though it was a bit too sweet for my own preferences.

The Piscoteca ($14) was more to my preferences, made with Pisco Barsol Verde, house-made tropical fassionola syrup, and lime. It was more dry, with intriguing tropical fruit flavors and a delightful vein of the Pisco. Very refreshing, it would also be a nice summer cocktail.

The Holy Smokes ($14), made with Del Magüey Vida mezcal, Lillet Blanc, lemon, cinnamon, and tepache, comes in a tall, fun glass. The smoky agave spirit is prominent, enhanced by the spice and citrus, making it complex, refreshing and delicious. A third excellent choice for a summer cocktail.

We didn't sample the entire menu, though what we missed sounded intriguing as well, such as the Mexican Street Corn ($8), with a spicy jalapeno mayo and crumbled feta. The Pickled Octopus Tostada ($16) is made with chipotle aioli, Florina pepper, yellow pepper, Greek olive oil, vinegar, and lemon. Figueroa had this o say about the tostada, "The dish came from the idea that Greeks love octopus and some of the best comes from the Mediterranean. Tostada means toasted with the main ingredient being the toasted tortilla. We added the Greek octopus and peppers on top to give It the combined Mexican and Greek flavor." The Whole Red Snapper ($32) is prepared with adobe marinated red snapper, achiote onions, rigani, & Mexico City salad, and is served with corn and grape leaf tortillas, Greek olive salsa and a homemade hot sauce. Hopefully another time I'll get to enjoy these dishes.

We began our dinner with the Grecomole ($12), mashed avocados and herbs, feta, grated cotija, and fried pita. Though I'm not usually a guacamole fan, I enjoyed this dish, savoring the salty and creamy kick from the feta and cotija. An excellent opening to our meal, setting the stage for the rest of the fusion cuisine.

All the guests received a complimentary dish of Guajillo Hummus, with a stack of warm pita slices. The hummus was delicious, with a mild spiciness, and I slathered plenty of it on the pita. Committee does a great job with their various spreads and this was no exception.

The Greek Ceviche ($18), made with white fish, tsipoura, lime juice, red onion, Greek yogurt, aji amarillo, sweet potato, cilantro, and fried calamari, was a complex melange of flavors. The fried calamari were tender and lightly sweet, and the white fish was meaty, tender and flavorful. It was a well balanced dish, each bite bringing plenty to your mouth.

The Grilled Halloumi ($12) was topped by guajillo vinaigrette, watercress, and mezcal infused oranges. As usual, their grilled halloumi was quite tasty, a firm cheese with a nice sear to it, while the vinaigrette added a pleasant, light spiciness. The oranges contributed a subtle smokiness and a nice burst of acid.

The Beef Keftedakia ($14), basically Greek meatballs, were topped by a tomato-chipotle sauce and Mexican crema. They were meaty and moist, with a slight crunchy sear, and enhanced by the sauce and crema, which brought to mind the flavors of Mexico.

The menu had three different Tacos (3 tacos for $14), including the Pork Gyro Tacos (which we didn't eat), with avocado tzatziki, salsa verde, queso fresco, atop a corn tortilla. However, we did enjoy the Pescado Tacos, overflowing with fried smelts, skordalia, and Greek olive salsa, atop a house-made corn tortilla. A take on a fish taco, the addition of the fried smelts was a tasty option, adding a nice texture to the dish, and the skordali and salsa brought additional complexity and flavor. The tortillas were light, with a nice corn flavor, and were as good as any I've had in the local area.

My favorite dish of the evening were the Lamb Barbacoa Tacos, made with braised lamb, tzatziki, and Fix beer (a Greek beer) guajillo, atop grape leaf-corn tortillas. Grapeleafs were crumbled into the mixture of the corn tortillas, providing its different color and texture. They were unique and delicious, such a delightful fusion of cuisines. Who would have thought such a combination could be so tasty? The lamb was moist and tender, just perfectly prepared, and the entirety of the taco worked so well. I could easily see a Greek-Mexican Taco joint doing very well in the Boston area.

For Dessert, one of the options was the Churros ($10) with merenda. These hot, donut-like sticks were scrumptious, with a nice blend of sweetness atop them. They possessed an excellent crunchy exterior with a softer, fluffier interior. I've always loved churros and Committee did well by this traditional dish.

To put a Greek spin on the Churros, they added a dish of Merenda, which is kind of the Greek version of Nutella, except there is less hazelnut and more chocolate flavor. An excellent dish for dipping the churros, and I think I prefer this to the strong hazelnut of the Nutella.

There was also Dulce de Leche Ice Cream ($8), with Baklava crumble, another winner dessert. The creamy ice cream had rich flavors, enhanced by the crunchy texture of the baklava. The dish wasn't too sweet or heavy, and it will make you wonder by baklava crumble isn't more of a thing.

Committee's Grexico menu worked well on a number of levels, cleverly fusing the two cuisines and creating flavorful and interesting dishes. The more that you think about the combinations, the more that they make culinary sense. I was thoroughly impressed with the menu and I'd order any of these dishes again, especially those Lamb Barbacoa Tacos with the grape leaf-corn tortillas. If Greek-Mexican fusion is a burgeoning new trend, then let Boston be one of those trend setters. I sincerely hope that Committee brings back the Grexico menu, or even that they decide to open a restaurant specializing in this cuisine. Big kudos to Sous Chef Luis Figueroa and Chef Theo Tsilpanos for making this superb menu.  

Thursday, May 17, 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.
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1) Master Sommelier Brahm Callahan and the team at Harvest invite guests to Rosé the Day Away and explore a variety of rosés on their outdoor oasis patio every Wednesday through Friday, from 4pm-6pm, this summer. They will feature rosé options by the glass or bottle, as well as a rosé sangria and cider expertly selected by Master Sommelier Brahm Callahan.

While enjoying the rosé bar, guests can select items from the mid bar menu at 4 PM such as New England Oysters, The Harvest Burger, and the Scituate Lobster Roll. In celebration of Rosé the Day Away’s kick-off week, Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett has prepared complimentary bar bites for each day of the week including Pretzel Sticks with Beer Cheese on Wednesday, Gougeres with Gruyere Cheese Mornay on Thursday, and Arancini with Spring Onion Aioli on Friday.

The Rosé the Day Away beverage menu is as follows:
Bottles
Pratsch, Zweigelt, Niederosterreich, Austria 2017 $42
Domaine Bunan, Mourvedre, Moulin des costs, Bandol, France 2016 $65
Minimus/Craft Wine Co., Tempranillo, Oregon 2016 $72
Duckhorn, Decoy, Syrah/Vermentino, California 2017 $48
By the Glass
Chateau Gassier, Esprit Gassier, Côtes de Provence, France 2017 $13
Villa de Anges, Languedoc, France 2017 $10
Vaccelli, Juste Ciel!, Corsica, France 2016 $9
Something Rose-y
Rosé Sangria, Bordeaux Rose, Strawberries, Raspberries, Brandy, Lemon $11
Rosé Cider, Wolffer, Dry Rosé Cider 139, Hamptons NY $14

Please call 617-868-2255 to book seats.

2) David Vargas, chef/owner of Portsmouth’s Mexican restaurant, Vida Cantina, announced today that he has been working in partnership with Herradura Tequila to create the first-ever signature batch of “Vida Tequila” which will be unveiled at the Vida Tequila Release Party on June 3 at Vida Cantina. “It is something I have wanted to create for a long time” shares Vargas. “Everything we make at Vida Cantina is from scratch and authentic; there’s a whole lot of love and family and history that goes into each of our dishes and cocktails. This is the next level of true Vida Cantina hospitality; sharing our very own custom-made Vida Tequila with our guests.”

The Vida Tequila Release Party, will be held outside on June 3, from 12noon-5pm. Vargas and his team will be cooking outside at Vida Cantina, preparing and serving authentic Mexican street food, signature Vida Cantina cocktails, local brews, and of course, celebrating Vida Tequila. Ruben Aceves, Global Ambassador, Tequila Herradura, will be on hand to share tastings and insights of Herradura. There will also be a Mariachi band and a DJ.

Cait Reagan, (former GM of Vida Cantina, and now GM at Vargas’ new restaurant, Ore Nell’s BBQ in Kittery, Maine) traveled to Mexico to see first-hand the production of Herradura Tequila. By learning the process and tasting the tequila barrels, Cait was able to select the barrel to be bottled as Vida Tequila. “It was a really interesting process” according to Reagan. “There were three barrels of tequila that had been aged and were ready for bottling. I thought they would taste similarly to each other, but I was surprised at how different they were. One barrel was very floral, one was sweet, and the third barrel had a nice sweetness at the start, and then some floral, and then just a really nice depth and complexity of flavor. That is the one I chose – I loved the complexity and balance.” 

Herradura bottled the tequila and is shipping the custom-batch to Vida Cantina in time for the June 3 Vida Tequila Release Party. “It was an absolutely amazing experience” shares Reagan. “To be able to select our own tequila was truly once-in-a-lifetime. Unless they invite me back, and then I’m happy to make it a ‘twice-in-a-lifetime experience!!’”

Everyone is invited. No tickets necessary. Just come as you are and order up some food and drink and have a great time!

3) Glass House, the restaurant, bar, and modern day “meeting house” in the heart of Kendall Square, is kicking the heat up a notch this summer with their new Toasty Tuesdays and Fire Pit Fridays.

Enjoy summer nights by the fire with Glass House every Tuesday and Friday. The Cambridge hotspot will be heating things up on the patio all summer long, where guests can get cozy under Glass House blankets, enjoy a glass of wine or other delicious cocktails, and dine from the special patio menu which includes summer favorites like Short Rib Gnocchos (Gnocchi Nachos), Tempura Chicken Skewers, Grilled Jumbo Shrimp, and Falafel Sliders.

When: Tuesdays, from 4-7pm, until August 14th and Fridays  from 4-7pm, until July 27

4) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things rosé at their 4th annual Rosé Rumble. Puritan & Co.’s upcoming Rosé Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Thursday, June 14th, the fourth annual industry-style tasting event will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying unlimited bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m. Both sessions will end at 10 p.m. Regularly $75, tickets are now available for a special early bird rate of $65 until May 25th.

Tickets can be purchased here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/rose-rumble-2018-tickets-45986039482?aff=es2

This is an excellent event and I'm sure it will sell out quickly so I highly recommend you buy tickets now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Georgian Wine: All About Context (Part 1)

"Every qvevri is, potentially, a microbiological jungle, a sensorial car crash, a celebration of hideousness – unless the vessel itself has been scrupulously prepared, unless the harvest has been carefully sorted and cleaned, unless the vinification practices have been honed and refined."
--Andrew Jefford, Decanter Magazine

I've got Georgia on my mind...

The wines from the country of Georgia are still a niche product in the U.S. but I hope that changes. All wine lovers can find something of interest in the diversity of Georgian wines. In 2017, Georgia exported almost 77 million bottles of wine, about 6.4 million cases. Their top export market is Russia, which currently purchases about 60% of their wines by volume. And the third export market, and which has been growing significantly, is China, with exports doubling from 2015 to 2016. As for specific wine styles, about 50% of Georgia's total production comprises semi-sweet wines, many which end up in Russia. And though qvevri wines get lots of publicity, they comprise no more than 3% of total production.


Recently, I attended a seminar, titled "Georgia in Context," and tasting on the wines of Georgia at Puritan & Co. The two presenters included Alice Feiring, a Georgian wine expert and proponent of natural wines, and Taylor Parsons, a sommelier from Los Angeles. Alice has written a book on Georgian wine, For The Love of Wine, which is fascinating and recommended if you are interested in Georgian wines.

Back in December 2016, I attended a prior seminar on the wines of Georgia which was led by Taylor. At that time, Taylor approached Georgian wines as a potential buyer, coming at them with fresh eyes. At the recent seminar, Taylor stated that his prior seminar was more "Wow, this is Georgian wine," an indication of the newness of those wines to the U.S. market. Now that those wines are becoming better known, this new seminar would be more about context. As was stated, "Context matters in everything, but especially in wine."

Our contextual understanding of wine includes four aspects, including evolution & development, culture, geography/climate/topography, and typicity. A contextual understanding of Georgian wines though is a work in progress, with additional study and research needed to gain greater comprehension of everything that plays a role. A greater understanding will also allow us to provide consumers even more reasons why they should drink Georgian wines.

Some general comments were made about the country of Georgia, noting that it has a population of under 4 million people, less than the number of people that live in the Greater Boston area. Much of the country is mountainous terrain, including the Caucasus and Likhi Mountains. There was then a brief historical sketch of Georgia and its wine industry, which extends back 8,000 years. One important event occurred during the 19th century when Europeans, and especially the French, helped to influence wine production. Another important event occurred during the 1970s, when the overall wine quality of George decreased substantially as Stalin ardently pushed for massive quantity over quality.

At this point, I want to take a minute for a brief historical detour, touching on the influence of France upon the Georgian wine industry. In The Classic Cuisine of Soviet Georgia: History, Traditions and Recipes, by Julianne Margvelashvili (1991), there is an intriguing, albeit brief, passage concerning the possible origins of sparkling wine in Georgia. The passage states, “In the 1840s a young Georgian from the vineyards of Kakheti found himself a prisoner-of-war in France’s champagne region. He was not a warrior by nature, but he was a winemaker by heritage. It was not long before he made it his business to learn the techniques of champagne production. Upon his liberation and return to his father’s vineyard, he taught how French champagne is made.”

I've tried to gather more information about the events in this passage but have been unsuccessful so far, but my research continues. If anyone has any more information, I would appreciate it if you contacted me.

Back to the seminar. Next, there was an explanation of the three main types of wine making in Georgia: traditional, modern and pragmatic. In general, traditional wine making includes the use of indigenous varieties, stem & skins maceration, the use of qvevri, and no filtration or fining. On the other hand, modern wine making generally uses steel and/or oak, inoculation, no skin & stems maceration for white wines, and the use of filtration and fining. The pragmatic style is a hybrid of the two other styles, using whatever aspects they believe will be best for their wine.

Since 2011, a number of home wine makers have made the transformation into commercial wineries. During the time of Stalin, these home wine makers helped keep wine making traditions alive, as well as preserving indigenous grapes species that Stalin cared nothing about. With these people, there is plenty of intuitive wine making, simply following old traditions that have been passed down through the generations. These individuals may not have been formally trained, but they are relying on the knowledge and experience of their ancestors.

Considering scientific endeavors, Georgia lacks adequate information on its soils, needing a soil study to examine and review its various soil types and terroir. They do not possess a definitive soil map and that should probably be a priority for the country. That will help them better plant their grapes, decide which areas are better regions for vineyards, and much more. The quality of Georgia wines could be enhanced with a comprehensive soil study.

There were some comments on the nature of qvevri, giant earthenware vessels which can be used to ferment and age wine. For example, it is said that you shouldn't be able to taste the qvevri in the wine. Cleanliness of the qvevri is essential to Georgia wine makers. Many wine cellars possess qvevri of different sizes, allowing them to vary production sizes of specific grapes or wines. In general, whites wines fermented in qvevri include skin contact, though a wine with only two weeks of such skin contact may actually be considered a "no skin contact" wine.

I was shocked to learn that in Georgia, until the 2013 vintage, there weren't any female winemakers! Currently there are approximately 7 or 8 female winemakers, many second generation daughters who work in the family winery, or even have taken over the ownership. This reminds me in some respects of the Japanese Sake industry, which was also dominated for centuries by men. It wasn't until 1976 that a woman was legally permitted to become a Sake brewer. Prior to that, women often weren't even permitted inside a Sake brewery, especially when brewing was occurring. I will be following up on this aspect of the Georgian wine industry, to highlight the contributions of these women.

Now that people have started to become familiar with Georgian wine in general, it may be time to go into deeper detail, to provide them more information on the country's wine diversity. To do that, we can begin to explain about the different wine regions of Georgia, starting with the basic division of West and East. As an example, in the West, Tsolikouri is the main white grape while in the East, Rkatsiteli is the main one. We discussed two main wine regions, each reflective of that basic division, including Imetri (West) and Kakheti (East).

The region of Imetri is broken into three sub zones, Higher, Middle and Lower Imetri. It is a mountainous region, with lots of humidity, varied soils, and lush vegetations and forests. There are some subtropical areas as well as ancient forests. The primary grapes of this region include Tsolikouri, Tsitska, Krakhuna, Aladasturi, and Otskhanuri Sapere. The cuisine tends to be lighter, more vegetarian, and spicier, while the wines tend to be lighter and more delicate. The wineries are also often kept outside, as they say, "Qvevri need to feel the rain."

The region of Kakheti is broken into two sub zones, Inner and Outer Kakheti, and comprises about 65% of all Georgian vineyards. The region has plenty of sub-alpine plains, with fertile soils (with more clay), and includes the basins of the Alani and Iori Rivers. The primary grapes of this region include Rkatsiteli, Saperavi, Mtsvane Kakhuri, Kisi, and Khikhvi. They also have the greatest number of international grapes. It is a hotter region so white wines generally have longer skin contact, giving them a deeper orange/amber color, to help preserve the wines, almost like UV protection. The cuisine is more "shepherd's food," using the meat of cows and sheep, often grilled, as well as plenty of cheese and bread. Lots of comfort food.

Near the end of the seminar, Peter Nelson, the wine director of Puritan & Co., posed an intriguing question, asking "How do persuade people to drink 'skin contact' wines when they respond that all those wines taste the same?" Puritan has a cool wine list, and it includes about 10-15 skin contact wines. Peter noted that the issue is not limited to their customers, but includes some of his peers in the wine industry as well. This issue is also applicable to Japanese Sake, and I've heard that same criticism before, that they all taste the same. Thus, I was very curious as to possible solutions to this dilemma.

Taylor stated that "Skin contact is all about the savory." It is not about the fruit, and those who expect fruit in their wines may be turned off by the savory aspect. Taylor then compared the concept to people who say how all "New Oak" wines may taste the same for some people. With Georgian wine, Taylor recommends that you tell people to forget their wine preconceptions, to go beyond the similar textures and seek deeper within the wine. Confronted with something new, people commonly try to create an analogy to something they know. And that can color their opinion of the new item. It takes an active measure to be more open to something that is new, to see it with fresh eyes. And that is the challenge for advocates of niche beverages, whether they are Georgian qvevri white wines or Japanese Sake.

One of the last bits of wisdom from the seminar was from Taylor, who started, "Don't apologize about wine. Don't be dogmatic about what is good wine."

(To Be Continued..)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Rant: Stop Neglecting Sherry

"There are only two kinds of sherry, the good and the better."
--Jerez saying

What is one of the tastiest, most intriguing, and unique wines that you are probably not drinking? It is most likely Sherry, a fascinating fortified wine from a small region of southern Spain.

As a long-term lover and fervent advocate of Sherry, I enjoy taking the opportunity, to spread my passion for this wine, to intrigue others to give it a try. Sherry remains a niche beverage in the U.S., and most of the Sherry imported into the U.S. is sweet. As such, many Americans have not encountered the myriad joys of dry Sherry. Even many wine lovers have little experience with dry Sherry. It is dry Sherry which is enjoyed the most in Spain, and there must be a very good reason for that fact. And due to reasons I'll explain in the near future, Sherry has been especially on my mind.

Sadly, Sherry sales have been on a decline in recent years but predications indicate it may be making a comeback. The IWSR, in their 2016-2021 Forecast Report, predicts that volume sales of premium Sherry will grow by 18%. As I've written in my history of Sherry, it is a cyclic wine, which has numerous ups and downs, and has always founds a way back up. So, I can easily understand why Sherry consumption could be on an upward swing.

Sherry education is essential to the promotion of Sherry consumption, to get more Americans exploring this intriguing fortified wine. Here are some items that hopefully will motivate you to discover more about Sherry.
  • The Sherry region has a lengthy, fascinating history, extending back a few thousand years and may even the source of the Atlantis legend. 
  • Palomino, the primary grape of Sherry, may have been planted by the ancient Phoenicians. Every sip of Sherry is a taste of history.
  • Sherry may have been the first wine brought to the New World.
  • The Mayflower, before it sailed to the New World by the Puritans, was used to transport Sherry.
  • Aged Sherry is one of the best values in the wine world. You could buy 50 year old Sherry for $50-$100, far cheaper than almost any other aged wine on the market. 
  • Francois Chartier, who has written on the science of food and wine pairings, states that Fino Sherry is the King of Food Pairings.
  • A Sherry Bodega is radically different from the average wine cellar, helping to make Sherry possess its distinctive nature.
  • Here are 10 Things you should know about Sherry.
  • And here are 5 More Things you should know about Sherry.
Locally, Sherry is starting to get a little more visibility, albeit more in the form of Sherry cocktails. I enjoy such cocktails, but I would like to see more people enjoying Sherry on its own too. If you enjoy the flavors of Sherry in cocktails, then why not try the flavors on their own, without other flavors clouding the issue. Try a Fino or Manzanilla, an Amontillado or Oloroso. Or maybe even a Palo Cortado. And then you can move onto some Sherry variations such as En Rama.

The best place to enjoy Sherry is at Taberna de Haro in Brookline, which has over 60 Sherries on their list. Order a few tapas and get a flight of Sherries to compare and contrast. Chef/owner Deborah Hansen always has so many excellent and unique Sherries on her list. Whenever I drive by the restaurant, I nearly always have to stop for a glass of Sherry. Another restaurant with an excellent Sherry list is Tres Gatos, where you also can find some intriguing Sherries.

Stop missing out on the wonders of Sherry. Take a chance and order a couple dry Sherries, to taste something new. You can thank me later when you find a new favorite.

Friday, May 11, 2018

2015 Kocabağ Öküzgözü: Exploring Turkish Wine

I know very little about the wines of Turkey, but I hope to remedy that in the near future. The region has a lengthy history of wine production, extending back about 7,000 years. Turkey is supposed to be the fourth largest producer of grapes in the world, and they are said to have over 600 indigenous grapes. I have seen few wines from this country in local stores, except recently when I stopped at an Armenian store in Watertown which had a small but intriguing wine selection. I bought a couple Turkish wines, without knowing anything about them. I was willing to take a risk, hoping the wines tasted good.

The Kocabağ Winery, located in the city of Nevsehir, was established in 1972 by Mehmet Erdogan and the winery has been selling wine commercially since 1986. The estate is comprised of about 35 hectares, growing indigenous grapes including Bogazkere, Emir, Kalecik Karas, Narince and Öküzgözü.

I bought their 2015 Kocabağ Öküzgözü ($19.99), made from an indigenous grape (with lots of umlauts) that is pronounced  "Oh-cooz-goe-zue." It's name refers to its large grapes that resemble a bull's eye. The grape has high acidity and mild tannins, tending to make soft, easy drinking wines similar in some respects to Gamay or Pinot Noir. In 2010, there were about 4000 acres of this grape planted in Turkey, and the grape is used both for wine and as a table grape.

The 2015 Kocabağ Öküzgözü possessed a medium-red color with an interesting nose of black cherry and raspberry, with a few spice notes. On the palate, it was light bodied, with plenty of acidity, and delicious ripe plum and black cherry flavors, enhanced by a mild earthiness and hints of spice. It had a very Old World feel to it, with mild tannins, a moderately lengthy finish, and was simply tasty. I paired this with a steak and it went well, though it would work well with a variety of dishes, especially because of its high acidity.

I'll be doing more research on the wines of Turkey, especially as I now know where I can purchase some. This first risk paid off well, with a delicious wine from an intriguing indigenous grape.

Have you tried any of the wines of Turkey?

Thursday, May 10, 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.
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1) City TableCity Bar Back Bay, or Sólás, all located within the historic Lenox Hotel in Back Bay, are participating in this year’s Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer event.

All three locations are participating at Gold and Standard Levels – meaning 50% of all dessert sales during the event will go to Bakes for Breast Cancer and 100% of the special dessert sales during the event will go to Bakes for Breast Cancer. All proceeds will be used to support their mission of providing grants for breast cancer research.

The special dessert being featured at these Lenox hot spots is Raspberry & White Chocolate Mousse with a shortbread crumble, rose wine granite, and earl grey crème anglaise.

WHEN: Monday, May 7th through Sunday, May 13th
HOW: To support the cause, simply dine at any of the three restaurants and indulge on some tasty desserts. To make reservations visit the City Table, City Bar Back Bay, or Sólás websites.

2) Lolita Cocina & Tequila Bar is now serving Brunch at its Fort Point location on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11am-4pm. Taking inspiration from the restaurant’s playful twists on snacks, street foods and tacos, Lolita Fort Point’s new brunch menu has been tailored for weekend dining.

Some of the dishes you'll find include: Guava Doughnut Holes (sour cream glaze, lime & sea salt), Lobster Cornbread (lobster, corn & avocado salad, griddled corn bread, habanero-honey butter, crema), Broken Eggs (cholula fried eggs, shoe string fries, queso cotija, pico de gallo, avocado, chipotle torta sauce), Gran Leñador (four scrambled eggs, pork carnitas, grilled chorizo, home fries, torta french toast, guava-agave syrup), French Toast Torta (nutella cream cheese stuffed, coconut-almond crunch), Grilled Chicken Torta (pollo asado, queso dip, avocado, spicy slaw, torta sauce), and Grilled Steak Tacos (prime sirloin, habanero-garlic butter, taqueria relish, shoestrings).

In-house freshly pressed juices have also been added and no judgment if your juice comes with a side shot of tequila.

3) Matadora, the new modern Spanish tapas restaurant announces Tapas Tuesdays, from 5-10pm, which will feature live Spanish guitar music and 3 tapas for $30, including signature favorites like the Shrimp Toast, Flaming Chorizo, Spicy Tuna Tartar, Charred Galician Octopus and Basque Street Corn.

Guests can also sip Sangria, Spanish wines and creative craft cocktails while relaxing on Matadora’s stylish, newly-opened patio outfitted with firepits, lounge sofas, plush rugs and flowing seamlessly into the dining room and central bar.

I'm a big fan of their cuisine and highly recommend you check them out on Tapas Tuesday. That Basque Street Corn is amazing!

4) Starting this month, Asta's wine expert, Theresa Paopao, will be hosting Wine School, an afternoon wine lounge inspired by New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov’s essential monthly column. Asimov’s selections will be featured by the glass along with similar wines and one or two that are completely different, for a fun, hands-on, and totally informal comparative wine lesson. There will also be some thoughtfully paired snacks available à la carte from the kitchen.

This month’s assignment is Fiano. You can read more about it here if you’re feeling studious, or just come in and enjoy a glass after work.

Wine School will be in session every Tuesday-Friday, from 4pm-7pm.

5) This spring, Bar Boulud introduces a new oyster bar and adds a selection of locally-inspired seafood dishes to its French bistro menu.

Boasting local bivalves from Barnstable, Duxbury, Nantucket Bay and Wareham, Bar Boulud is excited to introduce its new seven-seat oyster & raw bar. Showcasing a selection of fresh New England seafood, guests can enjoy local delicacies such as: Tuna Crudo topped with confit tomatoes, pickled ‘Fresno Chili’ pepper and pine nuts; Peekytoe Crab served with jumbo green asparagus, radishes and a house-made egg dressing; and an incredible Seafood Tower to share.

Combining seasonal New England ingredients with its classic bistro fare, signature spring dishes from Bar Boulud include: Bacon Crusted Cod complemented with a spring pea fricassée and charred lettuce; Lobster Risotto complete with English peas, mushrooms and baby spinach; and a Bay of Fundy Salmon paired with vegetables jardinière, sautéed spinach and a beurre blanc.

Accompanying Bar Boulud’s savory selections, Pastry Chef Robert Differ will showcase an assortment of refreshing desserts including: Rhubarb Lemongrass Creamsicle, a bright and sweet treat with Champagne mango, chilled rhubarb soup and a Scottish oat biscuit; Dark Chocolate Marquise served with a warm chocolate foam and cocoa nib gelato; and a Strawberry Vanilla Parfait featuring strawberry sorbet, almond crumb and a ginger jelly.

6) On Tuesday, May 15, Tres Gatos is proud to partner with Olmstead Wine Co. and Flamenco Boston for a unique night of exploring the world of natural wines from Spain, traditional and innovative tapas, followed by the captivating sounds and sights of Flamenco Boston.

Chef Stephen Marcaurelle is putting together a four course tasting menu which will be paired with a selection of biodynamic and natural wines from select producers in Spain.

Limited seats are available for two seatings (6:00 pm & 8:00 pm). Reservations for parties of 2 or more are available online or you can call them at 617-477-4851 for a reservation.

Cost: $60 (before tax & tip)

7) Vialé in Central Square, Cambridge is enthused to announce the next event in their new, seasonal dinner series in collaboration with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA). The next CSCA Takeover at Vialé will be held on Wednesday, May 16, from 5pm-10pm. As with all of the dinners in the series, this dinner will pair Vialé chef/co-owner, Greg Reeves (CSCA graduate) and the Vialé team with a different CSCA student/chef. For this event, Chef Reeves will team with Victoria Zeuner from the Professional Chef's Program serving her own unique plates alongside Vialé's usual dinner menu. This is the last dinner in the series until the fall.

Victoria Zeuner grew up on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. She has lived abroad and traveled extensively, where she found inspiration from the many types of food she tried along the way. Between working abroad and extended travels, she has spent a considerable amount of time in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, South Africa, India, and Argentina. These travels and the time spent with the people there pushed her to enroll and further expand her culinary experience. Professionally, she is a Senior Project Manager at an international biotech firm. She is currently in charge of starting up a world class manufacturing facility to produce next generation products for rare disease patients. She holds two M.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering and Engineering Management. She hopes to one day start a venture that will combine these skills with her culinary passion.

Make reservations for this fascinating CSCA Takeover at Vialé. This is the last dinner in the series until the fall.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The 11th Anniversary of The Passionate Foodie

Pop the Bubbly as it's time to celebrate!

Today, The Passionate Foodie blog celebrates its Eleventh Anniversary, a significant milestone. With over 4300 posts, I'm very proud of all I've written, and have accomplished, and I look forward to continuing to write, continuing to spread my deep passion for food & drink. I love sharing what I learn with all my readers.

I've actually been blogging for 12 1/2 years as before I started The Passionate Foodie I wrote for another blog, the Real World Winers, which has been defunct for many years. Over 13 years ago, I started hanging out weekly with a new group of friends and I would bring a bottle or two of wine. Soon, someone else brought a bottle and then another person did so too. We ended up drinking 6-8 bottles of wine at our weekly get-togethers. The group eventually decided it might be fun to do a podcast and blog that reviewed the wines.

This became the Real World Winers, and eventually I expanded the blog to include restaurant reviews. After a year, my friends were finding the blogging to be too much work, and the reviews were falling behind. However, I was still loving the writing and wanted to continue. As I was the only person interested in writing, I decided to strike out on my own and began The Passionate Foodie, allowing me complete creative control over the blog. Eleven years later, I'm still here, still eating and drinking, still learning and writing.

During the past 11 years of The Passionate Foodie, I've learned so much about food & drinks, exploring a wide variety of topics, essentially anything I can eat or drink. I never wanted to limit my writing to a specific cuisine, type of drink, or other specialty. I want the freedom to explore whatever perks my interest and I know I'll never run out of subject matter. Every time I learn something new, I realize how much more there is to learn. That is one of my favorite aspects and it helps that I'm a voracious reader and love to research new topics.

My blog has provided me a myriad of wonderful opportunities and experiences, creating a vast storehouse of fantastic memories. I've sampled so much excellent and exciting food and drink, in this country and others. I've gotten to travel to some amazing destinations, including France (Bordeaux and Champagne), Spain (Sherry region), Italy (Tuscany & Collio), Argentina and Chile. I've judged a number of cooking competitions, including one that ended up on Japanese television. I was honored to be inducted as a Cavaleiro in the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, a Knight in the Brotherhood of Port Wine. I've also become a Certified Spanish Wine Educator, a Wine Location Specialist (Champagne & Port) and a Certified Sake Professional.

I've met so many interesting people, which has enhanced my experiences as I've long said that food and drink when shared is even better. Some of those people have become very close friends, like Adam JapkoAndrew Witter, and so many others too numerous to name, and I think those friendships will last for many years to come. It has been fascinating to meet numerous wine makers, distillers, brewers, wine & liquor store owners, importers, distributors, restaurant owners, chefs, and much more. From each, I've learned something new, which has helped my writing and understanding.

During these eleven years, what began as a hobby transformed into my profession. I'm now a freelance writer, having been published in a number of magazines and newspapers. I'm also a Sake educator and consultant, working for a variety of clients, from restaurants to distributors, conducting Sake classes, tastings, dinners and more. Plus, I work part time at a local wine store, gaining an insight into wine consumers. In addition, I write fiction, and have published three novels and a book of short stories. The fiction is mostly part of the Tipsy Sensei series, about a Sake expert in Boston who learns that the supernatural creatures of Japanese folklore are real. I was also a contributor to a comprehensive whiskey guide, The New Single Malt Whiskey.

It has been my pleasure to try to showcase and promote under-appreciated and/or lesser known wines, spirits and other drinks, such as SakeSherryFranciacorta, Greek Wines, Georgian Wines, Uruguayan Wines, Portuguese WinesMezcal, Baijiu and more. I've championed many of these underdogs, all which are worthy beverages deserving of much more attention by consumers as well as other writers. It has also been my pleasure to recommend and promote the restaurants which I have enjoyed. I want those businesses to succeed, so I'll be able to dine there for years to come. I want my readers to understand why I am so passionate about the matters I recommend.

Out of my over 4300 posts, I have some top favorites, those posts which I am especially proud of for various reasons. At the top, I am proudest of my article, An Expanded History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., which involved lots of research, including searching through old newspaper archives. It presented an intriguing history which surprised numerous people and changed some of their previous beliefs. This article was even used a a major source and inspiration for someone else to recently write an article on this topic in The Japanese Journal For The History of Brewing.

I'm also pleased with a more recent article, An Expanded History of Pechuga Mezcal. With more original research, I was able to locate printed evidence of the existence of Pechuga Mezcal back to 1864, about 70 years older than any previously known evidence. In addition, I found over forty other printed references, from 1872-1945, concerning Pechuga, providing even more information about this intriguing type of Mezcal. This article has also been referenced in new Mezcal book. I've written a similar historical article about Tequila, The Rise Of Tequila In The 18th & 19th Centuries, which also changes some of the alleged "common knowledge" about Tequila.

I'm proud of so many others as well, from my multi-part histories of Port, Sherryand Champagne. to The Science of Sake & Food Pairings. There are too many to list all of them here. I believe my writing has improved over all these years but some of my earliest articles still stand the test of time. I hope to continue writing articles that make me proud, articles that my readers find interesting and enlightening.

I owe many thanks to all of my readers, as it is their support and encouragement which has helped motivate me to continue writing year after year. I also owe thanks to my family and friends who have been so supportive for all these years. In addition, I am grateful to everyone in the food and drink community, from chefs to wine makers, who have helped contribute, in a myriad of ways, to my blog. Life is about connections, about the relationships we make, and they all contribute to what we do.

If I didn't thoroughly enjoy what I've been doing, then it would have ended years ago. I find it fulfilling and satisfying, and hope that my passion for food, drink and writing never dims. I look forward to celebrating my 12th anniversary next year, and I hope my readers keep reading me year after year.

It's time to celebrate!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Bodega Garzón: Uruguayan Treasures, From Albarino to Tannat

Al pan, pan y al vino, vino.”
This Uruguayan saying literally translates as “To the bread, bread and to wine, wine.” Its deeper meaning refers to something that is said with truth, being frank and upfront. I think this is applicable to the wines of Bodega Garzón, an Uruguayan winery, which seeks to present wines of terroir, not concealed with heavy oak, and sometimes with no oak at all. The truth of the land and the grapes is intended to be revealed within their wines.

I was recently invited, as a media guest, to visit La Bodega By Salts, an Uruguayan restaurant in Watertown, by Alexander Griffiths, a native of Uruguay and the export manager for Bodega Garzón. While enjoying a sampling of the delicious dishes of La Bodega, we tasted a range of wines from his portfolio. All of the wines were delicious and well-made, though of course I had my personal preferences. These are wines that would appeal to most wine consumers and which earn a hearty recommendation.

Alexander and I not only spoke about the wines, but also talked about a myriad of other subjects. He was personable and interesting, and we enjoyed a fun and tasty evening. For some background on Uruguay and their wines, please check out three of my prior articles, which stemmed from a large Uruguay wine tasting several years ago: The Wines of Uruguay (Part 1)The Wines of Uruguay (Part 2), and The Wines of Uruguay (Part 3). I found many intriguing wines at this event, including a couple from Bodega Garzón, thus it was educational to taste their wines now, to see how their winemaking has evolved.

I'll provide a brief update on the Uruguayan wine industry as well. In 2017, the country produced a record-setting 4.6 million liters of wine, a growth of 32% from 2016. Tannat was the most dominant grape used for these wines. Brazil remains the #1 market for Uruguayan wines, constituting about 50% of exports, followed by the U.S. and Mexico. Combined, those three countries represent about 85% of the total export market. And even though the U.S. is the #2 market, Uruguayan wine imports are still relatively small.

Alejandro P. Bulgheroni, an Argentinian, got his start working in the energy sector, including a number of agro-industrial projects. He is currently a billionaire, with a large portfolio of wine interests, currently including approximately 21 estates in six different countries and regions, from Australia to California, Italy to Argentina, France to Uruguay. And it all began with Bodega Garzón.

Around 1999, Alejandro and his wife, Bettina, traveled to the region Garzón and were enamored with the land, eventually deciding to purchase 2200 hectares of land and 2000 hectares of forest. They planted olive trees to produce olive oil, and almond trees, because Bettina wanted them. They also raised cattle, kept bees for honey, and harvested lumber from the forests. Currently, they grow 14 types of olives, almonds, blueberries and pecans.

Alejandro eventually decided he also wanted to grow vineyards and produce wine, so he purchased more property, about five miles from his current properties. This estate, composed of many rolling hills, is located in the eastern border of the Maldonado region, about 11 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and is still one of the only wineries in this region. He then hired Alberto Antonini, a famed enologist from Tuscany, to make that desire a reality. In 2007, Antonini started to examine the region, checking its soils and terroir, trying to ascertain what might grow best. He felt that the region resembled Galicia, a region in the northwest of Spain, which explains why they eventually planted Albariño, a dominant grape in Galicia.

It is important to recognize the different soil types in Uruguay, as the Western region tends to have clay soils while the Eastern region, where Garzón is located, tends to have granite soils. In 2008, the first Garzón vines began to be planted, starting with about 12 different grapes. Their first commercial vintage was in 2011 and they started exporting their wines in 2013. Thus, their wines are relative newcomers to the U.S. market.

In 2016, their state-of-the-art winery and restaurant opened to public, and they are seeking LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification, which would make them the first sustainable winery outside the U.S. with that certification. About 30,000 people visit their winery each year. Bodega Garzón is passionate about sustainability and their goal is to make all of their vineyards 100% organic. Currently, the winery owns about 500 acres of vineyards, broken down into 1000 different lots. They grow grapes including Tannat, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Marselan, Caladoc, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, and Petit Manseng. Despite that diversity, about 1/3 of their vineyards are planted with Tannat.

About 70% of their wine production is exported and in 2017, they were the largest exporter in Uruguay, comprising about 28.5% of the total market share. About 38% of their exports are sent to Brazil while about 22%, approximately 11,000 cases, are exported to the U.S. It is clear to see that exports of Uruguayan wines to the U.S. remain comparatively low, making it very much a niche wine. However, the Uruguayan wine industry is seeing significant growth so more will get soon exported to the U.S. For Garzón, they grew 300% in 2017, and that rapid growth is certainly a challenge to handle properly. They also believe that more education is needed, to teach consumers about Uruguay and their wines.

The Bodega Garzón wines imported into the U.S. come in three basic levels, Reserve (about $17), Single Vineyard (about $27) and the high-end Balasto (about $120). As their website states, "Garzón’s terroir is made up of ballast, a fantastic soil of fine stone. It has an excellent drainage and plenty of minerals that vines can absorb; they lend minerality, vibrancy, complexity and elegance to the wine." In addition, when oak aging is conducted, the barrels tend to be quite large and untoasted, so the oak won't overpower and conceal the fruit and other characteristics of the wine. Overall, I found the wines to be well-balanced, elegant, and fresh, with plenty of acidity, a nice minerality, and each level possessed its own unique style.

The evening began with the 2017 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, which is fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak. All of the Reserve wines are about freshness, and this Sauvignon Blanc certainly presented a fresh and crisp image. The natural acidity is said to be due to the vineyard's closeness to the ocean. There were delightful and bright flavors of grapefruit and lemon, with mineral notes, and all of the elements were well-balanced. An excellent summer wine, this would also work great with seafood.

Bodega Garzón is one of the only Uruguayan wineries that grows Albariño, with 20% of their vineyards dedicated to this grape. This might be due to the region being a great growing region for the grape but there are very few wineries currently located there. The 2016 Albariño Reserve is fermented in stainless steel and sits on the lees for 5-6 months. It was fresh, clean and crisp, with delicious fruit flavors of peach, citrus and apple, some mineral notes, and a pleasing richness to its body. This would be delicious on its own, sitting on your porch this summer, or paired with some oysters, shrimp or grilled fish. It will remind you of a tasty Spanish Albariño.

The 2016 Albariño Single Vineyard is produced from high quality grapes, 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 spends 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. Highly recommended.

The two Albariño wines have very different styles, but both certainly have their place, dependent on your preference at the moment.

I was also impressed with their 2015 Cabernet France Reserve, which was fermented in concrete tanks and then aged for 6-12 months in 50 hectoliter, untoasted French oak barrels and casks. 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 this summer. Or even a pizza. Highly recommended.

Tannat is the signature red grape of Uruguay, similar in some respects to Malbec in Argentina. It can be a highly tannic grape, due in part because Tannat has more seeds than any other grape. The Tannat grapes for Garzón's wines include some clones from France, but I was told that their soils make the grapes taste different. The 2016 Tannat Reserve is fermented in concrete, and aged for 6-9 months in untoasted, large French oak barrels. This wine is all about fresh red and black fruit flavors, with very mild tannins, crisp acidity and a pleasant finish. It is bold yet restrained, great for burgers to pizza, grilled meats or meaty pasta dishes.

The 2016 Tannat Single Vineyard is a stunner, which is produced from high quality grape from the best seven parcels in the vineyards. It is fermented in concrete, and aged for 12-18 months in untoasted, 5000 liter French oak casks. Like the Albariño Single Vineyard, it is elegant and complex, with well-integrated tannins and delicious flavors of black fruits, mild spices, mineral notes and a hint of chocolate. It is well balanced, with plenty of acidity, and a lengthy finish that is eminently satisfying. This is a wine you could slowly savor all night, though it would work well with a variety of foods as well, especially meat-based. Highly recommended.

The final wine of the evening was their high-end 2015 Balasto, the first release of this line. The name, "Balasto," refers to the upper layer of granite of the soil. It is considered a blend of the best grapes of the vineyard, and this vintage was a blend of 45% Tannat, 25% Cabernet France, 20% Petit Verdot, and 10% Marselan. Subsequent vintages may have different ratios, such as the 2016 vintage which had less Petite Verdot and more Marselan. The 2015 was released last September, only about 8800 bottles, and the label ink actually includes some granite in it. Subsequent vintages have a large amount of production.  

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. If you wish to splurge on a wine, or buy someone a high-end gift, then you should consider this wine. Highly recommended.

Uruguayan wines are a niche that you should explore, and the wines of Bodega Garzón would be a great starting point. They will show you the potential of Uruguay, as well as the terroir, for both white and red wines, from Albariño to Tannat. Their different levels will show you the various wine styles you can find, from fresh and fruity to more savory and complex. Most of their wines, except for the Balasto, are fairly affordable, from $17-$27, with the Balasto being a splurge wine. Expand your vinous horizons and let your palate visit Uruguay.