Thursday, November 15, 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) On Wednesday, November 14, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will host a four-plus-course champagne dinner featuring Dom Pérignon and the brand’s French wine aficionado, Diego Del Pino who has been extensively involved in the wine industry for more than fifteen years and prides himself on his knowledge and excitement for all wines - but especially burgundy and champagne - along with his role as managing the wine portfolio for Moet Hennessy in the Northeast region.

Beginning centuries ago, the world renowned Dom Pérignon collection derives from a young Dom Pierre Pérignon whose ambitious dream was to create the best wine in the world when he was named the cellarer of Hautvillers Abbey, located in the heart of Champagne, in 1668. Gifted with a visionary mind, Dom Pierre Pérignon created, perfected and improved on rudimentary techniques to create a wine like no other. The Abbey's holdings flourished under his tenure, in particular its vineyards. The wine of Dom Pierre Pérignon was the result of imagination, experimentation and audacity, the achievement of a lifetime dedicated to the quest for perfection. Today, Dom Pérignon is reinvented with every Vintage. Precise and tactile to the point of seamlessness, tense through rhythm and vibrancy, vigorous and fresh yet mature, intense and complex, such is the sensual style of Dom Pérignon: so inviting, yet so mysterious.

The menu for the four-plus-course champagne dinner will be presented as follows:

Cape Scallop Tartlet, White Wine Garlic Pan Sauce
Potato Blini, Crème Fraiche, Caviar
Foie Gras Terrine, Brioche Toast Point, Red Onion Jam
Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé, NV
Pan-Seared Scallops (miso butter, crispy taro, maitake mushrooms)
Dom Pérignon, 2009
Butter-Poached Lobster (aged parmesan polenta, chanterelle mushrooms, vanilla butter)
Dom Pérignon, 2006
Pan-Roasted Pheasant (delicata squash pureé, Brussels sprouts hash, veal demi-glace)
Dom Pérignon Rosé, 2005
Challerhocker (Switzerland)
Pecorino Gran Cru (Italy)
Brebis Mousse (France)
Dom Pérignon “P2” (Plénitude Deuxième), 2000

COST: $275 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) The Boston Wine Festival returns to Boston Harbor Hotel this winter with a highly anticipated lineup of events to commemorate the festival’s 30th anniversary. Chef Daniel Bruce, founder of the Boston Wine Festival, presents an all-star lineup of winemaker-hosted dinners, seminars, receptions and brunches for this milestone anniversary. For three decades, Chef Bruce and Boston Harbor Hotel have welcomed top winemakers from around the world to Boston for this one-of-a-kind celebration of food and wine. The festival is the nation’s longest running extensive wine and food pairing series, kicking off with a Grand Opening Reception on Friday, January 11, 2019 and continuing through Friday, March 29, 2019.

Celebrated Boston Wine Festival traditions like the Battle of the Cabernets (January 17 and January 18), Meritage Madness (January 25), and the Valentine’s Day Dinner Dance (February 16) return to the festival lineup this year in addition to an incredible schedule of dinners hosted by winemakers from around the globe. Noteworthy dinners at the 2019 Boston Wine Festival include Trimbach (February 7), one of two all-white wine dinners this year and hosted by 12th generation winery owner Jean Trimbach. Frog’s Leap Winery (February 14) returns to the Boston Harbor with John Williams, who is hosting his tenth Boston Wine Festival dinner since 1992 with a memorable event celebrating three decades of wine. Silver Oak (March 8) winemaker, Daniel Baron, comes out of retirement for the special evening which he co-hosts alongside longtime Silver Oak owner, David Duncan.

For 30 years we’ve been welcoming some of the most renowned winemakers in the world and emerging talent to the Boston Wine Festival and I’m thrilled to introduce the fantastic partners that are joining us for this milestone year,” says Chef Bruce. “There’s always something new to explore at the festival, whether it’s your first year joining us or your 30th. My approach to menu creation for our wine dinners has always been tasting the wines first then developing a menu based on the flavor profiles. Each wine we’re presenting has its own story, so it allows us to create a unique menu for each dinner that really celebrates these fantastic wines and the winemakers who create them.

The 2019 Boston Wine Festival schedule includes a new festival tradition, the first annual charity reception Uncorked for a Cause (February 15) in partnership with Share our Strength. Hosted by designer and personality, Taniya Nayak, the walk-around style event will feature wines from around the world with small plates from Chef Bruce and complete with a show-stopping wine wall auction to benefit Share our Strength and the fight to end hunger and poverty. Other notable dinners and events debuting at the festival this year include: Copper Cane (January 24), Halter Ranch Vineyard (February 13), Domaine François Villard (February 21) and DeLille Cellars (March 1).

Tickets are available for purchase at Boston Wine Festival.  Guests who purchase tickets for any 2019 Boston Wine Festival event now through December 31, 2018 will be entered to win a trip for two to Napa Valley, California for a three-night, once in a lifetime wine experience on Columbus Day Weekend 2019 (October 10 – 13). Two sets of winners will be announced at the Uncorked for a Cause event and will receive roundtrip airfare, luxury hotel accommodations, wine tasting experiences at Far Niente and Opus One Winery and tickets to the annual Frogtoberfest Dinner at Frog’s Leap Winery hosted by John Williams and presented by Chef Daniel Bruce.

All Boston Wine Festival events take place at the iconic Boston Harbor Hotel which invites Wine Festival guests to take the elevator home with special room rates available.

3) Ward 8, a Boston cocktail bar and gastropub, is turning five and celebrating the occasion with plenty of food, drinks, and fun! The Ward 8 team is opening its doors to the public and inviting guests to join them for a not-to-miss anniversary celebration on Tuesday, November 27, from 9pm to Close. The party will feature a DJ, complimentary bites previewing All Day Hospitality's newest, upcoming concept, Tony and Elaine's, specialty original cocktails, Parlor Ice Cream Co. sandwiches, and more.

To make Reservations, please call 617) 823-4478.

4) On Monday, December 10th at 6:15pm, Slow Food Boston invites you to a Shared Supper next month in celebration of Terra Madre Day! Terra Madre Day is a major Slow Food event, celebrating local food on a global scale. Every December 10th, people around the world organize parties and gatherings to celebrate good, clean and fair food: good quality and flavorsome; clean for our bodies, for animals and for the planet; fair for producers and consumers alike. This year, Terra Madre Day is focused on Food for Change, Slow Food’s international fundraising campaign to highlight the role of food as a cause, victim, and potential solution to climate change.

Join friends and loved ones for an unforgettable meal at Loyal Nine, where Chef Marc Sheehan brings New England culinary traditions to the forefront in his east coast revival cuisine. On this night, enjoy a family-style, multi-course dinner featuring menu favorites along with one-of-a-kind dishes highlighting seasonal, locally sourced ingredients. The Cost of this event is $55 per person.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Georgian Chacha: The Devil's Brandy

In the legends of the country of Georgia, wine was a gift from God while chacha, a pomace brandy, was a creation of the devil.

It's said that God created wine to remind Georgians of the wonders of heaven, and he first shared wine with all of his angels, as well as the devil. Though they all enjoyed the wine, it motivated the devil to try to compete with God and create his own alcoholic beverage. The devil created chacha, a potent spirit, and let God sample the fiery beverage. God finally declared that if Georgians drank three glasses or less of chacha, they remained with him, but if they had a fourth glass, they belonged to the devil.

As Georgians love to drink, they came up with a way to avoid falling under the influence of the devil. They simply drink chacha rapidly, in quick shots, so the devil won't be able to keep track and count how much they actually drank.

Chacha is a Georgian pomace brandy, similar in many respects of Italian grappa, though it is sometimes called Georgian "vodka." Pomace consists of the leftover skins, pulp, and seeds from the winemaking process. The origins of chacha are murky, with some claims that it has existed for about 1000 years in Georgia. It was commonly made in makeshift stills at homes and generally wasn't commercially produced until the 20th century. It is potent, often with a 40-60% ABV, and sometimes is aged in qvevri or oak barrels. For centuries, it has been claimed that chacha has medicinal properties, a remedy for a long list of ailments.

Chacha is still very much a niche spirit outside of Georgia. During the period of January to July 2018, Georgia exported only 219,500 bottles of chacha, though that was a 114% increase over the similar period a year before. Chacha is available in Massachusetts, and you'll find some single-varietal versions, such as Saperavi and Rkatsiteli. At a recent Georgian business event, I had the opportunity to taste my first chacha, and I hope to taste many more in the future.

The Askaneli Brothers Premium Chacha (about $22) is produced by a company with roots extending back to 1880, though its modern existence started around 1998. They own vineyards in the regions of Kakheti and Guria, producing wine and chacha. Made in the Kakheti region, this chacha matured in oak barrels for at least 12 months, and is filtered, which accounts for its colorless nature. With a 45% ABV, this chacha has an intriguing floral aroma and was surprising smooth and mild on the palate, with only a minor alcoholic bite. It possessed pleasant and more subtle flavors of hazelnut and citrus with floral accents. It was elegant, with a fairly long finish, and is definitely a very good value at this price. It is certainly not harsh like I've found in some similarly priced grappas. A hearty recommendation.

Have you tasted chacha before? What were your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cockburn's Port: The Largest Port Lodge In Vila Nova de Gaia

On my first day in Portugal, we spent some time walking around the city of Porto, seeing some of the historic sites, Above, you can see the Ponte Dom Luíz, a a double-deck metal arch bridge, built in 1886, that spans the Douro River. The bridge joins the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, and we walked down part of the upper deck and later also traveled to Vila Nova de Gaia, to visit the lodge of Cockburn's Port.

Vila Nova de Gaia is home to numerous Port Wine lodges, where Port is generally aged and stored. These are not commonly referred to as cellars for a number of reasons. First, the term "lodge" is derived from the Portuguese word "loja" meaning a shop or store. Second, the Portuguese often refer to these places as armazém, which basically translates as "warehouse" or "storehouse." Third, Port is often aged above ground.

What a precarious location for this church. Let's hope it doesn't fall into the Douro.

Due to the extreme heat of the Douro during the summer, most wineries felt that area wasn't conducive to the proper maturation of their wines. As such, they decided to ship their wines down to Vila Nova de Gaia for maturation, where the temperatures were cooler and more consistent throughout the year.

Down a narrow street in Vila Nova de Gaia, we stopped at Cockburn's Port for a tour, joining a public English-language group, and tasting. This visit was a change from our scheduled itinerary and coincidentally, I'd recently reviewed one of their Ports the week before I departed for Portugal. Check my prior article, Cockburn’s​ ​Special​ ​Reserve​ Port: Break Out The Cheese, Chocolate & Twizzlers, for more background and information on this winery.

Cockburns, which is pronounced "Coe-burns" not "Cock-burns," is owned by Symington Family Estates, which also owns Graham's, Dow's and Warre's. In general, each Symington brand possesses three quintas, estates containing vineyards.

All of Cockburn's quintas are "A" rated, the top quality rating for estates.

Near the entrance to the lodge, there are some historic display cases, holding old documents that document the lengthy history of the winery. The walls also have a number of relevant quotes.

Cockburn's is allegedly the largest lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, storing over 9 Million liters of wine, equivalent to about 12 Million bottles.

In the production of their wines, they generally use indigenous yeasts, rarely inoculating, and much of the grape crushing is done by European robot lagares (size 42). They rarely do any human foot treading, except for their Vintage Ports. Their House Style of Port was described as robust, sweet, and spicy, with deep color and deep fruit.

Cockburn's has their own cooperage, where they make and repair barrels, and they currently possess over 6,000 barrels, of French, U.S. and Portuguese oak. The average age of their barrels is 60-70 years with their oldest barrel, still in use, being from 1900. Most of the barrels are 600-650 liters, with some larger vats as well, such as 30,000 liter barrels used for their Ruby Port. If a barrel is damaged, they will replace the staves with seasoned, older staves.

I was informed that even though 2018 was a challenging vintage, due to rain, hail and extreme heat, it still might be the best vintage of the century, better even than 2011. I'll note that this was contrary to what I heard from other wineries in the Douro region.

In one part of their cellars, you could see wines from the 19th century, as far back as 1868.

We then did a tasting of three Ports, including the Special Reserve Port. The 2013 Cockburn's Late Bottled Vintage was intense, with bold flavors of ripe plums and black fruit, mild spices and a balanced sweetness. It was smooth and easy to drink, with a lengthy, pleasing finish.

The Cockburn's 10 Year Old Tawny Port possessed a lighter, more brownish color, with a delightful aroma and an excellent blend of flavors, including caramel, nuts, spicy notes, and dried fruits. It was silky and a bit sweeter than the LBV, but still nicely balanced and the fortification was well integrated. This is a fine example of a 10 Year Old, and highly recommended.

I'll also mention that I got some dark chocolate to pair with these Ports, and everyone at my table thought the Ports shined even better with some chocolate. And I'm sure they will share chocolate and Port with their family and friends in the future.

Though it was interesting to visit this lodge, our guide could have been better, as he spoke much too fast and for too long at any one time, making it more difficult to ask questions as you didn't want to interrupt him mid-stream. He was good about answering questions once he finished talking, but you might forget your question while you waited for him to finish his spiel.

If you are a Port lover, you really need to visit the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia . It is an enlightening experience, and you'll better understand how this compelling wine is created.

Monday, November 12, 2018


It couldn't be any simpler so listen carefully. This is one of the most important pieces of advice you will receive this season. Please give this your full attention.

If you've had too much alcohol to drink, if there is any doubt in your mind, don't drive. Just don't do it!

Any questions?

Once again, I step forward with probably my most important Rant of the Year. It's an absolutely vital issue for everyone who enjoys alcohol of any type, from wine to beer, from Scotch to hard cider. With the advent of the holiday season upon us, from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve, we reach a potentially dangerous period for those people who over indulge, who drink too much at parties, feasts and gatherings. There is nothing wrong with that, and you can drink as much as you desire, as long as you give up your keys to someone who is sober, and do not drive.

As I've said multiple times before, and which I'll repeat year after year, "If there is any question, no matter how small, whether you are too intoxicated to drive, then don't. If your family or friends think you have had too much to drink, don't drive. Just don't. It is not worth the risk by any calculation." Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi or Uber, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep it off. Just don't drive!

Rationally, we all know the dangers of drinking and driving. We endanger our own lives as well as the lives of others. Every year, we hear multiple news reports about terrible auto accidents, some with fatalities, that occur because a driver was intoxicated. Families are torn apart, lives are ruined, and much more. Why don't we learn from all these incidents? Even if you don't get in an accident, you might get arrested for drunk driving, with all the attendant high costs, and not just economic. You might even end up in jail.

About 17,000 people are arrested for drunk driving in Massachusetts each year. That is a huge figure, showing that far too many people still don't understand that they should not drink and drive. How difficult is it to understand? DON'T DRINK & DRIVE! I'm sure drunk driving incidents in other states are just as significant.

As a more sobering statistic, 10,497 people were killed in drunk driving crashes in 2016, an increase of 1.7% over 2015. That is far too many deaths and needs to be changed. Of those fatalities, 62% involved the drunk driver, 15% involved the passengers, and 23% involved the occupants of other vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists. In 2016, about 1,233 children, aged 14 or younger, were killed in automobile crashes and 214 of those children died in drunk driving accidents. Since 2007, when there was a high of 13,041 drunk driving fatalities, the number of fatalities has decreased but there is far much more work that needs to be done.

Each time you drink and drive, you endanger yourself, your passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other vehicles. Let someone else drive you, whether it be a friend or family. Take an Uber or public transportation. Leave your car where it is parked as you can always pick it up the next day. You have plenty of options so there is absolutely no reason to drink and drive. Be responsible.

I don't want to lose any family or friends this year due to a drunk driving accident. I don't think anyone wants to lose their loved ones either. Your family and friends would rather you didn't drink and drive as they don't you to die in a terrible drunk driving accident. So please just don't!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Sips & Nibbles: Thanksgiving Edition

I'm offering a special Thanksgiving edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. Today, you'll find some restaurant options for Thanksgiving if you just don't feel like cooking this year. **********************************************************
1) It’s said that the first Thanksgiving featured shellfish and fish, so join Legal Sea Foods for a traditional Thanksgiving or opt instead for their special turkey dinner. Legal Sea Foods will serve turkey breast with sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, butternut squash, gravy and cranberry sauce ($24.95 per person and $8.95 for children 12 and under). Come celebrate the holiday with your family and leave the cooking to Legals.

Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms must be reserved in advance. Available at most locations of Legal Sea Foods.

2) Celebrate Thanksgiving, on Thursday, November 22, from 1pm-6pm, at Chopps American Bar and Grill with a Specially Prepared Fall Feast. The full Dinner Menu will also be available.

Thanksgiving Day Chef's Tasting Menu
--Roasted Beet Salad (Goat Cheese Croquette, Tarragon, Frisee, Coriander Vinaigrette)
--Curried Parsnip Bisque (Mint Créme Fraiche)
--Traditional Turkey Dinner (Heirloom Baby Carrot, Brussels Sprouts, Whipped Potato, Corn Bread Stuffing, Cranberry-Fig Sauce, Traditional Gravy)
--Butternut Squash Agnolotti (Trumpet Mushrooms, Leeks, Macomber Turnips, Cider, Butter)
--Pumpkin Bread Pudding (Molasses Whipped Cream, Vanilla Gelato)

Cost: $45 per person
To make reservations, please call 781-221-6643

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) Bodega Canal now offers taco lovers all-you-can-eat tacos every Monday night from 4:30 to close. For only $9 per person, guests can choose between either Beef or Chicken hard shell tacos. All tacos will be served with traditional accompaniments- pico de gallo, lettuce, and cheese. Guacamole will be available for an additional charge.

 To make reservations, please contact (617) 833-4885

2) Top Chef Alums Carl Dooley and Karen Akunowicz may have been competitors on Top Chef Season 13, but in real life they are fast friends with a deep respect for one another. “Top Chef is as stressful, competitive and isolating as you can imagine” according to Dooley. “But with that isolation of no phones, no computers, no contact with the outside world as we knew it, came the chance to forge amazing friendships with people like Karen. She is fantastic – as a chef and as a friend. I know her new restaurant will be, too

Dooley is welcoming Akunowicz to his restaurant, The Table At Season To Taste, on Wednesday, November 14, from 5:30pm-10pm, for a five course tasting menu previewing her new restaurant and enoteca, Fox & the Knife, opening soon in South Boston.

Cost: $98 per person, optional wine pairing $55 / including tax and hospitality
For Reservations, please call 617-871-9468

3) Matadora, a Spanish restaurant located in the Hilton Boston/Woburn, is celebrating their 1st Anniversary with a special dinner on Thursday, November 15th, at 6:30pm. Besides the Cocktail Reception and Seated Dinner, there will be live music, a Flamenco dance floor show, and a cash bar.

Cocktail Reception
Cava & Chef’s selection of Spanish meats, cheeses, olives and nuts
Seated Dinner (served family style)
Flaming Chorizo
Shrimp Toast
Shishito Peppers
Spiced Almond Cake with Quince Jam and Orange Glaze

Cost: $75/person (includes tax & gratuity)
You can purchase tickets on Eventbrite.

4) Pastry Chef Amanda Perreault and her team at The Southfield Store crank out scratch baked goods for The Store, plated desserts for the Store’s sister property The Old Inn On The Green, and countless orders for catered events and special occasions. All year-round, The Southfield Store sells cakes and cookies, tortes and tarts, cheesecakes and croissants, puddings, pies and breakfast pastries, plus quiches and house made gelato and granola.

As the holidays approach, Perreault and her “elves” go into overdrive, turning The Southfield Store  into the region’s most surprising (and hidden) destination for sweet treats to give or to hoard.

Almond and Cashew Brittles
Peanut butter cups and peanut butter ganache kisses
Peppermint Bark
Bouche de Noel
Pecan Buttercrunch
Gingerbread People and other unique holiday cookies
International breads such as stollen, babka, and panettone
Seasonal pies

Full Thanksgiving dinners can also be ordered from this year. Ordering early for the holidays is highly recommended. Please call 413-229-5050.

And here is a recipe for Nana’s Apple Cake
Courtesy of Amanda Perreault, The Southfield Store

4 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced into ¼” crescents
6 large eggs
3 cups sugar
1 ½ cups canola oil
1 TB. vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 TB. plus 1 tsp. baking powder
2 TB. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt

Butter a 13” X 9” baking pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla. In a larger bowl, sift the dry ingredients and whisk to blend. Pour egg mixture over dry mixture and mix well. Add the apples and stir to coat the fruit with the batter. Spread into prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes (test center with a toothpick). Cool to room temperature before slicing.

5) Executive Chef Sean Dutson and the entire team at Rebel’s Guild invite guests to experience a lavish meal specially paired with Glenlivet Whisky on Tuesday, November 13th, from 6pm-9pm

From the wise words of Mark Twain, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much whiskey is barely enough”.

The full Glenlivet Whisky Dinner is as Follows:
Cocktail Reception
Applewood Smoked Bacon Deviled Eggs
Artichoke and Boursin Fritter
Pulled Pork & Cornbread Shooter
Glenlivet Founders Cocktail
Plated Dinner
--Apple & Butternut Bisque (Crème Fraiche, Spiced Pecan Dust)
Glenlivet 12 Year
--Confit Poutine (Pulled Duck, Sweet Potato Wedges, Cranberries, Sage Gravy and Cheese Curd)
Glenlivet 15 Year
--Pork Belly & Sea Scallops (Sugar Pumpkin Risotto, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts & Wild Blueberry Compote)
Glenlivet 18 Year
--Cinnamon & Apple Bread Pudding (Vanilla Ice Cream)

Tickets cost $75.00 and are available via eventbrite. All attendees must be 21+ with a valid ID.

6) November marks Diabetes Awareness Month and Kendall Square’s Sumiao Hunan Kitchen has teamed up with Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) to help bring attention to the impact of diabetes on millions of Asian Americans. All month, the team at Sumiao will be featuring a special menu with a collection of delicious, diabetes-friendly dishes, hand-selected by a certified Joslin nutritionist; additionally, the restaurant will be donating 10% of proceeds from its diabetes-friendly brown and black rice sales during the month of November to the AADI.

Standout Hunanese-style selections will include Spicy Crunchy Cucumber with sesame chili oil sauce ($8); Yellow River Fish swai filet, white beech mushroom, pickled cabbage and banana pepper ($26); Pan-Seared Egg Tofu with Japanese egg tofu, shrimp, peas and carrots ($18); Steamed Egg Tofu with egg topped with spicy minced pork ($15); Beef with Broccoli with carrot, garlic and kung pao sauce ($18); and, Steamed Whole Tilapia caught daily with choice of two toppings: duojiao (spicy) or ginger-scallion (non-spicy) ($36). In total, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen will offer 20 diabetes-friendly options.

One in two Asian Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes, despite having a lower average body mass index than the overall population of Americans. Originally from Hunan, China, Sumiao Chen has followed the diabetes epidemic closely through her experience as a scientist and former doctor, sparking a passion for raising awareness about the issue and promoting health conscious menu choices at her restaurant.

Joslin makes no guarantee that these items will be available at time of visit. Joslin does not endorse products or services, including those of this restaurant.

7) Valerie Rochon, President, The Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth and Mayor Jack Blalock unveiled the details for the 10th Anniversary of Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast.  With more than 40 restaurants participating and 75,000+ guests expected to travel to Portsmouth and local Seacoast towns during Restaurant Week, November 8-17, the city is gearing up for a successful fall season. Located one hour north of Boston and one hour south of Portland, Maine, Portsmouth is an easy drive from all points New England. Known for its historic sites, architecture, festivals and coastal charm, Portsmouth attracts talented and ambitious chefs and restaurateurs who are creating a one-of-a-kind New England culinary destination.

We are grateful and thrilled that several restaurants who helped launch the Chamber’s first Restaurant Week Portsmouth & The Seacoast in 2008 are still cooking up a storm and participating in this program ten years later. What began as a program to help stimulate the local economy has turned into a program embraced by the restaurant community to say ‘Thank you’ to our residents, businesses and visitors. It truly sets us apart from other cities across the country,” shared Rochon.

Mayor Jack Blalock, himself a restaurant owner in Portsmouth, recognizes the effort and creativity that the chefs put into creating generous and memorable menus. “From the rising stars in our kitchens to the stalwarts who helped create the Chamber’s Restaurant Week ten years ago – everyone is making a tremendous commitment and impact for the overall success of Portsmouth and the Seacoast community.”

Restaurants that participated in the 1st Restaurant Week, and which are still participating, include: Agave Mexican Bistro, Black Trumpet Bistro, The Dolphin Striker, Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café, Library Restaurant--A Steak House, The Portsmouth Brewery, Portsmouth Gas Light Company, and Ristorante Massimo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Douro River Region: Beauty & Thriving Amidst Adversity

"Few plants can live, much less thrive, in the physical conditions of the Douro valley, where chunks of rock are found instead of soil, where rainfall is relatively low and evaporation diminishes the amount available for plants, and where slopes are steep."
--Landscapes Of Bacchus: The Vine in Portugal by Dan Stanislawski

Such stunning scenery. The beauty and allure of the the Douro River region was astounding, especially in October when the leaves had turned, providing such gorgeous colors to the landscape. My several days spent in the Douro region were memorable, and my pictures don't do adequate justice to everything I witnessed, from the steep vineyards to the majestic mountains, from the the myriad colors to the fine architecture. What I witnessed was a testament to the tenacity and passion of the Douro farmers, growing grapes in some of the toughest vineyards in the world. It also is a testament to the marvels of Port Wine, which sees its origin in this fascinating region.

The Douro River ("River of Gold"), which originates in Spain (where it is known as the Duero River), extends for about 557 miles, passing through Portugal and emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.  Only about 124 miles of the Douro winds through Portugal, now broken up by a series of hydroelectric dams.

The Douro River region was first demarcated in 1756 when the Marques de Pombal, the Prime Minister of Portugal, commissioned a geographical study of the region’s vineyards. The demarcation covered about 100,000 acres and included a detailed classification of the Baixa Corgo and Cima Corgo subzones. Many people claim that this was the first demarcated wine region, though there are others who claim that the Tokaj region in Hungary was the first, with a Royal Charter in 1737. Whatever the truth, the Douro River is certainly one of the oldest demarcated regions, indicative of its importance.

Over the subsequent years, the demarcated region of the Douro has been modified and expanded, and it now ranges from the parish of Barqueiros to the village of Barca d’Alva. It currently comprises about 250,000 hectares, though only about 18% (45,000 hectares) of that land is covered with vineyards. Olive trees are also common in this region and we enjoyed some fine olive oils at various spots.

The Douro River was once much wilder and nearly impassable at points due to its raging rapids, but engineering endeavors worked to transform the river into a more navigable waterway. It was also beneficial that by the end of the 19th century, a railway had been constructed that extended to the Spanish border, making travel much easier and quicker. Now, with a series of hydroelectric dams, the river is more like a series of placid lakes, making river transport relatively easy.

"When the demerits of this area are balanced against its advantages, it is difficult to understand how men ever came to consider it suitable for cultivation."
--Landscapes Of Bacchus: The Vine in Portugal by Dan Stanislawski

On one day of our trip, we took a 5km walk, led by Portugal Green Walks, through the vineyards of Quinta da Roêda, which are owned by Croft Port. Portugal Green Walks conducts numerous walking tours of northern Portugal and this is an excellent way to get to know the Douro region. I gained a deeper understanding of the issues involving the steep, terraced vineyards and the schist soils. It is clearly arduous work, and you need to be sure footed with good footwear while wandering through the vineyards. Surrounded by incredible beauty, it was such a pleasure to leisurely walk past the vines, on a fine autumn day

The Douro region is surrounded on three sides by high mountains and the upper reaches of the region are largely protected from the Atlantic, earning it the provincial name of Trás-os-Montes ("behind the mountains"). Because of the mountainous terrain of the Douro, the vineyards are generally planted on slopes, commonly steep, and about 90% have a gradient in excess of 30%, which can even range up to a 70% gradient.

The soil in the Douro region tends to be comprised of rocky schist, which is high in acid, rich in nutrients and possesses excellent water retention. The term "schist" derives from the Greek term "schistos" which means "divided," as the schist has a foliated structure and will split in thin irregular plates. At times in the past, schist had to be dynamited to plant vineyards although bulldozers are now used more commonly. However, dynamite is still occasionally used even today.

This is a cork tree in one of the vineyards and the number on it indicates the year it was last harvested. The number "3" refers to the year 2013, and it won't be harvested again for nine years, so not until 2022.

The Douro region has three primary subzones, including: Baixo Corgo, in the west & centered on the town of Regua; Cima Corgo, centered on Pinhao; and the Douro Superior, in the east. The Baixo Corgo sub zone, which produces about 45% of all the Douro wines, tends to have cooler and wetter weather and the wines are lighter. The Cima Corgo sub zone, which produces about 40% of all Douro wines, is a warmer region and is the location of some of the best vineyards in the Douro. The Douro Superior sub zone, which produces about 15% of all the Douro wines, has the hottest and driest weather,

Since 1933, every vineyard in the Douro has been graded, from A to F, based on a point system, with a maximum of 1680 points, that considers twelve different factors, including altitude, soil type, grape variety, slope, angle toward the sun, age of the vines, upkeep & maintenance, and more.

In general, the Douro region has harsh winters and hot summers with temperatures in the winter sometimes below freezing and summer temperatures that can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is because of those hot summer temperatures that Port wines were sent down the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia, where the wine could mature in cooler temperatures. The region also usually receives about twenty inches of rain annually.

At one point during our Portugal trip, while we were in Pinhão, we took a boat tour of the Douro with Magnifico Douro

We traveled aboard a barcos rabelo-style boat, the type of flat-bottomed vessels that once traveled up and down the Douro River, transporting passengers and cargo.

Here are a number of my traveling companions, all also from the Boston+ area.

It was a sunny day so the views were amazing, providing a more unique view of the landscape.

It was also quite tranquil and we saw only a few other vessels on the water.

If you visit the Douro, you should take one of the boat cruises to get a different view of the land.

At another point, we also rode on a train on the Linha do Douro, to Peso da Régua. The train line follows the course of the Douro River so you have plenty of great scenery visible from the train windows.

You can explore the Douro River region by so many different methods, including car, boat, train or by foot. No matter what method you use, you'll be stunned by the beauty of the region and awed by the steep-terraced vineyards wondering why any sane farmer who choose to plant in such a difficult area. I enjoyed such an amazing trip to the Douro and am sure that any wine lover would be equally as impressed.

“Port Wine is a great wine because it is the product of long experimentation, meticulous attention to details, and strict controls; and no Portuguese vineyardist would doubt that the environment of the Douro valley, its place of origin, has played an important part in its ultimate character.”
--Landscapes Of Bacchus: The Vine in Portugal by Dan Stanislawski