Thursday, November 21, 2019

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 Sunday, December 8, from 5pm-8pm, Island Creek Oyster Bar is celebrating the 3rd Annual Feast of the Seven Fishes. Chef and Owner Jeremy Sewall and his friend Barton Seaver will host this event. Seaver has been a successful Chef and is now a seafood activist, educator, speaker, and author. I've had the pleasure of hearing Seaver speak on multiple occasions and it's always fun and informative. These are both people who really understand and love seafood, so this should be an excellent event. Highly recommended!

A half-hour reception will be followed by a family-style meal. Some of the dishes for the seafood feast include: Smoked Salmon Crepes with avocado, creme fraiche, and caviar; Hand-Harvested Scallops with blue crab risotto, blood orange, and chervil; and Grilled Swordfish, with broccoli rabe, roasted fingerling potatoes, and anchovy butter.

Tickets cost $150 and are available on Eventbrite. The ticket price includes the seafood feast, beverage pairings, dessert, a signed copy of Barton Seaver's newest book, The Joy of Seafood, and gratuity.

2) This Friday, November 22, Executive Chef Peter Agostinelli is bringing a decadent Caviar Menu to Grill 23 & Bar. The delicacy, sourced from Island Creek Oysters, will adorn Grill 23’s seafood, steak and signature dishes. The limited time menu will feature a Caviar Crème Fraiche supplement for fresh oysters, a Caviar-Topped Steak Tartare, Caviar Lobster Mac & Cheese, and any of the premium steak cuts accompanied by Caviar Butter. The menu will begin on Friday and run as supplies last.

Please call 617-542-2255 for Reservations

3) On Saturday, November 23, Bistro du Midi is excited and honored to commemorate their 10th Anniversary. To celebrate, Executive Chef Robert Sisca is recreating iconic menu items from throughout the years in an extravagant tasting menu.

Bistro du Midi opened in November of 2009 with a Nantucket Bay Scallop Crudo and the tasting menu will feature the Scallops with persimmon, parsnip, blood orange and Osetra caviar. A Monkfish with eggplant, artichoke, olive tapenade and preserved lemon combines two of the most popular dishes from 2010: Fried Artichokes and Monkfish. Bistro’s reputation for truffles began in 2011 and quickly became a popular dish. Chef Robert is making a Saffron Tagilatelle with truffle buratta, hen of wood mushrooms and fresh white truffles. Each dish on the Tasting Menu will be representative of popular dishes from the past 10 years with new inspirations and offers an optional wine pairing.

The menu will run from Saturday, November 23, through February 2020. Please call 617-426-7878 for Reservations.

4) Whether celebrating at home or looking to dine out, Rochambeau has several options to ease the stress of Thanksgiving dinner. The restaurant and bar will be open from 12:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and will serve a prix fixe Thanksgiving dinner menu. The menu is $65 per person, and $20 per child age 12 and under. The menu includes choice of soup or salad, choice of entrée, and choice of dessert. Full menu can be found here. The café will also be open on Thanksgiving from 7:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Please call 617-247-0400 for Reservations.

Rochambeau’s pastry team, led by Executive Pastry Chef Michele Fadden, is baking pies to order that will be available for pick up November 24-28. Choices include apple, pecan, and pumpkin. Each pie is $25. Orders must be placed by November 21 and orders can be placed by visiting here. Orders can be picked up in the café on November 24-27 during regular business hours, and on November 28 until 12:00 p.m.

5) On Monday, December 9, from 6:30pm-9:30pm, celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes with Chef Dan Billo and Sommelier Shanley Snydeman of Atlantic Fish. They invite guests to savor a five course holiday feast inspired by the Italian Christas Eve tradition and paired with wines from Kobrand Wine & Spirits. For just $99 a person (excluding tax and gratuity), guests will enjoy the following courses of the freshest catches prepared by Chef Dan and his culinary team and paired with selection from the restaurant's top somm:

First Course: Cured White Anchovy Pinxto with Manchego cheese and red pepper coulis and Smoked Bluefish rillettes with sustainable Polish caviar
Second Course: Seafood Ravioli in squid ink pasta with fish consume and leeks
Third Course: Grilled Octopus with Arugula and rice noodle salad
Fourth Course: Brown butter poached Baccala and butterbean raguot topped with spicy putanesca sauce.
Fifth Course: Chocolate and Raspberry caviar

For Reservations, please call  617-267-4000.

6) Rebel’s Guild invites families and friends to celebrate the holidays with a “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” themed Tea Party every Saturday and Sunday in December. Adults can choose from an array of loose-leaf teas and spice up tea time with an additional Tea Spike like Apple-Infused Teelings or Grey Goose Vanilla. ‘Adult Feast’ selections include bites like Mini Lobster RollsBlueberry Scones, and Coconut Cream Puffs. The ‘Little Who’ menu features a variety of Grinchy hot chocolate flavors such as Max’s Candy Cane Dreams made with house-made hot chocolate, peppermint candy cane, simple and whipped cream with snacks like a Chocolate Chip SconeCheeseburger Slider or Grilled Cheese. The full menu and tickets are available on Eventbrite.

Little Whos will also have to opportunity to decorate gingerbread houses and take a photo with a very special guest.

WHEN: Sunday, December 1, 8, 15, 22, & 29; Saturday, December 1, 8, 15, 22, 29
Reservations are available from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Reserve your tickets, priced $25-$56, to this magical holiday event on Eventbrite.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Zagreb: Bornstein Wine Bar & Shop (Part 5)

On my first day in Croatia, in the city of Zagreb. after strolling down Tkalčićeva Street and dining at Agava Restaurant, I ended my evening at the Bornstein Wine Bar & Shop, which was just down the street, on Kaptol, from my Bed & Breakfast. I wasn't planning on staying too long here, just long enough to check out the place and peruse their wine selections, but I ended up at the wine bar for hours, having lots of fun, meeting new people, and sampling some excellent Croatian wines. And I returned there the next day too, for a #Winelover tasting event.

The Bornstein Wine Bar & Shop is the oldest wine store in Croatia, currently owned by Ivan and Doris Srpek, both who I met on my visits to this shop. Ivan, who I had the most interaction with, is from Australia and is very personable, helpful and knowledgeable. He even sought out a wine I was interested in from his colleagues at other shops and elsewhere. Ivan is certainly an important reason why I chose to hang out at the wine bar for several hours on my first night. Doris was very personable as well and they seemed to work well together as a team.

One of the attractions of the wine bar & shop is its 200 year-old arched basement, giving it a sense of history and a charming ambiance. In 2015, Ivan and Doris transformed over half of the basement into a wine bar. At the wine bar, you can sample wines, accompanied by snacks, if you so desire, choosing specific wines or one of their wine flights. They can also organize private tasting events for you, including wine dinners. It's a versatile area, and while I sat at the wine bar, I met a few people who also were tasting there, surprisingly meeting a couple people also from the U.S. We laughed and drank, and it was a great way to spend a Friday evening.

The wine shop is stocked with plenty of Croatian wines, from all different regions, and includes lots of fascinating choices. As you look around, you never know what you might find, but you're sure to find something that appeals to your preferences. If you're adventurous, there is much to experience and intrigue you. For example, the Vina Belje Grasevina wines above are from 1959, maybe some of the oldest Croatian wines available! A bottle will cost you roughly $750-$900 US.

Most of the Croatian wines are separated by region, such as Dalmatia and Slavonia.

More Croatian wines!

The wine shop also sells wine from other countries and regions around the world, though their primary focus is Croatian wine.

Besides wine, there's a variety of gourmet foods, including local cheeses, truffles, truffle oil, meats, and more. You can buy a bottle of wine and some food to take home and enjoy at your leisure.

And they also sell local Olive Oil, such as the famed Chiavalon Olive Oil. I actually bought home some of this olive oil and it's an excellent product.

During my time at the Bornstein wine bar on Friday evening, I tasted a number of diverse wines, and all were delicious and interesting. Ivan made all of the selections and he chose extremely well. The evening began with the NV Šember Pjenušac Brut, produced by a family-owned winery with about 6 hectares of vineyards in the Plešivica region, which I previously noted is an area famous for their Sparkling Wines. Pjenušac means "sparkling wine." The Šember winery first began making bubbly in 1997, using the Méthode Champenoise. They make at least three different Sparkling Wines, and this Brut is produced from a blend of Chardonnay, Welschriesling, and Plavec Žuti. The wine spent about three years aging on the lees.

At 12.5% ABV, this wine has a fine golden color, with plenty of tiny bubbles, and an appealing nose of toast, citrus, and peach. On the palate, it is crisp and fresh, with a beautiful elegance and a complex blend of flavors, including green apple, peach, and brioche. With a lingering and pleasant finish, this is another fine example of the quality Sparkling Wines being made in the Plešivica region.

From another family winery, located in the Istria region, the 2018 Cossetto Prima Luce is produced from 100% Malvazija Istarska, an indigenous grape that is the second most planted white grape in Croatia. With a 13% ABV, this was a fascinating, complex and delicious wine, with plenty of acidity and intriguing herbal flavors. There were bright, though more subtle, citrus notes, an extremely lengthy finish, and a touch of spice. Its unique and appealing taste made it a stand out.

Next up were two wines from Ahearne Vino, owned by Jo Ahearne, a Master of Wine and winemaker, and the winery is located on the Croatian island of Hvar. Ahearne has worked at wineries across the globe, and started producing wines in Croatia with the 2014 vintage, moving herself to Hvar in 2016. Her Croatian wines have been receiving many raves, and now I understand the reasons why.

The Ahearne Wild Skins is made from a blend of three indigenous grapes Kuč, Bogdanuša, and Pošip. The Bogdanuša and Kuč are harvested from vineyards in the cooler northern part of Hvar while the Pošip is from a vineyard on the southern side. Only ambient yeast is used, and there is extended skin contact. This was a "wow" wine, an impressive and complex wine which has ended up as one of my favorite wines during my entire time in Croatia. Its intriguing melange of flavors included notes of candied orange, honey, apricot, and a savory herbal element. This is something to slowly savor, to enjoy each fascinating taste and all that can be found within it. Each sip brings something different to your palate. Highly recommended!

The 2014 Ahearne Plavac Mali South Side, made from 100% Plavac Mali, uses only grapes from the best sites on southern hills. The wine has aged for about 18 months in used French oak with a little Slavonian oak. With a 14% ABV, the nose is appealing with aromas of black fruits and herbs. On the palate, the wine also presented with a complex melange of flavors, including ripe plum, black berry, intriguing herbal notes, and a hint of chocolate. The tannins were silky, the finish lingered and lingered, and the wine was well balanced. Another winner from Jo Ahearne.

The 2013 Kairos Cuvee is produced by a winery near the coastal town of Trogir in Dalmatia. The wine is a blend of 40% Plavac Mali, 30% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, with 10% Syrah and Tempranillo. The wine was aged for 24 months in Croatian and French barrique, 50% new & 50% old.  It is then further aged for another 1 year in stainless steel tanks and then six months more in the bottle. This is a big and bold wine, yet with restraint, and nicely integrated tannins. It's full bodied and rich, with lots of black fruit flavors, some red fruit notes, touches of vanilla and plenty of spice. Though it contains plenty of international grapes, it still had its feet strongly in Croatia.

If you visit Zagreb and love wine, then you need to make a stop at the Bornstein Wine Bar & Shop. It's a cool place to buy Croatian wine, and you'll find a huge selection here, including numerous rarities, and Ivan and Doris can help you navigate the choices. It's also a cool place to stop by to taste wine, to experience delicious Croatian wines. You can easily sit at the wine bar for a few hours, and never realize how long you've actually been there. Such a jovial and friendly ambiance, and it earns a hearty recommendation from me.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Rant: Don't Forget The Less Fortunate

It's mid-November and many of us are probably thinking about our upcoming plans for Thanksgiving. Plus, you might also be thinking about Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holiday celebrations. You might already be considering which food and drink you'll enjoy, or thinking about what gifts to present to your loved ones. Your thoughts will likely be directed to how you can maximize your own enjoyment of these upcoming holidays.

However, please stop and ponder another significant thought: Don't forget those less fortunate.

Let us work together to help those who need some assistance this holiday season, even if it requires a little sacrifice on our part. Make this a meaningful holiday season, rather than a selfish one. Though many of us love and enjoy the holiday season, it can be a very sad and disappointing time for those with little or nothing. Every community has some people who find it difficult merely to pay for basic essentials, let alone to buy holiday gifts or prepare a special holiday feast. We can help though, and try to bring some joy to the less fortunate. Share your largess with others, helping those who truly need it.

Even though these are tough economic times for many of us, we all probably can help out others, even if only in little ways. If you cannot spare money, then donate your time, maybe spending it at a food bank or shelter. Or make something to give to others, such as baking a pie, cookies or casserole. Donate old clothes or other durable items which you no longer use. There are many different ways to help out others besides just monetary donations.

During this season, there will be numerous restaurants, chefs, shops and others which will hold special charitable events. Talk about these events, promote them on social media, and spread the word far and wide. Attend those events, encouraging others to do the same. Give to your favorite charities, whatever they might be. I want to hear about your charitable efforts to help those less fortunate. Be creative in your efforts, even if your own finances are tight.

I will do my own part to help the less fortunate, to share what I possess. Year round, I promote numerous food and wine-related charitable events and probably will promote even more this season. I will give to several charities as well, even if I only can give small amounts, to those which are personally close to my heart. I will try to help in a number of different ways and I strongly encourage everyone to do the same this season.

Let us share with all during this upcoming holiday season, bringing together everyone in a more united community. There are enough divisions in our world right now and we need more unity, especially at this time. Don't just think of yourself but think of others, think about what you can do to make this world a better place.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Restaurant Kadena: My Last Dinner In Croatia

It was my final evening in Croatia, and I was in the city of Split, site of the famed Diocletian's Palace. Where should I dine? How could I cap off such an amazing trip? Before I departed for Croatia, I did plenty of research and targeted one specific restaurant in Split which seemed like it would be a fitting ending, Restaurant Kadena

Located atop a hill, the restaurant overlooks the Zenta marina and beach, as well as some of the islands in the Adriatic, such as Brač and Hvar. It was one of a small number of Croatian restaurants that were included in the Michelin Guide, and has a relatively new chef and wine manager/sommelier. The chef, Damir Sertić, recently won an award for Best Artistic Chef in an international culinary competition in China, defeating about 500 other chefs. The wine manager/sommelier, Marko Rudez, worked for ten years in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, and now is at Kadena, helping to help promote Croatian wines.

This is the view from the dining room, and on a sunny day it would be spectacular. It is an elegant restaurant, though doesn't feel pretentious or stuffy. Though the view was a partial reason for wanting to dine here, the Menu and Wine list were the most compelling reasons for my final choice.

The Menu is large, with plenty of choices whether you prefer meat or seafood, although vegetarians won't find too many options. You'll find Starters (13 options from 45-120 kuna), such as Deer Prosciutto and Salmon Mousse; Soups & Essences (7 options from 25-45 kuna), such as John Dory Soup and Essence of Corn Soup; Salads & Bruschettas (7 options from 25-70 kuna), such as Prosciutto Bruschetta and Rocket SaladPasta & Risotto (6 options from 90-130 kuna), such as Seafood Risotto and Gnocchi with Beefsteak; Japanese Style (6 options from 15-150), such as Vietnamese-Style Tuna and Tataki Beef; Fish (14 options from 60-800 kuna), such as Smoked Seabass Fillet and Adriatic Calamari; and Meat (18 options from 115-850 kuna), such as Steak of Black Slavonian Pig, Smoked Lamb Steak, and Beefsteak in Truffle Sauce.

As a kuna is roughly equivalent to $0.15 U.S., most of these restaurant prices are very reasonable, especially considering the quality of the food. For example, most of the meat dishes would cost less than $35, except items like the Waygu beef. The Pasta & Risotto dishes are less than $15. Nigiri Sushi, Tuna and Salmon, costs $2.25 per piece, less expensive than most sushi spots in the U.S. The Seafood dishes tend to be the most expensive, though about half of the dishes cost under $30, and Lobster is the most expensive dish, costing about $120. So, you can certainly splurge at this restaurant if you so desire, but if you're on a budget, you'll find plenty of options too.

The Wine List is extensive, with mostly Croatian options, but you'll find a scattering of international wines as well, from countries such as France, Germany, Spain, New England, and Italy. You'll find about 10 wines by the glass (22-68 kuna), and even 1 Sake by the glass! The restaurant carries three Sakes, all from the same brewery, which of course appeals to me. However, if you're a tourist in Croatia and dine at Kadena, I strongly suggest you order Croatian wine, exploring its diversity.

I ordered a bottle of Vina Sladić Maraština (210 kuna), as I had acquired a taste for the Maraština/Rukatac grape. Sladić is a family winery, founded in 2000, located in North Dalmatia and focusing on indigenous grapes. I found this wine to be fresh and crisp, with bright citrus and pear notes, some minerality and a touch of herbs, especially on the finish. It was easy drinking, yet still possessed some complexity, and was definitely a good choice for seafood.

I began my dinner with the Black Cake (60 kuna), which is made with powder of homemade bacon, cuttlefish ink, olive oil, and mixed pepper, and is served with regular butter and butter with truffles. When I ordered it, I wasn't exactly sure what I'd receive and it ended up being like a couple of black bread rolls. It was soft on the inside, with a fascinating blend of savoriness, a hint of bacon and a touch of the sea, enhanced by the earthy truffle butter.

Next up, was the Scampi & Saffron Soup (45 kuna), a light bodied soup with a powerful shrimp scampi taste, with lots of garlic notes, and delightful notes of saffron. Each spoonful was bursting with rich flavors and I very much enjoyed this dish.

I tried a few pieces of Nigiri Sushi, Tuna & Salmon (15 kuna per piece), even though it's not traditional Croatia cuisine. The sushi was fresh, tender and quite large although the rice didn't hold together well.

The Spaghetti with Shrimps, Truffles & Hard Cheese Flambeed (100 kuna) possessed a heavy, flavorful and cheesy sauce accented by the earthy truffles. The tiny shrimp were tasty and the pasta was cooked just right, with a fine al dente texture to them.

The star of the dinner was the Buzara-style Mussels (1 kg/150 kuna). In Croatian, "buzara" basically translates as "stew" but it simple refers to a cooking style, for shellfish or crustaceans, that involves olive oil, wine, garlic, breadcrumbs and herbs. It is similar in many respects to the usual French steamed preparation for mussels. However, this was one of the best mussel preparations I've ever tasted, with such a rich and flavorful broth, enhancing the tender mussels. Each bite was pure gustatory pleasure, and I didn't want the dish to end. Fortunately, there were an ample supply of mussels.

Overall, this was an excellent way to end my time in Croatia. Service was professional and attentive, the cuisine was inventive and delicious, and the wine was delicious. Essentially, I got a five-course meal and a bottle of wine, and it cost (without tip) under $100 US, which I consider a good value based on the quality and quantity of the food and wine. The next morning, at around 6am, I flew out of the Split airport, headed back to Boston, loaded with so many great memories of my time in Croatia. And if I ever return to Split, I want Kadena's Buzara-style Mussels again!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

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) For the holiday season, Osteria Posto, in Waltham, will be opening for Lunch, starting on Monday, December 2. Lunch will be available from Monday to Friday, from 11:30am-2pm. Osteria Posto is one of my favorite Italian restaurants and I always look forward to the holidays, when they re-open for lunch. It's a great place to dine while you're out holiday shopping, or if you stop there to buy a gift certificate. The lunch menu usually includes Pasta, Pizza and more. I'll definitely be dining there for lunch next month. Maybe I'll see you there too.

2) Anthem Kitchen & Bar, tucked into the heart of Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall is bringing the basic back for a Friendsgiving Brunch perfect for any crew.

On Sunday, November 17, from 9am – 3pm, celebrate the friends you’re thankful for without the usual Friendsgiving hassle of cooking, cleaning, and hosting. Join Anthem as they celebrate their first ever Friendsgiving Brunch. Gather your favorite friends and enjoy delicious fall food and drink favorites, including:

Pumpkin Pie French Toast
Autumn Spiced Pancakes
Apple & Sweet Potato Hash
Maple Bacon Cornbread Cupcakes
Hot Mulled Cider
Iced Pumpkin Spiked Latté
Hot Buttered Rum

Along with these special menu items, Anthem’s full brunch menu will be available.

Make your reservation by calling (617) 720-5570

3) On the first Thursday in December since 2009, The Concord Cheese Shop here has taken delivery of an oversized wheel of Crucolo cheese, shipped from its producer in northern Italy. On Thursday, December 5 at 3:30 PM sharp, the tenth annual parade will kick off at the corner of Main and Walden streets in Concord’s downtown. Early arrival is recommended. Parking in town is free.

Festivities surrounding the cheese’s arrival in Concord have grown exponentially, and currently include:
• A flatbed truck rolling the cheese down Walden Street
• A marching band
• A live cow
• Costumed militiamen with bayonets
• Synchronized dance routine by Concord Academy teens
• Kids for Krucolo – toddlers in strollers
• Hundreds of Italian flags waving
• Proclamation of Crucolo Day in the Town of Concord
• Ceremonial splitting of the cheese for photo opps
• Generous cheese sampling for all
• Local merchants offering specials and sales

Crucolo is a mild asiago fresco made from cow’s milk. In years past, the Cheese Shop has welcomed it in 400 lb. wheels; the entire wheel is generally Sold Out within 10 days. This year’s wheel is 1,000 lbs., and will be available for a limited time only.

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

The seven dishes, which are priced between $18 and $42 (and market price for Stuffed Lobster), are inspired by the family traditions and Italian roots of the il Molo team. Guests can choose from a hand-crafted spaghetti dish in the form of Lobster Fra Diavolo, a Baccala “Two-Ways” plate uniting fried baccala and a baccala salad dressed with pickled vegetables, chili peppers, oil and lemon, as well as Stuffed Calamari and Razor Clams served with cherry tomatoes. Other highlights include Clams Oreganata, Branzino, and Stuffed Lobster (MP), and additional menu items may be added based on availability of the freshest seasonal ingredients. For dessert, Struffoli (pan-fried dough tossed with honey and sprinkles) will be offered to all guests as a complimentary treat from the kitchen.

The a la carte menu will be served from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday, December 20 through Tuesday, December 24.
Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 857-277-1895

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Korak Family Estate: Plešivica, Sparkling Wine & Riesling

In Croatian, the word "Korak" means "step," and it is the family name of the owners of the Korak Family Estate. However, in the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, "Korak" is the name given to Tarzan's son, Jack, by the apes. And in the ape language, "Korak" means "killer." This translation is appropriate to the winery as well, as they are producing some "killer" wines.

Korak was the first winery I visited in Croatia, with a number of other #Winelovers, and it's located about an hour southwest of Zagreb, in the Plešivica region. This is a very small, continental wine region comprised of about 2,300 hectares of vineyards and around 40 wineries. Most of the wineries in this region are small, almost all owning less than 10 hectares of vineyards. Plešivica is sometimes referred to as "Croatia's Champagne," as the region is famed for its sparkling wines and its calcareous soils resembling those found in the Champagne region. The vineyards mostly are planted with international varieties, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Syrah. About 70% of their vineyards are planted with white grapes, and the grapes commonly have high acidity.

For many generations, the Korak family has been involved in wine production, though they didn't begin commercial production until after Croatia attained independence. Velimir Korak (the enologist) and his son Josip are most involved in the winery, and we met Josip during our visit. The winery owns 6 hectares of vineyards, and purchases grapes from 2 other hectares. About 90% of their production are still wines, and they have only recently started producing sparkling wines. Josip emphasized that there is "always freshness in their wines."

Our gracious host, Josip Korak, as he opens a bottle of sparkling wine.

Korak's first vintage of sparkling wine was in 2013, and our tasting began outside, on a gorgeous sunny day, with some of their bubbly.

We started with the 2014 Korak Brut Nature, though I'll note that they commonly do not put their vintage on the label, and 2014 was a good year for bubbly. This wine is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, spent a year in big oak, and four years on the lees in the bottle. There was no dosage, so it is very dry. The sparkling wine had alluring aromatics, and on the palate, there was excellent, crisp acidity, with flavors of green apple, a touch of brioche and some minerality. Fresh and delicious, I was impressed that this was only their second vintage producing bubbly. They currently export only a tiny percentage of this wine, but I highly advise you to seek it out if you have access to it.

The 2014 Korak Rosé Nature is made from 100% Pinot Noir, aged on the lees for 3 years, and has no dosage. I loved this sparkling Roséfrom its delightful nose of bright red fruit to its complex, dry and intriguing taste. The fruit is dominant, from strawberry to cherry, with a hint of citrus, and there is an underlying minerality as well. Tiny bubbles, and a lingering, pleasing finish. A hedonistic pleasure and I bought a bottle to take home with me. Highly recommended!

We then adjourned into the winery to continue our tasting. We had a few snacks during the tasting and I have to mention the absolutely delicious, warm fresh bread that was served. Though it was mainly there as a palate cleanser, I could have eaten an entire loaf by myself.

Riesling, known as Rizling in Croatia, is popular and these wines are usually less sweet than German Riesling, more akin to Alsace Riesling. We first tasted the 2018 Korak Laškorec Rajnski Rizling ("Rhine Riesling"), and I'll note that the label shows the position of the vineyard. This wine was fermented in a large oak barrel, and then aged in oak for 10 months. This is supposed to be a vintage that is best drank young. It was dry and fresh, crisp and pleasant, with stone fruit flavors and some minerality. Very nice wine!

We then tasted an older Rizling, the 2011 Korak Rizling, which was more German in style, with a petrol nose, which also came through on the palate. It was complex and interesting, but I'm not a big fan of petrol in my wine so this wasn't my preference.

The 2017 Korak Kamenice Sauvignon Blanc, which isn't on the market yet, isn't in the New Zealand style, being much closer to a French style. It was fresh and dry, with bright citrus and grapefruit flavors, and a minerality backbone. It was well balanced and pleasing, an excellent summer wine, but also something that you could drink year round, paired with food.

Then 2018 Korak Klemenka Sauvignon Blanc was more rich and full bodied, with more prominent grapefruit flavors, good acidity, and less minerality. This seems to be more of a food wine, unless you want a richer white wine on its own. My personal preference was for the Kamenice.

The 2017 Korak Laškorec Chardonnay Sur Lie was barrel fermented, aged in old barrique, and underwent malolactic fermentation. In addition, it was unfiltered and with low sulfur. I enjoyed this full bodied wine, which had subtle citrus and apple flavors, smoky notes, and a nice depth of complexity.

Another snack was Soparnik, a traditional Croatian dish, which is a savory pie filled with herbs, pork fat, sour cream and cottage cheese (not quite what we think of in the U.S.). Though I wasn't sure whether I'd like this dish or not, I gave it try and it actually was quite tasty, with flaky layers, creamy cheese, and a touch of pork flavor. Their cottage cheese is more of a fresh, farmer's cheese and has a pleasant flavor.

We moved onto a couple of intriguing orange wines. The 2016 Korak Rizling Orange Wine, with organic grapes, spent six months on the skins and isn't on the market yet. With more savory aromatics and a touch of petrol, on the palate the wine reminded me in some ways to a Sherry. There were notes of white flowers, candied orange, peach, and herbal accents. Complex and interesting, with a clean taste. The 2016 Korak Klemenka Sauvignon Blanc Orange Wine, made from older grapes, was produced in a similar manner, and it too was complex an intriguing, being a bit richer than the Rizling, as well as presenting more fruit flavors, accompanying the savory herbal and spices notes. I preferred the Sauvignon Blanc, finding it a bit more expressive.

The final wine was the 2017 Korak Križevac & Cimbuščak Pinot Crni (“Pinot Noir”), which also isn't on the market yet. With a medium red color, the nose presented fresh red fruit aromas and a touch of a floral element. On the palate, it was impressive, a well-balanced and complex melange of flavors, from red cherry to raspberry, spice to earth. Nice acidity, a lengthy finish, and a fine elegance. Definitely more Old World in style.

Some members of the #Winelover community, gathered outside the Korak winery. We had an enjoyable and tasty visit, and I was especially impressed with the quality of the sparkling wine, especially when that aspect of their production is still so new. Josip Korak brings much passion and energy to the winery, and I look forward to seeing how the winery develops in the coming years.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Sake in Zagreb: #Winelover Hangout

When I packed for my trip to Croatia, I placed two bottles of Japanese Sake in my suitcase, wrapping them well so they wouldn't break during the flight. Why was I bringing Sake to Croatia? Wouldn't there be plenty to drink in Croatia, from wine to Rakija?

Well, while I was in Zagreb, there was a #WineLovers Hangout at the Pod Zidom Bistro & Wine Bar. The event was organized by Luiz AlbertoSaša Špiranec, and Ana Hozjan, and it was a BYOB dinner bringing together wine lovers from all over the world. Many of the attendees brought wines that were local to them, or wines that were otherwise dear to their hearts. I knew there would be plenty of wine at this event, and as Sake is dear to my heart, I thought it would be cool to bring something different for everyone to sample.

I brought two different types, a Honjozo and Junmai. The two Sakes were well received, though there was a roughly even split between which Sake was favored the most. One attendee even stated that one of the Sakes was the best drink he tasted at the entire event. I enjoyed introducing these Sakes, expounding upon the wonders of Japanese beverage, to all of the wine-lovers. I hoped I created a few converts, showing them that Sake can be a compelling and complex drink.

The Eiko Fuji Ban Ryu Honjozo ($20/720ml) was produced by the Fuji Brewery, located in the Yamagata region, and was founded in 1778 by the Kato family. Their current brewery stands on the same location as the original brewery, in the city of Tsuruoka on the Northern Shonai Plain. The name of their brand, "Eiko Fuji," means "Glorious Mount Fuji," paying homage to the famous Japanese mountain. "Ban Ryu" also means "10,000 ways," referring to a common saying that there are 10,000 ways to brew Sake. As it is said, "The brewery aims to make sake that is clean, complements food, and can be drunk without tire."

As a Honjozo Sake, it is made from only 5 ingredients, including rice, water, yeast, koji-kin, and distilled alcohol (which is used to bring out certain aromas and flavors, without increasing the alcohol level of the Sake). It is made from a Yamagata table rice, which has been polished down to 65% of its size. It has a Sake Meter Value of +1, an Acidity of 1.0, and a 15.3% ABV. It is light and dry with a strong anise flavor dominating over an undercurrent of tropical fruits. This Sake can also be enjoyed slightly chilled, like a white wine, or gently warmed.

The Ninki-Ichi Kuro-Ninki Junmai Ginjo ($35/720ml) is produced by a brewery founded in 1897, and which is located the city of Nihonmatsu in the Fukushima prefecture. The brewery is surrounded by mountains, the Abukuma mountains to the east and Adatara Mountain to the west, providing them a excellent water source from melted snow. In their brand name, "Ninki" roughly translates as "popularity" and "Ichi" means "number one." The brewery though breaks it down as a "Nin" (person) who makes Sake using their "Ki" (inner spirit) and aims to produce the "Ichi" (number one) Sake.

The brewery only makes Ginjo & Daiginjo Sake, using traditional methods and only locally grown rice. Their website states, "We insist on using traditional methods and tools. To make real, proper sake, no effort can be spared. We take are time and do not cut corners. We use wooden tools, a traditional Japanese steaming cauldron, trays for koji-making, and respect the traditional craftsmanship of the tools by not using more efficient versions." In addition, the website continues, "We will only make sake by hand. The advances of efficiency in producing sake in a plant has made it start to become an industrial product, and some say it has lost some of its value . Culture was never meant to be mechanized."

As a Junmai Sake, it is made from only four ingredients, including rice, water, yeast, and koji-kin. It is made from Chiyonishiki, a Sake rice commonly used in Fukushima and said to give more umami to Sake. The rice has been polished down to 60% of its size, which is the minimum polishing rate for a Ginjo. It has a Sake Meter Value of +3, an Acidity of 1.5, and a 15.4% ABV. This is a more complex and silky Sake, with delicious notes of melon and pear, a rich umami taste, and a lingering finish. This is a Sake you can slowly savor and revel in each sip, or pair it with seafood, or something earthy, like a mushroom risotto.

The #WineLovers Hangout was lots of fun, and I met so many nice people there. The #WineLovers community is a close-knit one, despite being spread out all across the world. They shared their wines and shared their hearts. And they were open to learning, to experience new wines as well as Sake. I found some new wines which intrigued and delighted me, and they are wines I will seek out in the future. If you love wine, consider joining this group and attending some of their events.