Friday, February 29, 2008

2005 Burgundy Tasting: March 6

The Lower Falls Wine Co. is having a special wine tasting of 2005 Burgundy on Thursday, March 6, at 4:00 p.m. They will showcase 13 wines from this epic vintage from two of the hottest domaines on their radar: Cecile Tremblay and Roblet-Monnot. I think this will be an incredible tasting and I will certainly be there.

"Given the breadth of the tasting, this is a rare chance to taste like professionals, gaining specific insight into both the vintage and the diversity of geographic expression. Our experience with the 2004 vintage of these wines, as well as the glowing reviews garnered by the current vintage, have had us salivating as we wait. We have been thirstily eyeing these cases since they were delivered, but great Burgundy needs to rest after its long journey. After the requisite four weeks of slumber, we now invite you to join us at a festive and enlightening tasting event."

"Strikingly Cecile Tremblay and Pascal Roblet-Monnot, considered to be two of the most promising new talents in Burgundy, are happily married to each other. Tremblay is garnering praise for her work in the Cote de Nuits, while Roblet-Monnot is considered the one-to-watch in the Cotes de Beaune, leading pundits to refer to their "Bi-Cotes-al" relationship."

"The bond between the domaines is clear in their shared commitment to painstaking hands-on vineyard management and the conversion to biodynamic practices (think of it as taking organic to the next level). The resulting lovingly crafted wines are truly stunning in their intensity, purity and finesse. As a result, the wines from both domaines are increasing in demand and poised to be stunningly hard to find as well. Fortunately, we claimed the entire Massachusetts allotment - here is your opening to fall in love with the wines. Don't risk getting your heart broken by missing this event!"

Wines to be tasted:
Domaine Roblet-Monnot:
Bourgogne Rouge 2005
Auxey-Duresses 2005 Le Val
Volnay 2005 Saint Francois
Volnay 2005 Brouillards Premier Cru
Volnay 2005 Santenots Premier Cru
Volnay 2005 Taillepieds Premier Cru
Pommard 2005 Arvelets Premier Cru
Cecile Tremblay:
Morey Saint-Denis 2005
Vosne Romanee 2005 Vieilles Vignes
Chambolle-Musigny 2005 Les Feusselottes Premier Cru
Echezeaux Grand Cru 2005
Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru 2005

IMPORTANT NOTE: While their events are usually complimentary, for this occasion, they have decided to do things a little differently. In keeping with the educational spirit of this tasting they will be collecting a $15 check (per individual) made out to your local library. Thank you in advance for this contribution.

Lower Falls Wine Co.
2366 Washington Street (Rt. 16)
Newton Lower Falls, MA
Phone: (617) 332-3000

March: A Month of Women & Wine

March is National Women’s History Month. This year''s theme is Women’s Art: Women’s Vision and it is intended to "honor the originality, beauty, imagination, and multiple dimensions of women’s lives." This theme also "provides a special opportunity to discover and celebrate women’s visual arts in a variety of forms and mediums that help expand our perceptions of ourselves and each other."

During March, in honor of National Women's History Month, I will discuss some of the contributions made by women in the wine world. One can look at wine production as an art so female wine makers would fall under this year's theme. Literary creations can also be considered an art form so they could also fall under the theme. And even those women involved in the wine world who would not fall under the theme should still be recognized this month for their beneficial contributions.

Women's involvement in the wine industry continues to grow. Even in Japan, where Sake production has long been a man's only profession, we are seeing more and more female brew masters. We see women in France controlling important Champagne houses. We see female wine makers in California making highly acclaimed wines.

In the world of wine writing, there are some very prominent women. Even in the world of wine blogging, there are many excellent female writers, with more blogging every day. One of my goals this month will be to try to create a fairly comprehensive list of all the female bloggers out there. I would like to post it near the end of the month, to provide a resource for the wine community. So, if you are a female blogger and would like to be added to the list, please send me a link to your blog. I certainly know many female bloggers but I am sure there are some out there that I don't.

I also hope that other wine bloggers, male and female, consider discussing the role of women in the wine world this month. If you have a favorite female wine maker, why not post about her. If a particular female wine writer appeals to you, tell us about her.

Let us honor those women who have made the wine community a better place.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Red, White And Drunk All Over

"I think many of us have a secret cellar in our minds where we collect our empty bottles filled with memories."
(Natalie MacLean, p.3)

A quote that resonated with me, that made me ponder it and nod in agreement. And also a quote that hooked me on the book that contained it. A book I quickly and ravenously devoured.

Red, White And Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass by Natalie MacLean (Bloomsbury USA 2006) was reprinted last fall in a trade paperback ($14.95). It contains about 304 pages and includes an Introduction, ten chapters, and an Afterword. The book is an interesting, fun, educational and easy read.

I am going to provide snapshots of the various chapters, including numerous interesting quotes, and then summarize my overall thoughts on the book.

The quote at the top of the page is from the Introduction. And it intrigued me sufficiently that I wanted to read further. The Introduction includes a bit of a biography of Natalie, of how she got into wine. Her first good wine was a brunello at an Italian restaurant. She also describes some of her wine education, mentioning how the Internet, including blogs, has made it easier than ever to learn about wine.

She even dares to discuss what is often not discussed, alcohol. Natalie mentions she enjoys the buzz from the alcohol and that much wine writing seems to ignore the alcohol.

"We don't focus on the grape here," he explains. "Pinot Noir is merely a translation of the soil. That grape was first selected thousands of years ago by the Romans because it gives the purest expression of what Burgundy means. Pinot Noir is a sponge: it absorbs the influences of the soil, the weather, and the barrel. The fruit doesn't get in the way of the place."
(Aubert de Villaine, the vintner at Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, p.19)

Chapter One: The Good Earth
What an intriguing way to view Pinot Noir. It definitely is the view of someone who treasures terroir. And maybe such a viewpoint may separate the French region of Burgundy from some other producers of Pinot Noir around the world.

In this chapter, Natalie visits the Burgundy region and speaks with a couple producers, including Aubert de Villaine, the vintner at the famous Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Natalie provides some history of the region as well as information about its wines. There is a discussion of technology and winemaking, as well as biodynamics. A fascinating chapter which kept my interest.

"In fact, zinfandel has been called the world's most misunderstood grape."
(MacLean, p.49)

Chapter Two: Harvesting Dreams
From France we now journey to California to explore Zinfandel, especially the Seghesio Family Vineyards. There is some history of Zinfandel and the Seghesio family. What helped the Zinfandel industry, and hurt it as well, was the creation of White Zinfandel. A 2005 study found that 35% of US wine consumers drink White Zin. So it certainly remains extremely popular. Natalie also discusses how old Zin vines are diminishing and that is raising the cost of good Zin.

"He describes himself as 'a champion of ugly-duckling grapes whose existence is threatened by the dominant chardocentric paradigm."
(MacLean p.58)

Natalie also visits Bonny Doon Vineyards and speaks with its president, Randall Grahm, a rather unique individual. This is a humorous section as Randall is quite the character.

"Champagne may be a celebratory drink, but it's also an intimate ritual that transports you into a private world."
(MacLean, p.93)

Chapter Three: The Merry Widows of Mousse
We now return to France to explore the sparkling world of Champagne, especially how several French widows took control over Champagne houses when their husbands died. "Veuve," such as in Veuve Clicquot means "widow." The chapter discusses much about Champagne, from its history to its making, including how it fits into our culture. There are also some mentions of sparkling wines from other regions. Amidst all the information, there are plenty of interesting anecdotes as well.

"Where Parker sees himself as a crusader on behalf of beleagured consumers, Robinson views her role more as an educator and entertainer."
(MacLean, p.134)

Chapter Four: Purple Prose with a Bite
Natalie now tackles a comparison of two top and very different wine writers, Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson. She gives some background details on both and delineates the differences in their styles and approach to wine. She also discusses the power of Parker's opinions. The discussion extends to wine rating systems in general, including how Natalie eventually decided to provide ratings for her readers.

I was especially struck by Natalie's comments on wine tasting, how context is very important. If you go to a large tasting, have a couple dozen sips of various wines, you are not really tasting the wine as you would normally. For example, you are not savoring the wine with dinner. Thus, the wine may not taste the same with dinner as it did at the large tasting. Makes you think about how large tastings could potentially be improved, maybe by adding complimentary foods to the wines.

As for my fellow wine bloggers, what do you see as your role? Are you more of a crusader like Parker, or more of an educator/entertainer like Robinson? For myself, I would have to say I fall more into the Robinson role.

"It's also a West Coast thing: our customers are willing to experiment with New World Wines, while the East Coast tends to be more Eurocentric."
(Chuck Hayward, owner of The Jug Shop, p.139)

Chapter Five: A Tale of Two Wine Stores
Consider the above quote. How accurate do you think it is? Do East Coast bloggers prefer more European wines? Do West Coast bloggers prefer more New World wines? For myself, I don't think it is the case. I own more California wines than any other region, though I own many Spanish wines as well. I have a more cosmopolitan palate, enjoying wines from all over the world. To me, that is part of the fun, experimenting with wine from all regions.

In this chapter, Natalie explores two wine shops in the San Francisco area, Chuck Hayward of The Jug Shop and Kermit Lynch in Berkeley. There is a discussion on why Australian wines sell so well, including Yellow Tail. Strong branding is one of the reason. It then moves on to why French wines seem to be losing ground to New World wines.

The chapter then moves on to a discussion of corks vs screwcaps as well as Internet wines sales. There is also a visit to Discovery Wines in New York which has video screens where customers can scan wine bottles and bring up information about the wine. She also provides practical advice on buying wine at a wine store. In addition, Natalie raises the point, made in a 2005 New York Times article that women buy 77% of wine and drink 60% of it. That statistic continues to be supported by more current studies, which I have posted about before.

"Although glasses do influence our experience of wine, what matters more to me are people and places."
(Natalie MacLean, p.183)

Chapter Six: A Glass Act
We begin this chapter with George Riedel and his stemware. Riedel actually has planned the wines for his funeral! Natalie does some tests and does conclude that wine glasses affect taste. But from the quote above, you can see her primary interest and I would certainly agree with her. She also mentions "glass snobbery," commenting on how there are over 103 different Riedel glassses which does seem overkill.

"When we share good wine with good friends, we also share what makes us human: sensual pleasure, conversation, and connection."
(Natalie MacLean, p.195)

What a fine quote about one of the primary pleasures of the wine experience. Natalie provides some advice on holding your own home wine tastings as well as a lesson in how to taste wine. She finishes with a discussion on wine language with her hope that such language brings people together in a shared commonality rather than excludes people unfamiliar with the language. Again, a very valid point.

"Generals may lead with the sword and philosophers with the pen, but dinner party hosts lead with their forks."
(Natalie MacLean, p.213)

Chapter Seven: Partners at the Table
We begin here with dinner parties, move on to cooking with wine and then on to decanting. Then, on to Champagne as an apertif including using a sword to open a Champagne bottle. And yes, Natalie succeeded in opening a bottle with a sword. We move on to toasts and finish with some comments on pairing food and wine. This chapter basically touches on all the main components of a dinner party.

"Today in North America, house wines are often the leftovers from the list; cheap and nasty stuff that you can use in a pinch instead of Liquid Drano."
(Natalie MacLean, p.241)

Chapter Eight: Undercover Sommelier
Natalie spent a night at a French restaurant in Quebec working with a sommelier. She then explains about restaurant wine lists, their pricing and how to assess their usual mark-up. There is also a discussion on house wines as well as tipping for your wine. This chapter has some very practical advice as well as interesting ancedotes.

"In his book, he describes drinking pinot as 'performing a sexual act that involves silk sheets, melted dark chocolate and black cherries, while the mingled scent of cinnamon, coffee and cola wafts through the air."
(Natalie Maclean talking about Jay McInernery, p.264)

Chapter Nine: Big City Bacchus
Now wouldn't the language of that quote make you want to run out and get a bottle of Pinot? Miles from Sideways would definitely agree.

Jay McInerney is a famed novelist and also a wine writer for House & Garden magazine. Some of his columns have been collected in a couple books. Natalie spends some time with him discussing wine. Their discussion includes some practical advice on how to start and stock your wine cellar as well as on attending wine auctions. McInerney is a colorful individual with a real flair for writing.

"The guidelines for pairing wine with difficult food are the same as those for traditional, wine-friendly dishes: harmonize your flavors, textures, and weights."
(Natalie MacLean, p.272)

Chapter Ten: Wine Meets Its Toughest Matches
This is not your ordinary food and wine pairing chapter. Instead, Natalie addressed some of the more difficult dishes to pair. These include: 1) Salads and veggies (Natalie consider veggies the most challenging food to match with wine); 2) spicy dishes; 3) take-out & frozen food; 4) cheese; and 5) chocolate. Definitely a practical chapter with lots of great suggestions. Natalie also has an online food matching tool which you can use to get suggested pairing for almost any food.

This short section mentions the challenge of writing this book, Natalie's newsletter (which I recommend you subscribe to) and that Natalie wants to write more books, to cover other wine topics.

I went into more detail on all of the chapters as I very much enjoyed this book. First, Natalie is an excellent writer, and not just as a wine writer. There is poetry in her language, beautiful and lyrical. So many compelling quotes. It was a real pleasure to read. Second, the book is very interesting. Though it educates, it also tells a good story and you never feel like she is lecturing. If you have insomnia, don't try to use this book to go to sleep. Third, she presents a balanced view on some of the more controversial topics such as biodynamics and Robert Parker. Fourth, she is very thorough, covering many different topics in each chapter. I was amazed about all of the matters she addressed in the book. Fifth, she offers much practical and valuable advice throughout the book. That makes it very useful. Sixth, the book makes you think about a variety of subjects. And all good books should make you think.

Who would benefit from this book? Everyone, of all levels of wine knowledge. There was plenty of new information I found in the book. And it would provide fertile ground for wine bloggers as well, plenty of ideas which could lead to new posts. It is easy to understand so even wine novices would enjoy it. It is a smooth read, not at all like a textbook. This is a book you will return to again and again. To review some of her practical advice or to mine the book for discussion ideas.

I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blossom Hill Wines: For Older Women?

What type of wine does a woman, aged 35+, want to buy and drink?

Recent reports indicate that women buy 60-80% of the wine sold in the U.S. And it appears that the U.S. is not alone in this regard. Great Britain also appears to have more women than men purchasing wine. It is only natural then that wineries would specifically market wine toward women.

Blossom Hill winery is located in Paicines, CA in the San Benito Appellation. It is owned by the mega-company, Diageo. The primary markets for Blossom Hill include the United Kingdom, Ireland and Scandanavia. It is one of the top selling wines in the United Kingdom. And Blossom Hill is primarily geared toward women. Some new products and marketing are being directed toward women, especially women aged 35+.

For one, as mentioned in Wine & Spirit, Blossom Hill will soon be available on tap at some British pubs and taverns. They have created a new draught system which ensures the wine is delivered at the proper temperature. Second, they have created 250ml mini-wine bottles, about 1/3 the size of the average wine bottle. It is the rought equivalent of an 8 ounce glass of wine. And now, even their bottling is being marketed specifically to women aged 35+.

Talking Retail, in an article "Blossom Hill Gets 'Radical' New Look," reports that Blossom Hill has redesigned their wine bottles to appeal to older women. Much consumer research and profiling was done prior to the bottle changes. What changes were made? First, take a look at the new bottle in the Talking Retail article. Then, go to the Blossom Hill website to see what the bottle looked like before as they have not changed the bottle look there yet.

The big changes? Originally, the wine label was generally centered on the bottle and was rather plain in appearance. On some of their brands, there were two labels, though both were also rather plain. In the new bottles, the label has been made smaller and dropped down toward the bottom of the bottle. And they added a flower, either yellow, red or blue (or at least those are the colors they seem to be to me).

A flower??? Is that what will interest women aged 35+ to buy wine? Forget the fuzzy animals on the labels and put a flower instead? Viscerally, I think it is insulting to feel that such women would care whether there was a flower on the label or not. It seems to be catering to stereotypes. Yet fuzzy animals do sell a lot of wine so why not a flower? Maybe this is slick marketing.

How would their marketing differ if their target consumers were women aged 21-35? Would they replace the flower and if so, with what?

Somehow I doubt that the female bloggers I know would be swayed by a flower on a label. But are they a different type of consumer than the average woman? A more savvy, wine-knowledgeable consumer?

This all brings new meaning to the phrase "flower power."

Boston Restaurant Week-March

The Winter edition of Boston's Restaurant Week has nearly arrived and local foodies have already begun to make reservations.

The concept behind Restaurant Week is that numerous restaurants offer special, low-cost three-course lunches and dinners. Lunches only cost $20.08 and Dinners cost $33.08. The menus are usually limited but you can get some great meals.

The Winter Restaurant Week, which is actually two weeks, will take place from Sunday, March 9 through Friday, March 14, and Sunday, March 16 through Friday, March 21, 2008. So it is just not available on the Saturdays. Over 170 restaurants will be participating this year, though not all of them offer both lunch and dinner. Some only offer one or the other. That gives you plenty of choices.

Although the majority of participating restaurants are located in Boston and Cambridge, there still are a fair share of restaurants in the suburbs as well. Probably the best resource to find out which restaurants are participating is the Unofficial Guide to Restaurant Week Boston. You will find there a list of all the participating restaurants, as well as many of their special menus. There are also links to make reservations through Open Table. I have used this Guide numerous times in the past for Restaurant Week and have found it to be most helpful.

Check out the restaurant list and find places that you want to visit, maybe a place you have never tried before. Check out their menu, if available, to see what they are offering. Not all menus are the same and some restaurants have better offerings than others. Make your reservations as early as possible as many of the restaurants fill up quickly. This is a great opportunity to try some new restaurants at a very reasonable price.

Maybe you would like to check out Chez Henri, and try some Grilled Venison with Taza Cocoa and Ancho Chile. My favorite new restaurant, L'Andana, is serving both lunch and dinner. I would also recommend Tryst, Tapeo, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, the Elephant Walk, Toro, Sibling Rivalry, Sandrine's Bistro, and Harvest. Though there are plenty of other good restaurants that I have not mentioned as well.

Some of the restaurants even offer special wine deals with the meals. They might offer a few paired wines at a reduced price. Considering the low cost of dinner, adding a little more for wine pairings still makes for a relatively inexpensive evening.

Just check out the guide and find somewhere new to dine. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Le Piane: Farfalle Italian Market-March 1

I just received some info that Christoph Künzli, the winemaker of Le Piane, will also make an appearance at the Farfalle Italian Market in Concord on March 1 from 1-3pm.

I have never been to the Farfalle Italian Market before. Their website states they have free wine tastings on Thursdays and Fridays, from 5-7pm, and all day on Saturdays. It appears that all of their wines are Italian. They also sell a variety of Italian foods, from olive oils to Paninis, from baked goods to cheeses. The website certainly intrigues me and I am definitely going to have to make a trip to the store soon to check it out.

Farfalle Italian Market
26 Concord Crossing
Concord, MA
Phone: 978-369-2900

2006 Dubaril Gamay Romand

Yesterday, I posted my review of the 2006 Jean-Rene Germanier Dole Balavaud, the first of three new Swiss wines I recently purchased at Salem Wine Imports. Today, I move on to the second wine, a Gamay.

The 2006 Cave de La Côte Dubaril Gamay Romand ($13.99) is a Vin de Pays made from Gamay grapes in selected vineyards in Romandie (Western Switzerland) in the cantons of Vaud and Geneva. It has an alcohol content of 12% and a listed aging potential of two years.

Gamay, its full name actually being Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc, is the foundation of French Beaujolais, including the Beaujolais Nouveau. Yet do not judge all Gamay by Beaujolais Nouveau as it can make wines of character and depth. This Dubaril is one such wine.

On the nose, you get cherry and blackpepper smells with a bit of a floral accent. It is a light colored wine, medium bodied and easy drinking. On the palate, you get bright red fruits, cherry, and raspberry, but with hints of black pepper and mineral notes. The tannins are mild and the finish is moderately long. I had this wine with some thin crust cheese pizza and it did pair well with it.

Overall, I enjoyed this wine. It is a simple wine but with character. It has some depth to it though nothing profound. It is just a solid, good wine. A fine everyday wine that would go well with light foods. The price is reasonable, much better than the value of the previously reviewed Dole. A Drink & Buy recommendation.

Le Piane Wine Dinners: Feb 28 & March 3--Updates

As previously mentioned, Adonna Imports has arranged for Christoph Künzli, the winemaker of Le Piane in the Northern Piedmont, to host two upcoming wine dinners. I now have the menus for these events.

The first wine dinner will be held on Thursday, February 28th at 6:30pm at The Blue Room. This will consist of 4 Courses paired with 4 wines, plus a Prosecco reception.
First course: Family style antipasti of salt cod, salumi, anchovy stuffed olives, fig jam, wood- roasted vegetables etc. that will be paired with the 2004 La Maggiorina.
Second course: Rabbit ravioli with chestnuts, sage, brown butter and balsamic paired with the 2004 Colline Novaresi.
Third course: Roasted Vermont whole lamb, rosemary and mustard rubbed with farro, and tuscan kale paired with the 2000 & 2003 Bocas.
Fourth course: Selection of soft and hard cheeses with fruits, nuts, jams and marmalades with Iggy's cranberry-pecan loaf where you will finish up the remaining Bocas.

Cost is $75 (not including tax and tip). Call for reservations or make them online.

The Blue Room
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-494-9034

The second wine dinner will be held on Monday, March 3 at 6:00pm at Il Capriccio. They will have a five course meal paired with 5 wines.
First course: Baccala Mantecato with Moscato d'Asti paired with the 2004 La Maggiorina.
Second course: Beef Carpaccio painted with Pear William and Gorgonzola paired with the 2003 Colline Novaresi.
Third course: Snails with peas and leeks paired with the 2004 Colline Novaresi.
Fourth course: Rabbit ravioli paired with the 2000 Boca.
Fifth course: Braised duck with little onions and porcini paired with the 2001 & 2003 Bocas.
Sixth course: Zabaglione and fruit paired with a 2007 Caliera Moscato d'Asti.

It will cost $95 per person (not including tax and tip). Call for reservations.

Il Capriccio
888 Main St.
Waltham, MA
Phone: (781) 894-2234

I will be attending the dinner at Il Capriccio and the menu certainly appeals to me. I will definitely report back with a review of the dinner. Maybe I will also see you there.

Stoneham Sun: North Shore Winers

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the February 27 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column will be published tomorrow and is currently available online. The new column discusses the North Shore Winers, the wine group that I organized a year ago. The group provides a way for local wine enthusiasts to meet and attend local wine events. Even since I wrote the article, membership has increased by another ten people. So come check out the North Shore Winers.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Dine with passion!

Wine Book Club: Vino Italiano

The first edition of Wine Book Club launches today!

Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 founded the Wine Book Club to give wine bloggers reason to catch up on their reading and to share their insights on the wine books they have read. For our first review, we read Vino Italiano! by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. This book was chosen by David McDuff of McDuff's Food and Wine Trail. Reviews will be posted today on numerous wine blogs as well as Wine Book Club sites on Shelfari and Facebook.

Vino Italiano is a large and comprehensive reference book about Italian wines. At over 500 pages, I am sure that some had difficulty finishing it before today's deadline. Being the voracious reader that I am, I did finish the entire book. Overall, I was very pleased with what I read, though I have a couple reservations about it.

The book is broken down into three main sections. The First section, The Basics, begins with a short history of Italian wine making. It then goes on to explain Italian wine laws as well as how to read an Italian wine label. There is also a map and chart describing the principal grapes of Italy. Finally, there is a brief explanation of why an Italian wine costs more outside of the country.

The Second section, The Regions, is the vastly largest section of the book. It is broken down into chapters on nineteen geographical regions. For each region, there is a basic description of the area, both geographic and cultural. Then there is a description of their different wines, red, white, sparkling and sweet. Next, there is a selection of "fast facts" on the region as well as food and wine pairing suggestions. Finally, a representative recipe is provided.

The Third section, The Data, is a series of Appendices including a glossary of Italian wine terminology, descriptions of Italian grapes, DOC and DOCG zones, wine producers and more.

The book is easy to understand and there are some numerous, interesting anecdotes spread throughout the book. But, it still feels more like a textbook with all of the detailed information it provides. And I don't really think I could retain a fraction of the voluminous information in a single reading. This is a book that works best as a reference tool, something to turn to when you want to know more about a certain Italian wine region, varietal or producer. You probably won't find a more comprehensive reference work on Italian wines.

There is a small issue as well that some of the items in the book may be slightly outdated as it only covers up to 2004. Some of the wines mentioned in the book may not be available now, and some newer producers may not be mentioned in the book. For most of the other general information on Italian wines provided in the book, there should not be a problem. This book would make a great accompaniement to a yearly Italian wine guide.

I have long been a fan of Italian wines and have found some true gems through Adonna Imports, which imports numerous Italian wines from small producers. I will be attending an Italian wine tasting this Friday which has been set up by Adonna Imports at Salem Wine Imports. Christoph Künzli, the winemaker of Le Piane in the Northern Piedmont, will be there to showcase his wines. Christoph's vineyard is located in the Novara region of Piedmont in the Boca DOC. Christoph Künzli will also be present at two upcoming wine dinners. They will held on February 28th at The Blue Room in Cambridge and March 3rd at Il Capriccio in Waltham. I will be attending the dinner at Il Capriccio.

A couple weeks ago, I tasted his 2004 Le Piane La Maggiorina ($12.99), from the Colline Novaresi Rosso DOC from Boca. The wine is made from three unusual Italian grapes and one common one, including Croatina, Vepsolina, Uva Rara and Nebbiolo. Vino Italiano helped to provide some more information about those grapes as well as the DOC. I really knew little about either so Vino Italiano helped educate me on those matters.

I loved the lush berry flavors of the wine as it just burst with bright fruit. There was some acidity and it did pucker my mouth a little bit. It would be a great food wine, from pizza to veal parmigiana. And at the price, it is an excellent value for an everyday wine. Now I look forward to trying more Le Piane wines.

I will also return to Vino Italiano to read more about the Piedmont section in preparation for meeting Christoph. Maybe I can then devise some interesting questions for him at the upcoming tasting or wine dinner. I am sure I will return time and time again to Vino Italiano when I find a new Italian wine.

Now I look forward to reading the next book for Wine Book Club!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pleaides XVI: Coming Soon

I am very excited as Sean Thackrey's Pleaides XVI has just been released. Sean Thackrey's Pleaides has long been one of my favorite wines. You can check out my prior post on Sean Thackrey to learn more about the wine maker and his unique wines.

I ordered a case of the Pleaides XVI from Jill at Domaine547 and if you want some as well then I suggest you order some soon as the wines are low production, usually very popular and will likely sell out fairly quickly.

I now will have bottles from the last five productions of Pleaides, from XII to XVI. So I would like to do a vertical tasting of them. A vertical tasting is when you drink several different vintages of one wine. The vintages do not have to be consecutive though they can be. There is also no set amount of wines that you have to taste. I chose five just because I thought it would be a good number for the a vertical tasting.

You can start the tasting with either the oldest or newest wines. Though it may make more sense to start with the older wines as they may be more subtle than the newer wines. If you start with the bigger and bolder newer wines, then it might overwhelm your palate so that you could miss the more subtle touches of the older wines. I think I might start with my oldest Pleaides, the XII.

I have to consider as well who to invite to the vertical tasting. Which of my friends would appreciate such a tasting? I could not drink five bottles of wine on my own and it certainly would be far more fun to share the wine with some good friends. Wine shared is often better than wine drank alone. Yet how many people do I invite? What is the optimum number so that each person gets to have a decent portion of wine? Five people, considering one bottle per person?

Then of course we should have some food with the wines, something to complement them. Do I have a multi-course meal or just varied appetizers? It might be easier just to have appetizers as it would be more work to plan a multi-course meal that paired well with the wine.

There are many details to consider. And maybe some I have not even considered. So, has anyone else held a vertical tasting before? Any tips?

2006 Jean-Rene Germanier Dole Balavaud

Have you ever tasted a Swiss wine? They are certainly not easy to find locally and, in fact, Switzerland only exports about 2% of their wines. So when I found three different Swiss wines at a new wine store, Salem Wine Imports, I had to buy one of each to try them.

Switzerland has the highest vines in Europe. Most of their wine is produced in the western cantons and Valais is their most productive one. The Swiss produce far more red wine than white as they consume almost twice as much red as white. The most planted white grape is Chasselas, and one of the wines I bought is made from that grape. Pinot Noir, also known as Blauburgunder and Clevener, is probably the most planted red grape though Switzerland also has numerous indigenous grapes such as Amigne, Reze, Cornalin, and Bondola. I had never heard of those grapes before.

So, I begin my explorations of Swiss wine with a red, one that possesses mostly Pinot Noir. The 2006 Jean-Rene Germanier Dole Balavaud ($24.99) is from the Valais AOC and has an alcohol content of 13%. The Balavaud vineyard was begun in 1896 by Urbain Germanier. It is located at the heart of the Swiss Rhône valley called Valais. Interestingly, Dole is the Swiss name for a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay where the Pinot must dominate.

I found this wine to be very light red in color. It had a nose of cherries and strawberries and that came through on the palate as well. It was a medium-bodied wine, smooth and easy drinking. The finish was long. It was an intriguing wine as it did not taste like a Pinot or a Gamay. It had its own unique identity and the two grapes seemed to pair quite well. I definitely enjoyed this wine, though it might be a bit pricey. Though I have read that Swiss wines are generally more expensive than comparable wines in other countries. Maybe it just did not seem complex enough to justify its price. Though it certainly is a wine that work please many people.

Tonight maybe I will open the Swiss Gamay.

Ratatouille Wins an Oscar!

A rat who wants to be a Chef won gold!

There was great news out of the Oscars last night as Ratatouille, my favorite food movie of the past year, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film. The other nominees had been Persepolis and Surf's Up.

If you have not seen Ratatouille, I definitely recommend that you go buy the DVD. It is a movie that will appeal to all, adults and children.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Rise of Cachaça

A mighty wave of Brazilian Cachaça is hitting the shores of the U.S. Long mainly just a drink of Brazil, Cachaça is making inroads in other countries, including the U.S.

I have talked about Cachaça before, including about one of my favorites, Beija Cachaça. Well Cachaca has now hit the pages of Business Week. There is an interesting article, The Next Tequila, that talks about the growing popularity of Cachaça.

Germany currently imports the most amount of Cachaça from Brazil but it is catching on in the U.S. In 2006, over 65,000 nine-liter cases of Cachaça were sold in the U.S., a 63% increase from 2005. This is still a mere pittance when compared to something like Tequila, where the U.S. imported over 9 million cases.

If you want to be in on the cutting edge of alcohol and spirits, then maybe you should try some Cachaça. And if you are local, seek out Beija, which is perfect just on the rocks or in a cocktail.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

WBW #43: Comfort Wines

The theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday #43 has now been announced. Joel Vincent of Wine Life Today and the Open Wine Consortium is hosting this month and has chosen an interesting theme. You must review a Comfort Wines. Simply choose any wine that you love to unwind with, something that soothes you at the end of a long day. Not only describe the wine but also tell everyone what makes the experience special and comforting for you.

I believe you will post your review on Wednesday, March 5 (I corrected the date). Please email Joel with a link to your review. If you don't have a blog, email him your tasting notes and he will be happy to publish them on his site and include it in the Round-Up.

This will certainly be a fun theme and one I look forward to. Won't you participate as well?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Christoph Kunzli, Wine Maker of Le Piane: Salem

As previously mentioned, Adonna Imports has arranged for Christoph Künzli, the winemaker of Le Piane in the Northern Piedmont, to host two upcoming wine dinners. They will be on February 28th at The Blue Room and March 3rd at Il Capriccio. If you cannot attend either of these two dinners, you now have another chance to meet Christoph Künzli.

Mr. Künzli will also be making an appeareance at Salem Wine Imports on February 29 at 6:30pm. Eric of Salem Wine Imports states: "In the early 90's Christoph bought a very small vineyard in the Novara region of NE Piedmont in Boca. Realizing the great possibilities for winemaking in this historic area he has cleared and planted land until he had enough to commercially bottle his distinct style. We are the beneficiaries of his vision and skill. Mostly Nebbiolo with Vespolino and the native Bonarda added for complexity, they are big wines with a silky elegance. Not to be missed."

I recently tasted the 2004 Le Piane La Maggiorina and was impressed. It was an excellent value wine so I definitely would like to meet the wine maker and taste his higher end wines. I will likely be attending this event so maybe I will see you there. It should be a good time.

Salem Wine Imports
32 Church Street
Salem, MA
Phone: 978-741-9463

Wine Book Club: Next Week!

I want to remind everyone that next Tuesday is the first review time for Wine Book Club. As mentioned before, Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 founded the Wine Book Club to give wine bloggers to reason to catch up on their reading and to share their insights on the wine books they have read.

Our first book is Vino Italiano! by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. This book was chosen by David McDuff of McDuff's Food and Wine Trail. This Tuesday, everyone who has read the book is supposed to post a review and reactions to the book, either on their own blog, as a comment on David's blog, or on the Wine Book Club sites on Shelfari or Facebook.

If you are stumped about what to write, you can ponder some questions that David put forth concerning the book. These should provide a starting ground for anyone to think about the book.

I will be participating in this event and hope that many others will get involved as well. I am looking forward to reading all of the other reviews and reactions.

2006 Agnusdei Albarino

One of my favorite white wines is Spanish Albarino. I find them to have a distinctive character, a crisp liveliness that I find missing in some other white wines. So, while at the Boston Wine Expo, I was pleased to stumble upon one while perusing the Portuguese wines. Though I was in the Portuguese section, this was still a Spanish Albarino.

The 2006 Agnusdei Albarino ($16) is from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. Bodegas Agnusdei-Terra Firme is the heart of the Salnes Valley. It is a relatively new Bodega, having begun only in 2005. This wine was a light yellow in color with a strong nose of lush citrus fruits. On the palate, those citrus flavors filled my mouth, a complex melange of tasteswith a hint of floral notes. It was crisp and smooth and had a decently long finish. An excellent example of Spanish Albarino and a wine I heartily recommend.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Poll Results: Drinks With Dinner

My latest poll has now ended. The poll question was: Which Drink Do You Most Often Have With Dinner? The possible answers included: Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Non-Alcoholic Drinks.

The #1 answer, with 19 of the 25 total votes, was Wine. Beer and Non-Alcoholic Drinks tied at second with 3 votes each. The results were not that surprising but it was the comments that were more interesting.

It seems that a number of wine-lovers may not have adopted a wine-culture mentality whereby wine accompanies nearly every meal. When they drink wine, it may be usually with a meal. But that accompaniement is not every day, and may be half or less of the time. Thus, in that regard, we still have a way to go in becoming more of a wine culture. Wine is still not an integral, every-day component of our lives.

So, why is this the case? Why don't we drink wine with nearly every meal? Are we still viewing wine as something special, and not just a normal component of our meals? Are we worried about the effects of drinking wine every day? Are we working toward that goal but just have not gotten there yet? Does U.S. culture still frown too much on daily wine drinking?

For me, I have found myself drinking wine with more and more of my dinners, yet it is still not every day. Though it is improving. It is a significant change and such can take time. I know most of my local wine buddies still rarely drink wine with dinner. I think it is a cultural barrier that takes time to erode, to feel more normal. It takes effort and perseverance.

I think the advantages of having a better wine culture in the U.S. should be fairly obvious. I doubt many wine lovers would disagree that the U.S. could benefit from becoming more European in their outlook on wine. Yet it is also obvious that we have far to go.

So how can we promote more of a wine culture in the U.S., especially when many of us do not drink wine every day with our meals? Or can we promote a wine culture without drinking wine each day? Wine consumption in the U.S. continues to rise each year yet we are still a long way from becoming a wine culture. Is it even possible though for the U.S. to become a wine culture?

Obviously the more wine bloggers promote wine, the more that is written about wine, helps promote a better wine culture. It helps to normalize wine, to make it more accessible to all. Yet I think getting people to taste wine may be one of the most important aspects.

Stoneham Sun: Lunch Options

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the February 20 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

The new column will be published tomorrow and is currently available online. The new column provides three lunch recommendations, including Capital Grille, L'Andana and Bamboo. The first two choices are a great way to check out a pricier restaurant in a less expensive way. And Bamboo provides an excellent and inexpensive Asian buffet.

If you have any questions or comments about my column, feel free to add them here.

Dine with passion!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Long Island Wines: Some Reviews

One of my other major stops during the Boston Wine Expo was to the New York Wines section, primarily Long Island wines. Despite the closeness of Massachusetts to New York, you still don't see many New York wines available in the local wine stores. So I wanted to give them a try, to see if I could find any gems.

Though I tried Long Island wines from several different producers, about nine wines in all, none of them truly impressed me. I found some good wines but nothing exceptional. I only tried a tiny fraction of New York wines so that is certainly not indicative of the general state of their wines. I am sure there are impressive wines produced there. They just were not the ones I tasted.

I was pleased to note though that nearly all of the wines I did try were only around 13% alcohol content. It does not seem that they have followed California's lead in producing the higher 15-16% alcohol content wines. I was not pleased that several of the wines seemed overpriced. Though some of the wines were good, they were just not good enough for the price they were asking.

Of the wines I tasted, I found those from Bedell Cellars were generally the best. Bedell Cellars is located on the North Fork of Long Island. It has a state-of-the-art winery which has custom designed open-top fermenting tanks and a gravity-driven regime to minimize pumping and filtering.

I first tried their 2006 Bedell Cellars Estate Merlot, which had just been a bottled a few weeks before. This wine is made from 100% Merlot and was aged six months in French oak, about 33% new. It has an alcohol content of 13% and only 1900 cases were produced. I found this wine to be a bit tight and I think it needs either time to breathe or maybe a bit more cellaring. I did taste some good fruit and it certainly has potential but I don't think it was showing its best yet. I certainly would like to try this wine again in a few months.

I moved on to the 2006 Bedell Cellars Taste Red ($35). This is a blend of 62% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah and 9% Cabernet Franc. I note that the 2006 vintage has more Merlot than the 2005. The wine was aged 15 months in French oak, 50% new, and has an alcohol content of 13%. Only 631 cases were produced and it is not due out until March 1. I enjoyed this wine and found it to have nice dark berry and plum flavors mixed with plenty of spice and a bit of vanilla. I think this wine will improve with age though it is clear this will be a very good wine.

I finished up with the 2005 Bedell Cellars Musee ($65), their elite wine. This is blend of 78% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. It spent 15 months in French oak, 50% new, and has an alcohol content of 12.9%. 962 six-bottles cases were produced. This was another wine that I enjoyed. It is dark red in color with bright fruit on the palate and a complex structure. There is an interesting collection of flavors that come out, from cococa to vanilla, from spice to currant. It seemed a bit tannic though and needs time to breathe or cellar. I am not sure that this wine though warrants the high price. It was not exceptional enough for me to consider buying it at its price.

Pellegrini Vineyards are also located on the North Fork of Long Island. I tried two of their wines, one which I liked and the other which was ok but probably not something I would buy.

The 2002 Pellegrini Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($20) is made from 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot. It spent eighteen months in French oak and has an alcohol content of 13.3%. Only 814 cases were produced. I found this to be a rather ordinary Cabernet, even a bit tart, and nothing special.

I was more pleased with their 2001 Pellegrini Vineyards Merlot ($20) which is made from 98% Merlot and 2% Petit Verdot. It spent eighteen months in French oak and has an alcohol content of 13.8%. Only 2396 cases were produced. This wine was light red in color yet was a big wine, full bodied with dark berry flavors and a good structure. It had a decently long finish and was a good example of Merlot. A good wine that is worth the price.

I was very disappointed with the 2004 Castello Di Borghese Estate Pinot Noir ($27.99). Though the winery feels this was an excellent vintage, the wine did not impress me in the least. It seemed to me a generic Pinot with a short finish. I would not have bought this at half the price.

The 2004 Waters Crest Winery Private Reserve Merlot ($34.99) was a nice Merlot but I did not find it to be that complex. It had good fruit and a balanced structure but it was not good enough to me to justify its price. I might have paid $20 for this wine but no more than that.

I also tried two wines from Martha Clara Vineyards, which is owned by Robert Entenmann of Entenmann Bakery fame. I tried their 2005 Martha Clara Five-O Red Blend (about $23) and the 2004 Martha Clara Estate Reserve Syrah (about $27). The Five-O is a blend of primarily Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. It was an interesting wine but ended harshly on the finish. Maybe it needs breathing or cellaring. The enjoyed the Syrah more as it seemed better balanced and had vibrant berry flavors. But, I think it is a bit overpriced.

Overall, I was disappointed that none of the wines impressed me but pleased enough that I had found some good wines.

For more more detailed information and many additional reviews on Long Island Wines, you should check out Lenn Thompson's Lenndevours wine blog which concentrates on Long Island wines.

South African Wines: Confluence Wine Importers

On my tour of the South African section of the Boston Wine Expo I also stopped at the table of the wines of Confluence Wine Importers. Confluence specializes in South African wines and represents about seven different producers. I tasted wines from several of those producers.

Allee Bleue is a relatively new producer, its first harvest having been in 2006. It has a female wine maker, Gerda Willers. They produce both whites and reds, most selling for under $20. I tasted thir top wine, the 2005 Allee Bleue L'Amour Toujours ($30). This is a Bordeaux style blend of 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, 18% Shiraz and 12% Grenache. It was aged in French oakd, 60% new. It has an alcohol content of 15.19%.

I found this wine to have a barnyard nose though that did not follow through on its taste. It is a full bodied wine with bold spice notes, chocolate and dark berries. It had a decently long finish. I think this wine might benefit from a bit of cellaring. It seemed a bit rough to me, and maybe just some decanting would have helped it smooth out.

Le Riche makes primarily red wines in a classical French style but with a South African twist. The wine maker, Etienne Le Riche used to worked at the famed Rustenberg until creating his own label in 1996. The winery is located in the Jonkershoek Valley, just outside Stellenbosch. I tasted the 2002 Le Riche Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). This wine is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and spends eighteen months in French oak. I should note they also make a Reserve Cabernet ($45).

This wine had a rich red color and a nose of fresh cherry with a bit of spice. On the palate, the cherry flavors meshed well with the subtle spice. It had a good structure, some complexity and a lingering finish. Definitely a more Old World style Cabernet. It was impressed with this Cabernet, especially at its price point and definitely would recommend it.

Slaley produces wines under two labels, Slaley and Broken Stone. The Slaley wines are more classical in style, made to age. The Broken Stones wines are more New World style, ready to drink now. Marius Malan is the wine maker at Slaley. They produce both red and white wines. I tasted their 2003 Slaley Pinotage ($30-35). This is a 100% Pinotage from the Stellenbosch region. The vines are about 48 years old. It has an alcohol content of 14.5% and spent about 13 months in wood (90% new oak), 40% American oak. This is a wine that is meant to be cellared for about eight years. It is not really intended to be drank now.

The wine is fairly dark red in color and is very tight on the palate. It is obviously a big wine with elements of cocoa, plum, vanilla, dark berries, and spice. It also has a very long finish. I liked this wine and it definitely has much potential. I would be very interested taste this in several years to see how it developed. If you like Pinotage, it would be worth buying this wine to cellar it for a time.

Stony Brook Vineyards is a small family winery in Franschhoek. They focus on red wines, especially of Rhone and Bordeaux varietals. I tasted the 2004 Stony Brook Camissa ($16), a blend of 48% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Shiraz. It is aged in French and American oak for about a year. This was a big and bold wine with good black cherry and plum flavors with some spicy notes and vanilla hints. A lot of flavor making this a good value wine.

Some more good wines from South Africa. I hope that we see more South African wines in local wine stores and I recommend you give them a try.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

OurGlass Grand Tasting: A Review

OurGlass Wine Co. held a Winter Grand Tasting yesterday with over 50 wines and some beers as well. They showcased some of their best wines of 2007. I led a group of 35+ members of the North Shore Winers to this tasting. It was certainly a popular event and there were plenty of good value wines present.

One of the most popular items was actually not even a wine. It was St. Germain ($36), a liquer made from elderflowers that are handpicked in the French Alps. Each bottle is individually numbered, including the vintage year. I think the store sold out of all their St. Germain. You can drink this liquer straight or mix it in a cocktail.

I first tasted it straight. It had a clean taste, with exotic fruit flavors that were too elusive to pinpoint. It was both familiar and unique. It is sweet but not cloyingly so. An intriguing and very good flavor. It would be a nice drink with dessert. I also had the St. Germain cocktail, which was made with St. Germain, Sparkling Wine and Soda Water. They used an Italian Prosecco but any Sparkling Wine would do, from Champagne to a Cava. The sweetness largely vanished. It became a mild, refreshing drink with citrus notes as well as some more exotic fruits. Definitely would be an excellent summer drink. You can find even more cocktail recipes on their website.

I was also impressed with the 2006 Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec ($11.99) from Tupugunto Valley in the Mendoza region of Argentina. Jean Bousquet is a Frenchman who moved to Argentina where he decided to start his own winery. His wines are organic. This Malbec is grown at an altitude of about 1200 meters and has an alcohol content of 13.8%.

This was a dark colored wine that bursted with flavor, lots of spice and dark berries. It is certainly a more muscular wine, an inexpensive powerhouse yet with intriguing complexity for a wine of this price point. It had a decently long finish and certainly made itself noticed. An excellent value wine and one I definitely recommend.

Another standout wine was actually a mistake. Adonna Imports was supposed to present the 2005 Mandino Cane Dolceacqua "Arcagna" ($25.99) but a case of the "Vigneto Morghe" was sent instead. The Vigneto Morghe is a higher quality wine. This wine comes from the Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC in Liguria. The winemaker, Mandino Cane, is in his 70s and his vineyards are located on a mountain. The wine is all organic and is made from the Rossese grape which generally makes savory, woodsy red wines. It has an alcohol content of 13.5%. The Superiore must be aged for at least one year.

This was a very light colored wine and had very subtle tastes of cherry, strawberry and raspberry. There was a hint of spice as well, blended well with the fruit flavors. There was even a floral hint too. It was certainly smooth and easy drinking but benefited from pondering over its intriguing complexity. An Old World style wine that would pair well with food, though nothing too overpowering as it is a more delicate red wine. I made sure to buy a few bottles and would recommend you buy some too if you can find it.

Overall, this was another excellent tasting at OurGlass. You definitely should attend their next Grand Tasting as well as drop by anytime to check out their wines.

OurGlass Wine Co.
124 Broadway (Rt.1 N)
Saugus, MA
Phone: 781-941-8068

Saké Sunday: New Converts

Welcome to Saké Sunday!

During the last few weeks, I have been very glad to see a few wine bloggers who have tried and enjoyed some chilled Sake. Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 tried her first chilled Saké and loved it. Jill of Domaine547 tried around 16 different Sakés and may begin selling some from her online store. Carol of Pour More enjoyed a Nigori and posted a review of it.

I am glad that all three experiences were positive. I hope that others will try some chilled Saké as well. I truly believe that if you try a few chilled Sakés you will find that you enjoy them. They can be quite flavorful, complex and nothing like that hot Saké that you might have once had at an Asian restaurant.

It is interesting, though maybe just coincidental, that all three bloggers who tried chilled Saké recently were women. I don't see Saké as a drink that should appeal to any specific gender. It should appeal to all equally. Or do others see it differently? Are there men or women who see Saké as a more feminine drink? Or a more masculine drink?

Could this reflect the general perception that women tend more to be white wine drinkers and men more red wine drinkers? Is Saké perceived as similar to a white wine, and thus more apt for a woman?

Personally, I know more men than women that drink chilled Saké. And none of them have ever indicated that they see Saké as being feminine. So maybe it is just coincidence that three female bloggers chose to try some Saké.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Chez Henri

This past week, I ended up visiting a couple restaurants that have been around for a time but that I just had not visited before. Both places have received accolades so I was excited to visit them. I previously discussed my pleasant experiences at Harvest and now I want to expound upon my dinner at Chez Henri. Another impressive dining experience.

Chef Paul O'Connell opened Chez Henri, a French restaurant with a Latin twist, in 1994. Chef O'Connell previously worked with several of Boston's top chefs, including Lydia Shire at the Parker House Hotel, Jasper White at Restaurant Jasper, Chris Schlesinger at the East Coast Grill and with Todd English as opening sous chef at Olives in Charlestown. Paul is also committed to many charities such as Greater Boston Food Bank, Taste of the NFL, The Farm School and the Super Hunger Brunch. Chez Henri has an excellent reputation and has received numerous awards.

This past Tuesday, I attended a press tasting at Chez Henri. It is easy to find Chez Henri, located just off Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard and Porter Squares. Though on street parking is a little more difficult to find. I was lucky enough though to find a space quite close by.

As I was a bit early, I sat at the bar and had a drink. The bar area is small, with about ten seats at the bar and a few small tables, but supposed to be very popular and there is a specific bar menu. On the bar menu, the Pressed Cuban Sandwich is famed throughout the city. The bar would be very busy later that evening. Certainly seems a great spot to grab a drink and a quick bite.

They have a full bar with a list of specialty cocktails, all about $7 each. This is probably $2-3 cheaper than you would find in many other Boston restaurants. I tried a Shiver, which is made of Campari, Grapefruit and Eau De Vie of Douglas Fir. Clear Creek Distillery in Oregon created Eau De Vie of Douglas Fir, an infusion of the springtime buds of Douglas fir into clear brandy which is then re-distilled and re-infused with more buds. Finally it is strained and bottled. I had never had it before so wanted to try it. The Shiver was certainly a unique drink, with some bitterness and a definite taste of woodsy pine. I enjoyed it though it is probably not the type of drink you could have all evening. It is more an interesting diversion, something to break up the usual cocktail monotony. Give it a try and see what you think.

When the time arrived, we were seated in the small dining room by the windows looking out onto the street. The dining room presents an intimate bistro feel with subdued red lights, funky glass light shades and intriguing artwork. I learned that Chef O'Connell's wife created all of the artwork in the restaurant. It is not a pretentious place by any means. It has a neighborhood feel, a casual place where you will feel comfortable.

While waiting for our food to arrive, we received a large bread basket with big slices of a rustic loaf. We then received a procession of appetizers, some served family style, so that we could taste several different items. Appetizers run $11-15, except for the Foie Gras at $19. Their Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras with a Petite Sweet Plantain, Belgian Waffle and Pink Peppercorn Maple Syrup certainly sounds enticing.

Our first appetizer was Scallop Ceviche with Passion Fruit, very thinly sliced pieces of scallops with a citrus flavor and small pieces of passion fruit. I am a big fan of Ceviche and very much enjoyed this dish. It was simply made, letting the fresh scallops dominate and the citrus complementing rather than overwhelming. A very promising start to our dinner.

Next, we received a plate of Foraged Mushroom Truffle Risotto. Almost seemed like they were reading my mind and hitting on some of my favorites as I am also a big fan of Risotto. This was certainly an excellent example of Risotto, creamy with just the right amount of substance to the Risotto. Though I am not a big mushroom fan, that did not stop me from finishing this savory dish. The Risotto had a nice smoky and earthy taste to it and everyone else seemed to enjoy it very much as well.

We then moved onto a couple of appetizers from their bar menu. First up was the Cuban Style Chicken Empanadas, a small flaky pastry filled with chicken and spices. It came with a type of salsa for dipping. This was a good empanada with a tasty filling. Next were the Shrimp Fritters with Guava Barbecue and Chipotle Aioli. This reminded me of a puffy donut hole. These were very good, light with a more subtle shrimp flavor. It would have been quite easy to sit at the bar and pop a whole bunch of these into my mouth. Lastly, we had a Grilled Shrimp atop Toasted Garlic, Smoked Tomato & Jalepeno. This was ok but nothing special.

We were able to choose our own entree which was not an easy decision. Tuna au Poivre, Trio of Duck, Wood Grilled Sirloin. Seared Sea Scallops. There were only about eight choices on the menu but at least half of them interested me. Entrees run about $25-30.

In the end, I chose the Seared Sea Scallops with Poblano Braised Oxtail, Sofrito, Coconut Polenta Cake, and Hearts of Palm Salad ($29). I received four very large Scallops, seared just right, atop quite a large portion of braised oxtail. The Polenta was in the middle of the plate, topped by the salad. The Scallops were tender and tasty. There were large pieces of oxtail, and not just thin shreds of meat. It was also very tender and flavorful. Some of the best oxtail I can remembering having. The Polenta impressed me as well, especially as I love coconut. The coconut flavor was mild but definitely noticeable and made an excellent Polenta. This entree was delicious and I would definitely recommend it.

Some of the others with me ordered the Wood Grilled Sirloin with Horseradish Frites, the Trio of Duck (Seared Breast, Crispy Liver and Confit), the Layered Crepes (a vegetarian option), and the Red Snapper. Everyone seemed to very much enjoy their meals. All of the dishes were well presented and the food was plentiful. The Trio of Duck especially looked enticing to me.

During dinner, we were served three different wines, one white and two reds. Their wine list has an interesting diversity, more than just the French wines you might expect. Their wines include those from Spain, Italy, South Africa, New Zealand, California, and Austria. There are a fair share of wines in the $30-40 range.

We began with a 2006 Hopler Gruner Veltliner from Austria ($40). A light yellow wine with mild citrus notes. Crisp and smooth. It went well with the Ceviche. We next moved on to what I think was a Pinot Noir, though I never saw the bottle. It was good, a fruity wine with some character. Later, we moved on to the 2003 Monte Negro, Ribera Del Duero, Spain ($32). This Tempranillo based wine had spice, smoke and dark fruits. It actually paired well with my oxtail. I like Spanish wines very much and this was a good example of such.

For dessert, we received several different ones, family style, to taste and savor. They included a Spiced Mexican Chocolate Torte, Caramel Apple Napolean, Tangerine Flan, Black Forest Cake and a Passion Fruit Tart. Desserts cost $8 each.

My favorite of the desserts was the Caramel Apple Napolean with Phyllo Crisps, Caramel Parfait and Cider Poached Apples. Just the right combination of flavors and textures. Creamy, crunchy with the delicious flavors of apple and caramel, a great combination. The Chocolate Torte and Cake were also quite tasty with their own intriguing flavor combinations. Everything was certainly fresh and the combination of ingredients in each dessert just worked well together. The Passion Fruit Tart was tasty, a nice interplay of tropical fruit tastes including some coconut. The Tangerine Flan was ok, though it did not stand out to me.

Service, as expected, was excellent. I did take some time to check out the other tables though and service appeared to be good all around too. Servers were courteous and not overbearing. Prices are generally reasonable for the quantity and quality of the food. And if you are more on a budget, you can always just eat off the bar menu. The cuisine is creative, very tasty and an interesting fusion of French and Latin flavors.

Overall, this was an impressive dining experience. I understand now all the good press that the restaurant receives and those accolades are well deserved. I will definitely return there soon to try some of their other dishes and I heartily recommend this place to everyone.

I should also mention that Chez Henri will be participating in Boston's Winter Restaurant Week, March 9-14 and March 16-21, 2008. They will have a three course Prix Fixe menu for $33.08. Make reservations early. It would be a good time to check them out.

Chez Henri
One Shepard Street
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-354-8980

Chez Henri in Cambridge

Friday, February 15, 2008

Le Piane Wine Dinners: Feb 28 & March 3

Adonna Imports has arranged for Christoph Künzli, the winemaker of Le Piane in the Northern Piedmont, to host two upcoming wine dinners. I recently tasted his 2004 Le Piane La Maggiorina and was impressed. It was an excellent value wine so I definitely would like to taste his higher end wines.

The first wine dinner will be held on Thursday, February 28th at 6:30pm at The Blue Room. They will highlight 4 of his award winning wines including the Boca 2000 and Boca 2003, 2004 Le Piane Colline Novaresi and the 2004 Le Piane Maggiorina. There will be 4 Courses paired with their 4 wines and it will cost $75 per person (not including tax and tip). Call for reservations or make them online.

The Blue Room
One Kendall Square
Cambridge, MA
Phone: 617-494-9034

The second wine dinner will be held on Monday, March 3 at 6:00pm at Il Capriccio. They will have a five course meal paired with 5 of his award winning wines including the Boca 2000, Boca 2001, Boca 2003, 2004 Le Piane Colline Novaresi and the 2004 Le Piane Maggiorina. It will cost $95 per person (not including tax and tip). Call for reservations.

Il Capriccio
888 Main St.
Waltham, MA
Phone: (781) 894-2234

Azienda Agricola Tasting: Feb. 28

The Lower Falls Wine Co. is having another special wine tasting on Thursday, February 28, from 5-6:30p.m. Andrea Sottimano, owner and winemaker of Azienda Agricola, will be appearing for a tasting of his 2004 Barbarescos. This small estate is a rising star of the Piedmont and this is an amazing opportunity for a side by side comparison of different crus.

Lower Falls Wine Co.
2366 Washington Street (Rt. 16)
Newton Lower Falls, MA
Phone: (617) 332-3000

Salem Wine Imports: Upcoming Events

Salem Wine Imports will hold their next wine tasting on Tuesday, February 19th at 6:30pm. They will be opening some wines from Austria, Greece and Switzerland. It is always good to try more different wines from less common countries. There will be Zwiegelt & Gruner from Austria, Agiorgitiko & Moschofilero from Greece, and Dole Balavaud & Dubaril Switzerland. Plus a mystery wine.

Salem Wine Imports is also starting to hold some wine classes every other Thursday from 7-9pm. Classes will cost $15-20, dependent on the cost of the wines being tasted. If you are interested, give Eric a call. He is planning on a class on February 28th on "Cabernets of the World," their similarities and differences.

Salem Wine Imports
32 Church Street
Salem, MA
Phone: 978-741-9463

WBW #42: Italian Wine in 7 Words--The Round-Up

Andrew over at Spittoon has now posted the summary of all the entries for the 42nd edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday. As I mentioned before, the theme was that you must review an Italian wine, of any type, but only use Seven Words.

There were over 50 entries and there certainly were many inventive and creative entries. You can find my own entry here. It was lots of fun and a definite challenge to try to describe a wine in only seven words. I am not sure how effective seven words can be to capture all of the aspects of a wine, but seven words can create a strong image of the general nature of that wine.

And now time to look forward to the announcement of Wine Blogging Wednesday #43!

Harvest: Valentine's Day

There are just so many restaurants out there that it seems impossible to visit them all. So sometimes you might not visit a restaurant, despite the fact that it has been around for many years. That was the case for me with Harvest, a Harvard Square restaurant that has been around for over thirty years. I had never been there before until last evening, for a Valentine's celebration.

Harvest has undergone changes over the years, including recently. They have a new chef, Mary Dumont, who was named a Best New Chef of 2006 by Food & Wine. Some of the past Chefs who have worked here include Lydia Shire, Chris Schlesinger, and Barbara Lynch. Harvest serves contemporary American cuisine, relying often on fresh, seasonal and local ingredients.

At a last minute, we made reservations at Harvest for four people for their Valentine's Day dinner. The other couple had been to Harvest numerous times people and recommended it.

Harvest had a Valentine's Day special, a Choice of Appetizer, Entrée and Dessert for $70 (excluding tax/tip). You could also get wine pairings, either a Half Glass Pairing ($85) or a Full Glass ($95). There were about five choices for each of the three courses. It was probably a bit pricey for the three-course dinner but then it was Valentine's Day and you do expect such inflated prices at many places. I would estimate that a normal three course meal here would run closer to $50.

We did not get wine pairings but I instead ordered a couple bottles of wine. They have a fairly lengthy and interesting wine list though there are few bottles below the $40-50 range. I ordered the 2005 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir, South Africa $64, which is roughly twice the retail price. This is one of my favorite wines though, an intriguing smoky Pinot that will surprise you. Unfortunately, they only had the one bottle so I had to order something different later on during dinner. So I chose a French Burgundy, in the same price range, though the exact name escapes me and it is not listed online on their website. This was a nice wine as well, much more subtle than the Hamilton Russell.

We received a bread basket before our meal arrived containing a variety of different breads, from cornbread to baguette slices. Some of the breads were even a bit warm. A very nice selection of fresh bread and I ate several pieces. Everyone else enjoyed the bread as well.

For an appetizer I chose the Sweetbread Ravioli with parslied carrots, Napa Cabbage, and garlic foam. This dish had three plump ravioli, with tender bits of sweetbreads, in a savory and light gravy, almost like a broth. The carrots were cooked just right too. An intriguing dish which I found very tasty. Two of the others tried the Ahi Tuna Tartare with Moroccan spices, lemon confit, and elephant garlic. This consisted of three small piles of tuna tartare with crisp toast and an intriguing oil. They both very much enjoyed this dish. And my wife had the Maine Lobster Salad with hearts of Palm, winter citrus & champagne thyme vinaigrette. There was actually plenty of lobster and I tried a piece that was sweet and nicely accented with the vinaigrette.

My entree choice was the Confit of Giannone Chicken with smoked bacon gnocchi, haricot vert & housemade pancetta. A scrumptious choice. The chicken was sliced into circular pieces, with a layer of crispy skin around the edge. It was moist, tender and quite delicious. And the gnocchi were fantastic with a definite smoky flavor that complemented the chicken. The dish was good-sized and I was glad I made the choice. Two of the others ordered the Grilled Breast of Long Island Duck with a variation of sunchokes, pomegranate & crispy duck rillette. The duck was cooked fairly rare and was excellent. I tried a piece and found it juicy and not greasy at all. The Roasted Atlantic Halibut with melted leeks, Peekytoe crab, rosemary & Marcona Almonds also came to our table and was pleasing as well.

For dessert, I ordered the cheese plate and received five different cheeses, some condiments and baguette slices. A nice mix of cheese types and they were all quite tasty. A nice ending to the meal. Someone else ordered the Valhrona Chocolate Mille Feuille which would have pleased any chocoholic. The chocolate was not overly sweet and certainly was satisfying. The Strawberries & Champagne was not what you might expect. It was somewhat of a flan type dessert topped by a jelly-like layer. An exquisite taste that matched well the flavors.

Service was generally very good. My only minor quibble is that when the cheese plate arrived, our server did not tell me the names and types of the cheeses. I had to stop him before he left and ask him to identify the cheeses. Presentation of all the dishes was quite good. The food was high quality and delicious. Everyone in my party was pleased with their meals. I would definitely return here and would recommend others try it as well.

Harvest in Cambridge

Thursday, February 14, 2008

2006 Spice Route Pinotage

On my tour of the South African section of the Boston Wine Expo I stopped at the table of the wines of Charles Back. You may be most familiar with their Goats do Roam portfolio. I like many of the wines in their portfolio and think they often offer very good value.

One of their other labels is Spice Route. Charles Back found the Spice Route Wine Company in 1997. He purchased the farm Klein Amoskuil in Malmesbury and it is now the home for his Swartland terroir-styled wines. They match traditional practices in the vineyards with modern, minimalist approaches in the cellar. The wines are made in small quantities, emphasizing high quality.

I tasted their 2006 Spice Route Pinotage (about $22-23). The wine is made from grapes in the Rheeboksfontein vineyards in the Swartland. The vines are grown on deep red oakleaf soils. The vineyard is trellised and is dryland farmed. The wine was matured in American oak barrels for 10 months. It has an alcohol content of 13.94%.

This wine was dark red in color with a spicy nose that followed through on the palate. This was a very spicy wine with dark berry accents and a tinge of vanilla. The tannins were well balanced and it was a very smooth drinking wine that lingered long in my mouth. I very much enjoyed this wine. It lacked any earthy components and was more about fruit and spice. For the price, this is a very good buy. It is complex, with excellent flavors and and a satisfying finish. A wine I definitely recommend.

And my streak of excellent South African wines at the Wine Expo continues.

Black Trumpet: Portsmouth

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is becoming a culinary hot spot and you probably have read about it in any number of magazines and newspapers. I need to head up there soon to check out a few places. One restaurant that I am interested in is the Black Trumpet Bistro.

The Black Trumpet is a two-story bistro and wine bar. The menu changes every six weeks to capitalize on the freshest seasonal ingredients. The cuisine reflects the chef-owner’s culinary curiosity, drawing inspiration from the Mediterranean as well as the Americas. If you look at their menu, you will see an eclectic mix of cuisines, from Spanish to Moroccan.

Some of the menu items that intrigue me include the Housemade Chorizo with chickpeas in a spicy preserved lemon mojo ($6.50), Canadian Mussels steamed with bacon, leeks and malt vinegar, topped with matchstick potatoes ($12), Moroccan Braised Half Chicken with olives, dates and preserved lemon, served on a bed of tea-infused couscous ($21) and the Moroccan Braised Half Chicken with olives, dates and preserved lemon, served on a bed of tea-infused couscous ($27).

The Black Trumpet will actually have its First Anniversary soon and they will be having a special celebration in honor of that. They are also having a couple other events in the near future.

Friday, February 22: Black Trumpet supports AIDS Response Seacoast
All sales on this day will go to support AIDS Response Seacoast, a nonprofit, community based organization that helps improve the quality of life of those infected and affected by AIDS. To reserve a table or for more information call 603-431-0887.

Wednesday, February 27: Portuguese Wine Dinner
Join us for an evening celebrating the beautiful, exotic taste of Portugal. Chef Evan and charming co-host Augusto Gabriele will walk and talk you through five courses paired with wines. From the crisp whites of Vinho Verde to the luscious reds of the Douro, come in and enjoy the flavors of an old, rich world. Dinner starts at 6:30pm. Cost is $85 (plus tax & gratuity)
To reserve a table or for more information call 603-431-0887.

Black Trumpet Bistro
29 Ceres Street
Portsmouth, NH
Phone: 603-431-0887

South African Wines: Sizanani & Tumara

It is always a dilemma at the Boston Wine Expo. With nearly 2000 wines available for tasting, what do you select? You certainly cannot try more than a small fraction of all those wines. So you must make some hard decisions and be very choosy. Or end up like some of the people I saw at the Expo, staggering and slurring. That was not my goal.

For me, one of my planned stops was at the South African wine section. I am a big fan of their wines and I love good Pinotage. South African wines are still not as easily found in many wine stores so this would be an opportunity to try some new wines. I can taste California wines almost any time. But it is much more difficult to find a South African wine tasting.

One of my first stops was at the table of 57 Main Street Imports, who import numerous South African wines as well as other countries. In addition, through their Vision 57 programs, they help educational advancement and opportunity in the Western Cape of South Africa. For example, their Adopt-a-School Program gives 5% of the net proceeds of every bottle sold in the U.S. of their South African wines to beneficiary schools in the Cape of Good Hope. As another example, through their Wine for Literacy Program, shipping containers that drop off South African Wines in the U.S. are returned to South Africa containing books and educational materials. All very worthy charitable efforts.

I tasted two wines from their portfolio, a 2006 Sizanani Pinotage and a 2002 Tumara Titan. Both impressed me.

The 2006 Sizanani Pinotage (about $9) is produced through a partnership of Bellevue Wine Estate and over eighty members of its staff from previously disadvantaged population groups. They formed a new company called Stellenbosch Wine and Logistics (Pty) Ltd. with a focus on upliftment and empowerment. The aim is to achieve this focus through the production and trade of quality wines at real value price points, and through the provision of logistical services to the wine industry.

The range of wines they will produce include both red and white wines, single cultivars as well as blends. The focus will be on making wines that can be enjoyed at any occasion. They will be easy to enjoy wines, full of ripe fruit. Their label name, "Sizanani," is a Xhosa word that means "helping each other." Xhosa is one of the eleven official languages in South Africa.

The 2006 Sizanani Pinotage won't be available in stores until about June and when it is available, I would recommend that you buy it. The wine is a dark ruby in color with fresh berries on the nose. There is a lot of spice on the palate mixed with lush dark berry flavors. There are also hints of vanilla in the taste. This is definitely an easy-drinking wine, but with character, and is a Pinotage that should appeal to most, even those who generally don't care for Pinotage. For under $10 this is a very good buy. Drink this with a big, juicy burger!

The 2002 Tumara Titan (about $15-16) is produced by Bellevue Estate in Stellenbosch. Bellevue was founded in 1701 and have the oldest Pinotage vines in South Africa. The label name, "Tumara," derives from the name of the estate's beloved Arabian mare.

This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignion, 15% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 10% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot. It was aged in 300L French Oak barrels (50% new) for about twelve months. The 2002 vintage was a cool and wet summer which resulted in a smaller crip with intense fruit.

I found the wine to have a medium ruby color with a strong nose of blackberry and raspberry. On the palate, the flavors of this wine just flowed over my taste buds. Lots of dark berries, vanilla, subtle spicy notes and a hint of smoke. It was a very smooth wine with a lingering finish. It is a bolder wine than many French Bordeaux but subtler than many California Bordeaux blends. It is said that this wine will continue to mature over 5-10 years. At this price, this wine is an exceptional value. You won't find too many wines of this complexity, character and flavor for under $20. This is another wine I highly recommend.

The Wine Expo started off very well for me as the first couple wines I tried were big hits. I hoped that the rest of the Expo would go as well.