Monday, March 31, 2008

2004 Aalto

To celebrate the end of the Spanish Wine Educator's Course, I decided to open one of my higher-end bottles of Spanish wine, the 2004 Aalto from the Ribera del Duero region.

The Aalto winery was founded in 1998 by Mariano Garcia, a former top wine maker at the famed Vega Sicilia Winery, and Javier Zaccagnini, the former President of the governing body of the Ribera del Duero AOC. They produced their first vintage in 1999. They own about 32 hectares of vineyards, scattered through three different sub-zones of Ribera del Duero, of old vine Tempranillo.

Mariano Garcia designed the 15,000 liter, stainless steel fermentation tanks. Their original conical shape comes from Mariano’s desire to control and maneuver the cap of the must during the remouage. Each vineyard is harvested, vinified, and aged separately before assemblage just prior to bottling. The wine is unfiltered. The wine is aged in French oak, 60% new, though some of the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in new American oak.

The 2004 Aalto ($50) comes from a very good vintage in Spain. This wine has an alcohol content of 15%. It has an inky red color and an enticing nose of blueberry and blackberry with a touch of spice. It is a big, bold wine with plenty of dark fruit, spice, vanilla and leather. There is much complexity in its flavors and it has a very long, lingering finish. A definite powerhouse that I paired with steak. This wine definitely needs such a pairing and I savored every drop of it. It is definitely a wine that will age well for a number of years. But that also was very enjoyable now. A definite Drink & Buy recommendation.

Women of Wine

Did you know the ancient Romans once had a law making it illegal for women to drink, upon pain of death? Women have certainly come a long way from those days.

March: A Month of Women & Wine ends today. For the final March post on this theme, I am providing a review of an informative and fascinating book about women in the wine industry. It is in that book I found the intriguing tidbit about Rome.

Women of Wine: The Rise of Women in the Global Wine Industry by Ann B. Matasar (University of California Press 2006) is a hardcover book ($24.95) containing about 252 pages. It includes an Introduction, ten Chapters, three Appendices and a Glossary.

The book begins with a historical background, showing reasons why women were excluded from the wine industry for a long time. There is then a brief analysis of the changes that have occurred in the modern wine industry and how that has led to greater involvement by women. This all leads to the heart of the book, descriptions about the many women who have been or currently are involved in the wine industry.

A number of the chapters are then divided into regions, showcasing women wine makers and winery owners in such places as France, Italy, California, Australia and elsewhere. There is also a chapter devoted to women wine educators, Masters of Wine, writers, and publishers. The book moves onto a section about women auctioneers, trade representatives, and sommeliers. Women are involved in all aspects of the wine industry.

The final chapter looks at the future of women in the wine industry, asking whether the positive changes that have occurred will continue. And the author provides some suggestions on such can continue, as well as trying to identify some of the potential obstacles.

Overall, this was a very educational book. I learned about many women in the wine industry who I did not know before, as well as garnering more details about some of the women I did know. It is an easy read and will not bore you. It does an excellent job of showcasing women in the wine industry, in almost all of its aspects. Though it does not deal with women wine bloggers at all. I definitely recommend this book.

If anyone else has read it, feel free to post your own thoughts about the book in the comments.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Okasan Sushi

Sometimes you just get lucky.

Last Thursday, I was going to a wine tasting at OurGlass Wine Co. in Saugus. I had arrived there a bit early as I was planning on getting a bit to eat at the North End Cafe, an Italian place I enjoy. But when I arrived at the shopping area, a new place had just opened, Okasan Sushi.

They had not officially opened yet. But they were having a grand opening celebration, which included Free Sushi! Below you can see all the sushi that was available, both nigiri and maki rolls. You could eat all you wanted. I quickly entered the restaurant and began to dig into the nigiri.

The restaurant was started by Kevin and Aaron, who used to work at the Wild Oats Sushi Bar. Kevin is in the picture at the top of the post, as well as the picture below. They sell basically only sushi, except for some salad and soup. Their prices are cheap, generally $0.90 to $1.25 per piece of Nigiri and $2-$3 for 4 Maki pieces. They have a decent selection of the usual sushi, though nothing really exotic. That could change in time though the longer they are open.

The sushi is good, especially for the price. It is not high-end sushi, but is fresh and tastes good. And it is cheap so you can definitely enjoy lots of sushi for little money. It would especially be good if you are having a party and need plenty of sushi. They have plenty of vegetarian options as well.

I will return here for when they are officially open but I certainly got lucky to arrive when they were giving away all the free sushi. I will report back as usual. If you are looking for good, cheap sushi, then why not stop by.

Okasan Sushi on Urbanspoon

Gordon's Fine Wine: New Blogs

Gordons Fine Wine and Culinary Center has entered the world of blogging. They have begun three blogs, separate ones for wine, beer and and liquor. Their first blog posts are up and you should check them out. You can even add your comments.

Lindsay Cohen has begun the wine blog with a post titled "Wine = Taste + Preferences squared?"

Nate, Gordon’s Craft Beer Manager, has begun the beer blog with a post titled "Scandinavian Beers; An Unlikely Offspring."

Gordon's Spirits Department has begun the liquor blog with a post titled "Candy is Dandy, Liquor is Quicker."

Gordons Fine Wine and Culinary Center
894 Main Street
Waltham, MA
Phone: 781-893-1900

A Culinary Coupling

As spring approaches, it is often said that the time for love has arrived. For those romantic foodies, a couple upcoming events might appeal to you.

One of Boston’s hottest new culinary couples, Rialto's chef de cuisine Carolyn Johnson, and her boyfriend, Icarus' chef de cuisine Bill Flumerfelt will join forces in their respective restaurant kitchens for a pair of three-course, Sunday suppers priced at only $40 per person. The fun will take place on Sunday, April 13 and Sunday, May 4.

Although the menus for these two events will reflect the culinary themes of these two highly respected but distinctly different restaurants, Carolyn and Bill are likely to put a more personal spin on the food. Both share a strong commitment to local products; so both dinners will feature top quality New England ingredients.

Carolyn and Bill met eight years ago while working together in Icarus’s tiny South End kitchen. After close to a year of chopping, sautéeing, and flirting, something was aflame, and it wasn’t just the grill. Just as their relationship blossomed, so did their careers. Carolyn headed for Ogunquit, Maine to work at Arrows, while Bill remained in the Bay State and worked as opening chef at Elements (Arlington) and Ashmont Grill (Dorchester). But the heat was not extinguished. Today this culinary power couple share living quarters, although they have never cooked together publicly.

On Sunday, April 13, Rialto chef/owner Jody Adams steps aside to allow Carolyn Johnson to shine. And on Sunday, May 4, Icarus chef/owner Chris Douglass will do the same for Bill Flumerfelt. To reserve for either dinner, see information below.

Rialto: Located in Harvard Square, Rialto offers regional Italian cuisine interpreted with New England ingredients in a casually elegant atmosphere. The menu changes monthly but always features classic Rialto dishes such as Tuscan Wolf’s Neck Sirloin and Fishermen’s Soup.
Dinner hours are Monday-Friday from 5:30pm–10pm and Saturday from 5:30pm–11pm and Sunday from 5:30pm-9pm.
One Bennet Street, Cambridge, Phone: 617-661-5050

Icarus: Icarus enjoys a reputation as one of the top fine dining destinations in Boston, and ranks among the upper echelon in the Zagat Survey among others. With its longstanding commitment to sustainability, diners can expect fresh New England cuisine with ingredients sourced from local farms and clean waters.
Dinner is served from 6 PM daily by reservation.
Three Appleton Street, Boston, Phone: 617-426-1790

Spanish Wine Educator's Course: Completed

I completed the Spanish Wine Educator's course today. I took the two tests and now must wait for 3-4 weeks to learn the results, though I am confident that I passed.

The Wine Academy of Spain held the course at the Norwood offices of the Martignetti Companies this weekend, March 28-30. They have already held numerous courses in North America and will hold three more into April, including in Chicago, Victoria (B.C. Canada) and Vancouver (B.C. Canada). After that, courses will be held in other countries around the world.

I arrived Friday morning a bit early for the class, partially due to the fact that the schedule listed in my paperwork was different than the schedule listed on the website. Prior to the class, I received numerous pdf. files for the course, a 200+ page course book. Those documents included a schedule for the class but it is different than the one listed on the website. I relied on the documents so showed up earlier than the 9:30am start time. Not a big deal.

There were about eighteen students in the class, eleven who were women. There were many people who were involved in some aspect of wine sales, whether working for a distributor, in a wine store or at a restaurant. I was the only wine blogger present though there was one woman who was a wine writer and had previously published a book on culinary terms. Only fifteen of the students though chose to take the certification tests.

As part of the course, we did receive a little swag, including a cloth briefcase, t-shirt, CD on Sherry, nicely bound notebook, pen, and the 2008 Wines From Spain Far From Ordinary Wine Guide. The wine guide is very good and I recommend you order them from Wines of Spain, especially as it is free.

Our instructors were a husband and wife team, Javier Arauz and Wendy Vallaster. Javier did most of the basic lecturing and Wendy did most of the wine tasting, though they assisted each other. Javier did an excellent job and he was very personable as well as very knowledgeable. He answered our numerous questions to the best of his ability, offering to find the answer when he did not know it. Wendy also did a good job leading the tastings, answering our questions as well. Javier stated that Wendy brought a New World view to the Wine Academy. Our numerous questions did cause a little havoc with the schedule but Javier and Wendy helped to keep the course schedule on track and we only ran a little bit over on Saturday.

The course basically followed much of what was in our course materials, though the order of the various D.O.s varied, but that was not a problem. We began with a history of wine in Spain and then moved onto the current Spanish wine market. Next, we covered some generalities about the climate and soil of Spain, and then learned about the rules and laws of their wine industry. After this foundation, the rest of the course dealt with the various wine regions of Spain.

For most of the wine regions, we learned a bit of history about them, their climate and soils, the primary grapes they grow, types of wines they produce, the names of some producers and more. For a few of the smaller wine regions, we did not really go into much detail as there is not much going on in those regions currently. For example, we did not cover all of the various Canary Island D.O.'s in detail as not all are significant. The course materials did occasionally differ from the slide presentation so you did need to pay attention to the slides in case there was some additional information there.

I think the course provided a thorough explanation of the Spanish wine industry and certainly would be a good foundation for anyone who wants to learn about Spanish wine. Plus, we were free to ask many questions which helped supplement the course information. For example, we learned about food pairings with numerous types of Spanish wine though that was not a part of the course materials. Plus, we learned some details about how climate change is affecting the Spanish wine industry, more information that was generally not in the course materials. In fact, we probably could have easiuly spent another day learning more about different Spanish wine topics. I certainly learned numerous new things about Spanish wine and my fellow students seemed to feel the same as well.

Though there might be some topics that could have used more extensive teaching, such as food pairings and climate change, that would have required a longer class. Our schedule was already very full with everything from the course book. It would be difficult to add any more topics without expanding the length of the course to another day or two. Maybe they could do a more advanced Spanish wine course, to touch on specific topics not covered by the basic course.

Within all of this course work, we also fit in wine tastings. We only tasted 10 wines on Friday but had about 34 wines on Saturday. The list of wines was not the same as in the course schedule, but then they have to adjust to the wines that are available at each teaching location. We certainly had plenty of variety though, including Cavas, whites, roses, reds, Sherries and dessert wine. The tasting helped to indicate some of the differences in Spanish wines, especially of those grapes and wines which can seem similar.

One of the highlights was the 2005 Seguras Viudas Creu de Lavit, a 100% Xarello, a white grape that is usually used in the Cava blend. I have had only one 100% Xarello wine before, and that was in Spain last fall. I was pleasantly surprised to see that some are available in the U.S. It is a very striking grape, with a unique flavor that I very much enjoy. And this wine only costs around $14. I was also very impressed with a couple sherries, an Amontillado and an Oloroso (Vina AB Amontillado Seco & Alfonso Oloroso Seco). Most of my Sherry experience has been with Fino and Manzanilla. But both the Amontillado and Oloroso had intriguing flavors that appealed to me. I will definitely seek out more of those Sherry types to try.

Today were our two exams. The first exam consisted of 50 multiple-choice questions that dealt with everything we had learned in the course. If you had studied, the test was not too difficult though a few of the questions did challenge me. I feel confident I did well on that exam. Then came the blind tasting, which I thought would be difficult. We had six wines and for each wine we had to answer 5 multiple-choice questions. The most important questions dealt with the grape and region of the wine. I felt challenged by the blind tasting but felt fairly confident I had done well again.

After the exam, Wendy told us which wines we had tasted and I was very pleased to find that I had gotten all of them correct! The Cava and Fino Sherry had been relatively easy to identify. The Albarino was a little trickier as it can sometimes be confused with the Verdejo or Rueda. The three red wines also required a bit of consideration, to differentiate between what were the Priorat, Rioja and Monastrell. And not to confuse the Rioja with a Ribera Del Duero, or the Priorat with a Garnacha from another region.

Once Javier and Wendy finish the North American courses, and return to Spain, all of the tests will be scored and we will find out whether we passed or not. We were informed that we generally only needed a 50% or so to acquire your certification. This bothered me a little as I would prefer that a higher bar had been set for certification, to provide more meaning and credibility to the certification. To truly indicate that the student had assimilated the course information.

But then Javier began the course telling us that a primary aim of the Wine Academy of Spain was to create Spanish wine "ambassadors," people to help promote the wines of Spain. So, the test scores are probably not seen as important as finding people who are willing to be passionate about Spanish wine, passionate enough to take the course in the first place to learn. And before I took this course, I pondered over what the certification would mean to me and concluded that it would primarily make me more of an ambassador for Spanish wine. Which seems to have been the intent of the course in the first place.

There is a significant bonus though for a select few who do extremely well on the tests. The top 15 scorers on the test, during their North American leg, will win a free trip to Spain. This is supposed to be a ten day tour of Spain, with visits to Penedés, Priorat, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Rías Baixas and Jerez. The trip includes meals and winery visits. About the only thing you have to pay for is your airfare and general spending money. The trip will take place at the end of October. A pretty nice bonus for the high scorers.

Overall, I would recommend this course to anyone serious who wants to learn more about Spanish wine. It is an informative course with very good instructors. And you also have the opportunity to ask plenty of questions you might have about Spanish wine. I certainly felt this class benefited me and I would take other courses through Wine Academy of Spain. It was also fun and we got to taste lots of good wines. The course was also a good networking opportunity, to meet others in the wine industry that you might not meet elsewhere.

So now I wait for my results. And have a bit of hope that maybe I did well enough to win the trip to Spain. I certainly would love to return there.

Viva La Espana!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spanish Tapas Wine Dinner: April 20

On April 20, Sunday, at 6:30pm, Melissa's Main Street Bistro in Stoneham will be holding a special Spanish Tapas Wine Dinner. I actually chose the wines for this dinner and will speak about them at the meal.

Here are the wines I chose:
Ulacia Txakoli
Rias Baixas Pazo de Senorans
Dominio de Tares Mencia “Baltos”
Abadia Retuerta Seleccione Especial
Castano Monastrell Dulce

And here is the delicious sounding Menu.
Scallop Ceviche
Chorizo Sausage Empanada
Black Mission Figs Stuffed with Fresh Goats Cheese & Serrano Ham
“Honey Roasted” Marconas Almonds
Salt Cod Cake with Roasted Tomato
Petite Sandwich of Spanish Style Braised Pork
Manchego Cheese

Flank Steak A la Plancha
Patatas Bravas (Spanish Potatoes with Red Pepper and Garlic Aioli)
Olive Oil Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Cabreles Bleu Cheese

Candied Fruits and Nuts
Cinnamon Churos with Hot Chocolate
Almond Cake with Poached Pears
Walnut Gourmandise Cheese
Sweet Rioja Gelée with Champagne Grapes
Spanish Coffee Mousse with Roasted Pistachio Cookie

Now, it may sound like you have to make a choice from all those different appetizers and desserts. It would be hard to do so as they all sound great. Well, you don't have to make a choice. The best thing is that you get ALL of them, Tapas style. So you get to taste all of the different and varies appetizers and desserts.

The cost is only $55 (plus tax and tip) which I think is cheap for everything you will get, all the wine and food.

Please call Melissa at 781-438-7243 to make reservations for this event. This could be a very popular event so make your reservations early! I hope to see you there.

Melissa's Main Street Bistro
407 Main Street
Stoneham, MA
Phone: 781-438-7243

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Spanish Wine Educator's Course: This Weekend

Tomorrow, I will begin the first day of the Spanish Wine Educator's course. Registration begins at 8am and the day ends around 4pm. Plus, the course is being held in Norwood which means I will face some traffic on Rt.128, both getting there and returning home afterwards. So, it should be a long day. Saturday will be a similar day, though without much of the traffic. And Sunday will only be a half-day, though that will be Test day.

I have been studying the course book for the class, though it certainly is not exciting reading. It is more just a compilation of basic facts, and it also appears that the class room will be supplementing some of the materials. But at least I have some idea of what will be discussed and won't have to cram everything into a couple days.

I am most curious about the blind wine tasting test. We must identify the grape & its origin as well as comment on its quality and wine making technique. That could be very tough or they could make it easier. For example, both a Cava and a Sherry would be much easier to identify than maybe differentiating between Tempranillo from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. I do very little blind tasting myself so this will be largely a new experience for me. Maybe I should start considering doing some more blind tasting.

If I pass the course, I will be certified as a Spanish Wine Educator. What does that really mean? There still would be plenty of information about Spanish wine that I would not know. It could grant me additional credibility in certain circles. But to me, I most see it as making me an ambassdor of sorts for Spanish wine, an advocate helping to promote the Spanish wine industry. Though I have been an advocate for some time, this will strengthen my commitment to such. And I will continue learning about Spanish wine.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Salem Wine Imports: Italian Tasting

Last evening I stopped by Salem Wine Imports for their weekly Tuesday night wine tasting. Eric had chosen a number of Italian wines for this week's theme.

We began with a 2006 Alois Lageder Riff Pinot Grigio ($9.99). The vineyards are generally located on the slopes of the foothills of the Dolomites, a part of the Alps. The soil is composed of dolomite, a limestone made of fossil deposits from an ocean that once covered this region millions of years ago. The name "Riff" is the German word for "Reef" and refers to this ancient sea. Though I feel too many Pinot Grigios are rather bland, this was not the case with this wine. It had character, lively citrus flavors and a nice crispness with a tinge of minerality. A good summer wine that would be sure to please.

I was not as impressed with the 2006 Panizzi Vernaccia di San Gimignano ($19.99). Though it is unoaked, it had what I consider an oaky nose, though it did not follow through on the palate. I actually found the taste rather plain with a bitter finish. I have had Vernaccia before that I enjoyed but this wine did not do it for me.

But then we moved on to another enjoyable wine, the 2006 G.D. Vajra Langhe Rosso ($11.99). This wine is a blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto. It is a light wine with an appealing nose of strawberries and bright cherry. Those fruity flavors please the palate and the wine is very smooth and easy-drinking. Some nice acidity that would make this a great, everyday wine with food. I have had other wines from this producer before and have enjoyed all of them.

Next up was a 2006 Feotto Nero D'Avola ($11.99). This wine is made from the Nero D'Avola grape, also known as Calabrese. This was certainly very different from the previous light Rosso. This wine is much darker in color and its nose evidences dark berries and spice. The dark fruits, plum, black cherry and blackberries, come out on the palate with a touch of spice and smoke. A more muscular wine that calls out for food. An interesting wine which I liked and think it is a good value at this price. Pair with a nice duck breast.

The 2006 Il Filare Rosso ($9.99) is from the Puglia region of Italy. It is a blend of Primitivo and Sangiovese. This was similar to the Rosso in some respects, a light, smooth wine with vibrant fruit flavors of cherry and raspberry. A very good everyday wine.

We moved on to the 2004 Fattoria di Fiano "Ugo Bing" Chianti ($15.99), a more rustic Chianti. It had a spicy nose and some of that spice came out on the taste as well. In addition, there was some good dark fruit flavors as well as a touch of earthiness. A very interesting melange of flavors and different from the usual Chiantis you may be used to. Definitely worth checking out if you are seeking something beyond the ordinary.

We ended with a powerhouse of a wine, the 2003 Cantina di Santadi Shardana Valli di Porto Pino IGT ($28.99) from Sardinia. This wine is 100% Carignane, a grape I do not see often in Italian wines. But it is a grape that does very well in Spain and France. Based on this wine, it certainly can do well in Italy too. This is a muscular, rich wine with notes of leather, spice, blackberries and even chocolate. It is a complex, well-balanced wine that greatly pleased my palate. It definitely should be paired with food and would stand up even to a nice steak. If you are looking for a wine to impress, this would be a good choice.

That was it for the tasting. But let me add some news about Salem Wine Imports.

First, their summer hours start next Tuesday. They will be open Tuesday-Thursday, 12pm-8pm, Friday & Saturday 12pm-9pm, and Sunday 1pm-5pm.

Second, starting this Thursday, March 27, they will begin "Open Anything Night." At 6:30pm, anyone who wants to participate will be charged $20. Then Eric will open some very special, and expensive, wines until the money is gone. Examples might be Meursault, Barolo, Bordeaux, or Chateaneuf du Pape.

Third, next Tuesday's wine tasting theme will be "Spring Sippers," including the new 2007 Rose's and others suitable for a spring evening.

Finally, on Saturday, April 5th, from 4pm-6pm, Eric will host Stephanie Restuccio from Cameron Hughes Winery in California to taste her wines. Cameron Hughes produces some excellent Cabernets and Chardonnay's.

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

Fidel Castro Retirement Party

Would you like to celebrate at a Fidel Castro Retirement Party? If so, you will soon have that opportunity at a local restaurant.

Chez Henri, which I have previously reviewed, will be starting a Six Week Latin Dinner Series on April 20 with a Gala Retirement Party for Fidel Castro. The Latin Dinner Series will run from April 20 to May 31, showcasing the lesser-known cuisines of South and Central America with three-course, $39 prix fixe menus.

Chef-owner Paul O’Connell will offer unique meals based on authentic recipes from Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador. Each country will be featured for a full two weeks before the menu sails on to the next. Chez Henri’s regular ala carte menu of French-Latin food will also be available.

The Fidel Castro Retirement Party will be held Sunday, April 20, starting at 7:00 PM. Cost for this one-night-only event is just $39 per person. In addition to photographs of Cuba and other colorful décor, the restaurant will come alive with Latin music by local singer-guitarist Jean-Carlo. The festivities will be fueled by potent Cuban cocktails, and a tres leche cake with a retirement message for Fidel will be served at meal’s end.

The highlight of this evening of food, drink, music and fun will be a Cuba Trivia Contest, starting at 9:00 PM, which all diners can enter.

Questions might include:
· What song was The Buena Vista Social Club’s first big hit ?
· In what Cuban city was TV’s Ricky Ricardo born ?
· Which U.S. ship was blown up in Havana harbor ?

Reservations for the Fidel Castro Retirement Party on April 20 are being accepted for parties of all sizes.

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

Stoneham Sun: Missing This Week

Sorry to report but due to unforseen complication my column of "A Passionate Foodie" is absent in the March 26 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is my weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it may also touch on a few other food and wine topics.

Dine with passion!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

$2 Dim Sum at Pho Republique

Looking for some inexpensive food out? Maybe you should check out the Pho Republique's new $2 Bar Menu

The Pho Republique, located in Boston’s South End, will launch “Two Dollar Dim Sum Days” on their bar menu beginning April 1, 2008. It will last through the end of May. The menu will be available Monday through Thursday from 5:30PM – 7:30PM and is only available at the bar.

Included on this value menu will be:
Steamed Shrimp Shu Mai Dumplings $2
Chicken & Ginger Potstickers $2
Tofu, Edamame & Bok Choy Gyoza Dumplings $2
Curry Potato Samosa $2
Veggie Rangoon with Herbed Cream Cheese $2
Candied Garlic Spare Ribs $2

Pho Republique also turns 10 in 2008! Pho Republique is an award-winning French, Pan-Asian inspired restaurant and lounge in Boston’s South End. It is open seven days a week from 5:30PM – 1:00AM.

Pho Republique
1415 Washington Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-262-0005

2003 Kir Yianni Paranga

I have noticed that Greek wines get very little attention in most wine blogs. Why is that so? Greeks certainly are not newcomers to the wine industry. They have a rich wine history, with many different indigenous grapes. They can be difficult to locate in many local wine stores, rarely more than a handful available.

While at the recent class on French Rhone wines, a comparison was drawn between those wines and Greek wines. So, that put me in the mood to open one of the Greek wines in my cellar. I'll admit I dont own many Greek wines, though out of lack of availability and not out of interest. It is hard to find Greek wines around my locale.

I believe I found the 2003 Kir-Yianni Paranga ($18) at the Grapevine Travelers in Medford. Kir-Yianni, which means "Sir John" in Greek, was founded in 1997 as a premium spin-off of the Boutari Group. Though the first vintage was 1990, it was not until the 1995 vintage that the wine was bottled under the Kir-Yianni name. More than half of their labels are single vineyard growths on the eastern and western slopes of Mt. Vermio in Macedonia. They grow indigenous Greek grapes as well as some international ones such as Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

The Paranga is a Vin de Pays de Macedoine and is a red blend. Curiously, the label on the bottle says it is a blend of Xinomavro and Agiorgitiko, two indigenous Greek grapes. Xinomavro, also spelled Xynomavro, bears some similarities to Pinot Noir while Agiorgitiko bears some similarities to Merlot. But, on their website, it states the wine is a blend of Xinomavro, Merlot, and Syrah. It is possible that they make a couple versions of the Paranga for different markets. The wine label also states it has an alcohol content of 12.5% but the website claims it is 12.7%. I'll stick to the wine label.

This wine has light red in color with a nose of bright red fruits with a bit of spice, maybe a touch of cinnamon. As you taste the wine, you first get a rush of vibrant fruitiness, some cherry and raspberry but that then transforms into a drier, lightly spiced finish. The spicy flavors are not bold, but are more subtle. It feels more like a light bodied wine and is very easy-drinking. It certainly has its own unique character as it will taste different to you, not like most wines you might have had before. The wine intrigues you, drawing you in, until the bottle is finished. A very enjoyable wine. I drank this wine with some buffalo hot-dogs and it went well with the lightly spiced meat.

A definite Drink & Buy recommendation, and a good introduction to Greek wines.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I Ate The Easter Bunny!

It was a sad Easter this year as many children did not receive their usual Easter baskets. The Easter Bunny was missing this year and the children did not understand what had happened. But I knew, because I ate him the night before.

Rabbit Ravioli! I previously raved about the Rabbit Ravioli I had at Il Capriccio during their Le Piane wine dinner. After the French Rhône wine class, six of us ventured next door to have dinner at Il Capriccio. Everyone else but me had never been here before so it would be a new experience for them. I desperately hoped that they had Rabbit Ravioli on the menu.

But let us begin with the wines. Il Capriccio's wine list runs about 27 pages so it can seem intimidating. But that does not have to be the case. First, the initial six pages or so provide their featured wines and each has a descriptive paragraph so you can get a good idea about the type of wine. Second, the staff, and especially owner Jeannie Rogers, are more than happy to discuss the wine list with you and make suggestions based on your preferences. And they definitely won't try to push the more expensive wines. Jeannie seems to have an almost encyclopedic mind about Italian wines and she is a valuable resource for any diner seeking advice.

We asked Jeannie about a couple wines at the start of the evening and we began our meal with those two wines. And both wines were excellent as well as reasonably priced.

The first was a 2006 Podere Sanguineto Rosso di Montepulciano ($36). This region has an interesting history as it allegedly once was the battleground for some very bloody battles between the Etruscans and the Romans. Because of all the blood from these wars, the area was called "Sanguineto." This wine is a blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo grapes. It was a light red wine with good fruit. It was smooth and very easy drinking, a wine that would appeal to most people. This wine would be fine on its own or with food.

The second was the 2006 Tenuta Terre Nere Etna Rosso ($36). The vineyards for this winery are located on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Thus the soil is mostly volcanic ash with bits of black pumice and lots of volcanic rock. The vineyard is also organic. This wine is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape, one I had not had before. This was an intriguing wine, more powerful than the previous Montepulciano. It had more dark fruit flavors with an earthier taste. Though reminiscent of a rustic Pinot Noir, the wine also possessed its own unique flavor. We all enjoyed it though it definitely is more of a food wine.

During dinner, we also ordered a bottle of 2005 ReDondel Teroldego Rotaliano ($36.00) from Trentino. Teroldego is both the name of the grape as well as the region it comes from. The wine is very dark red, almost inky. It has a potent aroma of black berries and plums. It is a full-bodied wine with a complex melange of flavors, including dark berries and spice. The tannins do not overpower and the finish is very long and satisfying. This reminded me a little of a very good Zinfandel.

But what about the food? We started with a bunch of appetizers. Foie Gras with sweet potato, a Porcini Mushroom Souffle, Tuscan Bean Soup, Braised Short Rib over Goat Cheese Polenta, Salumi with Cheese & Olives. Everything was plentiful and delicious. I had two pieces of silky smooth Foie atop a creamy pile of mashed sweet potato. The Short Rib was also very tasty, with meat that just fell apart it was so tender. And the Polenta was creamy with that distinctive goat cheese taste.

On to the entrees. And YES, they did have Rabbit Ravioli on the menu, in both small and large dishes so you could have it as an appetizer or a meal. I had to have it as my meal. When it arrived, I never expected that they could have improved on it. It had been so delectable before. Yet they surpassed themselves. Besides the plentiful ravioli, there were pieces of tender rabbit atop the ravioli too! I even convinced two others in the group to order it as well and both loved it too. Simply a phenomenal dish.

Others at our table ordered the Steak, Lobster Risotto and Vegetarian Lasagna. All of the dishes were plentiful and quite good. There was very little left on our plates when we were done. And everyone had only complimentary things to say about their food. Not a single complaint.

Though we still had enough room to try some desserts. I had the Apple, Pear, and Pecan Crostata with Vanilla Ice Cream. The pastry shell was warm, flaky and fresh and contained plenty of fruit and nuts. And you could differentiate between the flavors of the apple and pear pieces. It was like an excellent pie ala mode. The Chocolate Budino was a big hit, a moist chocolaty cake with a very intriguing caramel ice cream. The Zabaglione and Berries was another big hit as was the Lemon Mousse.

With our dessetrts, we had a bottle of 2007 La Caliera Moscato d'Asti. This is a crisp wine, a bit fizzy and with a touch of sweetness. It is not cloying in the least and has a fragrant nose of lush fruit. It is quite delicious and was an excellent pairing with dessert.

Service was excellent. The servers were very unobtrusive, appearing only when needed and they were never pushy or trying to rush you. They were courteous and helpful. There were no mistakes with our orders. This is exactly the quality of service you want at these type of restaurants.

Everyone in my group was extremely pleased with the evening. And I am sure they will be returning to Il Capriccio. I certainly know that I will. Il Capriccio remains a very consistent, high-quality restaurant.

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

French Rhône Wine Class

Which event recently brought together four local wine bloggers? A wine class at Gordons Fine Wine and Culinary Center on French Rhone wines and their Evolution in the Face of Global Warming.

Over this weekend, I brought seventeen members of the North Shore Winers, including wine bloggers Tasters A & B from Smells Like Grape and Cathy from 365 Days of Wine, to this event. Nick Cobb, of Vineyard Road Distributors, led the class and wine tasting. We would taste nine different Rhône wines and learn much about the region and how the wines haved changed over the years due to climate change.

The class was held in Gordon's private tasting area and kitchen. This is an excellent venue for a class. The room was set up with three rows of tables and chairs, each row higher than the previous one so that everyone had a good view. There are also two large video screens where pictures and maps can be presented. At each table setting, there were five wine glasses, a bottle of water, pencil, 3 page hand-out, and a plate of cheese & crackers to split with the person next to you. The set-up would easily and comfortably sit about thirty people.

There is a wide variety of wines in the Rhône region of France, so it is impossible to try to typify such wines. The appellations are very loose, allowing a number of different grapes into their wines and thus there are a mulitude of possible combinations. There are also different terroirs, different wine-making philosophies and more. This is exciting as you certainly would never grow bored of all the different Rhône wines.

The ancient Greeks first colonized the Rhône region and planted many vineyards. So when the Romans eventually came to this area, they already found a thriving wine making industry. Thus, though you may not realize it, there are some similarities between Greek wines and those of the Rhône.

Rhône wines though have had to deal with a significant change in the last few decades, the fact that local temperatures have increased a bit. The primary effect has been increased sugar levels, thus often leading to a higher alcohol content. This has led some producers to make Rhône wines which are drinkable much sooner than in the past, wines ready almost immediately for consumption without the need to let them sit in your cellar for a few years. Some may not think this is a bad thing.

We began our tasting with the 2006 Vieille Julienne Rose ($9.59). Domaine de la Vieille Julienne is located in the northern end of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation and has 25 acres of vines. The Chateau is located a few yards across from the appelation so has less restrictions. This Rose is a blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 10% Syrah & Carignan. Because it has less restrictions than the appellation, you thus see the Cabernet and Merlot here.

This wine was very light pink in color, much lighter than other Roses I have had. It has an interesting strawberry nose. On the front of my palate, there were good red fruit flavors, strawberry and watermelon though it ended on a drier note. There was onlt a hint of sweetness and the flavors were more subtle. The finish lingered for a decent length. This would certainly be a good summer wine and is unlike many of the sweeter California Roses on the market. And at this price, it is a good value.

We then moved onto the 2005 Patrick Lesec Côtes du Rhône Richette ($8.79). Patrick Lesec is a négociant which means he buys grapes or even wine from others and then sells the result under his own name. Patrick's wine-making style can generally be divided into stemmed, destemmed or a combination. This determines whether the stems are removed from the grape bunches before fermentation. As the stem contains tannins, their presence or not has a significant effect on the finished wine.

The Richette is a blend of 70% Grenache and 20% Syrah. It has also been destemmed, so there are less tannins in the wine, and it was fermented in stainless steel, the more modern method of fermentation. It had a medium red color and a rich smell of dark fruit and licorice. On the palate, those flavors of dark fruit and licorice combined with some spicy tones. There is a touch of earthiness and a moderate finish. It is an easy-drinking wine, though probably better with food. And at this price, it is a very good value.

For our next wine, we tried a more traditional one, the 2005 Piaugier Côtes du Rhône "Grange" ($10.39). Domaine du Piaugier is owned by Jean-Marc and Sophie Autran and their estate covers the appellations Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas and Sablet. Their vineyards have many old vines. Though they work together, Jean-Marc and Sophie have some very different views on wine-making so each makes their own specific wines. The Grange is one of Sophie's making.

The Grange is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Carignan. Whole clusters of grapes are used, thus increasing the tannins. The wine is fermented in cement, not stainless steel. Cement is a more traditional method of fermentation. It offers some advantages to stainless steel such as the lees stick to the sides of the cement better and the cement is more porous so allows a controlled amount of oxygen. The cement also holds in the hold naturally so there is no need for complex temperature controlled technology. Cement is a more gentle vehicle for fermentation and the wines generally taste older than they really are. The main problem with cement is that the wines are not as long lasting.

This wine has a medium red color and a fruity aroma of raspberry and cherry. Those fruit flavors came out in the taste and the tannins were fairly moderate. Nicely balanced, it had a decently long finish and was very smooth. An excellent easy drinking wine and a steal at this price. This is a wine to drink during the next couple years, not one to age. It is closer to the way Rhône wines used to taste.

We then returned to another more modern style wine, the 2005 Patrick Lesec Côtes du Rhône Rubis ($12.79). This wine was a blend of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache and the whole clusters are used in stainless steel fermentation. It is not common for the Syrah to dominate in wines from this region. This wine was similar in some ways to the Richette but with its differences as well. It was a fruitier wine with a spicier finish. It also was a bit more tannic as well as earthier. It is also an easy drinking wine and another good wine for the price.

Next was the 2005 Vieille Julienne Côtes du Rhône "Clavin" ($19.99). They were the first biodynamic winery in the region and they have fully embraced these practices, including all of the more "mystical" aspects. The Clavin is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Cinsault & Mourvedre. It is 50% destemmed and fermented in the more traditional cement. It is then aged in oak for a time. Most Rhône do not use new oak in the barrels.

This wine really impressed me. It was a rich, powerful wine with lots of dark berry and spice flavors as well as a touch of smoke and leather. It had strong tannins but they were well balanced. It had a lingering finish, especially with spicy notes. There was a lot of complexity in this wine, especially at this price point. This is not a wine for the faint of heart. This wine calls out for food, maybe a nice steak or lamb. It was one of my favorite wines of the tasting.

The 2005 Domaine du Deurre Vinsobres ($15.99) was next. The Vinsobres region has the same geologic structure as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including lots of white stones. This region used to be just a village but recently was awarded status as an appellation, such status even being granted retroactively for a few years. Their wines are more like old style Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This wine is one of the Domaine's best sellers.

The wine is a blend of 70% Greanche, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. This wine was destemmed and fermented in stainless steel. In fact, it is hand destemmed as well as hand sorted to separate the different quality grapes. With a medium red color, this wine has lots of licorice, spice on the nose. On the palate, the licorice and spice are joined by dark berries and plum. It also has a tinge of minerality, moderate tannins and is well balanced with a nice structure. It only has a 13.5% alcohol content and is an easy drinking, smooth wine. I can easily see why this wine sells so well.

The 2005 Lucien Barrot Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($27.99) returns to the traditional wine-making. It is a blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Cinsault & Mourvedre. The whoe cluster is fermented in cement and it sees some barrel aging. Like the previous Clavin, this wine is a rich, powerful wine. It has a dark red color and a nose of dark berry, vanilla and spice. It has a complex taste of dark berries, plum, hint of vanilla, spice, leather and a bit of earthiness. A nice, lingering finish completes this excellent wine. It does have an alcohol content of 15% but it is not really noticeable. A top notch wine that is well worth the price.

We returned for the final two wines to two more by Patrick Lesec. The first was the 2005 Patrick Lesec Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rubis ($30.39). This wine is a blend of 73% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 7% Syrah. It is 50% destemmed and 50% whole clusters as well as 50% steel fermented and 50% barrel. The wine has a medium red color with some sour cherry notes on the nose. It has a fruitier taste, though with some spice, especially on the long finish. It was made to be more approachable now, so there is no need to age it before it can be drank. This wine shows how the hotter temperatures allow wines to be made that are ready to drink sooner than later. It probably will not age that well though.

The 2005 Patrick Lesec Châteauneuf-du-Pape Pierres Dorees ($34.39) is a much more serious wine. It is a blend of 85% Grenache and 15% Mourvedre. The whole cluster is fermented in the traditional cement and it sees some barrel aging. It is darker red in color to the Rubis and I get more of blackberry and plum on the nose. On the palate, the dark fruit flavors are more subdued, balanced with spicy notes. There is actually a lot going on in this wine, a melange of complex flavors. There are some notes of oak but they do not overwhelm and the same applies to the tannins. This is a wine that needs about 3-5 years of aging before it is really ready to drink. I think it will be a superb wine then as it already is excellent. A great wine for wine lovers.

Overall this was an excellent class and the feedback I received from others who also attended was very positive. Kudos to Nick who did a great job of directing the class and I certainly learned some new things, especially about cement fermentation. The wines were all very good choices, and presented a nice contrast and comparison that really helped you see the differences that certain wine making practices bring out in the wines. If you thought all Rhone were the same, you were sadly mistaken. There is much diversity and that is good.

Gordon's was also an excellent venue for these type of wine classes and kudos must also go to Lindsay Cohen who set things up at the store. Lindsay is in charge of events at Gordon's and has done a great job at all of the events I have attended there. You can check out their website for a calendar of future events.

Gordons Fine Wine and Culinary Center
894 Main Street
Waltham, MA
Phone: 781-893-1900

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sandrine's Bistro: Spring Menu

March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, in France’s Alsace region as well as in Boston area. At Sandrine's Bistro, Alsace-born chef-owner Raymond Ost tempts diners with tiny peeks of spring on a dinner menu that reflects the brighter evenings and warmer temperatures to come.

Here are some highlights from his new Spring Menu:

Brick Oven-Baked Flammekeuche with feta, fiddleheads and morels
Potage Paysanne: Spring vegetable and bacon soup
Lobster Martini: A refreshing starter of lobster meat tossed with avocado, red onion, spring peas and cucumber in a spicy rouille
Baby Spinach Salad with lardons, marinated quail egg, portabello & Dijon vinaigrette
Herb de Provence-Crusted Spring Lamb with new potatoes; lemon thyme vinaigrette
Maine Lobster Risotto with spring vegetables
Spring Vegetable Lasagna with Asparagus in Bechamel
Strawberry Rhubarb Bavarian with almond nougatine, rhubarb vinaigrette
Fraisier: French children celebrate birthdays with this layered confection of vanilla genoise, sliced strawberries and Gran Marnier mousseline; in Europe it often comes iced in green fondant; in Cambridge we use buttercream.

And as a bonus, here is a interesting summer fish recipe from Chef Ost.

Grilled Tuna with Couscous Tabbouleh and Tropical Fruit Chutney & Mint
Tarragon Dressing

Prepare Tabbouleh:
1 box small grain couscous
3 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 bunches flat parsley, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
½ bunch scallions, chopped
juice of one lemon
½ cup olive oil
Cook couscous as directed on box. Cool completely. Add remaining ingredients & mix well

Prepare Dressing:
1 cup olive oil
juice of two lemons
1 TB Dijon mustard
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ bunch mint, chopped
1 bunch tarragon, leaves only
2 roasted red peppers (seeded & skinned)
Puree in a blender until smooth

Prepare Chutney:
1 pineapple, peeled, cored & diced
2 mangoes, diced
1 red onion, diced
2-diced tomatoes
½ bunch mint, chopped
½ bunch chopped parsley
juice of two lemons
2 TB honey
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 small habanero pepper, chopped
Combine all ingredients and macerate for 24 hrs.

Prepare fish:
Brush six 6-oz center cut tuna steaks with olive oil. Season with sea salt & pepper. Grill 2 minutes each side for rare.

Place grilled tuna atop a generous bed of tabbouleh, add 2 TB of the chutney, drizzle dressing lightly over all

Saké Sunday: Madoka Honjyozo Review

Poker and Saké. For me, it is a good combination. I play in a regular poker game with a small group of friends about once or twice a month. And many times I bring a bottle of Saké to drink over the course of the evening. Some of the other guys enjoy it as well. And as I just played poker the other night, I also tried a new Saké.

The Madoka Honjyozo ($24.99) is made by the Sasaichi Brewery in Japan. The brewery was founded in 1919 and they make their Saké with water from the Gozensui spring in the Yamanashi prefecture. As this Saké is a Honjozo, that means that some brewer's alcohol has been added to it, though its alcohol content is only 14.7%, similar to many wines. It also has a Saké Meter Value of +2, which basically makes it neutral in the dry/sweet range. I should also note it comes in a 720ml bottle.

On the nose, there is a light rice scent. In the mouth, it has a rich, creamy feel and a taste of steamed rice and a fruit flavor that is almost like a banana but not quite. It is very smooth with a good, long finish. It is well balanced and I very much enjoyed it. It easily can be drank alone though it would pair well with seafood too. At this price, it is a good buy, an easy-drinking Saké that should please most people.

Winecellar of Silene: Easter Tasting

It was a fine sunny day yesterday though there was still a bit of a chill. During my travels, I stopped by the Winecellar of Silene to attend their weekly Saturday wine tasting. Every Saturday, from 1-5pm, they hold a free wine tasting. This week's theme was Easter wines.

The Winecellar is easily located just off Rt.128, set in a small shopping center. They even have their own parking spots just for customers of the store. Dennis Duckworth of the Winecellar was manning the tasting table and I had an enjoyable chat with him while tasting the wines. He was both personable and knowledgeable. They have a tasting room separate from the rest of the store so you do not feel as crowded. There were about 10-12 wines available for tasting though I only tasted seven of them.

My favorites of the tasting included:

2006 Espelt Corali Rose ($11) from the Emporda DOC of Spain. This wine is made of 100% Garnacha. This Rose is more in the style of a French Rose, a bit drier and much less sweet than a California Rose. It has a light strawberry flavor and would be a treat during the summer. A good value wine from a less well known region of Spain.

2005 Vietti Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco ($20) is made in a winery that is in the middle of Italy's Barolo region. And this wine does bring to mind a Barolo, though much less expensive and more approachable now. It has plenty of good dark berry flavors with nice spice tones. It also has a decently long finish as well as some complexity. A very good buy at this price. And it should pair well with food.

2005 Bloom Red Petals ($10) is from the Mosel region of Germany and is made from Dornfelder, a new grape to me. Dornfelder is a cross between Helfensteiner and Heroldrebe, which are themselves crossings. Dornfelder is a juicy fruited grape intended for short to medium length wines. England also grows Dornfelder. The Red Petals was a fruity, sweet red wine. It would make a good summer wine, for sitting out in the backyard while grilling. Its sweet taste would also likely appeal to those who are not big fans of drier wines.

Dow's Crusted Porto ($30) was bottled in 1999 and contains different vintages. I was not familiar with the term "crusted." It seems that "crusted" is a tiny group of Ports which were named because of the crust of sediment that forms in the bottle. Because of the sediment, it should be decanted. Crusted Port is meant to be a less expensive alternative to Vintage Ports. This Crusted Port spent 2-3 years in oak. It had a typical Port nose and a very nice taste, a good balance of sweetness vs dryness. There was no bitterness in the taste as you get in some younger Ports. It is certainly a Port you would enjoy after dinner, while relaxing with or without dessert. I am very particular on what Ports I like, and this definitely pleased me.

If you would like to stop by the Winecellar of Silene you will have an excellent opportunity soon as on April 12, from 1-4pm, they will be holding their SpringFest 2008. This will be a free wine tasting of over 25 American wines. I will be leading a group of the North Shore Winers to this event so maybe I will see you there.

Winecellar of Silene
475 Winter Street
Waltham, MA
Phone: 781-890-2121

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Grand Tasting: March 29

The Wine Gallery, with locations in Brookline and in Kenmore Square, will be holding their Spring Grand Tasting on March 29 (Saturday), from 3-6pm. This free tasting will include over 100 wines and a special section for ciders and meads, gourmet nibbles and more. More details will likely follow.

I have been to their grand tastings before and they are definitely good events. There will be a nice variety of wines, of all price points. I have only been to their Brookline location but like their store a lot. They have plenty of wine, including some I have not seen elsewhere, as well as liquors, gourmet foods, and exotic beers. Plus they have an Enomatic, the wine sample dispensing machine. You should check out their Spring Grand Tasting.

If you can't wait to check out the store, maybe you can stop by Brookline this Saturday, March 22, from 3-6pm, when they will be tasting Beija, the virgin cane rum I have mentioned numerous times here. The Wine Gallery is selling Beija for $29.99.

Wine Gallery: Brookline
375 Boylston Street (Rte 9 @ Cypress St)
Brookline, MA
Phone: (617) 277-5522

Wine Gallery: Kenmore
Hotel Commonwealth
516 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 266-9300

Eat Dessert For a Good Cause

Eat Dessert For a Good Cause. Though you may not neen much excuse to eat dessert, it certainly is even better when that dessert is also helping to benefit the less fortunate.

From Sunday, March 30th through Friday, April 4th, diners who enjoy a meal at the Beacon Hill Bistro on Charles Street in Boston are being told “Don't skip dessert!” During that week, Beacon Hill Bistro owners Peter and Cecilia Rait are donating all proceeds from desserts ordered with a lunch or dinner entrée to the scholarship program at Hill House, a community center serving Boston’s downtown neighborhoods.

Hill House distributes $20,000 - $25,000 in program scholarships to dozens of area families each fiscal year. All scholarships are need-based and include both full and partial coverage of program fees to help broaden access to programs throughout the Boston community. Recipients are chosen from an applicant pool by a committee comprised of Hill House staff and volunteer Board members. Those awarded scholarships are notified and able to register for programs on a strictly confidential basis. Through quality programs, collaborative partnerships and volunteer support, Hill House seeks to build and foster a strong sense of community and improve the quality of life for Boston-area residents of all ages.

Since its founding 40 years ago, Hill House has provided thousands of children and adults with access to such programs as music for tots, cooking for “tweens”, Tai Chi for senior, and sports like basketball, baseball softball, soccer, karate, fencing and toddler tumbling. Hill House’s scholarship program helps ensure that our programs are available to children whose families might not otherwise be able to afford them.

Today Hill House serves nearly 2,000 families, employs 35 instructors formore than 130 classes, and deploys 90 volunteer coaches. Hill House runs a 10-week summer camp that attracts children from across the city. Community members gather at many fun, free, events such as the annual Pancake Breakfast, monthly meals for seniors, kids holiday parties, family game and movie nights, and much more.

And what is the Beacon Hill Bistro?

The Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, is a multi-use property consisting of both an intimate and authentic boutique hotel and an award winning Bistro in Boston’s historic Beacon Hill. The Hotel consists of 12 guest rooms and one in-room suite; blending both modern convenience and historical character reflected in its thoughtful and distinctive design. The Bistro serves Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, as well as, weekend Brunches and is open 365 days a year.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Newly Added Local Food Bloggers

I wanted to inform my readers that I have recently added three local food blogs to my list of Food Links. They include Fussy Eater, Cave Cibum, and Boston Food & Whine. These are all passionate, local foodies and you should check out their blogs. You will find restaurant reviews, recipes and more food related items. No one person can properly cover all of the local restaurants so these other blogs can give a place to go to find out abour restaurants that I have not reviewed yet. Plus, they give you different views on food issues which is also good. So stop on over at these blogs and see what is happening.

WBW #44: French Cabernet Franc

The theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday #44 has now been announced and you don't have much time to prepare. Gary Vaynerchuk, who needs little introduction, of Wine Library TV is hosting this month and has chosen French Cabernet Franc to be the theme. Many such wines come from the Loire Valley of France.

You must post your review on April 2, which gives you only about two weeks. It might take a bit of hunting for these wines so you might want to start looking early.

Cabernet Franc is probably my least favorite grape, especially when it stands alone or is the dominant grape in a blend. It often has a vegetal/green pepper flavor which immediately turns me off. I have heard that there are some Cabernet Francs without that flavor, but I have not tasted any yet. So, it might be doubly hard for me, to not only find a French Cab Franc, but also to find one that I enjoy.

Anyone else out there in a similar situation, who also dislikes Cab Franc?

Wine Sale: Reading

The Wine Shop of Reading is celebrating Spring with a store-wide Wine Sale. The Sale runs through Saturday, March 22, and applies to in-stock 750ml bottles only.

The discounts are:
Mix and Match 6 bottles: 15% OFF
Mix and Match 12 + bottles: 20% OFF

Why not stop by and pick up some wines for Easter or just because spring nears. They have a good selection of wines and the staff is more than willing to help you select some wines that will appeal to you.

Wine Shop of Reading
676 Main St.
Reading, MA
Phone: 781-944-4521

Meatout? Hell, No!

One of those strange coincidences. First, today is the annual observance of Meatout. What is Meatout?

"Meatout is an international observance helping individuals evolve to a wholesome, nonviolent diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains. The purpose is to expose the public to the joys and benefits of a plant-based diet, while promoting the availability and selection of meat and dairy alternatives in mainstream grocery stores, restaurants, and catering operations."

"Every spring, thousands of Meatout supporters educate their communities and ask their friends, families, and neighbors to pledge to "kick the meat habit (at least for a day) and explore a wholesome, nonviolent diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

Meatout, which began in 1985, is coordinated by FARM, a national nonprofit, public interest organization. They advocate plant-based (vegan) diets to save animals, protect the environment, and improve health.

Now for the funny part. What am I in the middle of reading right now? The Shameless Carnivore: A Manifesto for Meat Lovers by Scott Gold. It is a fascinating book that definitely appeals to my own carnivore tendencies. I will post a full review in the near future, but will say the book addresses many aspects of eating meat, including information on the health aspects. It is well written and certainly speaks to me. Certainly not proper reading material for Meatout.

I could never be a vegan. I would miss my tasty meat far too much. So, I won't be participating in Meatout today. Could I give up meat for one day? Sure. But I don't want to. I see no valid reason to do so.

Maybe us shameless carnivores should have a Meatin today instead and savor a fine steak, a juicy hamburger or a spicy sausage. where should I eat today then?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Top Wines Sold in Restaurants

It seems to me that wine buying in restaurants will differ to some extent from wine buying at wine/liquor stores. One major factor in the differences would be that wine prices in restaurants are generally much higher. A person who might buy a specific wine at a wine store might not be willing to pay two to three times the price for that same bottle in a restaurant. Another factor may be the types of restaurants that people frequent, which could tend toward a certain type of wine, such as how steakhouses seem to be a place for many for a Cabernet.

It is interesting each year then to read the Wine & Spirits Annual Restaurant Poll, to see which wines are selling the best in restaurants all across the country. This is their 19th annual poll. The poll presents results from the past year as well as marking trends over an extended time period. Wine & Spirits sent out 2444 questionnaires to restaurants across the country, though they only received 309 back.

One trend is that over the last ten years, people have been seeker more lighter wines, both red and white. They have also been seeker many different white wines, from less common grapes, moving beyond the standard Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc. They have been trying others such as Gruner Veltliner, Albarino and Cortese. Thin skinned Pinot Noir has also been increasing in popularity. I think it is good news to see that more and more people are willing to experiment with different grapes, to try new wines.

Another interesting trend is that though red wines make up 62.1% of restaurant wine sales, this is a slight decrease over last year. Almost all types of restaurants, except Asian, have seen a slight decline in red wine sales. Why Asian? They saw about almost a 5% increase in red wine sales. Could Asian teppanyaki steak houses be fueling this increase?

Curiously enough, the average price of a couple varieties of wine has decreased over the past year. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot saw price decreases with Chardonnay seeing the largest price increase.

Wine & Spirits then presents their Top 50, the list of the top selling wines of the year in restaurants. The list is by winery and not by specific wine. It is probably not a surprise that 7 out of the top 10 are California wines. Two Italian and one French Champagne fill out the top 10. There is not one Spanish or Portugese wine on the Top 50. And 36 of the 50 are from California. So, it seems difficult to non-Californian wines to really break into that Top 50. With the current problems of the Dollar vs. Euro, likely leading to increased prices on wines from Europe, it does not look like those wines will break the Top 50 anytime soon. There is also a list of the top 33 wines sold by the glass. Again California controls that list.

The magazine continues with a breakdown of best selling wines by variety and country. For each variety, they provide info on their % as a top selling wine, with a graph for a number of years, as well as a list of the most popular wines of that variety from the past year.

Which varieties have increased in popularity? Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wines, Pinot Noir, Italian wines (only a tiny increase), Argentina wines, Australia wines and New Zealand wines. Which varieties have decreased in popularity? Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay (which had only a slight increase after ten years of decline), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot (continuing a ten year decline), French wines, and Spanish wines (a slight decrease). Zinfandel, Syrah have basically stayed the same.

Check out Wine & Spirits to see the rest of the intriguing article.

Stoneham Sun: Salem Wine Imports

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the March 19 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 has been published today and is also available online. The new column is a review of Salem Wine Imports, a new wine store in Salem. This is a small, boutique wine store with a good selection, wide range of price points and a passionate owner. Why not stop by and check it out.

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

Dine with passion!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Chateau Ste Michelle Wine Dinner: Stoneham, April 6

On April 6 (Sunday), from 6:30-9:00pm, Melissa's Main Street Bistro will hold another special Wine Dinner. They are starting to have more frequent wine dinners and they are worth checking out. This dinner will highlight the wines of Chateau Ste. Michelle, the oldest winery in Washington as well as a maker of some quality wines.

The Menu:
First Course: Frisée and Endive Salad with Maytag Bleu Cheese & Dried Pears tossed in a Champagne Walnut Vinaigrette

Second Course: Grilled and Smoked Diver Sea Scallop and Shrimp, Tropical Fruit “Carpaccio” Kaffir Lime Oil & Mache Salad

Third Course: Certified Angus Beef Tenderloin Tournedos Served over Spring Peas, Sweet Potato & Cipollini Onions, Finished with a Marsala Demi Glace

Dessert: Bananas Fosters, Croissant Bread Pudding With Rum Raisin Caramel Sauce

Cost: $55 per person (excluding tax/gratuity). Call for Reservations.

Melissa's Main Street Bistro
407 Main St.
Stoneham, MA
Phone: 781-438-7243

2004 Terre Rubre Cerasus

Why let a grape variety die out? Should we not attempt to cultivate as many grapes as possible, especially indigenous grapes with a lengthy history? Especially grapes that make a delicious wine?

Last night, I opened one of the new wines I bought at the Farfalle Italian Market. I chose Italian wines made from more unusual grapes, grapes I had not tasted before. I love the adventure of trying such a new wine. You never known what you might find, what a treasure you might never had known about otherwise.

The 2004 Terre Rubre Cerasus ($16.99) is made in the Lazio region of Italy, in the same region as Rome. Lazio sits on the west coast of Italy and has 26 DOCs. Terre Rubre is located in the DOC of Cesanese di Olevano Romano, southeast of Rome. Most Lazio wines are white though red are starting to increase in popularity. Terre Rubre cultivates primarily Cesanese Comune and Cesanese D'Affile with small plots of Montepulciano, Sangiovese and Ottonese.

I had never had Cesanese before. It is an old grape but relatively rare now and found in the Lazio region. There are two varieties, Cesanese Comune and Cesanese D'Affile. The Comune is the larger berried version and is also known as Bonvino Nero. For a time, most Cesanese wines were made frizzante, like Lambrusco. But, more still wines are now being made with Cesanese. Still, it is a grape that is waning and unless some producers make efforts to continue to cultivate it, its fate may not be good.

The 2004 Terre Rubre Cerasus is made of 95% Cesanese Comune and 5% Sangiovese. It has an alcohol content of 13%. The wine is a darker red though with some translucency. It has a nice nose of dark fruits reminiscent of black cherries and plums. In my mouth, the wine began with a rush of subdued dark berries, a delicious mouth of fruit that did not overwhelm. Yet the finish transformed, with more acidity, spice notes and a touch of rusticness. It was a different transformation that intrigued me. And the finish lingered for a good length of time. I had the wine with my corned beef and they seemed to go together ok. The wine mellowed a bit more with food.

This was a bit of a different wine, and it is hard to pinpoint some of the reasons for it. But it certainly was enjoyable and I would recommend it as a Drink & Buy. We finished the bottle with dinner so obviously liked it very much. Why not give it a try and learn about a rare grape.

Wilson Farm

Once we left Concord this past Saturday, we headed into Lexington to continue our exploratory adventures. And the first place we stopped was Wilson Farm. I had heard of Wilson Farm before but had not been there before. And we decided to stop at the farm even before we knew its name. It just looked like a large farm and there were many cars parked there. We were hoping to find some fresh produce. And we found that and so much more.

Wilson Farm was founded in 1884 by Irish immigrants. They started with about sixteen acres of land and began to grow vegetables, which they would transport and sell at Quincy Market in Boston. Over time, it has remained in the Wilson family and the farm has expanded to thirty-three acres. Plus, they own another five hundred acress in Litchfield, New Hampshire. They grow many different fruit and vegetables, as well as raise chickens. Their philosophy is to engage in sensible, sustainable, environmentally responsible agriculture. Soil conservation and fertility is their single most important practice.

Their farm stand in Lexington is next to a full-service garden and open-air nursery featuring indoor and outdoor plants grown in their 37,000 square foot greenhouse. The farmstand sells more than just their vegetables and fruits. They sell produce from all over the world, plus fresh meat, gourmet cheeses, baked goods, poultry, their own fresh eggs, take-home meals, cut flowers, their own brand of soda and much more. I was amazed at how large this place was and how much they had to offer.

They had some of the freshest and best looking produce I have seen in a long time. They had a couple sample stations and what I tasted was fresh and delicious. They have a large variety of many items, such as easily a dozen types of mushrooms, if not more. Their produce put to shame some local supermarkets. Their baked good section was also impressive. I got some cheese English muffins which were at least twice as thick as most other English muffins. And I had some last night and they were delicious, plenty of cheese flavor in a soft, muffin. They even had cider donuts!!! Their meats, steaks, chicken, pork, etc., also looked excellent. They have their own brand of sodas, including a root beer. I tried the root beer and it was one of the best I have had in a while. It had an old-time flavor, more natural.

Prices of some items may tend to be a bit higher than the supermarkets but you are also getting a much higher quality product. Thus I dont think the items are overpriced for what you get. We left with three bags of groceries, and at a very reasonable price for all that we got. I was surprised that it did not cost more than it did.

I am definitely returning there and highly recommend that you go as well. Not only will you be getting a high quality product, but you will be supporting local farmers as well as a more eco-friendly farm.

Wilson Farm
10 Pleasant Street
Lexington, MA 02421
Phone: (781) 862-3900

Monday, March 17, 2008

Concord Adventures Continued

After our delicious visit to Farfalle Italian Market, we next stopped at La Provence, a French bakery and cafe very close to Farfalle.

Robert Didier is the chef and owner of La Provence. He was born in Provence, france and has been involved in cooking since his culinary apprenticeship at the age of 13. La Provence serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also chocolates, truffles, pastries, candy and much more. You can buy premade meals to take home or dine in their cafe. They also sell European grocery items, most from France.

I bought a French baguette that was still warm from the oven. I had to eat some of it soon after buying it. How could I resist warm, freshly baked bread? And it was superb. I got a couple pastries as well, and they were fresh and delicious. Everything else I saw looked equally as good and this is another place I will return to when I am back in Concord.

La Provence
105 Thoreau St.
Concord, MA
Phone: (978) 371-7428

Just down the street from La Provence, we had to stop at Bedford Farms Ice Cream. This is a second location, the first being in Bedford. They serve homemade-style gourmet ice cream, frozen yogurt and soft serve. They sell ice cream cones, sundaes, frappes and more. It is a small shop but has character with a railroad decor.

I had a small sugar cone of Almond Joy ice cream ($3.50) and a companion had a small Chocolate soft serve ($3.50). Both ice creams were quite large for a "small." And the ice cream was excellent, creamy and flavorful. My Almond Joy had plenty of coconut and large pieces of chocolate. It was definitely high quality ice cream. The Chocolate was one of the darkest soft serves I have ever seen, and it too was clearly high quality, with a rich chocolate flavor. You get a very good value for the price. I would highly recommend you stop here for ice cream.

Bedford Farms Ice Cream
68 Thoreau Street
Concord, MA
Phone: (978) 341-0000
Bedford Farms Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Next, we took a short drive to Concord Center, to peruse the various shops there. And the highlight was The Concord Cheese Shop. Like the Farfalle Italian Market, this is a combination restaurant, grocery and wine store. But, the Concord Cheese Shop does not specialize in Italian food or wines. They have a more eclectic menu, as well as a huge selection of cheeses. They do have a few tables where you can eat lunch though it is a bit crowded.

They have a large wine selection, a few hundred bottles at least, with a lot of variety as well as a good range of price points. What really excited me is that they stock wines from Turtle Creek Winery, which is located in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I have visited the winery before and been a long fan of their wines. The wine maker, Kip Kumler, is a passionate man who is seeking to make low production, quality wines. Very few wine stores cary his wine and they sell out quickly when they are available. So when I saw them at this Cheese Shop, I grabbed all eight bottles of the 2006 Turtle Creek Pinot Noir ($20). At that price, it is an excellent value. His wines good easily sell at twice that price.

I also have to give them kudos for showcasing another excellent value, a $5 Portuguese wine. They have been doing so for several years, when it was only $4, and have now sold over 35,000 bottles of the wine. And only once has anyone returned it. It does not surprise me that a Portuguese wine of this that price is that good. But I am very glad to see others enjoying such wines too.

I spent a little time talking with Bill, who used to own the store and now works in the wine section. He was very personable, knowledgeable and we both love Dali, the tapas restaurant in Somerville. Another excellent find in Concord and a place I recommend you check out.

The Concord Cheese Shop
29 Walden Street
Concord, MA
Phone: (978) 369-5778

NE Aquarium "Celebrate Seafood Dinners"

The New England Aquarium will soon host the next segment of their "Celebrate Seafood Dinner Series" which offers delicious seafood that is also good for the ocean. Some of Boston’s best chefs will create the three-course dinners, paired with wine, and using sustainable seafood. You will also get to see informative cooking demonstrations while you dine. The dinners will take place at the Aquarium's Harbor View Cafe and guests will be seated at large tables to foster conversation.

Five dinners were planned for 2008 with different celebrity chefs for each event. The remaining scheduled dates are: April 1, June 3, October 7 and November 18. Each dinner begins at 6:30 p.m.

On April 1, Chef Peter Davis of Henrietta’s Table in Cambridge will headline. He will join Aquarium Chef Tim Ridge in an informative and fun cooking demonstration before each of the three courses. The evening’s menu features farm-raised shrimp, wild-caught sablefish and farm-raised Arctic char. Each course is expertly paired with a fine wine and with a discussion about what makes it an Earth-friendly choice. Each guest will also receive printed recipe cards for the evening’s dishes.

Chef Peter Davis uses organic and native ingredients from local producers throughout and beyond Massachusetts, creating an original and simple approach to classic New England cuisine. Chef Davis, whose motto is “fresh and honest,” is an avid conservationist with close ties to the fishing and farming communities of New England, and a true working chef, heavily involved in the daily operations of the restaurant. The opening of Henrietta’s Table was a lifelong ambition. He was also one of the first proponents of the use of organic products, and will not use any genetically engineered foods or products at Henrietta’s Table.

Here is the basic schedule:
6:30-7 p.m.: Cocktails
7-7:45 p.m.: Intros, First Course Demo, Discussion & Wine Pairing
7:45-8:30 p.m.: Second Course Demo, Discussion & Wine Pairing
8:30-9:15 p.m.: Third Course Demo, Discussion & Wine Pairing
9:15-10:00 p.m.: Dessert, Coffee and Q&A

The price is $65 for NE Aquarium members and $75 for non-members. Space is limited, and reservations are required. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations or visit their website for more information.

Farfalle Italian Market

This past Saturday, I spent an adventurous and enjoyable day exploring some of the foodie destinations of Concord and Lexington. I had but a single destination in my mind when I began the trek. And then I knew I would just wander around, hoping to stumble upon other worthy spots. So, joined by two foodie compatriots, we headed off to Concord.

Our first stop was the Farfalle Italian Market in Concord. I had not been there before and it was the only planned destination on this trip. I had only recently learned of it and their website had intrigued me. I knew they sold Italian food as well as wine. And Adonna Imports was one of their wine distributors. That fact indicated to me that they were serious about their wine. Plus farfalle, bow-tie pasta, is one of my favorites so I liked the name of the market.

The Farfalle Italian Market opened less than a year ago, in June, and is owned and operated by Gina Nasson and Jeff Nedeau. They are married and residents of Concord. Some of their family also helps out in the store. This is a small, family owned business and not some large corporate outpost.

We arrived at the store around lunchtime. The store has two basic rooms, one for the deli and foods and the other room for their wines. When you walk through the front door, there are a couple tables to your left where you can sit and eat. The deli counter faces you as you enter, showcasing deli meats, cheeses and home-made foods. There was a large frittata, some chicken parmesan, stuffed peppers and more. There are shelves on the walls with a variety of Italian food products from pastas to sauces, from olive oil to cookies. It is small but definitely contains a wide selection of items.

For lunch, they primarily have soups and paninis with a couple specials such as a fritta and a pasta dish. I tried a bowl of the Chicken Orzo soup ($4.50) and a Panini with Prosciutto, Mozzarella, Tomato, Basil and Balsamic ($7.95). My companions both got Paninis with Egg Frittata, Tomato, Basil and Mozzarell ($7.25). The Paninis came on long rolls and were very tasty. Everything was very fresh and they did not skimp on the fillings. The soup was quite good as well, with a savory chicken broth and lots of orzo. Everyone tried the soup and they liked it very much. A good lunch that made me want to try more of their food.

They do have a few baked goods as well, from fresh bread to a large chocolate cake. We bought some brioche rolls, which are not made on the premises. They were fresh and very good, with just a tinge of sweetness. They would be perfect warmed and smeared with butter.

We ate our lunch in the back room area, where the wines are displayed. They have a few more tables back there. In total, they can seat maybe 10-12 people. Their wine selection impressed me and I spoke a bit with owner Jeff Nedeau. As it was Saturday, they were having a small wine tasting. They do so every Saturday, as well as every Thursday and Friday night from 5-7pm. Out of the three whites I tasted, the standout was the Schoffit Chasselas. I had recently tasted my first Chasselas, a Swiss wine, and enjoyed this Alsace version as well. I should also note that Schoffit makes an excellent Gewurztraminer.

I would say they have about 70 wines in stock, mostly Italian though with a smattering of other Old World wines. Though I recognized a number of the wines, they are definitely not the common Italian wines you can find in any wine or liquor store. They mainly come from small producers, such as those in the Adonna Imports portfolio. There was a nice variety of different Italian wines, both whites and reds, sparkling and dessert wines. Prices are average and there is a good range of price points, with plenty of wines under $20.

I bought six wines, all with grapes of which I was unfamiliar, rarer indigenous Italian grapes. I love trying out different grapes so this was an excellent find for me. Their wine selection is well worth checking out. I also note that they sometimes host wine makers for special tastings, which is always a worthy event.

I spent a little time speaking with Jeff as well. His passion for wine and the market was quite evident. He was very personable and down to earth. He is certainly knowledgeable about wines and carefully selects which wines will be sold. He seeks the small, quality producers. And I think he has succeeded in stocking an excellent and diverse group of wines.

Farfalle serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. They also have a Thursday Night Salad & Pizza special and Friday Night Dinners. You can order large servings, from 8-20, of a number of dishes for parties or get togethers. You can check out their detailed website for more information about everything they do.

Overall, I was impressed by Farfalle and would definitely recommend that you stop by to check it out. It is easy to locate, just off Route 2. Enjoy some good food and peruse their intriguing wine selection. Jeff is also the type of passionate store owner that I enjoy supporting. I will definitely return and maybe I will see you there too.

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