Friday, October 31, 2008

Bin 26 Enoteca: Now Serving Brunch

As I am a big fan of Bin 26 Enoteca, I was very intrigued to learn that they will now be serving brunch. The menu is not yet listed on their website but I did receive an email about some of the available choices such as:

Baked Frittata of Cotechine-style Sausage, Grana Padana, and Roasted Cherry Tomatoes with Roasted Red Tomatoes served with Grilled Sourdough Bread ($12)
Pouched Eggs over Duck Confit Hash with Hollandaise ($13)
Pumpkin Crepe with Honey Caramel Sauce and Sweet Mascarpone Cheese ($11).

Try their fresh pressed, from the orchard Orange, Pear, and Apple Juices ($4.75). Or maybe you would prefer a Bellini ($9) over a House-made Pastry ($3), or a Sake Bloody Mary ($7) with a savory Bruschetta of Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, and Roasted Apples ($11).

Brunch is served every Sunday from 10am - 2:30pm and will be served on Saturdays too, beginning Saturday, November 8th.

I will be sure to check out their brunch soon and will report back.

Bin 26 Enoteca
26 Charles Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-723-5939

Wine Report 2009

I usually do not purchase annual wine buying guides but there is one annual guide that I do purchase each year, though it is not quite a buying guide. The Wine Report 2009, edited by Tom Stevenson (DK Publishing, Inc., October 2008, $15.00), recommends plenty of wines but there is much more to the book than that. It also has plenty of wine news, vintage reports, regional information and essays on a variety of wine-related topics.

The book is primarily broken down into regional reports and cover all of the major wine regions as well as plenty of minor ones as well. For example, they cover wineries all over the U.S., from California to Massachusetts. You will find reports on countries like Israel, India, Belgium and more. Each regional report begins with wine news, essays, and vintage info for the past six years. There are then lists of recommended producers and wines, including great quality wines as well as bargain wines. Each list has up to ten entries, though less if warranted.

Finally, the regional report ends with my favorite section, a list of "Most Exciting or Unusual Finds." These are odd wines, maybe with unusual grapes or blends, or something outside the ordinary for the region. I love learning about all of these eclectic wines, seeing the incredible diversity of the wine world. These are wines I am likely to buy if I saw them in my local wine store. At the end of the book, they even compile a list of their 100 Most Exciting Wine Finds.

After all of the regional reports, there are a number of articles on subjects such as Organic & Biodynamic Wines, Wine & Health, Grape Varieties, Wine Science and more. These are often fascinating articles with additional wine recommendations as well as plenty of statistics, such as the most widely cultivated grapes. The article, Wine on the Web, provides plenty of URLs for wine related websites. But this article gives little coverage to wine blogs, mentioning their existence but not really providing a list of any.

This book is probably not a good choice for someone new to wine. It assumes, and explicitly states, that the reader already possess a certain level of information about wine. But for someone who has a moderate level of wine knowledge, I think they would enjoy this book. It is not a standard wine buying guide. And is a great source for learning about the less well known wine regions.

Temple Bar: Thanksgiving

Your second option today for Thanksgiving Dinner is the Temple Bar. Executive Chef Tom Berry has created a lively and eclectic menu that also offers a wine pairing and a kid’s menu.
The a la carte holiday menu includes:

Roasted Pumpkin Bisque with Apple Caponata, Mini Popover
Roasted Beet Salad with Frissee, Hazelnuts, Goat Cheese, Caramelized Pear, Champagne Vinaigrette
Seared Maine Scallop with Baby Black Lentils, Duck Confit, Candied Kumquat
Braised Lamb Shoulder with Crispy Chick Pea Fritter, Date and Pine Nut Relish

“Devils on Horseback” Stuffed Pork Loin with Truffle-Pumpkin Gratin, Swiss Chard, & Pork Jus
Tom's Turkey with Carved Breast, Roast Leg, Mushroom Stuffing, Pan Gravy, Golden Potato Puree, & Cranberry Relish
Pan Roasted Chatham Cod with Truffle Potato Puree, Escarole, Braised Baby Artichokes, &
Bacon Vinaigrette
Vegetarian Pumpkin Risotto with Roasted Turnips, Porcini Mushrooms, & Parmesan Reggiano

Apple Spice Cake with Toasted Walnuts & Cinnamon Crème Anglaise
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Snaps
White Chocolate-Banana Bread Pudding with Burnt Sugar Ice Cream

Baby Brussels Sprouts
Golden Potato Puree
Mushroom Stuffing
Truffle Pumpkin Gratin
Reservations Recommended: Please call 617- 547-5055.
1688 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA

Grafton Street: Thanksgiving

Today, I present a couple additional options if you would prefer to dine out on Thanksgiving rather than cook at home. First up, Grafton Street.

Executive Chef Matthew Richey has created an a la carte menu full of traditional holiday offerings including:

Local Blue Hubbard Squash Soup with goat cheese and spiced pepitas $5.95
Mixed Young Lettuces with Vermont cheddar cheese & red wine vinaigrette $6.95

Whole Roast Turkey with apple and golden raisin stuffing, natural jus, & cranberry jam $17.95
Slow Roasted Meyer Ranch Prime Rib with truffled potato puree, green beans, & sauce béarnaise $26.95
Maple Glazed Virginia Ham with sweet potato gratin, spicy collard greens, & caramelized apple relish $16.95
Poached Atlantic Salmon with Yukon potato-leek hash, baby spinach, & butternut squash coulis $18.95
Pumpkin Risotto with dried cranberries, sage, & pecorino romano $15.95

Sides: $4.00 each
Green beans with almonds
Mashed potatoes
Sweet potato gratin
Spicy collard greens
Reservations Recommended: Please call 617-497-0400.

Grafton Street
1230 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge (Harvard Square)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Twitter Taste Live #4: Jed Steele

For the first few Twitter Taste Live events, I have participated from the comfort of my home, sharing the wines with a few family members and friends. Though I have enjoyed it, I felt it was time for a bit of change. So I decided to visit Bin Ends for Twitter Taste Live #4, especially as they were having the guest wine maker, Jed Steele of Steele Wines, at their store.

At least 40-50 people showed up at Bin Ends for the tasting and John and Craig had a diverse selection of cheeses for snacks. They also set up, with the help of Chris from Saltine Studio, a large screen to show all of the Twitter posts and the video feed. Twitter was certainly quite active that night and the tasting was the #1 topic for a time. There were people from all over the world participating. It was great to sip wine and chat with all of the people at the store, including other bloggers like Dale of Drinks Are On Me.

As for the guest of honor, this is Jed Steele’s 40th year of being involved in making wine in California. Jed began working in the wine business at Stony Hill Winery in the Napa Valley in 1968. He also worked for 10 years for Edmeades, then a small independent winery in Mendocino County, as winemaker and vineyard manager. He then moved on to become the founding winemaker, general manager, and VP of Production at Kendall Jackson for the first nine vintages of that company. He eventually founded Steele and Shooting Star Wines in 1991. You can see Jed below, the very tall man in the center. He was very personable, passionate and down to earth.

The winery has a minimalist winemaking style, believing that will better highlight the aromas and the flavors of the fruit they source. The fruit they source for the Steele and Shooting Star labels is the same. They get grapes from vineyards in Washington and California. The primary difference between the two labels is that the Shooting Star wines are more appellation blends and less common varietals. They are also generally fermented in stainless or aged in oak for a short period of time so the wines are more bright and fruit forward. The Steele wines are single vineyard or specific vineyard blends that age longer in oak.

The winery produces quite an extensive and diverse portfolio of wines, though their total production is relatively low. Many of their wines are produced only in very small quantities. When I asked Jed about this, he basically stated that he enjoyed experimenting with different wines, that he preferred to produce a nice variety of wines.

One thing that impressed me was Jed's commitment to making reasonably priced wines. Even his top end wines are less than $50, and most of his wines are under $25. In Wine Spectator (3/04), Jed stated: "People expect value. It's not that I envision making wines for the masses, but I've always felt wines should be reasonably priced." His wines may be inexpensive, but they are far from "cheap." You get good value from these wines.

The wines we tasted included:

2006 Shooting Star Aligote (Washington): Aligoté may not be a grape you are familiar with as we don't see much of it in the U.S., except primarily as a blending grape. But it seems Washington is producing some now. This Aligoté was barrel fermented but they use older oak barrels. I found the wine to have a nice golden color and a bit of a floral nose. It is a crisp wine with green apple and mineral notes and a touch of tartness. An interesting wine that has some character and is worth checking out. Price is usually $15 but it is only $12 at Bin Ends.

2006 Steele Pinot Blanc (California): This wine is fermented in neutral oak barrels, to give it weight and mouthfeel. The wine is then aged for just under four months in neutral oak. The nose of this wine reminded me of some creamy Chardonnays. It had a nice gold color and the creaminess came through on my palate as well. I detected some green apple and melon flavors and it had a short finish. This is not my preferred style of wine so I did not care for it that much. Price is usually $17 but it is only $14 at Bin Ends.

I should note that an informal poll of the people at the tasting showed they were equally split in their preferences between the Aligote and Pinot Blanc.

2006 Steele Cuvee Chardonnay (California): This wine was also fermented in oak, though 20% of the barrels were new. It then remains in barrel for eight months, the lees stirred regularly, and the wine finishes malolactic fermentation. The art comes when Jed must select which lots and barrels to blended into this Cuvee. I enjoyed this Chardonnay because it was not overly oaky and the fruit flavors were allowed to dominate. It still had some creamy smoothness to it but not that huge buttery taste. If you generally dislike California Chardonnays, you should try this one and maybe it will change your mind. Price is usually $22 but it is only $16.80 at Bin Ends.

2006 Shooting Star Blue Franc (Washington): This was the stand out wine of the evening for me, for several reasons. First, it was a more unusual wine. Second, I like the story behind the wine. Third, the label is cool. Fourth, it had an incredible nose on it that I could have just sat and smelled for hours.

While visiting Austria, Jed was impressed by a wine made from the Lemberger grape, which is also known by its older name Blau Frankisch, literally “blue grape from France.” He later found Lemberger growing in Washington’s Yakima Valley and decided to make a wine from this grape. Now, to avoid any relation to Lember, the stinky cheese, he decided to refer to the grape as Blau Frankisch and call the Blue Franc. He was also able, after some wrangling, to use a French Franc note as the label. The label looks very cool.

The Blue Franc receives little or no oak aging. When I first smelled this wine, I fell in love with it. Such lush berry scents with hints of exotic spices. It seduced my nose and brought such sensory pleasure. I enjoyed the taste of the wine as well, though its nose still was more compelling. It has plenty of rich berry flavors with hints of spice, maybe a bit of cinnamon and almost anise. Very smooth and easy drinking wine and an excellent value at the price. Price is usually $15 but it is only $12 at Bin Ends.

2006 Steele Pinot Noir (Carneros): Their approach is to produce a classic “Pinot-lover’s Pinot.” After fermentation the wine is aged for nine months in a combination of French, Oregon and Hungarian barrels. This was a dark red colored wine with a nice nose of black cherry and raspberry. It was a very juicy wine, with lots of ripe berry flavors and nice touches of pepper and other spices. A decently long finish and a very smooth wine. More Californian than Burgundian in style. I very much enjoyed this Pinot and definitely would recommend it. Price is usually $23 but it is only $18.40 at Bin Ends.

2006 Steele Zinfandel (Pacini Ranch): Jed has spent 25 years crafting Zinfandel from the Pacini Vineyard so he knows the vineyard very well. This wine is aged in American oak barrels for 12 months, using 25% new barrels and 75% neutral barrels. This selection of oak allows them to maximize the fruit component while rounding out the structure of the wine. This was an absolutely delicious Zin, big, bold and spicy. Lots of flavor and complexity for the price. A real knock-out wine. Price is usually $19 but it is only $15.20 at Bin Ends.

This was another successful Twitter Taste Live event. The wines were delicious and excellent values. Jed Steele came off very well and is an easily likable person. I will be drinking more Steele wines in the future and recommend that you check them out as well, especially that Blue Franc.

Stay tuned for next month for the next Twitter Taste Live event on November 15. The Wine Bloggers Take Over and I will provide more details soon.

Aura Restaurant for Thanksgiving

Don't feel like cooking on Thanksgiving? Would you rather dine somewhere where you don't have to do the dishes afterward? Another option would be dinner at the Aura Restaurant. Chef Rachel Klein has created some inventive holiday offerings including a special Kids Menu.

Here are your choices:

First Course
New England Clam Chowder
with Chive, Oyster Cracker and Cracked Pepper
Buttercup Squash Bisque with Ginger, Crème Fraiche and Chive
Baby Arugula Salad with Wild Rice, Dried Cranberries, Great Hill Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette
Baked Oysters with Pancetta, Leeks and Mornay Sauce
Rabbit Ravioli with Dried Plums, Cinnamon Olives, Shaved Grana Padano and Truffle Jus

Second Course
All Natural Turkey
with Cranberry Condiment, Cornbread-Chorizo Stuffing, Brussels Sprouts and choice of Sweet Potato or Potato Puree
*Dark Meat Available Upon Request
Short Rib with Spinach Spaetzle, Roasted Cipollini Onions, Wild Mushrooms and Braising Jus
Pork Loin Chop with Kuri Squash Puree, Apple Butter, Spiced Pecans and Mustard Greens
Monkfish Medallions with “Mussels Normandy,” Apple Fritters and Stout Reduction
Pan Roasted Scallops with Pomme Puree, Roasted Cauliflower, Matsutake Mushroom and Bordelaise Sauce

Dessert Buffet Offering:
Pumpkin Cheesecake, Pecan Pie, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Carrot Cake, Chocolate Mousse Cake, Cranberry Walnut Tarts, Pumpkin Trifle, Mini Cupcakes, Brown Sugar Shortbread, Blondies and Chocolate Brownies

Aura is also offering an array of kid friendly dishes including:

First Course
Grandma’s Chicken Noodle Soup
with Wagon Wheel Noodles and Vegetables
Chicken Wings with BBQ Sauce or Honey Mustard

Second Course
All Natural Turkey
: Sliced Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potato or Sweet Potato Pie With Marshmallow and Gravy
Macaroni & Cheese with Broccoli Florets and Toasted Breadcrumbs

Dessert Buffet Offering:
Chocolate Bread Pudding, Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies, Butterscotch Pudding with Whipped Cream, Rice Krispy Treats, Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies, Jello and Banana Parfait

Cost: Adults: $57.00 & Children: $25.00

Reservations: Recommended. Please call 617-385-4300.

I have not yet been to Aura though I have been considering going due to their new chef, Rachel Klein. And I will get an opportunity to visit next week so you can be sure I will report back about what I think.

Aura Restaurant
One Seaport Lane
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-385-4300

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Bin Ends: Around the World Wine Tasting on 11/2

On Sunday November 2nd, from 1pm-4pm, Bin Ends will be holding an Around the World in 40 Wines tasting. They will be showcasing wines from all over the world, some of their top current selections.

If being able to taste that many wines is not enough incentive, they are also giving a special bonus discount that day. Mix and match any 6 bottles and save an additional 10% off their already discounted price. This 10% discount does not apply to beer and liquor.

If you can't make it to the store, you can still learn about the wines through Twitter Taste Live. Throughout the tasting, you can check up their live tasting notes.

Bin Ends
236 Wood Road
Braintree, MA
Phone: (781) 817-1212

Stoneham Sun: What's New in Stoneham

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the October 29 issue (it was delayed a week) 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 discusses some of the latest changes and events in the culinary world in Stoneham, as well as some of the future changes coming. Learn what is going on at Melissa's Main Street Bistro, Pignone's Cafe, Bacci, Georgie D's Place and Honey Dew Donuts.

As an addition, a new Thai restaurant, House of Siam, is going into the space where Georgie D's Place used to be. House of Siam is supposed to open in November.

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

Dine with passion.

The Wine Route of Israel

How much do you know about the wines and wineries of Israel? Is Manischewitz the only Israeli wine you know? Like many people, you may not really know much. That is partially because Israeli wines often receive little press though that is changing. The Israeli wine industry is about far more than just low quality Kosher wines. High quality Israeli wines are becoming available and it is a wine region that you should learn more about. There are some exciting wines coming from this region.

There are not too many books available about the Israeli wine industry and most international guides devote only a few pages to Israel. But I recently finished reading a book all about Israeli wine, The Wine Route of Israel by Yaron Goldfisher and Eliezer Sacks (Cordinata Publishing House 2006, $54.95). This is a large, coffee table sized book of 208 pages. At a recent Israeli wine tasting, I won this book as a door prize.

The start of this book contains some basic information about Israeli wine, including a history, information on wine culture in antiquity, the basics of the modern Israeli wine industry, Kosher wine, wine terms, and more. Did you know Baron Edmond de Rothschild is considered the founder of the modern Israeli wine industry? Did you know there are over 100 wineries in Israel? Do you know what makes a wine kosher? Did you know that all Israeli wines are not kosher? There is plenty to learn about Israeli wine and this book provides a very good overview.

The majority of the book is broken down into descriptions of about 75 wineries in eight wine regions. For each region, there is a detailed, colored map with the location of the described wineries. For each winery, the book provides information on the winery, vineyards, wine maker, wines, website urls, and more. There are tons of photos throughout the book. This section is a very useful reference source about Israeli wines. I have used it to research some of the wineries from which I have tried their wines.

Yes, this is a bit of a pricey book though that is the norm for coffee table books. It would be nice if there was a smaller edition of this book, one less expensive. But it certainly provides an excellent overview of the Israeli wine industry, an overview you can't find too many other places. The price will limit those wine lovers who buy this book but I would suggest you try to find a copy to read if nothing else. Israeli is an up and coming region that is only going to grow in importance so you should learn more about their wines.

For more information, I would also recommend that you check out Israeli Wine Direct which has an interview with one of the editors, Eliezer Sacks.

The Beehive: Thanksgiving Dinner

Don't feel like cooking on Thanksgiving? Would you rather dine somewhere where you don't have to do the dishes afterward? Maybe you would like to have Thanksgiving Dinner at The Beehive.

The Beehive will be hosting their first ever Thanksgiving Day dinner. This year’s festivities will include an À la carte Thanksgiving Day menu including traditional items such as farm-raised turkey and of course all things pumpkin. For those more adventurous foodies, try stepping out of the traditional box for some of their menu offerings like the: Roasted Venison with Gooseberry Sauce, Sweet Potato Puree & Caramelized Brussels Sprouts ($25) or their Poached Wild Salmon with Lobster Newburg Rice Pilaf & Braised Spinach ($25).

Live music will be on tap all day and evening (3pm-1am) and Hours of Operation on Thanksgiving Day will be: 2pm-1am. The Thanksgiving Day Menu will be available: 2pm– 10pm and The Beehive will remain open for serving their regular Late Night Menu from: 10pm-1am.

Thanksgiving Day Menu

Turkey Sliders $11
Pumpkin & Fennel Flatbread $11
French Onion Soup with Short rib $12
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sausage, Dried Cranberries & Sage $12
The Beehive-Waldorf Salad $11
Pan-roasted shrimp with jalapeno-scallion brown butter & cornbread $12
Full Chilled Seafood Raw Bar

Main Course:
Roasted Farm Raised Turkey ($25) with Wild Mushroom Brioche Stuffing, Parsnip Mashed Potatoes, Cranberry Chutney, Mustard Gravy
Roasted Venison ($25) with Gooseberry Sauce, Sweet Potato Puree & Caramelized Brussels Sprouts
Poached Wild Salmon with Lobster Newburg ($25) with Rice Pilaf & Braised Spinach
Barley Couscous with Vegetable Stew ($20)

Children's Menu:
Turkey Dinner $12
Mac & Cheese $8
Grilled Cheese Sandwich $7

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream $8
Apple Maple Bread Pudding with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream $8
Chocolate Pecan Pie $9
(menu subject to slight change)

Reservations recommended so call 617-423-0069.

The Beehive
541 Tremont St.
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-423-0069

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wine Book Club #5: Wine Politics

The Presidential elections near and political issues have been at the top of the news for many months. Health care, taxes, the stock market, the price of oil, climate change and much more. Yet the politics behind the wine industry has received scant attention. Until now.

Today is the 5th edition of Wine Book Club, the Back to School/Politics edition. Dr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 chose the book for our review: Wine Politics: How Governments, Environmentalists, Mobsters, and Critics Influence the Wine We Drink by Tyler Colman (University of California Press, $27.50). You may better recognize Colman as Dr. Vino, a well known wine blogger, though he is also a wine writer and educator. If you are not reading his blog, you should definitely do so.

This is a short book, only 148 pages, not counting notes, bibliography and the index. The book concentrates on the interplay of business and government in the wine industry. Its primary focus is a comparison between the Bordeaux region of France and the Napa region of California, though it also covers issues of importance for wine regions all over the world. The genesis for this book originated in Colman's PhD dissertation and thus it presents more of an academic feel to it. As such, it may not be as accessible to the casual wine lover.

Yet those who are more passionate about wine, who enjoy learning about more than grape varieties and wine regions, will hopefully gravitate towards this book. This is a very well written and professional book, presenting an intriguing overview of wine politics. It covers many relevant topics of current interest, including globalization, wine critics, the three tier system, appellation reforms, natural wine making, and much more. In the more controversial areas, Colman provides a measured and neutral stance, presenting arguments for both sides.

Due to the book's short size, you receive more of an overview on the various topics, any of which could fill their own book. So, you don't receive as much information about some of the topics as you might like. You will at least understand the main points and can then do additional research for more details. After reading this book, you will realize the complexities of the wine industry, how obtaining the wine you would like is not as easy as you might prefer.

Though there are many new wine titles being published all the time, books like this are a rarity. Far too many wine buying guides and introductory wine texts are crowding the book store shelves. I hope to see far more of these types of books get published. If you love wine, if you want to learn more than the usual, then check out Wine Politics.

"Discovering an enjoyable wine from another corner of the world may be exciting, but actually tasting it remains another challenge altogether--often a political one." (Wine Politics, p.148)

Gordon's Grand Wine Tasting

As I have said many times before, the best way to learn about wine is to taste it. Taste as many different wines as you can, trying new things all the time. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to wine so the only way to know if you will like a certain wine is for you to taste it.

Fall is one of the best seasons to test your wine likes and dislikes because the calendar is filled with many grand wine tastings. This weekend, I went to one of these events, a Grand Tasting at Gordon's Fine Wines & Liquor. If you did not attend, then you missed an excellent opportunity to taste over 180 wines! And it cost nothing to attend this event.

There was a large diversity of wines, from regions all over the world, costing from $4.99 to $194.99 (with seven wines costing over $100). Whites, reds, rose, sparkling wine, fortified wines, dessert wines. Plus almost all of them were all discounted by about 21%. If you had been there, you probably would have found some new favorites. Besides the wines, there was plenty of cheese, crackers, bread and small appetizers to help cleanse your palate between tastes.

At such a large tasting, I don't recommend trying to taste all of the wines as about all that will happen is that you will get drunk, fail to remember what you tasted and probably be hung over the next morning. Instead, try to plan out which wines you want to taste. For example, Gordon's gave each attendee a booklet listing all of the wines and which table they could be found. This way you could better gauge which tables you want to hit, and in which order. Maybe you want to start with Spanish wines or French Bordeaux.

I also highly recommend you get to the tasting exactly when it begins. At the beginning, there are far less people at the tasting so you will be better able to access all of the different tables. Later on, there will be large crowds and you will have to wait in line to get a taste. That is another reason why you should preplan your tasting, to get to the tables you most want to visit before the crowds show up.

Some of my favorites from the tasting included:

Adonna Imports: As usual, this distributor brought several excellent wines.

---2007 Gritsch Kalmuck Pink ($11.99) is an Austrian Rose made from Gruner Veltliner. A fine dry Rose with nice strawberry notes and some interesting minerality.
---2004 Cascina Roera Barbera d'Asti Superiore "San Martino" ($26.99) is an elegant Barbera with a complex melange of dark berry flavors and subtle spices. A bit tannic so it would be best enjoyed with dinner.
---1998 Azienda Agricola Martilde Oltrepo Pavese Rosso Riserva "Ghiro d'Inverno" ($19.99) is an Italian wine made from 100% Bonarda. I have long been a fan of Bonarda from Argentina, but I generally have not cared for Italian Bonarda. Until now. This was a delicious wine with rich berry flavors, spicy notes and a lingering finish. It is full-bodied and tannic but is complex and well balanced. Very enjoyable and a good value at this price.

United Liquors: This distributor brought numerous higher end and excellent wines, including 2005 Dominus Meritage, 2005 Quintessa Meritage, 2006 Pride Merlot and 2005 L'Aventure Optimus.

---2000 Marques de Murrieta Castillo Y Gay Gran Reserva Rioja ($49.99): This Spanish wine is produced from 70 year old vines and only American oak is used. It was subtle, complex and absolutely fantastic. A long, lingering finish that only makes you crave more. Deep berry flavors, vanilla, and other spices. Restrained tannins though this is probably still a wine you would enjoy best with food. This wine really stood out for me.

Moet Hennessy: This distributor has some high end Champagnes available for tasting, including the famous 1998 Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame ($194.99).

---2006 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier ($32.99): It is rare to find a wine made from solely Pinot Meunier as it is usually just a blending grape. This wine was similar to a light Pinot Noir, with rich red berry flavors, especially cherry and strawberry, but with a spicy undertone. There was also an intriguing, subtle exotic flavor that underlied the wine. A very interesting and delicious wine.

United Liquors Connoisseur's Division: Another solid distributor who often has some very interesting wines.

---2007 Pierre Boniface Apremont Vin de Savoie ($14.99) is an intriguing French white wine made from the grape Jacquère. Crisp wine with flavors of melon and green apple and some mineral notes. A nice summer wine or something for a light fish dish.
---NV Sokol Blosser Meditrina ($19.99) is a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel. Yes, it may seem an odd blend but it works quite well. An easy drinking wine with bright fruit flavors and hints of spice, especially on the finish.
---2005 Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon ($36.99) is a muscular Cabernet, ripe plum and blackberry flavors as well as vanilla and other spices. Lots of complexity and a lingering finish. A top notch Cabernet at a reasonable price for the quality of this wine.

Arborway Wines: They brought four different Barolos from the much lauded 2004 vintage.

---2004 Luigi Pira Barolo Marenca ($68) was a very smooth wine with mild tannins. Ripe red fruit flavors with subtle spice notes and a lengthy finish. A very approachable Barolo that is ready to drink now though it should be able to cellar well too.
---2004 Azelia Bricco Fiasco ($68) is a wine whose name, in English, is not fitting at all. This is an excellent wine, not a "fiasco." Though you need to understand that "fiasco" in Italian means "bottle" or "flask." This is an elegant wine with moderate tannins that has good structure and balance. Plenty of delicious red fruit flavors, spice and a bit of leather. Complex and with a lingering finish. Though you could drink this now, I would like to see how it develops over time.

D.B. Wines: This is a distributor new to me though I hope to learn more about it.

---NV Cosecha Amontillado 15 Years ($39.99) was an exceptional sherry with delicious flavors of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch and a lengthy finish. I love a good Amontillado after dinner and this one should please all sherry fans. A hedonistic pleasure that definitely satisfied me.

Gordon's Fine Wines and Liquors
894 Main Street
Waltham, MA
Phone: 781-893-1900

Monday, October 27, 2008

Melting Pot: Halloween Fondue Fright Night

You may be too old to go trick or treating on Halloween but that does not mean you can't get a special sweet treat. If you stop by the Bedford location of the The Melting Pot on Halloween, they have something delicious for you. They are giving away a free chocolate fondue with each food and beverage purchase of $80 or more.

Plus, any and all guests that arrive in a costume will be entered to win one of several special prize such as $50 gift certificates for the adults and a chocolate fondue party for six for the kids.

So why not get dressed up and go out to enjoy some fondue, including a sweet chocolate fondue. I recommend that you make reservations as soon as possible as it is a popular restaurant and fills up fast.

The Melting Pot
213 Burlington Rd.
Bedford , MA
Phone: 781-791-0529

Portuguese Wine Grand Tasting

One room with over 150 Portuguese wines of all types: reds, whites, sparkling, and Ports. Wines made from indigenous grapes such as Touriga Nacional and Baga, as well as more international grapes like Syrah and Merlot. So much diversity and a wonderful opportunity to taste some excellent wines and learn about the wines of Portugal.

This was what could be found at a grand Portuguese Wine Tasting at the Harvard Club in Boston which was hosted by The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA)-Angell in partnership with ViniPortugal and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (IVDP). They held a similar tasting last year, which I attended, and you can read about my prior experience.

How did this year stack up against last year? Last year I made six general observations about Portuguese wine and the tasting. Largely, I would repeat all six observations this year too, with only slight variations.

First, there were many Portuguese value wines. Many of the wines cost $20 or less and there were some under $10. I think the prices this year were generally a little bit higher this year, but that is too be expected. Yet many of their wines are still good values. Second, many of their wines were still intriguingly aromatic. Third, I still generally preferred the wines that were made solely or predominantly with indigenous Portuguese varietals. Fourth, the alcohol levels of these wines generally ranged from 12-14%, probably a lower average than many U.S. wines. Fifth, many of these wines have a US distributor though there were a couple still seeking representation. Finally, and most importantly to me, I found nearly all of the wine representatives I spoke with to have a deep passion about Portugal and their wines.

Though the Portuguese wines I tasted recently at L'Espalier had not wowed me, I found wines here that did. Maybe part of it was due to the nature of the venue, with simpler snacks to nibble on, as well as getting to speak with the passionate wine representatives.

If they hold this tasting again next year, I highly recommend that you attend it.

Now, let me give some wine reviews though note that I was unable to try all of the myriad wines available at this event. I am going to detail some of my favorites as well as other wines that stood out for various reasons.

Barros Porto: Established in 1913, this winery produces a variety of Ports, especially vintage Tawniex, Colheita Ports, which are matured in cask for at least seven years.

Porto Barros 20 Year Old Tawny: An absolutely delicious Port, very smooth and mellow with intriguing caramel and nutty notes. A long finish and plenty of complexity.

Porto Barros Colheita 1983: Another excellent Port, lighter in color than the Tawny but even smoother and mellower. Much more nutty flavors, especially hazelnut. A lingering finish that very much satisfies. A Port to ponder over, savoring its complex melange of flavors.

Porto Barros Colheita 1957: A special treat, this was an amazing Port. Liquid bliss with many subtle and harmonious flavors that seem to linger in your mouth for a very long time. Vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, hazelnut, and much more. Highly recommended though this is an expensive wine. It is well worth the price if you enjoy Port.

Cortes De Cima: This is a family owned and operated vineyard and winery located in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Their viticulturist is Dr. Richard Smart, a renowned Australian, which may explain partially why they grow a fair share of Syrah.

2007 Chamine: A red blend of Aragonez 54%, Syrah 36%, Touriga Nacional 6%, Trincadeira 3 %, and Cabernet Sauvignon 1%. This wine had a deep purple color with a very aromatic and enticing nose. An easy drinking and delicious wine that I very much enjoyed. Lots of lush dark red fruits and nice spice notes. Moderate tannins and a decent finish. A very good value wine.

2005 Incognito: This wine is 100% Syrah. Though I usually have not liked many Portuguese wines that use more international grapes, this was an exception. Ripe, dark berries and plum in an elegant wine with only hints of spice. Very smooth, with restrained tannins and a long finish. This is a more lush and sensual wine, a perfect wine for a romantic date.

2004 Cortes de Cima Reserva: A red blend of 52% Aragonez, 24% Touriga Nacional, 14% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. I found this wine to have nearly a closed nose, just could not smell too much. But it had plenty of taste, including some more exotic flavors that I could not quite identify. Besides fruit flavors of ripe plum and black cherry, there were some exotic spice notes. Moderate tannins and a long finish.

Herdade do Esporao: This winery is located in the Alentejo region. Though the estate was purchased in 1973, the winery was not built until 1987.

2004 Esporao Private Selection: A wow wine that is aromatic and full of delicious fruit and spice notes. Complex, mild tannins, and a very long finish. Highly recommended.

2007 Monte Velho Tinto: This is the new vintage of a wine I loved last year and it still is as good. An exceptional value.

Herdade Rocim: This winery is located in the Lower Alentejo region and was established in 2000. It currently does not have local distribution and is seeking such. Based on what I tasted, I do think they would be worthy of local distribution.

2007 Olho de Mocho Reserva White: This is made from the indigenous Antão Vaz grape. This is an intriguing white wine with plenty of minerality and acidity. There are some underlying citrus flavors, especially on the finish. A great food wine and just different enough to make it very interesting.

2007 Olho de Mocho Reserva Rose: A blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragonez. A deep pink color with a nose of strawberry. It is a dry and crisp Rose, with nice red fruits, especially strawberry. More of an Old World style and very delicious.

2006 Olho de Mocho Reserva Red: A blend of Syrah and Touriga Nacional. A dark red color with a nose of subtle spices, with maybe a touch of cinammon. A delicious taste of ripe dark berries and subtle spice notes. A moderate finish with mild tannins.

Casa Santos Lima: This winery is located in Alenquer, north of Lisbon, in a very traditional wine region. They produce many different brands, especially value wines. Just check out my last year's notes as I have many of the same wines, though maybe different vintages, though their quality remained the same.

J. Portugal Ramos Vinhos: In 1990, João Portugal Ramos began planting a vineyard in Estremoz. The first harvest was in 1992 and construction of the winery began in 1997.

Marques de Borba wines: Check out my last year's notes as I had the same wines, though maybe different vintages, and their quality remained the same.

2007 Conde de Vimioso Rose: A dry Rose, very Old World style, with nice berry flavors.

2007 Conde de Vimioso Red: Aromatic red blend with intriguing exotic flavors and a spicy finish. Very delicious and would make an excellent food wine.

Overall, this was once again an excellent event with many interesting wines. I know that I missed some good ones because I just did not have enough time to hit all the tables. Portuguese wines are becoming more popular and you really should check them out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

L'Espalier Wine Dinner: Wines

What is the best cuisine to showcase the wines of Portugal?

Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to taste a dozen Portuguese wines with dinner at L'Espalier. I previously discussed the food and now want to highlight the wines and how they paired with the dinner, as well as talk about the format and educational aspects of the tasting.

The evening began with a brief presentation by Nuno d'Orcy Cancela de Abreu, a wine maker and consultant. His family has been producing wine in Portugal for five generations. He personally selected the wines for the dinner, and they included several wines that he produces. The slide presentation provided a brief summary of Portugal wine production and its three primary climatic regions, Atlantic, Mountain and Plains. For each wine we then tasted, Nuno talked about it, describing its flavors and characteristics.

We tasted twelve wines, generally split into groups of three. I already knew a few of the wines, and had actually drank two of them within the two weeks prior to the tasting. We had whites and reds, a sparkling wine and a port. Overall, I enjoyed many of the wines but none of them were exceptional or "wow" wines.

What I feel, as did several others I spoke to at the dinner, was that the L'Espalier dinner did not do justice to the wines. It was not the proper forum for these wines. We should have had simpler food with these wines, maybe something heartier. Maybe Spanish cuisine, Brazilian BBQ or even simple American fare. The worst pairing of the evening was a Portuguese cheese with the Casa de Santar Reserve, a red blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinto Roriz. Though I like this wine, it just did not go well with the smoky cheese and not one at my table liked the pairing.

Maybe my favorite wine of the evening was the 2005 Cartuxa Reserva ($35), a red blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez and Alfrocheiro. An inky dark red wine with a wondrous aromatic nose. It had flavors of ripe, black fruits with spice notes, especially a bit of clove on the long finish. A smooth wine with mild tannins.

I find Portuguese wines often have their own unique flavors, especially those made from indigenous grapes. But I think the cuisine needs to be more fitting for the wines to show their best nature. This unfortunately was not such an occasion. Though the food was delicious, it just did not fit the nature of these wines.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sean Thackrey: Pleasure Architect

A documentary, called Sean Thackrey: Pleasure Architect, is currently being filmed about the maverick wine maker Sean Thackrey. Mind-Made Media is creating this documentary and you can read about their progress on their blog.

The synopsis of the documentary is: "Sean Thackrey is a creator of pleasures. Our feature documentary follows this former international art dealer turned iconic artisan wine-maker through a busy harvest season at Thackrey and Co., exploring the creative process, craftmanship and the power of art in all its forms."

As my readers know, I am a big fan of the wines made by Sean Thackrey so I am excited about this documentary. I will be keeping an eye on its progress and will report back when it is finished, and hopefully I will eventually be able to tell you where you can view it.

BevLog: Check It Out

Who would have thought that a blog about wine and alcohol labels could be so interesting? the relatively new Bevlog though has been sparking my interest and I think it is definitely a site that you should check out. Dale, of Drinks Are On Me, first told me to check out Bevlog and I have been hooked ever since.

Bevlog is affiliated with Lehrman Beverage Law, PLLC, a Washington, DC law firm focused on the federal regulation of beer, wine and spirits. The goal of the blog is to showcase the most compelling, interesting and strange labels they can find.

A couple of my favorite recent posts include Quickie, an Australian wine with a sexy, retro noir label, and Crystal Head Vodka, a vodka from Dan Ackroyd that comes in a skull shaped bottle.

You definitely should keep an eye on Bevlog.

Melting Pot in Bedford: South American Wine Dinner on 11/11

The Melting Pot is hosting Dip n’ Sip, a South American Wine Dinner on Tuesday, November 11th. There will be a four-course dinner paired with select South American wines.

The menu includes:

First Course: Zesty Aztec Cheese Fondue (Zesty Cheddar Cheese Blended with Horseradish, Mustard, Worcestershire Sauce, Bacon and Scallions)
Paired with a Terrazas Torrontes Reserva (Argentina)

Second Course: Ranchero Cobb Salad (Romaine Lettuce, Tomatoes, Chives and Sliced Egg Served with Croutons and Peppercorn Ranch Dressing and Sprinkled with Aged Cheddar Cheese)
Paired with a Casa Lapostolle Sauvignon Blanc (Chile)

Third Course: South of the Border Entrée (Filet Mignon, Tequila Citrus Shrimp, Peppered Duck, ‘Brazilian’ BBQ Pork, Sirloin Steak, Picante Chicken, Fresh vegetables and Mojo Cooking Style)
Paired with a Casa Lapostolle Merlot (Chile) and Bodega Luigi Bosca LaLinda Malbec (Argentina)

Fourth Course: Bananas Foster Chocolate Fondue (White Chocolate Blended with Rum, Dulce de Leche, Cinnamon and Bananas.)

The cost is only $48 per person (plus tax and 18% gratuity) and Reservations are required so please call. I think this is an excellent price for all of the food and wine you get. Maybe I will see you there.

The Melting Pot
213 Burlington Rd.
Bedford , MA
Phone: 781-791-0529

Melissa's Main St. Bistro: Wine Dinner on 11/2 with Me

On Sunday, November 2, at 6:30pm, come see me at Melissa's Main Street Bistro for one of their Sunday evening wine dinners. I have selected several South African wines and will talk about them during the dinner. I hope to see you there.

The Menu includes:

Welcome Wine:
2007 Cederberg Chenin Blanc

First Course:
Mixed Greens Tossed with Local Apples, Butternut Squash & Toasted Walnuts Tossed in a Cranberry Vinaigrette
Paired with a 2007 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap

Second Course:
Wild Mushroom & Boursin Cheese Egg Roll With Truffle Balsamic Glaze & Pink Lentil Salad
Paired with a 2007 Southern Right Pinotage

Third Course:
Smoked Cranberry and Cornbread Stuffed Turkey Roulade with Maple Sweet Potato and Toasted Sage Turkey Jus
Paired with a 2005 Radford Dale Shiraz

Dessert Course:
Chocolate Chestnut Ravioli with Sour Cherry Nage

The dinner costs $60 per person (only $40 if you do not have wine) and tax and gratuity are excluded. Please call Melissa for Reservations at 781-438-7243.

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

Friday, October 24, 2008

Finale's Dessert Party

Most of us go out to dinner with our friends and family. But how many of us go out for just dessert? I don't mean grabbing a ice cream cone together, but actually going to a desserterie and having a sit-down dessert, some delicious and sweet concoction. Skip dinner and go straight for the good stuff.

Last May, during the WGBH auction, I won a $500 gift certificate for a dessert party for ten people at Finale. Finale is a Desserterie and they have four locations in the local area, including Boston, Cambridge, Brookline and Natick. I have been to Finale several times before, and generally have enjoyed my experiences.

Last weekend, I finally made reservations for my dessert party, inviting family and friends to join me, to share in the decadent sweets and chilled dessert wines. We went to their Harvard Square location and we were placed in a small side room, with only a few other tables, so we were largely private. What the gift certificate got us was basically two desserts for everyone with dessert wine pairings, plus some extra drinks. On average, it cost $10 for each dessert and $10 for each glass of wine. I consider these reasonable prices, especially considering the size of the desserts.

I started with the Manjari Mousse ($11.95), a bittersweet chocolate mousse layered with chocolate buttermilk cake and French apricot puree, served with a napolean of blackberry-cabernet sorbet and strudel discs. This was quite a large dessert, presented in a very fancy way. All of the desserts were presented quite well. And the mousse was excellent, with a diverse melange of delicious flavors and lots of chocolate. I especially enjoyed the sorbet and could have eaten a large dish of just that.

The mousse was paired with the 2006 Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Acqui ($9.95) from Piedmont, Italy. This was a sparkling wine with nice fruit flavors, especially strawberry. I have had this before and enjoyed it, as did most everyone else. It was probably the favorite dessert wine of the evening.

I then moved on to the Creme Brulee ($9.95), vanilla cream caramelized a la minute and garnished with half moons of orange-butter cookies and a medley of fresh fruit. A large bowl of creamy brulee with a lightly crunchy crust and plenty of fresh berries and fruit slices. One of the better brulees I have had in a while. This was paired with a Madeira, a smooth wine with nice caramel and nut notes.

Others tried the Molten Chocolate, Finale Cheesecake and Passion Fruit Meringue. No one had anything negative to say about the desserts and everyone was fairly full by the time it was over. Not all of the dessert wines were as popular, some not so keen on the ports. A few of us have some extra dessert wines flight at the end of the evening, samples of three related wines.

Though the desserts were delicious, what made it a better experience were the people I was with. We talked and laughed, compared and shared. Some of the people did not know each other but that was not an obstacle. Everything went very well, and I felt like this was the start of the holiday season, the time of that special warmth of family and friends. I look forward to more such times this season and hope that all my readers have similar experiences during the holidays.

Finale on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wine Critics & Credibility

What makes a wine critic credible? What can potentially bias a critic? How does a critic avoid conflict of interests?

For some answers, check out the article "Wine Critics and Their Discontents" on the blog of the American Association of Wine Economists. The article, written by Michael Veseth, discusses the different strategies used by several prominent wine critics for dealing with issues of credibility. He concludes that all of the critics he references are effective though their strategies differ.

Veseth begins by discussing Robert Parker, how he refuses all advertising, and noting that despite the many criticisms of Parker they do not include allegations of an economic conflict of interest. I would have to disagree with the later only because I have seen some allege that Parker has charged people in the past for reviews. So, though allegations of conflict of interest have been low, they still exist.

Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library TV is then mentioned, how he has a financial interest in some of the wine he reviews. He avoids many allegations of conflicts of interest by being quite transparent about everything as well as trying to depict himself as an objective critic. Veseth believes Gary has been very successful in this regard.

Next, Veseth addresses how the major wine magazines handle reviews and the bottle images that sometimes accompany those reviews. Obviously, a review with a photo is more memorable. Some of the magazines garner income, advertising revenue, for these bottle images while others do not. Neither Decanter nor Wine Spectator magazine charges for bottle images in their reviews. But both Wine & Spirits and Wine Enthusiast do charge for bottle images, though only have the reviews have already been completed. Once the reviews are written, they request whether the wineries wish to purchase bottle images or not. This policy is clearly explained in the magazines so there is transparency.

I was unaware of the bottle image issue, obviously as I did not closely read the editorial policies of these magazines. I am sure most people are in the same situation as well, failing to read such policies. I think the policy of Decanter and Wine Spectator provides credibility, especially as they could easily charge for the bottle images but choose not to do so.

I would have liked Veseth though to address the issue of regular advertising in the wine magazines, and whether there is any evidence of a conflict of interest there. For example, some allege the magazines do not give poor reviews to their primary advertisers. Yet no actual proof is ever offered for these allegations.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wine Bloggers Conference

Where will many of my wine blogging friends be this weekend? From October 24-26, they will be attending the first Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma County. This conference will bring together wine bloggers, wineries, wine writers, media professionals and more. The list of participants indicates a very storng showing. It will be an opportunity to learn and network, to discuss and analyze, to meet each other and have fun.

Plenty of exciting and interesting events have been scheduled, from a Blind Tasting Challenge to Vineyard tours. There will be numerous discussion groups, most specifically on issues of concern for bloggers, including: Increasing Visitors to Your Blog, Wine Blogger Credibility, Making Money From your Blog and Wine Industry & Blogger Interaction.

Unfortunately, I won't be attending this year's conference. It just could not be worked into my schedule for a few reasons though I very much wish I could be there. It would be great to meet so many people who I only know online, to share a glass or two or three with them. Plus, it will be a significant opportunity for providing more unity to the wine blogging community, giving it a stronger voice.

Yet this certainly will not be the last such conference. The European Wine Blogger Conference, held this past August, was successful and they will hold another in the future. There is no reason to believe that the conference in Sonoma County won't be successful too, so there will be others. There has actually already been some discussions that the next conference will be held on the East Coast.

I will raise a glass this weekend to the Wine Bloggers Conference, wishing them all the best!

Stoneham Sun: What's Up in Stoneham

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the October 22 issue 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 will soon be available online. The new column discusses some of the latest changes and events in the culinary world in Stoneham, as well as some of the future changes coming. Learn what is going on at Melissa's Main Street Bistro, Pignone's Cafe, Bacci, Georgie D's Place and Honey Dew Donuts.

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

Dine with passion.

The Beehive: Sting! 3

The Beehive will soon be holding their third installment in their continuing Art Series, Sting! 3 An Evening of Art, Music and Performance. On November 5, from 7:00pm-10:00pm, The Beehive's co-owner and resident curator Jennifer Epstein and artist and co-curator Jeff Perrott will host Sting! 2.

The ongoing event always signifies the launch of a new art installation at The Beehive and highlight’s an evening of great entertainment, great food along with amazing art. Some of the participating artists include: James Stroud, Predrag Dimitrejevic, Jane D. Marsching, Susan Dory, David X. Levine, Fred Liang, Cristi Rinklin and Remi Thornton. Featured musical performances will be two dynamic sets by Boston’s own Beatboxer Trihedral, the hopped-up country and rockabilly sounds of The Coachmen and the beautiful, yet powerful jazz of vibraphonist, pianist and composer Alexei Tsiganov along with his Quartet. The evening will also feature a video installation from Environmental Services and the amazing food of Executive Chef Rebecca Newell.

Sting! 3 will be bringing together works from all corners of the city of Boston as well as the incorporation of several pieces from New York City. Participating galleries include: Center Street Studios, Steven Zevitas Gallery (the work of David X. Levine will be seen concurrently at The Beehive's Sting! 3 and at the Steven Zevitas Gallery's current exhibition entitled "Sex, Drugs and Rock + Roll") and Walker Contemporary (Stephanie Walker will open Walker Contemporary at 450 Harrison Avenue on Friday, November 7 and the work of Susan Dory will be seen concurrently at The Beehive's Sting! 3 and in Walker Contemporary's inaugural exhibition).

There is no cover charge and there will be a cash bar.

The Beehive
541 Tremont St.
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-423-0069

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Boston Wine Writers: Meeting #3

Last evening, the Boston Wine Writers met for the third time at Jonathon Alsop's Boston Wine School. The group meets once a month, giving everyone a place to meet, exchange ideas and contacts, discuss story ideas, critique each other's work and more. It is free to attend and everyone is welcome to come, not just wine writers.

Jonathon states: "As long as you have a passion for good wine writing, it doesn't matter whether you're a published writer, editor, sales rep, importer, restaurateur, blogger, PR person, publisher, wine lover, whatever: you're invited!"

There was a small group last evening, including some regulars as well as one new member. While chatting, we shared some wine, including an Israeli Chardonnay and a Cabernet Franc from Massachusetts. As the other meetings have been, it was a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere. We spent the beginning of the meeting talking about ourselves and our newest endeavors. Jonathon shared some information about a local magazine seeking articles on spirits.

The latter part of the meeting centered on advice and suggestions on digital photography. I really liked this as I do post photos on my blog, but I don't consider myself any type of expert photographer, not even an advanced amateur. I think the suggestions I learned will actually help make my photos look better. I will at least try them out and see what happens.

The next meeting will be held on November 24, from 6:30-8:30pm, and there will be no meeting in December. At the November meeting, there will be advice and suggestions on working with HTML Dale of Drinks Are On Me will lead the HTML discussion. If you have any particular questions about HTML or wish to discuss specific topics, feel free to email Dale prior to the meeting. Jonathon is currently working on prepating a schedule for meetings in 2009.

I would encourage all local bloggers and wine writers to come join the Boston Wine Writers. The group can benefit all of us. I hope to see many more people at the next meeting.

Petit Robert Bistro

Kenmore Square has plenty of dining destinations and you have a wide variety of cuisine choices. You can get a burger at Uburger or check out the seafood at Great Bay. Or check out the French cuisine at Petit Robert Bistro.

I wanted to check out the Bistro as I had not yet gone there though I have heard many positive reviews. French master chef Jacky Robert has bistros in Kenmore Square (since 2005) and the South End (since 2006) and will soon open another in Needham. The Kenmore location is located below street level though their front window looks up to the street, and there is also a small outside patio area. The restaurant itself is small and cozy, with white linen table cloths. It certainly gives off an intimate bistro feel.

Both their lunch and dinner menus were available when I dined there. Their goal is to keep entree prices on their lunch menu under $12 on their dinner menu under $20. The menu has many traditional French bistro items as well as some of their own French-inspired creations. On the lunch menu, there were only two dishes that cost more than $10, so it is very reasonably priced. There were also several specials off the menu.

I decided to start with their Creamy Lobster Bisque ($7.75), which was off their dinner menu. Prior to my food arriving, I was served a small loaf of warm French bread with butter. Excellent bread with a nice crusty exterior and soft interior. They immediately put me into a good mood with this bread. Plus, they had fresh brewed, unsweetened iced tea. The bisque was creamy and flavorful, though it only had a small chunk of lobster meat in it. It did have a strong lobster flavor to it and was perfect for dipping my bread.

I then chose Annie’s Croque Madame ($6.75) as I am a big fan of those sandwiches. I am a bit spoiled from the exceptional Croque Madame's at L'Express in New York City so I have high standards. Annie's Croque is accompanied by a small salad and French fries. The sandwich was relatively small, with thin bread. For the price though, with the sides, I think it is reasonable. It generally tasted very good, except that my bottom piece of toast was overcooked, almost blackened. As I had time issues, I was not going to send it back. The French fries were very good, thin, shoe-string style, that were cooked perfectly. If my sandwich has not been overcooked, I would have given this sandwich my recommendation.

Service was excellent, very attentive and accomodating. I will return again to check out some of their other dishes, though I will be wary as to whether anything else gets overcooked.

Petit Robert Bistro
468 Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA
Phone: (617) 375-0699

Petit Robert Bistro on Urbanspoon


If you are seeking an introductory book concerning wine, if you want to learn the basics of different grapes and different wine regions, which book should you choose? You should seek a book that is easy to read and understand but which is fairly comprehensive. There are several such books out there and I want to tell you about another one I recently read.

WineWise: Your Complete Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Enjoying Wine by Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith, Michael A. Weiss, and The Culinary Institute of America (Wiley Hardcover, September 2008, $29.95) is a large-sized hardcover with 360 pages, broken down into seventeen chapters. The three authors are professors of wine studies at The Culinary Institute of America. I received a sample copy of the book and was impressed by what I read.

In general, the book is well written, easy to understand, fairly comprehensive and has some excellent photographs and maps. It will definitely give anyone new to wine a fairly thorough understanding of wine basics, the main grape varieties, the common wine regions and more. It will be of less use to those who already know a fair deal about wine though might be helpful if you are seeking to learn more about certain wine regions.

The first chapter, Palate Pleasure: Enjoying Wine, covers some basics about wine in general, including wine making, wine pricing, appellation systems, and tasting wine. Their advice is sound, especially on choosing wines. They want you to trust your own palate and they warn against fully trusting wine scores. They state you should "...taste, experiment, and enjoy" which is very sound advice.

The next two chapters deal with the major white and red grapes. For each grape, they describe its general characteristics and then explain how the wines made from that grape differ by geographic region. For example, you will read about the differences between Chardonnay from France , the U.S. and the Southern Hemisphere. The white grapes they cover include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurtraminer, Pinot Grigio and Viognier. The red grapes include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Grenache. These two grape chapters are vey helpful, especially in indicating the differences that are found regionally. The book also later discusses other grapes, more indigenous grapes, in some of the regional chapters.

There are then ten chapters on different wine regions. They do not seek to cover all wine regions but mainly the largest and most common, though there are a few exceptions. For example, in the U.S., they cover California, Washington and Oregon but also cover New York. Canada and Greece also are discussed in these chapters. Each regional chapter contains information on that region, how to read their wine labels, a map, their appellation system, suggested producers, and some indigenous grapes. I think these chapters do an excellent job of explaining the basics of these wine regions, giving the reader a very good idea of the type of wines that can be found there.

Chapter Fourteen, Eat/Drink/Man/Woman: Wine and Food, covers pairing wines with food. This chapter provides several basic principles for such pairings, allowing you to experiment as to which wines you feel pair best with your food. The basic guidelines should help you find better matches. There are also some more specific recommendations dependent on the type of cuisine. For example, what wine should you have with Greek Moussaka? They recommend a dry, full-bodied Greek red.

The next chapter, The Good Life: Living With Wine, discusses how to organize a wine tasting at home, wines that go well with different seasons, Kosher wines, and wine enclosures. These are some more well written sections with plenty of good advice. This is followed by a chapter on Wine in Restaurants, which gives advice on how to order wines at restaurants as well as the type of wine service you should expect. The final chapter, Got Cash?: Our Bargain Choices, are lists of recommended bargain wines from all three authors.

I think WineWise does a very good job in providing a thorough basic introduction to the world of wine. I have no significant complaints about the book. Sure there are wine regions and topics it did not cover, but it was not intended to be completely comprehensive. It is intended as an introductory overview and succeeds in that goal. I think it is very reader friendly and should entice newcomers with its more casual attitude. I do recommend this book.

Monday, October 20, 2008

L'Espalier: Portuguese Wine Dinner

L'Espalier is often considered one of the top Boston restaurants and they recently moved to the site of the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a luxury hotel on Boylston Street. I had never been to L'Espalier before but had an opportunity this past week to dine there as part of a special Portuguese wine dinner sponsored by ViniPortugal. I will elaborate more on the wines in another post but wanted to concentrate this one on the restaurant and its food.

From the street, you must take an elevator up to the restaurant. We had a private room for our dinner so I did not get to see all of the restaurant. But, what I did see was impressive, a fancy decor that was not too ostentatious. I loved the clear walls where you could see wine being stored, including many top notch Burgundies.

For our dinner, we had a choice of first course and main course, each having three choices to pick from. For the first course, I went with the almond dusted veal sweetbreads with pommes puree, shishito peppers and braised red cabbage. My other options had been a gratin of Skip's Island Creek oysters or a foie gras terrine. I very much enjoyed the sweetbreads, with a light and nutty breading. They were tender and flavorful as well, and there were four pieces, a good-sized dish.

For my main course, I went with the Blue Foot chicken with baby Brussel sprouts, new potatoes, and a black truffle and roasted chicken reduction. My other choices were an almond crusted rack of Colorado lamb or seared Kona Kampachi. The chicken was quite good, moist and tasty and there was a good-portion of it. I very much liked the potatoes too.

We then had a cheese course, a special Portuguese sheep's milk cheese that was fantastic, with a nice smoky flavor. It had all the usual accompaniements. I only wished there had been more of the cheese as I could have eaten plenty more.

Then there was a dessert course, a plate with several different desserts on it, presented very well. Again, an amazing dish with a nice variety of items, including a phenomenal little chocolate dessert that melted in my mouth. There was a pumpkin cheesecake, which though I usually do not like cheesecake, I enjoy this. I enjoyed everything on the plate and it was an excellent end to the meal. Though we did receive afterwards some petit fours, which were also quite tasty.

Now, as we had a set dinner, it may not be a fully accurate picture of the usual dining experience at L'Espalier. But based on what I did have, I was pleased with the meal, though I did not think the first and main courses were exceptional. I was very happy with them, but I think I had high expectations and was expecting a more transcendent dining experience. Now, the cheese and dessert courses were exceptional to me so maybe their regular menu could do that for me as well.

So, though I would return to L'Espalier to experience their usual menu, it might be with a bit of trepidation.

774 Boylston Street
Boston, MA
Phone: 617-262-3023

L'Espalier on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Portuguese Wine Made in Prison

Who would have though that wine made by prisoners in Portugal could become so popular?

The Pinheiro da Cruz jail in southern Portugal has its own vineyards and prisoners do much of the work. This does not appear to be a particularly onerous prison as inmates may often work unsupervised in the fields. This is not a new endeavor and in fact originated in the 1950s as a form of hard labor. But now it has become more of a reward for model prisoners.

Each year, they produce about 25,000 liters of red wine and 5,000 liters of white, with revenues worth approximately 100,000 euros. Their wine sells for more than $40 U.S. in Portuguese restaurants. The prisoners earn about 2.2 euros a day working in the vineyards. One of the names for their wine is Eleuterio.

Sadly, this is likely a wine that is only available in Portugal. If anyone knows whether it is available elsewhere, I would be very interested.

Shochu Article

I have been learning more and more about Shochu, a Japanese distilled liquor that is somewhat akin to vodka. You can check out my previous educational post about Shochu as well as my review of Satsuma Hozan Imo Shochu.

I also want to alert you to a news article about Shochu in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Move over vodka, here comes shochu." The article describes Shochu, as well as discussing its increased popularity in Japan and the San Francisco area. There are also recommendations for three different Japanese Shochu brands as well as an American made Shochu. Plus, there are a few Shochu recipes.

Check out this article and learn more about one of the next big things in the world of liquor!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I Did Not Tip My Waitress

Today we had lunch at a local pizza place that we very much enjoy. It was an ordinary fall day, a bit brisk outside but with plenty of sun. We had been out doing a little bit of shopping and wanted a bite to eat, something inexpensive but delicious. It should have been a usual afternoon, like many others before. But it was not.

Today, I did not tip my waitress. That is an extremely rare occurrence and I cannot remember that last time I did that. Usually, I tip at least 20% where ever I go. I understand that servers have a difficult job and that sometimes mistakes are made. I can accept a mistake, though I expect the mistake not to be compounded. Most often when a server makes a mistake, they are especially attentive, to make up for the error and to ensure everything else goes well. But rarely, you get a server who makes an error and then just keeps making it worse.

The lunch started off ok as we received our drinks and placed our order. And then we waited and waited. About 20 minutes passed, our drinks were nearly empty and our waitress had never returned to our table. People who had sat down after us were starting to receive their pizzas. We flagged down our waitress and asked about our order. She then went to check on it and returned to tell us that she had failed to properly place the order. She stated our pizzas were be put on now and she would tell the manager about it. She also seemed oblivious to the fact our drinks were almost finished.

The restaurant was not busy. There were maybe 12 tables, divided between two servers. The waitress should have noticed we had not received our food. She should have been keeping an eye on whether we needed new beverages or not. If this had been her sole mistake, I still would have tipped her.

About 10-15 minutes later, our pizzas were brought to us by one of the cooks. Our waitress had not returned to our table. In fact, she seemed to be avoiding walking by or looking at our table. We had to flag her down again to get more drinks. She did not return again until there was but a single piece of pizza left on our plates to ask how everything was. Any other waitress who had made such a mistake would have been maybe overly attentive, to make up for the error. She would have made sure we had enough to drink, seen if we needed anything else, to make sure the pizza was cooked right, etc. To be largely ignored by our waitress after her first mistake was completely wrong.

The management did not charge us for one of the pizzas due to the server's error. That was very nice of them. But it did not excuse the server's continued neglect of us. I did speak with the manager before we left and told her of what happened. I also explained that I would not be tipping the waitress as I did not feel I even had the minimal of service.

This is the first time I have ever had service issues at this restaurant. And I do believe this was an isolated incident and not something that is becoming the norm. The food was excellent, as usual, and I will return. Though I won't sit in that server's section again. Yet it is incidents like this that can turn people away from restaurants, especially if it were the first time they were visiting.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Elephant Walk: New Menu, Lower Prices

I enjoy dining at The Elephant Walk, which has restaurants in Boston, Cambridge and Waltham. They have now introduced new menus at their restaurants with lower prices. The menus have been redesigned, including separating their dishes into Traditional Cambodian, Original Cambodian, and Original French. I recognize a number of menu items but there are definitely a bunch of new ones too.

The best change though is their lowered prices, all of their entrées now being priced under $20. They have not lowered the quality of our ingredients and have introduced some new dishes. Though they have reduced some portion sizes where possible and necessary to keep their food costs in line.

It is also good to know that their Cambridge location (at 67 Massachusetts Avenue) will soon be open for lunch. The other two restaurants have been open for lunch and it was always frustrating that their Cambridge store was not.

I will be checking out the new menu soon and will report back.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Parker's Wine Buying Guide, 7th Edition

Robert Parker remains a figure of controversy, and probably will continue to be one for years to come. He has done much positive for the world of wine though some would also claim he has had a significant negative effect. No matter what one thinks of Parker, his opinions still possess great power.

Now let us look to the future. Parker won't be around forever but he has groomed some successors, reviewers who now assist with the Wine Advocate. Can they carry Parker's torch? Will they retain his power? Clues to answers for these questions might be found in Parker's latest book.

Parker's Wine Buying Guide, 7th Edition ($35) has just been published, and it is the first of this series to include the opinions of other than just Parker. The world of wine is huge and no single person can cover it all. So, Parker has included several others who cover those regions that he cannot. These other reviewers include: David Schildknecht (Alsace, Austria, Burgundy, Central Europe, Champagne, East of the West Coast, France's Southwest, Germany, the Jura and the Savoie, the Languedoc and Roussillon and the Loire Valley), Antonio Galloni (Italy), Dr. Jay Miller (Argentina, Australia, Chile, Oregon, Ports, Spain, and Washington), Mark Squires (Israel and Portugal) and Neal Martin (New Zealand and South Africa). Parker only covers California and the French regions of Bordeaux, Provence and the Rhône.

This is a huge book, at 1513 pages! The first 39 wines are some introductory material, essays, reading recommendations and more. There is some interesting information here and I will discuss some of what can be found there. The rest of the book contains information about various wine regions as well as scores for thousands of wines.

The book opens with a Preface, an essay, The Last Thirty Years, which is similar to an article Parker wrote for Food & Wine magazine in September 2008. Parker talks about the changes that have occurred in the wine world over the last thirty years, touching on such issues as wine making, wine critics, prices and diversity.

Parker does not speak too well about wine blogs. "As a result the strategic importance of an independent wine press continues to have a growing and dramatic role. I see no softening or dilution of that influence, even with the advent of many free Internet wine blogs, which usually do little more than raise the level of useless white noise to a deafening and confusing level of nonsense." (p.xvii) It is this type of negative generalization that usually raises the ire of bloggers. We all know there are some bad blogs out there, yet there are also plenty of good ones as well as some excellent ones. And I don't think anyone can deny that blogs are having a growing influence. Blogs won't be dethroning Parker, but they do have their impact on wine buying.

Parker also tries to counter the critics who allege the wine market has become too globalized. "The largest myth in the wine world, constructed on half truths, inaccurate observations, and shrewd journalistic manipulation, purports that the wine market has become so globalized that international companies are producing monochromatic wines from a limited number of grape varieties, resulting in bland, standardized wine quality and causing all wines to taste the same. This is appallingly untrue. Moreover, it cannot be backed by any spefific evidence and generally makes headlines without any serious discussion." (p.xviii) I will have more to say about this later in the post as Parker addresses this issue again.

The next section of the book is the Introduction, containing a diverse selection of articles. It begins with "How To Use This Guide." The guide is broken down into regional sections, each which contains an overview, a buying strategy, a summary of recent vintages, a list of the best producers/growers, and rating scores with suggested maturity dates. What has been eliminated from this edition are the specific tasting notes. It was thought that including the voluminous tasting notes would mean certain regions would have had to been omitted from the book. No tasting notes??? Are I the only one that sees something wrong with that?

So, you are left with primarily scores. Parker has emphatically stated before that it is his tasting notes that are more important than the scores. So why then eliminate those important tasting notes and provide only scores? I think the elimination of the tasting notes also eliminates much of the potential usefulness of this guide. It lends itself more to a slavish point-following mentality rather than selecting wines based on what they are like and how they taste. Though there are sometimes a few sentences written about each producer which occasionally discuss specific wines, it is the scores that are most prominent.

I think Parker would produced a better guide if he chose not to try to include everything in a single book. He could have produced buying guides for each different region, maybe combining a few related ones. That way he would have been able to include all of the important tasting notes. As the guide stands, it will be largely useless for many people, and perpetuates a score-following mentality.

The Introduction then continues with an article "The Role of a Wine Critic." Parker states: "In short, the role of the critic is to render judgments that are reliable." (p.5) Sounds reasonable. Parker then continues to list the qualities that a critic should possess, including Independence, Courage, Experience, Individual Accountability, Emphasis on Pleasure and Value, Focus on Qualitative Issues, and Candor. This article is interesting, although a bit pretentious at parts. Parker seems to believe wine criticism is not for part-timers, which would include most bloggers. "Wine criticism, if it is ever to be regarded as a serious profesison, must be a full-time endeavor, not the pursuit of part-timers dabbling in a field that is so complex and requires such time commitment." (p.6)

The next sections of the Introduction are basic wine info, including how to buy wine, how to store it, which wines benefit from aging, and food and wine pairing. All introductory stuff which has been covered elsewhere and which adds little of significant value to this guide.

The following section is more intriguing, and is subtitled "the dark side of wine." It touches on what Parker sees as the negative aspects of the wine world. Remember above when Parker stated that wine was not becoming too globalized? Well, now he contradicts himself, warning about that very thing in a section titled "The Growing International Standardization of Wine Styles." Parker states it is getting difficult to differentiate an Italian Chardonnay from one made in France or California. Wine makers are "designing them to offend the least number of people,.." (p.18) So which is it Parker? Parker then continues to speak out against excessive manipulation of wine, sounding much like Alice Feiring.

There is another section on "Wine Writers' Ethics and Competence," which largely concentrates on professional wine writing, noting how there are few independent wine writers who support themselves entirely by writing. This is followed by a section on counterfeit wines and some guidelines on how to avoid being ripped off. The next couple essays are "What Constitutes a Great Wine" and "Making Sense of Terroir." On the issue of terroir, Parker is in the middle, accepting the existence of terroir and noting it can have an impact, but also acknowledging there is more involved. The last two items in the Introduction are meant to be humorous, "The Wine World's Biggest Lies" and "The Language of the Wine Maker."

As for the regional reviews, the largest section is France which consists of over 600 pages. California comes in second with over 200 pages and Italy is at third with about 170 pages. The preliminary information on each region, including a discussion of the major grape varieties, recent vintages, maps, important vineyards and producers, etc. is often interesting and worth reading. But, not all the regions receive such extended information. For example, Portugal and Spain have relatively small preliminary sections. Most of the chapters though are scores for thousands of wines.

There is an interesting chapter covering the wineries of the U.S., those outside of California, Oregon and Washington. The section is short but lists recommended wineries in a number of states. In Massachusetts, the only recommended winery is The Neighborhood Cellar. I have some familiarity with this winery and they produce very little wine. Their only current release is a 2006 Syrah and I have only seen their wines available in one local wine store. I don't know which other wineries were tried, as I would have placed Turtle Creek Winery at the top of any Massachusetts list. All of the scores in this section though are only for New York wines.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book as it is mainly wine scores without tasting notes. There are a few things of interest here but not worth the purchase price. Parker would have been better off creating individual guides for separate regions and then including tasting notes.