Monday, May 31, 2010

Rant: Why So Limp?

It is easy to find crisp French fries, in a wide variety of shapes and thicknesses. The perfect fry has a crispy exterior that opens into a fluffier interior and possesses the full flavor of the potato. But why is it so hard to find a perfect sweet potato fry?

Most sweet potato fries I have tasted have been thin and limp, lacking any crispness. Plus, their flavor was nothing special. I love the taste of a sweet potato and always thought they should make excellent fries. But it puzzled me why so many sweet potato fries were inadequate, often not as good as even a mediocre French fry.

Yet relief may be on the horizon. I have recently found three restaurants with exceptional sweet potato fries, fries that surpass all others and which truly sate my desires. First, I found the perfect sweet potato fry at Clink in the Liberty Hotel. Good sized, nicely crispy and fluffy and flavorful inside. They were simply the best sweet potato fries I have ever had. As I swooned over them, I wondered why other restaurants could not do the same. How difficult could it be to replicate this perfection?

Then I found excellent sweet potato fries once again, this time at the Beacon Grille in Woburn. They were very similar to what I found at Clink and were a very welcome surprise. I did not expect to find such fries here but have enjoyed them on multiple occasions since. So if two restaurants can do it, there is no reason that others cannot do so.

Last week, I stopped at the Met Bar & Grill in Dedham and with my burger had some sweet potato planks. These were not fries, but more similar to large slices of sweet potato tempura. I have a weakness for tempura, so these really appealed to me and the tempura was delicious, perfectly light and crispy. The sweet potato was soft yet firm, with lots of flavor. I have to include these in my favorite sweet potato "fries."

So I don't want to see any more limp sweet potato fries. There is no excuse anymore because if these three restaurants can do it, then others can do the same. Restaurants, you have been warned! Clean up your act and start making better sweet potato fries. Or you will be called to task.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chef's Table Series: June 9 & 16

The Chef’s Table Series goes on the road and travels to Townsend’s Restaurant in Hyde Park and then journeys to Savinos Grill in Belmont. Two evenings for guests to learn how to cook, to meet the chef, enjoy food, wine and benefit a charity.

The Chef’s Table Series is an interactive cooking demonstration and learning experience that takes place at various restaurants throughout the Boston area. In a classroom like setting, participants learn techniques, how to cook the dish being prepared and get to know the chef via a question and answer session. Participants will watch, learn and taste the food being prepared. They will each receive a complementary glass of wine, a free recipe booklet and the opportunity to win a special gift from the restaurant. Proceeds from each ticket sale benefit a charity of the restaurant’s choice.

Tickets are $40 per person (gratuity not included). Reservations are required in advance. Tickets are non-refundable and non-transferable. Tickets can be purchased on-line at (click on Table News) or by calling 617.323.0670

It certainly sounds like a fun experience, and you are also contributing to good causes. I think the event is very reasonably priced and would recommend that you check it out.

The Chef’s Table Series’ Restaurants:

Townsend’s Restaurant
Chef Carlos
81 Fairmount Avenue
Hyde Park, MA
Wednesday, June 9th, 2010 at 6:30pm
Charity: Dana Farber Cancer Research

Menu: White Pizzettas - Fresh Herbs and 100% olive oil covered in sharp cheddar cheese; Grilled Swordfish- fresh grilled swordfish, topped with saffron Beurre Blanc & served with rice and grilled fresh vegetable skewer: Dessert: Chocolate Pot de Creme

Savinos Grill
Executive Chef & Owner Tom Cutrone
449 Common Street
Belmont, MA
Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 at 7pm
Charity: Belmont Special Education Advisory Council

Menu: Pan Seared Scallops, with tomato risotto with fennel, Pernod, baby squash and an olive tapenade

Friday, May 28, 2010

Wine, Cheese & Cupcakes

It is a compelling trio: wine, cheese and cupcakes. Add in a group of bloggers and you should have quite a fun evening. And that is exactly how I spent part of last night.

Meghan of Travel Eat Love (with her recap) and Michelle from Fun and Fearless in Beantown arranged this event, a blogger meet-up at the Boston Wine Exchange. Attending bloggers and writers included Jackie of the Leather District Gourmet, Elina of Healthy and Sane (with her recap), Melissa of Crunches for Cupcakes, Kirsten of Tales From Two Cities, Alicia of the Clean Plate Club, MichellBolde of The Economical Eater (with her recap), Megan of Delicious Dishings, Lara of Good Cook Doris, and Justin. (I hope I did not miss anyone).

It was great to see people I already knew, as well as get to meet others, some who I had only previously known on Twitter. As I have said before, wine and food shared with friends is far better than if you eat and drink alone. Fortunately, the Boston+ food and wine blogger community is fairly friendly, and often meet at a variety of events.

There were nine wines for us to taste, and at least six different types of cheeses from Cabot of Vermont (represented at the event by EastieGal). There were a few of the usual cheddars, plus some nice spicy varieties as well.

Here are a few wines from the tasting which most interested me:

The 2008 Bodegas Ortiz Senorio de Oran Blanco Pardina ($10) is from the small and relatively new Spanish D.O. of Ribera del Guadiana in the Extremadura region. The wine is made from the rare Pardina grape, which is indigenous to this region, and is a new grape to me. The winery owner also owns a pig farm. This was a simple wine, crisp, light and fruity. A pleasant summer wine though lacking complexity.

The 2006 Monte Volpe Primo Rosso ($12) is a California wine, from Mendocino county, but is a red blend, including some Italian varietals. The blend is 65% Zinfandel, 15% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 5% Sangiovese, 3% Negromaro, and 2% Nebbiolo. The wine was aged for 18 months in oak and has an alcohol content of 14.5%. It was quite delicious, an easy-drinking wine but with some depth and complexity. Plenty of red fruit flavors, with some hints of spice and vanilla. Mild tannins and a decent finish. A good BBQ, burger or pizza wine. At this price, a very good value too.

The 2005 Castellroig Negre 'Vi de Terrer' ($20) is a unique Spanish wine. It is a blend of 70% Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo) and 30% Merlot. It is from the D.O. Penedes and is 100% organic. This winery is also the first, and only one so far, that is permitted to use the "Vi de Terrer" (terroir wine or estate) designation, which was created in 2002. To receive that designation, a wine must be 100% organic plus the soil and climate must be extensively analyzed to show its terroir. I do know that this wine was quite good, with a bold taste but which was not overly tannic. There were prominent black cherry, blackberry and plum flavors with hints of vanilla and a spicy backbone. The finish was long and satisfying, and the wine had plenty of character. An excellent wine at a reasonable price, especially considering it is also a low production wine.

After the wine, we adjourned to the rear of the store where we met Kelly of the new Mix Bakery, and got to sample some cupcakes and brownies. Earlier that day, some of us were involved in a discussion over the use of "moist" when describing baked goods. Some disliked the term, yet they could not offer an acceptable alternative. To me, no matter its shortcomings, I think it is the best word to describe what we mean. And everyone understands what you mean when you use the term. "Moist" is certainly better than alternatives like well lubricated, clammy or dank.

I tried two of the cupcakes and the brownie (not tasting the third because it contained peanut butter). Now, you all know that I have high standards for my cupcakes, so how did these measure up? First, I liked the brownie, which was properly fudgy, my preferred style of brownie. Second, the rhubarb cupcake with a vanilla cream topping, was surprisingly delicious. I am not usually a rhubarb fan, so was a little leery about the cupcake, but this was quite good. It was nicely moist and the vanilla cream was smooth and not overly sweet. A success. The Mounds-style cupcake, with chocolate and coconut, had a very nice taste but could have been a bit moister. It definitely had good flavor, and the cream was once again smooth and not too sweet, but the cake itself was still a bit too dry.

Overall, Kelly did well, though with a little room for improvement. I think her frostings are much better, creamier and lighter, than the usual cupcake frosting, which tend to be too thick and sweet. It is clear that her cupcakes can be properly moist, and there are reasons why the chocolate cupcake may not have been up to par this time. So, I'll have to check out more of her cupcakes in the near future. The menu does have some other intriguing items, such as banana cupcakes, marshmallow buttercream and even Twinkies.

Thanks again to Meghan and Michelle for organizing this event, and thanks to all the bloggers and writers who made it enjoyable.

Chilling With Saké Class: June 10

Forget about the burning hot Saké you might have once tried! Instead, come and learn the joys of chilled Saké. Don't feel intimidated any longer from Saké.

On June 10, from 8pm-10pm, at the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose, I will be teaching "Chilling with Saké," an introductory class to discuss the basics of Saké, from its history to how it is brewed. You will learn about the various types of Saké, from Sparkling Saké to Daiginjo. And you’ll taste some interesting Sakés, seeing the range of its flavors and styles. Plus, you'll see how cheese can pair with Saké.

The class, which costs $20 per person, is limited to 12 people, and you must preregister. To sign up, email Rebecca, the store owner, at or stop by the Melrose store. Don't wait too long as I expect the class will fill up quickly.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Secret Sherry Society at Mooo

What are your thoughts about Sherry?

Unfortunately, to many people, Sherry is stereotyped as being only sweet, an old-fashioned drink once the purview of their grandmothers. Yet that is far from accurate and the stereotype needs to be overcome. If people can get past their unjustified bias, they will find a diversity of styles and flavors, and much of it dry. Sherry also pairs well with food and can be an excellent ingredient in cocktails. You should explore the wide world of Sherry!

I am a fan of Sherry, but certainly wish I had the opportunity to drink more of it. One significant limitation is that most local wine stores only carry a very small selection. Thus I don't have much of a chance to taste all of the brands and styles of Sherry that I wish I could. Hopefully that will change in the future, and the Sherry Council of America is doing their part to bring about such a change.

They recently launched the Secret Sherry Society, a clever, new marketing campaign aimed at heightening consumer awareness about Sherry. The Society will engage consumers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, wine retailers, wine writers & bloggers, and others. They are trying to make the Sherry experience fun, and are conducting numerous Sherry tastings and dinners throughout the country. There is no real secret, but the illusion of secrecy is intriguing. Just check out their website and have some fun learning about Sherry.

The first stop on the Society's road trip was Boston, and they conducted several events, private and public, sharing their love of Sherry. I was fortunate to attend their media luncheon at Mooo, a Boston steakhouse where I have happily dined before.

We were seated in the restaurant's wine cellar, a fascinating room, especially for any wine lover. You can admire some very old wines, hoping (or dreaming) that some day you might be able to sample one of these rare treasures. I'd freely dust off all the bottles if I could take one home with me. A wine lover can wish.

Prior to sitting, we stood around chatting, enjoying a cheese and olive antipasto paired with a Jerezini cocktail. This cocktail contains 2oz of orange-flavored vodka, 1/2oz of Grand Marnier, and 1oz of Fino Sherry. You combine it all in a mixing glass with ice, shake, and then strain into a Martini glass with an orange twist. I enjoyed its tangy and citrus taste, but note that it is potent. I would not suggest having too many of those if you want to remember dinner. Adding Sherry to cocktails has become popular lately, much more popular than drinking sherry on its own.

We then sat to enjoy a five-course lunch, presided over by Sarah DiBari, the wine director of Mooo, who had paired all of the dishes with Sherry. She was very personable and seemed both knowledgeable and passionate about wine. I had a chance to chat with her briefly and was impressed with her enthusiasm. I think all of her pairings worked out very well for the lunch.

The Society intends to create a city-specific pairing every where they visit. In Boston, they chose this to be chowder with a Manzanilla. So, our first course was a Potato and Leek Chowder with whole belly clams and applewood smoked bacon. This was an excellent chowder, not overly thick or thin, with lots of flavors, all blending harmoniously together. There were touches of smoke and salt, potato and mild onion. And that blessed bacon!

This course was paired with the NV Pedro Romero Manzanilla Sherry, a dry Sherry. This family-owned winery was established in 1860. The Manzanilla smells like the ocean, that pungent briny aroma, and it comes through in the taste as well, a very common element of this type of Sherry. It is probably the easiest way to differentiate a Fino from a Manzanilla. As it reminds you of the sea, it pairs very well with seafood and the acidity of this Sherry helped to cut through the creaminess of the chowder.

Next up was Butter Poached Maine Lobster in a ginger broth with spring vegetables. This is a dish that would be hard for any New Englander to dislike. Sweet lobster meat with a buttery taste, complemented by the pungency of the ginger. The vegetables were fresh and crisp, also enhanced by the ginger broth. With a claw and half a tail, this was an ample and delicious course.

This was paired with the NV Bodegas Pedro Romero Fino Pale Dry, which has seen a little oak. A fine dry Sherry, with hints of nuts, this was a good accompaniement to the lobster. It had that typical Fino tang to it, which some people dislike, but they really need to drink Fino with food, and they will likely appreciate it much better. It was not really intended to be drank on its own and its character does change when accompanied by food.

Maybe my favorite course was the Caramelized Sea Scallops with truffled pea tendril salad and parsnip puree. These were exquisite scallops, cooked perfectly so that they had just the right consistency, neither too firm nor too soft. You would think scallops were easy to prepare, but they are not to get them just perfect. The caramelization was also done skillfully, adding to the sublime delight of this dish. The rest of the dish was good too, but my love for the scallops eclipsed all else.

The scallops were enhanced by the NV Bodegas Hidalgo Amontillado. This family-owned winery was established in 1792, and produce a full line of Sherries. Amontillado is one of my favorite types of Sherry so this was a treat. Smooth flavors of nuts, caramel, some salt and hints of orange peel. Good acidity with a long and satisfying finish. I often love to sip Amontillado after dinner, but this was a nice match during my meal. Give me a couple more plates of scallops, some more Amontillado, and I would have happily moved into the wine cellar.

After all that seafood, we moved onto some red meat, a Broiled Beef Tournedo with woodland mushrooms and pate toast. A tender slice of beef that was enhanced by the earthy mushrooms. The pate was creamy and decadent, again with some of that earthy flavor.

For this course, we drank the NV Bodegas Barbadillo Oloroso, which I had recently tasted at the Wine Riot. I had been impressed with the Barbadillo profile, and especially impressed by the Oloroso. So I was delighted to taste it again with this earthy course and I think it was another very good pairing. You probably never considered pairing a Sherry with a steak, but it is really far more versatile than you may realize.

For dessert (and I barely had any room left after that sumptious meal), we had some Indian Pudding with whipped cream, a very traditional New England dessert though I see it only rarely on menus. It was light and delicious, with a nice molasses flavor.

Our final Sherry was the NV Emilio Hidalgo Pedro Ximinez, which is sweet though not overly so. There is plenty of flavor, especially caramel and honey, with this Sherry beneath the sweetness, and it is a good dessert wine, with more character than some others.

I think those of the attendees at this lunch with little experience with Sherry came away with a new appreciation for this Spanish wine. It is with such Sherry-paired meals and tastings that more people will learn about and enjoy Sherry. Consumer education is essential, especially paired with actual tastings. With a greater demand for Sherry, then retailers will start carrying more brands and types.

You will be hearing more about Sherry from me in the near future. In September, I will be traveling to the Jerez region of Spain, where Sherry is made. I am sure I will have much to report, and I hope to learn even more about this delicious wine. I will be passing on the fruits of my education to my readers too.

Now I just have to stop thinking about scallops and Amontillado.

Morton's The Steakhouse: Upcoming Wine Events

Morton’s The Steakhouse will open its doors to Boston wine enthusiasts for two unique tasting events in June: a blind tasting event and a winemaker dinner.

Morton’s The Steakhouse Master Classes give participants insight and knowledge into the world of a wine professional. As part of the Master Class series, Morton’s Back Bay introduces guests to the sommelier craft through a Blind Wine Tasting Seminar on June 9. Sara Fasolino, Certified Sommelier and Beverages Manager for Morton’s, will guide guests through the blind tasting, expanding palates and enhancing their sense of smell along the way.

The tasting includes seven wines expertly paired with Morton’s signature hors d’oeuvres, including smoked salmon pinwheels, chicken goujonettes, Roma tomato crostini and petite filet sandwiches. As the tasting progresses from light wines (Prosecco) to heavy (Malbec), guests learn to distinguish the nuances of different grapes and vintages. All participants earn a “Morton’s Associate Sommelier” certificate at the end of the session.

Master Class:
Wednesday, June 9, from 6pm–7:30pm
Cost: $49 per guest, inclusive of tax and gratuity
Call 617-266-5858 to reserve a spot

699 Boylston Street
Boston, MA

On June 15, Morton’s will host a Winemaker Dinner featuring Mike Trujillo, President and Vintner of Sequoia Grove Vineyards. Guests will enjoy an interactive experience with the head of this boutique Napa Valley winery. Located in the heart of Rutherford, the area’s most prestigious Cabernet Sauvignon appellation, Sequoia Grove is known not only for its premium Bordeaux-style wines, but also for its commitment to sustainable winemaking practices. In addition to four courses of Morton’s signature cuisine, guests sample Mike’s hand-picked Sequoia Grove wine pairings, including the vineyard’s award winning Cabernet Sauvignon.

The menu and pairings include:

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes
Belgian Endive with Blue Cheese
Tuna Tartare
Paired with Domaine Carneros Brut 2006

Mixed Field Greens topped with Grilled Colossal Shrimp
Paired with Sequoia Grove Chardonnay 2008

Filet Mignon, Chive Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Tomato stuffed with Sauteed Spinach, Shiitake Mushrooms
Paired with Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

Cheese Course
Green Hill (Jersey Cow Milk)
Roasted Wild Rice (Gouda)
GoreDawnZola (Gorgonzola)
River's Edge Full Moon (Goat Milk)
Paired with Sequoia Grove Syrah 2006

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Winemaker Dinner
Tuesday, June 15, from 6:30pm–7:30pm
Cost: $150 per guest, inclusive of tax and gratuity
Call 617-526-0410 to reserve a spot

2 Seaport Lane
Boston, MA

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

P.F. Chang's and Vineyard 518 Wine

As my readers know, I enjoy the food at P.F. Chang's, despite the fact it is a chain and that some of the dishes may not be authentic Chinese cuisine. I like the taste of much of the food and think it is reasonably priced. It certainly is a popular restaurant, and there can sometimes be long waiting lines to get a table.

Recently, I had the opportunity, at a special media dinner, to try their new wines, the Vineyard 518 line. We got to sample the wines, paired with a number of dishes, which was a good way to do it. These are basically wines meant to be enjoyed with dinner, so how they interact with food is very important. Overall, it was a fun and delicious evening, especially as I sat with my friends Jackie, Lingbo and Lena.

You can read Jackie's thoughts about the wines in her article Boxed Wines and Me and Lingbo's thoughts in her article A Food Blogger Walks into P.F. Chang's.

P.F. Chang's created the Vineyard 518 label to introduce their new wines. According to Chinese numerology, 518 means "I will prosper." There are similar variations in numerology such as: 5189 ("I will prosper for a long time" and 516289 ("I will get on a long, smooth prosperous road"). Each year, they will work with a different winery to produces their wines, thus the grapes, blends and styles will vary each year.

For the initial release, they partnered with Wattle Creek Winery, a family-owned estate, and the grapes come from the Yorkville Highlands appellation in Mendocino, California. Two Vineyard 518 wines were produced this year, a Sauvignon Blanc and a Syrah blend.

Initially, I was impressed with the fact that these wines are packaged in 10-liter recyclable containers, essentially a large box wine. With ten liters, the box contains over 13 bottles of wine. The packaging weighs about half the weight of a traditional case of bottled wine, which thus reduces the carbon footprint during the shipping process. The box itself is also created from post-consumer cardboard and both the plastic bag insert and box are fully recyclable.

I have been an advocate for boxed wines for some time, and it is great to see such a large chain choosing to adopt that packaging. For them, the packaging poses an economic benefit as it costs less than if they had bottled their wine. Plus, the wine will last much longer in the box than if they had open bottles, so there will be much less waste. Fortunately for the consumer, those savings are being passed on to them.

Though price may vary by location, the Prudential location is serving these wines in three sizes: 1/2 glass (3.5oz for $4.50), full glass (7oz for $7.50) and a ½ carafe ($15.50). The full glass is a generous pour as most other restaurants only serve 5 or 6 oz pours, and it is also at a very reasonable price.

The Sauvignon Blanc has a bit of added Viognier, was fermented in stainless steel tanks, and has an alcohol content of 13.9%. I found this to be a simple, aromatic and easy drinking wine with prominent grapefruit and lemon flavors. It is crisp and makes for a good food wine. It went well with orange peel chicken and the chicken lettuce wraps.

The Syrah blend contains 86% Syrah, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Zinfandel. It was aged in French and Eastern European oak, about 35%-40% new, and with a combination of medium and heavy toasting levels. This wine had a very fruity aroma, and those dark berry, plum, and black cherry flavors were very prominent on the palate as well. There were underlying spice notes, moderate tannins and overall, it was also an easy drinking wine, which paired well with the beef and duck dishes.

I think these are very consumer-friendly wines, easy drinking and food friendly. For the price, they are also a good value. They are not going to impress you with their complexity, but that is also not their intent.

Stoneham Sun: Newburyport Farmers' Market

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the May 26 issue of the Stoneham Sun newspaper. This is a weekly column that concentrates on reviews of local restaurants though it also sometimes touches on other food and wine topics.

The new column has been published today and will be available online soon. The new article is a review of the Newburyport Farmers' Market, which has been open for several weeks. There are over 20 different vendors, selling a wide variety of products including fruits, vegetables, meats, honey, tea, baked goods, jewelry and much more.

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

Dine with passion.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Passion for Pinot at Cayuga Lake

One of my favorite experiences of TasteCamp was our tour and tasting at the Heart & Hands Wine Company. They make an exceptional Pinot Noir, which certainly surprised me. Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes? Definitely, yes! You can read about this winery, its Pinot Noir and my thoughts at my guest post on the New York Cork Report.

TasteCamp: Grand Tasting at Heron Hill Winery

TasteCamp did not try to gently ease us in. Instead, we were immediately immersed into a large wine tasting, setting the stage for a marathon weekend of tasting. TasteCamp is not for the faint of heart, or small of bladder. But at least you can pace yourself. And no one keeps track of how much or how little you drink.

Our first official event for TasteCamp East 2010 was a Grand Tasting of wines from Keuka Lake and Canandaigua Lake wineries. The tasting and luncheon were held at the Heron Hill Winery, pictured above. About ten wineries presented a sampling of their wines and we were able to taste as many or as few as we desired. I tasted a fair share of the wines, though certainly not all of them. Pacing was important as there would be plenty more wines to taste later that day.

The entry way into the Heron Hill winery. It is a stylish winery with an elegant tasting room, and a nice gift shop. I picked up a couple jars of local Luke's Pickled Garlic Scapes, both Jalapeno and Dill, and they turned out to be quite delicious.

Heron Hill has been producing wine for over 30 years, and they currently produce about 20,000 cases each year, with almost 20 wine varieties. The owner of Heron Hill is John Ingle, pictured above, and I sat next to him during lunch. I found him to be a very down-to-earth and personable, with a true passion for wine. I have tasted some of their wines before, especially impressed with their Blaufrankisch and Cabernet Franc.

Also pictured above is Morgen McLaughlin, the President of the Finger Lakes Wine Country Tourism Marketing Association. She too is passionate, an ardent advocate of the wines of the Finger Lakes region. I have previously met her at the Boston Wine Expo and it was a pleasure to see and chat with her again.

The various wine makers and winery representatives held court at the lengthy bar. The attendees could check out any winery we wished, tasting whatever they had to offer. This was an important tasting as it would likely set the tenor for the rest of the weekend. If the wines largely disappointed, attendees might be more critical of the rest of the wines that weekend. If the wines were raves, then the good mood might extend through Sunday. It would also reflect on the organizers. Had they chosen the appropriate starting point for TasteCamp, or had they chosen something which would taint the rest of the weekend?

In the end, I found a mixed bag of wines, some very good, some very bad, and a fair number in between. Which is really a snapshot of any wine region, almost a bell curve of sorts, and there is little else you can ask for. So, this first tasting was a good choice for the start. I think it presented a realistic picture of the region, showing its assets and flaws.

Here are some of the wines which most resonated with me, for various reasons. Some because they used grapes new to me, others because I thought they were especially good wines.

Hunt County Vineyards:

The 2008 Valvin Muscat ($14.99) is made from 100% Valvin Muscat, a hybrid grape developed at Cornell University in the 1960s. This wine was aged in stainless steel, made in an off-dry style, has an alcohol content of 12%, and only 529 cases were produced. I found it to be very aromatic, with intense floral and pineapple smells. On the palate, there were flavors of exotic fruits with hints of orange and only a touch of sweetness. It was a very interesting taste and had a moderately long and satisfying finish. I think this is a good value wine.

(It is interesting to note that the winery website mentions which of their wines are considered Vegan.)

Arbor Hill Winery:

This winery is where I first met my new nemesis, the Noiret grape, a hybrid that appears to be treasured for its green pepper flavor. Just say no to Noiret! I prefer to eat my salad with a fork, and not to drink it. Their 2007 Vergennes, also made from a hybrid new to me, was not to my liking.

I did like their 2007 Classic Traminette ($12.95), which had some tasty pineapple and grapefruit flavors, and was intrigued by the NV Griesa Hill Iona Rose ($9.95). The more unique Iona grape has made an interesting, more New World style Rose, with nice cherry and raspberry flavors, and only a bit of sweetness. Should be very consumer friendly, especially during the summer.

Wilhemus Estate Vineyards:

Though I was not a fan of their wines, I do think they had a fascinating story to tell. It is the only winery in a dry town on Canandaigua Lake. A legal loophole allowed them to establish the winery. Wilhelmus Kuenen, a Dutch immigrant, brought his family to the U.S. when his son, Boud, was seven years old. Wilhelmus started making wine in 1958, and continued to do so even after his retirement. In 2007, Boud opened his own winery, after a career in the aerospace industry, and named it after his father.

Imagine Moore Winery:

Their 2007 Synchronicity ($20.99) is a blend of 50% Cabernet Franc and 50% Syrah, and was aged in New York and Missouri oak. I really enjoyed the flavor of this wine, with its subdued dark berries, ripe plum and spicy backbone. The tannins were restrained and the finish was long and enjoyable. A fair amount of complexity and it comes at a reasonable price.

The 2008 Passion ($39.99) is a 100% Traminette Ice Wine where the grapes have frozen on the vine. It only has an alcohol content of 11% ABV and is not overly sweet, presenting some delicious flavors of honey, pineapple, orange peel and hints of floral.

Casa Larga Vineyards:

For an inexpensive wine, their 2006 Pinot Noir ($12.99) is a pleasant, easy-drinking Pinot. It only has an alcohol content of 12%, has a nice fruity aroma, and the palate brings cherry and raspberry flavors. It is a simple wine, but pleasing nonetheless and would make for a good food wine.

Keuka Spring Vineyards:

I would taste a number of excellent Gewurtraminers in the Finger Lake region, and it started with their 2008 Gewurtztraminer ($16.99). With an alcohol content of 13%, this wine was very aromatic, a typical Gewurtz smell. It had a delicious and crisp taste, with exotic fruits and mild spice notes. A very good food wine and something to intrigue the palate.

McGregor Vineyard:

Probably my favorite wines of this tasting came from this winery. Though the winery was established in 1980, the McGregor family actually began planting vineyards in 1971. They planted both vinefera and hybrids, though other locals were skeptical about the vinifera. But they did succeed, and currently grow a variety of grapes, including some very rare ones including Sereksiya Charni, Saperavi Rkatsiteli, and Sereksiya Rose.

The first wine I tasted was their 2008 Rkatsiteli-Sereksiya ($24.99). They are the only producer of Sereksiya Rosé in the US and one of only two Rkatsiteli producers in the Finger Lakes. The wine has an alcohol content of 11.43% and only 207 cases were produced. This wine seemed very exotic to me, with a complex mouthful of flavors including citrus, lychee, melon, pineapple, and some spice. It was crisp and well-balanced, with a very pleasing finish. It reminded me a bit of an Albarino crossed with a Gewurtztraminer. It was certainly a unique wine and I was impressed.

The 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve ($24.99) was aged for about 19 months in American oak, has an alcohol content of 12.7% and only 386 cases were produced. It had a light red color with a pleasant aroma of red fruits. It did not contain any green pepper smell or taste. On the palate, it had lush black cherry, raspberry and blueberry flavors with bits of spice, especially on the long finish. A very smooth, easy-drinking wine with some character, this would be good on its own or with food.

The 2007 Black Russian Red ($54.99) is a blend of two rare grapes, Saperavi and Sereksiya Charni. The wine has an alcohol content of 12.5% and only 293 cases were produced. The wine undergoes 100% malolactic fermentation and is aged for at least 19 months in Minnesota oak. Generally this wine needs lots of cellaring, about ten years, to tame its huge tannins. But this vintage seemed very drinkable now. It is a complex wine, with an abundance of aromas and taste which all harmoniously blend. In some respects, it is like a Cabernet Sauvignon, except there are some hints of exoticism so you realize you have something very different in your class. Blackfruits, vanilla, smoke, leather, spice and much, much more. A very lengthy finish, and you will still crave even more. A top notch wine, despite the price, and a blend you may never see made by any other producer.

Remember: The key to such marathon tastings is lots of spitting, plus eat something if you can. And it would be a lengthy weekend of spitting!

Hancock Gourmet Lobster: Lobster Ciabatta

If you live in New England, then you probably enjoy lobster. There is no real competition for a Maine lobster, especially not those spiny varieties found in warmer waters. Yes, it can be pricey, but often is worth the added cost to savor the sweet meat. Those who live outside of New England may not often get the chance to taste Maine lobster, but they do have options.

The Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company, working out of Cundy's Harbor in Maine, sells a wide variety of lobster and seafood dishes, often frozen and available for shipping throughout the U.S. You'll find items such as lobster risotto, lobster pot pies, Maine crab cakes, lobster mac & cheese, oyster stew and much more.

Their history extends back to 1946 when Hazel Ellis Hancock started a lobster restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine. The restaurant is still in operation, and Hazel's children and grandchildren were immersed in that world. One of her grandchildren, Cal Hancock eventually decided to get into a similar busness and opened Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company in December 2000. Cal and her team currently work out of a test kitchen in Cundy's Harbor and there is a production and fulfillment facility in nearby Topsham, Maine.

Hancock only use all-natural ingredients and does not use any preservatives or colorings. Whenever possible, they use local ingredients and their products are made in small batches, prepared daily. They also use only the freshest, highest quality Maine lobster caught by Maine lobstermen in support of the eco-friendly Maine lobster industry.

I was sent a sample of one of their newest products, Warm Lobster Ciabatta ($38). This package contains two sandwiches which consist of Maine lobster claw and knuckle meat with lemon herb butter in a hearty ciabatta roll. You just heat the sandwiches when you are ready to eat them. For me, this is the type of lobster sandwich I prefer, which uses butter rather than mayonnaise, so I was excited to try it.

The sandwich, which was simple to prepare, contained an ample amount of sweet lobster, certainly more than I expected. I very much enjoyed the simple buttery sauce which was seasoned appropriately. It was a fairly good-sized sandwich and the bread was hearty and soft. I was impressed with its quality, and would have no problem serving it to guests, who might even think I made it myself. It certainly did not look like a frozen concoction.

If this is the quality of the rest of their products, then they would be well worth ordering. Some may find it pricey, at $19 per sandwich, but remember that this is lobster, and similar lobster sandwiches at restaurants are not cheap either. For those who cannot stop by a local place and buy a lobster sandwich, this is a good option.

As a special reward for my readers, you can receive a 10% discount off your orders with Hancock Gourmet Lobster. Just use promo code 'TPF' (no quotes) at the checkout. But note that this offer is only good until June 6, 2010.

Hancock Gourmet Lobster Company
104 Taylor Road
Harpswell, ME
Phone: 866-266-1700

Monday, May 24, 2010

Smolak Farms: Doughnut Day Festival

Smolak Farms Celebrates National Doughnut Day!

National Doughnut Day, which is celebrated on the first Friday of June, was officially established in 1938 by the Chicago Salvation Army to raise much-needed funds post depression, and to honor the work of World War I Salvation Army volunteers.

During World War I, The Salvation Army set up small provision stations for U.S. serviceman that included writing supplies, sewing materials, hot coffee and yes, doughnuts to bring comfort to the soldiers. The doughnuts were a huge hit with the serviceman and became an important part of providing comfort and morale for soldiers.

In celebration of National Doughnut Day, Smolak Farms will be holding their first-ever, weekend-long Doughnut Day Festival from Friday, June 4th through Sunday, June 6th. In honor of the holiday’s founders, Smolak Farms will be donating a portion of the festivals proceeds to The Salvation Army.

To kick off the celebration on Friday, the farm will be offering half priced hayrides ($2.00 each) as well as special pricing on their cider doughnuts that come in plain, sugared or cinnamon sugared from 9am-2pm. These New England favorites will be ½ price and all veterans a.k.a. “doughboys,” will receive 1 free doughnut!

On Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6 from 11am-3pm children can enjoy an assortment of activities including a bounce house ($3.00), batting cages ($3.00), a playground (free), a petting zoo (free), face painting ($2.00) and hayrides ($4.00). To round out the celebration kids of all ages can participate in various doughnut-centered activities including a donut ring toss and eating doughnuts on a string!

Smolak Farms will also be hosting their First Ever Doughnut Eating Contest at 1:30pm on Saturday, June 5 and Sunday, June 6th. Contestants will have 3 minutes to try and eat the most cider doughnuts. The winner will receive a free dozen of doughnuts and bragging rights for 2010! Enter the doughnut eating contest at the Farm Stand before 1:00PM the day of.

Families will have a chance to get creative together at Smolak Farms’ doughnuts decorating stand, where guests will be able to dunk their own doughnuts into all sorts of yummy toppings for only $1.00 per doughnut! Afterwards, head over to Smolak Farms special “Doughnut Hole” photo station where families can document their doughnut day adventures in the middle of Smolak Farms’ most famous dessert. Please note, guests must bring their own cameras.

Schedule of Activities (Saturday and Sunday Only):

Doughnut Ring Toss at 11:30AM

Eat Doughnut on a String, and be the first to finish at 12:30PM!

Doughnut-Eating Contest at 1:30PM. Smolak Farms will be hosting doughnut eating contests for ages 6 and under, ages 7-12, and ages 13 and up.

*Please note these activities are free, and will only be offered on Saturday, June 5th and Sunday, June 6th.

Cider donuts!!! Yes, they are one of my favorite treats so I am all behind this celebration, especially as some of the proceeds will go to a worthy charity. many cider donuts can I force down in 3 minutes? Will any "ringers" enter the competition, professional eaters who can probably choke down a couple dozen? I could enter twice, on Saturday and Sunday. Plus the donuts are half-price. I hope to see my readers there.

Rant: Be Original, Not a Parrot

I am getting very tired of seeing the same old arguments posted again and again on wine blogs. Bashing the print wine media, bashing the 100 point scoring system, bashing those who don't understand millenials, and more. These discussions have been repeated ad nauseum on many different wine blogs, and sometimes on the same blog over and over. What a waste of time.

It is extremely rare to see anything original in these discussions. It is mostly just a rehash of the same points and opinions, many times with ad hominem arguments. Positions get polarized and each side in the argument often gets defensive. The rhetoric may ramp up, with accusations flying around. Nothing ever gets resolved.

Why is this done? One reason may be writer's block. It is certainly easy to write one of these posts, as all of the arguments have already been made in the past. So you just cobble together your post from the past, cutting and pasting what you need. A lazy man's way of handling writer's block.

Another reason may be to attract traffic to your blog. Even if your post contains nothing new, you still are almost guaranteed to get a number of bloggers adding their comments, generally supporting your position. And if someone dares refute your points, everyone will gang up on that detractor, further uppping your traffic. Forget any reasoned discussion, just insult the detractor and force him out.

It should also be mentioned that the print wine media is most often depicted as the villain. Even when other bloggers engage in similar behavior as the print wine media, such as using the 100 point rating system, they are not criticized for such. It is as if the unoriginal bloggers don't want to alienate their fellow bloggers, yet that then becomes a double standard.

Where is the originality? Is that not what wine blogs should do, provide original content, some of which you cannot find elsewhere? It is certainly more difficult to write original content, but it is much more satisfying. I certainly struggle to be original, and am sure I have failed on more than one occasion. But I strive for it, making originality my ultimate goal.

It especially bothers me when I see top-notch bloggers, those with excellent writing skills, who still seem to resort to the same old topics. They are the ones who should be leading the way through originality. There is no need for them to rehash the same old silly arguments. Unless you really have something original to say about these arguments, which will be rare, it is better to remain silent and speak on another topic.

Don't be a parrot and repeat the same old arguments. Stand on your own and embrace originality. Make the extra effort and craft something of your own, something unique and interesting.

3rd Annual MA Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival

Mass Farmers Markets is pleased to announce the 3rd Annual Strawberry Dessert Festival – happening Friday, June 11–Sunday, July 4. Restaurants, cafes, and bakeries across the Bay State will donate a percentage of proceeds from desserts highlighting the flavor of ripe local berries to benefit the Federation of Mass Farmers Markets (MFM), the non-profit dedicated to supporting and promoting farmers markets. Diners “out & about” between June 11th and July 4th will be able to enjoy specially prepared strawberry desserts at participating eateries and know that they are helping a worthy cause at the same time.

Now in its third year, The Mass Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival was created in 2008 to highlight local strawberry season while raising much-needed funds for Mass Farmers Markets’ mission as the only state-wide non-profit organization working to sustain and strengthen our farmers market system. Last year’s event met with overwhelming success and helped raise the funds needed to keep farmers markets thriving in Massachusetts!

This year, the event has grown to include over thirty of the most beloved Massachusetts restaurants and eateries. Chefs and bakers at each establishment will use fresh locally grown berries to create strawberry dessert masterpieces not be missed.

As of today, participating eateries include: 51 Lincoln, Beacon Hill Bistro, The Beehive, Bistro 5, Bistro Les Gras, Burtons Grill, EVOO, The Fireplace, Flora, Harvest, Henrietta’s Table, Highland Kitchen, Lineage, Oleana, Pizzeria Posto, Post 309, Smolak Farms Bakery, Sofra Bakery and Café, The Summer Shack, Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro, Tatte Fine Cookies and Cakes, Tomasso Trattoria, Watch City Brewing Company, Woodstar Cafe and several Whole Foods stores. The list of participants is growing daily, and Mass Farmers Markets welcomes inquiries from potential participants across Massachusetts.

So plan to get out of your kitchen and into the taste of summer between June 11th and July 4th. Head out to enjoy strawberry season at a participating Strawberry Dessert Festival restaurant. You'll be helping support local farmers when you do!

Our Strawberry Dessert Festival is a great opportunity to support local farmers and farmers markets while enjoying the incredible taste of New England strawberries,” said Hannah Thomas Freedberg, Development and Outreach Director for Mass Farmers Markets (MFM). “I personally have a great time getting out to sample the wide variety of strawberry desserts our partner restaurants feature, and it feels good to know that I am doing good for hardworking local farmers at the same time!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chikusui-jitsu & Bamboo Saké

In the traditional lunar calendar, May 23 is known as Chikusui-Jitsu, which literally means the "day for bamboo drunk." This day was thought to be the best for replanting bamboo, as the existing bamboo would be too intoxicated to realize what was happening. There are sometimes Saké drinking rituals connected with this holiday, generally using Bamboo Saké.

One form of such is Hachiku-zake, Henon bamboo Saké. To make it, you sliced a young henon in two at one of the nodes and then drill a small hole at the node. Some Saké is then poured into the hole and it will be left to sit there for a couple days. Sugar and other items from the bamboo will permeate the Saké, creating a different taste, and this Saké is also thought to prolong one's life.

Another form is Chikureki-shu, bamboo oil Saké, where the bamboo is similarly cut and filled with Saké. But, this one is then placed over a heat source and warmed, allowing certain elements to seep into Saké, such as bamboo oil, chlorophyll, and vitamin K. It too was thought to have medicinal purposes and recent research has discovered that bamboo oil can be effective in cancer prevention.

Have you ever tried bamboo Saké?

Davio's Boston: Big Easy Dinner

Davio’s Boston is hosting an evening of Cajun cuisine, Louisiana style libations and live Jazz music at Davio’s Big Easy Dinner. Guests are invited to enjoy dishes inspired by the culinary heart of the South, New Orleans, and celebrate the culture and spirit of this vibrant city. Created by Executive Chef’s Eric Swartz and Stephen Brown, the four-course menu will be available for one night only.

The evening will start with cocktails and passed appetizers including; Deviled Eggs; Crawfish Cake; Buttermilk Fried Gator; Blackened Shrimp; Creole Tomato Salsa; Shrimp Spring Rolls with Citrus Aioli; Scallop Ceviche and Pepper-Infused Vodka Oyster Shooters, before guests are seated to enjoy the following menu:

Seafood Gumbo, Chorizo

Mixed Field Greens, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pckled Okra, Creamy Andouille Dressing

Niman Ranch Pork Chop, Crawfish, Cornbread Stuffing
Crispy Pan Fried Catfish, Spicy Remoulade, Tide Water Slaw

Lemon Icebox Pie, Blackberry Coulis

WHEN: Thursday June 17, 6:30pm–9pm

Cost: $75/person, excluding tax and gratuity

Reservations required as space is limited. Call 617.357.4810

Davio’s Boston
75 Arlington Street
Boston, MA 02116

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Basho: Japanese Brasserie--Grand Opening

As I mentioned previously, I was intrigued by the opening of Basho, a new Japanese brasserie near Fenway. So I was excited to attend their Grand Opening, to get a glimpse of what this restaurant could deliver.

It is a much larger place than I envisioned and can seat about 250 people, plus it has an outside patio area that can seat about another 50 people. It has a hip though more minimalistic vibe.

There is a long sushi bar, which can seat around 15 people or so, and it is fairly typical, though there is little need to change. You sit, watch the chefs prepare your nigiri and maki, and then savor each bite.

At such Grand Openings, servers walk through the crowds with trays of appetizers, and you probably won't get to taste everything they have as people quickly gobble up whatever comes by. Of the food I did taste, it was generally very good. The sweet potato tempura was a highlight, with just the right, light and crunchy tempura batter. The shrimp tempura maki also was excellent. The fried chicken balls, with a teriyaki glaze, were also very delicious, looking like a meatball.

The bar area is large and this could become a hotspot at night, or when the Red Sox are in town. With five televisions, they can broadcast multiple sporting events or other shows at the same time. The bar is stocked pretty well, and for the Grand Opening they served numerous cocktails as well as the Kaori Sake, one of my favorites. Sake prices are generally good, and they have a nice selection of diverse choices.

Behind an unusual wall of glass panels is their robata grill. Each pane of glass is cloudy unless you look directly at it, when it then becomes clear. We did get to try some chicken cooked on the grill, and it was moist though the sauces seemed a bit overpowering. I think the robata has lots of potential, and I would like to better assess it when I am dining there. A Grand Opening is not always the best way to properly assess the food quality of a new restaurant.

In general, I was very pleased with Basho and certainly will check it out for lunch or dinner in the near future. They already passed one of my first hurdles, by having a spot-on tempura. I look forward to exploring their menu, and drinking more Sake.

Kitchen Cabinet "Step into Summer" Party

The Greater Boston Food Bank’s Kitchen Cabinet will kick off the season on an altruistic note at the “Step into Summer” cocktail party. Kitchen Cabinet, a group of socially-conscious young professionals within The Food Bank, is dedicated to heightening awareness of the organization’s continuing hunger relief efforts. The “Step into Summer” party provides a trendy backdrop for meeting and mingling, while encouraging others in the Boston area to join the fight against hunger.

Festivities include cocktails and signature hors d’oeuvres from Woodward along with chic auction items, including a Louis Vuitton accessory and a cocktail party for eight at the Saks Fifth Avenue Club along with a significant shopping discount.

WHEN: Thursday June 10, from 6pm-8pm

COST: $75 per person.

Visit to purchase tickets.

Woodward at The Ames Hotel
1 Court Street
Boston, MA

The Greater Boston Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and one of the largest food banks in the country. On an annual basis, The Food Bank distributes more than 31 million pounds of food and grocery products to a network of nearly 600 member shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens, and feeds more than 394,000 people in nine eastern Massachusetts counties serving over 190 communities. The Food Bank benefits from the service of approximately 14,000 volunteers.

Founded in 1981, The Greater Boston Food Bank is a member of Feeding America – the nation's largest hunger-relief organization. Due to increased demand from a sharp rise in the number of Massachusetts residents needing assistance, The Food Bank recently moved to a new, 117,000 square-foot, energy-efficient facility – the Yawkey Distribution Center. This new facility, which was designed by Tom Sieniewicz of Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, will allow the Food Bank to significantly increase its distribution over the next 15 years to eventually accommodate 50 million pounds of food and grocery products annually.

Friday, May 21, 2010

WBW#69: Summary of "Animal Cruelty"

PETA launched a campaign of intimidation, directed at wine bloggers, calling for a boycott of WBW #69. Or at least that is one theory for the dismally low participation this month. I am very disappointed that only 5 people submitted posts. What happened to everyone else?

Is it time for Wine Blogging Wednesday to sign off? Has it been replaced by matters like Twitter Taste Live events? Or was it merely that I chose an unappealing theme? Inquiring minds want to know.

But on to this month's theme itself, Animal Cruelty, where partipating bloggers had to drink a wine made primarily from Mourvedre, which is also known by other names such as Monastrell and Mataro. And in southern France, it is sometimes known as Estrangle-Chien, the "dog strangler,” and hence the title of this month's theme.

Jim at VINEgeek has been passionate about this grape all year with his Mourvedre Monday series. Each week he has been reviewing a different Mourvèdre-based wine, and did it this week on Wednesday rather than Monday so he could participate in WBW#69. Jim reviewed the 2007 Anglim Winery Mourvedre, Hastings Ranch Vineyard, a wine I tasted in Paso Robles and recently reviewed. Jim really seemed to enjoy this wine, as I had, and I especially enjoyed his "Free Association" photo that accompanied his review. Check out Jim's review, and also his Mourvedre Monday series for many more reviews of wines made from this interesting grape. Plus, all of his reviews seem to have intriguing Free Association pictures.

Michael of Undertaking Wine was a virgin to Mourvedre, but excited to finally try it. He generally drinks only Long Island wines but WBW gave him an excuse to venture off the island. He was ambitious and actually reviewed two wines! The first was the 2007 Wrongo Dongo and the second was the 2007 Juan Gil, both from Jumilla, Spain. Michael loved both wines, though preferring the Juan Gil. You have to check out his review though for Neville's reaction (his dog) to the two wines.

VA Wine Diva & Grape Envy Guy of Swirl, Sip, Snark primarily drink local Virginia wines (a region of which I have very little experience). So it is not a surprise that they chose a local wine for WBW, the 2007 Veramar Vineyard Mourvedre. They don't have much familiarity with the grape, but they enjoyed the wine, loving its complexity. Their description of the wine intrigued me and it sounds like a wine that I might enjoy.

Gwendolyn of Wine Predator was excited about WBW#69 as Mourvedre is possibly her favorite varietal. She chose the 2005 Hard Core, a blend with 60% Mourvedre, and also gives some info on the 2006 Hard Core (which is not predominantly Mourvedre. Gwendolyn loved the 2005 and her description certainly sounds very appealing. I have previously tasted the 2004 Hard Core, also not predominantly Mourvedre, and enjoyed it very much though I think I would prefer the 2005, with its more Mourvedre.

Lastly, I reviewed the 2009 Yellow+Blue Rosé, an organic Spanish wine made from 65% Monastrell and 35% Syrah. It was delicious and refreshing, as well as environmentall friendly because it comes packaged in a one-liter Tetra Pak.

All in all, the participants very much enjoyed the wines they reviewed and I think they will all continue seeking Mourvedre wines. If you have not tasted this grape before, I strongly recommend you seek it out.

Thanks very much to all of the participants!

Stoddard's Fine Food & Ale: Father's Day Brunch

Stoddard’s Fine Food & Ale will celebrate Father’s Day this year with an exclusive Cask Ale Brunch, complete with a complimentary shoe-shine and special gift for all Dads. Executive Chef Mark Cina will be whipping up omelets and entrees to accompany your choice of two cask ales.

Upon completion of the unparalleled Cask Ale Brunch experience, Dad will be presented with a $25 gift card valid toward a return visit to Stoddard’s. (Gift card valid June 28th through August 14th and excludes alcohol, tax & gratuity)

Executive Chef Mark Cina’s brunch menu includes:

Aged Cheddar
Asparagus, Brie, Olive Oil Poached Salmon
Merguez Sausage, Grilled Ramp, Piave
Wild Mushroom and Gouda

Stoddard’s Burger
Merguez Sausage Sandwich
Simple Salad of Crisp Lettuces
Olive Oil Poached Salmon and Grilled Romaine Salad
House Made Yogurt & Granola
Eggs Benedict
Steak and Eggs
House-Smoked Ham Grits
Stuffed French Toast
House-Corned Beef Hash

WHEN: Sunday, June 20th from 11:00am to 4:00 pm

COST: $22 per person (includes a choice of any omelet or entrée along with any two pints of cask ale; complimentary shoe shine and $25 gift card for all Dads)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bodegas Paso Robles: A Taste of Spain & Portugal

As I mentioned before, my free time during my Paso Robles trip was very limited so I had a small window of opportunity to explore the downtown tasting rooms. Near the end of my visit to Anglim Winery, Steffanie Anglim graciously called Dorothy Schuler, the owner and winemaker of Bodegas Paso Robles, and arranged a private appointment for me to visit her tasting room.

I wanted to visit Bodegas Paso Robles because I knew they produced wines made from Spanish and Portuguese grapes, and that certainly interested me. Plus, it was different from many of the other local wineries, which were more concentrating on Rhone varieties as well as the usual suspects. I was seeking something more unique and I certainly found it.

Dorothy Schuler was once a writer, contributing to magazines like Cycling, which certainly seems a far way from wine. She was also passionate about art, tithing some of her income to arts-related projects. The idea for a winery began with her husband and his partner, a salesman, and Dorothy was only going to be involved in doing some of the paperwork. Yet fate intervened, turning expectations over on its head.

First, the partner had to pull out of the endeavor and then Dorothy's husband had to go to the United Kingdom for business. So Dorothy was left on her own with the winery, encouraged by her husband to operate it. That is certainly a radical change from just doing the paperwork. Dorothy rose up to confront this challenge, locating a mentor who taught her how to make wine, especially Iberian-style wines.

Dorothy's passion for winemaking grew and she chose to produce only wines made from Spanish and Portuguese grapes because she felt it was a perfect niche market. When she began, she was one of the first local wine makers to use Tempranillo and it was not even commercially available at the start. She purchases all of her grapes, locating growers across California who have the Spanish and Portuguese grapes she desires. It has not been easy, and she has had to educate consumers and others about these grapes. Plus, she is continually experimenting, trying to produce better wine all the time, as well as using different grapes and blends.

In 2002, she produced her first vintage of only 300 cases. Currently, Dorothy makes about seven different wines, with additional ones due in the near future, and production of each wine remains limited, from about 18 cases up to 500 cases. It is a true boutique winery.

Dorothy is an interesting character, very pleasant and obviously passionate about her wines. It was a real pleasure to taste her wines and I am very glad that I chose to stop here. The wine world needs more winemakers willing to experiment, to make different wines, and to test the boundaries.

The labels for most of the wines have an intriguing piece of artwork on them, a monoprint Cara Bella by Dorothy's good friend Morse Clary. The background color on each label depicts the flavors in the wine.

The wine tasting was very cool, with Dorothy generously opening a couple older vintages so I could compare them to the current releases. She also had me compare the tastes of some of the wines to different ones, to get a better idea of the nuances of each individual. It was a fun and revealing tasting, showing the unique differences of the wines.

I started by tasting the 2002 and 2005 Solea ($34), a blend of Tempranillo and Graciano. For 2005, the blend was 86% Tempranillo and 14% Graciano. In 2002, the blend was a bit different, with less Graciano, which is hard to come by in California. The two grapes are fermented separately and blended one year before bottling. The wine's appellation is Central Coast, from the Santa Ana Valley Vineyard (Tres Piños). The 2005 spent 23 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 13.9% and only 121 cases were produced.

The 2002 Solea was a bit funky on the nose, and probably could benefit from decanting. On the palate, it had bright fruit flavors of blueberry, plum and cherry with some pronounced earthiness and underlying spice. In comparison, the 2005 had more pronounced fruit and much less earthiness. Both wines were smooth, complex and had lengthy and pleasant finishes. The 2002 reminded me more of a traditional Spanish wine while the 2005 was more like the new style Spanish wines.

I also got to compare the 2002 and 2005 ¡Viva Yo! ($24), a blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. For 2005, the blend was 90% Tempranillo and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine's appellation is Central Coast, with the Tempranillo from Santa Ana Valley Vineyard (Tres Piños) and Starr Ranch (Paso Robles, Westside) and the Cabernet Sauvignon from Rancho Encino Vineyard (Paso Robles, Westside). The 2005 spent 23 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 14% and only 501 cases were produced.

Like the 2002 Solea, the 2002 ¡Viva Yo! had some funk on the nose. The fruit flavors were also more subdued, making this a more elegant and subtle wine. In comparison, the 2005 was fruitier but had rougher tannins, and probably needs more time in the bottle. It is a simpler wine than the Solea, and much more of an every day wine to drink with dinner.

I was very impressed with the 2006 Graciano ($36), which is made from 100% Graciano, a rarity for any region. Dorothy has had difficulty purchasing Graciano grapes, and there are few plantings in California. It does not help that it is usually a low yielding grape. This was the first vintage she was able to produce and used 100% Graciano. The wine's appellation is Central Coast, from the Santa Ana Valley Vineyard (Tres Piños). This wine spent 23 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 13.5% and only 167 cases were produced.

The Graciano had a compelling and fragrant nose, primarily cherry and floral notes. On the palate, it possessed lush flavors of cherry and raspberry with hints of floral and spice. The more I paid attention to the wine, the more flavors that seemed to flit about my mouth. It had much more complexity than I expected, and a deliciously long finish. A bright, vibrant wine, this is probably something that will age for some time, evolving even more complexity. I had to buy this wine, as the taste was so satisfying, and it is definitely unique.

The 2003 Iberia ($44) is an intriguing blend of 32% Touriga Nacional, 30% Graciano, 30% Tempranillo, and 8% Tinto Cão. Each varietal is fermented alone, barreled for one year, and then blended and returned to barrel for almost another year. The wine's appellation is California, from the Blair Vineyard Spanish Block in Calistoga, Napa Valley. This wine spent 23 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 14.8% and only 192 cases were produced. This wine had just been released.

I found this wine to have that unique Portuguese aroma to it, a compelling smell I associate with their indigenous grapes. It is very alluring and exotic, something I can just sit and savor, even without taking a sip. Its taste too reminded me of a Portuguese wine, with dark fruit flavors, spice and a certain exotic flair to it. Tannins were mild and it was like liquid silk in my mouth. Lots of complexity elevated this wine, as well as its lengthy and interesting finish. If I had tasted it blind, I would have said it was from Portugal rather than California. It is pricey, but you are getting a lot of wine for your money.

If I thought the 2006 Graciano was unique, it had nothing on the 2006 and 2007 Pimenteiro ($36). This is made primarily from the Trousseau grape, also known as Bastardo and about 25 other names. This is a rare grape, especially in the U.S., and most famously is used in making Port. To find a wine made predominantly with Trousseau is extremely rare. The budwood for these vines came from the El Gavilan Vineyard, which was planted in 1890 by Portuguese immigrants. The wine's appellation is Central Coast, from the Siletto and Santa Ana Valley Vineyards (Tres Piños).

The 2006 Pimenteiro, the first vintage of this wine, was made from 100% Bastardo and only 18 cases were produced. "Pimenteiro" means “pepper pot” in Portuguese and the wine is very appropriately named for black and white pepper dominate the aroma and taste of this wine. There are underlying fruit flavors, ripe plum and blueberry, but the pepper certainly takes front stage. Complexity, a long finish and lots of character. It was a very unique and compelling wine to me, and I very much enjoyed the taste. This would be an excellent food wine, especially with something hearty to stand up to the peppery flavors. I had to buy a couple bottles of this wine and would highly recommend it.

For those who might not want so much pepper, you can try the 2007 vintage which is a blend of 90% Bastardo and 10% Tempranillo. The Tempranillo is supposed to tame some of that peppery flavor. This wine also spent 22 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 14.5% and only 76 cases were produced. I did not have a chance to taste this wine, but Dorothy generously sent me a bottle which is now sitting in my cellar. I can't wait to compare it to the 2006 vintage.

Lastly, I tasted the 2008 Doña Blanca ($19), a blend of 60% Grenache Blanc and 40% Malvasia Bianca. The wine's appellation is Paso Robles, from Nevarez (Grenache Blanc) and French Camp vineyards (Malvasia Bianca). The wine spent 7 months in French oak, has an alcohol content of 15% and only 223 cases were produced.

The alluring nose on this wine had pleasant floral notes and citrus smells. It was a crisp, dry white wine with delicious melon, pear and orange peel flavors. There was a subtle exotic flavor to the wine as well, almost a tropical taste to it. An excellent summer wine, good on its own or pair it with seafood or a salad.

Dorothy is making some very interesting and delicious wines, and she will be producing even more in the future, such as the Vaca Negra (a blend of Monastrell and Tempranillo), a GTM (Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell), an Albarino and a 100% Tempranillo wine.

Unfortunately, these wines generally are not available in Massachusetts but you still can obtain some of her wines. Dorothy is one of the participating female winemakers for Women of the Vine. This unites female winemakers under one brand to showcase their diverse talents, and their wines are available in Massachusetts. For this label, Dorothy has produced the Napa Valley Napa Rojo and the Paso Robles Tempranillo.

If you visit Paso Robles, you really must make an appointment to visit Dorothy at Bodegas Paso Robles. She is a passionate and interesting wine maker producing some unique and delicious wines. My visit to her tasting room was certainly a highlight of my trip, and I can't wait to share some of the wines I bought with good friends.

Bodegas Paso Robles
729 13th Street
Paso Robles, CA
Phone: 805-237-3780 (tasting room), 805-238-5957 (office)

The Beehive: International Jazz Day

On Saturday, May 29, join The Beehive, voted one of the “Top 10 Jazz Clubs in the World” by Downbeat Magazine, as they celebrate International Jazz Day with a series of special performances. Always celebrated on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, International Jazz Day celebrates Jazz music, its’ history and musicians, as well as the impact the genre has had on culture. Created in 1991 by D. Michael Denny, a musician and bandleader who was on the board of the New Jersey Jazz Society at the time, the now yearly event is recognized by the U.S. Congressional Record and is sanctioned by the American Federation of Jazz Societies and the United Nations Jazz Society.

Celebrated from New Orleans to Paris (and everywhere in-between), The Beehive will carry the torch for Boston as they present a series of very special performances beginning the night before, Friday, May 28 at 10pm with Cuban Tenor saxophonist, Carlos Averhoff Jr., recognized worldwide as a Jazz and Latin-Jazz performer, composer, arranger and educator. Grab a seat for this special performance and enjoy some of The Beehive’s newest menu offerings such as their Broiled Piri Piri Shrimp with Rice Pilaf and Hearts of Palm Salad ($23) or their new Grilled Zatar-Spiced Tuna with Cous Cous, Candied Carrots and Harrisa Aioli ($24).

Kick off International Jazz Day with The Beehive’s Saturday Jazz brunch featuring The Tough Love Trio comprised of three talented musicians in the Boston music scene, with Steve Chaggaris on drums, Mike Mele on guitar and Blake Newman on the double-bass.Try out the Poutine with Eggs Over-Easy ($12.49) and a Bee-Lini made with apricot nectar and Mumm Napa Champagne ($10.50).

Not a morning person? Make reservations for The Beehive’s International Jazz Day dinner with a very special guest performance from 6:30pm–8:30pm featuring Jeff Galindo! Jeff has performed with such notables as Chick Corea, Clark Terry, Joe Lovano, Buddy DeFranco, Slide Hampton, and Johnny Griffin. He has also performed with Gunther Schuller, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Jerry Bergonzi, Bobby Shew, The Boston Pops Orchestra, and Sam Butera among many others! Finish the evening off with cocktails and hipster chat with the Jazz-Afro-Funk of Lamine Touré and Group Saloum from 10pm-2am.

Reservations for all events highly recommended, so please call 617-423-0069.