Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Thursday Sips & Nibbles

This has been a busy week so I am supplementing my usual edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles with an additional post, highlighting some interesting food and wine items that I have encountered recently.

1) The Wine Connextion, located in North Andover, MA, has launched “S3” (Saturday Sampling Series) for their new October campaign. So what can customers look forward to during the Saturday Sampling Series? Beyond sampling some of the newest wines on the market, guests will also be able to sample some haute bites from restaurants such as Phat Cats Bistro, 15 Walnut, Glory Restaurant and even previous contender for The Next Food Network Star, Tom Grella.

Wine sampling will be all day from 1pm-5pm. The Chef’s demo and samplings will be at 2pm every Saturday, and each week focuses on a different region. Come in all day long to sample and save, but if you hope to grab a space for the chef demos, please rsvp: to This event is a 21+, free event.

Schedule of Events:

October 9: Wines of Spain with Phat Cats Bistro
Featuring wines from the different regions of Spain. Some of the wines poured will include: Nora Albarino 09, La Brisa Rueda 09, Manon Tempranillo 07 and Venta Mazzaron Tempranillo.

October 16: Taste of Italy with 15 Walnut, Chef Samuel Hunt
Featuring wines from the many different regions of Italy. Some of the wines poured will include: Mionetto IL Prosecco, Villa Antinori Rosso 06, Santi Armarone 06 and Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tres Vigne

October 23: Grand Tasting (1 Year Anniversary) with the Food Network's Tom Grella, Director of Restaurants for Salvatore's from 1pm-6pm
This event will feature over 40 hand selected wines with tasting stations throughout the store. A complimentary booklet will be provided to all attendees with explanations of each wine. Tom Grella of The Food Network- Tom Grella will create five culinary creations for the tasting event including a specialty dessert item.

October 30: The Great 2007 Cabernets with Glory Restaurant
The Great 2007 is hailed as one of California’s great vintages for Cabernets. Wine Connextion will be offering some popular and hard to find wines at great prices at this event. Some of the wines poured will include: Paul Hobbs “Cross Barn” Cabernet 07, B.R. Cohen “Silver Label” Cabernet 07, B.V. “Tapestry” Cabernet 07, Ferrari Carano Cabernet 07, Groth Cabernet 07, Clos du Val Cabernet 07 and Stag’s Leap “Artemis” Cabernet 07.

2) Chef Rachel Klein of Aura, TAMO bar & terrace at the Seaport Hotel announces the arrival of the 30-Minute Bento Lunch! A bento box is Japanese and is defined as a meal usually served in a lacquered or elaborately decorated box, divided into sections for holding individual portions of food. Bento is a Japanese slang term that means convenient and is often used to describe a carefully prepared lunch box.

Seaport first introduced the bento box concept when it opened Tamo Terrace this summer and due to its popularity is now bringing it to your lunch hour, or half hour as the case may be!

Chef Klein has designed these Bento Boxes to suit varied tastes.

The Seaport Bento Box Menu includes:

Shrimp Bento Box: Grilled shrimp, Sweet & spicy lo mein noodles, Spinach salad with roasted shitake mushrooms and grilled scallions, Lychee fruit

Chicken Bento Box: Herb marinated chicken breast, Israeli couscous, Ras el hanout spice, Tomato salad, Coconut macaroons

Tuna Bento Box: Spice rubbed Yellowfin tuna, Soba-seaweed salad, Steamed edamamae, Adzuki bean bun, Soy-sake

Lunch guests will be in and out of Aura, Tamo bar or terrace in 30 minutes or their meal is complimentary.

3) T.W. Food is beginning an intriguing event on Wednesdays, Kitchen Improv. Come in after 8:30 pm and enjoy a 5 course menu prepared “on the spot.” Spontaneous, inventive, creative and for only $39. Kitchen Improv will allow you to taste new dishes from Chef Tim Wiechmann. There is no ordering. Every person will have a different and unique menu. This will be T.W. Food’s night to shake things up and have some fun! You can take a look at the "menu."

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly mention some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.

1) With the arrival of fall comes Chef Anthony Caturano’s newest series of Gravy Sundays at Prezza in the North End. This October, Chef Caturano will add in a weekly special to join Gravy Sundays’ carte du jour of: Pork Ribs braised in garlicky tomato and basil ($12); Chicken Parmigiano, tagliatelle and San Marzano tomatoes ($24); Meatballs and Sausage, creamy polenta and tomato ($24); Hand Made Potato Gnocchi and San Marzano tomatoes with basil ($18).

October “Gravy Sunday” Specials:
October 3: Tripe Parmigiano ($8)
October 10: Shrimp Scampi ($14)
October 17: Tagliatelle with oregano, clams and tomato sauce ($14)
October 24: Eggplant stuffed with goat cheese and lamb ragout ($12)
October 31: Garlic bread ($4)

WHEN: Sundays beginning at 5:30pm (October 3, 10, 17, 24, 31)

2) In celebration of fall, Fleming’s Executive Chef Russell Skall has created an innovative 3-course dinner inspired by the vibrant flavors of the season. The new Fall Prix Fixe menu offers the choice of appetizer, two entrées and dessert. To take the guesswork out of the dining experience, Director of Wine Marian Jansen op de Haar provides paired wine selections for each entree.

-choice of-
Oysters Rockefeller
or Autumn Salad

-choice of-
Veal Osso Bucco (Veal shank served on creamy risotto with roasted seasonal vegetables)
Suggested wine: Masi, Veneto Campofiorin Italy, 2006/2007

Cioppino (Shrimp, sea bass, clams and black mussels in a spicy tomato broth, served with a toasted sourdough crouton)
Suggested wine: Von Buhl, Riesling Pfalz Medium-Dry Jazz Germany, 2008

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Cheesecake served on crème anglaise, topped with rich chocolate sauce
Suggested wine: Renwood, Zinfandel Amador County Amador Ice, 2008

WHEN: Available September 28th, 2010 through January 3rd, 2011

COST: $39.95 per person (tax, gratuity, and suggested wines not included)

3) On Tuesday, October 5th, The Beehive presents “Oktoberfest Die Beehive,” in association with the Goethe-Institut of Boston, the cultural institute of the Federal Republic of Germany. The event will feature German Food and Beer specials, as well as entertainment by the Bavarian Hofbrau Band. Pass a mug of ice cold Harpoon Beer as you enjoy the evening with Executive Chef Rebecca Newell’s traditional Bavarian fare with specials such as: German Sausages ($20.00) and House Roast Pork Knuckle ($24.00) both served with Sauerkraut and potatoes. Not in the mood for dinner? Join the Beehive at 8pm when the band starts and enjoy your ice cold beer with The Beehive's oven fresh pretzels. So dust off your Dirndl and lederhosen and come celebrate!

WHEN: October 5, Doors/Dinner: 5pm; Live Music 8pm-12am

COST: No cover charge, cash bar, Dinner reservations recommended.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five More Things I Learned About Sherry

"If penicillin cures illnesses, sherry revives the dead."
--Alexander Fleming

There are plenty of fascinating items to learn about sherry. I recently posted an article, Ten Things I Learned About Sherry, but while pondering my recent trip to the sherry region, I realized there is even more that I learned and wanted to share. So, here is a supplement to my original post, adding five more intriguing items about the realm of sherry. Though as I mentioned before, sherry is a wine, some of these new items will show how sherry is also unique in its own way.

1) Sherry is a product of many generations.
Wine usually is the product of a single wine maker. Even non-vintage wines, which may combine wines from a few different years, are still usually the work of a single wine maker. But, as sherry is an aged wine, from three to seventy+ years, it is more often a product of generations. Different generations may have to work the solera system, emptying and refilling the barrels a few times each year. The sherry cannot just sit in a single barrel for 20 or 30 years. All of the work is not necessary for a normal wine, which often can just sit. Thus, with sherry, there seem to be few, if any, famous wine makers but rather instead the winery itself garners the reputation based on the quality of their sherries.

2) Sherry needs quick harvesting.
When harvest times arrives, it is essential that the Palomino grapes be collected very quickly to prevent oxidation, which is a danger as soon as the grapes are harvested. This danger has led to a growth of machine harvesting, which can accomplish the procedure much more rapidly, lessening the effect of oxidation. Though other wineries may have issue with machine harvesting, as it is thought to be rough on the grapes, sherry bodegas don't have that same worry. Oxidation is a far greater concern than worrying about bruised fruit. Some bodegas don't even engage in presorting, just accepting all of the grapes that were harvested. Speed is essential.

3) Sherry bodegas need cooperage departments.
Numerous wineries purchase barrels from various coopers, but they rarely seem to have their own coopers on staff. Plus, if one of their barrels, which may be new or only a few years old, is damaged, it is often fairly easy to get it repaired. But for sherry bodegas, most have their own cooperage department as their barrels are so essential to their business. The sherry barrels are regularly and constantly examined for any problems. Plus, it is more difficult to repair their barrels, which may be over 100, or even over 200 years old. They must then locate old barrels or staves which can be used for repairs, and that is not as easy as finding a new barrel. Barrels are the lifeblood of the bodegas, so they need a "doctor" at ready.

4) Sherry should be chilled.
Though ultimately it is a matter of preference, the recommedation is that you drink your sherry, especially fino and manzanilla, slightly chilled. This should best showcase the tastes of the sherry, and it is my preference as well. Keeping your sherry, especially after it has been opened, in the refrigerator is also a good idea. Once opened, fino and manzanilla should last at least a week in the refrigerator, though one winery owner claimed manzanilla can last indefinitely in the refrigerator. Once opened, an amontillado can last 2-3 weeks and an oloroso for 4-6 weeks, in the refrigerator.

5) Sherry is excellent for cockatils.
In the Boston area, it seems that sherry is most popular currently for use in cocktails. All types of sherry, from fino to oloroso, can be used in cocktails and can add some delicious flavors and aromas. Check restaurants like Toro and Eastern Standard for some sherry cocktails (and one of my future projects will be to compile a list of some of the best sherry cocktails in the area). While in Jerez, I had some rebujito, basically just Sprite and fino, which I found quite refreshing and easy-drinking. Online, you can find some alternative recipes for rebujito. Many classic cocktails can be modified with sherry, from the Jerezini to the Jerezhattan. Experiment with sherry, and see what types of cocktails you can create.

Please, give Sherry a chance!

Stoneham Sun: Best Advice on Buying Wine

My new column of "A Passionate Foodie" can be found in the September 29 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 provides my Best Advice on Buying Wine. This information should provide you with the best assistance you need in finding wines that you will enjoy. It is simple advice, but should prove very helpful.

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

Drink with passion.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bodegas Tradición: Only Aged Sherries

Just because a sherry bodega is relatively new does not mean it cannot produce some fine Aged Sherries. Case in point, Bodegas Tradición, which is located in the heart of the city of Jerez. Though the bodega is only 12 years old, they do not produce any sherries that are less than 20 years old. That math may seem a bit puzzling, but I will provide an explanation shortly.

Bodegas Tradición was established in 1998 by three members of old families from Jerez: Joaquin Rivero Valcare, Ignacio Lopez de Carrezosa, and Javier Domecq. They decided to buy a derelict bodega and extensively renovated it. Their objective was to create a boutique bodega that only sold Aged Sherries and special Brandy. Certainly a lofty ambition.

Joaquin is a wealthy real estate mogul, a billionaire, but possesses deep roots into the history of the sherry industry. One of the earliest sherry houses, founded around 1653, was Pedro Alonso Cabeza de Aranda y Zarco, which did business under the name Cabeza y Zarco for many years. They were eventually bought out by J.M. Rivero, an ancestor of Joaquin, who sold the sherry under the "CZ" brand. Though Bodegas J.M. Rivero ended around 1990, Joaquin has continued his family's long involvement in the sherry business.

Our tour and tasting at Bodegas Tradición was led by Ulrike Eisenbeutl, pictured above. She did an excellent job showing us around and telling us about the bodega. The bodega itself dates from the 19th Century, and is very typical of the architecture of that period. There are future plans to expand the facilities, so that it can hold more barrels and have a larger exhibition area. Currently, the bodega possesses about 1200 casks of Aged Sherry: VOS, VORS and Añada. It is also a very traditional bodega in that most practices are done by hand rather than machine. That is interesting as it is such a new bodega you would almost expect it to be fully modernized, but they obviously value tradition.

So how does a 12 year old bodega possess such aged sherries? They purchased the sherry from other bodegas, which is apparently a well established practice in the sherry industry. They only buy sherries that are at least 10-15 years old, and only from high-quality bodegas. Some bodegas that are shutting down will sell off their inventory, while other bodegas might sell off sherry barrels that they have only in very limited quantity, and which they can't really use any longer. That certainly sounds intriguing, but the true test is in the tasting. How do their aged sherries compare to those from other bodegas?

First though, a slight diversion. An unexpected find in the bodega is their incredible art gallery. The gallery contains the Joaquin Rivero Collection, a private collection of one of the owners with over 350 Spanish paintings from the 15th-19th centuries, by masters such as Zurbarán, Goya and Velázquez. There are lots of very impressive works, many with a religious bent. Despite the obvious monetary value of this collection, it is not ostentatious. That would be a theme at many of the bodegas, obvious signs of wealth yet never ostentatiously displayed.

One of the most compelling pictures I saw was The Capitulation of Granada by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, a prolific artist famous for painting historical scenes. This painting depicts the surrender of Granada, the last Moorish stronghold, by Abu 'abd-Allah Muhammad XII, also known as Boabdil, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella which occurred in January 1492. There is so much intriguing detail in the picture and it depicts such a pivotal point in Spanish history.

After our tour of the bodega and art gallery, we got to taste several sherries (VORS Amontillado, VORS Palo Cortado, VORS Oloroso, and VOS Pedro Ximenez) and two brandies. Plus, I was fortunate to taste their 1975 Vintage Oloroso. My thoughts on these sherries?

The VORS Amontillado has an average age over 43 years, an alcohol content of 19.5%, and only 3000 bottles are issued each year. This was impressive and quite delicious, with lots of nutty notes, a salty backbone, and a very lengthy finish. Plenty of complexity, an alluring aroma, and a silky, smooth taste. Highly recommended.

The VORS Palo Cortado has an average age of about 35 years, an alcohol content of 19.5%, and only 2500 bottles are issued each year. The aroma of this sherry seduced my nose, a blend of subtle and intoxicating scents. When I tasted it, the flavors were initially explosive, a powerful punch of complex and sensual flavors. Salty nuts, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, some dried fruit and more. The finish seemed endless, and I certainly did not want the flavors to cease. An exceptional wine and another I highly recommend.

The VORS Oloroso has an average age of about 45 years, an alcohol content of 20%, and only 5000 bottles are issued each year. This is a more full-bodied, heavier sherry but still with plenty of complexity. The flavors are darker, with elements of nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit. It possesses a lengthy finish, though with a bitter hit at the end. A very good sherry which I also recommend.

The VOS Pedro Ximénez has an average age of about 22 years, an alcohol content of 15%, and only 4000 bottles are issued each year. This is a thick, viscous sherry, with intense raisiny notes and plenty of sweetness. Like most of the PX I would taste on this trip, it was too sweet for my preferences though others in the group seemed to enjoy it very much.

As for Añadas, vintage sherries, the bodega currently has four: 1970, 1975, 1991, and 1998, which were purchased from Bodegas Croft. I sampled the 1975 Oloroso, and it was a sublime sherry, a superb wine that defies description. Don't over think this sherry, just savor each taste. It is a killer sherry though at 150 Euros, it is a pricey yet justified due to its high quality and rarity. If you have the cash, this would be a worthy prize.

So, as to my earlier question: How do their aged sherries compare to those from other bodegas? Answer: Very well. They are comparable in quality to any other bodega I visited, and the Amontillado and Palo Cortado are some of the best I tasted. So Bodegas Tradición is doing the right thing, and are meeting their objective of producing high quality, aged sherries. So I recommend you seek out their sherries.

As a final note: In the tasting room, on the left hand wall, are four paintings on ceramic tiles. Though there is a plastic plaque describing the paintings, little is really made of them, and you might not even notice them as anything special. The paintings were done by an eight year-old, though he was not the relative of anyone from the bodega. But you probably know who he is, a young Pablo Picasso! Very intriguing scenery for tasting sherry.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Rant: Iron Chef America, Why So Secretive?

I am frustrated with Iron Chef America.

I thought that my request was fairly simple. I wanted a list of the food items that are banned on the show, with approximate dates for when those foods were banned. Though I would settle for just the former.

That shouldn't really be a secret, though it is not something listed on their website. If anything, I would have thought that Iron Chef America would be proud of those items they have banned on the show, wanting to showcase their efforts for sustainability or such. In other venues, there have been some indications that foie gras, some caviar, and some seafood may be banned, but why isn't there a list somewhere that people can view? Which specific seafood is banned? What other foods might be banned as well? Why is it so difficult to get that information?

At the end of July, I sent an email to the Food Network, pursuant to their Contact page, requesting this information. I immediately received a confirmation email that they had received my request. But I did not receive an answer to my question, so I sent another email in mid-August, through the same channel. I received a confirmation email again but no answer.

So, on August 31, I availed myself of their Live Chat/Help, and spoke to Mimi online. I repeated my question to her about the list of banned items on Iron Chef America. She stated to me: "I'm sorry, but producers do not provide us with this type of information. We have some product resources they use on the show and can check for air dates but as far as banned ingredients, we just do not receive information like this." I then asked her who I could contact about that question. She replied: "There is not a contact I can provide to you. That information is private at their request."

That sure makes it very difficult to get my question answered. So I then asked whether she could forward my question to them. Her response was "I will see if I can find out any information from them. I'll email you if they are able to provide anything." Nearly a month has now passed and I have not heard back from anyone. I doubt that I will.

Iron Chef America, please step forward and provide us a list of what is banned on the show. It would be even better to tell us when those items were banned, as well as the reasons behind the ban. I think such an action can only create much goodwill.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Saké Grand Tasting at Urban Grape: Oct.2

Next Friday, October 1, is Saké Day ("Nihonshu no Hi"), which originated over thirty years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Saké Brewers Association. It is celebrated worldwide, though celebrations in the Boston area are very sparse.

Why was October 1 chosen? Interestingly, the Chinese character for Saké () is very similar to the Chinese zodiac sign for the Rooster (), the tenth sign. Thus, the first day of the tenth month, October, became Saké Day. It is likely also due in part to the fact that October is generally the start of the Saké brewing season.

In celebration of Saké Day, I will be hosting a Saké Grand Tasting with the good people of The Urban Grape. On Saturday, October, from 2pm-5pm, I will be pouring about a dozen different Sakés, showcasing its diversity and range, as well as answering your questions about this excellent Japanese brew. This should be fun, educational and delicious. So come celebrate Saké Day with us.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Mystery of Palomino

It seems strange that the Palomino Fino grape often makes rather uninspired still wines, yet also can produce amazing sherries. What is it about this grape which permits such a dichotomy? Or is it more due to the methods of production? And is this evidence that other grapes, which are often considered to produce lesser wines, can actually produce excellent wines under the proper circumstances?

The Palomino grape allegedly was brought to southern Spain about 3000 years by the Phoenicians, though some claim that it may have already existed there before the Phoenicians arrived. Whichever is the case, it is an ancient grape, and each glass of wine carries with it a sense of history, a taste of antiquity.

The origin of its name is also a cloudy issue, though there is a popular version. In October 1264, King Alphonse X, also known as El Sabio, the “Wise,” successfully conquered Jerez. The King then granted lands to his knights, about seven acres each, and half of those lands already possessed vineyards. The knights were also encouraged to plant even more vineyards. One of those knights was Fernan Yanez Palomino, and it is thought the name of the grape derives from him.

Originally, the most common Palomino grape was the Palomino Basto, which was also known as the Palomino de Jerez. But, over time, the Palomino Fino, a subvariety from the Sanlucar region, began to take replace the Basto and it is now the primary grape in the sherry region. This was due to the fact that the Fino was better in regards to both yield and quality.

The Palomino grape is known by a wide variety of other names, including Albán, Albar, Gencibel, Jerez, Jerez fina, Palomino Blanco, Palomino de Chipiona, Palomino de Pinchito, Palomina, Palomilla, Palomillo, and Seminario. In the region of Puerto de Santa Maria it is also known as Horgazuela while in Rota and Trebujena it is called Tempranilla. In Lebrija, it is called Ojo de Liebre ("Hare's Eye") while in Algeciras they call it Temprana.

It has been planted in other countries as well, often acquiring new names. In France, it is commonly known as Listán, Listán Común, Listán de Jerez, and Listán Palomino. In Portugal, it is possible that it is the same grape as Malvasia Rei or Perrum in the Alentejo region. In South Africa, it is known as Fransdruif ("White French" in English). Some Palomino is grown in California, mostly in the San Joaquin Valley, where it was originally wrongly identified as Golden Chasselas. Palomino is also grown in Australia, New Zealand and Cyprus.

The Palomino grape is medium-sized, golden in color and produces large, loose clusters. They can be used to make wine though they also make excellent table grapes. They also have the least amount of malic acid of any other grape. Palomino ripens early in September, and yields are generally high and regular. It is the staple grape for 90-95% of all sherries, though sometimes is used to make still wines as well.

For example, Bodegas Barbadillo produces the Castillo de San Diego, which is made from Palomino Fino and is also one of Spain's best selling white wines, if not the best seller. It is an inexpensive table wine and I have tasted, and enjoyed it before, though it is certainly not a high-quality wine. Rather it is a very good value wine, a pleasant and easy drinking wine. Yet many other still wines made from Palomino do not even reach that level.

To me, it would seem that the sherry production process somehow elevates the Palomino group to great heights. The use of flor and the solera aging process assist the Palomino in transforming into a great wine, including wines that are as complex and fine as any other wines in the world. It is an intriguing mystery, how the plain becomes so great, yet it raises other questions as well.

Could other grapes, put through the sherry production process, create amazing wines? We already know Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel can do it. But what about others? Could we resurrect the reputations of so-called "lesser" grapes through a process similar to sherry production? Are there other methods of production which might be as effective in elevating the quality of grapes?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Aged Sherry: Prepare To Be Wowed

How do you hook someone on sherry? How do you get your friends and family to really enjoy sherry? How do you convert wine lovers into sherry lovers as well? What is the best way to introduce someone to this fine Spanish wine?

I previously discussed this issue in general, as it applies to all niche wine. "If you are going to experience those niche wines for the first time, you should taste one of their best, to better evaluate how you feel about such wines. It would be similar to introducing someone new to wine to Cabernet Sauvignon. Would you give them a cheap, average wine to taste, or something that might be a bit more expensive, but is also more complex and delicious? The latter wine would be more likely to turn that newbie into a convert."

Specifically for sherry, I believe the finest introduction, the best way to acquire a new sherry convert, is to let them taste an aged sherry, a VOS, VORS or Añada. They might enjoy a fino or manzanilla sherry, but it is unlikely to be a "Wow" wine for them. Even a basic amontillado or oloroso might be enjoyable but probably still won't sufficiently impress. But if you want their experience to be truly memorable, then give them a taste of an aged sherry. That is more likely to make someone desire to drink more sherry, to seek out its potential.

In the Jerez region, I visited nine sherry bodegas and tasted numerous aged sherries, and they were often very impressive. They were certainly high-quality wines which would make anyone take notice of sherry. I enjoyed their basic sherries too, but it was the aged sherries that wowed me, which were the most sublime. Which is also why I bought a fair number of them to ship home to me, for my own pleasure as well as to share. When I drink some of these aged sherries with my friends, I bet I convert a fair number of them into sherry lovers.

The Aged Sherry classifications are relatively new to the regulations of the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry D.O. In July 2000, the regulations added the VOS and VORS classifications. VOS, which stands for Vinum Optimum Signatum (Very Old Sherry), is certified as being an average age of at least 20 years. VORS, which stands for Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum (Very Old Rare Sherry), is certified as being an average age of at least 30 years. Some VORS sherries though can have an average age of 40 or 50 years, if not even older. The only type of sherries that can receive these designations are Amontillado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado and Pedro Ximenez. Sherries with these designations will possess special seals on their bottles.

A bodega cannot just label their own sherries as a VOS or VORS. Any sherry desirous of obtaining this designation must undergo both an analytical panel tasting and laboratory testing for age. An independent Tasting Committee exists that will taste the sherry and determine whether it meets their high standards of quality, that which is expected of all such aged sherries. Plus, a laboratory will verify the average age of the sherry, to ensure it meets the minimum requirements. So VOS and VORS designations indicate more than the age of the sherry, but also have been certified as being of very high quality.

Sherry is aged in botas, 600 liter American oak barrels, and each year, the amount of ullage (evaporation within the barrel) is about 3-4%. In perspective, it is said that a 30 year old barrel of sherry has completely evaporated at least once. The effect of this evaporation is to concentrate the sherry, making it denser and more powerful, as well as making the finish longer. Plus, the alcohol content increases. This is what helps to make VOS and VORS sherries more compelling. In addition, it makes them more costly to produce as the evaporation destroys a significant portion of the sherry as it ages. Yet many of these aged sherries are still fairly reasonably priced.

Let me recommend some of the aged sherries that I tasted on my visit to the Jerez region. At Bodegas Harveys, their VORS sherries, including Amontillado, Palo Cortado, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez, had an average age of 60-80 years and were quite impressive. Only about 125 cases of each, in 500ml bottles, is produced each year. Though Harveys Bristol Cream might be their flagship sherry, it is their VORS sherries which are amazing. Bodegas Tradición is unique as it only produces sherries that are VOS, VORS or Añada. Though all of their sherries were deliciousand excellent, their VORS Palo Cortado was superb, a wine I had to buy. Though Bodegas Sánchez Romate does not label some of their sherries as VOS or VORS, they sell aged sherries which likely would qualify if they sought the designation. Their Old & Plus Amontillado, which has an average age of 30+ years, is fantastic.

Bodegas González Byass produces VOS and VORS sherries and their Amontillado and Palo Cortado both impressed me very much. Bodegas Lustau had some excellent VOS and VORS wines, but what most impressed me was their VORS Pedro Ximemez. For me, many of the PX sherries we tasted at the various bodegas were too sweet and syrupy. They seemed to lack depth. They might be fine poured over ice cream, but it was not something I would prefer to drink. But this VORS PX was amazing, not overly sweet and possessing an array of delightful and complex flavors. Bodegas Hidalgo was the site of maybe my favorite sherry of the entire trip, a VORS Palo Cortado, which was the essence of sublime. This is a transformative wine, a true marvel and one I will always fondly remember.

Another new Aged Sherry designation, and much rarer than even the VOS and VORS sherries, are the Añadas, or vintage sherries. These sherries are not aged through the usual solera system, instead being aged more like a traditional wine. A few bodegas, in certain excellent years, will put aside some sherry to age on its own, and not be blended with other vintages. The Consejo Regulador plays a significant part in this process, to ensure that the sherry is not manipulated, and only is from this single vintage. The botas will be stoppered and sealed to ensure this matter. These may be the most expensive sherries that exist.

Last year, I had my first experience with a vintage sherry, the 1964 Gonzalez Byass Vintage Oloroso Sherry, and it truly was an amazing wine. I have since shared that sherry with others who were also similarly impressed. While in the Jerez region, I found a few other bodegas that produce vintage sherries. At Bodegas Tradición, I was fortunate to try their 1975 Vintage Oloroso, an equally exquisite sherry though it cost 150 Euros. At Bodegas Williams & Humbert, we ate lunch in a room where vintage sherries were stored, some extending back to the 1930s. We did not get to taste those very old wines but it was interesting to know they existed.

Like the VOS and VORS sherries, vintage sherries have issues with ullage, especially as there is much less sherry available to refill the barrels. So, each year, a vintage sherry gets rarer and rarer. Thus, there is a justification for the high costs to purchase such wonderful sherries.

I look forward to sharing my new VOS and VORS sherries with my friends and colleagues, hoping to make them sherry converts. Such amazing wines should wow them, giving them sufficient reason to want to drink more sherry. And once they are hooked, I can introduce them to all of the other types of sherry that exist, from the salty Manzanilla to the aromatic Moscatel. Just think of it as trying to make a good first impression, by putting your best foot forward rather than giving a mediocre effort.

Have you tasted an Aged Sherry? If so, what were your thoughts about it?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my semi-regular column where I briefly mention some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.

1) There is exciting news for the residents of Stoneham. The Farm Hill Farmers Market will be extended through Tuesday, October 26, 2pm-Dusk on the Stoneham Common.
Originally scheduled to end on Sept. 28, the Market has proved so popular among shoppers, vendors, and the Stoneham community that the Senior Center Friends of Stoneham decided to add the additional Tuesdays. I am very glad that it has been extended.

Now the residents of Stoneham will be able to get those fresh and tasty fall vegetables that are now coming into season right from their own Market,” said Dennis O’Hara, market manager. “We’ve already seen some carrots, winter squashes, sweet peppers and pumpkins at the Market and will have more late summer and early fall harvests through the month of October.”g

2) Mark your calendar and reserve Monday, November 8th for the seventh annual Flavors of Fall to be held at Regattabar in The Charles Hotel in Cambridge from 5:30 to 8:30 PM.

Top chefs in Cambridge and Somerville will be dishing out savory selections and sweet confections from their fall menus, together with a funky side of jazz and an assortment of beverages from Brooklyn Brewery and Pernod Ricard. Tickets cost $65 per person, every penny of which supports The Community Art Center, which provides economically-disadvantaged youth opportunities to develop themselves artistically, academically, and socially.

Flavors of Fall is organized each year by, Greater Boston's premier source for fine dining information and restaurant news online. Newcomers like Russell House Tavern and Bergamot will be joining repeat performers like UpStairs on the Square and Rialto at this year's Flavors of Fall, the area's longest running fall tasting extravaganza.

3) The Q Restaurant, a Mongolian fondue place, is now open on Washington Street on the outskirts of the Theater District. Located on the base level of the new Archstone Boston Common complex, Q Restaurant looks to Mongolian history for inspiration. Mongolian Fondue (or “hot pot”) is a concept popularized in the eleventh century during the Genghis Khan era.

At Q Restaurant, chefs meticulously prepare paper-thin slices of various meat and seafood options that are complemented by an array of aromatic broths and stocks. At the table, guests will interactively plunge their proteins into pots atop built-in induction burners for approximately thirty seconds until fully cooked. The custom-flavored seafood and meats are then served with an abundance of vegetables, noodles and tofu. Q also features sushi, sashimi and makimono offerings.

Q Restaurant features a full-service dining room, private dining capabilities for special occasions, business meetings, and holidays, a spacious lounge, and a separate bar area that will serve up the intriguing cocktails, including a Wasabi-infused martini.

I have seen the menu and many of the items do intrigue me. There are plenty of options, including meat, seafood and vegetarian, even some offal. Prices seem reasonable for the hot pots, though the sushi is a bit more expensive than usual, though not as expensive as the high-end sushi restaurants in the city. Cocktails average about $12. I do want to check it out.

Q Restaurant is located at 660 Washington Street, Chinatown, 02111 (at the corner of Beech Street). Q Restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner from 11:30am through 1:00am.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ten Things I Learned About Sherry

"There are only two kinds of sherry, the good and the better."
--Jerez saying

Upon my return from Spain, especially as I relive the memories in my mind, I still find myself sherry obsessed. It was a compelling journey through the sherry region, both informative and fun. And without question, extremely delicious. Though I had some knowledge and appreciation of sherry prior to the trip, it was expanded, honed and enhanced from my experiences exploring this region. If you really want to better understand a wine, then visiting the region where it is produced can be very helpful.

I will be writing numerous posts about my travel experiences, and figured that a good place to begin would be to list the top ten things I learned about sherry. This list should be useful for all wine lovers, giving them some important basics about sherry, and hopefully inspiring them to give sherry a try. There are plenty of preconceptions and myths about sherry that need to be shattered and I want to do my part in tearing down those barriers. Plus, introducing people to an incredibly tasty wine is always a benefit.

1) Sherry is a wine.
Near the start of our trip, we began with an introductory lesson on sherry, from its history to method of production. The class was led by César Saldaña, the director general of the Consejo Regulador, who was both personable and interesting. This was not a dull, school room lesson. César stressed, and which was supported by several others during the rest of the trip, that "sherry is a wine." It may be fortified, but it is still a wine and consumers should view it as such, and not as some special apertif or after-dinner drink. As such, sherry has its place like any other wine, both on its own and with food. When you are considering which bottle of wine to open, sherry should be one of the potential choices.

2) Sherry is intriguing.
Though sherry is a wine, it is also quite an intriguing one. It has a fascinating history, which I have previously detailed in my History of Sherry articles. The Palomino grape, which is the staple of about 95% of all sherry, extends back about 3000 years. That is a true taste of history in ever glass of sherry. The production process is unique and equally compelling, from the mysterious flor to the use of the solera system for aging. The sherry bodegas often have some interesting stories, many which captivated me. How many other wineries have albino peacocks, Piccaso artwork, or leave out wine for the mice? By learning more about sherry, I have faith you too will fall for all its charms.

3) Sherry is unique to the region.
True sherry can only be produced in the Denominacións de Origen of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry and Manzanilla Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This region constitutes the “Sherry Triangle,” formed by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcarde Barrameda. The term "sherry" deserves respect and protection, the same we give to such names as "Champagne"and "Port." Though other countries produce wines they call sherries, they are not true sherries. It was recently good to see Australia making a big stride to respect the name "sherry," by renaming their sherry-like wines as Apera. It is also important to note that sherry-like wines made by wineries like Alvear, which are located outside the Sherry Triangle in Montilla-Moriles, are also not true sherries either.

4) Most Sherry is Dry.
Although most of the Sherry imported into the U.S. is sweet, overall, most Sherry produced is actually dry. And it is the dry Sherries that are drank most often in Spain. Fino and manzanilla, both very dry, are extremely popular in Spain. Why does the U.S. have such a sweet tooth when it comes to Sherry? It does share an affinity with Great Britain which also loves sweet Sherries. I found myseBoldlf gravitating more to the dry Sherries, from fino to palo cortado, from manzanilla to amontillado. They are delicious wines, well worth drinking, and I encourage you to try some dry Sherries. Sweet wines are fine, but don't ignore all the pleasures of dry sherry.

5) Sherry production is unique.
There are very few other wines that are produced in a similar manner as sherry, with its flor and solera system. The flor, a combination of yeasts that coats the surface of the sherry in the barrel, is a natural way to protect wine from oxidation. Plus, it contributes to the flavor of the wine. The solera system, with its multiple barrels and fractional blending, helps to contribute to a consistent sherry, while enhancing it with older and more complex sherries. The sherry barrels are usually stored in above-ground bodegas, with very high ceilings, reminding you of a cathedral. Most other wines are aged in barrels kept underground, in cellars or even caves. Sherry production is a very intriguing process, and creates a special wine.

6) Aged Sherry can be superb.
Aged Sherries, including the VOS, VORS and Añada types, can be as good as any other high-end wine in the world, and may even be less expensive. I tasted a number of these sherries, from various producers, and they often very much impressed me with their aromas, flavors and complexity. They are wines to slowly savor, relishing each taste, rather than just gulping down. The 20 year-old (VOS) and 30 year-old (VORS) sherries may cost you $50-$100, which is often reasonable considering their age and quality. The Añada (vintage) Sherries are more expensive, generally starting at $100, but they are also very rare wines. If you try any of these aged Sherries, you will realize the vast potential of Sherry, understanding its allure and power. These are wines that will move you, which will surely make you fall in love with wine all over again.

7) Sherry is a great food wine.
In Spain, people drink Sherry throughout their meals. It is not seen as a mere apertif or an after dinner drink, like it often is in the U.S. While I was on the trip, I drank and enjoyed Sherry with all of my lunches and dinners. I found that the different styles of Sherry paired very well with a wide variety of foods, from seafood to beef, from salads to foie gras. The pairings worked as well as any other wine, and definitely should be a consideration for any wine pairing you contemplate in the future. Sherry, like most Old World wines, was always intended as an accompaniement to food. I suspect Americans would like Sherry even more if they drank it with food, rather than just on its own.

8) Sherry is often inexpensive.
Most Sherry is relatively inexpensive, and thus a very good value. As it still is not a very popular wine outside of Spain, the prices have generally remained reasonable. You can find plenty of good Sherry for $10 or under, and most bottles won't run you more than $25. It is only the rarer Sherries that are more costly, such as the aged Sherries I previously mentioned. But to buy a good fino or manzanilla, you won't have to empty your wallet. Now, the more popular Sherry gets in the future, then the prices might see an increase. So enjoy Sherry now while its cost is reasonable.

9) Forget catavinos.
No, I am not talking about Ryan and Gabriella, the good people behind Catavino, the Iberian wine and food blog. I am referring to the catavino, a traditional, tulip-shaped Sherry glass. It is not a necessity that you drink from this glass. Many glasses made for white wine will make a fine substitute for the catavino. The main idea I am trying to put forth is not to let the tradition be a barrier to your enjoyment of Sherry. A catavino is a good glass for drinking Sherry, but it is not the only possible one. Experiment with different shaped glasses and find what works best for you.

10) I want to drink more Sherry.
After spending all that time in the Jerez region, drinking so many excellent sherries, I guess it is only natural that I want to continue drinking more and more sherry. It is a diverse wine, of many styles and flavor profiles. It pairs well with so many foods. Sherry has seduced me, embracing me tightly in its arms and I only desire to maintain that love affair. Like the other niche wines I support, Sherry takes its place as a very worthy wine which not enough other people have learned to embrace yet.

Please, give Sherry a chance. Get your friends together, have a dinner party and serve only Sherry. I bet you'll end up with some new Sherry converts.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rant: Messy Lobsters

I do love the taste of lobster, whether it is butter-poached or in mac n' cheese. During the past week, I had a compelling dish of lobster and saffron spiced rice in a sherry bodega, within a room containing casks of vintage sherries back to the 1930s. Such an amazing setting for a scrumptious dish.

On Saturday, I attended a party in Ipswich, where we had plenty of boiled lobsters, basically all we could eat. I generally though don't like eating lobsters in the shell in public, just in the privacy of my own home. It is not something I will normally order at a restaurant either. Why, especially if I enjoy lobster so much?

Because they can be so messy. You might crack a lobster claw and end up squirting a dinner companion with water and lobster juice. They give you a lobster bib at a restaurant for good reason. They give you wet naps after your meal for a reason. This is not a dish to order on a first date, or if you are trying to impress someone. It is a dish better served at home, where you don't mind as much that it is messy.

I would rather have a lobster pie, lobster cocktail or a flavorful lobster bisque. With all of the available, cleaner options, why order a whole lobster at a restaurant? You can still have all that sweet meat, in a much easier and cleaner fashion. Can anyone give me a reason to order a whole lobster at a restaurant?

A plastic bib is not attractive on anyone.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Sips & Nibbles

I am back with a special Sunday edition of my regular Thursday Sips & Nibbles feature, where I mention some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently. I am catching up on some things since I was away, and did not want to wait until this Thursday.
1) Beginning September 25, BiNA alimentari, BiNA osteria’s adjacent gourmet food shop, hosts a series of seasonal cooking classes and workshops. Every Saturday afternoon, expert staff members lead participants through an afternoon of culinary and potable learning and fun. Class schedule and themes include:

Craft Beers (September 25)
Scotches (October 2)
Cigars (October 9)
Got the Blues? Blue Cheeses (October 16)
Sangioveses (October 23)
Nebbiolos (November 6)
Holiday Pies (November 13)
Turkey Day Reds with Italian Gravies (November 20)
Ports (December 4)
Gingerbread Cookies (December 11)
Sparkling Wines (December 18)

The classes are held Saturdays, beginning September 25, from 2pm-3pm. The Cost is $18 per person.

RESERVATIONS: Recommended. Please call 617-357-0888.

2) In addition to stuffing dark chocolate truffles with lemon cream and coconut rum filling this summer, Lee Napoli of Chocolee Chocolates, has been creating “lessons plans” for her soon-to-debut Saturday morning chocolate classes.

Beginning Saturday, October 2, and continuing indefinitely, Lee will conduct limited-size classes for adults and children over 12 in the spacious, commercial kitchen adjacent to her 23 Dartmouth Street shop in Boston ‘s South End.

Classes cost $80 per person for three hours of hands-on instruction (10 AM til 1 PM) in the art of bark, truffles, beignets and more. Each student goes home with one pound of artisinal candy (retail value $48) they can boast was made with their own hands.

Those wishing to sign on for the fall chocolate-making classes should call the shop during regular business hours at 617-236-0606.

I love Lee's chocolates, especially her salted caramels, and these classes certainly sound like lots of fun.

3) Beginning October 1st, Chef Anthony Caturano of Prezza, one of my favorite restaurants, will start dishing out new autumn favorites to capture the tastes of the season.

Chef Caturano’s seasonal menu combines classic hearty Italian home cooking with the bountiful flavors of fall. Newcomers to Prezza’s menu include the following: Mushroom Risotto and fontina cheese ($15); Seared Sea Scallops, diced potato, lobster and hazelnut cream ($15); Roasted Black Figs stuffed with gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto with aged balsamic ($15); Bibb Lettuce, local apples, blue cheese and walnut vinaigrette ($12); Pumpkin Ravioli, lobster, brown butter, sage and marscapone (appetizer, $15; entrée, $28); Pear Ravioli with pecorino cheese and butter (appetizer, $15; entrée, $28); Panko Crusted Cod, spaghetti squash and hazelnut cream ($26); Crispy Duck, risotto cake, braised kale and cider glaze ($32); Wood Grilled Venison, sweet potato, braised greens and glazed bacon ($34); and, Bone in Tenderloin, crispy Yukon potatoes, creamed spinach ($48).

Says Chef Caturano, “Fall is my favorite time of the year. It gives you a chance to experience rich, robust flavors in their prime. During the fall season, I try and incorporate different types of game and ingredients that create a truly unique culinary experience.”

Prezza is open seven nights a week and begins serving dinner at 5:30pm. For reservations, please call: 617-227-1577.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I Have Returned!

I flew home from Spain last evening, a long day aboard planes and adjusting to the time difference. But I returned very happy, so pleased with my visit to the Sherry region in Andalucia. It was educational, informative, exciting, fun and quite delicious. I met many fine people, experienced some intriguing events, ate very tasty food and drank compelling sherries.

We visited five cities, including Jerez, Cadiz, El Puerto, Sanlucar and Seville. We toured nine sherry bodegas, which certainly was a more unique experience, different in significant ways from other wineries I have previously visited. We dined at some of the best restaurants in the region, from tapas places to more high-end seafood restaurants.

So, over the course of the next few weeks you will be hearing about my experiences, learning about much of what I saw, learned, ate and drank. This is an amazing region of Spain and they are producing world class wines, fine sherries all wine lovers should taste. I have loved Spain since my prior two visits, and this trip made me love the country and its people even more. The people were very welcoming, even when there were language difficulties as my Spanish is not the best.

I purchased a number of sherries, nearly all which are not available in the U.S., and when I receive them should have about 20 sherries, though I wish I had acquired even more. I hope to share these sherries with my friends, to expose them to the wonder of these wines, hoping they too will fall in love with sherry.

And one of the best aspects of the trip was making some new friends, fellow wine, food and spirits writers, including Mari the Vino Vixen, Erin of New York, Brian from Philadelphia, and Camper of Alcademics. They were great traveling companions and we had plenty of fun together. I do hope to keep in touch with them, and maybe see them again one day.

Viva Espana!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Rant: Too Happy To Rant

Sorry readers but there will be no rant today. I am currently in beautiful Jerez, visiting sherry bodegas, eating and drinking many fine things. Such a wonderful trip and it has only just begun. So I really find myself unable to rant today. Travel can put yourself in such a fine state of mind. My traveling companions are a very nice assortment of people from all across the country. The weather has been quite sunny and warm.

My palate is being seduced by some exquisite sherries, including the VORS line from Bodegas Harvey, most famous for their Bristol Cream Sherry. But the VORS line, which must have a minimum age of 30 years, and often has an average age much higher, is truly high-end wine, and at a reasonable price for what you get. I will be bringing some home, especially as it is not yet available in the U.S. Later today, I will be visiting Bodegas Tradicion, which only produces VOS and VORS sherries. Should be some excellent wine.

So forget the rant for today and smile instead. I know I will be smiling all week long.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kasu & Cooking

One compelling aspect of Saké brewing is that there is so little waste. When the rice is polished, it leaves a powder behind which is called nuka, but that nuka is not discarded. Instead, it is soldand will be used for a variety of purpose, from pickling to cosmetics.

The next significant amount of waste in the brewing process is after pressing, when the lees are left over. These lees are also known as kasu, and like nuka is often sold to other companies which will use it for many different purposes.

It might be used for animal feed or in pickling, creating kasu-zuke. Plus, kasu can be used for cooking, as a marinade or to add flavor. It can be added to many different foods, from ice cream to bread. A recent Washington Post article, Kasu: the next "it" ingredient?, discusses how a couple chefs are using it in the U.S., and how it could become a very popular ingredient in the future.

It is an ingredient you might find in some of the local Asian grocery stores. Have any of my readers used in in cooking? If so, please tell us more about your experiences with it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bound for Spain: Sherry!

I will soon be consuming many glasses of Sherry, accompanied by some delicious Spanish cuisine. And in the ideal setting, in Spain itself.

Tonite, I board a plane to Spain, first from Boston to Madrid, then from Madrid to Jerez de la Frontera. Jerez is one point of the “Sherry Triangle,” the other two being El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This area is located within the Andalucia region of southern Spain in the province of Cadiz. It is a very historical region, as you can read about in my own History of Sherry articles.

I'll be journeying to this region as part of a journalist trip, sponsored by the Sherry Council of America, with five other writers from across the country. We will be staying in Jerez, traveling a bit in the sherry region. Our tentative itinerary includes visits to nine sherry bodegas, including Bodegas Harveys, Bodegas Tradición, Bodegas Grupo Estévez, Bodegas Osborne, Bodegas Sánchez Romate, Bodegas Williams & Humbert, Bodegas González Byass, Bodegas Lustau and Bodegas Barbadillo. We will hopefully taste a wide range of sherries, from simple inexpensive finos to pricier and more complex, aged Olorosos and Amontillados.

Many of our meals will be paired with sherry, which will be quite interesting and educational. Though many people outside of Spain see sherry as more of an apertif, it actually pairs well with a full range of foods, and can be drank throughout your meal, from appetizer to dessert. I hope to return with a better understanding of pairing suggestions.

There is free time allotted to us on some of the days of our visit, so I will be able to explore some of the area on my own, trying to get by on my limited Spanish. It will be a splendid adventure, exploring a part of Spain I have never visited before. I have been doing my research on Jerez, as well as seeking recommendations, so I have some ideas of the places I want to visit while I am there.

Though I already enjoy sherry, I hope to gain a deeper insight into it, and maybe a deeper appreciation as well. Plus, I hope to taste some sherry styles which I have only a passing familiarity with, as such styles are difficult to find locally. Hopefully, I can buy some of the sherries I most enjoy, and transport them home.

So, as I will be in Spain until returning home next Friday, my blog posts might be scant this week. But I hope to return with many new stories and adventures to relate.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cooking With The Leather District Gourmet

Sustainability is very important, and a concern for many cooks and consumers. Meat is often seen as a villain but it does not have to be if you make the proper choices. And how do you learn what best to select? One way would be to attend “From the Familiar to the New: Sustainable Meats 101,” a new class at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) being held on October 26, from 6pm-9pm.

The instructor will be my good friend Jacqueline Church, an award-winning food, wine & spirits writer. Having grown up on Jacques Cousteau, National Geographic, and Julia Child, she has an acute interest in global food issues and the nature of being a responsible gourmet. She’s developing a podcast/radio show entitled The S/O/L/E of Boston - about Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethical food issues. She founded and organizes the annual sustainable seafood event Teach a Man to Fish, called “remarkable” by Sea Change Strategies and recognized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program. In 2009 she added the chefs’ roundtable Teach a Chef to Fish.

In her BCAE class, Jacqueline will teach you not only what sustainable meats to stock in your kitchen, but where to find them and how to cook them in the most delicious, fulfilling and eco-friendly ways. Anyone can create a sustainable salad with veggies from their local farmer’s market, but after attending Sustainable Meats 101, you’ll be among the select, trendsetting few with the ability to create an entirely sustainable and balanced meal. Participants will learn three new recipes using sustainable meats, including chicken, bison and goat. They'll also leave with a resource guide, practical advice, and tips for incorporating sustainable meats into their weekly meals.

Jacqueline's class should be very educational, informative and fun. She is very passionate about this subject and it will show. Plus, I am sure the dishes will be delicious!

To sign up for this class, please visit

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my semi-regular column where I briefly mention some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.

1) I do love breakfast and was intrigued by news of an unlikely restaurant starting up breakfast service. Beginning September 20th, Legal Sea Foods in Kendall Square will introduce weekday breakfast to their repertoire. Breakfast will be served Monday through Friday from 7am-10am. The restaurant will serve up breakfast for trailblazers and traditionalists alike, serving scores of menu items from distinct categories:

Yeast Buns & Quick Breads
Morning Glory Muffin - $2.95
Dewey Bun - $2.95
Blueberry Muffin - $2.95
Toasted Banana Bread - $2.95

Hot & Cold Cereals
Four Grain Toasted Cereal - $4.95
Fresh Fruit Parfait - $5.95
Steel Cut Oats - $4.95

White Fish Hash - $11.95
Grilled Shrimp & Bacon Cheddar Cheese Grits - $13.95
Cornmeal Crusted Trout - $11.95

All American - $11.95
Seasonal Fresh Fruit Waffles - $8.95

Omelet Experience
Basic - $9.95
Not So Basic - $9.95 (plus $0.50 and $0.75 for added ingredients)

Breakfast Sandwiches & Crepes
Smoked Salmon and Toasted Bagel - $8.95
Ham, Fig & Egg Sandwich on Rye - $7.95
PB&J Crepes - $4.95

A La Carte
Bacon - $2.95
Sausage - $2.95
Grilled Chorizo - $2.95
Bacon Cheddar Cheese Grits - $2.95
Low Fat Cottage Cheese - $1.95
Hash Browns - $2.95
One Egg - $1.95
Bagel with Cream Cheese - $2.50
Brioche Toast - $1.95

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Does Alvear Produce Sherry?

There are numerous sparkling wines made in France but not all of them are legally considered to be Champagne. To be Champagne, they must be produced within a specifically delineated region, the Champagne region. If they are not from that region, and even if they are made in the exact same way as a Champagne, they still cannot be labeled as Champagne.

Spanish sherry is very similar, as to be legally known as sherry, the wine must be produced within a specific region, the Denominación de Origen of Jerez-Xérès-Sherry, which located in the Andalucia region of southern Spain in the province of Cadiz. The “Sherry Triangle” is formed by the cities of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa María, and Sanlúcarde Barrameda.

You will find numerous people, websites, menus, and even books claiming that the wines of the Alvear winery are sherries. The 1927 Alvear Pedro Ximenez is a very popular wine, and the one most noted to be a sherry. It is easy to understand why it is thought to be so, as the method of production is essentially the same as sherry, with its use of the solera method. It will even taste like a sherry. But none of the Alvear wines can be legally known as sherry.

The Alvear winery is located in the D.O. of Montilla-Moriles, located in Andalucia but in the province of Cordoba. So it is not located within the "Sherry Triangle" and is not part of the D.O. Jerez-Xérès-Sherry. Thus, they cannot legally call their wines sherry. Just think of it as a sparkling wine made outside of Champagne, and thus unable to call itself Champagne.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Torturing A Confession From A Wine

As I mentioned yesterday, Terry Thiese's new book, Reading Between the Wines, is quite fascinating and I am back to discuss another intriguing issue raised by Thiese, one that I have actually been pondering even before reading the book.

When you drink a wine, how should you analyze it, if at all? What is the best way to taste wine, to discern its intrinsic qualities?

Thiese states, "There are basically two ways to taste wine. You don't have to pick just one, but eventually most of us settle on the one that comes naturally. You can taste 'aggressively,' that is, aim a beam of concentrated attention directly at the wine, using your palate to take a sort of snapshot. This is entirely desirable, but taken to extremes it has the effect of seeming to torture a confession from the poor wine." (p.153-4)

That seems to be the most common method of tasting, as well as essentially how all beginners are taught to taste wine. It is also part of the reason why wine intimidates people. They have difficulty with analyzing wine in this way, trying to discern each and every aroma and taste in a wine, no matter how esoteric it might be. Some people feel embarassed if they cannot smell or taste the same matters as more "professional" tasters.

Tasting in this matter can seem clinical and antiseptic. It seems more the purview of a scientist, a routine laboratory analysis. Though such an tasting method does have its place, it seems like it cannot be the only method. And might also not be completely effective or desirous for certain wines.

So what is Thiese's second method? "Or you can taste 'passively,' peripherally; you look away from the flavors and see what the wine says when you are not trying to nail the sucker down. You quietly let the wine come to you. This approach brings you closer to the gestalt--I might even say the truth--of the wine. But the liability is that it's very hard to verbalize, unless your tasting note takes the form of a Zen Koan." (p.154)

This makes a lot of sense to me. How many times have you been asked a question, or considered a problem, and had trouble coming up with an answer, though it seemed just on the tip of your tongue. The harder you concentrate sometimes seems to get you nowhere. But when you relax, and stop thinking about the matter, the answer somehow comes to you when you least expect it. Why shouldn't wine be the same?

I also know how I have felt sometimes when drinking a phenomenal wine. It becomes impossible to put my feeling into words, to try to explain the smells, tastes and feelings that I find within the wine. It is almost a transcendent moment, and it can be shared with others drinking the same wine, though words are unnecessary. A bond forms, an unspoken agreement of the power and complexity of the wine, of its fascinating essence.

If wines have started to bore you,if you have grown tired of technical analysis, then maybe you should try tasting more wines through the second method. Experience wine in a different way and you might be very surprised at all you learn.

Feast For A Killer

What would you do if an assassin showed up at your front door, seeking your spouse? Would you try to fight him? Would you defer to his commands? Would you cook for him?

I explore this scenario in a new short story, Feast For a Killer, which you can find over at my The Passionate Foodie: Fiction blog. Central to the story is food, in particular some items of Russian cuisine, such as kotlety and medovnik. I hope you enjoy.

If you do read my story, I would love some input from you concerning your thoughts, positive or negative, about it.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Rant: Do You Enjoy "Explosions & Car Crashes" In Your Wine?

"Old World Wines ask you to dance with them; New World wines push you prone onto a chair and give you a lap dance, no touching."
--Reading Between the Wines by Terry Thiese, p.10

I found this book to be quite fascinating, an opinionated look at the realm of wine, touching on various hot topics and presenting Thiese's unvarnished thoughts. Even if you don't always agree with him, you must respect his passion and conviction. I highly recommend all wine lovers read this book. Now on to the topic at hand.

Thiese is unabashedly an ardent fan of wines of the Old World. "All things being equal, it is more artisanl, more intimately scaled, humbler, and less likely to be blown about by the ephemeral breezes of fashion." (p.9) He later says, ".., Old World wines ....have about them a certain reserve. They're not aloof, but neither are they extravagant, gregarious, life-of-the-party wines. They don't play at loud volume, and they can seem inscrutable to people with short attention spans. They are, however, kinetic; they draw you in, they make you a participant in the dance. They engage you. They won't let you be passive, unless you choose to ignore them--in which case, why buy them?" (p.10)

On the other hand, "..., New World wines are marked are marked by a kind of effusiveness that turns the drinker from a participant into an onlooker. These big, emphatic wines put on quite a show: explosions and car chases in every glass. If you're new to wine, this can be reassuring. You get it. You needn't worry there are subtleties you don't grasp." (p.10) I should note as well that these are only generalizations and that Thiesse fully understands that exceptions do exist.

In the U.S., about 72% of the wine we consume is domestic, New World wines. The percentage is a bit higher for California wine drinkers, and a bit lower for East Coast wine drinkers. So it would seem most U.S. wine drinkers prefer "lap dances" to "dancing" with another, or to put it another way, they want "explosions and car chases" in their wine. As a corollary, it seems that West Coast wine bloggers often concentrate on West Coast wines (California, Washington & Oregon), while East Coast wine bloggers often write about many European wines.

There have often been discussions about the differences between Old and New World wines, though Thiesse is far more poetic in his characterizations. What are your thoughts on Old World vs New? Do you generally agree or not with Thiesse's opinions in these areas? If you prefer New World wines, why do you like them over Old World wines? If you prefer Old World wines, why do you like them over New World wines?

My own wine cellar has more Old World wines than New World, though I do have a fair share of California wines. I also generally agree with Thiesse, finding many Old World wines to be more subtle, more low-key, yet rewarding in their own ways. California wines can be quite big and bold, and sometimes overpowering. They are not shrinking violets or wallflowers. They make sure you know what you have in your glass, doing much of the work for you. If you are used to drinking such wines, an Old World wine can seem very thin and bland.

As I have said before, wine lovers need to expand their palates, and drink wines from outside their comfort zone. They should experience all of the wines the world has to offer, and not discriminate against region, grape or style. And when you taste these different wines, take the time to appreciate them, to "dance" with them and savor all they have to offer. Rather than limit yourself to "explosions and car chases" why not try a "psychological thriller" or a "complex drama."