Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently. **********************************************************
1) Back again, Smolak Farms presents “Whim” 2012. Located in North Andover, Smolak Farms has partnered with Northeast Flavor, Cambridge Culinary School, Boston Chefs, Yelp and to present the best outdoor dining experience New England has to offer.

Whim will take place every Wednesday evening starting July 11 and continuing until August 29 at 7:30PM and will feature top chefs from all over New England. “Whim is such an innovative concept that is really difficult to ignore. It is something that people talk about and get excited for because it is a one-of-a-kind experience that you’re not going to find anywhere else. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the craziness of the city of Boston and I think people appreciate an evening away from it all. We’re taking the best food in the city and bringing it to a more rustic and relaxed setting. Top that off with the fact that each dinner supports a great cause and you really can’t beat it,” said Michael Smolak, owner of Smolak Farms.

Guests will experience a meal under the stars prepared by some of New England’s most respected chefs. Included in the $65 ticket price is a three-course dinner followed by a bonfire to meet and greet your fellow diners. Chefs will be accompanied by culinary students from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in order to help them smoothly and successfully execute dinner to an audience of over 100 guests each week. As implied by the event name, Whim, the menu is prepared the day-of at the discretion of the chef.

July 11, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Will Gilson, Bridgestreet Charity:
July 18, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Andy Husbands, Tremont 647 Charity:
July 25, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Vittorio Ettore, Bistro 5 & A Tavola Charity:
August 1, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Suzi Maitland, Trina's Starlite Lounge Charity:
August 8, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Rich Morin, Lineage Charity:
August 15, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Mary Dumont, Harvest Charity:
August 22, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Joe Faro, Tuscan Kitchen Charity:
August 29, 7:30PM: Whim Featuring: Chef Chris Coombs, Deuxave & d bar Charity:

INFO: $65 per person (gratuity and tax not included). Included in the ticket price is a 3-course dinner and hayride/farm tour. Dress is casual. Beverages not included. Paired wines, beer and non-alcoholic beverages available for purchase. Only one menu will be presented with no substitutions. Ticket is non-refundable. Tickets can be purchased directly via:

2) On July 12, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will team up with Mikael Sigouin, winemaker at Beckman Vineyards, for an exclusive four-plus-course wine dinner. Overlooking the Santa Ynez Valley, Beckman Vineyard’s ambitious hillside terrain produces world-class Rhone varietals.

This menu will be presented as follows on Legal Harborside’s scenic second level overlooking Boston Harbor:

Hors D'Oeuvres 
fried green tomato and crab salad
slow olive oil poached tuna* with salsa verde
razor clam ceviche* with heirloom radish and fava bean
2011 Beckmen Vineyards “Purisima Mountain Vineyard” Grenache Rosé
First Course
pan seared scallop (peach mostarda)
2010 Beckmen Vineyards “Le Bec Blanc,” (Roussanne, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc blend)
Second Course
pan seared loch duart salmon (smoked tomato and mussel cream)
2008 Beckmen Vineyards “Cuvee Le Bec,” (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise blend)
2009 Beckmen Vineyards Estate Grenache
Main Course
smoked and grilled quail (grilled spring onion, cherry-cardamom glaze)
2007 Beckmen Vineyards “Purisima Mountain Vineyard” Syrah
slow roasted apricot (almond cream, salt butter shortbread, lemon thyme honey)
2009 Beckmen Vineyards “Purisima Mountain Vineyard” Late Harvest Roussanne

COST: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservations may be made by contacting 617-530-9470

3)  This summer, Chef/Owner Paul Turano of Tryst Restaurant is taking his affinity for New England fare to new depths. On Sunday, August 12, foodies with a passion for food and adventure will experience the flavors of New England on an exclusive culinary fishing trip. The one-day excursion begins at 8am when guests climb aboard a deep sea fishing boat with Captain Jim Walsh of Walsh’s Deep Sea Fishing where they’ll spend the morning sailing open waters and deep sea fishing in Boston Harbor—reeling in the likes of cod, haddock and other native fish.

After a morning of fishing, Captain Walsh will bring the boat to port at 1pm. From there, guests can tidy up and head over to Tryst in Arlington where Chef Turano will be serving a 3-course dinner highlighting the traditional New England seafood and flavors that the region has become known for. From 4pm-9pm, guests can dine at Tryst and indulge in dishes such as Local Fish & Mirai Corn Chowder, Fish & Chips and Peach Upside Down Cake with St. Germaine Sabayon. For those that may suffer from seasickness, or cannot commit to the morning fishing trip, Tryst will be offering the same 3-course menu for $38 per person.

This all-inclusive culinary fishing trip is $80 per person, $35 for children ages 12 and under, and includes a half-day fishing trip, fishing rod and bait and a 3-course dinner at Tryst (please note: alcohol and gratuity are not included at dinner). Beer and light lunch (snacks, homemade hamburgers, hot dogs and breakfast items) are available on the boat for additional cost. Guests are encouraged to pack a lunch and/or beverages of their choosing. Reservations are required before Monday, August 6.

8am: Group meets at Walsh’s Deep Sea Fishing, 76 Marine Blvd #R, Lynn, Guests spend morning deep sea fishing on Boston Harbor
1pm: Boat returns to port in Lynn
4pm-9pm: Guests meet back at Tryst (at their leisure) to enjoy 3-course New England-inspired meal. Friends and family are encouraged to join as the menu will be available a la carte.

RSVP for the fishing trip is mandatory and can be made by visiting:

4) During July and August, Haru will shake up their newest specialty cocktail: the Batida (Brazil’s other national cocktail). Available all day and night for $7, this fresh fruit-laced libation mixes together a medley of fruit purees and juices – including pineapple and mango – with Cruzan coconut rum, cachaça, coconut cream and muddled limes and strawberries.

For those looking to recreate this taste of Brazil at home, the recipe for Haru’s Badita is as follows:

1 oz cachaça
1 oz coconut rum
.5 oz pineapple juice
.5 oz mango puree
.5 oz Coco Lopez
3 lime wedges
1 strawberry

In a double rocks glass, muddle two limes wedges and one strawberry. Add cachaça, coconut rum, pineapple juice, mango puree and Coco Lopez to the glass. Shake and garnish with a lime wedge.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ten Things You Should Know About Chianti Classico (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

4)  The quality of Chianti Classico has increased.
Chianti Classico has never tasted better than now, and that high quality will continue to improve in the years to come. In the last 15-20 years, the overall quality of Chianti Classico wine has significantly increased. One of the primary reasons for these changes was related to us on our first winery visit by Alessandro Gallo, the Direttore of Castello D'Albola. Alessandro stated that much of the change was due to a different mindset, which led to numerous changes in the vineyards. He claimed, and which would later be supported by several other producers, that many wine makers once believed that wine was made in the cellars, but now 80-90% of them have come to believe that wine is made in the vineyards.

That change of mindset has been quite significant. The law in Chianti Classico prohibits new vineyards from being planted or from new land being used for vineyards. As we were told, you can't cut down most trees, as the land is very precious, and also well protected. That has led many producers, at least 60%, to replant their vineyards, with better grape clones as well as working on density, canopy management, and other viticultural techniques. All of these vineyards changes have led to better wine, helping to support the mindset that wine is made in the vineyards and not the cellar. As more study and experimentation is conducted, then the quality will continue to rise.

5) Traditional vs Modern styles
Chianti Classico wines can roughly be divided into two styles, traditional and modern, though there are obviously some exceptions, wines which straddle the line between these two styles. In general, traditional types are produced from only Sangiovese, with maybe the addition of a small amount of Canaiolo. They are aged minimally in new oak, and more often in botti, large wooden casks which traditionally are made from Slovenian oak. Their flavor profile usually includes bitter cherries, violets, a certain rustic earthiness and high acidity. This is my preferred style of Chianti Classico and is perfect for drinking with food.

The modern types usually add some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and/or Syrah to their Sangiovese. These wines see far more new oak, usually French barriques, and reflect more of an internatonal style. Their flavor profile tends more to ripe plum, blackberry, vanilla and spice notes. They are more concentrated, with less acidity, and often seem more lush. Sometimes these wines can seem like they were made anywhere in the world, and do not seem uniquely Italian. But then there are plenty of good modern types as well. Much will depend on your individual preferences.

6) Elegance is the key.
Though it may seem a more traditional position, numerous wine makers stated that for Chianti Classico, the primary aspect should be elegance, not power. Historically, that has been the style for Chianti Classico, being more elegant, something to well accompany dinner. Power is too much like the international style, and seems to forget the roots of this Italian wine. Elegance is said to better represent terroir and power can cloud that element, preventing a consumer from determining the identity of his wine. As should be expected, as I prefer the traditional style, I also usually prefer elegance in my Chianti Classico over power.

7) The glory of Super Tuscans.
A few of the best wines I tasted in Tuscany, like Cepparello, Flaccianello, and Fontalloro, were not officially Chianti Classico but rather fell into a different category, IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica), though they are better known as Super Tuscans. In brief, a Super Tuscan either falls outside of the Chianti Classico DOCG regulations or the producer chose not to declare it as a Chianti Classico. During the 1970s, a number of producers wanted more freedom to produce wines that did not follow the usual wine regulations, so those wines could only be declared vino da tavola, table wine. Some of these Super Tuscans were made from 100% Sangiovese, which was not possible for a Chianti Classico at that time. Others used larger quantities of international grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, creating almost a Bordeaxu style blend.

These Super Tuscans became very popular, and often were of high quality, selling for far more than Chianti Classico. So in 1994, the IGT category was created for these wines so they no longer were labeled as "table wine."  One year later, the Chianti Classico rules changed to permit the use of 100% Sangiovese, but that did not cause some of the most popular Super Tuscans to want to be recognized as Chianti Classico. As they already had high name recognition, changing from IGT to Chianti Classico didn't seem like a necessity. Though the general popularity of Super Tuscans has diminshed some, some of the top producers still retain their high reputation. As I mentioned recently, some rule changes may be coming to the Chianti Classico regulations, potentially creating a new quality category which could place some Super Tuscans at the top of a new qualitative pyramid.

8) Chianti Classico is food friendly.
While in Tuscany, essentially every lunch and dinner included Chianti Classico wine, and usually at least a few different ones. It was an excellent accompaniment to our meals, especially the more traditional types. The Chianti Classico paired well with a diverse range of foods, including beef, poultry, pork, pasta, salumi, bruschetta, cheese and more. Its high acidity contributed to its food friendliness. Many producers told us that their wines are specifically made to accompany food, not to be drank on their own. That is how they have always drank their wine, with meals, and not on its own. This is a very European view, one that still has not taken hold in the U.S.

9) There are few Biodynamic or Organic producers.
In the Chianti Classico region, you will find very few biodynamic producers and only a small portion, maybe 20%, of organic producers. But that may be changing. We visited the Fontodi winery, located south of the town of Panzano, and it is certified organic as well as performing many biodynamic practices, except for the preparations. Giovanni Manetti, the owner of Fontodi, stated that the phases of the moon are very important to them and certain vineyard and cellar practices are guided by those moon phases. Yet they are not alone as of the 20 different Panzano wineries, about 80% are now either organic or biodynamic, and the few holdouts are moving in that direction. Only ten years ago, that was not the case as only 4-5 of those wineries were organic/biodynamic.

Giovanni also stated that they have not seen an increase in expenses because they went organic, as though they need more labor, they save money from not needing to purchase products such as pesticides. He admits that organic will not work everywhere, but that those areas where it can be done are quality regions. It is easy to make good wine anywhere if you use chemicals. The Panzano wineries don't really view themselves as competitors, as they generally share a similar philosophy and strategy. That has enabled them to create a region that is almost completely organic, and within five years could be 100% organic.

10) Vin Santo is made for the family.
Chianti Classico is usually made more for commercial purposes, but Vin Santo is often more personal. Giovanni Manetti stated that Vin Santo is first made for the family and then the remainder is sold off commercially. Vin Santo is basically a sweet wine produced from grapes that have been allowed to dry out over time. It is not to be confused with the Greek Vinsanto (a single word), which refers to a wine from Santorini and is a legally protected term according to the European Union. The Italian may use the two words, Vin Santo, to refer to their wine. A little confusing.

One story about the origin of Vin Santo is that during the 14th century, when the Black Death spread through Tuscany, a Franciscan friar tried to ease the great pain of plague victims by giving them sweet wine. This wine became known as vino santo, holy wine. Vin Santo can be made with a variety of grapes, such as Sangiovese, Trebbiano and Malvasia, and its sweetness level can range widely too. Paolo De Marchi of Isole e Olena stated that Vin Santo was the welcoming wine, used for toasting and celebrating and it was the only wine that they would drink without dilution.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ten Things You Should Know About Chianti Classico (Part 1)

Vale un podere nel Chianti.

This phrase, widely used prior to World War 2, translates as "As good as a farm in Chianti." It refers to the fact that land in the Chianti region was once highly prized in Tuscany. So, when a person wanted to indicate that something was a good and solid deal, they would use this phrase, comparing it to a valuable farm in Chianti. Though it was not used much after World War 2, it might be due for a comeback, especially considering the quality vineyards that now exist in the Chianti region.

Since my return from the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, I have had some time to reflect upon my experiences, to consider the region, its wines, its food, its people, and more. This media trip was sponsored by the Consorzio del Vino Chianti and Balzac Communications. I and four other writers, including Christian of Vintuba, Ward of Vinopanion, Doug of Sante magazine, and Manos of Luxury Web, explored Chianti Classico during the Chianti Classico è, a ten day festival celebrating the wines and foods of this area. We visited a number of wineries and restaurants as well as participated in several official festival events. In addition, I have done some additional independent research and reading into Chianti Classico, including its history.

My time in the Chianti Classico region was amazing, both informative and educational, enjoyable and exciting, as well as satisfyingly delicious. I now understand why people rave about the beauty of Tuscany as the landscape is stunning, an aesthetically pleasing melange of hills, forests, vineyards, monasteries, farm houses, castles, towers, and much more. As you drive through Tuscany, there are so many spots where you want to stop and enjoy the panoramic view. It is fairly serene as well, creating a peaceful tranquility, perfect for a meditative diversion. Photos really are insufficient to properly depict the beauty and majesty of the scenery.

My understanding of this wine region has been expanded and enhanced. I have already written a few Chianti Classico related posts and you can look for even more in the near future. At this time, I want to present a list of Ten Things You Should Know About Chianti Classico, to give you a foundation of some important items so that you can better understand this region and its wine. Some people may still hold antiquated ideas about Chianti Classico, thinking that Chianti comes mainly in straw covered bottles, fiascos, which later can be used as candle holders. Yes, you can still find a few of those around, but they are the exception not the norm. Chianti Classico produces plenty of excellent wine which you should seek out.

The Chianti wine region of Tuscany was first delineated in 1716 by Cosimo II de' Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany,who established the borders for the production area of Chianti wine. Those borders would not change until 1930, when they were expanded. In 1932, the Chianti region was broken down into seven subzones, including Chianti Classico, Colli Arentini, Colli Fiorentini, Colli Pisane, Colli Sensei, Montalbano, and Rufina. The subzone Chianti Classico covered the original and oldest section of the region, and has since become the most prestigious of all the subzones. In 2002, an eighth subzone was added, Montespertoli, which was originally part of Colli Fiorentini. So it is important to note that Chianti Classico is from a specific region and not all Chianti can be Classico.

In 1984, the entire region of Chianti was granted DOCG ("Denomination of Origin Controlled and Guaranteed") status, the highest level for Italian wines. In 1996, the Chianti Classico subzone received its own independent DOCG status. As such, Chianti Classico wines are subject to numerous rules and regulations. For example, Chianti Classico wines must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% and spend at least 7 months in oak barrels while the Riserva level must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5% and spend at least 27 months in oak barrels. In addition, prior to bottling, the wine must undergo testing before it can be certified as acceptable for the DOCG.

Today, the Chianti Classico region occupies about 173,000 acres with 18,000 acres of vineyards and 25,000 acres of olive trees. Olive oil is still a significant industry, and Tuscan olive oil was even venerated as far back as the Roman era. It is intriguing that it once was traditional to seal Chianti bottles with a tablespoon of olive oil instead of a cork, though sometimes they used oil and a cork. The olive oil would prevent oxygen from getting at the wine, though the bottles would need to be stood up rather than laid on their side. When they wanted to open a bottle, they would use a special siphon to extract the olive oil from the bottle.

In 2011, the Chianti Classico region produced about 7.4 million gallons of wine, about 400,000 more than the prior year. During the last couple years, sales of Chianti Classico have been increasing, mostly due to exports. For example, 2010 saw a 24% increase in sales over 2009 while 2011 saw a 4% rise in sales over 2010. About 78% of their production is currently exported and the U.S. is the primary market, purchasing about 28% of their production. Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland occupy the next export spots. Curiously, Italy itself has been drinking less Chianti Classico, from 26% in 2009 down to 22% in 2011.

So now onto the Ten Things You Should Know About Chianti Classico...

1) Chianti Classico has a fascinating history.
Even before the ancient Romans arrived in the Chianti region, the Etruscans, who called themselves the Rasenna, inhabited the area, growing vines and producing wine. The term "Chianti" might derive from the Etruscan word "clante" which may mean "water" and also was the name of a noble Etruscan family. After the Romans seized control of the region, there was a great demand for Italian wine though the Romans generally preferred the sweet southern wines over the drier wines of Tuscany. The Romans controlled this area for about 700 years, leaving their impact upon this region. Wine making continued throughout the centuries, despite wars, plagues and other disasters.

The first known references to "vinadri", or "wine retailers," in Florence occurred in 1079 and they would eventually be organized into a guild, the l'Arte dei Vinattieri, around 1282. The guild's crest was a red goblet on a white background. Everyone involved in the wine trade, from merchants to innkeepers, had to join the guild and it promulgated numerous rules and regulations, including which measurements, pitchers and glasses had to be used to sell wine. The guild originally met in the church of San Martino Vescovo so it is interesting that one of their regulations decreed that wine could not be sold within 100 yards of a church.

In addition, their regulations stated that wine could not be sold to children under 15 years old, prostitutes, ruffians or thieves. Wine shops could not rent our rooms, allow wine to be drunk on the premises, or sell food. Gambling and prostitution were also prohibited at wine inns. It is interesting to see how some of these rules still are used today. By the early 1300s, it has been calculated that the average resident of Florence drank a gallon of wine per week, and by 1336, there were 92 retail wine sellers in the guild. The Black Death struck Tuscany in 1348, and it is thought that about half the population died within six months. Yet it didn't seem to stop people from drinking wine, as by 1353, the number of wine sellers had increased to 105, which could mean that everyone was drinking more wine than ever.

Tuscany is a historically rich area, and many famous personages lived in, passed through and/or enjoyed the Chianti region. The famed poet Dante Aligheri, creator of the Divine Comedy, was born in Florence. Amerigo Vespucci, an explorer and the origin of the term "America," may have been born in Florence or Greve while Giovanni da Verrazzano, another explorer and the discoverer of Manhattan (pictured above), is likely to have been born in Greve. The extraordinary Leonardo da Vinci was born in the Tuscan town of Vinci, and spent many years working in Florence. The renowned Michaelangelo was born in Tuscany and was especially fond of Chianti, even presenting some of their wines to the Pope as a gift. Even Pinocchio is Tuscan! Carlo Collodi, the pen-name of Carlo Lorenzini, was born in Florence, and in 1881 published his first Pinocchio story in a local newspaper.

Ever sip of Chianti is a sip of many centuries of fascinating history.

2) Chianti Classico is a large and diverse region.
As I mentioned earlier, the Chianti Classio region occupies about 173,000 acres, which makes for quite a large region. As such, it includes a wide variety of microclimates, altitudes, soils and terroir. There are two primary types of soil, galestro and albarese. Galestro is schist based, with elements of clay and marl, and is considered the best soil type for Sangiovese. It provides excellent drainage and keeps the vines under a bit of stress all the time, which is a good thing. Albarese is more a limestone soil, also with excellent drainage. You will also find some sandstone soils in this region, which can provide some nice aromatics but at a cost of less complexity and length. The soil to the north is generally considered more fertile, with more galestro, and to the south, you will find more albarese.

Altitudes can range from about 250 meters to 610 meters, while year to year, the climate can swing to extremes. The key to remember is that you cannot generalize about this region because of its diversity. In addition, wineries are still learning about their terroir, still trying to understand which areas will best grow their Sangiovese and other grapes. As an example, Barone Ricasoli hired a company to assess their vineyards, soils and grapes and that analysis took three years. They have not formally announced their results but there is a possibility they will share those findings with other wineries. Francesco Ricasoli stated that modern viticulture needs more answers and that knowledge is the key to success.

3) Sangiovese is King.
The origins of Sangiovese are cloudy though it seems to be an ancient grape, especially as it's name seem to reflect the ancient Romans. In Latin, it was known as sanguis Jovis, which translates as the "blood of Jove." Jove, also known as Jupiter, was the Roman king of the gods, the god of sky and thunder. It is unsure why that name was chosen for this grape. The first known historical mention of "sangiovese" was in 1590, and it now is known by other names too, such as Sangiveto, Niellucio, Prugnolo Gentile, Brunello, and Morellino. It once was eaten as a table grape though that practice has greatly diminished. Sangiovese is the most widely planted red grape in Italy, constituting about 10% of all vineyard plantings with over 100,000 hectares.

Sangiovese is considered a difficult grape, a late ripening grape with high acidity, though it is also a very food-friendly wine, especially due to that high acidity. Though grown outside of Italy, it is difficult to find superb Sangiovese wines outside of Italy. Chianti Classico must comprise at least 80% Sangiovese and the other 20% can include several different red grapes. Though once you found only blends in Chianti Classico, you now can find plenty of 100% Sangiovese wines, both as Chianti Classico or as Super Tuscans. There are currently over 70 officially recognized Sangiovese clones, and more are being created all the time, in an attempt to improve the quality of the grape.

To Be Continued...

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rant: Half-Bottle Failure

The wine industry has failed with the half-bottle. 

Most wine stores and restaurants stock few, if any, half-bottles of wine. Most wineries do not produce half-bottles of their wine. I bet many of my readers have not purchased a half-bottle of wine within the last six months. I don't think I have bought a half-bottle of wine in the last year. I don't understand the reasons for this failure of wine stores, restaurant and wineries as it would seem logical that half-bottles should be far more popular.

Japanese Sake is often available in half-bottles, usually 300-350ml, and a number of stores even carry more half-bottles than they do full sized ones. Sake producers seem to understand the advantages of half-bottles and thus capitalize on that opportunity. Spirits have long been available in smaller bottles, even as small as the nip bottles which usually contain a little less than 2 ounces. All of these small bottles of spirits are very popular, and once again, spirit producers perceive the advantages of small-sized bottles and have capitalized on it. So why has the wine industry failed in this regard?

There are plenty of individuals who purchase a 750ml bottle of wine, though they will be the only one drinking it. They might only want a glass or two with dinner, and that bottle is too big for them so they have to decide how best to preserve their wine. It will probably only last a few days so they will need to drink the rest of it soon enough. Such people would probably prefer to buy a half-bottle and not worry about wine preservation. Half-bottles would also be a less expensive way for a person to try a wine rather than buying a full 750ml bottle.

The size of the bottle affects the aging of the wine but as most wine is consumed within 48 hours of purchase,   that won't come into play most of the time. Consumers are primed for half-bottles with Sake and spirits, so why aren't wineries trying to fill that desire? It seems a failed opportunity which a clever winery could use to major advantage. Restaurants, which serve wine by the glass, worry about wine preservation yet those problems would be much less if they carried more half-bottles. So why aren't they doing so?

Wine industry, wake up and start thinking small.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Sipping Sake: Recommendations & Reviews

With the brutal heat now assailing the local area, people are seeking out chilled, refreshing drinks. One option, which may be overlooked by many, is a glass of lightly chilled Sake. In addition, Sake will pair very well with traditional summer fare, from clam bakes to BBQ. So there is no reason not to add Sake to your summer drinking repertoire.

As I posted about on Wednesday, I spent a glorious Monday attending two Sake events, including an afternoon Sake seminar & tasting at the residence of Takeshi Hikihara, the Consul General of Japan. That event was a partnership with Chairman Haruo Matsuzaki; of the Sake Export Association and President Peter Grilli of the Japan Society of Boston.In the evening, the Japan Society of Boston hosted a Sake tasting and dinner at Cafe Sushi in Cambridge. John Gauntner, the famed Sake expert and Sake Dendoushi ("Sake Evangelist"), also attended both events.

During this day, I had the opportunity to taste about 45 Sakes, which came from 18 kura ("sake breweries") located in 14 Prefectures including Akita, Aomori, Fukushima, Hokkaido, Hyogo, Ibaraki, Iwate, Kagoshima, Kyoto, Niigata, Okayama, Shimane, Tochigi, and Yamaguchi. There was even one California brewery represented, Ozeki USA. The Sakes included types, grades and styles such as Junmai, Honjozo, Ginjo, Daiginjo, Kimoto, Nigori, Sparkling Sake, Organic Sake, Koshu, Namazake, and Genshu. As the weather was wonderful, much of the tasting at the consulate was held on their outside patio, just a beautiful setting for such an extensive tasting event.

As with wine, if you truly want to understand Sake, you need to taste it, and taste as many different ones as you can. Tasting events like this, with over 40 Sakes available, are a superb way of learning the diversity in flavor profiles of Sake, even within the same category. Not all Junmai tastes the same, and neither do all Daiginjo possess the same flavor profile. Many factors play into the flavor and aroma of a Sake, from the type of rice to the yeast, from the method of production to the nature of the pasteurization. That is one of the reasons why Sake is so exciting, that infinite diversity that can be found. The Japanese refer to "Sake zukuri banryu," the “10,000 schools of Sake brewing,” referring to the vast amount of methods by which Sake can be produced.

I'll touch on some of the highlights of the tasting, noting that I have tasted and reviewed some of these Sakes before. Overall, it was a very satisfying collection, showcasing a nice range of styles and flavor profiles. It was especially nice that some of the brewers were present, and could explain about their Sakes. They were all very personable, quick with smiles, and rightfully proud of their brews. We also had the opportunity to taste the Sake with a light buffet, primarily Japanese cuisine, and later that evening I tasted more of the Sake with sushi and Japanese appetizers. Sake is very food friendly though I would have liked to see it paired with some nontraditional cuisine.

Akita Seishu Co. Ltd., from the Akita prefecture, was founded in 1865 and produces the Dewatsuru brand, a name that means "The crane of the Dewa region," intended to reflect the elegance of their sake. Their brewing motto is "Good harmony makes good Sake" and they also try to use as many local ingredients as possible.

The Dewatsuru Kimoto Junmai was very appealing to me, with a rich and earthy taste, and is an excellent example of Kimoto Sake, an old and laborious method of production that often produces Sake with an earthy, gamey profile. Lots of umami make this style very food friendly, especially with mushrooms and other umami rich foods. The Dewatsuru Hihaku Junmai Daiginjo had strong aromatics and presented an elegant and complex taste, with notes of melon, floral elements and a touch of red fruit. The Dewatsuru Hiten No Yume Junmai Daiginjo Nigori is not yet sold in the U.S., but hopefully it will be in the near future. This Sake is made with Akita-Komachi rice, a variety that grows only in Akita, and is more of a savory than sweet Nigori. It too was elegant, with a hint of sweetness, some tropical fruits, but also a strong savory component. One of the best Nigoris I have ever tasted.

Kaetsu Sake Brewing Co. Ltd., located in the Niigata prefecture, was founded in 1880, and you will find more information on the brewery in my prior review of the Kirin Hizoshu Daiginjo, pictured above. The Hizoshu is an amazing aged Sake which I highly recommend. Their Kirin Koshihikari Junmai Daiginjo is also recommended, with a richer taste but which is also smooth, clean and complex.

Marumoto Sake Brewing Co., located in the Okayama Prefecture, was founded in 1867 and you will find more information on the brewery in my prior review of their Chikurin Karoyaka Junmai Ginjo Organic, probably the first organic Sake made from Japanese Sake rice, and Chikurin Fukamari Junmai. They also make the Happo Houhou Shu Sparkling Sake and Sparkling Rose Sake, both being a little sweet, fruity and lightly effervescent.

Nanbubijin, Inc., located in the Iwate prefecture, started brewing Sake in 1915 and around 1951 decided to start producing "clean and beautiful Sake." Thus, their new name became Nanbu Bijin, where Nanbu represents their region and Bijin means "beautiful woman." I have previously reviewed their Nanbubijin Tokubetsu Junmai, which the brewer stated matches well with beef. The Nanbubijin "Southern Beauty" Junmai Ginjo is made from local Ginginga rice, which took 8 years to develop, and is smooth and elegant, with delicious tastes of melon, peach, and a bit of steamed rice.

Okunomatsu Sake Brewing Co., Ltd., located in the Fukushima prefecture, was established in 1716, and was one of the breweries which sustained significant damage in last year's terrible Japanese earthquake and tsunami. But they have forged ahead and we all should be glad that they have done so as they produce high quality and delicious Sake.

The Okunomatsu Tokubetsu Junmai is a namachozo, pasteurized only once after bottling, and it has a clean, crisp taste with some tasty fruit flavors. I was informed this would be good both gently warmed or chilled. The Okunomatsu Juhachidai Ihei Daiginjo is produced by the shizuku method, a drip style of separating the Sake from the lees. This is supposed to produce a higher quality Sake and in this case, I think it succeeded quite well. This was one of my favorite Sakes of the tasting, being elegant, restrained, complex, and absolutely compelling. I returned several times for another taste of this killer Sake. Their Okunomatsu Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Sake was another delight, different from many other sparkling sakes. It has some pleasant tropical aromas and only hints of sweetness, being more savory with a little bitterness on the finish (in a good way).

Rihaku Sake Brewing Co. Ltd., located in the Shimane prefecture, was founded in 1882 and is named after a famous 8th century Chinese poet, Li Po, who is known as Rihaku in Japan. Rihaku loved Sake and his motto was: “I drink a whole bottle, and pen a hundred poems.” The Rihaku "Wandering Poet" Junmai Ginjo is a very popular Sake with prominent and bold flavors of melon, banana and peach accompanied by subtle herbal notes. A good Sake introduction for someone new to this beverage.

Takasago Sake Brewing Co, Ltd., located in the Hokkaido prefecture, was founded in 1899, and are unique for their use of an ice dome in brewing. Once it gets cold enough in the winter, they constrict an igloo like building near the brewery, and that ice dome remains very cold inside. They brew their Daiginjo in the ice dome, which is also made in the shiziku style. The resulting Takasago Ginga-Shizuku "Divine Droplets" Junmai Daiginjo is light, clean, crisp and complex. It is a more subtle Sake, but one that will seduce your palate with its elegance. Their Taisetsu "Garden of the Divine" Junmai Ginjo is also smooth and elegant, but with a bit stronger flavors, including some nice melon notes. The Taisetsu Junmai has a richer flavor, with tastes of steamed rice, herbs and peach. It is interesting to note that John Gauntner helped them devise the English name for their Sakes.

Asahi Sake Brewing Co., located in the Yamaguchi prefecture, has a motto of "We brew sake for sipping, not sake for drinking, nor sake for selling." They seek to produce the highest quality Sake they can, something to slowly savor rather than guzzle and gulp. Their Sake is very popular and I have previously reviewed the Dassai Migaki Niwari Sanbu Junmai Daiginjo. I also got to taste the Dassai Junmai Daiginjo Sparkling Nigori, which is one of the best sparkling Sakes I have tasted. It is not too sweet, with a light effervescence, mild tropical fruit flavors, and a savory backbone. It has much more complexity than the usual sparkling Sake.

Sudo-Honke, Inc., located in the Ibaraki prefecture, is the oldest, still operating Sake brewery in the world, having been founded back in 1140s A.D., so it is over 860 years old! What a sense of history in ever sip of their Sake. Pictured above on the far left is the Sato No Homare "Pride of the Village" Junmai Ginjo, one of my favorite Sakes and you should read my prior review.

Some of the other Sake breweries represented at the tasting include: Tentaka Sake Brewing Co., Ltd., Ozeki Corp., Ozeki USA, Shiragiku Sake Brewery, Suehiro Sake Brewery, Tatsuuma-Honke Brewing Co., Ltd., Yamamato Honke, Murai Family, and Yoshinogawa.

Expand your palate and delve into the fascinating and delicious realm of Sake.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently. **********************************************************
1)  I was previously a fan of Gennaro’s 5 North Square and the addition of consulting chef Marisa Iocco only increases the quality of this restaurant. Iocco is now focusing her skills on Italian-American dishes, which she feels have been both maligned and mangled in the years since immigrants from Italy (like her paternal grandfather Vincenzo) created them two generations ago. Check out this restaurant!

Her latest bestsellers include:
--Eggless “macaroni ranging from whole wheat chitarra amatriciana and rigatoni Bolognese, to linguini scampi and gnocchi vongole pizzaiola
--A meatball medley boasting chicken marsala and roasted eggplant versions
--Cod in Bianco with potatoes and olives in white wine
--Giambotta, a  seasonal vegetable stew that changes daily
--Lobster Conchiglie,– half moon pasta in fra diavolo sauce
--Treccia (custom-braided mozzarella) with Mixed Greens
--A quintet of family style specialties served for four or more people Sunday thru Thursday
--Garlic Bread Stuffed Shrimp
--Rum baba with whipped cheese crema and strawberry salsa

2)  Post 390’s bar team unveils an all new Summer Cocktail List on June 20, the first Day of Summer. Headlining the list of more than a dozen new cocktail creations are home-made summer classics with a twist, literally, straight from the kitchen to the cocktail. Inspired by the kitchen’s farm-to-table mission, the bar team is taking that spirit to new levels with home-made ingredients sourced directly from Post 390’s kitchen.

Eric Brennan, executive chef, and Molly Hanson, pastry chef of Post 390 like well-crafted cocktails too. They are working side by side with the bar team, creating product exclusively for the Summer Cocktails at Post 390. For example, Chef Brennan can be found preparing items such as Home-made Dry Vermouth, Habanero Stuffed Olives, Home-made House Bitters, Tobacco Bitters, Charred Pineapple garnish and Freshly Grilled Peaches garnish. Pastry Chef Hanson is creating a variety of home-made simple syrups, such as Sage, Mint, Peach, and Lemon/Lime and her signature strawberry rhubarb juice. She is also making Lemongrass Tonic Syrup with Peruvian Cinchona Bark for a house-made Gin & Tonic.
Some of the new cocktails include:
Filthy Martini: Ketel One Vodka, home-made dry vermouth, dash of Fire Water (Olive Juice & Bittermen’s HellFire Bitters), with house-stuffed habanero olive
G&T: Gin muddled with fresh lemongrass, home-made bitters, home-made Lemongrass Tonic from Peruvian Cinchona Bark
Peach ‘n Pig: Bacon infused house-smoked bourbon, home-made bitters, muddled peaches, punt e mes and peach simple syrup, grilled peach
Rio Grande Paloma: Zapopan 100% Agave Tequila, grapefruit juice, agave nectar, smoked sea salt, homemade bitters, a splash of soda on the rocks, a salted rim, spicy lime wedge
Corpse Reviver No. 2: Tanqueray, home-made Cointreau, cocchi aperitivo Americano, lemon juice, absinthe, lemon peel, luxardo cherry

3)  Launching July 7, check out the Taste Gloucester, a food and cultural tour of this historic port city. Guests of the tour will make their way on foot through downtown Gloucester sampling food from local vendors. From chowder to olive oil, from local beer to a special sandwich, the St. Joseph (that Gloucester natives have been enjoying for decades), Taste Gloucester will expose guests to a number of local treats. The 2.5 hour (roughly 1 mile) tours are lead by dynamic tour guides providing the backdrop to this 400-year-old city with fascinating stories and interesting facts about the oldest working seaport in America.

Tickets must be bought in advance and are $47.50 per person. Tours run on select days throughout the summer at 11:00am and 2:30pm, rain or shine, and tour groups are small to ensure that everyone gets the most out of their experience. Buy tickets online.

4)  In recognition of June as National Hunger Month, Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a Boston based non-profit organization that works to facilitate the recovery and distribution of perishable and unserved foods, is launching an innovative fundraising campaign called #Tweet2Beat Hunger. They will utilize social media, specifically Twitter, to collect monetary donations in support of their mission to beat hunger.

Starting Monday, June 25 and lasting through Saturday, June 30, Lovin’ Spoonfuls will run its first ever #TWEET2BEAT hunger campaign. Tweeters can assist Lovin’ in its mission in just seconds by simply tweeting the monetary amount he/she would like to pledge followed by “TweetDonate to” and Lovin’ Spoonfuls Twitter Handle, @LovinFoodRescue. For example: #Tweet2Beat $10 TweetDonate to @LovinFoodRescue. Just seconds later, donors will receive a link to PayPal where they can complete their donations.

The week-long fundraiser will come to a grand conclusion on International Social Media Day, Saturday, June 30, with the help of Whole Foods Market River Street located in Cambridge, which has generously agreed to match select $10 donations for every ten (10) tweets that includes hashtag #Tweet2Beat, TweetDonate to, the Lovin’ Twitter handle (@LovinFoodRescue), and their own Twitter handle, (@WholeFoodsRVR). For example: #Tweet2Beat Hunger $10 TweetDonate to @LovinFoodRescue @WholeFoodsRVR

During the final week of June, make sure to tweet @LovinFoodRescue, to aid Lovin’ Spoonfuls in their quest to “BEAT Hunger.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

John Gauntner: Sake Trends & Restaurant Service

"O what an ugly sight the man who thinks he’s wise and never drinks sake!"
--Ōtomo no Tabito

The sheer bliss of having over 45 different Sakes available for tasting. That made for quite a superb Monday, especially when I also got see and speak with John Gauntner, the famed Sake expert and "Sake Dendoushi" ("Sake Evangelist"), once again. John is an excellent Sake sensei and he was in Boston to impart some of his immense knowledge of this wondrous drink to a couple groups of Sake lovers.

On Monday, I was fortunate to attend two Sake events, including an afternoon Sake seminar & tasting at the residence of Takeshi Hikihara, the Consul General of Japan, located in Chestnut Hill. That event was a partnership with Chairman Haruo Matsuzaki of the Sake Export Association and President Peter Grilli of the Japan Society of Boston.In the evening, the Japan Society of Bostonhosted a Sake tasting and dinner at Cafe Sushiin Cambridge. John Gautner was at both events, making a brief presentation at each and then chatting with all of the attendees, answering all of their Sake questions.

John's presentations can be broken into two main topics: the current trends in the Sake industry and serving Sake at restaurants. His words were very encouraging, largely positive, and optimistic for the future. He also offered very practical advice to restaurants on how they can better offer and serve Sake to their customers. He did not differentiate as to only Japanese restaurants, and his comments would apply to any type of restaurant, of any cuisine, which wanted to provide Sake to their patrons. As I have said often, Sake is extremely food friendly and compatible with a wide range of cuisines.

Up front, John stated that there is "no bad sake on the market" and that "even the worst is pretty good." That doesn't mean that all Sake is premium or that it is all excellent. It indicates that the quality of Sake has never been higher than it is now, better than it was even 10 years ago. The quality should continue to improve with time so it is a great time to enter the realm of Sake.

Sake consumption in Japan peaked around 1973 and has been on a steady decline since then, where it now constitutes less than 10% of Japanese alcohol consumption. The number of Sake breweries has been on a steady decline as well, from a high of over 20,000, down now to around 1400 or so. But, 2011 saw a slight increase in consumption and there are signs that it could continue, which obviously would be very good for all. In addition, Sake exports to the U.S. have broken records in both 2010 and 2011. There are a number of reasons why the increases may continue.

First, the general overall interest in Sake has increased and that has led to more consumption. Second, as I mentioned recently, the Japanese government is declaring Sake to be a "national alcoholic beverage." Though the government lacks much of a budget or plan for how to promote Sake, their simple announcement has already garnered plenty of publicity.  We can only hope that the government will devise some compelling strategy to promote Sake. If nothing else though, hopefully the increased publicity will continue. Third, though Sake consumption has traditionally been the primary domain of older generations, the demographics have begun to shift, with more people from the younger generations embracing Sake. That should invigorate the industry, giving them a larger market.

What have been some of the latest trends and changes in the Sake industry? John broke this topic into three categories: products, industry and technology. But, he also stressed, as I have heard him say numerous times before, that there are many exceptions in the Sake world. Generalizations can be made, as long as one understands that exceptions are likely to exist.

Let us start with the products category. First, about 10-20 years ago, Sake aromas, which primarily derive from the yeast, started becoming much more prominent, and eventually a number went too extreme, way over the top. Fortunately, many producers have begun to reign in these extremes, returning to a more reasonable balance. Second, though the number of Sparkling, Low Alcohol and Fruit-Flavored/Infused Sakes on the market have increased, they still constitute the tiniest percentage of production so they are not truly a significant trend. Third, more attention and publicity has been given to certain Sake styles, including Namazake, Kimoto, and Yamahai. This is good news to me, especially since the Kimoto/Yamahai is one of my favorite styles. Thus, I hope to see more Sakes produced in this manner, even though it is a more laborious and risky process. Lastly, there appears to be a surge in new pasteurization methods, which is leading to better quality Sake. In addition, there is much more storage of Sake in the bottle rather than cask during the usual 6-12 month aging period after production. This generally leads to smoother Sake.

As for the industry, there have been several key changes. First, a new generation of Sake brewers is entering the industry. The old guard, often 60+ years old, are handing over the reigns to the younger generation, often men 30-40 years old. This is infusing new ideas and life into the Sake industry, which is needed as the world is changing. Second, in that regard, with the advent of the Internet, social media, and such, marketing and sales have changed, and what worked in the past may no longer be applicable. Breweries must adapt to these changes, and a younger generation might best be able to handle these changes. Third, more experimentation in the Sake industry is now occurring, again likely due to the younger generation who are more willing to try new things, to expand their horizons and take risks. Where many previous brewery owners were never involved in the actual brewing, handing the reigns to their Toji, the newer generations of owners are doing it themselves, creating a deeper connection with their products.

In regards to technological changes, mechanization is far more prevalent in breweries, and the machines are more complex and advanced. The best part is that these machines generally perform the laborious tasks of brewing, yet still permit the skilled brewers to intervene where necessary. Less laborers are necessary but the human element remains to ensure the artisan nature of the Sake, as well as to control the quality. Despite the increased mechanization, brewing still remains more about "experience and intuition" and John even stated that to the brewers, "every year it is back to first grade." It has also been very helpful to brewers that there now is an abundance of assistance available to them. Textbooks, chemical analysis and research results are more readily available to the brewers and there is now more information exchange. Computers have made such communication much easier, and this has lead to a greater quality Sake across the industry. Resources for Sake brewing just continue to grow.

How should restaurants best serve Sake? How should they create a Sake list? Though these comments were directed primarily to restaurants, some of the information is relevant to all Sake lovers. But I hope that many restaurants, of all cuisines, heed these suggestions, to better promote Sake.

Restaurants need to understand that their primary goal in serving Sake should be to promote it, to get more customers drinking it. The more people that drink it, the greater your profits. With that goal always in mind, then a restaurant can implement a plan to best serve their Sake. In general, it is probably most beneficial to keep it simple, to ensure Sake is approachable. Consider that though wine can be intimidating to many customers, Sake is even more intimidating. If you place too many barriers to the comprehension of your Sake list, then your customers will opt for a different, and easier, beverage. If you choose to make your Sake more complex, you must be willing to handle the ramifications, and also ensure that your staff is adequately prepared to handle that level of complexity. But simple might be your best option.

What is the proper glassware for Sake? It is simple as there are no rules and you are free to create your own. It can be advantageous to use a wine glass for serving aromatic Ginjo Sake, though some other Sakes won't present as well in such a glass. You can use the small, traditional ochoko glasses, which can be aesthetically very pleasing, but then the complex aromas of Ginjo Sake may not present well. It is best to make it simple, though some complexity can be fun, if you are willing to deal with the added difficulty. Experiment with your Sake, and determine which works best for your restaurant.

What is the proper serving temperature for Sake? Most premium Sake is best served slightly chilled, as you would serve a white wine. Warming Ginjo, and especially Daiginjo, Sake though can destroy some of their complexity so it is not advised. Some Sake, such as Kimoto and Yamahai can be gently warmed, though not too hot. A restaurant should experiment with tasting their Sake selection at various temperatures to determine what will work best. You could make this more complex for your patrons, offering the same Sake at different temperatures, but that also can be a barrier to the average consumer. Making it simple might be preferable.

How do you compile a Sake list? It is recommended that your Sake list be created to impress your customers, to offer them a diversity of Sake. As there is so much more Sake available now, restaurants have a wide selection from which to choose. It is important to decide what you wish to accomplish with your Sake list. For example, do you wish it to contain only unique Sakes or do you want to have one of the largest lists in the city? Treat it as importantly as you would in compiling a wine list.

You can order your Sake list in numerous ways, such as by price, grade, style, region and more. One of the simplest and effective ways to do so is by grade, such as Junmai, Ginjo and Daiginjo. That also usually corresponds to price so that higher grades will cost more. You should also separate the more unusual types, such as Sparkling Sake and Koshu, aged Sake, into a separate category as they really don't fit well into a grade category.

It is also recommended that you carry a range of price points, from inexpensive to high-end Sake. You want some less expensive Sakes so that customers will be more willing to take a chance on ordering it. I have mentioned that to restaurants before, that marking up their Sake by 3-4 times the retail price is ridiculous. It is a significant barrier to customers who know little about Sake as well as more experienced Sake lovers. It can also be important to carry one or two very popular Sakes, to appeal to those who will seek out such bottles. Besides carrying full-sized Sake bottles, 720ml, you might also want some smaller bottles (300ml-500ml), as well as serving Sake by the glass. As Sake is more durable than wine, serving it by the glass makes sense. Following up on that, it can also be very helpful to serve tasting flights of 3-5 Sakes, giving customers an easy way to try several different Sakes.

Education is also very important. First, you need an educated staff, servers who know and understand about Sake. Just as you wish your servers to know about wine, they should also know about Sake if you serve it. They don't need to be experts, but they do need to understand the basics and be able to explain it to customers. It can also be quite helpful if your Sake list provides some educational information for your customers, even something as simple as descriptions of the various grades and types of Sake. That helps to remove another barrier for consumers, and gives them more reason why they might choose to order Sake rather than another beverage.

The future of Sake looks bright, but we still need to continue to promote it, to get more people to taste it. Sake has much to offer, with a huge spread of flavor profiles, and more people would enjoy it, if only they took a chance and tried some delicious, premium Sake. So share a bottle of Sake with some friends, and spread the passion for this exquisite Japanese drink.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Glenmorangie Distillery: The Gateway Scotch

There is no such thing as a bad whisky. Some whiskies just happen to be better than others.”
--William Faulkner

It is easy to find wine dinners but spirit-paired dinners are still a rarity, despite the fact that high quality, artisan spirits are now a hot category. Whiskey is seeing a resurgence, partially due to the emergence of flavored whiskey but also because the overall quality of whiskey seems to be improving as well. The relatively new practice of double maturation, finishing the aging of whiskey in a second type of barrel (often a wine barrel), has also helped increase its popularity. This double maturation can add some intriguing and appealing flavors to the whiskey.

Whiskey should be more than a spirit simply for an apertif or an after-dinner drink. Whiskey can pair well with food and more chefs need to avail themselves of such an opportunity. One local chef picked up that gauntlet, creating a menu paired with five scotches, and he succeeded in designing a well crafted menu that paired very well with the various scotches.

I recently attended, as a media guest, a Glenmorangie Scotch dinner at Avila Modern Mediterranean restaurant in Boston. George Kalliavas, John Carey and Danielle Keating of Martignetti Companies, the Moet Hennessey division, presided over the dinner and Eamon Keating, from the Boston Wine Exchange was also present, taking orders for the scotch. It was a fun and educational dinner, showcasing the versatility and quality of the Glenmorangie scotch portfolio.

The Glenmorangie Distillery is located north of Inverness, about half a mile from Tain, in the Highlands of Scotland and it is the smallest distillery in the Highlands. It was founded in 1843 by a farmer, William Matheson, who bought a couple of ex-gin stills in England to start producing scotch. These stills were over 16 feet tall, the tallest in Scotland, and the distillery now possess 24 stills. The height provides a higher distillate, which ends up being lighter and smoother than some smaller stills. The distillery is now owned by Moet Hennessey.

Glenmorangie possesses their own water source, the Tarlogie Springs, including approximately 100 acres around it, to ensure the purity and quality of their water. Their barley is sourced only from Scotland. It is important to realize that the oak barrel is one of the most significant aspects of whiskey production, providing 60%-70% of the flavor and all of the color. Glenmorangie contracts with loggers in the Ozark Mountains for American white oak and then have barrels constructed from the finest wood. They then lend the barrels to two American bourbon and whiskey distilleries for aging. After the barrels are used, they are then disassembled and sent to Scotland, to be reassembled and used to age Glenmorangie. They only use their barrels twice, as opposed to some other distilleries which may use them five or six times.

The Master Distiller at Glenmorangie is Dr. Bill Lumsden, a pioneer in the use of double maturation and the distillery is also well known for its experimentation. Their tagline is "unnecessarily well made," and it is my experience that they produce high quality scotch, with a diverse flavor profile. George stated that "Glenmorangie is a gateway drug to single malt scotch."  It is a lighter, ethereal, and layered scotch which is more consumer friendly than some other scotches, especially the peaty versions. Yet is is far from simple, indicating the complexity and flavors possible within single malt scotch. In addition, it is very food friendly, making it an excellent choice for these types of dinners.

The signet found on every bottle of Glenmorangie has its roots in the ancient past. At the end of the 8th century, the native Picts carved a huge stone, the Cadboll Stone, which eventually became the oldest recorded archaelogical find in Scotland. Though the Stone was eventually relocated to the National Museum in Scotland, Glenmorangie commissioned a stone replica which was eventually placed on its original location. The signet on their bottles is one of the carvings on this Stone.

For the last 49 years, Glenmorangie has been the top selling selling single malt in Scotland. Currently, the top market for Glenmorangie is Japan, with Canada and the U.S. essentially tied for second and third place. Within the U.S., New Jersey is their top market, making me curious as to why they drink so much of their scotch. I would never have guessed that was the largest U.S. market. Metro New York and Los Angeles are the next two largest markets and Massachusetts ranks around fourth or fifth place, though it has also seen 40% growth in recent years. Information on their production statistics as well as the number of barrels was not available, and not something the distillery generally shares.

The greatest challenge facing Glenmorangie is  handling the competition, trying to expose more consumers to their products. Glenmorangie produces about ten different Scotches, including some limited editions. For example, one of their limited editions is the Artein, which is finished in Super Tuscan barrels from the renowned Sassacaia. It is illegal in the U.S. to place the name of Sassacaia on the bottle label, but in Europe they are able to do so.

Our evening began with a couple passed appetizers, including a shot glass of Creamy Corn Soup, with coriander & a brioche crouton, and Goat Cheese Croquettes. The corn soup was extremely creamy and flavorful, and I wished I had been given a large bowl. The croquettes were also excellent, with a light, crispy outer coating and silky goat cheese inside. This culinary start boded well for the rest of the dinner.

Our first pairing was the Nectar D'Or ($67), which spends 10 years in white oak and then another 2 years in old Sauternes barrels. Sauternes is a lauded sweet wine from France, and the grapes were affected by botrytis, the "noble rot." They are probably the only distillery to regularly produce such a unique scotch. With a light golden color, this scotch was smooth with intense flavors of honey, butterscotch, citrus and spice. There was a very restrained sweetness which enhanced this exquisite scotch and it paired well with the creaminess of the appetizers.

The first course of the evening was a Brown Butter Seared Sea Scallop with red beet juice risotto and frisee. The tender, well seared scallop was pleasing and the risotto combined a mild earthiness with a sweet tinge. The pairing for this dish was The Original ($35), their entry level scotch which is aged for ten years in used bourbon casks. Smooth, light and elegant, this make a great introduction to single malt, and its flavors, a combination of citrus, white stone fruits and vanilla notes, will appeal to many. This scotch would pair well with many different seafood dishes, or even a light chicken dish.

The next course was a clear winner, Chicken Liver Ravioli with dried cherry red onion compote, Chianti, and a Balsamic reduction. The thin pasta was cooked perfectly, just al dente enough, and the earthy taste of the chicken liver was well balanced by the sweetness of the compote and sauce. The third scotch was the  Quinta Ruban ($50), which is aged for ten years in used bourbon barrels and then two years in ruby port pipes. It possessed a deeper and complex flavor, with notes of citrus, honey, spice, leather, and a subtle red fruit note, as well as a lengthy, satisfying finish. It was able to handle the earthiness of this dish, balancing it with a mild sweetness. Another winning combination.

The Braised Wagyu Beef Cheeks, with brussel sprouts and fingerling potatoes, was a good-sized piece of extremely tender meat, that easily fell apart with my fork alone. A rich and smooth taste, the beef satisfied my inner carnivore. The scotch for this dish was the 18 Year Old Glenmorangie ($95), which spends about 15 years in used bourbon barrels and then 30% spends an additional 3 years in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, after which it is all blended back together. With a darker gold color, this was an amazing scotch, smooth, complex, and well layered with a compelling melange of dried fruits, honey, figs and caramel. It worked well with the beef, complementing its taste. A killer scotch!

Our dessert course was a Manjhari Chocolate Mousse Cake with hazelnut creme, a rich and creamy dish with touches of salt and citrus. Would you think of chocolate and scotch? Well it certainly can work, if you have the right scotch. Our final selection was the Signet ($200), a unique blend of older whiskey, most over 30 years old and the youngest being 20 years old. Master Distiller Lumsden has always loved coffee and that is reflected in this scotch. Though some of the details of its production are secret, it is known that they use a high roast chocolate barley, dried in a coffee roaster. With a very alluring aroma, this scotch does possess a compelling blend of coffee and chocolate flavors, with hints of orange, spice, and brininess. And it worked well with the chocolate.

Many of the attendees seemed to favor the Signet above the others of the night, though my personal favorite is probably the 18 Year Old. I certainly enjoyed the Signet very much, but it would be more of a scotch for specific occasions rather than a more every day choice. I liked all five of the scotches and found how food friendly they are, thanks to a compelling menu showcasing the versatility of the scotch. Let us see more spirit-paired dinners and I challenge local chefs to try to create some menus, with scotch, tequila, rum or any other spirit.

If you enjoy Scotch, or want to learn more about it, then a great option is to seek out the portfolio of Glenmorangie Scotch. And check out Avila, which put together an excellent menu of delicious cuisine.

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