Monday, October 31, 2016

Rant: Keep Eating More Seafood!

As it's Halloween, let's start with something very scary...

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) the leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease, killing nearly 600,000 people each year. We all have had family and friends who have died from heart disease, and we should be doing what we can to reduce our chances of acquiring heart disease. Do you want to die prematurely, leaving your loved ones without your presence?

As I've been saying for years, seafood consumption is a significant key to reducing your chances of heart disease. Since the 1970s, over 20,000 research studies have been conducted on the health benefits of seafood and they have concluded that eating seafood twice a week can reduce your chance of dying from heart disease by about 36%. You probably won't find another single food that has been scientifically proven to reduce heart disease so much. Eating more seafood is such a simple change to your lifestyle and it can can save lives.

Low seafood consumption is blamed for 84,000 deaths in the U.S. and 1.4 million globally. Besides helping to reduce heart disease, research has also been providing growing evidence of the health benefits to the brain and bones as well as against cancers and inflammatory diseases.  The USDA and many other bodies recommend that Americans should consume at least 26 pounds of seafood each year. In general, to gain the beneficial health benefits, you should eat seafood twice a week.

Unfortunately, seafood consumption in the U.S. had been on a steady decline. In 2013, the average American consumed only about 14.5 pounds of seafood, which was the seventh year of consecutive decreased consumption. Only about 20% of consumers ate seafood twice a week. In comparison, average seafood consumption was 15.8 pounds in 2010. In 2014, there was a minor uptick in consumption, to 14.6 pounds of seafood, but the question was whether this was an anomaly or the start of a new trend.

Fortunately, there are positive signs from 2015, and we can hope this positive change continues in the coming years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recently released their annual report on U.S. consumption, Fisheries of the United States 2015. Annual seafood consumption increased to 15.5 pounds, almost an entire pound higher than the previous year. Wow! That is great news, though still significantly short of the goal of 26 pounds per person.

If we want this positive trend to continue, we need to continue to find ways to persuade people, overcoming their objections, to eat seafood more frequently. More outreach is needed. We need more positive articles in the media espousing the health benefits of eating seafood. We need to overcome the obstacles that prevent people from consuming more seafood, such as its high cost and the difficulties many people have cooking seafood at home. We need to get Americans to eat more than another 9 pounds of seafood each year. It's a formidable goal, but it can be accomplished. You owe it to yourself, and your family, to eat more seafood and benefit your health.

Keep eating more seafood!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Laura Catena: Aiming High With Argentina's Wine Advocate

Argentina would be hard pressed to find a better advocate for their wines than Laura Catena. She is intelligent and passionate, personable and lively. In addition, she has one foot in the past, delving into the history of wine and Malbec, and one foot in the future, researching and studying a wide variety of wine-related matters. Her passion for the wines of Argentina is infectious.

I first met Laura five years ago, at Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza, Argentina, and then saw her again at a recent, media wine tasting and luncheon at Bistro du Midi in Boston. After the passage of those five years, Laura's passion for the wines of Argentina hadn't dimmed even the slightest. If anything, it might have even grown some, possibly due to the results of the experiments and research that have been conducted during those past five years.

At the recent tasting, one of the most moving moments came during lunch, amidst more casual talk about children, colleges and video games. As a bit of background, Nicola Catena, Laura's great-grandfather, came to Argentina, from Italy, in 1898, and planted vineyards in 1902, with Malbec being one of his first vines. Nicola was a handsome man, enamored with having his picture taken, and Laura is especially fond of one of those family photos, showing Nicola with his six children. It was only recently that Laura learned something from her father, Nicolás, that has caused her to look at that family photo in a much different way.

When Nicola passed away, he left the winery to his sons but left nothing for his daughters, figuring a husband would provide for them. Those were certainly very different times, and if Laura had been born during that time, she probably never would have started working at the winery. This would have been a great loss to Bodega Catena Zapata, and the wine industry in general. She also might not have not become a physician.

This was an unsettling revelation to Laura, but also shows how far society has progressed during the last hundred years. There certainly is need for continued progress in this respect and Laura is a shining example of the benefits of such progress. Nowadays, there are numerous women involved in the wine industry, contributing significantly to its success, but more women still are needed. Women thinking about entering the wine industry can look to Laura Catena as a positive role model.

One of Nicola's sons was Domingo, born in 1910, and he eventually married Angelica Zapata in 1934. Domingo and Angelica were the parents of Nicolás Catena Zapata, Laura'a father. Angelica was the head mistress of a local school and was very much the intellectual mentor of Nicolás. When he was 18 years old, he was undecided whether he should get in the family winery business. He had an interest in physics and asked Angelica for advice on what he should do. She didn't like business and recommended he pursue physics, seeking to win a Nobel Prize. Quite a goal for such a young man.

The lesson is illustrative of the Catena legacy of aiming high. Though Nicolás ultimately didn't get into physics, ending up in the winery business, his goals always remained lofty, to make some of the best wine in the world. It wasn't enough to seek to make the best wine in Argentina. He had to make world-class wine, to be able to compete with the best from any other wine region. That legacy has clearly extended to Laura, who also is driven to produce some of the best wine in the world.

In addition, the story of Angelica and Nicolás is also illustrative of another point which Laura feels is very important, that women should mentor men and that men should mentor women. This mentoring probably helped her father be willing to place the future of the winery in Laura's hands.

When Laura was younger, she didn't have any intention of getting into the family winery. She wanted to become a doctor, eventually achieving that goal. While she was attending school, her father gave her a credit card to use to purchase wine and good glassware. She tasted many high-end wines, which were far more affordable at the time, so she acquired much wine experience and knowledge. As she spoke French fluently, her father asked her to accompany him on wine trips to France. As time passed, Laura's passion for wine grew and her decision to join the family winery might have been sealed in New York.

Laura attended the New York Wine Experience on behalf of Bodega Catena Zapata, which was the first South American winery ever to be invited to this event. She became frustrated as so many people just passed by her booth without stopping to taste the wines. She saw this as a personal challenge; how do you get people excited about the wine of Argentina? This led her to see a greater role at the winery, and Nicolás was more than happy to have her involved, letting her take over any aspect she so desired.

As her father has said to her, "You got the rebel in you."

The centerpiece of the tasting event was an examination of the Adrianna Vineyard, a South american "Grand Cru" which is claimed to be the most studied vineyard in the world. Planted in 1992-1996, the vineyard is located at an elevation of close to 5000 feet. The area is of alluvial formation, the site of a former dried river bed and consists of stripes of different soils. The above map is the first time this map has been revealed, indicating 11 different marked lots, and showing where their Adrianna wines are sourced. This is a cool climate vineyard and in some respects, the choice of this location was due to luck, though tempered by their experience.

Bodega Catena Zapata is all about research and scientific experimentation, trying to better understand terroir and the reasons why some wines are greater than others. For example, there are currently no known studies about the reasons why limestone is good for vines, so they have undergone their own study, using Malbec vines, to try to resolve this issue. There are plenty of theories, but they all lack sufficient evidence. In addition, they are conducting studies on the nature of the microbes in soil. They are even collaborating with European scientists on wine studies.

Laura mentioned that "We use science to perceive nature not to change it." All of her research is directed to this objective, not to find a way to manipulate the grapes and wine, but to find out the best way to express the grapes in the wine. It is more about understanding not seeking ways to exploit the grape. A very worthy goal.

We tasted five different wines from the Adrianna Vineyard, including two Chardonnays and three Malbecs. All five of these high-quality wines are intended to reflect the different terroirs of this vineyard, and the Malbecs have never been available in the U.S. before. These wines are indicative of the potential of Argentina, presenting wines that can compete against the best wines from around the world. These are pricey, splurge wines, which will age well in your cellar or impress your friends when you share a glass with them.

As for the two Chardonnays, they produce under 400 cases and Laura noted that they are popular in Argentina. Both Chardonnays are fermented in 2nd and 3rd use French, though even a small amount of new oak wouldn't adversely affect these wines. Laura also stated that "high end Chardonnay is for thinking."

The 2013 Catena Zapata White Bones Chardonnay ($125) comes from a 2.6 hectare lot, at an elevation of 4757 feet, in the Adrianna Vineyard. The lot has a shallow topsoil with calcareous deposits of marine fossils and rocks covered with calcareous. The wine is called White Bones cause it looks like there are bones in the soil. It is produced from 100% Chardonnay, with about two-thirds undergoing malolactic fermentation, and is aged in French oak for about 12-16 months.

It is an impressive wine, likely to bring to mind a beautiful Chablis. It is bright and crisp, with a delicious and complex melange of citrus, pear, apple, mineral notes, and a hint of saltiness. It is medium-bodied with a long and pleasing finish. This is a wine that aches for seafood, from oysters to scallops, an elegant wine that you should slowly sip and enjoy. This was my personal favorite of the two Chardonnays.

The 2013 Catena Zapata White Stones Chardonnay ($95) comes from a 2.2 hectare lot, at an elevation of 4757 feet, in the Adrianna Vineyard. The lot has no topsoil and plenty of rocks covered with calcareous. The wine is called White Stones because of all the white rocks on the surface, which make the soil a bit warmer than other lots in the vineyard. It is produced from 100% Chardonnay, with about two-thirds undergoing malolactic fermentation, and is aged in French oak for about 12-16 months.

This is also an impressive wine though it might remind you more of a Montrachet. This is a more full-bodied wine, with a pleasing creaminess and ripe apple and pear flavors as well as hints of baking spice and vanilla. There is good acidity, less minerality and the finish lingers for a very long time, satisfying our palate.

The next three wines are all cool climate Malbec, which possess more acidity and will age well. On the other hand, warmer climate Malbec tends to be more jammy. Malbec is not a high yielding grape and it is susceptible to frost, which makes growing it at higher elevations a riskier endeavor. It is also a delicate grape so you cannot do a long maceration as you would with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Laura is fascinated about the unanswered questions behind the origin of Malbec. It is known Malbec extends back at least to the Middle Ages and eventually was reborn in Argentina. However, she wants to know its complete origins and history, and has been doing some historical research seeking those answers. She believes that "wine history is the future," and I agree with the importance of history in assisting the understanding of grapes and wine.

A common question that Laura receives, and which is probably asked of many Argentina producers, is "What comes after Malbec?" In some ways, it is an insulting question, implying the assumption that Malbec isn't a worthy grape, that it is merely a stepping stone to "better" grapes. Why should that be the case? As Laura put it, "you wouldn't ask a Burgundy producer what comes after Pinot Noir." Malbec can certainly produce world class wine and as Laura says, "stand by your grape." The three Malbecs from the Adrianna Vineyard are examples of the potential of Malbec, and should be able to silence those critics who don't see Malbec as a worthy grape.

In describing these three Malbecs, Laura stated that they "taste big but are still elegant and delicate." I would agree with her characterization, feeling that these wines possess much in common with fine Bordeaux, especially those Merlot based ones which have less tannins. Each possessed its own uniqueness though their commonalities united them in certain respects too. They are all still young and probably would benefit from being set aside for a time to age more.

The first Malbec was the 2012 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Fortuna Terrae ($136) which comes from a 5 hectare lot, at an elevation of 4482 feet, in the Adrianna Vineyard. The lot has two feet of topsoil, with 1/2 foot of limestone and rocks covered with calcareous. The wine is called Fortuna Terra which means "luck of the earth."

The second Malbec was the 2012 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard River Stones ($160) which comes from a 1.4 hectare lot, at an elevation of 4560 feet, in the Adrianna Vineyard. The lot has one foot of topsoil and rocks covered with calcareous. The soil is similar to that in the lot for the White Stones, though this lot has poorer soil.

The last Malbec was the 2011 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard Mundus Bacillus Terrae ($350) which comes from a 1.4 hectare lot, at an elevation of 4560 feet, in the Adrianna Vineyard. The lot has two feet of topsoil, calcareous deposits of marine fossils, and rocks covered with calcareous. The name Mundus Bacillus Terrae means "elegant microbes of the earth."

In general, all three wines were complex and intriguing, elegant and muscular, the type of wines you sit and ponder. They shared flavors of black fruits and spice, with good acidity, some minerality, and lengthy finishes. My personal favorite of the three was the River Stones, as it appealed to my palate the most, though I enjoyed all three of them. 

With the holidays approaching, these are the type of wines worth the splurge. 

After the tasting of the 5 Adrianna Vineyard wines, we enjoyed a pleasant lunch, accompanied by two additional wines. The first was the 2013 Catena Alta Historic Rows Malbec ($60), an inky dark wine with plenty of complexity and a luxurious taste, a hedonistic pleasure of black fruits, ripe plum, low tannins, good acidity, and some subtle spice notes. An excellent wine which I would highly recommend. Will be a nice accompaniment to meat and game. The other wines was the 2010 Nicolas Catena Zapata ($135), a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Malbec. It was a bigger, more muscular wine, but still possessed of its own elegance.

My lunch began with the superb Lamb Carpaccio, with a cured egg yolk, castelvetrano olive, and rice crisps. The venison was silky smooth, with a rice, meaty flavor and went well with the Malbec. I easily could have devoured several dishes of this lamb.

My entree was a Flat Iron Steak Frites, with a truffle vinaigrette, and the beef was tender and flavorful, with nice crisp fries. It took went very well with the Malbec, as well as the Blend. Bistro du Midi never disappoints me when it comes to their cuisine.

Laura's story, and that of Bodega Catena Zapata, is compelling on many levels. It is an inspirational tale for all, although especially women, and the lesson of aiming high resonates for all of us. Other wine regions can also benefit from the example of this winery. Argentina is already well known with many consumers for inexpensive Malbec wines, as well as Torrontes and Bonarda. It is time that consumers also learn that Argentina can produce some amazing higher-end wines too, such as Malbec and Chardonnay. Its wines can compete with other high-end wines from all across the world.

Kudos to Laura Catena, who has the rebel in her.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Tuesday, November 15, at 6:30pn, Legal Harborside will host a four-plus-course wine dinner with Clay Mauritson, proprietor of Mauritson Wines. Since 1868, the Mauritson family has been growing grapes in California’s Dry Creek Valley. Six generations and nearly 150 years later, the family has steadily earned a reputation for outstanding winemaking along with their sought-after harvests. With more than 300 acres of Sonoma County estate, Mauritson has stood the test of time and won numerous accolades, proving the theory that wine does improve with age.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Brandade Pierogi, Thyme Broth
Baked Apple, Brie, Walnut
Smoked Chestnut Biscuit, Pomegranate
Lobster Terrine, Tarragon Gel, Leek
Mauritson Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Creek Valley, 2015
Duck Confit "Pumpkin Pie" (smoked vanilla custard, pumpkin purée, espelette pepper, allspice lace cookie)
Mauritson “Rockpile Ridge Vineyard” Zinfandel, Rockpile, 2014
Mauritson “Cemetery Vineyard” Zinfandel, Rockpile, 2014
Oxtail Raviolo (red flannel hash, cured egg yolk)
Mauritson “Rockpile Ridge Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, Rockpile, 2013
Lamb Duo (lamb saddle & lamb bacon, potato pavé, herb jus)
Mauritson “Clough” Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, 2012
Chocolate Terrine (macadamia nuts, black raspberry preserves)
Rockpile “Independence,” Rockpile, 2013

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

2) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan & Co. team invite guests to enjoy the flavors of the season at Puritan’s upcoming Harvest Dinner. On Wednesday, November 10th, Puritan & Co. will be hosting its fourth annual Harvest Dinner highlighting the best flavors the season has to offer. The Harvest Dinner includes a multi-course meal of seasonal New England fare and an optional wine pairing.

Menu options includes:
First course:
--Bay scallop crudo
with grapefruit, horseradish, herb and chili oil
--Grilled pork belly and sausage
with lentils, pepper escabeche, fennel soubise
--Duck egg
with mushroom ragout, rosemary cracker, potato
--Foie gras tart with concord grape, black pepper, herb salad ($10 supplement)

Second course:
--Celery root soup
with crab, black truffle, thyme
--Apple and watercress salad
with manchego, macomber turnip, fennel
--Roasted beets and carrots
with burrata, smoked bread, pistachio
--Lobster and oyster pan roast with
sherry, old bay, oyster crackers ($12 supplement)
Main course:
--Herb and ricotta cavatelli
with salsify, mushrooms, sorrel
--Roasted halibut
with parsnip, spinach, leeks, almonds
--Skillet-roasted pork with t-bone
spaetzle, cabbage, pearl onion, mustard jus
--40-day dry aged bone-in sirloin steak with potato mille fuielle, chanterelles, brussels sprouts, horseradish ($15 supplement)

Dessert course:
--Chocolate cake
with sea salt caramel, malted cream, pecans
--Lemon tart 
with graham, crème fraiche, kumquats
--Carrot cake 
with hazelnut, brown butter, cream cheese

The multi-course meal is $65 per person with an optional wine pairing for $35 per person.
For reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ramos Pinto 20 Year Old: A Superb Port For The Holidays

It's always such a pleasure when the large Portuguese wine tastings come to Boston, showcasing a diverse variety of delicious wines, often at excellent values. The U.S. is currently the second largest import market for Portuguese wines, indicating our love for these wines. Though Portugal may only be about the same size as the state of Maine, it still has the 9th largest vineyard area in the world, coming in 11th place in total production. In 2015, the value of Portuguese wines increased by 8% and volume increased by 4%, outperforming most other major wine producing countries, except France and New Zealand.

At this Annual Tasting, there were easily over 100 Portuguese wines available for tasting and though I found a number of interesting and delicious wines, there was one that clearly stood above all the rest, an exquisite wine of high quality, great complexity and with an absolutely compelling taste. It would be a great choice to drink during this fall and winter, whether at a holiday party or simply a quiet Saturday evening at home. And it would be a wonderful holiday gift for the wine lover in your life.

Let me give great praise to the Ramos Pinto Tawny 20 Year Old Quinta do Bom Retiro.

Ramos Pinto, founded by Adriano Ramos Pinto in 1880, owns several estates in Portugal, including the Quinta do Bom Retiro, which extends back at least to the 18th century. Ramos Pinto purchased this estate in 1919, which is located in the Douro subregion of Cima Corgo. The estate covers about 110 hectares, with about 62 hectares under vine, and ranges from altitudes of 110-400 meters. More than half of the vines are over 40 years old, and consist of a number of indigenous red grapes.

The Ramos Pinto Tawny 20 Year Old Quinta do Bom Retiro (about $65-$70) is part of their Terroir Gold portfolio, which also includes a 10 Year Old and 30 Year Old Port. It is produced from a blend of wines made from grapes including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, and Tinto Cão. The blend of wines also ranges in age, averaging out to 20 years, but the oldest wine is 70 years old, from the 1946 vintage. Overall, the blend includes approximately 50 different vintages, making for a fascinating melange.

How to describe this Port?

That is difficult as this is a wine that needs to be experienced and which words seem inadequate to properly describe the wonders of this Port. I can say that it is incredibly complex, with a wide range of aromas and flavors found within its liquid treasures. Each sip seems to bring something new to your nose and palate. From caramel to dried fruit, baking spices to almonds, and so much more. It is dry and silky smooth, a sensual delight which caresses and seduces your palate. And the finish is never ending, lingering and evolving with time. You could sit and analyze this Port all night, or just sit an enjoy the myriad pleasures in your glass. This is a "Wow" wine, something which should impress almost any wine lover.

I also see this is a "value" wine, meaning that at its price, you are getting much more than what you pay for, that I could easily see it costing twice as much. It is worth every penny and then some. I've tasted a number of other 20 Year Old Ports, especially as it is one of my favorite categories, and the Ramos Pinto is definitely one of my favorites, if not my top choice. If you are looking for an impressive gift for a wine lover, or you just want to splurge on yourself, this is certainly a wine you should give plenty of consideration. It earns my highest recommendation.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Rant: Reservations & Simple Courtesy

Imagine this: A customer makes a business appointment with you, of which you will be paid. Because of that appointment, you turn down other customers who wanted to see you at that same time. The appointment time arrives and your customer doesn't show up, and doesn't even call to tell you they won't be there. You don't get paid, losing potential income. If you had known earlier that the customer would be a no show, you could have tried to get someone else to fill that appointment. You'd probably be upset and justifiably so. 

Unfortunately, that happens frequently in the restaurant industry. Numerous customers make reservations but then never show up for those reservations, and may not even call to say they won't be there. It might seem to some people to be an innocuous harm, thus providing justification for their cavalier attitude, but that isn't the case. It can have a significant financial effect on that restaurant, on everyone from the owner to the servers. And this discourteous act needs to stop.

Over the weekend, Chef Anthony Caturano, of Prezza and Tonno, noted on his Facebook page that on Saturday night a party of 15 people failed to show up for their reservation and also failed to call to inform the restaurant that they weren't going to be there. The comments were generally in agreement, that this behavior was plain wrong, a terrible breach of etiquette. The comments also segued into a discussion on how restaurants can try to combat this type of behavior, with some debate on how it should be handled. 

Restaurants often operate on thin margins and no-show reservations hurt their bottom line, especially if someone doesn't call to say they won't be showing up. Other potential customers may get turned away because of that reservation. A no-show is not a victimless activity and it needs to stop. Where is basic courtesy and etiquette? You wouldn't like it to occur to you, so why do it to others?

Some people make multiple reservations for the same day and time, and then, frequently at the last minute, choose which restaurant to visit, failing to call the other restaurants that they won't be there. Stop doing that! Yes, there are legitimate reasons why you might need to no-show at a reservation, from medical to family issues, but a simple phone call to the restaurant is still warranted. Have the courtesy to notify the reservation of your cancelation. Give them a chance to get someone else to take your reservation time. 

Stop being so self-absorbed and thinking only of your own needs and wants. Give consideration to how your actions effect other people. Failing to show up for a reservation and not even calling to cancel is a selfish act. Start thinking about how such actions could negatively impact the restaurant and its employees. We need more people to be courteous, to consider others. And we need people to be more courteous not just in this situation, but in all aspects of life. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) The team at ArtBar, Royal Sonesta Boston’s locally-infused restaurant, is cheering for the New England Patriots and knows a thing or two about rooting for the home team. As a restaurant with travelers from every part of the world, they have heard it all. To defend the home team the best way they know how, ArtBar has created a specialty “Bully For Brady” cocktail.

Cheer on ‘the most hated team’ in the NFL as they ‘do their job.’ From the special “Bully For Brady” cocktail to a new football menu featuring half-priced wings, ArtBar is ready for some football.

Bully For Brady
We created this with Tom Brady in mind” explains Kevin Khem, restaurants director at Royal Sonesta Boston. “We are keeping the cocktail clean and fresh with nothing artificial – the way Tom likes to eat. Bully Boy Whiskey is perfect for a football themed cocktail.

The Recipe:
Bully Boy Whiskey
St. Germain
Lemon Juice
Cranberry Bitters
Club Soda
Garnished with fresh cranberries and a lemon twist

Football Game Day Menu
The special football game day menu, offered Sundays 1pm- til closing:
½ price wings – lime garlic, sriracha roasted peanuts
Loaded Fries – cheddar, mozzarella, bacon, scallion, garlic parmesan aioli
Fried Calamari – roasted tomato sauce
½ BBQ Ribs – pickled peppers, cornbread

2) Brassica Kitchen + Café Co-Chef/Owners Jeremy Kean and Phil Kruta invite you to a '6-Course Tasting Menu' to raise awareness and funds for Rise Up for Justice. Along with Chef Kean and Kruta, the event will be hosted by Beth Fraster and Rosie McMahan in collaboration with James Mackey of Opportunity Youth United. All Proceeds from the event will support Opportunity Youth United’s work.

Opportunity Youth United is a movement of young leaders from all backgrounds working towards creating a nation where all young people can reach their highest potential and noblest aspirations in the context of supportive, healthy, and inclusive communities. The active membership reflects a diverse group of religions, genders, sexual preferences, and geographical areas across the United States.

The event will take place on October 30th from 6 to 8 pm.
Tickets cost $200 per person or $350 per couple. Attendees will be treated to a 6 course French inspired meal with wine pairings.
To purchase tickets, please go to:

3) On Halloween night, Union Square will be home to a Murder Mystery as Brass Union presents a classic game of “Who Done It?” hosted throughout the venue. Beginning at 8pm, the Brass team will be in full character while they go about their business and guests try to solve the mystery at-hand. Adult trick-or-treaters will comb the scene for clues while doing some of their best detective work questioning the (mostly) unassuming service staff to determine who went on a murderous tear. The first one to figure it out will get a $100 gift card to Brass Union.

Party-goers also will have their chance to shine with Brass Union’s annual costume contest, as voted on by the Brass team. Before 11pm, present yourself at the host stand for your close-up as they snap a picture and later confer with their colleagues in choosing the “Best in Show.” The winner will take home a $100 cash prize, and have bragging rights through the next All Hallows Eve. Additionally, Halloween faithful will be treated to piles of candy and other festive swag and DJ J-Wall will take to the turntables starting at 10pm to spin the “Monster Mash” and other spooky sounds.

Admission is complimentary. This event is reserved for ages 21+.

4) Travel back in time with CHOPPS American Bar and Grill at the First Annual 80’s Themed Halloween Costume party in partnership with The 33 Foundation. Dawn your best perm, apply that frosted blue eyeshadow, and throw on your favorite leg warmers for a party that will be “totally tubular”. DJ Doze will be dropping beats and playing top 80’s hits all night. The Burlington Marriott Boston Hotel will be offering a discounted overnight stay and breakfast for party goers for just $129/night.

Proceeds from tickets sales will go to The 33 Foundation, a community of beneficiaries and donors that are passionate about helping those living with and recovering from spinal cord injury.

To register for the 80s Themed Halloween Party, please contribute a donation of $33 or more to The 33 Foundation at Donations/admission will also be available at the door.

5) Committee is hosting a special Halloween Brunch on Sunday, October 30th featuring beats from DJ Ryan Brown from 12pm–5pm.

Guests are invited to indulge in an array of Meze Dishes (perfect for sharing), Breakfast favorites with a Greek twist, and Greek-inspired Lunch Entrees while Beverage Director Peter Szigeti crafts up creepy cocktails behind the bar.

Please make reservations by calling 617-737-5051

6) In celebration of Halloween, The Beehive is bringing a sensual side to terror on Thursday, October 27, from 5pm-12am, at its Dead Sexy Burlesque show. This year, the space will be transformed into the Evil Laboratory and Cabaret Space of Mad Scientist Dr. Johanny Porkenpie (Jonny Porkpie) and his three peek-a-boo darlings. For one night only the slasher flasher showcase Dead Sexy will leave its weekly Times Square, New York City venue for its annual Boston appearance. Throughout the evening, Executive Chef Gregory Torrech will be serving up devilishly delicious dinner specials alongside special cocktail concoctions from the evening’s sponsor, Beam Suntory.

The psychopath who created Pinchbottom Theatrical Burlesque (named the "Best Burlesque" in NYC - The Village Voice, New York Magazine) and the infamous international burlesque gameshow "Grab My Junk" has dug up a skeleton crew of ghoulishly gorgeous (and gorgeously ghoulish) burlesque stars, to possess the stage of The Beehive just in time for Halloween. Terror has never been so titillating; horror has never been so hot. Come scream — with excitement — at this frighteningly attractive, monstrously talented, insanely seductive night of blood & gore and bump & grind.

Since 2013, Dead Sexy has been haunting the stages of Times Scare, a year-round Haunted House and performance venue in Times Square, NYC. Showcasing acts of more haunting nature, Dead Sexy has featured over a hundred top burlesque stars from across the country and around the world, including over a dozen Burlesque Hall of Fame “Queen of Burlesque” winners. This October in New York, a world-premiere Off-Broadway play will tell the electrifying story behind the creation of this burlesque cabaret.

Show begins at 8pm.
Cost: No cover charge RSVP: Dinner reservations are encouraged and can be made by calling (617) 423-0069.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Rant: Celebrating Bubbly Other Than Champagne

This Friday, October 21, is Champagne Day, a day to celebrate authentic Champagne from France. However, Champagne is well known across the world, and in some respects doesn't need a special day to promote it. There are other types of Sparkling Wines which can use much more promotion, as they still remain very niche wines, still unknown to many wine lovers. Despite their quality and though they often can be less expensive than Champagne, far too many people still have not embraced these Sparkling Wines and that must change.

So let me show some love for two types of Sparkling Wines worthy of your attention. These are wines I look for when I visit a wine shop or dine at a restaurant. I hope that you will also start seeking out these wines, expanding your palate and experiencing bubbly that will satisfy your palate and wallet.

First, Franciacorta, an Italian sparkling wine from Lombardy. I've said before that "Franciacorta may be the best sparkling wine that many people know nothing about." It is not always easy to find at wine shops and restaurants. Fortunately for myself, this past weekend, I was dining at an Italian restaurant on Nantucket and they had a half-bottle of Antica Fratta Brut Franciacorta on their wine list. I ordered it with my dinner and it was an excellent accompaniment to the food.

To learn more about Franciacorta, check out some of my previous articles which help show my passion for this delicious bubbly, including: Jeremy Parzen: Spreading Love For Franciacorta, Fun With FranciacortaFranciacorta: Bubbly That Needs To Be On Your Wine Radar and Franciacorta: Serious Bubbly You Should Be Drinking.

Second, Crémant d'Alsace, a French sparkling wine from the Alsace region. This is another Sparkling Wine which can be difficult to find in wine shops and at restaurants, but it well worth seeking out. Crémant d'Alsace is produced in a similar fashion to Champagne, though there are some differences as well. The term "crémant" basically means "creamy" and originally referred to sparkling wines that were produced with less pressure, which tended to make them taste more creamy than effervescent.

To learn more about Crémant d'Alsace, check out some of my previous articles which help show my passion for this tasty bubbly, including: Crémant d'Alsace & The Spartans At Thermopylae, Schoenheitz Winery: A Taste Of Beauty, Puritan & Co.: Alsatian Wine Advice, Gustave Lorentz: More Alsatian Wine Treasures, Alsatian Wines & Pheasant at Craigie On Main and Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve Recommendation.

Both Franciacorta and Crémant d'Alsace are delicious, made in a diverse number of styles, and often cost less than Champagne. They both pair very well with food, though they can easily be enjoyed as an aperitif as well. They are also both quality wines, with numerous regulations as to how they can be produced. Both deserve their own special day to promote them so I'll take today to do my part to help make these sparkling wines better known.

Please tell me about your favorite Franciacorta or Crémant d'Alsace.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) Facciamo festa! On Thursday, October 20, from 5:30pm-8-m, local SoWa artist Giardini di Sole is partnering with Cinquecento Roman Trattoria, Wanderlush and Campari Brands to bring all things Italian to the SoWa Boston.

Guests will enjoy small plates prepared by the culinary team at Cinquecento while sipping on crafted Campari cocktails by Wanderlush, a locally-born craft cocktail catering company. The neighborhood initiative will also get a chance to view Giardini di Sole’s newest Italian Home Décor and Tableware Collections in their showroom.

WHERE: Giardini di Sole Int’l | 460 Harrison Ave., Suite C-16 | Boston, MA 02118
COST: $40.00 per ticket / 100 tickets available
To purchase tickets, please click here

2) This fall TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel will offer a special dining experience for their neighbors; every Monday and Tuesday evening, from 6pm-10pm, when the evenings cool off, TAMO will be serving their new “Neighborhood Nights” menu of classic comfort food and creative appetizers. Cozy up by the fire in front of a floor-to-ceiling window or settle in on a bar stool for this two-person weekly special for just $40 per person.

Guests will have the choice of any two courses plus a bottle of wine. Long-standing favorites are supplemented by some new additions to the “Neighborhood Nights Menu."  End your evening in a sweet way with the S’mores in a Crock (graham crackers, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, ice cream).

“Neighborhood Nights” Menu
Candied Bacon
Steak & Cheese Spring Rolls Chipotle Ranch
Prosciutto Meatballs Housemade Prosciutto Meatballs, Marinara, Mozzarella
Crispy Salt ‘n Pepper Calamari Hot Peppers, 5 Spice Powder
Tacos “Al Pastor” Pork, Shredded Lettuce, Avocado, Lime Crema, Pineapple
Autumn Salad Roasted Kabocha Squash, Wheatberries, Shiitake, Kale, Hazelnuts, Cotija Cheese
North End Pizza House 4 Cheese Blend, Tomatoes, Flatbread
Broiled Chicken Curry Zeera Butter Rice, Creamy Curry, Marinated Chicken
Clam Chowder Served with Bacon and Chives
Lobster Roll served on a warm buttered bun with fries or salad
TAMO Burger Cheddar Cheese, Caramelized Onion, Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato, Brioche Bun
S’mores in a Crock Graham Crackers, Chocolate Chips, Mini Marshmallows, Ice Cream

COST: $40 per person plus tax & service
For reservations, please call 617-385-4304

3) Chelmsford restaurant Moonstones will partner with the Massachusetts Cheese Guild on Thursday, November 10 at 7 PM to present a four-course wine and cheese-centric dinner entitled Great Cheeses of Massachusetts. Cost for the event is $60 per person, excluding tax and tip.

Moonstones’ trio of chefs, working in collaboration with Winebow Fine Wine Importers, have created a menu that showcases Massachusetts-made cheeses. Special guest will be artisan cheesemaker Luca Mignogna of Wolf Meadow Farm in Amesbury, who will share his “secret” Italian techniques for making small batch ricotta, mozzarella and more.

Three other artisan cheeses produced by Massachusetts Cheese Guild members: Great Hill, Dancing Goat and Smith’s Country -- will also be featured.

Great Hill Blue Cheese
With red-wine poached pears, candied pecans, arugula and balsamic drizzle
La Cana Albarino (Spain)
Dancing Goat Dairy Chevre
And mushrooms in spinach ravioli with crisp pancetta and pinot grigio crema
Muga Rioja Reserva (Spain)
Smith’s Country Cheese Gouda
And cranberry-stuffed pork roulade, served with butternut squash puree and savory bread pudding
Textbook Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa)
Wolf Meadow Farm Ricotta Cheesecake
with Moscato Poached Figs
Maculan Dindarello Moscato (Veneto)

Moonstones believes that the story behind cheesemaker Luca Mignogna complements the restaurant’s own guiding philosophy: Think Global. Eat Local.

Reservations for the Great Cheeses of Massachusetts wine dinner are strongly suggested. Call Moonstones at 978-256-7777.

4) On Wednesday, October 19, from 7:30pm-10:30pm, Bar Boulud, Boston, located at Mandarin Oriental, Boston, will host Château Musar owner and third-generation winemaker Marc Hochar for an educational five-course culinary journey.

Château Musar is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most unique wineries, and the Hochar family is recognized as one of the most revolutionary thought leaders in the Lebanese wine business, bringing regional bottles out of obscurity and into international acclaim. Alongside Bar Boulud’s Sommelier, David Bérubé, Marc Hochar will bring guests on a vinicultural journey to the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

This five-course dinner will showcase bold and classically complex wines, paired with unique seasonal dishes from Chef de Cuisine Michael Denk and Pastry Chef Robert Differ. The menu will be served as follows:

Duck Rillettes (pomegranate glaze)
Musar Jeune Rose, 2015
Musar Jeune Rouge, 2013
Seared Foie Gras (ricard, rye crumpet)
Hochar Pere et Fils 2011
Smoked Sturgeon (blackberry caviar, crème fraîche)
Château Musar Blanc, 2006
Château Musar Rouge, 2007
Chicken Kiev (truffle butter, pomme purée, butternut squash)
Château Musar Blanc, 2003
Château Musar Rouge, 1999
Poached Pear (ginger gelato, almond sablé)

COST: $170 for five-course menu and wine pairings (Ticket price includes tax and gratuity)
Tickets are available here:

Chateau Musar produces some amazing wines and this dinner should be an exceptional experience. I've enjoyed a number of Chateau Musar wines over the years, and have several in my own wine cellar. If you want to splurge on a wine dinner, this would be the event to do so.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A&B Burgers: From Brunch To A New Fall Menu

From Sticky Buns to Sticky Wings....

During the last couple months, there have been some changes at A&B Burgers, from the beginning of their Sunday Brunch to the start of their new Fall Menu. I've raved about A&B Burgers before, from my initial review of A&B Burgers to my more recent review of their Cajun Dinner. What are my thoughts on their recent changes?

Let's begin with Brunch. Their new Brunch menu includes about 8 Starters, priced $4-$15, and includes items such as a Smoked Salmon Platter ($11) and Roasted Cauliflower ($8). There are also about 10 Entrees, priced $9-$16, including choices such as Chicken & Waffles ($15), Cajun Style Andouille Shrimp & Grits ($12), French Toast ($10), and Huevos Rancheros ($10). Overall, the menu offers plenty of choices at reasonable prices, whether you are craving a breakfast option or something closer to a lunch choice. In addition, they serve a number of Brunch Cocktails, priced $10-$12.

For Starters, I'd highly recommend the Sticky Bun ($4), a warm brioche sticky bun topped with a honey pecan glaze. A large, soft and gooey bun with lots of cinnamon flavor, crunchy pecans, and a sweet and tasty glaze. It's big enough to share and is a great, and sweet, way to start off your brunch. The A&B team is highly skilled at creating delicious pastries and this won't disappoint.

The Pork Belly Bacon & Eggs ($10) has two eggs (cooked as you like them), seared confit pork belly, toast and a hash brown pancake. Our dish arrived without the hash brown and we failed to realize its omission until after we returned home. The over easy eggs were cooked perfectly, with a gooey yolk and the whites fully cooked. And the sizeable pieces of pork belly were also perfectly cooked, with a crisp exterior and silky, salty meat and fat.

There was a choice of Sourdough or Brioche toast, and you'll see the large slices of sourdough above. Again, toasted just right, and an excellent accompaniment to the eggs, with plenty of toast to sop up the yolk.

Their take on Southern Biscuits & Gravy ($11) offers a large, homemade herb biscuit with old fashioned pork sausage gravy. This is a great choice for comfort food as the weather gets chillier. The large biscuit was fluffy and soft, with a crunchier top, and was covered in flavorful gravy with ample pieces of spicy sausage within it. A very satisfying dish.

Onto the new Fall Menu, which has plenty of old favorites, like the Smoked Gouda and Sweet Sopressata Mac n' Cheese (pictured above), as well as new dishes such as the Maple Bacon Burger, Turkey Gobbler Burger, and Pumpkin Black Bean Burger. I will note that I tried the Side of Fried Pickles again and they were much better than the last time I tasted them. The coating of the pickles was crisp and not soggy like on a previous visit.

The Korean Sticky BBQ Wings ($10) are ginger and garlic braised wings in a house made Korean BBQ sauce. With a crisp and crunchy fried coating, these wings were meaty and flavorful, with a nice blend of spices, a hint of heat, some pleasant sweetness and lots of messy stickiness. I've enjoyed their other wing dishes, like the Louisiana Fried Chicken, and this dish is equally as delicious. Great bar food and perfect for watching the Patriots on a Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of comfort food, the Shepard's Pie Burger ($14) is a spin on traditional Shepherd's Pie, consisting of a burger, topped by mashed potatoes, grilled corn and with gravy on the side. I like the fact the gravy was on the side as you can then decide how much gravy to use, and whether you will be able to hold this burger in your hands, or it will be so messy you have to eat it with a fork and knife. The burger was the same high quality as usual, and the creamy potatoes and corn worked well with the beef, adding some texture to the sandwich. It was a combo that worked very well and I'd definitely order this burger again. I may even try to make it home.

The new Dessert Menu has three options, including Pumpkin Icebox Trifle, plus you can get Milkshakes, including some Adult versions, such as Chocolate Salted Bourbon.

Above, what looks like a strange little burger, is Kat's Burger ($9), a house-made cinnamon ice cream sandwich topped with candied bacon and cranberry sauce (though we asked for it without the cranberry). This clever dessert is visually stunning and tasty as well, with a nice cake "bun", great candied bacon, and creamy ice cream with lots of cinnamon flavors. It is sized for a single person and isn't a dish made to share.

My favorite of the two desserts was the Apple Dumplings ($8), two good-sized, puff pastries filled with cinnamon apples and with house-made whipped cream and vanilla syrup. The flaky pastries were light and buttery, almost like a superb croissant, and the apples were cooked just right and the filling was spiced well, without being overpowering or unbalanced. Though I was fairly full after lunch, I couldn't resist this dish, each mouthful bringing plenty of pleasure. And this dish is easily large enough to share with someone else.

A&B Burgers is about more than just delicious burgers. So why not check out some of their other options as well?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Origins & History of Sake (Part 3)

10th Century

In 905, during the Heian period (AD 794-1192), Emperor Daigo, the 60th Emperor of Japan, ordered that a census be taken of all the regulations, etiquette, laws, protocols and customs. The end result was a massive compilation, consisting of fifty volumes, the Engishiki, which wasn’t completed until approximately 927. The book is essentially broken into volumes concerning the two councils and eight ministries, and it included some intriguing information about Sake.

There is mention of approximately 13 different types of sake, some ordered by quality grade, that were produced during that time. The Imperial Palace Master of Brewing is known as the mikizukasa. Of the various Sake types, Goshu, Reishu (amazake) and Sanshuso were the highest quality grades while Tonshu, Jyuso and Kosake were a lower grade, for lower ranked officials. Zakkyushu was issued to officials as part of their salary while Aesake was considered only appropriate for cooking.

Two of the most intriguing varieties mentioned were Shiroki (“white sake”) and Kuroki (“black sake”) which were used in Shinto religious ceremonies and were primarily limited only to the Emperor. “Ki” is an ancient term for Sake. Interestingly, these two types of Sakes are still brewed at the Grand Shrine of Ise. Shiroki is basically unrefined Sake made from newly harvested rice while Kuroki is similar, except the ashes of a plant called kusagi are added to it, giving it more of a grayish color. Some claim that Kuroki once had been made from black rice.

There is actually an even earlier mention of Shiroki and Kuroki, in a poem by Fumuya no Chinu (693-770), whose was a member of the Imperial family, in the Man'yōshū. He wrote: "I will offer kuroki and shiroki to you as long as the world endures."

During the Heian period, a popular drinking game for Japanese nobility was Kyokusui-no-en, an outdoor poem-composing party, which more literally is a “party held by a meandering stream.” To play, people sat by a stream and a number of Sake cups would flow by. The participants had to write a tanka, a short poem, on a piece of paper and then pick up a Sake cup before it passed by them. They would then place the poem in the cup and place it back into the stream. If you failed to finish your poem in time, you had to drink Sake as a penalty.

12th Century

The oldest Sake brewery, which has been in continuous operation, is Sudo Honke, located in the city of KasamaIbaraki Prefecture. There is evidence that the brewery was in operation at least as far back as 1141, and likely even earlier, making it at least 875 years old! They have seen 55 generations of brewers and currently make the Sato no Homare brand.

It was also during this time that Office of Sake Brewing lost its exclusive right to produce Sake, and a number of temples and shrines began producing Sake, much of which started being made available for sale in the cities. The temples and shrines had a number of advantages, allowing them to become significant Sake producers. For example, they often owned large areas of land that were used to grow rice and they also controlled a number of important water sources. Plus, they had plenty of potential employees, lots of hard-working monks. Monks were thus the first people outside of the Imperial Court who were permitted to brew Sake.

Not all monks though helped to promote Sake. Myōan Eisai, a Japanese Buddhist who started the first Zen temple initially traveled to China in 1168, for about six months and returned again in 1187 for a few years, studying Zen Buddhism and becoming certified as a Zen teacher. He rturned to Japan in 1191, establishing a Zen Buddhist temple, and also bringing green tea seeds from China. He even wrote a book on tea, the Kissa Yojoki, which discussed the health benefits of tea. However, Eisai also encouraged tea drinking instead of Sake. Throughout Japan, a stone pillar stands at the entrance of every Zen Buddhist temple with the inscription: "Garlic and Sake never to be admitted into the gate.” Fortunately, the Japanese people embraced both tea and Sake.

It should also be mentioned that during this period, is that the government established a stable currency system, which helped to promote more commercial endeavors, including sales of Sake. Thus, the Sake now being produced by the temples and shrines could be sold in the cities, helping to spread its consumption.

13th Century

During a famine, the Shogunate issued a declaration, dated September 30, 1252, which prohibited the sale of Sake and ordered all but one Sake pot per household to be smashed. Allegedly, they destroyed about 37,274 Sake pots in the modestly sized city of Kamakura, which helps to show the extent of Sake consumption in that area. The rationale behind the ban was that the rice used to make Sake would be better used by feeding the hungry during this time of famine. Fortunately, the ban didn't last too long.

To Be Continued...

Monday, October 10, 2016

Rant: 600 More Restaurant Jobs?

Many are eagerly awaiting its opening but how will it affect the city?

Eataly is planning to open at the Prudential Center in November and they need to fill approximately 600 jobs. Boston has already been in the midst of a significant shortage of restaurant workers, causing difficulty for many local restaurants. They have had difficulty filling all sorts of positions, from line cooks to servers. This isn't unique to Boston as many other major cities face similar problems.

How then will Eataly fill 600 positions? That is the big, big question.

Looking at Glassdoor, we can get a glimpse into Eataly New York, and gain some insight into how much their employees earn and what some of their employees have said about working at Eataly. We can see that salaries aren't especially lucrative and aren't likely to lure people away from existing jobs. A line cook averages $11.55 an hour and a hostess averages $13 an hour. If you read the more than 70 comments, you'll note that many employees have complained about the low pay, especially when considering the higher cost of living in NYC. There seems to be no reason why Eataly would pay their employees more in Boston than they do in NYC.

If we look further into the comments, it appears that Eataly hires numerous college students to fill their positions, people that may often have little, if any experience. That could help them fill many of the positions which don't require much experience, though it would also reduce some of the potential workers for other local restaurants. To get experienced staff, Eataly will be dipping into a very limited pool, competing with all other local restaurants.

Looking at Glassdoor's rating system, Eataly earned only 3 Stars out of 5, and only 44% of reporting employees would recommend working there to a friend. And even those who awarded 4 or 5 stars to Eataly often had complaints, especially concerning low pay. Glassdoor is still only a glimpse into Eataly, and not necessarily reflective of the majority of employees that worked at Eataly, but still doesn't paint a pretty picture of this Italian marketplace.

Eataly has a certain cachet so working there will appeal to a number of people. They are likely to acquire the necessary amount of employees before they open. The larger issue though will be whether they will be able to retain all of those employees, especially if the Glassdoor comments and salary amounts are accurate. Anyone considering leaving their position at an existing restaurant for Eataly should probably think long and hard about doing so.

The grass isn't always greener on the other side.

Friday, October 7, 2016

A Taste Of Cyprus At Committee

…When I rouse I feel either to massacre or to put out my thirst by drinking Cyprus wine…
--Hesiod (Ancient Greek poet)

It is said to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty and pleasure, which is why she is sometimes referred to as the Lady of Cyprus. Maybe the most famous legendary resident of this island was Pygmalion. Ovid, an ancient Roman poet, detailed the legend of Pygmalion in a narrative poem, Metamorphoses. Pygmalion was a skilled sculptor who created an ivory statue of a beautiful woman and subsequently fell in love with the statue. After making offerings to Aphrodite, wishing for a live woman like his statue, he returned home, kissed the statue and it came to life. They married, eventually having a daughter, Paphos.

On the darker side, the waters surrounding this island are also said to have once been the lair of Scylla, a terrible sea monster which is alleged to have possessed a serpent's body, six canine heads, and twelve limbs. Scylla was supposed to have taken six sailors from the ship of Odysseus. The waters around this island, especially around Cape Greko, still supposedly are home to another sea monster, known as Ayia Napa. Some have described it as being similar to Scylla while other claim that it is half-crocodile and half-serpent. However, this sea monster is also called To Filiko Teras, the "friendly monster," as it is said not to harm fishermen or other residents.

These are but a few of the fascinating items to know about the island of Cyprus.

Cyprus is located in the Eastern Mediterranean, south of Turkey and east of Greece, and is the third largest island in this sea (after Sicily and Sardinia). Throughout its history, it has often been invaded and conquered, by a variety of empires and powers. It finally gained its independence in 1960 though that didn't last long as they were invaded by Turkey in 1974, and Turkey still controls part of the northern island, which they have declared to be the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

With the history of conflict and invasions, it's understandable that Cypriot cuisine has many influences, though much of it is related to Greek and Turkish cuisine. You will also find influences from Byzantine, Catalan, French, Italian, and Middle Eastern cuisines. Wine production on Cyprus extends back thousands of years, and a number of ancient Greeks felt that their wines were some of the best in the Mediterranean. However, Cypriot cuisine and wines haven't made much of an impact in the Boston area yet, but maybe that is starting to change.

Earlier this week, one of my favorite restaurants, Committee, began the fall season of their monthly wine dinners, which take place on the first Wednesday of each month, with a Cypriot Wine Dinner. Wine Director Lauren Friel, Consulting Chef Diane KochilasSous Chef Luis Figueroa, and the rest of the Committee team put together a six-course dinner of Cypriot dishes, paired with Cypriot wines. I was invited to attend as a media guest, and as I have limited experience with Cypriot wines, mostly from the Lambouri Winery, I was intrigued to taste more wines from this fascinating island.

Wine production in Cyprus has a lengthy history, extending back at least over 4300 years and possibly even over 5500 years. At least one of their wines, a sweet wine now known as the Commandaria, has been famous for nearly 3000 years and is still produced today. In more modern times, their wine industry languished throughout much of the 20th century until the 1990s when there was a major push to modernize and improve the quality of their wines. So, despite its long history, in some respects it still is has a young wine industry.

In 2007, a new Appellation of Origin system was established in Cyprus, based on European Union law, and there are three categories including Table wine, Local wine, and O.E.O.Π. (their top designation). There are four designated Local areas allowed, including Lefkosia, Lemesos, Larnaca and Paphos, and 85% of the grapes for a Local wine must come from one of these regions. Wines with the O.E.O.Π. designation have a number of regulations and restrictions, including a minimum altitude for the vineyards, yield restrictions, ageing and more. There are about 120 indigenous grapes in Cyprus though only a small number are actively used in wine making. You'll also find a number of international grapes in their vineyards.

The wine dinner was held in a private room and there were sixteen guests, fourteen women and two men. During the course of the dinner, General Manager Demetri Tsolakis discussed the various dishes we enjoyed and Wine Director Lauren Friel explained about each wine. It was a fun and casual evening, with plenty of delicious food and wine. The attendees nearest me, a group of six women of Greek ancestry, all seemed to enjoy the evening very much, and had attended prior wine dinners there as well. I was impressed as well, gaining an appreciation for Cypriot cuisine and wine.

We began out gustatory pleasures with a dish of Salted Cod Roe Dip with preserved lemon strips and warm pita bread. Committee makes a number of tasty dips, from hummus to sun-dried tomato & feta, and this was delicious as well, with a creamy, briny taste of cod and hints of lemon.

Our initial drink, which was also paired with our first course, was a KEO Brandy Sour, the unofficial national cocktail of Cyprus. This cocktail was made with cardamon, saffron, preserved lemon and a little simple syrup. It was refreshing, with a mild sourness, bright citrus flavors and hints of the intriguing spices. And it worked well with our first course, a type of fresh salad.

The First Course was Glistrida, which is a Greek term for purslane, a leafy vegetable which grows wild in Greece thought it was once thought to decrease sexual desire. In Cyprus, purslane is commonly eaten, usually served raw, and it is quite nutritious, being one of the only plants that contain alpha linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid normally found in fish. It also has lots of vitamin C, some vitamin B, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. We all should be eating more purslane.

The Glistrida was accompanied by some cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, grilled Halloumi cheese and covered by a lemon-honey vinaigrette. Halloumi, a goat and sheep's milk cheese, is also known as "squeaky cheese" and is the national cheese of Cyprus. It is a semi-hard, white-brined cheese with an elastic texture, and it is common to serve it grilled or fried. This salad was fresh and bright, enhanced by the saltiness of the grilled Halloumi. A nice, light dish and a good way to start our multi-course dinner.

The Second Course was Eliopites, Cypriot olive pies, which consisted of film dough filled with black olives and lemon. They possessed an interesting briny taste, enhanced by the lemon, with the light and crisp filo. In some respects, the flavors reminded me of East Coast oysters, calling forth the taste of the sea. Even if you don't usually enjoy black olives, these eliopites will satisfy.

This course was paired with the 2015 Tsiakkas Xinisteri from the Tsiakkas Winery, which was established in 1988 in the town of Pelendri, though the family history of wine making extends back much further. It is a small winery, producing only about 150,000 bottles each year, and exports to a number of countries, including the U.S., Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland. They source grapes from their own 5 hectares of vineyards and also purchase grapes from other trusted vineyards. Though they currently use some international grapes, they are moving more towards using only indigenous varieties, such as Xinisteri.   

Xinisteri is a vigorous and productive grape, with thick skin, and is the most common white grape on Cyprus, accounting for almost 25% of all vineyard area. It tends to produce fresh, light wines with lots of citrus flavor, though if the grapes are sourced from high altitude vineyards, the wines have more mineral notes and tend to be more vibrant.

The 2015 Tsiakkas Xinisteri ($15-$20 retail) is made from grapes in the High Pitsilia region, at an altitude of over 1300 meters, and the vines average about 50 years old. With a 12.5% ABV, the wine was fermented in stainless steel and sees no oak. Possessing a light golden color, it possesses a pleasant aroma of apples and citrus. On the palate, it is crisp and dry, with lush apple and peach flavors, enhanced by some minerality. Easy drinking, it would be excellent with seafood, such oysters, and worked well with the briny olive pies.  

We moved onto the Third Course, a dish of Koupes (plural of koupa), a type of Cypriot street food that is sometimes called a "meat donut." It is also known as kibbeh in the Middle East. This koupes, rather than the usual beef, was made with shrimp and crab meat, encased in a crusty bulgur and topped by a Commandaria wine salsa. Pourgouri, the Cypriot name for bulgur, is their traditional carbohydrate other than bread. This tasty dish had a crunchy coating with a pleasant seafood taste, from the sweet crab to the firm shrimp, enhanced by the lightly sweet salsa. Each dish seems to get better and better.

This was paired with the 2015 Oenops Wines APLA Rosé, a blend of 60% Xinomavro and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is part of a new endeavor by wine maker, Nikos Karatzas, and though the wine is produced in Greece, Nikos is a Cypriot. "APLA" means "simply" or "naturally" and this is the first vintage of the new endeavor. Nikos currently purchases all of his grapes as he doesn't own any vineyards. Pale pink in color, it has a subtle aroma of red fruits with a mild hint of herbal notes. On the palate, it is crisp and dry, with pleasing strawberry and cherry flavors, enhanced by some subtle herbal elements. This is a style of Rosé that appeals to me so I was very satisfied with it. Committee is the only place in Massachusetts where you can find the APLA wines.

We moved onto the Fourth Course, Afelia, basically pork tenderloin braised in red wine with coriander seeds atop a chickpea hummus. Traditionally, this pork dish is cooked in an earthenware dish, called a tava, in a clay oven. My knife slid easily through the tender, juicy and flavorful pork, which also possessed a nice spicy flavor and some well caramelized and crunchy exterior bits. The creamy hummus was delicious too, and I slathered it onto some warm pita slices. An excellent dish which I would order again if it were on the menu.

This dish was paired with the 2013 Tsiakkas Vamvakada ($25-$30 retail), made from 100% Vamvakada, which is also known as Maratheftiko. About 15% of the grapes are from old vines, over 80 years old. This is another indigenous grape, dark-skinned and late ripening, which grows primarily in the mountainous region of Páfos as well as in Pitsilia. However, it still is only planted on a relatively small number of acres though that is changing. And it is still rare to find this bottled as a single varietal.

This wine has a 13% ABV, underwent malolactic fermentation and then was aged, for about nine months, in 85% new French oak and 15% American oak. With a dark purple, opaque color, its subtle aromas were enticing and appealing, beckoning for you to taste it. And on the palate, I found a complex and compelling wine, with plenty of juicy ripe plum and black berry flavors, with hints of blueberries. It possessed low tannins, spicy elements and a mild herbal note, especially on the lengthy finish. So much going on in this wine, and each sip seemed to bring something new to me. It went great with the pork and I could see this wine going well with everything from burgers to a Bolognese sauce. Highly recommended.

The Fifth Course was a dish of Kleftiko, slow-cooked oven-baked lamb and served with patties antinahtes (which means "tossed potatoes"), potatoes baked in white wine with coriander seeds. The scrumptious and tender lamb fell off the bone, and had such a succulent taste. I love lamb and this was an excellent example of a perfectly cooked piece of lamb. I even ate the marrow from the bone, sucking some of it directly out of the bone. The potatoes were tasty too, well soaked with the wine, adding plenty of flavor.

With the lamb, we enjoyed the 2013 Argyos Mavrotragano (about $50 retail), a wine from Santorini. The winery was established back in 1903 and they now own about 65 acres of vineyards. The wine is made from 100% Mavrotragano, an ancient, rare and indigenous grape, and is aged for about two years in French oak. This was another very dark purple colored wine, with a richer aroma of ripe plum and dark spices. On the palate, it has more moderate tannins, good acidity, and more muscular flavors, black fruits, rich spice, vanilla and a touch of tobacco. It is a wine that needs a strong food, like lamb or a thick steak, and this dish was a fine pairing.

The final course, Dessert, was Tahini-Phyllo Rolls, which had a light, flaky with a heavier, creamy sesame seed-flavored filling. With this dessert, we had a glass of the St. John Commandaria, a famous Cypriot dessert wine.

Commandaria is produced in the Commandaria region on the foothills of the Troödos Mountains. It is made from sun-dried Xynisteri and Mavro grapes, and is commonly fortified. It's history extends back about 3000 years and is the oldest named wine still in production.

One of its most famous historical references was during the wedding ceremony of King Richard the Lionheart in the 12th century. The King declared Commandaria to be "the wine of kings and the king of wines." Later in that century, the wine acquired its name from the Knights Templar, who controlled a region known as the Commandaria, where Commandaria referred to a military headquarters. The Knights produced much of this dessert wine, exporting it all across Europe, and the wine soon took on the name of the region.

Currently Commandaria holds a protected designation of origin (PDO) within the European Union, the United States and Canada. By Cypriot legislation, enacted in 1990, it can only produced in a collection of 14 neighbouring villages: Agios Georgios, Agios Konstantinos, Agios Mamas, Agios Pavlos, Apsiou, Gerasa, Doros, Zoopigi, Kalo Chorio, Kapilio, Laneia, Louvaras, Monagri and Silikou. The designated area has assumed the name of the Commandaria Region and is located on the south facing slopes of the Troödos Mountains. Commandaria, by law is aged for at least two years in oak barrels. Commandaria may be a fortified wine, but fortification is not mandatory.

Some raise a glass of Commandaria and toast to Aphrodite, as this wine is said to be one of her preferred offerings.

The St. John Commandaria tis produced from a blend of different vintages, using a Solera system like Sherry.  The amber-colored wine was sweet, though with plenty of acidity to balance it so it wasn't cloying. The flavor was complex with notes of caramel, dried fruit, honey and nuts. A very satisfying after-dinner drink, which could be sipped on its own or paired with dessert. I think it would be a killer combination with blue cheese.

Overall, this was an impressive evening with so many delicious dishes of Cypriot-nspired food and plenty of compelling wines. The pork tenderloin and the lamb are essentially tied for my favorite dishes of the evening. The Tsiakkas Winery provided my favorite wines of the night, especially the Vamvakada. Demetri and Lauren were fine hosts, helping to make sure everyone had an enjoyable time. I continue to highly recommend Committee, for lunch, dinner, brunch or any of their monthly wine dinners.