Friday, April 28, 2017

Top Ten Wines of 2007

In less than two weeks, on Tuesday, May 9, The Passionate Foodie blog will have its 10th Anniversary! I've been spending time surveying the over 4100 posts I've written, contemplating all the myriad subjects I've covered. I've already reposted my first two articles and now I'm going to highlight my Top Ten Wines of 2007. Have my wine tastes changed during the last ten years? Look for more of my memories during the next couple weeks.

(The follow articles were originally posted on December 12 & 13, 2007).

First, here is a list of my Top Ten Wines Under $15.
1. 2006 Verdad Rose, California ($13)
2. 2004 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino di Sardegna, Italy ($10)
3. 2005 Tenuta Pederanza Lambrusco “Grasparossa”, Italy ($13.99)
4. 2004 Conti Zecca Donna Marzia Negromaro, Italy ($9.99)
5. 2003 Vinho Tinto Palestra, Portugal ($8)
6. 2006 Vinho Branco "Grilos", Portugal ($13)
7. 2005 Falset Marca Falset, Spain ($9.99)
8. 2006 Ladera Sagrada Papa, Spain ($13.99)
9. 2005 El Burro Kickass Garnacha, Spain ($12)
10. 2006 Bodegas La Purisma Estio, Spain ($8.99)

As you can see, there are mostly Old World wines on my list, which hasn't changed over the last ten years. They often seem to possess better value than many California wine. And you can see Portugal is on the list, and that country continues to be a great place for wine values. Several Spanish wines made the list, partially as I took a two week journey to Spain in 2007, tasting many excellent wines.

Second, here is a list of my Top Ten Wines Over $15.
1. 2003 Goldeneye Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, California ($50)
2. 2004 Cliff Lede Claret, California ($39)
3. 2003 Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage, California ($36)
4. 2005 Sutton Cellars Carignane, California ($17)
5. 2004 Buehler Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, California ($25)
6. 2003 Castello La Lecchia Chianti Classico ‘Bruciagna’, Italy ($30)
7. 2000 Lidakis Archanes, Greece ($18)
8. 2004 Filipa Pato Ensaios, Portugal ($25)
9. 2005 Bellum Providencia, Spain ($18)
10. 2004 KanonKop Estate Wine Pinotage, South Africa ($35)

This list was very California heavy which you generally won't find in subsequent years, as the list become more diverse. You can already see some of that diversity, such as Greek wines and South African Pinotage. In later years, I delve more into plenty of niche wines, giving voice to worthy wines which don't receive as much attention as they deserve, such as Franciarota, Alsatian wines, Georgian wines, Vermouth, and more. However, I still think these two 2007 lists present plenty of worthy wines and you might want to seek out their current vintages.

How have your wine tastes changed over the last ten years?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

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) From May 1st through May 31, MET Restaurant Group will host its 12th Annual Soft Shell Crab Festival, serving the delicious crustacean four different ways at MET Back Bay.

Hailing from Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay, soft shell crabs have tantalized the taste buds of seafood lovers across the globe. The MET has explored a variety of flavors and techniques that reveal the best of this seasonal seafood, and each night guests can choose from three different styles including Meunière, Fried and Sautéed Soft Shell Crab ($28 each). For an afternoon delight, MET is offering a Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boy for $15.

To make Reservations, please call 617-267-0451

2) History meets modern day with the upcoming opening of North Square Oyster Bar on May 15th. The oldest public square in the country, the North End’s North Square, will soon be getting a modern facelift with upcoming seafood-focused restaurant North Square Oyster from Nicholas Frattaroli. Owner of North End gastropub Ward 8, Nicholas Frattaroli aims to blend the old with the new- paying homage to the location’s storied history while creating a lively, fresh dining destination for locals and tourists alike.

Helmed by Chef Douglas Rodrigues, formerly of Clio and Liquid Art House, the menu will feature creative New England seasonality with a focus on seafood. Ranging in size and flavor from Boston staples to more chef-driven choices, the menu will be divided into raw bar; hot and cold small plates; “on bread” sandwiches and burgers; large-format entrées; and desserts. A variety of oysters will be sourced from local favorites, including Wellfleet on Cape Cod and Island Creek in Duxbury, in addition to west coast gems, such as Hama Hama and Hog Island in California. Rodrigues will offer five versions of mignonette sauce along with wasabi, horseradish, and an innovative, Japanese-inspired kosho cocktail sauce to complement the oyster selection.

Menu highlights include:
Sea Urchin with Holland asparagus, wasabi, plum, chive blossom, and lily bulb
Brown Butter Lobster Roll with chives and homemade vinegar chips
Clam Chowder Boule with kombucha sourdough boule and bacon
Foie Gras Pate with whipped terrine, cherry, celery marmalade, and toast scoops
Scituate Lobster Pie with spring mushroom, ragu, Scituate lobster, sherry, tarragon, black truffle
30-Day Aged Steak Tips with rosemary fingerling potatoes, charred onion, ramps, and au jus
Pork Belly Cotton Candy with lime-spun sugar, black lime, chartreuse jelly, and raspberry sorbet

I have always wanted to do a seafood concept as it's my favorite type of restaurant to eat at. We are looking forward to bringing fresh seafood and a strong raw bar to a historic setting in such a special neighborhood. I'm thrilled with the team we have in place and look forward to being a part of the fabric of the North End when we open our doors this spring," says Frattaroli.

Ward 8’s General Manager Mike Wyatt will oversee the bar program as beverage manager to develop a creative, carefully curated cocktail menu. With a full liquor license, North Square Oyster will serve a variety of local, New England-based spirits, craft beers, and seafood-friendly wines. The classic cocktail menu will center on quintessential martini service with spirit and garnish choices that will be approachable to both cocktail novices and veterans alike.

3) Capo introduces dinner and a show on Monday evenings with an all new Comedy Night at Supper Club at Capo. The Supper Club at Capo is South Boston’s destination for live entertainment, where premier bands and DJs take the stage Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Supper Club at Capo is adding Monday night Comedy to their entertainment lineup, featuring a rotating schedule of Boston’s most talented comedians, hosted by Boston comedian Will Noonan.

Tickets are available on Eventbrite and at the door for $15 per person and include admission to comedy night in the Supper Club at Capo. Now through Memorial Day, guests who present their EventBrite receipt can redeem $15 towards an entrée of choice from Executive Chef Tony Susi’s menu of rustic Italian dishes. Guests can enjoy their included entrée in either Capo dining room or downstairs Supper Club the night of the event. The full dinner menu will be available in the Supper Club on Monday evenings starting at 7:00 p.m.

The upcoming Monday Night Comedy lineup includes:
Monday, May 1
Christine Hurley, Dan Crohn, and Dan Zollo
Monday, May 8
Graig Murphy and Lamont Price
Monday, May 15
Tom Dustin, Harrison Stebbins, and Chris Pennie

For reservations, please call 617-993-8080.

4) On Sunday, May 14, from 11:30am-3pm, Bar Boulud invites families of all sizes to spoil mom with a festive three-course Mother’s Day brunch created by Chef de Cuisine Michael Denk and Pastry Chef Robert Differ.

Featuring fresh, local ingredients that are guaranteed to make Mom swoon, Chef Denk’s Mother’s Day brunch menu will be served as follows:

To Share 
--Viennoiserie (selection of French pastries, Vermont creamery butter) Basket: $12
--East Coast Oysters (red wine mignonette, cocktail sauce) ½ Dozen $18; 1 Dozen $36
--Dégustation de Charcuterie (chef’s selection of pâtés and hams) $40
--Greek Yogurt Parfait (granola, rhubarb gelée, berries)
--Waldorf Salad (bibb lettuce, grapes, blue cheese, walnuts, bacon tuile)
--Pistou (artichoke, asparagus, peas, spring onion, basil pistou)
--Salmon Tartare (crème fraîche, dill, fava beans, rye, confit egg yolk)
add caviar: $10
--Pain Perdu (brioche French toast, caramelized bananas, malted milk Chantilly)
Main Course
--Coddled Eggs (jumbo asparagus, wild mushrooms, frisée, pomme rösti, sauce moutarde)
--Lobster Scramble (French-style scrambled eggs, tarragon, coral butter, brioche)
add caviar: $10
--Spring Risotto (wild mushrooms, green garlic, fiddlehead ferns, ricotta, preserved lemon)
--Pan-Seared Halibut (carrots, fava beans, Parisienne gnocchi, carrot broth)
--Yogurt Marinated Leg of Lamb (pearl couscous, bell peppers, housemade pita, natural jus)
--Vanilla Bean Cheesecake (lime-graham crust, strawberries, Grand Marnier Chantilly)
--Trois Level Chocolat (dark, milk and dulce chocolate mousse, chocolate biscuit, praline gelato)
--Citron Sundae (Meyer lemon sorbet, ginger croquant, raspberry compote, meringue)
--Asparagus $12
--Mushroom Fricassée $13
--Super Green Spinach $10
--Pomme Purée $10

COST: $65 per adult; $35 per child
To make a reservation please call 617-535-8800

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Ten Reasons To Drink Georgian Wine

"Wine is the Georgians’ poetry and their folklore, their religion and their daily bread."
--For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World's Most Ancient Wine Culture by Alice Feiring

The country of Georgia may be the birthplace of wine, with evidence stretching back about 8,000 years, which is why Georgians sometimes state they have 8,000 vintages of history. Georgia is located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, in the Southern Caucasus mountain range, which forms the northern border of the country. It is bordered on the west coast by the Black Sea, by Russia to the north and Turkey & Armenia to the south, with Azerbaijan to the south and east.

Wine is integral to the culture of Georgia and it can be illustrated by a comparison of U.S. and Georgian weddings. When planning for an American wedding, you commonly budget a 1/2 bottle of wine per guest. However, when planning for a Georgian wedding, they commonly budget 4 bottles of wine per guest, eight times as much wine as for American weddings.

Despite its lengthy history of wine, its modern wine industry is relatively young, still recovering from when the Soviet Union controlled the country. During those dark times, it was much more important to create quantity rather than quality, and numerous grapes were pulled out of the vineyards, to make room for grapes which could provide larger yields. Since attaining their independence, Georgian wines have been increasing in quality, honoring old techniques and traditions with the use of modern technologies. It is time now to start paying attention to their wines.

"Tradition says that the Georgians have always lived under threat; they must be sober enough to defend themselves at any time."
--Vintage: The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson

Currently, Georgian wine exports to the U.S. are small, only about 24,500 cases but that number is growing each year, with double-digit growth recently. It might be difficult for you to find Georgian wines at your local wine store, but that is changing as Georgian wines acquire better distribution across the country. Ask your local wine store to carry some Georgian wines. Even a significant number of wine lovers haven't experienced many Georgian wines.

I first tasted a Georgian wine over nine years ago and at the last Boston Wine Expo, I tasted over 60 Georgian wines. I've been promoting and advocating for Georgian wines for years, especially during the last few years as the wines became more readily available. Let me provide you a list of ten reasons why you should explore Georgian wines, why you should seek out these compelling, intriguing and delicious wines. Be adventurous with your palate and drink some Georgian wines.

In no other country do the inhabitants drink so much, or such excellent wine.”
--Jean-Baptiste Chardin, referring to the country of Georgia in his ten-volume The Travels of Sir John Chardin (1786)

First, Georgian wine has a lengthy and fascinating history.
Wine making in Georgia extends back over 8000 years and almost no other country can boast of such a lengthy wine making history. Some even believe that the word "wine" is derived from the Georgian word "gvino" which means "wine." Georgian wines were renowned by both the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the 12th century, they established the first wine-making academy in the world. Some of their indigenous grapes also have a lengthy history, some thought to be at least 5,000 years old. Each sip of such a wine beings with it a sense of history, a connection to the ancient past. Taste the millennia in a glass of Georgia wine.

Second, Georgia has many unique, indigenous grapes.
There are over 525 indigenous grapes in Georgia, though there once was over 1000, with many lost over the centuries. Currently, only about 38 grapes are used for wine production. You'll find white grapes including Chinebuli, Kisi, Krakhuna, Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli, Tsitska, and Tsolikouri. You'll also find red grapes including Ojaleshi, Otskhanuri Sapere, Saperavi, Shavkapito, and Takveri. They present unique flavors and aromas, though still offering some familiarity. Any wine lover seeking to broaden their palate, to experience something new, should seek out such unusual grapes which may be found only in Georgian wines. I love exploring unusual grapes and Georgian wines allow me to further enhance my experiences. Yes, they grow some international grapes but why not pay attention to the unique, indigenous grapes that often cannot be found elsewhere.

"They clung to their ghvino (wine) with such a passion you’d think it was their blood."
--For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World's Most Ancient Wine Culture by Alice Feiring 

Third, Georgian wines are diverse.
Georgian wineries produce a myriad of different wines, including White, Red, Sparkling, Rosé, Semi-Sweet, Dessert and Qvevri wines. These wines come in a wide variety of flavor profiles and styles so there should be something available to appeal to any personal preference. In addition, there are many different terroirs in Georgia, in 18 different appellations, which further leads to diversity in their wines. Georgia wines are multi-dimensional and there is much to discover in that multitude. No matter what kind of wine you enjoy, you should be able to find a Georgian wine that coincides with your favorite kind.

Four, Georgian wines are made for food.
Georgian wine is a natural pairing for food, possessing a versatility that extends into many cuisines. Georgians always drink wine with food so it is produced specifically to be accompanied by food. If you purchase a Georgian wine, you can be almost assured that it will pair well with some type of food. Dependent on the type of food, there is also probably a type of Georgia wine which will work well with that dish, from seafood to steak, pasta to chicken. You could have an easy drinking Saperavi with a burger or pizza, or enjoy a Qvevri Rkatsiteli with roast chicken.

"According to historian David Turashvili in his book His Majesty Georgian Wine, customarily Georgians would first ask about their neighbors’ vines and only then ask about their families."
--For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World's Most Ancient Wine Culture by Alice Feiring

Fifth, Georgian wine culture is fascinating.
Wine is an integral component of Georgian culture, from the revelry of the rtveli, their grape harvest, to the supra, a traditional feast. At a supra, a tamada, a toastmaster, is selected to lead the evening, who will lead a multitude of toasts, maybe 20 or more, which will honor family and friends, events in the past, present and future, and much more. However, they space out the toasts so no one gets too intoxicated. Many Georgians grow their own vines, also making their own wines, and it is said that Georgians once would first ask about their neighbors’ vines and only then ask about their families. It is also said that Georgians drink wine to share emotion, such a powerful sentiment.

Six, there's good value in Georgian wines
As many wine lovers are concerned about price, Georgian wines should be appealing as you'll find a fair number of tasty wines for under $15, making them very affordable options. The fact Georgia wines are not as popular means they are more hidden value wines. Some wine regions, due to their popularity, raise their prices commensurately. In addition, as Georgia does not yet have a trophy wine culture, they do not produce a large amount of high-end wines, though I have tasted a some excellent, higher-end Georgian wines. Their value wines are an excellent entry to experience all that Georgian wine has to offer.

"The Georgian custom is to drain the wine bowl, then throw away the last drops. They are the number of your enemies. It is important not to have too many, but without any how can you be a real man?
--Vintage: The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson

Seven, there are a growing number of natural wines in Georgia.
When Georgia attained independence, after the massive industrialization of the wine industry under Soviet control, a number of wineries reached back into their history, embracing more traditional wine methods. These methods tended to be more natural, avoiding chemical additives and over-manipulation. Some vineyards are now organic or Biodynamic too. Natural wines aren't necessarily better, but the natural wines coming out of Georgia tend to be very good. Maybe it is partially because of their lengthy history of making more natural wines.

Eight, the ancient Qvevri will intrigue your palate.
Qvevri are clay vessels used for wine fermentation and aging, and have existed for thousands of years in Georgia. They are commonly buried in the earth, to keep the wine cool and stable.  It is intriguing that the source of the clay can contribute its own terroir to the wine. The qvevri tend to darken the color of the wine, creating what some consider to be "orange wine," while also making them more tannic. Other countries have tried to emulate qvevri, using their own types of clay vessels. I find the taste of many qvevri wines to be fascinating, with an added complexity. It also adds a sense of history to these wines.

That was the end of life, but the qvevri is the beginning of life for wine,” he continued. “It is the womb.”
--For the Love of Wine: My Odyssey through the World's Most Ancient Wine Culture by Alice Fearing

Nine, nearly everyone will enjoy Georgian wines.
There is no reason why almost all consumers won't enjoy Georgian wines. These wines are often easy drinking, absent of strange and off-putting flavors, though some of the qvevri wines might not always appeal to the average consumer. At various tastings, I've witnessed numerous consumers take their first taste of a Georgian wines and seen the pleasure on their faces. The main reason Georgian wines don't sell as well as they should is due to unfamiliarity and ignorance. Most consumers, and many wine shop owners, know little about Georgian wines so they gravitate instead to what they already know. That can be overcome with greater education and more tastings. People need to be shown they are missing out on Georgian wines.

Ten, and most importantly, Georgian wines are quite delicious.
It is a simple thought but sometimes gets forgotten amidst everything else. In the end, the most significant aspect of ant wine is that it tastes good. No matter what else a wine has going for it, if it does not taste good then it has failed. I've enjoyed many tasty Georgian wines, certainly not everything I have tasted, but the vast majority at least. I may appreciate Georgian wines for many different reasons, but first and foremost, taste remains the most compelling reason to drink Georgian wines.

"What is called the traditional drinking cup or horn, kanzi, is conch-shaped and comes in different sizes, often decorated with silver. Because Georgians are famously hospitable people, an essential feature of the horn is that once filled with an appropriate libation, usually wine, it requires drinking to the bottom (bolomde) on each toast."
--Cuisines of the Caucasus Mountains: Recipes, Drinks, and Lore from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia by Kay Shaw Nelson

So, are you convinced to give Georgian wines a try?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Choosing a Wine Store

In two weeks, on Tuesday, May 9, The Passionate Foodie blog will have its 10th Anniversary! I've been spending time surveying the over 4100 posts I've written, contemplating all the myriad subjects I've covered. As I've looked back across those ten years, I decided to repost my first article yesterday. Today, I'm going to repost my second article, which actually was posted on the same day as my first article. It remains as relevant now as it did way back then. Look for more of my memories during the next couple weeks.

(The follow article was originally posted on December 12, 2007).

If you wish to just pick up a bottle of wine, something under $10, then almost any store would do. Any local package store, grocery store or wine shop could cater to that need. But, what if you desire more than that? What if you are looking for a good wine store, a place to buy some different wines, maybe a case or two? What are the factors that differentiate the good wine stores from the mediocre ones?

Price: One of the primary factors for many people is price. We all want a good bargain when making any purchase. And wine prices can vary, sometimes significantly from store to store. You can see the price for the same bottle vary from $1 to $20 dependent where you buy it. Some stores cater to less expensive wines, such as $15 and under. Other stores have a variety, with some less expensive wines but also a selection of pricier ones too. Much will depend on the type of wine you are seeking.

Bottle price alone is not always indicative of the expense of a store. Many stores offer discounts, such as 10-20%, for purchasing a case of wine. And usually that can be a mixed case. So, even though a store's prices may be a bit higher than another store, the case discount may even matters out. In addition, some places run regular sales where you can get bargains. There are also stores that run promotions where you earn points based on your purchases, providing special gifts once you have acquired a certain amount of points.

Selection: You generally want a store that has a diverse selection of wines. Who wants to see the same old wines all the time? Some stores specialize in certain wine regions. Others may sell wines from more unusual regions. A good selection will also include varied prices, from $10 to $100 bottles, something for everyone. Remember that there are literally thousands of wines available so no store can carry them all. But, do look for places that try to acquire a good variety of wines from a number of regions.

Service: You want friendly and helpful staff at a good store. They should have a good knowledge of wine and those they sell. They should be personable and not snooty and pretentious. They should make you feel welcome rather than nervous. They should offer suggestions and recommendations without being pushy. Good service can include being able to order wine for you if they do not carry what you want.

There are a number of other factors, of less importance, but which can enhance or detract from your wine buying experience.

Appearance: A good wine store is clean and should not have dust all over their wine bottles. Display racks should be easy to see the individual bottles and their prices. They might have note cards describing the wines, or providing ratings and reviews from wine magazines.

Tastings: A good wine store will hold free tastings where you can try some of their wines. This can help you decide on which wines you might like to buy. Many stores now have weekly tastings.

Extras: A good wine store will sell more than just wine. They might sell other alcoholic drinks, from beer to hard liquors. They might also sell various foods, such as cheeses, chocolates and sauces. This can make the wine store a better one-stop place to stock up for a festive evening.

Website/Email: A good wine store will have a website providing information about the store and any upcoming events. Some even may an email list that will keep you up to date on their events.

But, there is one factor which I think is the most important of all. Passion.

Passion: The best sign of a good wine store is the passion of the owner. You can see that passion in them when they help you, when they answer your questions and make suggestions. The owner clearly enjoys wine, and is sincere in desiring to spread that joy to others. You can see that passion in them when they help you, when they answer your questions and make suggestions. These are the store owners who will truly work at making a good store. They will take care to make your experience as fine as possible. Their passion will show in every aspect of their wine store, elevating them above the rest.

No one wine store will probably cater to all of your needs, especially selection-wise. So, it is beneficial to visit different wine stores, to see what wines they offer that other stores do not. Your favorite wine store might not stock Greek wines but another store might. Your favorite wine store might sell 12 different Oregon pinot noirs but you might be looking for an Oregon producer that your store does not sell. But, in the end, you will probably have one or two wine stores which you frequent often, those places which you feel are the best. And I am willing to bet that the owners of those places have a true passion for wine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Rant: Which Wines Should You Drink?

In about two weeks, on Tuesday, May 9, The Passionate Foodie blog will have its 10th Anniversary! I've been spending time surveying the over 4100 posts I've written, contemplating all the myriad subjects I've covered. As I look back across those ten years, I've decided to repost my first article, a blog that remains as relevant now as it did way back then. And look for more of my memories during the next couple weeks.

(The follow article was originally posted on May 9, 2007).

You walk into the local wine store and are confronted with walls upon walls of bottles. Which wine should you buy?

You go to a fine restaurant and are confronted with a multi-page wine list. Which wine should you buy?

The popularity of wine continues to soar. There are literally thousands of different wines, from many different countries, available to the consumer. We are deluged with options. A typical liquor store stocks hundreds of different wines and a specialty wine shop might stock 1000 wines or more. Restaurant wine lists might contain as many as a few hundred selections. So, with these often bewildering choices, which wines should you drink?

There are numerous sources containing recommendations and ratings for many wines. Wine magazines such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Decanter. There are other magazines as well, not devoted solely to wine, that contain columns and articles on wine such as Gourmet and Esquire. Each year, several books are released with their annual wine recommendations. Many newspapers now contain weekly articles on wine. You can easily consult any of these reference works and choose an award-winning or highly rated wine. But, if you did so, you might take it home, drink a glass and find that you dislike the wine. Where did you go wrong? Why doesn’t the wine seem as good as the critics say it is supposed to be?

The answer is simple. Enjoying wine is very much a subjective activity. Sure, the critics can judge a wine by certain objective criteria. They can rate a wine in comparison to others. But, at its core, it is all about one’s own individual preferences, one’s own taste. You should drink wines that you enjoy drinking, whether they cost $5 or $500 a bottle. Red, white, sweet, dry, oaky, tannic, grassy, fruity. Drink what you like. Your tastes may vary drastically from the critics, but they are your tastes and they are not wrong. They are merely different. And they are what please you. And don’t we drink wine because it pleases us?

So, how do you know what type of wines you like? The primary method to determine your likes and dislikes is to taste different wines. Taste as many as you can. There are a plethora of diverse tastes in wines and you never know what might appeal to you. So, trying new wines might lead to a new favorite. Tastes can change over time so you might want to try wines again that you once did not like. You might be surprised with the results. Taste wines with and without food as food too can alter the taste and experience of a wine. Taste will also vary with your mood.

One of the best and often risk-free ways to taste a lot of different wines is to attend wine tastings at local liquor/wine stores. Because of the popularity of wine, many of these stores now hold wine tastings, often weekly, and they usually are free. On average, you can usually try 4-6 wines at these tastings, sometimes including some expensive ones. There are even tastings where you can try over 100 wines, all for free. There are some tastings that charge a fee but the fee is commonly low and you usually get to try numerous different wines. To find out about local tastings, simply ask at the liquor/wine stores you frequent or do an online search. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn about different wines, to see which ones you might enjoy. You have nothing to lose.

There are other ways to taste different wines as well. If you go to a restaurant, you can order a meal with wine pairings, where the restaurant matches different glasses of wine to different food courses. You thus get to taste about 3-7 different wines. Some places also have wine flights on their menu, where you get to try three different wines for the price of a single glass of wine. Obviously, the sample sizes are small, but combined they equal one glass of wine. If you go to a party, with various wines available, you should take a chance and try something different.

The hardest part sometimes is remembering what wines you like and do not like. Thus, it can be helpful to take notes, writing down wines you enjoy. That will make it easier if you go to a wine store and want to buy something you like. You can also ask the staff at the wine store for recommendations on wines that are similar to the ones you enjoy. In addition, it can help if you go to a restaurant. Even if they do not carry the particular wine you want, they might be able to recommend a wine that is very similar to the one you wanted.

So, should you just ignore all recommendations and ratings? No, as they can still be beneficial though the foundation remains individual taste. If you know what you like, recommendations and ratings can point you to similar wines of which you might not be aware. Or to avoid certain wines because they contain elements you dislike. For example, if you dislike oaky chardonnay, then a wine review that mentions a particular chardonnay is very oaky would be something to avoid. In addition, if you are adventurous, they might direct you to wines that you are willing to take a risk on and buy. You might also find that your tastes are similar to a particular reviewer or critic, and thus you might feel more comfortable with their recommendations.

In the end, taste some wine. Then taste some more.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Cheese Shop of Concord Turns 50! Upcoming Events.

The Cheese Shop of Concord opened its doors 50 years ago, in 1967. Back then, America was familiar with just a handful of cheeses: cheddar and Swiss, meunster and havarti, cream cheese, brie and roquefort. Today’s consumer is familiar with, and obsessed to buy, dozens more.

Cheeses from New England, California, and every state in between. Cheeses imported not only from France and Holland, but New Zealand and the Azores. Cheeses made from cow, sheep and goat milks. Tiny wheels and giant wheels; at up to $50 per pound.

It’s a sea change from 1967. Today’s cheesemonger, therefore, must be knowledgeable about thousands of cheeses, and keep them in stock and ready for consumption.

For 50 years, The Cheese Shop of Concord has been a regional resource for all things cheesey under just three proprietors: the first from 1967-1976, the second from 1976 to 2003, and Peter Lovis from 2003 to the present. The shop is obviously doing something right, but what is it? Locals say it all boils down to the shop’s motto: “Where shopping is an Old World pleasure.”

There’s something to be said for the old fashioned give and take between merchant and customer that was taken for granted in 1967, but is missing in today’s impersonal, e-commerce environment,” says Lovis.

In celebration of its 50th birthday, The Cheese Shop of Concord plans a variety of public events in 2017.

Going To Txotx On Sunday 
Sunday, May 21 from 1-4 PM
A txotx (pronounced chuch) is a traditional Basque festival that heralds the readiness of hard cider pressed from regional apples. This unique outdoor event will take place at the scenic Concord Rod & Gun Club, located on Strawberry Hill Road, just a few miles north of downtown Concord. In case of rain, the event will be moved indoors, to a vintage sportsman’s lodge overlooking the club’s private pond.

A highlight of the event will be the Blessing of the Barrel, when a 55-gallon wooden barrel is tapped, and its contents literally spurt into one’s glass like a faucet. Attendees can also watch as local cider apples pass through an apple press for bottling and drinking later this summer.

Each $65 admission ticket entitles the bearer to enjoy: a take-home cider glass from which to quaff unlimited samples from New England’s top hard cidermakers, and a bounty of Basque-inspired food including grilled steak, cod frittatas, olives, nuts, cheeses and more. At press time, these 8 cidermakers have confirmed participation:

* Artifact Cider
* Bantam
* Carr’s Ciderhouse
* Good Life
* Pony Shack
* Shacksbury
* Snowdrift
* Zoll Cellars

In addition, attendees will receive a complimentary 22 ounce bottle of hard cider, made from apples hand-pressed at the event on May 21 and carefully fermented until late July. Folks will be advised when the cider is ready to drink, and bottle pick-up will be available at The Cheese Shop of Concord.

Tickets for Concord’s first-ever txotx will be on sale at beginning May 1st.

Birthday Grill-a-thon 
Saturday, July 22, 11 AM-3 PM
The Cheese Shop of Concord’s 50th birthday will be celebrated on this day with a gargantuan birthday cake, and slices are free to anyone who stops by. In addition, the shop’s executive chef will have a “sausage stand” set up out front to sell grilled brats, wursts and hot dogs all afternoon. The party coincides with the Town of Concord’s annual Sidewalk Sale, so plan to come and spend the whole day.

In-Store Classes
Beginning in September, from 6:30 - 8:00 PM
A series of four evening classes, after-hours in the shop, are open to enthusiasts who are curious about the countless varieties of cheeses being produced, about aged meats like salami or prosciutto that pair well with them, and about beverages that love to accompany cheese. Enrollment is limited to 12 students per session, and the cost is $40 per student. Dates and times are shown below:

* Tuesday, September 13: Cheese 101 with proprietor Peter Lovis
* Tuesday, September 20: Beer, Wine and Mead with Mike Reilly
* Tuesday, September 27: Charcuterie 101 with Chef Justin Kopaz
* Tuesday, October 4:Easy Entertaining with Cheese, with Keir Weinberg

Crucolo Cheese Parade
Thursday, December 7, starts at 3:30 PM
For the eighth consecutive year, the Cheese Shop and the Town of Concord welcome a 400-lb. wheel of crucolo cheese from Trentino, Italy with a lively street parade of flags, speeches, horses, live music, dancing and of course, tasting. Video of the 2016 and previous parades can be viewed at the Cheese Shop’s YouTube channel.

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 Massachusetts Historical Society is hosting a series of programs on how Boston has changed the American diet. They have five programs coming between the end of April and the middle of June, featuring culinary historians, chefs, librarians, and ice cream pioneers.

Eating Other People’s Food
April 27, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Boston’s role in introducing America to a more cosmopolitan cuisine; touching on the bland period of the early/mid twentieth century and contrasting this with the influences of Julia Child, Joyce Chen, and more recent celebrity chefs
Speakers: Laura Shapiro, Alex Prud’homme, Stephen Chen, and Megan Sniffin-Marinoff (moderator)

Where to Go
May 3, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
The great places and great personalities that put Boston on the map; looking at some of the big name restaurants like Anthony’s Pier 4, Locke-Ober’s, Jacob Wirth, to important innovators such as Tony Maws, Jim Koch, Chris Schlesinger, Lydia Shire, etc. to socially important neighborhood spots
Speakers: Corky White, Jim O’Connell, Erwin Ramos, and Peter Drummey (moderator)

Sweet Boston
May 18, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Boston’s obsession with sweets as seen through 19th century candy making, 21st century candy making, and the rise of chocolate and the cacao trade in Boston
Speakers: Joyce Chaplin, Michael Krondl, Carla Martin, and Gavin Kleespies (moderator)

Ice Kings
June 6, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
Looking at the unusually strong interest in ice cream from the early 19th century ice trade to the rise of premium ice cream through institutions like Steve’s
Speakers: Gus Rancatore, Jeri Quinzio, and Judy Herrell

Final Courses
June 15, 5:30 Reception 6:00 Program
A guided walking tour of the final resting places of some of Boston’s great culinary figures, including Fanny Farmer, Joyce Chen, Gian Franco Romagnoli, Walter Baker, William Schrafft, and Harvey Parker, of Boston’s famed Parker House
Led by the docents of Mount Auburn Cemetery

2) Committee is excited to announce an additional installment of their Monthly Wine Dinner Series on Wednesday, April 26, from 7pm-9pm, celebrating Cretan cuisine and wines from Rhous Winery. Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos, Wine Director Lauren Friel, and Consulting Chef Diane Kochilas team up with winemaker Maria Tamiolakis of Rhous Winery for a special Cretan Wine Dinner.

Rhous Winery is a boutique winery owned by the Tamiolakis family and situated near the village of Houdetsi in Greece. It is part of the Appellation Peza, the largest wine-producing region in the Heraklion Prefecture. Tamiolakis is a young female winemaker who is part of the “next generation” winemakers of Greece. She, along with her husband, both run Rhous Winery which is a super small production/artisanal winery on Crete (an area that has been known for bulk/industrial wine making in past years). This wine dinner will be extra special due to the fact that she will be onsite to educate attendees and answer any questions they may have

Chef de Cuisine Theo Tsilipanos will present a five-course Cretan menu for the evening, featuring distinct dishes and flavors of the area in a variety of meze and full size dishes.

The full menu for the Cretan Wine Dinner is as follows:
Marinated Spring Salad (shaved artichokes, asparagus tips, fresh peas, fennel, dill, Cretan barley rusks, shaved graviera)
Burke (potato zucchini terrine with fresh cheese, mint, & feta)
Octopus (braised with orange wedges & green olives)
Oregano Roasted Goat (sfakiano pilafi)
Cretan Honey Cheesecake (raisin spoon sweet)

Featured wines include:
Muscat of Spino/Vidiano Blend
Rhous ‘Estate’ White
Rhous ‘Skipper’ White
Rhous‘Skipper’ Red

The Cretan Wine Dinner is $75 per person. Reservations are required so please call 617-737-5051

3) This May and June 2017, the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE) is once again offering Bostonians an exclusive opportunity to mingle and cook with some of the city’s top chefs, as part of its ongoing celebrity chefs cooking series.

Students will learn the craft of cooking in hands-on classes taught by local celebrity chefs. Each chef will emerge from their renowned kitchens and into the BCAE’s state-of-the-art kitchen facilities for a one session interactive cooking class. Under the guidance of these top chefs, students will learn how to create the perfect dishes for all their spring get-togethers, These delicious courses will leave everyone wanting more.

Class Schedule:
Southern Inspired Fried Chicken Feast with Alex Saenz of Bisq
Monday, May 1st from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Restaurant-Quality Comfort Food with Francis Flores of Coda
Monday, May 8th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Pasta By Hand with Douglass Williams of Mida
Monday, May 15th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Classic Greek Home Cooking with Theo Tsilipanos of Committee
Monday, June 12th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Authentic French Bistro Cusisine with Michael Denk of Bar Boulud
Monday, June 19th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Fine Dining Desserts for the Home Kitchen with Allen Morter of Bistro du Midi
Monday, June 26th from 6:00PM-9:00PM
$70 Tuition/ $60 Members/ Materials $15

Reserve seats now; space is limited. To register, or for more information please visit or call the Boston Center for Adult Education at 617-267-4430 to sign up.
COST: $70 for Non-Members, $60 Members, and $15 material cost.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Enderle & Moll Basis: An Intriguing German Pinot Noir


A German word for what you will likely better know as Pinot Noir. German Rieslings get most of the attention so many people don't realize that Pinot Noir is produced in Germany. In fact, Pinot Noir has been grown in Germany since at least the 14th century, though it never attained the fame of Burgundy, partially as the wines just didn't seem as good as those in Burgundy. However, their quality has greatly improved. Currently, there are approximately 12,000 hectares of Pinot Noir grown in Germany and we're starting to see more of those wines in the U.S. market.

Streetcar Winesin Jamaica Plain, has an excellent and fascinating selection of wines, primarily from small producers and their prices are very reasonable. This is a wine lovers store, an intriguing place for people to explore and expand their palates. Recently, while perusing their shelves, I found the 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir ($30) and owner Michael Dupuy told me that it might be his favorite German Pinot Noir. I chose to buy a bottle, as well as a number of other fascinating wines.

The Enderle & Moll winery, which is relatively new, is named for its two German owners, Sven Enderle and Florian Moll. The winery is located in the Baden region, in the Black Forest foothills between Offenburg and Freiburg im Breisgau. They have a small, 2.4 hectare vineyard, in the village of Münchweier, which they farm organically and they also purchase some grapes from another small, organic vineyard. Their Pinot Noir vines are some of the oldest in the Baden region and purchase aged barrels from a small estate in Burgundy. Enderle and Moll are seen as "contrarians," very different from many other neighboring German producers. They are very hands-on, producing wines which many might consider "natural wines." They also have a reputation for making some of the best Pinot Noir in Germany.

The 2014 Enderle & Moll Basis Pinot Noir is their entry-level Pinot and it is created from two different barrels. One barrel is from whole clusters that were foot-stomped while the other barrel was only 30% whole clusters. And this wine has only an 11.5% ABV, an amazingly low alcohol level compared to most other Pinot Noirs. This wine has a very light red color and on the nose, its present an alluring scent of cherry, mild spice and a touch of earthiness. On the palate, you'll be impressed with its elegance and complexity, its bright acidity and delightful flavors of red fruit, spice notes, earthy elements and a touch of herbs.

With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this is a killer Pinot, one that can easily compete with Pinots from any other region. It seems like a wine reflective of place, and it was easy to finish the bottle over the course of an evening. And if this is only their entry level wine, then I very much want to explore their higher end wines, to see the vinous magic they produce. I highly recommend this wine and also highly recommend you check out Streetcar Wines.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Rant: Eat & Drink The Bunny

"Put the bunny back in the box."
--Cameron Poe in Con Air

Yesterday was Easter, a holiday which partially showcases the Easter Bunny, who delivers candy-filled baskets to children. Numerous people enjoyed traditional choices, ham or lamb, for dinner. I pondered recently though whether any local restaurants would serve rabbit for Easter dinner, but I didn't learn of any spots doing so. Last week, I also wrote about a Mezcal made with rabbit, which I thought would be a great choice for Easter. Not everyone seemed thrilled with that idea.

Why are so many people opposed to eating, or drinking, rabbit?

Some will ask, how can anyone eat a cute, fuzzy bunny? Some people may have had a rabbit as a pet, keeping it in a small hutch, and thus feel squeamish about eating something they once had as a dear pet. These feelings are relative modern and that sentiment wasn't an issue for many prior generations. We need to return to those earlier sentiments as the consumption of rabbit is good on several fronts, as it is the most nutritious and sustainable meats that exists. 

Around 1100 B.C., when the Phoenicians first came to Spain, they found rabbits there and it is probable that they then spread rabbits throughout the Mediterranean region. The ancient Romans enjoyed rabbit meat, and they even created leporaria, walled areas where they raised rabbits for later slaughter. There once was even a Roman law that all young women had to eat rabbit because it was thought it would make them more beautiful.

Rabbits have continued to be eaten as food throughout history, though consumption in the U.S. has apparently declined greatly at least over the last hundred years. Have you ever noticed that it seems almost every movie about the Middle Ages shows rabbit being eaten? Nowdays, Europeans are far more amenable to dining on rabbit and France is the largest producer and consumer of rabbit.  My first time eating rabbit was when I was in Spain over 15 years ago.

Why should we eat more rabbit?

First, it is an excellent sustainable choice, far more sustainable than beef, pork, lamb or poultry.  Rabbits eat grass and marginal forage, thus they do not compete for resources with people and are more easily fed than many other animals.  They will even eat food scraps, which would be a great use for all of our vast food waste. We all know how rapidly rabbits can reproduce and they are available year round.  Rabbits require little space, certainly much less than other food animals.  You could even raise rabbits at home, which is relatively easy to do. It is said that a rabbit can produce six pounds of meat for the same amount of resources which a cow needs to produce a single pound. 

The carbon footprint of raising rabbits is far lower than other common food animals, and thus much better for the environment.  As the demand for meat continues to increase, it may be impossible to meet that demand without causing significant environmental problems due to increased resource intensity. Beef may be the largest offender, requiring significant resources which could be instead used for other purposes which might better feed more people.  The increased consumption of rabbit could alleviate these issues, as rabbits require far lesser resources.  It is something that needs to be seriously considered.

Second, rabbit meat is very healthy and nutritious. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has even stated that rabbit is the most nutritious meat. Rabbit has only 795 calories per pound, compared to chicken at 810, turkey at 1190, beef at 1440 and pork at 2050. Rabbit also has the highest percentage of protein of any meat. In addition, rabbit has a lower percentage of fat and less cholesterol than chicken, turkey, beef, or pork.  Rabbit is easily digested, and has very high levels of Omega-3's and other good fats. Those are all good reasons to opt for rabbit.  

Third, and a very important reason, rabbit tastes good. It has a mild and slightly sweet flavor, in some respects like chicken, though it can also remind you of veal or even pork. You won't find it to have a gamey flavor, which can be offputting to some. Plus, nearly all of the rabbit is white meat, which appeals to many people.  It is generally lean meat, so be careful about overcooking it. In addition, different parts of the rabbit have different characteristics so you can get a variety of flavors within the rabbit.  If you tasted rabbit blind, you would very likely enjoy the meat though you probably would not realize it was rabbit.

The main resistance to eating rabbit appears to be primarily psychological. It is seen more as too cute to eat, too much like a pet. Yet those who actually eat rabbit find out how delicious it can be. Plus, as it is so sustainable and nutritious, more people should be eating rabbit. Break through that psychological wall and try some tasty rabbit. It is good for you, good for society, and good for the environment.

Eat & Drink The Bunny!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Origins of Pechuga, Pierde Almas, & Mezcal de Conejo

I've found the perfect Mezcal for celebrating Easter, the Pierde Almas Mezcal de Conejo. Why is it so perfect? Because this unique Mezcal is made with a wild, cottontail rabbit. Anyone for some liquid bunny?

Mezcal is a distilled spirit from the agave plant and for some background information on it, please check out some of my prior Mezcal articles, including Rant: 400 Rabbits Say "Drink More Mezcal"Mezcal Bars in the Boston AreaMezcal & Beyond, and Amuleto Mexican Table, Mezcal Vago & "A Slap To The Face." Tequila gets loads of publicity but Mezcal too often gets ignored and needs additional promotion. It is more than worthy of your attention, being complex and intriguing, and often made by more traditional methods.

There is a special variety of Mezcal known as Pechuga, a flavored version that often is made with some type of meat. The Spanish term "pechuga" basically translates as "breast" and generally refers to a "chicken breast." This type of Mezcal likely acquired its name as chicken breasts were probably the first meats used to produce it. Currently, you'll find versions of Pechuga made from a variety of animals, including turkey, deer, goat, cow, pig, rabbit and even iguana.

To make Pechuga, a Mezcal is commonly distilled for a third time with a raw piece of meat suspended inside the still. In addition, various fruits, herbs, nuts, grains and/or spices are added into the still. The specific recipe of that melange of ingredients will vary from mezcalero to mezcalero and as there is no legal definition for Pechuga, the recipes can be quite diverse. The heat of the still will cook the meat and the vapors will pass through and into the meat. Sometimes, a few mezcaleros will conduct this process during the second distillation instead of adding a third.

How does the meat affect the taste of the Mezcal? Some claim the meat helps to mellow and soften the Mezcal, and others state it gives the Mezcal a fuller body. If you taste a Pechuga, you probably won't be able to identify the specific type of meat that was used, but will likely detect more savory notes, and possibly even some gamier elements.

Pechuga is sometimes referred to as a harvest Mezcal as it is commonly produced during November to January, when the wild fruits are ripe, such as apples, plums, red plantains, pineapples, and more. It is also usually produced from Espadin agave, one of the most common, hearty and least expensive agaves used to make Mezcal. Placing all of the various ingredients into the Mezcal will tend to overwhelm any subtlety of the agave so it would make little sense to use some of the rarer agave varieties to make Pechuga. Pechuga is often drank at various celebrations and holidays.

The origins of Pechuga are murky, both its date of origin as well as the reasons behind its initial creation. When I initially surveyed the current information about Pechuga, there was some evidence that it reached back at least to the 1930s as there were bottles labeled Pechuga from this decade. As for printed evidence, the earliest, as stated by Ron Cooper of Del Maguey Mezcal, appeared to be a book from the 1950s which mentioned a Pechuga made from baby goat breast that was added during the second distillation. It seemed likely that Pechuga originated before the 1930s, but the evidence was lacking.

Until now.

My own research has to the discovery of printed evidence of Pechuga extending back to 1864, meaning it is at least 150 years old. In addition, I've located multiple other printed references to Pechuga, ranging from 1864 to 1904, which provide more insight into this unique type of Mezcal. Since I originally published this article, I've revised and expanded it once and now have returned to revise and expand it again, as I've uncovered additional evidence.

It is possible that continued research might lead me to revise and expand this article in the future as well. Despite my fascinating discoveries, there are still significant questions remaining about the history of Pechuga. Additional research is certainly needed to address the unknowns and I strongly suspect there is more to find out there.  

As I conducted my initial research to write this article on Pechuga, I was quite surprised when I discovered a newspaper from 1901 that mentioned Pechuga. As far as I was aware, that appeared to be the oldest known printed reference to Pechuga. That newly uncovered information meant Pechuga was at least 116 years old and probably even older. I also felt that it could be a starting point for additional research on the history of Pechuga.

In the Saturday, January 5, 1901 edition of The Oasis, an Arizona newspaper, they published an article, Mescal Making, though the author of the article was not identified. The article discussed the Mezcal being produced in the Sahuaripa district of the Sonora state in Mexico, stating the area was "...noted far and wide for the excellence and quality of the mescal there produced,..."

There was a further explanation of how Mezcal was produced, including information on its quality levels, which mentioned Pechuga. “Of the finished liquor there are three qualities determined by the number of distillations to which subjected. The product of the first distillation is called “vino,” and is the cheapest grade of mescal. The “vino” when subjected to a second distillation loses about thirty per cent in weight and then is known as “Bacanora.” This is a much finer and more expensive liquor than the “vino.” In the third distillation the “Bacanora” loses another thirty per cent, by weight, of the “vino” and the product, known as “pechuga,” is a very fine and costly liquor, within reach of the purses of the wealthy only. It is a soft, smooth liquor, having all the strength of the “vino,” contained within forty per cent of its weight but losing none of its fiery qualities and pungent taste.”

It is important to note that this article didn't specifically mention that Pechuga was made with meat, but it was stated to be produced from a third distillation. Did the author misunderstand the actual nature of Pechuga? Or did the term Pechuga once only refer to a higher quality of Mezcal? It doesn't seem logical that this Pechuga didn't include meat. Why else refer to it by a name meaning "breast," especially "chicken breast?"  There doesn't appear to be any other historical evidence that the term Pechuga was ever used for anything but Mezcal flavored with meat. I think it is probably most likely the author made a mistake, an omission error, failing to mention the addition of meat in Pechuga.

We also see that Pechuga was very expensive, and tasted soft and smooth, though still possessing the fiery character of Mezcal. This article also raises the question about whether Pechuga might have originated in the Sahuaripa district or not. We can pinpoint the presence of Pechuga there at least 116 years ago. At the very least, this article provides a lead for further research, that maybe more evidence could be found in this district. It was certainly fascinating to find such an old reference to Pechuga, though I didn't know at that time that I would soon find an even older reference.

Before I get there though, I should mention that on Saturday, May 24, 1902, The Oasis published a second article, Mezcal Manufacture, mentioning Pechuga. However, the article was simply an expanded version of their prior article, using much of the same information, and didn't add anything new about Pechuga.

Though this was an intriguing find, pushing back the known origins of Pechuga, I didn't stop my research, using this new information as a springboard. My continued efforts paid off and I made another compelling discovery, finding a printed reference to Pechuga in a book from 1891! What made this even more interesting was that the reference was very clear that the creation of Pechuga included the addition of a chicken.

The book, El Maguey. Memoria sobre el cultivo y beneficio de sus productosby Jose C. Segura, was published in Mexico in 1891. Jose Segura (1846-1906) was an agronomist engineer and a professor at the National School of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine, having written several other books and numerous articles. This book, published in Spanish, discussed the many uses of the agave plant, including its use in making Pulque and Mezcal. It is probably worth a deeper examination as it may contain other intriguing information about agave, Pulque, Mezcal and more. It would also help if there were an English translation.

There is a passage in this book that references the term Pechuga: “El primer producto que se obtiene y que se llama vino ordinario, sufre una segunda destilacion, que pro duce el vino refino, que se expende en el comercio con un grado de 46° (Gay Lussac). Las primeras porcio nes que pasan en esta segunda destilacion, toman el nombre de flor primera, segunda, etc. Hay un vino que - rectifican añadiéndole gallina y no recuerdo qué otras cosas bien poco volátiles, que llaman vino de pechuga, el cual lo preparan solamente para regalo."

This passage mentions "vino de pechuga," which is made by adding chicken and other unstated ingredients. It is also noted that this Pechuga was prepared only for a gift. However, after a closer examination of the book and additional research, I learned that Mr. Segura did not actually author that passage, but was quoting a prior writer, D. Manuel Payno. And Mr. Payno's original article containing that passage is from 1864, pushing back the calendar on Pechuga even more.

In the Boletin de la Sociedad Mexicana de Geografia y Estadisticathere was a lengthy article, Memoria Sobre El Maguey Mexicano Y Sus Diversos Productos, written by D. Manuel Payno (1864). The article contained the above passage on Pechuga which Mr. Seguara included in his book. Unfortunately, Mr. Payno didn't include anything else in his article about Pechuga, though we now know Pechuga existed in Mexico over 150 years ago. This is now the oldest known printed evidence of Pechuga.

Returning to Mr. Segura's 1891 book, there was another reference to Pechuga, one which appeared directly attributable to him, but it used a different term. He wrote "Dos clases de Mezcal se conocen en el Sur de Mexico: el mezcal de cabezas, que es el que se obtiene destilacion del liquidoen donde se han puestoa fermentar las cabezas, y el que llama de sustancia, que es el que se obtiene distilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera. Tambien acostumbran en algunas partes, aromatizar el mezcal, destilandolo sobre cascaras de fruta."

He referred to it as mezcal of sustancia, substance, which is made with chicken or legs of veal. There was also a mention that sometimes fruit peels are added to the mezcal. This was not the only work to use a different term for Pechuga. For example, published in 1882, the Memoria de la Primera Exposicion Industrial De Queretaro, y Lista de los objetos presentados en la misma (Memory of the first exhibition industry of Queretaro and list of objects presented), written by Celestino Diaz, mentioned this term a couple times.

The first mention was of "mezcal de sustancia, que los Srs. Becerill y Ordonez fabrican en San Angel." There was another mention, noting that mezcal de sustancia won a first class award at the Exposition. Interestingly, there was also a reference to "Pechuga Naranjado," which won a first class award too.

In addition, the Diccionario de Aztequismos: ó sea, Catálogo de las palabras del idioma Nahuatl, Azteca ó Mexicano, introducidas al idioma Castellano bajo diversas formas, written in 1904 by Cecilio A. Robelo provided a list of various types of Mezcal. It defined "Mezcal de sustancia" as "el que se obtiene destilando el jugo fermentado de las cabezas con carne de gallina cocida, o patas de ternera." That is essentially the same language as used by Mr. Segura.

Beside these discoveries, I also found multiple other references to Pechuga from 1872-1901, which add to our understanding, as well as raise additional questions, of this unique type of Mezcal.

A Colorado newspaper, Out West (November 21, 1872), provided a travelogue, written by Rosa Del Monte, who journeyed with a group to various parts of Mexico. At the Hacienda de Quesaria, the group had breakfast, checked out their sugar mill and were amazed by "chicken wine." As the passage states: “But the most remarkable product of the estate is “Chicken Wine.” As any-one may imagine, we greeted the member of the party who made the discovery with shouts of derision, but he stuck to his statement, and soon a bottle with “Vino de Pechuga” (the breast of a chicken) on the label was produced. We tasted the decoction, and found it very bad rum, with no perceptible taste of feathers. Three barrels, worth $36 the barrel, are made daily, and two chickens are boiled in every four gallons of the wine. Such is the fact—but the reason why remains a mystery to this day.”

This is an interesting passage and the writer might have been confused as to the actual method of production of the Pechuga. This was likely created with Mezcal and not wine, as Pechuga is sometimes referred to as "vino de Pechuga," despite no actual wine being involved. It is also surprising that this Pechuga is allegedly made every day.

In the Mexican newspaper El Padre Cobos (November 6, 1873), there is a brief mention of "Vino de Pechuga," which is made in Tequila, that will soon be available for sale: "Gran Lecheria! En la calle de la Alcaiceria entre los numeros 27 y 28 se vende leche pura garantizada desde las cinco de la manana adelante y chocolate superior de varias clases, al estilo de Guadalajara. Proximamente se recibera de esa ciudad un abudante surtido de vino de Pechuga febrido in Tequila, Frijol garbancillo y Cigarros de la Conchita y el Buen Gusto todo legitimo y a precios comodos."

Another newspaper, La Patria (March 31, 1878), noted Jesus Flores won a prize at an exposition for his "vino de Pechuga." Unfortunately, the article didn't provide any additional details about this winning Pechuga but now we see that Pechuga was sometimes entered into competitions.

In La Patria (February 1, 1879), there is an advertisement from a seller, Nicolas Andrade, of Tequila and Pechuga. The ad lists the prices, in Mexican dollars, for various containers, from a cup to a barrel. It is interesting to see that Pechuga generally cost twice as much as Tequila. A cup of "Grande Tequila" costs $0.03 while a cup of Pechuga cost $0.06. A bottle of Tequila cost $0.37 while a bottle of Pechuga cost $1.00. A Jar of Tequila cost $3.50 while a Jar of Pechuga cost $7.00. A Barrel of Tequila cost $25.00 but there wasn't a price for Pechuga by the barrel.

More prices were provided by the El Municipio Libre (April 3, 1879), in an advertisement by a liquor store. Mescal de Tierra Caliente cost $1.50 for a bottle and $20.00 for a Box (though there is no indication how much the box contains). Tequila Superior cost $3.00 for a bottle and $40.00 for a Box. And "Legitimate" Pechuga costs $7.00 for a bottle and $90.00 for a box. These prices are higher than the other advertisement though Pechuga is still the most expensive. What is also curious is that this ad states its Pechuga is "legitimate," raising the question whether some people were selling fake Pechuga. Maybe that is why the other seller's prices were so cheap.

In 1880, Mariano Barcena presented a study to the Secretary of Development, La 2. Exposicion de “Las Clases Productoras” y descripcion de la ciudad de Guadalajara. There was a list under the heading, Bebidas Azucaradas y Otras, which included a number of Pechuga references, usually as "vino de Pechuga." There were also references to “vino de Pechuga y almendrado” (Pechuga and Nuts), “Pechuga Almendrado,” and “Pechuga Naranjado” (Orange Pechuga). These terms seem to indicate the additional ingredients added to the base Pechuga. It raises the question then whether originally Pechuga only contained chicken, or another meat, and not the fruits, nuts, and such known to be used to create later versions of Pechuga. This study also mentioned that Sr. D. Carlos G. Sancho presented a "very good" Pechuga.

The book Estudio quimico-industrial de los varios productos del maguey mexicano y analisis quimico del aguamiel y el pulque (Chemical-industrial study of various products of Mexican maguey and chemical analysis of aguamiel and pulque) was written by José G. Lobato and published in January 1884. One of its passages is: "El estado de Zacatecas posee varios distritos mezcaleros; pero entre ellos el de Pinos es muy notable por las plantaciones y cultivo de sius magueyeras, que producen much mezcal, alcohol de primera y segunda clase, llamdos chorrera el primero, y pechuga el sugundo. Esta misma denominacion se les aplica en San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, Queretaro y otros Estados."

This passage mentions that the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, has several Mezcal producing districts and that the Pinos district is notable. This district is best known for two classes of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga. It continues noting that this also applies to other Mexican states, including San Luis Potoso, Guanajuato, and Queretaro, indicating the prevalence of Pechuga Mezcal.

Another passage goes into some additional detail, "El mezcal de pechuga de San Luis Potosí, de Pinos en Zacatecas, de Tequila en Jalisco, etc., es un alcohol muy aromático, muy sápido, muy carminativo, debido esto al aceite esencial del maguey, al ácido agávico y á la agavina encontrada por el Sr. Fernandez en 1876, con moti vo del análisis que exprofeso ejecutó, comisiónado por el Ayuntamiento de Guanajuato con motivo del envenena miento de este alcohol por el plomo."

It is stated that the Pechuga of San Luis Potosí, the Pinos in Zacatecas, and Tequila in Jalisco, are very aromatic and full-bodied. Strangely, it's also stated that these mezcals are "carminativo," which translates as carminative, meaning they can induce or prevent flatulence. Mezcal has long been said to cure many ailments, but mentioning its carminative properties along with it being aromatic and full-bodied seems to be a strange combination. The passage also mentions that these qualities are considered to be due to the essential oil of the maguey plant, agavic acid and its agavina (natural sugars).

The El Correo de San Luis (May 19, 1885) presented an ad, noting its low prices, for "Vino de Pechuga Almendrado," which is stated to be "propio para las senoras por su suavidad y buen gusto," ("suitable for ladies for its softness and good taste"). This is the first reference I've seen that refers to women as a specific demographic for Pechuga. Is it only because nuts were added to this Pechuga? This reference seems to raise more questions than it answers.

In El Agricultor Mexicano (June 1, 1901), there was a passage "En el estado de Zacatecas, que cuenta con mucho distritos mezcaleros, el mas notable es el de Pinos que produce un alcohol supremo, y que es de dos clases, la de primera se llama "chorrera" y "pechuga" la de segunda." It mentioned the Mexican state of Zacatecas, located north of Jalisco, which had many Mezcal producing districts and the Pinos district was considered the best. The Pinos district was best known for two types of Mezcal, Chorrera and Pechuga.

It is abundantly clear now that Pechuga wasn't a 20th century invention, but extends back at least to 1864, over 150 years ago. These are fascinating finds, and I hope that it might lead to even more such discoveries in the future.
Though Pechuga is rare, it can be found in the U.S. market, primarily due to the work of Ron Cooper of Del Maguey. Around 1999, Cooper, after a few years of fighting the bureaucracy, was the first to bring Pechuga into the U.S. market. Currently, they sell two Pechugas, one made with chicken and the other with Iberico ham. Since then, a number of other Mezcal producers, including El Jolgorio (using a guajolote, a creole turkey rooster ), Wahaka (one also using a guajolote and another which is a vegan version), and Fidencio (using chicken breast). As Pechuga is made in small batches, it tends to be very pricey, and you can expect to pay $100-$300 a bottle.

Pierde Almas, a Mezcal producer which considers itself to be a socially, culturally and environmentally responsible company, also produces a version of Pechuga. Made in the village of San Baltazar Chichicapam and created by Master Distiller Jonathan Barbieri, this Mezcal de Conejo (about $300) is produced from Espadin Mezcal with local heirloom fruits, herbs, nuts (including apples, pineapples, almonds, pecans, citrus blossoms and anise) and the saddle of a wild, Cottontail rabbit. The fruit, herbs, nuts and rabbit are added during a third distillation in a copper pot still.

I recently tasted this Mezcal de Conejo at Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain, one of a handful of Mezcal Bars in the Boston area (and they have over 25 Mezcals on their list). A small tasting cup of the Conejo is $18.50 while a larger cup is $36. I was immediately struck by the anise notes in this Mezcal and then I could detect the ripe fruit flavors, especially pineapple, a mild smokiness, and a touch of a more wild and gamey element. It was complex and intriguing, a unique melange of flavors which should please any Mezcal lover. You wouldn't know this Mezcal was made with rabbit, but it still would make for an interesting addition to your Easter dinner. Or just drop by Tres Gatos to sample this unique Mezcal.

Have you tasted Pechuga? If so, what were your thoughts?

(Please be advised that my recent experience at Tres Gatos was comped, without any obligation to write a review or say anything specific about my experience. )

(Please also be advised that this article was revised/expanded on April 21, 2017, adding new information to the section on the origins of Pechuga.)

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) TAMO Bistro & Bar at the Seaport Hotel has launched three new, large-format Fishbowls for spring: the Monkey Bowl, the Regatta Bowl, and the TAMO Tiger Bowl. Made for two to share, these goblet-sized cocktails feature Bacardi Rum, exotic fruit purees and fun garnishes. Sip on these tropical concoctions with friends while relaxing in the sun on TAMO Terrace, tentatively opening on May 26th, weather permitting.

TAMO Terrace is a great place for after-work cocktails, lunch, dinner and even to catch the big game. The Terrace features a custom-made 11 foot bar with a Skyvue 52” LED outdoor TV, and half the terrace covered with a lavish umbrella system for those who’d prefer to relax in the shade.

Monkey Bowl ($35)
Bacardi Banana Rum, Bacardi Coconut Rum, strawberry puree, banana puree, Falernum bitters, dragon fruit, mint and plastic monkey garnish
Regatta Bowl ($35)
Bacardi Tangerine Rum, Bacardi Mango Rum, fresh lemon juice, lychee puree, blue curacao, bitters, lime boat garnish
TAMO Tiger Bowl ($35)
Bacardi Oakheart Rum, Bacardi Dragonberry Rum, guava puree, pineapple juice, egg whites, angostura bitters, dragon fruit garnish

2) It's time for 'Brinner' aka Brunch-Dinner. The Gallow's executive chef Scott Jensen is now offering his weekend brunch menu for dinner on Monday nights, from 4pm-11pm. You'll now be order such Brunch items as Shakshuka, Sunrise Poutine, and Crack-Wich, on Monday evenings. Plus, they will be serving Blackbird Doughnuts. If your weekends all too busy for you to get out for Brunch, then now you have Monday evenings to check out Brunch. I've always been a proponent of having breakfast items for dinner, and this is an appealing idea. Will we see other restaurants start offering Brunch menus during the week?

3) On April 22 and 23, Legal Sea Foods will honor Earth Day by offering two specials whose sales will be donated to the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM). Available at all Legal locations throughout the state, the specialty appetizer is a Lobster Spinach Oyster Trio baked with cheese and herbed crumbs ($12) and the entrée is Linguini & Clams sautéed with pancetta, garlic and white wine ($18.95).

Legal Sea Foods has partnered with ELM since 1996 and will generously give 100% of the proceeds, up to $10,000, of its two menu features on these days to help combat climate change and in protecting our land, water and public health.

4) On Saturday, April 29, from 1pm-5pm, The Wine ConneXtion, located in North Andover, is bringing Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery and Myers & Chang to the North Shore for a complimentary tasting of her famed Flour favorites paired with a selection of seasonal wines and fine cordials.

Guests can socialize and experience tasting a group of selected wines and cordials while sampling a unique take on Joanne’s famous Sticky Bun Kouign-amann, a round cake, made with viennoiserie dough containing layers of butter and sugar folded in, served with caramel goo, whipped cream and pecans. During the meet and greet with Joanne, guests will also have the opportunity to purchase a signed copy of her four published cookbooks.

Joanne is a super chef and I've often enjoyed treats from her bakeries. I'm also a big fan of her cookbooks, feeling they provide lots of valuable baking advice as well as many cool recipes. I strongly recommend you check out her visit to The Wine Connextion.

Tasting is complimentary. Walk-ins welcome all day, must be 21+.

5) Tonight, Scampo at The Liberty Hotel will debut “Jazzy Cocktail Nights,” a weekly late-night live music series that pairs sophisticated sounds with elegant cocktails and savory bites. Designed for Bostonians looking for a new twist on the nightlife scene, the Thursday night series, from 10pm-1am, will transform Scampo’s bar and lounge area into a sleek hideaway that showcases the talents of some of the region’s top music acts whose genres include jazz, vocals, Latin rhythms, funk and blues:

April 13: Ark, the duo of vocalist Danielle Angeloni and instrumentalist Alper Tuzcu that reimagine popular songs to Latin beats
April 20: Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, a traditional New Orleans jazz ensemble who also perform interesting covers and original music
April 27: The Sam Lee Trio, headlined by Mr. Lee, a top bassist in New England covering jazz, funk, R&B and rock
May 4: Paul Gaulin, a percussionist whose jazz trio spans genres including Latin, funk and blues
May 11: Mark van Bork, leader of VB & the Buzz, who transitions effortlessly through blues, soul, jazz and rock

With the new series comes a dedicated list of cocktails and bar bites available exclusively during the Thursday performances from 10pm-1am. For single-serve cocktails ($16 each), highlights include the Boulevardier, a stirred concoction of rye, Campari and sweet vermouth finished with an orange twist; Classy Champagne Cocktail served in a water glass with sugar cubes and a lemon twist; and, Roaring Violette with lychee, Violette, lavender, white wine and bubbles.

For those looking to take their imbibing game to the next level, there are sharable Punch Bowl Cocktails ($36) – that come shaken for two, served in festive brass pineapple-shaped vessels – like the Sparkling Jazz with Absolut, lime, Aperol and a prosecco float with floating orange pin wheels and Dubonnet Sangria with wine, fruit, anejo tequila and hibiscus with a ginger beer float and fresh fruit. For those with a late-night sweet tooth, there’s the Prohibition Milkshake ($36), a large format liquid treat of vodka, chocolate ice cream, crème de cacao, Kahlua and bubbles served with freshly made mini bacon doughnuts.

On the culinary side, there are a quintet of items that are available in addition to Scampo’s seasonal pizza offerings: Veal & Pork Meatballs in a 17-minute candeli sauce with shaved pecorino gremolata ($12); Fried Arancini with Pomodoro and parmesan ($10); Calamari a la Plancha with fennel salad and chipotle aioli ($10); Bruschetta with homemade ricotta, candied pistachios and warm guanciale ($11); and Lydia’s Stuffed Dates ($11).

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SENA17: Chefs & the Business of Seafood

Chefs are on the front line of the promotion of seafood consumption. As I mentioned last Friday, Barton Seaver advised chefs that they should not ask for specific species but should ask for what is fresh. In addition, they should "sell the dish, not the seafood." At the recent Seafood Expo North America (SENA), I attended a seminar where several chefs offered their own take on the issue of seafood sustainability.

The Keynote conference session I attended at SENA was "Delicious & Profitable: Chefs Discuss The Business of Seafood" which was intended to discuss the following: "Everyday, chefs across North America make the important decision of which seafood products to buy and those choices have a strong impact on the business of seafood. They are faced with the challenge of offering new and innovative dishes, enticing younger consumers to the table while navigating the intricate waters of responsible sourcing. Ultimately, what chefs decide to put on their menus set consumer buying trends and influence consumer behavior at retail. In a quest to find the seafood options that make business sense while inspiring mouthwatering creations their clients crave, our panel of influential chefs will discuss the drivers behind their purchasing decisions and what the seafood industry can do to help them increase the amount of seafood served as well as insight into how chefs influence consumer trends."

The Moderator was Polly Legendre,  a Chef and a Board member of Aquaculture Without Frontiers, an independent non-profit organization that promotes and supports responsible and sustainable aquaculture in the alleviation of poverty. There were also four expert speakers, including: Chef Ned Bell, the Ocean Wise executive chef of the Vancouver Aquarium; Chef Jeff Black, who owns six restaurants and a bar in Washington D.C.; Chef Richard Garcia, a sustainable seafood proponent and the culinary director for a national chain of restaurants and hotels; and Chef Rick Moonen, a restaurateur and long-time sustainable seafood advocate.

Polly Legendre started off the discussion noting the important statistic that approximately two-thirds of seafood expenditures by consumers are at restaurants. Consumers are much less likely to cook seafood at home so it is vital that restaurants help to promote sustainability. Restaurants also stand in a strong position to persuade consumers to eat more seafood in general, to eat more diverse species, and to embrace sustainability. However, not all chefs are interested in such matters so we need to support and highlight those chefs who embrace these concepts.

Ned Bell then began the discussion, noting how seafood is the last wild protein on the planet yet the cowboy, corralling his cattle, is seen as possessing sex appeal while the fisherman is vilified. This is wrong and we need to see a cultural change in how fishermen are viewed by our society. Ned also stated that the chef possesses much power and that if you enjoy what they feed you, then you are more apt to listen to their message. Thus, it is of primary importance that a chef cooks well, presenting delicious seafood dishes. Once you have impressed your customers, then you will find them more amenable to embracing sustainability issues.

In addition, Ned stated that he would like to see less "squares" of seafood on a plate, and view the dish in its entirety, as a composition. It is all about how you present seafood dishes to your customers. Chefs should also use the whole fish, which is definitely a way to extend the value of seafood, which is often less expensive when purchased whole. And as some seafood can be pricey, just eat smaller portions. Americans often eat too large portions of everything they eat, and smaller dishes would benefit them in multiple ways.

Rick Moonen, who is always a compelling speaker, started off stating how he always preaches that consumers should embrace a diversity of seafood species. That is a sentiment I wrote about on Monday and which numerous other sustainable seafood proponents have promoted. Rick also likes to promote the next fishery which has improved significantly, celebrating the victory of that fishery in helping the species rebound. In addition, he believes consumers should eat lower on the food chain, the small fish which sometimes are seen more as bait.

He also believes we need to support U.S. fisheries, noting that there is a significant system in place to ensure that the seafood harvested locally is sustainable. It is vital that consumers learn and understand that this system is in place, and that it works. We also need to be honest with consumers and attain their confidence in that system. Currently, too many consumers have a fear of seafood and that must be defeated and eliminated. We must find ways to counter their fears.

Rick stated that "we don't tell enough stories" about seafood and that we also "don't celebrate our victories." Consumers are more willing to listen to stories than statistics. The media writes too many negative articles about seafood and that must change too. The media needs to write more positive stories about seafood, to convince people that it is safe and beneficial to eat seafood. Rick also mentioned that it is easier to have a successful shellfish story than one dealing with fin fish. I agree with Rick on these issues, that we do need to promote seafood more, especially highlighting the various success stories out there.

Jeff Black also agreed that chefs need to promote seafood diversity, serving less common species on their menus. Chefs shouldn't just showcase a single species, but promote a whole ecosystem. However, that isn't always easy and Jeff noted how he previously opened a more esoteric restaurant which didn't work so well. In response, Jeff scaled back the menu and eventually got more customers. At that point, he began slowly adding in the more esoteric items, and it worked much better in that manner. That is a good lesson for other chefs who might be struggling with a more esoteric concept. It might be easier to ease into it rather than jump in with both feet.

Rich Garcia indicated that it is extremely difficult for him to institute a seafood sustainability policy across all of the hundreds of restaurants under his control. They order millions of pounds of salmon, tuna and shrimp, and about 80% of their customers are business travelers. He does what he can, trying to create some sustainable restaurants within the larger chain. Rich is also one of those chefs who doesn't like the term sustainability, feeling it has been diluted too much, and he prefers to use "responsible." It is also important, that in the end, chefs are still running a business.

It is important to Rich that the discussion should start focusing more on the sustainability of people, those businesses that rely upon seafood production, from fishermen to processors. The discussion often seems to discuss those people last, concentrating primarily on the fish. However, sustainability needs to include the totality and not just concentrate on one single factor.

Commenting on Polly's opening statement, Rich noted how so few people cook seafood and home and that the industry hasn't done a good job of teaching people how to cook seafood at home. That really needs to change and people need to learn that cooking seafood at home is much easier than they believe.

For more info, check out some of my prior posts on cooking seafood at home: SENA15: How To Cook SeafoodHow To Cook Seafood, Vol.1How To Cook Seafood, Vol.2, and How To Cook Seafood, Vol.3,

What are your favorite restaurants for seafood?