Friday, June 30, 2017

Sparkling Rosé from Kir-Yianni: Greece For The Win

"The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him who drinks it."
--Pliny the Elder

Drink some Xinomavro this summer! Maybe you're not sure what Xinomavro is, but I hope you're willing to learn. Xinomavro (which roughly translates as "acid black") is an indigenous grape in northern Greece and often is compared to Nebbiolo. Xinomavro is difficult to grow and usually provides mild color, strong tannins and high acidity. Because of those characteristics, it ages very well. While young, the wines tend to be dominated by red fruit flavors and as the wine ages, it starts to show more savory notes, such as tomato and olive. Though it can make impressive red wines, it can also be used to produce compelling Rosé wines.

In Greece, there is a single Appellation of Origin for Rosé wine, the Amyndeon, located in northern Greece in Macedonia. All of the wines from Amyndeon must contain at least 85% Xinomavro. One of the most well known wineries in this region is Kir-Yianni, which means "Sir John" in Greek. The winery was founded in 1997 by Yiannis Boutaris, who had left the Boutari Wine Group. Though their first vintage was in 1990, it was not until the 1995 vintage that the wine was bottled under the Kir-Yianni name. More than half of their labels are single vineyard growths on the eastern and western slopes of Mt. Vermio in Macedonia. They grow indigenous Greek grapes, like Xinomavro and Assyrtiko, as well as some international ones such as Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc.

Last night, I chose to open a Greek Sparkling Rosé, made from Xinomavro. I received a media sample of the 2016 Kir Yianni Akakies Sec Sparkling Rosé ($19.99), which is made from 100% Xinomavro. The vineyard for these Xinomavro grapes is located in the viticultural zone of Agios Panteleimon within the Amyndeon appellation in Florina, in northwestern Greece. The vineyard is located at a high altitude of about 600 meters. This Sparkling Rosé spent about 3 months on the lees and has a low 11.5% ABV.

With a light red color and tiny bubbles, this Sparkling Rosé possessed an alluring nose of bright red fruits. On the palate, it was crisp, dry and full bodied with a refreshing effervescence, a mild creaminess and rich flavors of strawberry and cherry. It has a pleasingly long and delicious finish, with hints of savoriness at the end. I paired this Rosé with garlic & parmesan sausage and rice pilaf, and it was a tasty pairing, the fruit meshing well with the herbs of the food. This Rosé would also pair well with a variety of other foods, from seafood to burgers, pizza to roast chicken. Or you could enjoy it on its own, sitting outside in the summer sun, toasting a special occasion, or savoring it at home some evening.

I often recommend people drink Greek wine and you should explore my Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine, which I hope will motivate you to explore the diversity and wonders of Greek wines. The 2016 Kir Yianni Akakies Sec Sparkling Rosé would be an excellent choice to start your sampling of Greek wines.

This summer, drink Greek!

Thursday, June 29, 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) On Tuesday, July 11, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute‘s extensive portfolio of Tuscan wines. A Tuscan staple, the Folonari family has been making wine in the region since the 1700s. With estates in the finest appellations of Tuscany, the Folonaris produce distinctive, small-production wine that has made them one of the most prestigious and respected winemakers in Italy. Currently owned and operated by Ambrogio Folonari and his son Giovanni, the Folonari family brand innovated in 2000 by subdividing their existing estate vineyards and expanding their operations into new regions of Tuscany, allowing the family to augment their portfolio and produce a greater diversity of craft wines. By both expressing the continued innovation and creativity of contemporary Tuscan winemaking, while also honoring the Tuscan tradition and the region’s rich history, the Folonari family has cemented itself as one of Tuscany’s most distinguished winemakers, and is world-renowned for its devotion to quality and craftsmanship.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Ambrogio e Giovanni Folonari Tenute’s US brand ambassador and Italian wine expert, Claudio Andreani, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Folonari family’s collection of Tuscan wines. The menu will be presented as follows:

Lobster Cake, Lemon Tarragon Aioli
Grilled Octopus Crostini, Calabrian Pepper-Saffron Aioli
Clam Casino
Tenuta Campo al Mare Vermentino, Bolgheri, 2015
Fettuccine with Clams (white clam sauce, garlic crostini)
Tenuta di Nozzole “Le Bruniche” Chardonnay, Toscana, 2016
Swordfish Saltimbocca (lemon caper sauce, whipped Yukon gold potatoes)
Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, Toscana, 2014
Tenute del Cabreo “Il Borgo” Super Tuscan, Toscana, 2013
Veal Scallopini (mushroom marsala sauce, charred broccolini)
Tenuta di Nozzole “La Forra” Riserva Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, Toscana, 2012
Tenuta La Fuga Brunello di Montalcino, Toscana, 2012
Parmigiano-Reggiano, Aged Cheddar, Aged Gouda (macerated berries, pancetta crisp, brioche toast points)
Tenuta di Nozzole “Il Pareto” Cabernet Sauvignon, Toscana, 2011
Tenuta di Nozzole “Il Pareto” Cabernet Sauvignon, Toscana, 2013

COST: $110 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

2) Chef Tony Susi and the Capo team introduce the Capo Gelato Stand to West Broadway in South Boston. Inspired by the traditional Italian gelateria, the Capo Gelato Stand features an outdoor cart with over a dozen flavors of both gelato and sorbet from locally owned and operated Giovanna Gelato. The rotating flavors are made in small batches with premium ingredients, and include a mix of Italian classics as well as some custom flavors.

Sample gelato list includes: chocolate, espresso, Nutella, pistachio, salted caramel, straciatella, strawberry, vanilla, amaretto, cannoli, coconut, tiramisu.
Sample sorbet list includes: blood orange, lemon, mango, raspberry, blackberry, passion fruit, peach, pineapple.

Gelato and sorbet are available in two sizes, small ($3.25) or large ($4.75) and can be customized with toppings ($.50 each), including: chocolate tuile, espresso crumble, broken cannoli shells, amarena cherries and strawberry jam.

Enjoy the frozen treat on-the-go or in Capo’s café, located inside Capo restaurant, adjacent to the dining room. The Capo Gelato will be available this summer Thursday – Sunday from noon – 7:00 p.m. (weather permitting), and also available as dessert for dinner guests.

3) Executive Chef Josue Louis and Head Sommelier Todd Lipman of Bistro du Midi celebrate the start to summer with Bubbles on the Half Shell. Summer afternoons just got a little sweeter with the launch of Bubbles on the Half Shell at The Bar at Bistro du Midi. Every weekday from 4-6 PM, guests can enjoy $1 East Coast oysters with a champagne mignonette and explore Sommelier Todd Lipman’s favorite champagne, prosecco and sparkling cocktail selections.

Suggested Bubbles: 
--Nino Fanco, Rustico, Prosecco $14/glass, $55/bottle
--Pol Roger, Reserve Brut $29/glass, $125/bottle
--Gosset, Excellence Brut, $70/half bottle
--Ruinart, Blanc de Blancs Brut $145/half bottle
--Aubry, Premier Cru Brut $115/bottle

Sparkling Cocktails
--Champagne Cocktail Provencal $14 (Scrappy’s lavender & grapefruit bitters, muddled sugar cube)
--French 75 $14
--Cucumber Sureau $13 (Pearl cucumber vodka, St. Germain, fresh lemon & lime juice, sea salt, soda)

4) Coppersmith, South Boston’s vintage-industrial restaurant, along with Executive Chef Jason Heard, are firing up the smokers for the summer and introducing Weekly Whole Hog Roasts to celebrate the season of outdoor cooking.

Having started on Wednesday June 28, and continuing throughout the summer until Wednesday August 16, Chef Heard will tap into his southern roots and barbeque expertise to roast, smoke and offer an array of globally-influenced flavors from Latin to Asian and everything in-between. Weekly Whole Hog Roasts, using locally sourced meat, will not only have a unique theme, but will also be served with traditional side dishes that complement the theme that week. The bar will accompany the weekly roasts with cocktail specials that enhance each theme in a refreshing way.

The weekly roasts will be offered as a dinner special for $24 per person from 5pm-10pm or while it lasts.

Themes are as follows:
Wednesday, June 28th - Latin
Wednesday, July 5th - Southern
Wednesday, July 12th - Korean
Wednesday, July 19th - Chinese
Wednesday, July 26th - Jamaican
Wednesday, August 2nd - Spanish
Wednesday, August 9th - Tex Mex
Wednesday, August 16th - Hawaiian

Reservations are highly recommended. To book a reservation or for more information, please visit

5) Puritan & Co. Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Sommelier Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s talented team will soon offer guests an expanded wine list of Riesling varietals. Riesling can be polarizing, especially if the wine is sweet. Puritan & Co. invites wine novices and aficionados alike to reacquaint themselves with the varietal as it rolls out its new "Summer of Riesling" wine list.

Carefully curated by Sommelier Peter Nelson, Puritan's "Summer of Riesling" wine list, starting on July 1, will be added to Puritan's current wine list this Saturday. The list will feature primarily dry wines, most with highly expressive fruit character, and even an option made without added sulphur, Binner. The internationally sourced wines will hail from Germany, France, Austria, Italy, California, New York and Oregon.

The list will be separated into two categories- one featuring 7 more affordably priced, approachable bottles and the “$100 Club”- a selection of 5 wines that regularly cost up to $180, but are available for Puritan guests for only $100 each.

To make reservations, please call 617-615-6195

6) Boston’s sister restaurants Beat Brasserie and The Beehive are giving guests the chance to give back, as they support the Black Donkey Project and the 2017 Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) with a portion of sales of each bottle of Via Ottimista’s 2013 Nebbiolo wine going to life-saving cancer research, now through August 5.

Sold at both Beat Brassierie and The Beehive this summer, Via Ottimista will be available by the bottle, for $45, and a portion of sales from each bottle will be donated to help fight pediatric cancer, in support of the Black Donkey Project, an organization created to better the community and support efforts to cure pediatric cancer. Each bottle is created with grapes from Bee Sweet Vineyard in Edna Valley, California, and flavor notes on the wine include aromas of violet, rose, tea and a lightly savory taste, making Via Ottismista the perfect bottle for any wine lover to pair with Beat and Beehive’s creative seasonal cuisine.

A portion of the proceeds from each bottle will go directly to the PMC, a race that raises money for life-saving cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This charitable promotion will be available at each restaurant from now until the day of the race on Saturday, August 5.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Askanya: Compelling Single-Origin Haitian Chocolate

"The taste of chocolate is a sensual pleasure in itself, existing in the same world as sex... For myself, I can enjoy the wicked pleasure of chocolate... entirely by myself. Furtiveness makes it better."
--Dr. Ruth Westheimer

The island of Haiti was one of the first countries to commercially grow cacao, though it wasn't a very successful endeavor. However, throughout the centuries, cacao has continued to be cultivated in Haiti and there has been more success in recent years, with the potential for much more. Their cultivated cacao trees tend to be older, and more desirable varieties, such as Criollo and Trinitario. Criollo, which is difficult to grow, constitutes only about 5% of the world's production and is most often used in high-end chocolate. Trinitario is a natural hybrid, being hardier to cultivate, and can also have a superior flavor.

In 2015, Haiti produced only about 4500 metric tons of cacao, which is approximately 0.1% the of global supply. This low amount is due to a number of factors, including natural disasters like the Haitian earthquake of 2010 which decreased cacao production by about 36%. Over 90% of the cacao beans cultivated in Haiti are exported in their unprocessed state as it is difficult to ferment the beans in Haiti. There are only a small number of fermentation facilities, and it is those facilities which elevate the quality of chocolate. 90% of the cacao beans also come from small, family run farms, which, on their own, generally don't have the power or finances to market their products.

The Fédération des Coopératives Cacaoyères du Nord (FECCANO) is a cooperative of about 3000 cacao farmers, most from northern Haiti. Back in 2009, the Agronomes et Vétérinaires Sans Frontières, an international, non-profit dedicated to helping small farmers, started educating FECCANO in cacao fermentation techniques as well as helping to open four fermentation facilities on Haiti. They worked with FECCANO in other cacao matters too, such as helping them garner fair trade and organic certifications. FECCANO now has been able to export some high-quality chocolate, earning more money for its many farmers.

Locally, you might have enjoyed some Haitian chocolate from Taza Chocolate, which produces an 84% Dark Chocolate Bar sourced from Produits Des Iles SA (PISA). However, there is a new product on the market, a Haitian bean-to-bar chocolate that is produced solely in Haiti. And it is amazingly delicious.

Les Chocolateries Askanya is Haiti's first and only bean-to-bar chocolate company, located in Ouanaminthe, a town in northeastern Haiti. Their motto is "Grown in Haiti, Made in Haiti, Enjoyed Everywhere." The company was founded in 2015 by three entrepreneurs, including Corinne Joachim Sanon Symietz, her husband Andreas Symietz, and Gentile Senat. Corinne, a Haitian native, was previously an engineer and business consultant, but had a dream of returning to Haiti and starting a business to create jobs. In the end, the founders decided to accomplish this goal by creating a chocolate factory.

The name of their company derives from one of the founder's German hometown, Aschersleben, which in a Latinized form is Ascania. This is also the name of a legendary king in Roman mythology and the founders wish Askanya to become known as the Queen of Chocolate in Haiti. Askanya initially spent time investigating cacao through FECCANO, and now it has become their only cacao supplier.

Currently, Askanya produces three different, single-origin chocolate bars: Paradis, Wanga Nègès and Minuit. They are available in 55 gram bars (about $6 each) and bite-size 10 gram bars (12 for $12.50). The colorful wrappers for their chocolate bars celebrate the native flora and fauna of Haiti, including the bird of paradise (Paradis), night butterflies (Minuit), and hummingbird (Wanga Nègès).

The chocolate is available across the U.S., from New York to California, Illinois to Washington, D.C. Locally, Askanya was previously available by mail order through New Leaf Chocolates in Arlington, but the company has temporarily shut down. There is no other Massachusetts location selling Askanya but you can order them online and get some shipped to you. I received some media samples of the three different bars and found the chocolate to be quite impressive.

The Paradis is a Milk Chocolate bar, made from Haitian cacao, sugar, milk, and cacao butter, with 47% cacao. A milk chocolate bar can have as little as 10% cacao but the Paradis, with its 47%, is closer to the rough category of Dark Milk Chocolate, which generally is said to have at least 50% cacao.

When you look at the Paradis, it certainly is darker than many milk chocolate bars you may have seen, and on the palate, it will strike you as more similar to dark chocolate too. The Paradis has a rich and creamy texture, with delicious chocolate flavors and a mild sweetness. The taste is enhanced by subtle fruit flavors, providing additional complexity. There isn't any bitterness to the flavors and it will definitely please any chocolate lover.

The Wanga Nègès is also a Milk Chocolate bar, made from Haitian cacao, Rapadou (artisanal cane sugar), milk, and cacao butter, with 50% cacao. Rapadou is an unrefined, whole cane brown sugar, and can add flavors of caramel or molasses. With a 50% cacao, it would qualify as one of the Dark Milk Chocolates and it will definitely remind you of dark chocolate. The Wanga Nègès was my favorite of the three bars, presenting a complex and compelling taste. It was creamier and smoother than the Paradis, with a rich, chocolate taste and a complex melange of subtle other flavors, from caramel to dried fruit. There was no bitterness and the taste of the chocolate lingers in your mouth for quite some time. Highly recommended!

The Minuit is their their Dark Chocolate bar, made from Haitian cacao, sugar, and vanilla beans, with 60% cacao. It is the darkest of the three bars, with a rich, deep and dark chocolate taste, but again there isn't the bitterness you may associate with dark chocolate. It also has its own complexity, subtle fruit flavors, sweet vanilla, and more than I strained to try to identify. It is a chocolate to slowly savor and enjoy, reveling in its subtle complexities.

Frankly, these were some of the best chocolate bars I've enjoyed in quite some time. Their creamy richness and complex flavors were compelling, and from the first bite you know these are high quality chocolates. If this is indicative of Haitian chocolate, then let's hope more companies start producing chocolate bars and other chocolate treats. Seek out Les Chocolateries Askanya and you won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Rant: Chocolate Souffle & Hungry Children

Over the weekend, I was fortunate to attend, as a media guest, a Chocolate Souffle cooking class led by Chef Jacky Robert at his restaurant, Ma Maison. Jacky is a famed French chef, well known in the Boston area, and Ma Maison is an intimate, and reasonably priced, French restaurant. Jacky was very personable and helpful, making it easy for us to learn how to prepare a proper souffle. I'd never made a souffle before, though I've eaten plenty, so this was all uncharted territory.

Here are our finished souffles, fresh out of the oven. Generally, they looked pretty good, especially considering most of us had never made one before.

And this is mine. It should have been a bit higher (I mixed in the egg whites a bit too long) but it tasted delicious.

Though this event was fun, I was most struck when Jacky mentioned that he usually conducts these cooking classes as fund raisers, to raise money to fight childhood hunger, especially in the Philippines. Jacky is one of the founders of Chefs Feed Kids, a non-profit organization established to combat hunger, especially in the Philippines. As their website notes: "There are about 1.5 million street children in the Philippines. The very poor kids are thin, untidy, and undernourished, hardly equipped to survive the hazards of everyday living and working on the streets." Other local chefs also help out with this charity and you can see the list here.

In addition, Jacky also helped to establish On Board For Kids, another non-profit organization established to combat childhood hunger. Their full mission is "to provide food, education, shelter, clothing, and healthcare to children in need around the world." They sell a few products, t-shirts and cookies, to raise funds, but also host various events, where all the proceeds go directly to feeding & educating children all over the world.

Their next event will be held on Saturday, September 23, a Sunset Cruise, which will feature a number of local chefs, headed by Jacky Robert. Tickets cost $150/person and can be purchased online here. If the tickets do not sell out, you will be able to purchase them at the door for $180/person. This should be a delicious evening of food & fun, and it will all be for a great cause.

Childhood hunger is a serious problem across the world, even in our own country. In the U.S., approximately 13 million children live in households that do not have consistent access to sufficient food. Worldwide, about 3.1 million children die from hunger each year. There are a number of organizations dedicated to fighting this problem and they need your help. I have much respect for Chef Jacky Robert for his efforts to battle this terrible problem. I also have much respect for all of the others chefs who work with Jacky in this battle.

It was fun to make a souffle, but the most significant aspect of my experience was learning more about Jacky's efforts to save children. Please help him out, by attending the On Board For Kids Sunset Cruise, or making a donation to one of Jacky's nonprofits.

Save the children, save the world.

Thursday, June 22, 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) The Hawthorne patio will become your go-to destination for tropical tiki drinks and boozy blender beverages. Returning this year, Swizzle Sundays at The Hawthorne invites guest bartenders from around the city to work the blenders on the patio from 5:00pm to dusk, serving up island-inspired favorites.

The full summer line-up includes:
June 25th – Tim Cooper of 86 Co. Caña Brava Rum
July 2nd – Eric Anderson of Hendrick’s Gin
July 9th – Sean Frederick of Plantation Rum
July 16th – Willy Shine of Jagermeister
July 23rd – Bob McCoy of Privateer
July 30th – The Hawthorne’s own Jackson Cannon
August 6th – Kerrin Egalka of Compass Box
August 13th – Jesse Lauden of Island Creek Oyster Bar
August 20th – Yuna Asriyan of Absolut Lime/Elyx
August 27th – Colin Asare Appiah of Bacardi

Please call 617-532-9150 for reservations.

2) Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and the team at Harvest welcome guest chef and author Walker Stern from Battersby for a special “The Book and the Cook” dinner. On Sunday, June 25, from 6pm-9pm, Harvest's cookbook series "The Book and the Cook" will host famed Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen author and Battersby Restaurant co-owner and chef, Walker Stern. Battersby, the small New York eatery, opened its Brooklyn doors in 2011. Since then, it has risen to fame for its thoughtful dishes, expert technique, along with a unique and welcoming environment.

Guests will enjoy dishes from Chef Walker Stern’s cookbook Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen for guests to enjoy, complete with wine and beer pairings. Guest Chef Walker Stern, will step out of his four by six-foot kitchen and into Harvest for a guest chef dinner, collectively prepared with Harvest Executive Chef Tyler Kinnett and Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey.

The menu for the evening is as follows:
Chicken Liver with Shaved Mushrooms and Balsamic
Chiarli Cleto, Lambrusco, Modena Spumante Rosé
Villa des Anges, Pays d’Oc Old Vine Rosé
Chimay Rouge, Belgium
Julien Sunier Fleurie Beaujolais 2014
Evolucio Tokaji 2012

Cost: The Book and the Cook dinner is $70 per person (inclusive of a signed book, beverage pairings, tax & gratuity) and includes a reception and seated dinner.
Space is limited and reservations are required. Call 617-868-2255 directly to book seats or visit to purchase tickets.

3) Empire Asian Restaurant & Lounge, which recently celebrated its Five Year Anniversary, is offering Unlimited Sushi on Monday evenings, starting at 5pm.  The Unlimited Sushi costs $29/person and there are no menu substitutions, no sharing and no to-go options. There are 11 options on the menu, essentially all Maki rolls, from Spicy Tuna to Return of the Hamachi Tartare.

For reservations, please call 6170295-0001

4) Gather, the modern American restaurant located in Boston’s home for innovation, District Hall, will be hosting two Game of Thrones themed Brunches to celebrate the upcoming Season 7 premiere. GoT fans can join Gather for themed food and drink specials alongside other Game of Thrones inspired activities to celebrate the Season 7 premiere all weekend long.

WHEN: Saturday, July 15th, and Sunday, July 16th from 11am-3pm
Guests wishing to join Gather’s realm for brunch should make reservations for inside seating, as seating is limited, by calling 617-982-7220.
Patio seating will be available first come, first serve and weather permitting.

5) Chef/Owner Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things rosé at their third annual Rosé Rumble. This Rosé Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Wednesday, July 12th, the third annual rosé rumble will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying bites from Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team.

The night will feature two, separately ticketed sessions- one at 6 p.m. and one at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $75 and can be purchased here:

This should be an excellent event and I strongly recommend you check it out.

6) Puritan & Company Chef Will Gilson will be teaching a hands-on cooking class at the Milk Street Cooking School Master Class on how to prepare a New England Clambake at home on Wednesday, July 19th from 6pm-9pm in the Milk Street Test Kitchen, 177 Milk Street, Boston.

In this hands-on Master Class, students will learn tips and facts about the seafood used and secret techniques for ensuring a properly cooked feast that highlights the best of our simple summer ingredients. The class will also cover wine and cocktail pairings, since clambakes are the perfect party food.

Tickets are $100 per person and can be purchased by logging onto

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Spanish Sippers: Albariño to Viura

As Summer arrives, and temperatures rise, many people opt for a chilled white wine, either on its own or paired with food, from chicken to seafood. You have plenty of options for white wine from all over the world, from Portuguese Vinho Verde to Alsatian Riesling, from Sicilian Grillo to Georgian Rkatsiteli. You also should consider whites from Spain, which can be affordable and delicious, and I have two specific recommendations for you today.

Back in 1999, José Miguel Arambarri Terrero started a winery in Spain, eventually enlisting the assistance of his sons, Ricardo and José Miguel. They eventually expanded their operations, adding wineries, and are now producing wine in 15 Denominations of Origin (D.O). Their overall company became known as Vintae and they export many of their wines to the U.S.  I've written about a few of their wines before, finding them excellent values, and the two wines I'm recommending today fall into that category as well. Please note that both of these wines were media samples.

The Atlantis line, launched in 20015, consists predominantly of white wines, from different D.O., which are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Atlantis line does include a single red, a Mencia from  the Bierzo D.O. I recently sampled the 2016 Maetierra Atlantis Albariño ($12), from the Rias Baixas D.O., which is made from 100% Albariño, undergoes stainless steel fermentation, sees no oak and is only 12.5% ABV. I enjoyed this wine with some Shrimp Scampi and even used some of the wine to make the sauce.

With a light golden color, the wine presented an appealing, fruity aroma and on the palate, it was crisp, dry and delicious. There were tasty flavors of apple, melon and pear with a medium-body and a pleasing finish. An easy drinking wine, it presents with more complexity than many other wines at this price point. It is enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but also pairs well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes. It was a big hit with the other guests and it didn't take long before the bottle was empty.

Bodega Classica, located in the village of San Vicente de la Sonsierra, produces Hacienda Lopez de Haro, a Rioja line launched in 2003, which was named after Diego Lopez de Haro, the founder of the city of Bilbao, and his descendent, as 12th century lieutenant in Castille. Their wines are produced using traditional Riojan winemaking methods and the grapes comes from some older vineyards, with some being over 100 years old.

The 2016 Hacienda Lopez de Haro Blanco ($10) is a white Rioja, made primarily from old vine Viura with some other grapes which are not identified. It is matured for about three months in French oak and has a 12.5% ABV. I found this wine to have a lighter golden color than the Albariño and a more floral nose, accented by some tropical fruit flavors. On the palate, it was crisp and dry with bright lemon notes, a mineral backbone, and some floral accents. It seems a little leaner than the Albariño, with a pleasing finish, and it too worked well with the Shrimp Scampi. It is also enjoyable on its own, a perfect summer sipper, but will pair well with lots of different types of seafood, from mussels to lobster, or light chicken dishes.

Both wines are excellent values which would be great for the summer, though they can be enjoyed year round too. Spain delivers once again on delicious and inexpensive white wines.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cheers For The Flying Dog "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale

I've found a new beer that appeals to me!

As my readers well know, that is a rare occasion, as the bitterness of many beers turns me off. While at TasteCamp 2017 in Maryland, we had an impromptu BYOB at our hotel one evening. Todd Godbout, the writer of Wine Compass, brought a beer which he thought would appeal to my preferences, the "Heat Series" Shishito Rice Ale from the Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland.

The Flying Dog Brewpub was established in Aspen, Colorado in 1990, and in 1994, became a distillery in Denver. In 2006, they purchased a brewery in Maryland, which turned out to be such a success that they decided to close their Denver brewery. They are now the largest brewery in Maryland, producing a wide variety of different beers.

One of their seasonal offerings is their Heat Series, "a radical exploration of brewing with hot chilies, ..." Currently, that series includes four beers, the Cherry Bomb Gose, Chocolate Habanero Stout, Experimental Pepper IPA and the Shishito Rice Ale. I only had the opportunity to taste the Shishito Pale Ale, though I am intrigued by the idea of the Cherry Bomb Gose.

The Shishito Pale Ale is produced with the Speciality Malts of brown rice, carapils, biscuit and acidulated, as well as the Saaz Hops and two Yeasts, Sake and Ardennes. It is also brewed with Shishito peppers, a generally sweet Asian pepper where about one in ten is spicy. This Pale Ale has a 5.3% ABV and 20 IBU.

I found this beer to be light, crisp and refreshing, lacking bitterness and with just a whisper of spicy heat, mainly on the finish. There are some subtle malty undertones and a couple hints reminding me of a Sake. It would be an excellent beverage on a hot, summer day. If you dislike most beers, especially due to their bitter nature, I strongly recommend you give the Shishito Pale Ale a try and I think you will find that you enjoy it.

Much appreciation to Todd for introducing me to this tasty beer.

A Glimpse Into The Culinary Treasures of Frederick, Maryland

We flew down to Maryland the day before TasteCamp 2017 was scheduled to begin, so we had some free time to explore the city of Frederick. The downtown area is filled with a myriad of shops and restaurants, as well as some interesting architecture and museums, such as the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. There are parts of Frederick with many chain shops and restaurants but the downtown is more unique, small businesses.

For breakfast, we ate at Cafe Nola, kind of a hip cafe with an outside patio. It is well known for its breakfast offerings, some with a southern flair. The breakfast entrees generally range from $10-$18, including items such as French Toast, Croissant Sandwich, and Corned Beef Hash. They have a fully stocked bar so you can enjoy a cocktail such as a Bloody Mary Heat ($8), which is made with a house-infused habanero garlic vodka.

I opted for the Shrimp & Grits ($15), which is made with cheddar grits, Andouille sausage and bacon. The grits were creamy and cheesy and there plenty of plump shrimp, spicy sausage and crisp bacon pieces. A hearty dish, excellent comfort food.

We also ordered the Chesapeake Benedict ($18) which consists of jumbo lump crab cakes, atop English muffin and topped by poached eggs and an Old Bay hollandaise sauce, with a side of roasted potatoes. The crab cakes were very good, filled with plenty of sweet crab and not lots of filler. The hollandaise was interesting with the Old Bay, complementing the crab cakes. The potatoes were also nicely crisp. Again, another good breakfast choice.

My only issue with the restaurant was that the service was a bit lackluster, especially after we received our food. Our server didn't return until we were nearly down with our meal, failing to refill our beverages. The restaurant wasn't significantly busy and there didn't appear to be any reason for the lack of proper service. It could be outside the norm. The food though is definitely very good and I would recommend you check it out if you are ever in Frederick.

For dinner, after considering a number of potential choices, we opted for Spanish cuisine at Isabella's Taverna & Tapas Bar. It is a casual spot with a large bar (and has a Happy Hour tapas buffet for those at the bar). They have a full bar though the wine list wasn't too compelling to me, as they had only a small amount of Spanish wines, as well as plenty of other wines from numerous wine regions across the world. Though small, there were some good choices in Spanish wines but in the end, we opted for red Sangria, which was fruity and tasty, though not overly sweet.

The food menu was more interesting, and accompanied by a page of daily specials, with some traditional Spanish dishes as well as some of their own takes on tapas. On the menu, you'll find Soups & Salads (like Gazpacho), Cheeses (like Queso de Cabrales), Seafood (from Fried Calamari to Pan-Steamed Black Mussels), Meats (from Iberico de Bellota to House-Made Chorizo), Vegetables (from Papas Bravas to Brussel Sprouts), six different types of Paella, and a few Entrees (like Grilled Sirloin). Prices are reasonable, with a number of dishes costing $10 and less.

The Queso Frito con Alemendras y Salsa Vinagreta ($6.75) consists of three balls of fried house-breaded goat cheese & almond fritters with a tangy shallot vinaigrette. The crispy coating led to a creamy goat cheese center, accented by crunchy pieces of almond, with a bright acidity from the vinaigrette. Quite tasty and a pleasant way to start our dinner.

The Manchego Frito ($12) was made of a slice of baguette, topped by plenty of fried Manchego cheese, fig jam, and pear. The melted Manchego was delicious, with a mild tang and nuttiness, and was enhanced by the sweet fruit of the fig and pear. Another very good choice.

The special Paella del Dia (Tapas portion/$26) was made with cured Iberico ham, scallops, shrimp, peas, and pimento. The scallops had a crisp sear and were moist and tender, while the plump shrimp had more texture to them and the Iberico was slightly spicy. The rice was cooked nicely and I was impressed with this version of Paella, and I would have liked to order one of the entree sizes as well.

The Gambas al Pil Pil ($8.25) is a dish of hot sizzling shrimp in a spicy garlic oil with caramelized onions. Usually, I don't see onions in this dish, but they added a bit of sweetness to the spicy oil.  It was nice to dip our bread into the dish and sop up the oil.

The Datiles Rellenos ($9) were crispy bacon wrapped Spanish dates stuffed with chorizo and sitting atop a mild goat cheese cream. Salty and slightly sweet, with creaminess from the goat cheese, this was a more decadent dish. A nice blend of flavors and textures and I strongly recommended this dish.

Our final dish of the evening were the Langostinos del Golfo Asados con Arroz Negro ($9), cilantro roasted Gulf shrimp on black rice & a saffron butter sauce. The shrimp was tasty again, and the black rice was earthy, with a briny note. And the saffron butter sauce added a hedonistic touch to the plate.

Service was excellent and I was very pleased with all of the dishes we ate. There was plenty of other items on the menu I would have liked to try too. I just wish the wine list was larger, with more Spanish options. Overall, Isabella's earns my recommendation.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Rant: Agricultural Illiteracy & Chocolate Milk Ignorance

How now, brown cow! And thanks for your chocolate milk. 

Do you know the source of chocolate milk? Does it come from brown cows? Some people seem to think so. In April, the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy conducted a survey of 1000 adult Americans, asking them a series of questions concerning milk. According the results of this study, 7% of adult Americans, about 16.4 million, believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows!  And to make matters even worse, 48% of the survey respondents weren't sure where chocolate milk comes from.

This should be such a simple issue but it seems to boggle many Americans. It is agricultural illiteracy, food ignorance, indicating a significant disconnect between the sources of the food we eat and what we find on our plate. Other studies, dealing with different types of food, have also indicated such ignorance, such as numerous Americans not realizing that hamburger comes from beef. For too many Americans, all they seem to care about is eating and drinking, without any type of interest in where those foods and drinks originate. As such, they often don't care whether the ingredients are local or not, whether they come from large, factory farms or small, family-owned operations.

This ignorance of food origins can have a substantial impact in a myriad of ways. First, it ignores issues of sustainability because if you don't know or don't care about the origins of your food, then you aren't paying attention to sustainability issues. For example, if you just buy and eat shrimp, without any question as to its origin, you could be eating shrimp that is raised unsustainably. If you don't know that your pork is coming from some huge, factory farm, you may not realize how much pollution is generated by that farm.

Second, you probably don't understand the nature of food pricing, especially at restaurants. For example, if you think all hamburger is the same, that the origin doesn't matter, then you can't understand why some places charge $5 for a hamburger and other spots charge $15 or more. You'll complain that the later spot is way over priced, despite the fact they may be using a higher quality hamburger, from a local farm, and also using higher quality toppings.  

Third, you probably don't really know what you are ingesting. If you think chocolate milk comes from brown cows, then you're likely to consider chocolate milk to be a natural product, when it actually has been flavored with various ingredients, which will vary from chocolate milk to chocolate milk. What you ingest is very important to your health, and you should properly understand the origins and nature of your food.

I could go on and on about the other reasons you should better understand the sources and origins of your food and drink. You need to spend a little time educating yourself about food. The advantages and benefits to doing so are myriad. With more information, you'll eat and drink better. And who doesn't want to do that? You can wallow in your ignorance if you so desire, but the quality of your life would improve with some knowledge.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky: From Spain, With Sherry Love

When you think of whiskey, one of the last countries that probably comes to mind is Spain, despite the fact that they have been producing whiskey since the 1960s. It was only recently that I had the opportunity to taste a Spanish whiskey and I was thoroughly impressed, considering it one of my new favorite whiskies.

Let's start with a little history. In 1958, businessman Nicomedes García Gómez formed Destilerías y Crianza del Whisky S.A. (Whisky DYC), a Spanish distillery and it started producing whiskey in March 1963. During its first year of operation, it produced about one million liters and by the 1980s, that amount increased to about 20 million liters annually. In 1989, the company was sold to the Pedro Domecq Group  and then later sold to Beam Suntory. The company currently operates two plants, producing only about 2.3 million liters annually, though they still have the capacity to distill much more.

And now let's touch on the recent past. While perusing the shelves at Julio's Liquors in Westborough, I stumbled upon the Navazos Palazzi Malt Whisky ($114.99), a Spanish whiskey that was aged in Sherry barrels. It intrigued me, especially as I knew that Equipo Navazos bottled some amazing Sherries. I figured that if they were involved in this whiskey, then it was likely going to be very good so I took a chance and purchased a bottle, which would turn out to be a very smart buy.  

I would later learn that Jesus Barquin & Eduardo Oreja of Equipo Navazos chose to partner with Nicolas Palazzi of PM Spirits’ to produce a series of Spanish spirits, including brandy, rum, grain whiskey and malt whiskey. This Malt Whiskey was produced in the DYC distillery, using malted barley that was grown in Spain. It was distilled in a traditional pot still, being released at cask strength, 52.5% proof. Only 900 bottles of this whiskey were produced.  

What helps to make this whiskey unique is that it spends all of its time in the barrel, about four to six years, in three Palo Cortado Sherry casks from Valdespino. Other whiskies may be finished in Sherry casks for a short time, but few, if any other, spend all of their time in Sherry barrels. In addition, few whiskies spend time in Palo Cortado barrels because it is a rarer Sherry, and also happens to be one of my favorite Sherry types.

This Malt Whiskey presents with a nice, dark amber color and its complex aroma is enticing, a blend of harmonious fruits and spices. You could easily sit and enjoy the diverse nose of this whiskey for quite some time before taking a sip. However, when you do sample it, your palate is going to be seduced by the complex, and sometimes subtle, melange of flavors that caress and tantalize. It is sweet, briny and savory, with plenty of fruit, from apples to raisins, as well as lots of spicy notes. Honey, caramel, and malt with clear Sherry notes and a long and lingering finish that satisfies to the last wispy taste. It is elegant and compelling, unique and delicious, a well-balanced whiskey that will surprise and delight. My highest recommendation!

If you are a whiskey lover, you need to explore what is now coming out of Spain, especially the releases from Navazos Palazzi. I've heard of other Spanish wineries that starting to produce whiskey too. This could be the beginning of an intriguing whiskey industry in Spain.

Thursday, June 15, 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) The Artbar, at the Royal Sonesta, is starting off their Summer Series with a special Opening Party on Monday, June 19, from 5:30pm-7:30pm. The evening will feature sips from Jenny Johnson & Champy with summer bites from Executive Chef Brian Dandro. You will also get to sample and vote for Champy-inspired cocktails submitted by three of Boston's cocktail enthusiasts. There will also be Jazz music on the Patio, hosted by Rich DiMare.

To make Reservations, please call 617-806-4122

2) On Friday, June 23, from 7pm-10:30pm, Uncommon Feasts is hosting a pop-up dinner event to celebrate Summer with a feast showcasing the best flavors of the season, with ingredients sourced locally from New England. The event will be held at the Church of Our Savior, 25 Monmouth Sweet, Brookline. Start with platters of small bites to have with refreshing negronis, natural champagne, and rosé, while you make some new friends. Then take a seat to enjoy a plated first course, followed by family-style main course, cheese platters, and dessert, all with wine pairings from The Wine Press. Enjoy live jazz by the talented Eduardo Mercuri throughout the evening and as the night winds down, end with a little digestivo before heading out into the warm evening air.

Jyoti & Aaron from The Wine Press will be serving up negronis and biodynamic natural wines for the evening. Mandy from Hummingbird Events will be setting the scene for the evening. Mandy approaches event planning the way Michelle approaches her menu planning, with a highly customized and personalized touch. Abby & Eric from Myrth Ceramics are generously providing some of their beautiful ceramics for the feast to be served in. Beth from Elizabeth LaDuca Photography will be capturing images throughout the evening. Eduardo Mercuri will be providing live music throughout the evening. Eduardo is a talented Brazilian jazz guitarist and Berklee alumni.

Appetizers: House cured salmon with minced herbs, James Beard's favorite spring onion sandwiches, sweet pea pancakes with pickled vegetables, fava bean purée on crisps, French breakfast radishes with handmade butter, chicken liver mousse crostini
First Course: housemade pork rillettes with pickled rhubarb and spring onions. served with dandelion greens with mustard vinaigrette and platters of sourdough bread
Main Course: roasted lamb served with sauteed greens, fried stuffed squash blossoms with romesco, summer Farmer's market salad
Cheese Platter: That will be entrusted to their favorite cheesemonger
Dessert: berries and cream, assorted cookies Moroccan mint tea, Masala chai
Housemade digestivo

Cost: $125 per person
Purchase tickets at Eventbrite

3) Get Fired Up for Summer at the Posto Block Party on Wednesday, June 21, from 5:30pm-7pm. The fun-loving team at Alpine Restaurant Group want you to get a sizzling start on summer at their Posto Block Party with pizza, prizes, refreshing drinks and more! Outdoor games like Corn Hole and Giant Jenga will be on hand, and a DJ will provide party vibes all night long. Grab your crew and head down. Oh...and four legged friends are welcome to join in the fun.

EAT UP: The Posto Mobile pizza truck, will be cooking up wood fired pizzas to order.
DRINK UP: An outdoor bar will have Aperol Spritzes and Rosé available by the glass
GET LUCKY: Try your luck at the "Slice 'o Life" prize wheel to win pizza inspired give-aways!
WHERE: The Posto parking lot located at 187 Elm Street in Somerville.
HOW: The event is free to guests 21 and older. Make Reservations through Eventbrite

4) Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar invites guests to join their team as they travel to tropical paradise every Tuesday evening. To kick off summer, Rosebud American Kitchen is channeling tropical vibes at its new Tiki Tuesdays. Rosebud will be switching to "island time" at 5 p.m. every Tuesday with a special menu of tropical dishes and drinks; island beats; and a decked out staff.

Rotating specials include drinks like Rosebud Tiki Punch, Pineapple for Two, House Mai Tai, Popsicle Shots, and entrees such as the Big Kahuna Burger with Kalua Pork & Grilled Pineapple.

WHEN: Every Tuesday night beginning at 5 p.m. Kitchen is open until 11 p.m. Bar is open until 1 a.m.
To make reservations, please call (617) 629-9500

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sake News

Kanpai! Here is another short list of some of the interesting Sake articles that have been published lately. It is great to see more and more coverage for Sake, though I recommend that anyone seeking to publish a Sake article check it at least a few times for accuracy. A few basic errors continue showing up in introductory Sake articles, and those errors would be easy to eliminate if you had a knowledgeable Sake person check your facts. Let us also hope that we see more than just introductory Sake articles in the future. Sake has many depths and all those varied facets make great material for articles.

1) Sake on the auction block? In Billionaire and Stir Public Relations, there are new articles mentioning that on June 10, an auction was to be held by Acker, Merrall & Condit (AMC) in Hong Kong. As a first, four Sakes were added to the auction list, all which had scored highly in the Wine Advocate. The four Sakes included Kameno-O Sannen Jukusei Daiginjo (98 points), Iwanoi Yamahai Junmai Daiginjo (95 points), Kinteki Junmai Ginjo (91 points) and Manazuru Junmai Daiginjo (90 points). The first two Sakes are estimated to garner from $1,000 to $3,200 each. The AMC site hasn't listed the winning bids yet.

Are these collectibles which will acquire the same cachet as fine Bordeaux or Burgundy? I think that is very unlikely as Sake isn't generally produced to be aged. For most Sake, it will last about a year or so after release. If these Sakes at auction are purchased, they would need to be consumed in a relatively short time period unlike fine Bordeaux and Burgundy. You couldn't store this Sake in your cellar for ten years and be certain it would still be palatable. Sure, there will be plenty of wealthy people who purchase these Sakes right now, just because they received high points and are seen as desirable, but once they realize it can't age well, then maybe the desire for such expensive bottles will diminish.

2) Ice cold Sake for the summer? The Mainichi has published an article about a new Sake that is supposed to be served at a sub-zero temperature. Ishii Shuzo Co. produced this Sake which will be sold with a special cooler bag intended to keeps the Sake at a temperature of minus 2 degrees Celsius. The Sake, a Junmai Ginjo, is referred to as yukidoke ("melting snow") as allegedly the Sake in your mouth will remind you of melting snow. Sake consumption in Japan declines during the summer so the brewery wanted to do something to combat that decline. This Sake, which goes on sale in July, will cost about $60 U.S. but appears that it will only be available in Japan. I am intrigued though it is going to be difficult to acquire one of these unique bottles.

3) A Sake brewery in the UK? Southwark News has reported that the first Sake brewery in the U.K. is set to open soon. Named Kanpai, the brewery is owned by Lucy Holmes and Tom Wilson, who will soon get married to each other. Their first batch of Sake will be about 600-700 bottles and will be available at the Selfridges department store and the Hop Burns and Black Craft Pub. They will start with a Junmai and a Nigori, and also are attempting to crowd fund for additional monies for their brewery. It is exciting to see new Sake breweries sprouting up around the world.

4) A Sake brewery in France? The Asahi Shimbun reports that two French brothers, Christophe and Stephane Fernandez, are currently working at the Komatsu Syuzoujou Sake brewery in Usa’s Nagasu district in the northeastern part of the Kyushu region. As they learn about how to brew Sake, their ultimate goal is to produce Sake in France using French rice next winter. The Sake they have started making in April should be available in France in the fall. "They aim to create a sweet and sour taste with 13-percent alcohol content, relatively low for sake, for their “junmaishu” that will go well with cheese and dessert." Seems Europe is seeing a small boom in new Sake breweries.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Rant: TasteCamp, Summer Travel & Local Beverages

As you start to plan your summer travel, deciding which places to visit, please give strong consideration to visiting local wineries, distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies. Frankly, many people don't realize the number of these alcohol producers even in their own state. For example, as of 2015 in Massachusetts, there were approximately 55 licensed-farm wineries, 15 hard-cider producers, over 60 breweries, and about 20 distilleries.

Did you realize Massachusetts has that many producers? How many of those producers have you visited? How many of those producers have you tasted their products?

There are now wineries in all fifty states, and the vast majority also have numerous distilleries, breweries, cideries and meaderies. It is a great time for those who enjoy alcoholic beverages, so much new to explore and taste. No matter where you travel, you'll find some interesting producers you can visit, sampling their drinks. On your vacation, spend time visiting historical sites, enjoying the landscape, and dining out. However, leave yourself a little time to explore these exciting, local produced beverages.

I know that some people worry that these producers, especially the wineries, might not be very good, that they make inferior beverages. However, I think that if you explore deeper, if you sample from a number of these producers, you might be very surprised at the quality you can find. And every year, producers all across the country up their game, creating even better beverages than prior years. Don't prejudge these producers but approach them with an open mind, and let your palate judge the quality of their drinks.

Yesterday, I returned from a weekend visit to Maryland where I, and about 30 others, attended TasteCamp 2017. The concept of TasteCamp was created by Lenn Thompson, of the The Cork Report, back in 2009, and it consists of a weekend immersion into a lesser known wine region, outside of the big wine states like California, Washington and Oregon. We have previously visited places including Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Quebec, Virginia, Niagara and Vermont. Attendees come from both the U.S. and Canada, and though many of the attendees are from the East Coast, some attendees come from as far as California.

At TasteCamp, attendees visit a variety of producers, tour vineyards, taste dozens of wines, dine on local foods and holds an exciting BYOB dinner. The basic concept has evolved over time so that it is no longer limited to wine, now also including beers, ciders, meads and spirits. A key principle for TasteCamp is "drink local," consuming products that are locally produced, usually from local ingredients. There is little reason to limit ourselves to wine when local producers are making so many other interesting and tasty beverages too. This is a great example of what I meant when I wrote my prior Rant: Drink Writers, Burst Your Bubble.

Though TasteCamp usually has a few, limited sponsors, the attendees shoulder the lion's share of expenses for the trip, including their transportation, lodging and some meals. This year, we owe a debt of gratitude to Maryland WineMaryland Distillers Guild and Brewers Association of MarylandWith its limited size, TasteCamp is a more intimate event, allowing you to get to know everyone in the group, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones too. The focus of the event is on tasting, both food and drink, and there aren't any seminars or events about writing, blogging, photography, or similar activities.

I previously attended a wine conference in Maryland back in 2013, learning that Maryland wines had an image problem, including among many of its residents. I found that numerous people still didn't fully understand the quality of wines that Maryland produced. Some felt that Maryland made only sweet wines. However, I tasted a number of excellent wines, seeing the potential in Maryland and it was great to learn more about the various wineries which were seeking to produce quality wine. And this past weekend, I found that the Maryland wine industry has improved in the last four years and is providing even more fascinating and delicious wines, as well as other excellent alcoholic beverages.

Some of the highlights of TasteCamp included: Wines from Old Westminster Winery, Black Ankle Vineyards, and Big Cork Vineyards; Spirits from McClintock Distilling Company and Tenth Ward Distilling Company; and Mead from Orchid Cellar Meadery. And I know I still missed tasting excellent products from some other Maryland producers. During the next few weeks, I'll be writing about my experiences, highlighting some of the best I encountered. Maryland is certainly a compelling destination for those who want to explore delicious and interesting wines, spirits, beers, and more.

TasteCamp helps to illustrate the belief that liquid wonders can be found in many local regions all across the country. In all of the regions we have explored, we have found plenty of interest and each spot would make for a compelling vacation destination. Throw away your preconceptions about the wine and drink industries in various states and be adventurous, gaining first-hand experience of what these local producers are creating. You might not like everything you find, but I'm sure you will be surprised at the quality and diversity you find, and will also locate some treasures which will delight your palate.

Be adventurous. Expand your palate and sample something new. Explore local drink producers.

Thursday, June 8, 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) Now in its milestone 20th year, Chefs in Shorts brings together a group of the area’s top culinary talents who fire up the grills and create their best dishes during this expansive outdoor, summer-in-the-city barbeque hosted at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center. Join some of Boston’s best chefs on June 23 for an evening of grill-offs, desserts, beer, wine and fun to again benefit Future Chefs, a local nonprofit focused on first careers in the culinary arts. Attendees also will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite creation.

This year’s featured chefs include the following:
Host Chefs:
Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center: Karen Hodsdon, Pastry Chef
Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center: Richard Rayment, Executive Chef
TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel: Robert Tobin, Chef

Participating Chefs & Venues:
Aloft-Element Boston Seaport Hotel: Darren Sylvin
Artbar: Brian Dandro
Babbo: Mario LaPosta
Back Deck: Paul Sussman
Bar Boulud: Robert Differ
BOND at The Langham, Boston: Mark Sapienza
Brasserie JO: Nicholas Calias
Cask ‘n Flagon: Paul Bushell
Coppersmith: Jason Heard
Deuxave: Shaun Velez
District 45: Julia Slowinski
Earls Kitchen + Bar: Nick Hrynkiw
Five Horses Tavern: Beth Schunke
Flour Bakery + Café: Frank Francione
Future Chefs: Jason Carpenter
Harvard Club Boston: Dean Moore
Kashmir: Harjit Pabla
La Casa de Pedro: Stephanie Conni
LaVallee’s Bakery: Andy LaVallee
Local 149: Corey O’Shea
LTK Bar and Kitchen: Patrick Keefe
Lulu’s Allston: Sarah Wade
Oak & Rowan: Brittany Ross & Justin Shoults
Ocean Prime: Mitchell Brumels
Philip R’s Frozen Desserts: Philip Rotondo
Precinct Kitchen + Bar: Matt Sentas
Salty Pig: Joshua Turka
Sapore Ristorante + Bar: Wallace Christopher
Scampo at The Liberty Hotel: Alex Pineda
Serafina: Brendan Burke
Tavolo: Alex Horowitz
Tip Tap Room & Bukowski Tavern: Brian Poe
Top of the Hub: Stefan Jarausch
TRADE: Kimmy Jaski
Verde Farms: Cassie Marantz
W Boston: Derek Barragan
Worden Hall: Milton Barahona

Additionally, revelers will be treated to tastes from celebrity chef Allen Campbell as well as Backyard Farms, Eva’s Pastries and Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs.

WHEN: Friday, June 23, from 7:00pm-10:00pm
COST: $90 per person (includes admission with complimentary beer, wine and culinary tastings)
TICKETS: Advance tickets are required: Tickets will not be available at the door.
MORE INFO: This event is strictly ages 21+ and requires proper identification.
BENEFICIARY: Future Chefs’ mission is to prepare urban youth in Greater Boston for quality early employment and post-secondary education opportunities in the culinary field and to support them in developing a broad base of transferable skills as they transition into the working world.

2) This summer, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Boston’s Back Bay will offer homemade, booze-infused ice pops, paired with Prosecco or Rosé Sparkling Wine. Perfect to enjoy on a hot and sunny afternoon, these summer treats with an adults-only twist have never tasted so good. Pastry Chef Tom Ponticelli has prepared flavors such as the Raspberry, Peach, Rosé and Blueberry, Lime, Prosecco. Available for a limited time only at Davio’s Boston from June 21st to August 31st.

COST: The Davio’s Boozy Ice Pops are available for $15 each.
Must be 21 to purchase or consume alcoholic beverages with a valid ID.

3) Executive Chef Nick Calias’ summer series, roofTOP Chefs, returns to The Colonnade Hotel’s RTP every other Tuesday, beginning June 13. The casual cookout-style, poolside tasting pop-up will once again donate 100% of ticket sales ($30 per person) to Share Our Strength No Kid Hungry. Each chef will make their own tasting menu of 2-4 dishes, with a complementing dish from Chef Calias.

Attendees get to soak up the sun, hang out with the chefs, sample small bites and enjoy full access to Boston’s only outdoor rooftop pool, which sits 12 stories above the streets of Back Bay. Tickets are available at

The roster of guests chefs features:
June 13: Jason Santos, Abby Lane, Back Bay Harry's, Buttermilk & Bourbon
June 27: Karen Akunowicz, Myers+Chang
July 11: Julie Cutting, Cure Bistro
July 25: Tony Maws, Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Craigie on Main
August 8: Rich Garcia, Crescent Hotels
August 18: Josh Ziskin, La Morra, The Heritage of Sherborn
August 29: Fred Bisaillon, B-ACK Yard BBQ, Surfside Smoke
September 5: Matt Drummond, Loco
September 12: Jen Royle, Dare to Taste

4) Executive Chef Matt Drummond, recently appointed Bar Manager Kaitlyn Fischer and the Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar team are introducing summer Rum Punch Lunch. Southie’s funky neighborhood taco joint is bringing back their popular summer Friday lunch tradition, but with a boozy new twist – the Rum Punch Lunch. Guests can enjoy inventive Rum Punch specials each week, like Watermelon and Pineapple Punch Bowls, created by beverage maven Kaitlyn Fischer and served in a hollowed watermelon.

Rum Punch Lunch is the new weekly excuse to skip out of work early and jumpstart the weekend. In addition to an lineup of Loco’s signature tacos, fresh raw bar items, and killer margaritas, the Rum Punch specials are available exclusively during Friday lunch service (11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.).

For additional details, call 617-917-LOCO

Monday, June 5, 2017

Rant: Total Wine, Low Prices & Consumers

"In every configuration, on every level, Hamilton had designed the law to charge small producers who could least afford it a higher tax. And the most significant effect of the higher tax was that it would, as Hamilton said, have to be passed on to consumers. Small producers would have to raise prices. Big producers could lower prices, sharply underselling the small distillers, taking over their customers, ultimately driving small producers out of business. Closing down local whiskey economies, the whiskey tax pushed self-employed farmers and artisans into the factories of their creditors."
--The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hogeland

I've been fascinated while reading The Whiskey Rebellion, a history of the infamous Whiskey Tax. In addition, I've seen parallels to some of the current issues facing the alcohol industry, on both a national level as well as in more locally in Massachusetts. Locally, there is a battle currently being waged between large alcohol retailers and the small ones, with economic survival on the line. And with the potential advent in changes to the current alcohol laws in Massachusetts, we are unsure how those changes will ultimately affect all of the various retailers.

A new Alcohol Task Force recently held their first public meeting, and the purpose of this task force is it to "examine the legal and regulatory framework governing the alcoholic beverage industry in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." Six public hearings were to be conducted, and three have already been held. In addition, interested parties can submit their concerns, suggestions, or recommendations directly to the Task Force. Many would agree that some Massachusetts alcohol laws should be changed, but there may be less agreement on which ones need changing.

One of those interested parties is Total Wine & More, a large national chain of alcohol retail stores, which is pushing their own agenda, including through the creation of Consumers First, to promote their concerns. Based on that website, there are two basic issues they wish changed, cumulative quantity discounts and alcohol coupons. At its most basic, they simply want more ways to reduce their prices so that they can attract more consumers.

Despite the name of their website, I get the impression that it is more about "Total Wine First" rather than consumers. The only two issues they have highlighted will greatly benefit them, giving them a larger economic advantage over other alcohol, smaller retailers. If it were truly about "consumers first," then I would expect to see a wider range of topics addressed, and not just the two that will most benefit Total Wine. Just seems too self-serving for me.

With approximately 170 Total Wine stores across the country, and the fact that approximately 85%+ of their stock at each of those stores is the same, it means they can purchase huge quantities of alcohol, acquiring much larger discounts than small, independent and local alcohol retailers can possibly achieve. That allows Total Wine to price some of their products at costs significantly lower than numerous other retailers, sometimes even lower than what those smaller stores pay for wholesale. The two issues Total Wine wants changed would only widen that economic gap.

If you take the time to compare prices at Total Wine with other local wine stores, you will find that not all Total Wine prices are lower than other retailers. However, on some of the largest and most popular brands, Total Wine has incredibly low prices, which seem geared to lure customers into the store, with the hope they buy other products which provide a higher profit margin. When I toured the Everett store, I was informed that their average customer spends over $100 per visit.

People don't just stop by Total Wine for a single bottle of wine as they might do at a smaller retail store. Total Wine understands that once they get someone inside the store, seeking that bargain bottle, the customer is very likely to buy much more than one bottle. The customer will stock up on alcohol, buying multiple bottles, if not cases.

We should then ask ourselves, how important is price to consumers?

There was some recent discussion on the topic of Total Wine and pricing on Facebook, begun by Charles Draghi, Chef/Owner of Erbaluce. I've been thinking about the issue of price and consumers for some time, not only for alcohol retailers but for restaurants as well. It seems to be a significant issue, and an area where consumers need much more education. It is easy to make one's decisions solely on price, opting for whatever is cheapest, yet that can be short-sighted, failing to consider all the other value that may exist at a higher cost.

To me, the best alcohol retail stores possess three key elements: a diverse & interesting selection, good service with knowledgeable staff, and reasonable pricing. Pricing is important but it shouldn't be the sole determinant of where you shop. You can't ignore the other two elements and you also have to understand exactly what you get for the price. As a caveat, we need to be cognizant that there are plenty of people who will shop based only on price, seeking the lowest they can find, and they are unlikely to change their stance. For the rest of us, we should try to think more about what those lower prices may entail. Our purchasing decisions can have a wide ranging impact.

For example, one of my most significant complaints about large alcohol retail chains like Total Wine is that they lack sufficient diversity. Because the stock in all their stores across the country is nearly the same, that means they have to purchase large, national or international brands, with significant production figures. Those are not the type of wines that generally interest me. You are extremely unlikely to find wine from small wineries at Total Wine as with their low production, they can't supply enough wine for Total Wine. As an aside, Total Wine's Sake selection is very poor too, as most Japanese breweries don't export to the U.S. in sufficient quantities to interest Total Wine.

The only way to find wines, beers, and spirits from such small wineries, breweries and distilleries, is at the smaller, more independent wine stores. We should cherish the diversity that is available at these retailers, expanding our palate beyond just the major national brands. In addition, by supporting these smaller alcohol retailers, you are giving your support to those smaller wineries, breweries and distilleries. They need your support, so they can continue to produce their interesting and diverse beverages. Total Wine doesn't support such small wineries, instead giving their primary support to very large wineries.

It is also the smaller retailers who can be at the forefront of new trends, introducing consumers to new and fascinating drinks. As an example, Georgian wines are quite hot right now though only about 25,000 cases of Georgian wine are currently exported to the U.S. Are you likely to find them at Total Wine? No, because Georgia doesn't export a sufficient quantity to interest Total Wine. The only place you will find Georgian wines are the independent retailers who cherish diversity.

If you want to find a fascinating and diverse selection of wines, you should check out places like Streetcar Wine & Beer, Social Wines, and The Wine Bottega. You will probably never see any of the wines they stock carried at Total Wine. By supporting these three wine shops, and others like them, you are supporting small, local businesses as well as the small wineries they patronize. And if you want a small, local discount wine store, check out Bin Ends Wine. You'll find excellent prices there along with a nice diversity of wines.

The wine world needs diversity, where both large and small wineries across the world can co-exist. A large chain of alcohol retail shops which neglects those small wineries does a major disservice. It fails to offer sufficient diversity to its customers and fails to introduce consumers to some of the hottest trends in the wine world. Consumers should not be driven by price alone, but should more carefully consider the reasons behind those low prices, and what they might be missing.