Thursday, May 30, 2019

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) In honor of National Rosé Day (Saturday, June 8), Forge & Vine, located at The Groton Inn, will offer guests an opportunity to explore a special flight of Rosé wines from French and Italian wine regions. For $20 for four 3-ounce pours, the restaurant will feature distinctive, flavorful and aromatic rosés from Provence and Campagna. The Rosé Wine Flight will be available beginning Saturday, June 8th and will run til the end of June.

The Rosé wine flight includes:
Bieler Pere et Fils Rosé, Provence, France 2017
Crispy apple, medium body, floral nose
Esprit Gassier, Cótes de Provence, France 2017
Shades of peach and citrus fruits
Vetere Rosato Paestum Rosé, Campagna, Italy 2017
Juicy wild red berries, tangy finish
Château Peyrossel, Cótes de Provence, France 2017
Citrus, apricot

Check out my recent review of Forge & Vine, and you'll see why I think it is a worthy culinary destination with some compelling wines.

2) Vialé in Central Square, Cambridge is enthused to announce the 5th event in their seasonal dinner series in collaboration with Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA). The next CSCA Takeover at Vialé will be held on Sunday, June 2, from 5pm-10pm. As with all of the dinners in the series, this dinner will pair Vialé chef/co-owner, Greg Reeves (CSCA graduate) and the Vialé team with a different CSCA student/chef. For this event, Chef Reeves will team with Sam Amsterdam and Brendan Germain from the Professional Chef's Program, serving their own unique plates alongside Vialé's summer dinner menu.

Sam is from Guyana, South America, where her passion for food started at the age of five while watching her mom and grandmother prepare scrumptious meals for their family. Sam grew up on an eclectic fusion of Caribbean, Indian, and African cuisines. As a teenager, Sam migrated to the US with her family, where she lived in New York City and ultimately moved to Boston for college before beginning a career in Biotech. Sam has always found her bliss at the stove or and visiting local markets and restaurants while traveling to experience the local fare. To combine her love of travel and the passion for food, Sam’s dream is to operate her own Bed, Breakfast, and Dinner establishment. After completing her MBA in Entrepreneurship, Sam decided to take the next step toward making her dream a reality at CSCA.

Brendan was born in central New Jersey where he watched his parents navigate the industry as waiters, bartenders, restaurant managers, and owners of a wholesale specialty spice and produce distributor which would later evolve into a gourmet deli and catering company. His exposure to their careers and experiences assisting lead to a passion for food at a very young age. In addition to cooking, Brendan has an established career as an information technology professional, specializing in system engineering, designing future technologies to create highly reliable and performant trading systems for NASDAQ’s global stock exchange markets.

They will be preparing three courses to supplement Viale’s usual dinner menu:
Spicy Calamari with Plantain Chips & Wood Grilled Pineapple Aioli
Marinated Lamb Skewers with Asparagus Risotto garnished with Toasted Pine Nut Gremolata and Garlic Dill Yogurt Sauce
Roasted Blood Orange Sorbet garnished with Orange Tuiles and Pink Peppercorns

Make reservations here for this fascinating CSCA Takeover at Vialé.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Krug Champagne: First, Learn Patience (Part 2)

"Krug is a real wine; most champagne is fizzy celebration drink."
--The Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1975, A quote from Remi Krug

As I mentioned yesterday, Krug & Co. was founded by Joseph Krug in 1843, and only six years later, his Champagne was available in the United States. Joseph's philosophy and beliefs about Champagne production still have a significant effect on Krug's current winemakers. The company has remained true to its roots, yet still has looked to the future, innovating when they feel it will lead to better Champagne. That may be an important reason why this House has such a stellar reputation.

Recently, I interviewed Julie Cavil (pictured above), the Wine Director at Krug, delving deeper into the world of Krug, gaining a better understanding of what lies behind the production of their esteemed Champagnes. Julie was personable, sharing numerous stories about her time at Krug, and her passion for Champagne and Krug was more than evident. To her, this is the best job ever and she is quite sincere in her love for Krug and Champagne.

Julie began her career working in customer relations for an advertising agency, but in 2001, desirous of a career change, she moved with her husband to Champagne. She studied winemaking at the University of Reims and worked during four harvests at Moët & Chandon. In 2006, she was hired as a winemaker at Krug. As the Wine Director, she works with four other team members, and she is involved in the production of all of their different Champagnes. She only has praise for her team members.

Compared to some of the other major Champagne Houses, production at Krug is relatively small, possibly around 600,000 cases as contrasted to the millions of cases produced by other Houses. Most of their production is for their Grand Cuvée. Julie stated that Krug possesses the autonomy of the small Grower but the means of a big House. Their production level is likely to remain relatively the same for years to come, with no desire to increase their output. They don't want to sacrifice quality for quantity.

As Julie put it, at Krug, they never blend an element they don't know. Currently, their winemaking team is able to handle the amount of wines and samples they possess, with the ability to properly understand each and every separate element. That is vital when you are blending wines to create Champagne. If they suddenly doubled the amount of samples, they would be overwhelmed, unable to properly devote sufficient time to each sample, Their understanding of the sample wines would suffer and they couldn't properly blend what was needed. They require a certain level of intimacy with the sample wines that cannot be achieved by them past a certain point.

It is a great challenge, as Julie mentioned, to make the very best Champagne, year after year, replicating the same quality. The object of Champagne is to pick and select grapes from all over to produce the desired blend. It is about the expression of the grapes and vineyards, despite annual variations due to vintage. For the blend, you "need strong voices in individual elements" and want to preserve individual typicity, what makes each plot unique.

However, at Krug, there is no compromise permitted when selecting the wines for their blends and Julie provided a fascinating example. Krug had produced about 12,000 bottles of 1999 Clos Mesnil, from one of their top vineyards. The tasting committee sampled this wine on numerous occasions, and Julie mentioned that though it was good, there was something missing from the middle of the palate. Their opinion was that the Champagne didn't meet their standards and they proposed to the President of Krug that the Champagne shouldn't be released. That is a huge statement! The President eventually agree with them, the Champagne wasn't released and most of it ended up being used as a reserve wine. Julie was extremely proud of her decision being backed by the President.

"Krug has body, you have something to eat in Krug, a roundness, a fairly strong bouquet. That's why you can even drink it after coffee."
--The Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1975, A quote from Remi Krug

Julie mentioned that one of the first lessons you learn at Krug is to have patience. The production process is a lengthy one, including at least 7 years of aging for their Grand Cuvée, and even longer, 0-12 years, for their Vintage champagnes. When you consider the addition of reserve wines to each blend, it is easy to see why they sometimes say that at least 20 years go into the production of each bottle of Krug.

Around 1848, Joseph Krug penned a notebook of his beliefs and philosophy on Champagne, giving a sense to what he was doing, one that is still used at Krug. Joseph wrote the notebook for his son, Paul, who was only six years old at the time. In time, Paul would assume the leadership at Krug, bringing an equal passion as his father. Joseph's first belief was that you need good elements for good champagne, and his second belief was that a good House should only create two cuvées of quality, a Good Cuvée and a Cuvée of the Circumstances. Currently at Krug, their first cuvée is their Grand Cuvée and the second is their Vintage. There isn't a hierarchy of quality between these two Champagnes, merely a difference in price.

Everything begins in the vineyard, where Krug seeks the best elements for their Cuvées. Each Clos is the best illustration of the House, presenting 1 plot, 1 year, 1 variation. Their vision of the cuvée is to push each unique plot. They are referred to as a soloist wine, and by the end of harvest they will have about 250 soloist wines. They must respect what they harvest, and fortunately have the luxury of being at the right time at the right plot during harvest. They sleep little during the pre-harvest, as they must taste all of the lots each day before harvest, to monitor the aromatics. Once they detect no more vegetal notes, when the taste of the grapes is fruity, they know they have about 24 hours to pick them all.

However, they will only use the best, as they don't want to make an average wine. For example, the Clos de Mesmil plot is only 1.84 hectares, yet there could be a difference as much as 1.5% alcohol in different parts of that small plot. As such, not all of the grapes are the same, and Krug must differentiate the best.

Everything will then be vilified separately, the preservation of their individuality, best reflective of the specific vineyard. This is a time of close attention to details, of intense monitoring, as a small mistake can ruin everything far too easily. They need a naturally clarified must and Krug is very demanding with all of their pressing houses, keeping them to a 24 hour deadline.

The musts are initially kept in casks, with an average age of 17 years, and Krug owns about 4700 casks. Sometime in November or December, the tasting committee, which is composed of six people, equally split between male and female, will taste all of the musts, which are still young, with an understated personality. Each of the six people has a different personality, and some are more sensitive to certain aromas than others. They know each other well, working as a collective for the blending process. At this point though, no decisions are made, simply initial observations.

Traditional racking is then done and the wines are isolated in small stainless steel vats. At this time, the tasting committee will also taste all of the reserve wines, about 150 in total from 15 different harvests. It won't be until the Spring that the tasting committee will return to the wines from the last harvest. The wines open up more in Spring, and they can witness the evolution of the wines from winter to spring. For one hour each day, they will taste about 15 wines, giving descriptions to each wine, including deciding whether the wine will go into the Grand Cuvée, the reserve wines, or even the Rosé.

Finally, they construct a blueprint for the Cuvée, based on their tasting notes only, and in the last week of March, they create their blend. This year, they will bottle the 174th edition of the Grand Cuvée, which won't be released until 2026. With all of the different wines they have available for blending, it isn't too difficult to make the Grand Cuvée. It is more difficult to decide on whether to bottle a Vintage or not. One of the toughest challenges is choosing whether to use a wine for a Vintage Champagne or to give it to the Reserve wines. There is a definite need to replace Reserve wines to preserve future creators of Grand Cuvée. For example, the 2012 vintage was great, but there was a small yield, and they made the touch choice not to make a Vintage that year and give all of the wine to the Reserve wines.

"Private Cuvee is Krug. A vintage Krug is a marriage between Krug and the year."
--The Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1975, A quote from Remi Krug

I tasted through three Krug wines, including the 2004 Vintage, the Grand Cuvée, and the Rosé. My personal favorite was the Rosé, though all three were excellent and I wouldn't be disappointed drinking any of them.

There is always a story to tell about a Vintage. At Krug, Vintage is how they tell the story of the tasting room after the harvest, how they personally felt about that year. Their Vintage Champagne is always a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. They also prefer to have two different Vintages available in the market for comparison purposes. Julie stated that her favorite more recent Vintage was 1988, which was an austere year. She loves that austerity, feeling it is a signifier of elegance and an excellent aging potential. 1988 is a Vintage for connoisseurs, and will become even better with more time. Julie is also a fan of the 2002 Vintage.

"...the 1928 vintage Krug, which many experts call the champagne of the century."
The Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1975

The 2004 Vintage (about $250) is part of a trilogy of excellent, consecutive years, from 2002 to 2004, and is only the second trilogy in the history, the other being 1988 to 1990. The 2002 to 2004 wasn't released in chronological order but in tasting order, so the 2003 Vintage was released first. The 2004 Vintage, which Julie has given the nickname "luminous freshness," is a blend of 39% Chardonnay, 37% Pinot Noir, and 24% Pinot Meunier. I found this Champagne to be fresh, elegant and complex, with intriguing notes of citrus, brioche, and honey. Intensely aromatic, dry, refreshing, and with a lengthy, pleasing finish. This is an absolutely delicious Champagne, where each sip brings something new to your palate.

The Grand Cuvée (about $180) is usually a blend of about 150-250 wines, and at Krug, they like to use musical references to explain their Champagne. Sometimes they refer to the "music of the year," comparing specific vintages to types of instruments. For example, 1990, which was a hot year, is compared to brass instruments while 1998 is compared to a string quartet. Then, when they put together all of these varied ensembles, they can create a full symphony orchestra in their Grand Cuvée. 

This particular Grand Cuvée is the 167th edition, which is a blend of 48% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 17% Pinot Meunier. The blend also contains 191 different wines, including 13 vintages (the oldest from 1995, the newest from 2011), and 42% Reserve wines. Once again, this Champagne was fresh, elegant and complex, and seemed to possess even more complexity than the Vintage. Besides fascinating notes of citrus, tropical fruit, floral elements, candied fruit, and toast, there was a subtle earthiness as well. Excellent acidity, a powerful finish, and this is certainly a Champagne to slowly savor, enjoying each intriguing moment, bringing subtle differences with each sip.

Krug values transparency in most matters, so each bottle of Grand Cuvée now possesses a special ID code on their label, which can be used on the Krug website to provide information about that particular edition of the Grand Cuvée. One of the only pieces of information you won't find is the disgorgment date as they feel it gives the wrong message to consumers.

My favorite of the three Champagnes was the Rosé (about $300), which Julie stated is the toughest blend to produce. For a long time, Krug was opposed to producing a Rosé, as initially Rosé was seen as a simple wine, and not a high end product that would fit within the Krug portfolio. It was the 6th generation which decide to experiment with Rosé, using grapes from the 1976 harvest, which was a hot year. They kept the Rosé a secret as it aged in their cellar. Finally, during a Sunday lunch, they poured some of the Rosé, blind, for their father, Paul Krug, who had long opposed Rosé. He approved of it and Krug finally began to create this blend each year.

Julie stated that the Rosé doesn't possess the same depth as the other blends as it contains far less wines. A significant aspect of the difficulty of producing this wine is the addition of some red wine. Thus, they have to anticipate what the blend will offer after about seven years of aging. The red wine changes everything, making that anticipation more formidable. However, this Rosé was my favorite of the three Champagnes.

This Rosé is the 22nd edition, a blend of 51% Pinot Noir, 17% Chardonnay, and 32% Pinot Meunier. The blend also contains 22 wines, 5 vintages (2005-2010), 47% Reserve wines, and 9% macerated Pinot Noir. Elegant, complex, and subtle, it seduces your palate with its compelling melange of flavors, from red fruits to citrus. It is delicate and fresh, with crisp acidity and pure deliciousness. Each sip tantalizes and satisfies, and will make you yearn for another sip. While it might not possess the depth of the other two Champagnes, it still pleases on many levels. This is a Champagne of romance, a bottle to share with your significant other for celebrations, or simply to make any night even more special.

Krug doesn't produce inexpensive Champagnes, and for most people, they would be a significant splurge. If we look back almost fifty years, we can find a newspaper which addressed this very issue. The Pottstown Mercury, September 8, 1972 (PA) published an article, High Cost of Champagne Due to Process of Making Wine, and primarily used the example of Krug. As the article stated, "Krug is the champagne house that nearly every connoisseur ranks first, as one of three or four favorites, or in a class by itself." The article discussed a number of reasons why Krug incurred significant costs in producing their Champagne, such as the cost of its grapes to its small oak casks. The article concluded, "Such scrupulous rejection of everything but the best, vigilent control, retention of innumerable hand operations, and long years of cellar age result in superb champagne. Naturally it's expensive."

What is the future of Krug? At Krug, they are always questioning their methods, processes, and technology, seeking ways to optimize their work and bring more precision. Despite their strong foundation in the past, in the philosophy of Joseph Krug, they still value technology. However, their primary question when addressing new technology is, will it bring change for the best? And often, they need to wait seven years, when the Champagne ages in the cellar, before determining the effect of many changes. Sustainability is a priority to them and they are always learning more and more about this issue. They also have been accumulating mounds of data about each of their vineyard plots, a repository of information for future generations.

Finally, Julie also mentioned that a dream of hers would be to one day make her own type of Krug. To her, Champagne is charismatic, possessed of great expression. Her vision would be to "try to reconcile all the elements into one," to put the power, elegance and aromatics into "one sip." That sounds like quite the challenge and I hope that Julie gets that opportunity one day.

"Only by blending, do you get balance. It is like a symphony as opposed to a sonata. From beginning to end, we make choices of what fits with our quality."
--Chicago Tribune, August 26, 1976, quote from Remi Krug

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Krug Champagne: Early History In The U.S. (Part 1)

"What effect does too much Krug Champagne have on a man? It makes him walk krug-ed."
--The Times Democrat, March 3, 1867 (LA)

Krug Champagne. A Champagne House that has existed for 176 years and has a stellar reputation for exquisite Champagne. Its production level is much less than other major Houses but that is a choice they make. Their least expensive Champagne will run you at least $150 but is well worth the splurge.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Julie Cavil, the Wine Director at Krug, to delve deeper into the workings of their cellar, to better understand their process and philosophy of Champagne production. It was a fascinating discussion but I want to begin this two-part article with some history of Krug, especially its early history in the U.S.

The founder of Krug, Johann-Joseph Krug, was born in 1800, in the city of Mainz, which is now part of Germany. However, at the time of his birth, Napoleon Bonaparte had recently annexed the territory so it was technically part of France. It wouldn't be until 1814 that the French were ousted and Mainz once again became part of Germany. Around 1824, Joseph, who had dropped the use of Johann, decided to leave home, eventually settling in the city of Hanau, working as a merchant.

Eventually moving on again, Joseph traveled to Paris in 1834 and fortuitously ended up working for Jacquesson & Fils, a Champagne producer in Châlons-sur-Marne. He quickly became such a valuable employee that he was made a partner in 1835. At the time, Joseph vowed to remain a partner for life though that vow lasted less than ten years. In 1842, he left Jacquesson to establish his own Champagne house and in 1843, he founded Krug et Cie. Joseph died on August 5, 1866, and his son Paul Krug, who had an equal passion for Champagne, took over control of the House.

When was Krug Champagne first exported to the U.S.? How much did it cost? Did Americans like Krug or prefer other Champagnes? Let's explore some of the early history of Krug in the U.S. and learn the answers to these and other questions.

Champagne was imported into the U.S. at least as far back as 1764, and during the late 18th century, both Still and Sparkling Champagne wines were available. During the early 19th century, the options included Still White and Red Champagne, as well as Sparkling. It wasn't until 1823 that the first specific Champagne brand was listed in a newspaper advertisement. Before that time, all of the ads simply referred to Champagne generically, sometimes mentioning "superior quality" Champagne without specifying a brand. Even when brand names started to be mentioned in some ads, many of the ads still failed to specify a brand.

Even most of the brands that were mentioned probably wouldn't be familiar to many modern readers. It wasn't until the 1830s that we begin to see some of the names of Champagne Houses which still exist, such as Ruinart, Clicquot, and Heidsieck.

The first evidence I found of Krug's presence in the U.S. is from 1849, remarkable considering the House was only 6 years old at that point! The Evening Post, December 27, 1849, published an advertisement for Thomas McMullen who offered a number of imported wines for sale, including Champagne from Krug. & Co., in quarts and pints.

It is also intriguing that the Champagne wasn't offered in 750ml bottles, the norm nowadays, but rather in quarts and pints. In comparison, a quart has about 946ml and a pint has about 473ml. Champagne would continue to be sold in quarts and pints for the rest of the 19th century, as well as into the start of the 20th century.

The next mention was in the Boston Post, January 15, 1852, which published an ad for John S. Blake, selling at the Central wharf, a few baskets of "the superior quality Krug & Co. White Label Champagne Wine," available in quarts and pints. The Boston Post, November 16, 1855, then published an ad, from George Greig & Co., agents for Krug & Co. They had some Krug Champagne for sale, noting "This Wine is well known in the country, particularly in Canada, where it has long been a favorite brand with the Officers of Her Majesty's Regiments stationed there, and it can be afforded at moderate prices." They even allowed some sampling, stating, "Good judges are invited to sample it, for which no charge made."

The Daily Alta, October 26, 1856 (CA) printed an ad for Hellman Bros & Co., a wine importer, selling quarts and pints of Champagne, including the "Shield" brand from "Krug & Co., from Rheims." There was another ad from the same importer in the The Daily Alta, December 25, 1856 (CA), simply offering Champagne from "Krug & Company's Reims" without mentioning a specific brand.

In the next year, The Times-Picayune, February 16, 1857 (LA) printed an ad for Eug. Rochereau & Co., noting wines and brandies they had for sale, including Champagne of "Krug & Co." They posted additional advertisements in the The Daily Delta, January 13, 1858 (LA) and Commercial Bulletin, January 28, 1860 (LA), indicating they still sold Champagne from Krug & Co.

As an aside, 1857 might also be the year that Krug Champagne was first introduced to Canada. The Gazette, August 5, 1857 (Montreal) had an ad from an importer noting they have recently brought in "Krug Champagne, Shield brand." I don't possess any additional information about this Shield brand but I am seeking to learn more, and this brand will also be available in the U.S.

In the Daily Alta California, July 3, 1862, under an article, Market Review, describing the current California market for numerous trade goods, it indicated, "Some little demand exists for Champagne, but the general trade is dull." It also notes the sale of "90 baskets of Krug Champagne."

An advertisement in The Times-Picayune, December 28, 1864 (LA) described a new business led by George Palmer, agent, wholesale and retail dealer in "Superior Wines, Liquors, Cordials, &c." His new store had 50 baskets of assorted Champagne brands, available in quarts and pints, including Krug & Co.

At the top of this article, I posted a Krug riddle and pun, and that same source, The Times Democrat, March 3, 1867 (LA), published a second one too. "Why is Krug Champagne like letter paper? Because it is put up in reams (Reims)." These were the only two Champagne riddles mentioned in this article, and seems to be indicative of the popularity of this brand.

The Sugar-Planter, August 22, 1868 (LA) listed an ad for an importer, noting he had just received "Genuine Krug Champagne" in pints. The addition of the adjective "genuine" may indicate there was an issue with counterfeit champagne. As I'll note later, the problem of counterfeit Krug during the later half of 19th century definitely existed.

Maybe the first reference to the taste of Krug is mentioned in The Courier-Journal, November 3, 1868 (KY).  The advertisement states, "W.H. Walker & Co. have been appointed sole agents for the Krug Champagne, a wine that is being introduced into this country by Rocheveau of New Orleans. We have tried it and can speak of its merits with some assurance. It is very light and delicate, and--what is rare--not too sweet. It is a cross between the Heidsech and Cliquot. Of its genuineness there can be no doubt. It has the veritable Reims flavor." This indicates that Krug was less sweet than many other Champagnes. This advertisement also references its terroir, noting how it possesses the "Reims flavor."

The first prices I found for Krug Champagne were listed in the Nashville Union & American, September 9, 1871. A.C. Carter indicated he just received 10 cases of "the celebrated brand Krug & Co.'s Champagne," quarts and pints, from his importer in New York. He continues that "as money is about played out" he is offering to sell the Krug for $3 for quart and $1.50 for pint bottles.

Interestingly, it was a Canadian newspaper that provided statistics on Champagne imports into the U.S. during 1876. The Gazette, January 4, 1878 (Montreal) posted information from "Bonfort's Wine and Liquor Circular, of Jan. 18, 1877," listing the amount of imported cases of various Champagne brands in 1876. The top three brands were G.H. Mumm & Co. (34,815 cases), Piper-Heidsieck (20,202 cases), and L. Roederer (17,185 cases). Krug & Co. was in 8th place, with 4,915 cases. The total amount of imported cases of all Champagnes was 139,313 cases. So, you can see that the percentage of imported Krug was less than 4% of the total imports of Champagne.

As a follow-up, The Gazette, February 6, 1878 (Montreal), posted similar information for the year 1877. The top three brands remained the same, though the amounts were different: G.H. Mumm & Co. (35,270 cases), Piper-Heidsieck (23,879 cases), and L. Roederer (12,808 cases). Of the three, only L. Roederer saw a loss, about 4300 cases. Krug & Co. jumped a spot to 7th place, with 4800 cases, despite a small loss of about 100 cases. Total imports of Champagne dropped by about 7000 cases.

The next year, The Gazette, March 21, 1879 (Montreal), posted similar information for the year 1878. Once again, the top three brands remained the same, though the amounts were different: G.H. Mumm & Co. (35,986 cases), Piper-Heidsieck (19,636--a loss of about 4000 cases), and L. Roederer (13,469 cases). Curiously, and for unknown reasons, Krug & Co. was not listed on the chart this year. Total imports of Champagne once again decreased, this time by about 6000 cases.

In the Oakland Tribune, July 29, 1876, there was an advertisement by Hellman Bros. & Co., sole agents, for sales of Krug-Champagne. They advertised three different type of Krug, including: Private Cuvee, Shield, and Premiere Qualite, all available in quarts or pints. Unfortunately, no description was given for these three types. As a follow-up, the Oakland Tribune, November 14, 1979, provided some prices for Private Cuvee ($28-$29), Shield ($21-$22), and Premiere Qualite ($18-$19). In comparison, Piper-Heidseck was priced at $25-$27 and Louis Roderer at $30-$32.

In a return to a discussion of dry Krug, The Times-Picayune, November 11, 1879, (LA) mentioned how A. Rochereau & Co. recently received a shipment of Krug, "..of a 'dry' quality, which, as we are informed, has been especially prepared for the United States." This is noted as the start of regular shipments of the dry Krug, which previously was available only by special order, and now will be for the general public.

Here is a copy of an ad from The Daily Item, November 19, 1879, (LA), noting the availability of both Dry and Standard types of Krug.

There is some follow-up from The Times-Picayune, November 30, 1879, (LA), noting that since the first lot of dry Krug has arrived, it has been very popular, and has even "received the indorsement of the Northern press and connoisseurs in general."  It continues, "The high opinion held about it by gentlemen here is guarantee sufficient to say that there is no finer nor more delicately flavored wine than the Dry Krug Champagne." The New Orleans Daily Democrat, November 30, 1879, added some comments on Dry Krug, noting that: "..if we may believe the opinions of some of the most distinguished connoisseurs North and West, is destined to become the leading wine in the United States."

In a brief article specifically dealing with Champagne, the Commercial Bullein, December 6, 1879 (LA), stated, "Among the various brands of wine which were introduced into this market during the past quarter of a century, there is not one that has attained the reputation that has been accorded to Krug." The article also states, "As the holidays are approaching we would remind our readers that no hidden headaches are concealed in Krug, which many no doubt found to their sorrow was the case in other brands of champagne."

Another holiday reference is from The Times-Picayune, December 25, 1880 (LA), which printed, "Krug For Christmas--Good wine needs no push--neither does Krug champagne which is accounted one of the purest and finest wines ever distilled from the generous grape. It has flavor and tone and exhilarating properties of a kind to make the heart feel happy and forgiving to all the world."

Here is a picture of a Krug bottle provided in an advertisement in the New Orleans Price-Current, March 16, 1881.

Counterfeit Krug alert! In The San Francisco Examiner, October 10, 1882, Hellman Brothers & Co., agents for sales of Krug-Champagne, posted a warning about counterfeit Krug, including the intent to prosecute anyone who counterfeits Krug, heir trademarks and labels. The warning also notes that authentic Krug will have the name branded on the bottom of the cork, as pictured above. With the great popularity of Krug, and its sales restricted to specific agents, one can understand the financial temptation to counterfeit it, like why high-end Bordeaux is currently counterfeited in China.

Changes came to the Krug market in 1885. In an advertisement in The Times-Democrat, September 3, 1885, (LA), it was noted that the only Krug Champagne now being imported was the "Krug Sec," which is said to be superior to "Carte Blanche" and "Private Cuvee." Another ad in The Times-Democrat, December 27, 1885, (LA) reported that, "The Krug Champagne in baskets is no longer imported in the U.S. It is replaced by a far superior wine, which is the 'Krug Sec.' Imported in cases, and which is equal in quality to the best brands of Champagne."

The term "Sec" now generally signifies a Champagne with 17-32 grams of sugar per liter, so it would tend to be sweeter than what many consider a "dry" champagne. However, additional advertisements seem to indicate the "Krug Sec" was a more dry version. The Montgomery Advertiser, December 14, 1886 (AL), mentioned "Krug Sec, Extra Dry" and The Courier-Journal, December 15, 1889 (KY), had a wine store add selling "Krug Sec--a Fruity and Dry Champagne."

More Krug prices! The Chicago Tribune, May 26, 1895, printed an ad for A.M. Rothschild & Co., a wine retailer. Prices of Krug Champagne were listed as a quart bottle for $1.13, a dozen quarts for $12.45, a pint for 63 cents, and a 2 dozen case of pints for $13.35.  In The Galveston Daily News, April 2, 1905 (TX), the regular price of a quart of Krug was $1.50, but it was on special for only 80 cents. The Hartford Courant, December 30, 1912, advertised Krug at $3.25 bottle and a case $35.00. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1915, posted an ad for Krug quarts ($3.45) and pints ($1.85).

In another anti-counterfeiting measure, The Sun, July 27, 1906 (NY) ran an ad noting that all Krug champagne had the words Private Cuvée on the labels and corks.

Vintage Krug appears? The Hartford Courant, February 6, 1907, presents an advertisement for a wine store and importer, which offers "Krug Champagne, 1900 Vintage." According to Champagne, Uncorked, by Alan Tardi, "The house of Krug made its first vintage Champagne in 1904 (though bottles with a year indicated on the label are said to have been found in the Krug cellars as early as 1880);" So, the 1900 offering might not have actually been Vintage Champagne, despite having a specific year on its label.

The first mention of Champagne splits I found was from 1908. The Washington Post, January 30, 1908, published an ad for To-Kalon Wine Co., indicating "One Basket Only--Left. Contains 12 Splits Krug Imported Champagne; ideal for the sick room. Special price, including basket, $9.00." I guess if you are ill, some champagne might help perk you up.

As we saw, Krug Champagne did very well in the U.S. during the 19th century, and a dry version was generally preferred. Krug offered a few different brands, though no description was provided for any of them. Counterfeiting was an issue though measures were taken to prevent it. I hope you've enjoyed this historical peek into the early history of Krug Champagne in the U.S.

In Part 2, I take a look at Krug today, with my interview of Julie Cavil, Wine Director at Krug.

Monday, May 27, 2019

In Honor Of Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, a time to honor all of the people who died while serving in the U.S. military. Though it only became a federal holiday in 1971, its roots reach back to 1868, after the Civil War, when it was known as Decoration Day. On that first day, about 20,000 Union and Confederate graves at the Arlington National Cemetery were decorated. And for almost 40 years, this holiday only commemorated those who died during the Civil War. However, during World War I, this holiday expanded to include commemorating all U.S. service personnel who died in any war.

Although today is also seen by many as the unusual start of summer, and a time for parties and grilling, please take a little time to reflect on the meaning of the day, and to give thanks to all those service personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom. Unfortunately, each year, the total number of those who make that sacrifice continues to grow. This isn't just a remembrance of the past, but also reflects what is still going on around the world.

I strongly urge you to check out the touching words of my friend Fred Minnick, who does a much better job than I talking about Memorial Day.

(There is no Rant today in honor of Memorial Day.)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Crémant d'Alsace: Domaine Mittnacht-Freres to Ruhlmann

When people are seeking a less expensive alternative to Champagne, I often recommend they check out Crémant d'Alsace. I've celebrated numerous occasions with Crémant, including my recent 12th Anniversary of The Passionate Foodie blog.

In the Alsace region, they have been producing sparkling wines since the early 19th century but it was not until 1976 that the Crémant d'Alsace AOC was created. The AOC has strict regulations on viticulture and viniculture, and six grapes are permitted including Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir. Most of their Blanc de Blancs is made from Pinot Blanc while Pinot Noir is the only grape permitted in their Rosé.

Crémant is produced by the méthode Champenoise, and the term "crémant" basically means "creamy" and originally referred to sparkling wines that were produced with less pressure, which tended to make them taste more creamy than effervescent.

As I've said multiple times before, "Americans need to drink more Crémant d'Alsace, and in fact, they need to drink more wines, of all types, from Alsace. They often provide excellent value and taste. They are enjoyable while young but can also age well. They can provide a sense of history, as well as showcase state of the art wine making. They pair well with a diverse variety of foods and cuisines. And at their most basic, they are absolutely delicious."

Back in 1979, the total production of Crémant d'Alsace.was less than 1 million bottles but that has now increased to around 33 million bottles. However, only about 300K bottles of Crémant d'Alsace are imported into the U.S. This tiny amount has to compete with a massive array of other sparkling wines, including about 18 Million bottles of Champagne and 99 Million bottles of domestic sparkling wine. Crémant d'Alsace may be an underdog, but it is well worthy of your attention.

For more background and information on Crémant d'Alsace, check out some of my previous articles where I share my passion for this tasty bubbly, including: Crémant d'Alsace & The Spartans At ThermopylaeSchoenheitz Winery: A Taste Of BeautyPuritan & Co.: Alsatian Wine AdviceGustave Lorentz: More Alsatian Wine TreasuresAlsatian Wines & Pheasant at Craigie On Main, Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve RecommendationStarting the New Year With Crémant d'Alsace & Lobster, and Crémant D'Alsace Rosé: Domaine Camille Braun & Alsace-Willm.

When was the first Crémant d'Alsace exported to the U.S.?

The Dopff au Moulin winery invented Crémant d'Alsace in the beginning of the 20th century when Julian Dopff started to use the méthode Champenoise to create sparkling wines in Alsace. Julien's son, Pierre, would later assist in the creation of the Crémant d'Alsace AOC in 1976. In my researches, the earliest mention I found of Crémant from Alsace in the U.S. is from the Chicago Tribune, December 27, 1950. There was an advertisement for "Dopff French Dinner wines" which include "Vin Gris, Crémant, Sylvaner." These wines were priced at $1.49 each, or 3 for $4.00. In comparison, the same ad offered bottles of Champagne, including Moet & Chandon, Pol Roger Brut, and Piper Heidsieck, for $3.59 a bottle.

I'm still seeking additional information on the earliest imports of Alsace Crémant, and will report back when I learn anything new.

Over the course of almost the next thirty years, there were only a tiny amount of brief references to Crémant in the newspapersThe Port Arthur News, November 5, 1977 (TX) was the first newspaper article I found that provided a bit of educational information about Crémant in a lengthy article on French Champagne. The article stated, "Crémant is a very fine, very light vin mousseux that is only partly sparkling. There are presently three cremants--all made by the method champenoise--that are entitled to appellation controlee. They are Crémant d'Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne, and Cremant de Loire."

It's interesting to look at some of the prices from the early 1980s. For example, The San Francisco Examiner, September 23, 1980 printed a wine store advertisement mentioning Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace Brut for $7.59. Compare this price to two Champagnes, including Moet & Chandon White Star Extra Dry for $11.99 and Laurent Perrier Cuvee Speciale Brut for $12.99. The Berkshire Eagle, October 31, 1983 (MA) listed an ad for Dopff Crémant d'Alsace Brut at $6.99 while Korbel Brut, from California, cost $7.89, and Perrier-Jouet Brut, a Champagne, cost $15.99.

I recently received two media samples of Crémant d'Alsace, from two different wineries, and once again, I was impressed with their quality, complexity and deliciousness. And as both are priced at least than $25, they are also excellent values.

Domaine Mittnacht-Freres, which extends back to 1958, is a family-owned estate. In 1963, the two brothers André and Louis Mittnacht merged their vineyards and currently, the estate is led by Christophe and Yuka Mittnacht. Christophe was an early pioneer of Biodynamics, and their 20 hectare estate has been Demeter certified since 1999, once of the first in Alsace to receive that certification. Wine production is also conducted with minimal intervention. They produce a number of wines, including Grand Cru, Late Harvest, and Crémant.

The NV Domaine Mittnacht-Freres Crémant d'Alsace Extra Brut (about $23) is produced by an intriguing blend of 60% Pinot Auxerrois, 10% Pinot Blanc, 10% Riesling, 10% Pinot Gris, and 10% Pinot Noir, all from 25+ year old vines. The wine, with a 12% ABV, was aged on the less for about 18 months. With a light golden color, and plenty of tiny bubbles, this Crémant is bone dry, with high acidity, and intriguing subtle tastes of green apple and peaches, and an underlying steely minerality. Elegant and delicious, this would be a great pairing with oysters or fried foods, as well as even a simple bag of potato chips.

The history of the Ruhlmann Winery reaches back hundreds of years to when ancestors of the Ruhlmann family, who were Hungarian knights, settled in the central Alsace back in 1688. The estate now includes approximately 75 acres, with two Grands Crus (Frankstein and Muenchberg) and two Lieu-dit sites. The winery produces five different lines of wines, from Cépage to Cave Précieuse, using grapes such as Auxerrois, Chasselas, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, Gewurtztraminer and Pinot Noir. I've previously reviewed a couple of their wines.

The NV Ruhlmann Crémant d'Alsace Harmonie de Rosé (about $20) is made from 100% Pinot Noir and has a 12.5% ABV. With a pleasing, rich pink color, lots of tiny bubbles, and a compelling nose of red fruits, this is a Crémant Rosé sure to please. It is dry and elegant, with crisp acidity and a delicious blend of strawberry, raspberry and citrus flavors. A fairly lengthy finish satisfies too. Pure pleasure on the palate. This wine can be enjoyed on its own, though it will pair well with a variety of foods as well.

Drink More Crémant d'Alsace!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

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) C.K. Pearl, a family owned and operated restaurant on the water in Essex, is channeling the roaring 20’s for one night with a “Speakeasy Night” in celebration of their 5th Anniversary!

On Thursday, May 20, starting at 7pm, guests can throw on their finest 1920’s attire and spend the night at the “C.K. Speakeasy.” No password needed to gain entry but party goers can buy a key for the chance to unlock special prizes, including a 30 gallon barrel from sponsor Ryan and Wood Distillery, a C.K. Pearl gift card, and more! While dancing the night away to music from the Kate Barry Band, guests can enjoy themed cocktails, including the Rock & Rye, the Ward Eight Cocktail and more, because prohibition may be over but these drinks are still sure to excite.

For reservations, please contact C.K. Pearl at 978-890-7378.

2) Having begun last Sunday, May 19, executive chef Nimesh Maharjan and the team at Tuscan Seaport now offer Sunday brunch service with a mix of classic staples, artisan Italian creations, raw bar offerings and a Bloody Mary Bar.

For regional Italian twists on breakfast traditions, there are Ricotta Pancakes topped with balsamic strawberries and whipped cream ($12); Semolina Raisin French Toast with maple mascarpone ($12); Due Uove Fatte a Moda Tuo – translated to “two eggs your way” – served with a choice of pancetta or Tuscan’s signature sausage and housemade rustic toast ($14); and, a Frittata Bianca with egg whites, arugula, portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers and onions ($14).

For uncommon brunch finds, there is a “Salumificio” section featuring house-cured salumis and imported cheeses as well as the “Raw Bar” with oysters, shrimp cocktail and more. In addition to churning out five Neapolitan pies like the Breakfast Pizza with eggs over-easy, fontina, country ham, spinach and hollandaise ($14), there are a collection of primi, secondi and contorni options that encapsulate the true essence of an early, home-cooked Italian “Sunday supper.”

For those with a creative side, the Bloody Mary Bar ($16 per cocktail) starts with a choice of vodka that you can garnish conservatively or garnish to unleash your inner foodie. Options include pickled asparagus and green beans, hot peppers, shrimp, prosciutto-bacon, stuffed peppers, artisan cheese and assorted hot sauces.

WHEN: Available Sundays from 11am-3pm
For reservations, please call (617) 303-7300

3) GreCo is expanding, and will open a third location at One Milk Street in Boston’s Downtown Crossing in Fall 2019. GreCo offers the convenience of Greek street food made with the high standards of a gourmet Greek chef and is a concept from Partners Stefanos Ougrinis and Demetri Tsolakis, who is also affiliated with Committee Ouzeri + Bar.

GreCo is what many have called a flavorful trip to Greece,” said Stefanos Ougrinis. “Our third location is situated in the heart of historical Downtown Crossing, right where Benjamin Franklin was born, and GreCo will create a cozy environment where our guests can enjoy a unique cultural and gastronomical experience. GreCo mentally transfers guests to Greece through every smell, every taste, every effort to make everyone feel welcomed. Our “meraki” alongside all of the smells and tastes of traditional Greek cuisine is what makes us truly Greek. GreCo is our home away from home. It is here to ensure truly Greek hospitality where guests are always greeted with a smile and enjoy our high level of service.”

GreCo’s first location opened on Newbury Street in 2017 and their menu at showcases seasonally inspired authentic gyros, house made dips such as tzatziki, feta fries, frappes, legendary loukomades and handcrafted nonalcoholic beverages. GreCo’s second location is scheduled to open in the Seaport’s Pier 4 development this June.

Additionally, the current GreCo location on Newbury Street is going to donate all proceeds from their new Lady Marmalade (fig marmalade, yogurt mousse, toasted almonds) variation of loukoumas (Greek donuts) to the Yellow Hammer fund in Alabama until the end of this month.

GreCo has been one of my favorite casual spots since it opened, and whenever I'm in the Newbury Street area, I'm likely to grab a bite there. I love their Lamb Gyro and the Loukamades are always a sweet treat. It's great news to hear that they are expanding and I strongly recommend you check them out.

4) Summer patio parties are back at Bistro du Midi with a special Tour de Rosé patio party featuring still and sparkling rosés, cocktails and special dishes to match. On Thursday, June 6, from 5pm-7:30pm, cheers with a glass of rosé as you take in the most beautiful view of the Public Garden that Boston has to offer, all while supporting a good cause. 100% of the proceeds from a signature Ellie Fund rosé cocktail, as well as a portion of ticket sales, will benefit the Ellie Fund. The Ellie Fund is a non-profit that fights breast cancer and provides free services to ease the effects on cancer patients and their families.

Tickets are available for purchase on Eventbrite for $25 and include bar bites and 1 drink ticket each.

5) Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Wine Director Peter Nelson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for a night of all things rosé at their fifth annual Rosé Rumble. Puritan & Co.’s upcoming Rosé Rumble will offer guests the opportunity to immerse themselves in the best rosés in Boston like a true insider. Taking place on Wednesday, June 19th, the fifth annual industry-style tasting event will showcase a variety of rosés for guests to taste, discuss, and learn about while enjoying unlimited 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. Regularly $80, tickets are now available for a special early bird rate of $70 until May 27th. Tickets can be purchased here:

This is another event I highly recommend!

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Forge & Vine: Groton's New Culinary Destination

Several of my friends and relatives who live in the Groton area have complained about the scarcity of good restaurants in the area. Fortunately for them, a new restaurant, Forge & Vine, opened last October and it's a worthy culinary destination. It's been getting some raves and I was recently invited, as a media guest, to check out the restaurant and its intriguing wine list. I'll definitely return on my own as well, to enjoy more of their menu.

Forge & Vine sits behind The Groton Inn, a new luxury hotel which is situated on a historic spot. A hostelry was established on this site around 1678 and it hosted a number of Colonial era luminaries, such as Paul Revere. In 2011, the inn burnt to the ground but a new hotel was eventually constructed and it opened last May. The restaurant is located on the site of the original inn's blacksmith shop.

The restaurant has about 156 seats,  a 26-seat bar, a four-season outdoor patio a private dining room seating up to 20. They have an open kitchen, showcasing their eight-foot wood-fired grill, and we were seated not far from the grill. The restaurant possesses a casual ambiance, fine for a romantic date or a night out with friends. On a Friday evening, the restaurant was packed and a relative mentioned visiting on another occasion when there was a 2 1/2 hour wait on a weekend night. If you want a table on weekends, you definitely should make reservations.

There is a small amount of counter seating, the chef's table, where guests can enjoy dinner, overlooking the kitchen.

The restaurant has a full alcohol menu, beers, wines, and cocktails. At the 26-seat bar, there are four TVs where you can watch local sports. Their Signature Cocktail List includes 10 cocktails, priced $11-$13, such as the Bourbon Chartreuse Smash, Eclipse Rum Punch, and Paloma Sunrise. After dinner, we sat at the bar for a final cocktail, and I enjoyed the well-made Blueberry Mezcal Mule, made with Mezcal, muddled blueberries, lime, & ginger beer.

There are 23 options on their Wine List By The Glass, including 2 Sparkling, 2 Rosé, 10 Whites, and 9 Reds, reasonably priced at $8-$14. The list has some usual and popular choices, from California, Washington, France, Italy, Argentina, Spain, and more. The Wine List By The Bottle, with over 100 options, has more exciting options and is described as "a mix of old world and new world with a lean toward biodynamic wines." The list is broken into eight sections which they describe as "Baskets" and each section lists the white wines first and then the red wines, each group listed from lightest to heaviest.

The "baskets" include Biodynamic-Farmed & Natural; CommencementPizza Oven & Pasta Makers; Raw BarWood Grill; By The FireLingering At The Table; and Crowd Pleasers. These groupings will help diners select wines to pair with their food, and the servers can also offer advice. Our server seemed to have a good grasp of the wine list, and selected some very delicious and interesting wines for our dinner.

The vast majority of wines are priced from $24-$95, with about 20 wines priced over $100, so there are options at all price points. If you want to splurge, there are wines for you, including Champagne, French Burgundy and California Cabernet Sauvignon. If you're part of a large party, you can consider the two wines listed under Crowd Pleasers, the Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label Brut ($1000) and Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon ($1200). Both of these wines are offered in Imperial Bottles (also known as Methuselahs) which each hold 6 liters, the equivalent of 8 standard bottles.

On the list, you'll find some of the usual suspects, highly popular wines that will please a number of people, such as Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay. However, there are also a significant number of less common wines, intriguing wines from countries like Bulgaria and Lebanon, as well as a significant number of compelling Natural wines. The basket of Biodynamic-Farmed & Natural has 14 options, priced $28-$61, except one at $175, and the wines are from France, Italy, and Greece. During my dinner, I tasted 3 of these wines and was impressed with the selections, and will provide more detail about each choice later in this article.

The wine list caters to varied groups, from those who want the most popular choices, to those seeking something more unique. Too many similar types of restaurants opt only for the more popular wines, unwilling to place riskier choices on their list. For example, natural wines are much more of a hand-sell though the wines would please many people if they were willing to take a chance on them. Kudos to Forge & Vine for creating a wine list that will excite even wine geeks.

The Food Menu, which changes seasonally, is extensive without being overwhelming. It includes Starters (8 options at $8-$18, such as Country Style Ribs, Blue Hill Bay Mussels, Spring Pea Risotto), Shared Plates (7 options at $10-$22, such as New England Cheese Plate, Tuna Tartare, Smoked Bluefish Pate), Salads (3 options at $10-$12), Raw Bar (Oysters, Littleneck Clams, Oyster Shooter, Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, and Chilled Seafood Platter), Flatbreads (6 options at $15 each, such as Margherita, Spicy Sausage, Fig & Prosciutto), Plates (12 options at $15-$42, such as 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken, 10 oz. NY Strip, Potato Crusted Cod, Shrimp Linguini), Entrees for Two (Rotisserie All Natural Chicken $35 and 32 oz Wood-Grilled Ribeye $60), and Sides (8 options at $6, such as Duck Fat Potatoes, Wood Grilled Asparagus, Loaded Sweet Potato).

There are plenty of comfort food options on the menu, and you could dine on a number of small plates, or order a larger entree. They use many local ingredients, such as Little Leaf greens, and there are options for meat lovers, seafood lovers and vegetarians. Many of the dishes can be found on plenty of other menus, except that Forge & Vine often infuses their own unique twists. For example, the Tuna Tartare includes macadamia nuts while the Country Style Ribs use a Vermont maple barbecue sauce. I sampled several items on the menu but there were plenty of other dishes that I wanted to taste as well, which I'll have to do another time.

As you peruse the menu and wait for your first dish to arrive, you're presented with complimentary bread, hearty rustic slices, and some tasty, briny olives.

Our first wine of the evening was the 2017 Laurent Cazottes Champetre Blanc ($48), from the Gaillac region of south western France. It is produced from 100% Mauzac Blanc, a grape that is indigenous to this region, and which is new to me. The wine is fermented in stainless steel with native yeasts, aged in tank on its fine lees, and isn't fined or filtered. The wine is also certified organic and Biodynamic. With a 12% ABV, this was an impressive white wine, one I want to buy so I can enjoy it all summer long. It was crisp and light, fresh and clean, with delicious citrus, especially lemon and pear notes. Excellent acidity, a lengthy finish, and a few floral hints. Pure pleasure and it would be a great pairing with seafood too. My highest recommendation.

With this wine, we opted for some Jumbo Shrimp cocktail ($3 each) and 4 different Oysters ($3 each), accompanied by a spicy cocktail sauce, champagne mignonette, and horseradish. The fresh seafood went great with the Champetre Blanc, especially the briny oysters.

The ample plate of Crispy Fried Point Judith Calamari ($14) is made with chorizo, cherry peppers, and baby kale. The calamari was tender, with a clean, crunchy coating, and the chorizo made for an excellent addition. A well prepared dish. It too paired well with the Champetre Blanc. 

Our second wine was the 2017 Kontozisis Organic Vineyards A-Grafo Roditis ($61), a Greek wine made from 100% Roditis, an indigenous grape. It is made in the Ramato style, a type of skin-contact wine, which sometimes is referred to as an "orange wine." It had an intriguing aroma and taste, a delightful blend of citrus and savory notes, a touch of pineapple and earthiness. Crisp acidity, lengthy finish and quite delicious. And definitely makes an interesting food wine.

There are six Flatbread options, all priced at $15 each, and a gluten free option is available too. We opted for the White Clam Flatbread, with chopped surf clams, parsley, and bacon lardons. Quite compelling! The crust was crisp and slightly chewy, just the right texture you'd like for this flatbread, and there was plenty of melted cheese, salty bacon, and slightly briny clam pieces. All of the ingredients meshed well together, one of those times when seafood and cheese definitely makes a complimentary pairing.

The third wine was the 2017 Tiberi, ‘L Rosso ($60), from Umbria, Italy, made from a blend of Gamay and Ciliegiolo. This is also a natural wine, which was unfiltered and unfined, and aged for about 8 months in stainless steel. It is light bodied and fresh, with a pleasing blend of red fruit and spice, and a touch of rusticness. Easy drinking, but with some complexity, it was delicious and would pair well this summer with grilled meats.

As a cornbread lover, I had to order the Side of Anson Mills Skillet Cornbread ($6), which is topped with a scoop of molasses butter. It met my high expectations, being properly moist with a rich corn flavor and the butter added a nice sweetness with the intriguing tang of the molasses. I would certainly order it again, and again. Highly recommended!

The Blood Farm Cheeseburger ($16) is accompanied by spicy aioli, bread & butter pickles, lettuce, onion and Vermont cheddar, with except but the cheddar on the side. The burger was thick and juicy, with a nice tang from the cheddar, and the homemade pickles were tasty. This hearty burger, with a soft, seeded roll, hits all the right points, from a good burger to bun ratio, to its amount of char. Plus, the meat is sourced from a local farm in Groton. With the burger, are hand cut fries, and they were properly crisp with a fluffy interior. Another good option on the menu.

I also had to try their version of Poutine ($12), with shredded short rib, brown gravy, and Maple Brook Farm cheese curd. The shredded short rib was moist, tender and flavorful and the gravy was tasty too. Both very good elements in this version of poutine. My only quibble is that all of the cheese was melted. I was expecting the usual, slightly melted curds, which still had some of that springy texture to them. That textural element adds to the appeal of poutine to me, also separating it from simple cheese fries.

The small Dessert menu has five options, four prices at $9 and one at $8. The first four options include Carrot Cake, Chevre Cheesecake, Chocolate Amaretto Panna Cotta, and Coconut Rice Pudding. The last option is the Frozen Treat Selection, which includes ice cream and sorbet. After recently writing an article on the History of Carrot Cake, I decided to select the Carrot Cake for dessert, which has pineapple caramel, sunflower seed, and cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist and tasty, with nuts and no raisins, and the pineapple caramel was an intriguing addition. Though I usually am not a big fan of cream cheese frosting, this had a lighter version which was appealing. A fine ending to our dinner.

Our last wine was the 2016 Boschendal Chardonnay Pinot Noir, a South African wine with a pale pink color, and a fascinating blend of flavors, from bright strawberry to hints of apple. It is crisp and light, an elegant wine that would make a fine aperitif or accompaniment to dessert.

Overall, Forge & Vine is a fine addition to the culinary scene of the Groton area. The food was delicious, well prepared, and numerous dishes use local ingredients. From my location, I saw plenty of other dishes leaving the kitchen, and they were visually appealing, especially the Rack of Lamb. This is largely comfort food, well-made and with their own unique spin. The wine list by the bottle is impressive, with a significant amount of more unique wines which should appeal to any wine lover. Their cocktails are also well-made. Service was excellent, and there were plenty of servers working that evening, ensuring everyone received sufficient attention. I strongly recommend you dine at Forge & Vine

Monday, May 20, 2019

Rant: Restaurant Social Media Fail

For restaurants, social media can be daunting. What is the best way to use social media to promote their restaurant? How often should they post on social media? What should they post? What shouldn't they post? However, there is one simple matter where some restaurants fail and there is no reason why they should fail in this regard.

Consider this: A writer has written a positive review of a restaurant. That writer posts about their review on social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, tagging the restaurant. Obviously, a restaurant should be pleased to receive a positive review and want to spread the news of that review, to hopefully entice more customers. So, what should the restaurant do in response to this review?

At a bare minimum, the restaurant should share the review on their own social media. For example, on Twitter, they should Like the writer's tweet but also Retweet it. Merely Liking it isn't sufficient as that doesn't bring notice of the review to a restaurant's Twitter followers. By Retweeting it though, all of a restaurant's followers can then see the review. And some of those followers might further Retweet it, spreading it even further. The same applies to Facebook, where merely posting a response, such as a Like or Love, isn't sufficient. A restaurant should Share the post on their own page, ensuring their followers get to see the positive review. And those followers might Share the post too.

With all the difficulty of operating a successful restaurant, restaurants need to do whatever they can to attract customers, and highlighting positive reviews can be important. All of this Retweeting and Sharing is simple and quick. Yet it can have a significant impact so there is no reason you shouldn't be doing this. There is no downside.

I've seen too many restaurants who may Like a social media restaurant review post, but then fail to Retweet or Share it. That is a simple fix. And I've also seen some of the positive impact from Retweeting and Sharing. It can lead to far more potential diners reading a positive review, as many as ten times as much than those who would have read the review if the restaurant hadn't shared it.

Restaurants, whenever a writer posts about a positive review on social media, take a few seconds to Retweet and Share that post. It will only help you and costs nothing to do so.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

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) Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is bringing the experience of a backyard Louisiana crawfish boil to the heart of Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Now in peak crawfish season through early July, SHK is getting shipments of the live crustacean every weekend, directly from Louisiana so guests can enjoy as fresh as possible!

Order up their “13 Spices Spicy Crawfish” available Fridays-Sundays (paired with an ice cold beer on the patio!) and choose from two sizes: 2.5 lbs. for $58 or 1.75 lbs. for $30.

For reservations, please call 617-945-0907

2) Tonight, Thursday, May 16th, Casa Caña will be hosting its first rum tasting of the summer with Diplomatico Rum. The party will take place on the patio (weather permitting) from 6 to 8 p.m. and will feature:
--Frozen cocktails
--Passed assorted appetizers and bocaditos including gazpacho shooters, jamon croquettes and jerk chicken tostones
--Rum tasting and specialty drink samples

Tickets cost only $15 and can be purchased at:
Guests must be 21+ to attend.

3) On Friday, June 7, from 8:30pm-10:30pm, check out the Meet the Brewers! A Poolside Sake Party at Hojoko.  Hojoko is hosting 10 Japanese Sake Brewers, including Miho Imada, star of Netflix's upcoming "Kampai! Sake Sisters" for a big Poolside party! (*weather permitting*). This should be a great time!

Come drink, eat and party with these Sake stars:
Miho Imada, Fukucho
Miho Fujita, Yuho
Yuri Honda, Chiyonosono
Mark Shiga, Tentaka
Tetsuro Igarashi, Tensei
Yuichiro Tanaka, Rihaku
Yuichiro Kawahito, Kawatsuru
Yaichi Doi, Takatenjin
Dr. Sato, Kanbara
Kazuhiro Yamada, Yamada Shoten
BONUS: Monica Samuels, a Sake samurai, will be in the house representing Vine Connections.

Tickets cost $45 and can be purchased online Here

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Popover Wars: Popover King vs The Popover Lady

"POP-OVERS---One cup of flour; one egg, butter the size of a nutmeg. Bake in small tin rounds."
--The Sunbury Gazette, December 11, 1858 (PA). The recipe is from Ellen U. Bacon, of Bar Mills, Maine.

Popover: A flaky, crusty roll made from egg batter and often cooked in muffin tins. When I was growing up, it seemed that many restaurants served popovers and I loved them. My mother also made popovers at home, which were a special treat. Then, they seemed to almost vanish from the restaurant scene, relegated mainly to more "old-fashioned" restaurants. However, they've been returning, and creative chefs have transformed and elevated them, such as Chef Lydia Shire's Lobster Popover.

A few places now specialize in popovers, including Popover King and The Popover Lady. Recently, I stopped at both spots, to compare their Cheese Popovers. Plus, I checked out a couple other items at Popover King, as it is the newest popover spot in the area. My biggest takeaway from my comparison of the two places? I need to return to both of them to check out more from their menus. Their Cheese Popovers are very different, and your preference will depend on the style you like better.

"POP-OVERS---Stir together one cup of flour, one of sweet milk, one of beaten egg, and butter the size of a walnut. Bake in small tin rounds--and they will be excellent for breakfast cakes."
--The Sunbury Gazette, February 11, 1860 (PA).

Located in the West End of Boston, Popover King has only recently opened and it is a small cafe where you order at the counter and then sit down and wait for your food and drink. It's a casual spot with a welcoming vibe, and the counter staff is quick to offer assistance.

The Menu has plenty of options, including New England baked goods like Anadama Bread and Boston Brown Bread. There are five main types of popovers, including Original, Cheese, Onion, Garlic and Sugar Cinnamon, priced at $4.50-$5.50, though if you buy three, you get one free. The popovers can also be ordered gluten-free. There is also a list of Specialty Popovers, priced $8.25-$10.00, which are basically filled with a variety of sweet or savory ingredients. For example, the Sir John has chocolate creme and ganache while The Yorkshire has shredded beef, warm gravy and cheese. A Brunch menu has even heartier dishes, from Pop & Lox (popover with lox and cream cheese) to Pop & Lobster (lobster salad & tomatoes).

"POP-OVERS--Two eggs, one pint of sweet milk, a little salt, and a pint and a half of flour; bake three-quarters of an hour in cups, in a hot oven."
--The Brooklyn Union, September 14, 1867 (NY)

During lunch, you'll find three Specials, the discount which basically give you a free Popover, saving you an average of $5.00.

I ordered the Special #1 ($12.50), which included the Lowborn Knight, and I selected the Cheese popover. The cheese popover came split open, with plenty of melted cheese atop it. The popover was cooked just right, with a flaky and crusty exterior and an almost spongy, eggy interior. All of the cheese added another tasty element and went well with the popover. They didn't skimp on the cheese. I'm more used to popovers where the cheese is baked into the popover but this worked quite well, and I would definitely recommend it.

The Lowborn Knight is a cheese popover with two slices of ham atop it. Almost a ham & cheese sandwich, and you could eat it that way if you wanted.

I ended my lunch with a Sugar Cinnamon Popover, which made for a delicious dessert, with just the right amount of sweetness to complement the eggy popover. Unfortunately, they apparently forgot to bring me this popover when it was ready so, after close to ten minutes, I went up to the counter to remind them and they immediately then brought it out.

"POP OVER CAKE--The following is the recipe for making the justly celebrated pop-over cake. It is said it is well worth a trial. One cup of milk, one cup of flour, one egg, a little pinch of salt; increase in proportion to the family."
--Vermont Chronicle, July 9, 1870

At the Boston Public Market, you'll find The Popover Lady, who also offers a variety of Popover treats. Their basic popovers, available in Original, Asiago Cheese, Toasted Onion, and Cinnamon Sugar, only cost $3.25-$3.50. You'll find other Popover treats as well, though for this visit, I just wanted to taste their Asiago Cheese popover.

Their Asiago Cheese popover is more similar to the type of cheese popovers are most used to, and it delivered on taste. The exterior was crusty and flaky, with a delightful eggy interior, enhanced by the ample amount of Asiago baked into it. It brought back childhood memories of the type of popovers I once used to enjoy. And it makes me want to sample more of the popovers from this spot.

So which Cheese Popover was the winner of this comparison test? It's a tough decision as both were excellent as well as very different. I would order either one of them again. Both also earn my hearty recommendation. If I must choose though, I'll opt for the the Asiago Cheese Popover from The Popover Lady,

"CORN POPOVERS--1 pint of sweet milk scalded; stir into the hot milk a coffee-cup of cornmeal, butter half the size of an egg, little salt, 3 eggs well beaten and stirred in the last thing; no soda."
--Galena Miner, Jul 17, 1879 (KS)