Monday, September 30, 2019

Gratitude & Highlights Of Croatia

Sunset in Gradac. Sitting at a pebbly beach, the soft murmur of the waves lapping at the shore, as I sipped a glass of Plavac Mali wine. A touch of paradise in Croatia. Such an amazing memory.

A week ago, I returned from my ten-day journey to the Republic of Croatia, and I've been processing everything I've learned and experienced, assembling everything so that I can write a number of articles about my fascinating trip. As a start, I wanted to briefly mention some of the highlights here, before I begin a deeper analysis in the coming weeks.

First though, I want to offer my deep gratitude to the K7 Cooperative, an association of seven wineries in the Komarna region, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill WinesVolarević WinesTerra Madre, Modro-zelenaNeretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. They sponsored much of my trip, and several of them also provided us hospitality at their wineries, tasting us on their wines as well as providing some compelling food to accompany those wines..

Second, I also want to offer great appreciation to Mirena Bagur and Win Burke, owners of the Boston-based Croatian Premium Wine Imports. They were our excellent guides throughout most of the trip, helping to provide us a balanced view of Croatia, from its culture to its history. They also welcomed us into their home, introduced us to some of their family, and taught us about a number of Croatian traditions. The journey would not have been as interesting and fun without them.

Third, I must give many thanks to my fellow travelers, wine lovers, and wine writers, including Luiz Alberto, Nanci Bergamo, Sue Tolson, and Gian Luca Garattoni. They made this a better and more exciting trip, helping to create many great memories. They also helped by providing their own unique viewpoints on Croatia, providing different perspectives on our joint experiences.

Our journey to Croatia was primarily about wine, especially the wines of the Komarna appellation, though I also had the opportunity to taste plenty of other Croatian wines, from several other regions. In addition, we experiences numerous others aspects of Croatia, from its history to culture, from its cuisine to its traditions. Croatian wine was put into a larger context, which I believe is a better way to understand it, to not only technically assess the wines, but to comprehend how those wines fit into Croatian life. Wine isn't produced in a vacuum, but is a result of various cultural, traditional and historical elements.

The Food! There was plenty to please any adventurous food lover and its quality can compete with the best of any country. We enjoyed lots of seafood, including oysters, mussels, Noah's Ark Shell clams, eels, frog legs, octopus, shrimp, cuttlefish, scallops, squid, and more. There was a traditional Peka dinner with some of the most tender octopus I've ever eaten. There were other traditional dishes as well, such as Crni Rizot (black risotto), Buzara Mussels, Burek (type of filled pastry), Fuži sa Tartufima (pasta with truffles) and Pršut (Croatian prosciutto). Even though I got plenty of exercise on the trip, especially walking a number of walls, I did gain a few pounds while I was away.

I have fond memories of Stella, a beach side restaurant and cafe in Gradac, where we gathered each morning for tea and coffee. Although they didn't serve breakfast, their kitchen not opening until 11am, their ice cream shop did open at 8am! And I'll admit to having ice cream for breakfast a couple times, though I wasn't the only one to do so. When their kitchen was open, Stella made a tasty pizza.

The wines were impressive! Sparkling, White, Skin-Contact Whites, Rosé, and Red wines. Indigenous Croatian grapes such as Pošip, Rukatac, Plavac Mali, and Teran. International grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Organic wines. Two $6 wines that blew my mind! Reveling in the wide diversity of the expressions of Plavac Mali. A 16% ABV red wine that was so well balanced you never would have suspected it was so high. And even 18.2% ABV red wines that were similarly well balanced. I didn't get the opportunity to try Bikla, a concoction of red wine and goat's milk.

There was also Rakija, brandy spirits, which can be made from any type of fruit, and may be flavored with a wide variety of herbs and spices. For example, I tasted Biska, a rakish made with mistletoe, though my favorite was a Travarica, a compelling herbal concoction.

There's so much natural beauty in Croatia, from its crystal blue waters to its myriad of mountains. Traveling from Zagreb south, we encountered numerous tunnels, some of them quite lengthy, almost seeming as if they would be endless. It was also intriguing to pass several times through the Neum Corridor, crossing over Bosnian territory which splits Croatia into two parts. We even spent part of one day in Bosnia, checking out the stunning Krevice Falls.

We visited a few different sites of Roman ruins, from the Narona Archaeological Museum to the ruins of Salona, the ancient Roman capital of Dalmatia. We walked the Walls of Ston, a medieval fortification, as well as the walls surrounding the city of Dubrovnik. We walked through Diocletian's Palace in Split, the former home of a Roman Emperor. I viewed numerous sculptures in Zagreb, commemorating various historical personages. I eagerly devoured this exposure to the history of Croatia.

At the start of my trip, I had some time on my own so I explored the city of Zagreb, checking out spots including a Lord of the Rings themed-pub, Rakija Bar, the famed Dolac Market, Cahun (an 80+ year old hat shop), the Bornstein Wine Bar, the Agava Restaurant, and more. It was an intriguing city, filled with plenty to entice any traveller.

I also participated in a #WineLovers Hangout, held at the Pod Zidom Bistro & Wine Bar in Zagreb. Organized by Luiz AlbertoSaša Špiranec, and Ana Hozjan, this event was a BYOB dinner bringing together about 40 or so wine lovers from all over the world. There were a huge amount of bottles available to taste, from wine regions all over the world, from Greece to California, Italy to France. Two of my favorite wines were Spanish, brought by Sinisa Curavic. Instead of wine, I brought two bottles of Sake, and it was very popular with those who tasted them, though everyone had a preference for one bottle or the other.

Friendly feral cats. Game of Thrones. Dutch pancakes. Road-side fruit & veggie stands. Traffic jam caused by goats. Iron Man. King Arthur. And a myriad of other intriguing items.

I'll end with another sunset, this iime viewed from the Rizman Winery. More bliss.

What would you like to know about Croatia?

Thursday, September 26, 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) Football season is well underway, and TAMO Bistro + Bar at the Seaport Hotel now offers a special menu of game day fare. This menu is available every Monday and Thursday starting at 5pm and all day every Sunday.

The Menu includes:
· Spicy fries – jalapenos, parsley, chili flakes and Parmesan cheese $10
· Buffalo chicken nachos – buffalo chicken, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo $16
· Prosciutto meatballs­ – house-made meatballs, marinara, mozzarella $12
· Steak & Cheese Spring rolls – with chipotle ranch $15
· Tater tots – with spicy ketchup $12
· WB pizza – sausage, pepperoni, jalapeno, crispy $18
· North end pizza – house 4 cheese blend, tomatoes $14
· Lamb Spare Ribs – Seaport honey, Asian spices, Napa Cabbage $14
· Buffalo Wings – with bleu cheese $12

2) On Friday, October 4, from 7pm-10pm, Chef Daniel Bruce and Sommelier Benjamin Oram of the Boston Harbor Hotel welcome Patton Valley Vineyard and guests to a special five-course wine dinner at Meritage Restaurant + Wine Bar.

This inspired menu pairs well with the Oregon wines from Patton Valley Vineyard. Patton Valley shows a true excellence in their wines by responsibly and sustainably growing the Willamette Valley’s finest grapes and making beautiful wines that reflect the character of the land and of the people who produce them. They focus on Pinot Noir, but also work with Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chenin Blanc.

The full menu is as follows:
Crispy Prosciutto, Grilled Green Melon, Cracked Black Pepper, Brie Toast
Pet Nat Rose of Pinot Noir
Smoked Blue Fish, Barnstable Oyster, Cape Gooseberry, Nasturtium Hazelnut Crumble, Purslane, Tarragon Cultured Cream
Pinot Blanc Mora Brothers Vineyard
Crispy Quail, Raspberry Glaze, Roasted Leeks, Fennel Confit, Vermont Shepherd Cheese Grits
Estate Pinot Noir
Sumac Glazed Duck Breast, Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Black Garlic Wild Rice, Fresh Lingonberries
Lorna Marie Pinot Noir
Jasper Hill’s Cellar Harbison with Smoked Apricot, Toasted Macadamia Nuts and Grilled Olive Bread
Olorosso of Pinot Gris

Tickets are $125 per person (including tax and gratuity), and can be purchased on Eventbrite at This is a 21+ event.

3) On Thursday, December 5, from 6pm-10pm, join NECAT for a dinner and demonstration with
special guests Jack Bishop and Elle Simone from America's Test Kitchen.

The evening will start with specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Then ticket holders will be treated to a live cooking demo led by Jack and Elle - you'll go home able to perfect a decadent dessert. Finally, you will join the chefs for an intimate and elegant seated farm-to-table dinner of their favorite ATK recipes. The dinner will feature dishes native to New England, with the ingredients sourced from our favorite local farms and fisheries.

As always, NECAT’s talented students and chefs will help make this an unforgettable evening of entertainment and cuisine, all to benefit NECAT’s Culinary Arts Job Training Program. Join us on December 5 to support our mission and enjoy this rare, one-of-a-kind culinary experience with America's Test Kitchen!
* Parking is included.

Tickets are $200 and you can buy them on Eventbrite.

4) North End seafood destination il Molo, owned by veteran restaurateur Donato Frattaroli, Sr., has launched a “Neighborhood Prix Fixe” Menu that pays homage to Frattaroli’s native Abruzzo, Italy, and the dishes that are fixtures of his childhood. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy three courses created by Executive Chef Pino Maffeo that are true to the region of central Italy known for rich vineyards and olive groves.

The special dishes are as follows and guests can select one of each course for $32. Every item on the menu is connected to a “food memory” that Frattaroli still holds dear and is now sharing with the community.
First Course
Lenticchie di Santo Stefano di Sessanio (Lentil Soup)
Late Summer Tomato Salad with onion, celery, cucumber, oregano and EVOO
Arrosticini (Traditional Abruzzese lamb skewers)
Second Course
Brodetto di pesce di Pescara (Fish stew with mussels, calamari and haddock with tomato seafood broth)
Grilled Sausages with Broccoli Rabe over Polenta
Lasagna of Egg Pasta, Veal and Pomodoro Sauce
Chef’s Handmade Cakes and Assorted Ice Creams

The “Neighborhood Prix Fixe” Menu is available every Sunday through Tuesday evening, through October 7. To make reservations, contact the il Molo team at 857-277-1895

5) On Sunday, October 13, from 5pm-8pm, Rebel’s Guild at Revere Hotel Boston Common, welcomes guests to a whiskey tasting event featuring samples of over 30 whiskeys and bourbons from around the world.

Executive Chef Sean Dutson will be serving up a variety of items from the Rebel’s Guild Fall dinner menu while guests sample whiskey including Redemption Bourbon and Rye, Bib and Tucker, Masterson Rye, Michters Bourbon and Rye, The Dalmore, Prizefight Irish Whiskey, Angel’s Envy and many more.

Tickets start at $55 and are available on Eventbrite. Whiskey Tasting Admission is $55 per person and includes samples of over 30 whiskeys and small bites. The Whiskey Tasting Couch option is $280 and includes admission for 5 guests, samples of over 30 whiskeys, small bites and a fall themed VIP bag. Additional cocktail specials will also be available for purchase. 21+ with valid I.D. Refunds are not available.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Rant: How To Promote Croatian Wine

"Any country that aspires to be successful today has to manage its image and identity and engage in the branding process for the purpose of getting noticed globally, keeping ahead of the competition, neutralizing negative perceptions about itself, and imposing its values on other countries."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

What have you heard about wine from Croatia? Does it have a good reputation? Have you ever tasted wine from Croatia?

If so, what persuaded you to taste their wine? Did you like what you tasted? If so, what did you like about it? If not, why didn't you like it? Would you recommend Croatian wine to your friends?

If you've never tasted Croatian wine, why haven't you done so? And what would it take for you to taste their wines?

I could ask these same questions about wines from a number of different countries which currently occupy a tiny niche in the market. Wines from Georgia, Moldova, Israel, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Hungary, and more. The key question is how do we persuade more consumers to drink wines from these countries. And as I'm currently in Croatia, I'm going to concentrate on their wines, though understand that my comments are applicable to numerous other countries as well.

"Croatia is a European tourist brand. Almost everyone who has heard about Croatia knows that Croatia has the cleanest sea in Europe, magnificent beaches, an indented coastline and beautiful islands. On the other hand, not many people know that Croatia has a rich cultural heritage."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

Many thousands of wines, from all over the world, are available to consumers and the number of choices can be overwhelming. For many consumers,  they stick to wines they know, whether from major wine-producing regions or made from common, international grapes. They embrace wines from California and France, from Oregon and Italy, from Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec, Chardonnay to Sauvignon Blanc. Some consumers are willing to drink outside their comfort zone, but they commonly seek guidance rather than take a risk on their own.

Wines from lesser known countries like Croatia have a tough battle to capture consumer awareness. Most consumers, at a wine shop or restaurant, generally wouldn't ask for a Croatian wine. In most instances, Croatian wines are a hand sell, requiring a knowledgeable and passionate wine store employee, distributor rep, or sommelier to persuade consumers to take a chance. It can even be difficult for an importer/distributor to convince a restaurant or wine shop to carry Croatian wines.

"They don’t know anything about Croatia apart from the fact that it is a beautiful country; they don’t know anything about Croatian products; they have never read a book written by a Croatian author; they don’t know anything about the Croatian way of life; they don’t know what makes us different from the other nations on the Balkan Peninsula."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

What do you know about the Republic of Croatia? I'll admit I knew little of the country until a few months ago. I'd previously written about one of their wines and one of these cheeses, but I hadn't delved too deeply into their history and culture. I'm sure many people are in a similar situation, knowing little about Croatia. Most of the popular news articles about Croatia have emphasized it as a tourist destination, especially its compelling beaches and islands. They haven't though revealed the complexities of Croatia, its rich contributions to the world, its vibrant cuisine and cultural traditions. I know

Who is responsible for our general ignorance of Croatia? I think that responsibility can be spread to a number of different groups, including Croatia itself. They need to do more to spread their brand in a positive way, one which encompasses all aspects of that fascinating country. They cannot and should not rely only on being a fine tourist destination, known for their beaches. They need to make the public aware of all that Croatia has to offer, to put the country in the best possible light.

A recent article in Total Croatia News, has gone into more detail about some of the specific items that would benefit the Croatian wine industry, noting there has been a "lack of coordinated promotion of Croatia's wine story." The article recommends creating four wine museums in the different wine regions of Croatia, with specifics of what those museums should include. Wine tourism can bring much revenue to Croatia, but there needs to be more attractions for them, from wine museums to wine routes.

"Croatia is a popular tourist destination but we cannot earn the world’s respect simply on account of that. Croatia has to be strong politically and economically and it has to promote its values and cultural heritage – Croatia has to become a brand that encompasses everything from economy, politics, culture, science and gastronomy to art."
--Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

Writers also can do their part, by choosing to cover more than just Croatian's role as a tourist destination. Discuss its culture, its gastronomy, its wines, traditions and history. Show all of its depths and not just its surface beauty. Do we really need to read hundreds of articles extolling the virtues of their beaches and islands? There is much more that is both interesting and exciting that can be covered.

The more people know and understand about Croatia, the more positive they see the Croatian brand, the more likely they are to taste and buy Croatian wines. Croatian wines are diverse and delicious, interesting and food-friendly. They contain all of the elements that consumers would enjoy, if they only gave these wines a chance. I'll be contributing to spreading more awareness of Croatia in the coming weeks with a series of articles about my travels in Croatia.

Have you ever been to Croatia? If so, what fascinating stories can you share about your experiences?

Friday, September 13, 2019

Croatia: A Brief Introduction

The Croats were originally a Slav tribe who were invited by the Emperor Heraclius to free the Dalmatian coast and the Croatian hinterland from the Avars, one of the most noxious pillaging hordes who operated from a centre on the Danube far and wide:”
--Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

From the eastern shores of Italy, if you travel across the Adriatic Sea, a gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, you'll encounter the Republic of Croatia. It is alternatively known as a Balkan country or a Central European country, dependent on how one wants to depict the country. Croatia has a land area that's roughly equivalent to that of West Virginia, a population of about 4.5 million, and 90% of that population identifies as ethnic Croats. With a mainland coastline of about 1100 miles, it also possesses over 1,200 islands in the Adriatic Sea, about 50 of them which are inhabited.

It's history extends back thousands of years, with the Illyrians being one of the first most noticeable civilizations, even though little is still know of them. The ancient Greeks established colonies in Croatia, especially on a few islands, and by the 2nd century BC, the Romans began taking control of much of the land. Numerous Roman ruins are visible in the current day, especially Diocletian's Palace in Split.

Throughout the further centuries, the lands of Croatia would often immersed in war, being seized and controlled by various factions, including the Byzantine Empire, the Croatian Kingdom, the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. Around 1918, Croatia was absorbed into what would soon become the nation of Yugoslavia. It took over seventy years before, in 1991, Croatia declared its independence, leading to a war that ended, fortunately, in Croatia's favor, around August 1995.

Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.”
--George Bernard Shaw

Croatia now borders the countries of Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Bosnia & Herzegovina actually splits Croatia, at a section known as the Neum Corridor, an oddity that extends back to a treaty in 1699. It is only about 9 kilometers long, giving Bosnia & Herzegovina a tiny coastline. Croatia joined the European Union in July 2013 and though some consider Croatia a small country, it's actually larger than a number of other EU countries, including Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Culturally, Croatia can roughly be divided into three main areas, each reflective of its neighbors. The most eastern area, that closest to Hungry and Serbia, is more similar to Hungarian and Slavic cuisine and culture. The more coastal and southern area of Dalmatia, is more Mediterranean in nature while the region of Istria, to the northwest, is more Italian in nature. Great diversity in this relatively small country.

"..., for the Croatians of every degree are an amiable, open-hearted, open-handed people, who give to hospitality a very high place among the cardinal virtues and take a sincere pleasure in exercising it."
--The Times (London), August 9, 1884

Some other fun facts about Croatia, its cities and island:
  • The island of Korčula is claimed to be the birthplace of the famed explorer Marco Polo.
  • In 1783, the Dubrovnik Republic was the first country in the world that recognized the new United States.
  • In 1617, the Croatian inventor Faust Vrančić was the first to test the parachute by jumping from a tower in Venice in 1617.
  • The first prototypes of the torpedo were invented by the Croat inventor Ivan Blaž Lupic Vukić. He called it Spasilac obale, which roughly translates to "savior of coastline." 
  • Croatians invented the necktie, the cravate, which was basically a scarf tied in a knot around their necks. In 1635, the cravate impressed King Louis XIII of France who helped to launch the fashion for the rest of Europe.
  • In 1432, Croatia opened the first orphanage in Europe. 
  • The oldest inhabited city in Europe is the Croatian city of Vinkovci, which has been continually inhabited for about 8,000 years.
  • The Walls of Ston are the world's second longest preserved fortification system, after the Great Wall of China.
My explorations of Croatia will eventually lead to plenty of articles, especially concerning their wine and food, about this fascinating country. It's a country that many people know little about, and the more I learn about it, the more I understand it deserves greater attention.

"Croatia is a country of great potential and greater opportunities."
Understanding Croatia: A Collection of Essays on Croatian Identity by Božo Skoko

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Bound For Croatia

"A record of almost 20 million tourists visited Croatia in 2018, announced the Croatian Tourist Board this week. This is 6.5% more than in 2017 and a new record in Croatian tourism history. Istria was the most popular region this year, followed by the Split, Kvarner, Zadar and Dubrovnik."

"In the first 8 months of 2019, 5% more tourists have visited Croatia than in the same period of the record-breaking 2018,..."
--Croatia Week

It seems that everywhere you look, Croatia is being showcased as the hot new tourist destination. The hugely popular TV series, Game of Thrones, has contributed to this popularity as a variety of scenes were shot in numerous locations in Croatia. Every week, it seems a different celebrity is seen vacationing in Croatia, basking on one of their beaches, dining in one of their restaurants, or appearing at some event. The growing, record-breaking number of tourists is indicative of the country's popularity.

The country has much to offer, from its pristine beaches to its ancient history, from its diverse cuisine to its historic wine industry. If you want a more active vacation, from water sports to hiking, Croatia can meet your needs. If you want a quieter time, you can spend your hours on the Croatian beaches. All you need to do is peruse some photos of beautiful Croatia and you'll feel a pull to visit.

Later this afternoon, I'll board a plane and fly off to Zagreb, the first stop on my exploration of the Republic of Croatia. I'll be accompanying a small group of writers and wine lovers as well explore this fascinating country, visiting numerous wineries, dining on the local cuisine, immersing ourselves in its culture, and delving its historic past. We have plans to visit places including Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Gradac, Split, Ston, Brac Island, and more. I'm obviously very excited to visit this country for the first time, and have spent the last few months researching much about Croatia.

For example, did you know "Croatia was the birthplace of the oldest documented European vampire?" Check out this article from Total Croatia News to learn more about that fun fact. Maybe I better ensure I eat plenty of garlic while I'm in Croatia.

Most of the trip is being sponsored by the K7 Cooperative, an association of seven wineries in the Komarna region, including Rizman Winery, Saints Hill WinesVolarević WinesTerra Madre, Modro-zelenaNeretvanski Branitelj and Deak Family Farm. K7 is working with Boston-based Croatian Premium Wine Imports, which is owned and operated by Mirena Bagur and Win Burke, wife and husband. Mirena (who is Croatian) and Win have recently started importing Croatian wines to Massachusetts and they will be our guides throughout most of our visit to Croatia.

Thus, many of the wines that I'll review and write about, in the weeks after my return from Croatia, are either available in Massachusetts now or will be in the future. Some Croatian wines have been previously imported by other companies, but they have remained relatively rare in wine shops and on restaurant lists. Mirena and Win have been working hard to make Croatian wines more available to local consumers, and they have also been leading a number of local tastings of Croatian wines. It is such passion which is needed to persuade consumers to taste and purchase Croatian wine.

Currently, four of the K7 wineries have wines in the Massachusetts market, and I've been fortunate to sample several of them, enjoying what I've tasted. Whites, Reds and Rosé. Indigenous grapes like Posip and Plavac Mali. A number of local restaurants and wine shops now carry these wines, although the public needs to learn more about them, to be given reasons why they should drink these wines. Two of the reasons include that these wines are delicious and food friendly.

The history of wine in Croatia extends back over 2500 years, with the Greeks and Romans responsible for much of the early viticulture. For example, the Stari Grad Plain, on the island of Hvar, was colonized by Greeks during the 4th century B.C. Vineyards have been continuously planted here for over 2400 consecutive years and it's now a UNESCO World Heritage site!

The Komarna Appellation is relatively new, having first been planted with vines in 2008 and having received its official designation as an appellation in 2013. We'll spend time exploring Komarna, visiting the K7 wineries. In addition, we'll also visit wineries in other regions of Croatia, such as Grgić Vina, which was established in 1996 by Napa Valley winemaker Miljenko Grgich and his daughter, Violet. In addition, we'll visit some historic sites, such as the Narona Archaeological Museum, Diocletian's Palace,  and a few sites where Game of Thrones was filmed.

Prior to this year, I've had only very limited experience with Croatian wine and food. I previously reviewed the 2010 Vinarija Dingac Peljesac, which ended up on my list of the 2014 Top Ten Wines Under $15. I also reviewed Paški Sir, a compelling Croatian cheese from the island of Pag.

I'll have a couple days on my own as well, mostly in Zagreb, so I'll be checking out whatever intrigues me, from a Lord of the Rings themed-pub to another Bar that specializes in rakijas, brandy spirits, from the Dolac Market to Cahun (an 80+ year old hat shop). I'll explore Tkalčićeva Street, which once was filled with brothels, the first legal red light district in Europe. FYI, those brothels no longer exist. Tkalčićeva Street is now filled with restaurants, shops and bars, and is one of the most popular streets in Zagreb.

Plus, on September 14, there will be a #WineLovers Hangout at the Pod Zidom Bistro & Wine Bar in Zagreb. Organized by Luiz Alberto, Saša Špiranec, and Ana Hozjan, this will be a BYOB dinner bringing together wine lovers from all over the world. What bottles will I bring to this dinner? I've already made my choice and I won't say yet but I'm sure no one else will bring a similar bottle.

I look forward to everything I'll experience in Croatia, and then I'll enjoy sharing my stories with my readers.

As they say in Croatia, Živjeli! ("Cheers")

A writer who falls in love with a new and strange country will always find experience heightened in this way. The dawns are more noble, the crags loftier, the people more genuine, the food and wine more luscious....
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

Monday, September 9, 2019

Rant: Wine Travel & Better Understanding

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
--St. Augustine

There are various levels of understanding to all subjects, including wine. You may know little about wine, a moderate amount or be an "expert." Your wine knowledge may derive from a book, an instructor, numerous tastings, or a combination of elements. Another source of information is travel to a wine region, which is an excellent way to gain further knowledge and understanding. With the advent of harvest season, this is a perfect time to visit a wine region, to immerse yourself in grapes and fermentation.

Though it may seem self-evident, it bears stating to ensure clarity: Visiting a wine region will likely deepen your comprehension of wine. To meet the wine makers, to walk through their vineyards, to immerse yourself in the region's culture, all can contribute to a deeper appreciation and knowledge of the area and its wines. To have the opportunity to question the staff of the winery, to obtain answers to matters which might have previously confused or puzzled you, can be invaluable. A winery's website may present their brief history and philosophy, but that is most often only the bare bones. There is much richer detail to be found by speaking directly to the people of the winery.

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
--Henry Miller

I strongly encourage all wine lovers to visit wine regions, so that you can gain better comprehension and knowledge. Wine writers are especially urged to do so, to give you a better perspective. Travel can be a great experience for everyone, to broaden anyone's horizons. You could visit a Caribbean island, and sit on the beach all day relaxing. Or you could take a more educational vacation and visit places such as Spain, Oregon, Croatia, Paso Robles, Argentina, or Long Island, and explore their wines, cuisine, and more. If wine is your passion, then such a journey should call to your heart.

Before you visit a wine region, be sure to do some prior research, so that you aren't a blank slate when you arrive. You can then arrive with more informed questions, ones that cannot be answered simply by visiting the winery's website. When you get to the region, be proactive, asking questions, participating in as much as you can. If you are offered the opportunity to experience something different, like harvesting grapes or tasting something unusual, then take it. Try new foods, learn local customs, and have fun. Seize the moment and squeeze every ounce of knowledge and experience out of your trip.

If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.
--James Michener

There is no need to worry if your traveling budget is limited, just seek out wine regions and wineries more local to you. Every state in the U.S. now produces wine, and you are likely within driving distance of at least a few of them. That will give you options, and then you can save up for a larger trip out of the country, or even just to a different state. For example, Massachusetts has 30+ wineries, and many wineries from the rest of the New England states are only two to three hours away. The New York wineries are a slightly longer trip, but still very doable.

If you have visited a wine region, do you feel that it led to a better understanding of the region and its wines? What wine regions would you especially recommend?

Thursday, September 5, 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) This week, Jyoti & Aaron Mehta are celebrating the First Anniversary of the opening of their Wine Press Fenway. This is the second location of their Wine Press shop, the first being in Brookline. To celebrate, the Wine Press Fenway is having a special sale this week, offering 15% off all of the wine in their shop (though only at the Fenway location).

In addition, there will be a few tastings this week too:
--Thursday, September 5, from 5:30pm-7:30pm: European Wines with Jackson
--Friday, September 6, from 5:30pm-7:30pm: There will be two tastings, the first with Citadelle Gin & Tonic. The other tasting is St. George Spirits with President & Master Distiller Lance Winters, who will also sign bottles.

2) Next month, from October 25th-27th, you might want to check out the 4th Annual White Mountains Crush Festival, held by the Seven Birches Winery at the RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain. The Festival celebrates the end of the harvest season and the start of the winemaking season. You can stomp grapes, sample wine, learn from their winemakers, eat, and more.

The scheduled events include:
Friday, October 25:
1pm – 10pm: Winery Open to Public
7pm – 9pm: Atrium Wine Bar Cocktail Welcome Mixer

Saturday, October 26:
12pm – 10pm: Winery Open to Public
9am: Educational Workshop #1 – “Varietal Wines vs. Blends”
10am, 11am, & 12pm: Meet the Winemakers Tour & Barrel Tasting
11am: Educational Workshop #2 – “Old world wine, new world fruit”
12pm – 4pm: Grape Stomping “I Love Lucy” style.
12pm – 3pm: Stompers Picnic, Lunch Provided
1pm – 4pm: Winemakers’ Wine Tasting in the Winery
6pm: Wine Dinner

Sunday, October 27:
11am – 9pm: Winery Open to Public
10am: Educational Workshop #3 - “Dispelling the oldest wine myths”

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to:

3) On Wednesday, September 25th, starting at 6:00pm, Abe & Louie's Executive Chef Danny Levesque will use his culinary creativity to design a dining experience featuring savory dishes paired with wines from Château Caronne Sainte Gemme - a specially curated selection by Benjamin Appleby, Wine and Beverage Manager.

The menu is as follows:
Parmesan Cheese Crisps with Herbed Goat Cheese
Crispy Oysters with Avocado Mousse and Pepper Jelly
Sautéed Shrimp Skewers with Garlic, Tarragon and Lemon
Nueske Bacon Bites
Paired with: 2016 Château de Birot, Bordeaux Blanc de Birot
First Course
Local Rabbit Stew with Baby White Turnips, Kale and Juniper
Paired with: 2005 Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc
Second Course
Foraged Mushroom Risotto with Crisp Pancetta
Paired with: 2009 Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc
Smoked Prime Rib with Watercress-Arugula Salad and Horseradish Cream
Paired with: 2010 & 2014 Château Caronne Sainte Gemme, Haut-Médoc
Warm Local Apple Crisp with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Paired with: 2009 Château La Rame, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont

Seats to the special wine dinner are limited, cost $125 per guest (excluding tax and gratuity) and can be reserved by calling the restaurant at (617) 536-6300.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Winnipesaukee Winery: NH Wine & St. Pepin

There are over 25 wineries in New Hampshire, and you can check out the New Hampshire Winery Association to learn more about these various producers. Within New Hampshire, you'll find grape wines, fruit wines, mead, dessert wines, and more. Earlier this year, while in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, I stopped at a farmer's market and bought a bottle of local white wine, NV Winnipesaukee Winery St. Pepin, intrigued by the grape and wanting to sample a New Hampshire wine.

Owned by Christoper Coache and Heidi von Gotz Cogean (the winemaker), the winery is located in Wolfeboro, a successor to Newfound Lake Vineyards. As their website states, "Winnipesaukee Winery is a farm winery making award winning wine from fruit and grapes. We are known for our three year old French oak barrel aged reds and our wide selection of dry to sweet wines. Handcrafted wine is our family tradition." Their Wolfeboro vineyard is planted with Seyval Blanc, Traminette and Edelweiss and they expect a small harvest in 2021. They also ran a Winery Bed & Breakfast, the only one in the state.

The NV Winnipesaukee Winery St. Pepin is an "American Table Wine," produced and bottled by the winery, though their website has no information listed about the wine. As an American Table Wine, it's likely that at least some of the St. Pepin grapes were sourced from outside New Hampshire. St. Pepin is a complex hybrid grape, of Seyval Blanc and Eler Swenson 114, that was introduced sometime between 1983-1986. It is partially named for Lake Pepin, which is in the Mississippi River. Most of the grapes are grown in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is said that St. Pepin can produce fruity wines, with some similarities to Riesling.

This St. Pepin wine, unoaked with only a 11% ABV, was actually quite delicious. It was fairly crisp, with a hint of sweetness, and presented pleasant citrus and apple notes. It was more complex than expected and definitely would be a very good food wine, though it satisfied on its own as well. I look forward to the future, to try the wines made from grapes from their own vineyards.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Rant: Drinking Advice For The Fall

Today is Labor Day, what many people see as the unofficial end of Summer, despite the fact that the official end isn't until September 23. Labor Day also presages changes in the wine and beverage world, beyond the fact it is grape harvest season, and consumers need to pay attention. There are opportunities now that they should take advantage of, to learn more about wine and other beverages, to experience different drinks, and to enjoy plenty of delicious drinks. I've compiled some drinking advice for the Fall.

1) Don't Stop Drinking Rosé 
It's a myth that Rosé is only a Summer wine. The reality is that Rosé can and should be consumed year-round, no matter what the season, especially as it is excellent with food. Don't be fooled by those who try to claim it is only a seasonal wine. The better wine stores understand it is great all year round and thus they will stock Rosé throughout  the year, even though many distributors don't push Rosé during this time. Thanksgiving is an excellent occasion for Rosé. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Don't Stop Drinking Rosé.

2) Expand Your Palate
The next several months will be the busiest times for wine stores, and many of them will hold numerous wine tasting events, sometimes large ones offering samples of 100+ wines. Most of these events will be free, providing you a perfect opportunity to experience many wines which you may not have tasted before. The best way to learn about wine is to taste it so you should attend these events to experiment and take chances, tasting new wines of which you might never have heard about. Expand your palate and broaden your vinous horizons. As these tastings are free, you have nothing to lose. You might find a new favorite wine, or even several new favorites. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Expand Your Palate.

3) Don't Stress Over Thanksgiving Wines
The holidays are a stressful enough time that you really shouldn't add to your stress by worrying about the wine. Do you really need specific Thanksgiving wine recommendations? I don't think so. The more I ponder the question, the more I realize that all you need for Thanksgiving are some good wines, the varietals and/or blends being much less important. As long as they don't blatantly clash with the meal, then they should work and few wines are going to so blatantly clash. Drink wines you'll enjoy and don't worry so much about "perfect pairings." For more thoughts on this topic, check out Rant: Stop Stressing Over Thanksgiving Wine.

4) Don't Be Cheap Buying Holiday Wines
As the holidays approach, you might be planning to host parties for your family and friends. You might need a selection of wine for these celebrations. Price is usually a significant factor in your decision as to which wines to purchase. However, instead of buying just the cheapest wine at a shop, ask the staff at that store for their recommendations for the best value wines. They might be able to suggest wines you might not have considered, wines which offer excellent value as well as taste. These are also some great discount wine shops worthy of your attention, offering compelling wines at a low price point. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Rant: When Choosing Holiday Wines, Don't Be A Cheapskate.

5) Celebrate Sake Day on October 1
Nihonshu no Hi, known in English as Sake Day, originated over 40 years ago, in 1978, by a declaration of the Japan Sake Brewers Association and is now celebrated worldwide. Japanese Sake remains a niche beverage in the U.S. so this is a perfect day to learn more about it, to sample some delicious Sake, and understand its wonders. Some local restaurants and wine shops may offer Sake Day celebrations and you should avail yourselves of that opportunity. For more thoughts on this topic, check out Kanpai, Celebrate Sake Day!

6) Celebrate International Sherry Week in November
This year, International Sherry Week will be held from November 4-10. Sherry may be one of the tastiest, most intriguing, and unique wines that you're probably not drinking. It remains a tiny niche beverage in the U.S. and like Sake Day, this is a perfect opportunity to learn more about Sherry, to sample some delicious bottles, and understand its wonders. This will be at least a couple thousand Sherry events across the world, and Taberna de Haro in Brookline always participates, holding some amazing Sherry events. For more thoughts on Sherry, check out All About Sherry.

This is one of the most important pieces of advice you'll receive this season. Please give this your full attention. If you've had too much alcohol to drink, if there is any doubt in your mind, don't drive. Just don't do it! Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi or Uber, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep it off. Just don't drive! For more thoughts on this topic, check out Rant: DON'T DRINK & DRIVE!!

What post-Labor Day drinking advice would you like to add?