Friday, January 31, 2020

A Tavola in Winchester: Welcome To The New Owner, Chef Joe Carli

Change is in the air at A Tavola in Winchester and there's good reason to believe those changes will be positive, exciting and delicious.

Back in November 2011, Chef Vittorio Ettore, the owner of Bistro 5 in Medford, opened a second restaurant, A Tavola. Initially, it was an excellent restaurant, becoming one of my new favorites, offering compelling Italian cuisine. However, over time, and with a number of different chefs working at the restaurant, I, and others, felt that the quality of the cuisine had slipped and I stopped dining there. Throughout all this time, Bistro 5 has remained one of my top favorites, being consistently excellent.

This past fall, Chef Joe Carli became the new Chef de Cuisine at A Tavola and then earlier this month, Chef Carli became the new owner of the restaurant. Chef Carli has just started to put his own stamp on the kitchen, and after two recent visits, I'm confident the restaurant is in great hands and I'll likely become a regular once again.

I've known Chef Carli for a number of years, and he has worked at a few of my favorite restaurants, listed in my Top 50 Restaurants of 2019including Osteria Posto, Posto, and Bistro 5. From July 2010 to October 2013, Chef Carli worked for Vittorio Ettore at Bistro 5, so it's understandable why Chef Ettore chose to sell A Tavola to Chef Carli. After leaving Bistro 5, Chef Carli worked at Posto, in Somerville, and most recently, he worked at Osteria Posto in Waltham. His dream has to been to own his own restaurant, and that dream has now become a reality. He now has an outlet for his culinary passion, and I believe we can expect some exciting things from him.

The physical restaurant hasn't really changed, and it is still a medium sized restaurant with an intimate feel, including 6 seats at a small bar looking into the open kitchen. Those are some of the best seats in the restaurant as you can watch Chef Carli and his staff preparing your dinner. I've always been a fan of open kitchens, enjoying the sight of the chef and his assistants preparing various dishes. I'd strongly recommend making reservations, especially on the weekend, and even during the week if you want one of the bar seats.

On their Drinks menu, you can start your meal with an Apertivo ($11-$14), such as an Aperol Spritz, Campari & Orange, or an Italian bubbly. They also stock about 9 Beers ($6-$12), two on draft, and including some local brews and a Cider. Their Wine list includes all Italian wines, with 12 wines by the glass, 6 whites and 6 reds, available in 6 ounces ($11-$14) or 9 ounces ($15-$18). There are about 31 wines by the bottle, priced $43-$149 with about half under $60. It's an interesting list, that doesn't contain the usual suspects, and offers plenty of good choices, from many different regions of Italy. Wine lovers should find plenty to intrigue their palate. It's also interesting that they serve their wine in stemless glassware.

One evening, I had a couple different glasses of wine, including the 2016 Pietra Pinta Nero Buono, made from an indigenous Italian grape. Delicious black fruit with spicy notes, good acidity, and smooth tannins. An excellent companion for many of the restaurant's various dishes. Highly recommended. The 2015 Duca di Salaparuta Lavico Nerelo Mascalese is a more tannic and serious of a wine, with black cherry, ripe plum flavors and dark spices. It works best with heartier meat dishes.

On another visit, we enjoyed a bottle of the 2014 Lorenzo Mattoni Montefalco Sagrantino ($76),  which only has a 13.5% ABV, refreshing for a red wine. Tasty flavors of cherry, blackberry, and plum with subtle spices notes, well-integrated tannins, and a lengthy, pleasing finish. Another wine which would pair very well with many dishes at the restaurant. It was very easy to finish off this bottle, and enjoy throughout the course of our dinner.

For food options, there is a Regular Menu and a chalkboard of Specials. On the Regular Menu, you'll find Antipasti ($4-$22), such as Funghi (mushrooms and egg), Formaggio (cheese), Antipasti Plate (meats, dips, veggies), Insalata, Zuppa (Tomato soup), and Poplo (crispy seared octopus). The Secondi ($22-$32) includes items like Bigoli (thick spaghetti, prosciutto, oyster mushrooms, cipolline), Tagliatelle (Bolognese, parmigiano, basil), Manzo (braised short rib), and Pesce (chef's choice fish). All of their pasta dishes are also available as in appetizer size, making it easier to sample several dishes. And on every Wednesday, they offer two Flatbreads, including a Margherita ($12) and Chef's Special ($15). On the Specials board, you'll usually find about another ten items, including Antipasti, Secondi, and Desserts.

As A Tavola is a farm to table restaurant, the availability of a number of ingredients will vary, dependent on what is available at local farms and markets. Sometimes, the chef will get fortunate and be offered a whole heritage pig, duck or rabbit. Then, he uses his creativity to produce special dishes for the day, and the dishes may be of limited availability. If you follow A Tavola on Facebook, you can see what new dishes are being offered each day.

In addition, they offer a Take-Out Menu, including items such as Antipasto, Insalata, Zuppa, Pasta Dishes (including a few not on the usual menu), and Grilled Flatbreads (Wednesday only). On the evening I sat at the bar in front of the kitchen, I saw a fair amount of take-out dishes prepared. There is also a Take-Out Catering menu, offering large trays for 8-10 people.

While dining there, and after ordering your dinner, you'll receive complimentary, warm bread and oil. The bread has a nice, crusty exterior with a softer interior bread, and also would be good for dipping in the sauces of some of their dishes.

As for Antipasti, a Special one evening was the Spinach Salad ($13), made with plenty of fresh spinach leaves, sprinkled with pieces of goat cheese, and with two good-sized pieces of crisp toast topped by a creamy and flavorful salmon rilette.

Another Special was the Truffled Hassleback Potato ($12), accompanied by a dollop of sour cream. The potato was thinly sliced, tender and with a pleasing truffle taste.

On the Regular menu, the Zuppa ($13), was a delicious Tomato Soup, accompanied by a little brioche roll. The soup had a rich tomato flavor, a nice texture, and a touch of spicy heat, while the brioche was perfect for dipping into the soup.

Another Special was the Corn Bread, made with a chili lime powder, and accompanied by celery hearts and crispy pork crackers. Though the corn bread had a nice flavor, with a touch of lime and a hint of spice, but it was a bit too dry. The chef later realized, on his own, that the corn bread was too dry and adjusted the dish accordingly. The crunchy pork crackers were tasty, with a salty kick.

One of my trips to A Tavola was on a Wednesday, so Flatbreads were on the menu. I opted for the Pepperoni Flatbread ($15), a lengthy oval, with a thin crust, plenty large and thin slices of pepperoni, and lots of melted cheese. The pizza sauce was flavorful and tasty, and the entirety of the flatbread was quite appealing. I savored every bite and would definitely order a flatbread again.

As for the Secondi, I ended up selecting a variety of pasta dishes on my visits, especially as most were Specials and sounded so appealing. The pasta dishes were all stars, delicious and nicely composed. One of my favorites was the Black Pepper Cavatelli ($31), and the above photo shows a half-portion. Two of us decided to share this dish and the kitchen split the dish into two plates for us. The cavatelli had a perfect texture, just the right firmness, with a pleasing black pepper element. The pasta sat atop a creamy layer of celery puree and was topped by an ample portion of tender, braised rabbit. I love rabbit and this dish was so compelling. The dish also had carrots, which had just the right amount of crunch to them, neither too soft nor too hard. A hearty, superb dish.

The Sopressini ($26), is made with a parsley pistou and cubes of ricotta salata. The pasta, cooked perfectly, was like little folded pasta packages, enhanced by the pistou, with hints of garlic and herb. The salty cheese, almost feta-like, was a nice addition to the dish, adding some texture as well. Another tasty pasta dish.

From the Regular menu, I ordered a half-portion of the Gnocchi, potato dumplings, in a carrot brodo with a sage-walnut pesto and ricotta salata. The pillowy gnocchi were well-made, and the brodo had a pleasing carrot taste, with a little sweetness, that was balanced by the salty cheese and the pesto and walnuts.

Another Special one evening was the Risotto ($32), and the above photo is also a half-portion, which the kitchen split for us so we could share this dish. The creamy and flavorful risotto, with perfectly firm rice, was topped by very tender baby octopus, with 'nduja and preserved lemon. The 'nduja added a nice spicy kick to the dish, with a little sweetness and acidity from the lemon. Another well-composed and delicious dish.

The Dessert Menu has 6 choices ($9-$14), such as Formaggi (daily cheese selection), Torta (dense chocolate cake), and an EVOO Cake. Each dessert is paired on the menu with a suggested after-dinner drink. From the menu, we chose the Mela ($12), a warm apple tart with whiskey gelato and candied orange zest. This good-sized dish had plenty of tender chunks of apple, atop a light, flaky pasty, and the gelato had a pleasant hint of whiskey.

A Special one evening was the Marsala Poached Pear ($12) with orange chips and hand-made vanilla cream (which we watched being made). The peach possessed a nice firmness, yet not too hard, and the combination of the cream and orange made for a mildly sweet and delicious dish.

Service was excellent, professional and accommodating. The quality of the food is high, and Chef Carli is only just getting started with his restaurant. Changes will be coming and I expect they will be largely positive. The chef's pasta dishes are definitely a major strength, though I need to return to check out some of the meat and seafood dishes. I saw an Osso Buco dish one evening that looked quite alluring. Their farm to table philosophy is also compelling, highlighting fresh and local ingredients. The wine list possesses plenty of interesting choices and I love the fact they've chosen to carry only Italian wines. Chef Carli has brought me back to A Tavola, and I'm already thinking about my next visit.

I highly recommend that all of my readers check out A Tavola in Winchester and experience Chef Carli's Italian cuisine!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

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) Attention: Boston-area restaurant wine buyers and media. You are invited to join co-founders of Croatian Premium Wine Imports, Inc., Mirena Bagur and Win Burke, and Ms. Vedrana Martinovic-Trutina, head of operations for the Terra Madre Winery, Croatia, as they introduce their portfolio of wines from Dalmatia.

On Tuesday, February 4, from 12pm-1:30pm, this event will be held at WeWork, 200 Portland Street, Boston. You will learn about and taste a portfolio of premium boutique wines from Croatia, including the unveiling of a brand new label, the K7 Plavac Mali “Blind Blend” -- a joint venture of the US importer and the Komarna 7 Association, Dubrovnik County, Croatia

Event Plan:
Noon: Registration
12:15 pm – K7 Introduction
- welcome by Croatian Premium Wine and Terra Madre Winery on behalf of Komarna 7
- story behind the Komarna 7 Association
- introduction and tasting of the K7 Plavac Mali 2016
12:45 – light lunch and tasting of the whole portfolio, and conversations with the winery and importers
1:30 – adjourn

Boston-area restaurant wine buyers and media must register through Eventbrite to attend. I hope to see you there.

2) Boston Chops South End is getting football fans ready for the Big Game by offering a special take out menu for Super Bowl Sunday. Orders can be placed by calling 617-227-5011 or emailing Orders must be received by Friday, January 31 in order to be guaranteed. Orders after this time will be subject to availability. Orders will be available for pickup on Sunday, February 2 from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m., and delivery is available within two miles for a $20 fee from 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Full menu is below.
A La Carte Options
Wings or boneless buffalo bites per dozen $18
Guacamole and chips per pint $19
Burger sliders per half dozen $19
Fried provolone sticks with marinara per dozen $19
Fresh salsa and chips per pint $12
Queso fundido with chicken and chips per pint $19
Veggie platter with hummus and blue cheese for 10 people $29

Snack Box for 6 - $95=
24 each buffalo wings or boneless bites, blue cheese, celery
1 cup guacamole and 1 cup salsa with chips
12 fried provolone sticks with marinara
9 burger sliders
1 cup queso fundido with chicken and chips

Snack Box for 12 - $185
48 each buffalo wings or boneless bites, blue cheese, celery
1 pint guacamole and 1 pint salsa with chips
24 each fried provolone sticks with marinara
18 burger sliders
1 pint queso fundido with chicken and chips

3) For Valentine's DayPrezza, which recently renovated its dining room and bar, is offering both a four-course prix fixe menu for $100 per person and optional wine pairing for $60 per person. Prezza is also offering its regular menu a-la-carte. The prix fixe menu will be available from February 14-16.

Baked Oysters , Mascarpone, Radicchio, Chive $18
Suggested Wine Pairing
Laurent Perrier Brut $18
Braised Short Rib, Creamy Risotto , Taleggio Cheese $18
Suggested Wine Pairing
Far Niente Chardonnay $18
Lobster Potato Ravioli, Amaro Cream, Toasted Bread Crumbs $18 /$ 34
Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, Crispy Speck $17 / $32
Suggested Wine Pairing
2013 Fontanafredda Barolo $13
Grilled Veal Rib Chop, Mushroom Risotto, Cipollini Onions $64
Grilled Rack Of Colorado Lamb, Creamy Kale, Roasted Baby Carrots, Red Wine $60
Suggested Wine Pairing
2014 Poggio al Tessoro Sondraia $18
Bombolini, Raspberry Marmellata, Lemon Curd, Mascarpone Ice Cream
Suggested Wine Pairing
Robert Foley Touriga Nacional (Port) $12

Monday, January 27, 2020

Does A Food & Drink Blog Matter?

During the past year, I've lost several family members and friends, including two people who were younger than me. It makes you ponder your own mortality, the realization that any of us could be gone at any time. From cancer to Alzheimer's, there are many threats we all face. I know I'm not alone, as I know other friends who have faced similar losses recently.

With all I've been pondering, I've thought about my food and drink blog, questioning whether it matters at all. I've written about some important issues, from sustainability to drunk driving, but I've also penned plenty of reviews of restaurants, wines, and other drinks. Is that largely irrelevant in the larger scheme of things? Or is there a connection to more important issues, making it worthy to continue writing?

We all eat and drink, and sometimes it is merely an ingestion of fuel, something we don't think about beyond getting basic nutrition. However, food and drink can also be integral to our interactions with other people, contributing to the creation of memorable experiences. We dine out with family and friends, sometimes for special occasions, and sometimes for no particular reason though the dining experience still becomes memorable. As I've long said, wine is best when shared with others, again creating memories.

When a loved one passes on, we are left with our memories, and I suspect a number of those memories will include food and drink. One of my family members passed a little over a week ago, and we have plenty of excellent memories to cherish, and a number of those memories involve food and wine, from the wines she regularly enjoyed to the Rappie Pie parties that brought our family together. Yes, food and drink have been important in our lives, and the memories we hold of our loved ones.

So, though writing reviews of food and drink might see superfluous on the surface, it actually connects to the larger issues of our lives, often being an important element of our favorite memories. It helps to bring people together, to share with loved ones, to form a foundation for many life events. And that is not even considering how such reviews affect those creating and producing the food and drink we consume. These reviews can benefit restaurants, bakeries, wineries, distilleries, and much more, helping them thrive.

Yes, a food and drink blog can matter. Maybe more than you initially think. The best things in life are often our experiences, and food & drink often fit into those experiences. And please also try to live your life the best you can, knowing that our lives could end at any time.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) The Lunar New Year is this Saturday, January 25 and Empire Boston and Red Lantern Boston are both offering dining specials to celebrate. Empire Boston is hosting a Lunar New Year party on Saturday, Jan. 25th at 10pm. There will be dragon dancing and music by XKaliber. They are also mixing up two drink specials included below.

Let the Lights Dim Sum $85
Served in a Dumpling Basket with Dry Ice
3 shots of “The Real Green Tea
Peach Schnapps
Green tea
Lime agave
3 shots of “The Golden Touch”
Gold Apricot Vodka infused with Gold Pearl Shimmer
2 Squeeze of Lemons
3 Shots of “Hot Night in Bangkok
Avión Silver Chili

Opium Dream $16
Black Sesame Simple Ron Zacapa Rum
Coco Rial
Served with 2pcs of Chinese Buttermilk Candy

Red Lantern Boston is offering two unique dishes this weekend (Friday & Saturday) – a Steamed Whole Fish ($39) with soy, ginger, scallion and cilantro and a Whole Peking Duck ($108) served with a large bowl of duck cabbage and tofu soup. Enjoy Baiju two ways with the special ShùNian for two - the first Baiju is made with lychee, mango, citrus, and bubbles and the second Baiju is made with strawberry, Szechuan syrup, rose liqueur and citrus

2) Bring your date to Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse, located at Market Street in Lynnfield for a romantic rendezvous this Valentine’s Day. In addition to the regular dinner menu, Davio’s is offering a special three-course prix-fixe menu. The menu will be available Friday, February 14th and Saturday, February 15th.

Valentine’s Day Menu
Shucked Oysters, Osetra Caviar, Chilled Shrimp Louis, Lemon
Egg Tagliatelle, Nantucket Bay Scallops, Parmigiano Cream, Black Truffles
Piatti Del Giorno
Center Cut Filet Mignon, Fresh Maine Lobster, Creamy Potatoes, Asparagus, Pepata
Crab Meat, Sole, Soft Polenta, Spinach, Sherry Cream
Dessert Sampler (Mini Warm Chocolate Cake, Passion Fruit, White Chocolate Macaroon, Tiramisu Cream Puff)

COST: $85 per guest (excluding tax & gratuity).
Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 781.944.4810.

3) Named for its latitudinal location, LoLa 42, located at Twenty Two Liberty is offering a special three-course Prix Fixe Bistro menu for $49 or the option of a nightly bento box of sushi offerings for $30 in addition to its regular menu. The globally inspired Prix Fixe menu of appetizers, entrees and desserts offers a nice selection of LoLa 42’s most popular dishes including Hong Kong Lettuce Cups, Lobster Risotto, Korean Beef Bulgogi, The LoLa Vegan Burger, and the Tres Leches dessert, among others. The Winter Prix Fixe Bistro Menu and Bento Box special is available now nightly throughout the winter months.

LoLa Burger in Boston’s Seaport District is offering relief from the winter doldrums in the form of irresistible winter dining deals: Satisfy your wing & brew craving with $1 wings (min order of 6) and $3 beers; or enjoy the LLB Combo featuring your choice of either a Classic Burger, Falafel, or Wings (10 per order) PLUS a beer of your choice from a specified list of beers, all for only $10. The classic burger and the falafel come with a side of fries. These winter specials are available now and will be available every day, all day throughout the winter months.

4) Boston Harbor Hotel and Share Our Strength partner for a special charity reception as part of the 31st Annual Boston Wine Festival. The event will raise funds to support Share Our Strength’s mission of ending childhood hunger and poverty. The event will be hosted by designer and television personality Taniya Nayak.

The Boston Harbor Hotel is proud to host the second annual Uncorked for a Cause event at the Boston Wine Festival. For the second year in a row, the Boston Wine Festival has partnered with Share Our Strength for an evening of delicious food, incredible wine from around the world and live music to support a great cause. Guests will enjoy small bites and inspired food stations from Chef Daniel Bruce while dancing to tunes from the Kahootz band.

Share Our Strength’s mission is to end hunger and poverty through campaigns such as No Kid Hungry. The Uncorked for a Cause even with be hosted by Taniya Nayak and guests will be able to take home their own bottles of wine with a fantastic wine auction, enjoy sips from the event’s custom wine wall, and enjoy incredible auction items to benefit all to benefit Share Our Strength.

DRESS CODE: Black-tie Optional
WHEN: Friday, February 28, 2020, 7:00PM-10:00PM
COST: $115 per person. Tickets are available at

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2017 Hyland Estates Old Vine Pinot Noir: "Land Not Hand"

It's one of the oldest wineries in Oregon, and its vineyards were initially planted with Pinot Noir, which may have been originally sourced from Alsace. An intriguing origin tale.

Hyland Estates, located in the McMinnville AVA of the Willamette Valley, Oregon, was first planted in 1971 by four families, the Kreimeyers, Markleys, Welches, and Trenhailes. One of the original Pinot Noir clones that was planted was the mysterious Coury clone, named after the pioneer Charles Coury, who came to Oregon in 1965, believing the area would be excellent for Pinot. It is believed that around 1964, Charles brought Pinot Noir cuttings from Alsace, and these became known as the Coury Clone, said to possess a "signature spice and elegant texture." Today, Hyland Estates grows over 30 acres of the Coury clone.

The estate is also now owned by Laurent Montalieu, Danielle Andrus Montalieu, and John Niemeyer, with Laurent acting as winemaker in conjunction with Anne Sery. Ranging over 200 acres, the vineyards are planted on red volcanic Jory soil, which is also the state soil of Oregon. Though Pinot Noir is their primary specialty, and they grow a number of different clones, their vineyards also grow a variety of other grapes, such as Chardonnay, Riesling, and Gewurtztraminer.

They practice Biodynamic agriculture and their grapes are LIVE certified grapes, indicative of their environmental and socially responsible winegrowing. The estate has also adopted a "land not hand" philosophy, a minimal interventionist stance, believing that the wine is primarily made in the vineyard, not in the winery.

The 2017 Hyland Estates Old Vine Pinot Noir ($45) is a single vineyard wine, made from a blend of different Pinot Noir clones, some as much as 48 years old, including 65% Coury clone. With a 13.3% ABV, this wine spent about 9 months in French oak and only about 1968 cases were produced.   Their goal was to "showcase the entire vineyard and the best of the clones planted throughout." With a medium red colorist possessed an appealing aroma of red fruits and subtle spice notes. On the palate, it was compelling and elegant, complex and silky, with delicious flavors of cherry and raspberry, with a mild spiciness, balanced acidity, well integrated tannins, and a touch of earthiness. The lengthy finish was satisfying and alluring, and beckoned for you to take another sip. An excellent Pinot, this earns my hearty recommendation.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Rant: Giving Restaurants A Second Chance

Sometimes you decide to no longer patronize a restaurant. Maybe the food was subpar, the service atrocious, cleanliness was an issue, or some other problem. There are certainly plenty of other options available to you, different restaurants which will be happy for your business.

However, what might get you to give a restaurant a second-chance? What might cause you to put aside your prior issues and dine once again at that restaurant? Or would you never give a restaurant a second-chance?

In part, those answers might depend on the reasons for why you no longer patronize a place. Some issues are easier to fix than others. For example, I once dined at a new restaurant where I witnessed the chef/owner engage in a rather unhygienic act in the open kitchen. It turned me off so much that I've never returned there. Except for getting a new owner, there's nothing else that could be done to get me to dine there.

There's another restaurant which I once enjoyed but I felt that the quality of the food had declined over time. I didn't return there, until very recently, for at least a couple years. What persuaded me to give them a second-chance? They hired a new chef, someone I knew and whose culinary skills I very much respected. A number of appealing photos of some of his dishes posted on social media further convinced me to dine there once again.

This might be the one of the main reasons why diners would give a second-chance to a restaurant, especially if the food quality had been an issue. A new chef can provide the added boost which elevates the level of the cuisine, correcting prior faults. I'm sure there's some people who wouldn't even be persuaded by this, but they might be doing themselves a disservice, missing out on a delicious opportunity.

When I returned to this particular restaurant, I was impressed by the cuisine from the new chef, hearkening back to a time when I very much enjoyed this place. It brought new life to this restaurant, boding well for the future, and I plan on returning in the near future, to try more of the menu. It will be the subject of a future restaurant review, and I'll be glad to recommend it once again.

Sometimes restaurants are deserving of a second-chance. And we should be willing to give them that chance to convince us that they are a worthy destination once again.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Tuesday, January 21, with a reception starting at 6:30pm, Rebel’s Guild invites you to attend a special dinner and wine pairing with Orin Swift Winemaker Dave Phinney. The culinary team has prepared a carefully curated menu of dishes to pair with Orin Swift specialty wines, making for an experience foodies and wine lovers won’t want to miss.

The full dinner menu is as follows:
Rebel’s Rockefeller (Roasted Duxbury Oysters with Creamed Spinach and Smoked Bacon)
Blank Stare
Tots (Crisp House Made Tater Tots Made with Lobster Meat and Maine Potatoes Served with a Side of Bearnaise) Sauce
Roasted Brussels (Brussels Sprouts, Olive Oil, Sea Salt and Chickpeas)
Twin Chops (Domestic Lamb Chops, Oven Roasted Butternut Squash with Toasted Farro and Black Currant Reduction)
Eight Years in the Desert
Sizzl’n Steak (Seared Sirloin Served Rare with Parsnip Puree, Duxbury Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper)
Vanilla Ice Cream with Special Sauce (Second Glance American Whiskey, Spiced Pecan Praline and Candied Cherries)

Tickets are available for $100 per person and can be purchased via Eventbrite. All attendees must be 21+ with a valid ID.

2) For Valentine's Day, consider Forge & Vine in Groton, where Executive Chef Patrick Bassett will prepare special "aphrodisiac" dishes exclusively for the occasion. From starters to desserts, guests will dine on selections like Duxbury Oysters with pomegranate mignonette, green apple, decadent Maine Lobster Carbonara with bucatini, pancetta and brussels sprouts, Local Mushroom Risotto, Wood-Grilled Filet Mignon with caramelized onion agrodolce, bayley hazen blue and fingerling potatoes, Pan Seared Atlantic Halibut with miso, shimeji mushrooms, boy chop & yuzu, and a Black Forest Pavlova for Two with dark chocolates creme.

For wine & spirit enthusiasts, Forge & Vine will also offer a special wine flight highlighting four wines for $24 from Italy, France and South Africa in addition to a special signature cocktail The Love Potion - a combination of Godiva Vanilla Vodka, Creme de Cocoa, Godiva White chocolate liqueur, cream and muddle strawberries.

To make Reservations, please call 978-488-9200

3) Scampo has a new Brunch menu and updated hours, now offering Brunch on Sundays from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. The new menu includes items such as the Egg Bowl with Smashed Avocado and Smoked Bacon Spiced Aioli, an Omelet with Lobster, Classic Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon, Scampo Bacon Cheeseburger with sweet relish & fries, Waffles with Banana Flambé, and more.

Additionally, each week the menu will feature Lydia’s Sunday Savory Secret Selection, which will be hand-picked by Scampo Chef/Owner Lydia Shire.

To make reservations, please call (617) 536-2100

4) In preparation for the opening of Café Beatrice at Cambridge Crossing, the Puritan & Co. team, led by Executive Pastry Chef Brian Mercury, will host two pop up bakeries that will serve as previews of the forthcoming Café Beatrice. The take out-only café will feature breakfast sandwiches, sweets, and savory bites, such as an Italian Grinder Croissant.

When: Saturday, January 18 and Saturday, January 25
10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – breakfast sandwiches and sweets
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – savory and sweet bites

WHERE: 1164 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA (Right next to Puritan & Co.)

5) Encore Boston Harbor has recently launched Encore Cantina, a taco truck that is stationed on the casino floor. The menu features tacos, burritos and burrito bowls, salads and a selection of desserts and treats.

Encore Cantina Menu
Nachos $7
Pickled onion, radish, lime crema, cotija cheese, cilantro, roasted tomato salsa
Add: beef barbacoa $3 | chicken asado $3
Taco Salad $7
Romaine lettuce, crisp tortilla, corn salsa, black beans, pickled jalapenos, queso fresco, buttermilk dressing
Add: beef barbacoa $3 | chicken asado $3
3 Tacos $9
Beef barbacoa – cotija cheese, pickled jalapenos, salsa verde
Chicken asado – marinated grilled and diced chicken, chipolte slaw, fresh cilantro
Vegetable – Portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions, bell peppers, poblanos, roasted tomato salsa
Burrito or Bowl $9
Brown rice, cilantro, borracho beans, queso fresco
Choice of Beef barbacoa | Chicken asado | Vegetable
Meal Deal $12
Tacos | Burrito | Bowl
Side of tortilla chips and choice of beverage
Cupcakes $4.50
Ice Cream (Double scoop) $5

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

New Croatian Wines Now Available

This past Friday, January 10, was the First Anniversary of Croatian Premium Wine Imports, which during 2019 brought nine Croatian wines, from the Komarna appellation, to the Boston area. Those wines are now available in a variety of local restaurants and wine shops, and you can check their list of where those wines can be found. While I was in Croatia, I tasted all nine of these wines and it's great to see they are now available to local wine lovers.

In addition, Croatian Premium Wine Imports opened an Online Store, making their Croatian wines available in about 16 other states. As an anniversary special, for the month of January, they have drastically reduced their shipping costs. If you order 6 or more bottles, you only have to pay $1 for shipping!

This year, Croatian Premium Wine Imports has received a new container of Croatian wines, adding six more wines to their portfolio. That's exciting news, especially considering which wines are now being imported into the area.

First, there is the 2018 Deak Plavac Mali Ca Ca Moj Rosé ($19), which I previously reviewed here. Made from 100% Plavac Mali, this Rosé, with a 13% ABV, spent about five months aging in stainless steel and saw no oak. I thoroughly enjoyed this wine, finding it to be fresh and crisp, dry and light-bodied, with tasty flavors of raspberry, cherry and a hint of citrus. Refreshing and juicy, its acidity made it an excellent food wine, especially with seafood.

Second, there is the 2018 Volarevic Pošip ($19), which I also previously reviewed here. Made from 100% Pošip, this white wine, with a 13.5% ABV, spent five months in stainless steel and two months in the bottle. It had a nice golden yellow color with alluring aromatics. On the palate, it was fresh and crisp, with tasty flavors of citrus and peach, a hint of almonds, and a touch of floral honey. It was light bodied and compelling, and definitely would be great with shellfish, like the oysters of Ston.

Third, they are bringing in the new vintage of the 2016 Volarevic 2016 Gold Edition ($49), and you can read my prior review of the 2015 vintage here. The 2015 vintage spent about 12 months or so in oak barrels, and then another 12 months in the bottle. It possessed an appealing nose of black fruits and spice, and the palate presented a complex and delicious taste. There were flavors of blueberry and plum, underlying spice notes, well-integrated tannins, and excellent acidity. It was silky smooth with a moderately long and satisfying finish. This wine beckons for a steak, or another hearty dish.

Fourth and fifth, there are two wines from the Saints Hills Winery, neither which I have yet tasted or reviewed. The wines include the 2015 Saints Hills Plavac Mali St. Roko ($55) and the 2015 Saints Hills Plavac Mali Dingac ($85). These wines are said to both be "very rich and elegant examples of Plavac Mali at its best."

Finally, there is a very unique Croatian wine, which is actually only available in the U.S. through Croatian Premium Wine Imports. This is the 2016 Komarna 7 Plavac Mali ($19), a wine produced from a collaboration of all 7 wineries in the Komarna appellation. Such collaborations are rare in the wine industry. This wine is organic, a blend of Plavac Mali wines, and spent about 24 months in barrique barrels, a mix of Croatian, American and French oak.

The wine is described as such: "The first sniff of this wine tells us there is something interesting inside, with aromas of blackberry, plum, pepper and dark chocolate. With the first sip come very silky tannins with a little touch of vanilla. An elegant wine with complex body. This wine is drinkable after 4-5 minutes. After 10 minutes comes the typical jammy raisin flavor of Plavac Mali. Aging in oak barrels for 24 months contributes nice flavors of sweet tobacco with vanilla." In the near future, I hope to bring you more information about the creation of this unique wine.

In the near future, Croatian Premium Wine Imports will also be adding even more Croatian wines to their portfolio, including wines from the regions of Istria and Medimurje. Now is the time to experience Croatian wines, and you can sample some at a number of upcoming events. And for more background information about Croatian wines, please check out my 25+ articles in All About Croatia.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Rant: Don't Eat In This Neighborhood!

" one should eat in the North End- EVER."
--Boston chef on social media

What a provocative statement, dismissive of an entire neighborhood of over 100+ restaurant, bakeries and eateries. This original statement was presented without any context or explanation. As soon as I read this unsubstantiated statement, I immediately felt it was unfair and disrespectful. In fact, I felt it was ridiculous.

First, it's unfair as how can you so easily dismiss over 100 restaurants as a single group? Do you possess current knowledge of each and every one of those restaurants? Extremely doubtful. Are you relying on information from the past? Again, do you have past information about every one of these spots? Extremely doubtful. How do you know whether that past information is still accurate? Restaurants change all the time, and whatever problems they might have had in the past might have been rectified.

You shouldn't make such an overly broad generalization, especially when there's no way you can support it in each and every case. That would simply be arrogance. There are so many ways that declaration could have been worded such better, and more accurately. You should only be speaking about those places for which you have current and reliable information.

The chef, later in the thread, mentioned a vague reason for dismissing all of these restaurants, stating he had been in their kitchens, and "If you’ve seen what I’ve seen, you wouldn’t let a dog eat there." He didn't indicate that he had been in the kitchen of all 100+ restaurants. He didn't mention how many of those restaurants he had visited. And he didn't provide any specific details of what he saw, just vague references to uncleanliness. He also failed to indicate when he had been in any of those kitchens. Was it last week, last year, five years ago, and longer?

He certainly didn't provide sufficient evidence to support his provocative statement. And it seems to go beyond merely his opinion as he apparently wants to claim that it is a fact. Later in the thread, he also stated, "I’ve been in those kitchens. Some things are not a matter of opinion." If all these restaurants were so dirty, why haven't we heard about this before? Did the chef report these restaurants to the Board of Health? Does the chef possess any evidence beyond his own word?

Second, the chef's provocative statement is also disrespectful to the restaurant owners, chefs, cooks, and others who work hard in the North End to provide quality cuisine. That's a lot of people to so easily dismiss, to indicate they are not worthy of anyone's patronage. The chef did backtrack a little later in the thread, stating there were maybe a couple exceptions, including "Mama Maria’s, and maybe 1 or 2 other places." What is the name of those other 1 or 2 spots? The chef doesn't identify them, further disrespecting those restaurants with his blanket condemnation, failing to set them apart.

The chef's provocative statement also disrespects every food writer who has ever praised a North End restaurant. It's as if he is saying all of these food writers were wrong and ignorant. I would certainly fall into this category as I certainly have favorite restaurants in the North End, as do all of my food-writing friends. I don't know anyone else who would dismiss every restaurant in the North End, or any other local neighborhood with a significant number of restaurants.

What you say online can have various ramifications, whether positive or negative, so you should be careful what you say. For a chef to make such a provocative and unsubstantiated claim, there is likely a high chance there will be a negative effect to his words. For example, the chef could alienate potential customers. He might find that other restaurant owners aren't as helpful or friendly to him any longer. He might find his restaurant ignored by food writers. And with the tough financial situations of most restaurants, can any chef afford to potentially alienate so many people?

There is a big difference between making a solid, evidentiary-based case of a restaurant's wrong doings and making an unsubstantiated, overgeneralization about over 100 restaurants. Please note that I'm not going to identify the chef at issue as their identity is irrelevant to the example I've presented. My words would apply to any chef who made such a provocative statement. The chef certainly has the right to offer his opinion, but that doesn't mean it has to be accepted as valid or the truth.

This should be a cautionary tale for all chefs. Please be careful of what you say on social media.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events.
1) On Tuesday, January 21, at 6:30pm, Chopps American Bar & Grill will be hosting a wine dinner with Lamber Rollat of Chapoutier Vineyard. The wine dinners at Chopps are always a delicious and fun time, and the wines sounds like they'll be quite interesting.

The Menu is as follows:
--Chef's Selection of Passed Hors D'Oeuvres
2017 Viognier Chapoutier ‘La Combe Pilate’, France
First Course 
--House Made Sausage Ravioli, Smashed Tomatoes, Parm
2012 Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Rouge ‘Petite Ruche’, Rhone, France
--Grilled Brandt Farms Rib Eye, Fried Polenta, Sautéed Spinach
2016 Chapoutier Chateauneuf Du Pape ‘‘La Bernadine’, Rhone, France
2014 Chapoutier Hermitage ‘‘La Sizeranne’, Rhone, France
--Chef Silvia's Chocolate Cake (Bittersweet Chocolate, Raspberries, Ganache)
2017 Chapoutier Banyuls, Rhone, France

Tickets are $85 per person (and include tax and gratuity). To make a Reservation, go to Eventbrite

2) In celebration of the Chinese New Year, Mandarin Oriental, Boston honors its Asian heritage with a selection of special offerings inspired by the Year of the Rat. Proceeds from several of the hotels promotions will be donated to support the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, which is entering its 51st year in the Boston community in 2020.

Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea: Timelessly elegant and classically refined, the Mandarin Oriental, Boston offers an Asian-inspired Afternoon Tea in the comfort of the hotel’s Lobby Lounge. Exclusively available from January 1 to February 9, in honor of the Chinese New Year, the experience begins with a Champagne toast, followed by an aromatic presentation of five natural, loose leaf tea blends and a tiered Asian wheel adorned with an assortment of sweet and savory bites. For $78 per person, menu items include Bai Yu, Cucumber and Tofu Sandwich, Dan Ta, Egg Tarts, and more. 10% of proceeds will be donated to the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center.

Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea is served on Saturdays and Sundays only from 1pm to 5pm. Reservations are required and can be made by emailing

Chinese New Year at Bar Boulud: Boston Guests born in the Year of the Rat (with valid identification) can enjoy a complimentary appetizer or dessert at Bar Boulud, the French-inspired bistro and oyster bar from chef Daniel Boulud, from January 24 to February 13. A Chinese New Year signature cocktail will also be available for guests wishing to “cheers” to the New Year. For reservations, please call (617) 535 8800

3) Encore Boston Harbor will celebrate Chinese New Year with a special menu at Red 8 and other festivities including a traditional dragon dance on the casino floor. Decorative red dragons will also be on display. Red 8 Executive Chef Ivan Yuen began his culinary career in Hong Kong and Shenzhen City in China, and he holds a diverse knowledge of regional Chinese cuisine, with plating and technique reflecting his roots and experience. The Lunar New Year menu at Red 8 crafted by Executive Chef Yuen was inspired by memories he had growing up with his grandmother and the traditions of the Chinese New Year. He has incorporated different ingredients that symbolize good luck, health and prosperity to honor the Chinese New Year.

The menu includes:
--Double Boiled Fish Maw Soup with Mushrooms (morel fugus, Chinese herbs, cognac) $68
--Lobster and Prawn Spring Roll (salty egg yolk, cilantro, sweet and sour sauce) $38
--Yu Sheng salad, “Lao Hei” (raw seafood, peanuts, sesame & plum vinaigrette) $68
--Princess Chicken with Jellyfish (slow poached, conpoy essence, scallion ginger dressing) $88
--Braised Pork Feet with Sea Moss (bean curd stick, lettuces, fermented red bean sauce) $68
--Abalone with Oyster Sauce (Yoshihama, flower shiitake, goose feet, braised jus) $388/Each
--Stir-Fry Sea Conch with Xo sauce (sugar peas, toasted cashew nuts, yellow chive) $88
--Bi Feng Tang Dungeness Crab (garlic, shallot, spicy salt and pepper) $98
--Wagyu Beef with Maggi Sauce (wok seared, roasted garlic, Sichuan capsicums) $388
--Billionaire’s Fried Rice in Cantonese Style (egg white, crisp gai lan, seafood delicacies) $58

WHEN: January 8 through January 31, 11:30a until late night
To make a reservation at Red 8, visit or call 857-770-DINE.

Sure, these dishes aren't inexpensive, but Chinese New Year is a time to splurge and some of these dishes are offering very rare ingredients, such as the Yoshihama Abalone. This is the first time I can recall that this type of Abalone is being offered in the Boston area.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

2018 Amity Vineyards White Pinot Noir: Elegance in a Bottle

White Pinot Noir? In short, red grapes can make white wine as the color mainly comes from the skins. If you press red grapes lightly, with little to no contact with the skins, you can get white, or pale pink, juice. You've probably drank "white" Pinot Noir before, if you've enjoyed Champagne, which sometimes is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, or even a Blanc de Noirs which is a white Champagne made from just Pinot Noir grapes. However, outside of Champagne and other sparkling wines, white Pinot Noir is more of a rarity. However, based on the quality of the 2018 Amity Vineyards White Pinot Noir, let's hope others decide to produce such wines.

The first vineyards, in what would become the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in 2006, were planted by Jerry and Anne Preston of Amity Vineyards in 1971. The primary grapes were Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Pinot Blanc. Amity would then be purchased in 1974 by Myron Redford and Janis Checchia, becoming the first bonded winery in 1976. Myron's goal was to produce first class Pinot Noir. About thirty years later, in 2014, the winery was sold once again to Ryan Harms from Union Wine Company & his brother, Eric Harms. He is continuing the tradition of producing quality Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling.

It appears that one of the new wines that Ryan Harms is now producing is a White Pinot Noir, the first vintage apparently being 2015. I recently enjoyed the 2018 Amity Vineyards White Pinot Noir ($25), the first vintage of this wine I've tasted. The winery feels this was an excellent vintage, "with wines drinking fine in their youth, but with the ability to improve with age in the bottle." To produce this particular wine, the Pinot grapes, 69% from the Willamette Valley and 31% from Eola-Amity Hills, were harvested in the morning and then whole bunch pressed, though using a light press. It's fermented in stainless steel and then aged sur lie for a time.

At 13.9% ABV, this wine has a light pink color, almost like a Rosé, and on the nose, there's a blend of white fruit flavors, including tropical notes. Take a sip and you'll be impressed with its complex melange of rich fruit flavors, including melon, pear, pineapple and a hint of cherry. There is so much happening in your glass. Everything is well balanced and it's pure delicious, definitely excellent on its own though it will pair well with food too. Good acidity, a lengthy, pleasing finish, and you'll crave a second, and third, glass. I drank this wine with Thanksgiving dinner and my family and friends all loved it, asking where they could buy some. I later bought a case of this wine. Highly recommended! 

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A Beer Run To Nashua: White Birch and Spyglass Breweries

Berliner Weisse. A "white" beer. Its origins are murky but in the 19th century, it was the most popular style of beer in the city of Berlin. That didn't last long as in the 20th century, it fell out of favor and there are now only a few breweries in Berlin that are still producing this style. However, this style of beer has become popular in the U.S., with numerous breweries making Berliner Weisse-style beers.

Last week, I spent a day exploring some of the sights in Nashua, New Hampshire, and in the Amherst Street region, I found two beer breweries, White Birch Brewing and Spyglass Brewing Company, and a distillery, Djinn Spirits. Unfortunately, the distillery was closed, as it's only open on the weekends. I'd done a little research on the two breweries, and though I'm not a huge beer drinker, there were beers they produced which intrigued me. So, I stopped by both breweries to taste some of their sour ales. 

White Birch Brewing, owned by Dave Herlicka, started as a tiny brewery in Hooksett back in 2009, moving to its Nashua location in 2018. It has a good-sized tasting room, which can handle about 80 people.

I sat at the bar and you can see their tap system, with 12 available beers. Some of those beers included: Mango-Peach Shake (Milkshake IPA with mango, peach & milk sugar), Indulgence (Belgian Imperial Stout), Hop Sessions (Session IPA), and Amarillo Hop Session (Session IPA dry-hopped with Amarillo). They produce small batches so their line-up changes on a regular basis. I was told that some of their beers, made only in 2-4 kegs, can sell out within a couple days. As soon as information about a new brew is posted on their social media, their fans rush to the tasting room.

They sell about four beers by the can, generally in four-packs, priced at $12-$20. You can also get a Growler Refill for about $15-$20. If you're drinking in the tasting room, you can get a 5 ounce pour for $2.50, a 12 ounce pour ($4.50 for less than 8% ABV, $6 above 8%ABV) or a 16 ounce pour for $6. You can also get a flight of four 5-ounce pours for only $8, a reasonable price to sample four different beers.

If you want a Flight of Four, you just check off the four beers you want to taste.

White Birch produces several different Berliner Weisse beers, which they describe as a "German style sour wheat ale." Their website also states that, "Napolean’s troops referred to Berliner Weisse as the “Champagne of the North” due to its lively and elegant character." At White Birch, their Berliner Weisse beers are traditionally made, as well as unfiltered and unpasteurized.

The earliest U.S. newspaper reference I found to Berliner Weisse was in the Alexandria Gazette & Virginia Advertiser, September 14, 1859. The article discussed that New York was experiencing lots of bad water, and that many lager beers were now equally as bad. Thus, "... habitual lager beer drinkers have given up their favorite, and taken Berlin Weisse (white) Beer."

Then, the Public Ledger (TN), June 21, 1875 reported on the Memphis Brewery, owned by Francis Schulz, which produced Berliner Weisse. This is the first U.S. newspaper reference I found of a U.S. beer brewery making this style of beer. The article stated, "A very palatable summer beverage is the celebrated Berliner Weisse beer manufactured in this city by Francis Schulz. This beer is superior to any manufactured in the North, and is growing rapidly in popular favor. Call for it at the saloons when you drink." 

I opted for a flight of four of their Berliner Weisse beers, and overall, I found them to be fresh, fruity, slightly sour, and refreshing. They are more dry than sweet, though the fruitiness could seem to be sweet to some people. These are the type of beers that would appeal to many people who generally dislike most beers, especially IPAs. The main differences in the flavor profiles of these beers are based on the type of fruits which were used to make them.

My favorite of the four was the Squeeze My Berries (5.5% ABV), made with blackberry and raspberry, and I'll note that this beer was almost named Tickle My Berries. The tasty berry flavors were bright and there was almost a bit of pulp in it. The Raspberry Passionfruit (5.5% ABV), made with raspberry and passionfruit, was also delicious, with a bit more of a tropical fruit flavor. The 2020 Ale (5% ABV), is made with raspberry, mango and black cherry, and also had a pleasing blend of fruit flavors, with a more subtle mango taste. The New Years Ale #1 (5.5% ABV), made with raspberry and cranberry, was my least favorite of the four, but only because it was too tart for my preferences due to the cranberry. If you love cranberries though, I'm sure you'd enjoy this beer.

I recommend that you check out White Birch Brewing for their Berliner Weisse beers, or to try some of their other beers.

Just down the street from White Birch, and next to the Djinn Spirits distillery, you'll find Spyglass Brewing Company, which opened in Nashua in 2018. The brewery was established by AV, Joe, Jonas, and John, described as "engineers/scientists/beer geeks/brewers." Their tasting room is medium-sized, with a small bar and a number of tables. It seems very popular as when it opened at 4pm, there were quickly numerous customers filling the tasting room.

Spyglass had 11 beers available on tap, including such items as Quid Pro Quoconut (Imperial Stout on Cacao and Coconut), Elastic Cloud (NE Double IPA w/Oats & Lactose), Spectrum (Triple IPA), and Aperture (Session Ale).  They sell only a few beers in a can, though you can buy an empty 32 ounce ($5) growler, which you can fill for $10-$16, or a 64 ounce ($7) growler, which you can fill for $18-$26. If you're drinking in the tasting room, you can get an 8 or 14 ounce ounce pour, ranging from $4-$8.

They only had one sour ale, the Mixed Berry Entanglement, so I bought an 8 ounce pour for $4.50. This is a Kettle Soured Ale, made with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. A Kettle soured beer is made in stainless steel, rather than in a wooden barrel like a traditional sour, and it is a much quicker process. I very much enjoyed this beer, with a delicious melange of fruit flavors, a pleasant tartness, and a clean, refreshing taste. I really liked the addition of the blueberry flavor. This would be perfect outside on a hot summery day.

I also recommend that you check out Spyglass Brewing Company. It may be relatively new to the Nashua scene, but it appears popular and their sour ale was impressive.

Nashua is only about an hour away from the Boston area, and it is worth the drive to check out these breweries. Hopefully, I'll get to Nashua one of these upcoming weekends to check out Djinn Spirits, and then report back.

Monday, January 6, 2020

2019: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-related related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2019. I've already posted my Top Wine Lists, Favorite Croatian Wines & Dining Experiences, Top Ten Restaurant Dishes, Favorite Restaurants & Food-Related Items, and Top 50 Restaurants. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more wine related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Analysis Of Top Ten Wines: In my three prior Top Wine lists of 2019, I mentioned a total of 26 wines, which included wines from 12 different countries and regions, three more than last year. First place was a tie between France and Oregon, both with 4 wines. Second place was also a tie between Portugal and Australia, both with 3 wines. Third place was another tie, with Moldova, ItalySpain, and California, each with 2 wines. Rounding out the list were Japan, GreeceNew York, and Georgia, each with 1 wine. As for wine types, the lists are also broken down into 3 Sparkling, 4 White, 2 Rosé, 13 Red, 1 Amber, 1 Fortified and 2 Aromatized Wines. 

Favorite Discount Wine Stores: Consumers always want bargains, excellent value wines which won't stretch their wallets. You can buy the cheap, mass-produced commercial wines which can be found in almost any wine store or instead, you can seek out excellent, value wines which put to shame those cheap wines. Certain discount wine stores provide not only excellent prices but also an interesting selection and good service. I want to highlight three such stores which continue, year after year, to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains: Bin Ends in Braintree & Needham, Wine Connextion in North Andover, and Rapid Liquors in Stoneham. Shop at any of those stores and you won't be disappointed.

Favorite Wine Stores: This is a small list of wine stores which consistently impress me with their selection and service. Each shop is worthy of your patronage and wine lovers should make the effort to visit these places if you have not done so yet.
Lower Falls Wine Company in Newton Lower Falls
Wine-Sense in Andover
Wine Bottega in Boston's North End
Wine Press in Brookline and Wine Press in the Fenway
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain
Marty's Fine Wines in Newton

Favorite Private Wine Dinner: Mooncusser Fish House offers a five-course Tasting of Local Fishes, and you can get it with a Wine Pairing. I opted for the tasting with wine pairings one evening, and would definitely do so again. The seafood was exquisite, each dish being fresh, well-balanced and creative. Plus, the wine pairings were excellent, not only working well with each course but also being fine wines on their own. Great service and a fine ambiance also contributed to an amazing wine-paired dinner. I highly recommend that all seafood and wine lovers dine at Mooncusser. In addition, they recently acquired a full liquor licenses so are carrying a variety of spirits as well.

Favorite Public Wine Dinner: The Moldova Restaurant in Newton held their first Wine Dinner near the end of last year, offering some of the best dishes from their menu with a number of Moldovan wines. The food was delicious, from the Placinta to the Friptura de Miel (roasted lamb), while the wines worked well with the various dishes. Moldovan wines aren't easy to find but they are worth seeking out. With about 12 guests at the dinner, it was a fun and intimate affair, with lots of excellent conversation going on through the night, as Andrei Birsan, the importer of the Moldovan wines, regaled everyone with stories about the wines and Moldova. Check out their future wine dinners.

Favorite Whisky Dinner: At Rebel's Guild in Boston, they hosted an excellent Glenlivet dinner, beginning with an ample selection of tasty appetizers and finishing with a delectable bread pudding. The dinner courses were paired with a Glenlivet cocktail and tastings of four Glenlivet whiskies, from the Founders Reserve Scotch to their 18-Year Old Scotch. The pairings worked well and there was so much food and whiskey, that the dinner was also an excellent value. It was also a special occasion as one of the other guests was Frederick Wright, a long-term fan of my blog, who I met in person for the first time. His partner and he were both very personable and interesting, and it made the experience even more enjoyable.

Favorite New Wine List: This past year, I was pleased to dine at the Forge & Vine in Groton, a casual restaurant with tasty food, especially plenty of comfort food options. The wine list has about 23 wines by the glass and over 100 wines by the bottle, and it is the bottle list that has some of the most intriguing choices. Though the list has some big-name labels, it also has some intriguing less known ones, from countries like Bulgaria and Lebanon. The most intriguing section are their Biodynamic-Farmed & Natural wines, about 14 options, and those I tasted impressed me. I wasn't expecting such an intriguing list and fellow wine lovers really need to check it out.

Favorite Wine Pairing: This pairing was at my home, part of a Sherry competition I entered, and I still love how this pairing worked. The Williams & Humbert Canasta Cream Sherry worked wonderfully with a Pear & Blue Cheese Crostata. I think the blue cheese was the special ingredient which helped to elevate this pairing. And this Cream Sherry wasn't overly sweet, which also helped the pairing. You can find the recipe for the Crostata in my article, and it is versatile, so that you could use the basic recipe with most any type of fruit.

Favorite Bar: The Kumo Sky Bar, the top floor of the Kamakura restaurant, is one of the few local spots where you can find Chilled Sake, Warm Sake, Shochu, Japanese Koshu wine, Japanese Whiskey, Japanese beer, Japanese-inspired cocktails, and more. It is aesthetically pleasing, as well as intimate, with a retractable rooftop and a view of the city of Boston. Plus, you can order plenty of delicious Japanese food while you're sipping on your drink. This is definitely a place to expand your palate, and try something new.

Favorite Gin: Etsu, a Japanese gin, thoroughly impressed me with its complex and compelling taste. Made with ingredients including yuzu, bitter orange, licorice, coriander, angelica root, and tea leaves, it has a distinctive Japanese flair. The yuzu takes a prominent role, providing tart citrus notes, while accompanied by other interesting flavors of green tea, pepper, and lime, with floral notes. Overall, it presented a complex palate, with other intriguing flavors flitting back and forth across your palate. The Japanese gin industry is relatively new but they are already producing some compelling products.

Favorite New Whiskey: The Nomad Outland Whiskey is an intriguing blend of Scotland and Spain. It is a blended whiskey from Scotland, which is aged in authentic Spanish Sherry barrels, and then sent to Spain for additional aging. The taste is compelling and complex, a wondrous melange of flavors of both whiskey and sherry. It is smooth and elegant, with a bold spicy aspect, and notes of vanilla, salted nuts, raisins, honey, and dried fruit. It is more dry, not sweet, despite the raisin and honey notes. The pleasing finish simply lingers and lingers within your mouth, and it beckons you toward another sip. Well-balanced, delicious, and unique.

Favorite Local Sake Trend: In general, many premium Sakes are probably best slightly chilled, like a white wine. However, there are plenty of exceptions, including some which taste great when properly warmed. I'm not talking about the cheap, burning hot Sakes you find at some restaurants, but rather Warmed Sake that is treated with respect and heated properly. Three local restaurants, including Kamakura, Pabu and Momi Nonmi, are leading the way in this regard. Warmed Sake is especially delicious during the winter so this is the best time to visit these spots and learn about the marvels of Warmed Sake.

Favorite Alternative Sake Packaging: Sake in a "juice box," with a straw! The Nihon Sakari Onikoroshi Futsushu comes in a 180ml tetrapak, a very convenient and easily transportable package. I found it to be dry, with a pleasing blend of earthiness and rice flavors. It was a simple Sake, but relatively smooth and easy on the palate with a hint of bitter on the finish. Definitely food friendly, it would also be enjoyable on its own. Don't overly think it. Just drink and enjoy.

Favorite Sake History Articles: Last year, I chose to revise and expand a number of my historical Sake articles, providing plenty of new information, such as the earliest references to Sake cocktails and the first Sparkling Sake, going back to 1938! Check out A History of Sake Brewing in the U.S., Historical Tidbits About Sake in the U.S.Early History of Sake Brewing in British Colombia, and A History of Sake Brewing in Brazil. I'm sure you'll learn plenty of interest from these articles.

Favorite Baijiu History Articles: Despite being the world's most popular spirit, Baijiu doesn't get much attention in the U.S. I've previously written a number of Baijiu articles, and this year I composed a two-part series of Historical Tidbits About Baijiu, providing a historical review of numerous Baijiu references, in English, from 1665-1995. Hopefully, this history will intrigue more Americans to learn more about Baijiu, as well as to drink some. Baijiu has a bad reputation in some circles and people need to break out of those prejudices.

Favorite Wine Travel Event: This past September, I visited Croatia, touring the country from Zagreb to Dubrovnik. It was a wondrous trip, filled with so much fun and excitement, great food and wine, intriguing museums and historical sites, and much more. Check out my page All About Croatiawhich will lead you to all of my 25+ articles about the trip to Croatia. I posted a list of my Top 15 Wines of Croatia, as well as my Top 5 Dining Experiences. I fully understand why Croatia has become such a popular vacation destination, and it's now time that Croatian wines became more popular in the U.S. too.

Favorite Wine History: I researched and wrote a history about the Early History of Krug Champagne in the U.S., and what I learned fascinated me. Krug was being imported into the U.S.  just six years after the House was established, and it was being sold in quarts and pints, not the 750ml bottle that we are used to seeing. A Canadian newspaper published some intriguing statistics on Champagne exports to the U.S. during the 1870s. I even found a couple jokes involving Krug from 1867. So many fun and educational items, providing a fascinating glimpse into Krug and the U.S.

Favorite Wine Interview: This past year, it was my pleasure and honor to interview Julie Cavil, the Wine Director of Krug Champagne. She was a personable and fascinating person, providing great insight into Champagne production at Krug, helping to show why Krug is special. Julie went into much detail about production methods, reasonings behind various decisions, and the future of the winery. This year, Julie is being promoted to Chef de Caves at Krug, a sign of her passion, skill and dedication at Krug.

Favorite New Wine Interview Series: In 2019, I started a new interview series, The Mind of a Sommelier, I want to delve more deeply into the minds of local sommeliers, to better understand their decisions when creating wine lists, and to know more about the inspirations, challenges and joys of their work. Six sommeliers participated, and their interviews were very popular articles, providing some fascinating insight. I'll be continuing this series in 2020, and if any sommelier is interested in participating, please contact me.

What were some of your favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-related items this year?