Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and 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 2020. I've already posted my, My Favorite RestaurantsMy Favorite Food-Related Items, and My Favorite Wines. It's time now to cover my Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-Related Items. As I said before, these Favorite Lists will be different, and smaller, from prior years due to the pandemic. However, there are still items deserving of being highlighted, and I will endeavor to showcase them. 

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.

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 Press in Brookline and Wine Press in the Fenway
Streetcar Wines in Jamaica Plain
Marty's Fine Wines in Newton
Bauer's Wine & Spirits in Boston

Favorite Wine Dinner: Each year, the Boston Wine Festival holds a series of interesting, high-end wine dinners and I attended the Wine & Soul dinner in 2020. Wine & Soul, a Portuguese winery which was founded in 2001, is owned by a husband-and-wife team, Jorge Serodio Borges and Sandra Tavares DaSilva. Sandra presided over the dinner and was personable and charming, humble and knowledgeable. They are very concerned about producing wines that reflect the terroir of their vineyards. Three of their wines from this dinner ended up on my list of Favorite Wines of 2020. In addition, Chef Daniel Bruce created a compelling dinner, from Slow Braised Pork Belly to Char-Grilled Colorado Lamb T-Bone. A great marriage of food and wine. 

Favorite Spirit Dinner: A virtual Scotch dinner? Rebecca Gardiner, the Boston brand ambassador, presided at a GlenDronach Scotch dinner over Zoom. The participants were sent samples of the Scotch and food was supplied by The Haven in Jamaica Plain. The Scotch was excellent, especially the 18 Year Old, and they were truly aged in Sherry barrels (which makes a significant difference to me). The food, from the Scotch Eggs to Fish & Chips, was delicious, and went well with the Scotch. Rebecca did a great job explaining about the distillery and its products. Overall, the event was fun, educational and very tasty. 

Favorite New Wine ListKrasi, a new Greek restaurant in Boston; opened early in 2020 and has an extensive, all-Greek wine list, with over 180 selections. It is a phenomenal list, showcasing some of the best Greece has to offer, as well as presenting many unique wines. Even the most adventurous wine lover will find wines made from indigenous Greek grapes they have never tasted before. In addition, the wines are generally more natural, often certified organic or Biodynamic. Krasi's Wine Director, Evan Turner, recently won the 2020 Iron Sommelier competition for his curated list of Greek wines.

Favorite Restaurant Wine Lists: I want to highlight several restaurants which this year offered some intriguing and excellent wine lists. 
     A Tavola: They have a small, well-curated all-Italian wine list and their wine buyer, Lynsey Robbie,  participated in my Mind of a Sommelier Interview. Some of their wines I enjoyed this year include
2016 Pietra Pinta Nero Buono, 2015 Duca di Salaparuta Lavico Nerelo Mascalese, 2014 Lorenzo Mattoni Montefalco Sagrantino, and 2016 Colombera & Garella Bramaterra
     Coach Grill: This suburban steak house has many of the typical steak house wines, as well as some more unique wines. In general, the list is reasonably priced, better than you will find at many similar steak houses. This year, I enjoyed the compelling 2017 Haute Pierre Delas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which sold for  $97. As this wine usually sells at retail for $55-$60, the mark-up was very reasonable, and even could be considered a bargain. 
     Island Creek Oyster Bar: Laura Staley, the wine director at Island Creek, has created a fascinating wine list, with many more unique choices, and there is always something intriguing for adventurous wine lovers. This year, I was greatly pleased with the 2016 Andrew Rich Marine Sedimentary Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Pure pleasure on the palate.
     Frank: In Beverly, Chef Frank McClelland's new restaurant is one year old, and their relatively small wine list, about 35 choices by the bottle, includes Sparkling, White, Red, Rose, and Orange wines. It is fascinating list for wine lovers with lots of great choices, especially many more natural wines. I sipped the 2019 Frank Cornelisson Etna Rosato "Susucaru", which was an excellent food wine.

Favorite Cocktail Spot: Besides its impressive Peruvian cuisine, Tambo 22 also makes impressive cocktails, often using Peruvian ingredients. The Bloody Mary con Rocoto (a South American chili pepper) is delicious with a pleasing spicy kick. The 22 Old Fashioned is made with Four Roses Bourbon, Salted Honey, Peruvian Chuncho Bitters, Orange, and a Bourbon Soaked Cherry. The Chuncho Bitters are produced from a combination of over 30 peels, herbs, roots, barks and flowers from the Peruvian forest. Tasty, not overly sweet, with a nice touch of salinity and intriguing herbal notes. They make an excellent Pisco Sour, and one of their Pisco Sour variation adds Chicha Morada, a purple corn-based drink, which added a tasty, almost red berry flavor to it.

Runner-Up Favorite Cocktail Spot: Ellis Square Social also has an excellent cocktail program, presenting plenty of inventive and intriguing cocktails The Proper Mai Tai is made with a rum blend, house made orgeat, and clement shrub, and was a fruity and tasty drink. The Ellis Square Manhattan, made with a house solera bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters, was well-made and an excellent accompaniment with BBQ. The DB Cooper, made with white and dark rum, white peach, fassionola, honey, and grapefruit bitters, was complex and delicious.. 

Favorite Spirit/Cocktail Histories: This year, I wrote three fascinating historical articles which touched on spirits and/or cocktails. 
     Moonshine? A History of Sotol in the U.S.: Was Sotol ever legally distilled in the U.S.? Although some claim that occurred, the evidence is to the contrary, with definitive evidence that Sotol distillation, to produce alcohol for consumption, was illegal. Sotol was illegally distilled in Texas, which isn't a surprise, but legal production didn't exist. 
     Historical Tidbits About Shochu in the U.S.: Shochu, a distilled beverage from Japan, is a niche spirit in this country, although American newspapers have been writing about it for over 130 years. Check out numerous American references to Shochu, and learn more of its intriguing history.
      A History of the Sherry Cobbler (2 parts): What was the origin of the Sherry Cobbler? I present much of the history of this delicious cocktail, including a discussion of some of its origin tales. And what is Dolly Madion's connection to Sherry Cobblers?

Favorite Sparkling Sake: Produced by a female Toji, the Fukucho "Seaside" Junmai Sparkling Sake, which underwent a secondary fermentation in the bottle, had a fruity nose, especially citrus notes, with a touch of the scent of fresh bread. On the palate, it was lightly bubbly and very dry, with a complex melange of flavors, especially lemon, lime, green apple, melon, and pear. A pleasing and well balanced fruit salad, accented by a mild rice taste. It was also very crisp and fresh, a fine accompaniment to seafood, from oysters to lobster. 

Favorite Daiginjo Sake: The Nanbu Bijin "Southern Beauty" Shinpaku Junmai Daiginjomade with Yamada Nishiki rice, was an elegant, aromatic and complex Sake, with a compelling melange of flavors, including melon, strawberry, peach, and lychee, with some underlying minerality and whispers of intriguing spices. It was medium-bodied, luscious on the palate, and with a lingering finish. There was a hint of sweetness in this well balanced Sake, though overall it presented as dry. Plus, it was very reasonably priced for a Daiginjo.

Favorite Honjozo Sake: The Tensei "Endless Summer" Tokubetsu Honjozo Sake was rich and full-bodied, said to be from the high mineral content in the water used in brewing, and possessed delicious flavors of melon and pear, with an underlying salinity to it. It was essentially a briny melon, mouth-watering and compelling, and a perfect summer beverage. And its rich, bull-bodied nature also mad it a nice pairing for grilled foods.

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Takahiro Nagayama "Noble Arrow" Namazake Tokubetsu Junmai was a fascinating and complex Sake, aromatic and rich in flavor, with creamy notes and an underlying minerality. Its higher acidity was clear, providing a delightful crispness to its taste. There were flavors of melon and green apple, with a mild minty note on the finish. It reminded me of some mineral-driven French white wines, though you won't forget it was Sake. As such, it was delightful on its own, but would pair well with foods that those French whites do, such as oysters and other raw seafood.

Favorite Namazake: Produced by a 400+ year old brewery, the Ryujin "Dragon God" Junmai Daiginjo Namazume Sake undergoes a single pasteurization rather than the usual two. It is pasteurized before it undergoes a year of aging, skipping the pasteurization that commonly occurs just prior to bottling. This was a compelling and delicious Sake, with an alluring aroma of white flowers and citrus. On the palate, it was bright and fresh, with a hint of sweetness and flavors of citrus and pineapple. It was silky and light, complex and intriguing. This Sake could easily be enjoyed on its own, although it would also pair well with a variety of foods, from seafood to chicken dishes.

Favorite Sake Educational Resource: For some of the latest and most fascinating current information about Sake, you need to read the Sake Industry News by John Gauntner. It just celebrated its first anniversary, and each twice-monthly issue contains numerous intriguing news articles, sure to interest all Sake lovers, and with information you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere. I've learned plenty from this newsletter and eagerly look forward to each new issue. There's not enough Sake news available out there, and Gauntner is filling a much-needed niche. If you're interested in Sake, you definitely should subscribe. 

Favorite Drinks Book: Published in September, The Japanese Sake Bible by Brian Ashcraft, provides a comprehensive introduction for neophytes, but there is plenty more for existing Sake lovers too. Besides basic articles, there are other articles touching on Sake subjects rarely touched on by other Sake books, from seasonality to regionality. It also contains a buying guide with notes on 100 Sakes, including Sakes produced by non-Japanese breweries. This is certainly the best Sake book published in recent years.

Favorite Beer: Nashua, New Hampshire has at least a couple beer breweries and I visited a couple this past year. My favorite beer was the Mixed Berry Entanglement from Spyglass Brewing Company, This was 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 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. 

Runner-Up Favorite Beer: Also in Nashua, White Birch Brewing, produces some Berliner Weisse-style beers, which they describe as a "German style sour wheat ale." Their Berliner Weisse beers are traditionally made, as well as unfiltered and unpasteurized. My favorite was the Squeeze My Berries, 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. Very refreshing for the summer. 

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Woah, this blog is overwhelming.

I got a lot of reading to do for the next few weeks.