Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Tselepos Wines: Delicious Greek Wines, Indigenous Grapes

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

Do you enjoy Greek wines? I'm a huge fan of Greek wines and have previously provided my readers Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine. Thus, I was pleased to see several Greek wines at the recent  Boston Wine Expo, although I wished there had been many more.

Yiannis Distributing had a table at the Expo, showcasing five wines from Tselepos Wines, a family-owned business which has three wineries. Yiannis Tselepos is the the founder of Tselepos Wines, and studied oenology at the University of Dijon. He worked in several French wineries in the Burgundy region and eventually returned to Greece. In 1989, he founded Ktima Tselepos, located in the region of Tegea, Arcadia in the Peloponnese, concentrating on the Moschofilero grape.

In 2003, he purchased the Driopi Vineyard, a 50 year-old vineyard that constitutes about 8.5 hectares and is located in Koutsi, Nemea. He replanted 4 hectares, seeking to grow high-quality Agiorgitiko. In 2013, Tselepos founded the Canava Chrissou winery on Santorini, concentrating on AssyrtikoMoschofilero, Assyrtiko, and Agiorgitiko, two white grapes and one red, are native to Greece and can produce excellent wines. 

The Ktima Tselepos NV Amalia Brut is a sparkling wine, made in the Methode Traditionelle, from 100% Moschofilero. With an 11.7% ABV, I found this wine to be crisp and fresh, with tasty flavors of citrus, a hint of brioche, and subtle notes of honey. Fine bubbles, refreshing, and a pleasing finish. This bubbly would be nice paired with oysters.

The Ktima Tselepos NV Amalia Brut Rosé is also made in the Methode Traditionelle, but from 100% Agiorgitiko. It too was crisp and fresh, but with delicious and lush red fruit flavors and subtle savory notes. In addition, it had fine bubbles, was quite refreshing, and had a very pleasing finish. I would drink this all summer long, both with and without food. I preferred the Rosé, but that's simply my personal preference.

The 2021 Ktima Tselepos Mantinia, with an 11.7% ABV, is produced from 100% Moschofilero and fermented in stainless steel, aging a short time in the stainless as well to sit with the lees. It was aromatic, fresh, and bright, with clean flavors of lemon and citrus, with a touch of herbal notes and a bit of richness to the mouthfeel. Another excellent summer wine, either on its own or paired with seafood. 

The 2021 Tselepos Canova Chrissou, with a 13.59% ABV, was made from 100% Assyrtiko from the island of Santorini. This was also fermented in stainless steel, and had a complex and bright melange of flavors, including green apple, melon, and lemon, with great acidity, and a backbone of minerality. Another refreshing white wine that is a great choice for the summer and paired with seafood. Delicious and exciting.

The final wine was the 2017 Tselepos Nemea Driopi, with a 13.26% ABV, which was made from 100% Agiorgitiko. Agiorgitiko is the most planted red grape in Greece, and its name translates as "St. George's" grape, which might have been named after a village or chapel in Nemea. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and then matured for 8-10 months in large oak barrels, about 40% new oak. This wine tends more towards an easy drinking style, with big, bold black fruit flavors, especially ripe plum and black cherry, silky tannins, and hints of spice. You could drink this wine on its own or with everything from pizza to burgers. A nice summer choice. 

These wines are a great introduction to the wonders of Greek wines, and perfect for the upcoming summer. However, they would be appropriate year-round, especially as they are all food-friendly. Seek out the wines of Tselepos Wines and experience a taste of Greece. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Return of the Boston Wine Expo

The Boston Wine Expo has returned! 

The last Boston Wine Expo, held at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, occurred in 2017. As each year passed, it seemed that the Expo would never reappear. However, six years later, a new version of the Expo has recently been held, organized by Raffaele Scalzi, of Scalzi Hospitality Corp. The new Expo was smaller than the previous Expos, and held in a different location, at the Boston Park Plaza. The event was held over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday, and each day was broken into a 90 minute VIP Session ($140/person), and two, two-hour Grand Tastings ($99/person). 

Several wine classes were also held at the Expo, a smaller number than the prior Expos, touching on a variety of topics including the wines of Bordeaux, Ribera del Duero, Australia, and the American Northeast, as well as an Introductory Wine Tasting class. The Expo was divided into a large wine tasting room (in one of the grand ballrooms), and a smaller spirits tasting room. Within both rooms, there were also some tables with various foods, knives, art, t-shirts, and related accessories.

I attended the event on Sunday as a media guest, and I liked the venue change as it made it seem a more intimate event. However, as it was a much smaller event, with less wines, there wasn't as much diversity in the selection as I would have preferred. U.S. wines seemed to dominate the event and many of the labels, both domestic and international, were well-known brands. 

You could locate some different wines, from countries such as Croatia, Georgia, Greece and Portugal, but you had to look more carefully, each having only a single table (or two for Portugal). At prior expos, you would have found many more tables with such wines, and a greater number of different countries would have been represented. 

As this was the first Expo under new management, and after a six year break, there are multiple possible reasons why there wasn't as much diversity in the wines. Some wineries, distributors, importers, etc. might have been wary of the new Expo, wondering if they would get any value for their appearance. Table costs might have been an issue for some. We shall see what happens next year, as there are already plans for another Wine Expo for 2024. 

I think that one of the major benefits of these large-scale, consumer wine tasting events is the opportunity to try something different. Why go to such an event just to drink the same wines that you drink at home? This is your opportunity to expand your palate, to taste new wines and see what else you might enjoy. It's a time to be adventurous, to learn about different wine-producing countries and their native grapes. 

The separate Spirits room was sponsored by Next Door Speakeasy & Rawbar, which is owned by Raffaele Scalzi.  It was a small room, with some local distilleries and others, and there was even a table for the Cannabist, a Boston marijuana dispensary, although the table was empty on Sunday when I was at the Expo. From what I heard, they weren't offering samples of any cannabis products. 

Here are several of the exhibitors in the Spirits room.

Royce Chocolate, a Japanese chocolate company, which offered some tasty chocolate samples. 

The Boston Harbor Distillery, located in Dorchester, produces a wide variety of spirits, from Whiskey to Gin, Rum to Ready-To-Drink cocktails. 

The GlenPharmer Distillery, located in Franklin, also produces a range of products, from Rum to Bourbon, flavored Vodkas to Gin. 

Post Meridiem Cocktails, located in Atlanta, Georgia, offers a variety of Ready-To-Drink cocktails, such as Mai Tai, Daiquiri, Margarita, Old Fashioned, and more.

Laurel Greenfield Art, a Boston-based artist, showcased some of her intriguing food & drink based art and I found it all quite interesting. Laurel has a shop at the Boston Public Market and you should check it out to see the full range of her work. 

The wine tasting occurred in one of the grand ballrooms, and the tables were roughly separated by region. There were said to be over 100 wineries represented at the Expo. Scattered amidst the wine tables were several non-wine tables, selling everything from knives to chocolates, hot sauce to wine bags. The set-up was easy to navigate, water dispensers were available, and there were plenty of spit buckets all around.  

The crowds were very manageable, and not the great hordes which used to attend the prior Wine Expos. Although Sunday is usually a quieter day than Saturday, so that might have played a part. However, a few people I spoke to mentioned that Saturday wasn't overly crowded either. The Expo had sold out so it appears they limited the amount of potential attendees, keeping the crowds more manageable.

Let's mention some of the non-wine exhibitors at the Expo.

Bavarian Knifeworks, culinary blades in sets or as individual knives.

The Fun-NY Side of Life with wine-related t-shirts and bags.

Half-In-The Bag has Insulated Wine Bags, in a wide variety of styles.

Petrova Chocolates is a pop-up shop in Boston offering chocolate bonbons and other confections.

My favorite non-wine exhibitor at the Expo was Sweet Botanical Bakes, which produces shortbread cookies with edible flowers. The owner is Lauren Berry (pictured above) and her business is based in Medford. Lauren was very personable and her various shortbread cookies all sounded quite interesting. You could find flavors such as Candy Cap Mushroom, Strawberry Rose, Lavender Lover, Lady Grey and more.  

I tasted a few of the cookies and all were delicious. The shortbread was soft and moist, not overly dry, and the flavor combinations worked quite well. My favorite cookie, which is probably no surprise, was the Kasu Shortbread, which is made with Sake lees and topped with a salty Tamari glaze. The blend of sweet and salty worked well, and it possessed a more unique flavor. Kasu is an excellent ingredient for cooking, but it's not used as much as it should be, so it was great to see Lauren taking advantage of this ingredient. 

I strongly recommend you check out Sweet Botanical Bakes.

Bonde Fine Wine, owned by Bertil Jean-Chronberg, had a couple tables selling a variety of corkscrews, knives and other wine accessories. Charles Gilbert, of Gilbert Cellars in Washington, also poured samples of some of his wines at the Bonde tables. I'll be writing about these wines in a future article.

Croatian Premium Wine had a table, with Mirena and Win spreading the love for Croatian wines, and every time I passed by their table, there were plenty of attendees sampling their wines. They were accompanied by wine writer and Vlogger Matthew Horkey (on the far left), who wrote a book on Croatian wines. As I often say, you need to taste the many delights of Croatian wine, and the Expo was a good opportunity. 

As for the wines I sampled at the Expo, I found a number of wines worthy of recognition, and I will be writing about them in greater detail in the near future. The single exhibitor which had the most wines that I enjoyed was Brands of Portugal. Such an excellent and diverse portfolio, showcasing fine wines from all over Portugal and at all price points. Westport Rivers, located in Massachusetts, is definitely one of the best wineries in the state, especially for their sparkling wines. Yiannis Distributing Co. offered tasty Greek wines from Ktima Tselepos. There were fine Rosé wines from Chateau de Berne and intriguing Georgian wines from the Marnaveli Winery.

Overall, it was good to see the return of the Boston Wine Expo, even though it was much smaller than previous events. As it was the first wine expo under the new ownership, some leeway needs to be given as starting such a major endeavor is quite a huge task. I would like to see a greater variety of wines next year, from more countries. The new Expo certainly doesn't need to be as massive as the prior ones, but some growth would be nice. 

If you attended the new Boston Wine Expo, what were your thoughts?

Monday, April 24, 2023

Rant: Liquor Stores, Provide More Info On Spirits

When you peruse the shelves of your local liquor store, seeking maybe RumGin, or Whiskey, you'll probably only see signs indicating the general category of those spirits. You likely won't see any signs that break down that category into different styles or types. And the spirits are more often grouped by producer rather than style or type. At best, the Whiskey category will see a bit more differentiation, though even that provides only slightly less broad general categories like Bourbon or Scotch.

Each of these broad spirit categories likely includes dozens of different brands as well as a number of different styles and types. For example, within the general Rum category, you'll find French, Spanish and British styles, yet when is the last time any liquor store sorted and labeled their Rum section into those different styles? When is the last time you visited a liquor shop which provided separate signage for Wheated Bourbons? It's extremely doubtful you've seen such signage.

How does the average consumer navigate this morass of choices? It's not easy unless you know the categories well, which often leads an uniformed consumer to select just the brands they know, which may often be the large commercial brands which everyone knows. Instead of seeking out something different, they go with the safe choice. Even if you're a more knowledgeable consumer, you are likely to confront some brands of which you're unaware, and then you must examine each of those new bottles to determine it's specific style and type.

A consumer could ask an employee of the store, seeking advice and recommendations. However, they are not always inclined to do so, sometimes preferring to be approached by the staff. And not all of the employees of that shop may be familiar with the specific spirits that the consumer is asking about. What else might help these consumers?

It might be beneficial if there was better signage on the shelves, a more clear demarcation of the different styles and types of spirits. If a consumer had a preference for a specific style, they could more easily find those spirits which fit within that style. This idea is a good one for all spirit categories and it is true that most liquor stores only use generic categories which are almost useless to the average consumer.

It would be nice to see clear signage separating Mixto Tequila from 100% Blue Agave Tequila, or London Dry Gin from Old Tom Gin, or Wheated Bourbon from High Rye Bourbon. This would better help consumers differentiate the various spirit types and it might also perk their curiosity about different types they didn't know about. They might also be a bit more adventurous in the brands they select. 

If the brand they usually purchase is in the Wheated Bourbon category, then maybe they will try other brands in that category, feeling a bit more secure to make that purchase. It could also lead them to ask the employees more specific questions about the various types. Maybe they enjoy drinking certain Gin but aren't sure what a n Old Tom Gin tastes like so they ask about it.

Why don't liquor stores use more signage for their spirits? First, it is much easier to use only a small number of broad category signs. It would take more time and effort to better differentiate the spirit types but I think the benefits would be worth it. Second, some stores have only a small amount of spirits, so breaking it down into smaller categories wouldn't work as well. Third, some stores want consumers to ask them questions, so they intentionally keep the signage low. Though that sometimes works, it also fails with other customers who'd rather just buy what they know rather than seek out a store employee to question.

Let's see liquor stores take a more proactive role in helping to educate consumers by providing more detailed signage for their spirits, breaking them down into specific styles and types. Show consumers that all rums, tequilas, gins and other spirits are not the same.  Show them that the difference between the various brands is not just about price points.

Do you know any liquor stores who actually do provide more detailed signage for their spirits?    

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Chopps Italian Steakhouse & Bar in the Boston Marriot Burlington, has now reopened after closing over two years ago. After a major renovation, Chopps now features a reinvigorated space and a refreshed culinary program led by Executive Chef Matthew Clabbers. The culinary program has been reimagined to an Italian steakhouse with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients and quality. Diners can choose from an array of small plates and inventive comfort food presentations while indulging off the extensive list of cocktails and fine wines.

You can come in and have a 5-star meal while still enjoying large family-style servings of pastas and steaks,” said Executive Chef Matthew Clabbers. “We’re serious about the food but we want to have a relaxed, good time. Guests can enjoy a casual meal with friends and family while soaking in live music in a modern yet comfortable atmosphere.”

The new dinner menu ushers in pastas, fresh local seafood, and a range of meats. Standout appetizers include Housemade Ricotta (basil oil, grilled crostini) and Arancini (arborio rice, provolone, pomodoro, fresh basil, parmesan) and Italian classics such as the Caprese (heirloom tomato, fresh basil, mozzarella, pesto, balsamic), Pappardelle Bolognese (beef, veal, pork, pomodoro, cream fresh pappardelle, ricotta) and Parmesan Eggplant (pomodoro, linguini, mozzarella, parmesan). 

Guests can also enjoy the Filet Mignon (garlic mashed, sautéed baby spinach, gremolata), Charbroiled Ribeye (dressed arugula greens, roasted trumpet mushroom, onion rings, garlic mashed, asparagus) and NY Sirloin (garlic-caper crush, blistered cherry tomato, roasted potato). The dishes are paired with a curated wine list and hand-crafted cocktails like the Italian Red Sangria (sangiovese, tuaca, sweet vermouth, limoncello, fresh fruit), Espresso Martini (Stoli vanilla vodka, Kahlúa, Baileys Irish Cream, espresso), and Negroni (Malfy orange gin, Campari, sweet vermouth).

The newly added spacious outdoor terrace can fit 40 seated and 70 standing and provides ample room for relaxing alfresco dining. The newly configured bar offers expanded seating, ideal for those looking to enjoy a lively bar scene with live music. A new private dining room offers an intimate and warm setting for personal gatherings and doubles as a secluded space for corporate meetings. It can host 28 seated and 40 standing.

2) Bonde Fine Wine Shop, located in the heart of Harvard Square, announced its 2023 spring event list, featuring their Weekly Wednesday's Wine Tasting Classes and the return of the Winemaker Tasting Series. The Wednesday's Wine Tasting Classes are held from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. and tickets are available online for $85+ per person and include four wines and light food samplings.

The schedule of these tastings is listed below:
Wednesday, May 3 – Nouveau Wines
Wednesday, May 17 – Spanish Wine Grapes
Wednesday, May 31 – Perfect Grill Pairings
Wednesday, June 14 – Beach Wines
Wednesday, June 28 – Pétillant Naturel

In addition to the Wednesday event schedule, Bonde will host a Winemaker Tasting Series on Friday, April 21, starting at 7:00 p.m. Enjoy an evening with one of Carneros California's winemakers, Byron Kosuge, as he joins the table at Bonde to share his story, his wines, & his take on the future of the ever-changing wine world on the west coast. A flight of four wines and light food included. On Tuesday, May 9, Bonde will also offer an incredible opportunity that will bring Central Coast, California winemaking stars and dynamic duo Louisa Sawyer-Lindquist and Bob Lindquist to the table at Bonde for an evening of Rhône and Iberian-inspired wines. These classes will provide the tools to last a lifetime of enjoying wine. Hosted by internationally renowned sommelier Bertil Jean-Chronberg in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere for up to eight participants.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Rant: Rosé Season Doesn't Exist!

The advertisements have begun, and will continue for the next several months, promoting the upcoming Rosé season. There's a major problem though, as Rosé season doesn't exist! 

It's a pervasive myth, a wrongful stereotype, that spring and summer herald Rosé season. The simple fact is that Rosé is appropriate year-round, even in the winter. Many of those perpetuating the myth of Rosé season know better, but they choose to ignore the truth. Stop deluding the public and embrace the reality of Rosé every month of the year. 

Sure, a chilled Rosé can taste wonderful on a hot, summer day, but it can equally satisfy when you are at home during a snow storm. It's extremely food friendly, and there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't enjoy it with the same roast chicken or seafood dish you serve in the summer or winter. Even though many people drink more white wine and red in the summer, most continue to drink white wine all year round, including the winter. Why should Rosé be any different? For example, Rosé is a great choice for Thanksgiving.

The situation has slowly improved during the last several years but change is still needed. The myth that Rosé wine is just for the summer needs to be shattered. Wine writers should promote Rosé year round rather than jump on the bandwagon and only proclaim that summer is the season for Rosé, misleading the public. If these writers recommended Rosé year round, then Rosé consumption would grow even more. 

There are some wine stores which stock Rosé throughout the year, which they should, and if your local shop doesn't, then you should recommend that they stock it. And if they don't bring in some Rosé, then seek elsewhere for this wine. 

From 2002 to 2019, worldwide consumption of Rosé has risen about 20%, and constitutes about 10.5% of all still wine consumed. France is the largest consumer of Rosé, drinking about 35% of all production, while the U.S. is in second place, consuming about 15%. Germany is in third place with about 7%. Rosé wine continues to grow, and will get even larger if people embrace the fact it is a year-round wine, and not just a seasonal one. 

 I drink Rosé all year round and strongly encourage everyone else to do so as well. 

Thursday, April 13, 2023

The Origins of Spam, the "Miracle Meat"

The iconic Spam, the "Miracle Meat," is a canned meat that contains pork, ham, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Around 2009, modified potato starch was added as an ingredient, which helped to eliminate the gel which turned many people off to Spam. It's still a polarizing product, with many Spam lover and haters, and most fall on either side of the spectrum with little middle ground. When's the last time you ate Spam?

In the Boston area, Spam dishes are available at a number of restaurants. Double Chin, in Chinatown, offers several dishes with Spam, including their Spam & Taro Fries. Spam Musubi, sushi using Spam, is available at a number of Boston area restaurants. Have you enjoyed Spam at any local restaurants?

Let's explore some of the origins and early history of Spam. 

Back in 1891, in Austin, MinnesotaGeorge A. Hormel founded George A. Hormel & Company, which would eventually become known as Hormel Foods. It was a food processing and meat packing company, concentrating on ham, sausage, pork, chicken, beef and lamb products. George would remain in control of the company until he retired in 1929, handing over the reins to his son, Jay Catherwood Hormel. The above photo of George is from the Owensboro Messenger (KY), October 29, 1937.

Jay, who fought in World War I, had already proven himself in the company, when in 1921, he uncovered that one of their employees had embezzled over a million dollars from the company. He took control of Hormel just as the Great Depression struck. The above photo of Jay is from the Owensboro Messenger (KY), October 29, 1937.

Back in 1926, Hormel introduced Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham, allegedly the first canned ham in the U.S., and maybe even the world. They would also introduce a canned chicken product in 1928. In the midst of the Depression, when the company's profits were decreasing, Jay took the bold step to introduce another new product, Spam, in 1937.

Allegedly, Spam was introduced on July 5, 1937, although that doesn't appear to be fully accurate. The Indianapolis Star (IN), May 25, 1937, noted that George A. Hormel & Co. had registered a trademark for the term “Spam.” 

The first advertisement for Spam (pictured above) appears to have been in the Star Tribune (MN), June 25, 1937, in an ad for the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. It was described as "Hormel Spiced Luncheon Meat, Cooked Ready to Serve" and sold for 29 cents for a 12 ounce tin. This is ten days earlier than the alleged date of its introduction, which might have simply been the "official" introduction, although it was available prior to July 5. Similar ads for Spam at the Piggly Wiggly were also printed in the St. Cloud Times (MN), July 1, 1937, and The Winona Republican-Herald (MN), July 2, 1937.

The Minneapolis Star (MN), July 16, 1937, printed an ad for Broadway Theisen’s Market offering “Spam, Hormel’s Canned Lunch Meat” for 29 cents a can. The St. Cloud Times (MN), July 22, 1937, had another Piggly Wiggly ad for Spam, but for 28 cents, one cent cheaper than the other stores. And in the Minneapolis Star (MN), July 22, 1937, there was another Piggly Wiggly ad, noting, “Spam. Hormel’s new Miracle Meat." However, it now cost 31 cents. This is also the first time that Spam is referred to as "Miracle Meat." The price was even higher in an ad in The Minneapolis Star (MN), July 23, 1937, where Sanitary Meat Co. sold Spam for 35 cents.

Maybe the first full page advertisement for Spam was in the Star Tribune (MN), July 23, 1937. The ad begins “Hormel Announces. New Miracle Meat helps you solve the summer food problem. This delicious new meat treat saves time when you need it most.” It also stated, “Tender and juicy…SPAM is like no other meat you know. Slice it cold as it comes from the can…for luncheons, picnic sandwiches, salads, bridge parties, between meal snacks. Or serve it hot for breakfast as “SPAM and eggs”…or for dinner as “Baked SPAM”. Any way you eat it, SPAM hits the spot!” It also mentioned, “Unlike most meats, you don’t have to crowd SPAM into your refrigerator. Just keep a supply on your pantry shelf.” 

One of the most prominent selling points for Spam was that it didn't require refrigeration, and could be kept in your pantry for however long you wanted. 

It also appears that Spam was being marketed to more affluent homes as well, as most people didn't have a maid to cook dinner for them. 

Long before the iconic Spam skit by Monty Python, Spam & Eggs was being touted as a special breakfast treat. 

Baked Spam was another suggested dish, essentially sliced Spam topped by a dressing and baked in the oven.

Spam for lunch, a versatile food which can be served in a variety of ways.

The Star Tribune (MN), July 26, 1937, offered the above advertisement, recommending Spam for picnics. As Spam didn't need refrigeration, it would be a good choice for packing for your picnic.

During June and July 1937, Spam was primarily sold in Minnesota, but advertisements in other states began in August, and by the end of 1937, Spam was available all across the country. The Marshfield News-Herald (WI), August 12, 1937, might have printed the first Spam ad outside of Minnesota. It was in a grocery store ad, mentioning "Hormel’s Spam (Spiced Ham)" for 29 cents.  

The Minneapolis Star (MN), August 13, 1937, offered the above ad.

The Pittsburgh Press (PA), August 26, 1937, ran a grocery ad, noting: “New! Hormel Spam. Just like Hormel Spiced Ham—an all-pork product. 12-ounce. Dollar Day price. 3 cans $1.”

Spam reached New York! The Standard-Star (NY), August 26, 1937, printed a store ad that stated, “Hormel Spam. New Spiced Ham” and it sold for 33 cents.  

The first reference to the creation of the name "Spam." The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (PA), August 26, 1937, had an advertisement that mentioned, “Hormel does it again—This time it’s a combination of the most popular of all canned meat items—spiced luncheon meat and spiced ham—their vice president in charge of names picked out this one. Spam.” They sold 3 12-oz Spam tins for $1.00. The origin of the name would be elaborated in greater detail in later newspapers. 

The Minneapolis Journal (MN), September 2, 1937, again went for the picnic theme, promoting "Spamwiches." The term "Spam" was easy to use to create catchy, new words.

An ad in the Belvidere Daily Republican (IL), September 8, 1937, touted that there were 102 ways serve Spam. That's an odd number, and probably was just created out of thin air to promote the idea that Spam is versatile in many ways. 

Spam in Hawaii! Today, Spam is hugely popular in Hawaii and Spam was first available there way back in 1937. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin (HI), September 16, 1937, printed a store ad selling Spam for 35 cents, the highest price of anywhere else in 1937. I'll also note there were Spam ads in other states during this period, including California, Arizona, Michigan, Texas, and Montana. Spam was taking the entire country by storm.

Spam reaches Boston! In the Boston Globe, October 4, 1937, there was an ad (pictured above) from the famed Jordan Marsh. The Spam cost 35 cents, or 3 for $1, which was also the highest price for Spam, comparable to the price in Hawaii. Interestingly, its noted that Spam had 101 uses, one less than a previous ad which touted 102 uses.

The Courier-News (NJ), October 7, 1937, ran an ad that stated, “Hormel’s Spam, A new sensational meat creation ready to serve.” It offered the 12 oz tin for 29 cents. 

The Los Angeles Times (CA), October 19, 1937, printed an ad with some additional details about Spam. It claimed that Spam is "made of tender ham (center cut only), ever so slightly spiced.." The ad continued, noting that one tin could serves 4 persons. 

And another full page ad for Spam in the St. Cloud Times (MN), November 11, 1937.  

The Evansville Courier and Press (IN), August 7, 1938, provided some information about the success of Spam. The article began, “Smack in the middle of the period last year when sales were generally on the decline, Hormel & Co. boldly brought forth an entirely new canned meat product, higher price and all, ran an employee contest to find a name for it, made a marketing test, then began to tell the country about Spam.” With the decline in sales, and a higher price than other products, putting Spam on the market was certainly a risky maneuver. 

The article continued, “If observers wonder how Hormel managed to get Spam into nearly every grocery in the country where it ordinarily outsells similar products which retail for less, they may take a look at Hormel’s advertising program.” What was that advertising program? "One thing, besides consistency of appearance, which has distinguished its ads is consistency of new appeals. With a catch name to start off with, Hormel has used it to the hilt in promoting new tricky dishes in order to get the name across. Examples: Spam with scrambled eggs are Spambled eggs; Spam sandwiches, Spamwiches; Spam canapés, Spametts."

In Life Magazine, November 6, 1939, there was a lengthy article about Hormel and Spam. The article mentioned, “Pork shoulder meat with ham meat added,”—as shown on the label of the can is the secret of SPAM’s goodness and quality.” It was also mentioned, “Thus is pork shoulder meat, known as the juiciest and sweetest meat from any animal, prepared for the manufacture of SPAM.”

And the success of Hormel? The article noted, “Although Hormel is the fifth largest slaughterer of lambs and the sixth largest packer of beef in the U.S., it is pigs that have the center of Hormel attention. It is from pork that Hormel makes a delicious new kind of meat called SPAM.” It continued, “.., SPAM has become a favorite of millions of families from coast to coast.” It had become so popular that Hormel had to increase its production. “To meet their demands, Hormel has had to build additional SPAM manufacturing plants in Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis.” 
There's a myth that during World War II, American GIs received huge portions of Spam, which they generally detested. They often stated that Spam was "ham that didn't pass its physical", or meatloaf "without basic training." You'll find plenty of websites still making these allegations, passing them off as "truth" although it wasn't the reality. 

Even as far back as 1943, the reality was made known. The Minneapolis Star (MN), August 25, 1943, claimed that many World War 2 servicemen were actually thankful for Spam, however what they ate probably wasn't Spam. “Hormel has sold almost no Spam to the army and navy. What the soldiers and sailors get is an unnamed pork loaf, packed in six-pound oblong tins, that resembles Spam. The loaf is made according to government specifications by packers all over the country, including Hormel.” Spam was likely so popular that it had almost become a generic term for any type of canned pork loaf.

More info was also presented on the naming of Spam. The article stated, "The name Spam originated with an actor who was visiting the big packing plant here. A new pork loaf was being prepared and a contest was under way to select a name for it. Suggestions weren't so good. The actor dropped in with a relative who worked for Hormel. Told of the contest, he proposed Spam. Jay Hormel, president, knew at once that the loaf was named."

More information on the origins of Spam were provided in Life Magazine, March 11, 1946. First, it was mentioned that, “Jay Hormel inaugurated his Flavor-Sealed line of canned products in 1926 with a whole tinned ham. The next year he added spiced ham (the direct antecedent of Spam) and in 1928 canned chicken." As mentioned before, “With the depression, Hormel’s cherished Flavor-Sealed line began slipping badly, so he conceived the scheme of launching a brand-new product with a trick name..."  

Jay started a series of contests, seeking a name for his new product, and it wasn't until a New Year’s Eve party at his own home that the name was finally chosen. At this party, "Each of the 65 guests was greeted at the door with a contest blank. The price of each drink was a completed entry in the contest. ‘Along about the third or fourth drink they began showing some imagination,’ Hormel recalls. Many of the names later adopted by competitors were offered and rejected. Finally the butler delivered to the host a slip of paper marked with the word SPAM.”

The magazine also discussed some of Spam's advertising history, stating, “In 1937 Spam went on public sale, ballyhooed by one of the earthiest, corniest and most successful promotion campaigns in U.S. advertising history.” One of the most unique aspects of this campaign was the creation of maybe the "first singing commercial." It was "a jingle set to the tine of Bring Back My Bonnie to Me."

Hormel’s new miracle meat in the can,
Tastes fine, saves time,
If you want something grand ask for SPAM.

More information on the Spam naming contest. The Daily News (NY), October 10, 1954, discussed that Jay Hormel had offered $100 for a name for their new canned pork product. “A New York radio actor in town to visit his brother, a Hormel executive, wrote down Spam. The actor, Kenneth Daigneau, will be remembered more for that one word than for any lines he spoke on the air.” 

Time Magazine, September 21, 1959, discussed the myth of Spam during World War II, helping to tell the truth. It was said, "The chewy, watery product that wartime G.I.s damned as Spam was really a lower-grade concoction, made under Army specifications: no ham (Spam itself has 6%-8%), cheaper cuts of pork, longer cooking of meat in the tin so that ersatz Spam could withstand tropical heat or Arctic cold."

The article also mentioned the success of Spam sales, which rose from 30 million cans in 1945 to 48 million in 1958. And in September 1959, they produced their one-billionth can!


What does the term "Spam" mean? Some think it might be a portmanteau word for either "spiced ham" or "shoulder of pork and ham." On the FAQ on the Spam website, you'll find, "What is the meaning of the SPAM® brand name?' Unfortunately, we can provide answers to neither. The significance of the SPAM® brand name has long been a subject of speculation. One popular belief says it’s derived from the words 'spiced ham.' The real answer is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives." So we may never know.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Bar Vlaha: A Preview, Greek Wines & A Superb Cocktail

Recently, I attended a media preview of Bar Vlaha, a new Greek restaurant in Washington Square in Brookline. It was a fun and tasty evening, sampling passed appetizers, grilled lamb, Greek wines, and special cocktails. I hope to return there soon for dinner, to fully experience this new restaurant, and I suspect it will more than meet my expectations.

As I mentioned before, Demetri Tsolakis and Stefanos Ougrinis, owners of Krasi Meze + WineHecate and Greco truly Greek fast casual concepts, launched Xenia Greek Hospitalitya new restaurant group with Brendan Pelley as their Culinary Director. Bar Vlaha is their newest restaurant, which specializes in the Greek cuisine of the Vlach people, a nomadic group of shepherds who are said to have founded Greek cooking and hospitality. The Executive Chef at Bar Vlaha is Kathryn McCoart

Let me give you a glimpse into this new restaurant. 

It's a medium-sized restaurant, with a warm and hospitable vibe.

There is a large and well-stocked bar, with a number of seats surrounding the bar. 

There's an open kitchen, with a wood burning oven and a large spit, which sits over a charcoal flame, grilling chicken and lamb. The passed appetizers were delicious, from the Alevropita (crispy thin batter feta pie) to Grilled Lamb, from the Saligarria (snails in a red wine sauce) to the Patates (lamb fat roasted potatoes).

My friend, Patrick Maguire, took this photo of the chef basting the grilled lamb, using a large leek, covered with garlic, lemon and other items, to do so.

Evan Turner, the wine director of Krasi (which has the largest Greek wine list in the country) has curated a compelling wine list of about 40 wines from Northern Greece for Bar Vlaha. If you review the wine list, you'll find plenty of interesting choices, with many of them available by the glass, and they are priced reasonably, with many bottles priced from $50-$75. At the preview event, Evan poured two delicious Greek wines, a white and a red. As I've often stated, there are many reasons why you should drink more Greek wines and Bar Vlaha will help make you a convert.

The 2019 Domaine Glinavos Zitsa is an organic white wine made from the indigenous Debina grape. It was bright and refreshing, with prominent acidity, and delicious flavors of citrus, green apple, and a light floral element. Delicious on its own, it would be a great choice for the summer, or patio dining with seafood, cheese or other light dishes.

The Anatolikos Vineyards Limnio was also an organic wine, made from the ancient red grape Limnio. This was a big and bold wine, yet still possessed of an elegant nature, with a delicious and complex melange of flavors, especially black cherry and strawberry, with a spicy backbone, and touches of chocolate. This is definitely a wine that pairs well with grilled meats, such as lamb.

I was especially impressed with one of their cocktails, the Ode to Pan, a delicious concoction that will remind you of a Gin Bloody Mary. The Ode to Pan is made with Moletto's Tomato Gin, lemon, celery, mastic cucumber soda, and heirloom tomato cubes. I watched one of the bartenders prepare this cocktail and it was quite an involved process. It was such a refreshing and delicious drink, lighter than the typical Bloody Mary, with a prominent tomato flavor, accented by cucumber and lemon notes. The gin was noticeable without being overpowering, and the tomato ice cubes were visually beautiful, and took a while to melt, leaving you a thicker tomato base once the cocktail was drank. I had a second one rather than try one of the other two offered cocktails as I loved this drink so much. 

All of the restaurants within the Xenia Greek Hospitality group emphasize the importance of hospitality, and that is not just lip service. I've known some of the people involved in these restaurants, such as Demetri TsolakisStefanos Ougrinis, Natasha Breshinsky, and Chris Marcin, for a number of years, and I've always found them personable, hospitable and sincere. It may seem like a cliche, but they do make you feel like you're part of an extended Greek family. And at the recent Bar Vlaha preview, that hospitality was very noticeable from the others within the restaurant group as well. It's their sincerity which makes you feel warm and welcomed. And it's an important aspect of why I love their restaurants so much.