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?

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