Wednesday, December 20, 2023

2023: Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake & Drink-Related Items

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

As 2024 approaches, it's time once again to reflect upon the past year, to remember and savor pleasant memories. Previously, I posted three of my food-related Favorites lists as well as my Top Twenty Wines of 2023. It's time now to cover my Favorite Wine, Spirit, Sake and Drink-Related Items of 2023

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 two such stores which continue, year after year, to do an especially good job, places where I go to seek bargains. 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.

Favorite Maine Wine Store: Browne Trading Company sells gourmet foods, including caviar and fresh seafood, but they also have an excellent wine selection. They sell many high-end wines as well as more unique wines, including a very good Sherry selection. It's a place I could easily buy a case of wines, reveling in the finds. Any wine lover who visits Portland should definitely stop here. I also want to note that have an intriguing selection of soy sauces, from Mizunara Whisky Barrel Aged Shoyu to a White Shoyu

Favorite Restaurant Wine Lists: I want to highlight a few restaurants which offer some intriguing and excellent wine lists. 
     Krasi: With the largest Greek wine list in the country, you'll find almost any type of Greek wine you could desire. There are so many excellent options that you might have difficulty selecting a bottle, but the sommelier/wine director, Evan Turner, and staff can help guide you through the intriguing list. Expand your palate and explore the wonders of Greek wine. Plus, Krasi now sells their wines at retail, so if you enjoy a bottle for dinner, you can buy a bottle and take it home with you. This is such a great option, and I bought a couple bottles during my last visit to Krasi. 
    Kosmos: Although their wine list is not as large as Krasi, Kosmos also has an excellent and interesting Greek wine list, which well complements their excellent Greek cuisine. 
    Nightshade Noodle Bar: Their eclectic, well-curated wine list has primarily more natural wines from small producers. There's plenty of interesting options available, and the wines pair very well with their delicious cuisine. The list changes fairly regularly, and there's always something new to tantalize your palate.  

Favorite Wine Dinner: For the second year in a row, my favorite wine dinner was at A Tavola in Winchester. Their Fantasy Fine Wine Dinner was compelling, with excellent wines, two of which made my list of Top Twenty Wines of 2023, and they paired very well with the delicious foods prepared by Chef Carli, from Chatham Scallop Carpaccio to Mortadella Rotolo. A Tavola holds a number of wine dinners each year and you definitely should check them out. For 2024, they have already announced a Bourbon & BBQ dinner to be held on February 28. 

Runner-Up Wine Dinners: There are two other wine dinners in 2023 which are worthy of recognition. First, there was a Greek Wine Dinner with Domaine Costa Lazaridi and Yiannis Distributing at the Ithaki Restaurant. The food was delicious, including Marinated Sardines, Tuna Crudo, Scallops, Beef Kebob, Halibut, and more. The wines were tasty too, including an Assyrtiko which made my list of Top Twenty Wines of 2023,  Second, there was a California wine dinner with Ireland Family Wines at the Coach Grill. From Lobster Bisque to Seared Sirloin, the delectable food paired well with the higher-end California wines. Two of those wines made my list of Top Twenty Wines of 2023,

Favorite Single Country Wine Tasting:  2023 is the 25th Anniversary of the first Uruguayan wines being exported to the U.S. This year, I attended a fascinating media tasting of the Wines of Uruguay, which provided much information about the wine industry in this small South American country. We also got to taste a number of tasty wines, from Albariño to Tannat, including one which made my list of Top Twenty Wines of 2023,  

Favorite Large-Scale Wine Event: In 2023, the Boston Wine Expo returned, under new ownership and at a new venue, the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. It was a smaller more intimate event, and included a Spirits Tasting room and several Wine Classes. I found some excellent wines here, including a number which ended up on my list of Top Twenty Wines of 2023. There were also several food exhibitors, which enhanced the event. I would have liked to see more diversity in the wines, more wines from different countries, and hopefully there will be more in 2024. For example, there was only a single booth of Greek wines and only one of Portugal wines, and I would like to see more such booths. Stay tuned as sooner to the 2024 Expo, I will post an article with my recommendations for booths to visit. 

Historical Drink Articles: Since the start of the pandemic, it's been tough for many food and drink writers and some have simply written sporadically,. For myself, I've continued to devote many hours to researching and writing numerous historical food and drink articles, combing through thousands of newspapers and books. I've especially delved into the origins of numerous foods and drinks, trying to seek out their true origins, and not just accepting the unsubstantiated claims of others. Here are the historical drink articles I completed this past year.

Favorite Whiskey: During the 1850s, Chicken Cock Whiskey was created, and it was a very popular whiskey in the Boston area during the 19th century. However, the distillery burnt to the ground in the 1950s, but the brand was recently resurrected. This new whiskey is made from a mashbill of 70% Corn, 21% Rye, and 9% Malted Barley, and it bottled at 90 proof. With a pleasing golden-brown color, it has an appealing and complex nose, with notes of caramel, vanilla, spice and more. It's smooth on the palate, with only a touch of heat, and isn't as sweet as many bourbons due to its high rye percentage. The taste possesses a complex melange of caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, dried fruit, and more with a lengthy, spicy finish. It's an excellent sipping Bourbon, and each sip will bring something new and delicious to your mouth. 

Favorite Irish Whiskey: I tasted the four whiskey expressions from The Busker Irish Whiskey, and my favorite was The Busker Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. It was produced in copper pot stills, and then matured in ex-bourbon and sherry casks. This was an impressive whiskey, especially considering the price point ($33), delivering a complex, delicious, and alluring taste. On the palate, there's an intriguing melange of flavors, each sip bringing something new to your mouth. There are floral notes, touches of honey and caramel, hints of nuttiness, and plenty of pepper and spice, especially on the lengthy, satisfying finish. It's rich and smooth, perfect neat or on the rocks. It's a whiskey to slowly sip and enjoy, to savor each intriguing taste

Favorite Main Cocktails: At the Brown Cow in Portland, Maine, a casual burger spot and cocktail bar, I was impressed with two of their cocktails. The Angel Fire was made with mezcal, amaretto, madeira, Jamaican rum, and charred apricot bitters. This was a very well-made and balanced cocktail, with a complex blend of flavors, with the mezcal being the most prominent taste. The Before Sunset was made with cynar, bourbon, averna, lemon, and Islay scotch. Another excellent, complex and well-balanced cocktail, with a nice smokey edge to it. I'd return here just for their cocktails.

Favorite Greek Cocktail: At the opening of Bar Vlaha in Brookline, I was thoroughly impressed with 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. 

Favorite Junmai Sake: The Imada Shuzo Fukucho "Forgotten Fortune" Junmai ($35-$40) is produced by Miho Imada, a female Toji, who is also the owner of the brewery. The sake is produced from Hattanso sake rice, an heirloom breed which was nearly extinct, and it was polished down to 70%. It also has a 15% ABV, a SMV +3, and the label states it is best served slightly chilled. It is said to pair very well with oysters, as the Hiroshima Prefecture has the most amount of oyster beds in Japan. I found this Sake to be complex and pure delicious, with tasty flavors of melon and pear, a dominant earthiness and good acidity. Silky smooth, with a fuller body, and a lengthy, satisfying finish. It paired very well with a variety of foods, from raw octopus to grilled chicken skin. 

Favorite Junmai Ginjo Sake: The Heiwa Shuzou "Kid" Junmai Ginjo Hiyaoroshi ($39) is a type of Sake, hiyaoroshi, which is made specifically for the autumn. This sake is made with Gohyakumangoku rice that was polished down to 55%. They use a natural water source, the Koyasan Nansui, which is said to be "soft and luscious." It also has a 15% ABV, a Sake Meter Value (SMV) of +1.5, and an Acidity of 1.7 (making it more acidic than average). The label states that it can be served chilled, warmed or at room temperature. It was a delicious Sake, with a soft and rich mouth feel, but crisp acidity balancing the richness. It was fruity, with tastes of banana, citrus, apple, and hints of raspberry, and also had some steamed rice flavors. It was rich in umami, especially on the finish, and made for an excellent pairing with the fatty salmon. Definitely a heartier Sake for the cooler Autumn weather, although it would work well in the Winter as well.

Favorite Sake Rant: Especially relevant this winter, I previously ranted that people should Drink Warm Sake! Most premium Sake is best when serve slightly chilled, however there are plenty of exceptions. Sake shouldn't be served as hot as you would drink a glass of tea. It should be more gently warmed, although it can be served at a range of warmer temperatures, with each point in that range presenting a slightly different taste profile. In the winter, warm Sake can be very satisfying, presenting a unique flavor profile, and more people should embrace it. Just remember not to see it too hot, like you unfortunately find at many restaurants.   

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. 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. 

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

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