Monday, November 30, 2015


It couldn't be any simpler so listen carefully. This is one of the most important pieces of advice you will receive this holiday season. Please pay careful attention.

If you've had too much alcohol to drink, if there is any doubt in your mind, don't drive. 

Any questions?

Once again, I step forward with probably my most important Rant of the year. It's an absolutely vital issue for everyone who enjoys alcohol of any type, from wine to beer, from Scotch to hard cider. With the advent of the holiday season upon us, we reach a potentially dangerous period for those people who over indulge, who drink too much at parties, feasts and gatherings. There is nothing wrong with that, and you can drink as much as you desire, as long as you give up your keys to someone who is sober, and do not drive.

As I've said multiple times before, and which I'll repeat year after year, "If there is any question, no matter how small, whether you are too intoxicated to drive, then don't. If your family or friends think you have had too much to drink, don't drive. Just don't. It is not worth the risk by any calculation." Err on the side of caution so that if you have any doubt of your capacity to drive, then please do not drive. Take a taxi or Uber, catch a ride with someone else, walk or sleep it off. Just don't drive!

Rationally, we all know the dangers of drinking and driving. We endanger our own lives as well as the lives of others. Every year, we hear multiple news reports about terrible auto accidents, some with fatalities, that occur because a driver was intoxicated. Families are torn apart, lives are ruined, and much more. Why don't we learn from all these incidents? Even if you don't get in an accident, you might get arrested for drunk driving, with all the attendant high costs, and not just economic. You might even end up in jail.

About 17,000 people are arrested for drunk driving in Massachusetts each year. That is a huge figure, showing that far too many people still don't understand that they should not drink and drive. How difficult is it to understand? DON'T DRINK & DRIVE! I'm sure drunk driving incidents in other states are just as significant.

Each time you drink and drive, you endanger yourself, your passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, and people in other vehicles. Let someone else drive you, whether it be a friend or family. Take an Uber or public transportation. Leave your car where it is parked as you can always pick it up the next day. You have plenty of options so there is absolutely no reason to drink and drive. Be responsible.

I don't want to lose any family or friends this year due to a drunk driving accident. I don't think anyone wants to lose their loved ones either. Your family and friends would rather you didn't drink and drive as they don't you to die in a terrible drunk driving accident. So please just don't!

(This is a repeat of a prior post, with some minor changes, but as it is always my most important Rant of the year, it bears repeating as the holiday season begins.)

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving: A Day For Reflection

Today, all across America, many of us will gather together with family, friends and others, savoring a lavish feast of food and drink. We might also attend local football games, watch it on TV, or check out the Macy's Day Parade. We will talk and laugh, toast and cheer, savoring all the goodness of the day, reveling in the joy of the holiday. However, amidst all this merriment, we should not forget the deeper meaning of the day. It is about far more than turkey and wine, stuffing and football, pecan pie and naps.

Thanksgiving is a day for reflection upon our lives, to ponder and be thankful for all of the positive things in our lives. We need to appreciate the goodness in our lives, to be happy with everything we have (and I don't mean in a material sense). No matter what troubles or adversities we might face in our lives, I am absolutely sure there is also much to bring us joy.

Our focus today, and actually how it should be every day, should be on the positive aspects of our lives. Savoring the positive in our lives can brighten the darker parts of our lives, and place everything in perspective. Complaining and criticizing often accomplish little and instead we should concentrate on solutions. We can make our lives better if we truly desire to do so. It may take time and effort, but we can accomplish much with a positive mindset.

I am thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. I am thankful for all my blog readers, as well as the fans of my Tipsy Sensei series. It would take too long to list every single thing I am thankful for here, but I will take the time to reflect upon all of them today. I will try not to dwell on the negative elements in my life. It will hopefully be a day of appreciation and reflection, of hope and a brighter future.

I fervently hope that everyone else can embrace the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. It may be corny, but a hug and kind words can mean so very much. And you'll never regret it.

I'm going to enjoy plenty of tasty food and drink today, but I will remember that today is about more than the feasting. It is primarily a time for thanks, for all the good that is in our lives, and for being with the people we care about and love.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thanksgiving Recipes & Wine Advice

This Thursday is Thanksgiving I'm sure many people are in the middle of devising their plans for how to celebrate this festive occasion. You might be trying to select a restaurant, deciding not to cook this year. You might be dining at home and trying to plan a menu of food and drinks for all your guests. You might be dining at the home of family or friends, and have been asked to bring a dish or a bottle of wine. So many decisions so I am here to offer some helpful suggestions that might ease your tension and worries.

Let me begin with some general advice, a sentiment which you should embrace. Stop worrying that everything needs to be perfect because it will never be perfect and it doesn't have to be perfect. This is a holiday where family and friends gather, to share everything they are thankful for and not to complain and nitpick about silly and irrelevant issues. It is a time for fun and enjoyment, to relax and chat, to eat and drink, to savor the day together. As long as people enjoy themselves, as long as the food and wine is good, no one will complain or even care about whether it was "perfect" or not, whatever that term might mean. Just everyone being together is perfect enough.

Now, I'll provide some more specific advice, including some easy recipes to prepare as well as some advice on selecting wines.

If you are cooking at home, or need to bring a dish to someone else's home, then let me suggest some relatively easy, but quite delicious, recipes. I have compiled for you a list of five such Easy Thanksgiving Recipes, including Buffalo Chicken Dip, Sangria, Double Corn Pudding, Special Potato Casserole and Swedish Apple Pie. Just about anyone can make these easy recipes and your family and friends should really enjoy the results. Plus, these recipes aren't just appropriate for Thanksgiving and you can enjoy them at any time. Buffalo Chicken Dip while tailgating? Sangria for your next wine party? Swedish apple pie for Sunday dessert? We regularly prepare their recipes during the holidays as well as the rest of the year and they always earn raves.

Choosing wines for Thanksgiving can seem intimidating but it really is not. Please don't worry about what wines to choose. Start by reading some general advice I previously wrote, Thanksgiving: I Want Wines To Make People Smile. I hope that will help decrease your worry over wine selections. There are so many good choices for Thanksgiving wines.For more advice and suggestions, check out my prior posts, Choosing Holiday Wines Part 1 & Part 2. Finally, for some out of the box suggestions, check out my Thanksgiving Wines? Consider Sherry Or Sakeboth which are very food friendly and would pair well with your Thanksgiving feast.

Whatever you do for Thanksgiving, enjoy yourself and appreciate all that you have, rather than worry about what you do not.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rant: America's Culinary Debt

The fate of Syrian refugees and undocumented immigrants are major issues right now, with plenty of heated rhetoric and arguments. Fear is at the heart of much of the discussion and though the threat of terrorism is real, the actual risks involved are much lower than doomsayers proclaim. The basic humanity of these refugees and immigrants needs to factor far greater into these discussions, and compassion needs to be a prominent value.

America owes a huge debt to the refugees and immigrants which have previously come to our country. They bring a diversity to our country which only benefits us all. Yes, there are some bad apples in the bunch, yet there are bad apples everywhere. We have to understand how these bad apples are the exception and not the rule. Those bad apples do not reflect the general mentality and behavior of the greater majority.

Let's consider but one area where America owes a great debts to refugees and immigrants: our culinary scene.

First, many restaurant kitchens, all across the country, couldn't operate without  the refugees and immigrants who perform some of the most basic, and still very important, duties, from dish washing to prep work. They work behind the scenes, unseen by the restaurant diners who might only see the chef. As they work unseen, too many people fail to understand their role and its importance to what ends up on their plate.

I''ve talked to a number of chefs who have been immensely grateful for these workers. Few others have been willing to do such jobs, from dish washing to basic prep work. Without these refugees and immigrants, it would be difficult to find others willing to do these duties. In addition, the chefs uniformly state that they are some of the hardest working people they know. For a significant number of these refugees and immigrants, they work multiple jobs, maybe in a couple different kitchens. These people contribute significantly to the community.

Second, these refugees and immigrants bring to the U.S. their home cuisines, including different ingredients, recipes and techniques, They have created a greater diversity in our culinary scene, opening diners up to so many new and different foods. Consider Boston and its neighboring communities and try to count the numerous country cuisines which are represented, which wouldn't exist except for the influx of refugees and immigrants to our country. Ethiopia, Lebanon, Mexico, El Salvador, Senegal, Afghanistan,  Vietnam and so much more.

In addition,other chefs have adopted the ingredients, recipes and techniques of these refugees and immigrants. Their culinary heritage has spread across the country, becoming firmly ingrained in our society. Without their contributions, our culinary world would be boring and plain.We revel in culinary diversity but need to understand and appreciate the myriad contributions of those refugees and immigrants.

Rather than worrying so much about the greatly exaggerated risks of refugees and immigrants, let us devote much more consideration to all the positive contributions they can make to our country.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Francesinhas: Hearty Portuguese Sandwichs In Medford

The Croque Monsieur is a delicious French sandwich with ham and cheese, and the Portuguese found a way to create a similar sandwich, except one on steroids, ramping up the meat content. The Croque Monsieur is commonly topped with bechamel sauce while the Portuguese opted for a tangier, tomato-based sauce. This tasty Portuguese monstrosity is known as the the Francesinha and is now available locally, at a small, new restaurant in Medford.

Antonio Pereira, a native of Portugal, recently opened Tasty on the Hill at 321 Boston Avenue, Medford, across the street from the Danish Pastry House. The restaurant is currently open only for breakfast and lunch, with breakfast served all day. The menu has plenty of traditional American breakfast items, from eggs to pancakes, waffles to omelets, all reasonably priced. The lunch items include burgers, wraps, and other classic sandwiches. However, their most unique menu item is the Francesinha though in the near future, they will be opening for dinner, on certain nights, offering a number of traditional Portuguese dishes.

The restaurant seats around 24 people and it is very clean and spacious. It has the ambiance of a diner, and the staff is very welcoming and friendly. I've only been to the restaurant once so this is only an initial impression, but one which was so positive it was worthy of making my readers aware of this new restaurant with its compelling Portuguese sandwich.

I ordered Green Iced Tea, which I was pleased to see was freshly brewed with Organic Bigelow Tea. A good start to my lunch.

Yes, that is one big-ass sandwich!

The restaurant serves six variations (each $13.95) of the Francesinhas, including the Traditional, Grilled Chicken, Tasty Burger, Vegetarian, Bacalhau, and Smoked Salmon. All of the Francesinhas come with French fries. In the photo above,you can see the Tasty Burger, with a burger, American cheese, ham, linguica, bacon, and a fried egg, topped by a special sauce and accompanied with shoe-string French fries.

The term "francesinhas" is said to translate as "little Frenchie," "little French one," or "little French girl." The sandwich, which is most common in the city of Porto in Portugal, has murky origins though one theory seems to be dominant. The most common story is that the Francesinha was invented in the 1950s by Daniel David da Silva, a Portuguese man who was born in the municipality of Terras do Bouro. Seeking work, he traveled to Belgium and France, eventually becoming a barman. When he eventually returned to Portugal, he started working at A Regaleira restaurant.

He was considered to be an inventive cook and one of his experiments was a sandwich which was an adaption of the Croque Monsieur. Daniel David added more layers of meat and topped the sandwich with a spicy sauce, allegedly made with tomato sauce and beer. Why did he call it a Francesinha? The reasons is again uncertain, some saying he did it to reflect the robust,spicy women of France as opposed to the more sulky Portuguese women.

In Porto, you'll find many variations of the Francesinhas, though it commonly is a stack of different meats, topped by an egg, between two pieces of bread with melted cheese atop it and covered by a spicy tomato-based sauce. The recipe for the sauce is usually a big secret, though beer and sometimes even Port, is used in the making. At Tasty On the Hill, their sauce recipe is a secret, though it is supposed to contain 12 ingredients and has been a family recipe that originated about 30-40 years ago. Through some online searching, it seems that the Francesinha is not easily found in the U.S. so Tasty On The Hill is a pioneer in introducing this sandwich to Americans.

So let me describe the Francesinha I ate for lunch, the first of these sandwiches I have ever eaten so I can't compare it to those made in Porto.

It is a hearty sandwich so you need to bring your hunger if you hope to finish it. It also is very much a fork and knife sandwich, or be prepared for a very messy sandwich in your hands. The sauce was tangy, savory and slightly spicy with a strong tomato flavor. Very tasty, it was a fine topping for the thick sandwich. All the different meats provided different textures and spices, and they blended harmoniously together, enhanced by the fried egg and all the melted cheese. The bread seemed to be a large, soft roll and it stood up well to the sauce. It was a carnivore's delight, a hearty meal which should satisfy. And the French fries were a good addition, and I liked their taste with the sauce.

Overall, it was an impressive sandwich, a delightful blend of flavors and textures. I'm looking forward to returning to try some of the other variations of the Francesinha, such as maybe the Bacalhau, the salted cod. I recommend that my readers check out Tasty On The Hill, especially for the unique Francesinhas.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

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)  Puritan and Co. will host their 3rd Annual Harvest Dinner showcasing seasonal flavors on Wednesday, November 18, with seatings starting at 5:30pm. Puritan & Company Chef/Owner Will Gilson, Chef de Cuisine Alex Saenz, Sommelier Peter Nelson and the restaurant’s talented team invite guests to enjoy the flavors of the season at upcoming Harvest Dinner, a delicious four-course meal of Puritan & Company’s signature seasonal New England fare and an optional wine pairing.

The Menu can be seen here.
The four-course meal is $60 per person with an optional wine pairing for $35 per person.
For reservations, please call (617)-615-6195

2) On December 2, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards. Since 1973, Sonoma-Cutrer has been producing the finest quality wines since it opened as a vineyard company. Its foundation is built in the hillsides and rocky foothills in the region recognized as the Sonoma Coast Appellation. In the 1970s, the company planted several different grape varieties and virtually overnight Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnay grapes had gained a reputation for exceptional quality and were in high demand by many premium wineries.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with Winemaking Director, Mick Schroeter, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with his selections from the Sonoma-Cutrer vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Sandy Neck Oyster on the Half Shell, Blood Orange Granita
Ponzu-Marinated Cod, Cucumber Cup, Mizuna Micro-Greens
Bang Bang Shrimp Skewer
Sonoma-Cutrer “Winemaker’s Release” Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley, 2014
Nantucket Bay Scallop Casserole (lemon, garlic, mixed greens)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Les Pierres Vineyard” Barrel Selection, Sonoma Coast, 2014
Lobster “Pot Pie” (lobster Newburg sauce, English peas, baby mâche)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Founders Reserve Legacy” Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012
Grilled Tuna Steak (chanterelle duxelles, farro salad, beurre rouge)
Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, 2013
Roasted Pear Crostata (mascarpone, honey ice cream)
Sonoma-Cutrer “Winemaker’s Release” Late Harvest Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2012

COST: $95 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

3) With the holidays now upon us, there’s no better way to celebrate the season than by throwing a festive fete and treating your guests to tasty tipples and tempting sweets. Join Temple Bar on Saturday, December 5t, from 3pm-5pm, and let Bar Manager and trained pastry chef Jenn Harvey show you how to take your holiday food and beverage game up a notch.

Calling upon her training in both confecting and cocktailing, Jenn will walk you through cocktail basics while sharing three ingeniously easy punch recipes sure to help your friends and family get their fa-la-la on. And what are the holidays without a cookie or two? Once everyone has wet their whistle, Jenn will share a few of her own family’s cookie recipes to help step up your baking game this season.

While snacking and mingling, learning has never tasted so sweet as Jenn explains the finer points of pairing desserts with drinks.

COST: $30 (tax included) per person

4) Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar has earned acclaim for its delicious seasonal dishes and thoughtful wine collection. But when it comes to the holidays, it is perhaps best known for its Annual Parent-Child Gingerbread House Making Class. Held every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you can choose to either build and decorate a Gingerbread House, or decorate a hand-made pre-built house that the Zebra’s pastry staff will build for you. Prices range from $69-$99 depending upon the number of people at the table (no more than 3); and if you want the house pre-built. The class lasts 1-1 ½ hours.

Private Class For a Group of Six or More Adults
Did you say Gingerbread Martinis? Gingerbread Houses aren’t just for kids anymore. Zebra’s hosts private Gingerbread House classes for adults with a group of six or more. There will be a house for each adult to build and decorate, and cocktails as well! Each group has its own instructor to help lead the way with building and decorating tips. Gingerbread House & Martinis is available for adults, $69.00 per person, weekdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 4pm-5pm. Advance Reservations required.

Planning a December birthday party or holiday celebration between Thanksgiving and New Year? This is the one that everyone will talk about. Each guest receives handmade gingerbread pieces to assemble their own house and decorate under the guidance of Zebra’s pastry staff. The houses are yours to keep and to use as a centerpiece for your holiday celebrations. Please call early, dates and times go quickly.

Zebra’s Gingerbread House Making Kits are available to purchase. With the kit you can build and decorate your gingerbread house at home. The kit includes the baked gingerbread pieces, a foundation board, royal icing, and plenty of candy decorations. $59 per kit; or $69 for a pre-built house ready to decorate at your home. Please call in advance for pickup, Nov. 27-Dec. 23, 2015.


5) This holiday season, Bar Boulud invites novice bakers and pastry perfectionists to join Chef Robert Differ for an intimate pastry class featuring the traditional Parisian holiday dessert: Bûche de Noël.

Upon arrival, participants will transform into a pastry apprentice as they sip a complimentary glass of bubbly prosecco or a rich cup of hot cocoa while preparing to expertly craft a standout, celebratory sweet that’s guaranteed to impress guests at their next joyful occasion. As the demonstration gets underway, Chef Differ will highlight the history, preparation, technique, and assembly required for crafting this iconic dessert in the confines of each home cook’s kitchen. Each participant will then be presented with a pre-rolled Bûche de Noël that serves as a confectionary canvas, ready to receive each student’s artistic touch.

Emphasizing festive decorating techniques, this tailored class allows students to focus on all of the fun aspects of holiday baking without the stress of measuring, mixing and manipulating each ingredient from scratch. Each class participant will depart with a recipe for crafting this iconic Christmas-themed dessert at home, along with a freshly-baked Bûche de Noël to share with friends and family.

WHEN: Sunday, December 6 and Saturday, December 12, 11am-12:30pm
COST: $85 per person (plus Eventbrite fees)
Reservations can be made through Eventbrite. For more information please call 617-535-8800

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Franciacorta: Serious Bubbly You Should Be Drinking

Will the Fans of Franciacorta please step forward and testify!

I recently posted about Choosing Holiday Wines, recommending that you don't buy the same old wines and seek out something different and delicious, such as Franciacorta. In short, Franciacorta is Italian Sparkling Wine, made in the méthode traditionnelle, and produced in the Franciacorta region of Lombardy. For more details and basic information on Franciacorta, please consult my prior post Franciacorta: Bubbly That Needs To Be On Your Wine Radar.  As a brief update, in 2014, annual production of Franciacorta was about 15.5 million bottles, roughly a 10% increase since 2012.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of Franciacorta is exported to the U.S. so it is easy for it to get lost in the deluge of other Sparkling Wines that are available. However, it is worth seeking out as it presents delicious & quality wine, reasonably priced, and less expensive than most Champagne. You can check out some of my prior Franciacorta reviews in Fun With Franciacorta  and see that the 2007 Villa Franciacorta Brut made my list of 2013 Top Ten Wines Over $15 (But Under $50).

In the last several months, I've participated in two Franciacorta Twitter media tastings, sampling nine more Franciacorta wines. In general, all of these wines were delicious and intriguing in their own ways. They commonly are dry and crisp, some with a tasty creaminess, and usually have bright,lively flavors and tiny, fine bubbles. Franciacorta is very food friendly, with everything from Sushi to Potato Chips, Swordfish to Caviar (all which I have eaten with these wines). As most are priced in the range of $25-$35, they are less expensive than most Champagne, and I believe they deliver plenty of quality at their price point. During this holiday season, Franciacorta can easily fill all your Sparkling Wine needs.

Let me provide you some Franciacorta options you can consider this season.

The NV Barone Pizzini Animante Franciacorta Brut ($35) is a blend of 70% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir, & 4% Pinot Bianco. Though the winery was founded in 1967, wine making in their family extends back centuries.It was the first winery in Franciacorta to adopt organic viticulture and in 2001, all their Franciacorta vineyards attained the organic certification.  The vineyards cover a total surface area of 47 hectares and in 2006, they constructed an eco-friendly winery and have been working at making another of their vineyards Biodynamic.

The Animante is aged for about six months in stainless steel, spends 20-30 months in the bottle on the lees, and has an alcohol content of 12%. With a fine golden color, the nose presents appealing floral and citrus notes. On the palate, it is dry and crisp, with delicious tastes of green apple, white flowers, mild honey notes and a touch of toastiness. On the long finish, there is some delightful creaminess. This is complex and serious bubbly, sure to impress, and would be perfect for seafood.  Highly recommended.

The NV Le Marchesine Franciacorta Brut ($27) is also a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Bianco. The Biatta family founded this winery in 1985, though the family's connection to wine extends back to 1196 when an ancient ancestor was a négociant éleveur. The family now owns about 47 hectares, producing approximately 450K bottles annually.

This Brut spends about 24 months in the bottle on the lees and has an alcohol content of 12.5%, This wine also shows floral notes on the aroma as well as some spices, notably ginger. On the palate, it is also crisp and dry, fresh and tasty, with more herbal and spices flavors, especially ginger. The ginger is dominant but far from overwhelming. It is not as complex as the Animante but is easy drinking bubbly which should please your palate. As a food wine, it is excellent to help cleanse your palate, especially with those ginger notes.

The NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Brut ($25) is a blend of 90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Bianco. During the 1980s, the Moretti family converted a brickyard into a winery. This Brut spent about 7 months aging, partially in stainless steel and partially in barriques, and then 18-30 months in the bottle on the lees. It has an alcohol content of 12.5%,  This is a Franciacorta that is mostly about the fruit, as well as being clean, crisp and dry. There are delightful flavors of apple and pear, and it drinks so easily. Yet it is more than a one-note wine, containing plenty of character for this price point.

The NV Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé ($25) is a blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir. This Rosé spent about 7 months aging, partially in stainless steel and partially in barriques, and then 24-30 months in the bottle on the lees. In this wine, fruit plays a dominant role as well, plenty of delicious red berry with hints of apple and even pineapple. It is dry and crisp, with some subtle mineral notes and a hint of rose petals. It is a fun wine, eager to please, but with its serious side too. An excellent value at this price point.

The La Montina Argens Saten ($28) is made from 100% Chardonnay. The winery owns about 72 hectares and the grapes for this wine come from their best vineyards. This wine spent at least 24 months in the bottle on the lees. I was reminded of herbed rolls when I tasted this Saten, as the wine had plenty of herbal and toast notes. It was a more savory and rich taste, both dry and crisp. A very different style than some of the more fruity Franciacorta and would be a nice pairing for dishes like roast chicken and even lamb.

Franciacorta and firearms? Yes, the NV Lo Sparvierre Brut Cuvee No.7 ($35), is from a winery that is owned by a famous firearms manufacturing company, Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta. The Beretta company was established back in 1526 and is currently owned and operated by Ugo Gussalli Beretta and his sons, Franco and Pietro. The Lo Sparvierre estate consists of about 150 hectares, 30 which are vineyards. The term "Sparvierre" means "sparrowhawk" and is on the coat of arms which was in the original 16th-century building on the estate.

This Brut is made from 100% Chardonnay, aged in the bottle for about 30 months on the lees, and has an alcohol content of 13%. This was an impressive wine, with an alluring nose of honey, brioche and pear. On the palate, it is crisp, dry and complex, with an intriguing melange of flavors, including honey and ripe pear, hints of peach and toasty notes, a mild nuttiness and some mineral elements. With a lengthy and pleasing finish, this was bubbly to slowly savor and enjoy. It would also enhance many types of dishes. Highly recommended

The NV Guide Berlucchi '61 Brut ($30) is a blend of 90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir. It is produced by the winery which brought sparkling wine to Franciacorta. Guido Berlucchi hired Franco Ziliani, a young enologist, to assist with his winery. Franco was full of enthusiasm and ideas, and desired to produce a sparkling wine. Guido allowed him to do so, and in 1961, they produced their first bubbly, Pinot di Franciacorta, which was also the first time that the term "Franciacorta" appeared on a wine label.

This Brut spends about 18 months in the bottle on the lees and sees no malolactic fermentation. This is such an elegant wine, smooth, complex and alluring. Delicious and clean flavors of green apple, melon and citrus with a rich mouth feel. It is an impressive wine, one which could be enjoyed on its own or paired with food. This wine tastes better than many Champagnes priced at $50-$60. Highly recommended.

The 2009 Antica Fratta Essence Rosé ($35) a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The original winery had an excellent reputation in the mid-1800s but was eventually abandoned until it was purchased in 1979, giving birth to Antica Fratta. This Brut spends about 36 months in the bottle on the lees and has an alcohol content of 13%. This is an elegant Rosé, dry and crisp, with a taste of creamy red berries with a hint of herbal accents. Savory and delicious, this is an appealing wine that should please anyone. It is food friendly but also would be excellent on its own.

The 2010 Villa Franciacorta Boké Rosé ($25) is a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. In 1960, Alessandro Bianchi purchased the hamlet of Villa, whose buildings date to the 16th century, and a hundred hectares of land surrounding it. Wine had been made in Villa for centuries, and Bianchi continued that tradition. They produce only about 300K bottles annually and only make vintage Franciacorta using only estate grapes.

This Rosé spends at least 36 months in the bottle on the lees. The 2010 vintage was a bit rainy during the growing season but the harvest took place under ideal conditions. I was impressed with this wine too, loving its bright and fruity nose. It was crisp and dry, elegant and complex, with plenty of red fruit flavors, enhanced with some mineral notes. It has a lengthy, satisfying finish and it plain delicious, one of those wines that you finish and immediately ask for another glass (or bottle). Highly recommended.

So why aren't you drinking Franciacortia?

Monday, November 16, 2015

No Rant: Only Llamas

The last few days have seen some terrible tragedies and atrocities, from Paris to Beirut, where so many innocents have been murdered. So, today isn't appropriate for a Rant. Today, you'll find only Llama photos, which I hope will bring a little bit of joy into your life.

(These llama pics were all taken at the Alma Negra Winery in Argentina.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Bourbon Curious: Breaking Bourbon Myths & Misconceptions

"Bourbon transcends ingredients and brand names. It embodies a culture, a feeling, and a sense of unity that draws friends together and brings foes to peace."
--Fred Minnick

Are you a bourbon fan? Bourbon is a type of whiskey and it's a specifically American spirit. In 1964, Congress passed a resolution, stating bourbon was a "distinctive product of the U.S." granting the term legal protection. Other countries can make their own corn-based whiskey, but they may not label it as bourbon. It also is a popular sand lucrative spirit, with Kentucky-made bourbon actually consisting of about 35% of the value of all distilled spirits produced in the U.S.  In addition, it is the largest category of exported U.S. distilled spirits, accounting for 29% of such exports.

Most importantly, Bourbon is delicious, a diverse and versatile spirit. Drink it on its own, in a cocktail or use it while cooking.

Learning more about this intriguing whiskey can be helpful and you might want to check out a compelling new book, Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker by Fred Minnick (Zenith Press, August 2015). The book is available as a 240-page hardcover ($22.99) or an e-book (currently $2.99 during the month of November).  Fred is a whiskey writer who lives in Kentucky and has penned three prior books, including Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey. His whiskey articles have been published in a variety of magazines, including Scientific American, Whisky Advocate and Whisky Magazine. In addition, he is the "Bourbon Authority" for the Kentucky Derby Museum and participates as a judge in numerous spirits competitions. Fred is also a personal friend and he certainly knows his bourbon.

Bourbon is a lot less about what’s inside the bottle and a lot more about what you tell people.
--Tom Bulleit

The basic idea behind this book is to dispel the myths and misconceptions about bourbon and provide accurate information about bourbon, its producers, and bottlings. The audience for this book includes everyone either curious about bourbon or who already enjoys it and consider themselves  fairly knowledgeable about the subject. There is lots of info in this book and you might find yourself turning to it often as a reference too, especially when you want to know about the specifics behind a bourbon you are drinking.

The book is broken down into three sections and Part 1 is History, Legends & Contemporary Truths. This part is divided into an Introduction and a chapter Bourbon Politics. The Introduction provides the basics of bourbon, helping to correct some misconceptions people possess, from the aging requirements of bourbon to where bourbon may be produced. It is a good introduction to bourbon, providing a nice foundation of knowledge.

"The labels, stories, and even books about bourbon are greatly influenced by the publicists and marketers who represent the brands."
--Fred Minnick

In Bourbon Politics, Fred delves into the myths and legends that have been perpetuated about bourbon, often by marketers who believe that a good story will sell alcohol, but who also know that the story doesn't have to be true. Fred breaks down these myths, providing plenty of history, noting the difference between facts and fiction. He also does not fear to tread down the darker halls of bourbon history, including its roles with whiskey traders & Native Americans and its connection to slavery and cockfighting. This is a fascinating chapter where you will likely learn plenty about bourbon's true history.

It also strikes at the heart of all alcohol, from wine to beer, rum to tequila. Marketers and publicists for all of these beverages often promote stories which may not be actually true. They understand the romance and appeal of a good story, which is intended to draw in consumers. For example, in the Champagne industry, there is the story of Dom Perignon, the alleged inventor of Champagne, who allegedly said, "Come quickly, I am drinking the stars." Yet he never said that sentence and much of his life is enveloped in other myths. However, it makes for a good story so continues to be perpetuated.

Within this chapter, Fred states: "Unlike wine, for which grape percentages are disclosed and terroir implied through the industry’s Area of Control designations, bourbon uses its label space for backstories and falsehoods." He then continues, "What you don’t see are mashbills, char levels, grain origins, true water sources, distillation techniques, entry proof into the barrel, or other production information." Just take a look at the label on a bottle of bourbon and you will see that little information, if any, is provided on the ingredients and production methods. Even checking producer websites might not garner much of that information.

In Part 2, Sources Of Flavor, there are two chapters, including Pre-fermentation and Yeast, Distillation & Wood. This part gets more geeky, into some of the science behind the ingredients and production of bourbon. The tole of corn is examined with a lengthy section of the role of GMO corn. Fred includes his own unscientific tasting test comparing bourbons made from non-GMO corn and GMO corn. He concluded that non-GMO corn bourbon tends to be more complex and taste better. However, with 90% of US corn being GMO, non-GMO bourbon is getting rarer.

Though corn is the dominant ingredient in bourbon, Fred states: "But, in the end, corn matters a lot less than the secondary grains— rye or wheat— which distillers frequently call the flavor grains." He then discusses the roles of rye and wheat, which often seems to be overlooked by many when thinking about bourbon. This Part ends with information on the importance of yeast, the role of copper in stills and the effects of barrel aging. Though some of this information is slightly more technical, it too is fascinating, giving you a better understanding of the diverse factors that combine to produce a bottle of bourbon.

The final Part, Tasting, is broken down into 6 chapters, including How To Taste and 5 other chapters that divide Bourbon into flavor profiles like Nutmeg-Forward and Caramel-Forward.  The How To Taste chapter provides simple suggestions and recommendation on how to taste bourbon, including what to look for and a number of potential aromas/flavors.

The five flavor-profile chapters are a reference source you will want to return to again and again. Within each chapter, Fred lists specific bourbons and provides the technical details about them which are lacking on the labels and producer websites. You learn info such as the mashbill, source of the grains, distillation process, barrel aging, filtering method and tasting notes. All of this information will help you find bourbons which fit your tasting preferences, as well as entice you to try other bourbon styles. This is valuable info which you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere in a single resource. In addition, you'll find several bourbon cocktail recipes within these chapters, like the Bourbon Punch.

The book ends with an Appendix giving Brand Histories, helping to provide the facts behind the myths and stories that marketers have disseminated.

Overall, this is an excellent addition to the small number of bourbon books that are available. It provides far more than just a basic introduction to bourbon, delving much deeper into its history, production and producers. It is very much an insider's book, written by someone who has spent years delving into this special whiskey. Fred has an easy writing style, even when he details some of the geekiest aspects of bourbon. I highly recommend you pick up this book and November is an excellent time to get the e-book at a special low price. It would also make an excellent holiday gift for the bourbon lover on your list.

I think I need to pour myself a glass of bourbon right now, maybe some Four Roses.

"We are living in perhaps the most exciting time in bourbon history, both from a business perspective and because of the wealth of consumer options."
--Fred Minnick

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles: Thanksgiving Edition

I am back again with a special Thanksgiving edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. Today, you'll find some restaurant options for Thanksgiving if you just don't feel like cooking this year.
1) Celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones at Davio's Boston. On Thursday, November 26, from 12pm-8pm, guests are invited to enjoy a special Thanksgiving Day menu prepared by Executive Chef Eric Swartz. Guests will enjoy items such as Oven-Roasted Vermont Free-Range Organic Turkey, Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes, Creamy Cipollini Onions with Fresh Peas, Challah Bread Herb Stuffing. We all know Thanksgiving isn’t complete without an All-American dessert. This year’s options include Homemade Apple Pie, Vanilla Ice Cream and Pumpkin Pie, Whipped Crème Fraîche.

The Davio's Thanksgiving dinner menu is $59 per adult and $15 per child (12 years & under). Full dinner menu also available. Special Holiday Desserts are available for $10 each. Tax and gratuity are not included.
Reservations are necessary for this event and can be made by calling 617.357.4810.

2) Legal Crossing will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 26, from 12pm-8pm, by dishing out a three-plus-course feast. As the amuse course, guests will slurp the Curried Carrot & Apple Bisque (toasted pepitas and cranberry orange mostarda). There are four options for the first course: Crab Cake (asparagus, pancetta, mustard hollandaise); Lacquered Pork Ribs (pickled vegetables); LX Caesar Salad (baby kale, romaine, yogurt dressing, white anchovy); or, New England Clam Chowder (oyster crackers).

Moving on, guests will have their choice of five entrees: Sage Roasted Turkey Dinner (Anadama stuffed delicata, parsley puréed potato, pan gravy); Hoisin Glazed Salmon (pad Thai noodles, seared vegetables, crushed peanuts); Citrus Grey Sole (lemons, capers, butter, croutons, spinach, brown rice); Roasted Cod (butternut squash gnocchi, butternut cream, Swiss chard; pictured below, left); or, Grilled Swordfish Steak (pan roasted vegetables, herb oil). Three desserts will be offered, including: Pumpkin Creme Brûlée; Pistachio Cake (marinated citrus, raspberry purée, pistachio granola); or, Adult Profiteroles I.D. Required (Eagle Rare bourbon ice cream, Valrhona chocolate sauce; must be 21 or older - contains alcohol).

The Cost is $55 per person.. Please make reservations by calling 617-692-8888.

3) Legal Harborside will serve a customizable three-course prix fixe Thanksgiving meal on their second level overlooking Boston Harbor. For the first course, guests will have their choice of “Treasures of the Sea” (oysters, jumbo shrimp cocktail, snow crab, housemade accoutrements), Local Squash Soup (smoked maple, delicata crisps, candied honeycrisp apple), Pear Salad (local greens, Brussels sprouts, Berkshire blue cheese, sherry vinaigrette) and Lobster Soup (Oloroso sherry, puff pastry; pictured below, left). For entrees, the options are Roasted Creekstone Sirloin (celery root puree, king oyster mushroom, roasted vegetable medley, horseradish gremolata), Sunburst Trout (spaghetti squash, pomegranate, pistachio, curry squash emulsion), Atlantic Cod (smoked mussel chowder, cockles, Applewood bacon, local apple; pictured below, right), Misty Knoll Farms Turkey (housemade cornbread and sage sausage stuffing, cranberry relish, roasted root vegetables) and North Atlantic Lobster (potato gnocchi, chanterelles, truffle, fine herbs). For desserts, choices include Pumpkin Trio (pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin ice cream profiterole with chocolate sauce), Warm Apple Galette (cinnamon stick ice cream), and Warm Chocolate Bundt Cake (mint chocolate chunk ice cream).

The Cost is $65 per person.. Please make reservations by calling 617-477-2900

4) This Thanksgiving, Scampo chef and owner, Lydia Shire, will dish out a delightful family-style prix fixe menu. Available in addition to a la carte specialties, Scampo’s Thanksgiving feast is filled with the tastes of traditional holiday home cooking. To start, there is Baby Mustard Greens with Cabrales cheese, pomegranate seeds and candied pecans. For the second course, guests will have their choice of four options: Best Oysters on Ice, Tuna Tartare & Fluke Ceviche with Satsuma Tangerine, served with brown bread and butter; Maine’s Gil Feather Turnip Soup with grated pear & white truffle gnocchi; Brown Butter Crab Cakes; or, Puffed Vol au Vent of Lobster Savannah with autumn’s chanterelle mushrooms. Main courses include the Roast Heritage Turkey with Muscat gravy and Anadama bread & fig stuffing with celery heart and sausage; Long Bone Lamb Rack & Manti, lamb filled packets with coal roasted eggplant served with sumac & tomato yogurt butter; and, Broiled White Miso Chilean Sea Bass with shaved white turnip and purple yam (pictured below). Sides are served family-style at the table: Deluxe Mashed Potatoes; Maple Glazed Yams; Blistered Green Beans with quince & marcona almonds; Roasted Cipollini Onions with robiola crema; and, Edmund’s Cranberry Sauce. For dessert, choose between the Two-Layer Pumpkin Chiffon Tart or Sticky Toffee Pudding.

The Cost is $62 per adult; $25 per child 12. Please make reservations by calling 617-536-2100

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) North End restaurateur and chef, Anthony Caturano of Prezza, has announced he'll open a restaurant this spring in Gloucester: Tonno, Italian for “tuna.” Tonno is slated to open in May and will be housed in the former Blackburn Tavern space. Blending together Caturano’s favorite culinary styles, Tonno will feature coastal Italian seafood and a raw bar.

The 4,000 square foot venue will undergo a full renovation over the winter and the new space will be outfitted with a dining room, a lounge complete with a fireplace, a cocktail bar, a raw bar and a private events room. Seating 99 people, Tonno will have partial ocean views and will be open year-round.

Chef Caturano will design a culinary program that is rooted in coastal Italian seafood classics with specials that reflect the New England waters daily catches. Guests can expect to see items like roasted cod oreganata, coppino, octopus salad and roasted whole branzino. At the oyster bar, hyper-local varieties will be shucked and served with an array of accompaniments.

The beverage program will consist of classic Italian cocktails and a selection of craft beers. From the vine, there will be a curated list of about 150 wines that are mainly focused on Italian varietals, with some additions from Spain and California.

Tonno will open at Two Main Street in Gloucester in the spring of 2016. Tonno will be open for dinner service nightly. Stay updated on the latest developments by following Tonno on Facebook.

As Prezza has long been one of my favorite Italian restaurants, I eagerly look forward to the opening of Tonno. Chef Caturano is an avid fishermen and I expect this new seafood restaurant will be a great addition to Gloucester.

2) When your child is sick, it’s hard to keep up a normal daily routine, and even harder doing so during the holiday season. This is something that Paul Turano, executive chef/owner of Tryst located in Arlington and Cook in Newton, knows all too well, having spent time with his son at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant Units during past holidays. Both Turano’s children have Severe Combined Immune Deficiency Syndrome (SCIDS), and when his son was just two months old he had a bone marrow transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital that saved his life.

This holiday season, Turano is once again giving back to the hospital that was there for his family by holding a holiday fundraiser for the Patient and Family Resource Room, a program that helps provide services to families whose children are being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital Oncology and Hematology Center.

In cooperation with Boston Children’s Hospital, Turano has set up a branded donation page online and will be encouraging holiday donations for the family resource program from December 1 through December 31. To donate, guests can visit the donation page online on either one of the restaurant’s webpages. In exchange for donating, Turano will give donors a gift certificate to Cook or Tryst (for up to $20) with proof of donation.

“I can’t emphasize how much The One Mission Resource Room helped my family and I when we were going through this difficult time. It’s because of their team and services that we were able to maintain a sense of normalcy and routine, and I want to be able to give that back to other families that are going through it,” said Chef Turano.

Funded through donations from area businesses and families, The One Mission Resource Room is staffed by a patient and family educator who can help patients and families learn about their medical treatment. Receiving treatment for cancer and other serious disorders can keep families in the hospital for weeks and months on end, a process that takes a toll on their emotions. The One Mission Resource Room ensures that families who pass through the Hematology, Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplant, Neuro-oncology and Intensive Care units have the help they need at what is probably the most difficult time in their lives. It also offers a space for patients and families to relax and connect with others going through a similar experience. Whether the donated money be used for a morning coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts, or towards purchasing a generic American Express donation that can be used towards gas, or parking (daily routines that are often overlooked), each donation will help parents regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. With the extra help of these funds, Chef Turano will be putting the holidays back in the hands of these families.

HOW: Donate on
After donation, present your receipt at Cook or Tryst to receive your gift certificate (of equal value, up to a $20 value).
ADDITIONAL: Limited to one gift certificate per person. Gift certificates cannot be combined with any other offer, and certificates to Cook cannot be used at Tryst. Non-transferable. To receive gift certificate diners must visit Cook or Tryst. Cannot be done online or via mail.

3) On Monday, December 7, at 6:30pm, Terramia Ristorante, located on Salem Street in the heart of Boston’s North End, is celebrating the long standing history of Tenute Folonari wines with a five-course wine dinner. The Folonari family has worked in the Italian wine sector since the end of the eighteenth century and they were at the forefront of creating the “new frontier” of the Italian wine. At the end of the 1960s the family began devoting themselves strictly to estate-bottled wines and started acquiring some of Tuscany’s finest estates including Nozzole in the heart of the Chianti Classico and Cabreothat Ambrogio.

At this exclusive Tenute Folonari dinner, guests will feel as if they are in the rolling vineyards of Italy once they sample Terramia’s talented chef, Luiz Prata’s hand-crafted five course menu perfectly paired with the Tenute Folonari’s wines. The meal will start with a wild mushroom and chestnut soup with white truffle oil and goat cheese matched with a 2013 “Campo al Mare” Vermentino. The second course follows with polpette con polenta, oven baked meatballs with a creamy Fontina cheese polenta and San Marzano tomato sauce topped with parmigiano cheese alongside the 2012 “Nozzole” Chianti Classico Riserva. As the night continues, guests are treated to the bolognese, featuring pappardelle pasta with traditional ground veal, beef and a pork meat tomato ragù paired with the 2012 “TorCalvano” Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The fourth course includes the bistecca, a prime filet mignon complete with truffle potato mash, sautéed baby spinach, dolce gorgonzola and red wine reduction complimented by a 2013 “Campo al Mare” Bolgheri. The evening will finish on a savory note, with piatto di formaggi Italiani, Chef’s selection of Italian cheeses and dry fruits, which is enjoyed with a 2010 “La Fuga” Brunello di Montalcino.

The dinner is $70 per person (+tax and gratuity).
Reservations are required and can be made by calling Terramia at 617-523-3112.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Boston Wine Expo: A Preview of 2016

The Boston Wine Expo will be toasting its 25th Anniversary next President’s Day weekend, February 13 & 14, 2016, at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center.  Presented by the Boston Guild of Oenophilists, the Expo will be even larger this year with a number of special features to celebrate this milestone.

Last week, I attended a media preview of the Expo, which including a wine tasting with over 30 wines from all over the world. There was also some food provided, from salami to risotto. For dessert, McCrea's Candies provided samples of their delicious caramels. Back in 2012, I first tasted their caramels and they were one of my top three finds at a dessert showcase. Since then, I've seen them each year at the Boston Wine Expo and last year, one of their new flavors, their Highland Single Malt Scotch Caramel, was excellent. At the 2016 Expo, I highly recommend you stop at their table to sample their caramels.

Of the wines I tasted at the preview event, I wanted to present my Top Three Favorites.  I highly recommend you seek out these wines at the Boston Wine Expo, as well as seek them out at your local wine shop. You won't be disappointed.

Humboldt Imports
The NV Rossinyol de Moragas Extra Brut Cava (about $15) is produced by Fermi Bohigas, a which has been involved in working the vineyards for over 800 years. This Spanish sparkling wine  is produced from a blend of traditional Cava grapes, Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada and it is made by the Champenoise method. It is organic and low production, and at this price is an excellent value. With a nice golden color and plenty of tiny bubbles, this is a dry, crisp and delicious Cava. There are tasty flavors of apple and pear, with a tiny hint of toast. It was nice paired with a creamy risotto, its acidity cutting well through the creaminess. With the holidays approaching, this would be a great choice for inexpensive bubbly.

90+ Cellars
I've long been a fan of the wines from 90+ Cellars and they recently have been creating some new labels to showcase different types of wines, especially wines that showcase terroir, which possess a sense of place.

From their Magic Door Vineyards label, they recently released the NV La Clé de la Femme Champagne (about $35), a blend of 80% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. This is a more unusual blend as Pinot Meunier rarely headlines a Champagne, most often being a minor player in a blend. The vineyard is located in the Marne Valley, and the wine undergoes malolactic fermentation as well as spends at least 20 months on the lees. You'll love the flavors of green apple, red berries, and underlying spice and nutty notes within this bubbly.It is dry and crisp, an easy drinking Champagne with plenty of character for the price. This Champagne can easily compete with many House Champagnes that cost $50 or more. For the holidays, if you desire Champagne, this is an excellent value choice.

From their Earthshaker Wines label, they also have recently released the 2012 L'Amis Barbaresco (about $25), which is produced from 100% Nebbiolo. The wine is aged for 16-24 months in large Slovenian oak barrels. With a light red color, it has an appealing nose of red fruits with a hint of spice. On the palate, there are pleasing flavors of bright cherry with some black fruit notes, some floral elements and underlying spice. It is elegant with mild tannins that make it very approachable now without the need for cellaring, though it should age well too. In addition, it would make an excellent food wine, with dishes from pizza to pasta.

At the 2016 Boston Wine Expo, there will be the usual Grand Tasting, which will feature over 200 producers and about 1800 wines. As always, there will also be numerous other vendors, many food-related, which offer samples of their products. You can check this site for a list of the participating exhibitors. You will even have the opportunity to purchase wines through the Drync app which will be delivered to your home. There will be Chef Demonstrations on both days, with appearances by chefs including Ming Tsai,  Barbara Lynch, Chris Coombs, Louis DiBicarri, and Rachel Klein.

Debuting this year will be a special W?NE Bar,  where you can stop and ask members of the Boston Sommelier Society your wine-related questions as well as get a retrospective of the industry’s past 25 years and what to expect in the next 25 years.

Prices for Grand Tasting:
--Early Bird Tickets (through November 29): Saturday: $89 per person; Sunday: $79 per person
--Advance Tickets (November 30 – February 14): Saturday: $99 per person; Sunday: $89 per person

The Vintners’ Reserve Lounge is also returning, a place to taste special vintages, as well as unique d small production wines. Located in the Seaport Hotel’s Plaza Ballroom, the Vintners’ Reserve Lounge gives guests a chance to taste special wines that commonly retail for $75 and up per bottle, while enjoying tastings from the city’s finest restaurants. New this year, you can indulge your sweet tooth at the 25th anniversary Dessert Bar featuring treats designed to pair with the Vintners’ Reserve Lounge’s wines.

Prices for Vintners’ Reserve Lounge:
--Early Bird Tickets (through November 29): $185 per session
--Advance Tickets (November 30 – February 14): $200 per session
*Tickets also gran you access to the Grand Tasting.,

This year, there will be about 40 different Seminars which you can attend, educational programs for both consumers and those in the trade featuring top winemakers and industry experts. You can learn about Champagne and Chianti Classico, Rioja and Burgundy. A few Seminars which sound especially appealing to me include: Buffalo Trace's Singular Bourbons (where you'll get to taste 20 & 23 year old Pappy Van Winkle); Sherry for Billionaires and Historians (a chance to taste some very old Sherries); and Decadent & Delicious: Sweet Wines of the World.

Prices for Seminars:
--Prices range from $25-$225 by seminar

As always, the Boston Wine Expo contributes money to a local charity & in 2016, the major charitable benefactor will be the Tufts Medical Center’s Summer Camp Program for Children with Disabilities. To date, the Boston Guild of Oenophilists has raised over $1.4 million for worthy causes.

If you want to attend the Boston Wine Expo, now is the time to buy your tickets to pay the lowest price. In addition, some of the Seminars will sell out so it is better to get your tickets now if you are really interested in attending one of the seminar events.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Rant: Choosing Holiday Wines (Part 2)

The holidays near and the question on everyone's mind is, What wines should I buy? Last week, I offered some initial advice on choosing holiday wines: First, stop being a cheapskate! And I;m back, to provide more suggestions and advice, to help you select wines for the holidays, for your dinners and parties, as well as for special gifts.

Second, stop buying that same old fruitcake!

Most of the wine articles you'll read right now offer very similar advice, recommending the same types of wines again and again. For example, you'll see many suggestions for Pinot Noir and Riesling for Thanksgiving, the same wines that have been recommended by these articles year after year. You might have served them at Thanksgiving last year (and previous years) but can any of your dinner guests actually remember which wine was served? Doubtful.

Because they are so ordinary, they usually become very forgettable. They are the "same old fruitcakes" the same old traditional wines that everyone serves and think little about. Wouldn't you rather ditch those trite old fruitcakes and serve wines that are more memorable? There is nothing wrong with these fruitcake wines, They can be tasty and fitting for your meal, but why just stick to such wines? You can do more and make your dinner or party even more exciting.

A Thanksgiving meal is diverse, with many different flavors, from savory to sweet, and many different textures. No single wine is a perfect pairing with all these different dishes. And you can serve whatever wines you want. There are no rules. As such, you have an opportunity to serve a diverse selection of wines, to serve wines that will surprise and please your guests. For example,I've recommended serving Sherry or Sake for Thanksgiving.

This same idea applies to when you are buying wine as gifts for family, friends, and others. Don't you want to give something memorable to the recipient? It is easy to give someone a bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. They are probably the same type of wines the recipient might buy on their own. Instead, why not splurge and buy something different, something the recipient might not buy on their own but which they would enjoy. Stop sending "fruitcakes" and go for something more exciting.

You have plenty of options for more exciting gift wines. Pick something local, such as a Massachusetts wine, or something from another New England state, or even from nearby New York. Or find wines from either Mexico or Canada, our neighbors who are making some delicious and reasonably priced wines. Find wines with less common grapes such as Mencia, Assyrtiko, Petit Verdot, Grillo, Zweigelt, and Touriga Franca. Choose some different sparkling wines such as Franciacorta or Cremant d'Alsace. There are so many options available that it is easy to opt for something besides the same old fruitcakes.

All I want is for people to be more open in their holiday wine choices. Don't be lazy and choose the same old wines when there is an abundance of excellent choices out there. There are so many thousands of different wines available so why limit yourself to a mere handful? The holidays are a time many people splurge so splurge on diversity.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Thursday Sips & Nibbles: Thanksgiving Edition

I am back again with a special Thanksgiving edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food & drink events. Today, you'll find some restaurant options for Thanksgiving if you just don't feel like cooking this year.
1) Legal Crossing will celebrate Thanksgiving with a decadent three-plus-course customizable menu featuring the best from land and sea. The menu will be presented as follows

Curried Carrot & Apple Bisque (toasted pepitas and cranberry orange mostarda)
-choice of-
Crab Cake (asparagus, pancetta, mustard hollandaise)
Lacquered Pork Ribs (pickled vegetables)
LX Caesar Salad (baby kale, romaine, yogurt dressing, white anchovy)
New England Clam Chowder (oyster crackers)
-choice of-
Sage Roasted Turkey Dinner (Anadama stuffed delicata, parsley puréed potato, pan gravy)
Hoisin Glazed Salmon (pad Thai noodles, seared vegetables, crushed peanuts)
Citrus Grey Sole (lemons, capers, butter, croutons, spinach, brown rice)
Roasted Cod (butternut squash gnocchi, butternut cream, Swiss chard)
Grilled Swordfish Steak (pan roasted vegetables, herb oil)
-choice of-
Pumpkin Creme Brûlée
Pistachio Cake (marinated citrus, raspberry purée, pistachio granola)
Adult Profiteroles (Eagle Rare Bourbon ice cream, Valrhona chocolate sauce; (must be 21 or older - contains alcohol)
Freshly Shucked Oysters (market price)
Freshly Shucked Clams - Littlenecks or Cherrystones ($11 half dozen; $19 dozen)
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail ($5.50 each)
Confit Turkey Wing (herbed lemon yogurt sauce)($8)
Premium Family Style Sides ($6)
Mashed Potato
Anadama Dressing
Sweet Potato Casserole
Horicot Verte Casserole

WHEN: Thursday, November 26, from 12pm – 8pm
COST: Three-course prix fixe: $55 per person
Reservations can be made by contacting 617-477-2900

2) This Thanksgiving, treat your nearest and dearest to a hearty and festive three-course, prix-fixe Thanksgiving Day feast at Bar Boulud, Boston. Served in lieu of the restaurant’s à la carte menu, Bar Boulud’s offerings are the answer to every home cook’s prayers, as Chef Kilroy and his talented culinary team have created an assortment of festive dishes boasting classic comfort food flavors, all served with a French-inspired twist. Comprised of local, seasonal ingredients like earthy roasted fall squash, briny Pemaquid oysters, succulent Gloucester lobster, and tender heritage breed turkey, Bar Boulud’s tempting holiday helpings are the perfect way to celebrate the year’s most heartwarming day.

To complement Bar Boulud’s satisfying selection of Thanksgiving-themed starters, entrées and sides, Pastry Chef Robert Differ will serve a selection of homemade sweet treats, including Pumpkin Pie with gingersnap ice cream and brown butter sable; Pecan Pie with brandy Chantilly and Illanka chocolate sauce; and Warm Cranberry-Apple Crisp topped with Tahitian vanilla ice cream.

Served from noon to 8PM, Bar Boulud’s Thanksgiving Day menu will be served as follows:

Tuscan Kale Salad (roasted fall squash, cranberries, pine nuts, Pecorino Romano)
Ward’s Berry Farm Squash Soup (spiced Chantilly, confit of local cranberries)
Poached Gloucester Lobster (Belgian endive, grapefruit, pistachios)
Wild Pemaquid Oysters (Champagne mignonette)
Pâté en Croûte De Chevreuil (venison, chestnuts, local cranberries)
Main Courses
House-made Pumpkin Cavatelli (kale, black trumpet mushrooms, chestnuts, Pecorino Romano)
Arctic Char (cauliflower, lemon, capers, Marcona almonds, brown butter)
Beef Wellington (truffle pomme purée, turnips, Swiss chard, sauce bordelaise)
Heritage Breed Turkey (roasted breast and leg, chestnut sage stuffing, sweet potato confit, roasted Brussels sprouts, local cranberry compote, rosemary turkey jus
Additional Course
(Market Price)
Acquerello Risotto (white alba truffle, Parmigiano Reggiano, mascarpone)
($10 each)
Brussels Sprouts (honey crisp apples, chestnuts)
Roasted Winter Root Vegetables (carrots, parsnips, salsify, celeriac, turnips)
Potato Purée (reblochon cheese, bacon lardon)
Traditional Sage Stuffing (sourdough bread, chestnuts)

COST: $85 per person; Additional $59 for optional wine pairings
To make a reservation, please call 617-535-8800

3) This Thanksgiving, November 26, Boston’s South End hot spot, The Beehive, hosts its annual Thanksgiving Day feast, with a traditional prix fixe, three course menu. From 11am-10pm, Chef Gregory Torrech delivers a holiday meal complimented with live jazz performances all day long. Guests can also toast the holiday in style with a glass of champagne or champagne cocktails featuring Domaine Chandon or tequila cocktails featuring Milagro.

The Beehive has also created a Thanksgiving Leftover menu for the late night munchies from 10PM – 12AM featuring a collaboration of Torrech’s signature dishes along with traditional favorites.

First Course
Wild Mushroom Soup with Roasted Parsnip Croutons (gf)
Lobster Chowder with Bacon, Potatoes (gf)
Roasted Squash Salad with Warm Apple Cider Vinaigrette, Walnuts, Grated Parmesan Cheese
Crab Croquettes with Dijon Mustard, Pickled Onions
Foie Gras au Torchon * (+$6) with Sauternes Gelée, Brioche
Simple Salad with Red Vinaigrette (gf / veg)
Second Course
Roast Organic Turkey (Caramelized onion & Apple Stuffing, Country Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Herbed Gravy)
New York Strip Roast* (Country Mashed Potato, Glazed Baby Carrots, Roasted Shallot Jus)
Maine Halibut (French Lentils, Roasted Tomatoes, Toasted Breadcrumbs, Salsa Verde)
Wild Alaskan Salmon (Brussels sprouts, Mashed Potatoes, Black Truffle Vinaigrette (gf))
Colorado Rack of Lamb * (+$10) Country Mashed Potatoes, Brussels sprouts, Mustard Jus (gf)
Roasted Cauliflower and Spinach Lasagna (veg)
Vegetarian Thanksgiving (veg / vegan) with Caramelized onion & Apple Stuffing, Country Mashed Potatoes, Glazed Baby Carrots, Green Bean Casserole, Fresh Cranberry Sauce, Herbed Gravy
(gf) Gluten Friendly (veg) Vegetarian
Third Course
Homemade Apple Pie
Homemade Pumpkin Pie
Flourless Chocolate Pie (gf)

Kids (Under 10 year old)
Kid's Turkey Dinner 20
Pasta with Butter & Parmesan 12
Crispy Chicken Dinosaurs with Fries 12

*Please Note: Menu Subject to change

Thanksgiving Leftovers, from 9PM to 11 PM
Lobster Chowder (Bacon, potatoes)
Roasted Squash Salad (Warm apple cider vinaigrette, Walnuts, Grated Parmesan Cheese)
Crab Croquettes (Dijon Mustard, Pickled Onions)
Foie Gras au Torchon (Sauternes Gelée, Brioche)
Simple Salad (Red Vinaigrette)
Turkey Melt (Caramelized Onions, Herbed gravy)
New York Strip Roast (Country Mashed Potato, Glazed Baby Carrots, Roasted Shallot Jus)
Roasted Cauliflower and Spinach Lasagna
The Beehive Prime Burger, Frites, & Slaw

COST: $55 prix fixe menu (3 Course Menu)
Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made by calling 617-423-0069

4) Leave the cooking to someone else this Thanksgiving and head to Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro on Thursday, November 26, from 1pm-10pm. Experience the charm and comfort of one of Boston’s best restaurants as Beacon Hill Bistro prepares a multi-course holiday feast.


Butternut Squash Soup, Maple Gastrique, Shaved Chestnuts,
Roasted Beet Salad, Hazelnuts, Mixed Greens, Ver Jus Vinaigrette
Pork Paté, Fine Herbs, Potato, Watercress, Sourdough, Mustard Dressing
Smoked Duck Breast, Frisée, Haricots Verts, Almonds, Bacon Vinaigrette
Braised Lamb, Polenta, Piperade, Braising Jus
Free Range Turkey Breast, Potato Purée, Cranberry, Confit Leg Stuffing, Gravy
Roasted Pork Loin, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Caramelized Apples, Bacon, Chestnut Purée
Pan Seared Salmon, Farro, Braised Endive, Brown Butter, Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Potato Gnocchi, Roasted Root Vegetables, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Sage, Parmesan
Red Wine Braised Beef Short Rib, Cranberry Beans, Swiss Chard, Roasted Carrots
Pumpkin Cheese Cake, Cinnamon Anglaise, Gingersnap Cookie
Pecan Tart, Caramel Ice Cream
Apple Croustade, Caramel Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream
Grafton Aged Cheddar, Pear Butter, Raisin Bread

Cost: $63 per Person with Optional Wine Pairing for an Additional $32
Please Note: Menu Subject to Change
Reservations are highly recommended and can be made by calling 617-723-7575.

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) WuBurger, which opened two months ago, has made a few changes based on consumer feedback. It is one of my favorite new burger joints so I'm glad to see they are doing well and adding items to their menu.

They now offer two salads, including:
WU Salad - Crisp Romaine, Blue Cheese, Applewood Bacon, Roma Tomatoes, Crispy Fried Onions and a House-Made WU Vinaigrette
Caesar Salad - Crisp Romaine, Shaved Parmesan, House-Made Ciabatta Croutons, House-Made Caesar Dressing

In addition, they now serve their Chili as a soup , with Ciabatta bread, and have changed from Nathan hotdogs to Pearl hot dogs. I had their Chili the other day and it was delicious, and I will note that it is a meat chili without any beans (my preferred type of chili).

2) Tonight, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will host an exclusive champagne dinner with Krug, the famed brand founded by Joseph Krug in 1843. Legal Harborside will team up with Krug’s US Brand Ambassador, Nicole Burke, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with choices from their Champagne House. Legal Harborside has just released ten exclusive spots for reservations at this exquisite dinner featuring bubbly from the “world's best-rated House of Champagne.”

The menu will be presented as follows:

Potato Gnocchi (paddlefish caviar, soubise sauce, crispy leeks)
Krug Vintage Brut, 2003
Organic King Salmon (juniper, beet emulsion, cucumber)
Krug Vintage Brut, 2000
North Atlantic Lobster (puff pastry, sauce Américaine, fines herbes)
Krug Grand Cuvée
Ginger Verjus Sorbet
Torched Lille’ Coulommiers (almond tartlet, pear)
Krug Rose Brut

COST: $245 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Australian Lamb: Butchery, Cooking & Enjoying

I'm posing with "Loretta," the Australian lamb who was the centerpiece of a butchery demo I recently attended at the Liquid Art House. Such an appealing lady.

I've always been a lover of lamb and have previously ranted about Why Do So Few Americans Eat Lamb? The average American eats less than one pound of lamb a year, down from 4.5 pounds in the early 1960s. Lamb consumption is on the decline and we need to turn it around, to get more Americans consuming this delicious meat. I think that much of the issue revolves around misconceptions about lamb, primarily that people think it is too gamey and also feel it is too difficult to cook. At a Lamb Butchery Demo & Luncheon held at the Liquid Art House and sponsored by True Aussie Lamb, both of these misconceptions were satisfactorily destroyed.

When I first got to the Liquid Art House, I noticed the plastic sheet on the floor, almost thinking I was in an episode of the Sopranos and someone was about to get whacked.  Fortunately, it was just the lamb, which had already been whacked.

Our afternoon began with a butchery demo by Master Butcher Doug Piper of Meat & Livestock Australia. For the last 38 years, Doug has been involved in the butcher trade so he possesses a wealth of knowledge and experience. At age 15, Doug wanted to be a carpenter however there were no jobs available in that field. He had an uncle who was a butcher and Doug then decided to opt for a butcher apprenticeship, and he has never looked back. Doug is also a personable man, down to earth and with a good sense of humor..

Australian lamb, which is mostly grass fed, is lean and low in cholesterol, possessing plenty of vitamins, iron and Omega-3s. Australia has a high standard for animal welfare, so there are few concerns about inhumanely raised meat. Their lamb is vacuum packed for transport to the U.S. and the actual environmental impact of transporting the lamb is minimal. Australian lamb generally has a milder flavor than most U.S. raised lamb, and thus lacks the gaminess which turns off some people. Not all lamb tastes the same and if you worry about a gamey taste, then you should try Australian lamb. The first misconception has been corrected, though there will be more evidence later.

Here is a short video of the initial butchery demo. Throughout the demo, Doug showed his skill, quickly cutting apart the entire lamb, showing the amount of meat that can be derived from a single lamb.

At the end of the demo, there were six plates full of various cuts of lamb, from shanks to chops. Such a thing of beauty. As he placed each cut on a plate, he discussed methods of cooking each cut.

Though some people think Lamb is difficult to cook, it really isn't. In many respects, it can be treated like beef, and prepared in a myriad of ways. The True Aussie Lamb site has plenty of Lamb Recipes as well as an abundance of basic advice and suggestions for Cooking Lamb.  If you can prepare a beef roast or a pork chop, you can prepare lamb. Get over your fear of cooking lamb and realize that it isn't any more difficult than any other meat. The second misconception has been corrected too!

After the butchery demo, we enjoyed a delicious four-course lamb lunch prepared by Chef Rachel Klein and her team. Every single one of these dishes featured lamb which possessed a mild taste, without any off-putting gamey flavors. The courses also showcased several different ways that lamb can be prepared. Our lunch helped show that not all lamb is gamey.

We began with an Australian Lamb Shoulder Taco, with mint relish and ricotta salata. The lamb had been braised for about 32 hours at 200 degrees, which led to extremely tender lamb inside a corn tortilla. The lamb's spices created quite a compelling taste, with a mild touch of mint, and some creaminess from the ricotta. I would have enjoyed devouring several of these for lunch, With a slow cooker, anyone at home could braise a lamb shoulder and make their own tacos at home.

The Spiced Australian Lamb Skewers, with raita, house made pita, and herbs, were like kofte, kind of a minced lamb kebab. It was tender and flavorful, once again possessed of a compelling blend of spices and herbs. This dish would appeal to many people, even those who claim they don't like lamb. And the pita bread was excellent!

The Boneless Eye of Australian Loin, with skordalia, forum vinegar, broccoli rabe, pickled strawberries, Korean chili & goat's milk feta, had been marinated over night and then flashed on the grill. The tender lamb was mild but flavorful, with a savory meatiness. A carnivore's treasure. The skordalia was creamy and tasty, a nice pairing for the lamb.

The Rack of Australian Lamb, with roasted grapes, green olive jam, potato puree, mint & parmesan, was also tender and mild, savory and delicious. No one could accuse this lamb of being too gamey for them. Instead, this is the type of lamb that changes people's minds, which converts them into a lamb lover. I simply wanted more lamb to come to the table, to continue the culinary journey that started with the tacos.

To end our lunch, we were presented a Milk Chocolate Caramel Mousse, with creme chantilly, dark cocoa sauce, and candied hazelnuts. I was hoping though they found a way to integrate lamb into the dessert, like candied lamb bacon. Despite that wish, the dessert was rich and smooth, creamy and bursting with chocolate.

Lamb, it should be what's for dinner (or lunch, or brunch).