Monday, February 29, 2016

The Manhattan Cocktail: Then & Now (Part 1)

The Manhattan is a noir cocktail. It has the hue (and taste) of faded red velvet, the cherry glowing like a jab of red neon in the glass. It’s a night-time drink for outsiders. The Manhattan is about maximizing flavor, where the richness of the spirit melds with the dense herbal sweetness of the vermouth and the exotic spike given by the bitters.”
--Whisky: The Manual by Dave Broom

The Manhattan: Whiskey, vermouth & bitters, garnished with a cherry.

While I'm at a restaurant or bar, I love a well-made Manhattan cocktail and enjoy them at home as well. It seems like a simple cocktail, a mixture of whiskey, vermouth and bitters, yet its creation is far more complex than many realize. What provides that complexity are the various permutations of the ingredients, the diversity of the different flavor profiles you will find in each separate ingredient, and the way those ingredients interact with each other. This is the reason why a Manhattan you might create a home can taste very different from the one you last drank at a bar.

Let's first travel back in time, to catch a glimpse of the origins of the Manhattan and understand the ingredients of which it was initially created.

The exact beginnings of the Manhattan cocktail are murky and there are multiple claims to its creation though none have yet to be definitively proven. One of the most popular theories is that the cocktail was invented in 1874 at the Manhattan Club in New York City. Allegedly, Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill, hosted a fundraiser for Governor Samuel Tilden and the drink was introduced. However, the evidence seems to indicate that Jennie was actually in the UK, giving birth to Winston, at the the time of this fund raiser so this origin story seems unlikely. At the very least though, the club was significant in the popularization of this cocktail.

Another competing theory is that it was invented at the Trafford Mansion in Hallet’s Cove by Long Islanders waiting for the ferry to Manhattan. Evidence for this theory is also scant. A third theory is that it was created by a bartender named Black in a Broadway tavern, though almost nothing is known about this bartender and again, the evidence is scant. We may never know the true origin of the Manhattan.

Though the Manhattan was probably created in the 1870s, the first known mention of the Manhattan in print appears to have been in a newspaper in 1882 and the first documented recipe appeared in 1884 in O. H. Byron’s Modern Bartender’s Guide. I should note there are some disagreements on when the first cocktail recipe book included the Manhattan, and at least a few different authors and dates have been proposed. However, the currently available evidence tends to support 1884. Despite this controversy, it is easier to discuss the general ingredients and recipes that were used during the early years of the Manhattan.

First, many authorities feel that Rye was probably the original whiskey used in this cocktail. As the cocktail appears to have originated in New York, this makes sense as rye was very popular in the Northeast. In addition, Rye was first distilled in the New York region during the 18th century, the grain doing well in that area's climate. Before Prohibition, there were about 1,200 distilleries in New York, with many producing Rye whiskey. That would all combine to make Rye whiskey the most important and popular whiskey in New York when the Manhattan cocktail was created.

Second, some believe that the Manhattan was one of the first cocktails to use Vermouth as a significant ingredient. During the latter half of the 19th century, when the Manhattan was created, many drinkers tended to prefer sweeter tastes, so adding sweet Italian Vermouth was popular as it catered to those tastes. For even more sweetness, some of the early recipes for the Manhattan also called for the addition of gomme syrup (gum syrup) or other sweeteners. In addition, the earliest recipes for the Manhattan tended to use equal amounts of whiskey and vermouth, unlike the present where whiskey is more dominant in the cocktail.

Third, the bitters in the earliest cocktails varied, though many called for orange bitters or aromatic bitters such as Angostura, or even both. Garnishes varied as well, without any standardization, including items like cherries, olives, and lemon peels. Some early Manhattan recipes even called for the addition of other alcohols, from Curaçao to Absinthe.

We now return to the present, finding some differences in the way Manhattans are created. At its most basic, you'll find plenty of basic cocktail books nothing that a Manhattan is now created with two parts of whiskey, one part of sweet vermouth, a couple dashes of bitters and a garnish of a cherry. However, there are other sources and authorities which vary that recipe, so much depends on which source you consult.

For example, let's compare the recipes for a Manhattan from the United States Bartenders’ Guild (USBG) and International Bartenders’ Association (IBA). The USBG recipe calls for 2 ounces of bourbon or rye, 1 ounce of sweet vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters. On the other hand, the IBA recipe calls for 1.69 ounces of rye or Canadian whiskey, 0.68 ounces of sweet vermouth, and a dash of Angostura bitters. Though both recipes mention rye, one mentions bourbon while the other Canadian whiskey. The recipes also call for different ratios of whiskey to vermouth, with the IBA recipe using a larger ratio of whiskey to vermouth. We also see how vermouth has now taken more of a backseat in modern Manhattan recipes, no longer being equal in quantity to the whiskey.

There are plenty of other variations on the Manhattan, some which seem to arbitrarily have a different name though the variation isn’t really that different. For example, the basic Manhattan can be made with a number of different whiskies, including rye, bourbon and Canadian whiskey. Yet, when Scotch is used, it is called a Rob Roy. If rye was the original whiskey, why doesn’t using bourbon or Canadian whiskey give the cocktail a different name but Scotch does? It is an arbitrary decision.

Part 2
Part 3

Friday, February 26, 2016

Chef Michael Schlow, Tico & Nikkei Cuisine

For me, Japanese cuisine is like classical music: it’s harmonious, but you have to know how to listen to it. Peruvian cuisine, on the other hand, is like salsa music. Both of them are perfect, each one on its own. When salsa is added to Japanese dishes, Peruvians are given the opportunity to see a bit of themselves in a Japanese world, to identify with it.”
--Chef Mitsuhara Tsumara in Nikkei Es Peru (with Josefina Barron)

Last October, I reviewed a Nikkei cuisine cookbook, lamenting that there weren't any local restaurants which focused on this cuisine. Well, that has changed and it's time for you to explore this fascinating and delicious cuisine. At Tico, Chef Michael Schlow is now offering a special, late-night Nikkei menu, showcasing the fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisine. This new menu is served Thursday to Saturday, from 10pm-1am.

However, the first step is to explain the nature of Nikkei cuisine as many people may not be familiar with this cuisine, even though it is starting to become more popular around the world.

The term Nikkei derives from the Japanese word nikkejin and basically refers to those Japanese who migrated overseas and all of their descendants. As its most basic, Nikkei cuisine is "the cooking of the Japanese diaspora." It will thus vary dependent on where the Japanese settled as they adjusted and modified their cuisine, using different local ingredients and cooking styles. As many Japanese immigrated to South America, especially Brazil and Peru, Nikkei cuisine developed in these countries over more than one hundred years. During this time, the cuisine has evolved, merging the best of the two cultures, and it continues to grow and evolve.

Chef Mitsuhara Tsumara, who was born in Peru and is of Japanese ancestry, owns and operates Maido, one of the most famous Nikkei restaurants in the world. Tsumara and Josefina Barron co-wrote the book Nikkei Es Peru, which provides plenty of fascinating information on Nikkei cuisine, including numerous recipes. A few quotes from the book will illustrate some of the reasons why Japanese and Peruvian cuisine mesh so well together, especially because of their contrasts.

"Peruvian and Japanese cuisine work together in perfect harmony. Micha says it’s down to fundamental ingredient pairings, “chili with soy is the perfect combination - if you think about the DNA of a cuisine, it’s the foundation of a cuisine - like tomato and olive oil.” arguing that this, alongside the fact that Peruvians and Japanese both eat lots of rice, has helped the country’s flavours marry in the kitchen."

"Peruvian cuisine is bold, very bold. Perhaps the fact that they were different—opposites, in fact—created this dynamic, the pleasant surprise which every diner seeks when hunting for new flavors. For example, dashi (preserved bonito fish and kelp soup stock), a fundamental pillar of Japanese cooking, helped balance the intense Peruvian seasoning. The ají pepper, with its boldness, put a little spice into the calm of Japanese flavors. Japan brought the white rice, free of salt and garlic, as a true companion to Peru’s fieriness. A counterpart or counterpoint, much more necessary than accessory."

As such, you might expect many Japanese/Peruvian Nikkei dishes to be spicy, yet that spice will be more subtle and less bold than if you were enjoying Peruvian cuisine alone.

"One aspect that Micha makes sure to emphasize is that Japanese cuisine is diametrically opposed to ours in terms of portions. Peruvians have gotten used to mountains of cau cau, heaping plates of lomo saltado, plenteous bowls of crab chowder, preponderant lion’s helpings of tacu tacu. Nikkei cooks helped us to understand that less can be more: that we can appreciate the true flavor of a grunt as long as we don’t overwhelm it with sauces; that cilantro, cumin, chili pepper, and onions are better in moderation, thoughtfully used."

This fusion of cuisines almost seems designed for small plates, to enjoy smaller portions rather than an abundant platter of food.

"Japanese cuisine is sober, while its Peruvian counterpart goes heavy on the seasoning. Finding a middle ground signified the birth of Nikkei cuisine."

Does Chef Schlow's new Nikkei menu conform to these concepts?

Chef Michael Schlow is well known in the Boston region and one of his most recent endeavors is Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar, a Greek restaurant. And now he is expanding his culinary repertoire by offering a Nikkei menu at Tico. What inspired him to venture into this new area? Chef Schlow stated that he has always been a fan of Nikkei cuisine, as well as Chifa, Chinese-Peruvian cuisine. The combination of Peruvian and Japanese techniques and ingredients speak to him, opening up much room for creativity. He also indicated that he has been studying this cuisine for quite some time, having visited various Nikkei restaurants around the world, including in Lima, Peru. One of his favorite spots is Chotte Matte in London, noting he could eat there every night. Besides enjoying the food at these restaurants, he also asked plenty of questions, to further his education about this cuisine. In addition, he has read a number of Nikkei cookbooks for more knowledge and inspiration.

It seems to me that this has been a long-standing passion within Chef Schlow and he finally has the opportunity to showcase Nikkei cuisine. I'm hoping that this late-night menu leads to something more, maybe even a Boston-area restaurant dedicated to Nikkei cuisine. This is a cuisine that should appeal to many people and could do well in the Boston area.

Currently, the Late Night menu has 11 Nikkei cuisine options along with 7 cocktails which have been specially create for this menu. As an aside, the Late Night menu includes a single non-Nikkei item, the famous Schlow Burger from Radius. Most of the Nikkei offerings are small plates, which can easily be shared, and only two dishes are large-sized, including the Homemade Noodles and Boneless Fried Chicken. Almost all of the dishes range from $7-$12, except for the Boneless Fried Chicken at $16, and the Cocktails range from $12-$16.

I was invited as a media guest to check out the new Nikkei menu and I sampled all of the various dishes. Overall, I was impressed with the dishes, finding intriguing combinations of flavors and textures. Chef Schlow certainly understands the role of texture and how it can elevate a dish. As both Japan and Peru treasure seafood, it was great to see that Schlow's seafood dishes were stand-outs. The Nikkei dishes will seem familiar in some respects, except that you'll realize than are some exotic touches as well.

I also concluded that Schlow's Nikkei dishes generally conformed to the quotes I provided earlier from Nikkei Es Peru. Many of his dishes were spicy but the heat was more subtle, often slowly building up over time as you enjoyed more and more of the dish. Portion size was mostly limited to small plates, ample enough to share but without making you overly full too quickly. The flavor combinations worked well, an excellent merging of Japanese and Peruvian ingredients.

It is also important to note that the Nikkei menu is only three weeks old so some allowance must be given for its newness and it could see some minor changes in the near future. I highly recommend that my readers check out this new Late Night Nikkei menu and experience the delights of Japanese/Peruvian cuisine. I'll be returning as well, to enjoy more of these dishes. Let me now describe all the dishes and cocktails I tasted.

The Deviled Eggs ($7) are made with Uni, Chiles, and Tempura Bits presenting a nice blend of textures, from the silky filling and creamy Uni to the crunchy tempura. The Uni also added an interesting briny edge to the eggs. One of the better Deviled Eggs I've tasted in recent times.

The Hamachi Tartare ($11) with Spicy Aji-Miso and Two Texture Rice was another intriguing blend of textures, from the silky fish to the crunchy rice, with creaminess from the aji-miso. There was also a hint of spiciness that enhanced the dish.

The Quick Tuna Ceviche ($11) with Soy, Chiles, and Masago was a winner! Nice, silky cubes of meaty tuna with bursts of citrus flavor, spicy heat and a delicate crunch. A well balanced dish, sure to satisfy.

Other winner dish was the Local Scallops ($12) with Lemongrass, Chiles, and Crispy Garlic. The sweet scallops were enhanced with citrus, spice and crunchy elements. It was a lighter sauce than on the tuna, which makes sense considering the different types of seafood,  and the citrus flavors were brighter.

The Shrimp and Octopus "Sunonmo" ($10) with Tigre de Leche (the famous Peruvian ceviche sauce) continued the string of excellent seafood dishes. The fresh citrus flavors enhanced the shrimp as well as the thin, tender slices of octopus. One of the bonuses of this dish were the thin cucumber slices, almost like pickled cucumbers.

The Mussels ($11) with Roccoto, Coconut Milk, Cilantro, Red Onion, and Lime added a more tropical element to the dish, with plump mussels (out of the shell), rich coconut, mild spicy heat and some crunchy notes. As I love coconut, this was an especially compelling dish for me. And it uses mussels, which I've previously advocated as a nutritious and sustainable seafood.

Besides seafood, there were other Nikkei dishes to enjoy, including the Short Rib Gyoza ($7) with Panca, Sesame, and Toasted Onion. The gyoza, which seemed to have been fried, had a crisp wrapping, and was filled with tender and flavorful meat, with mild peppery spice and the crunch and taste of sesame seeds.

The Sanguche ($9) of Pork Belly, Spicy Fennel, and Aji Amarillo was on a brioche bun and was a delightful sandwich, with tender and moist pork belly with crispness from the fennel and some spice from the aji amarillo. With each bite, you ached for another and soon enough, the sandwich is gone. Absolutely delicious.

The Homemade Noodles ($11) with Pork, Soft Egg, Green Onion, Chile Paste, and Cashews is essentially a huge bowl of ramen. The tender pork belly, as it was in the Sanguche, was excellent and it was great to have a soft boiled egg so you could break the savory yolk into the broth. The noodles were thin with a good bite to them. My only issue is that the flavor of the broth seemed a bit thin and not as full of savoriness as other local ramen dishes.

The only miss for me was the Crispy Tempura Bok Choy ($9) with "Miracle Sauce." First, I'm not a fan of bok choy so the idea of the dish didn't appeal to me. I would have preferred something else like maybe a Tempura Peruvian Purple Potato or Yucca. In addition, I'm very picky as to tempura and felt that the tempura batter was too heavy in this dish. It was not that light and crisp tempura I love at the better Japanese spots.

The final dish was the Platter of Boneless Fried Chicken ($16) with Scallions, Crushed Peanuts, and "Numbing Sauce." The photo doesn't do justice to this dish, the beautiful color of the crunchy exterior coating of the chicken. Inside, the chicken was moist, cooked perfectly, and the flavor of the coating was savory, with a slight nuttiness and a spicy heat that slowly built in your mouth, eventually leading to a numbing of the interior of your mouth. They recommended eating this dish last, as the spicy heat of the dish would numb your palate and you would never appreciate the more subtle flavors of some of the other dishes. And they were right. A winner of a dish but make sure you have it last.

The subtle flavors of many of the dishes seemed to be replicated in several of the new cocktails for the Nikkei menu. The Chicha Sour ($12), a take on the classic Pisco Sour, is made with Barsol Pisco, Chicha (a corn based beverage), and fresh lime and was a mild drink of subtle flavors, a little sour and sweet (likely from the corn) with a soft flavor of Pisco. It goes down easily and you could drink several of these in the course of an evening.

The Papa Made Bail ($12) is also made with Barsol Pisco, as well as Pineapple, Fresh Lemon, and Habanero. Once again, the flavors were more subtle, with citrus and tropical flavors and a mild heat that built up over time. Another easy drinking cocktail, which you could enjoy several over dinner. The bartender isn't trying to club you with big flavors, but is willing to create more subtle drinks, to make you concentrate more on the flavors.

The O' Miso Rummy ($15) is made with Ron Zacapa Rum, Miso, Agave, Fresh lemon and lime,  and Nutmeg. A pleasant taste with lots of citrus notes and a certain richness and mild sweetness. The
P90X ($14) is kind of a Manhattan variation, made with Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Lustau PX Sherry, and Angostura & Orange Bitters. The spicy rye stood out, with a mild sweetness, some mild berry notes and orange accents. It lacks some of the herbal notes you get from Vermouth. Maybe the sweetest of the cocktails was the Harmonious Dragon ($16), made with Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Bigalet China China, Oolong Tea, and Fresh lemon though it wasn't overly sweet. It was nicely balanced with herbal notes and a rich, mouthfeel.

On the flip side, the tartest drink was the You, Me & Boshi ($12), made with Sake, plum, and fresh lemon as well as containing a few pickled plums. Dry and very sour, it had a pleasant taste but prepare to pucker those lips. The biggest and boldest cocktail was the Land of the Rising Sol ($14) made with Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky, Manzanilla Sherry, Pistachio, and Black Walnut Bitters. Bold flavors, with a little sweetness, a nice briny element and nutty notes. Quite a delicious and intriguing cocktail, and highly recommended.

Chef Schlow's new late night Nikkei menu is well worthy of your attention. The seafood dishes will impress, but you'll find delicious non-seafood dishes to enjoy too, such as the Pork Belly Sanguche and Fried Chicken. Many of the dishes offer more subtle and complex flavors, so it pays to devote attention to each dish you are sampling. Their new cocktail menu often relies on such subtleties as well. Chef Schlow's passion for Japanese-Peruvian cuisine seems evident and I hope he continues to expand this menu over time. It earns a strong recommendation from me.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

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) A Taste of Ginger will be held on Monday, April 4 in the Art of the Americas Wing at the Museum of Fine Arts. Proceeds from A Taste of Ginger will benefit Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI) which works to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, and collaborates with Joslin as they work to find a cure.

Each year, hundreds of supporters and foodies gather to enjoy a lively evening, including the opportunity to meet and taste the cuisine of Boston’s most celebrated chefs such as Joanne Chang, Tiffani Faison, Jasper White, Andy Husbands and Jose Duarte, amidst the beauty of the MFA.

Event honoree William C. Hsu, M.D., Founder and Medical Director of Joslin’s Asian Clinic and Vice President of International Programs, focuses on understanding the cause of diabetes in the Asian American population and uncovering effective treatments through a culturally tailored approach to care. Dr. Hsu led the research behind Screen at 23. Because of this work, the ADA now recommends testing Asian Americans at a lower BMI of 23 kg/m2, instead of starting screening for diabetes in those with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or higher, which is the standard for the general population. The new guidelines address the disproportionately heavier disease burden of diabetes in Asian Americans, including those who might otherwise not have been identified because of their lack of appearance of obesity. Dr. Hsu served as co-Director of the AADI at Joslin for 10 years, published a bilingual diabetes guide and co-initiated the original A Taste of Ginger benefit.

Honoree Bik-Fung Ng has been a committee member of A Taste of Ginger since its creation in 2005; she has more than 30 years of experience in the food industry and has been an activist in the Asian Community for many years, often collaborating with the AADI on nutrition-related projects.

A Taste of Ginger will be emceed by Meghna Chakrabarti, co-host of Radio Boston on WBUR. Co-chairs include long-time Joslin supporter, Dawn Reardon, Joslin clinician Greeshma K. Shetty, M.D. and her husband, Sanjay K. Shetty, M.D.

WHEN: Monday, April 4, 6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
FOR TICKETS: Tickets are $250 per guest, and can be purchased online at:

2) Del Frisco’s Grille Burlington is partnering with The Salvation Army for a Polar Bear Dinner, challenging guests to bundle up and brave the cold in support of helping those in need.

On Thursday, February 25, at 7pm, guests are invited to dine on the patio, embracing the winter weather with a prix-fixe menu of the Grille’s heartiest comfort foods and warming cocktails. Full menu details can be found below.

The longer guests remain outside, the more the Grille will donate to The Salvation Army.

$55 for Prix Fixe Dinner consisting of:
· Appetizer
o Cheesesteak Eggrolls
o Roasted Corn Bisque Soup
o Lollipop Chicken Wings
· Entrée
o The Grille Prime Cheeseburger
o Meatloaf
o Simply Roasted Chicken
o Prime Beef Short Rib Stroganoff
· Dessert
o Warm Chocolate Cake
o Butterscotch Pudding Jar
· Cocktail
o Hotty Toddy

For Reservations, please call (781) 365-2005

3) Chef Will Gilson and the Puritan and Co. team invite guests to join them for Prime Rib Night this Sunday, and every Sunday thereafter.  In addition to their regularly available dinner menu, Puritan and Co. will offer guests a multi-course, prix-fixe menu. Diners can choose from three different portions of prime rib as well as a variety of delicious sides.

The prix-fixe menu includes:
Choice of chopped salad or Caesar salad
Black pepper and cheddar popover
Choice of prime rib:
- 10 oz ($40)
- 15 oz ($45)
- 20 oz ($50)
Choice of sauce:
- red wine jus
- herb butter
- hollandaise
- horseradish aioli
Choice of potato side:
- Mille Fueille “au gratin”
- steak fry fingerings
- twice-baked loaded duchess potatoes
Choice of vegetable side:
- buttered baby carrots
- baked creamed spinach
- cast iron-roasted brassicas
Choice of ice cream sundae or slice of cake
*sides are subject to change

WHEN: Every Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.
For Reservations, please call (617) 615-6195

4) Tavern Road is bringing a number of events to Boston this spring. Guests are invited to experience some of the city’s top toques at Chef’s Studios, imbibe in the name of knowledge at monthly wine dinners, and put on their party pants as TR breaks out the cake and champagne to celebrate its 3rd anniversary.

Chef’s Studio Dinners
$65 per person for four courses
Whether they’re in the weeds at a current gig or taking a break between restaurants, smart chefs are always thinking about what’s up next. And since feedback plays a key role in any endeavor, Chef Louis is opening the TR kitchen to some of the best chefs in the biz so they can turn their big ideas into delicious four course menus made just for you. This season’s lineup includes:
February 29, 7:00PM: Gabriel Bremer (Salts)
April 25, 7:00PM: Colin Lynch (BL Gruppo)
…and more to come!

Global Glass Series
First Wednesday of every month; 7:00PM
$58 per person; includes four courses and wines to pair
We’re not saying that beer and cocktails don’t pair with food, but we are saying that vino does it better. Interested in learning more about the “how’s” and “why’s” behind the beverage’s ability to take flavors to the next level? Call your fave friend and snag spots at Tavern Road’s new wine dinner series. Each month, the TR team will explore a new wine region from around the world and pair a selection of wines with Chef Louis’s interpretation of traditional cuisine from the area.The first terroir to be explored? Italy’s Alto-Piedmont region.
March 2, 7:00PM: Italy’s Alto Piedmont
…and more to come!

Tavern Road 3rd Anniversary Party
Thursday, March 31; 7:00PM
$95 per person for five courses and drink pairings
Come celebrate! Tavern Road is marking its 3rd Anniversary with a celebratory prix fixe dinner featuring buzz-worthy guest chefs like Michael Serpa (SELECT Oyster Bar), Matt Jennings (Townsman) and Brian Mercury (Harvest) for $95 per person.


5) Dine Out Boston is next month, from March 6-11 and 13-18, and some restaurants have much better options than others. Besito Mexican, at both its Burlington and Chestnut Hill locations, is offering a Dinner special, 3 courses for $28 per person ((tax and gratuity not included). Guacamole, Panquesito de Jaiba and Ceviche not included/+$5 for Filete de Res)

First Course: Choice of Apertivo
Queso Fundido (baked queso Chihuahua, rajas, chorizo, cilantro, white onion);
Tacos De Pescado (fish tacos, pickled red onion, shredded organic romaine lettuce, salsa molcajete);
Tacos de Camarones (crispy shrimp, pico de gallo, chipotle cream salsa, queso fresco, organic Romaine);
Sopa de Tortilla (Tortilla soup, avocado, pulled chicken, queso Chihuahua, chopped cilantro, toasted pasilla chile, crema, onion);
Flautas de Pollo (crispy chicken tacos, queso fresco, crema, onions, cilantro, salsa verde, salsa guajillo);
Empanadas de Hongos (empanadas, organic crimini and button mushrooms, goat cheese, salsa verde cruda);
Tacos de Carne Asada (grilled marinated skirt steak, pico de gallo, chile de arbol, salsa, queso fresco, organic Romaine);
Quesadilla de Calabaza (squash blossoms, roasted green chile, queso Chihuahua, organic crimini and button mushrooms, salsa verde cruda, pico de gallo, cream)
Tamale de Elote y Camarones (shrimp a la plancha, fresh corn tamale, chipotle chile cream, onions, cilantro, queso fresco).

Second Course: Choice of Entree
Iron Skillet Tacos: Pollo, Res, Mixtos, Pastor or Vegatales
Enchiladas Suizas (Swiss style enchiladas, shredded chicken, tomatillo cream sauce, queso Chihuahua, onions, cilantro);
Enchiladas Mixtas (skirt steak, grilled chicken, chorizo, guajillo cream salsa, sweet plantains, cilantro, queso fresco);
Enchiladas Carnitas (pork carnitas baked in a black bean jalapeño salsa, salsa molcajete, crispy bacon, queso fresco, onions, cilantro);
Budin de Mariscos (a tortilla pie of shrimp and jumbo lump crab, spiced tomato salsa, queso Chihuahua, poblano cream sauce, pico de gallo);
Enchiladas de Mole Poblano (Shredded chicken baked in mole poblano, queso fresco, cilantro, onion)
Salmon Manchamanteles (roasted salmon, plantains, pineapple pico de gallo, mole Manchamanteles);
Pescado Con Pipian y Atole (pan-seared Mahi Mahi with a blue corn and crab crust, pumpkin seed pipian, sweet corn atole, cilantro, chayote salad);
Camarones Ajillo (jumbo shrimp and organic crimini and button mushrooms cooked in a garlic chile salsa, mashed boniato, pico de gallo);
Alambre de Res (grilled NY Strip steak and chorizo, house rice, cilantro, salsa verde, salsa ranchera);
Alambre de Camarones (grilled shrimp, calabacitas, salsa verde, pico de gallo, queso fresco, cilantro);
Ensalada Mexicana (chicken a la plancha, chopped organic romaine, roasted corn, organic black beans, crispy boniato, tomatoes, queso fresco, crispy tortilla strips, chipotle cream dressing or citrus vinaigrette);
Pescado Veracruzana (today’s selection of fresh fish cooked in a light Veracruz sauce, tomatoes, sweet peppers, olives, capers, cilantro);
Costillas al Piquin (boneless beef short ribs, rajas, crema, tomatillo-chile piquin salsa);
Chile Rellenos con Hongos (poblano peppers filled with organic: baby spinach; crimini and button mushrooms, goat cheese, raisins, pine nuts, salsa ranchera).

This Course: Dessert
Signature Tres Leches Cake (vanilla sponge cake marinated in citrus leches, topped with homemade whipped cream and fresh berries)

For reservations at Chestnut Hill, please call 617-527-1155
For reservations at Burlington, please call 781-272-9900

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Committee: New Greek Spirits To Explore

"Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine was every granted by the gods to man."

I've been an advocate of Greek wines for a number of years and one of my prior articles provided my readers with Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine. At the new Mediterranean restaurant Committee, which serves many Greek dishes, their wine list includes numerous Greek wines, including White, Red, Sparkling and Rosé. They are all worthy of exploration.

Committee recently hired Consulting Wine Director Lauren Friel to revamp their beverage program and she made some changes to the wine list. In addition, and of great interest to me, Lauren introduced several traditional Greek & Lebanese spirits to the beverage program, including rakomelo, ouzo, tsipouro, mastiha and arak. If you consult my Ten Reasons To Drink Greek Wine, you'll find that most of those reasons would apply to Greek spirits as well.

Recently, I was invited as a media guest to check out these new Greek spirits and it was an excellent opportunity for me to further my education as I was previously unfamiliar with most of these spirits except for ouzo. Though these spirits can be found in a few restaurants and wine shops in the Boston area, they often get sparse attention. That might start to change as more Greek restaurants having been opening in the area but it will still require customers taking a step to expand their palate by trying these new spirits. With their ancient history, and often a strong connection to wine, these spirits can be intriguing and delicious and are worth experiencing.

For many years, there was little commercial sale of Greek spirits until there were changes to the law around 1990. Regulations on the production, bottling and sales of these spirits were enacted, allowing the commercial spread of these spirits outside of Greece. This eventually led to the European Union listing a number of these spirits as Protected Geographical Indications, including Ouzo, Tsipouro/Tsikoudia, Tentura, Masticha of Chios, Kitro of Naxos, and Koum Kouat of Corfu. A number of these spirits are now available in the Boston area, with more likely available in the near future.

Lauren stated to me that all of the Greek spirits at Committee were triple-distilled in copper stills, with the heads and tails of the distillation discarded. In addition, the spirits do not contain any artificial flavors or additives. As I've tasted Ouzo before, I didn't taste any of the three brands available at Committee, including Plomari, Barbayanni and Mytilini, instead concentrating my efforts on those spirits unfamiliar to me.

You can order the spirits by the Glass ($6-$8), 300ml ($22-$34), or 500ml ($44-$58). The 300ml is recommended for 1-2 people while the 500ml for 2-4 people. The spirits are also presented with ice on the side allowing guests to use as much or as little ice as they desire. In addition, you can order a Tasting Flight of 3 Ouzo ($10), 3 Spirits ($12)--including an Ouzo, Tsipouro & Mastiha, or 3 Anisettes ($11)--including two Ouzo & an Arak. Currently, none of their listed Cocktails are made with any of these spirits.

Rakomelo (not available by the Glass, 300ml $26, 500ml $44) is commonly a blend of Tsipouro/Tsikoudia with honey, aromatic herbs and spices. The origin of this drink allegedly extends back to at least the 12th century and is produced throughout Greece, including Crete and other islands. It is intended to be a social drink so it is usually enjoyed in small shots, like Japanese Sake. In the winter, it is served warm and in the summer, it is consumed cold.

At Committee, they create their Rakomelo with Tsikoudia, honey, clove and cinnamon and will serve it warm during the winter and cold in the summer. I tasted the warm version and it reminded me of hot, spiced apple cider without the apples. It was easy drinking, more savory and only minimally sweet, with plenty of flavors of fall spices. The alcohol was well hidden within the drink so you could easily finish one of the carafes without realizing how much alcohol you might have consumed. On the night I tasted the Rakomelo, it was one of the most chilly nights of this winter, and this was a perfect option. It would act as an excellent aperitif though I think it would pair well with a number of foods too, anything that might pair well with fall spices.

Tsipouro is a grape marc/pomace spirit, basically a type of brandy, and it allegedly originated with monks in the 14th century. Essentially, they distill the pomace, the skins, pits, seeds, and stems left over from grapes when they are pressed. Tsikoudia, also known as Raki, is the same as Tsipuro except it is produced on Crete. As I mentioned, the EU protects these spirit names, but also sets for specific regions too, including Tsipouro of Thessaly, Tsipouro of Macedonia, Tsipouro of Tyrnavos and Tsikoudia of Crete. Some producers add aromatic seeds or plants, such as anise, fennel and saffron,  to their Tsipouro.

In general, both Tsipouro and Tsikoudia are commonly drunk before a meal with fruits and cheeses or after a meal as a digestif. It's less common to drink them throughout a meal though there are some who recommend Tsipouro with pungent meat dishes or other earthy ones, such as mushrooms and pickles. On Crete, Tsikoudia is usually offered as an after-dinner digestif, sometimes served with fruit or dessert. There is also an old custom that you should have two drinks of Tsikoudia because you have two legs, and if you only have one drink, you might have to leave on just one leg.

I tasted the Idoniko Tsipouro (Glass $8, 300ml $34, 500ml $58), produced by the Domaine Costa Lazaridi, a winery founded in 1992 in the municipality of Drama. The winery currently has about 200 hectares and creates a number of different wines as well as Tsipouro. With a smooth taste of subtle citrus and herbs, this spirit went down very easily and even though it was 80 proof, the alcohol seems to take the backseat and you wouldn't suspect the actual alcohol level. I preferred this spirit on ice rather than at room temp, though it was still good at room temp. This would be a good spirit to introduce newcomers to the unique spirits of Greece.

The Haraki Tsikoudia (Glass $6, 300ml $26, 500ml $44) is produced by the Patsakis Distillery, which was founded in 1990 by Michael Patsakis in the area around the village of Prinias in Crete. They were one of the first to legally produce Tsikoudia. This spirit had a different taste profile than the Idoniko, presenting with less fruit flavors, more herbal notes and a mild licorice note. There was also some intriguing briny elements, especially on the finish. However, even though this is also 80 proof, the alcohol was much more prominent than in the Idoniko. It possesses a little more complexity than the Idoniko, but it might be best on the rocks so that the water can dilute some of the strong alcohol flavor.

Mastiha of Chios is a liqueur made from the aromatic resin, known as mastic, of the mastiha tree and grown on the island of Chios, especially in the southern regions. The resin is also sometimes called Arabic Gum and Tears of Chios. The sap from the tree is it softens into a gum which may taste initially bitter but then acquires a pine/cedar taste. The ancient Greeks chewed this mastic gum to aid digestion and Chian wine were also highly prized during that period. Nowadays, it is considered a local tradition that Masticha, chilled or on ice, should be served with dessert or coffee.

The Homericon Mastiha (Glass $8, 300ml $34, 500ml $58) is produced by the Stoupakis Distillery, which was founded in 1896 on Chios, which was still under Turkish occupation at the time. In 2008 the company was renamed into Stoupakis Distillery of Chios S.A., producing Ouzo and Mastiha. The name Homericon is an homage to Homer, the famous ancient Poet, said to be the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey. According to legend, Chios was the birthplace of Homer. I found the Homericon to possess an intriguing herbal aroma and on the palate, it was thick and viscous, with a strong herbal taste including notes of clove and pine with a hint of sweetness. It was like a more savory dessert wine and I can understand why it pairs well with dessert.

The last spirit isn't Greek but it is Mediterranean, Arak from Lebanon. Arak is an anisette spirit, kind of Lebanese Ouzo. It commonly is clear and colorless, and traditionally mixed with water, often one part Arak to two parts water. It may be mixed in a water vessel called the Abarik (or Barik), and the Arak will become milky-white. It is usually drunk with food and not on its own. This is partially due to the fact that the anise helps cleanse the palate and help digestion.

El Massaya Arak (Glass $7, 300ml $30, 500ml $50) is produced by Massaya (which means "twilight") from the pomace of an indigenous grape, Obeida. It is triple distilled, in copper still fired with vine wood, and during the third distillation, they add some macerated green organic aniseed from the village of Hineh on the Syrian slopes of Mount Hermon. The Arak is then aged for a number of months in traditional clay amphorae made by the potters in the Mount Lebanon village of Beit Chebab. This Arak is 100 proof, so a potent spirit, which definitely reminded me of ouzo, with its intense anise aromas and taste. There are hints of an almost oxidized taste, adding a touch of earthiness to the Arak too. A fascinating spirit which might convert you to anisette spirits.

Overall, I recommend you check out these new spirits at Committee, to broaden your palate and maybe find some new favorites. Don't have the same old Vodka or Gin, but instead try a Tsipouro or Arak. For these wintry days, share some warm Rakomelo with friends. See why the Greeks have been enjoying these spirits for many centuries.

While sampling this spirits, I also enjoyed a few different dishes of Committee's cuisine. In the near future, I'll be writing about those dishes and others I enjoyed on another visit. However, in short, the food at Committee is excellent, with many compelling flavors, and plenty to appeal to both vegetarians and carnivores. In fact, Committee has become one of my favorite new restaurants and I highly recommend you dine there, to enjoy its delicious Mediterranean and Greek cuisine, as well as its intriguing wines and spirits.

As the Greeks say, Kali Orexi, or as the French would put it, Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Boston Wine Expo: Moldovan Wine

I've finally come to my last post of wine reviews from the Boston Wine Expo, the wines of Moldova.  Once a part of the Soviet Union, Moldova, located between Ukraine and Romania, declared independence in 1991. It has a lengthy history of wine making and currently there are almost 150,000 hectares of vineyards, growing over 30 different grapes, about 10% being indigenous varieties.

After the War of 1812, Russia took control of most of Moldavia and subsidized French colonists to come to the region. These colonists uprooted most of the indigenous grapes, replanting them with French varieties. This destroyed so many vineyards of excellent indigenous grapes. Fortunately, there is a movement in the present to plant and grow more indigenous grapes, such as Feteasca Alba, Feteasca Regala, Feteasca Neagra, Rara Neagra, Plavai, and Viorica.

A traditional Moldovan home has a cellar where food and wine is stored, including the wine the homeowner made on their own. The importance of such wine cellars may be part of the reason why Moldova, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has the world's largest wine collection, over 1.5 million bottles, which is called the Golden Collection. This wine cellar, located in the town of Milestii Mici, has over 34 miles of gothic style shelves, with about 70% red wines.

Of the six wines I am highlighting here, all of them cost from $10-$15, making them good values. Based on what I sampled, I very much would like to taste more Moldovan wines, especially those made from their indigenous grapes.

The Cricova Winery, founded in  1952, has the second largest wine cellar in Moldova and has been involved in producing Sparkling wine since the beginning. The NV Cricova Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut is produced in the methode champenoise from 100% Pinot Noir. It was crisp and dry, with subtle berry flavors, some herbal notes and a mild toasty element. Very pleasant and refreshing, it would make a nice aperitif or a pairing for food, from cheese to seafood.

The 2014 Albastrele Blanc de Cabernet is a white wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, with a gentle pressing of the grapes and a quick removal of the skins. It reminded me more of a Sauvignon Blanc, with grassy, herbal and grapefruit notes, but with a more creamy aspect and some subtle red berry flavors. An interesting wine which would be sure to confuse anyone who tasted this blind.

Chateau Vartely is a newer company, but which produces a variety of wines from international grapes and some indigenous varieties. The 2013 Chateau Vartely Traminer is an intriguing white wine, with flavors of lychee and pineapple, with notes pepper, spicy herbs and black tea. Good acidity and a pleasing finish. The 2014 Chateau Vartely Villa D'Or Feteasca Regala is made from an indigenous white grape, Feteasca Regala (which means "royal maiden"). Allegedly, this grape was dedicated at a birthday celebration for Queen Elena of Romania and thus acquired its "royal" status. The wine has an appealing aroma of citrus flavors and on the palate, there were bright citrus flavors, with grapefruit, lemon and peach, with plenty of tartness and mild herbal notes, especially on the finish.

As for red wines, the 2011 Cricova Prestige Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in barrels from the Carpathian Mountains. (Yes, those same mountains which were the location of Dracula's castle in Bram Stoker's famous novel.) It was a strong Cabernet, with lots of black fruit flavors enhanced by dark spice notes. Tannins were moderate and there was a slight exotic hint to it, so that you might realize it is Cabernet from a region outside the usual.

Founded in 1827, Chateau Purcari has about 250 hectares of vineyards and the 2014 Chateau Purcari 1827 Rara Neagra is made from 100% indigenous Rara Neagra, a grape which brought much fame to Chateau Purcari before Cabernet came around. The grape is only grown on about 200 acres around the world. The wine had good acidity, black fruit flavors with a mild note of spice and herbs. The tannins were well integrated and the finish was moderately long.

Overall, these are wines you should taste, especially considering their low price point.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Boston Wine Expo: Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

"There are only two kinds of sherry, the good and the better."
--Jerez saying

While perusing the list of exhibitors who would be at the Boston Wine Expo, I noted that Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana would be there and I knew I had to stop by their table. Back in 2010, I visited this Sherry winery in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and it was one of the highlights of my visit to the Sherry region. They produce some amazing Sherries from Manzanilla to VORS Palo Cortado, and I highly recommend you enjoy any of their Sherries. Please read my previous article, Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana: Manzanilla Mecca, for background information about this winery.

At the Expo, I was intrigued that La Gitana was also producing some non-Sherry wines, including a white wine which ended up being one of my favorite wines at the entire Expo. I had the pleasure to meet Antonio Hidalgo, of the 6th generation of Sherry winemakers and the President of Hidalgo Imports, who talked to me about their wines. A few of the wines at their table were from some of the other wineries that Hidalgo Imports represents, and included some delicious wines too.

The NV Clot d'Ivern Brut Sparkling wine is from the Valencia region, from a winery that has been making sparkling wine since 1918. It is a blend of 50% Merseguera and 50% Malvasia with an 11.5% ABV. This is certainly a very different blend, especially as you see few wines with Merseguera outside of Spain. However, I would certainly like to see more wines like this as I found this to be a very pleasant value wine. Crisp acidity, refreshing bubbles and nice flavors of green apple with floral hints.

One of my favorite wines of the entire Expo was the 2014 La Gitana Blanco ($14.99) from the D.O. Vinos de la tierra de Cadiz. With only a production of 2000 bottles, this wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and old vines Palomino. The wine spends about 7-8 months on the lees in Manzanilla Sherry barrels and has a 12.5% ABV.  As Antonio noted, the Sauvignon Blanc from southern Spain is different than is found elsewhere around the world. When I tasted this wine, I would't have known it contained any Sauvignon Blanc as it didn't fit the taste profile of the Sauvignon Blancs I've tasted from places like New Zealand, France and the U.S.

In short, this wine was absolutely delicious with lots of complexity and character. It was rich and elegant, with excellent acidity and a delightful melange of fruit flavors, including apple, pear and some tropical fruit notes. There was also a briny streak throughout the wine, likely due to spending time in Manzanilla casks. This is definitely an impressive value wine, which would be enjoyable on its own or paired with food. Several of my friends tasted the wine too and they all enjoyed it very much. I highly recommend this wine, though Antonio is currently seeking a local distributor. Hopefully, it will become available in the near future. If it becomes available, I'll let my readers know.

The 2009 La Gitana Rioja is a blend of 85% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, and 5% Graciano, with a 13.5% ABV. It is an easy drinking red wine, with pleasant flavors of black raspberry, black cherry, and spice accents. A nice value wine. A pricier option is the 2009 La Gitana Ribera del Duero, which is made from the best Tempranillo grapes from 70 year old vines and aged in French and U.S. oak for about 10 months. It is a deeper wine, with intense black fruit flavors and heavier spice notes with a touch of smoke.

Of the reds, my favorite was a non-La Gitana wine, the 2005 Vina Olabarri Gran Reserva ($29), from a winery founded in 1958 in Haro, Rioja Alta. It is a blend of 80% Tempranillo and 20% Manzuelo and Graciano. It was smooth and complex, with an intriguing melange of flavors, including black cherry, ripe plum, spice accents and a hint of herbal notes. The tannins were well integrated, it had a lengthy finish and was well balanced. An excellent example of Rioja at a reasonable price for this aged wine.

Antonio also poured two Sherries, including the La Gitana Manzanilla, which I've previously enjoyed and reviewed. The second Sherry was the La Gitana Alameda Cream, a blend of 85% Palomino and 15% Pedro Ximenez, with an 18% ABV. The Palomino is actually old Oloroso and helps to give the Sherry is dark amber color. It is smooth, savory and mildly sweet, with complex flavors of dried fruits, a bit of citrus, caramel and nutty notes. This is something to slowly savor after dinner, to to even pair with dessert.

At the Expo, I enjoyed a McCrea's Candies Black Lava Sea Salt Caramel with the Alameda Cream Sherry. The sweet and salty caramel went well with the complex flavors of the Sherry, including its nutty, briny and caramel notes. A magical combination.

If you attended the Boston Wine Expo, did you taste the 2014 La Gitana Blanco?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Boston Wine Expo: Portugal, Spain, & Slovenia

Here are an assortment of wines I enjoyed at the Boston Wine Expo, including wines from Portugal, Spain, & Slovenia. These are all wines worthy of attention, wines which wine lovers should seek out and enjoy.

Ole Imports, a partnership between Patrick Mata and Alberto Orte, imports an excellent portfolio of primarily Spanish wines and I have previously enjoyed a number of their selections. At the Vintner's Reserve Lounge, they presented two wines which thoroughly impressed me.

The 1995 Caves Sao Joao Poco do Lobo Branco ($34.99) is a Portuguese wine made from 100% Arinto. This is the first time I've ever had an Arinto wine this old, and for a 21 year old wine, it is priced reasonably, especially considering its quality. The wine is made in an oxidative style and reminded me very much of an aged Sherry. It had crisp acidity, with citrus flavors, briny notes, herbal accents, and a strong umami component. It is complex and intriguing, with a lengthy finish, and should continue to age well for at least several more years. An impressive wine that I highly recommend.

Another impressive wine was the 2012 Ultreia St. Jacques Mencia ($29.99) produced by Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez. The name of this wine, Ultreia, means "onward" and is in honor of the numerous pilgrims who traveled by this site over the centuries. The Mencia grapes for this wine come from a single eight-acre, organic vineyard in Bierzo, which was planted in 1889, so the grapes are pre-phylloxera. It is fermented with wild yeasts, partially in stainless steel, barrique and oak vats, and then is aged in 1,500 liter oak vats for about eight months.

This Mencia is elegant and subtle, not a wine of power, and is something to slowly savor to revel in its complex and intriguing melange of flavors. With fresh fruit flavors of raspberry and black cherry, there are spicy elements, a touch of earthiness, and herbal accents. There is so much going on in each sip and I was quite taken with its taste. And at this price, it is a steal for a wine of such complexity and quality. I paired this Mencia with Duck Tostadas and it was an excellent pairing. Highly recommended.

Bodegas Taron is a cooperative of four Spanish towns in the Rioja Alta region. The 2014 Bodegas Taron Rosado is a blend of 50% Viura and 50% Garnacha and presents as a crisp, light, and dry rosé with delicious bright flavors of strawberry and cherry. Simply delicious and easy drinking, perfect on its own or paired with food. And at about $10, this is a killer value too.

Martinez Lacuesta, founded in 1895, is another winery in the Rioja region, and they also make one of my favorite Vermouths too.  The 2014 Martinez Lacuesta Rosado is made from 100% Garnacha and is also crisp, dry and light though it has juicier red fruit flavors than the Taron. And at about $11, it is also an excellent value.

Laureate Imports brings in Slovenian wines from the Goriska Brda, a cooperative that was established in 1957. The cooperative has about 1200 hectares of vineyards planted with Ribolla Gialla (27%), Merlot (20%), Chardonnay (16%) and Sauvignonasse, formerly known as Tocai Friulano (12%). You'll also find in the vineyards an assortment of other grapes, including Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and the indigenous Pikolit and Verduc. Two of their wines stood out to me, both of which only 1200 cases were produced.

The 2011 Colliano Ribolla Gialla ($14-$17) is made from 100% Ribolla Galla and has a 13% ABV.  With a slightly funky nose, it will please your palate with its fruity flavors, including some peach and citrus flavors, as well as herbal notes and a touch of earthiness. A very intriguing flavor profile and at this price point, it is a good value. The NV Colliano Peneca Rebula ($14-$17) is a Sparkling wine, made in the Charmat method, from 100% Ribolla Gialla and at only 12.5% ABV. It is crisp and dry with tasty green apple and melon flavors and a hint of toastiness. A pleasant sparkling wine at a good price point.

Boston Wine Expo: Georgian Toast

The wonderful tastes of Georgia, and I'm not referring to Pecans and Peaches.

I'm referring to the country of Georgia, situated in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, and which once was part of the Soviet Union. Some claim that Georgia is the birthplace of wine though the exact origin of wine making may never be known. However, it cannot be denied that Georgia's vinous history extends back thousands of years. Many American consumers have never tasted a Georgian wine though Boston area wine lovers have had opportunities to sample these wines at the last several Boston Wine Expos, including the most recent one.

This year, there seemed to be only a single table of Georgian wines, manned by Georgian Toast, a new importer/distributor of only Georgian wines, which offered six wines for tasting. As they are new, their portfolio is small but they have plans for growth, with the desire to introduce Americans to these intriguing wines with a sense of history. There are over 500 indigenous grapes in Georgia though only about 38 are currently used for wine production, such as Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Krakhuna, Saperavi, Gibrita, and Tavkveri.

It is also a long, historical tradition for Georgians to ferment and age their wines in clay vessels, called qvevri or kvevri. These are similar in some respects to amphorae though they usually lack handles. The qvevri are commonly buried underground in a marani, sometimes said to be a sacred area, though more commonly it refers to a wine cellar. These qvevri, for a multitude of reasons, can create some interesting wines, and the whites produced in these qvevri may sometimes be referred to as "orange wines," as the wine darkens in color and there are added intriguing flavors. Because of its importance, the qvevri was even added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

Wine is an integral component of Georgian culture, from the revelry of rtveli, their grape harvest, to the supra, a traditional feast. The term supra means "tablecloth" and the supra feast typically contains a lengthy amount of toasts. A tamada, a toastmaster, is selected to lead the evening, and the tamada will make all of the toasts. These toasts will honor family and friends, events in the past, present and future, and much more. It is customary to toast to every person attending the feast, saying something positive about them. The primary prohibition is that you cannot toast to anything that is negative.

I've enjoyed a number of other Georgian wines (you can find those reviews on my blog) and the six wines from Georgian Toast are worthy of your attention. I look forward to what else Georgian Toast adds to their portfolio in the future.

Three of the wines were from Georgian Valleys, one of four trademarks of JSC Tbilvino, a large company which produces over 78 different wines. The first harvest of JSC Tbilvino was in 1999 and they launched the Georgian Valleys brand in 2004, trying to make wines that would appeal to the international market. Georgian Valleys produces about 21 different wines, exporting at least 75% of them.

The 2014 Georgian Valleys Rkatsiteli is made from an ancient white grape, whose name means "red stem," and which is known for its high acidity.  Some Rkatiseli is grown in the U.S., including in Massachusetts and New York. I found this wine to be crisp and dry, with an intriguing blend of spice and herbals notes, with a mild apple flavor. It might remind you a little of Gewürztraminer though it has its own exotic identity. Delicious and different, you should check out this varietal.

I also tasted another Rkatsiteli, the 2013 KTW Qvevri Rkatsiteli. The Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking (KTW) was founded in 2001 but its roots extend back to around 1880, when winemaker Antimoz Chkhaidze acquired a vineyard in Askana in Western Georgia. Using traditional techniques, his wines became well known, even outside Georgia. It would be his great-grandson who would eventually created KTW, to pay homage to the traditional wine making methods of the Kakhetian region. This Rkatsiteli was fermented and aged in a traditional qvervi and possesses a darker, almost orange color. It possesses more notes of dried herbs, spice and an interesting nutty element though it is more restrained than other qvevri wines I've tasted. As such, it would make a nice introduction to qvevri wines for someone unfamiliar with them.

The 2013 Georgian Valleys Saperavi is also made from an ancient grape, a red one those name means literally "paint" or "dye," due to its intense dark-red color.  Saperavi can also be found outside of Georgia in places such as New York and Australia. About 15% of this wine sees some oak aging, and it presents as a fruity and easy drinking wine, with hints of spice. The juicy black fruit flavors are accented with some vanilla. This would be a good choice with burgers and ribs, hearty dishes whether in the winter or summer.

Malkhaz and Zaza Jakeli, who are brothers, started this vineyard in 2001 and from the start they chose to practice organic agriculture, and it is now certified organic. They prefer to make more natural wine, including Biodynamic ones, and the 2012 Jakeli Saperavi is not an exception. This wine is made with indigenous yeasts, is unfiltered, and spends about 30 months in stainless steel. It is the most expensive wine of the six, costing about $40.

The wine is a deep, dark red, nearly opaque and it had a more restrained nose of spicy black fruit. On the palate, it is a muscular wine, with intense black fruit flavors, rich spices and hints of earthiness and smoke. There is a touch of the exotic to it, something that is hard to put into words or nail down, but it enhances the complexity and allure of this wine. I was told that the wine changes in the glass over time, and I would love to experience this wine over the course of a couple days. Highly recommended.

The 2014 Georgian Valleys Sachino is an interesting blend of 70% Saperavi and 30% Rkatsiteli.  Again, it was smooth and easy drinking, with tasty black fruit flavors, but this time it was enhanced with some herbal and peppery notes. The addition of the Rkatsiteli seemed to elevate the complexity of this wine, and its flavor profile blended well with the Saperavi.

The 2012 KTM Ojaleshi is once again a wine made from an ancient grape, whose name means "growing on trees," and one that might have been around since the ancient Greeks. The grape commonly makes a sweet wine though it is capable of making dry wines too. The grapes for this particular wine came from the Orbeli Village in Western Georgia. I found this wine to be only mildly sweet, with juicy and almost jammy red fruit flavors. It is rather simple in its character but easy drinking and will appeal to wine lovers who prefer some sweetness in their wines.

Have you enjoyed Georgian wines before?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Boston Wine Expo: Brooklyn Oenology Winery

I have enjoyed plenty of excellent wines from New York, from regions including Long Island, the Finger Lakes and the Hudson Valley. I've visited these regions, toured wineries and vineyards, and tasted many different wines, including White, Red, Rosé, Sparkling and Dessert. At each Boston Wine Expo, a number of New York producers sample their wines and this year, I checked out the wines of the Brooklyn Oenology Winery (BOE).

Based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, BOE is an urban winery founded in 2006 by winemaker, and former engineer, Alie Shaper.  Ali was at the Expo, pouring her wines, and she comes across as personable and passionate, dedicated to showing people the potential of New York grapes. As such, she only sources grapes from various regions in New York, such as the Finger Lakes and Long Island.  Her wines are produced at the Premium Wine group, a custom-crush facility in Mattituck on the North Fork of Long Island.

Beside promoting her wines, Alie also helps to promote local artists and all of her wine labels have artwork from different artists. The labels are easy to save too, as they are double-layer, easy-to-peel stickers. At the BOE tasting room, they also display numerous pieces of local art. In addition, their tasting room sells a variety of other New York-made alcohols, from whiskey to cider.

Ali produces about ten wines, including White, Red, Rosé, and Sparkling. You'll find wines such as Chardonnay (from Long Island), Pinot Gris (from Finger Lakes), Merlot (from Long Island), and a Vidal Blanc Sparkling Wine (from Finger Lakes). Prices range from about $16 to $45, though there are a few half-bottles which are less expensive. I tasted several of the BOE wines and two were real standouts to me.

As many know, I'm very picky about Cabernet Franc, generally disliking those with a green/vegetal taste. However, not all Cabernet Franc possesses that taste and I've throughly enjoyed a number of such wines, including some from New York. The 2014 BOE Cabernet Rosé ($18) fits the flavor profile that I prefer and I very much enjoyed its taste. The grapes for this wine came from the Finger Lakes region. The wine was fermented in stainless steel, with wild yeasts, and rested on the lees for a few weeks. With the light salmon color, it is crisp and dry, with delicious red fruit flavors, including cherry and strawberry, with a hint of minerality and a touch of herbs. It is enjoyable on its own though it is also very food friendly, and you should enjoy this Rosé year round.

Dutch settlers in Brooklyn originally referred to the neighborhood as Breukelen, which translates into English as "Broken Land." This was the inspiration for their wine, the 2013 BOE Broken Land ($30), an "Orange" wine. The wine is a blend of 52% Gewurtztraminer and 48% Pinot Gris from the Finger Lakes. After fermentation, the wine sits on the lees for about eleven days and then it is pressed and aged in neutral oak for about nine months. On the nose, the wine provides enticing exotic aromas with earthy elements. On the palate, the wine is elegant, with a subtle earthy aspect, a complex melange of flavors of citrus, dried fruit, mild herbs and a briny element. It is a more subtle wine though, not as intense as other orange wines, which would make it an excellent introduction for wine lovers to the wonders of orange wines. Highly recommended.

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)T o celebrate the extra day in 2016, Chef Brian Poe will hop to it by dishing out a series of Leap Year specials at his three restaurants on Monday, February 29. Chef Poe’s creative culinary style and his flair for using exotic meats will be showcased through creations that use “hopping” proteins, putting the “leap” into “Leap Year.”

Bukowski Tavern in Inman Square will be celebrating Leap Year with “Hoppy Hour” from 5pm through midnight. Each hour, Bukowski Tavern will feature a hops-forward beer to pair with Chef Poe’s Leap Day special, the Cilantro Szechuan Peppercorn Kangaroo Burger with hopped cashew Thai chile aioli, hop-battered onion rings and ginger beer pickles.

Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake, in the Back Bay, Chef Poe will be serving up Hoppin’ Frog Tostadas piled with jalapeño-braised frog legs and topped with a saffron aioli on crisp corn tortillas.

The Tip Tap Room, on Beacon Hill, will be dishing out a Bacon-Wrapped Rabbit Loin with yuzu apples, garlic and a pistachio crumble. Chef Poe recommends pairing the rabbit with Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union brew.

COST: Leap Year specials are available for $13.95 at each restaurant. Specialty beers available at a la carte pricing.

These dishes certainly intrigue me and I'm very tempted to visit one of the restaurants on Leap Day.  I love kangaroo, frogs and rabbit so it might be tough to decide which I want.

2) The Cheese Shop of Concord has launched a new program to please the palates of cheese lovers – those who live or work near the Town of Concord, and even those who don’'t. It’ is the shop’'s first-ever, Monthly Cheese Club, with memberships available in increments of 3, 6 and 12 months.

In March, the cheese lovers club will showcase the Great Cheeses of Massachusetts. There are more than two dozen family farms across the Commonwealth making artisanal cow, sheep and goats milk cheeses.

Club members will receive 1.5 lbs. of whatever three cheeses are at their best, pairing suggestions, plus 2 or 3 “surprise” gifts such as jams, nuts, candy or more from The Cheese Shop’s. With more than 1,000 cheeses rotated throughout the year at The Cheese Shop of Concord, club members are guaranteed a wide-ranging selection of flavors, textures and styles in cheeses made from Deerfield, Massachusetts to the Italian Dolomite Mountains … and from Stowe, Vermont to Fribourg, Switzerland.

Introductory prices for 2016 are as follows:
$225 for a three-month membership …
$420 for a six-month membership …
$720 for a full year (that’s close to 20 pounds of cheese, and almost 40 culinary extras from now until February 2017)

3) On Wednesday, March 9, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with selections from Ravines Wine Cellar. A boutique winery located in an emerging world-class wine region, the Finger Lakes of upstate New York, this small, distinctive winery crafts elegant and food-friendly wines using Old World winemaking traditions with New World innovation.

Legal Sea Foods will team up with owner & winemaker, Morten Hallgren, to host a four-plus-course dinner featuring cuisine paired with his selections from the Ravines vine. The menu will be presented as follows:

Mussel Escabeche, Warm Baguette
Oysters on the Half Shell, Blood Orange Granita, Caviar
Shrimp Arancini, Passion Fruit Aioli
Ravines “Methode Classique” Brut Sparkling Wine, Finger Lakes, 2006
Diver Scallop Ceviche (Navel Orange & Aji Amarillo Leche de Tigre, Salsa Criolla)
Ravines Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2014
Ravines “Argetsinger Vineyard” Dry Riesling, Finger Lakes, 2012
Pan-Seared Halibut Fillet (Hazelnut Beurre Blanc, Mashed Turnip, English Peas)
Ravines Chardonnay, Finger Lakes, 2013
Cedar Plank Roasted Tuna & Pork Belly (Herbed Yukon Gold Potatoes, Braised Broccoli Rabe)
Ravines Cabernet Franc, Finger Lakes, 2013
Ravines Meritage, Finger Lakes, 2012
Caramelized Pineapple Empanada (Coconut Ice Cream, Sabayon)
Ravines “Late Harvest” Vignoles, Finger Lakes, 2013

COST: $85 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9397

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Boston Wine Expo: Quinta Dona Matilde Port

Each year at the Boston Wine Expo, besides seeking out Portuguese still wines, I also look for Ports that are new to me. This year, in the Vintners' Reserve Lounge, the Winresources USA table showcased two Ports from a small, family estate. I hadn't tasted Ports from this producer before so it was good to have the opportunity to check them out.

Once known as Quinta do Enxodreiro and founded in 1875, the Quinta Dona Matilde is a family-owned estate located on the banks of the Douro River. In 1927, the estate was purchased by Manuel Moreira de Barros, who founded the Barros Wine Group. It was he who changed the name of the estate to Dona Matilde, in honor of his wife. About ten years ago, the estate was sold but soon thereafter, Manuel Angelo Barros, the grandson of Manuel and Matilde, bought the estate back and now works it with his sons, Filipe and Nuno. The estate covers about 93 hectares, including 28 hectares of quality vineyards, and they produce both still wines and Port.

The 2008 Quinta Dona Matilde Colheita Porto ($37.99), made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, and Tinta Barroca, was created to be a fresh, easy drinking Port. Usually, these Colheitas are released after 10-12 years but this is an exception. With a pleasant nose of jammy fruit and spice, I found this Port to be elegant and approachable, with prominent bright fruit flavors, mild spice notes, and a little toastiness. The tannins are mild, it isn't overly sweet, and has a fairly lengthy finish. With this Port, they have accomplished their goal and it would be perfect for a chilly evening, accompanied by a hunk of pungent Blue Cheese.

The 2011 Quinta Dona Matilde Vintage Porto ($54.99) is from a vintage which was universally declared and has received major raves. Made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca and Rufete, this wine spent the first 2 years in large oak barrels and the rest in the bottle.  With a deep and alluring aroma, this is an intense Port, muscular and powerful yet still restrained and elegant. It is full bodied, with strong tannins, deep red and black fruit flavors, and moderate spice notes. It possesses a lingering and pleasing finish. Though I think it would benefit from additional aging, it still is fairly approachable for a young vintage Port. With time, it should become a superb Port.

Did you enjoy any Ports at the Boston Wine Expo?