Monday, April 21, 2014

Rant: Wine Selfies

While working at the wine store, I sometimes encounter a customer who is seeking a specific wine, yet they remember very little about it. They might only know that it had a blue label or that the name of the producer began with a "P." That leads to a "game" of Twenty Questions as I try to determine the wine's identity, asking question after question to narrow down the possible choices. Sometimes I am successful, and sometimes not. I am most successful when the wine in question is something that the customer previously purchased at the store.

When the customer is trying to recall a wine that had at a restaurant, or purchased at another store, it is much tougher. There are thousands of wines out there, so trying to determine its identity from very limited information is difficult, if not impossible. However, there is something simple that consumers can do to make these type of situations much easier for all involved. And it will allow the consumer to better locate the wines they desire.

During the last couple days that I have worked at the wine store, several people have availed themselves of this simple solution, and it made it easier to locate the wines they sought, or something similar. I have even talked about this simple solution before, but it is worthy of being spotlighted again. It is a solution that I use, and which a number of my wine friends also use. And it is a solution that all wine consumers should know and use.

All you have to do is to take a picture of the wine bottle you enjoy.

Nearly everyone carries a smart phone, with the capability to take photos, so you always have a camera handy. It only takes a few seconds to snap a photo of a wine label. You don't have to write anything down, to take any notes about the wine. The picture becomes your memory of the wine, a memory that can be easily shared with others. The picture of the wine label should be sufficient for most any wine store to identify the wine. And you won't need to play Twenty Questions with the wine store staff to identify the wine that you previously enjoyed.    

Though the occasional customer at the wine store has previously showed me a wine label photo, there were about five customers within the last couple days that did so. I hope this is a positive sign that more people are now taking this simple action. There is little reason why more people can't take such pictures. If you enjoy a wine, then take a few seconds to memorialize that occasion with a photo, a quick picture of the wine label.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday Sips & Nibbles

I am back with a special Friday edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) The Wine ConneXtion is bringing the Kentucky Derby to North Andover. On Saturday, May 3, guests are invited to The Wine ConneXtion to celebrate the annual ”Running of the Roses” with a complimentary wine tasting of Rosés from 1pm-5pm. Rosés have finished last in the past when the wine market was flooded with White Zinfindel look-a-likes, but they are making a comeback, as savvy wine lovers have discovered that these light-bodied and delicately flavored wines are the sophisticated summer sister of their favorite red varietals.

At this special Saturday tasting, The Wine ConneXtion staff will be dressed to the nines in spring attire and traditional derby hats. Guests will have the opportunity to participate in Wine ConneXtion’s own competition as they cast their vote for which will be named crowd favorite. Guests must be 21+ and walk-ins are welcome all day. Hats and traditional derby dress is encouraged.

2) On May 6, at 6:30pm, Legal Sea Foods in Park Square will host a wine dinner with Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. This winery embodies the spirit and passion of small producers focusing on Pinot Noir in the heart of Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley. Since its inception 1998, the family-owned winery has achieved impressive growth and are well-known for their deep berry notes and cherry aromas in their distinctive Pinot Noirs. Legal Sea Foods will team up with Founder and Winemaker, Lynn Penner-Ash, to host an exclusive four-plus-course dinner featuring signature cuisine paired with her selections from the Penner-Ash’s vine.

The menu will be presented as follows:

Apple Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Scallops, Pear Balsamic Reduction
Farmer Cheese Mini Pie, Thyme Apple Jam
Lobster Gorditas, Grilled Sweet Pepper Relish
Penner-Ash Viognier, Oregon, 2012
Roasted Chicken Rolletini (Wild Mushrooms, Marsala Sauce)
Penner-Ash Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2011
Mahi Mahi En Papillote (Aromatic Basmati Rice, Cherry Tomato Jam)
Penner-Ash “Dussin Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2011
Cedar Plank Salmon (English Pea Risotto, Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout)
Penner-Ash “Shea Vineyard” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2011
Penner-Ash “Pas de Nom” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, 2011
Vermont Ayr, Grafton Aged Cheddar, Boggy Meadow Fiddlehead Tomme (Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam, Grilled Francese)
Penner-Ash Syrah, Oregon, 2011

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

3) Give Mom a rest this Mother’s Day and treat her to a special meal at Tryst. Tryst will be serving Mother’s Day brunch from 10am-2:30pm on Sunday, May 11, featuring a special two course, prix fixe brunch menu including a complimentary mimosa or a non-alcoholic beverage.

Chef Paul Turano will be serving an exclusive brunch menu throughout the day where guests will enjoy items such as Kale & Brussels Sprout Salad with toasted hazelnuts, parmesan & Verjus vinaigrette, Artichoke & Roasted Pepper Tart, Steak & Eggs, grilled steak, two eggs, crispy potatoes & hollandaise, and Brioche French Toast with cinnamon date butter & maple syrup. Each two course brunch order is accompanied by a mimosa or complimentary non-alcoholic beverage of choice.

If Mom would rather sleep in, Tryst will be serving Mother’s Day dinner from 4:30pm-9pm featuring favorites such as Prosciutto Flatbread with whipped ricotta, fresh mozzarella, zucchini & herb oil ($11), Beet & Ricotta Ravioli with pistachio & crispy kale ($12/$19), and Crispy Pork Shank with stir fried vegetables, quinoa & sweet chili glaze ($21).

Finish the night toasting mom with Tryst’s classic cocktails, including the Black Raspberry Caipirinha, Cachaca, Blackberry Moonshine, muddled raspberries, lime and mint ($12), and the Basil Cucumber Lemonota made with Ketel One Citroen, muddled basil, cucumber and lime ($12).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Gelato, Sorbet & Wine Blending

The analogy seemed clear to me. Making gelato and sorbet was similar in a number of respects to wine blending, that same mix of art and science. Such an intriguing process, one that might be underestimated by many people. And a comparison I might not have made if I had not been closely involved in the creation of a new sorbet flavor.

As I mentioned recently, I had the opportunity to create a sorbet flavor at Pazzo Gelato Cafe in North Andover during their special Willy Wonka Week. Jim had created a number of special gelato and sorbet flavors for that special week, and had invited a small number of locals to contribute by creating their own flavors. I was one of those lucky few and last Monday, I went into the Cafe and worked with the owner, Jim Demotses, in creating "Tipsy Sensei," a sorbet blend of Ty Ku Coconut Sake, Yuzu and Coconut. The Ty Ku is a Junmai Nigori Sake that has been infused with Coconut.

When I learned that I could design a flavor, I knew that it had to involve Sake in some way. It seemed obvious that a Nigori Sake might work best, as they often can be sweeter and sometimes can possess tropical fruit flavors which would work well in this situation. And as I shopped for a Nigori, the Ty Ku Coconut stood out as a good choice for this endeavor. And I think coconut and yuzu make a good pairing, so I was excited to taste the results.

As we worked on creating this flavor, I got to witness Jim's production process, including the initial calculations and preparations. Initially, Jim performs a series of calculations, determining the amounts and proportions of the various ingredients. Though there is plenty of science involved in those calculations, there is also an element of art, such as trying to determine how to balance certain flavors. For the Tipsy Sensei sorbet, should you use more coconut or yuzu? Which fruit possessed the stronger flavor? You can make gelato or sorbet with almost any type of flavors, especially any fruit, but combining different flavors is an art form, trying to create a harmonious and delicious blend. In addition, science wise, how would you handle the alcohol content of the Sake?

Once the calculations were completed, then we blended the various ingredients, measuring each amount upon a scale. This doesn't have to be an exact match as you might need for baking. There is room for error here, and you can make adjustments as necessary. We taste tested the liquid mix at a few points, and at the end, the mixture seemed to be exactly what we wanted, a balanced mix of coconut and yuzu, kind of a Pina Colada flavor, but with the unique citrus taste of the yuzu. It seemed creamy and lush, and I was eager for the final product.

Though it kind of resembles a light saber, this is actually a refractometer, an important tool which measures sugar density. You need specific densities for gelato and sorbet, and your liquid mixture needs to be examined to ensure it reaches these objectives. With the refractometer, you place a little bit of the liquid on a plate, and then look through the lens toward the light. You will then see a little measuring line, which notes the varying percentages. If it is not the percentage you need, you simply adjust the liquid mixture, such as by adding more fruit puree or water, until it is correct.

Once the liquid is ready, it is then poured into the freezer unit, where it will sit for around 10 minutes or so. You then remove it and you have your gelato or sorbet. It might then be placed into a refrigerator for a short time, which can help stabilize and harden.

We tasted the finished sorbet, and I realized more about the art of blending. The sorbet had a prominent yuzu flavor, with only a mild background of coconut. It tasted good, and I enjoyed it, but was not exactly what I had envisioned, and not exactly what it had tasted like as a liquid. I wanted a more balanced mix of coconut and yuzu, with neither flavor predominating. During the process of freezing, the flavor balance had altered.

So, in making it again, the proportions of coconut and yuzu would need to be adjusted, which is an easy change. This helps to show that experimentation with flavor combinations is necessary in flavor creation, to see what works and doesn't work. The Sake worked well in the sorbet and would make an excellent ingredient for other flavors of gelato and sorbet too. Kudos to Jim for allowing me this opportunity and sparking my inspiration.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rant: Don't Bottle Yourself In (Part 2)

Are you a fan of the "juice boxes" of the wine world? In other words, do you purchase wine packaged in Tetra Paks?

One month ago, I told my readers: "Stop ignoring the Tetra Pak." As I also mentioned, "Tetra Paks are better for the environment in a number of ways, making it a more sustainable choice than a bottle." However, that won't matter to many people unless the wine in the Tetra Pak tastes good, and I believe that the quality of wine in Tetra Paks has been improving over the years.

Food Production Daily recently posted an intriguing article about Tetra Paks, noting the growth of this product. In 2013, about 1.7 billion liters of wine were packaged in Tetra Paks, a growth of 3% from the prior year, and constituting about "7% of the world's share of still wines." That seems like a substantial amount of wine, much more than I expected. And as the category is growing, it seems that more and more people are accepting of this packaging.

The article also notes that the best markets for Tetra Paks currently include Spain, Argentina, Russia and Italy. The U.S. is not mentioned as one of these top markets which is probably not surprising as it doesn't appear there is much wine available here yet in Tetra Paks. However, there are at least a few very good wines available, and hopefully more will come in the near future. I agree with the gist of the article that more quality wine needs to be packaged in this way, to avoid acquiring a reputation that only "cheap" wine gets placed into a Tetra Pak.

As the Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet in Melrose sold out of nearly all of the Tetra Pak wines that were recently brought in, it is clear that local consumers are willing to take a chance on these wines. They especially make an attractive choice as summer approaches, as they are a convenient option for taking to the beach, camping, boating and more. No glass to break, no need for a corkscrew, compact size.

So what is stopping you from enjoying wine in a Tetra Pak?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) Legal Harborside is saddling up for “the most exciting two minutes in sports” by hosting a Kentucky Derby party for the books. Guests can head over to Legal Harborside’s rooftop to catch the run of the roses as all eyes will be on the top contenders at Churchill Downs. Revelers should dress to impress for Millionaires Row with a prize awarded at the end of the evening for “Best Derby Hat.

Tickets to the party include festive tunes from a live deejay, one Mint Julep per guest, a Triple Crown of passed hors d’oeuvres (pulled pork sliders, shrimp & corn hush puppies, mini chicken & waffles) and an Oyster Bar (WiAnno, Merry Bay, Wellfleet, Naked Cowboy) from 6-7pm.

When: May 3 from 4:30pm – 7:30pm
Cost: General admission: $60 per person
Reserved couch: $400 per group (up to six people)

Tickets and tables may be reserved online. Tickets purchased are non-refundable and have no cash value. Limited tickets and table reservations are available. Access to the event will only be granted to guests with a ticket receipt and 21+ ID. Guests may order food a la carte from the full 3rd floor menu. Roof opens to the public at 7:30pm.

2) From June 2-8, 2014, Campari® and Imbibe magazine will present Negroni Week nationwide when a portion of proceeds from every Negroni sold at participating bars and restaurants will be donated to the charity of their choice. In addition, Campari will donate $10,000 to the top fundraising establishment’s charity.

Last year through Negroni Week, we were able to give back by simply enjoying one of my favorite cocktails,” says Jonny Raglin of Comstock Saloon in San Francisco, one of the original Negroni Week supporters. “Cocktails are really only improved by supporting those in need.”

Last year, more than 120 bars and restaurants across the U.S. participated in the inaugural Negroni Week, including renowned cocktail destinations such as PDT in New York; Son of a Gun and Spare Room in Los Angeles; Imperial in Portland; and many more. “What started as a grassroots movement to aid charities through a cocktail is now an orchestrated effort around the world, giving bartenders and Campari fans a chance to give back to causes that matter most in their communities,” said Umberto Luchini, Head of Marketing, Campari America.

Negroni Week 2014, held in partnership the U.S. Bartender’s Guild (USBG), uses the classic Negroni cocktail - one part Campari, one part gin and one part sweet vermouth – as the catalyst to help raise funds for worthy causes. "We launched Negroni Week not only to celebrate one of the world's great cocktails but also to create a unique platform for charities nationwide," says Imbibe publisher Karen Foley. "It's such an amazing way for bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts to join forces for the greater good."

Bars and restaurants interested in signing up can go to This is also where consumers can find participating bars and restaurants in their area. Negroni fans nationwide will be encouraged to spread the word on social media using the hashtag #NegroniWeek, with surprise giveaways to supporters throughout the week.

Invented in Florence, Italy, in 1919, the exceptionally easy-to-create and even easier-to-enjoy Negroni is considered an aperitif – a drink traditionally consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite. It can be served up in a cocktail glass or on the rocks, and it is always stirred, never shaken.

Several local bars have already committed to participating, including:
jm Curley
Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar
Brick & Mortar
Russell House Tavern

3) Scheduled for Sunday, April 13, the fifth annual Boston Lamb Jam brings together a slew of talented chefs and their tastiest American lamb-based dishes to compete for top honors in categories like Best in Show, People's Choice and Best Leg, Ground, Shank and Shoulder.

The event starts with a VIP hour tailored to the most ardent lovers of American lamb. From 2:30-3:30pm, guests will get to snack on lamb charcuterie from acclaimed chefs Jamie Bissonnette of Toro and Coppa, Will Gilson of Puritan & Co., Louis DiBiccari of Tavern Road and Dante de Magistris of dante. VIPs will also get to sample sheep's milk cheese, wine and beer, and Elijah Craig bourbon-based cocktails courtesy of mixologist Joy Richard and the renowned bar team at Citizen.

At the main event, which takes place from 3:00-6:00pm, fans of lamb will get to try samples of two dozen lambtastic dishes presented by chefs from Boston, Providence, Portsmouth and Portland. Reigning champion Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow, who took home a trio of trophies last year, will be defending his title against first time participants like Graham Botto of Back Bay Grill in Portland and Matt Louis from Portsmouth's Moxy. There are more than a few repeat performers, too including...

Michael Scelfo, Alden & Harlow
Brian Alberg, Red Lion Inn
Brian Dandro, ArtBar
Brian Rae, Rialto
Robert Sisca, Bistro du Midi
Cassie Piuma, Sarma
Brian Reyelt, Citizen
Nuno Alves & Chris Douglass, Tavolo
Peter Davis, Henrietta's Table
Jim Solomon, The Fireplace
Daniel Bojorquez, La Brasa
Justin Melnick, The Terrace

Nemo Bolin, Cook & Brown
Beau Vestal, New Rivers
Champe Speidel, Persimmon

Graham Botto, Back Bay Grill
Austin Miller, East Ender
Niko Regas, Emilitsa

Matt Louis, Moxy
Evan Hennessy, Stages at One Washington

Attendees will be able to sip on lamb-friendly wines and beers from 12 of New England's best breweries (like Mayflower, Harpoon, Rising Tide and Smuttynose, just to name a few), take part in the make-your-own spice rub station and learn the ins and outs of animal butchery at a demo with Nuno Alves of Tavolo.

A portion of the proceeds from the Boston Lamb Jam will support Lovin' Spoonfuls, a local organization that facilitates the recovery and distribution of healthy, perishable food that would otherwise be discarded.

Where: The Royal Sonesta, 40 Edwin H Land Blvd, Cambridge, MA 02142
VIP Tickets ($90): GA Tickets ($60):

4) Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer is celebrating their 15th year of sweet success in the city. This year, some of the area’s premier restaurants and bakeries will be joining forces to help raise money to benefit breast cancer research and care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Establishments will choose one dessert to feature for a week where 100% of the proceeds from sales will go directly to the Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer organization.

This year, top area restaurants have kindly pledged to donate all of their selected dessert’s proceeds to join in the battle against breast cancer including: Cask ‘n Flagon’s Chocolate Torte (homemade flourless chocolate torte served warm with vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream and hot chocolate sauce - $6.75); Haru’s Tempura Cheesecake (coconut with mixed berry coulis, or traditional with sake claret coulis - $9); Legal Sea Foods’s Boston Cream Pie (chocolate sauce, rum caramel sauce, toffee almond crunch - $7.95); and, The Tip Tap Room’s Blackberry White Chocolate Bread Pudding (whiskey caramel glaze - $7.95).

WHEN: Available May 5th through May 11th at participating restaurants
WHERE: Participating restaurants include the following:
· Cask ‘n Flagon – Fenway (62 Brookline Avenue, Boston)
· Cask ‘n Flagon – Marshfield (804 Plain Street, Marshfield)
· Haru (55 Huntington Avenue, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Copley Place (100 Huntington Avenue, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Prudential Center (800 Boylston Street, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Park Plaza (26 Park Plaza, Boston)
· Legal Sea Foods – Chestnut Hill (43 Boylston Street, Chestnut Hill)
· The Tip Tap Room (138 Cambridge Street, Boston)

5) Frances Mayes, the bestselling author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” brings her line of Tuscan Sun Wines to New Hampshire for the first time on Friday, May 16 for a private dinner event at Tuscan Kitchen, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in Salem, New Hampshire. This will be followed by a wine sampling and book and bottle singing event on Saturday, May 17 at Tuscan Market, an artisan Italian marketplace and trattoria. Created in partnership with Curious Cork Imports, each Tuscan Sun Wine was hand-selected by Mayes herself to embody a different concept that touches on the Tuscan lifestyle.

The private dinner with Frances will take place on Friday, May 16 with two seatings at 5:30pm and again at 8:30pm at Tuscan Kitchen. Reservations for the private dinner is limited to 50 people per seating and is $125 per person. This includes a gourmet dinner, a signed bottle of Tuscan Sun Wines, and a signed cookbook. For reservations, please visit

The book and bottle signing will take place the following day on Saturday, May 17 from 11:00am– 3:00pm at Tuscan Market, 63 Main Street in Salem, NH, right next to Tuscan Kitchen. Fans will be able to meet Frances Mayes, taste the wines and have Frances autograph her bottles, books, and the movie which make the perfect keepsake or gift. Frances’s wines, her cookbook, “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook,” book “Under the Tuscan Sun,” as well as the 2003 movie adaptation of her book of the same title will be available for purchase at the event.

The line of Tuscan Sun Wines includes three reds and one white. Each wine has an Italian name and an English translation and showcases the vision of Frances Mayes:

· Pensiero (A little gift) 100% Pinot Grigio
· Permesso (May I come in?) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
· Tondo Tondo (Just perfect) 100% Sangiovese
· Auguri (My best to you) 80% Sangiovese, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot

These wines bring to life a sense of wonder through the simple joys that my life in Italy has given me,” said Mayes. “I hope that by sharing them with the world, others can also attain a bit of the enjoyment I’ve gained from my experience here, if only for a moment as they sip these glorious wines.