Friday, September 19, 2014

The Wines Of Uruguay (Part 1)

It's a South American country which imported a French grape in the 19th century and since then has made it its own, becoming the signature varietal of that country. It is also a country which possesses a strong wine culture, and consumes most of the wine it produces. It is a country where beef is king, so red wines dominate. It is a country to which many Italian and Spanish immigrants came, bringing their wine making knowledge and traditions with them. It is a country where terroir is becoming more and more important as research, study and experimentation expand. It is a country where the altitude of their vineyards is important.

What country am I referring to in this description? You'll probably first think about Argentina, and all of it firs that country. However, it also fits a second South American country, Uruguay, and I think you'll be hearing more and more about this country in the near future. Located in the southeasterm region of South America, Uruguay (whose name means "land of the painted birds") possesses a pristine environment, with exceptionally pure water and about 410 miles of coastline, Approximately 82% of their land is dedicated to agriculture, the highest percentage of any country in the world. The more you learn about this intriguing country, the more you will be drawn to it, and want to travel there.

Until recently, I'd only tasted a handful of wines from Uruguay, and all were Tannat. Uruguay though has been on my radar this past year for a couple other matters, Estuario del Plata Caviar and Del Terruño Beef.  Because of the caviar and grass-fed beef, I've studied a bit about Uruguay, a small country surrounded by Argentina, Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean,  It has a population of about 3.4 million people, which is less than the population of Greater Boston.

There are also approximately 12 million cattle in the country, nearly 4 for each person. Uruguay is the #1 global consumer of beef, about 132 pounds of beef per capita, having recently dethroned Argentina which currently consumes about 129 pounds per capita. In comparison, U.S. beef consumption is only about 58 pounds, less than half what Uruguayans consume. Beef is Uruguay's primary export and with all the red meat they consume, it is no surprise that they love to drink red wine.

Recently, I attended the Wines of Uruguay 2nd Annual U.S. Trade Tour, where 16 wineries from Uruguay poured samples of their wines, a total of over 80 wines. There was also a seminar, presented by wine educator and speaker Gilles de Chambure, MS. on the differences of wines, especially Tannat, from the four major wine regions in Uruguay. This was a fascinating and educational event, enlightening me on the diversity of the wines of Uruguay. Uruguay is more than just Tannat, and even Tannat possesses its own diversity.

The more I learned about Uruguay, the more I saw its similarities to Argentina, though Uruguay's wine industry seems to be about ten years behind. We've seen the explosion in popularity of Malbec from Argentina during the last ten years, and maybe Tannat can have that same success. I've seen the potential of Tannat, though its future is still indeterminate. The wines of Uruguay are worthy of success and it might become one of the hot new wine regions. As we ponder its future, let us first take a look at its past.

As the conquistadors explored South America, it is thought that the Portuguese may have been the first Europeans to reach the region of Uruguay around 1512 though Spaniards traveled to the area around 1515. Both encountered fierce opposition from the Charrúa, an indigenous, semi-nomadic people and they also learned, to their dismay, that there was no gold or silver to be found in the region. Battles against the Charrúa continued as both Portugal and Spain decided they would still try to eventually colonize the area.

By 1603, though they didn't yet possess a permanent settlement, the Spanish introduced cattle, finding a verdant land which they thought would be conducive to such ranches. Finally, in 1624, they established their first permanent settlement at Soriano on the Río Negro. During this period, Jesuit missionaries also created a number of colonies in the valley of the Rio Paraguay. The Portuguese eventually decided to battle the Spaniards for the region, and thus, around 1670, they constricted a fort at Nova Colonia do Sacramento. The battles for control of this region would continue for more than 150 years,

Though it is likely that the Jesuit missionaries made their own wine in the 17th century, the first known mention of Uruguayan wines was not until 1776. This written reference noted that Spanish explorers brought vines from the Canary Islands to Uruguay. Not much seemed to happen with these vineyards for the next fifty years, as battles took prominence, with Portugal, Spain, Britain and Brazil all seeking to claim the area of Uruguay, The indigenous Charrúa became mostly casualties, and were largely wiped out in the massacre at Salsipuedes in 1831. Out of all these battles, Uruguay finally acquired its own independence in 1828.

With independence came an increased interest in vineyard plantings, though wine making didn't make its mark until the 1870s. Pascal Harriague (1819-1894) is said to be the Uruguayan "father of commercial winegrowing." Pascal immigrated from the French Basque region and eventually purchased an estate, La Caballada, in Salto, a town on the Rio Uruguay and it developed into a 200-hectare vineyard. In about 1870, he planted Tannat, a French grape from the Pyrenees, and its popularity soared. By 1877, it was being considered the national grape of Uruguay, and in honor of Pascal, Tannat became commonly referred to as Harriague.

Another important person in the history of wine in Uruguay is Francisco Vidiella, a former gardener from Catalonia. In 1874, he  established a vineyard and winery at Colón, planting Folle Noire and Gamay Blanc, both imported from France. Because of his contributions, Folle Noire became commonly referred to as Vidiella. It seems Uruguayans like to rename grapes after important countrymen..

Many other grapes were introduced to Uruguay during this time though it wouldn't be until 1903 that the first wine laws would be enacted.  Much of the wine produced at this time was for local consumption and it would not be until the 1980s that there was a major push to increase the quality of Uruguayan wine, as well as rules concerning labeling. In 1987, the National Institute for Vitiviniculture (INAVI), was established, and assisted in the creation of two levels of classification for wine: Vinos de Calidad Preferente (VCP) and Vino Común (VC).

VCP wines must meet a number of quality standards, such as being made from vinifera grapes and sold in 750ml bottles. The wines must be analyzed and approved by INAVI. If they fail to meet these standards, then the wines must be labeled as VC. If a grape variety is referenced on a label, the wine must contain at least 85% of that grape. In addition, if a geographical region is mentioned, all of the grapes must come from that region.

What is the current state of the Uruguayan wine industry?

There are approximately 200 wineries, with about half producing less than 100,000 bottles. Most of the wineries are small, family-owned operations and there are very few large companies. Uruguay has about 22,250 acres under vine, making it about half the size of Napa Valley. Total annual production is about 10 million cases and only 5% is exported, though their exports have tripled during the past five years. Their largest market is Brazil, which imports about three times as much Uruguayan wine as the U.S. As exports continue to grow, Uruguayan wines will start showing up in more and more American wine shops.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, September 18, 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) Get hungry for BostonChefs.com's 11th annual Flavors of Fall at the Royal Sonesta Hotel Ballroom on Monday, November 17 in support of Youth on Fire.

You can attend the VIP Hour from 5:30-6:30pm to indulge in savory snacks, briny bivalves and a glass or two of bubbly. Then, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, chefs from in and around Cambridge will be plating their favorite seasonal dishes to be paired with an assortment of beers and wines at the Main Event. This year, even more restaurants have been added into the mix so that guests can sample twice as many harvest-inspired snacks than ever before. Enjoy past favorites Park, The Blue Room, Belly, and Sandrine's, as well as a couple of new participants like Commonwealth and The Sinclair. And because a party just isn't a party without music, the Jane Potter Trio will be back to keep your ears just as happy as your tastebuds.

Every penny from sales of both VIP ($125) and Main Event ($75) tickets will be donated to Youth on Fire, a program of AIDS Action Committee that provides a safe, supportive space and a full range of services and resources designed specifically to meet the needs of homeless, runaway and street involved youth. The funds from our efforts this year will be used specifically to secure permanent housing for those working to transition off of the streets.

Tickets for Flavors of Fall, the season's longest-running tasting extravaganza, are available online now.

2) This month celebrate oyster season at the first annual Battery Wharf Oyster Festival. Benefiting the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association and the Island Creek Oyster Foundation, the event will be held on the Boston Harborwalk at Fairmont Battery Wharf on Sunday, September 21 from 2pm-5pm. The waterfront will be alive with music, small plates prepared by some of the city’s most popular chefs and a wide array of freshly shucked oysters from Massachusetts-based growers.

Five of Boston’s most talented chefs will be at the event preparing small plates. Participating chefs include Michael Serpa from Neptune Oyster, Will Gilson from Puritan & Company, Graham Lockwood from Aragosta Bar & Bistro, Jeremy Sewall from Row 34 and Island Creek Oyster Bar and Louis DiBiccari from Tavern Road.

Massachusetts’ South Shore and Cape Cod waters are the home for a number of oyster growers. The growers, all of whom are part of the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association, include Moon Shoal, WiAnno Oysters and Beach Point Oysters from Barnstable, Chatham Shellfish Company, Indian Cove Aquaculture in Wareham, Cotuit Oyster Company, Eastham-based First Encounters, Island Creek Oysters from Duxbury and Pleasant Bay Oysters from Orleans.

Tickets for the Battery Wharf Oyster Festival are $65 per person, including all food, two drink tickets, live entertainment and a cash bar. The event is hosted by Fairmont Battery Wharf and Island Creek Oysters. To purchase tickets, please visit oyster-festival-boston.eventbrite.com.

3) On October 14, at 6:30pm, Legal Harborside will team up with Louis-Fabrice Latour, President of Louis Latour, for an exclusive four-plus-course wine dinner. Family operated since it’s foundation in 1797, the French winery in Burgundy is internationally renowned for the quality of its red and white wines. The company has continually built a reputation for tradition and innovation and takes pride in practicing environmentally-friendly methods. Both white and red grapes are hand-picked at their peak ripeness and undergo a complex fermentation process to produce some of the finest and full-bodied flavors in the world.

The menu will be presented as follows:

HORS D’OEUVRES
Smoked Scallop Mousse - fried sage, bruléed apple
Salmon Gravlax - rutabaga, lemon confit vinaigrette
Poached Shrimp - brandade, sweet garlic
Paddlefish Roe - crème fraîche, fingerling potato
Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne, NV
FIRST COURSE
Sea Bream (celery root emulsion, verjus vinaigrette)
Louis Latour Meursault, 2012
Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet, 2012
SECOND COURSE
Halibut en Croûte (romanesco, cauliflower, hazelnut, preserved lemon)
Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Sous les Puits,” 2010
Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru “Sous les Puits,” 2009
THIRD COURSE
Bacon-Wrapped Monkfish (savoy cabbage, pickled chanterelles, calvados caramel)
Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru, 2010
Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne, Grand Cru, 2009
CHEESE COURSE
Grand Cru Gruyère (anise tuile, pistachio, mint)
Louis Latour Beaune Premier Cru “Vignes Franches,” 2009
Louis Latour Château Corton Grancey, Grand Cru, 1999

COST: $135 per person (excludes tax & gratuity)
Reservation required by calling 617-530-9470

4) Head to The Beehive on Wednesday, October 8, for “Oktoberfest Der Beehive,” the ‘Hives annual event featuring Bavarian and German food & libations, and live entertainment from The Bavarian Hofbrau Band including oompah, beer songs and polka.

Start the night off with an ice cold beer from Harpoon Beer including Harpoon IPA, Octoberfest & UFO Pumpkin, and Cape Ann Brewery Co. including its Fisherman's Kölsch, Cape Ann Brew and the exclusive Honey Brew, before indulging in Executive Chef Marc Orfaly’s Bavarian-inspired specials. In addition to the regular menu, Chef Orfaly will serve up items such as German sausages and house roast pork knuckle both served with sauerkraut and potatoes. While enjoying ice cold beers and cocktails, guests can also enjoy The Beehive’s oven fresh pretzels. Dinner and drinks will be served from 5pm-1am.

Not in the mood for dinner? Join the Beehive at 7:30pm when the The Bavarian Hofbrau Band takes the stage. Founded over 20 years ago, The Bavarian Hofbrau Band perfected the oompah style band. Members have visited the Old Vienna Hofbrau in Montreal, the World's Fair in Tennessee and have even traveled to various cities and towns in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. The evening’s entertainment will take guests on a tour of Europe, starting in Vienna, going north into Bohemia, then west through Northern Germany and then south through the Black Forest, Bavaria and finally Liechtenstein.

For reservations, please call 617-423-0069

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

iFest: Ireland in Boston (And Win Tickets!)

In ten days, Ireland will come to Boston  at the iFest, a three-day festival that celebrates Irish culture, cuisine, heritage, hospitality, and entertainment. The festival will be held from Friday, September 26 to Sunday, September 28 at the Seaport World Trade Center. There will be something for all interests, such as Music/Entertainment, Literature/Design, Genealogy, Sports, Tourism, and Food/Drink. If you have any interest in Ireland, I'm sure there will be something here to intrigue you.

For my readers who enjoy good food and drink, the iFest offers much to savor. There will be Chef Demonstrations with several of Ireland’s top chefs, including Darina Allen, Kevin Dundon, Cathal Armstrong, and Euro-toques Young Chef of the Year Mark Moriarty, who will prepare dishes prepared with Guinness stout. These Irish chefs will be joined by some local chefs, including iFest Culinary Ambassador Barbara Lynch, Ana Sortun, Lydia Shire, Ming Tsai, Jasper White, and Colin Lynch. Mixologist Ezra Star of Drink will also demonstrate how to blend the perfect cocktail.

You'll also find an Irish food village with the opportunity to sample Irish produce, cheese, and bread and meet exhibitors from Burren Smoke House, Kerrygold, National Organic, and Crossogue Preserves.

Want something more alcoholic? You can attend a beer tasting at the new, experiential Guinness 20/20 Bar which will show the future of what Guinness pubs will look like, served with samples of Irish food. There will also be samples of Irish cocktails made with Dingle Distillery Irish vodka & gin.

There will also be Jameson Irish Whiskey tastings. In addition, a master cooper from the Midleton distiller will lead a master class on the old skill of cooperage – taking the barrels apart and showing how whiskey is distilled.

For something nonalcoholic, you could attend a Bewley’s Irish Tea Party with a Boston pastry chef, Maura Kilpatrick.

You can order tickets online here, and avoid waiting in line at the event to purchase tickets. A General Admission session ticket costs $60 or get a VIP ticket for $110. There are also special Family package deals.

However, I am also giving away TWO FREE GENERAL ADMISSION TICKETS (a $120 value) to the Sunday session. All you have to do to enter is to leave a comment here telling me what you like about Ireland, The contest will end on Thursday, September 18, at midnight. I will then randomly select one commenter to win the pair of tickets.

I'll be attending the iFest on Friday evening, and will be reporting back on what I experienced. Hope to see some of my readers there too. We could sip some Irish whiskey together.

Boring Americans: The Seafood Edition

Americans have boring tastes. In general, they tend to stick to a limited amount of choices, rarely venturing out to explore the possibilities. For example, when considering wine consumption in the U.S., a small number of grapes dominate the market, with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon leading the pack. This is despite the fact that there are hundreds of grapes used to make wine around the world. Why aren't more Americans adventurous with their plates?

Sadly, this applies to seafood consumption too. There are more than 100 seafood species available in U.S. markets, but only 6 species account for 91% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. Once again, Americans show that their culinary choices are generally boring. There is a bounty of available seafood species, but most Americans won't venture out to try all of these delicious and interesting species. Why is that the case?

The top seafood for Americans is shrimp, and the average person consumes over four pounds a year, an amount equivalent to the average consumption of the #2 and #3 seafoods, canned tuna and salmon. The other three seafood in the top six include Alaska pollock, tilapia and Pangasius catfish. Such limited choices. In comparison, the Japanese regularly consume far more different species, as 80% of their seafood derives from 18 different species, three times as many as Americans. However, the Americans are not along in their limited choices. For example, 80% of Iceland's seafood consumption derives from only six species and 80% of Norway's seafood consumption only comes from five species.      

As Americans rely on such a limited amount of seafood species, that puts a greater strain on those species. It would help promote sustainability if more Americans diversified their seafood palate, eating less common species, which can be equally as delicious as the more common ones. I recently described the benefits of eating mussels, yet only about 1% of Americans eat mussels. Why not add mussels to your list of commonly eaten seafood?

When you next dine at a seafood restaurant, why not try something different, a type of seafood you have never eaten before? Ask your server for suggestions. When you visit your local seafood market or seafood department, try something new, and ask your fish monger for suggestions. Be adventurous with your palate and you might find some new favorites.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rant: Dirty Restaurant? No Worries If It's Authentic

When selecting a restaurant, how much do you value its cleanliness? Are you willing to dine at a dirty restaurant if the cuisine is "authentic?"

It seems that many people are willing to make that trade-off, and that disturbs me on a certain level.

In June, a study, Conflicting Social Codes and Organizations: Hygiene and Authenticity in Consumer Evaluations of Restaurants was published in Management Science. The study was conducted by Glenn Carroll of Stanford Graduate School of Business, David W. Lehman of the University of Virginia and Balázs Kovács of the University of Lugano, Switzerland.  Their study included statistical analysis of over 724,000 consumer reviews from Yelp (of over 9700 restaurants) and over 52,000 food safety inspections conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

They found that many restaurants of they studied, by law, must publicly post their health grades, meaning that consumers can readily determine the cleanliness level of a restaurant. It would seem logical that consumers would value restaurants more which possessed higher health grades. However, when selecting a restaurant, cleanliness is not the only factor that consumers consider.

For a number of consumers, authenticity of the cuisine is very important. I'm not going to get into a lengthy discussion of what constitutes "authentic" cuisine as it is a very complex issue, and often it is more of a personal issue. Each diner generally has their own idea of which restaurants they consider to have authentic cuisine. They might consider the opinions of restaurant reviewers, though there is no guarantee that the reviewer is an expert in that particular cuisine. For the purposes of this article, what is most important is that many people value authenticity.

In the study, it was found that reviewers tended to rate restaurants higher if they had a higher health grade or if they were considered authentic. However, if a restaurant was rated highly because it was considered authentic, the health grade generally didn't matter so that even a place with a low health grade received a high rating. Authenticity was valued much higher than hygiene, and consumers would ignore dirt and health violations just because the cuisine was considered authentic. What does this conclusion say about people?

When considering authenticity, we generally are referring to ethnic restaurants. Does this mean consumers assume authentic ethnic restaurants are dirty?  Is this a form of prejudice or ignorance?  Do consumers have different standards for restaurants, dependent on whether it is ethnic or not? For example, a steakhouse is almost never referred to as "authentic"or not. Thus, the health grade of such a place would be very important but if it were a Chinese restaurant, consumers would care less about the health grade.

It seems strange that people would value authenticity over a threat to their health. The threat of food poisoning seems to be ignored in favor of authenticity. It seems even more strange when you realize that authenticity is elusive.

How important is authenticity to you? Does it trump the cleanliness of a restaurant?