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Rant: No Predictions For 2013, Only Wishes

Date: Mon, Dec 31, 2012 Wine Tasting

Break out your crystal ball, look into its depths and envision the future. What food and drink trends do you see coming up for 2013? If you don't have your own predictions, you will find numerous articles making their own predictions. It happens every year but if you review the previous year's predictions, you will likely realize that most of the predictions probably never came true. Our prophetic powers seem to be lacking. It would be futile for me to predict a list of trends which might occur in 2013.

Instead, I want to offer my wishes for which trends I want to see, though it may be doubtful that these trends will actually occur. I believe my wishes address gaps in the local food and drink scene, and which present opportunities for adventurous entrepreneurs to capitalize on. Too many trends extend for far too long, becoming stale and trite, because they seem safe. I am hoping more people choose to take a risk by leading the way in a new trend rather than following others like sheep.

1) Bread Pudding: I am so tired of cupcakes, especially as it seems many are average or lower quality. A good bread pudding can put those cupcakes to shame, and bread pudding is so versatile, available in a myriad of tasty flavors. Maybe you would enjoy a moist chocolate bread pudding or a light bourbon bread pudding with caramel sauce. Why don't more restaurants offer this dish on their dessert menus? Why isn't there a local bakery that specializes in different bread puddings? Can you make a bread pudding out of all those mediocre cupcakes? My favorite dessert of 2012 was a Pineapple Bread Puddingand I would love to see more restaurants creating their own compelling bread pudding.

2) Meatloaf: I am also tired of burgers. I love a good burger but I think we areover saturated with burger joints, with even more coming in the near future. When is enough enough? Why not use all that ground beef and create some amazing meatloaf recipes? I admit that meatloaf never did much for me but The Painted Burro has changed my mind, showing me the potential of this comfort food. Their Yucatan Meatloaf was stunning, a blend of alluring flavors that won't remind you of the bland meatloaf you might have once had as a child. I want other restaurants to step up to the plate and create their own unique meatloaf recipes, recipes that will change the mind of even meatloaf haters.

3)FilipinoRestaurants: There isn't a single Filipino restaurant in Boston and the closest restaurant appears to be in Quincy, JnJ Turo Turo. Where is the love for Filipino cuisine? This isn't just a Boston problem as there are less than 500 Filipino restaurants across the country. However, it can be a delicious cuisine, with a rich history, so it is very strange that there are so few restaurants. This is a great opportunity for a Filipino chef to blaze a trail in Boston. Bring on adobo, mechado, kare-kare and more!

4) Peruvian Ingredients: Peruvian cuisine is under represented in the Boston area despite the myriad of fascinating Peruvian ingredients which exist, from thousands of potatoes to numerous indigenous fruits. Chef Jose Duarte of Taranta, an Italian/Peruvian restaurant in the North End, has opened my eyes to the vast potential of Peruvian ingredients. He has created some superb dishes and I am perplexed why more chefs are not delving into the treasure trove of Peru, using such ingredients to enhance their dishes too. Let us see lucuma, auyuma, panca pepper and more.

5) Sake: Sake seems to be growing in popularity, but very slowly. I want that trend to continue though I would prefer that the pace accelerates. It truly is a complex and wondrous drink with a rich history and culture. It is extremely food friendly and many more people would enjoy it if only they tasted it. I will continue my own campaign to spread my passion for Sake and hope others take up the effort as well. Come to one of my Sake dinners, tastings or classes in 2013 and learn why you should be enjoying Sake.

6) Fortified Wines: Sherry, Port and Madeira remain niche beverages, though they are worthy of far more attention. Consumers often possess misinformation about these wines and need more education to better appreciate them. For example, many think all Sherry is sweet yet a large portion are actually dry, like Fino and Manzanilla, and they are food friendly. Why not enjoy some oysters and briny Manzanilla? Port is great after dinner, yet it too can work well throughout an entire meal. Explore these fortified wines and learn the marvels they contain.

7) Spirit Paired Dinners: Wine and beer paired dinners have become commonplace but it is still a rarity to find dinners paired with spirits, such as bourbon, scotch, tequila, and rum. For example, Legal Sea Foods ran their first Scotch paired dinner this past year. I have attended several spirit paired dinners in 2012 and the pairings often worked quite well. People usually don't think of drinking spirits with dinner but they should give it consideration. Restaurants have the opportunity to present unique events by creating harmonious pairings with spirits. Show the potential to consumers.

What food & drink trends would you like to see in 2013?

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Crémant d'Alsace: A New Year's Eve Recommendation

Date: Fri, Dec 28, 2012 Wine Tasting

With New Year's Eve around the corner, Sparkling Wine takes center stage, including Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and domestic bubbly. Some people are willing to splurge on pricey Champagne while others are more frugal, seeking inexpensive, value sparkling wines. One excellent value option, which may be overlooked by the average consumer, is Crémantd'Alsace.

In 2008, Americansconsumed almost 99 million bottles of domestic sparkling wine, 17 million bottles of French Champagne and over 45 million bottles of sparkling wine (like Cava and Prosecco) from other countries. Out of that 161 million bottles, only about 300,000 bottles, a mere drop in the bucket, wereCrémant d'Alsace. It is clear how littleCrémant d'Alsace is consumed here, though the amount of imports seems to be slowly increasing.

In the Alsace region of France, they have been producing sparkling wines since the early 19th century but it was not until 1976 that the Crémant d'Alsace AOC was created. Back in 1979, their total production was less than 1 million bottles but that has now increased to around 33 million bottles. The term "crémant" basically means "creamy" and originally referred to sparkling wines that were produced with less pressure, which tended to make them taste more creamy than effervescent. There are six other Crémant AOCs in France, including Bordeaux,Bourgogne, Die, Jura, Limoux and Loire.

Crémant d'Alsace is produced in a similar fashion to Champagne, though there are some differences as well. TheCrémant d'AlsaceAOC has strict regulations on viticulture and viniculture, and six grapes are permitted including Pinot Blanc,Riesling, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.Most of their Blanc de Blancs is made from Pinot Blanc while Pinot Noir is the only grape permitted in their Rosé. For those who want value,Crémant d'Alsace usually sells for $10-$20, making it very affordable. But what does it taste like?

Based on my recent experiences with several Crémants, they generally seem to be more Old World in style, with restrained and subdued flavors. They generally don't possess bold fruity flavors like Prosecco and Cava, and are more dry, crisp and clean. They are refreshing, excellent with food and offer good complexity at their price point. I want to review twoCrémants I recently enjoyed around the Christmas holiday (both being media samples) and I'll be discussing moreCrémants in the near future. In short though, consumers should be seeking outCrémantd'Alsace if they want an excellent value sparkling wine.

TheWillm Crémant d’Alsace Blanc de Blancs Brut NV($13)is produced in a winery that has been around since 1896, and their wines were the the first Alsatian wines imported into the U.S., in the early 1930s, just after Prohibition. ThisCrémantis made from100% Pinot Blanc.using the méthode traditionnelle. Crisp, dry and fresh, it possessed pleasant tastes of green apple and pear. A refreshing bubbly, it made for an excellent apertif as well as an accompaniment to some pre-Xmas dinner appetizers, including cheese. At this price, I strongly recommend thisCrémant.

My favorite of the two wines though was the Pierre Sparr Crémant d'Alsace Rosé($19). The winery extends back to 1680 so it has a long, rich history, making a comeback after being nearly destroyed during World War 2. This wine is produced from 100% Pinot Noir and is aged for about 12 months on the lees. It has a rich and vibrant pink color with a compelling nose of red fruits. The red fruit flavors, strawberry, cherry and hints of watermelon, are more subtle on the palate with mild accents of peach and minerality. Clean, crisp and dry with a pleasing finish. It reminded me of a delicious Provence Rosé and was a fine choice for my Xmas Eve dishes. Highly recommended for year round pleasure.

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Sips & Nibbles: New Year's Eve

Date: Wed, Dec 5, 2012 Wine Tasting

I am back with a special New Year's Eve edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently. If you are seeking a place to celebrate, why not consider these places.
1) Legal Harborside will celebrate New Year’s Eve under the stars at Liberty Wharf this year. At this celebration bidding adieu to 2012 and welcoming 2013, revelers will enjoy the winter scene – complete with Legal Harborside’s copper-clad fireplace – and will eat, drink and be merry with a bird’s eye view of First Night’s midnight fireworks over Boston Harbor.

In addition to being supplied with festive noisemakers and hats, tickets to this sky-high soiree include live music and a midnight toast with Gosset "Excellence" Brut NV bubbly. Legal Harborside will also offer table reservations to this year-end celebration.

When: December 31st from 9:30pm – 1:30am
Cost: Individual tickets: $45 per person; Reserved couch/table: $400 per group (up to six people)
More Info: 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 Legal Harborside’s full menu up until 12am.

2)Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar's tradition of celebrating New Year’s Eve for a long weekend continues. Start the festive evening with a holiday cocktail or featured bubbly and then indulge in the New Year’s menu.

Drink Options:
--Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($12 by the glass, $100 magnum bottle) - Raise a toast to celebrate the New Year with “a wonderfully drinkable sparkling wine that appeals immediately for its balanced texture and rich flavors," Wine Enthusiast.
--Haute Holiday ($10.95) & Merry Mint Spice ($11.95): Ladies will enjoy Fleming’s Haute Holiday created by wine director Maeve Pesquera expressly for the season. Quay Elysim (a Muscat dessert wine), Germain Elderflower Liqueur and Mionetto Prosecco are presented in a champagne flute garnished with a Luxardo cherry. For the gentlemen, Merry Mint Spice mixes Gentleman Jack with Domaine de Canton and POM juice with aromatic muddled mint leaves and simple syrup, shaken and served on the rocks.

Culinary Options:
New Year’s Nights Celebration Menu offers three luxe entrées which all include a special shrimp appetizer. Fleming’s a la carte menu will also be served.

Shrimp appetizer included with entrées:Poached Gulf Shrimp over Southern-Style Goat Cheese Grits - celery root slaw, extra virgin olive oil drizzle

--Delmonico Steak with Blue Crab & Gruyère Glassage - shaved black truffles, served with bacon-wrapped braised leeks and balsamic reduction ($74.95)
--Filet Mignon & Lobster-Brioche Bread Pudding - on roasted asparagus, lemon beurre blanc and lobster reduction sauces, black truffle shavings ($69.95)
--Lobster Tail with Mac & Cheese - one pound east coast lobster tail, split and roasted with champagne, sage and lemon butter, served with Italian bacon mac & cheese ($79.00)

--Chocolate Budino - rich chocolate tartlet, chevre-salted whipped cream, and cocoa nibs ($9.95)

When: December 28th – 31st beginning at 4pm
Make Reservations by calling 617-292-0808

3) The Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro is hosting a special New Year’s Eve Dinner featuring a multicourse, prix-fixe menu and an optional wine pairing. Guests can choose to dine early, leaving time to enjoy the festivities and see the beautiful ice sculptures in Boston Common located just steps from the Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, or guests can ring in the New Year by dining later in the evening while watching the clock tick down as the champagne starts to flow. Reservations are required and can be booked early by calling 617-723-7575.

WHEN: Monday, December 31st, 2012 from 5:30PM to 11PM.
COST: $77 per person. Optional supplement course for two for an additional $20 per person and optional three course wine pairing for an additional $29 per person.A 20% Gratuity Will Automatically Be Added To Your Bill

New Year’s Eve Prix-Fixe Menu

Amuse Bouche
--Pat and Barbara Woodbury’s Wellfleet Oyster (Smoked Ikura Roe)
--Scituate Lobster Bisque (Black Garlic Ink, Tarragon)
--Nantucket Bay Scallop Ceviche (Baby Gem Lettuce, Fennel, Cranberry Vinaigrette)
--Boston Lettuce Salad (Grapefruit and Orange Segments, Jeweled Pomegranate, Rosemary Vinaigrette)
--Duck Leg Confit (Mustard Leaf and Wild Mushroom Panzanella, Fresh Local Cheese)
--Country Style Terrine (Seasonal and Traditional Accompaniments)
--Wild Mushroom Risotto (Oyster and Maitake Mushrooms, Parmesan)
Supplement Course for Two (For An Additional $20)
Foie Gras Torchon (Anadama Toast, Pear and Chestnut Jam)
Main Courses
--Painted Hills Sirloin Steak (Jerusalem Artichoke Confit, Root Vegetable Gratin, Red Wine Bone Marrow Jus)
--Scituate Lobster (Poached in Saffron and Butter, Potato Purée, Celery and Bay Flan)
--Gnocchi Parisienne (Braised Free Range Chicken, Pumpkin, Sage Ricotta, Brussels Sprout Leaves)
--American Red Snapper (Warm Farro Salad with Pumpkin, Pickled Honey Mussels, Coriander Beurre Rouge)
--Sorghum and Olive Oil Roasted Delicata Squash (Crimson Lentils, Pistachio, Black Truffle Vinaigrette) --Round the Bend Lamb Loin (Braised Winter Greens with Mint, New Potato, Roasting Jus)
Desserts or Cheese
--Warm Chocolate Cake (Earl Grey Ice Cream, Candied Walnuts)
--Vanilla Bean Crème Brulée (Gingersnap Cookie)
--Buttermilk Panna Cotta (Chocolate Crumb, Honey Anglaise, Raspberry Preserve)
--Maggie’s Reserve Cow’s Milk Cheese, Williamstown, MA (Jewish Rye, Pickled Mouse Melon, Kiev Raspberry Jam)

4) This New Year’s Eve, Towne Stove and Spirits will say goodbye to 2012 with a lively Gatsby-themed cocktail party that lets guests relive the magic and mystique of the roaring ‘20s. Featuring a midnight champagne toast and classic hors d’oeuvres prepared by Culinary Director Lydia Shire and Executive Chef Mario Capone, revelers will experience the splendor of a near century-old style in Towne’s upstairs dining and lounge areas, Uptowne and the Back Bay Room, where live music will entertain the dapper gentlemen and flapper girls decked out in their best Prohibition-era attire.

WHEN: Monday, December 31st from 9pm – 2am
COST: $80 per person
MORE INFO: 1920s Gatsby-esque semi-formal attire is required. Event tickets are available online. For VIP tables, please email: kritter@towneboston.com.

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Signing Event For Demons, Gods & Sake: Dec.16

Date: Tue, Dec 4, 2012 Wine Tasting

Have you read my thrilling supernatural thriller yet?

As Ipreviously mentioned, my new novel,Demons, Gods & Sakeis now available asaTrade PaperbackthroughAmazon.The Trade Paperback is 252 pages long and sells for $14.95.Thisnovelis the fourth installment of theTipsy Senseiseries, the adventures ofNate Randall,a Sake Expert from Boston. The novel is also available as anEbookand the prior three Tipsy Sensei short stories are available asEbookstoo.

Demons, Gods and Sake can now be found at two bookstores,The Book OasisinStoneham and Bestsellers Cafe in Medford, as AKA Bistro restaurant in Lincoln. I am hoping to make it available in a few other local and independent book stores in the near future. If any restaurants, book stores or other businesses would like to stock my new novel and/or do a book signing, please contact me.

On December 16, from 3pm-4:30pm, I will be signing my novel at Bestsellers Cafe in Medford. So come on down, meet me and pick up a copy of my book. I will be answering questions about my book as well as any Sake questions people have. Pick up a copy for yourself or get one for a holiday gift for the book lovers in your life. Next year, on February 2, from 2pm-3:30pm, I will be doing a larger author event at Bestsellers Care, and we might even get to drink some Sake too.

Hope you see you at my book signing!

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Rant: Beauty, Wine & Food

Date: Mon, Dec 3, 2012 Wine Tasting

"It is the beauty of the thing that is important to me."
--Bernard Portet

Once again, I encountered someone with a deep appreciation for beauty, this time at a lunch with Bernard Portet, the former wine maker of Clos du Val and current wine maker for Polaris Wines. With forty years of experience in wine making, Bernard has had ample time to hone his philosophy, yet much of what he believes remains consistent to what his father once taught him. For Bernard, beauty is an essential element in wine making and his words struck my soul, touching upon one of my own strong beliefs. I thought it was time to once again raise this issue, to spread a passion for aesthetic pleasure.

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."

The concept of beauty is universal. There is not a single human culture which does not possess a concept of beauty, though their definition of what actually constitutes beauty can vary widely. Beauty is about far more than how a person or object looks, extending deep into their personality and inner nature. It also extends to all our activities, to each and every item you can consider. It is an integral aspect of everything in our lives, even though we might not think about it all, or even most, of the time. In the end, beauty boils down to cherishing what we find to be aesthetically pleasing.

"Beauty, of whatever kind, invariably excites the human soul to tears."
--Edgar Allan Poe

Despite its significance, an appreciation for beauty does not seem to get sufficient coverage in discussions of food and wine. We must not underestimate or forget its importance and relevance in these arenas. To be clear, I am referring to beauty in all its aspects, not solely the visual, which can touch all of our senses. In addition, I am not referring to any particular and limited definition of beauty but merely the general aesthetic concept which encompasses all of the diverse definitions. We need to embrace beauty, to understand it, to praise it, to savor it, to share it, and more.

"Beauty in things lies in the mind which contemplates them."
--David Hume

Who are some people who seem to exemplify this love of aesthetics, whose work reflects this passion for all that is beautiful? Let me provide several examples, many of whom I have met and experienced their infatuation with the nature of beauty.

Like Bernard Portet,Ernesto Catena, the owner and winemaker at Alma Negra winery in Argentina, is also driven by the concept and philosophy of beauty. Ernesto seems to possess a more Japanese-style aesthetic and it influences his life, including the creation of his winery. An appreciation of beauty is one of his primary motivations and his passion for such beauty is infectious. He relishes the beauty of nature, of simplicity and balance. It was his love of aesthetics which led him to embracing Biodynamics, as he felt it coincided with his aesthetic philosophy.

"What voice might we lend to illuminate wine’s strange beauty?"
--Randall Grahm

One example that I have not met isTerry Theise, wine importer and author of a fascinating book,Reading Between the Wines.It is clear from reading this book, which contains many beautiful phrases and sentences that showcase the aesthetics of language, that Terry is a devotee of beauty. Even if you don't agree with all of the strong opinions of Thiese, you will be drawn into his writing by the sheer beauty and poetry of his words. It is such a pleasure to read a book such as this one.Randall Grahm, wine maker and author, is another whose writings reflect well the beauty of language. Randall is keenly aware of the importance of aesthetics and it seems to be a guiding principle of his life as well.

"Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts."
--Rachel Carson

Fred Minnick, a friend of mine, is an accomplished photographer, often concentrating on wine and food related pictures. Anyone can take a photo of what is commonly considered a beautiful image. But a professional photographer, with a true sense of aesthetics, can draw out the beauty of any subject, whether living or inanimate. Even the most grotesque of subjects can be transformed into a beauty through a skilled photographer's eye. When you look through Fred's portfolio, his skill at finding the beauty in all his subjects is more than evident. David Dadekian, another friend of mine, is also a food photographer who grasps the concept of aesthetics and whose photography excels for that reason. Such excellence is more than a skill and must derive from a true passion for beauty.

"Beauty awakens the soul to act."
--Dante Alighieri

The best of writers fully understand the beauty of language, how a special turn of phrase can elevate a story to another level of aesthetic appreciation. It is not an easy skill, but one honed over time and with experience. A wine bottle may possess a plain or even ugly label, yet the wine within might be indescribably beautiful, a sublime sensory pleasure. That can work in reverse though, that a wine with a beautiful and compelling label may contain a less than appealing wine.A plate of food which is presented beautifully will often seem to taste better than a messy looking plate. It is often said we eat through our eyes, and there is some truth to that. We cannot forget are other senses too, from smell to touch, all of which impact our aesthetic feelings.

"Beauty is worse than wine, it intoxicates both the holder and beholder."
--Aldous Huxley

There is no endeavor where beauty does not play some role and we should endeavor to cherish beauty where ever we encounter it.To that end, I call on all food and wine writers to embrace the beauty in what they experience as well as how they present themselves. Let your writing and photography highlight beauty while you also attempt to make your words and pictures beautiful in their own right. Eaters and drinkers, don't just swallow and guzzle, but take time to appreciate the beauty of what is on your plate and in your glass. Take time to allow your senses to properly savor every bite and sip. Beauty elevates our experiences so we should be eager to seek it out.

"'Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Who do you know whom possesses a strong passion for aesthetics, who is a true lover of beauty? How do they express this passion? Writing, photography, art? What are your own experiences with beauty?

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The Ten Merits of Sake

Date: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 Wine Tasting

"O what an ugly sight the man who thinks he’s wise and never drinks sake!
--Otomo no Tabito (c. 662-731)

The Japanese have long valued Sake, for its taste, medicinal use and even as a beauty product. For at least 2000 years, Sake has occupied a special place within Japanese culture. I have often tried to promote the benefits of drinking Sake and recently learned about a historical list of the "Ten Merits of Sake." This was a fascinating list of the benefits of Sake and I wanted to share it with my readers, to give you more reason why you should partake of this wondrous beverage.

This list was provided in a kyōgen play called Mochisake which was written during theMuromachi period (1338-1573 AD).Kyōgenis a form of traditional comic theater, often including slapstick and satire, and the plays are usually short, containing only two or three roles. They are meant to be easy to understand, intended to make people laugh, and there are over 250 plays in the official repertoire. Makes me think of a Three Stooges episode.

Mochisake, which can roughly be translated as Rice Cake & Sake, is a play about a couple farmers who each are traveling to the city to pay their back taxes, which they had been unable to pay because of a terrible snow storm. Each of the farmers is also carrying a special item which they hope might cause the tax collector to be easy on them. Kind of a bribe. One of the farmers has some kagami mochi, mirror rice cake, which looks like two oval mochi atop each other. The other farmer has some kikuzake, sake flavored withchrysanthemum petals.

The farmers do not know each other but meet en route and end up talking with each other, discussing their mutual problem. When they finally reach the city, they go before the tax collector, explain about the blizzard, and present their mochi and sake. The tax collector is in an excellent mood and he forgives them both. In fact, they end up celebrating together, sharing the mochi and sake as well as singing and dancing.

During the course of the play, the Ten Merits of Sake are mentioned:

1) Sake can be better for your health than any medicine.
2) Sake will enable you to live longer.
3)Sakewill recover you from fatigue and weariness.
4)Sakewill drive gloom away and cheer you up.
5) You can make friends with anyone over a drink ofsake.
6)Sakewill create the atmosphere where everyone can express their opinions frankly (even to their superiors or seniors).
7)Sakeis a good friend of those who live alone.
8)Sakewill make you feel warm to endure cold weather.
9)Sakecan serve as a versatile but nourishing meal during a trip.
10)Sakewill be a great gift when you visit friends.
(fromSake, Health and Longevity by Yukio Takizawa)

This is a great list, though one could make the case that it could apply to wine as well. It is indicative though of the deep love the Japanese possess for Sake, of how deeply it is rooted in their culture and history. In addition, Sake is not seen as a drink for the elite, as some pretentious, hoity toity alcohol, which is a problem that sometimes plagues wine. Sake is a drink for everyone, of whatever social status, of whatever profession. It pleases both peasant and Emperor.

As the holiday season approaches, remember #10, that Sake makes a great gift.


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Thursday Sips & Nibbles

Date: Thu, Nov 29, 2012 Wine Tasting

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently.
1)At Ashmont Grill,Chef-owner Chris Douglass and his kitchen team have rolled out a late fall brunch menu to savor, made better with one of their Bloody Marys:
· Spiced Apple Buttermilk Pancakes with local apple compote
· Egg Strata with pumpkin, leeks and pears
· Autumn Hash with bacon, sweet potato, Brussels sprouts plus two sunny side up eggs and toast
· The Hot Brown Sandwich: a regional southern favorite reconfigured for diners south of Boston. Stacked with roasted turkey, aged cheddar, bacon and tomato.
· Ham & Cheese Biscuits: Stewed Langwater Farm winter greens and eggs make this another south-ified brunch treat
· Spinach Salad with roasted local pears, toasted hazelnuts and warm goat cheese; cider vinaigrette

2)Celebrate New Year’s Eve on Monday, December 31 from 9pm-2:30am, as The Beehivehosts its 6th annual New Year’s Eve gala celebration.The Beehive’s, “Discothèque Burlesque New Year's Eve 2013” is an evening of bohemian decadence and eccentric fun. Guests will explore their senses as they take in the wonders of sultry Parisian burlesque performances (by NYC’s hotties Francine “The Lucid Dream” & Essence Revealed) and dance to the live powerhouse 60’s pop and soul sounds of Amy Lynn & The Gun Show.

Throughout the evening Executive Chef Rebecca Newell will feature a delectable buffet of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, all served in a cocktail setting. To top it all off, guests can toast the evening with one of The Beehive’s signature cocktails from the evening’s sponsors including Hennessy Cognac, Milagro Tequila and Svedka Vodka, as well as Domaine Chanson wine and Moët & Chandon champagne.

Cost of the event is $115 per person with food buffet, or $75 per person without buffet.Tax and beverages not included. Non-refundable without 24 hour advance notice.Both ticket options include admission and entertainment. There is a cash bar all evening. Tickets/reservations are available by calling 617-423-0069.

3) Meet two-time James Beard Award-winning authors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg as they make their first public appearance in Boston in more than a decade. On December 11, from 5:15pm-6:45pm, they'll be hosted for a reception at The Butcher Shop, where they'll be signing copies of their books The Flavor Bible, What To Drink With What You Eat, and The Food Lover's Guide To Wine. I own all three of these books and think they are excellent reference works which all food and wine lovers should read. They are very informative and comprehensive.

Enjoy complimentary refreshments and meet the couple, former Bostonians who married at Biba in 1990 and now live n New York City. Page earned her master's degree from Harvard, while Dornenburg got his start cooking with Chris Schlesinger at the East Coast Grill and with Lydia Shire at Biba.Their other books include Becoming A Chef, Culinary Artistry, Dining Out, Chef's Night Out, and The New American Chef.

After this reception, at 7pm, they will be conducting a Cookbook Class at Stir($165 per person) to prepare some of their favorite flavor combinations and beverage pairings.

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Pinotage Recommendations: Kanonkop Kadette Rosé & Lion's Drift

Date: Tue, Nov 27, 2012 Wine Tasting

Why is Pinotage still such a divisive grape? In the past, there might have been some Pinotage wines that evidenced a nasty, burnt rubber aroma and taste, but that has largely vanished. Today's Pinotage wines have never been better, offering intriguing and compelling flavors and aromas. I have long been a fan of this grape and strongly recommend that all wine lovers check out these wines. Forget your old prejudices and give Pinotage another chance.

For more information about Pinotage, you might want to start with a fascinating book devoted to this grape, Pinotage: Behind The Legends Of South Africa's Own Wine by Peter May, which is now available as an ebook too. I previously reviewed this book and urge all wine lovers to check it out. Peter tells a compelling story and you will learn much.

I recently tasted two delicious Pinotage wines, including a Rosé, and both of these wines should convince skeptics of the wonders of this grape.

"Pinotage is the juice extracted from women's tongues and lions' hearts. After having a sufficient quantity one can talk forever and fight the devil."
--On a sign in the tasting room of the Kanonkop winery in South Africa.

The Kanonkop Wine Estateis one of the top wineries in South Africa and they produce some of the best Pinotage in the world. Located on the lower slopes of the Simonsberg Mountain in the Stellenbosch region, Kanonkop is a fourth generation family estate. The estate has about 100 hectares of vineyards, roughly 50% planted with Pinotage. Their Pinotage wines are complex, elegant and absolutely satisfying.

Only recently though did I taste theirRosé, the2011 Kanonkop Kadette PinotageRosé($12), which is made from 100% Pinotage. If you tasted this blind, you never would realize that it was Pinotage as it doesn't fit any stereotype of a typical Pinotage profile. There were no smoky or bacon flavors. Instead, it was an easy drinkingRosé with tasty red fruit flavors, including raspberry and cherry. Excellent acidity, plenty of character, and a pleasant finish. It was more Old World in nature and I couldn't drink enough of it. It is an excellent food wine, as well as enjoyable on its own. Highly recommended and a very good value.

The 2009 Lion's Drift Pinotage ($18), from theSilkbush Mountain Vineyards, is another wine that is likely to surprise Pinotage haters. I received this wine as a media sample and it presents more of a New World flavor profile.

Silkbush Mountain Vineyards are located in the Breede River Valley and this is their first wine available in the U.S. The estate was purchased in2000 by Californian Dave Jefferson and a group of American investors though it is managed by Anton Roos, a South African viticulturist. For more info on this winery, check out an informativearticle written by Peter May. The first vintage of Lion's Drift was 2008, so this wine was only the second vintage.

The 2009 Lion's Drift spent about 13 months in new French oak and has an alcohol content of 14.5%. This is a more fruit forward Pinotage, lush flavors of plum, black cherry and blackberry with a hint of vanilla and touch of spice. It is easy drinking with a good acidity and satisfying finish. It is very pleasant on its own, though would also pair well with foods such as burgers or pizza. This Pinotage is going to please many wine lovers and I give it my strong recommendation.

Stop hating Pinotage! Forget your preconceptions and just start tasting them again. I know you will be surprised at how good they taste.

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Rant: Bluefin Tuna Stocks Recovering?

Date: Mon, Nov 26, 2012 Wine Tasting

No one denies the exquisite flavor of Bluefin tuna sushi, from simply maguro to the fatty otoro. Though it is not a traditional type of sushi in Japan, it has become almost an obsession in that country and it is estimated that Japan consumes as much as 80% of the world's supply of Bluefin tuna. The problem though is that stocks of Bluefin tuna have decreased significantly in recent years and many consider it to be in grave danger of extinction.

Can the Bluefin tuna be saved? It is possible and recent news articles are reporting a surprising recovery of stocks yet what is the truth behind the sensational headlines?

On this past November 19, the 48 Contracting Parties of theInternational Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), following advice of their Scientific Committee, agreed on increasing the Bluefin tuna fishing quotas from 12,900 tons to 13,500 tons in 2013. This is the first quota expansion in ten years, reflecting a belief that stocks have begun recovery, yet small enough to show that recovery still has quite a ways to go. Spain was one of the countries significantly pushing for a much larger quota. In comparison, quotas back in 2006 had been as high as 32,000 tons so even the increased quota is less than half what it was back then.

This new quota will remain in effect for one year and then will be reviewed again in 2014. The Scientific Committee though has made the recommendation that the quota be maintained through 2022. It is evident the committee still sees the Bluefin tuna population as being in grave danger.It has since been estimated that Bluefin stocks dropped as much as 60% between 1997 and 2007 because of lax quotas and overfishing, often illegal. With the greatly decreased quotas, and lower availability, the price of Bluefin rose to record levels and the minor increase in quotas for 2013 is not expected to lower prices to any significant degree.

The quota increase was due to a recent Stock Assessment by the Scientific Committee which indicated a strong possibility that Bluefin stocks have seen a population increase. However, that good news is tempered by the fact that the conclusions are tentative as there are still many unknown factors. The pace and extent of the recovery is still unknown, and the underlying data is incomplete due to a lack of full information regarding illegal fishing. The scientists voiced a conclusion that any efforts and changes based on their report be very conservative, to ensure recovery continues and there is not a setback.

Consumers and others must be aware that any Bluefin recovery is tentative and that strong measures to protect the tuna are still warranted. Some news articles may trumpet the recovery without noting the tentativeness of the report's conclusions. There are still too many unknowns to be absolutely positive of the conclusions. Much more study and research is needed to properly assess and protect the Bluefin. Investment of time and money into this issue is vital.

Some environmentalist groups, such as theWorld Wildlife Fund,have been supportive of the ICCAT vote, noting that ICCAT's decision was based on scientific evidence. Yet other criticisms of ICCAT remain. For one, it is claimed that ICCAT has not done enough to prevent illegal, unregulated and unreported Bluefin tuna fishing. A recent study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund uncovered some disturbing information, indicating a lack of action on behalf of ICCAT to address a substantial problem.

Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 19,000 tons of Bluefin tuna were traded through Panama, though none of that tuna was reported as caught to ICCAT. This trade involved countries includingSpain, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Japan. The Mediterranean countries would capture the tuna and send it to Panama, or Panama owned vessels, which would then send the tuna to Japan.All of these countries were members of ICCAT during this time period and were required to report all Bluefin tuna they caught yet they did not report any of this Panama trade. The trade peaked around 2007 but still was going on at least as late as 2010.

Now that the evidence has been collected, the WWF wants ICCAT to act on this information. It is such illegal and/or unreported stocks which are contributing to the depletion of Bluefin. A quota is only effective it is is followed. If countries continue to ignore the quota, then Bluefin won't recover. The ICCAT has taken an important first step with quotas, but it must continue its efforts and take the next step, to ensure compliance on reporting and helping to thwart illegal fishing.

Save the Bluefin tuna!

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Being Thankful

Date: Thu, Nov 22, 2012 Wine Tasting

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Today, many of us will gather together with family and friends, enjoying food and drink, conversing, watching television, and savoring the good things in our lives. It is also a time for reflection, to think not about what we do not possess, but to be thankful for all that we do. For no matter what our troubles or adversities might be, I am sure there is also much to bring us joy.

Financially, I am sure many of us still have it tough, as unemployment remains quite high, health insurance costs continue to rise, food prices have been soaring, and we all have been cutting back. Others may have sustained serious illness or tragedies this past year. Many of us may desire change, that our lives would be better than they are now. However, if we objectively view our situations, we will find that we have it much better than many other people. By looking deeper at our situations, we will quickly discover the many good things we possess in our lives, such as supportive loved ones.

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

Despite the divisiveness and hate showed during the recent Presidential campaign season, we still live in a great country and for that I am thankful. It still is a land of opportunity for so many. It definitely is not perfect, but I would not want to live anywhere else. I am also very thankful for many other things in my life, including family, friends, health, and much more. It would take too long to list every single thing here, but I will take the time to reflect upon them today.

I fervently hope that everyone else does the same, rather than dwelling on the negative. Share your positive feelings with your family and friends. Tell them that you love them, thank them for being in your life. It may be corny, but a hug and kind words can mean so very much.

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

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Wednesday Sips & Nibbles

Date: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 Wine Tasting

Welcome to a special Wednesday edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I briefly highlight some interesting wine and food items that I have encountered recently. As Thanksgiving is tomorrow, I decided to post Sips & Nibbles a day earlier.
1) The ancient Mayans were master astrologers and timekeepers, tracking the stars and planets and developing a cyclical calendar that has proven even more accurate than its modern day predecessors.Thousands of years ago the Mayan’s predicted that the 5,125-year “Great Period” would end specifically on Friday, December 21st, 2012 at 11:11PM and the world as we know it would cease to exist.

In preparation, Olé Mexican Grill, located in an extremely thick walled building in Cambridge, will usher in the event with their “Doomsday Dinner & Candle Vigil” on Friday, December 21, from 5:30PM – 11:11PM (Extended Hours).In addition, and for those of us left, Olé will also hold a very special “Survivalists Brunch” on Saturday, December 22 from 10:30AM to 2:30PM.

At the Doomsday Dinner & Candle Vigil, in addition to the regular menu at Olé Mexican Grill, the restaurant will also feature some heart-stopping, extremely rich regional Mexican dinner specials prepared by Executive Chef & Owner Erwin Ramos including:
--Montezuma’s Last Meal – An 18oz Ribeye Steak stuffed with caramelized garlic and jalapeños. Served with three cheese mashed potatoes and spicy fried onion rings ($32).
--Cortez’s Flautas - Crispy rolled corn tortillas filled with lobster and topped with a creamy chipotle sauce ($12)
--Mystic Offering - Lamb shank served with sweet mole manchamanteles, yucca fries and black beans ($26)
--Chocolate del Diablo - Double chocolate bread pudding served with vanilla ice-cream and topped with cajeta (caramel) sauce and churro bites ($8)

Guests can pair their dinner with such libations as: Maya’s Offering Margarita – a Blood orange frozen margarita with rimmed spicy salt ($8), or they can try the “Triple Threat” - a flight of three artisanal Mezcals for ($11).

Guests should spend, eat and drink like it is the end of the world (because it is)! All above will be served as al a carte specials in addition to the regular menu. Reservations are highly recommended by calling (617) 492-4495.

Survivalists Brunch:For those still around the following morning, let’s face it …they’re going to be hungry and need a drink. Celebrate the start of a new era in time with dishes such as: Tortilla de Jaiba con Huervos, crab cakes with poached eggs cilantro hollandaise sauce, caramelized plantains and home fries ($12.95), Huevos con Chorizo, scrambled eggs with Mexican sausage, onions and tomatoes on corn tortillas with pinto beans, home fries and toast ($9) and Mexican Hot Cakes, a baked pancake topped with caramel sauce, fresh seasonal fruit, sugared pecan and fresh whipped cream ($9). Pair it all with a Mexican Bloody Mary (Same as a regular Bloody Mary except you need to show a passport), or discuss your plans for the new rebellion over a fresh squeezed orange juice!

2) This New Year’s Eve, raise a glass to new beginnings with China Blossom Restaurant & Lounge and Lots of Laughs Comedy Lounge, located within China Blossom, in North Andover. On Monday, December 31 from 9:30PM to 1:00AM, give a proper farewell to 2012 with a night of fine dining, live entertainment and laughs.

The 2013 countdown begins at 9:30PM, when guests are invited to feast on their favorite China Blossom dishes at an all-you-can-eat premier buffet with live-action cooking and carving stations, create-your-own noodle soups and a diverse selection of sushi.

After their last supper of 2012, guests can put on their dancing shoes & show off their signature moves to the beat of DJ Barry Mooney! Then a team of the best comics in Boston will take the stage for an all-star comedy show featuring Sal Votano, Christine Hurley and John David.

Guests will toast to the New Year with a complimentary glass of champagne and festive hats & noisemakers. Attendees won’t be starting off the New Year empty handed, as they have a chance to test their luck with raffles, prizes and giveaways all night courtesy of China Blossom and Lots of Laughs.

Please call 978-687-1789, or visit http://www.lotsoflaughsnewyearseve.eventbrite.com for more information or to purchase tickets. Tickets are $75 per person and include an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet, comedy show, live entertainment, giveaways and a champagne toast at midnight.

Special hotel rates of $110 are available at the Wyndham Boston Andover with transportation to and from the event and a full breakfast included in the room rate. Rooms must be booked online or under the group reservation “Lots of Laughs/ China Blossom New Year’s Eve.”

3) When your child is sick, it’s hard to keep up a normal daily routine, and even harder doing so during the holiday season. This is something that executive chef/owner of Tryst, Paul Turano, knows all too well, having spent time with his son at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant Units over the past few years. Both Turano’s children have a rare auto-immune disease, and when his son was just two months old he had a bone marrow transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital that saved his life. This holiday season, Turano is giving back to the hospital that was there for his family by holding a holiday fundraiser for the Patient and Family Resource Room, a program that helps provide services to over 45 families whose children are being treated at the Boston Children’s Hospital Oncology and Hematology Center.

In cooperation with Boston Children’s Hospital, Tryst has set up a branded donation page online and will be encouraging holiday donations for the family resource program from December 1st through December 31. To donate, guests can visit the donation page online, or can donate at the restaurant where a QR code will be set up which, when scanned, will take guests directly to the page where they can make a donation on their mobile devices. In exchange for donating, Tryst will give donors a gift certificate to Tryst (for up to $20) with proof of donation.

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

Funded through donations from area businesses and families, the 6th floor Patient and Family Resource Room is staffed by a patient and family educator who can help patients and families learn about their medical treatment. The Patient and Family Resource Room also offers a space for patients and families to relax and connect with others going through a similar experience. Whether the donated money be used for a morning coffee at the local Dunkin Donuts, or towards purchasing a generic American Express donation that can be used towards gas, or parking (daily routines that are often overlooked), each donation will help parents regain a sense of normalcy in their lives. With the extra help of these funds, Tryst will be putting the holidays back in the hands of these families.

HOW: Donate on http://howtohelp.childrenshospital.org/events/page/Paul-Turano/tystsholidayfundraiser.htm or visit Tryst and scan the QR code (displayed throughout the restaurant). After donation, present your receipt at Tryst to receive your gift certificate (of equal value, up to a $20 value).
ADDITIONAL: Limited to one Tryst gift certificate per person per visit. Gift certificates cannot be combined with any other offer. To receive gift certificate diners must visit Tryst. Cannot be done online.

4) It’s time for The Beehive’s Holiday Brunch on Saturday, December 15, from 10am-3pm. Guests can count on tasty food and drink including specials from sponsor Bulleit Rye, seasonal music from some of Boston’s best, and plenty of holiday cheer.

From 10:30am-2:30pm, The Beehive will be filled with the sounds of the season as local musicians, Patrice Williamson, Sandi Hammond and Emily Broder, take the stage to perform holiday classics. Williamson, known for her soulful, gospel-inspired jazz, and a regular at The Beehive, will be joined by Sandi Hammond whose piano and guitar playing pop-folk blend will add wonderful sensitivity to the performance while Emily Broder, a versatile singer and actress, will bring the group full circle with her dramatic flair.

Couple all this merry music with brunch items like Extra Thick French Toast served with Chantilly cream and real deal maple syrup ($13), or the Beehive Eggs Benedict served with Virginia ham ($13.5) or smoked salmon ($14). Don’t forget about the kids! The Beehive’s “Little Bee’s” menu is perfect for little ones buzzing about. Children can choose from items such as Kiddie French Toast ($5), Scrambled Eggs & Toast ($5), or Free Range Chicken Fingers and Frites ($6).

Guests can toast the holiday season by sipping on cocktails from sponsor Bulleit Rye including the El Chicano, made with Bulleit Rye, Kahlua, Coffee Bitters and a Dash of Illegal Mezcal Joven, $12.50, or The Beehive’s famous Bloody Mary made with a secret house spice and pickled veggies, $11. Or, opt for seasonal sips such as the Cranberry Mojito, made in-house with drunken cranberries (marinated in rum and Cointreau) $12.50, the Kentucky Orchard, butter infused bourbon, fresh apple cider and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, $12, or the Queen Bee, vodka, fresh grapefruit, St. Germaine and champagne, $12.50.

Reservations are highly recommended. Regular brunch pricing and specials offered. No cover charge. Please call 617-423-0069 to make reservations.

5)Starting November 30,80 Thoreau, located in Concord, will begin The Chef's Tasting Menu.Chef Carolyn Johnson and her team will prepare a one of a kind Five Course Tasting menu at the restaurant's Chef's Counter, which only has four seats! The Chef's Tasting Menu will be offered Thursday-Saturday, two seatings, at 6pm and 8:45pm.

The format will allow Johnson to feature luxury ingredients and those available in only small quantities (think heritage pig lardo or Concord maitakes), in her ever changing Chef's Tasting Menu. "This is the natural next step for our restaurant" shares Johnson. "We are excited because it gives us an outlet to do things beyond the menu. When I find amazing local product, but it's not in enough quantity to include on our daily menu, I can now showcase it here on our Chef's Tasting Menu." Wine pairings from the restaurant's cellar will give guests a chance to try selections otherwise not available by the glass.

The cost for this dinner is $75 per person, not including wine pairings, and Reservations are required by calling 978-318-0008.

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Winners of the Boston Wine Expo Tickets

Date: Wed, Nov 21, 2012 Wine Tasting

And the winners are......

Last week, I posted about a contest to win a pair of tickets to the Boston Wine Expo Sunday Grand Tasting event. To enter, you only had to leave a comment on my post and two lucky winners, drawn at random, would each receive a pair of tickets. There were 29 commenters, all desirous of winning, but unfortunately only two of them can win. Thanks to everyone who entered!

The first winner is...Rachel Halko.

The second winner is....CatherineC.

Congratulations to the winners and please email your contact information to me so that I can send you the tickets. If for any reason, the winners are unable to accept the tickets, I will draw a new name to win.

I'll be at the Expo so hopefully I will see some of you there!

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Sake News: 2 Dinners, a Novel & Maine

Date: Tue, Nov 20, 2012 Wine Tasting

1) Join me on Monday, December 3 at 6:30pm, for a tasty and interesting Sake Dinner at AKA Bistro in Lincoln. For only $55 per person, you will be treated to a four course meal, each course paired with a different Sake. During the course of the dinner, I will talk about Sake, from its history to its rituals, giving you a basic foundation in this intriguing beverage. I'll help demystify this exotic alcohol and hopefully entice you to seek our more Sake after this dinner.

This is the second time I have done a Sake event at AKA Bistro and the first one went very well, with many happy attendees. As space is limited, reservations are necessary so please call the restaurant at 781-259-9925 to secure a spot. Hope to see you there!

Food Menu:
--Salade depommes locales (Local Orchard Apple Salad with blue cheese mousse, arugula. reduce apple cider and toasted walnuts)
--Foie gras torchon (Foe gras with preserved seasonal fruits and toasted brioche)
--Braised Shortribs (with Kabiyaki carrot and sauteed baby vegetables)
--Chocolat Biscuit (With yuzu ginger puree, Chestnut nougatine and pumpkin ice cream)

2) Just another reminder that I also am presiding at another Sake Dinner on Wednesday, November 28, at 6:30pm atChina Blossom in North Andover. You will get 3 courses of food and 4 different Sakes for only $40 per person. Plus, I will talk about many different facets of Sake, from its legends to etiquette. Check out my previous post for all the details. Hope to see you there too!

3) As I previously mentioned, my new novel, Demons, Gods & Sake is now available asaTrade PaperbackthroughAmazon.The Trade Paperback is 252 pages long and sells for $14.95.Thisnovelis the fourth installment of the Tipsy Sensei series, the adventures of Nate Randall, a Sake Expert from Boston. The novel is also available as an Ebookand the prior three Tipsy Sensei short stories are available as Ebooks too.

Demons, Gods and Sake can now be found at its first bookstore, The Book Oasis in Stoneham. I am hoping to make it available in a few other local and independent book stores in the near future. Plus, I hope to do some local book signings. If any restaurants, book stores or other businesses would like to stock my new novel and/or do a book signing, please contact me.

4) There is a new kura, a Sake brewery, in Maine! I don't have much information about the Blue Current Breweryand their website and Facebook page also lack detail, but I am attempting to gather more information. When I learn more, I will be sure to share it with my readers. The cold winters in Maine probably are excellent for Sake brewing, so there is some potential there. I am also checking out another possible Sake brewery in Massachusetts!

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Fooled By A Blind Tasting?

Date: Tue, Nov 20, 2012 Wine Tasting

"If you want to enjoy wine more, the trick is to learn more about wine."
--Paul Bloom

Does more knowledge about wine enhance the pleasure you derive from it? On the other hand, can you truly enjoy a wine you know almost nothing about?

The "pleasure theory" of Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, is based on a number of studies of which many of us may already be familiar. We have heard of how wine lovers have been fooled into raving about a $90 bottle of wine, which actually turns out to be a $10 bottle. The alleged price of the wine affected their perception of the wine. We have heard of blind taste test studies where people preferred much cheaper wines rather than far more expensive ones. Paul Bloom has gathered together many of these studies and assembled his theory of the essentialist,arguing that everyone is an essentialist at heart.

An essentialist cares about the history and origins of an item, and that plays a significant part in their pleasure of that item. It applies to many different items, as well as our relationships with other people. For example, it applies to wine, with people gaining much more pleasure from their knowledge of the origins of a wine. It is partially why people seem to enjoy a more expensive wine, or one from a celebrated producer or region. In some respects, people enjoy a wine more when it possesses a great story. Yet this is a double edged sword as well and we can be deceived.

Bloom has stated, "Like I said, part of your response to wine is based on its chemical properties But how you experience it will always be affected by your beliefs about what you are drinking. Now this opens you up to being fooled. Given that we’re creatures who respond to the history of things, we can be exploited. You could be lied to about the price of wine, you could be lied to about where your sweater came from, you could be lied to about whether your painting is an original or a forgery, and so on. This is the bad news."

Adam of Wine Zag decided to put Bloom's theory to the test with a blind tasting which would compare seven pairs of wine. He pitted seven wines from 90+ Cellarsagainst seven others that he chose, trying to roughly match up the type and price of the wines. He was certainly not going for a scientific test, but more of a fun comparison which might provide some basic insight into Bloom's pleasure theory.

90+ Cellars purchases excess wine from wineries all over the world and rebottles it under their own label, selling it for less than its original purchase price. They do not reveal the true name of the producers, though they provide other information about the wine, including the wine region, grapes, vintage and a few other details. A consumer thus will find much information about the wine, though certain items will elude them. So you get part of a story but not the whole one.

The question becomes, does that lack of the identity of the producer detract from the pleasurable experience of the wine? Adam had never previously purchased any wines from 90+ Cellars because he didn't know the name of the producers. That information was very important to him. He wanted to see how the 90+ Cellar wines would stand up to a group of known wines in a blind tasting.

About twenty of us attended the tasting at the Boston Wine School, with eighteen people voting for their favorite wines in the pairings.According to Bloom's theory, if it were not a blind tasting, then the 90+ Cellars wines should have shown poorly against the wines from known producers. The added information about the producers should have enhanced our pleasure of those wines. In a blind tasting though, Bloom's theory should lead to a different result, where the 90+ Cellar wines would hold their own against all comers.

In the end, the results were very close between the 90+ Cellars and the known wines, and I think it is safe to say that the 90+ Cellar wines held their own. The known wines won in 4 of the 7 pairings, though the voting was generally close. Personally, I selected the 90+ Cellar wines in 4 of the 7 matches. The big surprise for all was that the top wine of the evening, voted by 15 of the 18 tasters (including myself), was from 90+ Cellars, the 2009 Rosso Maremma Toscana Lot 70 ($26). This was the only overwhelming vote of the evening so that is a wine you might want to seek out. The second place wine, with 3 votes, was the 2008 Sean Thackrey Andromeda Pinot Noir, another excellent wine.

Our blind tasting essentially met the expectations of Bloom's theory, that without the information about wine we normally seek out, 90+ Cellars showed well against the other wines. They are wines you may very well enjoy, if you give them a chance. Even after the results of this blind taste test though, I am not sure all of the attendees at the tasting would purchase a 90+ Cellars wine. It may be difficult for some to overcome their perception that knowing the producer provides additional pleasure from the wine even if in a blind taste test, they could not perceive a difference.

I don't have a problem purchasing 90+ Cellars wines, probably because I have tasted a fair amount of them and found that many are very good value wines. Though I enjoy wines with a good story, I don't like the 90+ Cellar wines any less because I don't know the true producer. Adam, who has never before purchased a 90+ Cellars wine, stated that he would definitely be purchasing the 2009 Rosso Maremma Toscana Lot 70.So this blind tasting changed his mind in some respect.

Though I may find some credence in Bloom's theory of the essentialist, I think that people are not essentialists in all their purchasing decisions. I think it might depend more on the specific items in question, and how much that person values those items. For example, at the wine store where I work, we get a diverse mix of customers. Many of them care very little about the origins and history of the wines they purchase. First and foremost for them is price, and then second it all has to do with taste. The 90+ Cellar wines sell very well at our store and I think primarily because they offer a good value, even if their story is not complete.

It might be more dedicated wine lovers who have more difficulty accepting 90+ Cellar wines because they lack the identity of the producer. It is they who are more likely to be more passionate about the story of a wine. It may be their perception that the more they know about a wine, the more likely they are to enjoy it. However, in a blind tasting, their preferences might be very different.

Bloom's theory has other applications to wine as well, such as in the arena of wine reviews. If a person reviews a wine, possessed of a certain amount of information about that wine, and someone else tastes that same wine, but lacks that same information, will they like the wine less? Would you rather trust a review where the reviewer knows all about the wine, or would you prefer the reviewer tasted blind? If you read a review, do you want to know the knowledge level of the reviewer to ascertain how that might have affected their review?

To sum it up, one could say:Pleasure Is In The Mind Of The Beholder.

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