Monday, May 30, 2011

The Ancient Fire Wine Blog is Jumping Off!

Just over a year ago I got started on my adventure of sharing my food, beverage and travel stories in a blog. Some of the earliest content of note were recaps from a pub crawl in Montreal, the WineMaker Magazine Annual Conference and the Oregon & Washington wines my wife and I tasted on that trip. I wasn’t sure where all this was going, and admittedly I still don’t think I do, but my blog has taken me to new places, given me the opportunity to meet many new people and has opened some doors to new challenges that I am now happily going to grab on to.

I will be shifting my focus from the Ancient Fire Wine Blog a bit, but with good reason; and I hope many of you will come along for the ride. I came to the community of food bloggers as a home winemaker and adventurous wine taster, and diversified into other areas as I felt my way around. Some of those choices resonated well with the audience, but I wasn’t sure my content and my audience were calibrated as well as could be. I’m not going stop writing about food, although I might write about it a bit less, and only because I need to focus on making beer and wine to share. I will be writing more about making wine, beer, cider and mead, wine tasting, wine travel and all the friends I have made through these activities.

Late last year I came across The Unreserved, a new community for food, wine and travel lovers sponsored by WinExpert, a manufacturer of home winemaking kits and a product line I know well. Membership was free and the primary focus of the community was the creation of blog posts about wine & beer making, food, travel and building relationships between like minded folks. After cross pollinating posts there for a few months I noticed a good deal of interactivity and felt I was getting closer to my optimal audience. Early this year I was contacted by The Unreserved community management staff and asked if I could fill in for a team member who had to take a personal leave. I was asked to author several articles per month and otherwise be an active participant in the community, commenting on other people’s work, welcoming new members and marketing the site via Twitter and Facebook. These were activities I was already participating in and I felt there was considerable potential that I could reach even more of the winemaking & wine appreciation community this way. I have and continue to enjoy the group that I am getting to know there as well.

Well, that gig has expanded! I am now a permanent member of their community management team with additional social networking and site design responsibilities! In the coming months there will several changes at the site to increase the type of interactions visitors can participating it, promotions with great prizes and a growing stream of content by folks who are having adventures of their own. I am tasked with growing the membership and I firmly believe that there are many people out there who will find new ideas and new connections that will make this possible. Come check out The Unreserved and watch for my tweets and posts about changes and new activity that will keep you coming back.

( Cheryl, Christina, Me & Margot at the conference awards dinner. )

Margot and I attended the WineMaker Magazine Confernece again this year in sunny Santa Barbara, CA. This trip was exciting for several reasons including a new winemaking region, new wines, a speaking gig for me, old & new friends and the potential for competition success. Our posts from the trip are going up beginning this week in all the places where you will find my writing, which will now include WineMaker Magazine and their blog! This is huge for me and I must start off with a heartfelt thank you to the staff of WineMaker Magazine. They work themselves ragged to put the conference on and it truly was excellent. Being included as a speaker was a unique opportunity for me, one that I thoroughly enjoyed. My post about it is going to make a lot of you laugh, especially when I relate some of the “wine nerd” jokes my wife was killing the table with at the awards dinner!

WineMaker is the most successful home, amateur and small winery magazine out there. I have been a reader for years and they definitely have considerable connections and opportunity for visibility of and with many different people. The thematic slant of my articles is definitely towards making wine & mead so expect stories about recipes, projects, tips and how I enjoy my creations each month at WineMaker Magazine! I will be spreading the word when my bio and writing starts showing up in the WineMaker channel and I hope some of my foodie friends will go and check it out. Maybe, you’ll even get the itch to try making some of your own. I happen to know someone who loves teaching people how to do it…

Here’s what’s coming up in the next week:

~~ Ancient Fire Wine Blog
    The Food & Drink of Santa Barbara
    Los Olivos Wine Tasting
    Frosting For A Cause & The Relay For Life (6/5)

~~ The Unreserved
    Speaking at the WineMaker Conference
    2 new wine reviews

I am hoping this adventure takes me even farther and higher, and I hope you all enjoy it. I’ve never stopped enjoying reading the stories from this community and can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with next!



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Close Look at Wines From Puglia – Red White Tasting Crew

When the Red White Tasting Crew gets together you should expect to learn something new. Many things, typically.

Getting together at WGBH for a tasting of new wines from the Puglia region of Italy provided that opportunity so well I thought I should share it. And I shall attempt to do it most simply.

Muscat & Sauvignon Blanc make a pretty wild combo in a wine. I’ll be frank and say that the disconnection between the aromas (from past Muscat experiences) with the flavors was a shock, but the wine is made welll; if not intentionally made this way who knows what it would be like.

Brian, David & I share great tastes in wine. The love for Nero di Troia was called by our tribe half way through the earlier public event. Anytime you can connect with people like that you should be so lucky.

Wine and the passion surrounding it can cross dividing lines and break down barriers. We all listened, learned and contributed to a lively conversation about a place new to us, and wines that allowed us to understand a small part of it.

Tasting new wines (both producer and style) seems like a subtle act, but has profound implications on one’s experience. My evidence? The warmly passed Passita aligned the whole group in such a wonderful way.



Here is my Red White Tasting Crew Profile. Check out other members of the crew at the #RWTastingCrew page.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Some of you may already know that I am a cancer survivor and participate in a Relay For Life each year in June. My team is gearing up to walk a track all night again this year and need your support to raise critical funds to keep the programs and services of the American Cancer Society available for the over 1.4 million new cancer survivors each year.

I am also participating in Frosting For A Cause (@Frosting4Cause) to help further raise awareness about the fight against cancer. June 5th is National Cancer Survivor Day and I will be posting my Frosting For A Cause entry that day in honor.

 I’m not sure what I am going to make yet so you will have to check back then to find out what pink frosted treats I make to celebrate cancer survivors everywhere and remember those brave souls we have lost to this terrible disease.

I do know how I am going to fulfill my obligations in participating in the event though, and that’s where you can help. One of the requirements is to donate my creation to a local organization that cares for cancer survivors and patients. I am going to put a twist on this and donate them to be served at the survivor celebration lunch at the Relay For Life my parents are participating in on June 4th.

My second commitment is donate money to the American Cancer Society, which is something I already do and am doing again this year. I can multiply that donation and its impact with your help.

My team is named Survivors Rule! and we are a potent example of what family and friends can do when we band together to fight.

Since 2003 we have
  • Raised over $72,000 for The American Cancer Society and the Lance Armstrong Foundation!
  • Walked hundreds and hundreds of miles proudly showing we are strong and can beat cancer
  • Volunteered to help organize, setup, cleanup and host event activities for 750+ people nearly every year
  • Placed as the top fund-raising team at our event 4 of the last 5 years, raising over $10,000 each of those years
  • Involved dozens of cancer survivors in a celebration of their brave fight
  • Educated hundreds of people of how and how much cancer affects all of us
  • Had team members been recognized as individual fund-raising leaders, distance challengers and spirit makers
  • Represented our cause to local politicians and business leaders who can see how their support helps from our first hand accounts of living with cancer and giving back
  • Also participated in the annual Making Strides Against Cancer one-day events in 3 different locations
  • Fought cancer like we meant it!
But we still need your help. Any sized donation is welcome and will do so much to contribute to the fight. Your support comes with a simple guarantee, my team and I will make it count as we come out again this year to give cancer an example of how hard we are going to FIGHT BACK!

Please use the link below to donate on-line.

I am going to enjoy my pink frosting challenge and can’t wait to share my creation with you all here and in person with a group of cancer survivors, the honored guests at the Relay For Life. Be sure and come back on or after June 5th to see more of the story.

Thank You


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finishing the Crispin Ciders

When I first received samples from Crispin Ciders I was very excited. There were 8 styles and breaking it down into a series would give me tasting enjoyment for some time. That time has come, and the end of the road has been reached. And this is made sadder because Crispin doesn’t yet have distribution in New England so I will have to travel to get more when I want it.

Honey Crisp with Organic Cider

This is the last of the large format bottles from their Artisanal Reserve line. I enjoyed these styles the most because they really broadened my understanding of the range for cider. This particular version is made from Honey Crisp apples, a variety we know well from several of the orchards we frequent both in VT and at home in NH.

The nose on this one really grabbed my attention. I picked up pear and watermelon. It pours cloudy (says so on the label for those not paying attention) with a light straw color. It is tart with a healthy bite of acidity and considerable carbonation. I did pick up sweet apple and honey flavors in the finish. I would definitely get this again and could see throwing it at some BBQ chicken & potato salad in the backyard on a hot summer day.

Extra Dry

Almost no aroma was found after the pour. It is almost clear, almost like green tea (thanks Mom!) It is dry and very carbonated. This is definitely more English in style than some of the others with a much drier mouthfeel and some sour in the finish. Flavors of under-ripe pear were most noticeable in the finish.

Light – Bright Over Ice

Light straw in color, dry, tart and heavily carbonated. It is indeed light, very light in fact, but crisp and refreshing with citrus in the finish.

The last two are too light and dry for my tastes, but knowing how my friends have preferences within the range of ciders (dry-sweet-flavored) I make at home I am sure these would be a real pleasers for many others.

Ancient Fire 2009 Dry Cider

I had a bottle of my own dry style cider from 2009 on hand and opened it to contrast the taste and texture to that of the other two reviewed above. The aromas are light and solidly of apple juice. As I have mentioned in the past I make mine still most of the time and that is true for this selection as well. It is dry and tart with savory apple and spice flavors. The finish is pretty short with tart citrus cleaning up during the quick exit. This is not my very best cider from 2009, but it is the simple dry style I was shooting for when I made it. After one full year in the bottle I have not experienced any re-fermentation or any drying which I have seen in the past. I can’t wait to make cider in again this fall and try some of the twists Crispin offers in my homemade product.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Stories from the WineMaker Magazine Conference – Wine-ing on the Weekends

About a week before the 2001 WineMaker Magazine Conference I was checking the tweet stream for the conference hashtag #winemagconf and saw a tweet about an attendee who would be taping podcast segments at the conference. Knowing we were going to be live tweeting and blogging from the conference I replied to @wineonweekends to arrange a meet-up and see how we would help each other promote the event and create some buzz.

I ran into John at his table setup right off the registration area on Friday morning. He was already gearing up to record as many interviews with attendees, sponsors and speakers as he could. We talked a bit about our interests in using social networking and technology to promote wine making and wine appreciation content on the web and our expectations from the conference.

( John interviewing a home winemaker from AZ. )

John invited me to tape a couple segments’ with him about how I got into winemaking and my wine blogging activities for future airing. It was a lot of fun to share my story and can’t wait for them to be posted so I can share them with all of you.

Check out the Wine-ing on the Weekends Podcast web site for more information about casts available and upcoming segments.

Gotta run! My first class is up in 10 minutes and my speaking engagement is on after that. The conference has been a load of fun so far and is capped off with the awards dinner tonight. Wish us luck!


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Country Roads and Hidden Treasures

We spend a lot of weekends in VT enjoying my family’s vacation house. Just like at home we tend not to eat out much, but when we do finding a new place is always a fun way to enjoy somebody else’s cooking.

Because the area where our house is located is near several large ski resorts there are lots of restaurants to be found in the high traffic areas, but the random find seems to be the best way to get out for a local bite. This weekend we happened upon Stoddard’s in Londonderry, VT. Mom & Dad had a gift certificate from the Fireman’s Auction in 2010, but didn’t know where the place was. It turns out we have driven by the place hundreds of times, never registering it was a restaurant; and all day breakfast & lunch diner at that!

I had a club sandwich with fries, and everyone else had a burger. Margot opted for onion rings which turn out to be a great measuring stick of a restaurant. Both the rings and fries were perfectly cooked and very clean tasting with minimal salt. There was no commercial packaged food here and the bacon on my club and my parents’ burgers had been deep fried! The burgers were the real deal, made by hand on site. When paired with the deep fried bacon and some VT cheddar cheese they easily satisfied our crew.

Next time you are in the Londonderry, VT area check out Stoddard on Main street right near the junction of routes 100 and 11.



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gloria Ferrer 2007 Carneros Chardonnay

This was a random pick for me. I saw it there as I was looking for something new and brought two home. I am so surprised with the complexity of it and really enjoyed it. I know people are split on oaked CA Chardonnay, but I think this one goes in a spicy direction that is worthy of a taste.

Toasty nose w/ pear and tropical notes. Lots of spice, and full bodied even for a Chardonnay. It has a spot right in the center where it is very full. Citrus in the finish. Great texture with a medium dry finish



Nero di Troia – A Great Wine You’ve Likely Never Heard Of

( Donato Antonio Giullani pouring his Cantine Teanum wines for the audience. )

I attended both the Wines & Cheeses of Puglia and the #RWTastingCrew last night at WGBH. These events were part of a thrust to promote wines from Puglia in the states and determine the interest that might exist for bringing them here, some for the first time. I am going to write more about the events in an upcoming post, but I couldn’t wait to share my experience with the still very unknown style of wine, Nero di Troia.

This grape and the wine made from it only come from Puglia on the Southeastern tip of the Italian peninsula. From the private conversation a group of us had with several of the winemakers (thank you Cathy!) I learned that the grape was brought to the region by the Greeks 2500 years ago and is only grown and vinified by about 20 producers. It is a late harvesting grape sometimes into early October. This is considered one of the keys to the wine’s more fruit forwardness. It was noted by multiple winemakers that Nero di Troia is a hard grape to work with both in the vineyard and during fermentation, especially when it comes to extraction. My understanding is that a mere difference of day of skin contact when making wines with this grape can add considerable aging needs to soften the tannins.

There were 3 selections of Nero di Troia to sample all of which I highly recommend. They were all different in subtle ways, providing a nice survey of what the wine can be.

Masseria Celentana – Querciagrande

This was my favorite of the three. I immediately picked up cherry, chocolate and a little smoke. The color was much deeper on this one and the spiciness was a bit lower. I could see pairing this with every grilled piece of beef I put on the grill all summer! I got to taste it with fresh cheese and found very worthy partners. The clean, simple flavors in the cheese were stuck right up against the wine which has considerable heft.

Casaltranita – Nero di Troia

This one drew aspects from the others into a nice balance. Great fruit (red berries), chocolate and some smoke were easily detected. I got twinges of balsamic vinegar (it was on the wine specs so it stuck in my head) and hints of dried fruits more in this one than the others. I started thinking about beef with blue cheese and a red wine reduction on it.

Cantine Teanum – Nero di Troia

The first thing that thought of when I tasted this wine was the spiciness in Shiraz. I hadn’t expected them from an Italian wine and I found it well fitting. I picked up cherry & red berry flavors, something dusty and acidic (graphite?) with a good deal of concentration and moderate tannins. The finish was medium to long and clean. Is it dinner time yet? A nice steak and a bottle of this wine sounds fantastic.

( Alberto Longo talking about the Masseria Celentano wines. )

I feel like these wines will continue to be best coming from small producers with good, but not stratospheric distribution so its charms aren’t diluted by excessive demand. I definitely want to have them, the fact that I can’t in the US yet is no fun, and look forward to getting some and trying some of the food pairings that came to mind.

I look forward to taking another stroll through my notes and recollections of the wines (including the whites, additional reds and the Gravisano Passita dessert wine), cheese making demo and great conversations from the events to share more of Puglia with you again soon.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Hippo de Mayo Taco Fest – Manchester, NH

How does running from joint to joint in downtown Manchester, NH sampling different kinds of tacos sound? I wasn’t exactly sure when we first heard about the event so if you are a little skeptical I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

Organized by the Hippo Press, the local culture and style newspaper, nearly three dozen Manchester restaurants formulated taco ideas (some inspired by existing menu items) to serve to folks crawling between the shops. $2 each! Every establishment was assigned a charity and proceeds from the taco sales and drawings held on site would go the charities. The winning taco, as voted by texting fans, would net a $2,000 donation to the charity assigned to the winning shop.

Some of What We Ate

The Smore Taco at Portland Pie company. It was messy and didn’t photograph well. We liked it but it wasn’t the best lead off.

The El Tiante at JW Hill was incredible! Orange chipotle pork in a puffy tortilla shell. The meat was so juicy and flavorful. We should have gotten seconds or to go!

The El Pato taco at Z was a great follow on to that, especially with a bit of a wait. Duck confit with avocado, pickled cabbage and Siracha sour cream. It was a little messy to eat on the run, but I got over it!

While we waited in line at Z we got to chatting with Sarah-Jane Chaplain and Dick Webster (Sarah’s father-in-law) from Candia. They were planning on hitting 6 or 7 places and had so far their favorite was the Peach Pork taco at the Pattie Shack. When we asked about how they found about the event, they indicated that they saw it in the paper and thought that it looked like fun, so they came out to check it out. They were both intrigued by our comments on the Smore Taco. Our only recommendation was to get more napkins before they started!

Dick and I chatted about home brewing as he was just getting back into brewing with his son. They had recently gotten a clone of the Sam Adams Boston Ale going with great expectations for the outcome.

The Rest of What We Ate

As mentioned above we hit the Pattie Shack and they were between tacos. It was dinner time and anything else they made was ready to order. We tried the BBQ Buffalo Burger, beef with blue cheese and firey BBQ sauce. It was well made, hot and oh so tasty. Sweet and spicy with that blue cheese funk and some lip smacking goodness!

We ended out journey after meeting up with Margot’s new co-workers, at Strange Brew. Strange Brew is a solid beer bar in its own right so I led off with a Dog Fish Black & Blue and an Allagash White. Loaded for bear! They had a smoked pork taco with cheese and an Indian spiced one as well. I couldn’t exactly tell what all was going on here, but it did taste fantastic and went great with the Allagash beer. We hung for a while longer while I finished up the drinks. The Dog Fish Black and Blue is a high alcohol Belgian golden ale with real black and blueberries fermented in it. The fruit is very accessible and the malty sweetness in the middle was intense and nuanced with fruit and spice.

There was definitely considerable demand for this event based on the lines at some restaurants and the quickness with which some others ran out of food. While this could be considered a logistical nightmare and a downer for the event I submit that it is merely food for thought when planning the 2012 incarnation of the event. We did hear complaining but no matter how well it went I expect we would have heard similar words if it was just an issue of waiting in line. The guys at the Pattie Shack had a fantastic attitude about running out of ingredients twice, go get more and keep the train rolling! I think they genuinely liked the traffic even if some folks turned around and left rather than wait. We opted to try something off their regular menu (we hadn’t been there yet) and found it to be fantastic. They get our vote as a great place to check out in the city tacos or not!

This week’s Hippo indicated that 15-20K tacos were served to 5-7K people. Damn! That is a lot of tacos and I hope a lot of funds raised for the participating charities.

We tweeted the crap out of this event and had hoped for more online action to build the hype, but in the end we still had great fun and can’t wait to do it again next year.



Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mother’s Day Dinner - Baked Stuffed Salmon

Making dinner for mom can be a challenge. She taught me how to cook when I was very young and since we have enjoyed many years of swapping tips, recipes and cooking together. With years of additional experience and having enjoyed meals in many destinations I have yet to get to, Mom has a broader palate than I do. Figuring out what to make that might offer something new as well as the enjoyment of a well prepared meal can be nerve wracking. But I take that challenge head on as often as I can. Cooking for others who appreciate the nuance of creating in the kitchen is one of life’s true joys for me.

Baked Stuffed Salmon is what I landed for the honor of making dinner for Mother’s Day. I waited until a few days ahead to announce my choice and was so happy to hear it was something she had never had. My challenge was clear. As I often do I searched around on the web for inspiration from what others had done before. If I could even stand on the shoulders of those “giants” for just a few minutes I knew I would feel good about the outcome. I took ingredients and preparation from several different recipes. The recipes that use a whole fish are intriguing and something that is on my list to try another time.

I complimented my main dish with a light version of Scalloped Potatoes and a sautéed asparagus with Garam Masala that has been making me happy of late.

Baked Stuffed Salmon

2 – 1 lb salmon filets, skins on (approx. the same size)
6-8 slices wheat bread, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tbsp capers, drained
2 Tbsp Basil, chopped
2 Tbsp Dill, chopped
2 Tbsp Parsley, chopped
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 lemon, for zest
Butchers twine

Place the chopped bread in a large bowl, adding water 1 Tbsp at a time till it begins to moisten. Add the onion, capers, herbs and melted butter. Use additional water if necessary. The stuffing should be most, but not liquefied. Lay out one long strand of butcher’s wine that will run along the long side of the fish. Lay out 5 strands of butcher’s twine with about 1 inch between them over top. Exactly how long each is going to depend a lot on how thick your fish is and how much stuffing you make. More is better here. Place 1 salmon filet on an oiled surface, salt and pepper lightly. Place over top the twine. Zest lemon rind over the fish. Mound the stuffing up on the fish. Zest lemon rind over the stuffing. I squeezed some lemon juice over it for more zip and it did work well. Oil the outside of the second filet and place it on top. First tie off the 5 strands of twine, then finishing with the longest and last one. Place the stuffed salmon a foil line baking pan. Add any remaining stuffing over the fish and garnish with a few lemon slices. Bake until the fish flakes and the internal temperature is at least 125 and likely a bit higher to taste. We cooked it about 40 minutes or so and then began taking the temp and it was done not longer after.

I did pair several wines with dinner, including a pre-dinner aperitif of some of my homemade 2010 wild Concord rose. Mom liked that one the best and I left her the bottle to finish over the remainder of her leisurely weekend in VT. I wrote about my wine pairings for The Unreserved earlier in the week with the title “Pinot, but not Noir”. I used a Pinot Blanc and a Pinot Gris from two different parts of the wine world and had good experiences with both. The King Estate Pinot Gris is especially good with salmon, something we found last year when we were visiting the area. We are so excited to be going back, and this time we will be visiting King Estate with local friends.

For dessert I recreated a great closer that Francoise served at our recent trip to Montreal, sorbet with fresh fruit. I used a lemon sorbet from Hagen Daas with fresh cut strawberries that were tossed with a little lime juice and sugar.

With dessert I served a mixed drink from the March/April 2011 issue of Imbibe magazine, the Cheerwine Cocktail #1. Cheerwine is a cherry flavored soda that hails from NC which my parents found for me on their trip back up the East Coast in March. With some gin, lime and over ice the soda really shined. I can see why there is a faithful consumer base for it.

I pretty much figure this challenge worked out splendidly and as good as it could have. We all did enjoy the meal and I heard the leftovers were securely eaten.



Thursday, May 12, 2011

On Owning It

I'll take a quick break from the wine and food to offer the following in consideration of wanting to own your life. I hope even one ounce of support is taken from it so that someone can take another step to being the person they want to be and own it the whole way.

{originaly posted to FaceBook friends}
"This isn't a song, it's a riot!" - some of you might know that I listen to a good deal of urban influenced music , like Nu-Jazz and Downtempo. I tend the home bar to it on Friday nights, and plan my meals, vacations and beverage adventures to its memes. It gives me times to think, times to dream and times to kick back. Inevitably I run into many lyrical conventions that have powerful energy and profound meaning if you can put them in the right context. The imagery you can attach to the concept of flowing in the contemporary urban vocal artist context is 100% tied to the natural world. A flowing river with power, grace and surprises comes easily to mind. The lead off quote is from a song by the Ancient Astronauts. I have been listening to it now for a couple of weeks and that line keeps coming back. As I thought about what it meant, all sorts of scenarios where a protagonist rises and shows you what they are made of kept coming to mind. I see this lyric as a very strong example of the concept of "owning it" or for you Gary V. fans, "#crushit". I offer this as a way to visualize the future where you are your own story's protagonist, totally owning the moments you find yourself in.

With that I am off to move some 0's and 1's around at work.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Washington State Merlot

Just about one year ago Margot and I were getting ready to head off to the WineMaker Magazine Annual Conference for the first time. It was being hosted in Stevenson, WA situated on the Columbia River along the Oregon border. We had been to the state before, but not its winemaking areas, and didn’t have a chance on earlier trips to visit any wineries for tastings. Our plans included those activities on this trip, and we packed with much excitement.

( Great place to hang and drink! )

One of the types of wine we had the chance try from a number of difference sources was Merlot. I had heard many great things about WA Merlots and had never really explored them. My favorite from a winery visit was the Ethos Merlot at Chateau Ste. Michelle. The night of the swap meet we tried Merlot varietals and Merlot based blends from a number of local wineries and winemaking clubs. We enjoyed several homemade versions shared by local-area conference attendees. All together I felt I had gotten to know the style much better. Across all the selections we tried we found a great balance of fruit and earth with dark berries and cherry wrapping touches of chocolate, spice and smoke. The smooth textures and manageable tannins made these wines so very approachable and great casual drinkers. I kept thinking about food pairings and what I wanted to try at home with wines we would bring back.

One of the things we found so interesting were subtleties between the single vineyard Merlot bottlings at the Columbia Winery. They presented the wines from varied growing areas, conditions, the differences and we found so much of it to be accessible. At the conference I shared a rose I bought made from Merlot at Phelps Creek Vineyard (no relation) from just over the border in OR. At first folks didn’t seem interested, but once the first person at the table said something good about it, it was gone. Check out what we wrote back in June of 2010 from our trip notes.

So it was with great excitement that I was assigned a WA Merlot for a recent group tasting with the Boston Sommelier Society. I felt like I knew it better because of my experiences and knew more about the region giving me a good basis to search for. I considered the CSM Ethos but opted for something else and stayed within the CSM family. I came across the 2006 Canoe Ridge Merlot and grabbed a couple bottles to try. At $20 a bottle it should be a solid performer, but not an everyday drinker. I found a healthy dose of cherry, vanilla and a dusty soil note. The tannins are there but softening and really helping to define the wine. I bet this 2006 will be much better in 3-4 years.

Washington Merlot started stalking me at this point and this time in the form a perk from the Kloutperks Influencer program. As an influencer I received a $100 credit to Lot 18 and found wine and olive oil that would make for great adventures back at Ancient Fire Wines. The Pepper Bridge 2006 Walla Walla Merlot two-pack was a steal. The wine is good, but needs more time to mellow.

It is garnet in color with a touch of purple. The rim variation has a slight brown shift and the staining and viscosity are low inferring a lighter wine. The alcohol is up there, 14.1%, but noticeable, and makes the chocolate, cherry, spice, pepper and soil flavors a bit hard to completely pin down. The tannins are moderate, but feel like they are softening and time may be an asset here.

We are again getting ready to head off to the WineMaker Conference, this time in Santa Barbara, CA, home to several winemaking regions that will be worth visits. Pinot Noir perhaps, or Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier, oh my! We’ll be live tweeting from the conference, including the awards dinner. We won 9 medals last year and we have more chances than that again this year! Wish us luck!



I was given a free product or sample because I'm a Klout influencer. I was under no obligation to receive the sample or talk about this company. I get no additional benefits for talking about the product or company.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Wise Words Woven by Women Winemakers

Last Tuesday I attended the Red White Boston (RWB) event “Putting the I in Team: Women Winemakers.” The theme for evening went back to an interview Cathy (found of RWB) had done with Janet Myers, director of winemaking at Franciscan Winery, a few years prior. During the interview Janet had shared her team approach to winemaking and her actions to give each individual on the team meaning for their contributions. This message stuck with Cathy and recent considerations of the ideas resulted in the genesis of another great RWB event.

The special guests for the evening were Janet Myers of Franciscan Estates and Maureen Martin of Clos du Bois, both of were interested in sharing messages about empowering people to understand their work and be successful in a team environment. This topic is of particular interest to me right now as I find myself in the midst of several staffing transitions at work, including a retirement that resulted in my taking over the leadership role. I am just now setting about to augment and re-shape a team of energetic and knowledgeable software engineers, so I have much to gain from new ideas about teamwork and helping individuals be successful working on a team.

Sandrine’s Bistro in Harvard Square was the location for this event. I don’t get to many Boston-area restaurants so to say I didn’t know this one might infer I knew many others. But I digress. I arrived a little early and was able to catch one of the chefs preparing flammekueche for the evening. The bar area at the front of the restaurant has a large pizza oven and prep area adjacent to it, making for a great vantage point for the action. While I waited I met Rich Huhm, another event attendee, and we got off talking about wine, food, my part time wine & food writing and our expectations for the evening.

As the flammekueche was passed around we sipped on the Franciscan 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. The best way to describe this wine, and it is all positive, is acidity wrapped lime and greens. The aromas of lime & greens were a hint to me that I was going to enjoy this crisp refreshing wine, and the taste didn’t disappoint.

( I asked if I could take photos and got a slanted eye. Yes, it's going online! )

( The bacon on this one was some of the best I had ever had! )

We took our seats and continued socializing. I am bad with names so I am mildly proud that I can recall meeting, Rich, Julia, Meghan, Eric, Dan, Maureen and Elina. I didn’t meet Janet and saw return faces in Justin and Cathy. Let’s just hope I recognize them all when I see them again! Our table was honored to host Maureen who was visiting Boston for the first time. Lots of ideas for things to do while in Boston were bandied about. At first it looked like our guests would roam from table to table sharing their team winemaking approaches and so Maureen got started with us. It turns out each presenter did address the whole group so we got to enjoy Maureen’s insights twice!

Our first course was a Spring Pea Soup with smoked mussels. It was served with the Clos du Bois Calcaire Russian River Valley 2007 and the Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage 2007 Chardonnays. The Clos du Bois presented green apples and an unexpected minerality. I detected the oak, but a very restrained amount. This wine is very crisp and lighter than many California Chardonnays. I was fascinated by this balance and elegance in a Chardonnay. The Franciscan Cuvee Sauvage presented the oak up front with hints of pear and apple, a medium body, and crisp clean finish with some citrus on the way out. I found it to the better pairing with the soup, especially where the smoked mussels and oak aromas and flavors in the wine mixed.

Both Janet & Maureen demonstrated their leadership qualities as they presented during our meal. Maureen has presence. I took this from a combination of factors including the passionately driven words about having context for your role, the powerful example she gave in having growers come in to sample the newly tasted and categorized wines, as well as her comfort when she captained the room. Janet takes a different approach. She comes to you, sits down and appeals to you with considerations like “the grapes don’t know if you are a man or woman” when asked if being a female winemaker is an advantage. Janet is also very passionate and broke her approach down into considerable detail. She owned the problem AND the solution in the way she described it, and that has got to be a winning play!

Dinner was a sizable piece of medium-rare beef with a black pepper & Cabernet reduction alongside a spinach and mushroom ragout. It was so tasty on its own that I nearly ate way more than was going to be healthy! The wines with the beef were the Magnificat 2006 and Mt. Veeder 2005 reds from Franciscan. I drank the Magnificat way too fast. It was so full of fruit, spice, wood and a little earth, it was hard not to. It is a Meritage blend so I shouldn’t be surprised that I liked it.

The Mt. Veeder Reserve Cabernet was super rich with a healthy blend of fruit and greens, and all sorts of finesse. The tannins were already softening which added the right amount of structure.

A transitional course of a Pear and Gorgzonla was a change of pace for me, and while I found the wine paired with the salad fantastic on its own I wasn’t sure I thought the salad was a good match for it. Except the Gorgonzola cheese! The Clos du Bois Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir Reserve 2006 was a great wine to finish the meal with, and one I look forward to trying again. My tweet on this wine was “Great ruby color, hearty combo of fruit and earth.”

We finished with a Lavender Crème Brulee which deserved to be eaten in full. I have had crème brulee many times, but never flavored with lavender. I’d expect to make this sometime next month, maybe my anniversary!

New friends said their goodbyes and a group of us headed back toward South Station, actually to drop me off for my bus. I have to thank Meghan and Eric for the kind offer of the ride, which gave us more time to talk. Elina made merry with us as well. I couldn’t have asked for more good vibes in an evening. Much thanks go out to Cathy, Janet and Maureen for sharing and bringing together a great group enjoy their wines and their company.



{ Other Posts About This Event }

Cathy at RedWhiteBoston -

Meghan from Travel, Wine & Dine -

Justin from F2%! -

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Seven Barrel Brewery & Brewpub – Lebanon, NH

Check out my friend Meghan's Kerrygold giveaway at Travel Wine & Dine Kerrygold Giveaway for a great chance to wine some great products.

Margot enjoyed beers and food at Seven Barrel Brewery in Lebanon, NH about 10 years ago, but we’ll be damned if we can remember what trip we were on. But we remember being there, and have told at least a few people about it since.

As we were cruising home from Montreal last weekend, the need for lunch arose. We were making great time and Margot agreed to make for Lebanon with the Kid Rock blaring. I knew where we were going to go and certainly hoped they were open when we arrived. It was a warm spring day in Lebanon and the area right around the interstate exit was made busy because it is seeing a good deal of road work. Not the prettiest sight, but what can you do? And as hope Sven Barrel was open.

We were greeted right away and sat at one of the old style wood booths in the main dining area. Jameson, our server, was enthusiastically telling several other patrons about their beers when we were seated. I heard something about two season beers and my interest was again peaked.

As we got to talking to Jameson we relate the laugh about our prior visit, our love of craft beers and of course ordered the sample paddle. I had a driver so I could dig in. The paddle is made for 6, their usual offering, but there were two more that would be included to celebrate spring. The lineup ended up being Maibock, Marzen, Queeche Cream Ale, Ice Rock Canadian, New Dublin Brown, The Red #7, Champion Reserve IPA, R.I.P. Stout. Quite a selection indeed!

We ordered lunch and I set about snapping some photos (I asked if I could, which a typically do) of signs and beer serving area. Jameson asked if I wanted to see the small brewing setup in the front of the building and I said sure! I got a several nice pics of a rustic, small batch and fully functional all-grain brewing setup.

( Right from the tap! )

( Ode to the R.I.P )

( Copper brew kettle. )

( Malted grains ready to go. )

( Celebrating 17 Years! )

Back at the table I continued tasting beers and picking out all the different flavors and textures present. Both the Maibock and Marzen felt like they might have had some honey influence, but that could also be grains, malt or hops giving us something different. I enjoyed both and can see how celebrating beer with spring is as old of a custom as it is.

The New Dublin Brown went great with my Cock-a-Leekie pie (chicken, leeks, root veg topped with pastry) and all of the earthy flavors in it. Definitely one of my favorites.

I love a good IPA and the Champion Reserve is no slouch. Lots of hops (as advertised) with citrus coated grains in the middle through the finish. Very refreshing and one I would definitely go for again. The malt and hops are there in the Red #7, but not in an epic struggle for your taste buds. The pine in the finish was slightly mentholating. The Queeche Cream Ale would be best with a lemon slice, and the Ice Rock Canadian was well balanced and refreshing, just not very notable for me. The last one of the beers was the R.I.P Stout, named for its roots from a Rich Imperial Porter recipe. It was black with a healthy balance of chocolate and coffee aromas/flavors, a certain degree of earthiness and lingering finish. I really enjoyed this beer as well. Margot (the stout expert) took a sip and gave it a thumbs up as well.

Margot was ooohing and ahhhing over her Pastrami Reuben and onion rings, the latter of which were good with several of the beers. All of the food was hot, prepared exceptionally and came from a menu that we would recommend trying many things from. The beers were a great bookend to our weekend and a great way to stir up some old memories. Can’t beat that!



Friday, May 6, 2011

Our Family in Montreal

Whenever we cross the Canadian border the stated purpose of our trip is to visit family, which is true. Margot’s uncle Gerry, a priest ordained for almost 50 years, lives at the Grand Seminary on Sherbrooke right in the heart of downtown. We always have a meal with him when we are in town.

In one of my posts about our trip to France in February I introduced Eloy, Gerry’s friend. Eloy lives in Broussard right outside Montreal. Our custom as long as Eloy is in town has been to dine with he and Gerry either in the city or at Eloy’s house. Several times we have enjoyed dinners with Eloy’s family or friends from Miami. A true pleasure for everyone! Paella has been served more than once, and rum, wine and lots of laughter are always in large supply.

Eloy & Francoise (married during our trip to France) are back in Broussard enjoying some time with Eloy’s local friends and hosting family and friends from France. The goal is to move to France once the house is sold, but I am sure having fun in the meantime is high on the list. As luck would have it everyone was available for a Saturday meal, and Eloy offered to host. We were also lucky enough to have caught Marc (a friend of Eloy’s that we made on the France trip) free and he joined us as well. What a family!

We talked, laughed, looked at pictures and enjoyed snacks and wine for quite a while. Gerry was making us laugh with stories of watching the Royal Wedding the day before. It reminded Margot of her Mom, a fact that Gerry takes as a quite an honor. One this whole group shares is a fondness for enjoying difference kinds of wines. You know how happy that makes me! For snacks we brought a couple different whites and gave hosts choice to what was opened. The option on the Willm Pinot Blanc was exercised. I hadn’t had this particular Pinot Blanc before, but was fully expecting a nice subtle wine to meld with a variety of different food based on recent experiences with the style. We were rewarded with very fruity aromas, a wonderfully balanced medium to light wine with citrus on the way out. Francoise made guacamole and the creamy avocado with the wine was a great match. I could see Francoise savoring her sips with a smile

Dinner was a special request for Gerry. He didn’t make the trip to France on the count of his ongoing battle with cancer. We all were heartbroken, but went with a greater sense of purpose because of it. Since he missed the trip he requested a Provencal style dish with pork in it. Having had this prepared by Francoise in her home and knew what he was going for and clearly was looking forward to what she came up with. She made a Pork Tenderloin en Croute or something akin to it. She actually made two. She clearly has known all of the people involved here either in this life or a past one! The pork was perfectly cooked with puff pastry, onions, seasonings, mushrooms working together all over the place.

For dinner we went Cotes du Rhone to whole way. Francoise was gracious enough to share it with us and her family when we were there and when she cooks as she does the wine must live up! We found the 2008 Parallel 45 from Paul Jaboulet Aine. Eloy actually came and asked me where I got it for future reference. It was a slam dunk with a bit of pork, pastry and mushrooms, just like being back at Le Petit Trentin (Francoise’s house). The wine is very hearty with complex flavors and that hit of acidity to make the flavors pop. Francoise and Eloy opened a bottle of Chataeau de Grezels 2008 Cahors, a Malbec/Merlot style. The wine was good but seemed to be missing its edge. Francoise was the first to notice it though, it became Cahors with the food. And indeed the same bite from above brought this wine out to the place I expected to find it. Very nice!

The red wines were enjoyed through the cheese course which Margot and I were honored to have been asked to bring. We loved participating in this facet of family meals in Provence, and couldn’t imagine not recreating it here at home.

For dessert Francoise served berry sorbet with fresh cut strawberries on top. Marc shared a bottle of Peller Estates 2006 Late Harvest Riesling. What a great glass of wine. My love for sweet and dessert wines is no secret, and this one was certainly an overachiever! A very perfumed nose with honey, dried fruit sand a profound sweetness in the center. It went fast, but great minds think alike!

We talked again for a while before everyone needed to head on back to their homes for the night. Margot and I would be getting up early the next day to head home, and although I would be staying up for a while at the hotel, it is nice to be able to kick back with a beer after driving home.

We look forward to our next trip to Montreal. We can never really get there enough on the count of all the other adventures we end up in the middle of. Till then, we have the memories.



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Saturday Afternoon at Atwater Market

Returning to Montreal again this spring brought us back to several of our favorite ways to enjoy the city and the greater-Montreal area. In my last post I shared our 3rd annual pub crawl and beer tasting adventures. We had a lot of fun and tried a bunch of beers that were new to us and made to please!

On Saturday afternoon we walked down Rene Levesque and made our lunch stop at Buffet Maharaja (near the Guy crossing) for Indian lunch. We definitely recommend it and were told that Saturday night is even better because of a different chef cooking. The food was hot, well cooked and there were dozens of selections. The Butter Chicken seems to be what they are known for, and it didn’t disappoint. The fresh Naan bread was soft and made for a great fork!

During lunch Margot asked where we should go next. It was one of the most beautiful days we have had yet this spring, so I suggested we keep walking down to the Atwater Market. As we walked we came upon an architecture-laden public park. The reason was a celebration of local architects and artists by a trade organization that acquired the land. We had fun walking around and checking out each of the exhibits.

A few blocks later we met up with Atwater Ave and headed down the hill and right past where Margot’s maternal family is from. The streets were busy as we got closer, it would seem like we had a pretty popular idea. We arrived to the bustle of the market and leisurely walked around. We have stopped in here going back 5 years now and relish finding treats to share with friends while we are in town or to take home for us and others.

I bought some Fee Brother’s bitters and an Elderflower cordial mixer to play around with at the home bar. We also picked up several items for a nice Mother’s day gift, but since Mom reads my blog I can’t tell you what just yet.

I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.



( Fresh Gnocci )

( Can't beat pre-marinated meats of all kinds! )

( My favorite market stop! )

( Sausage anyone? )

( A stop at Premiere Moison is always a good idea! )

( Like a kid in a candy shop I tell ya! )

( We have bought flowers here more than once. )

( The fruit sellers were very busy this day. )

( You can't have a Montreal market without maple! )