The Loire is one of France’s larger wine regions where a plethora of grape varieties grow, some near the long, winding Loire River that flows into the Atlantic. Its districts produce all types of wines—white, red, rosé, sweet, and sparkling. The region is a source of many wines that are crisp and refreshing with floral scents like a summer garden. “If I take a wine to a picnic,” says Florence Lowell, owner of the Naked Oyster restaurant in Hyannis, “my number one pick is a wine from the Loire.”
Loire wines pair well with the season’s lighter fare and are perfect warm-weather thirst-quenchers after a day at the beach. These are wines you may have left behind to experience new viticulture regions, but it’s worth revisiting these well-priced, familiar selections.
Take, for instance, the white wines from Muscadet, the area in the western part of the Loire. Muscadets are made from the melon de bourgogne grape. The better ones come from the Sevre-et-Maine district and have the words “sur lie,” a process in which the wine is bottled directly from the lees to improve its flavor and complexity, written on the label. A lemon-lime and mineral taste makes Muscadet the quintessential pairing for shellfish. “Muscadet is great with clams and oysters,” says Lowell, whose restaurant features a raw bar and a superlative menu of shellfish dishes.
Wines from Vouvray, a region on the right bank of the Loire River, are made from the Chenin Blanc grape and are know to be fruity and sweeter with a golden color. There are four levels of sweetness usually indicated on the label: sec (the driest), demi-sec (medium dry), moelleux (medium sweet) and doux (very sweet). Dry Vouvrays have flavors of green apples, tastes of oranges and pineapples, and can be softer and creamier than other Loire wines. For Lowell, a sweeter Vouvray is the perfect wine with a goat cheese: “The sweetness offsets the tartness of the cheese,” she says. Read more…
There is something so elemental about vegetable gardening, putting a simple seed in the ground, watering and watching over it until one day a tiny green sprout appears. I can still remember the excitement I felt when I planted a row of radishes in my first vegetable garden. One of the easiest, quickest vegetables to grow, the sprouts popped up, flourished in no time at all and soon plump red radishes formed, perfect for salads.
Quahog. Just saying the word makes you smile. Of course, depending on whether you live in Rhode Island or Massachusetts, you might call this large hard-shell clam a “qua-haug” or a “qwo-hog.” The name actually comes from the Narragansett Indian name “Poquauhock,” but this culinary favorite’s Latin name is much fancier: Mercenaria mercenaria, derived from the word meaning “wages” because the Indians fashioned beads from the quahog’s purple inner shells for their currency, known as wampum.
We step into The Glass Onion’s foyer, and it’s effervescent with happy couples sipping glasses of wine. Soon we are sipping our own wine while we wait for a table (no reservations here). Two dining rooms glow with wall sconces, illuminating dark floors, vaulted ceilings, and sage-colored walls. Bright white molding and linens serve as a delightful touch of luxe minimalism. The menu here changes seasonally to spotlight local produce, and everything is very reasonably priced ($15-$29 per entrée.) As a vegetable enthusiast, I ordered the Local Greens Salad ($7), a perfect heap of greens, radish, cucumber, carrots, and grape tomatoes, all grown close by at Coonamessett Farm. My guest went for the Boston Bibb Salad ($9), an artful combination of crisp lettuce, toasted almonds, grapefruit, and goat cheese. For an entrée, I decided on the evening’s special: fresh New England Halibut ($24), delicately crispy and cooked to perfection, served with tender beets in a horseradish dill sauce. My guest savored his Spiced Long Island Duck Breast, ($29), with wild rice, cranberries, and a velvety sweet potato puree. For dessert, we shared a serving of homemade fresh and flavorful raspberry lemonthyme sorbet: a refreshing ending to an exquisite locally-inspired meal.GLASS ONION, 37 North Main Street, Falmouth; 508-540-3730,
Oran Mor bistro is one of Nantucket’s top restaurants, thriving in the hands of Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, Chris Freeman. Freeman has a fine touch with a menu that changes from season to season with sometimes unusual, ever fresh ingredients served with simple, yet elegant style. The night we were there, every one of the three handsome dining rooms on the second floor of a historic home were full with happy diners. We looked with envy on a happy couple eating dinner in solitary splendor on a treetop deck. The culinary highlights of the night for us were the Butter Poached Nantucket Lobster appetizer with Potato Lemon Gnocchi, Pattypan Squash, Arugula, and Tarragon Buerre Blanc ($22) and the fresh-off-the-boat main entrees, Grilled Line Caught Striped Bass with Red Pepper Broth, Zucchini Linguini, Grilled Calamari, and Picholine Olives ($33) and the Sauteed Day Boat Scallops with Saffron Rissotto, Mussels, Chorizo, Fennel, and Tomato-Coriander Nage. Everything about Oran Mor is top flight from a superb wine list featuring some little known American wines by smaller producers, on through a thoughtfully creative menu.Oran Mor, 2 South Beach Street, Nantucket; 508-228-8655, www.oranmorbistro.com
Oysters are best when eaten as nature intended, straight from the sea. Naked Oyster, long a favorite with seafood lovers, is the ultimate spot for those who like to slurp down a cool dozen. After many years on Route 132, the restaurant recently moved to a suave new Main Street space, right next to Puritan Cape Cod. According to talented chef Carlos Reyes (formerly of the Chatham Bars Inn), the food here is special because top notch local ingredients are given an Asian or Caribbean twist. The restaurant has an extensive lunch and dinner menu (seven days a week) which in addition to same day seafood fresh off the Barnstable and Chatham dayboats also features organically raised beef. Our favorite choices are the Chilled Seafood Tower appetizer, a delight of littleneck clams, oysters, shrimp, tuna sashimi, AND a lobster tail ($43), the oyster stew brimming with sherry, cream, and oysters ($12), and the poached salmon in lemon caper fish tea, served with Yukon potatoes and spinach with black olive tapenade ($27). All year-round, cruise into the Naked Oyster—and after a superb meal, walk through adjoining doors to check out the latest cool fashions at Puritan Cape Cod.Naked Oyster, 410 Main Street, Hyannis; 508-778-6500, www.nakedoyster.com
After the high season ends, there’s a laziness to the traffic along Route 6A that’s transfixing—or, at least, that’s how it seemed when my guest and I peered through the paneled windows of Scargo Cafe in Dennis. Amidst the lamp-lit glow at the handful of tables in one of its quiet dining rooms, my guest and I pondered over the restaurant’s menu of classic seaside fare, carefully crafted over nearly a quarter century in business. We traded slurps from a thick bowl of the butternut squash bisque special ($4.25) and a cup of delicious clam chowder ($4.25). For the main course, my guest ordered the Panko Crusted Scallops ($17.99), whose brittle crust perfectly enhanced the tenderness underneath. I ordered the Grilled Swordfish ($21.99), an exceptional rendering of one of my occasional favorites, served with herbs and lemon butter. The menu shines brightest at dinner, but a casual lunch is a wonderful time to experience the restaurant’s range of sandwiches; just be sure to order their first-rate sweet potato fries on the side.Scargo Cafe, 799 Main Street (Route 6A), Dennis; 508-385-8200, www.scargocafe.com
The Beachmoor Inn & Restaurant
11 Buttermilk Way, Buzzards Bay
Besides its picturesque sunset views from a wonderful waterfront dining room, The Beachmoor Inn & Restaurant in Buzzards Bay has another especially attractive feature for party planners: its locale is easily accessible from both on and off Cape. But that’s just the starting point for this 150-capacity destination: the inn’s holiday menu includes specialties like herb-crusted sirloin roast with creamy horseradish chive sauce, seven-fish stew, maple mustard glazed turkey, and delectable desserts including apple cranberry crisp and chocolate bread pudding. Even if you have no plans for a celebration of your own, swing by the inn on the Sunday after Thanksgiving for a Christmas Tea and a wreath-making workshop led by experts from Ivies Flowers in Falmouth.
311 Gifford Street, Falmouth
Past the decorations like a poinsettia-adorned Christmas tree and an oversized gingerbread house in the lobby, the Coonamessett Inn in Falmouth has three rooms on its grounds to suit functions of any size, from the intimate Mermaid Room to the Cape Cod Room, a perfect spot for huge company gatherings. Parties can be tailored with different budgets in mind, from an elaborate company dinner with prime rib to an afternoon cocktail party with a raw bar and chocolate fountain. Make your reservations for Christmas Eve dinner at the inn, an often sold-out, a la carte meal with seatings beginning at 4 p.m.
Chatham Bars Inn
297 Shore Road, Chatham
Overnight guests at Chatham Bars Inn wake up to a surprise the day after Thanksgiving: The inn is a winter wonderland, transformed by Christmas decorations lining the halls and strung across all of its 25 acres. It’s a festive backdrop for a holiday function, which organizers can choose to hold in one of the inn’s private dining rooms or in its Monomoy Ballroom, which holds up to 200 people. In addition to its year-round menu, the kitchen staff marks the start of the holiday season by rolling out a selection of creative seafood dishes—many of which are made with catches pulled from the ocean just outside. Before checkout, make sure to snap a photo in the resort 15-foot tall Santa’s chair.
The Red Inn
15 Commercial Street, Provincetown
There’s a certain getting-away-from-it-all appeal to visiting Provincetown in winter, but make no mistake: The Red Inn is alive all the way through Holly Folly Weekend. Located on Commercial Street, the inn is festively dressed in white lights and wreaths and fully equipped for holiday get-togethers. Special events are held in the inn’s main dining area, and the kitchen staff serves a menu ranging from simple hors d’oeuvres to extravagant dinners. On Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the inn dishes out elegant four-course prix fixe meals. Stay a while in one of the Red Inn’s eight waterfront guest rooms that look out over Provincetown Harbor. And while the inn is closed from December 12-29, it opens for a five-night stretch just in time for New Year’s.
Wequassett Resort and Golf Club
On Pleasant Bay
Whether it’s a low-key cocktail hour with a sushi bar and carving stations or a sit-down dinner, every holiday function at the Wequassett Resort and Golf Club on Pleasant Bay’s waterfront is customized down to the last detail. While most merrymakers gather in the resort’s Twenty-eight Atlantic restaurant, folks booking larger holiday functions should consider the resort’s 200-person event room, The Pavilion. Bill Brodsky, chef at Twenty-eight Atlantic, creates several signature dishes including a combination plate of filet mignon and de-shelled lobster tail, which has proven especially popular around the holidays. On request, the resort can arrange transportation, and if you want to stay a little longer, guest room packages are available.
The sound of popping corks is music to the bubbly wine lover. It’s the cue to celebrate, especially during the holidays. The sublime flavors of true champagne might be your first choice. But the sparkling wine made exclusively in France’s Champagne region carries a high price tag—at least $30 for non-vintage releases. Here are some reasonably priced selections from other regions.
California’s cool micro-climates are well-suited for bubbly wines. Producers blend the same grape varieties, making their sparkling wine in the same fashion-—by méthode champenoise, where the fermentation that causes the bubbles takes place inside each bottle. There are good values ($20 a bottle or even less) among non-vintage releases from wineries owned by venerable Champagne houses. One is the Brut Classic from Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley (about $15). The winery was founded by Moët Chandon. Domaine Mumm in Napa, started by Champagne Mums, puts out a creamy style sparkler under their Brut Prestige label ($20). The owners of the Freixenet label founded the Sonoma winery Gloria Ferrer; their brut has a crisp, zesty style, and their blanc de noir (mostly pinot noir) is fruitier and lush with a slight rosé hue (Between $18 and $20).
There are other quality domestic sparkling wines made the same way as French champagne. The sparklers from Argyle in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are superb. Some selections are slightly more than $20, but well worth it. Good values come from Gruet Winery, based in a less known wine region: New Mexico. The winery is run by a family who own the French champagne house, Gruet et Fils. They make a variety of non-vintage selections by méthode champenoise. A toasty brut, a rich blanc de noir, and a demi-sec all sell for about $15 to $18 a bottle.
From Spain comes Cava, where the best are produced in the Penedès region. The sparklers are effervescent and toasty, labeled brut or brut nature. There are also many tasty rosés, like vintage dated Cavas ($13 to $20.) Freixenet, Cordoníu and Segura Viudas are the most known, but there are many interesting Cavas that are worth seeking out, like Juvé y Camps ($15) and Roger Goulart ($19).
Light, fresh, and trendy, Prosecco, produced in Italy’s Veneto region, is the perfect bubbly. Some of the best are from the Conegliano-Valdobbiaden area. Their quality has improved over the years. Excellent bottles can be found for $12 to $18. Look for producers Zardetto ($14) and Rustico Nino Franco ($18).
So raise a glass to bubbly wines that have good value and can still get a party started!
Gift suggestions to wow your favorite oenophile
- The Wine List, Hyannis: Que Syrah Shiraz Gift Basket: Five-pack sampling of four red wines and one sparkling wine made from the grape with two names. A bottle each of a Washington State Syrah, Australian Shiraz, Australian Sparkling Shiraz, French Syrah and South African Shiraz. $7
- East Harwich Liquors, Harwich: Three bottles for a dessert wine aficionado: 2009 Elio Perrone ‘Bigaro’, non-vintage Still River Winery ‘apfeleis,’ non-vintage Vinedo de Los Vientos ‘Alcyone.’ $85
- Jim’s Package Store & Island Market, Martha’s Vineyard: For a California chardonnay lover: A bowed basket with bottles of 2007 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay and 2008 La Crema Chardonnay, two Riedel O Stemless wine glasses, wedges of Vermont brie and Grafton cheddar, and a box of sesame crackers. $110.
Whether sheltered indoors or at one of the outdoor picnic tables nestled in the shade, Catch of the Day is a quintessential Cape Cod seafood experience. Chef and manager Jason Kew informs us that the seafood is delivered fresh daily. With that tip, I begin with generously portioned Wellfleet Littlenecks ($7) from the raw bar and my guest orders Fried Calamari with Marinara Sauce ($9), a perfectly breaded, mouth-watering taste of things to come. For dinner, I order Grilled Striper (market price), served with cilantro-lime aioli on top of linguine with garlic and parsley; my guest orders the Cajun-Blacked Swordfish ($19.50), served with roasted corn salsa and sweet potato fries. Both dishes are tender, well-seasoned—and very fresh. The restaurant offers a full range of weekly specials as well as a lengthy beer and wine list with plenty of local brands; the light-bodied Truro Vineyards Cape Blush paired wonderfully with our meals. The restaurant, which includes a seafood market, is open through Wellfleet OysterFest weekend.Catch of the Day, 975 Route 6, South Wellfleet at the light to Marconi Beach 508-349-9090; www.wellfleetcatch.com