World class wines from France. Fresh oysters from Duxbury. Black bass caught off the coast of Nantucket. Superb salmon flown straight from Scotland. Fine cuts of lamb from Colorado. Black truffles ordered from Paris. All prepared and served by highly regarded chefs and sommeliers in an elegant Nantucket home on a lovely summer evening.
These were just some of the attractions for a “Great Wines in A Grand House” dinner held last summer as a premiere 2011 Nantucket Wine Festival event. The evening was a star-studded extravaganza created by well-known chef, Robert Sisca of Boston’s award-winning Bistro du Midi, several French winemakers, and a Nantucket couple who shared their historic home with 18 lucky guests. Read more…
For the last six years, John Clift has worked as beverage director and sommelier at Atria Restaurant in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard, where he manages a wine list that includes up to 300 selections. He’s also the wine buyer for Great Harbor Gourmet & Spirits in Edgartown. Clift earned a sommelier certificate from the International Wine Academy of Roma eight years ago and studied wines from around the world as well as wine production. Each October, when Atria closes for the season, Clift spends four months traveling to wine-producing regions around the world to fuel his passion and seek out unique wines from small producers. He has an abundance of knowledge to share and inspires diners who ask him for wine advice.
How did you develop an interest in wine?
After I graduated from college in Charleston, South Carolina, I worked in restaurants. I had no experience with wine and never really drank wine. I was working in a French restaurant and the first glass of wine I had at work was a Champalou Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France. It was different than anything I’d ever had and I just loved it. I loved the way people could sit down and drink wine and talk about food, politics, and life. Within six months of working in the restaurant, I was writing the wine list.
Tell us how you persuade a diner to try a wine.
We have a lot of return customers who trust me and know that I’ve tasted all the wines and stand behind any wine from $30 to $300. For customers I don’t know, I find out what they like and try to feel them out financially. I don’t want to offer someone a $150 wine when they want to spend $50.
Give us a few tips on how to pick a wine if you’re presented with an encyclopedia-sized wine list.
People should ask to talk to the wine director, sommelier, or someone else who is informed. The person involved with the list takes a lot of pride and is passionate about it. It’s amazing how you’ll get steered to a wine you would have never tasted because a sommelier or wine director explained something about the wine, their relationship with the wine maker, when they first tasted it, or why they put it on the list. Even if you want a $30 wine, it’s okay to ask for the sommelier’s advice.
Do you think the perception about sommeliers being arrogant has changed?
I hope so. It’s something I’ve always strived to change because there’s a stigma and snootiness about sommeliers in the industry. It’s really important to make yourself accessible to a person dining in the restaurant. There are a lot of younger people who are now passionate about wine and who may be intimidated by a list of 200 wines. I want people to ask for me to come over to the table, and I want to make them feel comfortable talking to me.
Tell us about a few new wine trends.
Italian wines have come back—especially wines from Southern Italy, like Sicily and Sardinia. They’re well priced, mostly $10 to $15 a bottle. We’ve see more and more wines from Eastern Europe, like Bulgaria and Moldova. They have really old vines and they make big, deep cabernets and syrahs that you can buy for $10 a bottle. There are also Napa cabernet producers who have a lot of wines in reserve. They are placing other labels on the bottles—so not to compromise their brand—and selling these for less. One is Provenance Vineyards. They have a ton of 2007 fruit and are selling their cabernet as Uppercut for half the price. These are wines to look for.
Many of the participants at Ken Mason’s wine seminar at the Hyannis Yacht Club arrived as skeptics. It wasn’t that they doubted the quality of the bottles they were about to sample—a flight from the highly rated Sonoma producer Ferrari-Carano. It was that they were going to sip the wines from expensive glasses made by Riedel, a famous Austrian crystal glassware company that pioneered the idea of making individual stemware for specific varietals. By contrast, some of the folks who attend Mason’s wine seminars, which he holds at various Cape restaurants, insisted that they could drink wine out of a grape jelly jar and the taste wouldn’t be any different. Mason thought otherwise.
Mason, who lives in Harwich, is a manager at Classic Wine Imports, a wine importer based in Norwood, Massachusetts, that also represents Riedel. Mason holds glass tastings on the Cape twice a year to demonstrate how Riedel glasses open up the nuances of the grape compared to all-purpose glasses. “Not only do the shapes of the bowl of Riedels enhance the aromas, the lip on the glass also directs wine to certain parts of your palate,” says Mason. For instance, he says, “The glass for chardonnay has a larger bowl and the glass’s lip directs the wine to the front of your palate. The riesling glass is tulip-shaped and the rim is bent out because riesling tends to be acidic. The glass directs the wine to parts of your palate that smooth the acidity.” For more tannic wines, like Bordeaux or Cabernet, glasses with narrow bowls are better vessels.
The prices of the Riedels can be steep: their best hand blown stems in the Sommeliers series can sell for $60 to more than $100 each. However, crystal, machine-made Riedels (the Vinum and Overture series) sell for about $15 a stem and offer different the same benefits as their pricier counterparts, like a large-bowled glass for Pinot Noir with a tapered rim to trap the wine’s more delicate aroma’s and flavors. “For the wine connoisseur, the Riedel glasses takes wine appreciation to the next level,” says John Kenney, the wine buyer for Harwich East Liquors in East Harwich. “You can step up your wine appreciation and identify more characteristics in a wine, but can you justify the cost?”
If the price of Riedel glasses is a bit out of reach, there are other reasonably priced glassware options on the shelves, like those from Schott Zwiesel. There isn’t the range of varietal specific glasses in this brand, but there are a few choices and the glasses have thin lips (best for tasting wine) and good-sized bowls for red wines and ones with large and narrower bowls for whites—and cost about $10 each. Schott Zwiesel wineglasses have an added benefit: they’re made from titanium and zirconium, so they’re resistant to chipping and breaking, especially in the dishwasher. Their larger size makes them good for swirling wine and getting a waft of the aroma.
At the Hyannis Yacht Club seminar, tasters found that the Riedel glasses allowed them to really appreciate the aromas and flavors in the wine. By the end, Mason says, the skeptics were convinced that the glasses made a difference. It turns out that it takes more than a jelly jar to get the most out of your wine.
It doesn’t matter if Wendy Koder is out at the fish market or out on her kayak: wherever she goes, almost everyone recognizes her as Wendy the Wine Lady. It’s a moniker that Koder has earned through three decades of educating Cape Codders about wine. The Upper Cape resident has worked in almost every aspect of the wine business, from a sommelier at Cape restaurants to a wine broker to a teacher at Sandwich Community School and other off Cape community colleges. These days, Koder handles marketing for Cotuit Liquors in Marstons Mills and Empire Wine & Spirits in Kingston. She also hosts wine classes and wine dinners through her own business, Wendy Talks Wine (www.wendytalkswine.com).
How did you get started in the wine industry?
After my youngest daughter was born, I started working at a very fine restaurant in South Carver, Mass. The woman who was purchasing the wine for the restaurant and writing the wine lists left. The owner handed me the wine list and said, “Here, you’re going to order the wine.” I didn’t know anything about wine; I didn’t even drink wine. Because I wanted to do the job correctly, I read everything I could and constantly went to trade wine tastings and seminars. I began to find wine very intriguing.
Have you seen wine styles evolve over the years? Read more…
Grilled Baby Octopus Salad with Lambs Lettuce, Manchego, Oven Cured Tomatoes and Lemon Herb Dressing
Presented by GreatBrewers.com, South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week is a great opportunity to enhance your knowledge of different beers and increase your appreciation of tasty brews with a week of events throughout Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Boston’s South Shore. The event, which takes place during the week of May 9 to 14, features more than 150 events including beer dinners, tastings, educational seminars, and local brewery tours. Here are a few regional highlights of the week:
- On May 12 at 6:30 p.m., Garrett Oliver, renowned brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food, hosts a beer dinner at the Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham.
- Cisco Brewers of Nantucket will conduct free VIP tours all week and is also hosting the national launch of the new Pechish Woods line at British Beer Company, Main Street, Hyannis on Wednesday, May 11 at 6 p.m.
Throughout the week, there are opportunities to sample many unique offerings from both international and regional brewers. South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week seeks to inform the public of the many kinds of beer and to illuminate the relatively unknown art of beer and food pairing. Traditionally, wine comes to mind as a beverage companion for a delicious meal. However, unlike wine, which is made from various grapes, beer is made of up millions of different ingredients from maple syrup to coriander. The vast and various ingredients in beer, along with carbonation (which acts as a natural way to cleanse the palate), makes beer easy to pair with many culinary choices.
In support of the local economy, South Shore, Cape & Islands Beer Week will donate $5 from every dinner served during Beer Week events as well as any donations received to local charities, including the Needy Fund of Cape Cod and the Childrens Hospital Boston. L. Knife and Son, a local distributor based in Kingston, Massachusetts, will match the proceeds raised.
When the snow stops falling on Cape Cod, you can be sure that the grills are about to come out of storage. Instead of the scent of woodstoves, the air fills with the smoky waft of baby back ribs and porterhouse steaks seared to mouth-watering perfection. With summer just around the bend, we need to pick wines that can stand up to charred foods slathered with sauces or seasoned with fiery dry rubs.
Foods that mingle with smoke and spice beg for well-structured, fruity, bold wines. For instance, a full-bodied red, like a young zinfandel with raisin fruit and spicy flavors, pairs well with the tangy sauces and the charred flavors of meats off the grill. A youthful shiraz from Australia’s Barossa Valley, with its distinctive black pepper spice, can also be a good partner for these heftier foods. The tannins that make your lips pucker in these big wines are offset by the fat and richness of grilled beef.
At the Brazilian Grill in Hyannis, steaks and other meats are pleasantly cooked on an indoor charcoal grill, and the restaurant complements the menu with a selection of wines from Argentina and Chile. Kelly Ayer, the co-owner of this churrasqueria (Brazilian steakhouse), finds malbecs from Argentina to be a good match for the restaurant’s grilled steaks, which are seasoned only with kosher or sea salt. “Malbecs have a lot of fruit, and the meat doesn’t take away the wines’ flavors,” says Ayer. The grape was originally grown in France and is used there mostly for making wines blended with other grapes. But in Argentina, malbec thrives in the Mendoza region and produces wines with grip and black fruit flavors—and sold at reasonable prices. Malbecs are some of Argentina’s best wines.
A traditional pairing for grilled steaks is an earthy cabernet, and Ayer serves selections from Chile where she says the “wines are very smoky and you can taste tobacco, in a good way.” Cabernets, which especially stand out for their quality, are some of the best wines in South America, and they possess a complexity that resonates well with beef.
At Trevi Café and Wine Bar in Mashpee, general manager Robert Rose makes selections for the wine list. When pairing with chicken and meatier grilled fishes like swordfish or salmon, Rose often picks red wines from France’s Rhône region, especially the Côtes du Rhône wines, made from blends of several grape varieties like grenache, mourvèdre, and syrah. There are many producers with a range of styles, but the wine typically has plumy fruit and softer tannins that don’t overpower. Rose also recommends some California pinot noirs because of their cherry and herbal flavors.
To enhance a plate of grilled shrimp or scallops, try the white wine albariño, from the Rias Baixas region of Galicia in northwestern Spain, one of the best seafood regions in the Iberian Peninsula. Albariños have peach and citrus flavors, a refreshing quality, and the right weight to match the day’s catch. Verdicchio, a creamy wine with punchy mineral and pear flavors from central Italy’s Marche region, is another fine selection.
Those with adventurous palates might experiment with contrasting flavors. Try pairing a sweeter wine like an off-dry riesling with a spicy grilled fish. The flavors offset one another, and they might provide a pleasantly surprising dining experience.
Picking wines to enjoy alongside grilled fare requires experimentation, but it’s not an exact science. Be bold, and keep an open mind.
The Nantucket Wine Festival commemorates 15 years of bringing some of the most celebrated winemakers to the island during this year’s four-day event, which takes place May 18 through 22. Presented by Nantucket Combined Charities, the 2011 festival once again toasts world-renowned wines paired with superb cuisine against the backdrop of some of the island’s most beautiful locations.
The festival traces back to 1990 when Denis Toner, then working as sommelier at Nantucket’s distinguished restaurant, Chanticleer, realized that there was no better place than the island for a wine and food festival. The festival got off the ground in 1997 and word spread organically to wine makers and wine lovers. Read more…
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…