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Dessert wines


TW Food does it again - wine dinner featuring the Jura region

I can't remember the last time I wrote a restaurant review. I do have a list of places on my 'to talk about' list, though; some of these spots are more remote or 'hole in the wall' than others and I selfishly find I like to keep these hidden gems to myself before I dig deep to overcome my personal/professional block and write about them. The good news for you, dear reader, is that when I do finally 'break down' and share my impressions of certain fine establishments around town, you know my writings are heartfelt.

Time and again my experiences at the somewhat off-the-beaten path TW Food restaurant in Cambridge are exceptional ones - so much so that it was the "Something New" gift card I imparted on two of my best friends earlier this fall as part 2 of  their wedding present (part 1 being "Something Old" - a gift card to the spot where they had their first official date). The recent special tasting of Jura wines with food pairings by the ever-meticulous head Chef/Owner Tim Wiechmann that I attended was no exception. A small, talented team (maybe just Tim, his attentive wife Bronwyn and their knowledgeable Sommelier Jillian Marini?) in a small, cozy/romantic space seems to be all you need to create an unusually thoughtful, unobtrusive experience for guests. An artisanal approach doesn't hurt either...

Jillian's personal wine curiosity means that TW doesn't just deliver an amazing gastronomic experience, but that you are in for a treat when you also opt for the wine pairing as part of their prefix menu. I don't think there is a more reasonably priced meal around town - let alone one that will allow you, already an 'explorer' by virtue of the fact that you sought out TW Food in it's Cambridge nook, to further discover several distinct parts of the wine world and delicious flavor combinations at one sitting.

TW is also committed to the local/seasonal movement. This means that their wine list, though small, packs a real punch and is always fine-tuned to work with the fare of the season. Right now they are rock'n a largely Jura wine selection. The Jura is a tiny, lesser explored wine region bordering Burgundy and Switzerland. Wines from these regions share a certain similarity with one another - but as I always find is the case in these parts, they have their own chutzpah and personality, too. In the Jura their focus is on lesser known varietals like Poulsard and Trousseau (reds), and Savagnin and Chardonnay (whites). It can get beastly cold there, so yes, it is right to guess the reds tend to have a levity or lighter-bodied quality to them. Minerality (terroir) cuts through and distinguishes the wines in a such a distinct way that I can only analogize to say, it reminds me of a chilly winter day when it smells like snow is coming -  you just know it to be what it is.

During dinner we enjoyed Peggy Buronfosse's Cremant Rose of Pinot Noir Brut (a lively, delicious, finely bubbled sparkler with raspberry and blueberry intonations) as well as her 2006 Savagnin/Chardonnay blend called "Les Belemnites, which reminded me of an aged Chablis for its richness, truffle tones and caramel nuttiness you can get from an aged wine. Stephane Tissot's old vine Poulsard (2007) reminded me of a Gamay/Pinot Noir blend - and was a fine match for the seared tuna at hand. Dessert need not have come for the tremendous Vin Jaune by Jacques Puffeney (1999) was treat enough for me; Vin Jaune is considered a specialty of the Jura and one not to miss when the occasion presents itself.

At last check, each of these wines is available right now at TW Food. They are certainly ones I consider "nerd wines" - perfect for the wine curious explorer. And 'tis the season for giving and indulging! Head over to TW Food and you won't be disappointed.

Have you had the pleasure of dining at TW Food? What is it that keeps you going back?



Late Bottled Vintage Port vs. Vintage Port

Today  we're concluding our series on Port in the only really appropriate way, by ringing the bell on the official Port "showdown". LBVs and Vintage Ports are no doubt the two Port styles that most confuse consumers.  Here's a tip: if you don't get caught up in the semantics of LBVs you'll be better off! Pop on over to Wicked Local today to get the  full scoop to navigating these two lovely beasts with greater ease. (Today's image is c/o 2007 Vintage Port, which also provides more info about the latest vintage to be declared.)

Are you in favor of LBVs? Which properly aged Vintage Ports have you enjoyed?



A bit on Port dessert wine

Some of us are comfortable drinking Port all year long (with or without a slight chill), but many more of us find it most compelling after a full day at the office, followed by an evening rendezvous with Mr. Shovel…. No doubt, with snow finally falling in Boston, it’s hard not to think about (let alone enjoy) these noteworthy dessert wines! There are myriad styles of Port on the market – from white Ports to Ruby’s, Tawny’s, Vintage Ports and everything in between! When most people think of Port they are most often thinking of Tawny’s. So today at  Wicked Local we delve into this highly sought and oh-so-enjoyable libation.

Which Port is your fan favorite this winter?



December Wicked Wines will thrill you, guests, hosts

Dec.09.WickedWinesDecember is one of my favorite months for enjoying wine. Festivities abound and the cold and snow are still welcome friends. It’s also a time to wax nostalgic as we think about all that’s transpired over the last 12 months – and anticipate a new chapter soon to come. There are ample wines for gussying up and heading out the door in your “Sunday best” to enjoy the company of good friends and family. And there are wines for snuggling up by the fire because it’s just so tempting to stay in! Pop over to Wicked Local to learn more about the Wicked (good) Wines for you and yours to enjoy this December! What do you think? Did we hit the nail on the head this month?



Fired Up: Do the Right Thing, Consumers!

Old School Goodness: Burmester 89 PortI heart Port. I have said this many times. So imagine my horror when one of the best in the Port winemaking business tells me they have done research.... and have found Americans are drinking Vintage Port younger and younger. Five minutes later I was tasting the Burmester Vintage Port 2007. That's somewhat normal in the trade, because that's how we grow in our wine knowledge - knowing through a quick taste where Port starts, and, most importantly, gaining appreciation for where it goes. Trust me when I tell you the 2007 is some YOUNG stuff.  The 2005 isn't much better. Both are bitingly acidic, tannic and, well, as someone recently described too-young-stuff (who I really respect), I wanted to pull my gums out over my teeth. Yes, you may have guessed, that is NOT cool.

Port is something to behold. It is something that, when done well and has the right amount of age under its belt, has finesse AND structure. I like mine best when it has been aged for an extended period of time. Like 20 Year Tawny. Or the 1985 or 1990 Burmester Coleheita (single vintage, single vineyard Port).

Please readers. Do yourself a favor and contribute to a more efficacious marketing trend: stop buying YOUNG Port! This stuff is meant to be aged. It mellows, often gaining exotic brown spices, burnt orange peel essence, sultry caramel and vanilla notes, all on top of a luscious layer of fruit - whether stewed plums, figs or blackraspberries. Why give that up?

Come on.






It's worth the wait.

Enough said.



Vintage Port declared in 2007

Croft Vintage Port labelYeah, yeah, it may be sort of, kind of getting warmer out there here in New England. But it is still rainy, damp, brisk and windy, too.  It is way too early to forget about the wonderful world of Port! This week, in fact, just in case dreams of dry rose, picnics with bubbly, or vibrant whites are on the brain, the folks in Portugal are bringing us back to reality. For the first time in four vintages, major Port houses throughout the Duoro have declared 2007 a Vintage year for Port! What does this mean? Well, think of Vintage Port as the top of the totem pole. It is only made in great years, made from the best grapes on offer; there also has to be ample fruit available to meet the demand. No one is allowed to get ahead of themselves either, even if all of the conditions in a given year seem to indicate a Vintage year is inevitable. The Powers That Be have to wait one full year after the vintage year to assess the wines and then declare the Vintage.

Of course... the trick about Vintage Port is that you have to "earn it" to really enjoy it. The tannins are so intense it takes decades for the wine to come into its own. If you open a bottle of Vintage Port after, say, 10 years, your wine will still have very hearty tannin, enough such that you can drink it over several days. On the other hand, if you are a patient soul and wait 40-50 years to drink your Port, it should be enjoyed immediately; the wine has achieved maturity and will not be able to hold up to excessive oxygen exposure.

So if 2007 is an important year for you personally, keep an eye out for these Vintage Ports when they come to market in another few years. Then cellar it for a "special" occassion sometime in the distant future.

Which Vintage Port have you enjoyed? How old was it when you opened it?


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the main event: holiday wines!

Earlier this week I saw an email thread asking recipients to pick their top wine of the year. I can't think of a more impossible task! If you've been reading the Pour Favor blog for awhile, I'm sure you know exactly why I feel this way: wine is an experience! Without context - friends, family, laughter, tears, food, bistro, bar, fireplace, porch, picnic blanket, a night "in"....- wine is just juice in a fancy bottle, with a special closure. Well, maybe not quite but you get my drift.... Since this will be my last post before the New Year, I've decided to offer a nod to the year past. I'm going to throw out a few wines I've found this year, which are particularly worthy of a good excuse to open, which I've not yet shared.  We'll start with white, then red, then bubbly, and then - just for good measure - a dessert wine. Fasten your seat belt! These are a few of my 2008 YUM wines:

WHITE:     2007 Les Heritiers du Comte Lafon Macon Milly Lamartine

I've rediscovered my passion for White Burgundy this year, first during the spring and then again and again this fall as it has gotten colder and I still crave a wonderful white. Dominique Lafon has long been revered for producing wonderful, concentrated wines in Meursault. His innovative edge and desire for a challenge brought him to the Maconnais - a region he recognized as under-appreciated, simply needing a bit of TLC. This wine is clear evidence exceptional insight, wine making and viticultural practices yield amazing results. The Les Heritiers has an intensely aromatic bouquet of pear, honeysuckle, citrus and jasmine. Its intoxicating minerality is complemented by rich pear and orange peel flavors. Such vibrancy and complexity is delivered in a memorably mouth-filling package. Delicious!

RED:     2005 O'Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

It is rare for me not to write my own wine notes, but in the case of this wine I'm always left speechless (an amazing feat, I know!). Fortunately, the winemaker's notes capture the absolute explosion of well-integrated layers that ravish my taste buds and wrap me in a lovely cocoon of happiness! Ripe cherry, blackberry, smoke, tobacco leaf, coco bean and dark chocolate aromas are framed by sweet vanilla oak. Elegant but concentrated flavors of espresso bean, graphite, raspberry and strawberry preserves are followed by a long complex finish with silky tannins and good acidity. An extracted wine that is rewarding. A worthwhile splurge for Christmas dinner, for sure!

SPARKLING:    2001 Westport Rivers Imperial

This winery proves Massachusetts is capable of producing tremendous wines - and bubbly at that! Just imagine yourself on the Cape, beach book in hand, foaming waves rolling onto the shore and fresh, juicy peaches, pears and apples in the cooler nearby. Add a spritz of sea air and you have the Imperial in your glass. It has a full, frothy mouse of tiny, tiny bubbles that deliver a tremendous, floral nose. Just a touch of citrus is evident on the palate - a welcome crispness to offset its wonderfully lush character. Just a touch of sweet, ripe fruit lingers on the finish. Salud!

DESSERT:    2007 Bouchaine Bouch D'Or Late Harvest

For me, this wine was love at first sip! It is an opulent, seductive dessert wine made of 94% Chardonnay and 5% Riesling - not a late harvest often found. It has an enticingly floral nose, followed by apple fruits layered with honey flavors. A gentle touch of minerality is well-integrated. Not for the lighthearted, this wine is deliciously decadent!

I hope you and yours have a safe, happy and healthy New Year! Be sure to pick up a bottle of something fun this holiday season. And please, share what you've selected!

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Aperitifs: The oh-so Lovely Lillet

'Tis the season to be merry! And sometimes merriment is best facilitated by getting your guests in the mood for - in the immortal words of Seinfeld writers - Festivus! Last weekend I had the pleasure of pouring a few holiday libations for just such a purpose at a public tasting event. (I had what happens to be my favorite Champagne Rose on hand, Lillet and two different Ports on offer; oh yes, I was captain of the Fun Team!) Much to my amusement, the Lillet was the fan favorite. In part this was because it's an aperitif that's been around since dirt bringing back memories for many, and in part it's because it's just so interesting. Leave it to a monk, Father Kermann, to "invent" it back in the late 1800's in Pondesac, Bordeaux. Fermann was also a doctor/mixologist, creating elixirs and fortifiers using ingredients like quinine. Enter the burgeoning region of Bordeaux where crazy ingredients like star anise, brandy, cane sugar, et. al. were then descending from all over the world (China, Gascony, West Indies....) and our friend Fr. Kermann is one happy camper! From this epicenter of creativity and fine ingredients came Lillet.

But let's back up for a second... An aperitif is an alcoholic beverage meant to begin a meal. Literally, it gets consumers in the mood for food by stimulating the appetite. For me it's also one of those 'balms' I've mentioned of late that has a welcome touch of alcohol to take the edge off potentially uncomfortable social situations, or to otherwise just get people in the spirit of the occasion (pun intended). It also isn't so strong in taste it will kill the next libation's flavors (e.g. wine with the meal).

On the Lillet bottle it reads: "Since 1872". Apparently there is no official recipe they use to make it year after year, instead relying on each cuvee to dictate the outcome. And apparently in 1985 they revamped their overall approach to appeal to modern-day consumers. Once much more bitter and slightly more sweet in flavor, today the aperitif offers a tremendously floral bouquet with hints of apricots and honey - it reminds me (and others) of late harvest wines. From there it delivers a surprising minerality, and notes of slightly bitter orange peel and apricots. (Technically speaking, it is made from the white wine Bordeaux grapes Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc (85%) and "fruit liquors" (15%). It is aged for 10 months (on average) in oak barrels.) I encouraged every person who approached my table to simply try it for themselves - and while each had their own reaction, nearly all was pleasantly surprised by it and certainly excited to add it to their holiday party shopping cart.

Which apertif do you enjoy during the holidays? Have you tried Lillet - whether on ice, with a twist, a'la James Bond or otherwise?

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Wines for Fall: The sweeter finds (and Wine Blogging Wednesday)!

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a rare treat in the larger wine world, particularly here in North America: Pineau des Charentes. When I saw that Joe the #1 Wine Dude had expanded this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday theme (maderized dessert wines) to include fortified wines, well, it was all I could do to hold off all reports on this fabulous little dessert/aperitif-perfect-for-apple-pie-or-in-front-of-the-fire-or-before-a-chic-meal find! Pineau des Charetes is made from 2/3 unfermented must of fresh grapes and (drum roll please!) 1/3 COGNAC. This is my paradise.

Old wives tales (or perhaps actual history) has it this fun beverage was created by mistake. How so? Well, apparently a grower back in the 16th Century poured grape must (the juice, skins, stems...) into a barrel that already contained Cognac (brandy). The barrel was out of sight/mind for another 5 years or so until a huge harvest came in and additional barrels were needed. Soon enough, the concoction was discovered. The stuff tasted so darn good - fruity, sweet, yet lighter and not cloying in texture - the folks in Charentes, France perfected the process and began peddling it to eager consumers.

This aperitif thrills me for a number of reasons. First, it is a rare find here in the United States. Somehow, the masses have failed to catch on to the glory that is this sweet, little libation. Second, most producers have not chosen to make Pineau, considering it a mere byproduct of Cognac; they simply use Ugni Blanc grapes, which is also used in the production of Cognac. Among those who do make Pineau part of their repertoire, the best wines are made from the freshest (read: from field to barrel in a single day), hand-picked grapes. Only by hand-picking can they know the moment when full maturity is acheived, when the golden grapes turn to a deep topaz color and, for the red wines, when the black grapes turn from crimson to brown.

Pineau des Charentes is often found at 18% alcohol - the optimal level. It must remain in bottle for at least one year before it is sold (and often the best producers wait as much as five years before releasing it). As I alluded above, Pineau is offered in Or (white) or Ruby (red) varieties. In the case of the Ruby, Cabernet, Cab Franc or Merlot varietals are used.

If you've never enjoyed Pineau before or after a meal, please do. You are missing out! For those who don't prefer overly sweet dessert wines, this should be a good fit. Pineau certainly can accompany a little pastry, tart, or ice cream dessert. But it is also delightful with foie gras, oysters, poached fish, goat cheese, Roquefort and even fine game. (Use your gut instinct on which - red or white - variety pairs best with each of these suggestions.) Just avoid consuming Pineau with any 'strong' flavored sauces or dishes, even as simple as olives. It'll taste a little funkity funk....

For Wine Blogging Wednesday I served the Domaine du Perat Or with apple pie two weeks ago. The fruits in the Perat were reminiscent of stewed peaches and ripe apricots. But it also offered a depth of flavors you'll find reminiscent of cognac (burnt caramel nuttiness) - without the burn.  Serve chilled, for optimal flavors.

I'm curious how well received Pineau still is in France these days... do you know? If you're from North America, is this post a throw back to days of old for you? Or is Pineau de Charentes a new one on you?



Portuguese wines are worth seeking out

Last Thursday night I was not on my usual perch watching the (second) most amazing ALCS comeback in history. "Why not?", you ask, shocked this Red Sox fan was elsewhere.... I was attending an intimate wine dinner at (the new) L'Espalier hosted by ViniPortugal. I would not have traded the opportunity for one moment. Much like the Red Sox game, I had my own uniquely amazing evening, learning more about the 'nerdier' side of Portuguese oenology, tasting an array of wines and bending the ear of Portugal's most revered (and perhaps most delightful) winemaker.

Many Americans think of Portuguese wines (beyond Port) simply as bargain, quaffing wines. Not bad, but not necessarily noteworthy or particularly complex either.  When I received my invitation to last week's event, I was thrilled at the opportunity to meet Nuno Cancela de Bareu, Portugal's leading Winemaker and Consultant, and learn more about what ViniPortugal is up to these days. My experience (re)tasting about 12 wines - red, white, sparkling and dessert - only reconfirmed what I've known for sometime: Portuguese wines are worth seeking out.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Nuno Cancela de Abreu is perhaps Portugal's primary, modern-day wine pioneer. He studied in both Portugal and France, ultimately receiving his degree in viticulture and enology from the Instituto Superior de Agronomia in Lisbon. He spent six years in the Duoro region, influencing the modern production of Port and Douro wines. Next, he planted a new vineyard on family land in the Dao and, as a result, launched two brands (Quinta da Giesta and Quinta Fonte do Ouro). Somehow he simultaneously managed Quinta da Romeira in the Bucelas region and single-handedly brought the wonderfully floral, minerally and fruity indigenous grape Arinto into its own. Thereafter he revolutionized Quinta da Alorna's operation in the Ribatejo region. Nuno's passion is to transform Portuguese wines (and their reputation) into fine, internationally recognized and coveted selections. And, in my humble opinion, the world should be grateful for it! He is well on his way.

Nuno was asked to introduce the group to several of his favorite Portuguese selections - not necessarily his own wines - available in the Boston market. The list of wines on offer are too long to discuss in great detail in this single post, so I'll simply list a few now and then spend some time here and there over the next months talking about various offerings in greater detail. Are you ready?


'07 Quinta de Catralvos Lisa (a lovely, fleshy, floral and clean Moscatel)

'07 Deu la Deu (aka "Muros Antigos" in Boston) Alvarinho (same as Albarino in Spain - wonderfully rich peaches and apricots, with a touch of bite)

'07 Quinta da Murta Arinto (it says Bucelas, the region, on the label, but this is 100% intensely floral and minerally Arinto - don't be confused!)


'04 Casa de Santar Rsv  (a blend of Castelao, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca - soft, fine tannins and redberry fruits)

'06 Quinta do Coa ( a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Roriz (Tempranillo) and Touriga Franca - one I had forgotten how much I enjoy, offering great floral aromas, dark fruits, some soft, caramel oak flavors and terrific spice)

'05 Cartuxa Rsv (Trincadeira, Aragonez and Alfrocheiro - this is a big food wine, offering fabulous dried plumb and raisin fruit aromas and flavors, spice and a subtle, lasting finish)


'07 Luis Pato Espumate Rose (this is 100% Baga, gently bubbly raspberries and strawberries!)


Andresen 20 Yr. Tawny Port (who doesn't want hazelnuts, toffee and dried fruit flavors from their Tawny?!)

At the dinner Nuno gave us a rundown on the various regions in Portugal, how the climate and terroir impact the viticultural conditions that allow certain varietals to thrive, et. al. (Yes, I was in my happy place, gleefully unaware what was happening up the street at Fenway!) The thing to remember is Portuguese wines are made of native grape varietals - like those outlined above - you've likely never heard of. Don't think of that as intimidating or too foreign. Winemakers are following Nuno's lead, making these foreign-sounding wines approachable in the way they taste. The fact that our economy is so tough right now and the price of these wines is still amazingly "right" for the time being makes this a great place to explore. Much like the Languedoc in France offers a better price point for winelovers of the Southern Rhone (because these wines are less sought given historical winemaking practices), Portugal offers value wines that are complex, interesting and - delicious!

At the start of the evening Marcio Ferreira of ViniPortugal told us his organization's goal is to reinforce a favorable image of Portuguese wines. In speaking with Nuno, I learned just how tightly-knit their community is; fortunately, innovation, forsight and exceptional winemaking like Nuno's makes Marcio's job that much easier. They are all in it together!

Want to see for yourself? Head over to the Harvard Club tomorrow night and then report back your own findings by commenting below!