Yeah, yeah…these are uncertain times. The only thing we can count on here on Bartlett Avenue is our Friday evening social distancing block party. We depend on it because these days our sanity hinges on ninety minutes of genuine human contact, which is made even more delicious with the addition of wine.

But times being tenuous, and this being May in New England, we know that although the block party is a certainty, the weather is anything but predictable. So it was last Friday when we fired up the barbecue, cranked up the music and piled on winter coats, gloves, and facemasks and joined our friends and neighbors for a chilly, overcast celebration of another week of successful isolation.

There were touchless, tooth-picked bites of sausage and cheese, a variety of beer, a bottle of optimistically chilled rose, and several red wines — including the one that I brought—a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from Eg by Educated Guess of the Roots Run Deep Vineyard in Napa, California. I like the name, which the vineyard founder, Mark Albrecht, says reflects how he approaches winemaking—weighing what he knows (what grapes grow well where and when to harvest) against what could go wrong (wacky weather, insects). He says that it’s similar to the process that we go through when we buy a bottle of wine.


We use what we know (I like the label), we call on our experience (I had a Cabernet Sauvignon that I liked last week) and we make an educated guess. Hence the name and a label adorned with mathematical equations. Not to be confused with the slightly pricier version, the Eg line is produced with grapes sourced from California’s North Coast. The result is a very drinkable (and affordable!) wine with a whiff of blackberry and vanilla.

It was a hit with my neighbor the musician, it was a home run with my friend the real estate agent and my next-door neighbor, who is from France, where they practically invented wine, gently lifted his face mask, took a sip and pronounced the Eg Cabernet Sauvignon “Magnifique!” There’s no guesswork required to know that this is a wine that I’ll be happy to drink for the duration of social isolation or sip with friends when we get back to normal. And, if I had to make an educated guess, I’d say that will be soon.

Thanks for following along, Carol (one of our local wine connoisseur)

Lately, it seems we are all taking comfort in simple pleasures. We cook macaroni and cheese, we play Scrabble with our kids and we enjoy a glass of wine or two. Because after working at home all week, figuring out how to host Zoom calls, keeping the kids from going crazy inside* and watching our retirement accounts dissolve, we feel like we deserve a moment of pleasure. And we do. But before you uncork that Pinot Noir or uncap that Sauvignon Blanc, ask yourself: “Is this a quarantine-worthy wine?” A wine that’s worthy of self-isolation is one that pairs well with sweatpants and stubble, whose subtle notes of pencil shavings and the forest floor are discernable through a face mask; it’s a wine that you’re willing to commit to because you’ll be drinking all of it…. alone.

 

Such a wine is Gooseneck Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay. A white wine from Navarra, Spain, this vintage is a lovely golden color. It’s light but complex with lovely notes of vanilla, oak and to my untrained nose, a hint of pear.

Here on Bartlett Ave., when it hasn’t been raining, we’ve been social distancing with neighbors. That means we stand in the middle of the street and drink wine. Rain, however, forces us to Zoom and last Friday as the rain poured down, I thought it might be fun to bring everyone together electronically to virtually share the same wine. So I sprung for several bottles of the Gooseneck Vineyards 2017 Chardonnay (not a fortune), dropped them off to my neighbors with touchless delivery, and sent out the Zoom notice.

There were seven of us at this cyber-tasting and although my friends were impressed with my seeming generosity, I had to confess that the wine is shockingly affordable. As the Zoom party commenced, we talked about what we’ve binged on Netflix, we discussed mask designs and we talked about what we were eating with that night. One neighbor paired their Gooseneck Vineyards Chardonnay with an aged Brie and seeded crackers. Another thought that it perfectly complimented their homemade chicken tetrazzini, still another drank it with black beans and rice and I savored it with a fried haddock plate from Fresh Pond Seafood. The Gooseneck 2017 Chardonnay seemed to enhance each of these dishes and, I suspect, it would also go well exceedingly well with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix.

*It takes a village to raise a child but it takes a winery to homeschool one.

Article By: Carol Band, one of our amazing wine experts and connoisseur

 

Photos by Carol Band and Gooseneck Vineyards

The holidays were hectic. Beginning at Thanksgiving (actually, Halloween…) it’s been cooking, hunting for Tupperware tops, laundry, houseguests and dishes. It’s been fun, but I welcome getting back to the routine and a little peace and quiet. That’s why when my husband called at 5pm on Tuesday and said that he’d be working late, I was happy to have a few hours of solitude and meatloaf in the oven.

The week before, with house guests in tow, we had gone to TWK in Winchester for a burger. If I have a burger in the afternoon, I usually get a beer, but at night I’ll order a glass of red wine to elevate the burger to a higher cuisine. That’s what I did at TWK. The burger was delicious, but the wine really blew me away. Served by the glass, The Huntsman Cabernet Sauvignon from Ross Andrew in Washington’s Columbia Valley was silky, smooth and delicious.

I had two glasses and stopped by Mystic Wine Shoppe on my way home to see if they carried it. They do (!) and I picked up a bottle to share with my friends. But, in the flood of New Year’s champagne and morning-after Bloody Mary’s the Huntsman somehow, through the onslaught of guests, remained untouched.

Then, as I pulled the meatloaf out of the oven on that mundane Tuesday night, I wondered…if the Huntsman Cab could make a burger feel special, imagine what it would do for my meatloaf. Ordinarily, I might not open a nice bottle of wine just for myself – but I was savoring the solitude and somehow, it felt like a special occasion. I opened the cabinet, uncorked the bottle, poured a bit and swirled it in the glass. It was a gorgeous color— deep and fragrant. I sipped and tasted blackberries and whiff of vanilla.

I cut a generous slice of meatloaf, buttered a baked sweet potato and served myself some roasted cauliflower. It was a plate of comfort food—a post-holiday celebration of a return to normal. The owner of the vineyard named this wine The Huntsman because he likes to hunt, I imagine that this wine would pair as nicely with venison or wild boar as it did with my meatloaf.

I drank two glasses, corked the bottle and put it in the fridge. I bet it’s fantastic with meatloaf sandwiches, too!

Here’s my meatloaf recipe (it’s not rocket science, so feel free to tweak).

  • 1-½ pounds of ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 large sweet onion chopped
  • 1-½ cups of old fashioned oats
  • Salt to taste
  • A generous sprinkling of pepper
  • Squirt of ketchup
  • Squish mixture until well blended then shape into loaf pan.
  • Frost generously with a mixture of ketchup, mustard and brown sugar.
  • Bake at 350 degrees until bubbly and done (about an hour).

Written by one of our wine guru’s, Carol Bend 

I am fortunate that when my daughter was in elementary school, she picked her friends well.  What I mean is that she hung out with a group of elementary school girls whose parents I adore.

Best of all, everyone lives within a few blocks of each other. So, twenty years later, the girls have all gone their separate ways, but we parents, now a group of empty nesters, continue to see each other almost every weekend for dinners, election night gatherings, holidays, birthdays and lots of laughs.

This group is bound not just by our parenting experiences but we also we share a passion for politics, travel, the love of a good argument and we are all devoted to creating good food. It doesn’t have to be fancy, (we’ve had amazing hot dog and bean dinners- homemade beans, of course-) but it’s always delicious.
Last Saturday at Andrea and Dennis’ house on Jason Street, was no exception. In fact, Andrea is probably the most serious cook in the group. She worked as a professional caterer and also had her own business providing meals to go that she made at home.  And, she knows wine. So a dinner at Andrea’s means that not only do I agonize over what to make for a dessert or appetizer, I also put some serious thought into the bottle of wine that I’ll bring to share.

Pork and chorizo stew was on the menu. Andrea had suggested a Gewürztraminer
(white and light) but I went with a red and matched the earthy flavors in the stew with a silky yet substantial Ken Forrester Renegade 2013, a blend of Grenache and Syrah from South Africa. I was glad I did.

mystic blog
This wine did exactly what wine is supposed to do. It complimented the food (not that Andrea’s cooking needs any enhancement!). The slight heat in the stew, along with the green rice, spiced with poblano papers set the wine off perfectly and revealed its subtle notes of plum, black olive and a trace of chocolate that made me pour myself another glass to accompany the bourbon chocolate cake that someone else had brought for dessert. We lingered over the table, went back for seconds on the pork stew, sliced a little more off the chocolate cake, cleaned up the edges of my lemon meringue pie and were reminded again of just how lucky were are to have daughters with such exquisite taste in parents. Here’s to old friends, a new wine and to friends who can cook!

 

Thanks for reading, Carol Band

I’m not Jewish, but my husband is and, as is the case with holidays both secular and religious, it often falls upon the woman to create the traditions…which in my house means food.Potato-Latkes-300x257

So it has come to pass that I, the non-Jew, have become an expert at making latkes. I think that the crisp potato pancakes are the one thing that Hanukkah has over Christmas.

At our annual latke fry on Sunday, I grated both sweet and Yukon gold potatoes and served them with applesauce and sour cream, of course, but also with a hearty bowl of Portuguese kale soup and a romaine-free salad.

The soup is robust and smoky with chorizo and kielbasa, kidney beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and kale. But it cries out for a substantial red wine to elevate it from peasant food to festive holiday fare.

IMG_1318Bogle Phantom 2015 is just that wine.

 

Don’t be intimidated by the label that proclaims “mysterious and hauntingly seductive.” This is a very approachable blend  (44% Petite Sirah, 44% Zinfandel, 10% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) that pairs well with comforting winter dishes like beef stew, pork loin and…my kale soup.

The girls and I opened it before dinner, let it breathe a bit and sampled it while pondering the New York Times crossword puzzle. Then we set the kitchen table and poured some for everyone.

It’s smooth but bodacious, yet it doesn’t overwhelm the tongue with tannins. This will become the winter house wine here on Bartlett Avenue.  Even my daughter (a millennial!) who tends to gravitate toward pinot noirs gave this wine high marks. It’s loaded with subtle flavors and it drinks like a high priced bottle. Good thing we had two.

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P.S. I made “Craft Beer Menorahs” for the “kids” and picked up some really interesting local brews to wish them all “Hoppy Holidays!”

Raisins are nature’s candy. The dried, sugary essence of a grape, concentrated into one little morsel. It seems hard to imagine a wine made from such a thing, but there are actually many. The most famous ones are from Italy, specifically the majestic Amarone, a blend of grapes used to make the very light and delicious Valpolicella wines and Vin Santo, the sweet, luscious desert wine the Italians eat with little biscotti called “cantucci.”

There are other wines made from shriveled grapes – mostly those affected by “noble rot” or botrytis and some “icewine,” made after the water has frozen in the grape so that you when you cold-press the grapes, you just get the sugars and acids and none of the frozen liquid. Excellent examples of these techniques come from Bordeaux in the form of Sauternes or Barsac and Germany, with their Trockenbeerenauslese (dry-berry harvest), but also in the Finger Lakes and the Niagara area where the grapes hang until they freeze before harvesting. I have an on-going love affair with all raisinated, botrytized and frozen wines, but they are all “special occasion” wines, so not on the regular rotation of every day wines.

But this wine is something new, that maybe you could drink more regularly. It is a raisinated wine from the Montepulciano grape, famous for the light, bright, fruity wines of Abruzzo. Most Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines are meant for drinking casually, a cheerful blend of plums and cherries, with high acidity and low tannins that also “cleanse” the palate when you have it with pasta in a rich sauce. But when you dry the grapes and then press that precious, concentrated liquid into juice that ferments slowly and carefully, you get a deeply colored, deeply flavored wine that will stand up to heavy sauces and red meats and spice! This is a wine that has the intensity of a California Cabernet with all the mouth-filling aromas of fruit and some herbs, but has the acid brightness of wild cherries and summer plum, like a much lighter wine. It is a wonderful, unusual combination that will have you taking just one more sip, just to see if it really does have all that complexity. And the texture will have keep you sipping once you are used to the unusual mix of flavors, it is smooth and viscous. At $14.99, it will give that Amarone you’ve been saving for a special occasion a definite run for its money.

We had it last night with roasted leg of lamb and a wonderful mint sauce – definitely a regular from now on!

There are some wines that everyone loves. And there are wines that cater to the few. There are wines that grow on you and there are wines that just stand up and smack you in the face. So, which one is this?

The A to Z Oregon Riesling is a puzzle. I will come out and say it – I love it! It is lush and fragrant on the nose with a silky soft and smooth mouthfeel. It is full bodied and fruity, delicate and floral and mouthwatering with a hint of sweetness all at the same time. As a wine writer, I have been told over and over that when I am tasting a wine, it is not about whether I like it or not. It is about describing the attributes of that wine and making clear notes that so that customer can evaluate it on their own and so that I will be able to remember this particular wine – grape, soil / climate and year – when I retaste it. But sometimes, you just love a wine.

So why am I questioning whether others will love this wine as much as I do? To be honest, I am not sure why anyone would not like a riesling. It is called a “noble grape” in Alsace for a reason. It is one of the few white grapes that has a very distinct character and is age worthy regardless of where it might be grown. Chardonnay is the truly the wonder grape, yes. It grows almost anywhere, it takes on the characteristics of the climate and of wood aging very well. It is versatile and pairs with a wide range of foods. It is fairly neutral, so there is rarely a lingering aftertaste – you get the fruity or flinty character and if it is cleanly made, it tastes clean and crisp. And it blends with a variety of other grapes.

Riesling, by contrast, is not Chardonnay. It stands in bold contrast to the other white grapes. It is finicky about where it will grow. It does best in a cool climate with rocky, slate rich soils that absorb the sun’s rays and drain away the rain. It does well when it has long, molasses days that last until a 10pm sunset and cool nights that allows it’s rich acids to develop. It loves growing on steep slopes that require hand picking and careful selection and it is very susceptible to Botrytis. Botrytis, under favorable conditions, is called “nobel rot,” and is a gentle affliction that punctures the skin of the grape, allowing the water to evaporate from the grapes on the vine. This concentrates the flavors and leads to the “trockenbeerenauslese” (dry berry harvest) that is so prized in German Riesling.

Rieslings come in a variety of quality levels and sweetness levels. While I love the German language, having lived there for well over 2 years, I won’t go into the details. That is one of the nice things about buying Riesling from the Pacific Northwest. It is labeled simply and can be appreciated without any angst. This wine, I would call ‘soft’ because it has an wonderful balance of sour and sweet that is perfect if you are having scallops or lobster. It has enough body to stand up to spicy foods – think Indian or Thai. And it is complex and quite simply tasty enough to just drink on its own. I would recommend serving it very chilled with the bottle on ice. The tart, tangy richness will be enhanced by the cold temperature.

Cheers, Seema

Wine writers call wines like Black Ops by Hugh Hamilton a “rare red blend.” I would call it an “extremely rare red blend.” It is just luscious – deep, inky color paired with unmistakable notes of wild blueberries, dark blackberries, juicy red cherries and a slightly elusive savory/wild herb / ripe fruit note that soaks into every taste bud and makes your shoulders relax.

This wine is made of the unusual blend of Shiraz, Saperavi and Nero d’Avola. Shiraz, a mainstay of McLaren Vale, is the iconic grape of meaty, mighty and most especially tasty Australian wines. It is the same grape that is used in Rhône wines, notably Hermitage, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and Cornas, which is the only French wine made with 100% Syrah. The primary distinction between Shiraz and Syrah is stylistic. Most Australian Shiraz tends to have a riper, fruitier, more concentrated set of flavors, whereas the cooler climate Syrahs of the Rhône Valley in Southern France, then to be a bit more savory, a bit more structured and a bit more peppery. The trend these days in Australia is that Shiraz is planted in cooler microclimates and is producing a more restrained type of wine, closer in character to the Syrahs of France, while the French are dealing with warmer, longer summers and are producing much more alcoholic, powerful wines than in the past. But despite this climatic convergence, they are still very distinct.

To add to this distinction, Hugh Hamilton has lived up to his Black Sheep logo by introducing an extraordinary grape to Australia called Saperavi. It is an ancient grape variety from the Republic of Georgia. In my mind, it evokes romantic images of farmers thousands of years ago, plucking grapes by hand, stomping the grapes in celebratory fashion with their families, fermenting that must in clay amphorae and drinking it with joy at every hearty meal. It is a grape that deserves this image. It brings to this wine a sort of wild, gamey nature that the buttoned-down varieties of Western Europe lack. It is a teinturier grape, that rare grape whose flesh, not just the skin, has color. And it is known for its depth, acidity, and full body.

Another bold move was to blend in Nero d’Avola. Again, this is an ancient variety that has found its home in the southern parts of Sicily. Like its happy compatriots, it is a dark, full-bodied wine that exhibits bright cherry notes that when oak-aged, can become plummy and juicy.

Together, these three varieties make Black Ops a truly exceptional wine. It is fruity and fragrant while still being structured and powerful. The wine starts strong with aromas of black currants, plums and cherries and fills your mid-palate with wonderful roundness and the complexity of pepper, dark chocolate and a small hint of herbs that seems ingrained in Australian terroir. The mellow tannins are more textural than grippy, rolling over your tongue with very pleasing sensations. It finishes with a long, slow slide of lingering fruits and tobacco and perhaps a hint of smoke.

You’d be a fool to pass up this wine at $19.99 a bottle!!!!

Your wine expert, Seema