Venusto infuses Bobal charm with modern discipline

pouring Venusto Bobal to accompany steak salad
As we work our way through some exciting wines from D.O. Utiel Requena in Valencia, Spain, we were pleased to try the flagship red from Bodegas Vibe called Venusto. Early in 2015, this new winery took over the land and facilities from a previous winery heavily invested in international grapes. Winemaker Juan Carlos Garcia changed that focus immediately. His attention is riveted on Tardana, a local white grape, and Bobal, the red signature of the D.O. Judging by the 2015 Venusto, Garcia found the sweet spot with his first release. He is making an intense, spicy, well-structured Bobal that is extremely food-friendly.

Bobal growing in red clay vineyardFermented on the skins for four days to pick up saturated color, it pours as deep black cherry liquid with a nice viscosity that displays long legs in the glass. The red clay soils (right) in which these vines were planted in 1960 provide a haunting spiciness to a wine rich in fruit. The nose is a mix of strawberry and black cherry with herbal mint notes. In the mouth, dark anise flavors fill out the palate. Despite four months in American oak, Venusto is blessedly free of the strong vanillin aroma and green astringency that so many soft reds pick up as a bad habit from their American cousins. Tannins are soft and round, and the finish lingers with fresh notes of mint, anise and cherry. Garcia has achieved a lovely balance of Bobal fruit with freshness and structure.

Last we heard, Bodegas Vibe (www.bodegasvibe.com; tel +34 653 964 158) was looking for American distribution. Venusto would make a spectacular red for many restaurants. We found it especially nice with a salad of garden lettuce, roasted and sliced red peppers, and about a quarter pound of medium-rare boneless ribeye per person cut matchstick size. Dress with this very garlicky dressing that is somewhere between a Caesar and Catalan-style aioli.

STEAK SALAD DRESSING

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine ingredients through salt in small food processor. Mix well. Add mayonnaise and mix again. With motor running, drizzle in the oil until incorporated into a thick dressing. Use sparingly.

16

06 2017

Biserno wines burnish the potential of Cabernet Franc

Marchese Lodovico Antinori at Tenuta di Biserno wine dinner in Boston.

As a young man, the Marchese Lodovico Antinori (above) helped revolutionize Italian winemaking with his Bordeaux-blend powerhouse wines from Ornellaia. But he had more surprises in store. After selling Ornellaia, he became intrigued about the potential for Cabernet Franc in the region around Bolghieri. So he acquired a 99-year lease on land that had been growing wheat and olives in nearby Bibbona. Here, he and his brother Piero, established the Tenuta di Biserno estate (www.biserno.it/tenuta-di-biserno/).

The unique microclimate and mixture of clay and stony soils at the property let the brothers concentrate on different Bordeaux varietals than Lodovico had at Ornellaia. Between 2001 and 2005, the Tenuta di Biserno planted more than 120 acres. Cabernet Franc was the principal grape, but more than 10 percent of the vineyards contained Petit Verdot, the often silent sister of the Bordeaux grape family. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon—usually the dominant grapes in Bordeaux blends—made up the rest.

Patricia Harris and Lodovico Antinori discuss Tenuta di Biserno wines.

“My daughter Sophia was was born in 1999,” Lodovico Antinori explained last week at a dinner in Boston. “For my last project, I wanted her to have a high quality estate that she could continue.” We guess that people who hail from illustrious wine families think in generations and centuries. As Sophia enters college in England, Tenuta di Biserno is also maturing. It already ranks as one of the most remarkable wine estates in Tuscany, even though the wines are identified by only as Indicazione Geografica Tipica di Toscana, or “guaranteed Tuscan wine.” Tenuta di Biserno wines have too high a percentage of Cabernet Franc to be sold as Bolghieri DOC. But the Marchese is undaunted. The Biserno wines, he believes (and we concur) prove the potential of the Cabernet Franc grape to produce not just good wine, but great wine. As the years pass, Tenuta di Biserno could become one of the most remarkable producers in Italy.

Steak dinner at Grill 23 Tenuta di Biserno dinner.This wine dinner at Grill 23, one of Boston’s most illustrious steak houses, was a showcase for the winery. A classic three-course steak dinner paired 2012 and 2014 selections of Pino di Biserno with a Caesar salad, 2010 and 2012 selections of Biserno with a spectacular boneless ribeye, and the rare Lodovico 2011 with a selection of French, Swiss, and Italian cheeses. All the wines were opened four to five hours before dinner began. The Marchese hosted the dinner and introduced the wines as representatives from Kobrand, his importer and distributor, poured.

Pino di Biserno


Pino di Biserno Typically made from grapes from younger vines, Pino di Biserno is designed to be accessible and ready to drink when still young. The differences between the 2012 and 2014 were fascinating. The younger version was a typical Biserno blend with Cabernet Franc and Merlot taking the lead on the nose and the palate respectively. Big and juicy with intense blackcurrant and black cherry notes in the nose and warm spice flavors in the mouth, it is a model of accessibility. Of the two, the 2012 is more elegant and velvety than the 2014. It has just a hint of slightly green Cabernet Franc on the back of the palate. The Marchese noted that some of the top grapes that might have gone into Biserno were reserved for the Pino in 2012 to ensure that it would be a good vintage. Delicious with the pungent anchovy of the salad, it would be equally special with dark chocolate. List price at release is around $85.

Biserno


Biserno bottleThe flagship wine of the estate, Biserno is produced with grapes hand-selected on the sorting tables for optimal ripeness. It is a wine made principally from Cabernet Franc with varying degrees of the other Bordeaux grapes in the blend. Merlot is always present for a juicy body, and Cabernet Sauvignon content varies from year to year. Color in the glass is a deep ruby red. Once the wine opens up, the nose is dominated by blackberries, anise, and the toasty notes of freshly ground coffee. Tannins are considerable but well balanced and mature, with a strong backbone provided by ripe Petit Verdot. The 2010 was a classic Bordeaux-style wine from a nice, sunny year, and it is a perfectly balanced and powerful wine. The 2012 is already the more interesting wine with tremendous complexity from a very stressful early growing season with scant rain. Delicious with food, it’s also a wine for contemplative sipping. List price at release is around $180.

Lodovico


Lodovico from Tenuta di BisernoWith only about 6,000 bottles per vintage, Lodovico is the jewel of the Biserno estate. It is made entirely from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from a single small individual parcel—and only in years with optimal harvest. The 2011 Lodovico in current release comes from a spectacular season that concluded with a warm and dry September. Cabernet Franc makes up 90 percent of the blend, and the wine is evidence that this parent of Cabernet Sauvignon can hold its own with its more prestigious offspring. In the Upper Maremma, Cabernet Franc ripens more completely than it does in Bordeaux, producing not only fully ripe sugars but also optimally ripe tannins. In the right hands, it produces great wines of resonant power and elegant sophistication. For the record, Tenuta di Biserno’s winemaker is Helena Lindberg, while Lodovico’s long-time collaborator, Michel Rolland, serves as consultant.

This Lodovico 2011 reminds us of a champion thoroughbred racehorse. It is silky and muscular, with beautiful deep violet tones in the glass. It possesses striking grace, poise, and barely restrained power. The tannin structure is very refined, letting the blackcurrant and spice notes come forward in lockstep. The finish goes on forever. The 2011, the Marchese says, finally represents the maturity of the vineyard. It is a great wine with a long, long future. List price for the 2011 is $500.

09

06 2017

Old vine Bobal complements hearty pork paella

Valsangiacomo Familly at Viticultores deSanJuan winery

The Viticultores de SanJuan bodega is owned by the Valsangiacomo family (above), which represents the fifth generation of family winemaking that began in Switzerland in 1831. Built in 1960, the winery in the village of San Juan Bautista, about 60 kilometers west of Valencia, Spain. The vines range from 60 to 80 years old.

Bobl vines are often a century oldSince there was always a market for blending wines and grape concentrate, traditional growers in the Utiel Requena region never had reason to rip out their old Bobal vines. Vineyards tend to be broad pieces of open acreage supporting bush-style vines grown without irrigation. As the region began to focus more on quality of grapes rather than quantity through the DOP Utiel-Requna, these ancient vines (right) proved a huge asset. The gnarly trunks still support a shady canopy of big leaves that protect the grape bunches.

The SanJuan winery is as old-school as the vines. The Valsangiacomos craft their Bobal red and rosé in raw concrete tanks, then age the wines in large barrels of French oak. Their straightforward Bobal de SanJuan is a prime example of letting old vines do their thing. It is is a medium-bodied, deeply red wine with a spicy nose of anise and black pepper. In the mouth, the juicy fruit suggests black cherry, red currant, and dark plums. Tannins are extremely soft, so the wine finishes very smoothly. It is perfect slightly chilled to about 60°F.

The spiciness of the nose and the tart cherry in the mouth make Bobal de SanJuan an excellent accompaniment to this traditional paella of inland Valencia province, very loosely adapted from Anna von Bremzen’s The New Spanish Table and Penelope Casas’ The Foods and Wines of Spain.

Bobal de SanJuan with pork paella

PORK PAELLA

Ingredients


8 ounces boneless pork loin or shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
about 3 cups chicken stock
1 large pinch of saffron
1/3 cup (more or less) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup snap peas, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
3/4 cup small cauliflower florets
1 small ripe red bell pepper, cut into large dice
1 1/2 cups frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry with paper towels
2 cups baby spinach leaves
4 medium garlic cloves, pressed or grated
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
2 large tomatoes, peeled and crushed
1 1/2 cups Valencia rice (arborio or canaroli can be substituted)

Directions


Rub pork with salt, pepper, oregano, sweet paprika, and ancho chile powder. Marinate 2 hours to overnight in refrigerator.

Heat stock to simmer. Add saffron. Keep warm.

Pour enough olive oil into 12-inch paella pan to cover entire bottom. Sauté pork, tossing and turning, until browned all over. Push to edges of pan and add snap peas, cauliflower, and red pepper. Sauté a few minutes, add artichokes and cook about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Remove pork and vegetables to bowl.

Add more oil to pan. Saute garlic for a few seconds, then add hot paprika. Stir well and add crushed tomatoes. Cook a few minutes until thick.

Set oven at 425°F.

Return pork and vegetables to pan. Add rice and stir to mix. Add 2 cups hot stock and shake pan to distribute evenly. Cook over medium heat about 7 minutes. If it starts to dry out, add more stock.

Place in oven and bake about 15 minutes. (Check after 10 minutes and add additional stock if needed.) Remove from oven and cover. Let sit 10-15 minutes before serving.

05

06 2017

M Rosé d’Anjou is perfect with seaside lobster roll

 Rosé d'Anjou with lobster roll at Lobster Pool on Folly Cove in Rockport, Mass.
Wine is subtle, wine is complex, wine can even be a transcendent experience. But sometimes wine is just a pleasant drink that harmonizes with the mood of the day. That’s the way we think of rosés from Anjou.

Located in the Angers region in Beaulieu-sur-Layon, Château de la Mulonnière (www.chateaumulonniere.com) is one of those historic estates that’s been making exceptional wines for more than 150 years. The house produces two levels—the old-vine production labeled under the full name, and the entry-level wines under the “M” label.

TrBottle shot of rosé d'Anjouy level rosé works for us. We took a bottle of the 2015 M Rosé d’Anjou with us to the Lobster Pool in Rockport, Massachusetts, on a recent balmy day. Conveniently, this excellent lobster shack with outdoor tables on Folly Cove has a BYOB license. Equally convenient, the wine comes with a screw-off cap—as should all wines meant to be drunk within a year or two of release.

With a brilliant pink color, this rosé is light and delicately fruity on the nose with faint raspberry aromas. The excellent level of acids and the notes of red fruit and spice make it a nearly perfect pairing with a simple lobster roll. The salinity of the lobster intensifies the floral qualities of the wine. The acidity is a nice counterbalance to the unctuousness of rich lobster and the dab of mayonnaise mixed in to make the pieces cohere in a bun. Château de la Mulonnière also suggests drinking it with tomato salads or barbecued meats. (It would be great with grilled Toulouse sausage.)

A true Loire valley blend, Cabernet Franc dominates with a bit of Cabernet-Sauvignon and Gamay providing their respective fruit notes. The M Rosé d’Anjou lists at $15. The Lobster Pool (978-546-7808, thelobsterpool.com) is located at 329 Granite Street, Rockport, Massachusetts.

02

06 2017

Even Japanese cooks love asparagus

Pan-fried asparagus with soy and sesame
In Cook Japanese at Home, author Kimiko Barber demystifies Japanese cuisine for western cooks. But she never dumbs it down. The new cookbook, available this month in the U.S. from Kyle Books, provides 200 recipes that most cooks could replicate without any special equipment—or terribly exotic ingredients. Emma Lee’s photographs show how classy the dishes can appear.

Barber observes that western appreciation of Japanese cooking has made a quantum leap since she first moved to London in the 1970s. She does a marvelous job of summarizing Japanese culinary history and the influence of Zen aesthetics on the preparation and presentation of meals.

But as true as she is to the spirit of Japanese cuisine, she does not shy away from fusion dishes. Her Japanese-style beef bourguignon, for example, uses sake, red and white miso, hot pepper, and ginger along with the traditional cubes of beef and slices of bacon. It also uses smoky dried shiitake mushrooms in place of French champignons. It’s a very successful meeting of two great culinary traditions.

She notes that Japanese kitchens have also warmed to certain western ingredients, including our beloved asparagus. Here’s the recipe for Emma Lee’s photo at the head of this post.

PAN-FRIED ASPARAGUS WITH SOY AND SESAME


Asparagus, although a relative newcomer to Japanese cuisine, is loved for its taste, and prized for its tantalizingly short season.

serves 4

12 to 16 asparagus spears
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sake
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white toasted sesame seeds, to serve

Asparagus has a natural breaking point below which it is stringy and inedible—hold a spear between your hands, then bend until it breaks, and discard the lower part. Cut each trimmed spear into 1 and 1/2-inch lengths.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the thicker, lower part pieces of asparagus first, followed by the rest, shaking the pan to toss, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sake and soy sauce, and continue to cook while still shaking the pan, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Turn off the heat, then sprinkle the sesame seeds over and serve.

31

05 2017

Pouilly-Fumé complements asparagus-prosciutto risotto

asparagus prosciutto risotto with Pouilly-Fumé

We sang the praises of Sancerre a few weeks ago, lauding its round fruit combined with tart minerality. We are continuing to welcome the spring and summer seasons with other Loire Valley wines. Sancerre’s sister Sauvignon Blanc wine, Pouilly-Fumé, certainly has a strong family resemblance. With a bit flintier taste than Sancerre and a haunting smokiness, Pouilly-Fumé pairs wonderfully with asparagus. We had a couple of bottles of Saget La Perrière 2013 on hand when we acquired up a nice bundle of just-picked asparagus from the Connecticut River farms in Hadley, Massachusetts. We immediately thought of our favorite risotto treatment for the vegetable.

That recipe was created for Pinot Grigio, so it uses San Daniele prosciutto and Grana Padana cheese. It’s easy to adapt the recipe for the more assertive Pouilly-Fumé. We found that the stronger tastes of a good domestic prosciutto and an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano were better suited to complement the wine. The asparagus flavors emphasize some of the sharper notes with this pairing.

Like the same company’s Sancerre, the Saget La Perrière Pouilly-Fumé 2013 was cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks continuously chilled to stay below 64°F. Fermented entirely with wild yeasts, it ages several months on the lees. Fruit notes of grapefruit and pear are the most pronounced, with a lingering lusciousness of peach. The wine lingers on the palate with a freshness that combines with the umami of the cheese and prosciutto to form a lush tonic chord of flavor. Suggested retail is $28.

25

05 2017

A is for Asparagus in new Alain Ducasse cookbook

asparagus at market
It’s asparagus season in our neighborhood. The fields of Hadley, Massachusetts are yielding the delicious spears that once made the Connecticut River Valley the asparagus capital of North America. The industry has never quite recovered from a mid-20th century blight, but the farms are producing some stunning asparagus for a few weeks each year. We are eating as much as we can while it is in season.

Alain Ducasse grabbed our attention with a brilliant recipe for asparagus and soft-boiled egg in his new cookbook. It’s called Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes. Ducasse launched his first “Simple Nature” cookbook five years ago. This second installment is, if anything, simpler and more natural. The celebrity French chef penned it with chef Christophe Saintagne and nutritionist Paule Neyrat. The precise yet straightforward dishes provide a peek into Ducasse’s concept of cuisine. They’re seasonal—the book begins with the fall harvest and progresses to the following summer. Recipes come with notes by Ducasse and Neyrat, identified the bottom by their initials.

So to launch a short series of asparagus posts, we thought that Ducasse’s daringly simple treatment would be a good way to let a recipe show his philosophy of cuisine. It also provides a French take on this tantalizingly short-season vegetable. The photo is courtesy of the publisher.

Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes is published in the U.S. by Rizzoli New York. It lists for $45, but is discounted on Amazon.

Alain Ducasse asparagus with soft boiled egg

ASPARAGUS, SOFT-BOILED EGG, AND VINAIGRETTE

SERVES 4
PREPARATION TIME: 20 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES


6 tablespoons shallot vinaigrette (see below)
2 bunches green asparagus
Salt
4 eggs
1 bunch tarragon
Espelette pepper

Make the shallot vinaigrette. Set aside.

Prepare the asparagus and soft-boiled eggs.

Remove the scales from the asparagus spears. Cut off the tough end of the stem and peel to 3 centimeters – 11/4 inches from the tip. Set aside 2 asparagus spears. Tie the others into small bunches with kitchen twine.Bring salted water to a boil in a large saucepan and immerse the bunches of asparagus for about 6 minutes. Check that they are cooked with the tip of a knife, which should slide in easily. At the same time, boil the eggs in the same pan, also for 6 minutes.

Drain the asparagus on a clean cloth and untie. Take the eggs out of the pan and transfer to a bowl filled with cold water. When they have cooled somewhat, peel them.

Season the vinaigrette

Rinse, dry, pluck, and mince the tarragon leaves. Season the shallot vinaigrette with salt and Espelette pepper. Mix, then add the minced tarragon. Stir.

Finish and serve

Arrange the asparagus on four heated plates. Add 1soft-boiled egg to each plate and make a small cut on the yolk with a knife. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Use a mandoline with safety guard to finely slice the reserved asparagus spears over the plates and season with Espelette pepper.

Notes

AD – Be sure to use asparagus grown as locally as possible. And take the time to heat your plates for 10 minutes in an oven set at 110˚C – 225˚F (gas mark 1/4). It’s a worthwhile step.

PN – A nice one-dish meal, chef. The protein from the eggs is the best there is; asparagus contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, and so do the tarragon and shallots.

SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE

MAKES 20CL – 2/3 CUP
PREPARATION TIME: 5 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 20 MINUTES


5 olive shallots (or regular shallots)
100 milliliter – 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
100 milliliter – 1/3 cup plus1tablespoon olive oil

Prepare the shallots

Peel and mince the shallots.

Make the shallot vinaigrette

Put the shallots in a small saucepan and add the vinegar. Simmer until the vinegar almost completely evaporates, about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Off the heat, gradually add the oil while whisking to thoroughly emulsify.

Finish

Transfer the vinaigrette to a bowl and let cool. Keep it refrigerated until serving time.

23

05 2017

Utiel Requena wines conjure tastes of northeast Spain

La Vinya del Senyor in Barcelona
We’re convinced that there is nothing like taste to evoke memories of place. A sip of wine will call back the flavor of the food, the sun on our faces, the wobbly leg of the cafe table, and the street life around us. We’re just starting to taste several wines from the Utiel Requena region in the northwest corner of the autonomous region of Valencia. As we taste, we’re reliving trips to Catalunya, Aragón, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands. In addition to speaking variants of Catalan, these regions feature cuisines that pair very well with the Bobal wines of Utiel Requena. We’ll be enjoying them with some of our favorite dishes.

As shown in this photo just below, D.O. Utiel Requena sits in the rain shadow of mountains, so the region is dry and perfectly suited to organic growing. Most of the producers do grow organically, and they concentrate on the Bobal grape. That’s an indigenous red varietal found almost nowhere else—a great local grape for the cuisine. Historically, Bobal was overcropped and used for blending with wine from other Spanish regions. In the last generation, though, producers have taken advantage of the old vines—most on their own rootstock—to make wines with fabulous concentration and well-defined character.

Vineyards in Utiel Requena

A Bobal rosé—in this case Tarantas—makes a great complement to one of our favorite bar foods, coca, which is pizza-like flatbread topped primarily with red peppers. The lightly sparkling wine made entirely from Bobal has a strawberry nose and tangy red-currant and melon flavors in the mouth. The producer of Tarantas wines is Bodegas Iranzo (www.bodegasiranzo.com), a family concern that has been making wine in the region since 1335! The pronounced fruit of the rosé brings out the herbaceous quality of the pepper while emphasizing the caramel notes from cooking.

Barcelona’s best patio


We first tasted coca at an outdoor cafe table at La Vinya del Senyor, the wine bar that shares a plaza with the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. Pat wrote about it in her new book 100 Places in Spain Every Woman Should Go. The photo at the top of this post shows some folks having a good time—and a bottle of wine (of course).

Funded and even partially built by the people of the neighborhood, Santa Maria del Mar (at right) was consecrated in 1384 and remains a perfect example of Catalan Gothic style. Its serene interior and popular appeal make it a favorite for society weddings. We spent a magical evening watching a bride and groom enter the church single and leave as a couple. They lingered in the plaza, surrounded by their boisterous friends, a group of street musicians, and a churlish taxi driver blasting his horn as he tried to no avail to break up the revelry.

We’re not the only ones who are in love with this wine bar. In her cookbook The New Spanish Table, Anya von Bremzen sings the praises of the bar’s coca. We have adapted her recipe below.

coca mallorquina with Tarantas rosé from Utiel Requena

COCA MALLORQUINA


Von Bremzen’s version is more purist, eschewing the cheese that makes a coca seem more like a pizza. But we like the small specks of jamón serrano and creaminess of melted Mahon, a Mallorcan semisoft cheese. The defining characteristic is the topping of slightly caramelized sweet red peppers. Use your favorite pizza dough recipe, but be sure to oil the pan and oil the surface of the dough. If you don’t have a favorite home recipe, see ours here: hungrytravelers.com/black-truffle-pizza-tricks.

Ingredients


olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, shaved thin
2 cups of strips from roasted and peeled sweet red peppers
peel of lemon, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
juice of 1 lemon
1 lb. pizza dough
2 ounces jamón serrano, chopped
1 tablespoon capers
4 ounces Mahon cheese, grated

Directions


Set oven at 450°F.

Drizzle olive oil to cover base of heavy frying pan. Add garlic and fry until crisp. (This gives garlic flavor to the oil.) Remove garlic. Add peppers, lemon peel, and sugar. Sauté until peppers start to caramelize on surface. Add lemon juice and continue cooking until evaporated.

Spread dough on oiled pan (14-inch round or 11×17 sheet). Spread pepper mix evenly. Distribute pieces of crisp garlic evenly. Sprinkle with jamón, capers, and cheese.

Cook 8-10 minutes until crust begins to crisp.

17

05 2017

WhistlePig launches Farmstock Rye (and it’s good)

Dave Pickerell of WhistlePig Rye
As a Kentucky-born grandson of a contract whiskey distiller, my allegiance to bourbon as a spirit of choice is practically genetic. But the older I get, the more I’m inclined toward the drier, spicier sensations of good rye for a serious, contemplative tipple. And I’ve had to become less of a Kentucky chauvinist ever since master distiller Dave Pickerell (above) and founder Raj Peter Bhakta started releasing aged ryes from WhistlePig (whistlepigwhiskey.com) in Vermont. The distillery has 10, 12, 14, and 15 year old whiskeys in release.

Those are all made from stock rye spirit that WhistlePig buys from Canada and Indiana. That’s how a new distillery was able to bring whiskey to market even before they built their first copper still in 2015. Their exquisite straight rye (10 years old, 100 proof) scored 96 of 100 points with Wine Enthusiast, while the Robb Report (no, I didn’t make the selection) rated the 12-year-old Old World Cask Finish as “Best of the Best.” The latter is aged in a mix of American oak, Port, Sauternes, and Madeira casks. You might say it’s rye for single malt Scotch drinkers. The 15-year-old Straight Rye is 92 proof and finished in barrels made from oak cut on WhistlePig’s farm in Shoreham, Vermont.

Because Vermont is about the northernmost growing region for oak, the trees grow very little each year. As a result, the growth rings are closer together and impart more aromatics to the aging spirit than standard oak casks. The 15-year-old shows that influence with pronounced caramel and vanilla notes with hints of allspice and orange.

WhistlePig Farmstock Rye

Terroir shines through


“This is the first chapter in the migration of the brand,” Pickerell said when he was in Boston to launch Farmstock Rye, the first WhistlePig rye that features spirit distilled from rye grown on the farm, cut with artesian well water, and aged in Vermont oak. Of course, only 20 percent of the blend is produced entirely on site. That will change, Pickerell explains, as the percentage in Farmstock increases every year until it is 100 percent rye, water, and wood from the farm.

“We call it triple terroir,” Pickerell says, showing that he is as good at marketing as he is at distilling. “Since it will change every year, we expect some whiskey collectors might want to lay down a few bottles as an investment.” (Shelf price is around $80.)

Me, I’ve never believed in having a closet full of unopened bottles. The pleasure in whiskey lies in the glass. Farmstock Rye is a dynamite sipping whiskey. The young Vermont rye gives a smart, spicy kick. The Vermont oak barrels in two different toasts along with some #3 char bourbon barrels provide three different layers of vanillin. They’re clearly stratified, and each represents a different source spirit combined with the barrel type that Pickerell chose to best complement it.

WhistlePig was offering rye cocktails for the launch party. I commented to Pickerell that it seemed a shame to muddy the flavor of good whiskey with mixers. “I won’t tell you how to drink,” he said, “but I’ve always felt that great whiskey makes a cocktail even better.” Then he took a sip of Lipstick on a Pig and smiled.

LIPSTICK ON A PIG


2 oz. WhistlePig Rye
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. maple syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with an orange peel or fresh cherry.

14

05 2017

Fall River has grip on wacky sandwiches

Kelley Benjamin delivers two chow mein sandwiches at Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Fall River.
In its heyday, Fall River, Massachusetts, was a factory town par excellence. And that’s just the sort of place where the need for economy meets the imagination of restaurateurs to produce some of the most innovative and inexpensive casual eats. Just as ballplayers of old seemed to spring full-formed from the soil of America’s farms, some of the wackiest contributions to American handheld cuisine spring from the creativity of grill cooks and chefs of the country’s lunch counters and diners.

Fall River sandwiches page 1And Fall River has some great ones, as we detailed this past Sunday in the Boston Globe‘s travel section. (Read the story here.) It doesn’t spoil the fun to hint at the menu. It includes the chouriço and fries sub at Nick’s Coney Island Hot Dogs, the grated and melted cheese sandwich (with or without meat sauce) at J.J.’s Coney Island, and the chow mein sandwich from Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. At the top of this post, Kelley Benjamin delivers our chow mein sandwiches. We chose to devour them open-faced, which is the less messy approach.

09

05 2017