The BSFW blog offers a periodic airing of our staff's observations and musings about things we find in our market and, frankly, can't live without. This is not a dispensing of erudite information from high on the mount; this is us sharing with you the aspects of the fine wine, craft brew and gourmet worlds that pique our interest.
This congenial approach is something we take seriously - so please feel free to comment! Afterall,it's our customers that inspire us to do what we love to do - and do it even better than before at every opportunity.
Though fructose only makes a small fraction of sugar normally fermented in the production of beer, today's featured product ferments only fructose, and is more than deserving of this special write up. Fructose from apples to be exact, French apples at that.
Not to be confused with Brasserie Dupont of Belgium, Domaine Dupont produces Ciders and Calvados. Being in the Normandy region, their products are authentically French, and taste as much. Ever the antithesis of English and American macro cider production, subtlety, earth and a bone-dry finish are the focus on their products.
Cidre Dupont Reserve is an exceptional product. Built off of their famous Cidre Dupont, extended aging in used Calvados Casks is what sets this bottle apart. The pungent funk and pasture-like aroma is richly enveloped in a dense, silky oak finish. The counterpoint of sharp and soft never conflict, but offer an expansive complexity that is rivaled by few products, cider, beer or wine. This exceptional product is unfortunately limited, and there are only 11 bottles to spare. Enjoy this gem with food.
If you would like to try even more ciders (upwards of 40), and try them for free, come by the shop Monday, June 17th from 5-7pm for our annual Grand Cider Tasting. What the heck, we'll throw a couple of Meads in there as well!
We aren't the kind of store to give you the hard sell, as you well know - we just get really excited about sharing the truly cool things we've found!
What better time to get excited than now? I certainly embrace my inner-elf! I absolutely relish coming up with fun, personal ideas for my friends and family and then basking in the glory of watching their reaction to what I've found for them.
1. Kopke Fine Tawny Port, which comes in a convenient 375ml size ($11.99)
2. Duck Foie Gras ($21.99 and the gift that can become part of your Christmas day 'pre-game', too!)
3. Macallan 12 Year "mini me" ($8.99)
4. Marcona Almonds ($4.99)
5. Ball Square Wine/Bottle Opener ($9.99)
6. Ball Square Shot Glass ($2.99 - helpful also in case the natives get restless)
7. Op & Top Netherlands Brew 11.2oz ($5.44)
8. Marquis de la Tour Bubbly 375ml ($5.99)
9. Taras Boulba Extra Hoppy Ale 11.2oz ($4.44)
10. Cafe Tasse Chocolates ($2.49/bar)
11. And... for the person you love (to go out with) City Dining Cards 2012, featuring 50 $10 Discount cards for Boston's finest establishments ($20)
Last Saturday our very own Will Durbin manned the Tasting Station for a sampling of Aperitifs. These unique, simple yet sophisticated spirits proved they are, indeed, perfect for satiating your guests this holiday season!
Since so much information was imparted about the spirits themselves as well as best uses, we thought it might be helpful to follow the tasting with a few notes about each, and recommendations for cocktails also. Here we go!
Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth - The flagship aperitif of Imbue Cellars. This American vermouth was created for sipping on the rocks, with complexities such as elderflower, dried tangerine, vanilla, lemongrass, and honey coming to bear. Of course these same notes provide just the kind of head-turning aromas and flavors that make for interesting cocktail-mixing! Whether you're a purist or not, this Oregon-based spirit is one to lift yours. $24.99
Strega - Here we have an old-school Italian liquor that has been produced in Campagnia since 1860. Strega's is a recipe for success, with approximately 70 undisclosed herbal ingredients combining forces to deliver an award-winning product (San Francisco World Spirits Competition Gold Winner). Over ice or mixed, this is a party pleaser. $34.99
Krown Swedish Punsch - Could it be Scandanavia's most famous liquor? It is! Made with sugar cane and spirits from the East and West Indies, you'll discover rich toffee, smoke, leather and molasses notes. Our cocktail curious crowd Saturday night deemed this their informal favorite. It's a natural! $29.99
Elizabeth Allspice Dram - Here we have a holiday natural! This Aperitif also known as Pimento Dram was the beesknees here in the U.S. in the early 1900s, but an importing hiatus thereafter ensured this all-spice berried liquor became scarce all too quickly. Today Elizabeth is back in fashion, with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper notes making it a natural component in classic cocktails like the favorite "Lion's Tail" popping up around town, Wassail, and mulled wine! $31.99
Drop on by to grab a bottle for your cocktail party or soiree this holiday season, or to see what other Aperitifs we have on hand!
It's summer in the city and yet Dan and I are drinking just about equal parts red, white and rose. What gives? The temperature - of our red wines, that is!
Talking to customers every day we know there is a misconception out there that red wine shouldn't go in the fridge. Believe us when we tell you that's far from the truth. Personally speaking, I've found the notion is reinforced when you go out to eat. More often than not if you go to a nice restaurant they are missing the mark with the temperature they serve their wines; it is a challenge for them to keep their glass pours cold enough because they are often refilling glasses or uncorking new bottles and the wine either never goes back into the wine fridge due to the turnover, or it comes from too warm a place on the shelf behind the bar where it is easily accessible.
At home you have the 'luxury' of getting it right. Remember, nowadays room temp is higher than it used to be. And in the summer that's even higher! My house sits at about 80 degrees during the day. My cellar is around 72 degrees in the summer. Red wine (depending on the grape and region it comes from) shouldn't really be served higher than 60 degrees! Here's a chart which breaks it down fairly well.
If you're wondering if it really matters at the end of the day, it does. A wine that's served too warm is wearing a mask - none of its personality has a chance to show let alone shine. Wake up the wine by simply putting it in the fridge for 20 or 30 minutes to get it to serving temperature. That's about the time it takes me to kick off my shoes after my day, flip through the mail and get dinner started. All you have to do is grab the bottle off the rack and get it in the fridge before you start your Unwinding Process!
Of course, there are also wines that fall into the "Chillable Reds" category. These wines don't just loose their mask they virtually frollick in the glass once they get the 40 minute fridge treatment! Beaujolais (France - grape type: Gamay) and Loire Valley Cabernet Franc are fans of a little enclosed "AC" aka your fridge; Nebbiolo, Barbera, Sangiovese, Sciava and Frappato are Italian grapes that are also chill-loving; Spanish Tempranillo that hasn't seen a lot of oak doesn't mind it one bit either. If you are entertaining grab the chill bucket and give the wine an ice bath for 10 minutes and you are good to go. Refill the bucket with ice and let your guests enjoy the good life - and learn a new trick!
After several days of tasting really great wine, I can't lie, you do wonder if you just stacked your cards right or if some level of 'disappointment' might not be that far off. Then again, if it was to come, I knew it wasn't coming at the hand of Wagner Stempel!
We landed in the northern part of the Rheinhessen as the sun broke through the clouds "officially" and some more late-springlike (n-o-t summer) warmth with it. Tromping through the much more rolling hills/vineyards in these "conditions" was a treat. Assistant Winemaker Oliver Mueller was our guide, providing tremendous insight about their more Burgundian-like spot within the Rheinhessen appellation as well as the non-Riesling grapes they cultivate (though, of course, Riesling does have a very large presence, too). Silvaner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and (of course) Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) all have a home here.
Walking up through the vineyards was more like meandering, compared to the Mosel and Rheingau's much steeper slopes. Oliver was incredibly passionate - and gave some great insight about their organic approach, explaining how their practices came about and demonstrating with his large visual aids (the vineyards themselves) how their practices lead to healthier vines and, therefore, better fruit for winemaking. (You could see their neighbor's adjacent vineyards were flagging comparatively- why they didn't follow suit bewildered us.) Stempel's philosophy, like so many of our hosts already, is that wine is made in the vineyards first.
We met lead winemaker and owner, Daniel Stempel, back at the winery in their gorgeous open courtyard to sample the wines. Daniel and Oliver are clearly on the same page, as Daniel led with the same thought - that he enjoys his work in the vineyards most - and that that was where the wine was made. Wine after wine tasted, nuances were more fruit-driven and the minerality more warming; think of it this way - the minerality in the Mosel was like icicles hanging off the eaves like daggers; in the Rheingau these were just starting to melt, with softer edges; and at Stempel the crisp, fresh water was running through our fingertips like a narrow-running brook's waterfall edge - forcefully, yet softly. Compelling? No doubt. Another three-hour appointment slipped by as the daylight hovered in the hills.
The next day took us yet still farther South. We had an appointment at Dr. Heger/Weinhaus Heger after lunch with winemaker Markus Mleinek in the Kaiserstuhl region, Baden particularly. Markus started our tour in the cellars, where it was self-evident that this was an operation that valued tradition and the importance of showcasing terroir in wine, as much as they did innovation. Markus even shared that they experimented once with American oak, which to my knowledge is virtually unheard of in traditional "Old World" winemaking regions, save parts of Spain and Portugal. American oak is known for supplying a bold "marinade" in wines both texturally and in flavor profile (a post for another day); Markus chuckled at the thought, noting that the wine which resulted was "too loud", so they moved on. Stainless steel tanks in one part of the cellar - different sized (and different origin) wood barrels in others. Different projects command different vessels - having the capacity (and need!) to cope another feat entirely.
Our vineyard tour was also astounding. In the distance the Rhine river - and France! - terraces of unique volcanic soil lay in front of us. Here, too, they employ various techinques to mitigate using too many chemicals in the vineyards. The wine bottles hanging on the line PICTURED RIGHT are filled with sugar water, to keep pests elsewhere and harmony happening naturally in the vineyards! Brilliant for its simplicity and effectiveness.
Heger's projects are many, hence the two names on the door: Dr. Heger/Weinhaus Heger. Dr. Heger is the elite-most line, Weinhaus Heger just below on the totem pole - and Fischer a special project we were just as happy to sample featuring a collaboration with a local cooperative of wine growers where they invest knowlege as much as any other resource to ensure quality grapes are grown. We tasted 30 some wines this afternoon, each as compelling as the next, more than respectworthy for its unique place in the Heger "family" of offerings. Yes, the spit bucket needed to be relieved several times to accomodate our 'thirst' to sample as much as possible with Marcus.
What was particularly interesting is that here in Baden red grapes have an important presence - although the white lineup was more than compelling in itself. Not one Spaetburgunder failed to deliver, and we tasted several back vintages of current wines - as these delicious treats can certaily age! Smoked meats, fresh pink roses, violets, volcanic soil, ripe black cherry fruit comingling with tart pomegranate and boysenberry exploded in various proportions from the glass; finesse met power with perfect elegance, and a picture was painted on a virtual timeline, showcasing anticipated versions of perfection as the individual wines showed that day, and would again at various points in the future.
Yes, it was a helluva way to end the formal portion of our tasting adventures. Back here at home I realized I learned more in Germany than on any other wine trip (so far). No doubt I had the most to learn, and therefore the most to gain. It didn't hurt that the appointments I had, and the recommendations from winemakers we enjoyed meeting, were spot on. If you're going to do a whirlwind wine country tour inside of a week, this was the way to do it! Literally it was a sampling of German wine regions. I guess I'll have to go back!
After two full days in the Mosel it was time to go vineyard/region-hopping as we drove South through German wine country. To save time on the way to our first appointment in the Rheingau, about two hours from the Mosel, we took a car ferry (so cool!) across the Rhine River. It deposited us on the other bank just down the slope from Josef Leitz's winery. (Perhaps starting with the ferry experience itself, the visit at Leitz offered not just great wine tasting, but also a terrific lesson in German history - e.g. ferries keep transport efficient and fluid, as many key bridges were destroyed in World War II).
We found Johannes Leitz (said "Lights" - the winery is named for his father Joseph, who died when Lietz was only 2 years old) with his gardening gear on, wheelbarrow in hand. He quickly terminated his home gardening duties, ushered us into his immaculate tasting room and jumped right into a detailed discussion about the Rheingau; terrific photos told the story of its unique terroir, including the microclimates and varied soil types that 'co-exist' just meters from each other. (I HIGHLY encourage you to visit his website to get a feel for this yourself! It's one of the best sites I've seen.)
This initial 'classroom' work gave us an important overview and worked wonders as we jumped in Johannes' SUV and traveled into the vineyards themselves. Narrow and winding dirt "roads" took us upward and inward; jumping out of the car at strategic points, we could feel the climate change (literally just around the bend!) and could investigate the soil closely. We learned more about the history of the Rheingau, the variation between Upper and Lower portions, and got a verbal preview of which wines we would taste in relation to the vineyard site from which they came. Fascinating stuff.
Back at the tasting room Leitz offered two glasses - and initiated my favorite kind of tasting: a 'taste off' between wines so we could literally taste terroir variation. While tasting (interrupting the banter with reactions to the wines about their various depth and power, floral and herbal nuance and sleek compelling texture, plus a few nose-blowings as my 'quality control' kicked in to the mineral explosion offered) we continued to learn more about his operation, how much he has expanded over the years without sacrificing quality and staying true to his terroir-driven focus. We also learned more about his experience exporting, and in particular to the USA. Yes, he too faces some importer pushback when getting his truly dry wines to market. The Dragonstone which we carry here is a slightly different version than the one he sells elsewhere in the world. That said, he launched a new project last year called Eins (1) - Zwei (2) - Dry (3), which we expect to carry in the near-term. Stay tuned!
After spending three memorable hours with Johannes, it was time to get back in the car, head back down to the ferry and drive an hour+ to get a taste of the Rheinhessen!
Stunning. That's the one word that comes to mind when reflecting on my tour through German wine country last week. The landscape. The micro-climates and soil types (aka, terroir). The people. The energy. The bread! The cheese. The meats. The crisp, cleansing, mind-bottlingly pure, DRY (trocken) wines!!
I had the most to gain from this learning adventure for a number of reasons. German wines are much less widely consumed by customers at BSFW than Italian, French or Spanish wines - we taste fewer of them as a result. These are wines that have regional typicity (e.g. Mosel vs. Baden), but often they are grouped and evaluated by grape type (e.g. Riesling), rather than against other examples from the region from which they come. It's not often you can focus on the region and specific vineyards sites, let alone 'pitting' producers against each other!
Germany had been on my 2012 travel agenda for some time; yet only in the last year or so did a 'quieter' conversation emerge among wine colleagues as well as among customers (generally from Germany or those who have traveled there) that the wines we see here in the U.S. aren't "the same". They are largely sweeter than what you find in Germany itself. It turns out many of the wines exported to our market are (unfortunately) wines destined for the American palate. (And when I say "American palate" think the M.cD's and Pepsi-Cola culture that's largely exported abroad.)
While Riesling can be vinified with some residual sugar, authentic, widely consumed German Riesling abroad is DRY. I cannot emphasize this enough. These wines are tongue-tinglingly, food-demanding, palate-strikingly D-R-Y, aka "Trocken". And they are absolutely, say it with me now, stunning!
The first stop on the tour was the Mosel - probably the most well-known German wine producing region, and best known for its Riesling. I've joked that I would never want to work harvest in the Mosel because the slopes are so bloody steep and narrow that I would put down my bucket of grapes (hand-harvesting is the only way to do it as no machine could manage the incline) and accidentally kick it over with my foot, sending hundreds of dollars down the hill with it. Having been there now, I can say that even as a fairly agile human, I would definitely not sign up first for the task. And it is oh-so-precious fruit indeed.
I purposely set up appointments with folks I knew from experience and saved a bit of time to 'play', visiting wineries on recommendation. My tour began at Weiser Kuensler and we focused on their Trocken selection. I was captivated from the outset. Literally, my nose ran as my "quality control" (allergy-based, herbal/terroir sensitive) organ discovered fresh herbs, flower blossoms and cold-waterfall air bursting out of the glass. My tongue tingled as the minerality and gentle fruit flavors swept through the palate. My mouthwatered (for a while!) on the savory finish. Wine after wine tasted, various nuances captured my senses in these ways showing me the power of Mosel, variously blue and red slate terroir; there was a distinct cleansing purity among them, showing their family resemblance and truth of place.
The next morning S.A. Pruem was up. And yes, this is a winery I've been happy to be familiar with for some time, and owner/winemaker Raimond Pruem (a lovely gent and great winemaker!) had suggested I stay in the Estate's Guest Haus when my 2012 trip came to fruition. Suffice to say, if you make this trip - stay there, too!!! After a great night's sleep and killer breakfast (German style, my fav!) we tasted with Raimond's daughter Saskia. Here we revisited wines I knew - and also the European version (drier!) of a wine we carry: S.A. Pruem Blue Slate Riesling. Also on the tasting agenda were aged Rieslings. Here we found a highlight in the mix: 1994 Bernkastler Riesling, fresh and mouthwateringly delicious - PRIMA!!! (Note: German Riesling in particular ages quite well, as the backbone of the wine is acidity, which allows well made offerings of great vintages to thrive for decades!)
AJ Adam was next on our Mosel tour - a recommendation from Konstantin Weiser on Day 1 of the trip. We took our chances and popped by, catching Andreas coming home from the vineyards by tractor for a little lunch break. Two hours later we had tasted a delicious sampling of Rieslings from his portfolio. A family resemblance was present among these wines also - a ripeness of fruit cut with nearly searing acidity and a wet-stone-meets-talc-like minerality texture on the tongue. These wines were compelling for their sleek precision - yet elegance! Not yet part of the BSFW repertoire, we discovered we can get our hands on a few of his wines, including one of my favorites: 2011 Dhroner Riesling, $35.99. Stay tuned to see what graces our shelves!
Our too-brief Mosel tour ended at Guenther Steinmetz, another recommendation from Konstantin, with a random tasting of wines from the estate's large and uncharacteristically diverse portfolio. Case in point: here we had our first sampling of red wines, not grapes grown in great quantity in the Mosel; Pinot Noir (aka Spatburgunder) does, no less, have a home here. The favorite was 2009 Kestener Herrenberg (unfiltered!) Pinot Noir. (Rumor has it they are transitioning importers so we have to see where this one lands before we can revisit the lineup and see if any have a place here at BSFW.)
Not ready and a bit sad to leave, it was off to dinner and then back to bed for a quick night's sleep - then on to the Rheingau!
As reported in my last post, over the past four months I've undertaken the painstaking chore of drinking my way through our Champagne selection. I know, just another tedious day at the office. Now that I've completed my fizzy exploration I've broken the wines into stylistic categories: Crisp and Focused; Toasty/Creamy; Terroir Driven; and Rose. These categories are of my own making and do not have direct relation to the wine's grape make-up, the winemaker's intent or how the Champagne house in question describes their product.
Today we'll get into the specifics with the first category - Crisp and Focused! These wines have a vibrancy and "lift" to them with penetrating bubbles. Here are more specifics:
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs - 100% Chardonnay.
This wine is verily the definition of "crisp and focused". Green apple and lime fruits sting the taste buds. Squeaky clean stones echo on the edges of taste perception. Wave after lovely wave of pinpoint bubbles caress the tongue and resonate in the ears. The strange effect is of a wine that is barely there but that has your complete attention. Finishes with lingering apple fruit in classic Chardonnay fashion. A lovely wine and priced accordingly.
Billecart Salmon Brut - 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay.
Red apple skin on the nose and initial palate. The bubbles are effusive and intense. They almost "hurt" at first but soon the palate adjusts to the assault and the mouse becomes a welcomed (so good, must have more!) cleanser. Maraschino cherry and pear fruits emerge along with almond slivers, orange rind and unbaked bread dough. This is an ultra-focused and serious bubbly for those whose palate doesn't mind a polite and well-intentioned slap! Among my fav's.
Laurent Perrier "Grand Siecle" Brut - 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir.
By far the most expensive wine of the entire survey and a real splurge on my part. Straddles the line between the "Crisp and Focused" and "Toasty/Creamy" categories. Heavenly aroma's of freshly baked bread and toasted nuts greet the olfactory senses. The golden hue hints at the softer, more mature overall character. Somewhat honeyed on the palate with baked apple fruits. The mouse is very fine but a little too mild and polite for my taste. I could have used more zip and vigor. This bottle was a slight disappointment for the outlay but somehow I made it through to the end!
Give Crisp and Focused a gander!
It's funny how things can turn around. Four months ago if you'd asked me about drinking Champagne I would have sighed and replied "I love the taste but I'm afraid it gives me a headache". You see, earlier attempts at home consumption (usually on special occasion brunch-type Sundays) would start pleasantly enough but end up with a creeping pain between my temples and a general feeling of malaise before the bottle was half empty. Subsequently, fine bubbles were relegated to academic purposes only.
Evaluation at industry tastings or in the shop were my only contact. Turning point: I also have a mild allergic reaction to red wine (I know, mine is a tough life...) in that when I consume it on a regular basis I develop a slight rash and my Irish face gets redder than usual. This happened, as it is wont to do, during the busy holiday season when a good red and a hearty meal is the perfect antidote to a long day's retail. I had to get off the red juice for a bit but white wine was only part of the solution. In early January, when I saw that one of my favorite Champagnes I had tasted was down to its last bottle I saw it as a sign: I had to give it a try. I snatched up that lone surviving Gaston Chiquet Brut, threw it in the work cooler and took it home that night. Upon arriving home I popped the cork, poured a glass and settled in. I fully expected that after a few glasses (or even a few sips!) that the headache would arrive and the gig would be up. No such circumstance arose. I was really digging the creamy, toasty precision of my beverage and the wonderful feel of the bubbles purifying my palate. I took my sweet time and some three and half hours and a movie later I realized when I tipped the bottle that it was that last glass. I was polishing off the whole bottle all by my lonesome! I was not drunk, I was not bloated, I was not fatigued and I didn't have any adverse effects at that moment or in the A.M.. What a thrill!
The next week I retried the experiment with Domaine Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. Same deal, I'm cured! Thus began my happy exploration of every boutique Champagne in the Ball Square inventory....
Stay tuned for the next installment of "Adventures on the Champagne Route"! I'll be detailing my tried-and-true results of this most 'arduous' investigation.
"Do something you love and you never work a day in your life."
In case you didn't already know it or haven't asked one of us here at Ball Square Fine Wines for a recommendation, this is pretty much our Staff Slogan. The world of tasty treats is our very own giant playground - and we're always happy to have new "kids" come over and play in our sandbox.
On the WINE side, if you've been by the shop on Friday night for one of our tastings you know we're always uncorking wines that are new to us - mostly brand-spanking new additions, but occasionally new vintages of wines we're just as (if not more so?!) excited to share in their latest versions of themselves. These wines are carefully chosen. Very carefully chosen. (See our "Day in the Life of a Wine Buyer" episode on French Oak TV for the 'behind the scenes' on wine buying at BSFW!)
Our enthusiasm for finding exceptional wines at all price points has mandated we convert over our "Seasonal Picks" display section (in the upright wine boxes near the cigar case) into a "NEW ARRIVALS" Zone. We can only taste so many wines on Friday night to keep things humming along at a reasonable pace. So use this expanded selection to keep your wheels turning any day of the week!
Meanwhile, you may have noticed Joe continues to expand our GOURMET offerings. Truffle infused honey, Lavazza cofee, fancy German breads, stellar seafood from Captain Dave's down on the Cape.... His list of new arrivals is always evolving. Never hesitate to peruse every nook and cranny of our shop to discover Joe's latest additions. (He's also gifted at finding creative ways to expand - without Chris having to tear down another wall for more real estate.)
Of course it's hard to forget our deepening CRAFT BEER SELECTION. Beer Buyer John Drislane is ever pushing the envelope - including rearranging the cooler in order to unleash a new Cider door and give our domestic craft brew section a bit more elbow room. He will not stop innovating, networking and pounding the pavement to make BSFW Greater Boston's go-to for craft beer. Period.
Like Us on Facebook and/or Follow Us on Twitter. These accessible platforms continue to provide the real-time capacity to alert you to what's just landed at 716 Broadway - and when there might be a limited item you might want to scoop up!