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.
This year in particular has been a fun one in the sparkler-sphere. I've had more than one reason to celebrate - and have to admit, many more seemed to emerge out of thin air as Dan and I continued to find sparkling wines that were unique AND affordable. Long story-of-2011-bubbly short, while I'd never turn down an opportunity to enjoy a few gorgeous Champagnes (that is, from the Mothership of Champagne, France itself) if you travel outside this elite sparkling region you can find some real (delicious!) values.
Now of course, when it comes to the traditional time of year to pop a few corks (namely New Year's Eve), we're super psyched to have several of these options available for you to choose from before you head over to your friend's to toast a happy, healthy and memorable 2012. Here are a few that have caught my fancy in particular (I hope you're ready for this, because these are some seriously killer wines!):
Finca Flichman Extra Brut ~ Malbec is the sure-fire winning grape of 2011. But we wine nerds can't forecast a reason to make a change in 2012! This trend has every right to carry on with gusto, particularly when we can also find it in an everyday celebratory (and affordable) package. Finca Flichman serves up a pretty bubbly, with terrific florals, snappy cherry and even a dash of blueberry and black raspberry fruits on the palate. This dry, redish sparkler (a blend of Chardonnay and Malbec) certainly intrigues and delights every sip of the way. And yes, for $9.99 it over delivers on quality!
Dom. Collin Cremant de Limoux ~ This is a sparkling wine (aka Cremant) with pedigree and pizazz from the Loire Valley of France. The pedigree part is that they man behind the magic has a Champagne project, but he thought it would be fun to dabble in the Loire as well. A blend of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (two of the three grapes permitted in Champagne) with a little Loire-tastic Chenin Blanc thrown in for good measure, the winemaking behind the wine ensures a toasty, brioche-like flavor and texture to the wine. Tiny bubbles deliver clean fruit notes (apple, lemon pith and pear) a touch of bitter almond, plus a whopping of cleansing mineral notes bringing the dry finish all the way home. Take this bad boy home for only $13.99. A party-pleaser for sure!
Selim Spumante Brut NV ~ This is perhaps the rarest sparkler I've ever encountered. Hailing from Campania, Italy it is no Prosecco – rather it is a blend of three grapes, one white (Fiano) and two reds (Aglianico and Barbera). Such a blend delivers a white sparkler with an intriguing and delicious flavor profile and texture: its smooth mousse offers up pink roses and lemon curd aromas and then delivers lifted, delightfully nuanced flavors including citrus, raspberries and bing cherries. A touch of talc provides a welcome and balancing minerality. Selim is a complex yet approachably delicious crowd pleaser for any occasion. Grab a bottle and discover what I'm so excited about! $20.99
Oriel "365" Prosecco NV ~ If you want something that offers a little something more in the traditional Italian sparkler-sphere, Oriel has just the thing. Their idea is to bring you an affordable Prosecco vehicle that is affordable enough you can enjoy bubbles ALL YEAR LONG, as Prosecco should be. (And yes, to answer your question, Prosecco is an Italian sparkler made from grapes of the same name.) This not-so-simple, but oh-so-satisfying, lightly moussed wine with ample pear, lemon cream and yellow apple fruit takes a familiar experience up a notch. $17.99
Domaine Rolet Cremant du Jura Brut 2007 ~ For a non-Champagne sparkler, even with such great competition found this year in the marketplace, this wine might be the go-to Show Stopper for a pseudo Champagne. An offering from the off-the-beaten-track of Jura, France, this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, the indigenous Savagnin, and Pinot Noir. It has a luscious, rich texture yet fine bubbles and clean fruit. Specifically, quince and honeydew melon flavors offer a nice balance of tart/clean and savory/fleshy. A tangerine zip of acidity delights to no end. This bugger comes in just under $20 at $19.99. Happiness!
If you aren't on the bubbly bandwagon just yet, this is the weekend to jump on. Grab something fun and live it up! But please, have a safe, happy and healthy New Year!
Thanksgiving is a blast, and our food department was hit especially hard. This may seem at first like bad news, but actually the opposite is true. All that empty space means I had the chance to pack the place to bursting with a wide assortment of new, fresh items, just in time for the holidays. Please allow me to take this opportunity to go over some of them here. I'll try to be brief and succinct, but you'll have to forgive me if I get a bit carried away. I do love me some gourmet food, and I'm pretty excited about our newest offerings.
Both of our self serve refrigerators and our fresh cheese cabinet are packed full of goodies. Some of my favorites are the majestic Eppoisses from Burgundy, France. This triple creme cheese has a rind washed in brandy, giving it a hedonistic walnut and caramel note. A holiday classic available now through January or so. Price for this item tends to vary from year to year, but at $15.99 it's on the low end. Also just in are blue Stilton wedges from England, a Winter classic with walnuts and your favorite port; White Stilton discs with Cranberry, Apricot or mango are a family favorite; Tillamook cheddar with smoked black peppercorns for the spice lovers among you, and for the truly fearless, real German Limburger...yes Limburger, the stinky stuff.
But that's far, far from all we've got up our sleeve. We now offer a selection of cured meats, salami, even marinated steak tips, lamb in a Greek marinade, and customer favorite honey mustard turkey tips. Aidell's chicken sausages have been a big hit. They're pre-cooked, so simply heat and serve. Paired with a salad and your favorite wine, it's a quick and easy meal. Available in chicken and apple, garlic and gruyere, Italian style with mozzarella, or triyaki pineapple meatballs. All four flavors will be on deck for tasting at this week's wine tasting, so come hungry.
And if it's dinner your after, we've also got a line of hand made pastas by Cara Nonna, Don Pomodoro tomato sauces from Italy, marinated eggplant, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers, canned sardines, and a selection of fine olive oils and vinegars. In a pinch, we've even got Millie's instant soups in vegetable barley, minestrone, five bean, and vegetable rice. Bonnie's Jams from Cambridge continue to be a hit, and we've augmented them with Marcona almond butter, Greek honey, and Nutella! I call it our gourmet pb&j section.
Of course, nothing says holidays like sweets, and we have plenty. Chocolate bars from all around filled with all sorts of exotic things, things like lavender, pear, grilled almonds, hot masala, and even bacon. Of course, Somerville's own Taza chocolate is well represented. Cookies from Germany, Lazzaroni amaretti from Italy, and of course, our constant supply of fresh home made baklava courtesy of Chris' mom.
So stop by and have a look. We're always happy to chat with our customers, and if you don't see something you like, I'm always open to suggestions.
Come hungry, leave happy!
Have you heard the rumor that Pinot Noir is the grape that pairs best with Thanksgiving dinner? All of those lovely earth tones, savory cranberry and cherry fruit flavors that Pinot Noir is best known for certainly make sense when paired with the earthy greens, yams and cranberry sauce that adorn your table top. And then there's the lighter body (which mitigate the heavy, filling meal) and terrific, food-loving acidity that lifts you through the hours of consumption.
Yes, I'll likely have a bottle of Pinot in my own trajectory of wine enjoyment this Thanksgiving. But it will be one of a few options. Because the REAL fun about Thanksgiving wine selection is that the world is your oyster!
This particular American holiday is something we at Ball Square Fine Wines (with our "discover the vine less traveled" motto) embrace. The eclectic nature of the culinary beast means you can pair a wine with a particular side dish (sure, it's ok to ignore the turkey if you prefer as, let's face it, more often than not it comes out a bit one note compared to all of the other options on the menu). Or, you can 'travel' to a wine region you just enjoy sampling from; or you can choose another high acid, lighter bodied red wine (like French Gamay (e.g. Beaujolais) or Italian Sciava or Montepulciano or Nebbiolo or Austrian Zweigelt...) to keep things from getting too heavy. Or you can choose a white (Pinot Gris, Riesling, Mueller Thurgau, anyone?) or a rose or sparkling wine to celebrate (I'll have at least one in each of those categories on offer, myself)!
Bottom line: It'll be hard to mess it up.
If you're worried anyway or if you want help narrowing the playing field, stop on in! Chat with us about what makes you or your host tick and we'll set you on your way with something to slake your thirst.
Need accoutrements? Joe's bringing the thunder in the Gourmet Department. And it's a safe bet our resident Beer Geeks have something for the Game in the coooler....
Cheers to a safe, fulfilling, Happy Thanksgiving!
The Craft Beer Rennaisance has spawned many things. Two notable creations are critics, and what they deem as trends. I love when these style trends stick around and prove many wrong, especially when the style challenges the Craft Beer enthusiast. Heavily hopped beers were supposed to be a phase, barrel aged beers were supposed to be a phase, sour beers were supposed to be a phase, and the session movement is supposedly a phase. We here at Ball Square Fine Wines respectfully disagree.
Session beers prove that the true lovers of Craft Beer are in it for the taste. Though the definition is loose, session beers are meant to be enjoyed in quantity, and should thusly be lower than 5% in alcohol. Many breweries have created a session beer or two, but Chris Lohring of Notch Brewing in Ipswich has created an entire brand based on them.
Both Notch six packs (Ale & Pils) are solid, and a great selection for a local six pack, but Lohring's 22oz releases are truly spectacular. BSA Harvest is the latest release, and is unfortunately available for a limited time only. BSA refers to Brewers Supporting Agriculture; a movement to drive the sustainability and locality of brewing beer. Through Valley Malt in Hadley, MA, BSA Harvest was brewed with Massachusetts grown grain only.
From a staggering amalgamation of barley, wheat, rye, three types of distinctly American hops, and a Belgian Saison yeast strain, BSA has gobs of complexity. An intriguing duality between two spicy components plays well on the tongue; seems like rye and saison get along quite well. Despite the high Alpha and Beta Acid content in the hops used, this beer is anything but bitter. That aids BSA to achieve a delicate dryness in the finish, rounding out the light-to-medium body of the beer.
Yellow fruit and cedar combine with a malt character unlike any other. This pronounced cereal grain flavor is almost unrefined, rustic and seems to achieve an effortless "from the earth" type of taste compound. I feel like I am experiencing the beginning of Massachusetts Beer Terroir, and it's delicious.
All things considered, BSA is an overall focused and singular beer. Without any conflicting or dueling components, you are able to experience all its character at once. Normally these qualities are only achieved with dense, rich high alcohol beers. BSA clocks in at a glorious 4.4%abv, and at a surprisingly low cost.
The best beers in the world come from Belgium. I (Nathan Kruback) say this with confidence knowing full well that great beer can be and is brewed all over the world. From this opinion, I invite you to sample what I believe to be one of the finest offerings from a country full of fine offerings.
The Cistercian sect of nuns and monks live all around the globe, but a select few monks call Belgium home. Among the six Trappist monasteries brewing beer in Belgium, the youngest and smallest is Achel, of which one shining example stands out.
Achel's Extra Bruin is magic in a bottle. Achieving a beguiling blend of cohesion and complexity, Extra's ingredients are shockingly simple. Combining only Pilsner and Chocolate Malt in the mash, a hearty dose of Belgian Candi Sugar added during the boil aids an aggressive fermentation and a higher alcohol content.
With one of the highest pressure contents available, Extra's carbonation is more similar to a Champagne's than most beers. This unique ability to scrub one's palate aids the pairing of rich creamy cheeses, exposing all available taste buds. Additionally, the consistent production of bubbles saturates your olfactory bulb with gobs of dark fruit rich phenolics.
Extra's flavor profile is exquisite to say the least. An apparent exposure of its very base ingredients is notable, with rustic grain husk and biscuit malt right up front. The high temperature reached during fermentation coaxes a dense concentration of fruit, with melon, plum and a faint Concord grape character all present. Beneath this guise, a gentle cocoa and coffee quality lurk far below.
With the production of this beer being so low, and the supply of Achel spotty at best, we recommend trying this hidden gem soon, as the weather turns cooler.
Those of you who have been with us for a while know that we're always doing our best to get better here at Ball Square Fine Wines. We've been through a lot of changes in the last few years, not the least of which has been the expansion of our Gourmet Food department. What started out as a small grab and go case offering a few well chosen snacks has blossomed into a full grown food section, and we keep getting bigger. In additon to our usual selection of munchies, may we offer you...dinner?
Yes, dinner. Perhaps our most exciting new addition is a selection of marinated meats from Dom's Sausage Co. of nearby Malden, MA. We offer two types of steak tips, honey mustard turkey tips, and lemon pepper chicken breast, all marinated in Dom's own homemade dressings. Vacuum sealed in 1.5 lbs. packages, they're ready to cook. Simply broil, bake, or for a real treat, grill them, and you're dinner is all but done. They're moist and delicious, and make a real meal easy and accessible quickly on those nights when time is tight. Don't forget the wine....oh wait, we have that too!
We've also got a small but well chosen selection of cured meats, pates and smoked salmon as well. Chorizo and Jamon Serrano from Spain, fine domestic prosciutto, pancetta or speck from artisan producer La Quercia of Iowa, or smoke Scottish salmon from Echo Falls don't even require any preperation. Simply unwrap and enjoy with your favorite cheese and a fresh baguette from Iggy's of Cambridge.
But it's not all meat and fish we're excited about these days. We've recently brought in gluten free pasta, locally made jams and jellies, and a wide range of fine chocolate bars. Coming soon, we'll have a line of vegan mousse pates as dense and rich as any liver mousse, and stay tuned for a bit of organic produce. There's always something new and delicious to try here, and I'm always glad to chat with you about what we have or any suggestions you may have.
We talked about it for months...we told you it would happen. Then one day, a big new fridge showed up in the middle of the store, but still it remained dormant.
Well, all that is changing! The fridge is cold, the lights are on, and a terrific selection of new gourmet goodies will be making its way into the shop, slowly but surely.
Some of these items are already here. We now carry a variety of smoked salmon from Echo Falls. Oakwood smoked Scottish or Alaskan Coho are of course classic with bagels and cream cheese, but don't forget that they make a great appetizer simply laid out on a plate. For something a little zestier, try the 4 oz. chunk encrusted with black peppercorns. For the wine geeks, what could be a more versatile food than smoked salmon? Go classic and pair it with a rich white Burgundy, or new world Pinot Gris. Amp it up with one of our wide selection of roses. If you're so inclined, a Pinot Noir or earthy Spanish red will do the trick too. Remember, it may be fish, but it's oily and smoky, a perfect mate for the right red.
Also just in are Spanish Chorizo and Jamon Serrano, in pre-sliced 8oz. packages, as well as prosciutto and mozzarella "rotolini", with Prosciutto and Speck on the way soon. Our chorizo is dry and spicy, piquant and zippy. Jamon Serrano, if you're not familiar with it, is Spain's ancient counterpart to Italian prosciutto. This air cured ham is robust and earthy with a pleasing sweetness. Sliced paper-thin and ready to eat, either one makes a great antipasto (or quick dinner) with one of our Iggy's baguettes, firm hard cheese, olives, and marcona almonds...all of which we have, of course. Pair it with a grippy, rustic red or a pitcher of your own magic Sangria recipe and you're set. The rotolini go with anything. Seriously, they're just that delicious. Trust me.
And remember, this is only just the beginning. We'll be adding ready-to-cook marinated meats, a small selection of local organic produce, and of course a wider variety of cheeses to our arsenal in the coming weeks, so come check us out. I'm always glad to chat about this stuff, and I welcome your comments and suggestions.
See You Soon,
Joe Ferraro, gourmet food buyer
"On the road again... Just can't wait 'til I get on the road again..."
Exploring wine country first hand is certainly a luxury. It affords a truly unique opportunity to discover the vine less traveled (as we say), and uncover the "truth" behind what's in the bottle. As a tiny shop, it can be harder than you might think for us to get away. So when we do, the experience is perhaps that much more savory.
Last week I had the very special opportunity to attend Oregon Pinot Camp (OPC) 2011, an annual, but trade and invite-only conference out in the Willamette Valley. That's (said) Willamette, damn it! and about an hour south of Portland, Oregon, where (arguably) the country's finest Pinot Noir wines are made.
The goal of the conference? To bring together an exclusive group of pros from the restaurant and retail wine biz (250 or so of us from around the globe) to learn more about the area and why great Pinot Noir is made there. OPC organizers also (smartly) provide a great opportunity to explore "The Great American Whites", Oregon style, which may go more routinely overlooked, simply because Pinot Noir is the young region's claim to fame. I last visited the region (a personal trek) in 2005 and was THRILLED to receive the nod of my peers to go back and delve further into this great wine producing region.
My personal adventure began a bit further south of the Willamette - 5+ hours south, though still in Oregon - at Foris Vineyards. Foris invited me and 11 others from across the country to come in advance of Camp and explore what southern Oregon wine country has to offer. Dan and I have worked with Foris' wines in the past (and in particular their Muscat frizzante), so I was happy to meet the owners, Ted and his wife Terri, winemaker Bryan and his sidekick Steve and the rest of the gang. They are salt of the earth people, with tremendous vision; I was lucky to start my trip with them and whet my whistle and appetite for Rogue Valley wines. (You can find the Muscat Frizzante behind door number 12 in the cooler!)
The next morning we were up bright and early to travel to Camp. The three of us in my mini-party enjoyed a late "lunch" on Willamette Chardonnay and Crab, hosted at Argyle and further attended by folks like Chahalem, Ponzi, and Domaine Drouhin Oregon. What a way to begin! Soon enough we were checked in to our hotel and being shuttled (in yellow school buses) to the opening "games". All 50 participating OPC 2011 wineries - an elite bunch - offered two wines to introduce campers to their latest releases while we 'snacked' on incredibly fresh and satisfying local fare. (This general foodie/wine tasting theme happily presented itself throughout the trip.)
The next two days were a whirlwind of tasting, sharing, comparing and learning - each ending with a large-format tasting reception and dinner (dancing optional). I had dinner alongside Veronique Drouhin-Boss, tromped through soil pits at Penner Ash, discovered the "multiple personalities of Pinot Noir" with Joe Dobbes during a winemaker-led, blind tasting workshop that delved into questions of vintage variation and the range of styles that exist, learned more about biodynamics/organics, and farming for quality at Elk Cove and enjoyed a panel discussion about Oregon whites at Torii Mor. Camp was interactive bliss.
Long, love story short, my affair with Oregon wines will continue. And in the coming months in particular, it will continue with Anne Amie (best in show, best QPR - and the 2010 Mueller Thurgau you loved so much is back on the shelf!) specifically, but also as I seek out and enjoy the area's 2010 whites that are coming to market now. They are spectacular, consistently delicious, vibrant, edgy, expressive wines - from Riesling to Pinot Blanc to Pinot Gris (Chard still hasn't quite won me over wholeheartedly, though Chehalem is a strong exception). These whites will certainly tide me over this summer and early fall as the immature 2009 Pinot Noirs enter the market; these wines are not yet at their best and will continue to evolve into the ideal versions of themselves in the years to come. I encourage you to wait with me - and enjoy as many 2007s as you can find in the meantime. Like good Burgundy, these red wines will be worth the wait!
A big thanks to all of the OPC organizers and the many attendees, new friends, who made the experience so memorable.
We saw several familiar faces (hi, neighbor!) and many, many new ones in the crowds at last night's Taste of Somerville - a real treat this year, we have to admit.
It's not often we have the occasion to participate in an off-site, community-focused event. (Being so small an outfit, it's hard for us to get away.) But we jump at the chance to celebrate some of the finest establishments in our fine city, the most densely populated one in New England, each June at Taste (always on a Tuesday night).
This year's event happened to fall on the heels of the Boston Globe's recent article about how magical Cambridge is (compared to Boston) when it comes to fine establishments. We posted on our Facebook page our thoughts that here in Somerville we're strutting some important stuff, too. After last night's soiree, we feel even more strongly this is the case - and "Camberville" certainly is a unique place in Middlesex County.
What are some of your favorite Somerville spots? Do you stay local to Ball Square or do you venture to Union, Davis, Teele and beyond?
Along with the screw-cap closure, boxed wine is attempting to overcome the stigma of being associated with lower quality, mass produced wines that only previous generations could embrace. In the past decade wines of real quality have begun to appear in the "bag in a box" format forcing wine curious consumers to ask - "Could boxed wine really be for me?".
In my opinion the answer should be: "Sometimes".
Having tasted a number of more than satisfactory bag in a box wines I can attest that the quality/dollar ratio can be very attractive. Most boxed wines are 3 litres, which is the equivalent of four bottles of wine. Ball Square's highest price tier for these wines is $19.99 making the per bottle price a measly $5. Add to that the fact that, once opened, a box wine stays fresh for up to three weeks and you've got yourself a handy-dandy, at home "by the glass" program.
Other upsides include:
-The eco-friendly nature of the packaging (some estimates show the 3L box using significantly less carbon to produce and ship than a single 750ml bottle).
-Ease of transport and lack of glass making them perfect for boats, beaches and camping.
On the other hand....
-If you like to try different wines you'll have less flexibility. Remember you're buying 4 bottles not just one. Also, if you don't like it you're stuck with it.
-Overall selection. Obviously there are tens for thousands more individual wines produced in bottle compared to box. BSFW usually has about 15-25 bag in box selections on hand.
-The clock is ticking. Unopened bag in box wines are only good for about six months to a year so don't "stock up". Some boxes have "freshest by" dates on them.
The bottom line is that boxed wines have a time and a place for appropriate usage. They can be a practical and affordable weapon in your arsenal of wine buying options that can stretch your buying dollar and add a new level of convenient consumption.
Here are some recent additions to our 3 litre bag in a box selection that are worth considering. (All are priced at $19.99):
Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc ~ New Zealand
Big House "Cardinal Zin" Zinfandel ~ California
Uncle Charles Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon ~ France
Vina Borgia Garnacha ~ Spain