In recent months I have renewed an old interest in photography. This happened after having developed my friend Adrian Hlynka’s new photography website, Images By Adrian, a self-hosted WordPress site. You could say that having immersed myself for several months showcasing his passionate interest, it has reawakened my own.
I purchased a new Interchangeable Lens Camera from Amazon, the Olympus PEN E-PL1. The camera was quite discounted because there have already been 2 iterations of redesigns since it was originally released in 2010, namely the E-PL2 and E-PL3. The camera is an upgrade from my 10 year old Olympus point-and-shoot,which I have since sold on Craigslist. The camera is a Micro Four Thirds model with a decently large sized image sensor, and a well-reviewed JPG engine.
Since buying the camera in the Spring I have taken many, MANY pictures of lovely local flowers, and some neat images from a July 4th excursion into Independence Day festivities in Boston.
On July 21 my friend Adrian and I visited The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA. For me this was an exercise in large insect macro photography. Since the Butterfly Place is an enclosed space, the lovely “flying candies” (description courtesy of Helene Cahen of Hélène’s Stables of Groton, MA) were captive subjects. However, they do like to fly off when you move suddenly towards them.
Especially elusive are the gorgeous Blue Morpho butterflies whose wings are iridescent blue on top and multi-patterned underneath. They sort of dive bomb all about the people visiting the Place, flashing their fantastic blue wings, and rarely lighting more than a instant.
I think we visited there for about an hour and a half. Inside is heated to about 85 degrees Fahrenheit for the comfort of the butterflies, a temperature boosted more by the body heat of what must have been at least 50 people in the smallish enclosed space. I tried pretty earnestly to capture as many in my camera as possible, all in the camera’s Nature Macro mode, usually using built-in flash, and I think I succeeded, limited only by my own lack of experience and the capabilities of my camera and its kit lens.
Post-processing the images in Picasa and/or PhotoImpression was rather a blast. The camera’s JPG engine was so good that usually all that needed to be done was cropping and the occasional sharpening.
All the images from that day are in my Flickr account in the Set called Butterfly Place.
For my next major photographic excursion, I believe an autumn leaf-peeping trip to the White Mountains, NH is in order!
Lately I had the pleasure of sampling a bottle of the 2009 LAURENZ V. “und Sophie” Singing Grüner Veltliner Austria. This Grüner is made by a longtime Austrian winemaking family Lenz Moser currently headed up by Dr. Laurenz (Lenz) Moser III. For quick information about these multi-generational Austrian winemakers, please read their amusing online cheat sheet.
This white wine, which retails for approximately $15, is made from 100% Grüner Veltliner grapes. Grüner Veltliner is Austria’s best-known and most popular indigenous winemaking grape. This particular wine is made from fruit in the Niederösterreich appellation, specifically within Kremstal and Weinviertel sub-appellations. According to the above-mentioned cheat sheet, the grape is related to (Gewurz)Traminer but native only to Austria.
I found much to love about this wine. The wine has a simple westernized looking label and arrives under screw cap. The “Laurenz V.” part of the naming refers to the fifth generation (“V”) of Mosers to be making wine. The “und Sophie” part of the name is in honor of Dr. Moser’s daughter Sophie, born in 1991.
I shared this wine chilled with 2 friends over a seafood dinner and it took very, very little time to polish off. Grüner offers not a heck of a lot on the nose, especially chilled, but on the palate this is simply delicious and oh-so-refreshing on these hot summer days. There is a lively tongue-tickling acidity, almost to the point of frizzante, which adds to the citrus-y and floral light-bodied refreshment of this particular beverage. At 12% ABV, it is well-balanced and offers just a touch of biting pepperiness for added interest.
In closing, I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend this fine effort with practically any cuisine (except perhaps goulash, if their web site is to be believed).
I got word yesterday that Pete Quaife, the first bass player for the Kinks, has passed away. He was a great guy who seemed to me to really know how to enjoy life. I’d say RIP, but I don’t really believe in the after-life, so. I was lucky enough to meet Pete in the fall of 2002 in a crazy mission with a friend so make some sort of Kinks documentary whose theme was… I don’t actually remember… but Pete actually let us interview him on video and even crash in his home for a night.
My friend lived in Toronto, Canada near where Pete was living with his then wife Hanne and their 2 non-intimidating, friendly German Shepherds. She had purchased some sort of professional video camera, but we didn’t know enough to bring professional lighting with us, so the whole video was just not usable as it was fatally under-exposed. So what we gained was fond memories and a few stills.
Anyway, we drove up there into rural Belleville, Ontario and squealed with girlish (middle-aged) fan excitement as we pulled into the driveway of his modest house. We had prepared some questions and brought wine to loosen inhibitions (mostly ours).
What I do remember mostly was how cheeky and funny Pete was. And so very charming. I had brought some sort of Kinks illustrated book with me and Pete annotated many of the pics with clever and/or bawdy little drawings and captions, as he was an artist by training. He did regale us with some Kinks tales most of which are too embarrassing/revealing to relate publicly but I was so impressed with how much of a soul-mate he considered brother Dave Davies of the Kinks to be, and how exasperated yet awed by the talent of brother Ray Davies he was. I emailed to Dave Davies this list of funny tales, and Dave replied that Pete likes to be dramatic and to embellish the truth a bit. Pete was at that time doing dialysis treatment 4x a week, kidney failure brought on by chronic, (perhaps untreated?) high blood pressure. He played his acoustic guitar for us, and showed my friend his famous bass riff from “Wicked Annabella”. One scary anecdote I can relate:
“Brush With Death”
Ca 1964: Kinks attend party in home of small-time music promoter in northern Illinois. Host seems to be after young Dave all evening. Party mainly attended by young men. Noticing that party is totally lacking in female guests, Kinks decide to split. Group later finds out identity of solicitous host: JOHN WAYNE GACY.
I later fell out with Toronto friend due to some foolishness from me that I don’t want to think about but I understand she has found happiness, and I’m glad. Actually, Hanne and Pete had an acrimonious parting of ways soon after our interview. But they seemed devoted at the time, and obviously very gracious to host 2 crazy but well-intentioned Kinks fans.
Here are some scans from my book.
There are lot of great wine shops in the metro Boston area, but none get a higher percentage of my wine spend than the Hingham Wine Merchant. Here’s why:
Dick, Duncan, and Sean apply two rounds of sorting on the wines they carry. First, they survey their past experience with respected producers and consult wine publications to find candidate wines. Next, the taste through the wines. Lots of them. Finally, they connect the dots between price and quality to find value. If it doesn’t pass through their filter, it’s not in the shop. As a result, there is no “fat” in the store. If it’s not good- they don’t carry it.
As an example, I remember the first time I went along with one of their suggestions without prior knowledge of the wine. I asked for a nice bottle of Australian Shiraz- I think I asked for Two Hands or some similar name that’s perennially scored highly by Wine Spectator. Dick suggested a 2005 John Duval Entity that was available at a great price. When I got home and checked the Spectator rating I was pleasantly surprised to see the wine received 94 points. Brilliant! Better yet, when I cracked it open I thought it was fantastic. It was one of the few times I’ve bought a wine with such a high rating without specifically seeking it out, and it went a long way towards earning my trust for future purchases.
First Class Events
These guys know how to throw a party. Their events bring together:
- Really high end wines from the most important wine regions
- Ample amounts of really good food
- Elegant ambiance- usually at an interesting location on the South Shore
Attending one of their tastings truly feels like a night on the town; a special occasion. At the end of the event, just drop your order form off and pick your wines up a week or two later. It couldn’t be easier.
Kids’ Play Area
I don’t think I’ve seen another wine shop anywhere that has a kids’ play area. What could be better than a safe environment to keep the little ones happy while you’re making your wine selections? My 4-year-old *loves* a trip to the Wine Merchant, and I don’t blame him. Coloring books, puzzles, cartoons, Hot Wheels and more. Bring the whole family!
Check ’em out:Hingham Wine Merchant 74 North St
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will focus on Boston-area wine stores and some reasons why each is a great place to shop for wine. I will be cross-posting to Bob Dwyer’s wine blog The Wellesley Wine Press so we can cover the greater Boston area in our respective blogs.
Groton Market, located on Route 119 (Great Road) in Groton, MA, is a great little wine shop for the following reasons:
Careful Selection of Quality Wines
The store has a good selection of wines, mostly from small producers, from most of the more popular wine producing regions, and quite often with good ratings from International Wine Cellar, Wine Spectator, or Wine Advocate, which are helpfully posted. As a consumer, I like that information posted clearly.
Thoughtful Selection of Price Points and Sale Items
The store features at various price points 2-Fer sale bins, Featured White Wines, Featured Red Wines, items on sale on End Caps, and regular sale items in inventory. I assume the 2-Fer sale bins are the most popular with most consumers, but even the cheapest offerings there that are 2-For $12.99 represent good quality.
How many wine shops do you know that will accept returns? This shop accepts returns on opened or unopened bottles, if you are unhappy.
Friendly and Helpful Staff
I always have a nice time chatting with J.P., owner John, and the other people who work there. They also know their inventory, and their stuff. Quite often there is a bottle open to taste.
Proximity to Filho’s Cucina
The shop is actually attached to and flows through to a very nice Italian restaurant called Filho’s Cucina, which conveniently has a BYOB policy. The shop is also attractively airy and sunny, and although small, doesn’t feel too cramped.
I also want to mention that the shop has a very good selection of craft beers, although that is not really my bag.Groton Market 235 Main Street Groton, MA 01450 (978) 448-6387
This month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday theme is Wines of Piedmont, Italy and is hosted by David McDuff and his excellent blog, McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail. This is a great theme as there are really a great variety of interesting wines, some very well known and some not so well known, available from this north-west region of Italy. Just a quick perusal of my wine book Wines of the World (Eyewitness Companions) which is handily arranged by country and region leads me to consider some of my options: Barolo and Barbaresco (Nebbiolo), Barbera, Dolcetto, Gavi (Cortese), Moscato (still and sparkling), Arnies, Asti (sparkling), to name a few of the well-known offerings.
I chose for this assignment an affordable ($11.99) wine from producer G.D. Vajra, the 2007 Langhe Rosso, Langhe D.O.C. appellation, purchased from Groton Market. Groton Market has a relatively rich selection of Italian wines from small producers as they work with New England importer Adonna Imports, as do a number of fine wine stores in the Boston area.
This is the newest vintage of this blended red wine from G.D. Vajra. Each vintage represents an entirely different blend of grapes from the vineyards under the pervue of this producer in different areas, and as such has to be labeled Langhe D.O.C. It was difficult for me to find out exactly what is in this wine as the G.D. Vajra web site is quite… larval. I found a reference to this 2007 vintage on the website of Cambridge, MA gourmet food & wine store Formaggio Kitchen, here. This blend according to this writeup is composed of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa and Merlot (not sure of percentages). There is a nice writeup of G.D. Vajra in a web site devoted to producers of Barolo, here. This is an great writeup of the 2006 vintage of this Rosso and other wines on… McDuff’s Food & Wine Trail (hi, David!), here. This is apparently a great Piedmont producer.
I don’t have a lot of experience drinking wines from Piedmont. A few weeks ago I did enjoy a Nebbiolo varietal wine from producer Vietti quite a bit. This Rosso from G.D. Vajra has some Nebbiolo so I expect to detect the famous ‘tar and roses’ from that varietal. Tasting notes – color is a lovely mid-raspberry, would make a fantastic lipstick color. Body is light-medium. On the nose are wafts of woodiness, perfume and sour cherry and… roses? The mouthfeel is pleasantly sour-acidic mouthfilling while maintaining some roundness. The finish is good and reminds of red licorice. I do like it quite a bit. It is light and somewhat refined and would probably go with a variety of foods as is not too alcoholic (13.5% ABV). Not a powerhouse, but well-made. So, this is a great WBW theme. We could probably have a Piedmont WBW every month and be able to post about different great wines for years if we were so inclined!
UPDATE March 21, 2014
Anna from G.D. Vajra has helpfully pointed me to their new beautiful web site and the fact sheet for this wine which lists the grape varieties blended into this wine: Nebbiolo, Dolcetto, Barbera, Albarossa, Freisa, and Pinot Noir.
I had an interesting and mostly fun time last weekend at the 2009 Boston Wine Expo. I volunteered both days taking tickets at wine seminars (classes). When you volunteer at the Expo, in exchange they give you 2 free tickets to the Grand Tasting (value $85 each) for each volunteer shift. So I received 2 x 2 = 4 free tickets for my volunteering and was able to give these 4 tickets to friends to enjoy the Expo.
The first day volunteering was quite well-organized and I received my assignments when I arrived. I took tickets at the following seminars: Champagne Brunch, Rioja and Jerez: Spain’s Wine Royalty, and 2005 Bordeaux ‘The Greatest Vintage Ever!’. A problem with collecting tickets at the seminars is that you often have to leave halfway through the seminar to collect tickets at the next seminar. This was the case the the Rioja and Jerez seminar hosted by the very energetic Doug Frost. I was super enjoying his talk about the history of Spanish wines when I had to get up and leave. Ah, well.
But then I was able to participate in the 2005 Bordeaux seminar hosted by the Bordeaux négociant house Aquitaine Wine Company. This company specializes in distributing wines from less-famous, under-the-radar, more-affordable Bordeaux chateaux. Co-owner Margaret Calvet presented, and available to taste from her company were 18 wines, some quite fine, a very generous tasting. In fact, the class got a bit rowdy after a while, and I actually had to tell a group of 4 women to pipe down as they were partying too hardy.
There were 2 great after-Expo parties but I didn’t attend either of these as I knew I needed to catch the 7:09AM train Sunday morning, as I needed to be back into Boston for a 10:15AM seminar. It turned out I didn’t even have to collect the tickets for that seminar as it was free to the trade only. Argh. However, it turn out to be a super interesting seminar about Biodynamic Agriculture given by Montinore Estate (Willamette Valley, Oregon) winemaker Rudy Marchesi. Mr. Marchesi stressed that he uses biodynamic methods in his vineyards because they work, not because it’s his pagan religion. He stated that, yes, plants have feelings, which I hadn’t heard since the talk from Olivier Humbrecht at Gordon’s last year. When you listen to biodynamic adherents explaining their methods and the results, it’s so clear to me that this is the way to grow happy vines.
I caught a cold or virus from any of 10,000 (?) people but am getting over it now. Also I believe spending so much time running between the World Trade Center and the Seaport hotel in sub-freezing, near zero degrees F weather and generally being nerved up impacted my immune system somewhat.
I saw wine wunderkind and gadfly Gary Vaynerchuk at the Wine Library booth on Sunday and he gave me a t-shirt. He was his usual ebullient, friendly self. I also remembered him mentioning in passing on a WLTV episode that ‘Gary’ is not his actual first name. His real (Russian) name starts with a G and ends with a Y, but is not Gary. Can you guess what it is? First person to guess correctly in a comment will receive a copy of Al Franken’s book The Truth (with jokes) if you want it.
On Sunday with my Press Pass I was able to taste a few wines at the Grand Tasting with my friends. I paid special attention to wines of Greece and wines of New York state. I was curious to taste Retsina again, having experienced the pine-resin influenced Greek wine in the past and found it to be pretty much not palatable. At the Expo, I tasted Retsina from maker Achaia Clauss which was created purely for export to American market, with MUCH less pine-resin influence.
I tasted some great wines from New York state from Dr. Konstantin Frank, including the exotic Rkatsiteli, which is as delicious as it is unusual.
It’s with pleasure that I post here that my blog, Bloviatrix, has been added to the Wine Alltop web site which lists top wine blogs in the wine blogosphere. I’m not totally sure what the definition of a ‘top’ wine blog is, but I am grateful for the addition. I do recognize many great wine blogs listed there that I do read regularly – check out my wine blog Blogroll. This will give me impetus to post more regularly, which I know is an important quality of any good blog.
Joe Roberts, the 1WineDude, has published a handy primer for those interested in learning how to experience wine like a Wine Geek, that is, for maximal mindfulness and enjoyment. It is called How to Taste Like a Wine Geek. It is useful for novices and also for more experienced wine enthusiasts who want to take a more systematic approach to experiencing wine. If I were teaching a class on wine appreciation, it would be a fine accompaniment/teaching tool. It is 42 pages long and available for the nominal fee of $7.95 in .PDF form and you can purchase it on the 1WineDude site or you can even order it here and use your Paypal account: (Full disclosure – I receive an affiliate percentage of each copy ordered below).
The guide is visually elegant and uncluttered and has really neat wine-related quotes on most pages. Joe, who has attained the Certified Specialist of Wine qualification from the U.S.-based Society of Wine Educators, among other qualifications, has distilled a great deal of wine education and experience into these 42 pages. He covers sniffing, swirling, swishing, slurping, the finish, as well as other aspects of wine appreciation not having to do with physically tasting, such as how to build your wine tasting vocabulary. All in all, a neat guide.
The 13th annual Nantucket Wine Festival will take place on gorgeous Nantucket island off the coast of southern Massachusetts on May 13-19, 2009. This should be a luxurious and edifying experience for those able to attend this wonderful event. I’ve been fortunate enough to vacation on Nantucket island in the past and it is truly a unique and beautiful atmosphere and ideal for this kind of find wine and culinary festival. As per press release, the highlights this year include:
- Expansion of last year’s tremendously popular luncheon symposium program. The equivalent of a graduate course in advanced wine philosophy, the symposia features an hour-long tasting and discussion, followed by a luncheon of exquisite food paired with the wines of the participating vignerons.
- Sultans of Sonoma Coast: San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Ehren Jordan will be joined by two other star winemakers, David Hirsch and Andy Peay, as they explain the attributes of California’s hottest new viticultural region, the Sonoma Coast.
- The Nantucket Historical Association Auction Dinner, held at the White Elephant Hotel and featuring the culinary talents of Daniel Bruce of Meritage at the Boston Harbor Hotel, who is celebrating 20 years of winemaker dinners at the Boston Wine Festival, and the king of all Spanish wine, Jorge Ordóñez of Fine Estates from Spain, the winner of last year’s Luminary of the Year award. The auction is always exciting and this year promises even more excitement as the centerpiece of the auction will be an 1870 Barrister’s bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, considered by man to be the finest example of pre-phylloxera claret.
- Towle’s Hill, a one-man show by former Nantucketer Mark Kenward, which chronicles over 150 years of history at one of California’s oldest wineries, Gundlach Bundschu in Sonoma.
- The Nantucket Wine Festival has been famous for the number of great winemakers who visit us in May, and this year’s array of winemakers is absolutely stunning, featuring many of the best talents in the world of wine. Ehren Jordan, owner of Failla Vineyards and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year; Ray Coursen, owner/winemaker of Elyse Vineyards and the winner of the NWF’s 2009 Luminary of the Year award; Jean-Luc Pépin, Directeur Commercial, Domaine Comte Georges de Vogüé; Jean-Charles Thomas, Head Winemaker, Maison Louis Latour; John Kolasa, General Manager, Château Rauzan-Segla and Château Canon; Rob and Maria Sinskey, owners, Robert Sinskey Vineyards; Jorge Ordóñez, president and founder, Fine Estates from Spain and the winner of the NWF’s 2008 Luminary of the Year award; Jim Clendenen, owner/winemaker of Au Bon Climat.
- The Festival’s signature event, The Grand Tasting, will be held for the 3rd year at the historic Nantucket Yacht Club.