Boston Wine Expo Then and Now (& GIVEAWAY)

I should probably rename this blog to “Better Late Than Never” given the amount of time that lapses between updates around here. I should take up blogging full time. (That would pretty great.) But then I remember I have these things called school loans and I quickly dive back into the corporate chocolate world, which, believe me, is not a bad world to live in.

But I digress. It’s time to talk about one of my favorite times of year that is rapidly approaching! Being a life long New Englander, I don’t really love the actual month of February because it tends to be freezing cold and snowy where I live. BUT my fiance’s birthday, Valentine’s Day and the Boston Wine Expo all take place in February so makes up for the fact that I’m pretty much an icicle the whole month. Sean turns the big 30 this year and I have a few things up my sleeve for that milestone. And while Valentine’s Day isn’t a huge holiday for the two of us, it is the same weekend as the Boston Wine Expo, so we turn it into a weekend in Boston and it’s a win-win all around.

My Expo partner for life.

The Boston Wine Expo is entering it’s 25th year and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be part of it. Winemakers from all over the world will set up in the Seaport Convention Center for two days, and even that doesn’t seem like long enough. The Expo also has a wonderful series of semimars that attendees can purchase ahead of time to learn even more about particular wine topics that may interest them. (Like the chocolate and wine pairing one? Um. HELLO.) I’ve also gotten to take part in 2 Twitter tastings with Hope Family Wines and it’s only amped up the excitement even more.

This will be my third year attending thanks to the wonderful BWE people. No longer a rookie to the Expo, I knew what to expect last year and already know what I’m looking forward to this year. Last year, Sean and I were given access onto the show floor two hours before it opened to the general public and we used that time hitting some of the larger distributors and vendors we knew would be swamped later in the day. We also started snacking early, after remembering from the previous year, our rookie year in 2014, how easy it is to lose track of how many wine samples you’ve had and forgetting to eat completely. That is probably the #1 downfall of participants at an expo of this scale – going too fast out of the gate and not remembering that food is key. And don’t worry, there are plenty of vendors on the perimeter of the floor passing out much-needed snacks.

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Tickets for the 2016 Boston Wine Expo are on sale now and I highly HIGHLY recommend getting a VIP pass for BOTH days of the event. One day is simply not enough. Last year, our weekend was cut short because of a snowstorm so I am crossing my fingers that doesn’t happen again. I promise you will get your money’s worth in wine tastings alone, never mind the food and snack vendors on-site, and the invaluable information you will learn about wine and culture along with the rare varietals you’ll experience.

Would you like to attend the Boston Wine Expo on Sunday, February 14th this year?

I’m giving away a pair of tickets to this year’s event!

TO ENTER (Mandatory Entry):  Leave a comment telling me what your favorite wine of all time is. (Yes, I realize that is an extremely difficult question so dig deep!) It can be red, white, sparkling, whatever you’re go-to is or a wine that you had once and are dying to have again.

Extra Extries:

  1. Follow @ChocoAndWine on Twitter and leave a comment telling me you did.
  2. Follow @BostonWineExpo on Twitter and leave a comment telling me you did.
  3. Follow @MarieTorto on Instagram and leave me a comment telling me you did.
  4. Follow @MarieAnneTorto on Pinterest and leave a comment telling me you did.

Good Luck! I will choose a winner a random on Monday, January 25th.

Cheers to another Boston Wine Expo!
Cheers to another Boston Wine Expo!

#SpritzerSeason with Barefoot Wine

I am holding onto summer with every fiber of my being.

Every. Single. Fiber.

This summer was nothing short of fantastic and I’m not quite ready to let it go. I said goodbye to my mid-twenties (and hello to 27), tried disc golfing for the first time, Sean and I had our engagement photos taken (!!!), we went to St. Maarten to watch his sister get married, and then proceeded to watch 3 more sets of friends get married. For the most part, the weather was beautiful, and now that we live somewhere with a back porch (albeit tiny), we adorned it with two Adirondack chairs, a bistro table and a very expensive high-quality grill, transforming it into a little piece of #heaven.

Disc Golfing. I'm bad at it.
Disc Golfing. I’m bad at it.
Apparently this is what turning 27 looks like. It looks a lot like turning 22 to me....
Apparently this is what turning 27 looks like. It looks a lot like turning 22 to me….
I bribed Sean with beer to be good at engagement photos. It worked.
How cute are these chairs? More about the wine in a hot sec...
How cute are these chairs? More about the wine in a hot sec…

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love everything about fall. I love the sweaters, the boots, apple picking, cider, PUMPKIN ALL THE THINGS. I am a New England girl through and through. But after last winter (I see you Juno….) I feel the need to have summer a little bit longer. I will not let it go until the official first day of fall. Who’s with me?

Barefoot. Barefoot is with me. 

Heaven.

It should come as no surprise that I love dry wine. The dryer the better. Usually of the California or Italian variety. To me, there’s almost nothing better than that dusty mouthfeel after sipping the driest of reds. But sometimes, especially in the summertime, you need something a little sweeter, a little bubblier. Spritz-like. Enter Barefoot Refresh: cold, bubbly. The perfect addition to my wine collection.

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It’s rare that I forgo my tried-and-true reds, but this summer was full of hot days. And I mean H-O-T. When it’s 90+ degrees and I’m sitting by the pool or on the deck, nothing really compares to a wine that is both cold and refreshing. Earlier this summer when Barefoot introduced me to their Spritzer collection, I was immediately hooked. It’s the perfect sipping wine when you’re kicking back and enjoying the lazy days of summer (or clinging dearly to the few you have left.) Whatever you are in the mood for, Barefoot’s got you covered. Want something juicy? Their summer red blend will quench your thirst. Opting for something with a little more acid and bite? Their white is right up your alley.

There was no formal pairing here, but watermelton + white spritzer = real good.
There was no formal pairing here, but watermelton + white spritzer = real good.

My favorite may actually surprise you. This year has been a year of branching out for me. I enjoy beer now (what?) and I’ve also really gotten into whites. So in this case, Barefoot’s Sweet California Spritzer was the one I kept coming back to. And if you ask me, it’s never a bad time of year to enjoy this kind of wine. And luckily, there’s still a solid week of summer left, so you still have plenty of time!

If you need me, I’ll be on the porch with a bottle of Barefoot, soaking in the sun and holding onto summer for a few more days.

Excuse me while I make this my life.
Excuse me while I make this my life.

Did you get a chance to try Barefoot’s Spritzer Collection this summer? Which one was your favorite?

Disclosure: Barefoot provided bottles of their Spritzer Wine to me free of charge in return for my review. As always, all opinions here are my own.

Brunch at the Beat Brasserie

I love brunch. Everything from pancakes, to french toast, omelets and even the occasional burrito. All topped off with a mimosa. I mean, what could be better on a Sunday morning?

In addition to loving brunch, I also love trying new places for brunch. When the Boston Brunchers had an upcoming event at the Beat Brasserie (aka Beat Hotel) in Cambridge, I jumped at the chance.

beat sign

I used to go to Boston Bruncher events pretty often. When I got a job and moved to New Hampshire, they became further between, mostly because getting to the city on a Sunday morning is usually on the tough side. But this particular Sunday, which also happened to be the same day as the Super Bowl, it was perfect timing. Fiance (I love calling him that…) slept in, while I got up and headed to Cambridge. As I drove down, I realized the last time I went to a Boston Bruncher brunch was 2 full years ago!  Definitely not letting that much time pass between these brunches again!

I was the first to arrive at the Beat Brasserie and took in the atmosphere. It had an eclectic, yet cozy feel that I immediately enjoyed. Chandeliers of merlot-colored beads hung draped around the restaurant providing a warm glow, and there was an empty band set up at the very back of the floor that would eventually have musicians behind it to play for us while we ate.

I sat at a table with Lianna, Taryn and Melissa. We decided to order a bunch of things for the table and share, starting with the Caramelized Apple and Cranberry Coffee Cake.

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This cake was everything I wanted in coffee cake and more. It was super decadent and rich, but the flavors of the apples and cranberries really came through. I could’ve eaten the entire piece by myself with no problem. It also came with a dollop of cinnamon honey butter which was like an added layer of crack onto this already addicting slice of heaven.

I also went with a traditional mimosa as my drink of choice. Normally, I try to order a specialty house drink when I am at a new brunch place but was feeling like a tried and true brunch staple that day. It did not disappoint. I had two. And maybe four cups of coffee. And a gallon of water. I don’t think my water glass was ever empty. Needless to say, I was hydrated and the staff was really conscious and helpful.

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It wasn’t long before we had an entire table covered in food.

pancakes

 Eggs Bene

omelet

Everything from Wild Flower Honey and Lemon Pancakes to Braised Short Ribs Eggs Benedict to a Mushroom & Fontina omelet with steak frites and a side salad. There was even delicious lamb sausage that was surprisingly spicy (in a good way) and what they called the Bowl Azteca with Faroe Island Salmon that I did not try. The four of us took a little bit of each dish to sample (after snapping photos of course!)

The pancakes were light and airy, and came with a sweet berry compote that complimented the pancakes nicely. There was also a spoonful of the same cinnamon honey butter from earlier on top, but the pancakes were so flavorful and pillowy on their own, I didn’t think they really needed any extra butter. However, getting a bit of pancake and berry compote together in one bite was pancake heaven. The omelet was good; I’m always a sucker for fontina cheese, but slightly underwhelming compared to the pancakes. By far, my favorite was definitely the Eggs Bennie, and it was a hit among my co-brunchers as well. The braised short ribs were buttery and rich, the egg perfectly poached, and the side salad was dressed just enough (no one likes soggy salad.) It was an innovative take on one of my all-time favorite breakfast foods and certainly did not disappoint.

The entire morning was relaxing, not one bit rushed, and I left feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle my Sunday (which included making these De-Pudged Piggies in a Blanket, screaming way too loud at the TV during the Super Bowl, and crying when the Patriots won the whole thing.)

Have you tried the Beat Brasserie for brunch? What was your favorite thing on the menu?

beat brunch

Disclaimer: Brunch was provided to me free of charge in return for my review. But, as always, all opinions are my own.

Life Lately (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Things have been pretty crazy over here since I last posted way waaaay too long ago. One of my goals for 2015 is to blog more so hopefully I will have lots to say this year!

And because I’ve been away for a while, I did want to give a quick (and very special) update to precede the amazing giveaway at the end of this post. (Don’t miss it!!)

In a blog post from January 2013 (wow, that seems like so long ago), I mentioned that I had met a guy and fallen for him hard during my summer in London. Fast forward 2(+) years from that summer, he stuck around. He made me happy. We even got a cat.

Then, this past October, he did something that made me cry harder than I ever had before. He got down on one knee in the place he took me on our first date (Ogunquit, Maine) and asked me to marry him.

ogunquit

It was a surreal experience. In the minutes, hours, weeks to follow there were hundreds of phone calls, texts, emails, social notifications, glasses of champagne, congratulations and a whirlwind of thoughts: “OMG I’M ENGAGED. WHAT NOW? WHAT NOW?”

I calmed down eventually.

We picked a date, a venue, a photographer, and I’m happy to say I have lots of time to plan, stress, probably cry once or twice or many times, and enjoy all of the champagne my heart desires. And being engaged to Sean also means I get an official drinking partner for the rest of my life. So awesome.

engaged

And speaking of a drinking partner, Sean and I will be attending the Boston Wine Expo for the second year in a row next weekend! The perfect Valentine’s Day excursion.

It’s no surprise that Sean and I love wine. Our love of red wine in particular was an early common thread between the two of us – Sean even brought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignion for us to enjoy on our first date (Fetzer) and it is still a tried and true favorite of ours.

Last year at the Expo, we sampled glass after glass of wine from all over the world and learned about each wine and vineyard individually. The Expo is a giant trade floor set up by country with each respective flag hanging over a portion of the floor. The wine booths are also flanked by different food vendors handing out samples so you can snack your way through the wine tastings.

Memories from the BWE14!
Memories from the BWE14!

SORRY, THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED.

Want to go to the 2015 Boston Wine Expo? You’re in luck! I have one pair of tickets that I’m giving away for next Sunday’s Grand Tasting event! (Sunday, February 15th from 1pm-5pm at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston.)

I promise this is an event you will NOT want to miss!

To enter:

Simply leave a comment and tell me what you’d look forward to the most if you got to attend the Expo. (Need inspiration? Check out their website and their Facebook page!) Make sure you include your e-mail address so I can get in touch with you if you win!

Want 2 extra entries? Follow @ChocoAndWine on Twitter and @BostonWineExpo on Twitter, tell me you did in the comments, and I’ll give you an extra entry for each follow!

Good luck! I’ll pick a winner on Wednesday, February 11th.

Congratulations Nell! (Comment #18!)

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oysters

*The Boston Wine Expo sends Chocolate & Wine to the event, and provides the giveaway tickets, but all opinions are, as always, my own.

Chocolate Therapy

It’s no surprise that I love chocolate.

Heaven?
Heaven? Is that you?

I work for a chocolate company. Eat my fair share chocolate on a regular basis. And, oh yeah, my blog title is all about chocolate. And wine. Which is the perfect lead in for this post.

Chocolate Therapy: Sweet Remedies, located in Framingham and Dedham, Massachusetts, offers a workshop that pairs their handcrafted chocolate delicacies with different types of wine. Owned by husband and wife duo, David and Pam, the workshop was unique from other pairings I’ve taken part in, if not only for the innovative creations they are becoming known for. The obvious passion and love for their craft also shines through in their welcoming, chocolate-filled shop.

They were as sweet as the chocolates they make!
They were as sweet as the chocolates they make!

At Chocolate Therapy: Sweet Remedies, their mission statement is all about using chocolate as a healthy way to indulge your soul. And that’s what we got out of the workshop – a little bit of education, and a whole lot of indulgence.

All good things in this photo.
All good things in this photo.

First, Pam went through the differences of the different types of chocolate that were on our plates, explaining what makes white chocolate distinctly different from milk and dark chocolate. She also explained how their chocolate creations are made with Belgian chocolate, which was a fun departure from the Swiss chocolate I know very well.

I was also thoroughly impressed when I asked how long it takes for them to turn innovative ideas into actual physical creations you find in their storefront cases. Their answer? 2 days, sometimes less! That really blew me away.

This brick of Belgian chocolate is approximately 25,000 calories.... Yum.
This brick of Belgian chocolate is approximately 25,000 calories…. Yum.

After getting background about how and where cocoa beans are harvested and how she and David went into the chocolate-making business after spending years in the corporate world, we then dove headfirst into the pairing portion of the workshop.

The first chocolate was called a “Pom Balm” – dark chocolate ganache, pomegranate molasses, dusted in purple cocoa butter luster. It was paired with a crisp and light Pinot Grigio from Italy. Now, I am not usually a pomegranate fan. I don’t enjoy the effort it takes to eat the seeds from one, nor do I enjoy Pom juice. But this chocolate? I wanted more. It was sweet and silky and the taste really popped in your mouth when eaten with a sip of the Pinot Grigio.

The second pairing was a milk chocolate truffle and Californian Petit Syrah. This was the most familiar chocolate to me out of the group, except for the fact that it too was dusted in a cocoa luster, this time gold. The milk chocolate melted in your mouth, especially when the Petit Syrah was sipped along with it. A very interesting and complex take on milk chocolate.

The third was by far the most out-of-the-box for me. The chocolate itself, a Blueberry Lemon Basil truffle, was exotic and unexpected, with layer upon layer of flavor. I love blueberry and lemon together, but the basil really elevated the chocolate, and the whole thing was coated in dark chocolate ganache. It was paired with a Merlot from California, but I could’ve eaten a dozen of these truffles with no beverage whatsoever. If you love trying new things, this is the truffle for you.

Layers of complex flavors.
Layers of complex flavors.

Finally, salty and sweet come together harmoniously in the Sea Salt Caramel truffle that was set to be paired with a dry sherry from Spain. The buttery caramel, made with Tahitian vanilla, was dipped in dark chocolate and finished with a sprinkling of pink Himalayan sea salt. It really mellowed out the sherry, which I usually find to have a harsh flavor. The two married well together to result in a wonderful finale to the pairings.

After the tastings, the couple unveiled a fun secret: They had created a life-size chocolate goat for an upcoming event that was still in the back room of the shop. Yes, you read that right – a life-size GOAT made of chocolate. It was fantastic and incredibly realistic looking. Truly a chocolate masterpiece.

It was holding a real boot in its mouth. Hilarious.
It was holding a real boot in its mouth. Hilarious.

Overall, my time at Chocolate Therapy was educational, indulgent and well spent. I even bought a goodie bag to take home (which was gone the next day after dinner.) I would highly recommend Chocolate Therapy for a date night, girl’s night out or an after-hours work excursion.

Everything from homemade peanut butter cups to a milk chocolate truffle with champagne inclusions!
Everything from homemade peanut butter cups to a milk chocolate truffle with champagne inclusions!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary Chocolate Therapy workshop at Sweet Remedies. All opinions are, as always, my own.

Del Terruno

Back in April when Sean and I went to the Boston Wine Expo, we were given access to the exclusive Vintner’s Lounge. There, we tried extra dry Italian red wines, shooters in the half shell and the most delicious beef tenderloin I’ve ever eaten: Del Terruno.

beef

So when the people from Del Terruno contacted me and asked if I’d like to try their product again, you knew I jumped on that chance immediately.

Del Terruno is juicy, tender beef from the world’s best breeds, chosen for the high quality of their meat – Hereford and Aberdeen Angus. Because the animals are free-range and graze in the meadows of Uruguay, their beef is guaranteed 100% natural, with no growth hormones or steroids added, so you know you are getting premium meat every time. And all of it is USDA Process Verified. They even have a traceability function on their website so you can see exactly where your meat is coming from. A+ all around for Del Terruno.

You can only imagine my excitement when a (very large) piece of their finest Beef Tenderloin arrived for me.  Instead of cooking the entire tenderloin at once (there are only two of us living in our apartment after all), I decided to cut the loin into two individually portioned fillets. The smaller portions significantly decreased the cooking time of the meat and assured that I would get another chance to indulge in this fabulous product at a later date.

Use 1

Because I wanted the flavor of the meat to really shine through, I took a very simple approach to preparing it – a sprinkling of salt and pepper all over each fillet. I placed a baking sheet in the oven, preheated it to 425 degrees and brought a large skillet to high heat on the stove. I added a tablespoon of unsalted butter to the skillet and placed each fillet in the screaming hot butter for about 2 minutes per side. I then quickly seared the border of the meat before transferring it to the hot baking sheet in the oven to let the fillets finish cooking, about 20 minutes. I pulled the meat out and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes while I prepared the asparagus and baked potatoes.

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I must say I’ve never eaten better on a Monday night. The beef was tender and buttery; slicing through it took almost no effort at all. Because there was only a small amount of fat on the meat, I didn’t have to spend time trimming it or avoiding gristle as I ate. But it was the taste – the refined taste of high quality beef tenderloin – that really impressed me.

Sean and I sat in silence for a few minutes, slowly eating the juicy fillets that I paired with a simple baked potato and asparagus, baked in 425 degree oven with a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice for 8-10 minutes.

The next time you are having a fancy dinner party, or just feel like eating like a King and Queen on a weeknight, Del Terruno is sure to impress anyone who enjoys it. I know I will be again!

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Want to learn more about Del Terruno? Follow them on Facebook!

Full disclosure: Del Terruno sponsored this post and I was given a sample free of charge. As always, all opinions here are my own. 

Summer Bucket List

Beginning of June already… Where is 2014 going?

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly keep up. Thankfully, the blustery winter weather has finally left New England and there is much more sunshine in the forecast for New Hampshire.

Summer has always been my favorite time of the year. Maybe I’m a tad bit biased because my birthday is in July, but some of my favorite memories, both as a child and as an adult, took place during the warm summer months.

When I was a kid, my parents would pack  my sister and myself up for day trips with family friends to the lake or a local pool. I got to experience overnight summer camp adventures where I first learned about my love for kayaking. Birthday after birthday, family cookouts, 4th of July fireworks. And of course, who could forget the London 2012 Olympics or that summer in its entirety? The list is endless.

Here I am in London during the Summer Olympics in 2012. Man, I miss that place.
Here I am in London during the Summer Olympics in 2012. Man, I miss that place.

This summer will be my first as a New Hampshire transplant (New Hampshire-ian? New Hampshire-ite?) and I have big plans for it. Sean and I recently purchased a chalkboard for our kitchen (a total steal – $20 at TJ Maxx) and I couldn’t help drawing some serious inspiration from one of my favorite blogs, Little Baby Garvin.

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Although my artsy abilities are far more limited than Mrs. Garvin and her Pinterest-famous works-of-chalk-art, I tried nonetheless and put together a bucket list of the things I want to do this summer.

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Things I left off of the chalkboard but still intend on taking part in:

– Lobster rolls & authentic Italian gelato in York, Maine.
– Visit 6 Flags New England.
– Read (at least) 5 new books.
– Go fishing. (Totally on here for Sean…)
– Tour the Crane Estate in Ipswich.

As you can see, we already crossed off the last addition to the chalkboard this week: Tour the Crane Estate in Ipswich. This last Saturday ended up being a gorgeous day, despite the predictions for all-day rain. Sean and I, along with his parents, took advantage of the sunny day by heading to Ipswich to walk around the Crane Estate.

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Enchanting as it is historical, the Crane Estate is fairly large (2,100 acres) and is the backdrop of many weddings and private events. Unfortunately, it was closing early for the day (most likely for an afternoon spring wedding) so our Great House tour was self-guided, but I was happy to get some time outside. The grounds were both breathtaking and breezing, and back right up to the ocean. It’s a beautiful place to spend a few hours or a whole day picnicking and exploring.

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After the Crane Estate, the four of us headed into downtown Newburyport for the rest of the afternoon. We decided to have lunch at The Port Tavern, which is a great place for a delicious meal that won’t destroy your budget. I had a mozzarella, tomato and basil panini on wheat bread that I would highly recommend, and ended up taking half of it home (for a late night snack.) Sean, his mom and his dad, all had pulled pork, which was also very good. I neglected to snap any pictures during lunch, so you’ll just have to trust me.

After a long walk along the Newburyport dock, the last thing on our list was, of course, ice cream! Or in this case – gelato. Dolce Freddo, a family-owned corner gelato shop was the perfect indulgence to end a terrific day out. I ordered my usual – 2 scoops of Pistacio (which was really like 5 scoops of pistacio) in a waffle cone, but their Nutella gelato was a close second choice.

I would say that Summer 2014 is off to a terrific start already.

What’s on your summertime bucket list?