Yes, I know that January is nearly over. But it’s not yet–so I have a few more days before wishing someone a Happy New Year because my procrastination is in full swing becomes embarrassing (and even when it is embarrassing, I just drink more and ignore it).
You gotta love friends: I have been nudged by nearly all of them about me neglecting all of you–ranging from a passive “I don’t think I’m getting your email updates anymore” to aggressive “Why the fuck aren’t you writing” comments.
I know, I know! The truth is, I have been writing–just of the book (gasp! yep, I said it) variety. It is a travel humor book: a collections of stories I have accumulated over the last 25 years of traveling. I have 2 more stories to type up and then I think my very first rough draft is done! Also, because apparently I’m a glutton, I’ve started piecing together a cookbook, which will be a collection of favorite recipes.
Apparently, I like collections.
Regarding the blog, I could apologize and proffer promises of a “new year, new me bullshit” but we all know that’s not me (well, the promising yes–just not the doing!)–and in the spirit of Sunday Comics, found this little gem on Pinterest (because aside from Netflix, what better way is there to procrastinate?!?!?!?!).
Life is funny. Recently, I went back home to Texas for a visit, which conveniently coincided with Jeff (having won last month’s challenge) setting this month’s challenge as Environment. Hailing from the Texas Hill Country Appellation, I mentally began creating bullet points about the environment of the Texas Hill Country Appellation and which wineries I was going to feature–debating if I should focus on one or several. While I was at home, I did quite a bit of tasting in preparation for this wine writing challenge (I’m thorough like that). Although ironically most of what I was tasting were Hill Country wineries using grapes from the Texas High Plains vineyards, but I digress.
Then it happened. After departing Texas, I went back to NYC via an extended stopover in Minnesota. On Day 2, April took me to a little town on the St. Croix river called Stillwater. We were there for the tacos (that’s a story for another time)–but after lunch we wandered down the main street of the town, poking around the boutique shops in search of a brewery/winery/distillery (Stillwater has some of each and long ago, April learned long ago that a happy Shez is a Shez plied with alcohol and coffee and food). We saw the Northern Vineyards Winery and headed inside.
They offered tastings and, well, why not?!? I figured it would be great feature for a future-topic-not-yet-determined MWWC and then the tasting began. I was introduced to 3 new grape varietals, which I had never heard of before and upon asking about them I was told that they were developed by the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!).
Well shit. Of course, after hearing that I realized that what better way to incorporate ENVIRONMENT into my wine writing like discussing grapes developed specifically for growing in a particular region. Since I was only on my second taste, I knew it had to be fate rather than the alcohol talking.
So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the following grapes developed by and/or with the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!):
Frontenac Gris (white)
Northern Vineyards uses all of these grapes and other varietals, like Le Crosse and St. Croix, which were developed to withstand the hearty Minnesota (read: cold) environment, basically “varieties adapted to severe winters and short growing season are chosen.” For all the grape varietals suited for growing in Minnesota, visit the University of Minnesota (Go Gophers!) Fruit Research website.
And now on to some tasting notes.
The first thing I sampled was the Prairie Smoke, made with La Crosse grapes. I’m not a big fan of fumés in general, however, this one was light and fairly crisp for a fumé. In addition to the smokey nose, there were also ginger and hints of grapefruit.
Probably one of my favorites that I tasted was the Main Street Rosé. A dry, crisp blend of La Crosse and Frontenac grapes. This wine is very fruit forward with lingering strawberry both in the finish and on the nose.
They also have a semi-sweet blush, Lady Slipper, made with Frontenac Gris grapes. Before tasting I was worried I had just been poured something akin to Strawberry Hill, however, the Lady Slipper was medium bodied and not overly sweet which I think would pair nicely with a cheese & fruit plate.
Of the reds I tried, I think the Downtown Red was my favorite. A blend of Frontenac and Marquette, it was smooth. It had a hint of blackberry and white pepper on the finish and reminded me of a light cabernet sauvignon.
I have to confess I was surprised not to find a dessert wine offered–I would think that the early frosts would lend itself to naturally sweeter wines, alas Northern Vineyards did not offer any.
It was a fun tasting–our hostess seemed to have a good handle on the wine grapes of Minnesota, I got to taste some varietals I had never even heard of before, and learn more about wine!
So much emphasis is placed on the environment in which grapes grow–and for good reason, terroir is one of the most important factors in the world of wine. We often talk about how this region or that region is perfect for growing grapes, but what about the areas that are not? Hybrid and indigenious varietals catering to the less than perfect environment–be it Frontenac in Minnesota, Black Spanish in Texas, or even Roobernet in South Africa– seem to be the solution for sustainable grape growth and wine production.
Now if only one could be developed for the environs of a New York City window sill…
The countdown is on to what has become over the years my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. I mean, how do you not love a holiday dedicated to food and family and friends and football?!?!?
Of course, it is all too easy to go overboard and completely stress yourself out: how to prep the turkey, how to bake the turkey, whether or not to brine the turkey, what sides, how many desserts, which wine, comparing yourself to that one person in your life who goes over & above so much they make Martha Stewart look normal, and on and on…
STOP THE STRESSING!
All you need to know is in this video from Mary Risley (Tante Marie’s Cooking School) (namely don’t stress and pour more wine!). It is on the longer side, but you definitely get the gist in the first few minutes! Also a word to the wise: if you’re listening to this at work, perhaps you want to put in your headphones.
On August 21, 2017, the United States saw something it has not seen in nearly a century: a total solar eclipse path traveling across the entire continental United States. The last time any of the mainland United States was able to see a total solar eclipse was 1979–and that was only for a handful of northwestern states.
In case you’re a bit confused why I’m talking about the recent solar eclipse during a Monthly Wine Writing Challenge–don’t panic! It’s because this month’s topic, as selected by last month’s winner, Erik of Red, White, and Cru is eclipse. Thankfully, Jeff extended the original deadline because well, between an emergency appendectomy for me and a urinary tract blockage and 8-day hospital stay for the cat, I’ve barely looked at my laptop let alone opened it and (gasp!) actually written something!
Before I start in on the wine writing part of this challenge, I did want to share this beautiful composite image of the eclipse over Nashville by Richard Sparkman, which I found when I was researching ideas about which to write.
Oh and perhaps it’s the wine in my glass, but also befitting this month’s theme is the MWWC logo (created by the Armchair Sommelier), which totally looks like a wine eclipse…
Yes, I’m totally stalling. Mainly because I had all these grandiose ideas about tasting and writing about wines with the name eclipse–or perhaps solar–in them and then, well, life happened.
So change of plan. Rather than talking to you today about wine, I thought I would talk to you today about winemaking. Ha–bet you weren’t expecting that!
Here’s the grand total of what I know about winemaking: it’s exceptionally expensive and requires an enormous amount of hard work.
BUT, if you want to be slightly adventurous and try your hand at being a vintner without breaking the bank, sacrificing your first born child, and working 20-hour days/7 days a week then perhaps you should try a wine making kit.
I’ll pause a few seconds to let you gasp in horror and clutch your wine glass closer to your chest.
Yes. You read that correctly, I said winemaking kit. In fact if you’re reading this and wine isn’t necessarily your adult drink of choice, it seems that there is now a homemaking kit for pretty much any kind of alcohol in which you like to partake–wine, beer, whiskey, rum, sake, gin–much to the BFFs dismay when I got her hubby a beer making kit for his bday this year!
I know that winemaking kits have been around for awhile, but I was never really interested in them because it seemed like your only options were chardonnay, merlot, or white zin (gag, no, and ohhellno respectively).
So how does this tie in (even remotely) to this month’s theme of eclipse? Well very conveniently for me, Winexpert makes an Eclipse series of winemaking kits–and they sound pretty fancy…and tasty…and has me pondering if perhaps I might rethink my hand at oenology!
Here is the product description from Winexpert, along with the varietals they offer in the Eclipse series. Btw, I’m not getting paid in any way, shape, or form by Winexpert–but if they wanted to send me a few kits, I’d be more than happy to try them out!
Ultra premium wine kits are made with the finest quality varietal juice from around the world to produce wines that will satisfy the tastes of even the most discerning wine enthusiasts.
Barossa Valley Shiraz with Grape Skins
German Mosel Valley Gewürztraminer
Italian Piedmont Nebbiolo with Grape Skins
Lodi Old Vines Zinfandel with Grape Skins
Lodi Ranch 11 Cabernet Sauvignon with Grape Skins
Napa Valley Stag’s Leap District Merlot with Grape Skins
New Zealand Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
Nocturnal Limited Release with Grape Skins
Sonoma Dry Creek Valley Chardonnay
Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir
Washington Columbia Valley Riesling
Washington Yakima Valley Pinot Gris
Now you don’t have to wait for the next eclipse–you can make your own! <— Yeah, I’m totally aware of how cheesy that was, but I’m leaving it in here because, well, what goes better with wine than cheese?!?!?
Okay, okay I’ll stop with the cheesiness because now I’d like to hear from you:
In trying to find pictures for Throwback Thursday, I realized I have a lot of pictures of adult beverages (that is said with pride, by the way!). As such, I’ve decided that rather than share pictures of me with bad 80s hair and glasses that legitimately covered half my face, I could easily share glasses of a much tastier kind. So without further ado, I present to you: Thirsty Thursday!
You cannot go to Hawaii and not go to a Luau. Even if you don’t like pork or BBQ or don’t eat [insert random item here]. YOU’RE IN HAWAII–GO TO A LUAU!
We went to the Smith’s Garden Luau on Kauai–I can’t remember exactly why we picked that one, other than the fact that the Smith Family also conveniently ran the boat tours to the Fern Grotto.
It was very much a touristy place and the luau accommodated a large number of people, but it was such a fun evening: the after dinner show was entertaining, the pork was AMAZING!, and the drinks were flowing–especially the mai tais!
Plus we got big chunks of pineapple in our Mai Tais….how can you go wrong with that?!?!
We laughed. A lot. We got lei’d. We saw hula dancing. We learned how to hula dance (much easier after a few Mai Tais, btw!). And there was a plethora of food items from which to choose (I mean, you know how I am about food!). Also, if I didn’t already mention it–the Kalua pig was divine! I may have gone back for thirds. We were good little tourists and tried the poi–it was interesting, I’m so glad we tried it…but THE PORK! I’m drooling just thinking about it!
Yes, it was touristy and there were a lot of people–but it was such a great way to spend an evening. Here are a just few more pictures:
One of the most lush and densely forested places we visited was the Fern Grotto. The only way to access it (at least for tourists, but perhaps also workers) was by boat. It is located in the the Wailua State Park, about 2 miles inland up the Wailua River (the only navigable river in Hawaii).
After we disembarked from the boat, we had a short hike through the rainforest to get to the grotto.
There we received a history of the grotto, including why we couldn’t get any closer (falling rock). It was at one time one of the most popular spots in Kauai for concerts and weddings. One of our guides happily offered to marry/re-marry anyone who so desired, and assured us all it was legal & binding.
After looking around and taking pictures to our hearts content, we wandered back down the path to our boat–as beautiful as it was, we had luaus to go, hulas to do, and pork to eat…
We started in Poipu (southern most tip)–as that’s where we stayed. We drove to Lihue and then took the 56 (Kuhio Hwy) along the eastern and northern coasts as far as the road would take us. Also since I have the map here, if you were wanting a visual for our snorkeling/boat trip: we departed from Hanapepe westward bound for the Nā Pali Coast–so I wasn’t exaggerating when I said we pretty much circumnavigated the island!
Cartography aside, if you find yourself in Kauai (highly recommended)–then you should carve out a good chuck of time to make this scenic drive along the Kuhio Hwy. Estimated drive time from Poipu was about 3 hours roundtrip–more if you want to stop and take a shit-ton of pictures…which we did.
And of course, you need to allow yourself even more time if you want to tour the Kilauea lighthouse or snorkel along the way….which we did not.
Not that we didn’t want to but we were flying to the mainland that evening, so our first priority was to make sure that we had given ourselves enough driving/ogling/eating/drinking time to get all the way to the end of the road and back to the airport before our flight departed without us!
For the majority of our trip, the view on our east side was essentially something like this:
Meanwhile, our western view was almost a 180°:
We soon found ourselves literally at the end of the road and had to make a u-turn (as demonstrated by the red truck below!).
Okay, so “soon” is a relative term–the scenic views and frequent photo stops made the trip seem a lot shorter than it was (although, I wasn’t driving so perhaps Tracy has a different opinion about “soon”).
Of course, I know the real reason you’re here–the photos! Obligingly, I have a small sampling of a mere 197 photos from our drive. Kidding…just…kidding… 😉