Counting Down

It is always a bit surreal when a plan comes together.  I’m not talking an impromptu meeting of friends for Friday Margarita Happy Hour.  I’m talking about a big trip.  Like one to Italy.

At this very moment in just three short weeks, I will be at JFK airport, flashing my passport, handing over my ticket, and boarding a plane to Rome.  And in a rare occurrence for me, I thought I’d share this information with you beforehand rather than waiting months or even years (apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks!).

It’s been a few years couple of decades since I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the land of pasta, vino, leaning towers, and big fashion houses.  So I dusted off some old photo albums and found a few pics of my last trip.  My apologies: I’ve never been a great photographer, especially in the archaic times before digital when you just had to take the photo and hope for the best (at least that was my method, which probably explains a lot!).

Excited by the prospect of updating my photos and adding more cities to my list, my Italian bucket list was soon about 3 pages long–and not small notepad size, but large legal pad size!  Sadly, some hard cuts had to be made.  Although, to be honest, we’re still trying to finagle how to squeeze in a few more things because it’s just so damn hard to not want to do absolutely everything.  I know, I KNOW that’s not possible.  I’m always lecturing visitors to NYC not to over pack their schedules and leave some room for flexibility.  But here I am overpacking left, right, and center! The finalists are Rome, Florence, Venice, Parma, Bologna, Chianti, and a tiny little hat making town called Montappone.

At this point, I’m not sure what I’m most excited about–it keeps changing minute by minute.  I have always longed to see all the delights that Rome has to offer, but then there’s coffee and wine and pasta and gelato, and also a coastal drive along the Adriatic Sea, winding roads through Tuscany, a hotel with canal views in Venice, and we’re taking a parmesan cheese tour in Parma!

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Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Plus we have booked what might possibly be THE CUTEST Airbnb in the Chianti Hills for three nights with Giovanni, who promises to greet us with homemade wine and olive oil.   HOMEMADE WINE AND OLIVE OIL! I may have been stalking Giovanni’s Instagram, but I mean, really, look at this:

On my very first visit to Tuscany 24 years ago, I called my parents and joked that I wasn’t coming home.  I have a feeling this time, it might not be a joke…

Ciao for now!

MWWC 36: Environment

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.

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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.

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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!).

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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 (red/rosé)
  • Frontenac Gris (white)
  • Marquette (red)
  • Edelweiss (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…

Cheers!

Sunday Comics: Cooking a Turkey

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.

Happy cooking!

MWWC #35: Eclipse

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.

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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…

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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

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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:

Cheers!

MWWC 34: Memory

I have often said that the best part of wine is sharing it with someone.  As such, there are some wines and/or wineries that will always and forever remind me of a specific person, like Teresa & Grape Creek or Nerida & Chandon.  Or even Matthew & Silver Oak–ironically not because we’ve consumed copious amount of Silver Oak, but because we arrived at their tasting room 5 minutes after they closed and I might have had a momentary meltdown that ended 4 seconds later with Matthew flatly informing me to get back in the car or he was going back to San Jose without me.

In case you’re wondering what this has to do with Hawaii: nothing.  What it has to do with is that this month’s wine writing challenge (#34), as selected by last month’s winner Kent of Appetite for Wine, is MEMORY.

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I was trying to figure out which wine holds the most memories for me, however, I realized that was a bit like picking a favorite child.  Instead, I decided to pick a winery.

I’ve talked about the Chisholm Trail Winery before.  I mean, any winery that can get me to love their merlot is quite special indeed–and their 1994 Merlot did just that.  But their cabernets–spectacular: fruity, but dry with just a tiny bit of spice and oh-so-smooth.

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But the wines aren’t the reason that I picked this winery.

Perhaps you might think that it has to do with winemaker, Paula K. Williamson, who is charismatic, has an infectious laugh, and is almost never seen without her signature black Stetson.  But no, while Paula is fabulous and I adore her, she is not the reason either.

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You might even think that it’s because Christi & I spent one hot August day helping Paula & crew pick grapes in the vineyard and then watched the bottling process while sampling some of the winery favorites.  It was a long, fun-filled, exhausting day, but no.  That’s not it either.

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The reason Chisholm Trail Winery holds so many memories for me has nothing to do with wine at all.  It is because the land where the winery sits used to be owned by my family.  Specifically my great-great Uncle Hugo.  Hugo was my grandfather’s uncle and we spent a lot of time at Uncle Hugo’s because he had the best fishing hole in the county.  As a young girl I spent hours and hours at the creek behind the house, which now runs long the south side of the vineyards.  I spent hours running around the old, gigantic trees scattered around the now-winery picking flowers for Granny, who rarely came with us.

It’s been probably 35 years since I last went fishing with Uncle Hugo, but every time I open a bottle of Chisholm Trail wine, memories flood back.  I feel the sun on my face, the cool water tickling my feet, and can hear Uncle Hugo’s hearty laugh.  There are many reasons to love Chisholm Trail winery and their wines.  But for me, I love it because tastes like home.

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Cheers!

 

 

Sunday Comics: A Recap & Some Distractions

In just under 11 hours (uh, not that I’m counting or anything–10 hours, 18 minutes),  Season 7 of Game of Thrones is premiering and I thought for today’s comic, I’d leave you with a quick recap.

**SPOILER ALERT**  If you’re just getting into the GoT scene, here’s a bit of advice: you might want to skip picking a favorite character, going to weddings, and today’s meme.

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Btw if you’re looking to kill some time before the show starts and the real killing begins, it seems like everyone has a GoT quiz ranging from testing your knowledge to which house(s) you belong.

Here are just a sampling to keep you busy (my results are in italics):

Which GoT Character Are You Based on Your Winter Conditions? apparently, NYC is akin to Riverrun–although I just got a House name, not a character.

GoT Super Quiz  okay, maybe it took a couple of times to get through it…stupid Littlefinger!

Which GoT Character Are You? Daenerys…yay! dragons!

How Many Dead GoT Characters Can You Name?  29…hint: direwolves count–as they should!

GoT: The Ultimate Quiz 18 out of 20–that’s what I do: drink wine & know things

Which GoT House Do You Belong? House Stark.  Winter is coming…

Or if you don’t like you result, you can try again What GoT House Do You Belong In? The Night’s Watch….hahahahaha…I don’t think I’m eligible! Although I’d like to think that I know more than Jon Snow…

Or again Which GoT House Are You? House Stark.  Apparently I’m destined for the cold weather, but I do love my pupcicle.

Or if you feel like you can’t be confined to one house, Which Two GoT Houses Do You Hail From? Stark/Targaryen yay! dragons and direwolves!

Which GoT Warrior Would Be Your Trial by Combat Champion? The Hound…continuing on with my dog-theme and I’m perfectly okay with that. 

If you’re looking for more, Google will happily give you “about 1,740,000 results in 0.49 seconds” if you type in “Game of Thrones quizzes.”

If you haven’t had time to rewatch, HBO is kindly kicking things off at 6:45pm ET with Episodes 59 & 60 (Battle of the Bastards and The Winds of Winter, respectively).  Invite your friends, feed your dogs (not necessarily in that order), and kick back with a couple of jugs of wine!

Valar morghulis.

 

 

 

 

Sunday Comics: Beach Body

I know I have been talking quite a bit about beaches and guess what?!?!?  I have found the perfect way to get EVERYONE–that’s right, EVERYONE–a beach body this summer!

And the best part is that it doesn’t require a crazy ass diet that turns you into a raging Cookie Monster by the end of day 1 or consuming an entire grove of grapefruit until it’s permanently on your “never eat again list” or a need to run 937 miles on the treadmill everyday.  

Because I think we can all agree that running 937 miles a day really cuts into cheese eating and wine/beer/margarita drinking time.

It’s amazingly genius because it’s so simple–you don’t need any fancy, over-priced equipment you’re going to stop using after 4 days.  You can start today–and substitutions like “pool” or “lake” instead of “beach” are perfectly a-okay!  You just need sunscreen and some tasty beverages to stay hydrated.  A swimsuit and a towel, if you want to get in the water, are also good.  And if you want to be really fancy you can bring snacks and a big umbrella.

Happy Summer-ing!

Aloha!