Falling in Love in Italy

I just returned from two weeks in Italy that made me understand why Rick Steves (the Euro travel guru) still points to Italy as his favorite European country. As a wine and travel lover, Italy made me fall hard for it, too. If you are traveling there soon, consider this the WWG’s guide to falling in love in Italy.

Basic Itin (2 Weeks):
Milan (2 nights)
Lake Como (2 nights – could stay forever though)
Rome (2 nights)
Amalfi Coast’s Positano (2 nights – should have avoided altogether or stayed longer due to difficulty getting to/fro)
Siracusa (3 nights)
Taormina (2 nights)

Best Activity: AC Milan game. I’m a big soccer fan, but check out the crazy fans at Gate 14. I can’t top them! Italians are nearly as passionate about soccer (calcio) as they are about food, so if you like soccer, try to see a game while you are there. Also, just an FYI – Milan’s San Siro stadium is huge. Instead of ordering online, we could have just bought tickets at the stadium, so keep that in mind, especially if you are in town for a mediocre opponent.






Place I’ll likely return to next: Italy’s lake region. OK – I’m a lake-aholic, but the only way I can describe this place is heaven on earth. Check out this pic of Lake Como. The WWG enjoyed Lake Como’s boating and hiking activities, along with its fantastic dining experiences.



Best Wine Experience in Italy: In Varenna (a town on Lake Como) at Albergo Milano’s Ristorante La Vista. Loved the Nebbiolo (btw, I think this grape, which is the basis of Barolo, will be my go-to for steak pairings, if possible, going forward. Yum, yum, yum!). Also, with my apple tartine, the sommelier brought me a dessert rose that was phenomenal. If I wasn’t already in heaven, I would have died and gone there again!




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Best Food: Perhaps I should just say Rome. Best breakfast: While all the688 hotels we stayed at in Italy offer breakfast with the room cost, the best by far was from Rome’s Vivaldi Luxury Rooms. I loved the cheesecake with fresh fruit on top, and the bruschetta was the best I had the entire time in Italy. Best dinner: Il Gabriello near Rome’s Spanish Steps. Simply the best!  My travel companion and I shared the Matriciano pasta (bacon, tomato, and spicy sauce), which was so good. And then, we shared a (very large) filet of beef that was so tender, juicy, and flavorful. I want to eat it again!  Oh and I drank a Nebbiolo with that too. That wine/food pairing is working perfectly for me, right now! Best gelato: Around the corner from Il Gabriello is Gelateria Venchi, which had the best gelato of the trip. I enjoyed the chocolate, pistachio, and fig flavors.

Best Sunset View: Positano is a charming resort town with lots of beautiful views. Not surprisingly, I experienced my best sunset view of the trip here at Hotel Marincanto’s restaurant. Good dinner, great view!







Best Hotel: In Siracusa, Sicily, I loved the Algila Ortigia Charme Hotel. Big pros = bathtub, very helpful front desk attendants, and made-to-order breakfast on top of the usual breakfast spread. 

Best Market: In Siracusa (Ortigia), the daily market is lively, full of fresh fruits/veggies/fish, and is a great option for picnic provisions. Get some caponata (Sicily’s version of a hearty relish), salami, cheese, and bread from the northern-most/nearest-to-the-sea booth. I also really enjoyed some fresh figs from the market. Delicious!


Best Restaurant Experience: Up the tiniest ‘lane’/'sidewalk’ that I’ve ever seen was the best restaurant experience of the trip at Vicolo Stretto in Taormina, Sicily. It had great food, impeccable service, and lots of extras. The mandatory coperto (cover charge) included fantastic focaccia, an amuse bouche, and a small glass of white wine (Chardonnay-ish), which hit the spot. This coperto was actually worth the money we spent (a rarity on this trip). We ordered the lobster pasta, lasagna, and canneloni, which were all delicious. Also, cannoli from Sicily is legendary. This restaurant has traditional and deconstructed versions; both rocked. And to top it all off, the restaurant gave us dessert wine (a still, sweet Moscato), which you know I appreciated!

Combine those experiences with great company, and I guarantee you will fall in love in Italy too!

Cheers dears,

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Weekend Warrior: Louisville

Fleur_de_lys_(or).svgLouisville has been on my ‘roadtrip’ list for a while. Yes, I am one of those girls that watches the Kentucky Derby each year and wishes I were there with a big hat and a winning bet. Plus, Louisville is a whiskey town (ok, locals call it bourbon), and when I’m drinking cocktails, the WWG could also stand for the Wandering Whiskey Girl because that typically is my booze of choice. Jameson/Ginger or Jack/Diet, if you please. And my decor these days has been leaning towards the fleur-de-lys, which is on every road sign in Louisville. To say, that Louisville made me feel welcome last weekend is an understatement.

Place to stay: 21c Museum Hotel – About a block from the river, this hotel is the epitome of hip and modern in downtown Louisville. The decor is beautifully sleek and comfortable. Also, the lobby is filled with contemporary art if you want to get your culture on. Other 21c Museum Hotels are located in Bentonville and Cincinnatti if you can’t make it to Louisville soon.


Things to do:800px-University_of_Louisville_marching_band,_Churchill_Downs_Twin_Spires Churchill Downs – Get your butt to the races! I’m a huge Kentucky Derby fan so being in this cathedral of racing was amazing. And if you plan your time in Louisville right, you can see some races for a modest price. My travel buddy and I paid $10 a piece in general admission for a Downs After Dark event, which appears to be every Saturday night after the Derby (first Saturday in May) until late June. While the event was nicely attended, we were able to get seats trackside near the finish line (can you imagine what that would cost at the Derby?!), and the Mint Juleps were just as yummy in late June as they would be in early May. Racing comes back in early September. Want to meet me there?

Places to Eat: The WWG ate at two memorable places, one overwhelmingly positive and another mixed. First the mixed:
Hammerheads – this ‘dive’ spot promised great BBQ and fries. The fries were AMAZING!  I went with the duck-fat, truffle fries, which were out of the world. So if you love fries,2013-06-29_13-31-18_341 try Hammerheads! The BBQ meat was fantastic, as well, but the BBQ sauce just wasn’t my scene. I’m a thick tomato and molasses-based sauce (more Kansas City style) kind of gal, and this tomato/vinegar-based style sauce underwhelmed me.

Lilly’s – this French bistro rocks! I would return anytime for the phenomenal French fare and excellent wine list. For lunch, I had the trout over cheesy polenta for my main dish. Then, my travel buddy and I tried to share peach melbas (basically, a poached peach over ice cream with raspberry sauce) for dessert, but we wound up needing to order two of them. They were so good!  Also, Lilly’s manager appeared excited to let me taste a variety of wines to go with ordered dishes. The highlight for me was the Eola Hills Vin d’Epice’s late harvest Gewurtztraminer (2006 vintage), which was great with the peach melba. Surprisingly, the wine was incredibly elegant and more subtle than expected for a Gewurtz (which can be spicy, oily and overwhelming in table wine form) while still offering beautiful fruit flavors, most notably apricot. Yum, yum, yum! I want to try it with all my peach desserts this summer, including the now classic Grilled Peach dish, which I’ve featured here in the past. The dessert wine is $30 per bottle from the winery if you are looking for a summer dessert wine.

Cheers Dears,

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Pinot Challenge

Recently, I was surprised with a lovely gift, seven bottles of excellently-rated, American Pinot Noir and a challenge to identify my favorites. Always up for a challenge, I dove in head first and found that price wasn’t always correlated with my enjoyment. In fact, I adamantly disliked the highest priced bottle and would endorse the lowest priced bottle of the group any day of the week. Check out my tasting notes below.

After being handed the seven bottles of Pinot Noir, I was dete2013-05-18_15-54-26_17 (1)rmined to perform a blind tasting from the following producers: Argyle, Meiomi, Phelps Freestone, Domaine Serene, Siduri, and Wright Carter. My benefactor informed me that all had received scores of 90 or higher points by experts (I believe Wine Spectator), but I didn’t research those reviews, nor did I know how much any of the bottles cost. Of course, I was familiar with some of the producers. In fact, I had visited one of the wineries a couple years back – Domaine Serene, which I highlighted in this post. Since I did know where some of these producers sourced their juice, I figured it was OK to research where the grapes in each bottle was from, and since their styles can be so different, I decided to determine a Cali (Meiomi, Phelps Freestone, Siduri) winner and an Oregon (Argyle, two Domaine Serenes, Wright Carter) winner.

So after doing that modest research, it was time to taste. Each bottle got at least three sips and a full description of the wine’s qualities. Then I asked myself the crucial question – would I purchase this bottle? Here’s how the wine stacked up:
No – 1.) Phelps Freestone 2009 ($40/bottle) – I couldn’t get over a bitter after taste that was the opposite of smooth, 2.) Domaine Serene’s Yamhill 2007 ($45/bottle) – there was too much smoke and dirt, not enough fruit for me, 3.) Wright Carter 2008 ($66/bottle) – smoky fruit flavors, earth, and bitterness. Apparently, I’m looking for fruit forwardness and less tertiary flavors (like smoke and earth) from my Pinot Noir.

Yes – From Oregon (elegant style), Argyle and Domaine Serene’s Evenstad Reserve. From California (fruity), Meiomi and Siduri.
Still I didn’t research the price of these wines. I just put them 2013-05-18_15-55-00_7462013-05-18_15-54-55_338head to head, trying to determine which one I liked better. From Oregon, the competition was stiff!  I really liked both of these wines. Argyle’s Williamette Valley 2010 showed why Argyle remains a preeminent producer in Oregon. It was elegant but expressed bright red fruit (raspberries), some dirt, and what I call green tobacco, which may represent fresh herbs to others. Domaine Serene’s Evenstad Reserve 2008 expressed similar characteristics with a bit darker fruit but still with earthy tobacco flavors. It was highly elegant, and that smoothness gave it a modest nod over Argyle, in my opinion. However, after researching the price of each bottle, I have to give the win to Argyle since at $26 per bottle, it is about $40 less per bottle than Domaine Serene’s offering. Now, I’ll drink the Evenstad Reserve any day, but for my pocketbook, Argyle is the winner!

From the California producers, I noticed a much bigger fruit flavor than from the 2013-05-18_15-55-25_953Oregon producers. And while I don’t like to stereotype big areas, like Oregon and California, in general, due to higher heat, California Pinot Noir producers may be able to get bigger fruit flavors because the fruit can get riper than in their neighbor to the North, which can influence wine styles from each area. In my two winners from California, I noted ‘fruit!’ in one tasting note and ‘sugar on the nose’ in another. So if you like fruit forwardness, you may want to concentrate on California Pinot Noir. The Siduri ($28) was a solid wine from the Russian River Valley with lots of red raspberries, tobacco, and smooth finish, but Meiomi was my winner here. It was filled with luscious dark fruits and possessed enough acid to balance its booze. And surprisingly, it was the cheapest of all seven bottles at $23. You know I like a good bargain, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up this bottle any day. In fact, Meomi may become one of my ‘everyday’ Pinot Noir at home soon.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl

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Grocery Store Find

Last weekend, I perused my local grocery store’s (Meijer) wine aisle, bracing myself for yet another disappointment, when I was drawn to one label. Yes, there was one bottle that gave me hope of a great glass of wine with my beef-filled dinner. This beautiful red from one of California’s best wineries and best wine regions (Paso Robles) was calling my name, and boy, did it deliver at only $15 per bottle! So if you are ever in need of a big red wine when grocery shopping, keep an eye out for this wine label. It is one of my new go-tos outside of the local wine shop, much like my pharmacy and filling station wines.

J. Lohr’s 2010 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon rocks. Give it a try!  There are five things you need to know about this wine:2013-04-03_18-52-05_112
1.) At only $15 per bottle at my local grocery store and $18 at here at wine.com, it provides great value.

2.) J. Lohr was named the American Winery of the Year in 2010 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. So you would be making a pretty safe bet by picking up a bottle from this winery.

3.) Paso Robles is one of the top winemaking regions in California. Known for its intense heat, Rhone varietals, like Syrah, and other heat-loving varietals, like Cabernet Sauvignon, fare very well in Paso Robles.  And if you are making a trip to Calif’s Central Coast and need some itin ideas, check out these Paso Robles options from my 2011 trip.

4.) While labeled a Cabernet Sauvignon, the winemaker blends in a fair bit of Merlot and other varietals to smooth out the wine’s rough edges, which I welcome at this modest price point. This wine is fruit forward and easily approachable. From the winemaker:
The 2010 Seven Oaks is red-purple in color with a bright hue at  release. Ripe fruit aromas of black plum, blueberry and cherry  are mixed into a bouquet of roasted hazelnut, vanilla and coconut  from a year in barrel. Mature and round on the palate, this well structured  vintage has a generous fruit signature and soft finish.
-Steve Peck, J. Lohr’s Red Winemaker

5.) It paired very well with my ‘famous’ stuffed green peppers (stuffing = beef, arrabiata sauce, and lots of mozzarella cheese) for the main course and chocolate truffles for dessert.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl


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Getaway Guide to Puerto Rico

I just returned from a fantastic getaway to Puerto Rico!  If you are looking for an adventure and some R&R, consider this U.S. territory (no passport needed for U.S. citizens, same money, many english-speakers, etc.) for your next island vacation. Here are my key tips for exploring Puerto Rico - 1.) Get out of San Juan, 2.) Find the best mofongo at the top of the rain forest, and 3.) Enjoy a deserted island paradise.

1.) Get out of San Juan
No offense to the approximately 2 million people who call the San Juan area home, but unless it is your first time to the island, the WWG recommends getting out of the city as soon as possible to make the most of your getaway to Puerto Rico. First timers, take a day to tour Old San Juan (mainly the historical fort pictured below) and have nice dinner out (my travel buddy and I enjoyed a wonderful, wine-paired meal at Marmalade – check out the Yelp reviews here.) And then, get the heck out of dodge!  I think on my next voyage to Puerto Rico (and yes, I want to go back soon), I will take a flight out of the city as soon as possible to the make the most of what I loved about Puerto Rico.


2.) Find the best mofongo at the top of the rain forest.
If you like nature and hiking, then check out Puerto Rico’s rain forest, El Yunque, which is an easy day trip to the southeast of San Juan. My travel buddy and I stayed at an economical ecolodge in the southern portion of El Yunque, called Casa Cubuy, which is definitely ‘away from it all’. If you plan on lodging there, expect basic accommodations in the middle of a rain forest paradise. Here’s a calendar-ready pic, in my opinion, from a strenuous hike around the rivers near Casa Cubuy. It was fantastic!


Oh and down the road from Casa Bubuy was a restaurant with the best mofongo from this trip. What is mofongo, you ask?  Well, it is a traditional Puerto Rico dish made with a base of mashed potato-consistency plantains covered in meat or fish. At the Mountain View restaurant, you don’t go for the ambiance, you go for the mofongo. The chef’s best are made with fish, shrimp, and lots of butter and garlic. Yum, yum, yum!  If you are staying at Casa Cubuy, you must try the mofongo, even if aren’t thrilled with the Mountain View’s bar-on-the-side-of-the-road vibe.

3.) Enjoy a deserted island paradise.
Are you looking for rest and relaxation?  Do you like beaches with crystal clear water, white sand, and virtually no people?  Well then, look no further than the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. This island near the Virgin Islands is about a 20 minute flight from San Juan and a world away from the mega-resorts of San Juan’s tourist zone. I loved it!  My travel buddy and I stayed at the Malecon House in Esperanza, which is in the middle of everything you could possibly need for a few days in paradise. Here’s a view of the sailboats on the water just off the Malecon in Esperanza.


The WWG does not recommend a car if you are only staying for a few nights. If you stay longer, it may be helpful to rent a car for a day or two to check out more beaches. However, if you are happy with the tranquil waters off Sun Bay and the handful of fab restaurants on the Malecon (I really liked Bili for tapas flair, Duffy’s for a great beach bar atmosphere, and El Quenepo for an elegant dinner), you can easily survive by just hiring a taxi to and from the airport or ferry.

Oh and Vieques is the headquarters for tours of the most concentrated bio-luminescent bay in the world. Think of magical, white fire crystals floating after your kayak paddle (or hand/foot if you are adventurous). My travel buddy and I did the full day tour with Abe’s. It was a good tour, but next time, I would probably just do the night-time bio-bay tour because I was pretty tired from the day of snorkeling and kayaking by the time we got to the main event – the bio-bay tour.

Hopefully by following those tips, you will have as much fun as I did in Puerto Rico. And maybe I’ll see you there – I can’t wait to go back!

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl





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WWG’s New Winter Red

Do you need a wine to keep you warm this winter?  I recently found a great option at one of the many holiday celebrations that I attended during the past couple weeks. After doing a quick internet search to figure out what sort of markup the restaurant charged (not bad) and where I could find it online, my favorite local wine store showed up on the top of the list. Talk about kismet! I promptly picked up a few bottles to get me through the winter. If you, too, are looking for a full-bodied yet well-balanced red in the New Year, my favorite new pick is…

Kaesler’s 2007 Shiraz, Grenache, Mourvedre blend from Oz’s Barossa Valley for $20 per bottle. You can purchase it at my favorite local wine shipe, the Corkscrew here online. This blend is a great value, in my opinion, and pairs well with a variety of rich winter foods. It was a wonderful complement to my rib-eye, my bro’s pot roast (we shared the bottle), and my spicy pasta dish tonight. Like many New World wines, this Rhone-style, GSM blend is fruit forward, which I enjoy, including substantial dark berry flavors. The wine also offers a fair amount of spice on the nose and a long, pleasant finish including a bit of chocolate on the end. Given that chocolaty flavor profile, it was no surprise that the Kaesler worked well with a scrumptious chocolate cake at American Harvest. Give the Kaesler a try on a cold night this winter! It looks like I may have cleaned out the Corkscrew (there’s only 1 bottle left at the Springfield store), so if you can’t find it there, come over to my place for a little nip. Or check out this other online option. It looks like the 2007 vintage is sold out, though, but the 2008 yields similar scores on www.wine.com.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl

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Weekend Getaway Idea: Pigs and Pinot

Do you need a spring break idea?  Do you love Pinot Noir?  Do you love bacon? If the answers are ‘Yes!’ to all of the above, check out Charlie Palmer’s 8th Annual Pigs and Pinot event in my favorite town in Sonoma county, Healdsburg–click here.

The event is being held this year on Friday, March 22nd and Saturday, March 23rd, so if you are looking for a wine-focused getaway, consider trekking out to Northern California that weekend. I’ve never been, but I think it is on my life ‘to do list’. Here’s what I know:
- I’d be most excited to attend Friday night’s Taste of Pigs and Pinot event. Perhaps it is the concept that, while you are noshing on some fantastic pork dishes, master sommeliers have to ‘sell’ you on their favorite Pinot Noirs of the year to win the ‘Pinot Cup.’ Doesn’t that sound like an Olympic sport of wine and food?!  You know I love that!  If I had to enter the competition, I would nominate Arista’s 2009 La Cruz Pinot Noir. I had been saving the bottle since my trip to Sonoma last spring, and the Pigs and Pinot email notifying me of the event convinced me that I needed to stop waiting and uncork that bottle. It was delicious! As I stated in my original tasting notes, this wine is all roses, raspberries, and fresh red fruit. Looks like all it is out of stock online, so get your butt to the winery if you want to try Arista’s artistry.

A variety of seminars are held on Saturday, which sound fun, but besides the Friday night event, I’d be most excited about attending Saturday night’s gala dinner at Hotel Healdsburg’s Dry Creek Kitchen. The event organizers described it as follows: As a collaborative offering, each  course features a signature creation from Palmer and his guest chefs including: Elizabeth Falkner of Krescendo, Dean Fearing of Fearings Restaurant, Jose Garces of Garces Group and Craig Stoll of  Delfina, Locanda and Pizzeria Delfina. Every course will be paired with two limited-production Pinot Noirs from highly acclaimed wineries including De Loach, Domaine A.F. Gros, Kosta Browne, Martinelli and Sea Smoke.

The last two Pinots from this list intrigue me the most. First, I visited Martinelli last spring too and bought the 2008 Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir for $60. From the winemaker, this wine is full of ‘cola-laced black cherry, wild berry, and black licorice galore that’s deep, persistent and concentrated, long and intriguing’. Robert M. Parker, Jr. scored it 93+ points. I would be excited to try Martinelli’s wines again!

Also, the Sea Smoke Pinots come highly recommended by my favorite local wine store, The Corkscrew. From a recent email from The Corkscrew’s owner, Geoff Bland:
SEA SMOKE PINOT NOIR 2010 Sea Smoke “Southing” $75.00 This wine represents the bulk of their production and it is gorgeous showing intense black cherry and raspberry fruit, there is a core of structure and depth in this wine that you seldom find in Pinot Noir, oak accents add richness and length on the palate; this is a wine that while delicious now will improve over the next five years.
2010 Sea Smoke “TEN” $99.00 As the name implies this wine represents the top TEN percent of their barrels and is a wine even bigger and more ageworthy than the Southing; this is serious,intense wine that never lets you down. Please cellar this for several years to see the true potential.

- The  event is for charity and there will be high demand for rooms in Healdsburg, meaning it isn’t a cheap weekend getaway option. For perspective, the value package at the h2Hotel (the one that I stayed in last spring, which was great!) for 2 for the weekend is ~$1,600+transportation costs. Yikes! But you can always just buy ‘a la carte’ tickets for the tasting events and stay outside of Healdsburg. That could be lovely, too!  So if you are interested in heading out to Pigs and Pinot and need some lodging options near Healdsburg, give me a shout at wwg@wanderingwinegirl.com. I may have some helpful hints for you :)

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl


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New Wine Destination: Texas

For Thanksgiving, I had the pleasure of visiting family in the Hill Country of Texas between San Antonio and Austin. Believe it or not, Texas is now the fifth largest wine producing state in the U.S. (behind Cali, NY, Washington, and Oregon), and the Hill Country is fighting for your wine tourism dollars. So if you  like to shop, taste wine, and eat BBQ or Tex-Mex, look no further than Texas!

Is this Texas or Tuscany??? Believe it or not, this is Texas Hill Country, and like Tuscany, the Hill Country is trying to make its reputation primarily with red wines. On this trip, I visited two towns in the area that are wine-tourist destinations–Fredericksburg and Boerne. I liked Boerne better, but Fredericksburg was worth the trip just for a visit to Grape Creek Vineyards’ tasting room on the main drag. My uncle (who lived for about 20 years in Sonoma and loves his California Cabs) bought his first Texan wine there, the Bellissimo. The Bellissimo is a big Super Tuscan-style red wine made from a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. Yum! By the way, we noticed that a lot of the wines that we liked from Texas were made from grapes grown in Lubbock, and the heat of that area appears to be good for big reds. Not surprisingly, I was impressed with this Texan Tempranillo (famously grown in hot/dry conditions in Spain) from Llano Estacado. Check it (or other Texas Tempranillo) out if you get a chance.

Moving on to Boerne, I liked the shopping there better than in Fredericksburg. The stores appeared to be a bit higher end than in Fredericksburg in a good way, but that is just my opinion. I bought a cute shirt from Ella Blue, which was hopping with young ladies. I also really enjoyed the Boerne Wine Company, which was my first time with a help-myself-wine-dispenser at a bar. I thought it was fun concept!  Also, I was pleased to get to try a Roussanne from Zaca Mesa, which was a WWG favorite when I visited the Central Coast of Cali a couple summers ago. Yum, yum, yum! Also, while I didn’t have a chance to try it, I’m excited to go back and check out the restaurant scene, including Cypress Grille and The Creek. Next time!

Side note – some of the fun of my Thanksgiving weekend was just raiding my uncle’s stocked wine fridge. So if you are looking for splurge wine options ($50-$100 per bottle), I loved the 2008 Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon (others loved the 2007, but the 2008 was smoother on my palate) and Domaine Serene Pinot Noir, which I tasted on my trip to Oregon last year.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl

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Trend Alert: Holiday Party Passings

Last week, I traveled to my day job’s corporate headquarters in Chicago for a conference. As part of the event, there was a cocktail hour, and I was pleased to see modern wine options: Sauvignon Blanc for the white and Pinot Noir for the red. Corporations typically choose Chardonnay and some Bordeaux varietal (like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon) to pass out, which lends a safe and stodgy feel to the event. So more modern offerings added a blast of fresh air to the party. So I want to applaud my employer for bucking the cocktail party trend and choosing some modern wines. However, when I thought further about the implications of that offering, I wondered – is this the peak for those varietals?  And what wines will we want to drink more than the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir that we are being served at cocktail parties in the future?

After considering these factors, I checked on when Sideways was released, and it was the fall of 2004. Yes, Paul Giamatti’s character ranted against Merlot and raved about Pinot Noir nearly a decade ago! So maybe Pinot Noir has a decade or more of cocktail party fame in its future, but I’m wondering – is the Pinot Noir trend waning? And since Sauvignon Blanc has been such a ‘go to’ white in recent years, too, perhaps its popularity is peaking as well. I still like those varietals, and if you want to impress your guests with my favorite Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc of the past year, check out the following Russian River Valley offerings  - Arista’s 2009 La Cruz Vineyard Pinot Noir for $52 per bottle and Merry Edward’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc for $30 per bottle. They are delicious!

But as a forward-thinker, I’ve got to wonder, what’s next?  For me, the most obvious choices stem from the Rhone Valley of France. For whites, Viognier is a crowd pleaser that is gaining popularity due to its approachability (floral nose and slight sweetness). For more on Rhone whites, check out this post, and please note that sweetness is not always a bad thing, especially when considering the upward trend associated with Moscato d’Asti in recent years. For reds, the traditional Rhone GSM blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre is often balanced with spice and fruit. Yum, yum, yum! For New World options in the Rhone varietals, check out Oz and Paso Robles. I’m a big fan of fruit-forwardness, so wines from those origins often trick my trigger more than wines from their ancestral French home.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl



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Weekend Ideas

Are you looking for something to do this weekend?  Since folks in the wine industry are literally in the business of helping you relax and have fun, I suggest tapping into your local wine scene for some fun, even if you live far from the major wine-producing areas of the world. For example, I live in central Illinois. We grow a heck of a lot more corn and soybeans than grapes, and let’s be honest, the grapes we grow aren’t always produced into wine that I’m excited about drinking. However, my week is being bookended by local winery events. The first event–ziplining–was fabulous, and the second–a murder mystery dinner–looks both intriguing and yummy. Check them out in person, if you live in the area, or for inspiration, if you want to see examples of what could be going on in your local wine scene. It isn’t always just about tasting!

Check me out ziplining! The photog must have known that I like being incognito, but I promise, that’s me on the Grafton Zipline.

Where’s Grafton, you ask?  Well, Grafton is a small town about a half an hour north of Alton, IL at the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, according to my zipline guide. It is dedicated mainly to tourism and boasts several wineries and breweries on the river (my friends like the band-friendly scene at Piasa Winery and Pub and want to check out Grafton Winery and Brewhaus next time).  What I like best about the Grafton area is the dramatic cliffs that dive down into the river – it just doesn’t feel like you are on the prairie!  Check out Aerie Winery (next to the zipline) for a drink in the hills. It is just gorgeous up there! And you can stay in one of their cottages, too, if you want to make a weekend of it.

The zipline cost me $80 and was well worth it, especially this time of year. The foliage was dramatic, and I bet it will be for at least another weekend. Nine pretty major zips await you at the Grafton Zipline. Kids of all ages over 45 pounds are welcome, but the young ones may want to ride tandem with a guide (some of those zips could be scary for a little shaver.) The zip pictured below was pretty high, but it wasn’t even the granddaddy of them all.

This Friday, I’m headed to another winery-related event–a murder mystery dinner–at Prairie Hill Winery in Oakford, IL. For those of you unfamilar with the area, it is near Abraham Lincoln’s New Salem northwest of Springfield. So if you are coming to town to see that fun Lincoln site, check out the winery nearby. It is open daily year-round, and offers a fun atmosphere with bands from 2pm to 5pm on Sundays. I’m going on Friday night for a murder mystery dinner entitled Gone with (the Passing of) the Wind. For those of you who know my love of that movie, you can imagine my excitement. For $45, I’ll get a nice dinner (looks like steak and potatoes are promised), a little entertainment, and hopefully, a decent glass of wine from the winery. I am excited!

Those are just a couple of events being offered in my local wine scene. Have you looked into what is being offered in your area?  I bet there are lots of dinners, tastings, or other events that spice up your weekend.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl




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