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A Weekend With Friends

September 27, 2021 1 comment

Here I am, going over the options in my head. I can just start this post like everything is cool. Or I can start it with a little whining about the past. Like the life as we knew it before 2020. The year which didn’t exist. Which continues “not existing” well into this very 2021. Anyone has a time machine to go and fix it all? We don’t need to go far…

Yes, I strive normal. The life as it was. And this past weekend, this is exactly what I had.

For the past 10 years, we have had a tradition with friends – adults’ getaway. It was born out of the need to get away from the kids, to feel ourselves the adults without the need to constantly taking care of someone. Visit a winery, have a great dinner, play some games until everyone is really tired, have more fun the next day, come home recharged. Simple.

Last year was the first time in 10 years when we felt that adults’ getaway was not in the cards. But this year, the spontaneous decision was made not to lose another year to the stupid crap, and the getaway was planned.

We always go to the small towns around the east coast, trying to stay within 3 hours of driving distance from Stamford, CT. As I started writing this post, I decided to check what places we visited over this years. It turns out that this was our 10th trip, skipping 2011 (if 2011 was not skipped, I have zero records of that), and 2020. In 2010, this all started in Milford, Pennsylvania. In 2012, we continued to Grafton, Vermont. In 2013, we stayed in Palenville, New York, with the visit to Hudson Distillery being an absolute highlight. In 2014, it was Norfolk, Connecticut, and then we continued on to Cooperstown, New York in 2015, Greenville, New York in 2016, Lenox, Massachusetts in 2017, then Kenneth Square, Pennsylvania in 2018, and West Yarmouth on Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 2019 (as you can tell by the absence of the links, I failed to properly document some of our adventures).

That brings us to the year 2021, where our spontaneously decided destination was once again the Berkshire mountains region of Massachusetts, and our home base for the weekend been at Harbour House Inn and B&B in Cheshire, Massachusetts. But our first stop on the way was at the Balderdash Cellars winery in Richmond, Massachusetts. It was a random pick – the winery was conveniently located along the way, about 30 minutes away from our final destination, but then it was definitely a lucky strike.

The note on Balderdash Cellars website said that reservations are unnecessary and not taken – this sounded really good especially with the latest trend where you can’t just walk into the winery for a tasting (I get the business side of it, but I’m not a fan). Another interesting thing about the winery is that Balderdash Cellars brings the grapes from California (grapes, not juice), and then they make their wines right on premises, including all of the aging (some of the reds age for 2 years).

We arrived pretty much by the time the winery just opened its tasting room (at noon), and we were the first there. You can get a tasting flight of 5 wines, a glass of wine, or a bottle, all from the current selection. The tasting flight is prepared for you in the neat tiny vessels, and then you can seat anywhere you like and taste at your own speed.

All the wines we tasted greatly exceeded my expectations. 2020 Balderdash Cellars Bao Bao Sauvignon Blanc (13.6% ABV, $29, 100% Stainless steel for 5 months, Napa Valley fruit) was perfectly on point – a touch of freshly cut grass, bright acidity, lemon notes, perfectly refreshing and delicious. 2017 Balderdash Cellars Til Death Do Us Part Viognier (14.3% ABV, $29, 75% French Oak, 25% stainless steel for 8 months, Paso Robles fruit) was possibly even more surprising. Viognier is a very tricky grape, you really need to do it right, especially when it comes from the warm climates. This wine was outstanding – beautiful perfume on the nose, tropical fruit, nicely plump and balanced palate.

2017 Balderdash Cellars Joyride Pinot Noir (14.4% ABV, $39, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Edna Valley fruit) was good, maybe a bit too sweet for my palate. However, 2019 Balderdash Cellars Invincible Cabernet Sauvignon (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 2 years, Napa Valley fruit) was simply outstanding – cassis and bell peppers on the nose, classic, unmistakable Cab with a lot of restraint, continuing with the same finesse on the palate – more cassis and bell peppers, all well balanced and harmonious. I would be happy to drink this wine at any time. Last but not least in the flight was 2019 Balderdash Cellars Brakelight Syrah (13.7% ABV, $37, 100% French Oak aging for 18 months, Sonoma fruit), which was also perfectly classic – beautiful black pepper all around, on the nose and on the palate, the nice core of the black and red fruit, delicious.

We also had a bonus taste of the 2020 Balderdash Cellars Kill Joy Late Harvest Viognier (12% ABV, $27, 100% neutral French oak, Edna Valley fruit) which was just outstanding – fresh ripe tropical fruit supported by clean lemon acidity, the element which makes or breaks any dessert wine, and this one was definitely made right.

I really wanted to try Truth Serum Petite Sirah as just the name sounds soooo intriguing, but the wine was sold out, unfortunately.

After tasting we moved from inside of the tasting room to find a nice sitting outside. The winery has stacks and stacks of red Adirondack chairs, my favorite type of chair, and we had no problems assembling a very comfortable sitting. We got a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to continue, while we were waiting for the food truck to arrive at 1 pm (the winery offers different food options on the weekends). I also want to mention how professional the staff was at the winery – water was added to the ice in the bucket to chill our Sauvignon Blanc better. The foil was cut completely from the bottle before pulling out the cork – these are the little things that make your wine experience simply more enjoyable.

While the winery doesn’t offer vineyard views, they have rows of flowers instead. I love seeing all of the pictures of sunflowers from all the people around, but never really had an opportunity to take sunflower pictures before – until now. This flower field was boasting the sunflowers of more colors ever thought are possible in the sunflowers. Hence let me inundate you a bit here with these beauties:

Three hours later, we left now a very crowded winery to get to our destination – Harbour House Inn B&B. If I would have to describe Harbour House Inn in a few words, that would be “clean, large, spacious, and hospitable”. Hospitable is truly a keyword here – let me explain.

Saturday night dinner is the major attraction for our adults’ getaways, pièce de résistance if you will. We always put a lot of care into finding a restaurant that would be willing to accommodate our group and create a special tasting menu which we would pair with our own wines. On most of the trips we were able to create the arrangements like this, and a few times we were unable to bring our own wines and had the tasting dinner fully arranged by the restaurant. This time around, we couldn’t find a restaurant that would be willing to work with us in creating a tasting menu, and not everybody was even willing to accommodate our whole group for dinner. This is where our hosts, Brandi, Darrell, and Billie came to the rescue, allowing us to get the take-out from the restaurant, set up the dinner table with all the plates and glasses, and thus still have an experience of our traditional wine dinner.

When we arrived, the table was already set with the wines glasses and plates, and there was a fridge where we could stuff all of our white wines.

And here is the same table all set to start the dinner:

Those popocers… Yummmm!

We brought our dinner from the Mario’s Restaurant in New Lebanon, New York (about 30 minutes drive) which also exceeded our expectations. We arrived at 5 PM to pick up all the food. Everything was ready to go, no waiting at all, and all the food was piping hot, just made. The restaurant even included lots of delicious bread and top it all off, popovers, which were simply spectacular – I’m not a big fan of the popovers in general, but this was just something else – I would eat 5 of those by myself and have no regrets.

Now, let’s talk about wine and food. Our first dish was Prince Edward Isle Mussels (Pancetta, leek, roasted garlic, white wine, EVOO, crostini) which we paired with 2020 Bisol Jeio Millesimato Prosecco Rosé DOC. Prosecco Rosé is a hot category right now. As I’m mostly ambivalent to the Prosecco, this new category is also lost on me. However, when I was looking for the wines to pair with the dinner, and I wanted to start our dinner with bubbles, that bottle of Jeio Rosé looked very good – an opportunity to try a new (hot!) type of wine made by the reputable producer (I’m not ambivalent to Bisol wines – these are Prosecco wines in its own category). The Rosé didn’t disappoint – crisp, clean, tart, fresh – anything else you want from the sparkling wine? Yep, I thought so. It paired very well with the mussels which were a riot – lots and lots of flavor, delicious broth – I lost count to the amount of bread I consumed with the mussels.

Next, we had Rustic Beef and  Veal Grande Meatballs (San Marzano sauce, pesto, crostini) and Mushroom Beignet (Caps stuffed with garlic butter, dipped in a beignet batter, baked and topped with hollandaise sauce) which we paired with 2020 Notorious Pink Grenache Rosé Vin de France (100% Grenache). The meatballs were absolutely delicious, as well as the mushroom beignet. As far as the wine is concerned, we already had this Rosé at one of the previous dinners, and looking into my past notes I was equally unimpressed.

Next, we had Baby Arugula Salad (Farm fresh peaches, garden tomatoes, burrata, toasted pistachios, white balsamic vinaigrette) paired with 2019 Ninety Plus Cellars Aligoté Bourgogne AOC. Aligoté is yet another rave of the moment, gaining in popularity as an affordable white Burgundy. The wine was round and creamy and worked quite well with the salad.

For our “intermezzo” we decided to try something new and different – a “pasta” of zucchini – Zucchini “Noodles” (Roasted wild mushrooms and tomatoes, sweet corn, burrata, cheese, white wine, and garlic) paired with 2019 Thevenet & fils Les Clos Bourgogne AOC. The zucchini “noodles” were an absolute standout – amazing flavor and texture, delicious. The red Burgundy was very tart and light – while it was kind of okay with the dish, the pairing was not anything to write home about.

Then there were the entrées. First, we paired Pan Seared Sea Scallops (Risotto alla Milanese, sweet corn, chive beurre blanc) and Grilled Faroe Island Salmon (Maple and mustard glaze, hash of roasted potatoes, English peas, carrots, and scallions, fresh horseradish) with 2013 Montecillo Rioja Reserva DOC. Scallops and salmon were delicious in their own right, each dish being succulent and flavorful. The Rioja was simply superb – dark fruit, cedar box, herbs, perfectly balanced, round and velvety in the mouth – this was another most favorite wine of the dinner (the first one was Prosecco Rosé).

Last we had Pan Seared Duck Breast and Leg Confit (Chive mashed, cherry & port wine reduction, grilled asparagus) – melt in your mouth delicious, and succulent, generous, flavorful Red Wine Braised Short Rib (Roasted summer vegetables, chive mashed, red wine jus). These two dishes were paired with 2015 d’Arenberg The Laughing Magpie Shiraz Viognier McLaren Vale, which didn’t meet my expectations. Maybe the wine needed some time, but it really didn’t do anything for me.

The dessert was good, but after all of the food, nobody really cared about the dessert…

My next day started from the quiet early walk in the fog. Fog has a special ability to underscore the silence. And there is no better time of the day than a cool and quiet morning with a cup of hot coffee in your hand and the knowledge that the whole day is fully ahead of you.

Our breakfast (it is a B&B, remember?) consisted of freshly baked blueberry muffin, fresh fruit, and eggs Benedict casserole – an unusually creative dish, resembling the eggs Benedict without the need to properly poach the eggs for the large group of hungry guests.

We always like to include at least a bit of the hiking into our trips, so our first stop after we left the Inn was at the old marble quarry repurposed into the nature park. Lots of steps and some beautiful views:

We then went to the cheese shop along Berkshire cheese trail where we were hoping to taste some cheese – unfortunately, this was a cheese shop at the functional dairy farm, but no cheese to taste, only to buy.

We ended our day with a late lunch at Pera Mediterranean Bistro in Williamstown before starting the drive home.

Here we are – another adults’ getaway became history, but I’m already craving the next one.

 

Oregon Wine Reflections – On The Way To The Wine Media Conference 2021

August 6, 2021 2 comments

I like flying. And it is not only the excitement of travel, arriving at the new place, meeting new people, having new experiences. The plane itself, the cabin, offers one of the rare sanctuaries, an opportunity to do some undisturbed work and reflect. Yes, the economy plane seat is not the most relaxing accommodation in the world, but if I chose to do something useful (oh so many times I ended up binge-watching movies instead of doing anything productive), comfort is not the most important thing.
Right now I’m on the small plane, connecting from Denver, Colorado to Eugene, Oregon – the location of the Wine Media Conference (previously know as Wine Bloggers Conference) 2021, WMC21 for short. It could’ve been equally called WMC20, as you can imagine that WMC 2020 never took place, but hey, at least we are getting together in 2021.

This will be my 5th WMC (I started in 2014, skipped 2015, and attended 2016, 2017, and 2018), and I’m really excited to visit Oregon for that.

As I was thinking about the location, I also tried to recall how did I discover Oregonian wines – you know, wine solicit the emotion, makes you dig into your memory.

I have no way of tracing it back to the exact year, but I believe the very first Oregonian wine which made me say “wow” was Archery Summit Pinot Noir, and I would think it happened 15–16 years ago. I probably had some wines from Oregon before and after which were just “meh”, but Archery Summit was definitely a pivotal wine. I think the next super-impressive Oregon wine was the Evening Land Pinot Noir, followed by Ken Wright (I was blown away by the massive power that wine was packing), followed by some of the high-end Adelsheim Pinot Noir wines when I wished for an expense account. And let me not forget Antica Terra, with absolutely spectacular Pinot Noir and Pinot Noir Rosé wines (among many others).

This was ancient history. The modern history (ha!) of my Oregonian wine embrace is closely associated with Carl Giavanti, the winery publicist out of Portland, Oregon. We met with Carl at WBC14 and maintained contact from thereon. At some point, I started doing winemaker interviews in the blog, and Carl asked if I would be interested to create a series of interviews of the Oregonian winemakers – this is how the Stories of Passion and Pinot series was born 5 years ago. Working on those interviews afforded me to discover amazing wines – and amazing passion behind them. Vidon, Lenné, Youngberg Hill, Ghost Hill Cellars, Le Cadeau, Alloro, Iris, Utopia, Bell’s Up – each one had a unique story and unique wines. As part of the series I also interviewed Ken Wright, and I always remember that when I asked him how Oregon Pinot Noir compares to Burgundy, he said that for the long time, Oregon sees Burgundy in the rearview mirror, having found its own unique style.

While Pinot Noir is a king of Oregon, it is not the only wine produced here. Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, Tannat, Vermentino, and many others also call Oregon home, and if you ever had wines from, for example, Troon Vineyards, you would know how good those wines can be.

Yes, color me excited – I finally get to meet the people and visit the wineries I’m already so [virtually] familiar with – and now it will be real.

Wine Media Conference 2021 – here we go!

Of Hydrangeas, Ocean, Sunsets, and Wine

July 13, 2021 7 comments

I’m sure this cryptic title leaves you wondering what are we going to talk about in this post, right?

Yeah, a lame attempt at self-humor.

And as you can see I want to talk about some of my most favorite things – flowers, waves and sand, sunsets, and, of course, wine. Mostly in pictures – except the wine part.

We just came home after a weekend in Cape Cod, and if you ever visited The Cape as it is typically called, I’m sure you noticed the abundance of hydrangeas. There is rarely a house that doesn’t sport a beautiful hydrangeas display.

Hydrangeas come in many colors, which can be also influenced by what you feed the flowers. They typically bloom the whole summer and deliver non-stop pleasure – at least in my world. Let me share some of my favorites with you:

Our next subject is the ocean. Cape Cod is a special place, where you can find huge swathes of water only a few inches deep, or simply a wet send that goes for miles and miles during low tide. The water and the sky magically connect, creating an ultimate rhapsody in blue – see for yourself:

The sunsets were challenging this time around. Two days out of three that we spent on The Cape, the weather was not good at all – rain, wind, and more of the rain and wind. Nevertheless, the weather was taking a break in the evening to present a beautiful sun setting imagery, which we enjoyed from the comfort of the deck – with a glass of wine in hand:

And this brings us to the last subject of today’s post – the wine. This was a vacation, and I was absolutely not interested in taking any sort of formal notes. But somehow, the majority of the wines we had were so good (with the exception of some sort of homemade wine from Moldova, which we had to pour out) that I can’t help it not to share the pleasure. Here are my brief notes.

We started with 2020 Hugues de Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet AOP (14.1% ABV) – fresh, clean, well balanced. The wine offered a touch of the whitestone fruit and was a perfect welcome drink after 4 hours of driving. It is also very well priced at about $12 at Total Wines in Boston, which is almost a steal at that level of quality.

2019 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Sauvignon Blanc Galilee (13.5% ABV) offered a beautiful Sauvignon Blanc rendition with a hint of freshly cut grass and beautiful creaminess. This wine was more reminiscent of Sancerre than anything else – an excellent effort out of Israel.

2016 Sonoma Mountain Steiner Vineyard Grüner Veltliner (14.1% ABV) – one of the perennial favorites (I’m very disappointed when my Carlisle allocation doesn’t include Gruner Veltliner). Beautiful fresh Meyer lemon, grass, clean acidity – in a word, delicious.

The last white wine we had was 2016 Château de Tracy Pouilly-Fumé AOP (13% ABV). Another Sauvignon Blanc – plump, creamy, delicious. Nicely restrained and round. It is definitely a fun wine as long as the price is not taken into the consideration – otherwise, at about $40, both Yarden (under $20) and Picpoul wines would give it a great run for the money.

Our Rosé was fun 2020 Samuel Robert Winery Pinot Noir Rosé Vineyard Reserve Willamette Valley (13% ABV) – the Oregon Rosé is just not very common. This wine had nice strawberries all around – on the nose and on the palate. I would probably want it to be a tiny bit less sweet, but the wine was still quite enjoyable.

2017 Campochiarenti San Nicola Chianti Colli Senesi (14.5% ABV) is one of my favorite wines to surprise friends and even myself with. It starts as a solid Chianti would – cherries, tobacco, leather, iodine. But in a few minutes of breathing, it magically evolves to add sandalwood, nutmeg, and exotic spices. An incredibly heart-welcoming sip.

And to top of everything else, the 1997 Chappellet Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valey (87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 4% Cabernet Franc) was thrown into the mix by my brother-in-law. This wine was a testament to California Cabernet Sauvignon; a simple proof that well made California Cab might be the best wine on Earth. This wine had no – none – signs of aging. Fresh, young, concentrated, cassis and cherries with a touch of mint and coffee, beautifully layered and well structured. This wine was not yet at its peak – I wonder how many more years it would require to reach the top…

And now, an absolute surprise – 2000 EOS Tears of Dew Late Harvest Moscato Paso Robles (10.5% ABV) – a late harvest wine from Paso. Beautiful orange color, and nose and palate loaded with ripe apricots – a hedonistic pleasure on multiple levels.

Now that is the whole story I wanted to share. What is your favorite flower? Have you tasted any amazing wines lately? Cheers!

 

 

Pretty in Pink

May 10, 2021 Leave a comment

I love photography.

You already know that.

Yes, this is a wine blog, and while this analogy might thin-stretched (yeah, really thin), same as wine, photography helps to bring beauty into our lives, so from time to time, you will have to bear with me here.

It is easy to find beauty around us at any time. I love sharing pictures from a short walk around the block where I live. Usually, those pictures are taken in the fall, when the leaves are the most colorful. I also shared the beauty of the snow a few times on these pages. But this year’s spring, while started way too early, was cold enough to afford all of us a long, slow and beautiful transition of colors.

During one of the recent walks, I noticed how many shades and shapes of pink we have on our street. I love all things pink, and thus I decided to share these beautiful colors with you.

Enjoy!

 

Lilac… I wish you could smell this too…

Of course, it is not only pink – young, bright green and pure white are equally beautiful:

 

 

Snow In New England – 2021 Edition

February 20, 2021 3 comments

One of the pleasures of living in New England is having 4 seasons. Every year those seasons are different – we might have only 2 weeks of the spring, or the winter without any snow (I think we had only 1 snowfall last winter), but this is all in Mother Nature’s hands, not something we control.

Snow can be devastating, especially coupled with the strong wind and a bit of the freezing rain, as we experienced it here in New England on multiple occasions – but when it is not, when it is just a beautiful dance of the snowflakes slowly descending from the sky, it is really a thing of pleasure (of course, not for everyone – if you despise the snow, you can safely skip this post). Sunny sky, crisp air, and fresh snow is yet another pleasure in itself which New England offers all of us here – without going overboard – I’m not sure I would equally love snow if I would be living in Minnesota or Alberta, Canada.

About 2 weeks ago, we had a pleasure of a beautiful snowfall – there was worrying wind afterward, but luckily, the power stayed. I want to share with you the beauty of the snow – we took a little drive around and really enjoyed the show. And then the sun showed up and made everything even better. Enjoy!

A Quick Trip To Switzerland

January 19, 2021 Leave a comment

Switzerland might be one of my most favorite countries in the world. Considering the travel-deprived state of mind I could, of course, say this about almost any place – but here my logic is very simple. I’m going by the number of happy memories just a mention of the place induces – and Switzerland is definitely on top of that list.

I don’t even need to close my eyes to imagine a slow walk around Lake Geneva, wandering around the streets of Zurich looking for a place for an authentic meal, or 3 hours lunch ending in the grappa shots with an owner.

How do you travel to Switzerland when travel is not a thing? On this blog, it is easy. You have three quick travel options – 1. wine, 2. food, and 3. combination of both. For today’s trip, I’m going with #3 – food and wine.

What food would you typically associate with Switzerland? This is not even a fair question, as Swiss food differs depending on where you are – around Geneva, you will mostly find French influence, Zurick – German, and Lausanne – Italian. While my idea of quintessential Swiss food can be regarded as cliche, it is nevertheless my first association – Fondue. I’m talking about classic cheese fondue, which to me is not so much food, but more of the lifestyle element. I have no idea how fondue is regarded in Switzerland and if it is relegated to the level of tourist attraction only, but for me, fondue equals a pleasant evening with friends, a slow conversation about nothing next to the gently crackling fireplace.

For the new year’s present, I got a classic fondue pot, courtesy of the kids. We followed the recipe enclosed with our SwissMar fondue set – I used California Pinot Gris from Field Recordings as a wine base and a mix of freshly grated Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses. The result was not amazing, but good enough – however, I think we will look for different cheeses for the next time.

To call Fondue an experience, it must be accompanied by wine. When I discovered fondue first in the US, ways before my first trip to Switzerland, our choice of wine pairing was Sherry with some nice residual sweetness. I later learned that typically Fondue is served with local dry white wine, often made out of Chasselas grape.

Switzerland makes lots of great wines, but those are practically unknown outside of the country, as the majority of the wines are consumed locally (only about 1% of the total wine production is exported). While some of the grape varieties in Switzerland are generic, such as Pinot Noir and Gamay, there are many grapes that are quite unique in their popularity and origin, such as Chasselas, Arvine Grosso, Petitte Arvine, and many others.

One of my best memories of Switzerland is a dinner in the winemaker’s cave at the winery in Bursinel. We were served local ham, which had a superbly delicious garlicky crust. I still remember (10 years after) that it was melting in the mouth and disappearing faster than the refill was able to arrive. Accompanying that ham was Chasselas, roughly 30 years old, which showed some oxidative notes but otherwise was fresh, round, and delicious. After that dinner I got a bottle of Chasselas to bring home – 2008 Au Grand Clos Le Coeur de le Cote Bursinel AOC (12.1% ABV).

When you have only one bottle of wine, deciding when to open it is missing impossible, especially for the undecisive oenophile like myself. But I was really craving Fondue for a while, and this Chasselas was a perfect choice to maximize the authenticity of the experience and have an overflow of memories and positive emotions, so the cork was pulled – well, actually, I’m lying – the wine had a screwtop.

I was expecting oxidative notes to show up, but they didn’t (screwtop?). The wine was perfectly fresh, crisp, clean, with a good minerally-driven nose, and good creaminess on the palate to perfectly compliment the cheese. I didn’t even need to close my eyes to imagine myself in Switzerland. A superb experience. And the usual regret of bringing home just one bottle instead of a case.

My quick trip was a definite success, so now I need to decide where I’m going next. How about you? What were your successful [virtual] travels lately?

2020 – A Year in Blogging

January 17, 2021 Leave a comment

Talk-a-Vino2020 was a unique year – don’t think anyone would try to dispute that. Let me acknowledge this by doing something I have never done before – a look back at what happened here on the Talk-a-Vino pages during the past year.

It is interesting that in terms of the number of posts, 2020 was about the same as the prior 3 years – I averaged about 70 posts throughout the whole year or about 6 posts per month on average. Might be a decent amount, but in my most active years, such as 2014, for example, I had about 200 posts in the year, which would average close to 17 per month. Yes, the numbers are a stubborn thing.

Leaving stats aside, a couple of things happened for this blog for the first time. This blog made it to the two of the Top 100 wine blog lists – Top 101 wine writers of 2020 at Corked Wines, and Top 100 wine blogs at Feedspot. Unique and quite happy developments, I have to say – it is nice to be recognized even in the 11th year of blogging.

Many things were “much less” during 2020 – for example, I attended only 3 wine tasting events in person – Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux, Georgian Wine tasting, and Tre Bicchieri. Since the beginning of March, there were, obviously, no trade tastings of any kind. The samples still kept coming, albeit in much smaller amounts compared to the previous years. Delicious discoveries were still made such as wines of Casarena and Mythic from Argentina, amazingly drinkable California Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, superb Oregon finds from Alit and Utopia Vineyard.

Then, of course, there were zooms. “To Zoom” became a new verb, meaning to “see each other in the videoconference”. In the old days, “to Skype” was the thing, but 2020 was the year of Zoom. Zooms with wine lovers stuck in their houses, zooms with winemakers equally desperate for the conversation, zooms with friends. A very unique year. There will be more zooms in 2021, at least in the first half of the year, whether we want it or not.

I decided to bring back some of the old series, trying to instill some timing and order into my blogging – I’m talking about continuing Wine Quiz and Wednesday’s Meritage series. Wine Quiz was exactly as the name says, posts with a set of wine-related questions. when the series was active, those were weekly posts on Saturdays. I now realized that I can’t run those on the weekly basis, however, once every two weeks or so should be possible, so the series is back. I used to have a good number of responders for all the quizzes, which is not the case now, but hey, I still have fun writing those posts, so the series will continue.

Wednesday’s Meritage posts were born without any connection with #WineWednesday – the idea was simply to compile interesting wine news and articles and offer it in a concise format to my readers, keeping them informed of interesting happenings in the wine world. Again, by design, those were supposed to be weekly posts – now they are “best effort” – once I accumulate enough of the good newsworthy content, the post is coming out – but the series is back.

I still managed to produce traditional posts such as April 1st Wine News and Updates, a summary of my best wine experience of 2020, and even snuck one of the most memorable tastings ever before the quarantine was besieged upon us – the OTBN 2020.

That about sums up the year 2020 here at Talk-a-Vino. There were lots of great wines back in 2020 which didn’t make it – yet! – to the blog posts – I will do my best to rectify that, as good wines are always worth a conversation.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. How was your 2020? Cheers!

Happy New Year 2021!

January 1, 2021 6 comments

Whatever doesn’t break you makes you stronger. 2020 became an ultimate test for humankind, and I hope we will all emerge in 2021 stronger and a little bit wiser.

I really appreciate each and every one of you, my readers – and I want to take a moment to wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and peaceful New Year 2021!

And … needless to say … lots and lots of exciting wine discoveries.

To the new beginnings! Cheers!

Categories: Holidays, Life Tags:

Thanksgiving Day Experiences – 2020 Edition

November 28, 2020 2 comments

2020. What a year.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, as it revolves around family, food, wine, and friends. Close friends, who are more a family. Friends we celebrated Thanksgiving together with for the past 29 years. And 2020 managed to put a damper on that too, among a vast array of destruction this year will leave behind. Thanksgiving 2020 was about immediate family, food, and wine.

But even in 2020, the proverbial silver lining can be found. This probably was the most relaxing Thanksgiving ever. The menu was dramatically reduced – the family of 4 doesn’t need much of the elaborate appetizers and a vast array of side dishes, so cooking was mostly stress-free. Mostly, however, is a keyword here, as the cooking of the turkey became an unintended study of the operations of our oven.

I’ve cooked the turkey using most of the possible ways over the years, with the exception of deep-frying – roasted, roasted in the bag, turducken, deboned and roasted, smoked (smoked was the house favorite for the past 3 years). I’m also a big fan of slow cooking when you cook low and slow for a long time, so we decided that this was the way to go this year. Turkey was all buttered up with cavity stuffed with aromatics (garlic, lemon, celery, herbs), and the turkey went into the oven at around midnight at 200°F. Or at least I thought that it was 200°F. In the morning, the thigh registered only 152°F (you really need 185°F there) – this is when we decided to check the temperature in the oven using the same meat thermometer, and found out that it was at least 20 degrees lower, barely reaching 180°F, which greatly extends cooking time. We spent the next 6-7 hours playing with that temperature until we finally reached the desired doneness. 40 minutes at 450°F uncovered rendered a beautiful bird with crispy skin. So as long as you trust your oven, slow cooking is the way to go. Added benefit – the best ever turkey gravy, made from the drippings (here is the link to the recipe in case you need one).

The rest of the food prep caused no heartburn, everything came out quite well. We did the same stuffing for the second year in a row. While the recipe is very simple (but it takes time), the result is simply a delightful dish loved by everyone. One more standout was Nantucket Cranberry Pie, which is incredibly simple to make but yet again, the result is superb.

What didn’t work well at all (every occasion needs a flap, right?) was my attempt to recreate childhood memories. I ordered black caviar from Costco (yes, guilty as charged), which came pre-packaged with Creme Fraiche and tiny blinis (a dollar-coin-sized Russian pancakes). First, the caviar itself was just so-so, both in texture and in the taste. But following the instructions and serving it with blinis was a complete disaster, as those dry nibbles resembling poorly made English muffins were, in a word, disguising, both in the taste and texture, especially the texture. Talk about disappointments… But as I said, this was the only flap.

And then there were wines. Over the years, I developed an “All-American” approach to my Thanksgiving wine selection. 2020 was not an exception, and I decided to open definitely more than we could drink, but still have fun with the wines.

Two out of four wines came as part of the mystery pack from Last Bottles which were offered during Thanksgiving. I always missed that deal, but this year I managed to grab the 12 bottles for $144, which made it a great deal. So far I tried 5 bottles out of those 12, and they were all excellent, so the white and Rosé were coming from that set. Vinum Cab Franc was a sample that I received as a preparation for the upcoming #CabFrancDay celebration. I also managed to get cellar-aged Cayuse as part of this year’s offering (directly from Cayuse), so I decided that it might make the Thanksgiving celebration quite special. And yes, it did…

For what it worth, here are my wine notes:

2017 Casino Mine Ranch Vermentino Shenandoah Valley (14.1% ABV)
Light golden
Honeysuckle, white flowers, inviting
Delicious. Whitestone fruit and tropical fruit, a touch of honey undertones, Gewurz-like spiciness, good acidity, good balance.
Should play well with food (pre-dinner notes)
8-, it was good with food

2018 Azur Rosé Napa Valley (12.5% ABV)
Gold with a copper hue
Similar to the previous wine, honeysuckle, ripe strawberries
Good acidity, strawberries all the way, fresh, vibrant, full of energy. Excellent.
8-/8, tremendous acidity on the second day. Worked well with food.

2016 Vinum Cellars The Scrapper Cabernet Franc El Dorado (15.18% ABV, $35, 26 months in 2 year French Oak)
Dark garnet
Red and black fruit, a touch of black currant
Black currant, dark chocolate, sweet cherries
8, good balance, well-made wine.

2011 Cayuse Syrah En Cerise Vineyard Walla Walla Valley (13.9% ABV)
Dark garnet, almost black
Liquid rocks, a touch of barnyard, iodine, can’t stop smelling
Liquid rock, tart cherries, tar, pepper, iodine, firm structure, layers and layers of flavor. Wow.
9-/9. Surprising pairing – worked amazingly well with Nantucket cranberry pie. Worked well with turkey as well.

As you can tell, the wine program was a complete success – and I definitely can’t complain about spending the holidays with just the closest family

That’s my Thanksgiving story. Hope you have fun too!

Serene Beauty of Cape Cod

September 18, 2020 8 comments

The Cape Cod always was one of my favorite places to visit – I make no secret out of it. This year, it became literally the only place for us to visit to escape the maniacal joy of virtual confinement – and I have no complaints about it.

Mere three and a half hours ride and you are in the world which offers a chance to relax, unwind, and clear up your mind. Clearing up of the mind requires one to disconnect from the moment, to forget that reality exists. I can only envy people who can do this through meditation – I had a friend who would not even hear the doorbell ring once he was in his deep meditation. This is not me, unfortunately – I tried many times, but never was really able to disconnect from all the daily chatter. Thus I need the help of Mother Nature when looking for tranquility.

The three options which would work for me in that quest for tranquility would be the trees, the mountains, or the ocean.

Talking about the trees, I need a clean and open forest, full of 150 feet Eastern white pine trees – beautiful Redwoods would do the trick either. Have you had the pleasure of laying down on the thick layers of long pine needles, looking at the tall, impeccably vertical arrows touching the clouds far, far away? That is the feeling I’m talking about, but there is no place to experience it where I live.

Have you ever experienced the deafening quietness of the mountains? When the time stops, leaving you one on one with the universe, offering you an opportunity to get lost in your dearest thoughts and dreams? I have, on Mount Evans in Colorado – but this is 2,000 miles away.

That leaves us with the ocean. The closest beach is only 7 miles away from where we live, but to call that setting tranquil in any shape and form would be a huge exaggeration. The Cape, especially in the off-season, is offering unlimited amounts of tranquil bliss – just come and get it.

The Cape Cod is a narrow swath of land, extended into the Atlantic ocean – in no time you can move from one side of The Cape to another one, as the distance between the “coasts” ranges between 1 and 20 miles. We have family living in the town of Dennis, so this is where we stayed, the same as in the previous trips this year. In 3 days, we visited 5 or 6 different beaches – it appears that the town of Dennis (population under 14,000) offers a total of 20 (!) beaches on both sides of the Cape. While the beach is the beach at the end of the day, they all still have different charm – and some would even allow you to bring your car directly on the beach.

Combination of off-season (tourists are practically gone after the Labor Day weekend), warm weather, and low tide allowed us to enjoy hourlong walks with only sand and water in sight. A perfect place and time for self-reflection and pondering at life.

The only way I can share this experience with you is through the pictures, so here you have it, my friends.

A little flower intermezzo:

More of the water and sand:

This is not the beach, obviously, but beautiful morning on the backyard:

And a few words about wines, as the wine was an unquestionable part of the daily routine. The 2014 Turley White Coat was an absolute delight, offering Chardonnesque complexity and layers of acidity and fresh fruit. 2010 Diadema Rosso Toscana, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, was offering a lot more than just a pretty bottle – plums, cherries, tobacco, mouthwatering acidity – delicious, nicely mature Italian wine treat. We also enjoyed the line of Terra Noble delicious renditions of Chilean Carmenere, which I just tasted before leaving for the Cape Cod over the virtual tasting (this will be a subject of the separate post).

And here is more of the Cape Cod beauty for you:

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