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When in Spain…

December 1, 2022 4 comments

My last trip to Europe was in September 2019. Next were the 3 strange years (you know what I’m talking about). And then suddenly I had to come to Europe for work meetings for 2 straight weeks – first week in Spain, then in France. It honestly felt very strange, visiting Europe after such a long break, but I’m afraid I will start sounding very stupid if I will continue complaining…

Before we talk about Spain – I love sunsets and sunrises around the planes – I’m sure you know that there will be quite a few pictures in this post, so here you go…

So what one does do upon arrival to Spain? Okay, I have no idea what people actually do when they come to Spain. And my course of action is largely independent of the destination – I need to find sparkling water for my hotel room, as this is the form of water I always prefer. And of course, being in Europe, I need to check the prices of wine and probably get a bottle or two for the room.

Arriving in Malaga on Sunday didn’t really help with things. Why? I don’t know if this is very typical of Spain (I suspect so) or just for Malaga, but no matter what Google says the absolute majority of the supermarkets are closed (as well as most of the regular stores). I made 2-3 attempts to rely on Google’s recommendations only to find places closed. I almost gave up but decided to give it one more try. This walk was successful, and I ended up with 3 bottles of wine, 3 bottles of seltzer, and some other provisions to make hotel room life more fun (glad I had a little fridge in the room).

Of course, the point of the excursion was not just to get the wine, but also to see the prices and selection. A good number of wines were priced in the range which doesn’t exist in the USA, no matter what and where you are buying – from €2.50 to €4. You can also see a variety of “Tetrapak” wine options, priced extremely reasonably, barely a €1 for a liter and similar prices for the six-packs. Definitely beats “wine-in-the-can” prices in the US which can easily exceed an obnoxious $10 for a can and more.

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Later in the week I managed to get to a supermarket, so you can see the price observation in the pictures below. It is interesting the Albariño wines were priced almost at the level of the prices in the US – while many of the wines were available for a “buck fifty” or so. Go figure…

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Anyway, I settled for two bottles of red and one white, each under €4.

After getting back to my room, I happily enjoyed both of the reds, which both happened to be Tempranillo wines. I did like 2017 Félix Solís Winery Viña Albali Reserva Valdepeñas DO (13% ABV) a bit more as it was perfectly approachable from the get-go, with elegant dark fruit and spices. The 2019 Bodegas Los Llamos Señorio de Los Llamos Tempranillo Valdepeñas DO (12.5% ABV) was a bit more restrained and needed more time to open. Both wines lasted pretty much through the entire week by just putting the cork back. The 2021 Sitial Verdejo Rueda DO (13% ABV) was opened a few days later, and it was a perfectly happy Verdejo rendition with a touch of freshly cut grass and lemon, fully matching the expectations.

After my colleagues arrived in the evening, we took a little stroll to the historical town, where in addition to the very enjoyable walk and pleasant sightseeing I came across one of the tastiest discoveries of the entire trip – roasted chestnuts.

Before you say “duh”, let me explain. Of course, I read many times that roasted chestnuts are “the thing”. I tried to roast them at home in the oven – never happy with the result. Yes, it might be me, might be the chestnuts we get in the US, might be the method. Nevertheless, the chestnuts were in my “I don’t get it” book.

Walking in Malaga, first I noticed the smell. The delightful smell of food and smoke. And then we saw the street vendors, roasting chestnuts in the little stands, looking similar to the hot dog stands in Manhattan. That aroma in the air… absolutely dreamy…

But what’s more important is that the taste was sublime. You take this warm chestnut in your hands, break the thin shell and enjoy the crumbly, slightly sweet and barely starchy “nut” which falls apart in your mouth. I’m salivating as I’m writing this – that food experience pretty much beats Jamon in my book.

This was my first time visiting Spain, so of course, it was nice to see the words of others materialize in the Jamon abundance everywhere – little stores, restaurants, everywhere. I love how those sandwiches are presented – it is really hard to walk by and not get one.

Speaking of food, I found an unexpected dish to be interestingly widespread – Russian Salad. We had it with the catering during lunches and I saw it on the menu of a number of restaurants and even in the eateries at the airport.

I don’t know if this dish is popular only in Malaga or in Spain overall – Malaga used to be very popular among Russian tourists, and this might have something to do with this dish. Anyway, if I was able to dissect correctly, the salad consists of boiled potatoes, eggs, salmon, and mayo. It was quite tasty on a few occasions I had it.

Now, let’s talk more about wines. We had an event dinner at the restaurant in the old town. The wine was simply offered by the color – white or red – with a sheepish comment by the waiter “ohh, the red is local”. I decided to start with the white and to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my choice would be an understatement. This 2021 Bodegas Barbadillo Castillo de San Diego Palomino Fino (13% ABV) had a deep inviting nose of whitestone fruit with minerally undertones, and the palate had a great depth of white plums and sage with the roundness and plumpness which I typically observe on the best renditions of the Roussanne. Outstanding.

Then, of course, I asked to try the red, not having much of an expectation remembering the shy enforcement.

 

 

Wow! I couldn’t understand what was happening. I was supposedly drinking local Malaga wine which I know nothing about, but we are in Spain – how come this wine tastes like a perfectly round, exuberant, in-your-face Bordeaux at its peak? What is this all-around beautiful cassis doing in the local Malaga wine? Something happened to my palate? When I got a chance to look at the back label of this 2012 Bodegas Excelencia Los Frontones Crianza Sierras de Málaga DO (13.5% ABV), things got back to normal – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, and Syrah. I did a bit of the reading afterward and it appears that the Malaga area had a lot of French winemaking influence, hence the use of Bordeaux varieties. For the 10 years old, this wine was absolutely in its prime and absolutely enjoyable.

Later during the week, I had another enjoyable encounter with local Malaga wine – 2018 Bodegas Pérez Hidalgo Vega del Geva Sierras de Málaga DO (14% ABV), a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. A bit tighter than the previous wine, but still very much cassis and eucalyptus forward, round, layered, and delicious.

My last evening in Malaga was full of pure, hedonistic pleasure – but this deserves a post on its own.

Here you are, my friends. I have to declare my first visit to Spain a success, and I truly hope to be back in the near future.

Wine, Beer, and Road Trip

June 21, 2022 Leave a comment

Some road trips require long planning. Some are just spontaneous. The road trip we took two weekends ago was somewhat in between, more on the spontaneous side. I had a Marriott certificate expiring by the end of the month, and I couldn’t let it go to waste. Balancing places I would like to visit with the low value of this certificate, travel madness ensuing in the country, and the desire to stay within a 3-hour driving radius from home narrowed down the search. The town of Reading in Pennsylvania offered a reasonable combination of all the factors I mentioned above, so this is where we decided to go.

There are many advantages when traveling by car, such as ultimate flexibility of the schedule. The ability to bring your own bottle of wine to the hotel is another big one. This is exactly what we did.

I don’t know what possessed me to bring 2016 Saxum as the wine of choice, but this is what I did. By the time we settled in the room and were ready to have a glass of wine, the day reached my favorite “Kodak moment” – the sunset. I obviously couldn’t miss such a beautiful sky painting – at the same time, I couldn’t resist an opportunity to include the bottle of Saxum in the picture. First the bottle, then the glass.

You know how they say “no people/animals/objects were damaged during the filming of this video”, right? This was not a video, just a picture. And no animals were hurt. No people were hurt either (I think?). As for the objects… Well, the glass didn’t survive my adventurous stupidity. This was a standard wine glass, which can’t really stand on top of the wine bottle. It almost felt, and I was lucky enough to catch it before it went down. Someone with a better belief in the laws of statistics would take this “almost fall” as a fair warning. But not this guy. I put the glass back and continued taking pictures, trying to get the wine label into the picture. Until glass finally met the ground (ground – 1, glass – 0), giving my wife and me an opportunity to dance next to the window sill for the next 20 minutes trying not to cut ourselves with the tiniest remnants and also remove wine traces from surrounding surfaces. Felt like an idiot for the next 2 days. Oh well – maybe I will learn? Or not…

On the positive side, the 2016 Saxum Bone Rock James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles Willow Creek District (15.9% ABV, 72% Syrah, 10% Mataro, 9% Graciano, 6% Grenache, 3% Roussanne) was absolutely surprising and spectacular. The surprising part was that this 6-year-old wine from California was perfectly drinkable upon opening – I would never expect it. The spectacular part was in the layers and gobs of fresh, succulent fruit, unending pleasure of interplay of blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and sweet oak, balancing acidity and full-bodied power each sip was offering. The wine was even better on the second day, becoming a touch more mellow. The same wine perfectly complemented the cigar on day 4. I’m sorry about the glass, but I’m really happy with my first Saxum experience.

Then there was beer. Clearly, I drink a lot less beer than wine. Nevertheless, I have a full appreciation for a glass of well-made beer (about 25 years ago I was one of the first members of the Beer Across America club, at the very beginning of the American craft beer revolution). Even more than a glass of beer, I like the opportunity to experience a tasting flight – which we found at the Chatty Monks Brewery in West Reading.

The Chatty Monks brewery binds itself as a “nano-brewery”. I have no idea what that means, I can only assume that they are implying that their production is much less than the microbrewery (microbrewery in itself is a highly contested term – for a long time Samual Adams defined itself as a microbrewery, while their volumes were clearly not at the “micro” level). Anyway, let’s leave the size aside and talk about the taste.

A tasting flight at Chatty Monks includes 4 beers which you can select from the list of beers available on tap. Out of the 14 available beers I went with Alondra which was a stout – the only dark beer available and I prefer dark beer whenever I can; Split Face which is defined as Pretzel-Style amber lager (no idea what pretzel-style means); Pray for More, a New England IPA, and Tree Trimming, which is described as “winter warmer” – again, no idea what that means.

Of these 4, we absolutely loved 3, which were each delicious in their own way. The beer lovers will have to forgive the wine lover trying to describe the beer experience, but Alondra, Split Face, and Pray for More were perfectly balanced and round, each in their own category. I rarely perceive the bitterness of the stouts, including Guinness, and the Alondra was just rich, creamy, coffee-like, and delicious. Split Face was fresh and bright, with enough body to complement fried foods. And Pray for More was probably the most exciting IPA I ever tasted – while it had the characteristic bitterness, it was complemented and leveled by bright citrus, and orange notes – altogether making it irresistible. We loved the beers so much that even got all 3 to bring home – except that Pray for More was sold out in the standard cans so we got one big 32 oz can which was made for us right on the spot. If you are ever in the area – this is the beer to crave.

We talked about wine. We talked about beer. Now, the last part – the road trip. We had more or less one full day for all of the explorations. Luckily, we had been to this part of Pennsylvania many times, so exploring Amish villages, lifestyle and museums was not on the itinerary. In addition to immensely enjoying driving around green pastures with cows, sheep, and horses, going up and down little hills on the narrow country roads, we visited a couple of places we had not seen before. One was Reading Pagoda, a fully authentic rendition of a traditional Asian structure, enacted first in 1908. Apparently, this is the only pagoda in the world with a fireplace and a chimney – which we were unable to see as the building itself was closed. But we were able to fully enjoy the views of the town of Reading, from the south end of Mount Penn where the pagoda is located. You can also see it through the lens of my trusted iPhone:

Another stop we made was to see the covered bridge called Wertz’s Covered Bridge, one of the covered bridges located in the Berks County – also the longest single-span covered bridge in Pennsylvania at 204 feet across. It was really fun imagining all of those carriages traversing the creek since 1867 when the bridge was built. You can close your eyes and hear the sound of the horseshoes hitting the wood pavement as carriages are slowly pulled through the bridge… Well, here are a few pictures, I’m sure you can add the horses as you see fit…

That makes it a full account of the wine, beer, and road trip experiences. Next, we will talk about some fun wine experiences on Cape Cod. Stay tuned…

A Few Days In Seattle

May 23, 2022 5 comments

You know how you can look at something but not see it? Or think that you know something but really not knowing it at all?

I’m sure I don’t make much sense, but let me try explaining it better. I had been visiting Seattle for many years now, considering that Seattle had been a high-tech hub for ages. Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, space needle, Pike’s Place. So in my mind, I was sure that I was well familiar with Seattle and all it has to offer to the visitors. I knew that in Pike’s Place there is a famous Russian-style eatery, Piroshky Piroshky, and that Pike’s Place Chowder, the winner of all of the New England Chowdafest competitions is also coming from Seattle. But turns out that lots of it was the knowledge, but not the experience. I knew that these places exist, but I actually never experienced them firsthand.

Until now.

I visited Seattle to attend a conference. That conference was actually supposed to take place 2 years ago, but as you are all acutely aware that happened to be the time that never was… The event was hosted by Amazon at their downtown offices, thus I guess for the first time I actually stayed in downtown Seattle and had a little bit of time to explore the city – and gain firsthand experience.

A picture worth a thousand words. So below you will see many, many thousands of words – in the form of the pictures of downtown, Pike’s Place, and the seaside.


















The original Starbucks at Pike’s Place

 

Now, a few more words about the food experiences.

Piroshky Piroshky had been around for 30 years, and it is definitely one of the staples of the Pike’s Place market, always adorned with a line of hungry guests. I was lucky as I walked up to the door because for some reason there was literally no line – or I simply was a jerk and cut people off without knowing. Either way, I tried two Piroshky, one with salmon, and one with beef and onion (the selection there is quite substantial, including sweets and vegan concoctions, but all the Piroshky are rather large, so there is a limit to how many you can have). Both were tasty, but I wouldn’t say that I was blown away. I would be happy to try them again but it is not something I would crave.

After trying to walk off all some of the calories of Piroshky I came across the Pike’s Place Chowder. I had an image of a nice-looking restaurant in my head, as Pike’s Place Chowder always competed in Chowdafest against actual restaurants – but the place was rather a “hole in the wall” style. Well, “hole in the wall” is synonymous with tasty food more often than not.

I never thought of it, but walking around Pike’s Place and looking at what is offered in all of the numerous eateries I was surprised by the similarities of the food offerings with what I would find on a typical visit to Newport or on Cape Cod, the quintessential New England – fried seafood of all sorts, fried oysters, clams, shrimp, scallops, fish, and yada yada yada. So the coast is a coast, whether the east or the west. Taking this revelation into account, it is not surprising that New England clam chowder was offered pretty much everywhere – and of course, it shouldn’t be surprising that Pike’s Place Chowder can successfully compete at the Chowdafest in New England.

 

Let’s go back to the Pike’s Place Chowder. The eatery also offers a full variety of seafood, fried and not. But as their menu boasts 8 or so different types of chowders, that is what I was interested in trying. Luckily, the restaurant offers sample packs, so I went for the 4 samples pack, as I was by myself and there is a limit to the amount of New England clam chowder one can consume (especially when two Pirozhki are still occupying the majority of the available stomach space). Another option was 8 samples pack, but that would be a waste of money and food. I decided to get New England clam chowder, Smoked Salmon chowder, Seared Clams chowder, and Market chowder (whatever the chef feels like on a given day). I got the sample pack to go for two reasons – there was absolutely no space to sit, and I still needed to lose at least 5–10 calories, so a walk to the hotel, albeit short, seemed like a good idea.

Remembering my Chowdafest experiences, Pike’s Place Chowder was never my top favorite, and nevertheless, for many years that I attended the Chowdafest, they have always won the New England Clam Chowder category. I only have two explanations for that phenomenon. Factor 1 – intimidation. They always bring a full display of medals to the competition, and when people see it, they are instantly inclined not to argue with success. I’m absolutely positive that same as with the wine if the tasting would be done blind, the results would be totally different. Factor 2 – customer service. At the Chowdafest, there is always a long line to each vendor’s stand. Pike’s Place always brings enough people to be able to carry their chowders around so the people wouldn’t have to wait in line.

See, I got really on a tangent here. As I got to my hotel room and took a first sip of the classic New England clam chowder, my first thought was “it’s okay, but this is not great” – hence the reminiscence on the subject of the Chowdafest. I can name a bunch of clam chowders (including the one which I make – yep, I have the nerve, I know) which I would unquestionably prefer – Grand Central Oyster’s Bar, Rory’s (a local restaurant in Darien, CT, always serving chowder with a tiny bottle of Sherry), and I’m sure many others. All four chowders were fun to try, with Seared Scallop chowder being my favorite. However same as with Piroshky Piroshky, I can eat it again, but that wouldn’t be something I would crave.

Now, to complete my culinary escapades in Seattle, here is one more, now truly unique experience.

I love the concept of “food in season”. Don’t get me wrong – I need my blueberries 365 days a year, whether they are grown locally in Maine or in Chile or Peru. But if you ever being to the “foodie heavens” in Europe – France, Switzerland, and the likes – there are always products which are only available for a short time – as, for example, white asparagus in Geneva which you can find on the restaurants’ menu only for about 3 weeks in the spring.

I never heard of Copper River Salmon before. Copper River is located in Alaska, and the salmon which is caught there is usually available in its fresh form only for a very short time in the spring, from mid-May through June. Copper River salmon is usually equated to the best Japanese marbled beef in its exquisite, luxurious flavor profile. Pier 66 Anthony’s seafood restaurant had just received their shipment of the Copper River Salmon two days prior to our visit, and it was on the dinner menu. We happened to dine at that restaurant on the last night in Seattle, so it was impossible to avoid such a rare treat.

Was that the best piece of salmon I ever had? Probably. It was soft, fluffy, airy, and full of flavor. This is probably something I would crave, and this is definitely the experience to remember. If anything, you should remember the name – Copper River Salmon – just in case the opportunity would present itself.

That’s my account of the few days in Seattle – well worth a visit even without taking the wine into account. But if you like wine like me, the visit to Seattle might be something you should simply crave. Why? I will tell you all about it in the next post…

Where Did The March Go?

March 31, 2022 2 comments

Just like that.

March 2022 is anything but gone.

Last day of the month – where did the whole month go?

Yeah… What’s a month… It is just one month, right? As long as this is not a lifelong sentiment, we can deal with it…

So this particular March happened to be very busy. A weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale for close friends’ daughter’s wedding. A week in Cancun right after. Work trip to Las Vegas for the conference. Month started. Month ended.

My self-directed frustration is largely driven by the fact that I’m getting behind on my blog posting plans – again. Last December I played catch up. I really, really, really would like to avoid the same situation again.

Yes, I said it. Will see.

Before we talk about the wines again on this blog – you know I’m a sucker for sharing my experiences through pictures. So here it comes – our trip to Fort Lauderdale through the pictures. many pictures. Hope you will enjoy. Here it comes…

First, with the late afternoon departure from La Guardia, we had an opportunity to experience an amazing sunset in flight:

The next morning, we took a trip to Flamingo Garden – here are flowers, birds, and more.

Did we say Flamingo?



And a few peacocks:


Have you ever seen a peacock like this?

Here are some bees – for the iPhone photography, I’m pretty proud of these pictures:



a butterfly (she is perfectly alive, just caged)

and then this…

Yep, this is exactly what you think…In a broad daylight…

We stayed at a great location, Marriott Westin, right on the beach, with some of the best ever views I had from the hotel room:




I spent probably 20 minutes in the local Publix, trying to decide on the wine for the evening (we had dinner in the room) – the end result was quite decent:

Bodegas Lan Rioja never disappoints – especially if it is a 7-year-old Reserva for under $20. Beautifully integrated, young, and perfectly well structured.

I love Lodi wines, I love Zinfandel wines, but not a big fan of the Michael David Freakshow wines. But I have to admit that this 2019 Michael David Freakshow Zinfandel was well balanced, blackberry forward, and perfectly attuned to the expectations of the fresh, juicy, and smoky Zinfandel. Two out of two.

To finish the story, the next morning we went to Vizcaya, a beautiful estate and gardens near Miami. I have to honestly say that when I visited last time 8 or 10 years ago, the whole place was in a lot better shape – this time it felt run down. I’m sure the pandemic didn’t do it any favors – but I hope it can be restored to its old glory…








If you are still here – thank you, that’s all I have for you. Until the next time…

 

Snow, Wine, and Valentine

February 18, 2022 Leave a comment

First, there was snow.

Well, not true.

Last Saturday we had a break in winter weather. The thermometer hit 60ºF here in Stamford, and it was perfect grill weather. I’m not at the point of grilling in any weather (some of my friends are), but 60ºF in February definitely calls for some meat on the grill. While the meat was cooking, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset and a glass of 2018 TerraNoble Gran Reserva Carmenere Valle del Maule – the wine had cassis and a signature pyrazine (bell peppers) which was perfectly integrated, and practically disappeared after a few hours, leaving, luscious, layered, roll-of-your-tongue, seductive liquid in the glass (the bottle was practically gone by the end of the evening).

Then, there was snow. This snow was absolutely wonderful for a variety of reasons. For one, it was extremely photogenic, as you will see below (yep, pictures time!). But the main reason was that this snow was a total surprise. There was no weather channel hysteria, forcing people to run into the supermarkets, no warnings. We woke up to the beautiful white blanket, covering the ground, trees, and cars. It was beautiful, it was peaceful, it was happy. I took a few pictures from the deck, and then we took a slow walk with Penny – she kept on happily digging her nose into the snow, and I kept on trying to get a picture of that before the snow was melt, but I was not very successful, so you will not see a dog’s nose below.














For the Super Bowl, the game of power, I decided to open a powerful wine. If you would ask me to name wine that I associate with power, California Petite Sirah would be on the top of my list. This was my last bottle of 2010 Jeff Runquist Salman Vineyard Petite Sirah from Clarksburg – I’m glad I decided to open it, as I think the wine was at its peak. Cherries and cherry pits, on the nose and on the palate, round, succulent, juicy and delicious, with beautiful acidity and impeccable balance. This was definitely one delicious wine.

I also made almond cookies – these are made from almond flour, so they are completely gluten-free, soft, gooey, and delicious.

And Monday was Valentine’s day. For many years we prefer a simple family celebration with kids instead of going to the restaurant to participate in the ritual of poor service and mediocre food. I was really craving bubbles, so 2008 Berlucchi Palazzo Lana Satèn Reserva Franciacorta (disgorged in 2017) was exactly what we wanted – golden delicious apples on the palate and the nose, fine, delicate mousse, round and clean. Very elegant sparkler, good for any occasion.

That concludes the store of the few days in wines and pictures, mostly in pictures. Cheers!

 

A Few Days In Florida

January 20, 2022 Leave a comment

Last weekend we were lucky enough to avoid fighting with the cold here in Connecticut and instead spend the weekend with our friends in Naples, Florida. We had a great time so I want to share that with you – in the form of pictures, of course.


We were flying out of the La Guardia Airport, and our excitement started as soon as we walked from the garage into terminal B, as we were greeted with a stunning mosaic display. I was flying from La Guardia for the past 20+ years and all the time this was a dingy, run-down place you didn’t want to spend an extra minute at. In 2016, a huge construction project started, which seems to be almost complete right now, and the result is a beautiful, modern, stylish airport, very much comparable with some of the best in the world I had an opportunity to see. The terminal had lots of great food and shopping options, including even the F.A.O. Schwarz store! I was really excited to see the bear and Patrick The Pup!



So what was exciting in Florida besides, of course, the warm, sunny weather, beautiful flowers, palm trees, and the beach? A few things. First, a huge tomato bush growing on our friends’ property. It turns out that the development where they bought the house was built on the land of an abandoned tomato farm. Apparently, the tomatoes found their way out and considering Florida’s consistently warm climate, instead of a plant these cherry tomatoes grew into the huge bush. There were lots and lots of tomatoes on that bush, and I can’t even describe how sweet they tasted.

Next was our very first experience of eating bananas directly from the tree. We are used to buying green bananas in the store which need some time to ripen. The taste of banana which was fully ripened on the tree is absolutely uncomparable with our store versions here in Connecticut – it has a different taste even with the acidity which I was able to taste very clearly. I’m generally not a big fan of bananas, but I couldn’t stop eating these.





We enjoyed beautiful surroundings and beautiful sunsets.





I was even able to add to my list of states I tried the wines from. I had a little bit of time and stopped by the local Total Wines store. These stores typically have a tiny section of “local wines”. In Florida, I obviously found the wines from Florida, but also from North Carolina, Virginia, and, to my joy, from Indiana! I got a bottle of Oliver Vineyards Cherry Moscato, which is a blend of Muscat Canelli and Muscat Alexandria with the addition of a little bit of the Montmorency cherries juice, produced in Bloomington, Indiana. At 6.6% ABV, the wine was very light and had an excellent acidity to balance off the sweetness, a perfect quaffer for any hot day. And of course, I was able to check out one more state in my Wines of 50 US states list.

Two days went by quickly, and we are back into the cold, but armed with new, heartwarming memories. Hope your travel will take you somewhere exciting very soon!

New England’s Fall Colors, 2021 Edition

October 25, 2021 1 comment

And here we are again in my favorite season – fall. It is still warm enough to enjoy the outdoors lightly clothed; running the air conditioning is no longer a necessity to survive indoors. And the colors, the abundance of colors – every season has its beauty, but fall offers the most profound expression of it.

This 2021 fall season is interesting (it is not over yet). It is still continuously warm, and so the leaves are still mostly green – it is occasional branches and individual leaves which all of a sudden offer a full brilliant display of red, golden, and orange. In this traditional New England fall post, I usually share pictures from my neighborhood walks, a tiny circle of two streets next to the house. Yesterday we wanted to get out of the house, and so we took about an hour drive to New Milford up north in Connecticut to visit Lover’s Leap State Park. We spent there about an hour, slowly walking the narrow path covered with fallen leaves, and admiring, or rather indulging, on absolute silence, crisp fall air, and views of the Housatonic River.

Absolute silence is a rare treasure – somehow, in the middle of the park you are far enough from the road, and maybe we just got lucky, but it was really an amazing feeling – not being disturbed by anything. It is hard to convey the silence and the smell of the autumn leaves through the words – so I have pictures for you – many, many pictures. Yes, pictures also don’t do justice to the perfect fall day outdoors but let me at least try…

Without further ado, here they are for your viewing enjoyment:

 







Here are more of the river views:

The trail:

Few of the random tree mushrooms:

And now, the color display:

While In Texas …

August 27, 2021 4 comments

August was an eventful month – two trips back to back, something I didn’t experience in the past 18 months.

After a trip to Oregon to attend the Wine Media Conference and visit some of the wineries in Willamette Valley, I spent two days at home and got on the plane again, this time to attend a work event in San Antonio in Texas. This was a short but quite intense 4 days trip, so I really didn’t plan to look specifically for any local wines as I like doing during any of my trips. Until I walked into the Riverwalk Wine and Spirits.

You see, I was only looking for sparkling water, as this is what I prefer to drink, so buying wine was not a part of the plan (who am I kidding). But being in Texas, I had to look at the shelf with the local wines – located, as one would expect, in the far corner of the store. What do you think happened next? Of course… I love Marsanne and Roussanne wines, and the bottles were simply looking at me saying “yeah, we know you want us…”. I grabbed the bottle of Becker Claret to keep the whites company, and we happily left together.

I’m familiar with Becker wines, had them a few times before – they also have quite memorable labels. But I don’t believe I ever tasted any wines from Lost Draw Cellars, so let’s talk about them first.

Lost Draw Cellars traces its origin to 1936 as a family business. The grapes were planted on the Lost Draw Vineyard site in 2005, and in 2012, Lost Draw Cellars bottled its first vintage. Today, Lost Draw Cellars produces a wide range of wines, focusing primarily on the Mediterranean varieties growing on the number of vineyards in Texas High Planes AVA – Viognier, Marsanne, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, and many others.

The two white wines I tried were, in a word, excellent.

2017 Lost Draw Cellars Roussanne La Pradera Vineyard Texas High Plains (13.2% ABV, $14.99)
Golden color
A touch of tropical fruit and gunflint, herbal notes
Fresh, round, lemon notes, complex, great acidity, good balance, good minerality
8, I would drink this wine any day

2018 Lost Draw Cellars Marsanne Timmons Estate Vineyard Texas High Plains (13.2% ABV, $14.99)
Light Golden
Butter, vanilla, nose reminiscent of Chardonnay
Vanilla, pronounced honey note, round, plump, creamy, good acidity, good balance
8+, superb.

The story of Becker Vineyards started when the Becker family decided to look for the log cabin to make it into a country getaway. They found their perfect cabin in 1990, along with 46 acres of land. Owning the vineyard was a long-time dream, so the first vines were planted in 1992, following by the first harvest in 1995. That humble beginning today became a 100,000 cases operation with numerous honors and accolades – for example, Becker wines were served at the White House on 7 different occasions.

I have to honestly say that I was very happy with my choice of red wine at the store – after the first sip, it was hard to wipe the smile off my face:

2015 Becker Vineyards Claret Les Trois Dames Texas (14.1% ABV, $14.99, 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 12% Petite Verdot, 10% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc)
Garnet
Coffee, mocha, cassis, bell pepper
Cassis, bell pepper, eucalyptus, good acidity, soft tannins, perfect balance
9-, spectacular. Just pure pleasure in every sip. The wine is at its peak and it is an absolutely delicious rendition of classic French claret.

This was my second time tasting Becker Claret – the first time I had it in 2011 at Vino Volo at the airport. It was a 2009 vintage, thus I was tasting 2 years old wine. This time, it was a 6-year-old wine, and it definitely shined to its fullest.

That is my short story of finding delicious wines in Texas (at a great price too). Texas Hill County was one of the suggested locations for the next Wine Media Conference 2022 – for once, I would be absolutely ecstatic if that would be an actual choice – I would just need to bring a few of the wine suitcases with me…

We are done talking about wine, but there is something else I want to share with you. While in San Antonio, I stayed at Marriott Riverwalk hotel, in a room with a beautiful city view. Yes, it means pictures – I want to share with you that city view, taken at different times – together with a few flowers.

And now we are done. If you will be visiting Texas, make sure to drink Texan wines – you don’t even need to thank me.

 

Of Hydrangeas, Ocean, Sunsets, and Wine

July 13, 2021 8 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!

 

 

My Friends’ Roses

June 6, 2021 Leave a comment

I love flowers. They are some of the most beautiful things Mother nature produces. And the miracle of life – when you drop a seed, which appears to be a tiny speckle of dust into the soil and start watering it, a plant appears in front of your eyes, and then the beautiful flowers follow. When you look at the grown-up plants, flowers, bushes, trees, it is easy to take things for granted – but if you ever had grown anything from the seeds, I’m sure you can fully appreciate that miraculous transformation from dust to beauty.

We visited friends in Southern California last weekend. They have roses growing all around the property, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the magnificent flowers. And now I simply want to share that beauty with you. It is not only roses,k but a few other flowers too, a few sunsets, a few palm trees, and a bit of the waves too. Hope you will enjoy!

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