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Making The Same Mistakes

August 11, 2022 Leave a comment

Are we humans prone to repeat ourselves all the time? Good and bad – first we repeat what was done again and again, then wonder why we achieve exactly the same result as before. There is nothing wrong with repeating the good things, except that we might be limiting ourselves – think about bench-pressing 150 lb all the time, without ever trying to increase the weight. That’s a good weight to press, of course, but you need to increase the weight if you want your muscles to grow.

The process of repeating the bad things is far more peculiar. We know that something doesn’t work. We know that we did something in the past and it painfully didn’t work. Should we learn? Should the brain have a mental capacity to remember the bad result of the past and then simply remember not to repeat it? You think? This is so obvious, and yet unattainable at the same time. Why? Really, why?

Case in point. My business trip took me to Anaheim in California. Going to Anaheim, people who travel occasionally would fly to LAX (Los Angeles airport), and then have quite an expensive (and potentially very long) taxi ride to get to Anaheim. People who travel know that the closest airport to Anaheim is John Wayne, a.k.a. Orange County a.k.a. Santa Ana airport. As I belong to the second group (I generally travel for business), I took an early morning flight from Newark, NJ to John Wayne airport, arriving even faster than anticipated and enjoying the easy trip.

When traveling inside the US, ideally you want to take the early flight – outside of mechanical and horrible weather issues, you stand the best chance to arrive at your destination on time and in a happy state of mind. As the day progresses, travel becomes more chaotic, as flight schedules start shifting, and every slight delay aggregates to bigger and bigger ones. See, I know my flying rules. And what I said is 10 times true for the most overloaded (and badly run) airports in the country – Newark, Washington Dulles, Houston, Boston are all stand out in this category – by the end of the day, Newark would typically aggregate about 2 to 3 hours delay – and this is in the best weather throughout the country, God forbid it rains somewhere.

See, I know my traveling stuff, right? Do you think this knowledge helped me? Yep. Of course, you figured out the answer already. No, it did not. Instead of taking 6:30 AM out of John Wayne airport to fly back to Newark, I decided to fly at 12:30. Would you expect me to apply my knowledge? Of course, but I didn’t not. After arriving at the airport about two hours prior to my on-time departure, I spent the next 4 and a half hours (that includes 2.5 hours of an actual delay) literally swearing at myself, at United, at Newark, and back to myself. What’s even worse, I managed to repeat yet another old mistake again.

Insanity – repeating the same thing over and over again, every time expecting a different result

If you like wine, and if you ever traveled through Austin, Portland, San Francisco (and many other) airports, I’m sure you noticed restaurants/bars called Vino Volo. There are more than 50 Vino Volo locations around the country. Everything in Vino Volo revolves around wine. Every restaurant has a great selection of wines by the glass and wines to buy by the bottle – as they are located past security, you can buy a bottle of wine to bring to your destination if you are so inclined.

However, my main attraction at Vino Volo is wine tasting flights. At any given moment, Vino Volo offers 6-8 different tasting flights, red, white, Rosé, each flight typically consisting of 3 wines. Each flight is accompanied by detailed tasting notes. Very often you can find a selection of local wines offered as part of the flights – Oregon wines in Portland, Texas wines in Austin, and so on. When I have time, I never pass on an opportunity to visit a Vino Volo store and taste some new wines.

This brings us back to the subject of repeated mistakes. I know full well that young and expensive California Cabernet Sauvignon wines are undrinkable, 9 out of 10. I generally enjoy Vino Volo flights, with one memorable exception being Californian Bordeaux blend Overture, the second label of Opus, which I didn’t enjoy at all. And now, while at the John Wayne airport, I chose the flight of 3 high-end but young California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, instead of taking one of the other 7 or so. Why? Was a driven by the bad mood due to the flight already being delayed? Was there a hidden, subconscious desire to exacerbate the pain? I don’t know. But this was the flight I ordered. And it successfully exacerbated my pain – which you can see in these tasting notes:

2019 Faust Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($83)
Black currant, cherries, eucalyptus
Gripping tannins, green notes, black currants, tart finish.
Not enjoyable now.

2018 Vineyard 29 CRU Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena ($84)
Cherries, dust
A bit more balanced than the previous wine, still weaved on the core of green notes, but definitely more approachable and enjoyable than the previous wine. Glimpses of greatness. Maybe decanting for an hour would make a miraculous change.
7+

2018 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Napa Valley ($82)
Distant hint of black currants and nutmeg
Tart, green, fruit is hiding. Almost flat in terms of soliciting an emotion.

Why do we do these bad things to ourselves? This question is half rhetorical, half actual. If you know the answer – or have a story to tell – please, I’m all ears.

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…

 

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!

A Weekend With Friends

September 27, 2021 2 comments

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.

 

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.

 

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!

A Week In Cancun

March 30, 2021 4 comments

For many, travel is still a virtual concept. We broke that notion two weeks ago and ventured to Cancun – or to be more precise, Iberostar Paraiso Maya resort in the Riviera Maya area. I already shared my impressions as a week in sunrises, but as you can imagine, I have a lot more pictures to share.

We like active vacations where you live hotel in the morning and you come back at night, happy from all the new experiences, but incredibly tired. We also like relaxing vacations, where your whole day runs a small sequence of events in a circle – food, sand, waves, cocktail, food, sand, pool, food, cocktails, sleep – that’s it. There is pure joy in doing nothing, just enjoying the sunshine, as long as you can take your mind under control and tell it to relax together with the rest of the body.

Our week in Cancun was exactly like that – relaxing. This also means taking lots and lots of pictures – whoever invented digital photography – thank you very much. And thus I have the pictures to share with you.

I used to travel with my trusted Nikon and a few lenses. The iPhone camera doesn’t replace the Nikon, but it has a “good enough” advantage. Comparing the advantages of the DSLR versus the simplicity of the single device to carry around, if you are okay with “good enough” and not looking for perfection, your phone camera is all you need.

I love the versatility of the iPhone camera, where you can have both zoomed-in and ultra-wide pictures, as well as the capability to build a panorama. I’m not good at taking panoramas, as it requires you to hold your phone absolutely still while you are turning around – nevertheless, I made an effort to take sunrise panorama shots every morning together with the pictures of the sunrise. Here are the panorama sunrise pictures which I found to be good enough to share:

The resort we stayed at is called Paraiso Maya, and its main building is shaped as a Mayan pyramid. It is very well lit and changes colors at night:

Here are a few more pictures from the resort:

A few flowers:

And, of course, the food. We ate at a buffet and at 5 restaurants, out of which only the Italian restaurant was really good. We also found a new favorite wine – 2014 Oscar Tobia Rioja Reserva – the wine was outstanding, with dark fruit and cedar box notes, fresh, and vibrant as only Rioja can be.

 

And last but not least – sand and waves:

Here you are, my friends. If you still can’t travel, I hope these pictures will help you cope.

You will travel soon.

A Week In Sunrises

March 22, 2021 9 comments

And so we did something almost unthinkable – we traveled. Abroad. For vacation.

The mere fact of normalcy – going on the family vacation – became “mission impossible” and unreal over the past year. In today’s world, it might be even considered an act of stupidity. Whatever. We still went to Cancun for a week.

Traveling with the mask is not fun, but it is still not something very difficult. At least the travel to Mexico on the plane was really uneventful. Coming back was borderline madness and exercise in patience, with the huge check-in line moving slower than a snail, and all the useless passport checks about nothing. The trip back almost negated the whole vacation, which was still … a vacation. Much needed vacation. An opportunity to lay under the sun and jump waves in the ocean. And experience beautiful sunrises.

When in Cancun, seeing the sun slowly rising above the horizon is one of my biggest pleasures. I’m happy to wake up early. This is my one on one time with Mother Nature.

This trip was not any different – 7 unique and different sunrises. Actually, even 8, as we were lucky to see one at JFK before our flight. Here they are, below, in chronological order, from Sunday to Sunday. Which one is your favorite?

Sunday:

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

Thursday:

Friday:

Saturday:

Sunday:

There are way more experiences I want to share – and I even have a wine recommendation for you – so as they say, stay tuned…

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