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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.

 

While In Texas …

August 27, 2021 3 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 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!

 

 

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 3 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 Tobias Roja 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…

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?

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:

Cape Cod – Ocean, Sunsets and Flowers

August 7, 2020 9 comments

Oh, for the love of travel… What would you give for an opportunity to get on the plane, worry-free, and fly somewhere for a week, or even for a few days? I’m sure if this is a real question, many of you would answer “anything”. For all of us feeling travel-deprived, even the thought of a trip anywhere further than our own backyard is extremely comforting. Never mind an actual opportunity to go anywhere.

One of my favorite sayings in life is “count your blessings”. And for that, I can tell you that we are very lucky. We live in close proximity to Cape Cod, which is one of my most favorite places not only in the USA but also in the world. On a normal day, it is only a 4 hours drive to most any place on The Cape as it is lovingly referred to by many New Englanders. In addition to the reasonable driving distance, we also have family living on the Cape, which greatly simplifies the logistics of such a trip. So yes, I’m acutely aware of all the blessings.

Last weekend we visited The Cape and spent 3 days walking around the beaches and neighborhoods, admiring beautiful flowers which can be considered an essential lifestyle element of the Cape living. We also caught a magnificent sunset – 10 minutes of pure bliss, an incredible spectacle of the sun setting down into the ocean, with all the unimaginable color combinations no camera can ever capture properly.

In the times when we have to travel vicariously, here is my trip report – of course, in pictures. As this is the wine blog, I have to mention the sacred subject – there was plenty of wine consumed, with some bottles being nothing short of magnificent – but this deserves a separate post.

Get ready to be inundated.

Let’s start with the ocean:

Now, flowers:

And the sunset:

Hope you enjoyed it!

 

Travel Diaries: A Few Days in Finland

April 29, 2020 13 comments

Oh, the things we take for granted. Let’s take travel, for example. It was so simple, easy, and basic. Get to the airport, get on the plane, eat, sleep, and magically appear in the whole new world, thousands of miles away from home. Nevermind all the travel hassles – they are really negligible next to the pleasure the travel delivers. And then, all of a sudden, this basic fundamental is no more. All thanks to the invisible enemy which takes no hostages, the travel is a thing of the past – at least at the moment. Of course, we will travel again, but for now, it is our memories we need to rely on.

Travel for me is associated with taking pictures. Pictures, in turn, require sharing – same as with wine, which I talk about because I really enjoy it and want to share my joy with people, I like to share my pictures with everyone – I got a proof of this obsession, scroll here. I like to share the pictures in a timely manner, somewhat close to the completion of the trip – when that is not happening, I don’t feel that it is a priority anymore – unless there is a compelling reason to do it even at a later point – like, for example, the one we are living through right now, where travel is no more, at least for the near future.

I visited Finland late last September for work. I only shared one post about that trip – a summary of my wine experiences in Finland. Now I would like to inundate you with non-wine pictures of that beautiful country.

My final destination in Finland was a little town called Kuopio, which is only accessible via the local flight from Helsinki, Finland’s capital. As I never been to Helsinki before, I set up my trip to have half a day to walk around the Helsinki. I stayed in the center of Helsinki in the hotel called Klaus K, which is a part of the Design Hotels and the only Marriott property in Helsinki – if you are ever in Helsinki, I highly recommend this hotel, especially if you can score a room on one of the top floors. I went to walk around the Helsinki and despite the gloomy weather, it was fun and colorful as you will see in the pictures below:

Take a look at these happy people – it is about 40F (4C) outside

Fresh berries, some just picked in the forest

And freshly picked mushrooms

My lunch at the market

This was taken by a trusted iPhone 7 and processed by SnapSeed. Doesn’t SnapSeed make everything look so much better?

The view from the 7th floor room’s balcony at Klaus K hotel

Early next morning, I took a flight to Kuopio with my colleagues. Looking from the plane, you can clearly see that Finland is a country of lakes. According to the information on the internet, if the lake is defined as a body of water larger than 500 square meters, there are 187,888 lakes in Finland. 55,000 of the lakes are at least 200 meters wide.

On the way to Kuopio

Once we arrived in Kuopio, a small city of about 120,000 inhabitants, coffee was the first order of business. If we can say that Americans like their coffee, then we have to say that Finns simply love their coffee. Good coffee can be found anywhere:

Next, we took an hour-long hike through the woods to the observation tower – I still can vividly remember the pleasure of walking through the forest which was very similar to the one I was accustomed to growing up as a kid – which is not surprising, as I grew up only about 500 miles down south from Kuopio.

Kuopio observation tower

Once we managed to the top, we were rewarded with the beautiful views and cold, dark, ultra-refreshing beer, brewed in that same town of Kuopio.

Mestari Stout Kuopio

While Finland offers a vast array of excellent restaurants, no matter where you are, the colleagues I was traveling with had a variety of the eating restrictions, so I had to just go with the flow – hence I don’t have any amazing food scenery to report. Here are just a couple of dishes I enjoyed:

The week flew by quickly as we were busy every day with the event we were attending. To get everyone a little break, we had a trip arranged to a special place – a famous sauna on the lake, one of the most famous in Finland. I’m sure you heard about the Finnish sauna, but you need to understand how important that is to the Finns. In this country of 5.3 million people, there are approximately 2 million saunas (!)

The proper Finnish sauna is not just a hot and dry room. The proper sauna is more of a ritual – you go to the super-hot sauna, you go out, you swim in the cold lake, return, have a beer, and repeat the sauna and the lake – from 3 to 5 times. Then you go and have dinner. I don’t have any pictures of sauna for you, but I have a bunch of pictures of the forest and the lake.

On Thursday, I took a flight back to Helsinki – it was really fun to fly with the sunset:

Flying over Finland with Sunset

Flying with sunset

I stayed overnight at the Hilton at Helsinki airport, as my flight was leaving at 6 am in the morning. I had dinner at the restaurant at the Hilton airport, and while the food was tasty, this was the smallest ever amount of food I had for 50+ euro (never mind also the worst service I pretty much ever had at any restaurant):

As was flying to Helsinki with the sunset, my 6 am flight to Munich coincided with the sunrise – an absolutely surreal experience:

Flying with sunrise

Flying with sunrise

Germany clearly lacks Finnish lakes:

Well, that’s about all there is to my story – except one more thing:

My one million miles flier prize

Yes, this glass of bubbly doesn’t look like anything special, but it was given to me together with the congratulatory words for reaching 1 million miles mark with United. United gives that status only after you actually fly, not spend, a million miles with them, so this was definitely a memorable moment.

My photo report is over.

We Will Travel Again

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