Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2014 Travel Guide to California

The 2014 Travel Guide to California was released in January and includes my article on wine revised and expanded from last year to include tasting room trends and some new local spots such The Barlow.

You can find the article here:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

San Francisco Showcase of British Columbia Food and Wine

Last month I attended a wine dinner at the San Francisco Four Seasons that was part of the International Fancy Food show in San Francisco. The dinner was co-hosted by the B.C. Wine Institute, which builds and markets the Wines of British Columbia and the Province's trade and investment office. Several of the wines featured at the dinner from Laughing Stock, Black Hills Estate, Meyer Family Wines, and Painted Rock -- will now be available in the states through Sonoma based Good Wine Company. This is very good news for wine lovers like myself who gladly take on the role of pack mule to get wines home from Canada. The new distrubution partnership will make the purchase and enjoyment of BC wines in the states much easier. 

The food and wine pairings showcased the regional food bounties of BC and the talents of Mark Richardson, Executive Chef of MKT at the San Francisco Four Seasons and chef Trevor Bird of FABLE Restaurant in Vancouver, Canada. (See full menu below.)

I was familar with the wines presented and have visited all the wineries, and it was an extra treat to reconnect with David Enns, owner and winemaker at Laughing Stock Vineyards and also with Ingo Grady, Director of Wine Education at Mission Hill. The 2011 Mission Hill Family Estate Winery Perpetua Chardonnay, and the 2011 Laughing Stock Vineyards Blind Trust Red were two of my favorite wines at the dinner. 

The room was heavy on “mood lighting” so my photos of the evening are not the best, but the standout pairings of the evening were: 

Chef Trevor Bird’s Black pepper glazed sable fish, British Columbia bok choi, pickled honey mushrooms -- paired with the 2011 Meyer Family Vineyards McLean Creek Road Vineyard Chardonnay, and the 2011 Quails’ Gate Winery Stewart Family Reserve Pinot Noir, both from the Okanagan Valley.

Chef Mark Richardson’s Goat milk & British Columbia cherry semifreddo, jasmine infused chocolate cake, Mission Hill sweet and Rainier warm poached cherries -- paired with 2007 Vista D’oro Farms & Winery D’oro. 

I’ve been harping on the wonders of British Columbia wine for over three years now, and with good reason, but as always, I encourage you to make a trip and discover the wines for yourself.  

For more details on the wines that will be available thru the partnership visit

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Enduring Bonds of Wine and Love

Celebrating my birthday with my brother and sister

Every year my sister comes to visit between the last week of January and first week of February for my birthday. I plan our days around visits to wineries in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino. One year I took her to a wine sensory experience class in Calistoga where we had a blast guessing the scents and aromas found in wine.

Slowly, my sister became very interested in wine. And I became my sister’s personal sommelier. I’m not a wine expert, I am in a constant state of learning, but I have the advantage of living in a world-class wine region and the opportunity travel and taste wines around the world. Also, I have plenty of wine on hand to share and help my sister discover what suits her palate. 

Last year when she was here she really enjoyed the wines I had from my friends in Texas, Merrill and Paul Bonarrigo at Messina Hof.

This Christmas, I sent her a box Messina Hof wine. She called me on Saturday, December 14th, all excited. “A big box came yesterday! It’s wine right?.” 
--Yeah, it’s wine. It’s your Christmas gift, but open it now Mag, I said. Don’t wait.
--Okay, she said. I’ll call you tomorrow.

That Sunday we discussed the joys of Moscato and she texted me photos of the wine bottles.

“You are turning into me.” I texted back. “Next thing ya know, you’ll start a wine blog!”

Then she called me a few hours later and to say how much she liked the wines and was so glad I told her to open the gift early.

“This is the best Christmas present since the Matel Vac-U-Form we got when we were kids!” She said. 

The Vac-U-Form was kit that allowed you to heat up sheets of plastic over a bazillion degree hot plate (completely exposed to the touch) and then flip the near molten plastic over on to a mold to make all sorts of things like little boats, and cars, and space capsules. God we loved that toy. Well, my brother and sister did, I was too young to use it. It was essentially a child size mold maker with a heat element that approached smelting pot temperatures. That was back in the day when kids toys could maim and kill and it was not considered to be grounds for a lawsuit.

We reminisced about Christmas past and how strange it felt to be the only surviving members of our family. We talked about her pending visit.  

Christmas past: My sister, brother, and me. 

Then, less than 12 hours later, I got the 4am phone call everyone dreads. The call you know is bad before you even answer the phone. My sister was dead. It was sudden and unexpected. A blood clot to the heart.

There was nothing to be done. With no one else to call about the devastating news, it seemed as if it were not real. My first instinct was to call my sister and tell her “You are never going to believe this but apparently you are dead! WTF! How I’m I supposed to carry on?”

I felt like my entire family had left for the airport without me.

I sat in bed in shock and scrolled back through our texts and pictures from hours earlier. I went back through the entire year of texts and found it comical how almost every photo featured a bottle or a glass in the foreground, her happy face in the background. Many of her texts were of labels she came across in the wine shop –“Hey what about this? Would I like this?” she’d ask.

Over the past year we had texted about the thrill of a bright New Zealand Riesling, and the simple beauty of Umbrian Merlot.

Last February, a few days after she returned back home from her last visit here—she sent me a message – “I’m going to try and drink more this year!”-- Meaning she wanted to expand her experience with wine and try new things.

She loved to hear about the places I’d been to discover wine, and the people I’d met along the way. We were planning a trip to the Okanagan --she’d really loved the wines I shared with her from my travels there.

When Maggi died I lost my last anchor to my childhood memories and my best friend as an adult. I feel adrift.

She was my big sister, my protector, my champion.

I was her wine guide.

In the aftermath, wine has become a touchstone of sadness filled with bitter-sweet memories. The last conversation I had with my sister was about wine. I hope in time I’ll find my way back to the joy of wine. And when I do, I’ll raise a glass to my sister Maggi, in a toast to our love for each other, and of wine. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Under the Radar Wine Regions of British Columbia, Canada

It’s more than Ice wine. Canada is emerging as world-class wine region and British Columbia is leading the way.

The first thing that may come to mind when you think wine and Canada may be Ice Wine. But all types of wines are made in Canada, and British Columbia is emerging as one of the most dynamic regions in terms of its natural beauty and quality wine. Here are some tips for exploring a few of the best under the radar wine regions in British Columbia.

Okanagan Valley
Okanagan’s star is on the rise and it’s developing as a premier destination for wine lovers looking for something new and exceptional in a dynamic lake and mountain setting. Just a short flight from Vancouver, the Okanagan Valley is the largest growing region in British Columbia with more than 121 wineries in 11 sub-regions. The multiple micro-climates favor many grapes with Merlot, and Pinot Gris being the most widely planted. A host of outdoor activities including hiking, kayaking and biking around Lake Okanagan make the area a haven for the active oenophile.

Where to taste: 
Tinhorn Creek (Oliver) If you are a Cab Franc fanatic you’re in for a treat at Tinhorn Creek. Grab a glass and take in the valley views as you savor one of the many fine selections in the tasting room including the Oldfield Series Two Bench Red and Syrah.

Upper Bench (Naramata) From Merlot to Zweigelt, Upper Bench is creating wines with finesse that just happen to pair perfectly with cheeses from their on-site micro creamery.

Blue Mountain Winery (Okanagan Falls) Blue Mountain may have the distinction of being the most picturesque vineyard in the area, but the first rate Sparkling wine, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are the main attractions.

Bottleneck Drive Wine Trail -- This trail showcases 13 wineries clustered on back roads above Lake Okanagan. You’ll be rewarded with stunning views of both the lake and vineyards alike as you make your way from Greata Ranch Vineyards in Peachland down Okanagan Highway to Summerland, where you’ll find wineries such as Saxton Winery, Sonoran Estate Winery, Dirty Laundry Vineyards and Okanagan Crush Pad. All of the vineyards welcome visitors, though some have limited hours during the off-season.

Where to dine:
Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove Winery—Located on a ridge above Penticton, Vanilla Pod has a changing menu that highlights the bounty from neighboring farms and ranches. Try the lamb chops with potato gnocchi, or when in season, the Sockeye Salmon with arancini, roasted beets, swiss chard, Okanagan berry & chili pepper coulis; along with a glass of Poplar Grove Pinot Gris.

Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek (Oliver) Combine stellar panoramic views across the South Okanagan Valley with Mediterranean fare inspired by local ingredients and you have the secret to Miradoro’s success. Stop in for a casual lunch with a glass of wine and one of the Neapolitan style pizzas. Or indulge in a sumptuous dinner selections like the wild boar bacon carbonara with slow poached egg and parmesan, or choose from the chef’s grand tasting menu and selected wine pairings.

Similkameen Valley—
If it weren’t for the vineyards you might mistake Similkameen Valley for a National Park with the soaring Cathedral Mountains as a backdrop and lush valley dotted with farms and fruit orchards. The Similkameen, located a few hours drive from Vancouver, has an ideal climate for growing grape varieties such as Merlot, Gamay Noir and Chardonnay.

Where to taste:
Orofino (Cawston) Orofino specializes in single vineyard wines and their luscious Rieslings are worth the trip. The tasting room is solar powered and the only strawbale constructed winery in Canada.

Eau Vivre  (Cawston) Small lots that yield big flavor are the focus at Eau Vivre. Try the award winning Pinots and don’t miss the Cinq Blanc; a five grape blend of Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat, Chardonnay, and Riesling available only at the tasting room.

Clos du Soliel (Kremeos) Featuring Bordeaux style wines, Clos du Soleil Winemaker's Reserve a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is a shining example of what the rocky soils, and long sunny days in the Similkameen Valley can yield.

Where to dine:
Rustic and down home dining options include local favorite Benja Thai (Keremeos), and
The Hitching Post Restaurant (Hedley) the original home of the Hedley Mining and Supply store dating back to 1905. Today the rugged exterior belies the comfortable interior where you can enjoy a bottle of Similkameen wine with simple but hearty fare of steaks, burgers, and salads.

Fraser Valley
The proximity of Fraser Valley to downtown Richmond and Vancouver allows for an easy urban wine escape. Many wineries in the area specialize in fruit wines and visitors will be impressed with the range of flavors and styles produced from locally grown fruit. Also of note here are the Germanic whites such as crisp Riesling’s and Gewürztraminers.

Where to taste:
Lulu Island Winery (Richmond) --Lulu Island’s large tasting room offers wine lovers a chance to sample many traditional grape varietals including Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc—but the real draw here are the award winning ice wines and line of fruit wines including Passion Fruit, Cranberry, and Blueberry.

Where to dine:
The Blue Canoe in Stevenson Village (Richmond) – Blue Canoe hits the mark with a great wine list and inventive dishes composed of fresh from the sea ingredients served up in a uber relaxed dockside setting. Order the Sablefish with ginger-orange-miso glaze or when available, the seasonal spot prawns with mixed melon slaw relish.


The story above first appeared here on Forbes Travel Guide 
Photos courtesy of BC Wine Institute

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Q & A with Andrea Robinson Delta’s Master Sommelier

This story was first published on Forbes Travel Guide.

While travelers often visit cities in search of good wine, now you can sample many regional selections before your plane has landed in your desired destination. Although the high altitude creates challenges, airlines are getting more creative with their in-flight offerings by working with star chefs to create dishes that pair with wines selected by sommeliers for optimum enjoyment at 30,000 feet.

Delta is one such carrier that’s upping its game. It’s enlisted the help of Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson, one of only 18 women in the world to hold that title in addition to three James Beard Awards. I talked to Robinson about her work with Delta’s Winemaker Series and what makes a great in-flight wine program.

What are the challenges that face the wine experience at 30,000 feet?
Your senses are dulled at altitude, making it difficult to appreciate the complex scents and flavors wine has to offer. In addition, the lower atmospheric pressure — versus tasting on land — means all of those flavor molecules are jetting past your sensory receptors so fast, you miss a lot.

Given the conditions, what types of wines do best at high altitude? Are blends favored over single varieties?
That’s the art — choosing wines with enough expression and presence on the palate to overcome those conditions, without seeming out of balance. I find both varietals and blends perform well — the trick is in choosing the right ones. Pinot noir is surprisingly successful; given its subtlety, I might have thought otherwise. Rioja Gran Reserva is another big-hit red. Argentinian Torrontés and sauvignon blanc are well-suited whites. You have to be careful with lots of new oak and lots of tannin.

What trends do you see emerging for in-flight programs?
Featuring specific wines as opposed to making it an after-thought, even in economy, seems to be on the rise. I think in-flight is following on-the-ground trends in that customers are more and more open to trying wines they haven’t heard of, as well as up-and-comer grapes and regions.

You consult for Delta on its wine program. What does that entail?
I work closely with our chefs, Michelle Bernstein and Michael Chiarello, and with the leaders in in-flight service choosing the wines for Business Elite, international economy and our wines for purchase in economy. Delta’s Winemaker Series launched last fall and features ultra-premium California white and red wines from iconic labels, up-and-comers and authentic family wineries with a story. For example, we featured Merry Edwards’ sauvignon blanc and Heidi Barrett’s La Sirena syrah this past spring and over Mother’s Day — two women-made wines from two of California’s most prominent wine women.

What would be your ideal in-flight food-and-wine pairing?
Spanish Manchego cheese and Rioja Gran Reserva, or French champagne and aged Gouda.

Photos Courtesy of Delta Airlines Inc.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Top Five In-Flight Wine Programs

This story was first published on Forbes Travel Guide

There are plenty of perks that come with a business class seat, but one of the trendiest may just be a world-class wine list. Now, you can swirl, sniff and sip fine wines hand selected by sommeliers for maximum enjoyment at 30,000 feet. Sit back and relax with these five carriers that offer top in-flight wine programs featuring exceptional wines from their home country and around the world.

Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson taste tests every wine selected for Delta’s Winemaker Series at altitude to ensure the flavor and experience is as good in-flight as it is on the ground. Wines served in Business Elite include ultra-premium California labels such as Joseph Drouhin Saint-Veran and El Coto de Imaz Rioja Reserva, which are paired with star chef Michael Chiarello’s seasonal menu of dishes like pancetta-wrapped beef tenderloin.

Air New Zealand
Awarded the 2012 Cellar in the Sky award for Best-Presented Business Class Wine List, Air New Zealand provides an in-flight wine guide to Business Class passengers that details the country’s wine regions and wineries, along with profiles of the airline’s wine consultants. Pairings showcase the unique flavors of New Zealand (local lamb, beef or salmon) paired with wines such as Grasshopper Rock 2010 Pinot Noir and Cloudy Bay 2004 Chardonnay. Post meal, passengers can hit the sweet spot with a glass of Forrest Botrytised 2011 Riesling (each month features a different roster with select wines on each flight).

Finnair has a long history of earning accolades for their Business Class wine selections. The most recent prize, from the annual Cellars in the Sky awards, went to the airline’s port wine selection, Niepoort Colheita (1998, Douro, Portugal). While Finnair focuses on delivering the finest wine and food parings, they also aim to select wines that can be enjoyed for their own merits. Standouts include Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Non-Vintage Champagne, San Polo Brunello di Montalcino 2005, and Gerard Bertrand Reserve Especiale Chardonnay from the legendary soils of the Languedoc in the South of France.

Air Canada 
Air Canada believes in supporting the Canadian wine industry and features Canadian wines as part of their onboard wine program. In 2012, more than 70,000 bottles were purchased from Canadian wineries. Fly Air Canada now in its Executive Class and you’ll have the chance to sip a Riesling produced by Henry of Pelham from the Niagara region.

In a special partnership with the Okanagan Wine Festivals Society, Canadian airline Westjet’s new regional carrier, Encore, is highlighting wines of the Okanagan Valley. This summer passengers will be offered wines exclusive to the Okanagan region, including Gray Monk Estate, Perseus Winery, and Blasted Church Vineyards on July flights and Road 13 Vineyards, See Ya Later Ranch, and Inniskillin Okanagan Estate Winery, on August flights.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Top Tips for Planning Your Trip to Croatia

1. Download Apps Before You Go
In my opinion the best app for food and wine in Croatia is Taste of Croatia.

You can also follow Taste of Croatia on twitter here: @tasteofcroatia 

The Tourist Board Apps for Istria and Croatia are also useful:


2. Hire a Local Guide
Many people think a tour guide is going to be boring and akin to following someone holding up an umbrella saying walk this way and just spouting out lots of dates and names. But that is not the case when you work one on one with a local guide. The local tourist board can help you locate a qualified guide to suit your needs. 

For foodies and wine enthusiasts looking for a customized experience in Zagreb, Istria, and other parts of Croatia, I recommend Mladen Car of Funky Zagreb. Here is Mladen ’s Trip Advisor page. 

3. Get Lost in the Hinterlands
Rent a car and wander around in the back country and hinterlands of Istria. You’ll discover wonderful places well off the coast-side tourist trail. 

4. Book Winery Appointments in Advance
Some of the best wineries are very small operations and need to know well in advance if you will be visiting in order to welcome you for a wine tasting. Another good reason to work with a local guide is they can facilitate winery appointments that may be difficult to secure on your own.

5. Pack an extra bag for all your wine and cheese and olive oil purchases. It’s well worth the second bag fee for the bounty of flavors you’ll want to take home with you.

6. Tell’em Marcy sent you! –Well, that will only work in a very few places, but give it a try anyway. 

Links to my Forbes Travel Guide posts: 


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