Thursday, January 31, 2013

8th Annual International Alsace Fest Preview

When most people think “winter whites,” images of department store linen sales may pop to mind, but the first thing I think of is wine. Nothing perks up a dark winter day better than a crisp white wine. If you’re a fan of fragrant and luscious whites, the 8th Annual International Alsace Varietals Festival is for you.

This year’s event takes place February 9 through 10 in Boonville, Calif., located in Anderson Valley — the wine sweet spot of Mendocino County — tucked between rolling hills, coastal ranges and many exceptional wineries and vineyards.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Books 2012- What I Read in Print and E-ink

Last year I received a Kindle for my birthday just before I left on a three week trip to Italy. It's funny, I would not have bought the device for myself but it really was the perfect gift since one of my greatest packing challenges is deciding how much reading material to bring.

The Kindle came in very handy during a lengthy flight delay in Frankfurt and when I got snowed in Rome. There were great challenges in travel transportation last year, but having a Kindle made waiting tolerable. Faced with a 5+ hour delay in Frankfurt in January, I downloaded the 600 page Steve Jobs Bio and the time passed very quickly, plus I was thankful I did not have to lug around that beast of a book in print. I love the portability of the Kindle when I travel, but miss having the hard copy books for my bookshelves. A few months ago I won a Kindle Fire--so now I have two Kindles and all the books on my first kindle show up on the Fire. Although I much prefer reading on the flat non-back lit screen of my first Kindle.
Note to Publishers: I’d pay extra for a bundled print book that included all formats including audio, so I could read anyway I choose.

This year several friends published books, and my book, Leave the Lipstick, Take the Iguana, a travel anthology I edited, came out as well. So cheers to all the readers, writers, and editors who make the world a better place to wait --especially in airports.

2012 Book Stats
Total Read: 57
Print: 31
Kindle: 26

My Jess Walters Jag--
Around the middle of May I downloaded The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter and spent two days glued to my Kindle reading it. This lead me to seek out more of his work and I also read Citizen Vince on my Kindle. But as soon as I as saw the cover for Beautiful Ruins, I knew I had to have the real thing. I’ve spent time in the Cinque Terre, back in the days before it became inundated with Steveites, and their guidebooks. I love having the actual book, and what a great satisfying read it was. I found the characters in Beautiful Ruins so strong that I had a hard time keeping them out of my mind as I read other books afterwards.

Favorite Reads of 2012:
Green Water, Green Sky by Mavis Gallant (published in 1959)
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (2012)
The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter (2009)
Miami by Joan Didion (1987)

Read with Caution:

Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls by Gary Buslik -- This book will spin your head like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Don’t Get What All The Fuss Was About:
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer

Tell me...What did you read last year that was memorable and worth recommending?  Let me know below. I’m always looking for a good read. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Where Can You Get the Best Views of Napa and Sonoma?

The best views in my opinion are from wineries where in the event it’s a cloudy or overcast day you can always console yourself with a glass of wine and imagine the vista before you. But seriously, some of the best views are at found at wineries and here is my list:

Sterling Vineyards
When you have to take a gondola ride to reach the winery you know a stunning view is on the agenda. Sterling is perched 300 feet above Calistoga, and the panoramic views of Napa Valley are indeed tremendous.

Call for an appointment first and and then make your way up to VinRoc for the most extraordinary views of the valleys and vineyards below Atlas Peak. This tiny winery is well worth the drive up the long and winding road.

Silverado Vineyards
Sunset on the terrace at Silverado is a guaranteed “peak experience” for those seeking the best views across the valley. From any angle Silverado has a vista worth viewing.

Gloria Ferrer Winery
Enjoy sweeping views over the vineyards and of the valley from their tasting room patio. Nothing pairs better with a fine sparkling wine than a great view and you’ll find both here.

Everett Ridge
This birds-eye view of Mount St. Helena, the surrounding mountains and valley below, is one of the best you can get without being airborne.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

One Must Do Activity in Wine Country?

Anyone interested in the essence of the wine county should experience making wine and food first hand. It’s both practical and fun.

For ardent oneophiles or even casual wino’s the must-do activity is make your own wine. Blending sessions are an entertaining way to learn and create your own bottle. The Conn Creek AVA Barrel Room in Napa has barrels of Cabernet Sauvignon representing the diversity of American Viticulture Areas in the valley. The Cabernet barrels are grouped according to five fruit complexity profiles— Soft, Supple, Complex, Rich and Bold. Everything you need from blending beakers to corking is provided. The first step is to taste from each barrel and note what samples appeal to you most. Then after you have an idea of what blend percentages you’d like, you fill your beaker accordingly and try it in the large tasting glass. The tricky part is converting your percentages to millimeters, but don’t worry, calculators are provided.

At Raymond Vineyards in the Blending Room you can also create your own blend, design your own label and order a case made to your specifications.

Once you make your wine, you’ll probably want some cheese to pair with it. Luckily, the other must-do activity I recommend is making cheese, and you can learn how to do that with Sheana Davis, at The Epicurean Connection in Sonoma.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Top 5 Okanagan Food Experiences

Center-- Chef Remington at the Hooded Merganser.
Upper right and Lower left -- dishes from Hillside Estates Bistro

If you are going to WBC13 you are naturally looking forward to learning what the Okanagan has to offer in terms of wine -- but you have to eat too and you will not be disappointed with the cuisine of Penticton and the surrounding area. Last July I toured the region as a guest of Tourism Penticton and Wine Country and here are my top 5 picks for best eats in the area.

1. The lamb from Chef Bruno at the Vanilla Pod Restaurant

Moments of brilliance like the lamb chop (upper left above, but photo does not do it justice) that Chef Bruno of Vanilla Pod prepared defy description. But I’ll try...  it’s pure lamb essence practically whispered in my ear. Baaa...baaaa...Mmmmm. The lamb tasted so “clean” it’s flavor distinct yet subtle.  Chef Bruno procured the lamb from local producer and it tasted as if all he did to prepare it was wave a hot wand over it’s lamby perfection. As any Chef will tell you it’s the pure fresh and local ingredients that are the foundation of any great menu. But it takes great talent to turn those ingredients into something sublime. Bravo Chef Bruno.

2. The salmon from Chef Remington at the Hooded Meganzer

Naturally I came for the wine in Okanagan, but the vibrant food scene in Penticton and the surrounding valley were a surprise bonus to me. At the Hooded Merganser, the airy lakeside restaurant at the Penticton Resort, I marveled over another stand-out dish--the golden beets and candied salmon created by the charming Chef Remington as part of a multi-course wine paring menu he prepared especially for our group.

3. Cheese and Charcuterie pairings at Tin Horn Creek

The cheeses we had as part of a tasting spread at Tin Horn Creek was incredible and a complete wow moment--and I live in Northern California, one of the foremost cheese hot spots this side of France. So I am a bit spoiled by all the goodness available in the Bay Area. But the quality and variety is very high in the Okanagan, so be prepared to get your cheese buzz on and be wowed.  

4. Seasonal salads and deserts at The Hillside Estates Bistro

Another dining standout was the Bistro at Hillside Estates Cellars -- fresh, seasonal, and inventive dishes presented in colorful platings that were as beautiful as they were delicious. 

5.The Gewurtzraminer Slusshie at Kettle Valley (okay not exactly a food--but still!!)
In every post of I’ve written about the Okanagan I have mentioned the Gewurtzraminer Slusshie at Kettle Valley, I know, I know,  I have a bit of an obsession with this, but trust me, it will rock your world! Go. Slurp. And report back to me.

Oliver Garden

The Oliver Garden!
I saw this place on our way through Oliver to Tin Horn Creek and although we did not eat there, their sense of humor alone makes it my kind of place. At least I think it’s supposed to be a joke!

Oh Canada

I don’t know why Americans have this strange perception of what Canada is all about. Yes people are polite, but is that a character flaw? I think not. We could certainly learn a lot from our neighbors to the north. The people I met were smart and funny and very engaged in their pursuits to make the best wine or meal or create a hospitality experience that they could be proud of, not out of competitiveness but out of the sheer satisfaction of doing so. It’s the kind of satisfaction that comes from doing your best and then pushing it one step further. It’s like everyone there is in pursuit of an 11 on the Spinal Tap dial but they are seeking it with grace not sheer volume.

I’m looking forward to experiencing the all the Okanagan valley has to offer again in 2013. The venue is in one of the most dynamic settings of any WBC location yet. You can see vineyards from the conference hotel!  I think it will be one of the best Wine Blogger Conferences of them all. And remember...if you miss out on WBC13 in’re an idiot!

Vanilla Pod Restaurant
Hooded Merganser
Tin Horn Creek
Hillside Estates Winery & Bistro
Kettle Valley Winery

Tourism Penticton & Wine Country

Top Ten Reasons You Should Go to WBC13 in Okanagan
Okanagan: What’s The Signature Grape?


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