SOMM IN AMSTERDAM AND THE HAGUE

It had been over 10 years since my last trip to Amsterdam, and since 22 year old me had very different interests, I was more than ready to explore this city again. One of my musts was to stay on a houseboat in one of the gorgeous canals. We found one on Instagram (@avanceamsterdam) and I cannot recommend it enough. In case you're wondering, no it wasn't rocky at all. I am very sensitive to movement and I couldn't feel a thing. It was a large sailboat, with two bedrooms so that might be why. 

Restaurants and Bars:
Ramen-Ya - Great Ramen Bowls in the Red Light District, sure to cure those munchies. It's large, semi-casual and cheap. 
Sampurna - for delicious Indonesian cuisine, something you must try when in Amsterdam. I ordered the sample plate with everything on it and it was the perfect way to experience as much as possible. The location is right in De 9 Straatjes (the 9 streets), which is the oldest, most photogenic part of the city.
Brut de Mer - This adorable oyster bar is located in my favorite area, The Pijp, with shopping and cafes along cobblestone streets. There aren't as many tourists over here.
Wijnnar Boelen and Boelen - Also in The Pijp, this winebar is perfect for sitting outside and people-watching over a glass of white Burgundy. 
Glouglou - A very cool natural wine bar in The Pijp. Any wine lover will want to stay here all day, the selection is super geeky and the wine posters on the wall are pretty awesome.
Wijnbar Paulus - A small wine bar with a great charcuterie board, closer to the center of the city. 
Morgan and Mees - A fantastic, local Mediterranean restaurant inside the beautiful hotel from the same name. Not cheap, totally worth it. 
Other:
Side Car Trip - We did another Air BnB "experience" and hopped on the back (and side) of a motorcycle to check out Amsterdam's neighboring villages. I HIGHLY recommend doing this. We went to Monnickendam, known for producing sailboats. The old buildings (back to the 1600s(!) in this town were breathtaking. We also stopped in Volendam, a small fishing village known for catching eel. My husband the picker found a few great antique shops and we left with some beautiful vintage oil painting. There's also an old hotel we stopped and had a drink in called The Spaander. There was a ton of very famous and traditional art in this hotel/restaurant, it was basically like a museum. 
Cotton Cake - If you're into shopping, this women's boutique in The Pijp is fantastic. High quality, great prices, I found way more than I could buy.

THE HAGUE

The Hague is a beautiful city just 45 minutes Southwest of Amsterdam. It's known for being the home to the royal family. It's also where you can find Jan Vermeer's famous painting, “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” The cobblestone streets, tiny cafes and unique shops will keep you busy for days. I recommend renting a bike for at least one day, to cover the most ground, and because it's not as intense as biking in Amsterdam. I didn't see/hear one American tourist over the course of 4 days, which was refreshing after Amsterdam. 

Hotel Des Indes - This hotel is absolutely jaw-dropping. Built in the 1850s as a city palace to welcome royalty and celebrities, the architecture is mesmerizing. The decor has kept the original purpose with a canopy above the bed, velvet curtains and tassel-covered lamps. Staying here, you truly feel like royalty. The underground pool and spa is very relaxing and the massages were great. 
The best part of this hotel was the High Wine. This 5 course wine and food pairing was absolute heaven. 

Restaurants and Bars:
Walter Benedict - A great little spot for coffee and a croque monsieur. It's beautifully designed and was packed with locals. 
Bouzy - An outstanding, international wine bar that specializes in Champagne (hello, Bouzy). The bright, corner space makes it hard to leave, as do their small plates like homemade meatballs, shrimp and burrata.
Nivoo - A cute wine bar, though more traditional in terms of offerings, in a great street for shopping.
Hather Bar - An old fashioned pub with outdoor seating right over the canal. Food is pretty simple, but good.
Tapisco - Great Spanish tapas in the city center. Great cured meats and empanadas. This area is quite touristy, but there are some beautifully designed government buildings around here. 
Bite Me! - A cute cafe for salads and sandwiches. This little circle is full of cafes and vintage shops

SOMM IN COPENHAGEN

Copenhagen absolutely exceeded my expectations, talk about a hip and happening city. I rented a bike for the first two days and ended up extending my rental another three. With colorful facades around every corner, multiple canals, and a serious obsession for wine, I'd be more than willing to relocate. Also on the pricier side, especially for hotels, the food and wine was well worth it. 
Hotel: I rented an apartment via Air BnB (this one) and the location (near Skindergade and Klosterstraede streets for reference) couldn't have been better. The living and dining were super bright and very comfortable. If you're a hotel kind of person, check out Hotel Manon Les Suites. This beautiful oasis has a fun indoor pool, rooftop bar and very mid-century, Danish design. Also, we went to the Sanders Hotel for breakfast and it was beautifully classic with a stunning sun-room bar on the roof. The garden is perfect for breakfast or lunch if you have good weather.

Bars:
Ved Stranden 10 - This stunning wine bar is situated in a very old building overlooking one of Copenhagen's central canals. The list is non-existent and ordering is strictly verbal. Love that. The reds and whites I tasted the few times I ventured in here were spot on with my request. This place is a must for wine lovers. 
Mikkeller - There are a few of these beer shop/bars around Copenhagen and they're full of all the best craft beers, local and international. The location on Refshaleoen is super trendy and right on the water.
Mother - This is a wine shop and tasting bar right in the best shopping area. They also own a restaurant by the same name with outstanding brunch on the weekends. 
R bar - A very chill wine bar near Mother with an extensive Italian list.
Nebbiolo - An All-Italian wine bar right in Nyhavn - the most colorful, most photographed street/canal in the city. 
Bronnum cocktail bar - A luxurious cocktail bar in the center of town, little bit boojie but phenomenal drinks and seriously knowledgeable bartenders.  

Restaurants:
Baest
 - Just over the river in the up-and-coming Norrebro neighborhood, I'd recommend this farm-to-table Italian-Danish spot above anything else. Hands down this was the best pizza I have ever had. Don't forget to ask the waiter about "Rudo" their speakeasy-style Vermouth bar upstairs. Drink tokens will follow. 
September Atelier - A beautifully designed café in the morning, wine bar/shop at night. I was very impressed with the coffee and avocado toast.
Reffen - Located on Refshaleoen (an old industrial area that was once home to B&W shipyard. Now it's home to café's, restaurants, events etc, just 15 mins from Copenhagen by bike). Reffen is a massive outdoor international food hall. Each vendor has their own shipping container, which they've decorated to showcase their cuisine. I had sushi, pad Thai, tacos, and a burger, all of which were delicious. 
Manfreds - Owned by the same crew as Baest, this mainly vegetarian spot focuses on local, sustainable and organic produce. However, they're known for their beef tartare, which is unreal.
Kodbyens Fiskbar - Seafood heaven, this Meatpacking restaurant is known for their oysters, but the scallops and mussels were just as delicious. A very cool, industrial/nautical vibe with circular fish tanks and delicious wines, from vintage Champagne to Georgian Orange.
Torvehallerne - This indoor food market is where to taste the local SMORREBROD. They're like tapas with salmon, beef, shrimp, or veggies on bread and can be found throughout both buildings. When inside: Gorm's for delicious pizza, Kopan for Korean street food, and Lele for great Vietnamese bahn mi.

Others: 
Husted Vin - This is a traditional wine shop with many recognizable wines from all over the world. It's also in a unique area with a lot of cafes, great for a walk. 
Canal Tour - I purchased the Air BnB experience and it was marvelous. They stock a picnic basket full of beer and snacks while a local guide points out all the areas of attraction, museums and government buildings. Do it at sunset for great pics!
Rodeo Hair Salon - If you need a trim or want a blow-out, go to Rodeo! They have a cafe and bar, and the stylists are amazing (have been featured dozens of places), and not too pricey.

SOMM IN OSLO

Oslo is one of the most beautiful, clean and unique cities I've ever been. The people are extremely nice, though often reserved, and the food and wine is exceptional. Price-wise you can compare it to New York. It's easy to lose track of what you're spending but you could also do Oslo on a budget quite easily. For example, hang out at the Mathallen Food Market and enjoy a Salmon Poke bowl with a local beer. Here are some of my favorite restaurants, hotels, bars and things to do: 
Hotel: Grims Grenka
This hotel is sort of funky/retro but super spacious, clean and unique. The staff was great and the bar and restaurant had great menus. 
Boat tour: We took an old bait boat from City Hall Pier 3. Her name was Helena and she had a full bar and delicious, fresh-caught shrimp. This was the perfect, sightseeing cruise at under 2 hours.
Vigeland Sculpture Park: This large sculpture park is perfect for a long walk or picnic. The 200+ sculptures by Gustav Vigeland
Viking ship museum: Check out these (huge) ancient ships and viking artifacts, it's pretty outstanding.

Restaurants:
We had a fantastic lunch at Skur 33 – an inventive Italian-fusion spot with just-caught fish, pizza, and homemade pasta. We hear the dinner is just as good.
Kontrast is a chic, Michelin-star, fine-dining spot that offers an extensive Chef tasting menu and a phenomenal wine list. It's pricey but a fabulous experience. I had some rare wines I still can't stop thinking about.
Kverneriet has some amazing burgers (all kinds, including the Thai which was a favorite), along with an extensive cocktail list. This place is great for big groups and very centrally located. 
Brutus is natural wine bar outside of town in the Kampen area. It's very chill and super hipster. They give you a list of wines by the glass and if you're interested in a bottle they escort you to the cellar to pick one. Gotta love that.
Mathallen is a huge, international food market with options for days. You can sit at the Champagneria with a glass of wine or cruise over to the Spanish tapas bar, just don't miss the local fish guys with the best smoked salmon you'll ever try. 
Arno is a small, semi-traditional iItalian restaurant near Mathallen with delicious pasta and a phenomenal meat and cheese platter. 
Mantra is your go-to for Indian Food, near the best shopping street, Karl Johans. It's packed with locals and feels very luxurious while not too expensive. 
Miss Sophie is a really cozy brunch or dinner spot in a happening area. The interiors are extremely unique - pink velvet chairs and palm tree wallpaper. At least go for a cocktail and a snap.

Loire by Car ... foot, bike, solex and hot air balloon

From Nantes to Tour, I was fully immersed in wine, food, and French culture. I explored the wineries and vineyards of Loire by car, foot, bike, Solex and even from above on a hot air balloon. The local cuisine included every type of pâté, tartare, rillette, and cheese imaginable. The locals were always welcoming, but I don't think I would have gotten around the small towns without my trusty French guide and translator.

Every winery was so unique in terms of offering but I could feel each winemaker's passion and understand their visions and goals, which were often to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. I was constantly impressed by quality and dedication, as many of the estates specialized in organic, natural, or lutte raisonnee winemaking methods. Many of the wineries in France will begin picking about 2 weeks earlier than the majority of their previous vintages due to the abnormally hot summer. This can be good news however, as the sooner the grapes come inside, the less of a chance they'll be damaged by inclement fall weather.

Before digging into the vino, there are a few activities that I definitely recommend checking out. First, the hot air ballon. While the flight is never guaranteed and you may end up waiting a bit due to weather, it's definitely worth the time and money. Coasting across the vineyards overlooking all of the towns, people and animals was an experience I will never forget. Next, the Solex tour. A Solex is a motorized bike originally developed in the 1940s and a total blast. It takes around 10 minutes to figure it out, but after that you'll be well on your way to a fun (and pretty fast ride). Ours ended in a picnic amongst the vines, complete with wine and cheese of course. Don’t forget the castles! We visited Château de Chenonceau, Château de Chinon and Château de Brissac, all completely different in terms of era and style. The history is uncanny and you’ll find yourself putting pieces of ancient royalty together in your mind. Lastly, make sure to rent bikes for a day of cycling along the banks of the Loire Valley. Plan your day right and you’ll be stopping every hour to taste wine and tour the magnificent caves of the region.

On to the juice… I highly recommend visiting the below outstanding wineries when travelling through the Loire Valley.

Domaine de la Pepiere is a Certified Biodynamic winery specializing in Muscadet and consisting of 40 hectares within the Pays-Nantes. Gwénaëlle Croix is one of the three owners (unrelated) who walked us through the vineyards and tasting at the winery.  Gwen explained that Melon de Bourgogne (or Muscadet) has large, melon-shaped leaves, which could be the root of the grape’s name. The vines are very close together and quite low to the ground, allowing their tall, narrow tractors to straddle the vines easily. This is common throughout Muscadet, though horses historically did this job. The climate here is mild, since the vineyards are close to the sea. The vines are trained along two wires, rather than one, which is more common in Loire and the region of Muscadet. The reasoning behind this is to encourage photosynthesis and also aid in protection from hostile weather.

Like most of the region, Pépière’s Muscadet does not see malolactic fermentation. Gwen described the importance of temperature control in her steel vats, which need to be cooled twice per day during fermentation. Pépière produces approximately 200,000 bottles per year and 80% of that gets exported!

We proceeded to taste the lineup of Muscadet wines by sub-zones, which were easily distinguishable after learning about the varying soil types. Granodiorite was one of the most interesting to me, which is a granite made up of amphibolite, mica, and quartz. Wines from this soil had very granite-like minerality, along with fresh lime and wet stones on across the palate.

Pied Flond has been producing wine for seven generations just 18 miles from Angers in the town of Terranjou. Franck and Catherine Gourdon started making wine in 2000 and specialize in the still, sweet and sparkling production of Chenin Blanc, along with Rosé d'Anjou from Cabernet Sauvignon and Anjou Rouge from Gamay. The family has 24 hectares of vines, which the family tends to in a sustainable manner.

The estate also has a long history of Solex production. Franck started making these motorized bicycles with his brother at ages 16 and 18. Riding these around the vineyards was an absolute blast, after we got the hang of it that is. The tasting was comprised of several styles of wine from dry to the very sweet, even botrytized. The 2016 Coteaux du Lyon falls into the latter, yet still delicate in aroma and body, I’d rather pair it with goat cheese than a dessert.

Gratien and Meyer was the largest estate we visited, specializing in the production of Cremant de Loire since 1874. Our tour began in their underground caves that house over 5 million bottles in over 3 miles -it was huge. The estate even has their own underground spring, which was once used to wash the barrels. Directly above the cellars are 20 hectares of vines purchased in 1864 by Alfred Gratien. Alfred died in his fourties when his partner, Jean-Albert Meyer took over the estate with Alfred’s widow.

The wines produced today fall into two categories, Cremant de Loire AOC and Saumur Mousseux AOC, depending on the varietals used in the blend. Sparkling wine labeled Saumur Mousseaux must be entirely from Chenin Blanc. Cremant de Loire is more flexible, allowing Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir, among others. Gratien & Meyer often blend the three mentioned. The aging requirement for both AOCs is 12 months, but the estate ages them for at least 24 months and up to 6 years for the best vintages of Flamme d’Or. Flamme d’Or is a style of Cremant de Loire that is matured and vinified in oak barrels. We tasted all of these styles but one of the standouts was the Cremant de Loire Brut out of Magnum, which was bottled for their 150 year anniversary in 2014. The blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir was aged 6 months in oak and tasted very much like champagne, in my opinion. There was slightly more acidity than the other wines, and my notes included peach puree, pear skin and fresh herbs.

Château de Parnay is a certified organic winery that consists of 35 hectares of vineyards in Saumur-Champigny, above slate-driven soil. Only about 10-15% of their wine is currently exported. Perhaps the most unique feature in this winery are the 11 walls of limestone every third or fourth row of vines. These walls provide shade, protect from wind and keep the roots fresh and complex. They have also found that the roots mature more quickly when closer to the limestone walls.

The ancient fortress now owned by the winery dates back to the 10th century. In 2006, Matias Levron purchased the historic castle, winery, and caves, near the Loire Valley School of Phyloxera. The large range of wines we tasted were very complex. I was very impressed with the quality and minerality in the Chenin Blanc, perhaps due to the limestone walls mentioned.

Domaine Mabileau – Reze la Jarnoterie is a 5th generation winery known for aging Cabernet Franc in chestnut barrels. Co-owner, Carine Reze led us through some of her 25 hectares of vineyards. Most people in Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil plant grass around their vines to improve quality and limit roots from going too deep into the soil. The estate practices very precise picking followed by slow extraction for elegant, deep flavors and low tannins for their, always Cabernet Franc, wines. They pump over twice daily and very slowly after malolactic fermentation.

The next part of our tour was a drive the wine into their below-ground cellar, yes drive. Here, Carine showed us their notorious chestnut barrels. The cellar was a quarry in the 10th century and part of a castle that was once used to store mushrooms. It is not just their own, however. Since 1978 they have shared it with between 15 and 60 other wineries and collectors as there is over one hectare of cave space. The constant temperature of 12 degrees Celsius and 80% humidity make this an ideal storage facility.

The Chestnut barrels support this humidity and can be used for 30-40 years. Compare that to the 3 years they and most wineries utilize oak! As you can imagine, barrels this old hardly impart wood-like characteristics in the wine. The estate is not buying them anymore, however, as not many coopers still make them. Carine and her family have also built an underground event space, complete with a wood-burning fireplace.

We tasted wines dating back to 2005, as Carine was enthusiastic about showing us how her Cabernet Franc can age, especially since many were matured solely in their chestnut barrels. The wines were well balanced, earth-driven and quite unique.

Bernard Baudry started making wine in 1975 and his son, Matthieu joined him 15 years ago. Matthieu explained that 90% of their production is red, 5% rose and 5% Chinon Blanc (from Chenin Blanc). Their vineyards are spread out, ranging from valleys to slopes and plateaus, with several different types of soil. The estate chooses to vinify separately by region, to showcase the different soil types individually. He showed us a glass display case of each soil and placed his wines on top to distinguish which came from where.

The winery has been Certified Organic for 6 years but practicing much longer. Matthieu explained that converting was not difficult. They believe in making wine as natural as possible, utilizing indigenous yeast from their vines and winery. "I like my winery clean but not too clean," he said, explaining that he’s not using chemicals but doesn’t want to have to inoculate yeast either. The Baudry team strives to produce a wine that’s less extracted than the styles he has seen in Chinon over the years. He explains that the varietal is big in its own way, but today they are focused on an elegant style and lower yields help them control that. They have been exporting since the 90s, making lasting connections, as 40% of their production is being exported today. We tasted several different wines by sub-zones and soil types dating back to 1996. The ’96 Chinon was poured blind and none of us were even close. It was so fresh and floral we assumed it was from 2010 or 2013.

The Perfect Sparkling Soirée

I can always get down on some sparkling cocktails, especially in the summertime. When the east coast humidity starts to roll in, I like to host a Miomosa Party with mimosas and bubbly cocktails. Along with the classic Mionetto Prosecco and orange juice, check out a few of my own, super easy, refreshing and slightly herbaceous Prosecco cocktails below.

Hillary's Italian 75:

Hillary's Rosé-cco

Hillary's Basil Bellini

I recommend serving in a chilled flute or white wine glass and pairing with a fruit and cheese plate. Happy sipping! 

Seven South African Wineries

Last month, I tasted a selection of South African wines from 7 different estates, here were my favorite wines from each.

Rustenberg
This estate is known for their high altitude position in Stellenbosch, and producing wines with elevated acidity. My favorite tasted was the Sauvignon Blanc, with 4-5 months on lees. 
MAN Vintners 
MAN estate was named after the 3 owner's wives' first initials, Marie, Annete and Nicky. They started making wine together in 2001 and now have grown to produce over 250k cases per year! My favorite tasted was the 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wines is very peppery with leather and incense on the nose. the 2016 Pinotage was also very drinkable and I'm quite picky about this grape.
Joostenberg
Joostenberg is a 5th generation, organic winery in the Muldersvlei district of Stellenbosch. Little J is their entry level label and the 2017 Chenin Blanc had a ton of character. My favorite tasted here was the 2016 Family Blend (red) which has a bit of Touriga Nacional and some Malbec in the blend, which is quite uncommon for South Africa. It was well-balanced with soft tannin and ripe plums across the nose and palate. 
Black Elephant Vintners
From the very warm climate of Franschhoek (summers average around 105 degrees), you can already expect some full-bodied wines. Yes, that was the case, but the alcohol was clearly in line. My favorite tasted was the "Nicholas Red" named after the winemaker's son. This big and peppery blend is about 45% Syrah, 21% Carignan, 20% Mourverdre, among others, much like a Southern Rhone style. 
DBG 
DBG is the 2nd oldest winery in all of South Africa, producing since 1685! My favorite wine tasted was the Boschendal Brut Rosé, made in the traditional method. The blend is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, as well as about 30% Pinotage. This is the second photo below and my notes included ripe cranberries, blackberries, chalk, bread crumbs and red apple. Delicious!
Ken Forrester
Perhaps the only winery I had previous familiarity with, Ken Forrester has several labels under his umbrella. The Petit is the young vine selection, and I found the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay to be light in body but very varietally correct. My favorite, however was the Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, from is 42 year old vines. This had baked apples, kiwi, ginger and wet soil flavors and kept getting more complex.
Mulderbosch
Mulderbosch winery is focused on land conservation and rehabilitation. They have a very sensible approach to viticulture, considering the vine's environment with each farming action. I was quite impressed with their 2017 Cabernet Rosé, with fresh strawberries and raspberries on the nose. Also, the "Steen op Hout" Chenin Blanc had a range of savory characteristics, as well as tree bark, white mushroom, and fresh parsley. This Chenin was the most Old World in style.

Rhone Recos for the Summer

The Rhône Valley is often known for their infamous reds like Hermitage or Chateauneuf du Pape. In fact, red wine makes up approximately 80% of all wine produced in the Rhône Valley. Since the region's whites and rosés are often overlooked, we're able to find plenty of great value. Lately, however, these styles are being increasingly produced by Rhône Valley vintners and in-turn, the popular his risen on a local, domestic, and international level.

Last week, at Teuwen's "Rhône Work of Art" event, I tasted several whites and rosés from the Northern and Southern Rhône. The tasting was guided by Master Sommelier, Laura Maniec Fiorvanti, who claims the Rhône Valley as her favorite wine region. After working under Laura for over two years at Corkbuzz, I absolutely believe it. She mentioned the commonalities and differences between surrounding regions' whites and rosés. For example, rosé from Rhône tends to have more weight than the traditional style in Provence. Also, Viognier is very much Rhône's white and likely on its own in the north, rather than blended with other grapes in the Southern sub-regions. Read on for my favorites from the tasting. 

Whites: 

  • 2015 Cave de Tain Hermitage Blanc - A very tropical fruit-driven wine, with hints of pineapple, melon and guava. The elevated acidity and distinct minerality made this wine so memorable. At around $75, this might be more of a special occasion wine, rather than summer sipper. 
  • 2016 Jean-Luc Colombo Saint Peray - This Roussane-Marsanne blend has orange blossom and ripe peaches on the nose. A delightfully long finish, especially at $40.
  • 2015 Domaine Bernardins Muscat Beaumes de Venise - The desert wine that will change your mind! Laura urged me to try this, knowing I've never had a sweet tooth. I'm SO glad I took her advice. This naturally sweet wine, or Vin doux Naturel has notes of caramel, candied pear, butterscotch, and preserved lemon. It's perfectly balanced with 15% alcohol. Around $40 retail.
  • 2016 Vins de Vienne Villard Gaillard Condrieu la Chambee - One of singular Viogniers I was talking about, from the renowned Condrieu region. Notes of peaches and cream, lavender sprigs, nectarine and granite. Around $60 retail.

Rosés:

  • 2017 Domaine Grand Bois Les 3 Soeurs - The most complex $12 bottle you may ever taste. This rosé is a blend of 65% Grenache, 25% Carignan, and 10% Cinsault. Notes of ripe Mcintosh apples, dried oregano, and salted quince arise on the palate. At this price, I could drink it all summer long.
  • 2017 Prieure de Montezargues Tavel Rosé  - This dark pink wine has raspberries and wet stones on the nose, with a ridiculously long and weighty finish. Around $22 retail and well worth it. 
  • 2017 Chateau d'Aqueria Tavel - A very full and luscious rosé with blueberries and fresh plums on the palate and dried herbs on the nose. This definitely craves food, with light tannin on the gums. I'd pair it with fish tacos or cod chowder. Just $20 retail!
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Kabaj Tasting at Hudson Wine Merchants

"The skin is the stage," Winemaker Jean Michel Morel responds as to why all of his white wines spend between one week and five months on the skins. He describes the varietal as "the performer," as expressing the grape varietal is his focus. Along with showcasing terroir, tasting the purity of the grape is often described as the goal for winemakers. Some enologists however, believe that skin maceration masks terroir. Stetson Robbins, owner of Black Lamb, (Kabaj's importer) assisted at the tasting and pushes back on this notion, "Why wouldn't that be the case for red wine which is almost always macerated?" Tasting the varietal first, skin included, is the intention at Kabaj, and after tasting 8 of their unique and inspiring wines, they are clearly achieving this goal. 

Kabaj's vines are located in Goriska Brda, Slovenia, halfway between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea. Brda means "hills," which is precisely how Kabaj's vines are situated, planted according to the varietal. Jean's wines are made "practically natural," as added sulfur is necessary for his production, maintaining his practices with controlled skin-contact. He did mention, however, that each vintage has become increasingly more natural than the last. My tasting notes with Hudson Wine Merchants' retail prices are below.

1.) 2014 Beli Pinot (Pinot Blanc) $26

Crisp and almost neutral, very light in body with a hint of peach and basil on the palate. This wine spent 2 weeks on the skin, with native yeasts only, followed by 2 years in oak, after undergoing full malolactic fermentation.

2.) 2014 Ravan (Tocai Friulano) $26

Tangy, with apples, fresh pears and green leaves on the nose, spending two weeks on the skins before being macerated.

3.) 2014 Sauvignon Blanc $28

Green bell peppers, lemon rind, and river-like minerality, this one reminded me of a White Bordeaux with a touch more spice and spent 1 week on the skins. My favorite if I had to choose.

4.) 2014 Sivi Pinot (Pinot Gris) $28

Very floral, with a touch of carrots, guava, almonds and mustard greens, quite complex and spent 2 weeks on the skins. The color on this one was a beautiful copper (pictured in my hand below).

5.) 2014 Rebula $28

This is "Yellow Rebula," or Ribolla Gialla. A very orange color with a hint of burnt cashews and black tea on the nose. The tannins are apparent after spending 30 days on the skins in large oak vats, followed by 2 years of aging in oak barriques. 

6.) 2007 Amfora $66

Extremely perfumed and complex with notes of blue cheese, truffles and sherry-like flavors. This is a blend of Friulano, Rebula and Malvasia, each spent 1 year on the skins (separately) in Kvevri.  The kvevri is wood-fired at a low temperature and lined with beeswax as not to soak into the ground. 

7.) 2012 Merlot $45

Plums, earth, mushrooms, this reminded me of Cabernet Franc a bit, minus the cherry red color and soft, balanced tannins. Jean's Merlot comes from one of his highest, steepest vineyards. 

8.) 2009 Cuvee Morel $50

This Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon tastes a lot like high quality St Julien with notes of leather, soil, pine and eucalyptus. There is a pretty, perfumed quality on the very long finish, and the wine spent two years in barrel. 

What other winemaker is showing their 2014 whites right now? These are clearly very special wines, well above the so-called Orange Wine fad. Jean suggests enjoying these wines cool, not cold in the summer and just below room-temp in the winter. He recommends drinking from a coup, rather than a white wine glass, as it coats the whole mouth, from each end. These wines pair with several types of dishes, due to the savory qualities. Jean recommends pork belly, dry aged meats, even Asian cuisine. 

Discovering Bulgaria Through Four Wineries

I visited Bulgaria for the second time, on a wine tour with Brand Marketing Organization, World Wines. There wasn’t an ounce of hesitation on returning to the country, after falling in love with the ancient cities, unique traditions, breathtaking landscape, and of course, the wine.

Once inhabited by the Thracians, Bulgaria has evidence of winemaking since 4000 B.C. It wasn’t until the collapse of communism in 1989 that the country was able to transform the market, however. Growers and wineries were now able make higher quality wine for local and international consumption, opposed to the bulk that was produced almost entirely for Russia. Subsidies and grants were issued for winemaking vessels, oak and other necessary equipment. Lately, however, this has been reduced, as the government is reserving most funding to the production of food rather than alcohol.

We explored the Danube Plain as well as the Thracian Valley on this trip, tasting wines made by respected producers of local and international varietals. In order, the four wineries we visited are: Bratanov Winery (South Sakar), Salla Estate (North Black Sea), Tsarev Brod (North Black Sea), and Chateau Burgozone (Danube Plain). Each unique with their own terroir and winemaking styles, comparing them provided me with an understanding of Bulgarian wine as a whole.

1.)    Bratanov Winery, Eastern Thracian Valley

Bratanov is a family-run project established in 2010 by a father and his two sons. They produce wine from their owned 24 hectares only, operating out of a rented warehouse just outside the town of Harmanli. Their no-frill facility allows the family more of a budget to hire knowledgeable staff. This includes Bulgaria’s “2016 Young Winemaker of the Year,” Maria Stoeva, who graduated in Dijon, France. A relatively new winery, 2011 was the first vintage (and historically their best to date). Today, Bratanov is producing approximately 60,000 bottles per year. 

With the purity of terroir as their goal, Bratanov has focused to reduce enzymes and they don’t cold stabilize any of their wines. They are most known for working with wild-fermented yeasts since 2016, and only filter their white wines. Their vineyards were filled with quartz along the chunky, rough soil, a bit exhausting to walk through. It was also around 78 degrees at 4pm in early May, quite unlikely for this time of year. 

The tasting included the recent releases of Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Franc as well as Tamianka, which better known as Muscat Blanc. The 2016 vintage of Tamianka was probably my favorite, with slate minerality, smoke and a touch of florality on the nose. The unoaked 2016 Chardonnay was also fantastic, with hints of green apple and elevated acidity. We spoke a lot about the impressive acidity, when considering that this region is Bulgaria's warmest. Hristo Bratanov is one of the sons and primarily responsible for the vineyards. He explained how he's noticed that the skins of the grapes tend to thicken up when they get hot, going into a “freak-out mode,” desperate to retain the acidity inside. Of their red wines, my favorite shown was the 2015 “3 Blend” is just that, with Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Rubin (a crossing of Nebbiolo and Syrah created in the 1940s) making up the blend. As a new winery, they are constantly experimenting with blends. After tasting Rubin on its own, the tannins are quite rigourous, with espresso and stewed plums on the nose, which is why I personally prefer it in a blend.

2.)    Salla Estate, North Black Sea

Award winning winemaker Anelia Hristakieva focuses on a very small production of Chardonnay and Riesling, among a few other white grapes. Due to their unique terroir, the winery produces very little red. The vineyards are just 3 kilometers from the winery in the village of Blaskovo, with a few very steep hillsides planted to Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling under sandy, clay soil. They are also producing Traminer, or Gewürztraminer which, apparently, many locals think is a Bulgarian grape due to the extensive history of plantings throughout the country. The locals also tend to enjoy oaked whites, which is why Anelia decided to oak-age some Riesling, an experiment that has gone over quite well. Anelia never uses malolactic fermentation for her whites, as to express each varietal without interference.  The 2017 vintage was warm, but not hot, leaving the wines with slightly more fruit and structure.

From the whites tasted, I was most enthused by the Vrachanski Misket, a rare grape produced by less than 1% of the country's wineries. With white pepper, violet and spice, it quickly reminded me of Grüner Veltliner, especially due to the high level of acidity. Also quite intriguing was the 2017 rosé, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, vinified separately. The delightful pink wine was full of herbaceous notes and ripe, red fruit. With relatively low alcohol and a gorgeous color, much of the group was in unison regarding the freshness and balance of this wine. Salla's 2015 Cabernet Franc was quite impressive as well, immediately reminding me of high quality Right-Bank Bordeaux. The 2013 vintage was rated #2 for Best Wine on Bulgaria by Di Vino Magazine (Bulgaria’s most respected wine publication). Along with wine tasting, the estate offers a guest house, horseback riding and hiking. This winery is an model choice for international tourists.

3.)    Tsarev Brod, North Black Sea

 Planted in 2001, Tsarev Brod primarily sold their grapes to other wineries until their first vintage, 2015. In the 1970s and 1980s, their 27 hectares were part of a cooperative, but there were far fewer vines as the Russian tractors were double the size that they are today. 15 of the 27 hectares were completely replanted, and the owners, Ivan and Svetla Ivanov remained patient while the vines aged to reach their full potential.

At 250 feet above sea level, the only reds they're producing are Pinot Noir and Evmolpia (a crossing between Merlot and the local Mavrud). Cool climate white grapes do best here, like Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gergana, (a hybrid between Muscat Otonel and Dimyat). The acidity in the Sauvignon Blanc was arguably the highest among Bulgaria’s wineries at 9.5%. They did a partial malolactic fermentation to mute that down to 7.5%, which is normal for most vintages. Winemaker, Nikolai Krastev keeps his facility extremely organized. All of the tanks he uses are identical sets of two, ranging in size so they’re always completely full without oxygen. He’s also partial to neutral oak, and just 10% of their barrels in the winery were new. In fact, most of his Pinot Noir is unoaked.

The tasting consisted of high acid whites, a crisp rosé, a few reds from Pinot Noir, and a Riesling Pet Nat. The Pet Nat was bottled at 35 grams of sugar and very much enjoyed by all. My notes on this one included lemon rind, white flowers and slate, coming in at just 11.5% alcohol.  My personal favorite, however was the Gergana with tart pears, fresh hydrangeas and flinty minerality. The Pinot Noirs we tasted had a bit more black fruit than red, which was unexpected. As for the Pinot Noir the 2015 vintage was my favorite, with lavender, pine, fresh raspberries and cocoa, as this one had approximately 10% new oak. 

4.)    Chateau Burgozone, Danube Plain

In the continental climate of Northern Bulgaria, Chateau Burgozone is located along the Danube River, overlooking Romania. Between 150 and 180 meters above sea level, the estate is situated in a moderate micro-climate, with four distinct seasons. The nights are a bit cooler here, as the region is influenced by the Danube river, but the sunny days balance the climate perfectly.

 Soil specialist, Dr. Penkoff described this as one of the two best regions for wine production in Bulgaria. This region was always popular for grape growing, as the cities were much more populated then. The Danube River was a highly commercial route, full of boats. Today, you might see one or two every afternoon. When Burgozone purchased the property in 2001, it took almost 5 years to rip out everything. The vines were wild and crazy, offering very little in terms of fruit.

Co-owner and Executive Director, Biliana Marinova described the selection process when her family was preparing to plant the vines. The estate received clones from Burgundy and started from scratch, figuring out which varietal does best in their newly purchased soil. Based on the terroir, international varietals Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc were among the most planted. The local Tamianka and Gamza were planted 2 years ago and this year will be the first harvest for both varietals. The estate produces approximately 250,000 bottles per year. Biliana explained that the vines were very happy, producing tons of fruit after 25 years of the soil being covered in vegetation. Today, the average age of the vines are 10 years old, and the estate produces approximately 250,000 bottles per year.

The tasting at Chateau Bugozone was designed with food pairing in mind, to showcase the versatility of their wines. We started by tasting a very refreshing and unique 2017 Viognier with a hint of honey and roses across the palate. This was very French in style, remaining slightly restrained and elegant. The estate has two labels, Cote du Danube (selection) and Via Istrum (premium). The difference is the sur-lie aging, one month for Cote du Danube and three months for Via Istrum. The 2017 Via Istrum Chardonnay is unoaked, slightly nutty, with golden pears on the nose and paired perfectly with foie gras. Interestingly, Bulgaria is one of the largest producers of this delicacy. Both Pinot Noir and Cabernet are made for the Cote du Danube and Via Istrum labels. There is also a Cabernet Franc made for the Via Istrum label, which was my favorite red. My notes for this one included bay leaf, blueberry and bell pepper seeds, also quite French in style.

Now the question arises on when we’ll get to see more Bulgarian wine in the USA. With Bulgaria’s progression toward natural and organically produced wine, as well as their shift toward high quality, the possibilities are literally endless. At a jaw-dropping value, Bulgaria is currently exporting to several US states, including New York. I highly suggest reaching out to the importers in your area and tasting the wines I mentioned.  Better yet, take a trip to these magnificent regions, explore ancient cities like Sofia and Plovdiv. Don’t forget to try the foie gras as you sample the many styles of Bulgarian wine.  

 

SOMM IN SONOMA

It was an honor to experience the incredible and informative Signature Sonoma Valley events this year. From tasting 4 different Zins from the 130 year old Bedrock vineyard to a Hanzell retrospective that included Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dating back to 1977, I was fortunate to be a part of this unique and memorable weekend. With deep history and varying styles, I truly believe there's a Sonoma wine for everyone. 

WHERE I STAYED
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn
This historic hotel has been fully renovated, and become widely known for the spa. While we were busy tasting and touring vineyards, I was able to experience a lot of what The Fairmont had to offer. First, the magnificent bar, 38 Degrees. This chic lounge had around 50 wines by the glass, from local Chardonnay to international Amarone and Rioja. Of course, you could always opt for a 6 oz glass of Screaming Eagle if you don't mind shelling out at around $800. 
My favorite feature at the hotel was the daily tastings they have at 4:30pm, led by a different winery in Sonoma. I had the chance to taste 5 wines from Roche on Thursday and 4 from Whitehall Lane on Saturday while chatting with the winemakers.
The hotel's restaurant, Santé had a huge breakfast menu that made ordering super difficult, in the bright and chic space. The popularity of this restaurant was evident all weekend, especially for dinner. 
The large pool with cabanas and a calming fountain was the best place to relax after a long day of tasting. 

 

DAY 1
Arriving a bit late in the day, we arrived at Pangloss Cellars in downtown Sonoma for a seated tasting. Their selection ranged from Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay to single-vineyard Pinot Noir and seriously smooth Zinfandel. Each of the flights were selected to go with the chef's cheese selection, charcuterie plate, or canapé assortment. One of the most impressive wines for me was the 2014 Pinot Noir, Charles Vineyard which had a perfect balance of red fruit, fresh herbs and a hint of earth-driven wet soil.
The newly renovated Tasting Lounge was magnificent, with two private rooms, perfect for intimate tastings and gatherings. The bar area was welcoming and comfortable, with unique plants, vintage-inspired furnishings, and soft candle lighting.  

DAY 2
Bright and early, we ventured over to Sangiacomo Vineyards for a moderated tasting and lunch. The Sangiacomo brothers have been managing their family's vineyards for decades, selling grapes to Sonoma's best. Here, we were able to taste 3 producer's (Auteur, Landmark and Ram's Gate) own rendition of 2015 Chardonnay, from Sangiacomo's Green Acre Vineyard. While made in several different styles, each were brilliant in this tasting, moderated by Master Sommelier David Yoshida. 
Lunch by Ramekin was almost as delicious as the wines, with a Green Garlic Soup and Seared Diver Scallop and an Herb Crusted Lamb Ribeye with a Fava Bean Puree and Spring Vegetables. 

Then, we hopped over to the Renaissance Hotel for Immersion: The Birthplace of CA Wine Seminar. A few of the standout wines for me included: Ordaz Family Wines, Buena Vista Winery, St Francis Winery, and Kenwood Vineyards. Kenwood brought their 2013 Cabernet from Jack London Vineyard, which had a slightly licorice, cola, and musk on the nose, finishing quite floral. This was probably my favorite, but the 2014 Ordaz Zinfandel from Montecillo Vineyard came in right behind. This one had green bell peppers and pitted cherries on the nose with a hint of coconut on the finish. 

Around 4:30 we left for dinner and a walk-around tasting at Ram's Gate Winery. To say that this winery is stunning is a complete understatement. Open and airy with a massive entrance and hugely tall ceilings make walking inside an experience in itself. Some of the most memorable wines tasted during the walk-around were: Jacuzzi's 2014 Bordeaux Blend, with a clear nod to the old world and a hint of wet soil and clay-like texture, GlenLyon's 2015 Estate Syrah with ripe plums, vanilla bean and a hint of sage on the nose, and Belden Barns' Gruner Veltliner, which tasted like a ripe grapefruit with hints of pine and broccoli. 
 

Day 3
The day started with a vineyard walk, led by founding vintner of Ravenswood winery, Joel Peterson. We were thoroughly amazed by the 120+ year old Bedrock Vineyard. Before Joel purchased the vineyard in the 60s, the previous owner was prepared to rip everything up and plant Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, he and his staff (including son Morgan-Twain Peterson, a Master of Wine), have discovered dozens of unique varietals on the property. Some of these include Mondeuse, Peloursin, Serine, Grand Noir de la Calmette and Negrette. This is now one of the most historically and qualitatively gilded plots in Sonoma Valley. 
The tasting followed, with an impressive panel that included Will Bucklin, Diane Kenworthy, Joel Peterson, and Moderator Dr. Liz Thach, MW. We started by tasting Joel's new label, Once and Future. This 2016 Zinfandel was fresh and complex, and entirely sourced at Bedrock Vineyard. Next was a side-by-side tasting of 2015 and 1993 Ravenswood Zin from Old Hill Ranch. Joel described the vintages as quite similar, and it was clear the the 2015 will likely turn into the 1993 over time. They were both slightly earth-driven, with notes of dried salami and raspberries. The 4th wine was from Kunde Family Winery, 2015 Zinfandel sourced from Bedrock. This wine had a bit more vanilla and hints of coconut, as they're using around 10% of American oak. Joel described not using it himself, as he found it left a dill characteristic, which wasn't ideal for his style of Zinfandel. To each their own. 

Next stop: A retrospective tasting at Hanzell Vineyards with President Jason Jardine and Winemaker Michael Mcneil. moderated by Master Sommelier Robert Bath. This impressive tasting was half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir, dating back to 1977! We were encouraged to taste old to new, Chardonnay, then Pinot, so it looked like the below (with my notes in parenthesis). 

1977 Chardonnay (almonds, pear, quince) and 1977 Pinot Noir (black licorice, leather, currant)
1996 Chardonnay (tropical, pineapple, yellow flower) and 1987 Pinot Noir (tart blueberries, high tannin)
2000 Chardonnay (light, yellow apple, mandarin) and 1996 Pinot Noir (mineral, fresh raspberry, rose)
2002 Chardonnay (candle wax, blood, moss, marijuana) and 2002 Pinot Noir (cranberry, red licorice) 
2010 Chardonnay (mineral, green apple, subdued) and 2010 Pinot Noir (leather, strawberry, tart plum)
2015 Chardonnay (medium body, squash, corn) and 2014 Pinot Noir (medium on all, cherry, blueberry)

Above being one of the most memorable tastings of my life, I was also able to figure a few thing out about my palate as well. I usually put a circled star next to my favorites at the end of any tasting. That's AFTER I've tasted everything, I'll re-taste those with a "star," and turn it into a circled star. I know, sounds pretty neurotic.. I "circle starred" the 2002 Chardonnay, 2002 Pinot Noir and 1996 Pinot Noir. You might consider it odd that my favorite wine tasted like "wax, blood and marijuana" and it obviously had so much more in terms of fruit and floral notes, but the complexity was outstanding. In general, I was drawn to the 15-ish year old wines, and thought they were drinking perfectly.  The Winemaker, Michael Mcneil has a totally different preference, with the very old and very young being his favorite. Some of the other participants thought that my favorite wines were rather difficult to understand, with the most muted flavors. As a New Yorker who probably drinks more Old World wine, this actually makes sense to me. 

Dinner followed, at Don and Nancy Sebastiani's private residence. The grandest staircase, Italian-esque fountains and pool set the stag for Chef Ari Weiswasser's 5 course dinner. The Glen Ellen Star crew began with a Marin French Triple Cream Tart, which tasted like the best cheese quiche I've ever had. The Morel Conserva and Shaved Radish, followed and paired perfectly with the 2016 Sojourn Pinot Noir floating around.
Next, was the Pacific Halibut Over Fava Puree, too many great Chardonnay's for this one to choose. The Sonoma Mountain Beef New York Strip and Potato-cauliflower Puree followed, pairing best with Arrowood's 1997 Cabernet.  The cheese course included Valley Ford Estero Gold and Nicasio Valley Locarno, followed by a very impressive dessert bar. Some sweets at the table included Meyer-lemon Riesling Tartlettes, and a Chocolate Coup with Coffee-molasses Ganache. What an evening!

 

SOMM IN NOLA

As a first timer, I was completely blown away by New Orleans. If you followed me on IG, you already know that I basically ate my way through the neighborhoods.. 
While spirits tend to be the focus, I found a plethora of wine shops, bars, and amazing lists throughout the city.
The food was spectacular and I'm thankful I was able to consume 5 days of meals in this magical city. Read on..

WHERE I STAYED
The Ace Hotel New Orleans was perfect for my sister and I. Whether we were rooftop-poolside chillin or downstairs listening to live reggae in the intimate lobby venue, our stay was simply amazing. The rooms are spacious, comfortable, and offer a super cool vibe. With a cocktail shaker in the room, (accompanied by a mixing guide), a sweet sound system and an extra-large bath, it's clear this place caters to a fun, young-ish crowd. Great staff, food, drinks, and restaurants, I literally have zero complaints. Come to think of it, I can't complain about any of the 4 Ace Hotels I've had the pleasure of staying at. Killing the game, guys. 

 

RESTAURANTS and WINE BARS

There's so much great food in New Orleans, it's easy to feel a little overwhelmed. I'm so lucky that a few of my friends sent me recommendations and I didn't steer far from their lists. Here are my personal favorites, most out of the French Quarter.

Bacchanal (wine shop/bar) Located a bit out, in an area I'd consider the Brooklyn of NOLA, this combo joint is perfect for any wine lover. Buy a bottle, drink it on the patio while you order up some snacks and listen to live music, OR take a few to go. I did both.
Tableau is an upscale joint with phenomenal seafood gumbo and a creative take on a French 75. 
Peche Seafood was the perfect spot to split a whole fish with 2 others. Very cool vibes.
Willa Jean for a mimosa filled brunch, in this bright, large space that's also great for to-go, fresh juices and coffee. I had the avocado toast and salmon tartine, both were great.
Toups Meatery is a meat-lovers dream. We enjoyed a fantastic elk, duck, chicken liver mousse, by this seriously talented chef in a quiet part of town. 
Compere Lapin is located inside the lovely No 77 hotel. This dreamy Caribbean spot is known for their curried goat and jerk fish. Both were great, along with the ambiance and cocktails. 
Lula restaurant and distillery is the laid-back spot for American-eque plates in a very fun part of town, just across from the Casino if you're feelin lucky.. I thought I was.  
Shaya is a fantastic lunch/brunch spot with Israeli fare like lamb ragout hummus and chicken schnitzel. This place is family friendly and majorly award winning, rightfully so.
Bayou Wine Garden was the perfect place to spend a Sunday Funday. The international wine and cheese selection was most impressive. The Crawfish guy pulled up around noon and the line was around the block until we left at 4pm. It's also connected to the Bayou Beer Garden, so there's literally something for everyone. Venture out for this one, you won't be disappointed. 

MUSIC
Everywhere! But we found the best on Frenchman's street

SHOPPING
Don't miss Magazine Street (around 7 miles long, you can pop in and out of stores with a drink in hand, as there are several bars as well)

SOMM IN SAVANNAH


Every winter, my husband and I venture down to our favorite, historic town of the South.

You simply cannot have a bad time in Savannah. The food, drink, hospitality and architecture is bound to leave a smile on your face. 

RESTAURANTS
After sampling the newly opened spots over the first few days, I hopped back over to my staples toward the end of our stay. Among them all, my favorites for lunch and dinner below.

LUNCH
1.) Little Duck Diner: A design-lover's dreamy, 50's-inspired brunchery. The options are practically countless, but duck is usually the main ingredient. From duck tacos to duck egg rolls and duck quesadillas to duck grilled cheese, you can't help but dig their theme, with a splash of high acid white of course.
2.) Collins Quarter: The hip, Brunch and Mimosa drop in. Always packed, very reliable, the perfect place to cure your hangover. 
3.) Debi’s Fried Chicken: the no- frills, cafeteria-meets-diner with all the fixin’s. The locals like to keep this one a secret, but if you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump, this is the diner where Jenny worked. Huge portions, super cheap, why am I telling you about it, again?
4.) The Gryphon: For high tea and sandwiches in this historic building now owned by SCAD. The décor and hospitality just makes you feel fancy, while the prices remain reasonable.  

DINNER
1.) The Atlantic: The newly opened, nautical cool kid off the beaten path. Expect an inventive, American-fusion, shared-plate experience and about 20 wines-by-the-Coravin in this bright and chic spot.
2.) Hitch: 3rd location, top quality service with a creative menu. The rice waffle (Gluten free!) is served with house cured-ham and is an absolute must!
3.) Olde Pink House: One of the city's oldest gems, featuring 3 floors (plus a basement "cellar room") of dining space. Expect hearty Southern dishes, with a twist. We simply cannot skip the whole fish, no matter what it is. Fresh food, friendly staff, in the dreamiest pink mansion.

BARS

  1. In Vino Veritas: While Savannah’s libations clearly revolve around beer and traditional cocktails, this wine bar is perfect for your vino craving. With 24 wines on tap, flights are encouraged, and the selection is equally New and Old World.
  2. Circa 1875: This French restaurant and neighboring cocktail bar makes you feel as if you've stepped back in time. Traditional Parisian cocktails with a France-heavy wine list, we ventured over here for pre-dinner drinks more than once.
  3. Alley Cat: This underground, 25 and up speakeasy-style watering hole has one of the largest cocktail menus I've ever seen. Get this, it's printed on newspaper, with articles on Prohibition, Hunter Thompson, and how their drinks got their names back in the day.
  4. Artillery: The hippest hipster in town. Creative cocktails, beautiful decor and natural wine. Artillery is located where the Georgia Hussars’ armory once housed the cavalry's artillery. Very cool. 

THINGS TO DO

There’s plenty to do in Savannah, from Ghost Tours to Food Crawls, even a bar on wheels for touring the city’s popular pubs. Ghost Coast Distillery gives a fantastic tour of the facility, as well as an interesting film about the history of making spirits in Savannah. There are several spas in Savannah, but my favorite for a manicure and a facial is Polished Spa. If shopping is more your speed, Broughton street is full of chains and one-offs alike, including my favorite home store to this day, Paris Market and café. Wine lovers cannot miss Le Chai Gallerie du Vin, Savannah’s all old-world shop with unique rarities in their bright, industrial-chic shop. They also have a tasting bar, so you can try before you buy!

Somm in Scottsdale: A Desert Escape

 We partnered with  The Feed Feed  and  The Luxury Collection  on a weekend excursion, as we toured the newly remodeled  Phoenician Resort  in Scottsdale Arizona. Between the unique restaurants, massive golf course, luxurious rooms and swimming pools, we would have stayed a whole week if we could. Read on for some of our favorite activities while at the breathtaking property.   Flatbread making - One of our favorite activities at the property was making flat-breads at the newly opened,  Cotton and Rye . We selected our favorite toppings and popped them in the oven while sampling the restaurants staple appetizers and cocktails. They're also home to one of the best brunches in Scottsdale, with views overlooking the pools.   A Hike up Camelback - Is any trip to the Phoenix area complete without a hike? We don't think so, which is why we made sure to wake up early and experience the 360 degree desert views from the top -well, close. The hike entrance was directly behind the resort, just a 10 minute walk!  Cocktail Class - After our hike, we were clearly deserving of one of the Phoenician’s famous drinks. The resort took it a step a further and let us learn from the pro behind the bar. Award winning bartender, Robert Porter is in charge of the cocktail program at The Phoenician's upstairs bar,  The Thirsty Camel . He showed us how to make a magnificent, red pepper infused mescal drink, as well as a fruity, gin cocktail.    The Many Pools - We had to test the water, and it was perfect. Our only struggle was deciding between the waterslide and the relaxing, adults only pool. Complete with Cabanas and hot tubs, you can enjoy this luxury in any weather.   A room with a view: The property's newly renovated interiors will have you never want to leave your room. With a private patio overlooking the desert landscape, a luxurious marble bath and separate shower, as well as the special perks you won't expect; like Italian linens and turn-down service with culinary treats. 

We partnered with The Feed Feed and The Luxury Collection on a weekend excursion, as we toured the newly remodeled Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale Arizona. Between the unique restaurants, massive golf course, luxurious rooms and swimming pools, we would have stayed a whole week if we could. Read on for some of our favorite activities while at the breathtaking property. 

Flatbread making - One of our favorite activities at the property was making flat-breads at the newly opened, Cotton and Rye. We selected our favorite toppings and popped them in the oven while sampling the restaurants staple appetizers and cocktails. They're also home to one of the best brunches in Scottsdale, with views overlooking the pools. 

A Hike up Camelback - Is any trip to the Phoenix area complete without a hike? We don't think so, which is why we made sure to wake up early and experience the 360 degree desert views from the top -well, close. The hike entrance was directly behind the resort, just a 10 minute walk!

Cocktail Class - After our hike, we were clearly deserving of one of the Phoenician’s famous drinks. The resort took it a step a further and let us learn from the pro behind the bar. Award winning bartender, Robert Porter is in charge of the cocktail program at The Phoenician's upstairs bar, The Thirsty Camel. He showed us how to make a magnificent, red pepper infused mescal drink, as well as a fruity, gin cocktail.  

The Many Pools - We had to test the water, and it was perfect. Our only struggle was deciding between the waterslide and the relaxing, adults only pool. Complete with Cabanas and hot tubs, you can enjoy this luxury in any weather. 

A room with a view: The property's newly renovated interiors will have you never want to leave your room. With a private patio overlooking the desert landscape, a luxurious marble bath and separate shower, as well as the special perks you won't expect; like Italian linens and turn-down service with culinary treats. 

The Millennial Wine Collector

How is the youngest generation of wine collectors changing the market? What are they buying and why? The open-mindedness of a young drinker won't come as a surprise, but what does that mean about the future of wine collecting? Read on for my research and a bit of personal experience (on both sides). 

Say you're a 20 or 30-something with money to spend on enjoying fabulous wine. Due to your life experience, tech savvy nature and neutral mindset, your selections aren't probably going to look much like your father's. For one, you don't really care about what kind of scores a couple of old guys are handing out. You'd rather check out apps like Delectable, where several, unprejudiced wine drinkers are rating the same wine, and you can instantly view more of an overall average. 

How about brand loyalty? I've found that Millennial drinkers, while likely to remember wine brands (due to technology), are much less likely to purchase the same wine repeatedly (compared to collectors in their 40s and 50s). The younger gen. can easily be sold on a wine they’ve never heard of, as long as it’s generally what they’re looking for in terms of style and price. Does this mean we'll see less Cult Napa Cab and Bordeaux? Big names will always sell, they’re recognizable and trusted. However, there is evidence of heightened curiosity about the wine world's unknown, especially in the last 10 years. I think that a lot of these, strictly cult followers are gonna die out. The young wine collectors will try everything once, but is that gonna be enough for these renowned names to keep profits where they are today? 

The millennial sale and the baby boomer sale are completely different. While the younger generation rarely orders the same wine twice (even after telling me how much they like it), the older generation doesn't always seem too interested in a new producer, or exploring a lesser-known wine region. It’s as if many of them either don't like/want change or care more about impressing friends and family with big names and “top” vintages. In my experience, young collectors don’t really care about that. They would rather explore wines in every country, to attain knowledge. I’ve found that many young collectors are fascinated with understanding restaurants' wine lists. Who doesn’t want to sound smart at the dinner table? Or know how to make the best decision when the language barrier comes down on your vacation?

Statistics prove that millennials love wine, and they're drinking much more of it than older generations. Since they're exploring lesser-known wine regions and producers, the prices won't usually be as high as the sought-after staples. Therefore, you have a lot of young people buying several different types of wine and will probably need more storage than today. I predict that in the next 10 years, more wine shops in America will stock "unheard-of" options, and the purchase by professional scores will be a thing of the past. Cheers to that!

Sebastapol Sips

As of recent, Sebastopol is one of my favorite little Northern California towns. Expect renowned wineries, stunning vineyards, and an abundance of great restaurants and breweries. 

Read on for an in-depth look into two of my favorite wineries visited earlier this month, plus a few of my favorite places to snag a bite or a beer.

Littorai

The two hour vineyard and winery tour at Biodynamic estate, Littorai will absolutely blow you away. From the rams, chickens and beehives surrounding the property to the tea-steeping and manure preparations, you will come out feeling like you've worked there for years. Our guide was insanely knowledgeable while remaining approachable, even for a few of my Bio-D newbie friends.

The estate specializes in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, picked rather early for preferred ripeness and optimal freshness. They were about finished with picking during our visit on 9/1. The consensus: Seriously complex while remaining highly gulpable. Personal favorite from the Chardonnay side: Theriot Vineyard, packed with exotic fruit and chamomile. Pinot side: Cerise Vineyard, a perfect example of an old-world style that screams "Age me!" Mushrooms, crab-apple and dusty hooves were my tasting notes here. 

 

Paul Hobbs

Visiting ultra-premium winery, Paul Hobbs was nothing short of outstanding. The vineyards on the property were seemingly infinite and the facility was extraordinarily grand. Innovative technology, a well versed team, and focus on discovering all of the many differences between their single vineyards has clearly been their recipe for success. 

Unlike Littorai, Paul Hobbs hadn't even started the picking process. Interesting when you consider the fact that these wineries are less than 10 minutes apart, by car. That just goes to show that winemaking styles can differ so greatly, regardless of location. However, both wineries have clearly established that their vineyards are best suited for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. One piece I found interesting at Hobbs was that all of their single vineyard wines are basically made in the same way; type of oak used, time in barrel, etc. This is ultimately to showcase the differences in soil and climate without the wine-making and aging components getting in the way. Makes sense! The private, seated tasting (and cheese pairing) obviously impressed and gave us a chance to taste through each of the single vineyard wines and ask questions.

Ellen Lane was my favorite of the 2015 Chardonnay lineup, as it was a bit more earth and mineral driven, go figure. The The Katherine Lindsay Pinot Noir stood out to me for an intense structure and ripe huckleberry notes. I got a few bottles of that one, which I won't be opening for at least 8 years. 

Food and Brew  

  • The Micro Brewery: Woodfour Brewing Company
    • This home-brewed spacious brewery also offers an abundance of California-style eats like their Bacon Chicken Sandwich with Harissa Aioli. 
  • The Oyster joint: Handline Coastal California
    • This upscale, roadside eatery was made for visiting between tasting appointments. From dozen oysters to pizza and sandwiches, you'll take care of everybody's fix. 
  • The Package Deal: The Barlow
    • This is your one-stop shop for all things wine, beer and food. Check out the always popular, Wind Gap tasting room (don't leave without tasting their Chenin Blanc) and then mosey on over to Crooked Goat Brewery to see what's on tap. Ramen Gaijin offers a ton of Japanese plates and noodle dishes, while Zazu Kitchen impresses with farm-to-table eats in an industrial-style space. Enjoy it all!

Do You Need a Coravin?

Essentially, the Coravin (Wine Preservation Opener) allows you to taste wine (or have two glasses) without pulling the cork. After initial use, you have around 7-10 days to drink the rest of the bottle and can expect the wine to taste practically the same as it did on that first day.
No, not everyone needs or will use the Coravin, and the new models are around $350, so not cheap. Mine, however, can be found on the kitchen table when it's not in my purse. Also, I've saved several precious wine dollars since owning the tool. Take this 5 question quiz to decide if the Coravin is right for you too. 

1.) Assuming you drink wine most nights, about how much do you drink in one evening? 

2 glasses? Consider a Coravin. 4 glasses? Maybe not. If you're a wine lover and your husband's a whiskey lover... consider a Coravin. If you and your spouse or roommate can easily finish a bottle with dinner in one evening, still consider a Coravin because it sounds like you two could be serious wine lovers.

2.) What does your cellar look like? Anything good?

I'm sure all of your wine is fantastic, but how much of it is age-worthy? Let's say you have a case of 1990 First Growth Bordeaux, and your sources are telling you it's time to drink, but time for whom? Everyone's palates are completely different, and what I consider perfectly aged, you might consider dirty. Perhaps your taste is a bit more fruit-forward. Use your Coravin on one bottle to determine what to do with the rest of a case. Then, spend the next 10 days showing your friends how the wine is aging by pouring them all a 2 oz. tastes. Hey, this stuff's expensive!

3.) Do you work in wine? 

Restaurants all over the world have found that the only way to put that $100 bottle on their BTG (By the Glass) list is to use a Coravin. I don't know about you, but when I see a $30 or $50 glass, I feel a little fancy.. It also makes me think that the restaurant or bar cares about wine education and the well-being of their staff. Ok, maybe that's a little presumptuous, but it definitely adds to the cool factor. 
In a wine store, you can easily up-sell by offering your client a 2 oz pour of something great. Again, my feels are strong for a shop offering "tastes" of a $75 bottle, or anything over $20 that is.
Distributor? A Coravin is an absolute must. I don't even need to explain this one, but imagine what it can do for reps with a strict sample budget. Also, show your client you care by showing them the good stuff whenever you can. They don't need to know you've poured it for a dozen others that week.

4.) How often do you entertain?

By far the best way to check out what the wine you're considering pouring for your guests tastes like. Is it going to work with that lamb chop? Is this good enough for my uncle? Is this bottle in good condition for Saturday night, ie. not corked or too young?

5.) Is it worth it?

Decide this for yourself by considering the price of the bottles you're opening by corkscrew. Also, calculate the amount of wine that ends up going down the drain.

Some of the older Coravin Models are closer to $200. You can also finance one for $18/month! Check out all the options and have the rest of your questions answered here: CORAVIN

 

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Tasting Tips and Techniques

Of course we all taste and learn differently, but I've listed 6 tips that have majorly helped me out over the years. 

  1. You have completely different life experiences than the person next to you. So, stop trying to get what you’re supposed to get in particular wines and focus on what YOU get. The best way of doing this is to keep a “wine journal” and write down everything you taste and smell. Instead of trying to taste Canary Island Malvasia, start with the basic 6 whites and 6 reds from regions of where these grapes are known. For example, Napa Cabernet. Ask your wine shop to sell you only textbook examples of wine when you come in, because you’re trying to grasp these classic styles first.
  2. When blind tasting for an exam or just personal development, don’t assume that you know what the wine is, immediately. Step back, asses the alcohol, acidity, tannin, and flavor components, you may be surprised. On first sniff, you might go “ Oh, that’s Riesling,” but after tasting it a few times, the alcohol or acidity might not be in line with a classic Riesling at all. So, remember to take your time and think of all the possibilities.
  3. Take my “Champagne Challenge.” Identifying Champagne vs. any non-Champagne Sparkling Wine can be very difficult for beginners and even intermeeds. I suggest buying 3 different bottles of Prosecco and tasting them over 3 days. Then, buy 3 different Champagnes and do the same (I never said this was going to be cheap). Finally, go back to the same Proseccos for the last 3 days. Make sure to only purchase classic styles of each and journal all tasting notes. Hint: baked bread on your Champagne notes? That’s the yeast talking.
  4. GO SHOPPING! Go to the flower market, I doubt you know what every flower in the current season smells like. You might just pick up a daffodil and think,"this smells just like Viognier!" Grab a basket and collect a few for a wine tasting "show and tell" to see if anyone can identify similarities There are dozens of floral aromas in every common and/or testable wine, so the comparisons will surely shock you. 
  5. Do the same at the Farmer's Market! Gather several different fruits that are clearly under-ripe. Tasting them at this stage will undoubtedly remind you of either a young wine, a cool (perhaps Old World) region. Compare them with a few over-ripe, stewed or cooked fruits. For example: make cranberry sauce. Your wine brain will likely take you to a warm or hot (probably New World) region, or possibly a wine that's spent some extra time on the vine.
  6. Partner up! Group tastings are a great way to make you feel like crap -just kidding.. However, if you are studying for an exam and you have a friend who has already taken it, they can give you some insight into what you should know, how close you are to the answer, etc..   
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What's the D with Bio-D?

After reading a few Steiner books, interviewing Biodynamic winemakers, and even getting lost in couple hate threads that claim the practice is all a big hoax, this is my personal opinion on BioD winemaking.

First of all, what is Biodynamic wine?
Essentially, Biodynamic winemaking incorporates astrology and utilizes the lunar cycle as a guide to planting and tending to grapevines. In addition to this holistic style of agriculture, it is crucial that a winery act in an organic fashion, without the addition of man-made substances.The ideals of organic winemaking stem from the notion that everything in nature survives without chemicals, therefore wine should be no different. Biodynamics, however, takes it a step further and views a vineyard as an entire ecosystem, allowing plants and animals to take the place of chemical additions.

Is Biodynamic wine weird?
Sure, Biodynamics is often described as weird or bizarre and can come with some incredibly dubious techniques. For example, fertilization involves burying a cow horn filled with the manure of a lactating cow, unearthing it in the spring, adding water, and then spraying it around your vineyard. While this hasn’t been proven effective, it hasn’t been proven ineffective either.

Who started it?
Biodynamics was founded by Austrian Philosopher, Rudolph Steiner in 1924. With a strong interest in all things agriculture, Mr. Steiner conducted extensive research and identified several commonalities among viticulturists who seemed quite connected to their environments. He took their practices and formulated them into a set of rules and even a calendar for Biodynamic vineyard management. Most of his findings have not been proven legitimate, in fact, several have been discovered as incorrect. What has been recognized effective, however, are his claims on naturally produced pesticides, as well as his instruction for picking grapes late at night. This is when temperatures are coolest, and grapes have the lowest chance of bursting before arriving to the winery intact. If you look into most Biodynamic preparations, they are basically homeopathic in nature and used to heal the earth.
Mr. Steiner had a unique mind, attributing intuition as the source behind several of his principles. Whether his findings are completely valid or merely the result his extensive acid trips, many of my favorite wineries are practicing Biodynamic viticulture today. In fact, thousands of winemakers are following his concepts, leading me to the conclusion that Biodynamics isn’t one big hoax. Regardless of the many eccentric practices, the intense attention it forces growers to pay in the vineyard can't be anything but beneficial to the final product.
Side note, and perhaps unrelated: Rudolph Steiner also founded the Waldorf Schools. After attending one for 8 years, I can tell you first-hand that, while art projects far surpassed math equations, the 9 other middle school grads in my class went on to be extremely successful in life. Food for thought.

Ok, so any favorites?
The list below contains a few of my favorite Biodynamic wines, available now from Convive Wine and Spirits (NYC and online): http://www.convivewines.com/
White Wines:
1.) Knauss 2016 Weiss Blend, Germany @ $17
2.) Pedralonga 2015 Albarino, Spain @ $29
3.) Domaine de la Taille aux Loups 2014 Vouvray. Loire, France @ $40

Red Wines:
1.) Montinore Estate 2015 Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, USA @ $19
2.) Dettori 2011 Cannonau Sardinia, Italy @ $30
3.) Bedrock 2014 Old Vines Zinfandel, California @ $24

Where can I taste one in NYC?
You’ll surely find more than a few Biodynamic wines at one of these NYC bars and restaurants.

1.) Ten Bells
2.) The Four Horsemen
3.) Anfora
4.) Racines
5.) Jadis

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Hudson Valley Vino

As a Hudson newbie, I've been quite curious about the wines produced between Long Island and the Finger Lakes.. Over the past year, I've tasted through about 20 different producers' wines, which was actually more than I assumed were even here. In a nutshell, while there are way too many sweet wines for my taste, (and blueberry wine, and apple wine -no, I'm not talking about cider), I have come across a few little gems. Two producers (both of whom I've visited) made an appearance at the Rip Van Winkle Wine, Brew and Beverage Festival last weekend and clearly stood out among the others. 

Hudson-Chatham Winery
Check out their Seyval Blanc, which is light and kind of like Muscadet to me, as well as their Baco Noir, which tastes something like a blend of Gamay and Grenache. These two grapes are planted and produced throughout the valley, and I do think (when made properly), they have a chance to really shine. The winemaker is extremely experimental, playing with blends and planting new varietals regularly. They even have an Orange Wine (pictured below), called "Heirloom White" which is a lightly skin-contacted blend of their heirloom grapes. The "Hudson Valley Red" (also pictured below) is a blend of local grapes DeChaunac, Leon Millot, Baco Noir, and Chambourcin. This one tastes a bit like a Beaujolais to me: fruit-forward and perfect for the summer with a slight chill. 

Tousey Winery
Unlike Hudson-Chatham, this winery is focusing on Frenchies like Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc. The acidity on the whites is in line with an Alsacian Riesling or Burgundian Chardonnay, and the "Rebellion Rosé" (pictured below) has Provence written all over it. This easy drinking Rosé tastes like ripe strawberries, wild basil, with a touch of green apple. Their Cab Franc (also pictured), is not shy on the earthiness, with a round body and a hint of dried meat and bell pepper on the nose. Both are perfect BBQ pair-ers and I'm very excited to see where this winery goes. They're doing Pinot Noir for gosh sakes, not an easy task in general, much less Catskill, NY. 

Know another great wine up here? Comment below, I'm all ears and always on the hunt!

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