Tag Archives: Wine

Travel Tuesday: Drink like a local

A health nut might say “you are what you eat,” but a well-seasoned traveler’s credo might be “eat where you are.”

Why eat a burger on the coast when you can enjoy fresh seafood? Why seek out McDonald’s in Tokyo? Why not try sausage in Bavaria?

Having visited some of these places, I will say definitively that travel has opened my eyes to great foods I might never have experienced without the long drive or a flight.

But eating where you are is also true of drinking, and it’s true when you’re close to home, too. When in Minnesota or Wisconsin, drink as the Minnesotans or Wisconsinites do.

skal crawl

Earlier this summer I enjoyed the Skål Crawl in Central Minnesota. “Skål” rhymes with crawl, and it’s Norse for “toast,” that is, the kind of toast that involves raising glasses, not burning bread.

The Skål Crawl, the first Minnesota wine, liquor and beer trail, offers a T-shirt and cool drinking glasses for those who visit Carlos Creek Winery, Panther Distillery and Copper Trail Brewery, all located in and around Alexandria, Minnesota. It was a fun way for a couple of couples to spend a day while quenching our thirst. And I’m a sucker for a “free” T-shirt (the crawl costs $15 and entitles crawlers to souvenir tasting glasses, the T-shirt and discounted tastings).

fawn creek

And, having spent a bit of time in the Wisconsin Dells recently, I discovered Fawn Creek Winery, one of nearly 80 wineries in Wisconsin. Breweries, I knew about (among other, I have actually visited and enjoyed New Glarus, a well-known craft brewery in southern Wisconsin), but wine? Who knew?

The tastings at Fawn Creek are free, but even better is the atmosphere. Tucked among the pines, the winery is a pretty place to spend some time, especially when one can enjoy wine, beer, too, and pretzels that are 15 inches across. Oh, and live music on the weekends.

What else is Wisconsin known for? No, not the Packers. Well, maybe sorta, if Packers make you think of cheeseheads. It’s the cheese! The brochure from the Wisconsin Winery Association suggests a cheese and wine pairing for every month of the year. Because wine and cheese are delightful when consumed together. September’s suggestion? Mead with cheddar and provolone. October? Try hard cider with cheddar and colby. Just makes you want to plan a themed trip, right?

A tour of west coast wines + 4 things I learned at wine tastings

vineyard

A sunny vineyard in the Napa Valley—beautiful.

Can you ever have too much wine?

Yes, actually, you can. You can have too much wine when you’re traveling in an RV, storing all the favorites you’ve collected during your travels, and you nearly break a slide-out.

Yup.

That’s us.

Definitely over the limit.

The average bottle of wine weighs nearly three and half pounds, so our 29 treasured bottles purchased in California and Washington state would weigh 100 pounds. When we left the campsite in Washington state, where we purchased the most wine, the slide-out where we were storing our vino was behaving badly. A little detective work revealed we should not be storing our bottles in the slide-out.

Don’t you worry. They’ve been moved. Not destroyed.

wine in total

29 of the best wines on the west coast: For want of a rack, use a picnic table.

That’s what happens, I guess, when you’re traveling for weeks through the West Coast and one of your favorite pastimes is wine tasting. The wine is good. Great even. So you pick up souvenirs of your experiences, and pretty soon you’ve got 29 bottles.

But let’s begin our story in Texas, where we tasted wine in early February at three vineyards just outside of Fredricksburg. More than 50 vineyards are located in the area called Texas Hill Country, and the scenery is spectacular. The wines? Not so much. One place was charging $99.50 for a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. It was neither our flavor nor our price range. But still, a fabulous way to while away a winter afternoon (especially Grape Creek Vineyards—dazzling locale on a sun-drenched day).

Then we spent nearly two weeks in April in the Napa Valley. Why? Because Napa. Duh. There are more than 500 vineyards and tasting rooms in the valley; one could spend a lifetime there tasting wine. But we found two weeks was actually too much time. Much of the wine there comes with an attitude. We must have heard a dozen times about the Judgement of Paris, a wine competition in 1976 in which French judges did a blind tasting and named a Napa cabernet sauvignon the winner. The attitude comes with a price tag. But there were a few refreshing exceptions:

  • hess tour

    Hess boasts some of the oldest vines in the valley.

    Miner Family: This place was sincerely welcoming, and their wine was mighty tasty, the syrah in particular.

  • Hess Collection: We enjoyed a thorough tour of the grounds and some extra special wines here. Hess’ cabernet sauvignon measures up to the hype and is lip-smacking good.
  • V. Sattui Winery: The wines were modestly priced, the on-site deli had a thousand cheeses, salamis and crackers, and the grounds were mesmerizing. Buy a bottle there and have lunch on site after your tasting.
  • CRU @ the Annex: This little tasting room off the beaten path is worth a stop for their perfectly curated charcuterie boards (or popcorn!) and their smooth (if a bit pricy) wines.

Our favorite place to winery hop on the West Coast turned out to be southeast Washington, where we spent some time last May. These vintners were our people, and their wines are a tasty as they are affordable.

Our favorite wine by far was Maryhill Winery’s albariño. Never heard of it? Neither had we. It’s a crisp fruity white with no oak (I hate oaky chardonnays). Maryhill is known for its outdoor amphitheater overlooking its vineyards and the Columbia River where marque bands like Santana, ZZ Top and Steve Winwood play. I only wish I lived nearby to take in one of these summer concerts.

We Loved-with-a-capital-L Longship Cellars tasting room in Richland, and the young proprietor there suggested we visit the Walter Clore Center in Prosser, where 50 up-and-coming wine makers were doing a tasting event the next day. We enjoyed ourselves so much we left with a case of wine (this is where we probably started getting ourselves into trouble with weight).

zerba

Medals AND the bottles to put them on.

And then we paid a visit to Zerba Cellars in the Walla Walla Valley (technically we were in Oregon at the time, but we could have tossed a coin into Washington state). This winery has won innumerable awards, all deserving. We liked their offerings so much we joined the club. After hearing the wine club pitches of more than a dozen other wineries on our travels, it says something that we took Zerba up on the offer.

After spending several afternoons drinking vino in various wineries, here are four things I learned:

  1. More expensive doesn’t mean better. An expensive wine might only mean it’s more scarce (Exhibits A & B: Texas wines and the cabernet sauvignons from Napa), but that albariño I mentioned? Only $20 a bottle.
  2. Red wine tastes better aged. Duh. I’ve heard this before but never really paid attention to the year on the label. We tried different years of the same varietal at a couple of wineries, and the older wines tasted smoother and more nuanced. If you’re going to sit on anything, let it be one of those tanniny cabernet sauvignons.
  3. The glass matters. The wineries in the Yakima Valley of Washington exclusively use Riedel stemware in tastings (a girl traveling in an RV with only plastic stemware notices such things). At Zerba Cellars, we tried wines using both a syrah glass and a cabernet glass, and the difference in flavor was stunning.
  4. Many bottles of wine are not just one varietal, even if that’s what the label indicates. A wine labeled as cabernet sauvignon is only required to be 75 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes. My Beloved and I have learned we’re fans of blends, and I’m not gonna feel like a rube about it anymore.

Now we’re slowly consuming our bounty (let’s be reasonable, no reason to hurry through paradise), and here’s my bottomline. If it’s the setting you’re after, try Fredricksburg in winter; if you grew up in Minnesota, nothing beats sunshine in February. If it’s California wines you want to taste, go to a well-appointed liquor store and buy yourself a case or two of different California wines. I can assure you, you’ll spend a lot less than you might in Napa (where tasting can run you $50 a person for five swallows of wine). And if you’re planning a wine vacation, seriously consider visiting Washington state, where you’ll find some tasty wines and some mighty nice people.

You can go home again

billboard

There’s a line in a canvas print of life advice I have hanging in my office that sums up a recent visit back home:

“Drink wine, eat great food and spend quality time with good friends.”

I went to Minnesota — by myself, without my Beloved — to take care of a project and wrap up a few loose ends. My Beloved was occupied with other pressing matters, and he’s not just not as enthusiastic about Minnesota as I am (there’s no accounting for taste — he was born in Illinois, go figure). I had a great time.

One of things I had to do was hear about my parents’ 50th anniversary trip to Europe and look at their photos (I could have heard about the trip on the phone, but there’s nothing like looking at travel photos with the travelers). Here’s one of the shots my father captured in Paris:

paris

Eiffel Tower, September 2014

Dad has always been the good photographer in the family. This shot should be a poster. Mom and Dad prepared a delicious dish of grilled salmon for me. And they shared a bottle of wine they carried back from Germany (it was delicious).

“Travel often.”

I also got to catch up with my nephews, including Drew, who celebrates his 15th birthday this week. Ah, 15. Such a tricky year. But because he’s old enough to babysit his younger brothers and still tethered to the house by his lack of a driver’s license, his parents and I had the opportunity to partake in an interesting wine tasting where I learned why acidity in a wine is a good thing.

“Spend time with family.”

My best-friend-since-seventh-grade and I went shopping together and enjoyed a lingering glass of red wine while we caught up until midnight. And then my friend Barb, who can solve almost every problem with a good meal, made a Sweet Potato and Black Bean Soup for me. Just because she thought I’d like it. And I did. It was delicious. With a glass of white wine.

“Spend time with people you admire.”

Coincidentally, I was in town for the annual happy hour for former Creative Memories Employees. Maybe not every workplace carries an air of nostalgia for its former employees, but Creative Memories does. Part of what made it such a great place to work (at least when I was there) was the people. What fun catching up with friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in years (and some of us were drinking wine, too).

“Reminisce about the good old days but look with optimism to the future.”

Just as I was leaving the happy hour get-together, I ran into my ex. He worked at Creative Memories, too (and in the end, I think he stuck it out more years than I did, so he could probably lay more claim to the former workplace than I do; we didn’t specify ownership of that piece of our lives in our divorce decree). I walked up to him and brushed his arm to tell him, “Hey, I’m on my way out the door so you can mingle freely,” and the two people he was chatting with took a step back. I think they might have expected a brawl.

No punches were thrown.

But I found it amusing.

“Be nice to everyone. Be happy.”

I’ll try eating a lot strange things. But not that.

Adventurous eating gets my motor running. I feel sorry for people whose favorite restaurant is McDonald’s.

But even I have my limits.

My favorite section of the newspaper all week is the food section. My cupboard, filled with piles of recipes I’ve ripped from food sections over the years, is a testament to my fanaticism.

The Chicago Tribune’s food section, however, stymies me.

They call it the “Good Eating” section, and it usually lives up to its name. Today’s cover story is about dashi.

Yeah, I’ve never heard of it either. And I have two kinds of quinoa in my pantry.

Dashi, I learned, is a fragrant broth made from the pink petals of a dried Japanese fish.

Um, I don’t care about recipes using dashi. Like I could find dashi in Hampshire. Moving on.

Still, I can appreciate a newspaper telling me news about food, and a recipe for macaroni casserole probably doesn’t qualify as news.

A few pages later I found a recipe for Red Quinoa with Dried Fruit and Yogurt.

That one, I ripped out. I take after my mother that way. She made her own hamburger buns the other day, and homemade hazelnut biscotti. She’ll try anything.

But then Good Eating gets to this week’s “How to pair wine” column. Again, good information. Always helpful to know which wine to order in a restaurant or serve to guests.

Let’s see, which wine goes with this week’s recipe for Italian Burgers, essentially hamburgers with mozzarella cheese on top? Gotta be red.

California Zinfandel? Hmm, that sounds good. A Barolo from Italy? I think I’ve heard of that kind of wine before.

What’s this? The Chicago Tribune recommends a 2004 Tenimenti Angelini Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Spuntall from Tuscany, Italy. A sangiovese that costs …

Oh my gosh.

Wait for it.

A bottle costs $85 to $100.

First of all, I’ve never drank an $100 bottle of wine with any food. Ever.

But with a mozzarella cheese burger?

That is seriously over my head.

News flash, Chicago Tribune: People who can afford to drink $100 bottles of wine with their hamburgers aren’t ripping recipes out of the newspaper to make their own burgers.

You know which wine goes best with burgers?

Beer. Beer goes best with burgers.

Wine to look forward to

A glass of wine at the end of the day is like a cup of coffee at the beginning of it: I look forward to it.

Coffee represents “beginning,” “energy” and “get to work” to me. I enjoy the feel of a hot cup in my hand in the morning, the smell of the coffee as I sip.

Wine means “work is done,” “time to relax” and “savor your dinner.” I linger over a glass of vino in ways I cannot do with a cup of coffee.

While I may be a coffee snob (beans must be fresh ground, preferably from Costa Rica and please, in the name of all that is tasteful, Folgers belongs in a can — a trash can), I prefer my wine to be cheap and domestic. Please pass the California wines — mass-produced and plentiful and oftentimes sealed with a screw-top.

My Beloved and I tried an Italian Barolo on New Year’s Eve. At $40 a bottle, it was an expensive splurge for the two of us, who enjoy finding good $3 bottles at Costco (seriously, we have found wine we like very much for $3 a bottle!). The Barolo was not worth it — I could have had four decent California reds at that price (though I don’t think I would have been greeting the new year until Jan. 2 if I had consumed two bottles).

Zinfandel is too sweet, and I do not like oaky Chardonnays. The tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon are not my … um … cup of tea, but I rarely meet a Riesling, a Chianti or a Shiraz I don’t like.

It’s time to unwind. Time for a glass of wine. Tonight, it will be a Shiraz from a vineyard named Origin. This time, it’s not domestic — it’s from southeastern Australia — but it cost $3.96 a bottle at Jewel. Oh, yeah!

What are you toasting with?