Novato Wetlands

I’m not a fan of specific days or months being allocated to observe something, I like to think people are capable of caring about issues they believe in every day of their lives. However, perhaps declaring Black History Month or one day to celebrate Earth brings an awareness over time that helps raise people’s consciousness. Analogous to Earth Day, I have been thinking about simplifying my lifestyle. I feel a strong and exciting calling to leave my suburban existence behind and to design a new lifestyle based on what I have learned is really important to me.

In my twenties when I lived in the city, my belief was that it was a sin to live in San Francisco without a view; therefore that was my number one lifestyle criterion. My other criteria was to be in a neighborhood among friendly people, enjoy great food and drink, and I could walk or take a $5 cab ride to anywhere I wanted to go. My 1930 railroad flat on Telegraph Hill may not have had great plumbing but my ‘hood was North Beach. Every morning I walked down the hill to Washington Square to catch the bus to my job near the Golden Gate Bridge. If I missed a day, the old Italian men who visited each morning on the park bench would check up on me. With old country accents, they’d simply ask, “Hey, where were you?”  Getting off the bus in the evening, I’d stop at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store and enjoy a Focaccia sandwich and glass of Chianti at the five-seat bar. Like every bar and restaurant in my neighborhood, the owners would watch out for me and ensure that I could enjoy myself unmolested by people they didn’t know.

In 1993, my once peaceful neighborhood park started to be overrun with unwashed, drunk, drugged-out or mentally ill men who accosted young women like myself or openly pee’d in front of families. That year, I met my husband, Bobby, through a series of events having to do with a wedding and a white water rafting trip. Bobby lived across the bridge in a place called Marin County. After a year of dating “long distance”, I left my compact San Francisco urban lifestyle and joined him in his ranch house on a quarter acre lot next to an open space preserve. His wide circle of friends shared their love for outdoor recreation, restaurants, bars and hot tubbing at his place. While I loved Bobby, I was less enamored by suburban living; I thought I’d fallen into the abyss where no one would be able to find me. However, I consider myself a good sport and I was willing to give it a try, so I threw myself into decorating, gardening and exploring outdoor recreation. The former went better than the latter, as my nickname quickly became “Bruiser.”

I distinctly remember discovering suburban shopping. I had never been to a Target and had never heard of the discount clothing and home store, Marshalls. I thought Marshall’s was pretty neat and I enjoyed bringing home new tablecloths, cloth napkins, napkin rings, candles, candle holders, vases, and various knickknacks. Eventually I bought clear bins that I stored in the laundry room for “extra stuff” and seasonal tchotchkes. My kitchen cupboards became crammed with lovely serving pieces in various colors and patterns that I would bring out for themed dinner parties and backyard BBQs. Of course, the same pattern was happening in the bedroom and I soon had a hall closet full of sheet sets, decorative pillows and comforters for every season.

Like many people before me, my interests have changed and I find myself eager to design a lifestyle that better fits what’s important to me presently. I’m glad for the experience of living the suburban lifestyle, now I won’t ever feel like I’ve missed out, but I find myself returning to my old criteria. I want to live in an uncluttered, simple home with things I love that includes a library that equates to peace and quiet. I want to live in a place of natural beauty yet it is not isolated so I can walk to cafés and restaurants. I want to live where I can meet interesting people who I share some commonality with yet I can discover new things through knowing them.

I bet my experience, and my criteria is not that different than many people of my generation. Interestingly, if we all act upon the urge to declutter and simplify, we will be positively contributing to helping Mother Earth.

 

 

People drink wine for many reasons. It makes them happy, it cheers them up, it is delicious, it makes meals better, it is intoxicating, it enhances friendships, it serves a spiritual purpose, and that is only the beginning. Eric Asimov

8 Wines I Would Buy Again

 

Wine I would Buy

I’m introducing a bunch of wines to you today as a group.  Lots of fun details, I hope you enjoy and find some that you want to try.

The wines in the picture each have a unique story. Starting from left to right, here they are:

  1. Maquis Cabernet Sauvignon 2010. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have been following Chile closely for a few years.  Many imported Chilean wines are made at very old family wineries, this one being over 100 years old.  Known as a grape producer for other wineries until 2005, the Maquis label is all about terroir–conveying a sense of place. It’s only $19 and has a very cool logo that is raised a bit. Wonderful conversation piece as you share this wine with friends.*
  2. Quivira 2009 Elusive. As a big fan of their winemaker Hugh Chappelle, I bought this red blend to see what it was all about. It’s a GSM which stands for Grenache, Syrah, Mourvédre, a classic blend of grapes originating from the Rhone Valley in France. The wine is bold, fruity, balanced and delicious. At $23.99 (discounted at Bottle Barn) it’s a wonderful wine to bring to a special gathering or just enjoy over a romantic dinner. My only problem is that the cursive of the name is so small I thought it said “Eloise.” 
  3. Now here’s a surprise for you, Jacobs Creek, 2008 Reserve Shiraz, Barossa.  This well-known Australian winery promoted their new Reserve line with an innovative campaign where they sent unlabeled bottles to a bunch of wine writers and we had to judge the wines not knowing who they were from. I had no opinion about Jacobs Creek before so it actually made me suspicious that they thought they had an image problem.  Regardless, I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce you to a terrific blog, The Reverse Wine Snob, Jon rates and writes notes about less expensive wines. The link above goes to his review of this wine because it has lots of detail.
  4. Morande 2009 Gran Reserva Pinot Noir.  When I visited Chile one of the most interesting things I learned was that there are cool growing regions.  As often happens, I had misperceptions about an entire country’s wine because I hadn’t been there. I thought all South American wines were grown in that country’s hot regions. For a virtual tasting, Wines of Chile sent me three Pinot Noirs, a grape that doesn’t grow well at all in a hot climate. Each of the samples were quite different from the other. I especially liked this one from from the Casablanca Valley. It has a balanced, seductive light touch that I appreciate in the grape. It’s $17.99, which is considered a good value for quality Pinot Noir.
  5. Balletto Russian River Valley 2011 Pinot Noir. I’ve written about Balletto before and this is their new release that I found at Bottle Barn, a famous local store in Northern California wine country. (You can buy a lot of great wines there and have them shipped, they even have a wine club. I took a chance and spent $18.49 on this Pinot Noir, instead of hitting the winery and tasting it first. It was as lovely as I suspected it would be.
  6. The next three wines are from Cornerstone Cellars. I’m very enthusiastic about their wines. A feature article about them is in the works.
  7. Cecchi 2009 Chianti Classico.  Yeah Italian wine! It’s been awhile since I’ve had a Chianti Classico, until I received and enjoyed this sample I’d forgotten how much I like Italian wine.  When I was first learning how to pair wine and food I must have served Italian wine 3 times a week. It’s a very food friendly wine. This wine is $13 and widely distributed. I happily lived in North Beach (the Italian district) in San Francisco and stayed in Little Italy while visiting New York. The fact that I’ve never been to Italy is astounding to me. It really needs to be my next trip.
  8. Ventisquero Grey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. I have wanted to write a feature post about this wine since I visited them in early 2011. Finally it’s here. If you collect wine or love incredible value, read this post.

*Check out Wines of Chile and the Thomas Collective in New York; I truly admire their approach to introducing folks to a region’s wine and the fresh, modern approach they convey as companies.

 

 

Chile Cabernet Sauvignon

Many of us have a hobby.  I have friends who love deep sea fishing, searching for plants in the woods or doing puzzles. A hobby brings out childlike curiosity and pure enjoyment in a person.  It releases us from the mundane chores of life and noise of the day.

This wine’s unique label is like a map to understanding my wine hobby.  The brand name, Terroir Hunter could be a movie title.  The place is Alto Maipo, a higher elevation (Alto) wine growing region in Chile.  I see a local viticulturist in old boots, with a walking stick in his hand, exploring acres of dirt and rocks in the Andes.   He looks up at the side of a mountain and sees the outline of natural terraces caused by water draining through rocks and layers of sediment.  Just like the label, his footprints stop and he marks the spot in his mind, “this is the place I’ll plant Cabernet Sauvignon.” He can imagine a mature vineyard and smell the ripening grapes.   Years later, this bottle of wine is shipped across a continent to California, and his dream is shared with me.

Wine Enthusiast Magazine has a wonderful article about Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon. Reading about a region, or better yet, visiting, is part of a wine hobbyist’s activities.

Winemaker’s Notes: Undurrage TH Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 is from Pirque, an area in Maipo Alto with an exalted reputation for excellent Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wine is made from a small lot that yields very little fruit. Grapes are carefully sorted to find only the best berries.  The wine underwent cold maceration under anaerobic conditions for five days.  Fermentation took place at 28° – 29°C for 14 days, with three to four daily pump-overs.  The wine was left on its lees and skins for an additional 12 days to further its structure.  It was then racked into French barrels, 25% new where the wine was aged for 14 months.

The 2011 vintage in Maipo, especially in Pirque is considered a cool vintage. The same was true in 2010, which was one of the best vintages in recent times. The sugar, tannin and acidity levels were in balance by the third week of April, only one week earlier than in 2010. 

 

 

 

 

Enjoying Wine in Spain

If you have ever been wine tasting, you have experienced tasting five wines in one sitting.  Now imagine this at every lunch and every dinner for eight days.  The trick of course is to not drink full glasses.  Eat small amounts and sip a bit of wine with each bite.  Wine writers don’t normally use dump buckets during meals but I have been in situations where I have left the table and dumped my glass if we have several wines to get through and I don’t like a wine enough to finish it.  I only have so much room for wine, food or alcohol and it’s better to admit it than not enjoy myself.

As would be expected, in Spain, Cava producer, Segura Viudas served sparkling wines with meals.  I’ve always enjoyed sparkling wines but I rarely served them with meals.  I was serving sparkling wine only when it was the main event.  I would pair appetizers with it, but the food was chosen to complement the wine. With our hosts, I had the opportunity to taste sparkling rosé and white wines with various courses and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. The wines are light, refreshing and lower in alcohol.  I learned that the right (dry not sweet) Cava pairs quite well with various foods. There’s a special bubbly stopper that you can buy to keep an open bottle fresh.

I am still a habitual still wine person preferring lower alcohol white wines and well-balanced reds (if a red has higher alcohol, as long as I can’t taste it, I don’t mind). During my tripSegura Viudas Creu de Lavit was served at most meals.  It’s a still white wine made from a Spanish grape called Xarel-lo.  It’s imported to the states and part of their excellent Heredad Collection.

On a side note, while I expected to be happy when a still red wine was served, I found that it made me much sleepier than the other wines.  My trip to Spain has fundamentally changed my perspective on pairing wine and food, what a surprise!

 

 

 

Catalan Country Cooking

At the hotel in Vilafranca, Spain there was a nice little library and couches where I would read before dinner. This book was written a few years ago and is hard to find but it is in English and I ordered one when I returned home.  Let’s hope it actually arrives!

My interest is in pairing Spanish wines with authentic recipes from Catalan. This reminds of a wonderful young guest blogger on Joe Roberts’ 1WineDude site, Shelby Vittek (@bigboldreds) who wrote a post recently called Should Millennials Be Drinking More Wine with Food? that brought a lot of opinions to the table. It’s an age-old conversation, wine and food.  I’m on the side that wine has always been drunk with food, just don’t get too hung up on the perfect pairing every time.  I also believe that’s it’s really fun trying.  What do you think?

304 Tapas

I just made up the number 304, but I think it could be the number of “tapas” I ate in 8 days in Spain.  The very first night, our host, Toni, who is a marketing and p.r. guy for Freixenet, explained to our group that a few pre-selected tapas would be served and then if we wanted we could have a main course.  We had to decide before we saw the tapas and thank goodness I had declined the main course.  Each of us was served three tapas the size of the pictures above.  Five courses (3 tapas, main and dessert) was the smallest meal we had the entire trip.

The pictures above are not from that meal, I picked each one for different reasons.

Spanish Style Prawns over rice.  I’m not even sure if calling these “prawns” is correct.  I looked on this website to find the name but still not sure.  This type of dish was on many menus…very common and delish.

Fresh Pea Soup.  This is one course of a 9 course meal and while all of the courses were delectable, I was quite taken with the pure freshness of the peas. It reminded me of what chefs in California are all trying to achieve–farm to table freshness.

Arugula and Tomatoes over Linguini.  This was my “main dish” in a three course meal I enjoyed following a Spanish guitar concert at Church of Santa Ana in Barcelona. I booked the concert and dinner for the Saturday night I was on my own in Barcelona. I chose this picture to share how easy it is to enjoy fabulous flavors in a healthy meal. It was dressed with Balsamic vinegar and oil. (Spanish olive oil is my favorite, I suggest looking for olive oil from the Siurana region.)

Blue Cheese Stuffed Pancake. This was a simple dish that was more about flavor than presentation. I took a picture because I appreciated that the chef didn’t feel compelled to serve only “pretty” dishes. I loved the flavor and would like to learn how to make it.

Vanilla Ice Cream on Berries.  We were served ice cream on fruit at several meals. I like a small, fresh and refreshing dessert.  Funny thing, often this was the first dessert course followed but yet another one!

Our pairings included lots of young Cavas and white wine which I will write about in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Memories: Spain

When I return from a wine trip, I arrive with hundreds of pictures, fabulous memories to digest and various ideas about how to share the experience with others.  Whether for business or pleasure, travel is part of my pleasurable life. My life at home is enhanced by the opportunity to plan a trip, fly away and to live among another culture for a few weeks. Working in the wine and food world gives me the opportunity to discover and learn about those subjects around the world.

On my own, I have other interests that I indulge.  It has become my habit to read literary fiction about the place I am visiting.  This time, a few weeks before my trip, I picked up a book called, Driving Over Lemons, An Optimist in Spain by Chris Stewart (a former drummer for the band Genesis).  It’s about an English guy (Stewart) and his wife who buy a derelict farm in the mountains of Southern Spain. His book did exactly what I like, it gave me a good sense of a place.  I didn’t go to that part of Spain of course, but it doesn’t matter, the idea of reading literature before I travel is to get a glimpse of a culture in an honest and entertaining way.  The premise of cultural opposites (English and Andalusian) learning about each other is perfect. I just learned that Chris has turned this book into a trilogy, so I’m excited to immerse myself in his world again.

 I would love to write a very long post detailing the week I spent with my hosts from Segura Viudas and the two days I added in Barcelona, but like most bloggers, I have a job (as an independent Communications Specialist for wineries) and a family, so as soon as I land, my responsibilities compete with my writing time. My webmaster, Erin, and I are working on GirlwithaGlass 3.0, so one day soon I’ll have some cool app installed that will show you a slideshow with my notes. But for now, in the interest of time, I’ve chosen some pictures that instantly remind me of my experience of Spain which I will post with a few sentences each.  It’s the only way to get the job done and perhaps I’ll learn how to write less, too.  I hope you enjoy! Please comment or write to me if you are so inspired.

Welcome to Catalonia Spain

I had no idea that Northern Spain was so fabulous until Segura Viudas, a wine company owned by Freixenet, Inc. invited me to visit as their guest.  The first thing I learned is I landed in Catalonia; (also spelled Catalunya) an autonomous community within Spain.  Catalonia has it’s own language, customs and culture.  According to our hosts, Catalans speak Catalan and Spanish and many also speak English and French.  Catalonia’s history is fascinating, dating back to pre-Roman times.  As is my custom, I added a few personal days to the trip so I could see some sites.  I was especially interested in Barcelona’s  History Museum because in the basement there are Roman remains of the city of Barcino (Barcelona today) including a wine making area. (I’ll be publishing a post about that soon.)

Segura Viudas makes some of the best sparkling wines in the world. They use the traditional Méthode Champenoise, which means they make it the same way they do in Champagne, France. In Spain, sparkling wine is called Cava, which is a controlled protection term referring to sparkling wine made in the traditional method from a specific region in Spain.  The winery building, located in the major grape growing region, Penedès, dates back to the 11th century. It’s last life prior to becoming a winery was that of a masia, a traditional Catalan country house.  I enjoyed the feeling of being in an ancient home (albeit the size of a palace).  Don Manual Segura Vallejo started making wine there in the 1950′s but did not market his wines until 1969.  One of his three sons, Manuel Segura Viudas was responsible for managing the winery.  Manuel’s high standards and interest in hiring top experts in grape growing, winemaking and technology has paid off for Segura Viudas which has been well-known for decades for impressive attention to detail and innovation.  

I was lucky to meet the head winemaker, Gabriel Suberviola Ripa who has held the position since 1998.  I’ve met many winemakers and the best ones, like Gabriel, instantly share an unbridled enthusiasm for talking about grapes, harvest, vintages and enjoyment of the final product.  Our small group had two days of classes ending in a blending exercise where we tried to emulate or best Gabriel’s blend.  Gabriel was the judge and I was very happy to receive third place, behind two well-seasoned wine buyers.  Gabriel’s philosophy is in alignment with my own: 1) “…wines should be less concentrated and more refined, subtle and drinkable. (2)…aromatic wines are more highly favorable…but don’t let aromatics become excessively sharp. (3) …the wine world needs to use understandable language…people shouldn’t need a degree in oenology to understand what we are talking about!”

On that note, go enjoy some Segura Viudas wine.  They are lovely, well-priced and pair well with food.  (Look for posts soon about our multi-course paired meals!)

 

 

 

What’s the best way to learn about wine?

I am currently enrolled in a Wines and Spirits Trust certification course, it costs hundreds of dollars, requires me to drive to San Francisco every week for six weeks and I have to memorize lots of information and then take a test.  It’s a lot of hard work but when I finish I should be able to look at almost any bottle of wine and tell you about its terroir and likely flavor profile.

Up to this point, I have learned everything I know through firsthand experience, traveling and tasting, interviewing winemakers and growers and absorbing as much as I could from Andrea Immer Robinson’s original Food Network TV programs and books by Chefs and Sommeliers. 

One of today’s new stars is Madeline Puckett, a poised, smart and entertaining wine educator with a free online video wine course.  Writer Clinton Stark described Madeline as “…a bit of a slinky goth siren, her voice like Ellen Barken.” You’ll enjoy her easy-going short videos and learn the way I did, the easy and fun way! Find her on You Tube or at Wine Folly.

Segura Viudas Reserva

My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day. I like it better than New Year’s Eve or Christmas. It’s better than New Year’s Eve because I prefer intimacy to crowds and it’s better than Christmas because it doesn’t require so much planning. For me, celebrating Valentine’s Day focuses on enjoying a great meal and great wine. My only problem is choosing from the many wonderful options.  

My first option includes this beautiful bottle of Spanish Cava. It’s made by the famous and popular Freixenet (“fresh-eh-net”) Group. I’ve always been a fan of Spanish sparkling wine which is called Cava; it was part of my Valentine meal in 2010 and a musing in 2008.

Gloria Ferrer, located 20 minutes from my house, is part of this company’s portfolio of wineries too. It’s fascinating to take their tour in Sonoma County and learn that it is a Spanish-owned company making bubbly in a traditional way while producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay still wines that are all about expressing the terroir of their location–Carneros. Highly recommended for a visit.

I am a big fan of Cava and encourage you to try it. If you can’t find it locally, try wine.com. The tasting notes there are right on as well.

PS: I will be a guest of Segura Viudas in Spain in March and I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

 

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