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#Wine Resolutions for 2015. Oh, and I’m baaaaack!

8 Jan

2014 was a pretty good year: I passed the WSET Level III Advanced exam, I got to be a guest judge at this year’s Los Angeles International Wine Competition, and my blog was a finalist in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. Then the last quarter hit, and Everything Happened. Here’s a quick recap to set the stage for this week’s post:

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October: Started a new work contract and lost my mom–on the same day. All of this during midterm exams at grad school. November: Balanced the very demanding second half of the semester and the new work contract and managed not to have a nervous breakdown. Drank lots of wine. I think it helped. December: Took two final exams, wrote a term paper, and met a dozen client deadlines. Got an A for the first semester of my MBA program. Treated myself with a bottle of 2011 Ornellaia (not the whole thing–I shared it with Señor Jim, my dad and brother on my birthday).

Ornellaia

Which brings us to the present moment. A year older, maybe a little wiser, and determined to focus on the good things each day brings. Because if I learned anything last year, it’s that bad stuff happens because it’s life, but if you dwell too long on the negatives, you’re going to miss the positives. So in the spirit of kicking off an optimistic 2015, here are my Wine New Year’s Resolutions. Feel free to adopt any that strike a chord:

1. Use the good glasses. Life’s too short to drink wine from crappy stemware. If you have high-end wine glasses, use ’em! If you don’t, treat yourself to just one (it’ll cost you about $25 -$30) and make it a luxuriously rewarding ritual to sip wine from your fine wineglass at the end of a busy workday.

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2. Buy at least one high-end bottle of wine. You don’t have to break the bank, but from personal experience I can tell you that buying at least one wildly amazing bottle of wine a year will result in a delicious endorphin rush. For the first time in my life, I bought myself a $180 bottle of wine in December. It was the aforementioned Ornellaia, and I can tell you it was worth every penny. I can hear you saying, “But that’s a lot of money!” When you look at the big picture, it really isn’t.

Here’s what you do: Grab a piggy bank, mason jar, empty cigar box, or whatever will remind you that you deserve to drink a world-class wine. Then sacrifice one latte a week and put the money you’d spend on the java into your “vino bank.” Not a coffee person? Then just put $3 in your vino bank each week. By the end of the year, you’ll have around $150 to spend on your vino. Why? Because you’re worth it.

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3. Share the fancy wine with the people I love most. Let’s face it–it’s no fun drinking a bottle of vino by yourself. Sure, you can stretch it out over a few days if you properly protect it from oxygen before re-corking it, but why not share the love? Someday when you’re old and grey, I can guarantee that you won’t look back on life and wish you had enjoyed all of your good wine alone.

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So Feliz Año Nuevo and Happy New Year, chicos y chicas. May 2015 bring you much joy, amor and good fortune. And remember–the wineglass is always half-full. ¡Salud!

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Get on the bus: The road to Bien Nacido Vineyards #WBC14

24 Jul

The first time I boarded a school bus, I was a five-year-old kindergartener toting a thermos full of orange juice. My biggest mistake was sitting next to a boy, not knowing that girls and boys had to sit on opposite sides of the bus. I thought he was cute. He thought I had cooties.

The last time I boarded a school bus was two weeks ago. This time, I am a wine blogger of–ahem–a certain age, toting a wineglass full of rosé.  My biggest mistake was sitting in the back–right next to the stripper pole.

Bien Nacido Bus

Yes, Virginia–that is a stripper pole.

This is how the Friday night excursion at Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 began. I and 30 other bloggers boarded the Stripper Pole School Bus with no idea where we were going until the bus engine started. Our destination: Bien Nacido Vineyards in the Santa Maria Valley AVA.

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Once there, we were transferred to the “CHOOL BUS,” the official mode of transportation at Bien Nacido. We were chauffeured away in primary-school comfort to the Z Block, home to some of the finest Syrah vines in the region and voted one of the top 25 vineyards in the world.

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Get on the “Chool” bus.

Nicholas Miller, vice president of sales and marketing for The Thornhill Companies, the umbrella company that owns Bien Nacido Vineyards, noted that 100- and 90-point wines come from grapes grown in Z Block (a block is a section of the vineyard). For the record, ‘bien nacido’ means well-born, and the grapes born in Bien Nacido grow up to be made into some of California’s best wines.

Don't' worry, you won't go to the principal's office for drinking on this school bus.

Don’t’ worry, you won’t go to the principal’s office for drinking on this school bus.

Bien Nacido Vineyards is not open to the public, nor do they have a tasting room. They grow grapes for clients including Hitching Post, Au Bon Climat, Qupé, Foxen and Longoria. Besides Syrah, Bien Nacido also grows Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, among other wine grapes.

Very young Syrah grapes from Z Block.

Very young Syrah grapes from Z Block.

After winding up a gentle slope, the Chool Bus stopped on a perch with a view of some of the 600-plus acres of vines at Bien Nacido. Free to wander around the vineyards, we selfied away with the grapes, the view, and each other, while Gray Hartley, winemaker for Hitching Post Wines, poured Foxen Chardonnay, made from grapes grown on the property.

Gary Hartley poses for a close-up of Foxen Chardonnay.

Gray Hartley poses for a close-up of Foxen Chardonnay.

Traipsing through the vines at Z Block was a religious experience, and like most religious experiences, this one left me famished. We boarded the bus again, making our way to the property’s historic adobe, built by Don Juan Pacifico Ontiveros in 1857. A five-second history lesson: Ontiveros bought the ranch from his father-in-law, Tomas Olivera, who first received the property as a land grant from Spain. Fast-forward to 1969, and that’s when the Miller family bought the property.

For dinner, we were treated to a traditional, Santa Barbara-style barbecue with grilled vegetables and what felt like an endless supply of world-class wines. By the way, don’t ask me to define “traditional Santa Barbara-style barbecue.” I’m sure they explained it, but by then I was having a religious experience of the one-glass-too-many kind.

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Dinner on the adobe patio.

Yes, there were dump buckets. But if you were offered a pour from a magnum of 1997 Hitching Post Highliner Pinot Noir,  not only would you drink all of it, you might be inclined to lick the inside of your glass. Don’t worry – I didn’t. I just got another pour.

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Turns out sitting by the stripper pole was not a mistake after all. Out of the 30 bloggers, not a one cozied up to it on the bus ride back to our hotel. Maybe it’s because we were all in a post-vino lull. Or maybe we’re just too well-born for that kind of thing.

 

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If you can’t drink wine, write about it. #WBC14

19 Jul

It’s Saturday night, and my wineglass is empty. Thanks to an ornery throat bug, I’m on antibiotics, so this week’s post is not about vino. Instead, I will steal this opportunity to share what I learned about the craft of writing last weekend at Wine Bloggers Conference 2014.

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Among the bountiful array of topics about everything that wine blogging entails, writing tends to get short shrift. Not this year. I was fortunate to attend a special writing workshop moderated by a panel of three prominent wine writers: Steve Heimoff, James Conaway and Mike Dunn. Along with 44 other brave souls, I submitted a piece of work in advance for critique by the three journalists.

Here are five things I learned:

1 . Don’t even think about writing a wine review. Why? Because it takes years and years of tasting and writing to be able to craft a fair yet engaging assessment that, to quote Heimoff, doesn’t sound like “a Princess Cruises brochure.”  (No offense, Princess Cruises. I have yet to sail the seas on one of your majestic vessels, but I probably just blew my chances of ever getting invited on a press trip).

2. Learn how to use a comma. It sounds basic, but in Dunn’s opinion (should I have put a comma after ‘but?’), most college graduates don’t know how.

3. Avoid these words at all costs. Breathtaking, enchanting, delightful, intriguing, thrilling, fantastic. Terrific list, no?

4. Speaking of lists, don’t use them. “List-ese,” says Conaway, can cause you to lose readers. (The irony is not lost on me that this post is a list. I hope you’re still there).

5. Humor generally doesn’t work, so don’t even try. This is where I get to issue a huge apology, chicas y chicos, for all of my past feeble attempts at making wine sound funny.

Oh, one last thing. If you really want to put people off, make your wine writing all about you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take an antibiotic.

 

Road Trip: Santa Barbara for Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 #wbc14

10 Jul

There’s nothing Señorita Vino loves more than a road trip, especially if it’s to a wine region. Angelenos are lucky to live driving distance from Santa Barbara County, home to five American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs.

This year’s Wine Bloggers Conference is in Santa Barbara, and yours truly hit the road and is counting down the minutes until this evening’s welcome reception. In the meantime, I will regale you with some fun facts  and photos about Santa Barbara County wines.

But first, Santa Barbara Vinters wanted to make sure I knew where I was headed, so they sent me five maps, one of each of the five AVAs: Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Rita Hills, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County, and Ballard Canyon.

Maps of the five AVAs in Santa Barbara County.

Maps of the five AVAs in Santa Barbara County.

There are more than 50 wine grape varietals grown in Santa Barbara County, with the top three being Chardonnay, PInot Noir and Syrah. And with more than 200 wineries in Santa Barbara County, I have a feeling it’s gonna be a superfantástico weekend.

As a teaser, I got to preview five wines during a Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 Tweet chat last month. El Full Disclosure: I received all five wines as samples from the Santa Barbara Vintners.  I was not paid to say that they rocked my world, but it just so happens they did.

Among the white wines, The 2012 Palmina Malvasia Blanca was Jasmine City. Gorgeous white floral aromas with lemon and herbs. Its crisp acidity makes it a great salad wine.

 

The selection of white wines from Santa Barbara County.

The selection of white wines from Santa Barbara County.

The 2013 Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc was crisp and grassy, with stone fruit aromas that reminded me of biting into a juicy white nectarine. Pair it with seafood or chips and guacamole.

Lemme just say that the 2012 Brewer-Clifton Hapgood Chardonnay wanted to make me channel my inner Madonna and writhe around the floor in a tacky white tulle skirt, because drinking this Chard made me feel, yeah it made me feel, like the very first time I had a Chardonnay. To attempt to describe it here would not to it justice. Take my advice–ya gotta try it.

By the way, here’s a picture of Diego Forlan. It has nothing to do with wine, but he’s part of the reason I watch the World Cup:

 

Gratuitous shot of Diego Forlan. Santa Barbra Vinters did not send me a free sample, but it's not too late.

Gratuitous shot of Diego Forlan. Santa Barbra Vinters did not send me a free sample, but it’s not too late.

Two red wines from Santa Barbra County were included in the samples I received for last month’s Tweet Chat.

Red wines from Santa Barbara County.

Red wines from Santa Barbara County.

If you love Pinot Noir, you’ll really like the 2010 La Fond Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills. Aged in French oak, you’ll get subtle vanilla to go with the raspberry and strawberry aromas. It’s 14.7 percent alcohol, which is high, but the wine is beautifully balanced, so you won’t be overwhelmed by it.

And now for the 2010 Westerly Fletcher’s Red. All I can say is, where have you been all my life? This blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvingon, 23 percent Merlot, 23 percent Petit Verdot and 4 percent Cabernet Franc is even better than writhing on the floor in a dirty wedding dress. It’s like writhing around naked in a vineyard on the left bank of Bordeaux. Only you’re in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA. And for Pete’s sake, put some clothes on!

Chicos y chicas, this brings us to 30 minutes before launch for Wine Bloggers Conference 2014. I’ll be sharing more discoveries in the next four days, so stay tuned. Until then, ¡Salud!

Oh, and if you happen to be watching the World Cup, ¡VAMOS ARGENTINA!

 

 

Canadian Wine, eh? Part 3 of 3

8 Aug

They say it lives in the eerie darkness at the bottom of British Columbia’s Lake Okanagan, surfacing only a couple of times in the past 2,000 years. Its ominous form has appeared in ancient petroglyphs, and the First Nation peoples offered sacrifices to appease it.  Some eyewitnesses report having seen a bubble the size of an apartment breach the lake’s surface, causing a powerful wave as it burst.

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Monster-spotting at Okanagan Lake, above.

Is it the Loch Ness Monster’s Canadian cousin? Is it a mammoth sturgeon? Or is it simply what Okanagan Valley wine tour guide Jim Harris calls  the “Fart Theory?”

“It can be calm on the lake, and suddenly you’ll see some rogue waves,” explains Harris. “It’s a volcanic lake, so maybe it’s a build-up of volcanic gas. It’s like the guy who drank beer after having pork and beans for dinner, and then he gets into the hot tub and just lets go.”

Okay, Jim–we get it. And if anyone’s curious, the monster goes by the handle Ogopogo.

Thankfully, Canadians love their wine as much as they love a good monster story, and you’ll get plenty of both in the Thompson Okanagan region of British Columbia.  Located about 250 miles east of Vancouver,  the Okanagan Valley is home to 12 wine subregions producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Syrah and Zinfandel, among 75-plus grape varieties.

Wine barrels stack up nicely in Penticton.

Wine barrels stack up nicely in Penticton.

My home base for exploring the Okanagan Valley was the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which is where I stayed for Wine Bloggers Conference 2013. Although the wine excursions I attended were arranged by the conference, the town of Penticton is a convenient–and charming–place to stay while visiting area wineries.

Downtown Penticton.

Downtown Penticton.

British Columbia welcomes about 1.5 million people to its wineries each year. And even though the region is not nearly as large as California’s Napa Valley, it’s definitely growing. In 1990, there were a mere 17 wineries in British Columbia. Today, there are almost 220, and the Okanagan Valley contains 82 percent of total vineyard acreage in British Columbia.

Lakeside vineyards. (Image courtesy of Wines of British Columbia).

Lakeside vineyards. (Image courtesy of Wines of British Columbia).

That’s a lot of ground to cover, and being from Los Angeles, the last thing I want to do when I travel is drive a car. So for me, wine excursions  by bus are the way to go.  Harris owns Uncorked Okanagan Wine Tours, which was one of the companies that shuttled wine bloggers from winery to winery  (This is not a paid  mention. They had me at Fart Theory).

Wall of Vino at Road 13 Winery.

Wall of Vino at Road 13 Winery.

Depending on the tour operator and the size of your group, you can travel by luxury SUV or by bus. Different tour companies allow you to customize your excursion, and most packages include lunch.

I could go on and on about the myriad wines I tried while visiting the Okanagan Valley, but I’ll spare you. Check out the first two posts in this series for some of the highlights.

Refreshingly good- a winery with a sense of humor.

Refreshingly good- a winery with a sense of humor.

If you want the big picture, Wines of British Columbia offers this comprehensive list of area wineries.  Browse through it, see which ones appeal to you, and then find a tour company that can take you to your top choices, or rent a car and map out your own itinerary.

As for the Ogopogo, fans of scary monsters may be disappointed to know that the only critters I spotted in Lake Okanagan was a family of ducks.

Just duckies!

Just duckies!

My run-in with a version of Canada’s own Loch Ness monster happened not in the lake but at a downtown Penticton ice cream parlor. The only frightening part of the encounter: The caloric content of a double-scoop waffle cone.

Monstrously delicious ice cream in downtown Penticton.

Monstrously delicious ice cream in downtown Penticton.

Getting there: You can fly into Vancouver and rent a car, or you can fly directly into Penticton Airport or Kelowna Airport. Don’t forget your passport.

Getting around: Okanagan Valley wine tour operators: Grape Escapes Wine Tours (1-877-362-3382); Top Cat Tours ((1-205-493-7385); Grape Friends Lounge and Tours (1-250-328-2008).

Where to stay: Penticton Lakeside Resort (1-250-493-8221); Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa (1-877-313-WINE).

Canadian #wine, eh? Part 2 of 3

19 Jul

Question: What’s worse than taking bad photos on a wine tasting trip?  Answer: Accidentally deleting the album on your computer.

Yep, color me embarrassed chicas y chicos, but somehow I managed to lose a chunk of my pictures from Canada’s wine country. But in the spirit of Stiff Upper Lipping it, let’s all keep calm and drink wine.

Today’s post features more wines I discovered while attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2013 in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley wine region.

And you all know what comes next: El Full Disclosure! Say it loud, say it proud–I got free wine samples while attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2013, which happens at these events (duh!). None of the folks who plied me with free sips paid me to write any of the following content; the opinions are mine,  as are thet photos I rescued from my iPhone.

In no particular order, I give you…

1. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced Inka Meep)

A FIrst Nation dancer greeted us at Spirit Ridge Resort.

A FIrst Nation dancer greeted us at Spirit Ridge Resort.

The first North American winery to be owned and operated by aboriginal, or native peoples, Nk’Mip is run by the Osoyoos Indian Band of First Nation people. The winery produces Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Icewine and various blends. In other words, there’s something for everyone.

Not a wine drinker? There’s something for you, too. Nk’Mip Cellars partners with Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort and Spa, which is located on Lake Osoyoos. So while you’re friends are a-sippin’, you can be a-destressin’. Sippin’ just happens part of my de-stressin’ routine, but I digress…

Nk’Mip Cellars was voted “BC Winery of the Year” at the Canadian Wine Awards in 2012.

2.Inniskillin

Inniskillin's classy packaging. Oh, and the wine's pretty good, too.

Inniskillin’s classy packaging. Oh, and the wine’s pretty good, too.

Remember my blog post about what makes a wine sweet? You don’t?  I’m not offended. Here it is again. If you look at #2, cryoextraction, you’ll get a sense for how Icewine is  made. And it bears repeating that Canada produces some of the world’s finest Icewine.

Inniskillin harvests the grapes they use in their Icewine during the Okanagan winter months. The grapes freeze on the vine at -8 degrees Celsius. That’s 17.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is a glorious, nectar-like wine with a honeyed taste and hints of ripe apricot and honeysuckle.

Inniskillin won the Top Canadian Producer International Wine and Spirits Competition in London in 2012.

3. See Ya Later Ranch

Who doesn’t love a juicy bit of chisme? (That’s ‘gossip’ for my English-language readers).

In 1919, dog-loving Major Hugh Fraser purchased land in this remote part of the Okanagan Valley and built himself a ranch. Quite the character, the Major threw some wild parties and was a bit of a free spirit. Legend has it that his lovely English bride grew tired of the dogs and the isolation, so she bailed, leaving behind a note that said, “See ya later.”

Today, See Ya Later  is the highest elevation vineyard in the Okanagan Valley, and the views from there are breathtaking. If you can’t visit, try hunting down the 2011 Pinot 3, which won a Silver  Medal at the 2012 San Francisco International Wine Competition and a Bronze Medal the same year at the International Wine & Spirits Competition.

No photos of See Ya Later Ranch survived my iPhoto fiasco, which leaves me with no choice but to go back. ¡Salud!

Next week: Visiting the Okanagan Valley: How to plan your own Canadian wine odyssey

Canadian #wine, eh? Part 1 of 3

10 Jul

O Canada! Mountain vistas, shimmering lakes and world-class wines.

That’s right, chicas y chicos, Canada is not just about hockey, Mounties and maple leaves. And for those of you who know a bit about wine, there’s more to Canadian winemaking than Icewine.

The two major hubs of Canada’s wine industry are located in the provinces of Ontario and  British Columbia. British Columbia is home to five Designated Viticultural Areas (DVAs), which are similar to our American Viticultural Areas (if you need a refresher on AVAs, take a look at the first photo caption in a post I did last fall on Oregon wines).

Penticton Lake is located in Canada's Okanagan Valley wine region.

Penticton Lake is located in Canada’s Okanagan Valley wine region.

The Okanagan Valley  DVA is about a three-hour car drive east of Vancouver, and it’s where I stayed during Wine Bloggers Conference 2013. Which brings me to El Full Disclosure: I received lots of free wine tastings at the conference. But no one is paying me to write this post. And the opinions you’ll read below are mine, all mine!

And speaking of opinions, Sandra Oldfield, president, CEO and winemaker at Tinhorn Creek, has one cool ride:

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Located in the Oliver Osoyoos sub-region of Lake Okanagan, Tinhorn Creek winery was established in 1993 by Sandra and her husband, Kenn. They met cute in the UC Davis enology program, and after they’d been dating for a while, Kenn took Sandra to a romantic place one evening to pop the question. But to Sandra’s chagrin, the question he popped was, “Sandra, would you be my winemaker?” Sandra’s disappointment lasted all of 24 hours, since Kenn wised up and asked her to marry him the next day.

Tinhorn has a restaurant onsite called Miradoro, where I and about 40 other wine bloggers were treated to a Spanish-themed dinner paired with a broad array of Oliver Osoyoos wines.

Hungry wine bloggers settle in for a first course of chilled gazpacho at Tinhorn Creek's Miradoro restaurant.

Hungry wine bloggers settle in for a first course of chilled gazpacho at Tinhorn Creek’s Miradoro restaurant.

Tinhorn’s vineyards are situated on two totally different plots of land. One gets plenty of morning light, making it ideal for Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. The other parcel takes in afternoon sunlight and heat, which provides optimal conditions for Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

Although there was nary a Mountie in sight that evening, I did  have a run-in with a vino-totin’ sheriff. He hailed from Rustico Farm & Cellars, where they produce Farmer’s Daughter Gewürztraminer, Mother Lode Merlot, Saloon Sally’s Cabernet Franc Rose, and, of course, Bonanza Old Vine Zinfandel.

The head of the Rustico Wine Posse.

The head of the Rustico Wine Posse.

And the gods were smiling upon me, because the sheriff issued not a citation but a badge, making Señorita Vino an official member of the Rustico Wine Posse. ¡Salud!

NOTE: Some Canadian wines are tough to find stateside, so if you can’t join their wine clubs, make it a vacation and go to the source! The last post in this series will cover traveling to the Okanagan Valley wine region.

Next week:  A look at a winery owned and operated by a First Nation Band of Indians.

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