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Celebrate Good Times (without The Hangover!)

Celebrate Good Times (without the hangover!)

Do you ever need a break from wine? What???? Have I lost my mind!?

My “go to” making dinner beverage is bubbly. Sparkling wine, that is. Sometimes it’s a lovely Cava, sometimes it’s a Prosecco or a Franciacorta, and sometimes it’s Champagne. It’s usually some tasty sparkler from California.

Those are my usual choices for the dinner prep. Meanwhile, I’m usually decanting some fabulous red to actually drink DURING dinner.  Before I know it, I’ve had quite a bit of wine. NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT. I’m at home, after all. During the week, though, it can sometimes get to be a bit much. Perhaps I should sometimes slow down on a “school” night!

So … I’ve taken to Bubly! Not THAT bubbly, but Bubly … with one capital “B” and one small “b”. My husband discovered this fun and tasty sparkling water that is lightly flavored with a variety of fruits.

Currently, my favorites are the orange and the apple. The orange has a nose of … well, ORANGE! The apple has a touch of … well APPLE on the palate! They have a slew of choices though. I can’t wait to try the cherry!

They are thirst quenching and the flavor is just right. Not too much! I even serve it in a Champagne flute to keep it festive. I feel good about myself because I’m hydrating too! AND … they are sugar-free and have ZERO calories!

Now I’ll never ever ever give up my sparkling wine, but this fun and tasty sparkling water is a lovely substitute for when I know that I’ll be drinking more wine later in the evening. Especially when I need to be responsible the next day. It’s also a great way to stay hydrated between wines at parties!

So if there are nights that you’re feeling the need to be “good”, reach for a Bubly (with one capital “B” and one small “b”)! With the wide selection of flavors, there’s bound to be some that will be as irresistible to you as they are to me!


Christmas Magic In Alsace!

Christmas Magic in Alsace!

My husband and I just returned home from a magical vacation in Alsace. Our goal was to drink some good wine (of course!) and to visit the world famous Marchés de Noël (Christmas Markets) in the region. This charming region in France certainly did not disappoint!

Located in the eastern part of the country, Alsace is very close to both Germany and Switzerland. In fact, the Rhine River runs along the region to the east, and the Vosges Mountains to the west, making it an ideal spot for growing wine grapes.

Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris rule here, but they also have a bit of Pinot Noir.

The wine I’m focusing on today, though, is the Vin Chaud! The many Christmas markets in the region all sell this hot mulled wine full of spice and much-needed warmth. You can get a cup of red or white. The wine is steeped in the spices to infuse the flavors without using heat because the heat used in that process can evaporate the alcohol (and what fun would THAT be?) and bring out unwanted flavors from the wine. One vendor even had some Vin Chaud spiked with Grand Marnier! That was my husband’s favorite!

The markets also have fun rides for children and loads of traditional French food like crepes, pastries, marzipan and tons and tons of chocolate! And of course, there are lots of trinkets, ornaments, and gifts to take home.

We stayed in the small storybook village of Riquewihr, where we strolled the market and shops every day and evening. This quaint village took us back in time, and we fell in love with the town and its people. The locals go all out during the holidays. Every timbered building is adorned with Christmas decorations galore, and we felt as if we were in the most Christmassy (is that a word? If not, it SHOULD be!) place in the world!

We also ventured out to the village of Colmar. Much larger than Riquewihr, Colmar has FIVE fabulous Christmas markets, as well as an indoor farmer’s market (Le Marche Couvert de Colmar) with a delightful coffee shop called Un Monde de Cafés, lots of fresh produce, pastries, and other delicacies.

Colmar is nestled among vineyards, with colorful buildings alongside the canals, Christmas decorations and fabulous cafés making this a magical place indeed.

Colmar is considered the “Capital of Alsatian Wine”, so you can count on plenty of cozy spots to duck in for a glass of Cremant d’Alsace or other types of Holiday cheer!

The region of Alsace certainly does the Yuletide right! If you’re a lover of all things Christmas and looking for a magical spot to relish in the season’s spirit, you can’t go wrong in Alsace.

You’re sure to find Christmas magic in this real-life fairy tale land!


On The Road Again!

On The Road Again!

I love road trips! I especially enjoy road trips that include a fun new beverage experience. Now we all know that Florida isn’t known for its wine, but there are a lot of great craft breweries popping up in the Sunshine State! My husband and I hit a couple last weekend while on our latest road trip to the Jacksonville area. My favorite of the trip??? Aardwolf Brewing Company!

Housed in a really bitchin’ old building that used to be a railroad icehouse (located in the Jacksonville’s trendy San Marco neighborhood), the atmosphere is enough of a reason for a visit. The beer??? Oh yeah … more than an added bonus!

John started out with a glass of their White Russian Stout (which ended up being my favorite of the night) and I started in on some flights!

Okay, I need to admit right here and now that we tried a bunch of different beers that night. That’s the great thing about flights though, right??? You get to try a little of everything. Well, sadly not EVERYTHING, as they have a lot of choices.

The beers that I tried that I remember best include:

Hopped Be Thy Name – I’ve been really into IPAs lately, and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s a well-balanced Double IPA with lots of citrus along with a nice creamy mouth feel!

San Marco Sour – Along with the IPAs, I’ve also recently been getting a kick out of trying sour beers. It’s a new thing for me, but not for the world! Sour beer is actually the oldest type of beer in the history of beer! Before brewers completely understood the whole pasteurization and sterilization thing, pretty much all beer was somewhat sour. Add to that, nowadays most of the well-known beers are made with specific yeast strains, not the native yeasts of yesteryear! More and more people (both in the beer world and the wine world) are using native yeasts, which can make the beverages very interesting indeed. Aardwolf’s San Marco Sour is golden in color (in fact, it looks a lot like orange juice!) with a palate of tart unripe peach and pear. It’s sour, but not TOO sour. This beer is the perfect thirst quencher for a hot Florida day. To me, it’s the beer equivalent to a nice Sauvignon Blanc!

4 Year Anniversary Beer Rye Barley Wine – Okay, so I’m a wine pro not a beer pro, and this ISN’T wine, but it is really tasty! The color is dark amber and it tastes of caramel and toffee. I could definitely drink a lot of this, but at 9.7% ABV … I should probably be careful!

White Russian Stout – Oh wow, how I love this dang beer! I can’t get enough of it. We bought three Crowlers (32 oz. can, not to be confused with a Growler) to go, but I wish I could just install a tap in my house with a direct supply! It’s super creamy on the palate with roasted coffee, chocolate, and an almost sweet vanilla bean. It’s oh so rich, smooth & silky. I absolutely adore this beer, can you tell???

Although they have a fun outdoor patio at the entrance, we bellied up to the bar when we got there and the service was phenomenal.

The vibe is really cool here, they have really great beer, AND they’re dog friendly!!!!!! How great is that? They’re also kid friendly, so there are no excuses to not pay them a visit.

Check them out here:




Falling In Love With The Finger Lakes!

Falling In Love With The Finger Lakes!

I’d always wanted to visit the Finger Lakes. I’d been to the great state of New York many times, but never to this beautiful wine region! It was time! So … my husband and I headed there last month while on our East Coast road trip looking for the ideal spot to spend our summers!

The Finger Lakes wine region goes back further than one might suspect. Reverend William Bostwick planted the first vineyard in 1829 in his rectory garden. Commercial viticulture officially began in 1862 and, as I mention below, Vitis vinifera makes an appearance 100 years later.

The area has eleven glacial lakes, but most of the vineyards are planted around four of these lakes: Canadaigua, Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga. Sadly we only had time to visit two lakes on this visit, and we chose Seneca and Keuka. We visited multiple wineries, breweries and restaurants and truly fell in love with the area. I’m going to tell you about a few of our favorites!

Our first stop was Standing Stone Vineyards. What a great place. The winery is located right on Seneca Lake and has beautiful views from the tasting room. The people were lovely (sales guru Gary Smith and owner Marti took excellent care of us!) and the wines were fabulous. The 2015 Gewurztraminer has a lovely floral nose and just a touch of residual sugar on the palate. I adored the 2015 Riesling, with Meyer lemon and a tangy finish. My favorite, however, was the 2015 Saperavi! One of only five wineries in the entire U.S. to grow this grape, Standing Stone also happens to have the largest acreage of Saperavi outside the Republic of Georgia, where it originates! What a treat indeed!!!!

Another “must hit” winery on my list was Hermann J. Wiemer. A native of Bernkastel in Germany, Wiemer immigrated to the Finger Lakes in the 1960s. His family had been making wine in Germany’s Mosel Valley for more than 300 years and he was looking for the right place to start his own winery. The cool climate and gravelly soils of the Finger Lakes reminded him of the Mosel Valley, and he felt that this is where he’d be able to grow vinifera varietals and produce great wines! Many people were skeptical, but he was right!!!! Today his long time apprentice (Fred Merwarth) owns the winery along with Fred’s college friend Oskar Bynke (a Swedish agronomist who I was fortunate to meet at our tasting). Together they are making Hermann J. Wiemer proud!

Located on the western shores of Seneca Lake, the winery is housed in a 90-year-old barn with modern interiors. The facility is amazing. So are the wines! There wasn’t a dud in the bunch but my favorites included the 2012 Cuvée Brut, made of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay! This may have been my favorite sparkling wine of our whole trip!!!! I also really enjoyed the ‘16 Gruner Veltliner and the superbly balanced Noble Select Riesling with great acidity! Stephanie, who is also an 8th grade English teacher in New York City, was absolutely fabulous! She’s the perfect “teacher”; super knowledgeable and beyond friendly and helpful. If I had a winery, I’d want her in it! If you get to the Finger Lakes region, be sure to stop at Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard for a tasting!

That night we had a lovely dinner at Dano’s Heuriger On Seneca. We felt like we were in Austria, visiting the Heurigen of Vienna and Dürnstein, of which we have such fond memories! Authentically Austrian, the menu is eclectic and the wine list has fun Austrian choices, with a fabulous representation of the Fingers Lakes as well! We had a very nice dinner and Dano and his wife Karen were lovely hosts.

Now to the “other” lake! We sadly didn’t have much time to spend in the Finger Lakes and wondered if we should stick with only Seneca on this trip. Well, we loved the region so much that we extended a day so that we could check out Keuka Lake too. Boy are we glad that we did. We absolutely adore Seneca Lake, but Keuka Lake is less populated and seems quainter. We fell in love!!!!

Ravines Wine Cellars has two tasting rooms, one in Geneva on Seneca and one on Keuka Lake. We decided to check out the latter. Again, the views are lovely!!!! As we tasted, our view was out of a large window that faced the view of the lake! Lovely indeed! The wines are great too! Our fabulous tasting was lead by a bubbly gal named Carolyn. She knew her stuff! My favorite of the tasting???? I’m sure you’re not shocked to hear it was a sparkling wine!!!! Their 2007 Sparkling Brut is fabulous!!!! A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this wine made is in the méthode Champenoise style and spends seven years sur lie. The hints of brioche and white flowers convinced me to buy a couple of bottles! Other favorites included the 2015 Dry Riesling from White Springs Vineyard and the 2016 Pinot Noir Rosé.

That night’s dinner was extra special. The food didn’t rock our universe (although it was fine). Perhaps we simply didn’t order the right thing! It was the location that put the experience over the top!!! The Lakeside Restaurant and Tavern has been around since 1936, so they obviously know what they’re doing. They have indoor seating, but we couldn’t resist sitting outside on the three level deck. We enjoyed a glass of local wine while taking in the spectacular view and watching fellow diners arrive via their boats. After dinner we walked down to the dock and sat in an oversized Adirondack chair while enjoying the cool weather and the fabulous view. It was the perfect ending to our Finger Lakes experience.

Soooo … if you find yourselves in the state of New York, and want to drink some wonderful wine in a gorgeous setting … head to the Finger Lakes!!! Who knows, if you love it as much as we do, we might just end up being neighbors one day.


Virgins In Virginia!

Virgins in Virginia!

My husband and I are on a summer adventure. We’re taking five weeks going up and down the east coast, tasting a bunch of wine and beer along the way. Neither of us had ever been to Virginia Wine Country before (we were calling ourselves Virginia Virgins!), so we decided on this region as our first wine stop!

The Monticello AVA is located around Charlottesville, VA (home to the University of Virginia). The area is absolutely gorgeous. I kept imagining that it looks like Napa may have looked 50 years ago!

We made the small town of Afton our home base. We spent 5 nights at a cozy cottage in the middle of the wooded mountains that I found on VRBO. We then spent another 4 nights at the Cottages at Afton Mountain Vineyards. The views here were spectacular. I loved sitting on the deck before dinner with a glass of bubbly and looking at the vineyards and the Blue Ridge Mountains!

There are a lot of wonderful wineries located nearby. I’m going to tell you about a few of our favorites!

Pollak Vineyards – Pollak Vineyards has a beautiful tasting room and beautiful grounds. They also have a great Cab Franc! My favorite thing about this winery??? They’re dog friendly! We had a great tasting with Adam. After we found out they like dogs, we enjoyed a bottle on their deck with our furry kids!

Barboursville Vineyards – We opted for their Library Tasting, where we sat in front of a huge window that overlooks breathtaking views of their vineyards (pictured in the featured photo above) and the historic Barbour Mansion Ruins. This is another gorgeous spot, located about an hour from Afton on the other side of Charlottesville. Their Bordeaux blend (called Octagon) is excellent! Their other wines are wonderful too! I highly recommend this experience and their fabulous wines!

Michael Shaps Wineworks – We tasted with Michael Shaps’ delightful daughter Hanna (who seems to love cheese as much as her father loves wine!). Many people in the Virginia wine world credit Michael Shaps with being a true goodwill ambassador of the region. Not only did he work for several area wineries after studying in Burgundy (where he also has Maison Michael Shaps, in Meursault!), but after starting his own winery also helps a lot of other wineries in the area. His story reminds me a bit of Robert Mondavi’s influence in Napa! The Michael Shaps wines are on the top of my list for the trip!

Afton Mountain Vineyards – As I mentioned above regarding the cottages, the property is spectacular! Their wines are good too, especially the Cabernet Franc. Quinn helped us out in the tasting room and did a great job. They have a dog friendly patio area, so we headed down with a picnic lunch and enjoyed a bottle of their Cab Franc. Since we were staying there, we did the same thing the next day! We so enjoyed the beautiful views of the vineyards and the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to look into their cottages! You can find them on THEIR website or through Stay Charlottesville!

This area of Virginia also knows how to make beer!!! Blue Mountain Brewery is located very close to both spots we stayed. They have so many nice beer options, why not try a flight as pictured below? They also have a great food menu! Whether you’re a meat eater or a vegetarian, you’ll find plenty of things to eat!

Another fun little tidbit about the area is King’s Gourmet Popcorn. We stayed in Afton for ten days, and in our travels we kept passing a little popcorn stand called King’s Gourmet Popcorn. On our way out of town heading north, we decided we had to try it. We bought a large bag of the Cajun White Cheddar and a small bag of the Caramel Kettle Corn. Good stuff indeed. I can see why they get such great reviews on TripAdvisor!

So … if you’re in the mood for wine, beer OR popcorn … Afton, Virginia is a great spot to be! The scenery is fabulous and the people are the best!

Take it from a former Virginia Virgin, don’t hesitate putting Virginia on your list of must visit wine regions!

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