Friday, April 27, 2012

Planning Your Wine Country Trip

So You Want to Go to Wine Country!!

This Will Be Our 11th Trip!!
I really don't remember how it all started, but somehow, eleven years ago Joe, Gwen, Gale and I decided to take our first trip to the California wine country. Gwen is Gale’s sister and Joe, well, Joe is Joe and our brother-in-law. What’s funny about the decision to go wine tasting is that at the time, Joe didn't drink wine. And that’s how he became our designated driver!

Joe Drinking Wine!!
Like all good pilgrims making their first trip to the motherland of US wines, we decided to go to the ultimate of wine regions…Napa. I wish I had known at the time that Napa would turn out to be my least favorite of the wine areas. But eleven years later we have gone to Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake County and Paso Robles, and much to my dismay, Joe has started drinking wine!   

Amateurs Not Allowed! 

Wine tasting for us isn’t an adventure for armatures or the faint of heart. It takes practice and endurance that only dedicated wine drinkers can hope to achieve. Wine tasting starts when the wineries open at 9:30 and ends at 5:30 when the last one closes, with only a short stop for lunch. There are way too many vineyards to see and wines to taste to bring “light weights” on our trips! 

In this blog I’ve decided to write about the best way to travel to California’s wine regions so that you can start planning your trip to WINE COUNTRY! Later on I will blog about the areas in general and then do a more in-depth blog on each region.  But first let’s discuss getting there.

Fly Southwest!!
We always use frequent flyer miles and fly Southwest. It takes a little longer but they have never broken a bottle of wine and they don't charge for bags. Both major pluses since we check our wine as baggage. We carry our luggage on the plane, which means Gale and I can each check two cases of wine.

Our Wine Boxes!!
And because we are…frugal, we take four empty wine shipping boxes with us, as well as tape, scissors and markers. Southwest will supply “fragile” stickers if you ask for them. We fill the boxes as we go, which helps us keep track of how much wine we’ve bought. If you don’t have empty wine boxes, you can buy them at the wineries. You can also save them from wine you may decide to ship home, but shipping is a lot more expensive.

Checking in Outside!!
Fly into Oakland if possible, it’s less crowed than San Francisco or LA.  On a trip to Paso Robles we once flew into LAX...big mistake. I thought we'd never get out of the airport and I still have nightmares about the bumper to bumper highway traffic. It took about twice as long as it did when we left from Oakland. And check your “wine luggage” out front, and if possible never fly home on Sunday. It’s way too crowded. The lines for checking in are long, and you will end your trip on a bad note. 

We always rent a large SUV, because between the four of us we are bringing eight cases of wine and our luggage. Unfortunately large SUVs can be expensive, so check around to get the best rental price, because they vary from year to year.  However remember the purpose of the trip is to bring some great wine home, so pack light so your luggage can be carried on the plane.

Packing Our Large SUV!! 
And if you plan on keeping up with our marathon tasting you will need a designated driver! In fact almost any tasting of wine at more than a couple of wineries will require a driver, unless you are doing the unimaginable, and spitting it out. And that’s a waste of good wine...see the movie Sideways!!!!  

Do some research before you go and check out the website to see which wineries have the type of wines you like in your price range. Try to stay close to the wineries you want visit so you’re not wasting a lot of time driving around.

Join A Wine Club Or Two!!!
Be prepared to join a few wine clubs. If you really like the wines it’s a great way to continue receiving them long after you’ve returned home. Besides, you’ll get a discount on the wine you buy when you’re there. We join a few each year and drop them before our next trip.

Also look out for some great wine deals. Wineries are always having sales to move wine out before their next release. The wineries aren’t selling bad wines; they’re just clearing their warehouse. And you can find some major discounts!

So have fun planning your Wine Country trip. And remember, the wine often doesn’t taste as good as it did at the winery, so buy wisely, especially if you’ve been tasting wine all day!


Cheers !!!

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Italian Wines

It’s Not Just Chianti!!

Lucca Italy!!
Italy is a great country to visit. We went there when Allison was in a summer art semester in college. She was staying in Lucca, which is a wonderful walled city in the Tuscany region. While there we traveled all over northern Italy and loved the fact that many small restaurants got their wine right out of the barrel or large wine jugs.  

Wine Right Out of the barrel!  
These were local wines that were served in whatever wine bottles were handy. Poured into small water glasses the wines were unfiltered and often cloudy…but very nice, or at least they seemed so at the time.  I am not really sure if all the wines we tried were great but the atmosphere made them great, and the old cities and outdoor cafes of Italy made them romantic.  What more can you ask? 

I don't consider myself an Italian wine expert. For that talk with Paul DeCarlo at Jimmy's. Except for that trip to Italy, Gale and I are fairly new to Italian wines. However the more I drink wines from Italy, the more I like them.

A friend recently told me that Americans and the French like to talk about their wines, but Italians, they like to drink theirs. Which may explain why Italy is one of the world’s largest wine producers with more vineyards than any other country except Spain. And Italy produces hundreds of wines, many from native grapes that are only used in Italy, which can be a problem when you’re trying to pick a wine from a restaurant menu.

     Italian Wines are Made for food!!
Italian wines are designed to go with a meal, that’s how the Italians drink them. Most are high in acidity, fairly subtle and are light to medium body with no sweetness. While this is changing, more wines are being made fruitier, with more oak flavors; they're still being designed as a mealtime drink. Which is one of the reasons why I like them so much!   

Because Italian restaurants are popular, most of us have tried Italian wines like Chianti and Sangiovese. And Pinot Grigio has become very popular; it’s the white wine of choice for many people. It’s crisp, light and fruity which makes it a great wine for our hot days and summer nights.

Inexpensive Chianti! 
However growing up, I thought Italian wine was the Chianti that came in a funny looking bottle with a kind of basket weaved around it. Those bottles when empty made cute little candle holders at Italian restaurants. But Chianti is much more than a wine with a grass skirt.

But what is Chianti? When it comes to the straw covered bottles, they are an inexpensive wine that represents only a small portion of Chianti's. However Chianti is not just one wine but a whole range of wines from the Tuscany area of Italy. 

The wines from Florence to Siena are called Chianti Classico DOCG. They make up the heart of Tuscany and it is the original Chianti region. The wines produced outside of the Classico area are just called Chianti DOGG, which includes six sub areas within Tuscany. 

Chianti and Chianti Classico must contain at least 75% Sangiovese. Since 25% of Chianti's can be blended from other grapes, they do vary according to their blend. However in practice, they tend to have mainly Sangiovese grapes.

It’s not hard to fall in love with Chianti; they are generally medium bodied, firm, with medium acidity and tannins.  They also have ripe and tart cherry flavors and can be nutty or floral. And expect the flavor to hit you somewhere between the middle and the backend of your mouth.

Sangiovese the Wine of Sangria!! 
Sangiovese has become very popular as a standalone wine that is a highly acidic and it can be light bodied. When young, they tend to be fruity with flavors of strawberries and spice. However when aged in oak, Sangiovese wines easily take on the oak flavors and aromas. Sangiovese is also the primary wine put into Sangria, which I primarily drink for the ah …fruit.

While Pinot Grigio, Chianti and Sangiovese are the three most known “Italian” wines, they are far from the only ones. As I said, the Italians make hundreds of wines. And like all good wine countries, they also make some excellent Merlots, Cabernets and Chardonnays.  

The second most widely grown grape in Italy, second only to Sangiovese, is the Barbera grape. Barbera wines are becomming more popular in the US. These are rich red wines that are highly acidic with the flavors of black cherry. The traditional way to make them is without oak flavors, but that is changing, which may or may not be good, we will have to see what develops. Let’s hope for the best! 

Barolos Wines of Italy!   
While Tuscany is the Italian version of Napa, there are other great wine areas in Italy. The Piedmont area in Northern Italy is known for its red wines, especial those from the Nebbiolo grape which produces both Barolo and Barbaresco wines. Both of these wines are very robust reds, very dry and high in tannin, acidity and alcohol. And unlike most Italian wines they are full bodied with Barolos being the most full bodied. These wines are not for drinking young and should be aged at least 10 years.

The Dolcetto grape is also popular in the Piedmont. While the grape is somewhat sweet, the wines are dry, a little grapey and they have noticeable tannins. They are somewhat dry like Beaujolais that go well with food. 

Another exciting wine area is southern Italy. This region is hot and many of the wine grapes might do well in Texas. However you will not recognize the names of many of the grapes used in this region. One of my favorite restaurants in DC only sells wines from Southern Italy, and I only recognize a few of the grapes being used.  So each glass is a blind tasting, but it’s great fun and great wine! 

   Chinese Roasted Duck!

So take the time to try some Italian wines, you will like them, and they go well with all types of food. In fact, The Dallas Morning News recently picked several Italian wines as the best wines to drink with Chinese roasted duck. Italian wines are also fairly inexpensive and a great value for their quality.  So give them a try and have fun finding the ones you like, even if you never heard of the grape.



Cheers From a Munger Place "Wine" Porch Party!

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Talya's Story

I asked Talya to write about her experience with Boone's Farm wine when she was in high school. Boone's Farm is one of the gateway wines developed by the wine industry to get young people to move into wine. These wines are always sweet and you do not usually realize how much you are drinking.

I have a similar story from a Young Republican convention when I was in college. At the end of the convention there was a large reception where they were serving Cold Duck. Somehow I ended up with a magnum of that sweet bubbly I sat on the floor with a friend from NY and drank the whole bottle while watching the reception. The next morning my eyes would not open because they had sugar cubes in them. To this day I cannot stand the smell of Cold Duck. 

Below is Talya's story, I am sure you will enjoy it. And be sure to join and follow her very entertaining blog, grace grits and gardening, which is a wonderful read about life and growing up in a small town. 


Le Boone’s Farm and How Wine Became Popular

Le Boone's Farm!
In 1978, I was excited to attend my first prom. I was dating Steve, and he was a senior. Big man on campus. Life was good. He was looking cool in his light tan(!) tuxedo, and I was feeling pretty cute in my flowered, brown, Gunne Sax dress, which I loved. Looking back, it was truly heinous. After that last dance, our group of friends quickly changed into jeans and headed over the levee to the Mississippi River - to hang out and drink... In our tiny hometown in Northeast Arkansas, near the birthplace of Johnny Cash, activities were somewhat limited.

Country Kwencher  
Steve bought beer for himself and a bottle of Boone’s Farm for me. I didn't want no stinkin' beer - it was prom night, and I would be sophisticated on prom night, thank you very much. I would drink wine, for the first time. And, I had a choice of flavors - Country Kwencher (apple), or Tickle Pink. What? Tickle Pink?? What kind of name was that? I chose Kwencher. It was 100% pure, or so the label said. So that was good, right? Plus I liked the label, and I worked all night to peel it off in one piece - a souvenir to go with my romantic wrist corsage. It featured a picture of winery/farm house on it. Someday I would own a house just like the one on the Country Kwencher label. Wait and see.

Boone's Farm Wines 
All the boys parked their trucks in a circle and we laughed and talked and listened to Boston and Bad Company, enjoying our after prom cocktails. My Kwencher was going down easily - swig after swig – right out of the bottle. It was smooth - like apple juice. What’s the big deal? Ha, I’m a natural wine drinker. Finally, of course, I had to pee really bad. We country girls just peed behind a bush - even on prom night. No biggie. But I could barely stand up, which gave me a case of the giggles.  Maybe I had been drinking Tickle Pink after all?

I didn’t drink for a while after that but when I did, Boone's Farm was my wine of choice for several years. It was the teenage gateway wine, paving the way to Blue Nun and Rossi. Sadly, Country Kwencher has now retired, but there are lots of new flavors available to usher in new drinkers daily. Maybe I will buy a bottle and check it out? It comes with great memories. 



Musical Pairings:

Bad Company, "Bad Company"
UB40, "Red Red Wine"

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Friday, April 6, 2012


Your Neighborhood Italian Wine Shop

Our Neighborhood Italian Wine Shop
Every neighborhood needs a quaint little grocery store or wine shop to call their own and help define their community. And everyone in Munger Place and East Dallas for that matter, knows ours is Jimmy’s. It’s a great little Italian grocery store with wonderful meatballs, meats, cheeses, antipasto and sandwiches. 

If you haven’t noticed, which would be impossible, they also have Italian wines, only Italian wines. With over 500 different wines they probably have the largest collection of Italian wines in Dallas.  And that wine collection has made them famous with Italian wine makers and distributors.

Jimmy's has over 500 Italian wines!
People from all over the Dallas area visit Jimmy’s, and Saturdays are extremely busy, so I somewhat hate suggesting you go then, but hey, what’s a crowd among friends. It’s great seeing everyone, and most people know that every Saturday they have a free wine tasting from 11 until 1:30, and then they change wines and have another one from 1:30 until 4:00. You don’t get a lot of wine but a taste is a taste. And often they also have a little food tasting to go with the wine.

What I have been surprised to find out is that everyone does not know that they also have larger wine tastings during the week. They are a little “hit and miss” about when they happen, but when the DiCarlo’s hold one of their free tastings in the back “wine tasting room” you should make it a point to attend. Paul DiCarlo always has some antipasto to sample with the wines. What’s also different about these tastings is that they set up two or three tables and have multiple wines, often from different distributors and different wineries. These are usually during the week and take place in the early evening.

Jimmy's Wine Tastings!
Jimmy’s also brings in winemakers and winery owners from time to time for more formal wine tastings. By more formal I mean that everyone is seated and the winemaker/owner tells you about their wine. If you are new to Italian wines or even an old hand, these are fun and very informative. It’s a great way to enjoy wine while learning about a particular wine, its region and Italian wines in general. And at theses tastings, Paul usually out does himself with more of Jimmy’s antipastos. While these tastings are not free, they are not overly expensive.

Jimmy’s also has some great wine specials and closeouts. These wines are often sold for way under their list price, which can make them very inexpensive for some nice wines. To learn more about Jimmy’s wine tastings and their wine sales, you need to get on Jimmy’s email list. And if you love wine, you do need to be on this list!


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