Monday, May 25, 2020

Canyoning In Costa Rica With Desafio Adventure Company

Rappelling down a waterfall in Costa Rica

Canyoning combines rappelling, ziplining and splashing through scenic streams and gorges.

A New Adventure Sport

Ready for CanyoningDuring our recent trip to Costa Rica, which was BC (before coronavirus), we tried something completely new. While traveling we like adventure. Usually it is rafting, hiking, snorkeling or maybe ziplining. Costa Rica has a well-deserved reputation for adventure sports, so it was time for our initiation into canyoning.

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Canyoning, also known as canyoneering, is relatively new on the scene. It started as an exploration sport, like caving or mountaineering. It’s been around for 15 or 20 years.

Canyoning is the descent of a river system or gorge using various techniques including swimming, walking, rappelling, jumping and climbing. It’s the mashup of all those things that gives the sport its unique appeal.

Our adventure took place in the Arenal Volcano region of Costa Rica. The excursion organizer was Desafio Adventure Company, which we give high marks. From our lodgings at Hotel Campo Verde we were transported on a shuttle bus, then transferred to an open-air vehicle more suited to rough terrain.

Lost Canyon and its waterfalls were the setting for our first foray into canyoning. After getting outfitted with a harness with various dangling metal attachments, we got a safety briefing. After a short ramble through the woods, we reached the first rappelling station. This is only about 10 feet high, really a warm-up to make sure you feel comfortable on the larger waterfall rappels.

Canyoning in Costa RicaThey Want Us To Do What?

When we arrived at the next stop, my initial though was, “They want us to do what?” From the top of a 150-foot waterfall, a wooden platform looks out over a cascading waterfall and a flowing stream way down (to my eyes!) at the bottom.

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At this point I should mention that with our outfitter, safety is the top concern. You are securely hooked into a safety line and have a team of trained guides standing by. You can still expect a few butterflies as you stand on the top of the platform and the guide says, “Jump.”

Canyoning plungeYou control your descent by controlling the tension on the rappelling line as you descend. After clearing the rocks and splashing water at the top,  I was dangling in midair. At this point, I released the rappelling line and grabbed a black safety line. My rappel then turned into a zipline, as I whirred across the stream below and past the tropical rain forest foliage.

You can expect to get soaked during canyoning. We dressed in quick-dry clothes, a swimsuit and sport sandals. I lathered up with sunscreen, thinking I’d need to protect myself from the brilliant Costa Rican sun – but our activity was mainly in the shade of the rainforest.

Ready, Set, Plunge

We clamored over boulders and splashed along the rushing stream until the guide told us to halt. At this next point we would leap into a six-foot-deep pool of water. This isn’t something I would normally do with a hardhat and a heavy harness, but a helpful guide was there to lift me out after the immersion into the cool mountain water.

Although the waterfall rappels were certainly high points, just navigating through the stream in the midst of a lush rainforest was uber-cool. We were with a small group, so we had chances to talk about our thrills and spills of the day.

Human dam unleashedAs we balanced our way through the swiftly-flowing stream, I noticed one of the guides lying sideways in the stream. Odd, I thought, but the guide told us to keep hiking. His purpose became clear as we neared a narrow pathway cut through solid rock. The guide told us to sit and brace ourselves.

The chap we passed earlier was actually creating a human dam. On a signal, he moved out of position and released the torrent of water. We were battered with a rush of cold, frothing water that engulfed us. Quite a memory.

The highest waterfall is 200 feet and at this point we felt comfortable with the technique and could enjoy the ride so much more. I felt like a tropical bird soaring over the water and through the dense vegetation.

After the last waterfall, we were ready to ascend from the canyon and dry off. All that rappelling and zipping takes you down, down, down to the bottom of Lost Canyon. Back at base camp there was a chance to shower and dry off. We capped our experience with a delicious buffet meal at Desafio headquarters. Since the other members of our group were on a different tour, only three of us enjoyed the tropical feast. Almost a private gourmet meal!

We want to offer a tip of the cap to Green World Adventures which made the arrangements for transfers, lodging and excursions during our trip.

Canyoning is a great sport. Seek it out on your next travel adventure.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hanna 2014 Bismark Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, Moon Mountain District

Hanna 2014 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon Moon MountainAs big as a battleship, this delicious mountain Cabernet Sauvignon comes from one of our favorite AVAs.

Under The Spotlight

During our last visit to Sonoma, we had an exceptional visit to Hanna Winery. The spotlight event was a wine pairing lunch hosted by Christine Hanna that featured Hanna wines with some succulent dishes. For us, the spotlight shone brightest on the 2014 Bismark Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from the Moon Mountain District.

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Years ago we enjoyed wines from the Moon Mountain Vineyard. They were exceptional. When they closed, we lost our lifeline to wines from this exceptional area in the Mayacamas Mountains that lie between Napa Valley and Sonoma.

In 2013 the Moon Mountain District was established as an AVA. Although one of our favorite wineries was gone, wines created from that special terroir are still available. Hanna makes an impressive line of Moon Mountain AVA wines from their Bismark Mountain Vineyard, which is located in rugged terrain in the Mayacamas Mountains. The vineyard, located on the Sonoma side of Mt. Veeder, is so remote, there are no roads.

Vietnamese Shaking Beef

A Legendary Wine

We tasted and were blown away by the 2014 Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon. Last week we had a chance to open another bottle as we shared a virtual dinner with good friends Glorious T and The Cabernetor, who were with us on our trip to Hanna’s Alexander Valley tasting room.

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The Bismark Cabernet is as big as the legendary German battleship. With that in mind, we decanted the bottle for an hour.

The wine is dark ruby in color -- almost inky. We noticed some sediment in the decanter as we poured our first glass. Supple and elegant, the wine ripples with power. Sturdy tannins provide the underpinning for earthy and red fruit flavors. Baking spice, plums, and mountain brambles add interest to this mountain-style Cab. The body is full-plus and the intensity and finish are also big.

Hanna Bismark Cabernet With Shaking BeefOver The Moon

To accompany our Bismark Cab, the Green Dragon prepared Vietnamese Shaking Beef (you may know it as Bò lúc lắc). This is a dish of grilled beef tenderloin cubes mixed with peppers, onions and savory sauces served on a bed of lettuce. It gets its name from the the shaking of the pan as you grill the cubes of meat. The Bismark paired with this dish was enough to trigger euphoria.

This is a wine to buy in multiples. Get several bottles. Enjoy one now and let the others mellow and evolve. The 2014 vintage of the Bismark Cabernet Sauvignon was limited to 500 cases. The current vintage is 2016 and it retails for $70.

We were “over the moon” with this powerful yet elegant wine. Explore the moon with your own bottle.

Monday, May 18, 2020

NewAir Wine Fridge Delivers Cooling Comfort: A Review

NewAir 15 inch wine fridge is attractiveWe put the NewAir 24 in. Black Stainless Steel Wine Fridge to the test in our latest review.

A Forceful Rap

About 10 or 12 years ago we received a nice gift from our friends. It was an eight-bottle wine fridge that found its place in our wine cellar basement. When we relocated to North Carolina the trusty little fridge made its way with us, finally settling on the counter in the butler pantry.

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For a couple of years, the little unit was stocked with rosé and chilled white wines that could be grabbed when the mood struck or when my wife decided to have a bubble bath. For a few days a noticed a strained whirring sound. In the beginning, a slight rap on the top ended the noise and the faithful servant returned to its duty.

The dreadful day came, though, when even a forceful rap couldn’t rouse the aging machine. With no power and no alternative, the faithful fridge was retired to the electronics recycling center.

NewAir is easy to set upThe NewAir Is A Major Upgrade

The replacement is a major upgrade. The NewAir 15” Black Stainless Steel 29-Bottle Dual Zone Wine Fridge (SKU: NWC029SS01) was a joy from the glad moment I unpacked it. This is a beautiful looking unit. Mine is black with a stainless steel front door and handle.

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The assembly is a snap. The wooden shelves are inserted and the door handle attached. Along with a good wipe-down with warm water, it all can be accomplished in a few minutes. The instructions recommended that the fridge be allowed to settle for 24 hours before being plugged in. It was difficult, but finally the appointed time came.

Once plugged in, I was surprised how quickly the fridge cooled each zone to the appropriate temperature. The upper zone (for whites and sparkling) can be set between 40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The lower zone can be set between 50 and 66 degrees for reds. The top and bottom shelf give extra height for large Champagne or Pinot Noir bottles.

Bottles in NewAir wine fridgeThe NewAir wine fridge is cooled by a compressor and really delivers cooling power. By contrast, thermoelectric units can only cool the wine relative to the ambient room temperature. With the NewAir, my whites are ready to drink straight from the fridge.

Another pleasant surprise is the noise level. Having a couple of thermoelectric fridges, I expected the compressor to be noisy. Not so! The operation is very quiet – almost undetectable unless the house is completely silent.

Finding A Place For Your Bottles

The stated capacity is 29 bottles, but it will require some savvy bottle placement to achieve that. That capacity could probably be reached if all the wine were in Bordeaux-style bottles and placed head to toe on each shelf. I’ve got quite a few bottles of Pinot Noir, which have the wider Burgundy style bottles. Fifteen to 20 bottles will fit comfortably in the NewAir and several more with planning.

IMG_20200517_145746Technically, the NewAir pushes all the right buttons. It’s quiet. It cools swiftly. It can accommodate large sparkling wine bottles.

The NewAir 15” wine fridge really shines aesthetically, too. This is billed as a built-in wine fridge and I didn’t realize that it is a very attractive stand-alone unit as well. We had intended to place this under the counter in the butler pantry (and it still may end up there). It looks mighty nice in our dining room right now – and it is within arm’s reach. The blue LED lights are elegant and gives it a first-class look.

This is a well-crafted wine appliance that we’ve enjoyed greatly. We’re pleased to give it a high rating and recommendation.

Full disclosure: This wine fridge was received as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

La Petite Ferme 2013 The Verdict, Franschhoek

An anniversary dinner during COVID-19 lockdown? Here’s how we handled it.

The Verdict with stuffed pork tenderloinA Milestone Event During A Crisis

Celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary and a coronavirus lockdown don’t go hand in hand. Normally we’d be jetting to Paris and eating at an exclusive restaurant while I shower my wife with expensive gifts. Hmm, not quite, but we certainly would go out to a nice eatery for dinner. We also had planned a tour through national parks in Utah for this timeframe. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci couldn’t save this year’s celebration, though.

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Although confined to our home, we had a balmy day -- just perfect for a romantic dinner on the patio. The Green Dragon, my lovely and talented wife, started preparations for a wonderful meal. For hours she worked singlehandedly in the kitchen on this culinary masterpiece.

Meanwhile, I did the really hard work. I grated several tablespoons of cheese and had the all-important assignment of picking the wine. To my credit, I did procure a very nice bouquet of roses and bought the very last anniversary card in the store.

Pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, three cheese potatoes gratinA Menu To Savor

The menu was a masterpiece. The entree was pork tenderloin stuffed with spinach and mushrooms topped with a sherry cream sauce. Accompanying the meat was a perfectly crisped three-cheese potatoes gratin. For dessert, we enjoyed a beautiful vegan Berry Blackout cake with a chocolate strawberry sauce.

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The tablecloth was spread and the sun was shining as I uncorked our selected wine: The Verdict, 2013 vintage, from La Petite Ferme winery in Franschhoek, South Africa. We bought the wine during a tour of South African winelands five years ago.

After heading up winding mountain roads and navigating down a steep, narrow driveway, we came to La Petite Ferme. La Petite Ferme is a winery known not only for its wine but its fine cuisine. We were surprised to see we were the only car in the small parking lot.

We later learned that tastings were by appointment only. Graciously, the cellar manager agreed to do an informal tasting for us. What luck! The wines were inspired. We learned inside tales of making wine in South Africa, including how baboons would sneak down the hillsides to eat Chardonnay grapes. Apparently, they have refined taste.

La Petite Ferme 2013 The VerdictAnd The Verdict Is…

There were many well-crafted wines, but we decided on The Verdict when Sonja, our host, told us this was a wine that can “take it all through the night.” We carried it back from South Africa (along with many more) in a checked bag.

The Verdict is a luscious blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It is aged 17 months in oak. Five years of aging turned the wine into an even more amazing treat. The Cab Franc contributed spice and pepper to dark fruit and deep cherry flavors. It is soft and silky on the tongue. The wine is lively and vibrant, a testament to quality South African winemaking.

With meals like this, we just may make it through this crisis after all. Stay safe, everyone.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Kenwood 2013 Lone Pine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley

Kenwood 2013 Lone Pine Vineyard CabIt takes a special wine to rise to the occasion during these “unprecedented” times. We found a single vineyard Cab that meets the challenge.

Recalling A Sonoma Visit

About a month ago we started having a virtual dinner party with our good friends Cabernetor and Glorious T from Ohio. We relocated to North Carolina three years ago, but still get together for wine adventures and special occasions.

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Thanks to Zoom, we’ve been able to “share” dinner and wine on a weekly basis, despite the virus that’s wracking the country. Cabernetor came up with a great idea that is starting to pay great dividends. He suggested that we open the same bottle and that, if possible, it be a wine we purchased on a winery visit together.

We started the meal with a white wine or a rosé. It was pretty forgettable, but it was chilled and went with our dinner. Meanwhile, Cabernetor revealed that he had opened the Kenwood 2013 Lone Pine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that we each had picked up during a winery visit to Sonoma.

Wandering To The Lone Pine

Our first wine “evaporated” pretty quickly as we enjoyed dinner and convivial conversation. I wandered into the wine room and grabbed our bottle of the Lone Pine Cab – to the digital hoots and hollers coming from the computer screen. “That’s what I’m talking about,” said Cabernetor as I popped the cork.

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We had a great visit to Kenwood Vineyards and were joined by my cousin Mary and her husband Cleve.  We tasted a wide array of wines and toured the barrel room and production facility. Many people are familiar with the lower tier Kenwood wines that populate the grocery store shelves, but are unaware that the winery produces higher priced and higher quality offerings.

We had a chance to taste their Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon, always a favorite of ours, as well as the 30th Anniversary 2006 Jack London Vineyard Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Flashing lights came on, though, when we tasted the 2013 Lone Pine Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This single vineyard Cab is the backbone of Kenwood’s famous Artist Series wine. While the Artist Series will set you back $75, the Lone Pine is an amazing buy at $44.

A Wine for The Times

Our visit to Kenwood was in 2018 and the two additional years of aging has only improved the Lone Pine. The grapes come from sandy-loam soil at the base of Sonoma Mountain. The wine is aged in French oak for 26 months – after that the best barrels are selected for the single vineyard bottling.

On the palate this has riffs of dried berries, coffee and leather. Tannins have started to integrate, but the wine has legs to go another three years with style. It’s a big wine with 14.5% ABV.

For us, it wasn’t just a bottle of wine. We uncorked a earlier time, filled with jokes and hugs, toasts and no facemasks. This is a great wine for the times. We also recommend you explore the other wines in the Kenwood Single Vineyard series – available online if you can’t find it in your wine shop.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Bodega San Valero Delivers Cariñena Wine Goodness To The World

Located in the Aragón region of Spain, Bodegas San Valero is both a historic winery and a pioneering wine group that includes 500 winegrowers.

Celebrities Garnacha with Patatas Bravas75 Harvests

In 1944 a group of 60 winegrowers in Cariñena, who mainly produced bulk wine, founded Cooperativa Vinícola San Valero. Seventy-five harvests later, that number has grown to 500 members who are focused on technology and vineyard management to produce quality wines.

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Cooperatives allow grape growers to band together to share production facilities and market their wines more efficiently. Under the banner of Bodega San Valero, Cooperativa Vinícola San Valero has been exporting its wine for 25 years reaching more than 30 countries.

Bodega San Valero and its partners cultivate more than 8,500 acres on a high plateau in the Cariñena wine region. The vineyards are planted at 2,600-foot altitude with a significant diurnal temperature swing and cool, dry Cierzo winds from the north. The conditions, along with mostly stony soil, result in wines with fresh minerality, structure and deep expression.

During our recent #winestudio education program we were able to experience the breadth and quality of the Bodega San Valero wines. Our culinary team created outstanding dishes to pair with these Spanish beauties.

Gran Ducay Rosé with Lump Crab CakeCava In Cariñena?

We flagged Cariñena as an up and coming region in a recent story. We love Spanish wines and bottles from Cariñena display variety and an ever-improving quality. What caught me off-guard was learning that Cava is produced in the region.

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During my visit to Spain, I toured wineries in Penedès – the home of Spain’s famous sparkling Cava. Ninety-five percent of Spanish Cava originates in Catalonia – but it is produced in Cariñena as well. Bodegas San Valero has several labels, including Grand Ducay, which is its Cava brand.

We sampled the Grand Ducay Brut Nature Blanco and Rosado. Both are made in the traditional method with fermentation in the bottle. The Blanco is made with Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel.lo, traditional Cava grapes. The Rosado, a beautiful rosé sparkler, is made with Garnacha (Grenache).

Paired with Maryland-style lump crab cake, tri-color potatoes and roasted broccoli and cauliflower, both wines were delicious. At a price tag of $11 SRP, these are affordable enough to make any day special with bubbles.

Celebrities - Garnacha and CariñenaDon’t Forget The Garnacha

One of the hallmarks of the wine revolution in Cariñena is the diversity of grapes and wines produced. You best not forget the reputation of the region was built on Garnacha and its namesake grape, though.

We uncorked wines from three different vintages: The Celebrities 2019 Garnacha, Celebrities 2016 Old Vines Garnacha and the 2017 Cariñena. Our culinary team whipped up gazpacho, rosemary grilled lamb chops and vegan Patatas Bravas.

The 2019 Garnacha is smooth and accessible, while the Cariñena is a spicy and engaging wine. Formerly a workhorse grape added to blends, the Celebrities single varietal Cariñena shows it can shine on its own. My favorite was the Old Vines Garnacha – the extra aging and select vines make this refined and elegant. All three of these bottles retail for $15, an amazing value.

International Varieties Emerge

Our Cariñena education continued as we uncorked a quartet of bottles featuring international varieties. Featured wines were the 2018 vintages of the Celebrities Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. We capped our tasting adventure with 500 Manos, a special Bordeaux-style blend. Affordability is the byword in Cariñena, with the Celebrities Merlot, Syrah and Cab just $15 and 500 Manos $5 more.

Culinary team was wowed by Celebrities SyrahFor the Celebrities wines we dined on Estofado de Carne con Verduras, Spanish beef stew with vegetables. We also enjoyed Papas Aliñás, Andalusian-style potatoes popular as tapas. The 2018 Celebrities Merlot has warm notes of red berries, cherry and cedar with noticeable tannins. Certainly a step up in complexity from a simple Merlot. The Cabernet has a black fruit profile with blueberry, cassis and blackberry. There are loose tannins and a smooth texture.

The culinary team (and I) picked the Syrah as the favorite of this trio. It has bold flavors of plum and raisin with some spice on the back end.

The 500 Manos is a special bottle. Its label has a close-up photo of a hand (“manos” is hands in Spanish) clenching some soil. The 500 hands represent members of the cooperative.

It is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. This is a limited production of 98,000 bottles and Bottle #56 sure tasted fine. It has an initial rush of ripe berries and rhubarb followed by dusty earth notes and beautiful tannins. An expressive and refined wine – it is usually shared just with the Bodegas San Valero partners.

Not only did we enjoy a tour of Cariñena wine – but grand epicurean tastings as well. Our meal for the 500 Manos was NY Strip Steak served with Thai Green Chile Pesto, lemon-parsley potatoes and grilled corn with lime compound butter. The wine and meal were spectacular.

The wines of Bodega San Valero pulse with the flavors of adventure and life. They are fun, affordable and eminently food-friendly. Explore these tasteful Spanish wines and unlock a new experience.

500 Manos - Bodega San Valero

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Celebrating NC Wine Month With Raffaldini 2015 Grande Riserva

Raffaldini 2015 Grande RiservaMay is now North Carolina Wine Month. There’s a lot to celebrate – here’s why…

Drink NC Wine

There are several good reasons why you should be drinking North Carolina wine now. Especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, NC wine is a tasty treat that can elevate your day and make it something special. Not only that, but this is North Carolina Wine Month – a time to celebrate the fruits of the vine in the Tar Heel State. Your support is more important than ever as local wineries face daunting financial challenges.

Last week we participated in Open That Bottle of North Carolina Wine Night – NC Wine Month Edition with the NC Wine Guys. The event took place on Zoom and was live-streamed on Facebook Live. It was a splendid chance to hear from North Carolina winemakers and an industry representative as well as taste some great NC wine with other wine influencers.

NC Wine Month ZoomWine Is Big Business In North Carolina

Tourism is big in North Carolina, but people aren’t just coming to visit the mountains, rivers and beaches. The most recent industry figures estimate the number of tourists coming to visit NC wineries at more than 1.9 million. They’re spending money too, with $319 million spent in 2016.

There’s plenty to see and experience. There are more than 400 vineyards and 200 wineries in the state. It’s a big business with $375 million spent in wine-related wages, according to the latest figures. All that is at risk right now, a result of the travel and business restrictions during the current worldwide health crisis.

Why Your Help Is Needed Now

According to Whit Winslow, executive director of the NC Wine and Grape Council, winery sales have dropped more than 80% as customers and tourists have restricted travel under stay-at-home orders. A large percentage of NC wineries depend on tasting room sales – and those tasting rooms are currently closed. Even the wineries with wholesale distribution are feeling the bite as restaurants remain shuttered or are limited to take-out.

Wineries have been creative in dealing with this unprecedented situation. More than 90% of state wineries are offering some sort of reduced pricing, 80% have curbside pickup and 70% have special direct-to-consumer deals. Even so, wineries and wine lovers are itching for the reopening – safely – of wineries and tasting rooms.

Raffaldini In DecanterWhen Will NC Wineries Reopen?

Winslow says the reopening date in uncertain, but appears to be at least a month away. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order expires May 8 and he is hopeful that the state can begin a cautious reopening thereafter. All the metrics need to be pointing in the right direction, however.

Phase I of the reopening will look much the same as the current state of affairs, except more businesses can open with reduced capacity and other restrictions. Phase II might follow two or three weeks later. That’s when winery tasting rooms could reopen, but the capacity of tasting rooms will be limited and social distancing spacing will be in force. The specifics of these requirements have yet to be defined.

Some normalcy, albeit a “new normal,” will return under Phase III. Wineries are intently focused on this phase because it might mean that festivals and special events will return. The ups and downs of the coronavirus tragedy shows that nothing is certain about how and when Phase III will take place.

Vintage Of The Decade

There’s never a good time for a lockdown, but this restriction is happening during what many NC winemakers and grape growers consider the vintage of the decade. Winemaker Jeff Frisbee of Addison Farm Vineyard says wine lovers should try to collect 2019 vintage wines from as many NC wineries as they can – the growing year was that good.

For our wine discussion, I reached back to the 2015 vintage with Raffaldini Vineyards Grande Riserva. Due to the price tag ($55 for the 2017 vintage), we were unable to taste this wine in the tasting room during our last visit. So, untasted, we purchased a bottle and laid it down. The wait was worth it.

Raffaldini, a destination winery in the Swan Creek AVA in Yadkin Valley, has a tagline of “Chianti in the Carolinas.” Their focus is on Italian varieties and the Grande Riserva is a bold blend of 44% Montepulciano, 34% Petit Verdot and 22% Sagrantino. This is a big wine with 16.2% ABV.

The wine is lush with deep, raisinated berry flavors and savory sour cherry. It’s an expansive wine, requires decanting and evolves in the glass.

So too the situation with NC wineries is evolving. The NC Wine Guys have compiled a database of NC wineries, meaderies and cider producers showing their current status (discounts, curbside pickups, online shopping) during the COVID-19 crisis.

We hope to see you at an NC tasting room soon, but in the meanwhile, celebrate NC Wine Month by buying a bottle or case. Your support will help ensure that your favorite local winery will be there after the pandemic is over.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Tasty Product Line Helps Everyone Love Their Veggies

Plant Junkie LineupPlant Junkie offers a line of vegan dressings, spreads and vinaigrettes.

By Rachel Nershi

A Twist On A Classic

As a long-time vegan, cook/baker, and certified Vegan Health Coach, I am always excited to see new plant-based products and companies popping up. One brand that I’ve recently discovered is Plant Junkie and their line of spreads, dressings, and vinaigrettes. Their playful packaging is eye-catching and clearly labels their products as 100% plant-based, gluten-free, and non-GMO. After checking out the ingredient list, I was sold and ready to dive in and give them a try.

Pad Thai, baked wontons, and broccoli slaw dressed with Chili Pomegranate vinaigretteNever Miss A Beat – Follow Vino-Sphere On Facebook

Turmeric Black Pepper Ranch is a fun twist on a classic. With the anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric as a bonus, I knew it was going to be good. It has a creamy, pourable consistency and a pretty golden color. The unique flavor profile features turmeric, black pepper and a nicely balanced acidity level. I love it on spinach salad and as a dip for raw veggies. Now I find myself craving this non-traditional Ranch dressing all the time!

Vegan Love

Next, I put the Spread & Dressing to the test, which is their plant-based mayo-style spread made from avocado oil. I have come to love vegan mayo for its versatility in creating creamy sauces and dressings, so I had high hopes for this better-ingredient version. Right off the bat, I noticed the smooth and spreadable texture was perfect for sandwiches and burgers.

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I also used it in a dressing for coleslaw, which was a delicious success. Since traditional mayo is made from eggs and oil, it contains cholesterol and is high in calories and fat. This version is cholesterol-free and the avocado oil is a healthy fat that you don’t have to feel guilty about.

Plant Junkie and Salad

Tangy Plus Mellow Equals?

Plant Junkie also has a couple unique vinaigrettes in their line-up, and I tried them both. The Thai Peanut Vinaigrette has a smooth creamy consistency from peanuts and has a little zing and heat to it. The Chili Pomegranate Vinaigrette is equally tangy, with mellow heat from chilies and the slight sweetness of pomegranate. These interesting vinaigrettes will ensure that your salads are fun and flavorful.

After trying these new-to-me products, I can say that I’m proud to support this company that seems to genuinely care about providing items made with quality ingredients that are good for us. Many of Plant Junkie’s products feature avocado oil, apple cider vinegar, chia seeds, coconut aminos, and a few are lightly sweetened with coconut palm sugar. I can recognize every ingredient on the label, and can tell that they have not been highly processed. As a health coach, I would 100% recommend their products to my clients or anyone who wants to jazz up their salads, sandwiches, and more with the tasty products that Plant Junkie has to offer.

Rachel Nershi is a professional cook and baker and certified Vegan Health Coach. You can learn more about her and plant-based lifestyle coaching at:

Full disclosure: These products were received as marketing samples.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Goose Watch Winery: Finger Lakes Winery Visit


Looking for a spectacular lakefront view during your wine tour of the Finger Lakes? Check out Goose Watch Winery on Cayuga Lake.

IMG_20190909_124523Cayuga Lake Beckons

When you next travel to the Finger Lakes, and we hope it is soon, do not skip Cayuga Lake. Since we lived in the Toledo area for many years, we’d travel to New York coming from the west. That means we’d first hit Keuka Lake, then Seneca Lake, and the next major stop is Cayuga.

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In fact, some visitors never make it past the first two. Shame on them! The Cayuga Lake Wine Trail has the distinction of being the first wine trail in the nation. Cayuga is often less crowded than Seneca and offers some of the best wineries in the whole region -- including one of our favorites: Goose Watch Winery.

Goose Watch has one of the most magnificent lakefront views of any winery in this region known for its spectacular scenery. The tasting room, situated in a beautifully restored century-old barn, has a deck that overlooks the sparkling Cayuga Lake. In fact, if you are nautically inclined, there is a boat dock there and you can take a winery tour traveling by boat.

A Taste For The Unusual

Before you shove off, there is plenty to enjoy at Goose Watch. The winery is known for unusual wines so you can enjoy your pick from rare white grape varieties that include Diamond, Aromella, and Melody. Reds include offbeat options such as Noiret, Chambourcin, and, up-and-coming star in the region -- Lemberger.

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It was a warm sunny fall day when we pulled up to the tasting room and COVID-19 had not yet reared its head. Our trusty band of tasters included my wife (Green Dragon) and our good friends Cabernetor and Glorious T.

The arrival experience at Goose Watch is always a great one. It is nestled into one of the only commercial chestnut groves in the region. Flowers and great views put you in a cheerful mood as you walk to the tasting room.

In warmer weather, we like to kick off our tastings with some chilled rosé. Sparkling rosé is even better! First out of the bottle was the 2017 Pinot Noir Brut Rosé. This is a dry bubbly with subtle notes of strawberry and vanilla.

Goose Watch WineryThe next taste was a surprise. You don’t expect to find a Viognier in a Finger Lakes tasting room, it’s extremely rare in this New York region. This is a beautiful expression of the grape. The growing season allows this white grape to ripen slowly and develop a mélange of flavors including tropical fruit and peach. It’s dry with deep delicious flavors.

We enjoyed yet another rosé, this one the 2017 made with Cabernet Franc. This is a more robust rosé with berry flavors. This is food-friendly and loaded with refreshment.

Red Refreshment

Moving to the red side of the spectrum, we had the 2016 Noiret. Noiret is a hybrid grape developed at Cornell University (one of the top wine research schools in the country). The grape was specially developed for the colder climate of the US northeast. The tannins are soft and there is a bit of herbaciousness along with a smokiness and dark cherry.

Chambourcin is a red grape that makes outstanding wines in the Finger Lakes. The Goose Watch 2015 Chambourcin has flowing raspberry flavors with a pleasant tartness. The 2012 Merlot Reserve is made with the best barrels of the vintage and in our judgment was good, but not great. At $30 SRP, it is one of the higher-priced bottles while most wines are less than $20.

We closed out with a grape we’d never tried and, in fact, never heard of before: Aromella. Aromella is one of the newest grapes from Cornell, being released in 2013. One of its forbearers is Traminette. Goose Watch’s wine is the first single-varietal bottling of Aromella.

The 2016 Aromella is semi-dry and has a pop of sweetness on the palate. The bouquet is floral and there are flavors of pineapple and citrus. This unique wine is only $12.99.

We prefer dry wines, but Goose Watch has a wine for every taste whether its dry, semi-dry or very sweet. There’s sparkling wine, still wine, dessert wine, and even cider. The tasting room experience is grand. Then we suggest a stroll out to the deck to enjoy the view with a glass of wine.

Goose Watch is the complete winery experience -- memorable scenery, quality wines, and friendly staff. Put them on your list to visit during your next Finger Lakes swing.

Friday, April 24, 2020

What’s In Your Glass? We Share Our Recent Wine Picks

Piccione and Youngberg Hill

WIYG? That’s a question we are often asked. Here’s a look at what we’re sipping.

Piccione 2014 Montepulciano, Swan Creek

This Montepulciano isn’t from the vineyards of Abruzzo, Italy, but from North Carolina. Piccione is a boutique winery that specializes in Italian grape varieties. During the COVID-19 lockdown, we participated in Open That Bottle of North Carolina Wine Night to salute the great wines from the Old North State and encourage you to “drink local.” This deeply colored wine has sturdy tannins and swirls of plum, black cherry and chocolate. An all-round winner at an SRP of $25.

Youngberg Hill 2015 Natasha Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Youngberg Hill’s Natasha vineyard block is named after the oldest daughter of the winemaker. We opened this during our last road trip before the pandemic hit – and had the chance to share it with our good friends the Cabernetor and Glorious T. This is Willamette Valley Pinot at its finest – luscious raspberry and black cherry combine with a riffle of spice in a savory and smooth wine. SRP of $50.

Acha Boundary Breaks BV

Mark Herold Wines 2008 Acha Red, California

This is a wine that I stumbled across in the cellar and said, “Hmm, didn’t realize I still had this!” I bought three bottles a number of years ago and drank one in 2014 and the last one six years later. What a difference a few years can make. This is a Tempranillo blend and back in 2014 the tannins were hard as nails and rugged. The last bottle had tannins that melted beautifully into an expressive wine rife with cherry, cedar and oak. It was luxurious on the palate and worth the wait. I paid $30 per bottle.

Boundary Breaks 2018 Riesling Dry #239, Finger Lakes

We picked this bottle up during our first visit to Boundary Breaks, a Finger Lakes winery winning national acclaim for its Riesling. The “239” refers to the clone number. This wine, uncorked during a virtual dinner party, has balanced fruit and acidity. There’s plenty of finesse with delightful lime notes and minerality. Residual sugar is just a whisper at 0.7%. SRP is $22.95.

Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour 2016 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Our friend the Cabernetor didn’t earn his nickname by chance. He loves his big, bold Napa Cabs.  This bottle was uncorked for his landmark birthday dinner. It’s an expressive and impressive wine. The fruit comes from the famed Rutherford AVA in Napa and the resulting wine is rich and full-bodied. It’s a juicy wine bursting with blueberries and blackberries with a thin edge of spice. Graceful vanilla and toast notes highlight the long finish. A true jewel from Napa Valley! SRP is $145.