Monday, December 5, 2016

Top Three Wine Lover Books For Christmas

What do you give a wine lover for Christmas – aside from more wine? Here are three outstanding books they will love!

Top Books For Wine Lovers

Corkscrew by Peter Stafford-Bow

This novel is billed as “the improbable but occasionally true, tale of a professional wine buyer.” It is a madcap romp that covers wine adventures from South Africa to Italy to the back alleys of Britain. It follows the cheeky adventures of Felix Hart from his expulsion from school to his rise as wine buyer for a major supermarket chain.

There is a leopard attack, a fatal stampede, human trafficking and enough consumption of high end wine to keep wine lovers flipping the pages to the end. One of the most interesting features is Felix’s efforts to earn the coveted “Minstrel of Wine” certification. This involves tasting and identifying more than a hundred wines and then putting on a performance of classical music. The results are hilarious.

This book gets a big thumbs up from me. Please note that this is not for youngsters or those easily offended. It includes plenty of wine, women and gunplay.

Corkscrew is published by I AM Self Publishing and is available for $12.99 on Amazon or your local bookstore.

Vertical: Passion and Pinot On The Oregon Wine Trail by Rex Pickett

What wine lover doesn’t know Sideways by Rex Pickett? The movie adaptation won more than 350 film critic awards as it followed the adventures of Miles and Jack in California wine country. Some may recall it as the movie that torpedoed Merlot sales.

The good news is that Miles and Jack are back in the saddle, this time taking their antics to Oregon. Times have changed. Miles is now a successful author and Jack is a down on his luck alcoholic with his best days in his rear view mirror.

There are over-the-top moments aplenty, including Miles nearly drowning in a vat of Merlot at the International Pinot Noir festival. Vertical is published by Loose Gravel Press and is available on Amazon or your local bookstore for $14.95 in paperback. As in the original, adult themes abound.

But First, Champagne: a Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine by David White

You’ve gotta love the title – But First, Champagne. We agree with that sentiment and can confidently recommend this book as a good companion as you sip a bottle of bubbly

David White weaves history, winemaking knowledge and information on the region into his attractive hardcover book. Wine lovers will found something not generally included in wine books: detailed narrative on subregions of Champagne including Montagne de Reims, Vallee de la Marne, Cotes des Blancs and The Aube. If you don’t know the three grapes that make up Champagne, shame on you. You can read about Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier in the book.

You’ll also find profiles of the regions leading producers and insight into the “grower” Champagne trend. Perhaps my favorite inclusion is the history of sabrage (sabering open Champagne) and a step by step guide to doing it.

Nicely illustrated with photos, this is a great gift for Christmas. But First, Champagne is published by Skyhorse Publishing and sells for $29.99 on Amazon or your local bookseller.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Campo Viejo 2014 Rioja

Campo Viejo TempranilloRioja is one of the most famous wines of Europe. Smooth flavors and low tannins make this a popular wine around the globe.

Star Grape Of Rioja

Rioja was the first Spanish wine region to rise to the highest level of Denominación de Origen Calificada, or DOCa. Today it is one of only two regions to achieve that distinction.

The rise to the top of the Spanish wine world is powered by the Tempranillo grape. Nowhere else are wines crafted with this elegance and flair.

We’ve come to appreciate Tempranillo because it can produce a medium to medium-light bodied wine with some delicate flavor notes. At times heavy, tannic wines can be a drag – especially when it comes to pairing with food.

A Nice Introduction to Ull de Llebre

Ull de Llebre is on of the half dozen or so synonyms for Tempranillo. That’s your wine insider tip of the week. If you are passing through northeastern Spain, you’ll know what to order. Loosely translated, it means “eye of the hare.”

Closer to home, my wife popped open the Campo Viejo with a plate of olives and some cheese. Nice move! In Madrid and Barcelona, tapas and small plates are the rule – along with outstanding Spanish wine.

This Campo Viejo Tempranillo retails for $9.99 and is one of their entry level wines. They also offer Riserva and Gran Riserva versions of Tempranillo which have longer aging requirements. American oak barrels are part of the signature flavor profile of Rioja – but this bottle is very light on the oak.

It offers medium to light body – on par with a Pinot Noir. There are flavors of strawberry, vanilla and spice. In Rioja grapes from the three subregions – Rioja Baja, Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa – are traditionally blended together. A regulatory council ensures that all wines in the region follow strict production rules to ensure a consistent Rioja product. The Campo Viejo is an easy drinking wine that pairs well with food and is ideal for casual occasions. It also is perfect for wine lovers who dislike heavy, ponderous wines.

We suggest this bottle of Camp Viejo wine as a launching point for a tour of Tempranillo. It’s a solid value and should entice you to sample different types of Tempranillo (like Crianza or Reserva) and Tempranillo from other regions as well. Tempranillo is one of the world’s greatest grapes – we think you’ll agree.

Full Disclosure: This wine was received as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Barton & Guestier 2015 Vouvray

A touch of sweetness and a crisp chill. Vouvray is a “go to” wine any time of year.

B&G VouvrayYou’re Still The One

Our personal wine journey began with sweeter white wines, especially German Riesling. Over the years my palate recalibrated and our taste ranged to drier wines. Along the way Green Dragon and I discovered Vouvray as an excellent wine to pair with a dinner out – especially with seafood.

With our first sip of Vouvray, we glanced at each other and proclaimed, “This is really good.” Indeed it was – and is! My love for Vouvray and the Chenin Blanc grape from which it is made has never waivered. To simply roll the name off the lips conjures images of mouth-watering refreshment.

This all came back into focus last weekend. We were in North Carolina strolling Main Street in Apex, when we stopped at Provincial for lunch. The sun was streaming down and temperatures were in the 70s. We nabbed a bistro table outside and perused the menu.

I opted for a gourmet burger with homemade potato chips (although to call those crispy gems that is a disservice). Green Dragon selected the more healthy fish and salad. I discovered a nice wine list on the back and ordered a glass of Barton & Guestier Vouvray.

French Savoir Faire

I know! What was I doing ordering a chilled white wine with a meaty burger? Having a grand time is what. I was pairing the wine with a lovely Indian Summer afternoon in a funky Carolina town and the pairing was spot on. B&G Vouvray offers generous fruit with a dollop of sweetness. It was perfect on this warm day, but it pairs so well with food that it would be a shame not to drink it year-round.

Vouvray hails from the Loire Valley of France, just east of Tours. It is made with Chenin Blanc, which is high in acidity. Vouvray can be finished dry or very sweet. The best are medium sweet to help balance out the acidity. Vouvray can also be produced as a sparkling wine. I’ve had versions with just a tickle of fizz, the slightly sparkling “petillant,” and it was wonderful.

The B&G Vouvray is widely available and is priced around $12. That’s a rock-solid deal. Vouvray has an appeal to a wide range of wine lovers. It’s a change of pace from Chardonnay. Plus, you become cooler just by pronouncing “Vouvray!”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dave Phinney Locations Wines: AR, E and F

When Dave Phinney launches a new project, he has our attention. With this series of wines, he aims to capture the essence of the world’s greatest winemaking regions.

Location Wines - Dave Phinney's New Project

The Prisoner Freed

Dave Phinney could probably rest on his laurels. After all, he is the winemaker who created the phenomenally successful wine, The Prisoner.

Phinney later crafted one of our favorite wines, a 100% Grenache called Shatter in a partnership with Joel Gott. His latest project is Locations, wherein he attempts to blend a wine across all major appellations to represent the country of origin. That’s a rather ambitious undertaking – so we thought we needed to check his results!

French and Spanish Blends by Dave PhinneyYou Know Those Enigmatic Bumper Stickers…

If you spend a lot of time in the car, like me, you no doubt have seen the oval bumper stickers representing a location. It might be GB for Great Britain, DE for Germany or OBX for the Outer Banks. Phinney saw an F sticker at the Charles de Gaulle airport and it gave him an epiphany.

His vision was to produce a range of wines across all of the major wine regions of the world, producing a wine that pays homage to their home land without compromise and without boundaries. There were no compromises on my end! I packed up my AR, F and E (Argentina, France and Spain) and trundled off to a rustic cabin weekend with some friends.

First to moisten the tasting glasses was Argentina. AR is a blend of Malbec from the Uco Valley in Mendoza along with a small quantity of Cabernet Sauvignon. We enjoyed this with a corn and ham casserole cooked on a wood-fired stove. This is a fine Malbec, with fruit forward goodness. It has rich flavors of brambles and jammy red fruit. The SRP is a tasty $17.99.

Spain is a proud country, and E wasn’t about to be shown up by a wine region from the New World. We uncorked Spain along with a Thanksgiving Day-style feast. Our wood-burning stove was being stoked for what seemed like half a day in order to generate the heat for our bird. We had turkey, stuffing (both the inside-the-bird and outside versions), braised Brussel sprouts, salad and butternut squash. Could the Spanish wine keep pace?

Location Wines By Dave PhinneyI visited Spain earlier this year – and this bottle brought it all back to me. It covers the outstanding regions of Priorat, Jumilla, Toro, Rioja, and Ribera del Duero. The grapes blended are  Garnacha, Tempranillo, Monastrell, and Cariñena. My guess is the Monastrell is from Jumilla, the Tempranillo from Rioja and Garnacha from Priorat. We’re told that there is ample representation from old vineyards.

This is a winning bottle, with lightness and balance. There are some pepper notes for accent, but smooth plums and raspberry make this a rewarding flavor ride. At $18.99 SRP, you are buying the best regions of Spain (although they’ll need to figure out how to highlight the great white and sparkling wines of the country).

The F Bottle

The F bottle (French that is!) got opened a few days later on Thanksgiving evening – back in the land of electricity. We were all rather full of turkey and football and we’re relaxing with some games and light snacks – cheese, crackers and the like.

The French wine is a mash-up of  Grenache, Syrah, and assorted Bordeaux varietals. I’d be interested in knowing what the other grapes are – although Grenache and Syrah are enough to whet my interest. The regions represented are Rhone, Roussillon, and Bordeaux.

Of the three wines, this was my least favorite. While still enjoyable, it seemed nervy. Just a bit too much heat and tannins for me. The alcohol level is 15%, which is about the highest you’ll see on a label of unfortified wine The exact blend isn’t shared, but I’d prefer a bit more Grenache (for smoothness) and perhaps a bit less from Roussillon, which lags behind Rhone and Bordeaux. Still, at $18.99 it is a good buy – especially if you are aiming to fill out your alphabet collection!

There are plenty more Locations to explore: Italy, Portugal, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, a French rosé, California white and a Corsican white. These bottles have great visual appeal and pique the curiosity. We suggest that you embark to new Locations in the near future!

Full Disclosure: We received these wines as marketing samples.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

With Little Black Dress Wines, It’s Party Time!

LBD

Little Black Dress wines target women with a playfully fun image and value pricing.

While The Cat’s Away…

I recently was out of town for an annual get-together with friends at a rustic cabin. For some reason, a cabin with no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing didn’t appeal to my wife.The cabin has an outhouse, is in the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone (no cell phones or Internet) and the temperatures were expected to plunge into the 20s.

The Green Dragon eyed my shipment of Little Black Dress wines. She declared that while I was hauling wood for the fireplace 500 miles away, she and her friends would have a Little Black Dress party.

The Stylish Lineup

LBD 01The lineup of wines included the LBD Pinot Grigio, Merlot and Diva Red. All three of the LBD wines are from the statewide California appellation, meaning grapes can come from any region within the state.

This was a testosterone-free event (no men) and so I wasn’t at the party. But I do have to give kudos to Little Black Dress for their current design. Previously the bottles had a label with a clothes hanger and a pair of high heels. Nothing wrong with that, but as a guy, I certainly wasn’t going to drink it. The label today sports a stylish script LBD and looks clean and contemporary.

Green Dragon says, “Most times you pick wine out for a party – but these wines create the party.” She resisted my suggestion earlier in the week to open and try one bottle. If you have multiple bottles of LBD wine, that creates a real party atmosphere and gives the ladies an excuse to wear their little black dresses.

Our daughter Rachel was in town and assisted with the food preparation. The tasty treats included parmesan shrimp, cheesy olive twists, charcuterie, pesto stuffed mushrooms, port wine cheese and plenty of veggies.

The Wine Experience

LBD Party TimeThe LBD wines are crafted at the company’s Mendocino County winery. The winemaker is a woman, Margaret Leonardi. The lineup includes six different wines.

The Pinot Grigio also has small amounts of Chardonnay, Muscat and Viognier. It’s light and fruity and pairs well with seafood or dishes with soy sauce bases.

Diva Red is primarily a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan and Petite Sirah – some very tasty grapes. It also includes lesser amounts of Zinfandel, Tannat, Mourvedre, Garnacha and Malbec. This sounds like a red grape party in a bottle. This is a smooth sipper with round berry notes. This will go well with a variety of meat dishes or spicy cuisine.

Merlot is a soft, silky grape and the LBD version also includes a small amount of Petit Sirah. You can expect toasty oak, red cherry and a dash of vanilla on the finish. This pairs well with a variety of dishes including hearty meat entrees.

The price point for these wines is $11.99, so its easy to stage an LBD party. The wines are easy drinking and promote a fun atmosphere. As LBD suggests, a good bottle of wine is the best fashion accessory.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Holman Ranch 2013 Virgin Chardonnay, Carmel Valley

Holman Chard 1Not a fan of big buttery Chardonnay? Try an un-oaked version for a delicate, food-friendly treat.

Fire Of The Dragon

My wife’s nickname is the Green Dragon. I’ll have to devote an entire post to how she got that name. But that’s sometime in the future.

All you really need to know is that she occasionally lives up to that title. Nothing makes her breathe fire more than a very oaky Chardonnay. I’m OK with it on occasion, but in general I prefer less oak finishing with the white wines. Too often the heaviness obscures the delicate notes of flavor.

She recently prepared Mahi-Mahi with a lemon scallion cream sauce, steamed kale and sweet potatoes. The pairing was a 2013 Virgin Chardonnay from Holman Ranch.

Dialing Down The Oak

Holman Chard 2When we sat down to dinner and drank our first toast of the evening, a smile crossed the Green Dragon’s face. This Virgin Chardonnay is a delight. The flavors are pure, unimpeded by French, American or Hungarian oak. It’s just you and the Chardonnay grapes. Holman Ranch is certified organic and sustainable, so the grapes are just as nature intended – if nature were a vineyard manager who obsessed over quality fruit, that is.

Mahi-Mahi is a mild fish and the wine blended nicely with it and the cream sauce. I like kale, but I have my limits. The kale flavors were washed away by the joyous Chardonnay. The wine begins with a flourish of citrus flavors and finishes with bright but soft texture on the palate.

Virgin Chardonnay is another winning bottle from Holman Ranch. We recommend it for Chardonnay lovers and those who shy away from the oaky variety. The price is also easy to swallow. At just $23 SRP, its a great value for a California Chardonnay.

Full disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Federalist 2014 Dueling Pistols, Dry Creek Valley

The Federalist

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr and died from his injuries. Dueling Pistols wine uses no gunpowder but does have a nice kick.

Grapes Instead Of Guns

This has been one contentious political season. Ohio is considered a battleground state, so we were under constant assault by a barrage of political ads – television, internet, radio, mailers, you name it.

While I listed to music on Spotify, President Obama even put in a plug for Hillary. With the depths of incivility displayed during the campaign, we’re lucky Trump and Clinton didn’t “go all Aaron Burr” on each other and demand a duel.

Federalist Vineyards is owned and managed by Terlato Wines. The brand features historic images of great Americans such as Hamilton, the most famous Federalist in US history. Federalist focuses on estate grown wines with an emphasis on Zinfandel.

Although the label displays a pair of dueling pistols, the only dueling going on is between grapes. The wine is a 50-50 blend of Zinfandel and Syrah.

Fire When Ready!

The grapes come from one of our favorite wine regions, Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma. The vineyards are just off the Russian River shore.

The Zin and the Syrah are fermented separately and free run juice is used. Free run is considered the best ingredient of wine, as opposed to the juice that comes later from pressing the skins and seeds, which can add harsher flavor. Dueling Pistols also undergoes malolactic fermentation where malic acid is converted to lactic acid resulting in nice soft flavors.

Aging is 20% new American and Hungarian oak barrels. This adds some complexity without making it unapproachable. On the palate, I consider it bold yet smooth. Both Syrah and Zinfandel can be assertive or mellow, depending on the winemaker. In this case there is enough adventure in the glass to be entertaining without any harsh edges that might offput some drinkers.

I’ve never considered Zinfandel and Syrah a natural pairing, like Syrah and Grenache or Cabernet and Merlot, but each glass is helping to change my mind. Dueling Pistols shows that it certainly works and the interplay between the grape duo provides a lot of bang for a $17.76 SRP.

Full Disclosure: We received this wine as a marketing sample.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Celebrate International Tempranillo Day

tempranillo_infographic-2It’s been an extraordinary week! No, we’re not talking about the US presidential election. On Monday it was International Merlot Day and now we are celebrating International Tempranillo Day. Depending on your calendar, it is either November 10 or November 12. We decided to split the difference and present this post today.

 

One Of Our Favorite Grapes

Tempranillo is a top pick for us because of its versatility. It packs a lot of flavor, but has a medium to light body – similar in weight to Pinot Noir but with a different flavor profile. We have a fair amount of Tempranillo growing in the US, but its home is the wonderful wine country of Spain. Tempranillo also represents a great value with a wide assortment of Tempranillo wines available at $15 or less.

The infographic is from our friends at Campo Viejo wines in Rioja.

 

Fun Facts About #TempranilloDay

  • Spanish Roots. The word “Tempranillo” comes from the Spanish word “temprano” which means “early” since the grapes ripen earlier than other Spanish reds.
  • Flavorful. Wines made from Tempranillo grapes feature flavors of berries, plums, herbs and tobacco.
  • Worldwide Appeal. Although Tempranillo grapes are grown across over 500,000 acres of vineyards throughout the world, the grape originated in the perfectly cool climate of Northern Spain.

Raise a glass in celebration!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Allamand 2015 Cuvée Saint Jeannet, Mendoza

Allamand Saint Jeannet

What? Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of the Saint Jeannet grape. We hadn’t either – until we tried this bottle.

Exploring The Unknown In Argentina

Occasionally we get the itch for a different type of white wine. When that happens, the itch must be scratched.

In this case I happened to spy this bottle in Walt Churchill’s Market for about $12. I said, “Why not?” and the bottle rested in the cellar for a few months.

When I retrieved the bottle to chill it, I noticed that this was not a run of the mill white. It was a special cuvée of a very unusual grape. I’ve never tried it before and I suspect I’m not the only one in the dark about the Saint Jeannet grape.

Saint Who?

Saint Jeannet is a grape that has its origins in France, where it is known as Gros Vert Blanc. We believe that Luminis Winery and Vineyards is the only commercial producer of Saint Jeannet or Gros Vert Blanc in the world.

This is a rare and almost extinct grape variety. It has been confirmed by DNA analysis that Luminis is indeed cultivating the rare Saint Jeannet grape. Cristian Allamand, the winemaker, and his father Raymond rescued the variety and have planted almost two hectares of Saint Jeannet. The 2015 vintage was limited to just 250 cases.

The Taste Test

All this unique and cool background doesn’t mean beans if the wine is no good. We were delightfully surprised with the fresh taste of Cuvée Saint Jeannet. It’s a blend of 75% Saint Jeannet and 25% Chardonnay. While the Chard is evident on the palate, this isn’t a Chardonnay driven blend.

It’s only 11.5% alcohol, and we’ve found that low alcohol wines are very food friendly (Riesling and rosé for example). There are clean, citrus flavor notes with a dollop of minerality. There are fragrant aromas of white flowers.

Green Dragon guessed this wine was Viognier, and it shares the delicate flavors and fragrance. As we sipped, the Chardonnay component became more evident in a pleasing way.

Apparently I bumbled into a bottle of wine made with an almost extinct grape. Lucky me! This is worth seeking out – and it won’t break the bank either at about $12. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Destination Aruba: One Happy Island

Sun sinks on the waters of Aruba

We dodged and danced past Hurricane Matthew for a visit to the island of Aruba. The island is only six miles wide, but packs in plenty of hospitality and attractions.

A Visit To The Dutch Caribbean

Aruba is tourist-friendlyWhen we were invited to attend a conference in Aruba, we leapt at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to visit the sun-kissed sands of this tiny island 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela? What we hadn’t planned on was the destructive path of Hurricane Matthew. As we were preparing for our trip, Matthew was wrecking Haiti and plotting a threatening course up the east coast of the US.

Luckily for us, Hurricane Matthew missed Aruba. As we flew south, Matthew twisted north. Our flight into Queen Beatrix International Airport was uneventful and were soon rolling towards the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino. The Hyatt Regency is a top shelf property located on the beach in Noord.

Aruba is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. It is part of the Netherlands Kingdom (along with Curacao and Saint Maarten). The currency is the Aruban florin – however, US dollars were accepted everywhere we went. English is also widely spoken, although Papiamento and Dutch are the official languages. Papiamento is a mash up of Portuguese, West African languages, Dutch, and Spanish.

Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and CasinoOur hotel was the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino. The Hyatt is right on the beach and has an amazing pool. Our room had an outstanding view of swaying palm trees and the ocean. There are nine different restaurants or bars – so no one is going thirsty or hungry. The Alfresco lobby bar gives a spectacular view of the sun setting on the water.(The lobby is open-air, and so the lobby bar is outside.)

The Palms Beach bar is perfect for relaxing after a day of activities. Mexicado or Ruinas del Mar are ideal for dinner or lunch. Outside the restaurant you’ll see black swans (yes, they do exist) floating in a nearby waterway.

Hyatt Regency ArubaThe pool is an oasis and features the swim-up Balashi Bar. Balashi is the locally brewed beer. The pool was important because Hurricane Matthew, although it bypassed the island, left the usually pristine beaches a mess – with piles a seaweed, debris and an unpleasant odor.

Be sure to make a reservation for a spot at the pool. If you wait too long, you could end up without a lounge chair.

 

Activities Abound In Aruba

As part of our conference activities, we had a Jeep tour of the area. A word of caution, use only reputable outfitters for tours such as snorkeling, fishing, and sightseeing. At the Hyatt, they have a concierge that can make arrangements for you. You might save a few bucks (or Florians) by going with a discount operation, but there is no guarantee of the quality of your experience, vehicles or equipment.

Activities in ArubaOur Jeep tour took in the beautifully rugged western coast, the California Lighthouse, the Alto Vista ChapelBushiribana Gold Mill ruins and the Natural Bridge. We enjoyed climbing around the gold mill ruins, but the Natural Bridge is a bit anticlimactic. It collapsed in 2005, but that hasn’t prevented tour bus operators from continuing to visit the site (and the gift shop located there).

The landscape of Aruba is fascinating. It is mostly desert, rock and Yatu cacti. Of course, the water and beautiful beaches are a main attraction. So close to the equator the climate is very hot, but the constant Trade Winds keep things comfortable. Aruba is outside the hurricane belt, so is mostly safe from the severe weather than rocks other Caribbean islands.

Beach lovers must visit Eagle Beach, one of the top beaches in the south Caribbean. The powdery white sand is perfect as you gaze at the multi-hued ocean waters. There are stands nearby if you wish to jet ski or do other activities. Our friends Jay and Sharon opted for the jet ski and soon discovered that ocean waves can make life very interesting! We also went on a snorkeling cruise, notable for its open bar and a chance to snorkel around the sunken German freighter SS Antilla. At various points we were surrounded by schools of hundreds of colorful, friendly fish.

Aruba Dining And Nightlife

Dining in ArubaYou could spend your days and nights at the Hyatt Regency resort and casino and never feel you are missing anything. However, there’s an abundance of great food and night life in Aruba.

One of my favorites was Diana’s Pancake Place. It was a short walk from the Hyatt – but we must have passed at least a dozen bright green iguanas. Diana’s specializes in Dutch pancakes, which are the size of large dinner plates and they have goodies inside them (I had bacon and cheese in mine). Scrumptious with sugar beet syrup and cinnamon!

In addition to the great dining at the Hyatt, we visited La Trattoria El Faro Blanco (next to the California Lighthouse). La Trattoria offers spectacular views and great Italian food. We visited at night, but would suggest having lunch there to enjoy the majestic view.

Le Petit Café was another dinner stop for us with a group of friends. We enjoyed dining outside while taking in the Aruba street scene. The café truly rocks by allowing guests to cook their own entrée on hot lava rocks at their dinner table.

Our culinary pinnacle was Madame Janette restaurant. Located in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, the main dining area is open-air with strings of lights draped throughout. The service is impeccable but not stuffy. The food is superbly prepared and the menu unique.

20161005_162808I dined on Cordon Bleu, stuffed with ham and Dutch gouda cheese. Jay ordered the signature Burgerloin, which is beef tenderloin cut in half and stuffed with onions, mushroom and cheese topped with Béarnaise sauce. The wine list was superior and very interesting. Since we were near South America, the old standbys you see on US wine lists were absent. I opted for a 2013 New Zealand Sileni Pinot Noir from Hawke’s Bay since our spouses were having seafood.

For evening entertainment, there is Senor Frog and a variety of bars and clubs. We ventured to +297, a hip bar and restaurant with ultra-modern design. We were able to enjoy a bottle of Prosecco from their outdoor, sunken seating area. Very cool and just steps away from our hotel.

Aruba is a carefree travel experience with exotic touches and familiar luxury. Its natural beauty and inviting climate make it an ideal destination for sun-seeking travelers.