Like Magic : The Wines I’ve Been Drinking & Reviewing

Spring is here and I’m feeling renewed, refreshed and thirsty. Apple trees are blossoming. The poppies are vibrant. The roses are soaking in the sunshine and much needed rain.  Bottles of wine have magically appeared at my doorstep and I have discovered a few gems.

Before you envy me and my lavish lifestyle as a cheap wine aficionado, take note, this is hard work, especially for my palate. Waaa waa waa, poor me. No seriously, there is a special place in hell for cheap wine reviewers. You get a pauper’s ransom in cheap ass wine. Some is brutal swill. To be more truthful, most are blech! 98% of all the wines I recommend are ones I’ve precariously selected and bought myself. But when I receive a sample from a winemaker that is delish, well, hey ho, it’s payday. Oh yeah, I only get paid in wine, good or bad.

EVERYDAY A BEACH DAY…
MARTIN CÓDAX 2014 RIAS BAIXAS ALBARIÑO, SPAIN $15

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Everyday feels like beach day when sipping on Albariño. This wine is perfect paired with scallops, prawns, garlicky shrimp. Bright, citrus, lemony with a crisp, even, dry finish, this delightful wine will finish your last bite of wood plank grilled salmon perfectly. And for that, I rate this wine a buy again!

I was rather impressed and the winemaker, Katia Alvarez sent a lovely note about her vintage. Founded more than 25 years ago by 50 local farmers in the Galica region of northwest Spain, today Martin Códax is now supported by more than 550 families and cooperatives. The winery is located in the historic city of Cambados in the heart of the Salnés Valley and the birthplace of Albariño. Coastal wet climate, steep grades, and granitic vineyards make this grape produce aromatic and medium bodied wines. In ancient times, the trade of shells from the harvests of the sea were deposited throughout the coastal regions. The shell deposits can still be found in the vineyards today and the calcium brings a perfect balance of pH to the soil.

Fun fact: Martin Codax, the character who this winery is named after, was one of the most important medieval Galician troubadours. His ballads, the oldest in Galician-Portuguese, extol his love and passion for the sea. Hey, you had me at garlicky shrimp.

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‘Cantigas de Amigo’ is a 13c. manuscript by the namesake of this winery, Martin Códax. I think ‘Cantigas de Amigo’ would also be a great name and menu design for a restaurant that served garlicky shrimp, grilled squid, pan seared scallops accompanied by bottles and bottles of chilled Albariño.

 

WINE SO GOOD, I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE…SO I FOUND SOME FOR YOU.
GHOST PINES 2013 PINOT NOIR, 37% SONOMA & 63% MONTEREY COUNTY $23
GHOST PINES 2014 ZINFANDEL, 30% SONOMA, 66% SAN JOAQUIN, 4% LAKE COUNTY $20

Well, what can I say, I forgot to shoot this wine because I was enjoying it to the point of utter dereliction. Riveted to the telly watching the fireworks of the US presidential elections can throw anyone off their game, but fortunately for me, I had this bottle as consolation. My appreciation to the winemaker and fellow Sonoman Aaron Piotter.

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Halloween squirrel terrorises south of England neighborhood. As seen on crazyasabagofhammers.com @robtinbc

The name is intriguing, it is a poetic reference to the Gray Pines dotting the Northern California coastal hillsides. The marine layer can look ominous and obscure the fauna and flora. Hence, the “Ghost Pine.” While driving along windy coastal roads, hapless wildlife can be veiled by the fog as well, but obviously road kill “Ghost Squirrel” is not an appealing name for a fine Pinot Noir. But he’s out there…

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First bottle, the Pinot Noir…rated: buy again. Cool ocean breezes and blankets of fog consumed gradually by sunshine are the desirable conditions for Pinot Noir. Both Monterey and Sonoma coasts provide the cool loving environment these grapes require to bring forth the bright flavors and acidic lift that a Pinotfile like myself expects. What I found interesting about this wine was the boldness and intense fruit. Ripe red cherry, pomegranate and lavender with a medium body, baking spice and cocoa finish – a very nice surprise.

Secondi, the Zinfandel rated: guestworthy. The tech sheet on this wine opened with “Ghost Pines knows no boundaries…” well, ok now….easy does it! My readers may be winos, but they are respectable budget conscious people. Possibly God-fearing but likely agnostic.

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Well, what my very close future friend Aaron was actually referring to was their focus on the fruit. They look for quality lots in various vineyards and secure the best fruit regardless of AVA. What this has done is create layers and complexities that play to each regions strengths leading to unique flavors and profiles. Although this Zinfandel had the classic profile – bold fruit, jammy, ripe berry with some toasty oak – it also had lovely layered flavors of strawberry, spices and pepper with a long lush finish. I took this bottle of Zin to a dinner with friends at The Fig Cafe in Glenn Ellen.   A local favorite, they famously offer fabulous courses with no corkage. Although bold, this Zin paired perfectly with the fig arrugula salad with chevre, pecans and pancetta drizzled with a port and fig vinaigrette. Even better, my fancy friends were impressed. Mon dieu! One of them was French. When asked where I got this wine of course I told him it magically appeared on my doorstep.

Stay curious!

loie

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Faites Votre Choix….

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My friend and Napa county neighbor, the Traveling Wine Chick, had the winner’s honor of picking the theme for this Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #MWWC19 . I can only hope the dissertation I am about to put forth is worthy of her motif – “choice.”

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I had the good fortune of being a guest at the wedding of two dear friends in Biarritz, France. Merely a week from this last Saturday, I was strolling the gardens and walking the halls of a beautiful chateau on Lac Brindos surrounded by nuptial brilliance and celestial beauty (the wedding designer is genius and there was no expense spared for this union.) I could go enviously on and on and on giving you enough time to stitch a voodoo doll of my likeness, but I shall refrain.

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Biarritz is a gorgeous seaside city on the Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast in southwestern France. A luxurious destination that is popular with tourists, surfers and scantily clad sun seekers. Situated in Basque country, at the border of Spain and only an hour or more by car from San Sebastian and Bilboa, the town has had a storied maritime past since its establishment as a successful whaling port in the11th and 12th centuries. Doctors in the 18th century prescribed the destination to patients to remedy ailments as they believed that the ocean had therapeutic properties and soon health pilgrimages to Biarritz became de rigeur.

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In 1884, Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III the longest serving President of the Republic and the nephew and heir of Napoleon the First, built a palace on the beach (now the Hôtel du Palais) and soon this was a favored destination for European royalty including British Monarchs, Queen Victoria and King Edward and Spanish Kings.

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Most recently, Biarritz became known as one of the best surf spots in Europe and the beach culture is evident. At times, I did double takes, as certain scenarios looked more like Santa Barbara than seaside France. Surf shops, VW buses with surf racks on top and distant coves sprinkled with bobbing heads on boards waiting to catch the next wave.

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Then there are the casinos, the fine dining, the sea food and the warm hospitality…yes in France! Albeit, the service is at a much different pace than what one finds in the US, but then again, what’s the hurry? Slow down, relax and enjoy a glass of wine.

Enough of that.

As I navigated through the choices of meats, seafood, pastries, cheese, wines, meats, seafood, pastries, cheese and wines, I realized I was caught in a traffic circle of gastronomic proportion with all roads leading to gout.

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I was pleasantly exhausted by the generosity of my hosts and the exceptionally kind service we received from the Chateau Brindos staff. As the jet lag delirium waned, and the rehearsal dinner, wedding ceremony, post ceremony cocktail party, formal dinner, Basque performers, fire works display, lighting of the lanterns, cakes, more cakes, macarron pyramids, wild dancing until 8am, day after morning brunch, cocktails by the pool, chartered buses to Jai Alai tournaments, family paella dinner, scheduled outings to local and not so local sights…I was so enthralled by the glamour of all this organized fun, it can only be described as my personal Belle Époque.

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As guests, we were all spoiled rotten and the wedding hosts could not have executed with any more or less perfection. What I soon learned to appreciate was the fact that I really didn’t have to make any choices, there it all was before us to indulge in blissful celebration in honor of our friends and their union.

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Every wine that was poured for me was excellent, in fact the one choice I made at a restaurant in Paris – a Chinon with my steak frites – was terrible, stale and sour. I sent it back facing off the waiter when he gave me a blank stare – I did not flinch. He disappeared, for a while, then returned with a glass of Bordeaux and chided me for my poor choices. He declared that he has now decided which wine I will be drinking, so I will not bother him again and he can smoke a cigarette. What a kind, generous man, and by the way, the wine was delicious – bon choix!

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Back stateside, safe and sound, I thought of how luxurious it was when I didn’t have to make choices, and conversely how the most important choices you make – the friends you keep, the spouse you marry, where you call home, and where you venture – can afford you that rare luxury.

With that pithy statement, I now bid you adieu as I have made the choice to shred all my credit cards before the gendarmes get back from the tabac.

Stay curious!

loie

Pretty In Pink…We Think.

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Veuve du Vernay Brut Rosé 750ml

French Sparkling Wine, $3.99 – $11.99

Find a bottle near you on WineSearcher.com

It was a dark, wet Thursday evening and I was Rushing Through the SF Ferry Building as my ship had come in to take me home. As I passed the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (motto: “We spit so you don’t have to”) I realized I owed the world a sparkling wine review every week until New Year’s Eve 2015. Last week was a home run (Dibon Brut Reserva Cava Penedes, Spain $9.99) so I was brimming with ambition for my next selection.

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant is one of the anchors in the renown SF Ferry Building. If you visit SF, this stop on the tour is worth the aggravation of parking drama or extra cab fare. The Ferry Building is best known for the amazing farmer’s markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Widely acclaimed for the high quality farm fresh produce and artisanal foods, it is renown as one of the top farmers markets to visit in the country. Saturday mornings especially, you will very likely see some of San Francisco’s best known chefs fondling the watercress, nosing a Chanterelle or ogling the Romanesco. Nearly 25,000 shoppers visit the farmers market each week, but everyday the plaza is home to many highly regarded foodie merchants/innovators including; The Slanted Door, Cowgirl Creamery, Heath Ceramics, Blue Bottle Coffee, Sur La Table, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and more, more, more.

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Inside the SF Ferry Building – Check out La Mia Vita Blog for a great pictorial of the foodie extravaganza!

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant has a loyal wine membership that begets their robust calendar of events, tastings and pairings. Their mission is to find the most interesting and delicious wines from smaller producers around the world – I’m on board with that. They also have a store located in the über foodie fabulous Oxbow Market in Napa. One of their founders/buyers was honored as “Sommelier of the Year” from the James Beard Foundation and all the partners have impressive bios as wine industry professionals. As I write this, I’m pressure texting a friend to join me for their 6th Annual Champagne and Oyster Fête this Wednesday. Ahoy there!

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The Cowgirl Creamery cheese counter at the SF Ferry Building. My quest for the best in cheap wines is to off-set my costly habit for cheese and shoes. #trueconfession

As I ran past all the stalls to catch my ferry, I saw the display of sparkling wines under $20 front and center. How long could this take? Bad judgement? Well, I do tend to push the edges of timeliness and if there is a plane, train or ferry to catch, subconsciously it becomes a game of chicken. My race against the clock felt necessary in this instance. I had wine to drink and a post to write.

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Ferry Building and Bay, San Francisco CA, c.1910

I was in luck, no lines and the wine merchant was at the ready to provide guidance. I explained that I wanted a sparkling wine under $10. What did he recommend? At first he was puzzled, and expressed that my request was a tough one, could I spend a few more dollars? Sure, why not? Better to take his recommendation than miss my ferry and swim to Alcatraz. I had to abruptly explain that my ferry was leaving in less than ten minutes and the only requirement is that “It can’t be crap.” He handed me a wine, briefly explained the notes and origin, I gave him my credit card, signed, grabbed the receipt, the wine and booked off to my pier. Two minutes to spare, the booze cruise was still there! Hurrah. I got on board, went straight to the bar, ordered dinner which consisted of a Captain Morgan and Diet Coke with a side of Ranch Flavored Cornnuts. My compliments to the chef.

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Those cornnuts are not levitating, they are just happy to see me.

Oh, so now where were we? Yes, yes, I was reviewing a wine.

After a leisurely 50 minutes on the ferry, I was home. I chilled the bottle in the fridge (45° F.) Before serving, I placed the bottle in the freezer for ten more minutes. I admit, I was concerned that this wine might ruin my night, so I wanted it to be ice cold. Who needs another cranky post. When I finally had the courage to pop the cork, I was happy to see a lovely salmon pink sparkling come to life. The nose was fruity, candy apple. First sip I tasted strawberries, florals and it had a nice balanced acid and flavorful intensity. Even though it was fruit forward, it was not sweet and the finish was long and dry. Mousse was moderate but still rich. As the wine warmed, the flavors nicely became more intense but I also noticed a nutty bitterness, which made me reconsider whether or not I loved this wine. However, the packaging was very pretty. The chocolate brown foil with pink and gold accents was very tasteful and felt luxurious when serving this wine to guests. Billecart-Salmon it was not, but it was very enjoyable cold and exhibited quality beyond other sparkling value wines at its price point. I would buy this again and I would be comfortable bringing this to an event.

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Surprise and delight! The pink underside of the brown foil impressed me. It does not take much.

There was very little on the label to tell me what this wine was about. It was rather mysterious. The Veuve du Vernay site specifies this wine as 11% alcohol and a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah. This brand was created by Mr.Jean Eugène Charmat, the French scientist, who in 1907 invented the cuve close (“sealed vats”) method of producing fine sparkling wine which has since been adopted worldwide. Most sparkling wines are produced in one of two ways: Method Traditionelle wherein secondary fermentation happens in bottle, or vat fermentation which is eponymously named the Charmat method.

What’s with the “Veuve?” Monseiur Charmat had a high regard for a widow (veuve) in the village of Vernay who helped him to start his business. When Eugène Charmat’s son Robert created a new sparkling wine of high quality in the 1960s, he named it in honor of the lady whom his father esteemed so highly. Today Veuve du Vernay is an internationally known brand of value sparkling wines from France that are priced well as a result of Monseiur Charmat’s invention 108 years ago.

Let’s raise a glass in honor of the inventor and founder who made it possible for the world to enjoy quality inexpensive sparkling wine today. Down the hatch!

Stay curious,

loie

TOP 10 UNDER $10 : #Wine Suggestions For Thanksgiving!

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Golly! Is it really Thanksgiving time already? I just got out of recovery from Halloweek and without missing a beat, we are off planning the big Turkey trot. I have never hosted more than a Taco Tuesday but have logged many hours assisting a hapless host on this most notorious of American holidays. Hosting is a performing art typically reserved for the patriarch &/or matriarch of the family. When not in the homeland, the stage is kindly set by a friend who has a few extra seats at their folding table and a tolerant extended family too enthralled with football to succumb to social awkwardness. Ahhhh, the memories. And when the police have left to have dinner with their own families, and the dishes are dried, the pie put away and bail has been posted for that gregarious uncle who got a little carried away, we tuck ourselves in for the night and give thanks for the wine that got us through it.

This holiday you will be tasked with making wine selections for an array of occasions. Hostess gift, friendly gathering, family affairs, work events and after parties of one. Sure, sure, sure. Who wants to look gauche by bringing cheap wine to a party – the horror! Then again, who realistically can serve unlimited bottles of fine vintages for hundreds of guests other than your wealthy relatives – actually, they won’t be either.

Cheap is chic! Living well doesn’t mean living expensively. Sharing those special splurgy vintages with winos who can appreciate it is much different than ensuring your Great Aunt Helen enjoys that glass of quaffable red that puts some color in her cheeks. And if the hostess is a snob, then rise to the occasion and bring a respectable wine, but I don’t know a wino who doesn’t appreciate a good tip and a smart deal every now and then. Hey, every bottle does not find a place in the cellar, they often end up at the next party or in the fridge….yes even the reds!

After 6 months of mining the bottom two shelves for the most delightful of deals, I present my 2014 top 10 wines under $10 USD. I urge you to let me know if I’m full of giblets. If you violently disagree with any of these selections, please pipe up. I am not perfect and sometimes I’m swept away by the “conviviality” of the tasting. My first and foremost objective is to provide good guidance. Mistakes happen and when they do, better it be a value wine than a $78 bottle-o-fancy like the one I bought a few months ago. Oh, boy, was that a party.

Drum roll please:

My fave! These guys sell a tonnage of this wine in Texas at HEB – the number one red wine sold currently. I love this wine because, every time I decant it, the flavor changes and is so smooth, enjoyable and guest love it. They ALWAYS comment on how good the wine is – this is red wine crack for guests. It is on the fruit forward side for those winos with a rarefied palate, but let me tell you, me likey and can’t image a dish (other than fish) that this would not complement. I would even venture to serve this with a rich chocolate dessert – outstanding!

I’m finding that this brand hits it outta the park with its other varietals as well, so I’m gonna give them props for getting it right and making a red jammy whammy that pairs well with turkey smothered in rich gravy with a italian sausage stuffing. I think this would be great with lamb and any gamey flavorful meats. Prime rib would be a match made in heaven.

I have bought this wine now 3x and enjoyed it more than I should.Crisp, not grassy like other NZ Sauvs and very citrusy acid without a trace of a sour aftertaste – eeeew – hate that. Pairs well with a turkey left over sandwich on sourdough, aioli, pepper, butter lettuce, tomato and let’s throw in a piece o’bacon for good measure.

Oh, so delicate, delightful, it takes me to Provence. Not much more to say. Perfect for those guest ambivalent about white or red and want something light to complement their meal, not take over the show. The lightly roasted brussels sprouts will love this co-star as well as the harcourt verts and cauliflower au gratin.

A little spice makes this light and lovely Pinot a friendly accompaniment to yams, sweet potatoes and fluffy dressings. Baking spices will linger with each sip after every bite.

The bold richness of this wine will definitely pair nicely with the heartier foods on the table. Cheesy potatoes au gratin, crusty olive loaf bread and onion tartes. Turkey lovers will enjoy the mingling flavors when this is paired with buttery mashed potatoes and rich brown turkey gravy.

I think this Merlot is a great starter wine to get the appetite going. Serve this with hors d’oeuvres, olives, bold cheeses, charcuterie and mon rêve: a creamy, dreamy Emmental and Gruyère fondue – ahhhh go big or go home.

For those guests who want white wine, this is a crisp but hearty white that helps keep the palate cleansed between bites and finishes nicely with roasted potatoes and veggies drizzled with butter, spices and a little balsamic. Perfect match for asparagus and hollandaise.

A shockingly good Cab whose price per bottle is less than a latte. Easy drinking once it breathes for an hour and lovely paired with a bite of turkey and cranberry sauce. The fruit and the tannic spice will enhance the succulent flavors and spices of your Thanksgiving dinner.

A lighter red that will pleasantly build on the flavors of rich gravy, buttery potatoes and savory dressing. This wine will cut the richness and finish strong without an overwhelming boldness.

Most of these wines are widely available at Safeway, Von’s, TraderJoe’s, WholeFoods and various national grocery chains. If you must search further, I suggest going to WineSearcher.com which is a great resource for finding wines in your hood.
Stay curious!
loie

This Red Will Make You Mencia For Under $11!

2010 Estefania Tilenus Roble $10.98 + FREE SHIPPING! Whoa.

Now Available at WineLibrary.com but won’t last long….

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Ok – I cheated on this post…teeheehee. I have not tried this wine, but before you get on my case, I got your back – here is the intel so take a swig and calm the “flavor” down! Thank you.

Hear me out. Saturday night I decided to procrastinate about finishing an important presentation for really important people for a Monday deadline. So what did I decide to do unproductively with my time? Peruse Twitter for people to chat-up and indirectly harass. You know my intentions are always Pollyanna-ish, but my enthusiasm can unintentionally insult, frighten or irritate. So I pissed off a retired Post Master General by agreeing with her – uh – yeah (I think it was my not so funny joke about Gwyneth Paltrow and Ted Nugent.) I then had to tweet to the defense of one of my FAVORITE followers @SottileStephen who was bizarrely ensnared in this conversation with the former Post Master – ugliness and then a vulgarity ensued and all of a sudden POW! This post popped up….Gotta go y’all – cheap wine awaits!

When GV says SICK – all caps with a $ afterwards, we got to get it going on people! Who can resist the powers of a GV recommendation with a price less than a cocktail at my local fancy restaurant? Only the crazies.

If any of you have tried this wine – please, please, please let me know. To sweeten the deal and make it EVEN SICKER IN THE HEAD – free shipping from WineLibrary.com to boot! I have no idea for how long but get your crazy-arse online and buy this wine before you drive yourself nuts because you missed the deal.

Here are the truncated notes for your reading pleasure. FYI: it got a 90 from that wild man lunatic “The BobbyP.”—“flavor”yeah!

Score: 90 points from Luis Gutierrez – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Varietal:
Mencia from Spain – a Roman era clone that is identical to Jaen do Dão (or “Jaen” for short) from Portugal. Shares a similar profile to Cabernet Franc – light, with soft tannic flavors and aromas. I suspect it is structured enough to pair well with savory meats such as pork, fowl, some game. Not bold enough for a heavy steak but a beef carpaccio would be an excellent pairing. It’s Spanish so a tapas of jamon y olive tapenade – muy sabroso! But I am only fantasizing – let me know if you get the real deal on your palate.

The Critic’s Tasting Notes:
“The 2010 Envejecido en Roble is aged in both French and American barrels for 8-10 months and spends one year in bottle before being sold. Sometimes these shorter times in barrel result in a less-than-perfect integration of wine and wood, and I must confess I am a little bit biased against this category of wines. Fortunately it is not the case here and the violet notes are perfectly integrated with the cinnamon and vanilla tones from the barrique. The palate is compact, light to medium-bodied, with great length and a spicy, velvety finish. This again represents good value for the category. Drink 2014-2019. ” (08/13)

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Interesting Regional Fact:
The winery is located in a restored old dairy in the village of Dehesas in Ponferrada. The remodeled building integrated the stone, slate and wood of the region to align with the Bierzo architectural vernacular and gives the winemaker the purest environment for the creation of this wine.

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Made By:
Carlos Garcia  is the “bodeguero” or winemaker and the technical director of the winery is Raúl Pérez. They work in a quiet uninterrupted facility that allows them to focus on the beauty and character of the wine as it evolves. Hence it’s proclaimed gorgeousness. Bravo mi amigos por vino están muy interesante y nada mas dinero.¿Verdad? ¡Lo quiero!

Now back to finishing that presentation – but only after one more tweet….

Stay curious!

loie

Champagne, Sparkling Wine & Lady Beer – A Love Story

This is the final installment of my wine education trilogy at Blogdramedy. It is a brain dump from my illustrious visit to Champagne, France. Ahhhhh, memories, I hope you enjoy the tiny bubbles of knowlege as much as I did acquiring them. This is a trip one must make at least once in your life, if only to be the envy of all the mothers at your son’s fancy pants nursery school – ha. ha. ha. ha. In all seriousness, it was an incredible trip and one that taught me the true passion, artistry, tradition, and science that makes one of the most celebrated spirits what it has been for centuries. To this day, I marvel at how jealously guarded the brand “Champagne” has been by the region and how incredibly smart of them to be such jerks about it – seriously – they are fully entitled to the name and what it represents. Cross the line and you will be served something other than bubbles. Voila!

It was truly an expensive honor to have the credit card maxxing opportunity to enjoy what this region has to offer. I am now well prepared to get back to the business of reviewing $10+under wines people – for a long, long, long, long time! Bloody hell.
Stay curious,
The Comtesse du Cheapeaux

This Malbec Should Be Arrested For Assault!

It is with great pride I share my very first video post – the first of many near-masterpieces to come! If you had the pleasure of experiencing my prior VideoPress technical difficulties, I deeply apologize. I know my very public pleas to the WP support team were uncomfortable for all of us. Well, the issue was resolved after I called Uncle Dick – he’s from the Cheney side of the family, very very very distant cousins, but none the less, helpful in a pinch. So magically my video post worked unexplainably, but if there are WP execs on an extended leave to Guantanamo Bay, I hope they are enjoying the ocean breeze, cigars and water sports. With a humiliating spectacle behind us, I send my deepest appreciation to all who choose to read my posts. I know you have a multitude of options for your viewing pleasure and I value your patronage…if you would like to see my desperate cries for help on the WP support forum click this . With out further adieu – here’s to a day in the office on a Malbec safari!

( Video is best viewed NOT through a Safari browser.)

Stay curious!

loie