I find happiness in an honest meal. Whether it's a simple pasta or an exquisite risotto, a perfectly cooked steak or an intricately prepared curry, all great dishes are a seamless blend of ingredients and indulgence, of style and substance.


Many poets have waxed philosophical about the values and virtues of wine, about its power and principles, its joy and attraction.


Travel isn't about the destination; it's about the journey. It is about the people and places you meet along the way.


As I crisscross the globe I often discover innovative wine products, new gadgets or the perfect gift for wine lovers; and so I have created a collection of Wine Portfolio merchandise.


Wine can sometimes seem complicated and intimidating but it doesn't have to be. Wine should bring joy not stress and you don't have to be an expert to learn to love wine.

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Beer is the Thing in Denmark

February 28, 2014 3:35 pm - Posted by Jody in Drink

Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagen’s Top Restaurants

By: The Culture-ist

mik bar Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagens Top Restaurants

Can a five-star meal be enjoyed just as well with a glass of beer as it can with wine? According to Danish contract brewery Mikkeller, a well-crafted beer is perfectly suited to upmarket dining

 By Jane Graham

Stig Mansfeldt and Mikkel Bjergsø of Danish brewery Mikkeller have a mission. They believe beer has great potential as an accompaniment to gourmet food and hope to change people’s perceptions of it as something to be swilled down as quickly as possible into something to be savored.

To illustrate this, Mikkeller has teamed up with a number of Copenhagen’s top restaurants to create a handful of exclusive, complimentary gourmet beers ““ including one for Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant voted world’s best restaurant for the third consecutive year at the 2012 San Pellegrinio Awards.

mikkeller founder mikkel bjergso 242x300 Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagens Top RestaurantsNoma Novel

“It never quite sat well with me that Noma, with its focus exclusively on Scandinavian produce, should compromise with French grapes,” Stig explains. Noma cooks were therefore invited to a tasting at Mikkeller’s bar in the vibrant Vesterbro district of Copenhagen, shortly after its opening in 2010.

One thing led to another, and Mikkeller’s Mikkel Bjergsø teamed up with a sommelier to create an exclusive Noma beer. They opted for a smooth, Belgian strong ale with a malty body and a hint of hops; unusual for this type of beer, but something of a Mikkeller trademark.

The beer, “˜Noma Novel’, is often served as an aperitif in a thin champagne glass.

Beer vs. Wine

With Copenhagen’s top gourmet restaurants considered as among the world’s best, they’re also known for being open to new ideas and innovation ““ and thus the perfect places to change perceptions of beer.

When Henrik Yde, owner of luxury Thai restaurant Kiin Kiin in Copenhagen’s Norrebro district, held the concept dinner, “˜Beer versus wine’, Mikkeller was asked to provide the beer. Guests were introduced to a glass of beer and wine with each course, and had to choose which they preferred.

“We actually won a few rounds,” recalls Stig.

“Yde then had to acknowledge that even in the world of gourmet food, where wine has always been king, there might be something about beer. Our “˜Kiin Kiin’ beer is a spiced pilsner that complements Asian food and is spiced with lemongrass.”

Qualities of greatness

One of Mikkel’s favorite restaurants is Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg, and it was here that a partnership began based on Mikkel’s status as a restaurant regular.

“˜Mielke & Hurtigkarl’ is perhaps the most refined beer Mikkeller has produced to date, and like Noma Novel – a Belgian strong ale, but one that has been aged in barrels from one of the world’s finest wines, the French Sauterne Chateau d’Yquem. This brings hints of oak, fruitiness and both sweet and sour touches to the beer, comparable to great wines.

When asked what qualities are needed to make a Michelin star beer, Stig Mansfeldt turns the question around: “What does a wine possess to become a Michelin star wine? Reputation?”

28. Beer Geek Brunch Weasel 142x300 Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagens Top Restaurants

“The perception of beer in general has to change,” says Stig. “Most people don’t know there are other styles of beer than a boring lager, but when the reputation and knowledge of beers gets stronger, I can foresee some excellent beers in world class restaurants.”Stig’s top beers to enjoy with a meal

When it comes to starters, Stig favors a beer produced by spontaneous fermentation, an unusual process that gives the beer a distinctive flavor, and one used traditionally in Belgium.

“A hoppy pilsner, a guezue or a lambic can do very well with light dishes, starters and fish. Spontaneously fermented beers often have a refreshing sourness comparable to a good white wine.”

To follow, “I could always drink a full-bodied hoppy IPA with meat,” recommends Stig. “For desserts, I think a particularly heavy stout complements very well. For example, Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch, an oatmeal coffee stout made with Vietnamese kopi luwak (an exotic type of coffee made from the bean droppings of wild weasels), is excellent with chocolate, cakes and cheese.”

About Jane Graham

British by birth, Jane Graham has travelled around much of Europe and some other places too. Settled in Denmark, she advises and writes for a number of travel guides and blogs regularly for NileGuide. More food enthusiast than foodie, she lives just outside Copenhagen with her partner and four children, freelancing as writer and translator.

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This article, Wine Moves Aside as Gourmet Beer Steals the Spotlight at Copenhagen’s Top Restaurants, is syndicated from The Cultureist and is posted here with permission.

Jody’s WTF E09:

February 26, 2014 7:43 pm - Posted by Jody in Behind The Scenes, Drink, Eat, Learn, Travel

Join us for more WTF every Wednesday at 7:30PM


Say Sí to Spanish Wines

February 24, 2014 9:29 am - Posted by Jody in Drink

Via The Cultureist. By: The Culture-ist

IMG 2933 1024x1000 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

By: Shawn Moksvold

Inside a corner bar in the town of Aranjuez, 50 kilometers south of Madrid, Spain, there is often a round, stocky man with calloused hands and a deep laugh, standing next to his bald friend, a glass of wine held tightly in his hand.   He owns 1500 chickens, he tells us, and is the provider of most of the eggs in the restaurants and markets of this sparsely populated area. He forces us to sample the homemade tortilla made from the eggs of his superior hens.  It does seem to taste better, in the same way that pie tastes better after you’ve been told it was made with love and whole garden ingredients and the labor of a grandmother’s hands.  I nod in approval, and realize that I am talking to a walking anachronism, the antithesis of the faceless, standardized mass production of food in the 21st century. I suspect there is a wealth of local and practical knowledge behind his wrinkled face and blood-shot eyes.  I decide to pick his brain.

“We’re out here looking for some vineyards or wine cellars,” I ask. “Something that is characteristic of the area, you know, to take some photos and…”

“No idea,” he says.  ”What do you think of the tortilla? My eggs are in them.”

His bald friend overhears our conversation, offers his help, and gets out his cell phone. While he talks, he holds up an index finger, a signal for us to wait for some great news. After a short conversation, he hangs up the phone and scribbles an address and phone number on a napkin.

“Speak to this man,” he says, pointing to the napkin. “Tell him you talked to me.”

We recognize that he is proud of his insider information, and we suspect this special invitation isn’t entirely necessary, but we are grateful nonetheless and thank him, stuffing down the rest of the tortilla made of those fresh eggs from happy chickens.

We continue to drive south, deeper into the arid countryside, and arrive in La Guardia, a sad, little town that is the kind of place that people move to the big city to get away from, especially in hard financial times.  Strangely, there are bustling groups of people on the move, cars and pedestrians, but the life of the town seems to have been drained, recently and ruthlessly.  Between the windblown poplar trees, there are broken windows and abandoned warehouses, construction projects that ran out of money, and a closed car dealership sprayed with bad graffiti. Everywhere there are subtle reminders of the economic crisis that has been a shot in the gut to Spain’s financial health.

But somewhere there is wine.

IMG 3099 222x300 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

It is a daunting task to grasp the complexity of Spanish wine as a whole.  In fact, to the casual wine drinker, the sheer variety of grape-derived alcohol available at a simple Spanish cafe is just plain intimidating.  But everyone has a particular taste, and with a rudimentary bag of background knowledge, open-mindedness, and a healthy attitude of cultural exploration, there is a rich, deeply engrained part of the Spanish soul waiting to be discovered.  And as my pendulum of taste swings between pretentious wine snob and simple barfly, I have found the Iberian Peninsula an apt locale to develop my viticultural interests. In general, wine has served me well most often as a complement to food and a catalyst for conversation, but also as a medical relaxant, a surrogate girlfriend, and at times, a simple vice.Anyone who rubs shoulders with the Spanish, late into the night, whether in Madrid or elsewhere, undoubtedly will have heard certain terms thrown around by their Spanish friends with the confidence of a Sotheby’s auctioneer selling a Fabergé egg. Tempranillo, rosado, albariño, semi-dulce, crianza, reserva, roble or rioja. And then there’s joven, brut, verdejo and cava. Having a glass of wine is a particular pleasure in Spain, and the Spanish take it seriously. Sometimes the local resident will know the ins and outs of what they are saying, what they are drinking, and other times they won’t. But they always seem to create a sense of curiosity in the mind of the outsider. They somehow expertly allude to the complexity and quality of their wine, without being provincial or snobbish about it. For good reason, they are proud but modest, in my opinion often too modest. But don’t be mistaken, if given the opportunity, a Spaniard will overload you with more than you would ever want to know about wine, whether it be accurate information or not.

After driving through the dusty roundabouts in La Guardia, we find a pretty line of trees that leads to The Martúe Winery House, a vineyard set amidst sparse and practical landscaping and the familiar rows of grapevines on rich, red soil.  Soon we are talking wine with Pablo Ranilla Rodríguez, the agricultural director, and he leads us on an impromptu tour of the facilities.

“The hardest part of the whole process,” he says, “is not working the machines or the monitoring the delicate aging, or the bottling and shipping. It’s not even the marketing. We always struggle to get the right grape. And it’s different every year.”

It is not difficult to see, here in the arid terrain of Castilla-La Mancha, that weather can be both an adversary and a savior, a harsh, unpredictable natural force that is out of the control of human hands. Fluctuations in precipitation, temperature, and the duration of seasons all have a direct influence on what pours out of the bottle and onto your dinner table or street side bar. I suspect the “right grape” carries with it connotations of complexity that I may never understand, so I’ll leave the technicalities to the experts.

In general, as with other wines throughout the world, probably the most important distinction between one Spanish wine and another should not be drawn from price, but from the region in which it grew up. The Denominación de Origen (DO) system is a classification ensuring the quality of wines that are made in Spain; it is governed by the Instituto de Denominaciones de Origen (INDO), under the umbrella of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture.  Cured hams like jamón Iberico, cheeses and olive oil often use the same system of quality guarantee in Spain. There is another, more exclusive classification called Denominación de Origen Calificada (DOC), although there are, for now, only a few wines that enjoy this status. Wines that do not fall under either of these designations are called vinos de la tierra (or table wine). As the purposefully generic label suggests, they are of lesser quality and price, but consumed by many a happy drinker, including me. The denomination of origin is printed on the label of every bottle of wine you see at the store, and it is a logical place to start when looking for a wine to suit your taste.

IMG 2588 223x300 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

In Spain, geographical regions have distinct landscapes and weather, which produce a variety of tastes and styles. The range of terrain in the Iberian Peninsula is truly impressive. In the northwest, the rocky and green, rain-soaked coasts and rivers of Galicia and Asturias produce great white wines (D.O. Rias Baixas and Rueda) that complement the famous seafood that comes from there. In the semi-arid, mountainous northern interior, where there are hot, dry summers and bitter winters, you will find some of the best wines in the world, most notably the dry reds, with their wonderful tannic characteristics (Rioja, Ribera del Duero, and Navarra). Down in the dry south, near Cadiz, the long-respected Sherries are born (Jérez and Manzanilla). In the southern interior there are more wonderful dry red wines that are growing in popularity (Valdepeñas). And in the northeast region, in Catalonia, there are the famous sparkling wines, which are popular in the United States, and also reds and whites that rival any in Europe (Cava, Penedés, Priorat). Even in the outlying islands of Spain, in the Canaries and the Balerics, there are ten distinct regions of wine production. Overall, the Spanish Department of Agriculture has designated 67 denominations of origin, which means that there are almost 70 areas, listed by law, where wine is produced in accordance to provincial restrictions.  But since the 1960′s the most popular and consistent wine-producing regions in Spain have been Rioja, Penedés, Valdepeñas and Rueda. Ribera del Duero is a particular example of a wine that has gained new respect mostly due to recent investment in experienced wine makers and innovative aging techniques. Look for one of these regions on your next bottle of Spanish wine, and you’ll be heading in the right direction.There are also some basic terms that are applicable to almost any wine in Spain, whether they are red or white. These tell of the age of a bottle of wine and carry clear implications of the manner in which it was produced.

Joven is a humble, non-challenging label, and it means “young” and typically describes a wine that is best suited for immediate consumption. Historically, of course, wine has been meant to sit for long periods of time in wooden barrels, aging and developing complexity and character. These wines don’t get the chance to grow old. They are simple and perfect to share with that date you are not quite ready to impress. They are usually economically priced, and easy to drink for the novice. Given the qualifications I’ve just listed, it should be said that I’ve consumed a lot of this kind of wine.

Crianza is a term that describes a wine that has adhered more closely to standards of quality processing. It has been aged in those oaken barrels everyone knows about, but still has spent most of its time in the bottle.

Reserva tells us that the wine has been aged in oaken barrels for at least a year, and another year or more having been spent in the bottle. Now is when we can start talking about pairing it with foods without sounding completely pretentious. It has characteristics and particular flavors, perhaps those that only a sommelier would be able to express in words, or care about, but those that are there nonetheless.

Gran Reserva is naturally the next step in quality. These wines have been aged for at least five years, two years of which are spent in oak barrels, and at least three years in the bottle. Although these wines are supposed to be the height of quality in Spanish wines, there is a chance that you will find them too harsh, and with a very “oaky” taste (I actually prefer this woody, oaky taste in wine, but then I also sometimes inexplicably ate dirt when I was a child).

Roble literally means “oak” in Spanish. Wood from oak trees has been used to make wine barrels for hundreds of years all over the world. In Spain, this term is often displayed on the wine bottle to accentuate or highlight the use of these oaken barrels in their aging. Most often, roble will indicate a young wine that has spent at least some time in an oak barrel, and it is often confusingly mentioned as a way to differentiate it from Rioja (Rioja obviously having been aged in oak as well), the latter usually being of higher quality.  Ironically, if the oak in the barrel is new, without the soaked-in wine of an experienced barrel, the wine can have an overpowering, artificial woody taste, like some sort of flavor additive.

Consistent with the characteristics of wine in general, patience and maturity are essential.  Some wine makers actually add oak wood chips in the later stages of their wine processing to give it the initial impression of quality and proper aging, which reminds me of what fast food corporations have done to the American diet.  It is fake and contrived. In the spirit of remaining slander-free, these wines will remain unmentioned.

IMG 3096 300x224 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a Nutshell

Pablo leads us downstairs to a dimly lit place where the oak barrels are kept.  The temperature drops a few degrees and there is a wonderful smell of wine-soaked wood and fermenting fruit sugars.  The place is impeccable and clean, the concrete floors are swept and perfectly placed barrels are lined up with particular attention to order, a simple clipboard hanging from each different group.  To me, this is the stage of wine making that leaves the strongest impression. It is where fruit and wood work together over time not to putrefy or degrade, but to age and mature into a consumable part of culture much more relevant to the soul than any TV show or electronic gadget. In the corner of the cellar there is a table with a white cloth over it, a giant candle at the center, and several bottles of wine stashed on shelves nearby.  The area looks used and experienced, like an old worn chair.“This is where we, shall we say, try the wine,” Pablo says, with a smile.  It seems a perfect scene for an intimate party, surrounded by a few hundred oak barrels and seven or eight close friends.  I shudder to think of the damage I could do at this table.  He explains to us that each of the different lines of barrels in the room contains wine of different qualities, vintages and grape species.  I’m surprised to learn of the variety that Martúe produces. Included are standards like Tempranillo, but also those not particularly known as Spanish grapes: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, and Chardonnay.  I am getting very thirsty.

Naturally, implications of age are an advantage for wine. Terms like viejo and añejo bring to mind concepts like wisdom, age and maturity, and they look good on a label. But I suspect that often these are merely words that act as marketing tools, technically only a concise statement that the wine is at least three years old, aged for varying periods of time in either a bottle or barrel. Fino is a word commonly found on labels of bottles. It may create the impression of exclusivity and quality, but is only a is a term used to describe a specific kind of sherry in which the yeast is left to ferment freely on the surface of the wine, creating a delicious, and particular taste.

It is important to understand the difference between the type of grape a wine uses and the particular manner in which a wine is produced. Pablo explains to us that Martúe Bodegas utilize many different types of grape to produce their impressive range of wines. At this point, his passion for the business begins to overtake his initial attempt to remain within the limits of the layman, and he launches into an informative lecture on viticulture, undoubtedly difficult for me to follow in English, much less in his esoteric Spanish. Standing in the dark cellar, amidst oak barrels, I listen and try to absorb as much as I can, knowing that most of what he is saying is probably very important.

Perhaps the most well known type of grape used in Spanish wine making is Tempranillo, but there are others, like Albariño, GracianoGarnachaMazuelo, and Verdejo. Colloquially, a particular wine is often known for what makes it special. This is often a source of confusion.  When ordered at a restaurant or at a bar, some wines go by the type of grape itself (Albariño, Tempranillo) others use the region in which they were made (Ribera, Rioja or Cava).  Still others are mentioned according to the method of aging (Roble). So it is possible to be asked, in the hum of a crowded Madrid bar, if you’d like either a Roble or Rioja, and the hurried bar tender probably won’t have the time or inclination to explain to you the difference or why they aren’t really relatedBut as any observant traveler knows, local customs, labels and jargon often do not follow logic or reason, but rather find the easiest path to common use.  In other words, you’ve just got to roll with it.

The season is over at the Martúe Winery, or at least the harvesting. Today, there are now only two or three workers, in overalls and rubber boots, spraying down equipment and writing down figures on clipboards.  The wine sits in barrels, bottles and boxes, in various stages of development.  Now, the bottles that are ready to be sent away are stacked on palates.  I am curious where it’s all going and I ask Pablo to whom he sells his wine.

“Thirty percent of our wine is sold overseas,” Pablo says.  He looks at me with the eyes of a salesman about to launch into a pitch.  ”We’d love to break into the California market, give Napa some competition.” I smile, aware that I am in one of those strange, passing moments that a foreigner has when a there is a clarification of one’s own identity. It can only happen in an unfamiliar place, when someone looks at you and suddenly you are a manifestation of your home culture, as if momentarily a microcosm of another world.  I am a representation, a projection of where I come from.  This is why I travel.  When Pablo seems to associate me, strangely, with wine making in California, I remain silent and nod my head in a pathetic display of posturing.

There is much to be learned about wine in many settings, and here I have taken a mere cursory look at a complex and important part of Spanish lifestyle. Seeing a small vineyard first-hand has brought the whole process to life, more than in any book, magazine or documentary. And in the recent economic recession that seems to have enveloped all of Europe, Spain has suffered tremendously. But this country has at least one economic muscle that simply needs to be flexed. In the business of making and selling wine there seems to be a sleeping giant in Spain, whether on the Meseta plateau or near the green coast of Galicia, and it is one of pride and immense potential.  And as I find myself digging deeper into the culture of food and drink in this country, I suspect I have a lot of work to do, as does Spain itself.

Special thanks to Pablo at Bodegas Martúe for taking the time out of his day to show us around and open up the world of wine making to us. For more information on Bodegas Martúe La Guardia S.A., visit: or

Photos by: Shawn Moksvold

shawn1 Feature: Decanted and Decoded: Spanish Wine in a NutshellAbout the Writer:

Shawn Moksvold is a freelance writer with particular interests in travel, food and wine, and Spanish culture.  He graduated with a BA in Creative Writing and Linguistics at Northern Arizona University, and currently teaches English to elementary school children. He writes for his blog, A Casual Notebook, and currently lives in Madrid, Spain.

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Nothing is More French than a Trip to Bordeaux

February 21, 2014 2:04 pm - Posted by Jody in Travel

Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix

By: The Culture-ist, By Liz Schaffer

bordeaux 2 Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix

At the turn of the 21st century, Bordeaux was in trouble. Dusty and lifeless, the once majestic stone city was crumbling. So understandably, contemporary Bordeaux feels a little like a phoenix from the ashes. With eons of soot removed from its opulent medieval churches, Baroque-era facades and Art Nouveau town houses and its once questionable docklands transformed into a playground for the hip and design conscious, Bordeaux is once again a European gem.

Bordeaux architecture Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix

Surrounded by the ancient vineyards of Aquitaine and one of the world’s largest UNESCO world heritage sites, Bordeaux now blends Old World elegance with cutting-edge design. It’s a classic French beauty with bite.

Timeless Bordeaux shines bright in the heart of the city. Gothic wonders sit amongst narrow streets and century old squares. There’s the St.-Andre Cathedral, which boast sword-like spires; St.-Seurin Basilica, that sits atop an ancient crypt; and the 18th century Place de la Bourse. This particular attraction comes with a modern twist. An ultra thin miroir d’eau, a haven in the heat, reflects the palace-like building, transforming traditional architecture into contemporary art.

Bordeaux food and wine Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix

Tradition also reigns supreme on the food and wine front. Long famed for its culinary prowess, Bordeaux has foodie treasures aplenty. Frequented by Jacques Chirac, La Tupina, and its cuisine de terroir, is both earthy and rich. Here flavours evolve, the cellar is noble, herbs hang from the ceiling and the menu is thoroughly French ““ lamb cooked for seven hours and French fries cooked in duck fat. Similarly, Chapon Fin, one of Bordeaux’s oldest restaurants, is a Mecca for food and history lovers. Dating back to the time of the revolution in 1789, this Art Nouveau restaurant, which comes complete with a grotto, attracted the Paris elite (who were greeted by valets in period attire) and has had Clemenceau, Sarah Bernhardt and Toulouse Lautrec dine at its tables.  Accompanied by perfectly matched wine, their degustation menu is bold, inventive and blissful.

Bordeaux vineyards Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix

History also runs thick in the surrounding Chateaus and vineyards. Built largely from stone and prone to glowing in the sunlight, these building, and their wineries, are both imposing and beautiful and come complete with manicured gardens and rich aromas. Wineries can only be visited by appointment so it’s best to join a tour. BordoVino offers small trips with young, wine-loving guides who know the area’s history, impart their wine tasting knowledge (one must see, smell, swirl, smell and savour) and hold rather unconventional degrees.

Bordeaux galleries Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix

It’s the converted docks alone that prove Bordeaux is no longer “˜La Belle Endormie’. Here an old warehouse the once housed German submarines now hold regular art exhibitions, Le Garage Moderne, a junk filled hanger, doubles as a contemporary art gallery and Fonds Regional d’Art Contemporain, which collects the works of contemporary artists, take to heart Bordeaux’s modern sensibility. The piece de la modern resistance is Seeko’o Hotel. With a jagged white exterior that plays with light and shadow, high design décor, electric gadgetry aplenty, mirrored ceilings and a chic air, a night spent here feels like a night spent in a living art instillation. This unorthodox urban landmark proves that Bordeaux can do contemporary. And it can do it remarkably well.

liz shaffer 150x150 Insight: Bordeaux, the French PhoenixAbout the Writer

Liz Schaffer is an Australian-born freelance travel writer and photographer who set up in London hoping to live behind a blue door and fall in love with famous faces. When not pounding the pavements of Notting Hill she’s lost in Antarctica, climbing hills in Patagonia, swimming in the Adriatic and eating her way around Italy. Her work has appeared in Yen Magazine, International Traveller, Sublime, Lost in London and Australian Traveller. Read her articles on her personal blog:

Feature Photo by  Ted Drake

All other photos by Liz Schaffer

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This article, Insight: Bordeaux, the French Phoenix, is syndicated from The Cultureist and is posted here with permission.

Jody’s WTF E08: Pacing

February 19, 2014 8:04 pm - Posted by Jody in Eat


Off the Beaten Path in California Wine Country

February 17, 2014 10:58 am - Posted by Jody in Travel

It’s Time to Drink Wine (in Livermore Valley)!

Reposted by permission of Tales Told From The Road

Tom Wilmer Book

Along with my wife and friends, I’ve made many “Economic Stimulus Trips” (that means eating fine food and drinking fine wine) to California’s famous wine-making valleys:  Alexander, Napa, Russian River, and Sonoma.  I’ve traveled to some of Europe’s top wine regions like the Alsace, Burgundy, and Tuscany. And in October I had a grand time at British Columbia’s Okanagan Wine Festival.But guess what long-time wine producing region, not far from my home, I’ve never, ever, ever, set foot in? If you said “Livermore Valley”, you would be right.  And what’s amazing about my failure to get there is that the very first wine I drank when I came to California back in 1968 was Pinot Chardonnay from the family-owned Wente Vineyards which has been in business since 1883.

The Wine Seeker’s Guide to Livermore Valley by travel writer Thomas C. Wilmer is going to change all of that.  This guidebook to one of California’s “hidden” wine destinations covers Wente (page 141 of Tom’s book) and thirty-nine other wineries.  The names of three are particularly intriguing to me:  Darcie Ken Vineyards & Underdog Wine Bar (I always think of myself as an “underdog”), Longevity Wines (I’ll drink to a long life drinking wine!), and The Singing Winemaker (has Elvis entered the winery building?).

But since man (nor woman) cannot live by wine tasting alone, Tom has included an extensive “Things to Do and See” section at the end of the book with these headings:

  • Shops & Wine Bars (Niles Canyon Railway’s Wine Tasting on Wheels” sounds like the way to go)
  • Events (I worked at a wine country cooking school, so the Taste of Terroir:  Livermore Valley’s Wine & Food Experience has got me salivating)
  • Theater (the Livermore Shakespeare Festival is much closer to my home than the similar theater extravaganza that I often attend in Southern Oregon)
  • Activities (I like to go day-hiking, and this guidebook lists several trails and parks in the Livermore area)
  • Places to See (the Lawrence Livermore Lab and the long-burning Centennial Light Bulb at Fire Station #6 will appeal to “high energy” fans)
  • Golf (best to try making par on Wente’s Greg Norman designed course before you begin wine tasting)
  • Restaurants (stay to dine at Wente after your round of golf, or play bocce ball and then eat at Campo di Bocce)
  • Lodging (major hotel chains, the stylish Rose Hotel, or the rustic Purple Orchid Inn Resort & Spa)
  • Visitors Resources (contact information for the local wine growers association, visitor & convention bureau, and chambers of commerce)
  • Towns (a brief description of the region’s seven towns and Livermore Valley American Viticultural area)

Now that Northern California’s damp and stormy winter has blown away and spring has arrived, I’m excited about using The Wine Seeker’s Guide to Livermore Valley to plan my next wine tasting excursion.  Since it’s also available in a Kindle version, I could read the e-book on my PC and highlight those wineries and other places I want visit on my first trip, then leave my printed version at home and refer to my Kindle notes using my iPhone.  (Thanks to Tom Wilmer for providing me with a review copy of  his guidebook).

(Tom Wilmer got into journalism as a copy boy for the West Coast edition of the The Wall Street Journal.  Since then his travels around the globe have racked up more miles than two trips to the Moon—the one place he hasn’t been yet—and back.  His Audiolog travel programs have aired on Central California NPR affiliate radio stations for over twenty years. Now you can find him on YouTube (as in this clip about Livermore Valley wineries), too. Tom and Dick Jordan are both members of Bay Area Travel Writers.)



Eating Italy

February 14, 2014 11:37 am - Posted by Jody in Travel

Munch Your Way Through Florence – Gourmet Food Tours in Tuscany

By: Authors at

Italian cuisine is renowned worldwide for its delicious cooking styles and amazing recipes, and it is nowadays being served in some of the most sought after and famous restaurants in the world. Little did we know that this traditional cooking style stems from the poor people of Italy using their imaginations and making do with what they had in order to create simple, nourishing yet delicious recipes.  Today you’ll find wonderful gourmet food tours throughout Tuscany and beyond.

Florentine and Tuscan cooking is now a gourmet treat. It is completely within our grasp to enjoy these foods, as well as their wines and their other delicatessen such as olive oils and cheeses. Home of Chianti wine, Florence is surrounded by the Tuscan Vineyards, where it is possible to discover where this wine comes from along with many other kinds of grape such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.There are cooking courses, wine tasting tours, and combinations if the two, restaurants, eateries and wine cellars, all of which you are welcome to attend and visit to tantalize your taste buds during your stay in Florence. Discover the magic of wine-braised game meat such as rabbit, boar and deer, and the Florentine beefsteak called Fiorentina on the tours available, whose guides are waiting to show you what they have to offer. Here are five fabulous tours I would love to attend next time I visit the Tuscan capital.


Tuscan cooking course with visit to San Lorenzo Market

Florence Market

A fantastic opportunity to learn how to cook an authentic Tuscan meal, and in turn to take this knowledge home. At a top-class culinary school you will be instructed by expert chefs after being taught how to pick your ingredients fresh from Florence’s historic San Lorenzo market. You will learn Tuscan recipes from an English speaking guide, then have the opportunity to eat what you made during the lesson in a 4 course meal alongside a local Tuscan wine in a fun and friendly atmosphere.

Tuscan luxury wine tour

Italy Pizzeria

In your 10 hour wine tasting experience you will travel the scenic coastal area of Tuscany and taste some of Tuscany’s best wines. Travelling over rolling hills and olive groves you will be visiting the places that send their wines to some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world. You will not only taste them, but also learn about the wine making process, and see the very grapes that make the wine. This tour also includes a delicious seafood lunch of Tuscan style, yet with a creative twist in cooking style.

Dinner, History and Romance: Fiorentina Steak Experience

Tuscan Butcher

As promised above, there is indeed a tour in which you can eat a Fiorentina steak. Here you will travel out to an 11th Century monastery just outside of Florence where you can spend an evening dining under the stars. Sample some of Italy’s best gelato (traditional ice cream) before sitting down to this scrumptious meal.

Wine, Cheese and Oil tasting in Florence

Stay in the beautiful city and sample some of the best wines, cheeses and olive oils that Florence has to offer.You will be given detailed explanations on the historical backgrounds and the flavours of the wines, which will be paired with a selection of Tuscan cheeses. The Tuscan oils will also be accompanied by Tuscan cheeses.

3 Hour private pasta making course and lunch

Italy Pasta Class

An excellent opportunity to take the knowledge of pasta making home with you. You will be taught how to make 3 different pastas by hand ( a perfect excuse to use a rolling pin and a pasta machine!) along with learning to make the sauces that are most complimentary to them. After this you will have the chance to make a typical Tuscan dessert. After cooking class, you will be invited to a delicious lunch of the pasta, sauces and desserts you have just prepared accompanied by a fine Tuscan Wine.***********************************
About the Author: 
Hannah Fitzpatrick is a blogger and content writer for, a booking site for tours, attractions & excursions with over 300 travel activities in Florence alone.
Photo Credits: #1, 2,3,5 stock.xchng,
#4 Flickr-Alaskan Dude, #6 FLickr-Velo Steve


Jody’s WTF: E07 – A Valentine’s Day Special

February 12, 2014 8:13 pm - Posted by Jody in Drink, Eat, Learn

Jody talks about the ins and out of Valentine’s Day dining.


Beauty is in the Eye and Tastebuds of the Beholder

February 10, 2014 10:34 am - Posted by Jody in Travel

The World’s Most Beautiful Vineyards

By: Authors at

The World’s Five Most Beautiful Vineyards

 Vineyard Photo

A holiday to a wine resort is one sure-fire way of guaranteeing a good time. Wine inexplicably tastes better when you’re drinking it whilst admiring the vines that created it. Of course, with good wine, comes good food and luxurious accommodation. And then there’s the educational aspect of learning more about the production of wine, and understanding more about the tasting of it, that adds to the overall experience.

There’s something magical about the landscape formed from vine cultivation – it has a pretty, fairy-tale look about it. Here’s our pick of the most beautiful vineyards in the world.

1. Rippon Vineyard, Wanaka, New Zealand

 Rippon Vineyard

While the Marlborough vineyards are an amazing region, the Rippon Vineyard has that little extra something. Its fields of vines slope down to the mirror-like waters of Lake Wanaka, beyond which stand imposing snow-covered mountains. The little island floating in the middle of lake in front of the vineyard, fit for a princess, adds a sprinkle of fairy dust to this place.

2. Sharpham Vineyard, Devon, England


The steep slopes of this Devonshire vineyards lead down to the sparkling waters of the River Dart. Visitors to the vineyard can select from a few packages that include a guided or self-guided walk, food options as well as the obligatory wine and cheese tasting. A grand old house overlooks the grounds and forms the basis of this estate. Down by the river, a pretty white boathouse is one of the region’s most sought-after holiday lets.

3. Chateau Potelle, Napa Valley, USA

California’s Napa Valley is packed with vineyards that all have a shared charm of the North American sunshine and mixture of lush vegetation framing the vines. But Chateau Potelle is widely regarded as one of the prettiest in the area, hidden on a hill away from the main road and dotted with art works collected by the French owners.

4. Cinque Terre, Italy

This isn’t so much one vineyard in particular, but all the tiny vineyards that are dotted around the cliffs of this part of Northwest Italy. The random, seaside walkways will lead you in and around these tiny plots that are like the Med’s answer to allotments. The views down to the sea and the tiny villages and towns that lie below are made even prettier by the green vines curling about you.

5. Mooiplaas Wine Estate, Near Cape Town, South Africa

Mooiplaas means ‘beautiful farm’ in Afrikaans, and it’s certainly the prettiest vineyards in the Stellenbosch region. The vines lie on the steep slopes of ancient, mineral rich soils in the cool, sunny Bottelary Hills. The wines produced here are wonderful, and the views from the winery are stunning, taking in forested hills and the distant mountains.

About The Author:  This guest post is courtesy of


Drinking it Up Downunder

February 7, 2014 1:29 pm - Posted by Jody in Travel

Guide to Planning a Road Trip to the Best Vineyards in Australia

By: Authors at

Too often, visitors to Australia see only the main attractions, missing the amazing views of the more rural countryside. One of the best ways to truly experience the sights, sounds, and flavors Australia has to offer, is to go on a vineyard themed road trip across the outback.

Australia Vineyard Road Trip

Over the last decade, Australian wines have gained popularity around the globe with new vinicultures starting every year. Those interested in independently traveling through the wine producing areas of Australia should plan a road trip that lingers at vineyard tours. While there are over 60 designated wine regions on the Australian continent, it is recommended that you focus on the largest wine valleys, where tourism is more prominent, and vineyards regularly offer tours, and other accommodations are readily available.

Yarra Valley

Yarra Valley Vineyard

Yarra Valley is located just 38 miles east of Melbourne. Road tripping through the Yarra Valley insures a unique view of the Dandenong mountain range. The area is cool year round, and is home to more than 50 distinct wineries. It is considered the fastest growing wine district in all of Australia.

The area’s most prestigious winery, the Domaine Chadon, offers tours from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm daily. Wines for tasting can be procured by the flute, or by the bottle, and guests can meander through the bottling area, and the riddling cellar. For those who wish to linger in the area, accommodations can found at Melbourne, and a total of 20 vineyards can be easily visited as day trips, each of which allow wine tasting in their cellars.

Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Vineyard Mt Pleasant

Hunter Valley is located 114 miles north of Sydney. It sets in the long river bottoms of the Hunger River, largely considered the most fertile area of Australia. Some of the best white and red wines in the world come from this region, which has been known for its viniculture since the 1800s. The valley is home to more than 80 wineries, each set in the midst of growing farmlands.

Anyone who visits Hunter Valley should take the time to visit Rothbury estates, at lower hunter. The staff offers free tours of winemaking at every stage of its development, and offers free tastings of Shiraz.

Barossa Valley

Barossa Valley Vineyard

The Barossa, located 28 miles northeast of Adelaide, is home to half of Australia’s wineries. The area was settled by German immigrants in the 1840s, who had brought their own vines, and vinicultural style with them. They recognized the promise of Barossa’s shallow valley soil, and immediately started making traditional German wines, which have made the valley famous.

Those road tripping through the valley should take the time to visit Angaston, one of Barossa’s oldest, and most respected wineries. Their tours will give visitors a sample of German wines, like Riesling, Frontigac, and Grenache, as well as German hospitality and culture that is still palpable in the area.

The sights that can be experienced when driving across the Australian countryside are endless and unparalleled. Go to The Australian Informational Website at for more information about Australia’s unique landscape, and the ways it has embraced viticulture to create vineyards nestled into quiet pastoral passageways, and busy business centers.

About The Author:  Elizabeth Bailey is an avid travel blogger. She loves combining an outback driving adventure with a bit of wine tasting and cheap overnight stays.  Visit Expedia Australia for more information about car rentals.
Photo Credits – Flickr cc: #1 Lina Hayes, #2 Crafterm, #3 Diane Byrne, #4 GOC53