Category Archives: wine

Travelogue: Embracing Calm in the Valle de Guadalupe | Baja, Mexico

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Eileen walked into the common room and with the most genuine smile on her face said “Do you guys want to see something completely magnificent?” As we stepped out barefoot onto the stone tiles of the villa, she pointed out in the distance to a gigantic new moon– the biggest we’d ever seen. It was silent, it was dark, and we were awe-struck. This was the Valle de Guadalupe.

While the Valle de Guadalupe wine country has been slowly picking up momentum in recent years, it’s charm remains completely in tact. It’s still quiet here. There is still a “middle of nowhere” feel. It hasn’t been Disneyfied like it’s northern Californian neighbor, Napa. The valley is host to dozens of up and coming (and established) wineries– vineyards tending to actual old vines and keeping their grounds bio-dynamic by farming a plethora of vegetables and other native plant-life. A Baja-med climate akin to Tuscany and a deep valley within minutes of the sea lending a terroir that is not unfamiliar to winemakers in California’s Santa Ynez.

Our recent stay at La Villa del Valle immersed us in this terrain. Verdant and bare simultaneously at the height of January’s winter. Beautiful greens and browns that felt like a mix between the Italian countryside and the Arizona desert. While the lawn and flowers were beautifully tended to– trees and herbs were allowed to become unruly; allowed to flourish and be lush. The clear blue skies were striking as a frigidly cold breeze slowly rocked the post that usually holds up the villas hammocks in the warmer months. January is probably the season’s least visited seasons, but that didn’t stop us from making the trek across the US border in search of delicious food, relaxation, and surprisingly impressive wines.

For those looking to really get some R&R, La Villa del Valle cannot come more highly recommended. Located right off the Hwy 3 on the historic Ruta del Vino, this 6-room villa has five-star amenities including luxurious common areas,a wine and botana reception in the evenings, and even a beautiful (heated) pool area. The surroundings are gorgeous– as characteristic as an artist would have portrayed the area decades ago. Old boats abandoned on the far reaches of the property help mark where you are when you’re navigating in the pitch black darkness over the dirt roads leading to the main house.  A pack of dogs scamper about the grounds greeting guests; eager to say hello to a new face.

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While the bedrooms are comfortable, a nap meant to recharge you for an hour could easily turn into an all-afternoon slumber. This is, however,  the sort of place where you want to enjoy outside your room–out in the common area where a library of (actually good) books are available at your fingertips, a spacious living room surrounded by windows complete with couches, a wood-burning fireplace, and an acoustic guitar; on the veranda of your room, or the many seating areas around the villa that become host to your sunset viewings.

I’m not always one for silence and leisure. I was raised on the go and most of my travel involves drowning myself in experiences, sights, sounds…But while there is a unique experience to be had here in the Guadalupe Valley, you’re also thrown into something very unexciting. A slower pace, less noise, a feeling of solitude. This is exactly the kind of unexciting atmosphere one needs from time to time, and after having spent some time with owners Phil and Eileen Gregory, I can’t blame them for leaving Los Angeles when they did. (Interestingly enough, the couple spent many years living just a few blocks from where I live right now– it was great to chat with them about what Franklin Village was and still is…)

I cannot wait to return.

Still not convinced? Check out my photo gallery and take note: the food and wine at Corazon de Tierra (located on the property) is worth visiting alone– we dined there four times in three days and never had the same meal twice, but I’ll dive into the restaurant in another post. The wines that owner Phil creates are expressive and worth a try, and the “little things” such as Eileen’s line of lavender toiletries (which uses the lavender grown on site), the impeccable 5-star service, and the complimentary fresh breakfasts at the restaurant make for the best getaway close to home.

 

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Filed under Lodging, Mexican, Mexico, organic, Travel, Travel Advice, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Dining: Just in time for Umbrian White Truffles at Spirito di Vino | Montefalco, Italy

My series of entries from my time in Umbria concludes with our last dinner in Montefalco at the award-winning Spirito di Vino. If I could go back in time to the day of our visit, I would change only two things:

-I wouldn’t have over-ordered.
-I would have made arrangements to stay in Montefalco instead of driving back late (in pitch black darkness) to Perugia.

Spirito diVino has got to be one of my most favorite dining destinations in Italy. Why? Because they’ve got a ridiculously solid wine list (boasting hyper-local and natural wines), and their simple farm-to-table cuisine is rustic yet luxurious. Aside from the copious amounts of Paolo Bea’s wine, it was one pasta dish that particularly blew me away. This, my friends, was the BEST pasta dish we had in Italy:

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Handmade pasta with a light truffle cream sauce, generously covered in fresh white truffle shavings. OMG.

Need I say more? Had the meal ended right then and there, I would have been happy as a clam. My error was in thinking that this needed to be a multi-course affair. Once my (still delicious) pork tenderloin came out with a melange of sweet peppers, I began to fade into the depths of too much food & too much wine sleepiness. My couple of bites of the boy’s eggplant dish was cheesy, comforting goodness which also didn’t help in aiding my looming exhaustion from the day’s wandering.

Luckily, dessert helped put the pep back into my spirit. A clever dessert of sorbets and gelato utilizing the shells & bodies of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that lend them their flavors was an almost meta dessert experience. Walnut ice cream made with the walnut meat and then shoved back into the shell, a sweet green bell pepper turned into sorbet and scooped back into it’s body…flavors I wouldn’t have dared to consider as a sweet end to a meal. And on top of that, a small tiramisu because I’m just a sucker for those it seems.

Overall, this intimate meal was a memorable one. And while the prices weren’t as economical as other places we visited on this trip, it surely didn’t break the bank and was worth every penny. Be sure to make advanced reservations, and be patient with the service. Our lovely hostess was also the only waitress of the evening, but with that wine list, who can really complain?
Spirito di Vino is located at Piazza Mustafa 2, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy, 06036. www.spiritodivino.net. 

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Filed under Comfort Food, Dinner, fruits and vegetables, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, organic, Pasta, Pork, seasonal foods, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Dining: Osteria A Priori | Perugia, Italy

th_peruroma 034After the nightmare that was getting into Perugia, it was all uphill from there (literally). The hill-top towns of Umbria lured us in with charm and some of the best meals of our entire trip. But one of the most memorable was here, at Osteria A Priori– right in the heart of Perugia’s historic core. Located within a couple of blocks from our hotel, this little osteria has gotten numerous glowing reviews from professional critics and bloggers alike. But don’t think you’ll be walking into some stuffy, white tablecloth establishment. Osteria A Priori is as down-to-earth as they get. A modest spread of tall wooden tables in the back of a specialty shop (with a smaller private dining room upstairs). The food is all local. Meats, cheeses, and produce from less than 50 kilometers away to compliment the locally produced wine and beer.

Reservations fill up quickly, so book in advance. We witnessed many walk-ins being turned away during our visit– even locals who visit often were told that they were “al completo” for the night and to come back the next day. The menu is simple. Traditional dishes; hearty and lacking fuss. The star of the meal for me was the charcuterie platter which featured delicious salumi and prosciutto with local cheeses, honey, and nuts. The pasta dish was also memorable– served simple with a generous heaping of black truffles and olive oil. Regrettably, I was pretty full by the time my Osso Bucco hit the table. Although it’s melt-in-your-mouth goodness is surely worth noting. I don’t even need to tell you that we skipped dessert. Do yourself a favor and check this place out. If you don’t have time to stay for a meal, at least take advantage of their wonderful selection of beer & wine. A craft beer and natural wine lover’s must-try destination.

Two hours, a bottle of Paolo Bea’s ’06 Rosso de Veo, and too much food later, we stumbled back through Perugia’s back streets in hardly any light and uneven cobblestones (in heels). But my, we were happy.

Osteria a Priori is located at Via dei Priori, 39; Perugia, Italy. 

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Filed under Dinner, Italian, Italy, local eateries, local food, microbrew, Pasta, seasonal foods, Travel, Vacation, wine

Travelogue: A Day-Trip in Tuscany

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If there is one piece of advice that I can give you when touring Tuscany, it’s to rent a car (or at least a private driver to tote you from scenic town to scenic town). While it’s not my favorite wine producing region in Italy, Tuscany has a multitude of amazing things to offer the food & wine-centric traveler. A hub for centuries-old vineyards, olive oil producers, and some of the best food in the world, a day-trip through the Tuscan country-side makes for the best addition to your trips to Florence.

Using Florence as a home base, we recently rented a car to take us to our dinner reservations in Panzano. Since we weren’t looking to winery hop until reaching La Strada del Sagrantino in Umbria, we by-passed many beautiful wineries and made a bee-line to Greve in Chianti where we indulged in economical wine tasting at Le Cantine before heading to nearby Panzano for dinner.

Le Cantine, established in 1893, is a great alternative to those looking to get a taste of Tuscany without having to go through the process of drunkenly hopping from one wine producer to another. The process is simple. Buy a wine card that gets you a glass and mosey on over to one of their Enomatic tasting machines, individually priced and calibrated to provide you with a precise tasting pour. Harboring good relations with many of the region’s top producers, you won’t miss a beat here and will instead, have the benefit of finding the wine that best suits you while comfortably enjoying their beautiful tasting room. In addition to good wine at good prices, Le Cantine also offers light fare from Antica Macelleria Falorni, another premier butcher that has been serving the community since 1729 and is located less than a mile away. The meat board we got featured amazing salami and prosciutto of the highest quality and local bread.

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Dining: An Impromptu Dinner at Vino Vino | Venice, Italy

I’m going to contradict myself a little here. While I know I emphasized the importance of booking tables in advance when traveling in Italy, our first day in Venice was an exhausting one and we broke the cardinal rule of jet-lag by taking a two-hour long nap late in the afternoon. The original plan was to wander around in search of ciccheti near the Rialto, but having woken up a little later than planned (damn snooze button), we were limited to some impromptu dinner plans.

It had rained quite a bit during our nap and having left our hotel after dark, many of the restaurants and bacari were packed with people trying to stay out of the cold. Following winding streets for a while, I noticed a small sign that read “Aperto | Open” and decided to follow it. The destination: Vino Vino, the intimate wine bar owned by neighboring Antico Martini which has been around since 1720.

Tucked away from plain sight mere meters away from Antico Martini and just steps away from the famous Teatro La Fenice, this intimate little wine bar features a lengthy wine list and a simple menu featuring fresh pasta dishes and a few entrees at a very reasonable price. We chose to sit in the covered heated patio and were the only English speakers around us during our visit. It was dimly lit and romantic. Our waiter was prompt and friendly, and while the meal was simple, after a long day, it really hit the spot. I found comfort in my incredibly tender braised beef cheeks in a red wine sauce, served with fluffy potato puree and my glass of Barbaresco. A decent meal to cap off a say of sight-seeing and time adjusting. Vino Vino, Ponte delle Veste, 2007/A, Venice, Italy. 

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Filed under Dinner, Italian, Italy, local food, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation, wine

Straight Trippin': BLD in the Santa Ynez Valley

Baked brie from Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe

Part of the reason why I love living in California has a lot to do with the fact that if you drive two hours in any direction, you’ll run into some place awesome. Add the fact that we’re one of the largest wine producing regions in the world and that we’ve become heavy-hitters in the craft beer scene, and you’ve basically got three solid reasons to live, work, or play in the Golden State.

I love visiting and re-visiting a place to get the lay of the land. I enjoy being able to say that I have a favorite coffee shop in historic Auburn, CA or a go-to printer service in Arcata, CA on my random travels. With that said, I’ve been really getting the hang of the good, the bad, and the awesome in the Santa Ynez Valley. We come here fairly often, although in my opinion, not often enough. The glory that is Santa Ynez wine country is only two short hours away from Hollywood; just a stone’s throw from Santa Barbara, in what is an often underrated region (at least compared to Napa and Sonoma). While the wines here don’t have the same reputations, they shouldn’t be forgotten. There are many smaller-scale producers here pushing out limited release wines that are low-intervention, estate grown, and if you look in the right place, are both organic and biodynamic. It’s a temperamental and interesting region when it comes to terroir; with the coast so close, unpredictable amounts of rain, and the valleys lending to some consistent sunshine.

However, this post isn’t about wine. It’s about what the body needs when embarking on a weekend of multiple wine and craft beer tastings (there’s a Firestone Walker Taproom in Buellton, and let’s face it, we’re big fans of them). Three meals that are sure to please at three landmark Santa Ynez restaurants: Continue reading

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Learn About Wine: More spit than sip

I probably should have known better than to have decent expectations of a wine tasting event at the Grove that was not only a Groupon, but also a deal on two other group-buying type websites. There was a hard sell for this so-called “educational” wine event, but because I was gifted a ticket, I made my way over there in hopes that there would be at least something to “learn” or better yet, to fall in love with.

Needless to say, this event was more spit than sip. When I looked at the wine program, which featured over 35 wines from around the world, I was curious as to what happened to the original “California vs. Italy” theme that was scheduled on my ticket. I was about to start whining (no pun intended) about it, when I realized that there was a table featuring organic wines. I decided to stay.

What followed was a really sad outdoor tasting with a local wine distributor who was friendly and meant well…but was (in my opinion), pushing vastly inferior products. The sign “HOT ORGANIC WINES” was the red flag. “HOT?” I asked myself…I knew from the get-go that these were not meant to showcase the winemaker’s passion and dedication to the sustainable vine. Instead, it was a marketing tool aimed at poor souls still learning about wine, or those too indifferent to really do some digging to find out what they’re putting in their mouths. I decided to humored the man with his friendly demeanor and thick foreign accent.

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