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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: Perfect mid-day breaks at Procacci | Florence, Italy

th_TuscanyTuesdayCanon 034In an alternate universe, I am Florentine. I am the wife of a wealthy someone-or-other who doesn’t want me to break a nail working a “real job,” but instead indulges me in my passion to live by my pen; leaving me to myself most days while he does whatever it is he does to maintain our small fortune so that I can spend my days in cafes drinking wine, eating what I please, and getting “inspired.”

If this alternate universe were real, I’d practically live at Procacci. But since this isn’t my reality, it’s rare visits to this beautiful wine bar that will have to suffice. Procacci is located on a fancy stretch of fashion real estate– neighboring appointment-only designer boutiques and artisan retailers. It’s been around since 1885 and has a reputation a mile long with only two newer outlets in Vienna and Singapore. Despite the modern times, somehow, they manage to maintain a certain enchantment about them. Luxurious yet unpretentious. The kind of bar you want to imagine seeing Hemingway in.

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The interior is vintage-chic. Dark wood counters, ceilings high with shelves of fine wines and locally made products, small cafe tables lined up in a single row along a mirrored wall. Very Parisian…but you know, Italian. Their most popular product? Panino Tartufato, or truffled finger sandwiches. Imagine spending a leisurely afternoon here with a robust glass of Barolo and several platefuls of these dainty panini stuffed with truffle butter, smoked salmon, salumi, and the like. The prices are surprising; clocking in at under 2 euro each, you can fill up with an easy lunch or mid-day snack for under $20 euro for two people. Are these sandwiches all they’re cracked up to be? Absolutely. Order at the counter, pay when you’re done, and drift off into happy land as you day-dream your alternate reality. Procacci, via de Tornabuoni, 65R, Florence, Italy. 

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Travelogue: Exploring the Venetian Outer Lagoon {Italy}

For those fortunate enough to spend more than a day in Venice, I highly recommend venturing out into Venice’s outer lagoon. The vibe is entirely different and well worth the 20+ minute trek on the vaporetto (water bus). Most tourists tend to flock to two popular locations: Murano, known for their exquisite hand-blown colored glass and the island of Lido, where many affluent visitors and celebrities live it up resort-style during the Venice Film Festival. Less congested, but no less beloved, are the islands of Burano, Mazzorbo, and San Giorgio Maggiore. The latter only being a short 5 minute ride away, offers a stunning panorama of Venice’s Piazza San Marco; while the other two (located about 30 minutes away by boat) are connected to each other via a small foot bridge. Wherever you go in the outer lagoon, you will surely not regret it.

My favorite destination in the outer lagoon has to be the colorful little island of Burano. Known for it’s Easter-egg colored houses and Venetian handmade lace, Burano is a popular tourist destination that somehow retains much of its local charm. There are still quite a few people who reside on Burano, so when passing through their narrow cobble-stone streets, be sure to be respectful of the island’s residents as you snap away at its darling scenery. An old fishing town, Burano is home to several famed restaurants including my favorite, Trattoria Al Gatto Nero. Also of note are the many little shops dotted along the island, which I have found, offer many little souvenirs and Italian specialties at a fraction of the price you’d find it near San Marco. In some shops, you’ll even see some authentic Murano glass jewelry. I bought a large bottle of good limoncello for only 10 euros on Burano, whereas the same bottle was selling for 17 in the shops near our hotel. For a traveler on a budget, this purchase made me feel like I had struck gold. While there isn’t terribly much to do on Burano aside from eat, take photos, and some light shopping, there truly is something special about it and it should not be missed.

For the gourmand, a short walk over the bridge to the tiny island of Mazzorbo may be worth a try. While there are much fewer dining options and shops here, it is Venissa that is worth the visit. Housing an award-winning restaurant, cozy little hotel, and some of the only wine-producing vines in Venice, Venissa is luxury and quiet in an old world setting with modern amenities  While a meal at their restaurant will set you back quite a few euros, they’ve garnered several great reviews for their all-local, slow food approach with a contemporary twist. Just taking a walk through their grounds after some lunch make for an impressive afternoon.

Wherever you decide to go, be sure to bring your sense of adventure. Wander around, get lost, but remember to check on when the last vaporetto back will depart and if you’re on the hunt for a grand meal, be sure to book your table in advance no matter what the season.

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Filed under Excursions, Italian, Italy, seafood, Travel, Travelogue, Vacation

Straight Trippin’: Reno 411- A Guide to Local Gems

I always hated going to Reno when I was a child. We had a family friend who used to live there and we could make the trecherous drive in the winters to visit them and day-trip to some ski resort near the beautiful Lake Tahoe areas. My memories of Reno were confined to cheesy outdated casinos, creepy motels, and little old ladies blowing cigarette smoke into my face as we made a B-line to the casino’s arcade. However, this month we made the trip over to Reno on a business trip. I was sent there to cover the Third Annual CANFEST (which was a totally awesome event). Before heading to the Silver State, I made it a point to do some research online to see where the younger locals go, and luckily (with the help of Yelp), I was able to find some awesome places just within walking distance to casino-land that really made me like Reno.

The first place on our Reno 411 adventure is an awesome coffee shop called The Hub Coffee Company. This relatively young coffee shop and roaster is the perfect way to start your day with locally roasted beans and artfully made espresso drinks. We liked this place so much, we came here each morning we were in town. Small, cozy, and hip with a very strong local vibe. The baristas were knowledgable and friendly. On our first visit we had cappucinos courtesy of Ashlyn; perfect, well-rounded, and delightful while sitting out in the morning cold. The next day we met Ian and Mark (the owner), who were a dream team if we ever did see one. You can’t go wrong with anything on their menu, nor can you help but love the sense of community here. Laptops, dogs (on the patio), and lingering is welcome. www.thehubcoffeeco.blogspot.com 

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Wine Journal: Coturri 2009 Sonoma Mountain Rosé

Everything I ever knew about summery rosé wine was turned upside down at a recent tasting I attended at Domaine LA. Known for their fantastically curated wine selections and great weekend tasting events (many of which I have recommended on Tasting Table), Domaine LA played host to an even more special event two weeks ago–a wine tasting highlighting natural wines as written about by the ever-so inspiring Alice Feiring.

Alice came to California to promote her new book “Naked Wine: Letting Grapes Do What Comes Naturally,” and she gave a couple dozen nerdy LA wine fans the treat of a lifetime. Not only did we get to swirl and sip wines that even the most picky of palates had approved of, but Alice also took the time to meet everyone and sign books. I won’t even go into detail about how thrilled I was to be able to talk to her one-on-one and share my perspective and receive the most exciting encouragement from her…I’ll spare you the fan-girlness.

Domaine LA’s owner Jill Bernheimer did a wonderful job with Whitney Adams in curating the Alice-approved list which included the reason for this post: Coturri’s 2009 Sonoma Mountain Rosé. Coturri was a name I had heard many times, but unfortunately skipped out on when I was in Sonoma last because of sheer ignorance. Had I known the amount of quality and care I had missed out on, I would have definitely needed to fly a mixed case of their stunning wines home. With that said, this 2009 rosé is the first step in making Coturri a household name (at least in my house.) I’m very excited that I was able to snag one of the last bottles of this vintage, as Coturri is an incredibly small producer (less than 300 cases).

Upon the first sniff, I could already tell that this was going to challenge everything I knew about this wine. A summer staple, many people don’t often reach for rosé in the cooler months because of its characteristically light and fruity flavor profile. However, Coturri’s offering is easily a year-round affair; a delicate, savory aroma unlike its mellow and semi-dry cousins. Bright red fruits are apparent, but sweetness is subdued and an earthy, almost smoky note sweeps over your palate making for a very good wine to pair with virtually any meal. This wine, while sweet, is well-rounded and complex; its subtle savory notes evoke familiar nuances of caramel and fleur de sel. The smell, the deep brownish-pink color, and even the mouth-feel of this wine break through barriers that can make even the most stubborn rosé hater a believer.

To top it all off, the Coturri family run the kind of wine-making operation that every wine-drinker should believe in. From their certified organic grapes that feature absolutely zero pesticides nor fertilizers to their biodynamic, natural wine-making process, to even their hand-bottling, these guys are absolutely legit; creating emotional wines made from the earth–wines that say something without any additives and sulfites. And that, my friends, is truly beautiful thing. Especially for Sonoma!

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Piemonte Seminar Pt. II Recap: Brunno Rocca

The second wine producer showcased at the recent Piemonte wine seminar I attended was definitely my favorite of the whole week’s worth of Viva Vino tastings I attended. Brunno Rocca from Alba was presented by the winemaker’s granddaughter Luisa, who also happens to run their PR and marketing. Luisa was incredibly knowledgeable and was quite fluent in English. The wines she presented us were top notch– definitely wines I am planning to buy in the near future.

We began with their 2009 Dolcetto d’ Alba Trifole- a medium-bodied red with a bright, fresh bouquet. This wine had a dark ruby color and was sweet and semi-dry. Warming on the palate with just a small amount of spice, this was a very easy wine to drink, but was not my favorite of the tasting. Luisa explained that it was common to see people in the region virtually guzzle this young wine as much of what it produced never even sees bottling.

The 2007 Barbera d’ Alba was much more interesting to me. Its slightly grassy nose worried me a little, but the worry subsided when this robust wine mellowed out in my mid-palate. A nice, mellow balance of tannins and acid, this wine was elegant and grown from low yield vines that are decades upon decades old. At under $25 a bottle, this wine is definitely a steal.

The next three wines were my favorites. Brunno Rocca’s 2007 Barbaresco was out of this world! This bright wine was fruit-forward on the nose with strong red fruit and could really open up with some decanting. However,right out of the bottle it is still fantastically drinkable. Burgundy, almost Pinot Noir colors were vibrant, but the best thing about this was the caramel/velvety dulce de leche mouth-feel.

The 2007 Rabaja Barbaresco was a little different. Not quite as great on the tongue as the former, but a little on the peppery side on the nose. High acid and mellow tannins can partially be attributed to the limestone prevalent in the area. Still a very good single-vineyard Barbaresco at $94 a bottle, but could use a couple of years to age (less than 3 years probably).

Last, but most definitely not least, we tasted the mothership of Italian red wines. The 2006 EV Barolo was seriously stunning. Notes of cinnamon and spice and caramel apple came to mind with this beautiful red. Higher acidity and a smoother tannic finish. This was both riper and surprisingly softer than the 07′ Barbera d’ Alba and Malvira’s Langhe Nebbiolo.

Luisa explained that younger vintages have been evolving to age in less time than when they produced Barolo many generations ago. With that comes quality and substance with vintages under 10 years of age that are drinkable in less time but also have the capabilities of blossoming and reaching their peak with proper storage and care. If you had told a vinter 100 years ago that you would be drinking their Barolos within 2-3 years, they’d deem you a fool. Now? Not so much the case.

Overall, tasting Malvira and Brunno Rocca was an a delight. I impressed with both of these producers and am glad to hear that after so many years vineyards like Brunno Rocca are staying true to tradition and the integrity of their wines. No commercialized yeasts or cold macerations here folks– just tons of love, hard work, and authentic and sustainable methods.

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