Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fire in the Disco

Last night I kept having a dream where my windows were on fire. The screens and curtains were all lit up and there was a heap of black smoke. My Dad and brother Cam were here. I kept frantically telling my Dad, "My windows are on fire!" but he only would yell at me to chill out, to stop being so dramatic.

It was a strange dream but I shook it off. Tonight, I get out of the shower and my smoke detector was going off. I wrap myself in a towel and fan off the alarm. This stops it briefly, but then it comes back on. I turned on the overhead fan, which seems to effectively silence it.

All day I hadn't cooked, not even so much as microwaved.  So I call my landlord, who lives below me, to see if everything is alright. Turns out he's in Rhode Island. The dream comes rushing back to me. At this point of course I'm spooked, but I grab the old detective kit (aka, cell phone so I can call Jonaid in case I am viciously attacked during my investigation) and go downstairs. I walk around the place, checked in windows to make sure the downstairs is OK and that the felines who roam the neighborhood hadn't started a mutiny. All seems to be in order.

No solving the mystery so I'm still intensely creeped and will likely need a glass of wine to calm me down. Jonaid says humidity sets off fire alarms? Is this true? Thank God for google.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pumpkin Mystery & Parking Fail

Pumpkin beer on tap, complete with a "guess the weight" contest, and me explaining to a foreign dude the principles of "guess the weight". My venture: 169.

Pumpkin beer? Large pumpkin? Yesplease!

The man across the bar commented, "Oh, you're a screamer?" to the man next to him. I feel I missed a pivotal part of that conversation.

Oh... and then my note rebutting my parking ticket (I was 20 minutes past my parking meter... Pretty soon we're going to need "FREE CARINNE" t-shirts). I paid it with my commentary. Nothing like a good defense.

Happy End of September.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Unionville Vineyards

A wrong turn, multiple farms, a gravel road, and ten minutes after our previous winery we reached Unionville Vineyards. Quite a few cars were parked despite the weather, and then we noticed the tents.

"What's going on?" I asked the woman in neon green at the registration tent.
"It's a dog walk. Proceeds benefit those whose homes have been foreclosed and they may have to give up their pet due to financial hardship." She represented the Coalition for Animals.
At this instant, I was again regretting I didn't have a dog. Hopefully in the near future.

Unionville Vineyards is on farmlands and would be stunning regardless of the time of year. Even in the rain, it was beautiful.

The barn is the tasting room. Upstairs are the wines; downstairs are the winemaking tools, including the winelab. Sciencey. (Please notice and pay homage to the pipettes! I wonder if my resume is robust enough!)

For $5 you can try five wines, but can't keep the glass. For $10 you can include the "premium wines" on the back page. $10 is a bit hefty, so Jonaid and I stuck with the $5 tasting.

Linda was our WP and was very honest about the wines, which was appreciated.

"The George Series" - Blends made to honor the forefathers of the country, named after George Washington. The labels of this series silhouette George Washington.
Lafayette Pride - A "dry rose" that is a nice switch from the usual sweet roses that I have encountered lately. It's light, which is nice on hot days, and at $12 a bottle, it's a great deal.
Revolutionary Red - A "soft dry red" whose name reminded me of the nomenclature of the wines at Adams County due to the war theme. 7 grapes go into this, but it was a little overdone for me. Too much going on to be able to enjoy it.
Fields of Fire - "Sweet Blush" that was Linda's favorite. Sweet indeed but I was glad to find it wasn't simply like juice and had some definition to it.
Heritage White - "Semi-Sweet White" did not try

"The Fox Series" - The fox is a local symbol and the bottles here silhouette the fox.
Chardonnay - Only just okay. The flavor is quickly lost here.
Pinot Grigio - Enjoyed it far more than the chardonnay. I wonder if it was served at a lower temperature than normal because it felt like ice, and it was fantastic. Flavorful and refreshing.
Dry Reisling - Also good but Reislings have not been hitting my taste buds lately. Jonaid liked it but for me it just wasn't unique. Linda attempted to get us to try the sweeter Reisling after this, but I decided not to waste a taste on it.
Pinot Noir - Very tasty. I do love my Pinot Noirs. Later on I also tried the Premium Pinot Noir ($36/bottle) which, although good, is not justified against this $16 bottle. I enjoyed this immensely- dark with a flavor that lingers and my mouth felt like warmth.
Merlot - It seems contradictory to say this wine is both tasty and bland. I enjoyed it while it sipping but again, just not memorable.
Cabernet Sauvignon - Jonaid commented the cab is "mellow". "Mellow? Can I say that?" He asked, and I laughed and explained whatever you think is acceptable. He later clarified that it was very smooth and relaxing.
The Silver Fox - This smells like grass. Linda gave me a weird look when I said that, but then Jonaid took a whiff and agreed. "Like a freshly mowed lawn," I explained. "It's not bad, it's actually very calming." Despite the unique smell, it tasted fantastic.
Reisling - Did not try

Premium Wines - there are eight wines on this list but I only tried the Mountain Road by buying a glass of it for $6. It is a $36 bottle of Pinot Noir, and while very good, just doesn't cover the gap between the $16 bottle of Pinot. I can't justify that extra $20. Instead of that cost, I'd recommend buying the $16 pinot, get a $12 bottle of Lafayette for a friend, and use the remaining eight on some cheese for a ravishingly good afternoon (said with a pompous European accent). Included in the premium tasting are three blends, two dessert wines (one is a port), two chardonnays, and the Pinot. Most bottles of wine on the Premium lists are over $25, and one is as high as $46.

I realized after we left I hadn't seen a single grape vine. There was a lot of processing equipment but I didn't recall any actual grapes. Perhaps they were blocked by the tents. Regardless of the ghost grapes it was still a nice relaxing tour on a rainy Sunday. Jonaid argued that it was unfair of us to visit wineries when the weather was so gross; but I disagree. There is a wine for every climate.

Until next week!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hopewell Valley Vineyards

Despite the dreary weather this weekend the NJ wine escapades carried on and led us to Hopewell Valley Vineyards in Pennington, NJ. I'm no stranger to Hopewell; it's one of the first NJ wineries I ever visited and definitely my most frequented vineyard. For my birthday last year the girls and I did a tour of some wineries, including Hopewell. Amanda, a Marylander, e-mailed me recently asking about the next trip there because she is out of the Hopewell port and is craving more.

The main tasting room was closed for a private party yesterday so we were directed to the larger room below, which I had never been in. Partway into our tasting a man walked in, and said he was here for the "NJ Nets party."
"The NJ Nets!" I whispered excitedly to Jonaid.
"Did I hear that right? The Nets?" our wine hostess Sherry asked us.
"I think so!" I exclaimed. "Although, maybe they should spend a little less time on the wine and a little more on the practice."
Jonaid rolled his eyes. "They're no good, I don't even care if they're here," he said. Minutes later I sauntered up to investigate the scene, and spotted the a gentlemen covering the windows with paper. I assumed this would be for privacy and it only increased my enthusiasm.
Shortly after our tasting, Jonaid and I walked outside so I could snap a few pictures, when we saw the sign. "NJ NATS" it read. The New Jersey National Association of Teachers Singing. Glee for the working professional, I suppose. Ah, so naive.

Anyway, onward to the grapes!

For $5 you pick six tastes and you keep the glass. I think I have enough glasses to set the table for an entire dinner party with the extended family. I insisted I didn't need the glass but Sherry wrapped it up anyway. "Less for me to wash later!" She said. "Oh, more for me to wash later!" I countered, and laughed.

Sherry reminded us when you do a tasting you go dry to sweet and typically white to red. We must have looked like wine amateurs yesterday because when we visited Unionville later in the day our taster there also reminded us of that rule. Typically at Hopewell they also set out some house Olive Oil (also for sale) with bread, but that was not available yesterday. It's tasty when they do that.

Dry White and Rose Wines
Stony Brook Blush - Jonaid enjoyed this lighter blend, but for me it was too sweet. Definitely would go well with light appetizers in the summer.
Pinot Grigio - The sprightly grape aroma is noticed instantly. Drinking it is delightful; it's very light and brings a crisp flavor to the mouth. The proceeds benefit Autism Intervention, which Sherry explained is inspired by Sergio's (the owner's) eldest son, who has autism.
Chardonnay (2008) - Very oaky and deliciously smooth. Jonaid and I got a glass of this; I was surprised that he also found this agreeable.
Spumante Secco Dry Sparkling Wine - did not try

Dry Red Wines - the chilly turn in the weather made these perfect.
Chambourcin (2008) - This is an old favorite and I recently just polished off my bottle of it that I've had at the house. It's good but tasting it yesterday it was much sharper than I recall. Very flavorful.
Rosso della Valle - 75% Chambourcin and 25% Cabernet made this a fantastic wine. "The cabernet softens the taste," I remarked, and Sherry mentioned that is exactly how she describes it. (I then jokingly offered my know-it-all smile to Jonaid, who rolled his eyes. I don't know why he puts up with me.) The Rosso is has such a solid flavor; the blend is perfect and distinct.
Merlot - So far it's the best Merlot I've had in NJ. Enough flavor that it could be enjoyed on its own but mild enough to compliment a meal and has minimal sharpness. Enjoyed it.
Barbera - Unfortunately I do feel the flavor of this wine is overshadowed by the excellence of the Rosso. The flavor of cherries was noted to me quickly but my mouth was still watering for more of the Rosso, so the Barbera didn't stand a fair chance.
Sangiovese - both Jonaid and I agreed that this burns. The acidity is very noticeable here which makes it less enjoyable.
Cabernet Sauvignon - not available (sold out!!!)

Sweet/Dessert Wines
Vidal Blanc - Jonaid enjoyed this. As he was tasting, I was encompassed by the White Merlot. I gave his a sip, but the minor flavors went unnoticed after the strong impact of the white merlot.
White Merlot - This is a wine of my sister, Alex. Sweet but very aromatic and easy going down. For the upper-amateur wine drinkers, aiming to get more dry but still enjoy the sweet, this is a good choice.
Porto Bianco - did not try
Porto Rosso - did not try
Spumanto Sweet Sparkling Wine - did not try
Dolce Vita Late Harvest Vidal Blanc - did not try, and am regretting it. Noted for next time.

Heading outside, albeit briefly due to the weather, we noted Hopewell has adopted Alba's idea of utilizing canons and balloons to keep away the birds. When we visited Alba, our wine hostess explained they are very close (personally, not geographically) with Hopewell. I guess ideas are contagious between the two.

Jonaid declared while we were there this is his favorite winery we've ever been to. That's saying a lot considering this summer we made it to two festivals and have tasted in four states. I agree, though; the wines at Hopewell are always a good fit for a variety of wine drinkers, the atmosphere is relaxing- it's inexcusable if you live in NJ and have never been here. As you can see in the photo above they have won a number of medals, and that's the cabinet only displaying the whites.

Another successful wine tasting weekend. Slowly making progress through the passport!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cinnamon Sunday

Mmmm homemade cinnamon rolls. Sort of. A perfect way to start off a lazy Sunday morning.

a) Thaw bread dough. I did it overnight in the fridge.
- You're supposed to let it rise, but I got impatient. If you let it rise, you'll get more cinnamon rolls.
b) Roll out the dough.
c) Paint some melted butter on, and pour a cinnamon + sugar + brown sugar mix over it.

d) Roll the dough, slice it, and put it on a greased cookie sheet.

My gas oven cooks these in about 16 minutes at 350F.

Lather on some icing (powdered sugar and milk), pour a glass of OJ, and enjoy!!!

Tops off what was a very relaxing and sweet-filled weekend. Now, are you ready for some football??

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Maryland Wine Festival

We did it. The Maryland Wine Festival. All of them. Every single one. And we lived to tell the tale without even a hangover.

There's a disclaimer with that: we did every winery we could. Two were unattainable, please see the notes for details.

Let me back up. 6am every Saturday morning the dump truck arrives outside of my window and is very happy to be alive. Unfortunately I usually am inside, happy to be unconscious, and frequently in varying stages of a hangover. My slumber is typically disturbed by the truck and causes much aggrivation. This week was an exception as I was relying on the truck to wake me up and it did not fail me. Ah, the sweet sound of my burrito wrappers hitting the metal dump truck bottom. It's like nothing else, really. New Jersey, you are beautiful.

I dragged my sleepy boyfriend into the car. We hit up a hearty breakfast of pancakes at my favorite diner and headed out to the Hanover Parks' Household. Promptly at 1030am we arrived; promptly at 11:09am we left their home for the vino fiesta.

The 2010 Maryland Wine Festival was held at the Carroll County Farm Museum. Traffic was crazy getting in there and it took us almost half an hour for us to get parked. Half an hour is an eternity for a car with a gas warning light that reads "six miles left in the tank". Thankfully we made it through the traffic without having to call AAA.

(Wine Tents from the outside)

(The Carroll County Farm Museum)

We entered the event, stashed our picnicking stuff for after tasting, and booked it to the wine tents. Armed with the list of vendors, I took notes on every tent we went to. Here's what I've got, in order of visitation. Note: You paid for your ticket to get in and that covered your tastings for the entire day. However many of the wineries had some of their higher quality/specialty wines only available for an additional $1 for a taste. Acronyms: WP = Wine Pourer, UM = Uncle Michael

(2/3 of the group, Tracy, Mike, UM, Shannon)

1 Little Ashby Vineyards – The chardonnay was sweet; the Pinot Noir was the best I had the entire day. Mike paid for the $1 tasting of the Cab, which to me, didn’t top the Pinot. In my opinion the WPs were unfriendly, but maybe it was just the extreme crowd and the heat.

At this point in the game, Jonaid required food so we took a detour to the Philly Cheesesteak tent, where the employee was wearing a steelers hat. The girl behind me also announced she was a steelers fan. It was like a miniature iron city convention.

2 Bordeleau Vineyards & Winery – Our WP Shawn was very welcoming. My top choice was the chardonnay; it was very oaky and smooth.

3 Frederick Cellars – Tracy and Mike instantly enjoyed the Reisling. Mike also read their wine list and noted that “As an Orioles fan, any wine with the name Orioles in it must be tried.” Shannon, Mike, and Tracy all enjoyed that wine, named the “Eye of the Oriole.” Again, too sweet for me. Tracy ended up getting a bottle of their chardonnay.

4 Running Hare Vineyard – Shannon declared the Jack Rabbit White to be her “absolute favorite”. I was impressed with the Pinot Grigio, but did miss out on some tasting here as there was a Philly Cheesesteak disaster spill nearby that I needed to attend to.

5 Penn Oaks Winery – I could smell the cabernet simply from being poured into Jonaid’s glass. We both agreed it tasted like no cabernet either of us have ever had before. Someday I’d like to try more of that to see if I can pinpoint all of the flavors. Shannon loved the Rose. Leibfraumilch was described as “Mother’s Milk” by the WP, but it was too sweet for me. The Mosel was bland.

6 Knob Hall Winery – As it is the “Home of the Jealous Mistress” Jonaid and I were eager to try it. I always say Jonaid’s coral/fish tank is his real wife and I’m only the mistress because both his time and money go into it. Anyway the mistress was only alright in my book, but I loved the chambourcin.

7 Woodhall Wine Cellars – The WP here noticed my nameplate necklace. I asked for the Parkton wine (name resemblence anyone?), loved it, and recommended it to all around me. The WP laughed and said, “Carinne has to have it!” Jonaid also enjoyed all of their wines.

8 Legends Vineyard – Our WP wore a WVU hat and we gave him grief for working instead of watching the game. He laughed and said he was keeping up with the score still, and that WVU was currently winning. The wines here have won many awards and it is understandable as all were very well done.

9 Tilmon’s Island Winery – The chambourcin had a predominant licorice flavor, which is a taste I don’t usually encounter so strongly in this type of wine. Licorice rarely sits well with me and it did not work for my taste buds here. Girls at this tasting tent kept talking to Mike, who enjoyed trying the white wines with them.

10 Dove Valley Vineyards & Winery – I walked up to this tent and saw its wines had won many MD Governor’s Cup and Finger Lakes International Competition awards. Instantly I was excited, especially after last weekend’s trip to Alba, which had so many similar titles and was fantastic. Our WP laughed at my enthusiasm. I’m sorry to admit I was disappointed with all that I tried, mostly because I had such high expectations. I think this is one on my list that I would like to revisit the winery itself in person in the future to give it a second shot.

11 Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard – What a fantastic name. Who doesn’t need a bit of Sugarloaf in their lives? Certainly is better than my mum’s Meatloaf. Circe was my choice here, a very unique blend that wasn’t too dry and had a distinct flavor.

12 Far Eastern Shore Winery – Here were many sweeter fruit wines. The Strawberry Wine (Swan’s Blush) was very sweet but refreshing; Shannon bought two bottles of it. The blackberry wine (Black Swan Rouge) hit Mike’s favor and he got a bottle of it. The cranberry (Autumn Swan Blanc), as always, for those who are avoiding UTIs but want a buzz (just kidding). All wines here did not taste of alcohol. Also, now I have noticed I wrote down the wine’s description but not the actual wine names. From their website I have my best guess of the wine names, noted in parenthesis here.

13 Serpent Ridge Vineyard – Unplanned and ironic that the snake winery was our unlucky 13th on Saturday, and it certainly was sinfully good. Wines were named with the serpent theme, including a Basilisk which is not named after Harry Potter. The WP explained here that most wines are named after the grape but blends are given creative names since they have multiple grapes. Here was another $1 cabernet that we tried as the WP claimed it is the “best cabernet in the USA”. A bottle of this totals to$37 but both Jonaid and I agreed it may have been one of the best cabernets we have had in a very long time. We were not let down by the claim.

14 Perigeaux Vineyards & Winery – Cabernet was stunning. The bottles I saw on this list were mostly above $18.

15 Thanksgiving Farm – The Farmhouse Red here smelled oddly like syrup, but was very tasty and not too sweet. Bottles of the Farmhouse were on sale for $7.50 apiece, making it the cheapest bottle we saw.

16 Port of Leonardtown Winery – UM, Mike, Jonaid and I agreed this is a best buy. The quality of the wine was fabulous and we gawked at how inexpensive they were. The McIntosh Apple Wine was distinct and full of apple flavor, but I didn’t shudder at the sweetness.

17 Galloping Goose Vineyard – At this point in the game we meet Stranger Ben, who came up and started talking to Jonaid. “What’s the choice here?” he asked. I piped in and explained the Blueberry was very acceptable for a fruit wine. He marched up to the counter and asked for a tasted. Stranger Ben’s review was 7.2/10.

We chatted with Stranger Ben for a bit, but things got a bit weird as he started putting his arm around Jonaid. We parted ways here politely. At this point in the day Jonaid notes he was “feeling a buzz” but felt that it being winery #17 that it was respectable.

18 Terrapin Station – This was the all-boxed wine tent. One box is equal to two bottles of wine but is about the price of one bottle of wine. I had the Cayuga White but it was too sweet. The Shiraz was tangy. I loved their name of the port, “Better Red than Dead”, but I’m not a fan of ports and didn’t venture into trying it.

19 Layton’s Chance Vineyard & Winery – Fabulous wines for the prices. All were within the $10-20 range and were worth the values being asked.

20 Orchid Cellar – Mainly dessert wines here, which went well for the sweet wine drinkers in the group. Jonaid enjoyed giving these a shot, which is surprising as he usually only has dry tastes.

21 DeJon Vineyards – All wines tried were easy going down for the entire group, and we have varying tastes across the board. This is a good choice if you’re having a dinner party and want something to make the masses happy.

22 Cassinelli Winery & Vineyards – They had three wines, two were merlots and the third was a “chocolate kiss”, made from merlot and South American cocoa. You can distinctly taste both the chocolate and wine, but it was far too sweet for my tastes. Jonaid enjoyed it.

23 Harford Vineyard – The shirt on this WP read “nice rack” with a picture of a wine rack on it. When UM and Mike both read that to her, her face turned three shades of merlot. Her name was Jennifer and she was terrifically friendly. Her pick of wine was the Piedmont Pleasure, which was too sweet for me. She was honest though in saying her husband is a home winemaker and his personal blends are her preference.

24 Deep Creek Cellars – The WP’s shirt had three glasses of wine on it and read “Group Therapy”. Tracy, without realizing she was reading her shirt and not the wine list, walked up and asked for a glass of Group Therapy. Tracy was sober. Here, we tried a number of wines available, with the most memorable being the Blanc, as our WP explained “Blancs have more fun,” which I enjoyed a lot but Tracy was not impressed with. Going to their website I see a recipe for Pizza that I look forward to trying.

25 Friday’s Creek – All bottles were $11. The wines I tasted I enjoyed except for the Concord which was too sweet. Tracy got a bottle of the Traminette.

It is at Friday’s Creek where we run into the elusive WVU girls that we had been seeing all day. Jonaid spotted them early on and kept an eye out for them because he thought they were cute, but when we were next to them I started a conversation. Everything they said was in unison as if it were a tape recording. Some girls are just as bland as some grapes.

This ends the first half of our tasting. We took a food break at this point. I got a crab pretzel ($9 of heaven) and Jonaid got a pulled pork sandwich. Twice he dropped his fork and got a new one before succumbing to the five second rule. The woman next to us explained when she is not in public she extends her five second-rule to fifteen-seconds. Something to consider.


26 Cove Point Winery- The first winery after our break and after a diet coke, which I hope didn’t ruin my taste buds. The symphony was refreshing. I also tested my first sangria of the day and enjoyed it immensely.

27 Cygnus Wine Cellars – We tasted all of the wines here, but I was most impressed with the Cygnus Red. The flavor was fantastic and for $12 it is a remarkable find. The Cabernet was the WP’s favorite here, which we tried and agreed it was good, but the attractive price on the Red made it more appealing. It was also at this point I accidentally shot my hairtie across at another WP, who pretended he had been mortally wounded before returning it to me. I’m twenty-four years old and am still entertained by this kind of silliness.

28 St. Michael’s Winery – It is here that I learned what a Gollywobbler is, both in “real life” and in terms of this winery. The Gollywobblers here are a sweet wine but the sugar isn’t overpowering. There is still a lot of flavor and I could see Alex really enjoying this. I vied my best for UM to buy a shirt from here, but he said they were in chick colors. Maybe next time.

29 Solomans Island Winery – “Aint nothing but the blue” blueberry here was the favorite out of our tasting group. Additionally the label on the bottles were very impressive.

30 Fiore Winery & Distillery - Approaching their tent we noted their sign that read “Maryland Wine with an Italian Accent”. Another taster stepped away from the tent and commented his wine tasted like a “granny apple on a stick”, but I couldn’t tell if that was meant as good or bad. We volunteered Mike to try the High Heeled Slipper, just because of the name. After his first sip he was in love and bought a bottle. To me, it was too sweet, but to each their own.

31 Basignani Winery – UM commented that two years ago he bought a bottle of Seyval from here while at the festival. Trying the Seyval again, we were unimpressed. On the other hand, the reds here were mostly quite tasty to me. With a price of $11.75 you couldn’t beat it. My pick was the Piccolo and was one of my favorites all day; on the other hand the Cabernet was very sharp and distasteful to me. On top of the tasting our WP had a ton of personality. She jokingly gave UM some lip about his lit cigar, saying her baby was going to be born with 1 eye. “Your baby!” I exclaimed, shocked she was pregnant. Turned out she was 37 years old and on her fifth child. She looked great for her age.

32 Linganore Winecellars / Berrywine Plantations – at first I was horrified because I couldn’t find Linganore on the provided list, but it was noted under “Berrywine” (very misleading). Linganore is the native home to my good friend Chloe, and I’ve been to this winery’s music festivals before with my family (RIP UM’s blackberry, lost in fall 2007). The wines are still a bit sweet for me, but I’ll always love their vineyard for the atmosphere and beauty of the winery.

33 Elk Run Vineyards – A good friend of mine is from the town of this winery, and her mother is named Katharine. Is it simply a coincidence this winery has a wine named Sweet Katharine? I think not. Anyway, yes, it was very sweet like the title described. It is recommended to be used to make Sangria.

34 Boordy Vineyards – As we walked up Jonaid commented, “This winery has abstract art labels. They’re probably expensive.” UM replied, “The great thing about abstract art is that you don’t have to get it.” We continued into the tent to meet Earl, our female pourer. UM was in shock and asked her if her name was really Earl, or if there was a name tag mixup. She laughed and explained it was short for Earlene, her mother’s dad. This winery wins my best label award of the day and also another good value award. The wines I tried were well defined and very reasonably priced. Also if you’re in the area they have “ladies night” events, so girls! Look it up!

35 Cascia Vineyards – (the sign read “Mark Cascia Vineyards”) All wine tasted was excellent. The pourers were somewhat inefficient at handling a large crowd as they devoted their entire attention to only one customer at a time. I waited in the owner’s line for some time before I noticed he was talking to the woman in front of me about traveling as he poured her wine. I switched to the other side, where another WP was doing similarly. I think if I were to visit the winery itself, I would love this kind of personalized attention and ability to discuss; however here, it was too time consuming.

36 Black Ankle Vineyards – Only at the premier tent (an extra $30. Money’s tight. It got cut.)

37 Slack Winery – the one we couldn’t find, but it is noted to be “in the giant tent”. I even double-checked for it. Failure on our part.

The voluntary breathalyzer as we were exiting the event resulted in a 0.03 for Mike and a 1.2 for me. I think the 1.2 for me may have been inaccurate because I think I'd be dead, and also I didn't feel more than buzzed. Luckily I was not driving regardless.

In addition to wine there were a number of food tents, crafts/vendors, and wine courses. I didn't take the classes because I believe in my tried and true, "Do you like it?" method. If I am to return next year, I think I'd try to come earlier in the day to allow time to see what the classes are all about. Tracy and Shannon bought a few things from the craft vendors, and the Maryland crabs were enjoyed by all.

The whole day was a blast. We met many more fellow wine tasters, fabulous pourers, and loved the music. For $22 this is an amazing wine opportunity. My one complaint is the attitude of some of the event employees themselves. These people were not the winery associates, but were the personnel running the whole show and were remarkably unfriendly. As the day neared ending I was looking for a few final tents to finish my tour. Two employees were both quite impatient and rude when I asked for help, and one woman was very nice but was on her cell phone with a personal call for more than a few minutes as I waited. Other than that, perfect day.

Learning for next year, I'll bring a hat and my spare liver.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poor Girl's Homebrew

I walk up to the check out lane with my avocado, white rice, and a pumpkin. The cashier instantly breaks out in a grin and exclaims, "Oh! My first pumpkin sale! So exciting, I absolutely love fall. It's just the chilly nights..." and on and on she goes. Unfortunately, she did not realize I had ulterior motives for this fine fellow.

Earlier this week I was talking to my good friend Allie, the same one from La Casa Narcisi, when I was inspired. I'd hollow out a pumpkin and pour a beer inside. Pumpkin Beer!

My goal was to wait until the first day of fall but I got too excited.

Step 1: Purchase hand-sized pumpkin from eager saleslady. (Eager saleslady is important here. Amp up your enthusiasm.)
Step 2: Hollow pumpkin.

Step 3: Double check that it's hollowed.
Step 4: Realize you forgot to buy straws. Run back out to the store.
Step 5: Pour beer.

Step 6: Post pictures on blog while enjoying. At the beginning it just tastes like beer through a straw, but toward the end there is a definite pumpkin flavor added. Optional: Make pumpkin seeds with the hollowed pumpkin innards.

This is a great way to smuggle booze into places. No one suspects the pumpkin. Also, you can refrigerate the pumpkin prior to pour for a great way to keep a beverage chilled.

Cheers to a happy autumn!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Change is hard.

I updated my blog once since its conception in 2004.

I've updated it again. I have animosity.

A new title may be coming, too.

We'll see if my being bummed is just the new-font blues or if it's for real.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Grandparent's Day

A little known (possibly Hallmark) Holiday is Grandparent's Day. It was last Sunday, Sept 12. It's a BOGO post as today is also my Grandfather's birthday. Happy Birthday Poppy!

A photo of my Dad, Grandmother, and Grandfather:

And my Grandfather and Aunt at the LST-325:

Going further back to the weekend, Jonaid and I visited the World Trade Center on Saturday Night. The two lights honoring the towers shined into the skies above. We saw them from over ten miles away.

Windows overlooking the construction displayed symbols of various religions. We were there at 9:11pm. On one corner there were people somberly reflecting, laying flowers for loved ones; on the next, two arguing about religion.

But yes, we will never forget.

Good night & god bless, from whatever god you choose.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Villa Milagro

"The Place of Miracles" is the English translation of this New Jersey Winery. Less than ten minutes down the road from today's earlier stop is Villa Milagro. Our GPS couldn't locate it, so we pulled over and called what turned out to be the co-owner of the winery, Audrey. Her directions are fabulous but I would recommend paper mapping this route before you go.

The windy path to the vineyard is beautiful. We pulled up to the farmhouse at the top of the hill and were instantly greeted by Commander Cody, who sniffed out our car and then joined us on the tasting. Jonaid and I had the privilege of being the sole tasters during our visit. Villa Milagro is noted to be the only organic winery in NJ which went well with the quick sushi and curry lunch Jonaid and I had at whole foods.

There were four wines on the $5 tasting list, and you keep the glass.
Rosie's - As I sipped this blush blend I remarked at how it was fruity but too sweet for my taste. Steve, our tasting host and winery proprietor, laughed and explained that some people come in asking for something sweet and this often comes across as too dry. As I thought on his remark I agreed that it's definitely not a dessert wine, but also probably something I wouldn't enjoy a full glass of.
Sabroso - a Shiraz blend with many tones. It is very smooth but lays heavily on the tongue with all of the flavors.
Fuego - Meaning "Fire" in Spanish it is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and others. It does ignite both your taste buds and your nose with the flavor and aroma. Definitely something that will keep you warm on chilly nights.
Casi Dulce - I surprised myself by getting a glass of this at the end. I haven't been overly impressed with my recent encounters with cab franc blends but this one caught my fancy. The aroma was strong but drinking it was smooth. It was less dry than I was expecting but by no means was it sweet. It worked for me.

Steve was such an easy person to talk to. He explained the history of the winery from its acquisition in 2001 to several years later its opening for tasting, purchasing, and events. Jonaid and I saw photos from a recent wedding held there and learned of various boat tours that go down the Delaware River with stops at the winery.

In addition to learning about the location we were introduced to the personal past of Steve and Audrey. Each had remarkably successful careers before entering the wine industry - him in just about everything, her in a PhD in nutrition and being a professor at Columbia. Visit the winery's website to learn more (or, better yet, visit the winery itself for the conversation and tasting). Their pasts offer a lot of hope to an aspiring 24-year old who dreams that someday maybe she will own a winery.

Another successful weekend of wine. What an enjoyable mission I have taken on!

Alba Vineyard

Nearly in Pennsylvania off of I-78 is Alba Vineyard. This winery is near the Musconetcong tributary to the Delaware River in the Kittatinny Ridge. The mountainous terrain is breathtaking and in the fall I plan to visit other nearby wineries again to see the leaves change.
Jonaid and I road tripped out there on Saturday to taste the wines they had to offer. Unfortunately, I did not do my research and was informed upon arrival of the winery's current status of 2009 NJ Winery of the Year. Immediately I was ancy to try the wines.

The stunning winery, est. 1980, was a dairy farm in a former life and utilizes many of the farm's old structures, including housing the tasting room. For $10 you can try "6-10 wines", get a plate of h'ors d'oeuvres, and keep the glass. The plate included cheeses, nuts, grapes, tomatoes, etc; the wine glass was a bit disappointing as it didn't even have the name of the winery on it. The bottles of the wine had labels designed by local artists.

Courtney was our tasting guide. She mentioned due to the dry, hot summer weather many of the grapes are already ripe a month early. Out of twenty-one wines we tasted fourteen, as commented on below. Many of these wines have won multiple awards including in NJ, California, and the Tasters Guild International.

White Wines
Barrel Reserve Chardonnay So light it's like drinking sunshine. Flavorful and oaky. Very refreshing and for the second time in a week I chose to buy a glass of white instead of red.
Chardonnay - Did not try
Dry Riesling - Jonaid enjoyed this but for some reason it made me shudder as it went down. There was a bit of bitterness to it that didn't sit well with the flavor. I wonder if it will age and I would enjoy it more.
Gewurztraminer- very aromatic and definitely a summertime treat. Delightful; very well done.
Mainsail White - Pinot grigio-esque that would be a wonderful table wine. At $9 a bottle it's a good option if you're looking for something unique but easily enjoyed by many varieties of wine drinkers.
Riesling - Did not try

Blush Wine
Rosa - My sister Alex would love this. Light and semi-dry with an odd but enjoyable peach aroma. It is a blend including the foch grape.

Red Wines
Chambourcin - I have come to love the NJ style of chambourcin and this is no exception. Very well bodied and warming; aromas that smell of fall and grilled steak dinners. Courtney informed us that chambourcin is a grape that agrees very well with NJ climate and soil; I hadn't known that but it makes sense now that we see so much of it.
Heritage - Jonaid enjoyed this and got a glass. Very smooth, a flavorful red that could replace a Cabernet or Pinot for a night.
Old Mill Red - The table wine of the reds as it is a combination of many grapes. Aromatic and spicy from the grape combos but it is surprisingly not overwhelming. For the price of $10 you have no excuses as to why this shouldn't be in your personal cellar.
Pinot Noir - Alas my old friend the Pinot. If I ever get a puppy, maybe I'll name him Pinot (or Spock). We were told by Courtney this grows well due to the limestone in the soil- a rarity for the area. Although good, it's quite pricey at $22, and I just don't think it's a value for the money.

Chelsea Cellars Red Wines ('chelsea' named after the area the winery is located, 'cellars' because of how the wines are aged)
Cabernet Sauvignon - Jonaid smiled as he sipped this. It's very aromatic but burned a bit going down when I tried it.
Merlot - No sharpness at all and extremely smooth. Very light flavor which was somewhat disappointing- although it may just be that my trying the Cab immediately prior overshadowed the minor flavors going on here.
Syrah - I'm an old fan of the Syrah/Shiraz category and this fits the rubric perfectly. A very powerful red yet easy going down.

Dessert Wines
Alba Apple - not available for tasting
Blueberry Wine - Quite well done for a sweet wine. It is a blueberry crisp with alcohol.
Dolcina did not try
Forbidden did not try
Red Raspberry 12% alcohol but tastes like juice. Recommended over cheesecake; delicious with a fabulous raspberry flavor, fruits fresh from central NJ (various locations but Courtney mentioned Hammonton)
Vintage Port did not try

Brut - not available for tasting

It was easy to see why this is the 2009 NJ winery of the year. Alba conquers many traditional wine types and adds a few of their own unique blends. Toss in a beautiful venue and friendly/knowledgeable staff, it is a fabulous wine experience and a must-hit on the wine list. Their downfall is the pricetag on the bottles. Few are under $10, many over $15.

After the tasting we took our glasses of wine and gave ourselves a self guided tour of the vineyard. Sauntering up the gravel road we noted the balloons amidst the grapes as if there were a birthday party. Courtney had explained to us the balloons are combined with civil war-esque canon fire are keep the birds away. We also overheard another employee explaining the birds preferred the red grapes.

Returning to the outdoor patio I noted a few fellow patrons were smoking cigars while listening to a band with a singer from the Bronx. The band did some cover songs and slid suddenly into a country tune. "Surprised this boy from the Bronx has a little country in him?" he joked. The woman drinking Rosa at the table next to us replied, "Everyone has a little country."

And on that note, cheers.