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The Tales of the Traveling Tiara (part 2)

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(this is a second installment of my experience at the Wine Bloggers Conference this past August 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  You can read my first post here.)

Thursday night was an early night to bed.  On Friday, the Wine Bloggers in Portland woke up to a clear, hot sunny day similar to the day before.

After breakfast, I went downstairs to mingle.  On Thursday, sometime during check-in, I had seen Nannette wearing a tiara.  I knew instinctively it was her birthday, and heartily wished her a happy day.  When I saw her Friday morning, I informed her that that day was my birthday, and asked if I may wear the tiara that day?


As I set the tiara on my head, and began touring the registration and tradeshow area, the day began to look much more interesting.

wbc 2 pic

(Pardon the blurred photo, I was a new iPhone user!)

The Argentine Food & Wine pairing was for the most part done well.  Some of the pairings weren’t spot on, but most of the food was delicious, and the hosts and hostesses of the event were wonderful.  A couple performing Latin tango during the lunch added visual and aural elements to the already sensory-filled brunch.


Things happened quickly on Friday, and Randall Grahms’ keynote began and ended in a whirl.

The whites and roses Live Wine Blogging was my first experience at rapid tasting (and spitting!), and since I only had my iPhone, I tweeted my impressions:

  • A memorable wine was the Alexana Pinot Gris from Dundee Hills.  The wine was bright, clean, lemony.  The winery is higher end and only available to a few states.
  • The Johan Chardonnay (Willamette) was aged for 18 months in French oak, and bottled unfiltered.  High acid and delicious, I noted it would pair well with certain cheeses and fruit.
  • Benton Lane came to Table 13 and served a Pinot Gris.  Benton Lane is known for it’s pinot noir.  The pinot gris would stand up well to salads, pear fruit, and salmon.
  • Merryhill Winery, a family owned and operated winery, poured a Rose of Sangiovese that had Best of Show in Sonoma County.  This rose screamed picnic as I envisioned cured meats and cheese on a red-and-white checked tablecloth on sunny Mt. Tamalpais.
  • An Argentine Recuerdo Torrontes had great acid.  I was thrilled to learn it was available in California.

In summary, I loved the sauvignon blancs, Pepi (origin?) and Decibel (NZ, Hawks Bay) that were crisp, not too cold, and acid bouncing off the tongue.

The tasting ended with a Gloria Ferrer Va De Vi which would be a stellar picnic wine in case rose´ wasn’t desired.

Within a half hour after the whites and roses live wine blogging, the buses in front of the hotel began to fill with passengers going to mysterious destinations.  I vacillated between going and not going, and finally jumped on Bus 8 where there were only two remaining seats left in the entire caravan.  I think I made the best decision.


We sat in heavy traffic for a short time, and then got off the freeway onto a little country highway.  We traveled for about an hour, maybe a little more, when we were stopped by a police break in the road.  What was going on?


Lo and behold, it was a planned stop by the Carlton Police.  Welcome to Carlton, Oregon!  First stop, Carlos & Julian!

(…. to be continued….)


No Longer a Wine Bloggers Conference Virgin and the Tales of the Traveling Tiara, Part I

It’s been over a month since I returned home from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland.  I had such an amazing weekend *alone* that when I finally returned to the Bay Area on Monday, I was unprepared for the denouement of the entire weekend.

I hadn’t had too much or even enough wine at the Conference, and I continued to drink wine in the evening for a couple days after I returned.  After that, I’d had my limit; I’d become burned out on wine!  I had to put the festivities of the weekend on a back burner including any writing because when I returned my fall family schedule was in full throttle —  my son had started first grade and club soccer, and I had a night class beginning at the end of the week.

This post will be a nice reminder of an amazing weekend I had for which I’ll forever be grateful.

When I arrived in Portland, the first thing I noticed was that it was HOT!  I’d arrived on Thursday August 16 mid day since I wanted to connect with friends before the frenzy of the Conference began.

Since I’d arrived before many of my friends, I settled in the room for a short time and decided to take the opportunity to explore downtown Portland.

I caught the MAX line outside the hotel and took the train across the river into the city, getting off a few stops before my destination.  Since I love music second to wine, I decided to try to find some local record/CDs stores for some hidden gems.

The first store I went into was strictly hip-hop, and the owner was offended I didn’t ask him first if I could take a picture of his store for my blog.  I left quickly and found another victim, which I found at Jackpot Records on SW 9th Avenue.  I was more comfortable with the music this store sold, jazz, blues, mostly vintage, and some vintage rock on LP, but held out on buying anything.

I finally stumbled and fumbled in the heat to Everyday Music (after a confusing trip through Powells’ Bookstore), and found two great finds:  A Hindu Love Gods CD (REM with Warren Zevon on vocals from the late 80’s/early 90’s) and an out-of-print Bonnie Raitt CD.

Happy but tired, I made my way to the MAX station I’d exited and found a seat amongst the commuters for the ride back to the hotel.  After a quick dinner of black bean hummus and vegetables with a couple glasses of my new favorite King Estate pinot gris with Doug Levy (, Jeff Weissler ( , and Luke Whittall (, the Conference began with the Welcome Reception provided by the Oregon Wine Board.

This was a fun event, but a little intimidating for me as well.  As great as it was for me to taste many different wines that night, my focus was on meeting people I’d been virtual friends with for years.  I don’t know how the conference had handled welcoming receptions in the past, but that night should have had fewer wineries to allow more mixing and mingling among the attendees, in my opinion.

The wines that stood out for me that night were pinot gris and pinot noir (my first foray into both varietals) produced by Johan, Cooper Mountain, and Evening Land.

The next day, August 17, was a truly memorable day!
……….(TO BE CONTIUED)……..


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Serendipity – an aptitude for making desirable discovery by accident; good fortune.

After an extremely busy spring, I’m ready to jump into summer with both feet.  I’ve taken the summer off from my studies, my son is obviously out of school, and we’re moving into a wonderful house on a half-acre.

While I’ve been planning this move for some time now (my father is moving in with me as he’s entered his twilight years), I’ve still had my radar scanning for opportunities that are food and wine related.

I’m attending this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland after missing all prior years conference, the most recent in 2011 in Virginia.  Earlier this year, I had begun blogging more earnestly and started looking at my financial situation and budget to see where I could save money for the costs associated with the trip.  I’d also applied earlier this spring for the WBC Scholarship, and was confident I’d receive some much needed help.

On June 18, I received an email that I’d been granted funds to cover airfare, and would be reimbursed for registration, hooray!

While this doesn’t count as a serendipitous event since I’d applied for the Scholarship, it seemed like a good dose of “good fortune,” particularly since I’d already gone through the entire ordeal of qualifying for a loan and buying a home.

Today I was exchanging emails with a local writer who’d written an article I appreciated.  We were both local to the East Bay Area and exchanged a couple emails regarding area landmarks, some of which are no longer in existence.  He must have found my prior comments on articles that I am interested in food, because he then asked if I’d be interested in writing about food for his online magazine.  I responded with a hearty ‘yes’ and sent him a link to my published article with edible East Bay.  This truly would be serendipity if a simple email turned into another writing opportunity.

I’m excited for the long weekend in August in Portland for so many reasons, It will be a huge opportunity for me to learn more about wine and writing from other bloggers and guest speakers.


What Good Is an Education Anyway?

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I’ve been mulling over in my head whether or not I want to take wine courses.  I don’t mean the fun ones, like the one I took at the winery I volunteer.  I mean real wine classes, like something through the Court of Master Sommeliers, the WSET, NASommelier or even someplace like the U.C. Berkeley School of Extension.

I mean, if I’m going to be a wine writer, don’t I need to present something more substantial than just my own subjective tastings, such as, at minimum, a certificate of knowledge?  Experience in drinking wine doesn’t seem sufficient to make a good wine writer.

When I first started dating my ex-husband, I already knew that I wanted to learn how to ride a mountain bike effectively (bear with me, it was the 90’s).  He changed out my groupo, my brakes, and my former pile was now equipped with the tools I needed.

I pored over mountain bike magazines for months.  I read about turning techniques, climbing techniques (my favorite!), and other tricks on how to keep from looping the bike.  During this time, I rode as much as I could, but still was in the process of building my endurance.

I’ll never forget the first time I made it to the top of a one-mile dirt hill.  We’d been camping in southern Utah for the previous week, and my endurance increased dramatically after many challenging hikes during the vacation.  After that, I wanted to ride constantly.

I continuously sought out mountain bike trails that were gems, in Marin, the Sierras, the Flume Trail in Tahoe.  One of my proudest moments was coming in first in the beginner class in a mountain bike race.

I loved riding, and we rode until he decided he didn’t want to ride any longer.  It was okay; I’d reached my pinnacle.  I knew how to ride well, and knew how I’d gotten there.

When I went back to school in 2005, it was literally because of a dream.  I had woken from a dream in which I was in legal sales, I was successful, and, more importantly, fulfilled.  After I began my courses to complete my B.A., I excelled in marketing, and soon divorced any ideas of working in law – I’d had enough.

However, for all the courses I’d taken, both at university and through professional associations, I didn’t know how to sell.  I took a job selling adverting freelance for a food magazine, but faltered after one lucky quarter.  There was minimal professional support, and all the sales and media advertising books I’d read seemed for naught.

So, now, I question, what about wine?  Granted, I’m much more passionate about wine than I am media sales, and it’s something I have experience in.  But it all seems so subjective.  I mean, really?  Who cares if I can smell tobacco while another person smells the fruit?  So what if I can taste the earthiness and someone else only the herbs of a Semillon blanc?  How can that make me a good writer?  I’m not “in the industry” so I don’t have the cachet of talking that many others will.  I don’t have any certificates, so I’m not equipped to tell you what to drink or what food to pair based on acidity, alkalinity, and the ilk.

I’d started this post last night, and found it serendipitous that this morning one of the first blogs I looked at ran along a similar vein.

I’d gone over to Steve Heimoff’s blog and found an article about Jason Calacanis.  Jason is credited with developing a Web 2.0-type internet site during the Internet’s infancy, so it was interesting to see the convergence of social media/entrepreneurship and wine blogging.

Anyway, Steve states in his post that wine writers need to be intelligent about their subject matter.  He quotes Calacanis as saying, “You have to have a deep understanding to be a blogger…It is not enough to be a writer. You need to be a writer and an expert.” (My emphasis). 

I think I’ve answered my question.


Cornerstone 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (Howell Mountain)

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January 8, 2012:  Yesterday, I took a wine tasting course for the volunteers over at White Crane Winery in Livermore.  Although I’ve been drinking wine for a number of years and had also been taught what to look for at previous tastings, I did learn a lot.  More on that in another post.

In order to give my UC Davis Aroma Wheel a spin, I stopped by the Wine Thieves in Lafayette tonight and picked up a 375 ml. of the Cornerstone 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon from Howell Mountain (Napa).

January 9, 2012: I had neither “Soiree’d nor decanted the wine last night.  At first sip, after breathing for over an hour, it was still tighter than an infant’s grasp on a man’s beard.  However, my initial impressions were of chocolate and vanilla.

Tonight it is much looser, the flavors more approachable.

The color is a beautiful deep garnet, with a tiny clear rim.  The fingers appear slowly, and travel even more slowly down the glass wall.

The chocolate (cocoa?) aroma is still present, along with an appealing tobacco — a vanilla cigar?  I had a pepper steak earlier this evening, so, not surprisingly, I’m detecting a faint whiff of spice or pepper on the nose.

The initial impression is gradual, and slightly fruity (red fruits, raspberry), slightly floral.  The feel is the beginning of a small wave, an eddy caused by a boat’s wake.  The peak is pleasant, no overly exuberant tannins, and the taste rounds out with a balanced, elegant finish.

I’d drifted away from bordeaux a few years ago due to over-muscular tannins, and had begun exploring more fruit-forward or earthy varietals, specifically GSM blends, malbecs and mourvedres.  This wine is the beautiful denouement to the drama.

According to Cornerstone’s site, over two-thirds of the Howell Mountain vineyard fruit is certified organic, and the winery is striving to increase that number.  While the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon is virtually gone, after my tasting this evening, this winery is definitely on my watch list for the years to come.


A new year, a new wine, a new romance?

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As much as I love both wine and writing, I have been remiss in posting.

Tonight I purchased a Hannah Nicole 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Contra Costa County), and was eager to try it. The last time I tried a Hannah Nicole wine was at the winery’s tasting room early 2011. I’d been out there with the public relations gal for the winery for an event, and had interviewed the operations manager about a new appellation Hannah Nicole’s owners were applying for.

Today, the last day of Christmas/New Year break, I was grocery shopping and found this wine and purchased it.

courtesy of

While I’d consumed a fair amount of wine and champagne over the holidays, I had not been writing about it, nor had I been taking any notes.  I felt this would be a good wine for me to post on.

I’d had a lovely New York steak with asparagus for dinner, and had opened and “soireed” the first glass.  I then entered the Romance Zone.

The color was a deep beautiful garnet red, with a clear rim and a deep depth.  It had a delightful nose, more floral than vegetal, albeit a hothouse flower versus a rose.  The nose was low to moderate.

The first taste was a balance of acid, tannins, mild sugars and alcohol.  As an analogy, the first taste was the confirmation of a date with a hot guy.  Definitely interesting, can’t wait to see what happens next!

The next taste, the development of the wine, is another step down Romance Road.  You’re out on the date now, he looks great [on paper] and the date is going great.  There is a wonderful balance of fruit, blackberry?  Currant?  Is that a hint of caramel?  Sweet!  You begin to think to yourself, “I can change my name this time, he may be The One…. What would we name the baby if it’s a boy?”

Then, the death blow  —  the finish taste.  The finish is not considerably less than the first taste or the development of the wine – it’s empty.  He frowns during dessert and coffee.  He confides he is having legal trouble ever since late 2008 when he was working for a large national bank that has since gone bankrupt.  “I only did what I was told to do,” he says, but now the senior loan officers he had managed are now being subpoenaed.

There is no future for this wine; if you have some in your cellar, drink it now.  The romance is over.  You carefully wipe your mouth with your napkin and excuse yourself.  You go to the back of the restaurant where you know you can exit through the kitchen door after you call a taxi.  It’s not a total loss, you tell yourself.  You had a wonderful dinner, and it’s a New Year.

Whole Foods Market Wine (#wfmwine) and Georges DeBoeuf Boujolais Nouveau (#nouveauday)

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Last night was a busy night in the Twittersphere. My friend, Thea (@winebratsf), had posted on her Facebook a few days ago that she was participating in a Whole Foods Market wine tasting.  Even though the tasting began at 5:00 p.m. PST, I decided to try and attend.  Since I’d already signed up on Eventbrite for the #nouveauday and was planning on getting some of that as well, I knew it was going to be an epic night.

Whole Foods, Lafayette CA

The two wines I purchased of the five were the Earthstone Sonoma County Merlot and the H&G Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.  There were food pairing recommendations for each of the wines, and specific cheeses were suggested for the individual wines as well.  I got the cheese for the merlot and the cabernet sauvignon, and also grabbed a young goat cheese to pair with the boujolais nouveau.

Even though I jumped on Twitter around 5:15-5:20, many of the tweets and the “moderators” at Whole Foods were already on the red wines.

The merlot was paired with a Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor cheese, which was an amazing pairing.  The merlot, although normally a lighter bodied wine than a cab, was fuller in body and depth of flavor than the cab.  This is a great wine, and many people were tweeting that they were interested in the merlot for their Thanksgiving dinners.  The tasting notes Whole Foods supplied suggested, “Soft plum and blueberry beauty with notes of dried herbs, macerated fruit and white pepper.”  I was attempting to taste and tweet simultaneously and did not make any notes.  I have some of this wine left, along with the cheese, and I will be taking notes next time.  Definitely a keeper.

The H&G Chalk Hill Cabernet Sauvignon was not a typical cabernet sauvignon.  The Whole Foods in Lafayette didn’t have the exact cheese for pairing but I got another that, according to the cheesemonger, was comparable.  Whole Foods’ tasting notes state, “Elegant with delicate mix of red and black fruit, tannins and gently acidity.”  I am not sure if perhaps the merlot overpowered the cabernet and thus should have been tasted following the cabernet, or if the Truffle Tremor cheese, which was quite strong, overwhelmed the tastebuds.  In any event, I still have a great deal of the cabernet left and will be drinking it alone in the future.  I may pair it with the meal suggested in Whole Foods’ notes, a cranberry and apple stuff roast pork.

Georges Duboeuf Villages Beaujolais Nouveau 2011

After the Whole Foods Twitter tasting, I took a break, made dinner and relaxed for a while.  Then, #nouveauday.  By the time I got the kitchen cleaned up after dinner and my son down to sleep, it was already at least 9:00 p.m. on the West Coast.  Either Twitter was slow or many people already drank their wines, so the conversation on Twitter was less than I expected.

This was the first time I remember that I had participated in the November 17 harvest celebration, and I was under the impression this wine would be very light.  I opened up the beajolais and, as per the notes I found online, the nose was rendolent of barely-ripe banana — insane!  It was light and easy to drink, as much of the press had promised.  It was not as effervescent as I thought and hoped it would be.

I had purchased two bottles of beaujolais nouveau, one at Whole Foods with a bright pink and white label.  I also went to BevMo in San Ramon and purchased a “higher end” (Villages) which was the one with the banana nose.  This bottle had the New York artist’s label with writing in “graffiti” font.  The wine purchased at Whole Foods was opened, and I had about a glass.  This wine didn’t have the depth of the other, and the nose was bright pear.  I’m not sure I’ll participate in next year’s boujolais nouveau day, but I am looking forward to more events such as Languadoc Day, Cabernet Day, etc.

All in all, the evening was a success!  It had been years since I’d done a live wine-tweeting event, and I’m glad I participated.



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