Wine Events on the Rise!

by Tamra Bolton

wine-fest.jpg

As more and more wineries appear on the map every year across the country, wine events are becoming an important part of almost every community culture.

Here in Texas, the growing Wine Swirl event in Nacogdoches is a peek into the new “wine awareness” that is taking over, even in mostly rural areas like East Texas.  With the dramatic backdrop of antique brick streets and its historic downtown district, the Nac Wine Swirl is a special event that kicks off an entire year of celebrations and festivals.  In 2016, the city will celebrate 300 years of history, something few places in the U.S. can claim.  The yearlong birthday bash will include BBQ cook-offs, bike rallies, a Boots and Beer Festival, music festivals, a film festival, the annual Blueberry Festival in June and much more.

My daughter and I sipped and tasted our way around the beautiful downtown plaza sampling wines from Naples (TX), Santa Fe (TX) and Pittsburg (TX), to name a few. We also indulged in everything from bacon-wrapped grilled chicken and gumbo to shredded pork burritos and finished off the evening with the most delicious blackberry merlot chocolate cupcakes!  It was a delightful night and I predict the sold out venue will only grow next year.

No matter where you live, you can join in and raise your community’s “wine awareness” by supporting your local vineyards and the families who nurture them…ensuring we’ll all have plenty to celebrate in the future, maybe even reaching that 300 mark one day!

Cheers!

Make Wine the Theme of Your Girlfriend Weekend

by Tamra Bolton

Last weekend, I attended one of the zaniest events I’ve ever been to…the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend.  You’re probably wondering…what in the world is a Pulpwood Queen?  These gals are members of the largest book club in the world, with over 600 chapters and I am proud to call myself a PQ.  The founder, Kathy Murphy is an amazing woman who is passionate about reading, books and literacy.  Every year, for the last sixteen years, hundreds of her members have traveled from everywhere to spend three exciting days sharing their love of books.  It is a busy time with New York Times bestselling authors giving talks, signing books, a silent auction for charity and it all culminates on Saturday night with the Great Big Hair Ball. This year’s weekend was held in Nacogdoches, Texas, which in 2016 will celebrate their tricentennial…yes, that’s 300 years! They rolled out the pink carpet and had plenty of tiaras for our Pulpwood Queen extravaganza.  The theme of this year’s Hair Ball was Storybooks/Fairy Tales, so everyone came dressed as their favorite character.  We had Cinderella, fairies, Maleficent, Prince Charming (yes, there are male members called Timber Guys), wood nymphs, and even King Arthur made an appearance.  I chose to go as the White Witch, Queen of Narnia, from C.S. Lewis’ classic tale The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.  My husband, a talented metal artist made my crown and my wand and a dear friend made my dress; I found the cape and borrowed a silver tray from my sister to carry my delicious ‘Turkish delight’ around to tempt everyone at the ball.  

Every year, a Queen is chosen to reign over the PQ Ball until the next year and this year, I won! I had so much fun that weekend, I decided on the way home, I wanted to have my own ‘girlfriend weekend or sister weekend’.  What a great time of year to plan a getaway with your best buds.  You could have a theme to make it more fun…stay in your pjs all weekend or have a 60’s retro theme or how about the punk rock ‘80’s?  Even your wine could be part of the theme, see who can bring the most fitting named wines or craziest named wines, have a contest, have a tasting and give prizes, whatever you can dream up. 

If you’re one of those women who actually like football, like me, but your team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, why not have a team theme and instead of watching the game, watch the greatest football moments on Netflix and everyone cheer for their team when they appear?   The possibilities for having fun with this idea are endless…only limited by you and your friends imaginations.  Whatever you decide to do let me know how it goes.

 That’s an order.  Remember, I can do that…I’m Queen!

Cheers!

Off-Season Reasons To Go Tasting

by Tamra Bolton

Richard Williams photographer

Richard Williams photographer

Recently, I was driving past a local winery and I noticed that they were pruning the grapevines, which made me start wondering what vineyards and wineries do during the “off season” to attract visitors.  After doing a little research, I found that the winter months are a great time to check out the vineyards and savor a little sipping time in a cozy spot.

When the weather’s a little chilly or even downright cold, a day trip to a winery is a good reason to brave the winter air.  Often wineries will offer special tastings in the winter months, some even featuring mulled wine and other cold season favorites. 

Some wineries even offer cellar door weekends where you can learn about pruning, winemaking and even blend your own wines to take home.  Winter is a quieter time for the vineyards, so the chances that you will get to meet and spend time with the owners, winemakers and even the chefs is very good.  Most inns offer discounts during the slower winter months, so you can enjoy the same escape for less.  Sonoma and Napa are much more relaxed and accessible to visitors this time of year, making it a great choice for a weekend getaway.  Check out the list of winter tasting events and other activities in your area and make plans to spend a little sipping time in front of a blazing fireplace…or you could always fly to California.

Cheers!

Do More Than Dream...Go!

by Tamra Bolton

A cozy winter evening by the fire is the perfect time to start dreaming of where you want to go in 2016.  I’m not talking about work goals or fitness goals, but what your heart longs to see and do this year.

Where have you always longed to go?  What place or places on this planet make your heart beat a little faster?  What do you see yourself doing in those places?  Why not make 2016 the year you make those dreams come true?

I can imagine myself in the shadow of the mighty snow-capped Andes, riding like the wind on a black horse, mane and tail flying as I cross the Argentine Pampas…I can see myself sitting around a toasty campfire sipping yerba mate with the local gauchos and listening to their tall tales…or basking on the stone patio of a sun-drenched vineyard while sipping a perfectly balanced Malbec.  That’s my dream…what’s yours?

Best Bottle makes dreams come true with their bespoke travel packages.  You can design your own adventure with their helpful travel concierge staff…I call it “easy dreaming”. 

They are your guide to adventure and luxury across the world…and can make your dreams a reality. This year, do more than dream about your heart’s desire; let Best Bottle make it happen!

                      Cheers!

Casual Is The New Rule In Wine

by Tamra Bolton

At the beginning of every New Year, people make predictions about social trends, fashion, technology, sports and dozens of other things.  Sometimes their crystal-gazing is spot on, more often it is not.  Some things like fashion and technology change so fast that it’s almost impossible to keep up.  I prefer the slower moving trends that gradually build and develop a loyal following, like those in the food and wine world.  Yes, there are momentary “flashes in the pan”, pardon the pun, when it comes to a foodie craze, but more often than not, you can watch these trends leisurely stroll onto center stage.

One such trend I have been watching in the world of wine is a burgeoning movement to make wine experiences more personal, less stuffy, and even casual.  No longer should you feel intimidated about all that formal swirling and sniffing or embarrassed because you don’t “speak the language.” Bon appétit  magazine calls this trend “the totally fun, not-at-all-stuffy, new rules of wine”.   Being a laid back type of person myself, I find this move towards a more relaxed experience refreshing.  Not everyone feels the same however, some still feel that a level of exclusion makes for better wine appreciation and that’s fine, but I like to enjoy my wine withoutfear of the dreaded faux pas.  Maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough…if that’s true, there are certainly a lot of other uncomplicated human beings out there who are jumping on board this trend. 

This new freedom to choose what you like, revel in small labels and ignore the big bucks market is something I believe we’ll see continue to gain momentum in 2016.  Smaller family owned wineries, craft beer companies, and even regional distilleries are growing in popularity.

In 2016, I see more “rules” of wine and spirits being tossed out in favor of pure enjoyment and freedom of expression.  So, the next time you’re invited to bring the wine, surprise them with one of your family-owned small labels, even if no one’s ever heard of them before.  This is the year for enjoying life to the fullest, getting rid of stale habits and learning to relax.

Casual is no longer a dirty word!

Cheers!

Enjoy Every Moment!

by Tamra Bolton

As we enjoy the Christmas holiday and the last lingering days of 2015, I hope you remember to savor the small things…the joy of a child seeing Christmas lights, the laughter of an old friend as you share memories together, enjoying a meal of traditional family dishes, listening to carols, spending time dreaming of next year and what you want to do…whatever it is that makes this time of the year special for you.

Don’t let this time pass by without enjoying every moment.  It’s sure to be imperfect, somewhat messy, even disappointing in some way, but isn’t that the way life is the rest of the year?  Our reality doesn’t always measure up to our imagined holiday scenario, sometimes, it’s even better.  If we can open ourselves up and let it unfold, instead of trying to orchestrate everything, we might be surprised at how much fun we have.

Who knows?  Out of the chaos of plans gone awry, new traditions may find their way into our lives and at the very least; you will have some good stories to tell around the table next year.

Some of my family’s favorite Christmas memories and traditions were birthed in disaster!  Use your imagination, accept what is and never let past holidays dictate your future celebrations. 

Make a good end to 2015…and make it an even better New Year!

Settle in to Holiday Mode

by Tamra Bolton

First week of December…time to switch into full holiday mode.  With Thanksgiving celebrations a fading memory, I usually dive into the Christmas season by getting my house decorated, filling my calendar with parties, family and business gatherings and the obligatory shopping. 

It’s usually the same every year, at least on the page, but what about expectations?  I used to build a “picture in my mind” of how certain things would play out, and I was almost always disappointed. 

This year, I am not going to put myself into the “expectant mode”, I’m just going to take each event as it comes, prepare, but just enjoy whatever happens.  I am going to prepare my house, my wine cabinet; my pantry and my wardrobe, then just relax. 

Last night, I attended my first party of the 2015 season.   I had to drive over an hour through a horrible rainstorm and arrived half an hour late, but I didn’t let that bother me.  I didn’t know anyone at the party besides the hostess and two other guests, but I grabbed a glass and plunged into the festivities.  The food was delicious, wine perfect and the company so diverse it made me smile every time I glanced around the room.  There were cowboys with spurs wearing jeans and leather, ladies in elegant fur hats and diamond-draped décolletage at every turn.  I met two New York Times bestselling authors, a charming Sicilian and a suave Italian, both of whom kept pinching my cheek, giving me air kisses and saying things in Italian that sounded nice, but I’m not sure what they said.  When I went to my friend’s party, I had no expectations; I just relaxed and had a marvelous time!

This week, as we look forward to celebrating another holiday season, remember to lower your expectations, don’t over obligate yourself, take time for what’s really important to you…and make it one of the best Christmas seasons ever.

Cheers!

Thanksgiving, Horseshoes, and Wine

bu Tamra Bolton

As the holiday season approaches my thoughts turn to my favorite family celebration, that uniquely American holiday…Thanksgiving.  While Christmas is somewhat overshadowed by high expectations, whirling rounds of parties, gift buying and standing obligations, Thanksgiving is mostly free of these restraints and therefore a much more relaxed and all around enjoyable holiday.  For my family, it is a time of easy conversation, sharing funny stories, memories and playing games.  Most of us are fairly competitive, so our games of horseshoes, washers and dominoes are usually loud, punctuated by maniacal laughter at some of my (or my older sisters) poorer attempts to toss the heavy horseshoes.

While the majority of my family are teetotalers, they don’t “look down their noses” at us who like to imbibe.  They don’t understand our fascination with wine and all the nuances associated with it, but they respect our interest “in the vine” and only tease us occasionally.   I think that’s what makes families and family holidays work…tolerance and respect.

We don’t always agree with one another, especially whether a shoe is “leaning or in” or who’s sweet potato pie is the best, but we understand that everyone has a right to his or her opinion.

Lots of folks think that any wine not made from grapes is not really wine and that’s alright, if that’s what they want to think.  I am not a huge fan of other fruit wines, but I have also found a few that actually impressed me.  Traveling around the country, I am fortunate to visit many different types of wineries and talk to winemakers about their passion. 

Thinking about Thanksgiving made me remember a winery in Maine I visited several years ago, Bartlett Maine Estate Winery.  Located across Frenchman’s Bay from Bar Harbor, this unique winery reminded me of just how good some fruit wines can be.  Just outside tiny Gouldsboro, established in 1789, you can follow the winding drive through the hemlocks and maples to Bartlett’s whimsical wine tasting room and shop.  In business since 1982, the Estate Winery has a wine for every palate.  From the local wild blueberry wine to the sweet Loganberry they offer, I tried almost everything they had.  If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know I lean heavily towards the dry reds as my favorites, but I was smitten with the way the Bartlett’s Coastal White, a medium dry apple/pear blend toyed with my taste buds.  I think it would work well with pork and possibly turkey, putting it in the running for a Thanksgiving choice.

There are local fruit-based wine makers all over the country, some in your area.  If you’ve been afraid to try some of these types of wines, I encourage you to sample a few…you might be surprised.  Expanding your experience with wine helps you understand the nuances and raise your appreciation for all those passionate souls who labor to produce the “fruit of the vine” for our pleasure.

Like spending the holidays with relatives, we may not all agree, but we can respect the other guys (or gals) opinion and have a great time anyway…even if they beat us at horseshoes.

Thoughts of Napa Valley

by Tamra Bolton

Beginning with wild grapes, the Napa Valley has always had a penchant for growing the flavorful fruit, even before George Calvert Yount homesteaded there in the 1830’s.  He was the first to plant Napa Valley grapes and was soon followed by pioneers John Patchett and Hamilton Walker Crabbe.

Although Napa’s first commercial winery was not established until 1861, this verdant area of California was already known for the successful cultivation of the vitis vinifera grapes.

In the eight years from 1861 to 1869, more than 140 wineries sprung up across the region.

The beginning of the 20th century was not kind to Napa Valley.  Due to the surplus of grapes, the prices fell drastically and many vintners were put out of business.  Then, the arrival of the destructive root louse, phylloxera, dealt a decimating blow to more than 80% of Napa Valley’s vineyard acreage.  All of this, on top of Prohibition, enacted in 1920, left the Valley’s wine industry in shambles.

Then, in 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition, Napa’s vineyards and the wine industry began the slow process of recovery.  Napa Valley may not have produced any California gold, but the riches of the vineyards have proved to be much longer lasting and a renewable resource. Several winemakers and their vineyards are legendary:  John Daniel, Jr. with Inglenook, Louis M. Martini, the Mondavi family and Georges de Latour of Beaulieu Vineyards.  And, who can forget the lasting contributions of the revered Beaulieu Vineyard wine genius Andre Tchelischeff?

From a coalition of only seven vintners in 1944, Napa Valley today boasts more than 525 wineries.  Today, winemakers are calling the 2015 grape harvest one for the history books.  As one of the earliest harvests ever, 2015 grapes are being lauded as “high quality with intense concentration of flavors”.  In spite of the yields being far lower than expected, the promise of an excellent vintage for 2015 makes the low yields frustrating, but bearable.

After the summer of wildfires, many people were concerned whether the grape harvest would be affected by the smoke.  However, Napa Valley, with its prevailing southwestern winds, managed to escape the smoke for the most part.  Sadly, other regions were not so fortunate.

Today, the “luck or blessing or good fortune”, whatever you want to call it, seems to still be hovering over this fertile region called Napa Valley.  With its rich history and storybook setting, Napa remains one of the top destinations for wine lovers everywhere.

Plan a visit soon!

Autumn In The Air

Tamra Bolton

Since Chaucer first used the word in 1374 A.D., people have been referring to this “in between” time of year as autumn.  Derived from the Latin word autumnus or auctumnus, autumn is often used interchangeably with the word fall.  This word came into common usage around 1545 A.D. and means “the fall of the leaf”.  This is the only season with two names…and it is my favorite.  I love everything about fall…the changing colors of the foliage, the smell of damp forest floor covered in leaves, the first fire in the fireplace,  bright pumpkins and gourds of all shapes and sizes and the feelings of warm nostalgia that wrap around me like my favorite flannel shirt.

For wine lovers, the season brings with it the culmination of a yearlong anticipation…the grape harvest. In the Northern Hemisphere where we live, the wine harvest traditionally begins in late summer and runs through the fall, depending on what type of grape is being harvested and the location of the vineyard.  My favorite merlot grapes are harvested around mid-September to mid-October, while my second favorite, cabernet sauvignon grapes, are generally harvested from the first of October through the first of November.  Of course, the exact timing changes from year to year depending on the weather.  Temperature and rainfall affect the sweetness of the grapes and it is up to the vineyard managers to decide when the optimum time to harvest begins.

Autumn is a wonderful time to get outdoors and experience wineries at the height of their annual activity.  Picking, sorting, crushing and tasting the freshly harvested grapes is one of the most exciting times for vineyards everywhere.  So this season, celebrate the changes, the cooler weather and the beginning of the new vintage of 2015.

Cheers!

Destination: Sonoma County

Tamra Bolton

Just north of the San Francisco Bay area lies a county roughly the size of Rhode Island.   The famous Sonoma County is known for its wine production and some of the most spectacular scenery in California.  The county has more than four hundred wineries and award-winning wines to explore and sample and is a destination that is on every wine-lovers list.

The city of Sonoma is a destination all by itself; where you can take a food, wine and history tour, sample fabulous food and wine-pairings, dive into the culture and history of the area and spend an afternoon visiting some of its most popular downtown establishments.  The tour groups are always small (eight max) and private tours are available.  Led by locals, these three-hour walking tours are always fun and filling!

Be sure to take photos of the Sonoma Plaza while you’re there, at eight acres, it is the largest town plaza in California.  The big name wineries downtown are Ravenswood and Sebastiani where you’ll want to do some extensive wine-tasting before you head out into the countryside.

On the winding roads of Sonoma County you’ll find the Kunde Winery which has over 32,000 square feet of tunnels and actual wine aging caves. You can also visit the Robledo Family Winery; the first winery established in America by a Mexican migrant vineyard worker, all nine of Reynaldo’s children are involved in the winery’s operation.  A must see is the Buena Vista Estate, California’s first premium winery, founded by Count Agoston Haraszthy, who arrived in the Sonoma County area in the 1850’s where he planted the state’s first European varietals, the foundation stock of the future Buena Vista Estate Winery.

No trip to Sonoma County would be complete without spending some time exploring the rugged spectacular Pacific coastline, the towering grandeur of old-growth redwoods and the dozens of “off the beaten path” wineries and small towns that are sprinkled throughout the county.  Towns like Monte Rio and Healdsburg situated on the banks of the mighty Russian River or you can even walk in the footsteps of the famous author, Jack London of “Call of the Wild” fame, in the tiny burg of Glen Ellen where London lived from 1905 until his death in 1916 at the age of forty.  His Beauty Ranch is now the thirty-nine acre Jack London State Historic Park, a definite must see for literary types. 

With festivals and other wine events throughout the year, Sonoma County is a pleasure to visit no matter the season.  Coming up on September 26th, the Kendall-Jackson Estate and Gardens is hosting the 19th Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival.   With garden tours, wine and food pairings, a chef challenge and entertainment by musician Andre Thierry, this years’ festival will certainly be one of the “not to be missed” events in Sonoma County.

Wherever you find yourself traveling this lovely month of September, remember to slow down, get off the beaten path and discover some amazing things for yourself…you won’t regret it and you’ll have a great story to tell when your friends ask, “Where have you been…?”

Enjoy this new season…it won’t last long!

Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Tamra Bolton

Labor Day…why do we celebrate?  According to the US Department of Labor, this federal holiday was created by the Labor Movement in the late 19th century and became an official holiday in 1894.  Labor Day is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.  It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

That last part, “the well-being of our country”, rings so true.  What would our cities, small towns, and rural areas look like if it wasn’t for the daily contributions of the average blue-collar worker?  Our streets and highways would soon be impassable if the road construction crews quit showing up.  What about the men and women who do maintenance on office buildings, shopping malls, hotels and hospitals?  Without them, nothing would get repaired or replaced.  What about the cashier at your grocery store and the guy who helps you at the hardware store?  What about all those factory and steel mill workers who show up every day to produce American made goods, some of the best in the world?

 What would our country look like without our hard-working garbage handlers, electric linemen, plumbers, painters and carpenters?  It would be a mess.  Without the daily participation of these laborers and many more, we could not function as a community, town, city, state, or nation.  Everyone who works is important, but sometimes, we take for granted the everyday “average Joe or Josephine”.  Some may discount their importance with a sniff, not considering what they do a profession and certainly they don’t consider theirs an artistic or creative endeavor.  I disagree.  If you think a carpenter, plumber, or painter can’t be creative, you haven’t watched one of them make an “impossible” patch or figure out a solution to a persistent problem on the spot.  Creativity and artistic expression can blossom even on the factory floor, fast food restaurant or in a coal mine.  What you do for a living is just one part of a person, not the whole.  The next time you catch yourself looking past someone who’s working hard for a living, stop, smile, and thank them for what they do.  We would all be the poorer without them.

That’s what Labor Day is all about…to remind us that everyone is important in our American economy, especially those often hidden cogs and wheels, the blue collar workers. So this Labor Day, don’t forget to raise a glass in honor of the workers who made America great and toast their efforts to keep America moving and growing.

Have a wonderful holiday!

Fire on the Mountain!

by Tamra Botlon

Reading reports this year of the wildfires across the Western U.S. is sobering.  Millions of acres scorched, homes and livelihoods destroyed, brave firefighters giving their lives in the line of duty…coupled with the on-going drought, it is enough to weary the staunchest optimist.

Not only are beautiful forests and countryside being decimated, but California’s farmers are struggling to keep their crop loss to a minimum.  Of course, I am especially interested in the grape crop, since California grows the majority of the USA’s grapes and California produces ninety percent of our American made wines.  Not only are the California vineyards suffering from the raging wildfires and smoke, but they have the extra hardship of the four year drought, heat and water restrictions. 

Heat and drought are two subjects I am very familiar with since our part of Texas suffers regularly with both.  Right now, it’s drier than the Sahara here, not a drop of rain since June and the heat index has hovered around 105-110 degrees for over three weeks straight.  August has not been kind to either Texas or California.

This deadly combination of weather and wildfire has many winemakers and consumers a little nervous about the 2015 California crop.  According to the Napa Valley Vinters (the trade organization of wine makers), “there are no reports of vineyards being damaged by the wildfires, and most of the time, the smoke has been blowing away from Napa County.”  While this is reassuring in a way, it still doesn’t address the larger question of reduced yield, how much the heat will affect the sugar content in the grapes and if the dense smoke will alter the taste of the wines made at the vineyards close to the wildfires.  The smoke has been so thick and widespread at times; vineyard owners in Oregon and Washington are concerned about damage.

Wine-Grapes.jpg

Red grapes are the primary concern, since their skins are included in the wine-making process.   They are most vulnerable to the smoke’s effects during the next few weeks, when the grapes begin to soften, right before harvest.  This season is about three weeks early, making the smoke an even bigger concern.

The Australian Department of Agriculture and Food said in one report that “smoke can cause aromas and flavors resembling smoked meat, disinfectant, leather, salami and ashtrays.”   Yikes!

Let’s hope the California grapes have a different fate.

Many people are predicting a rise in prices since production may be lower over the next few years because of the drought’s long range effects on the vines.  Keith Wallace, a wine expert, recommends buying good vintages while they are still around because “the quality may be dropping some”. ( If the smoke predictions come true, this will definitely affect the quality, quantity and the prices.)

While stocking up on your favorites is always a good idea, I believe we should especially support our USA wine producers during this tough time.  While I love a good Argentine Malbec or Italian Nebbiolo, the next few years, I plan to stock my wine cabinet a little heavy on the California labels.

It always feels good to support our American farmers, especially when they produce such an enjoyable product.  Let’s raise a glass to California wine makers and growers and the 2015 harvest!

Cheers!

How do I Know if They Made Good Wine the Year I was Born?

Marc Kauffman, CSW, Certified Sommelier

It’s really fun to find a wine made the year of your birth. Consider all the events that happened that year and do some research about harvest conditions in various parts of the world and you may be surprised to find your birth year may have been a “stellar vintage”…or not.

Some of us were fortunate enough to have parents that were wine conscious and actually purchased a bottle or two of wine made the year we were born and then held on to them until an appropriate birthday, either theirs or ours, when we got a chance to taste the stuff. Maybe it was a great year and we had a fantastic experience. But all too often the opposite is true. There are several reasons why it is difficult to have this somewhat unique experience. Let me illustrate.

If you are attempting to find a wine from your birth year for perhaps your 40th birthday you may have quite a challenge. There are only certain wines that are even capable of aging for 21 years let alone 40 or 50 years and these are without exception very expensive. The usual preference has historically been Classified Bordeaux wines. These wines such as Chateau La Tour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild are some of the most sought after and thus some of the most expensive wines in the world. While in some vintages these wines can live for 50+ years, you must know a lot about the particular vintage and just as important how the wine was stored (the provenance of the wine). It is an extreme risk to purchase and old Bordeaux wine from the local wine retailer unless you get a guarantee. Even then it is rare to find these wines in prime condition. Another wine in this category would be great Sauternes, a dessert wine from the Bordeaux region. Chateau D’Yquem is the best example of this wine. Age-worthy but very expensive.

As alternatives to red Bordeaux wines, sweet wines and vintage Port are two wines that can stand “the test of time”. Due to high sugar content and in the case of Port higher alcohol, these wines are more or less naturally preserved. They are a safer bet to purchase after the fact if you cannot have access to Bordeaux wines on first release and keep them “in your cellar” for years. I managed to find wine from my birth year at a very special wine retailer in Paris France. La Vinia. (www.lavinia.com) This shop actually obtains the wines directly from the producing winery. I obtained the bottle pictured above from this shop. The wine was in perfect condition and was an amazing experience. I even managed to find a bottle of this same producer’s wine at La Vinia on a later visit from the year 1919, the year my father was born. I purchased it for about $275.00 and brought it back to share with him on his 80th birthday. Again the wine was incredible. If you are lucky enough to experience a wine that has held up well for 50 years it is a treat!

One final suggestion for finding birth year experiences is to consider Armagnac. Armagnac is a distilled liquor similar to Cognac however unlike most Cognac, Armagnac can be labeled for the year in which the grapes were harvested. The above bottle of 1947 vintage for example would sell for about $500 today. A relative bargain if you compare to a 1947 Chateau Margaux for example that would sell for about $3,000 per bottle if you could find one! And the higher alcohol (40%abv) of Armagnac offers a much better chance of a memorable taste experience.

So maybe you will lay away a bottle for your kid to celebrate their 21st birthday. Or you may find a bottle from your own birth year for that special party. It takes some knowledge and some searching but it’s worth the effort for a unique celebration.

Summertime Conversation

Tamra Bolton

As we approach mid-summer and we inevitably begin to hear conversation around the campfire turn toward getting the kids back to school and falling back into a routine, sometimes the carefree spirit starts to sag a bit.  Just the mention of school obligations, extra work loads, endless carpools and sporting events seems to dampen even the most enthusiastic partier.  Here is where this little list I’ve complied might come in handy…something to help change the subject to a lighter note and steer the conversation in a new direction.  After all, we’ve got to make the most of these wonderful days of summer…

Next time the conversation lags, try one of these:

Plato believed that once a man reached forty years of age, he may drink as much wine as he wants to cure the “crabbedness of old age”.

Red wine represents 55% of restaurant wine sales.  (Hmmm….)

The first known illustration of wine drinking is found on a 5,000 year old Sumerian panel known as the Standard of Ur.

The most expensive wine heist ever committed was carried out over a four year period, when a swindler, George Osumi gradually swapped over one thousand bottles of fine Bordeaux and replaced them with “Two Buck Chuck” wine, a label sold at retailer Trader Joe’s for two dollars a bottle.  Estimated value of stolen wine was one thousand dollars a bottle or three million dollars total!

Women tend to be better wine tasters than men because they have a better sense of smell.  (Only employ this one if you want some heated debate!)

In the whole text of the Old Testament, the book of Jonah is the only one without any reference to grape vines or to wine.

California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world, after France, Italy and Spain.

One ton of grapes make about sixty cases of wine or about 720 bottles.   One bottle of wine contains about 2.8 pounds of grapes.

Red Burgundy is made from the Pinot Noir grape and is so difficult to make that winemakers all over the world see it as some kind of “Holy Grail”.

The world’s oldest bottle of wine dates back to A.D. 325 and was found near Speyer, Germany inside one of two Roman sarcophagi.  It is on display at the town’s museum.

Oenophobia is an intense fear or hatred of wine.

Hope these help liven up your next party and make you look like a real wine expert!  One thing I know for sure, I will never suffer from oenophobia!   Have fun!

Don't Rush Through Summer...Or Your Wine

Tamra Bolton

When I think of summer, I think of the word slow.  You probably hear it often: summertime is a time to slow down, take it easy, live and enjoy a slower pace, but how many of us actually do it?  Although it sounds great in theory, especially on a freezing, snowy day in February, I don’t know many people who take slowing down seriously.

For me the 4th of July is kind of like the “mid-way mark” of summer, a reminder that these school-free vacation days won’t last forever.  After the 4th, the calendar seems to slide rapidly into August and before you know it, the routine of school, work, and obligations has taken hold again.  While I am not a huge fan of summer…think mosquitoes, gnats, wasps, humidity, heat…I am an unwavering fan of “slowing down”.  Too often, I spend my days checking e-mail, answering texts, messages on social media and making myself feel scattered, all without slowing down and making choices about what is really important.  I think most of us tend to do this because we feel that if we are not moving and doing, we will somehow miss out or fall behind.  We fall for that lie because we don’t see the value in slowing down, until we become ill or we are forced in some way to stop our frantic scurrying.  What are the advantages of slowing?  Less stressful exchanges with our family and friends, more time to consider what we really want to do, instead of just doing the next thing and a more relaxed approach to life in general. 

When was the last time you just sat still and watched the birds, without checking your phone or worrying about the next thing on your to-do list?  How long has it been since you really listened to your family or friends when they are talking to you, looked them in the eye and gave them your full attention instead of staring into your phone or tablet?  We have become a distracted, frantic nation of busy people, too busy to really enjoy the things of today. 

I was trying a new wine last week and realized that I was rushing the experience, not pausing to savor every nuance and note as I’ m usually prone to do.  That’s when I became aware of my own rushed busyness and decided it was time to slow down.  A wise man once explained to me the “art of slowing”.  He said, that to truly enjoy life, you “must eliminate hurry”. 

I wonder what would happen if every parent started practicing this method with their children or adult children with their aging parents.  How about mealtimes, commutes and special times with friends? 

Enjoying wine is like enjoying life…it can’t be rushed, the quality of your experience is equal to the time you invest.  This week, invest in those around you who matter.  Take the time to enjoy every day and don’t forget to enjoy that next bottle of wine…it’s more than just wine, it’s an experience.

Make your 4th of July BBQ Better with Wine

Tamra Bolton

 

Whatever your plans for celebrating the 4th this weekend, don’t forget to make your party even more special by choosing the perfect wine; a smooth robust Malbec is perfect for barbeque or juicy steaks, if grilled chicken or fish more your speed, try a Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay as an accompaniment.  If you’re having hot dogs and hamburgers a Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot might be more to your liking and don’t forget the Moscato d’Asti or Riesling for your yummy desserts.

This weekend is a time for friends, family, fun and food, but don’t forget to reflect on the reason we celebrate the 4th.   Growing up, my favorite part of the 4th was the fireworks.  My Dad always took us to the local fireworks stand and let us choose a sack full of sparklers and other fun poppers.  It was one of the few times we were allowed to stay up past 10:00 when we were small. Maybe that’s why I am so fond of the holiday!

Hope you have a wonderful weekend and enjoy one of the highlights of summer!

Put A Lid On It!

Tamra Botlon

I have a few “pet peeves”…among them are coffee cup handles turned every which way in a cabinet, drivers who don’t know how to use their turn indicators, and gnats.

Yes, gnats.  Those summertime pests that seem to appear out of nowhere, does anyone really know how they get into your house?  Or swarm your patio?  Is there a gnat alliance somewhere that pinpoints the exact moment you relax and boom, they immediately dispatch a squadron of gnats to annoy you and dive-bomb into your freshly poured glass of wine? 

This happens to me all the time in the months of June, July and August.  Sometimes, I wonder if there is a gnat contract out on me, they are so determined to destroy my peace.  Well…this year, I finally found something to thwart the gnat patrol; these lovely silicone lids that fit over the top of my glass.  Mine is a Charles Viancin Hibiscus Flower lid, but you can find a variety of styles and manufacturers on-line.  These cute little helpers keep the nasty gnats at bay and if you’re a slow sipper, they keep the wine from too much oxygen exposure.  I don’t think that was the intended use, but I am always coming up with ways to use things in a different way.  Maybe it’s because I never read the directions.

And if you’re wondering, no, I did not get paid to mention this product; I just like to pass neat finds and tips along to my friends and family.  And you as a reader of my blog are part of my virtual family!  Do you have a favorite summertime wine gadget or tip to share? Please pass it along so I can share it with the rest of the Best Bottle family.

Until next time, keep the gnats out of your wine, your disposition sunny and remember, we are not in charge.  And that my friend, is the best news of all!

  Cheers!

A Spicy Virginia Wine Story

by Tamra Bolton

Everyone loves stories.  Whether they are epic tales of adventure and heroism or just family legends passed down through the generations, we all are drawn to the human drama played out in our lives and the lives of others.  Our family has many sagas of the bravery and high jinks of past generations simply because we took time to listen and pass those stories along.  That is one of the reasons why I think it’s important to share stories with you in my blog…especially those like the Danny and Nancy Johnson family of Bedford, Virginia.  Our national fabric is so much richer because of hard-working and dedicated people like those I found in this little valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Since the 1750’s this picturesque little corner of Virginia has been the home of the Johnson family.  In 1919, Danny Johnson’s father planted the first apple trees on his farm and now, this same farm has seen the 5th generation of Johnson family members working and tending the orchards.  With acres and acres of apple, peach and pear trees, and other fruit-bearing vines and bushes, the farm supplies most of the fruit the Johnsons use to make their extensive list of wines. If you go to the farm for a wine-tasting, you are in for an unusual treat. The normal wine-tasting etiquette goes out the window at the Johnsons Peaks of Otter winery.   The day I was there, I tried several of their most popular concoctions.   The “Chili Dawg”, requires a dollop of that cheese in a can stuff on the back of your hand…take a sip of the Chili Dawg wine and mix it with the cheese, you’d swear you were eating a real chili dog!  They also have a Margarita wine that you taste with the customary sprinkling of salt.  I loved the Blackberry Cobbler wine even though I don’t usually like sweet wines.  It tasted surprisingly like my Mother’s homemade cobbler.  One of the biggest surprises was a wine that combined my two favorite drinks, wine and coffee.  Danny’s Café Vino is a marvelously smooth blend which tastes like a latte with a kick.  He uses blonde coffee beans and takes the wine through numerous steps to get just the right balance of coffee flavor infused into the fruit based wine.   I was impressed.  Danny and Nancy’s most unusual flavor however, is their “Kiss the Devil Chili” wine.  Made with over thirty varieties of peppers, including the ghost pepper, this wine will literally take your breath away.  When I asked Danny about making this unusual wine, he admitted, “The fumes are dangerous when we are grinding and when it’s fermenting.  We have to keep the utensils we use separate, so the oil from the peppers doesn’t get into the other wines.  We have to constantly rack the pepper wine to remove the oil.  It’s quite a process.”  The end results are amazingly hot, but I have to admit…delicious!  That day, only two of us were brave enough to try “Kiss the Devil”.  My friend Rob and I downed a swig, no sipping with this one.  Talk about a burn!  Whew!  But, we did it and I’ve got the sticker to prove that I ‘kissed the devil’.  (I don’t know what my Mother would say about that.)

The inventiveness and playfulness that the Johnsons bring to their wine-making is contagious.  You can’t help but smile as they share their passion for their wines, their farm and their family.  They Johnson family mission statement says it all:  “To be good stewards of the land, the fruit, the community and the consumer.  To produce wines that are pleasant and fun to make, to taste, sell and drink.  To make all who come feel special, valued, appreciated and a part of this family farm.”

The Johnson Orchards also sponsor one of the most unusual wine festivals on the East Coast, the “Horse and Hound”.  Held on July 11 this year, this wine-tasting event features eight local wineries, beautiful gaited horse demonstrations, over fifty vendors, real country music, and events for your favorite hunting dog, like ‘muskrat racing’.  I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of muskrat and wine-tasting being used in the same sentence until now…no worries, no actual muskrats are harmed in this event.  If you’re looking for a fun place to spend some time and try some crazy wines, the Peaks of Otter Winery is the place to go.  The Johnsons even have an old time farmhouse that you can rent, if you want to stay a spell.  Sitting and rocking on a front porch with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop sounds like my idea of a vacation!

By the time I left the farm that day, after wandering through the bountiful orchards and visiting with other family members as they went about their daily chores, I was convinced that the Johnson family truly lives by their mission.  They love their place in the world and love what they do.  What a wonderful legacy.

So the next time you’re sitting around a campfire or in a relative’s kitchen and someone says “have you heard the story about your grandfather and the day he ran his tractor into the pond? “, be sure to take the time to listen and say, “No, please tell me!”  You won’t be sorry you did…and neither will your kids.

Share part of your story this week.  Cheers!

Wine in a Can...That's right!

by Tamra Bolton

The other day I decided it was time to sort through my mountainous stack of magazines that had accumulated since January.  Almost all food or wine related, I quickly became engrossed in an article about a new wine trend – wine in a can.  Somehow, I couldn’t imagine anyone doing such a thing, but there it was in glorious color in a top rated magazine.  Not only were the virtues of the can extolled, but they also included the prevalent “wine in a box” and a new European trend, the Tetra Pak.  Apparently, wine makers are listening to a new group of wine enthusiasts, those who are cost conscious and the outdoor adventure type. 

At first, I was appalled at the thought, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, at least in some instances.  The wine in a can could be chilled easily without danger of breakage, just shake out a bag of ice over a cooler full of Pinot Gris and you have a handy pool side refreshment for your guests, without the danger of breaking glass. 

My husband has always been a fan of wine in a box. I, on the other hand, looked down on the lowly box until now.  I’ve tried several Spanish wines packaged this way and they are surprisingly good.

The European craze of the Tetra Pak is the one package I was most taken with, lightweight, cheaper shipping cost, easy portability; all gave me reason to start looking for one to try.  I searched all the local stores, but apparently, the craze hasn’t’ caught on here, across the pond…at least not yet. 

While I can see a place for each of these packages, useful as they may be, I still love my bottle.  There is something about the way it feels in your hand, the experience of removing the foil and the satisfying ‘plunk’ of the cork when you open your favorite vintage…somehow, I don’t think that will suddenly be replaced.  However, there will always be room for innovation in the world of wine-making.  This new “improved” packaging is just one example; even so, I doubt the wine lovers I know will be ready to completely give up their beloved bottles. 

Although…one of those Tetra Paks would come in handy on a camping trip, I might even indulge in a four pack of Pinot for my next pool party and, I guess I should let my husband bring his box too.  Next time I’m at the store, maybe I’ll work up the courage to ask for “wine in a can”, but I hope no one hears me.

It’s almost summertime…enjoy!