Travel

Autumn Food & Wine Parings with Fine Wine Divas

Our Fine Wine Divas October event was all about this delicious season, Autumn Food & Wine Pairings.

We gathered at the fabulous new hotel and hot spot in Washington, DC, The Graham Georgetown, in their farm-to-table restaurant, A.G.B.

And our wine selection for the evening took us around the world:

  • NV Steininger Grüner Veltliner from Austria
  • 2012 Idiot’s Grace Riesling from Washington, USA
  • 2009 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir from California, USA
  • 2009 Domaine Rois Mages Rully Blanc “Les Callioux,” from France
  • 2003 Castello di Lucignano Chianti Classico Riserva from Italy
  • 2011 Venge Vineyards Scout’s Honor from California
  • 2003 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington

While we enjoyed all of the wines, our top two for the evening were:

NV Steininger Grüner Veltliner Sekt

Gruner

  • Variety: Grüner Veltliner (sparkling) from Kamptal Valley, Austria
  • Aroma: Blossoms and stone fruit
  • Taste: Lychee and citrus
  • Price: $23.99
  • Pair with: Salty or fried appetizers, or on its own as an apertif
  • My thoughts: This was a real treat! Not only did I enjoy this sparking wine from Austria but it reminded me I need to try more Grüner Veltliner as a refreshing white wine.

 2009 Paul Hobbs Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir

  • Variety: Pinot Noir from Napa Valley, California
  • Aroma: Black raspberries, plum and forest floor
  • Taste: Creamy and spicy plums
  • Price: $70
  • Pair with: Anything with mushrooms, seafood and roast chicken
  • My thoughts: Elegant, smooth, and comforting, and a nice fuller bodied Pinot Noir.

While the Grüner was served on its own, it would also work well with the delicious charcuterie. The Pinot Noir was versatile enough to pair with everything, but we particularly enjoyed it with a savory mushroom and blue cheese crostini.

Our lovely host for the evening, The Graham Hotel, is Washington DC’s newest boutique hotel. The restaurant was delicious and cozy. The Observatory, the rooftop bar and lounge, offers guest panoramic views of the nation’s capital. It was the hot spot this summer as the only rooftop bar in Georgetown.

Everyone walked away with some great new ideas for wine and food pairings for the season.

Cheers to Autumn!

Summer Spots In NYC

I’ve had the pleasure of training up to New York City quite regularly over the last few months, and thought for those of you planning a trip to the city soon, I’d share some of my finds!

Hotels

Where to stay? These are two recents that I really enjoyed.

Hudson New York: From the Morgan’s Hotel Group, this hotel is billed as “Cheap Chic. Urban adventure, daredevil design, and true affordability meet in Hudson, the ultimate lifestyle hotel for the 21st century.” The rooms here are small, think well appointed ship cabins, and there are many a ton of them. Great location off Columbus Circle, near Subway stop and Central Park. Love the Tequila Park out back..the hotel’s patio serving up Mexican food and beverage. And the Sky Terrace with great lounging spots and views for cocktails at night. I got a great deal through Tablet.

Fairfield Inn & Suites Manhattan: This brand new hotel is half a block from Penn Station so super central. It’s only 2 months old! Very nicely appointed, 244 rooms and suites. Very affordable including breakfast and wifi AND an awesome surprise…rooftop deck with great sunset and city views. Booked great deal through Booking.com.

Things to Do

My top 4 for the summer months…

The High Line: This is an oasis in the city…a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It is owned by the City of New York, runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. Open from 7:00am to 11:00pm daily. Check out the website for details, maps (and how to get onto The High Line) and list of events.

Bryant Park: I love this park all year round but in the summer there is even more to do. Le Carrousel for kids. Movies in the park. Many restaurant choices, like the laid back Southwest Porch loacted near the Fountain Terrace. Chill in Adirondack chairs with a drink and watch all the goings ons.

New York Public Library‘s The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter: The Library is a place to check out any time, but especially now to see this free exhibition that examines why children’s books are important. Through a dynamic array of objects and activities, the exhibition celebrates the extraordinary richness, artistry, and diversity of children’s literature across cultures and time. Sit in the classic Good Night Moon scene, see the REAL Winnie-the-Pooh and many other surprises.

Make Meaning: Where else can you go for a few hours of hands-on creativity with friends or the kids…make glass, candles, soaps, all under one roof…fun for adults and kids. Two locations in Manhattan, Upper East & Upper West. Upper West even serves wine!

Shopping

I haven’t done much lately but this is one of my new spots…

Cadalie Boutique: My favorite spa, Caudalie from France, has opened two boutique stores in NYC (building on their fabulous spa at The Plaza). Vinotherapist Val is awesome…he’ll show you around the Barrel Bar (yes, their products are rooted in grapes and vines from their vineyards) and introduce you to some great products. The Bleeker Street location is in the West Village, a great neighborhood is great for shopping and dining.

Bars & Restaurants

So many choices…where does one begin? Here are a few I’ve enjoyed and will be going back to.

Lattanzi Ristorante: Just discovered this restaurant last week and YUM! Looking for a classy Italian in the Theater District? Lattanzi is your spot!

Vive la crêpe: A little piece of Paris in NYC! With several locations across the city, you must pop into this little Parisian influenced café for delicious sweet or savory crêpes and coffee.

Chobani SoHo: Like the yogurt? Check out their super cool spot in SoHo to get your own special combo made specifically for you and served in a lovely glass bowl!

A.O.C.: More France in NYC. In the West Village (just across from the Caudalie Boutique mentioned above), sits this casual French bistro with a lovely outdoor dining space in the back.

The Champagne Bar: And when in NYC, one must have bubbles. The Champagne Bar at The Plaza may be pricey, but you feel like a million bucks while enjoying your glass!

Cheers to summer in NYC!

Take a Trip to Paris in My New Children’s Book

I’m thrilled to announce the launch of my new children’s picture book, KeeKee’s Big Adventures in Paris, France!

I started Grape Occasions to share my love of travel, wine and spas with the world. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know my love of travel started at a young age when my mom was a flight attendant. As a child, travel opened my eyes and ears to the world.

For the last 30 years, I’ve continued my travel adventures and had the amazing opportunity to live in Amsterdam for four years. In addition to providing content for Grape Occasions, the idea for KeeKee’s Big Adventures was born…sharing travel adventures with parents and kids.

KeeKee is the adventurous calico kitty who travels the world in her hot air balloon. Her first stop? Ooh là là! It’s Paris, France!

Join KeeKee as she explores the sights, sounds, and tastes of this beautiful and historic city. Young readers will share KeeKee’s delight as she makes new friends, discovers exciting places, and immerses herself in the fascinating French culture. And, they’ll have fun with the kid-friendly pronunciation guide and glossary in the back of the book, along with a unique and charmingly illustrated map of Paris.

KeeKee’s Big Adventures sparks curiosity and inspires appreciation for our great big wonderful world!

It’s a book you can share with your children each day or evening and take a little trip to Paris!

Check out our website for details about our events and fun activities for you and your kids!

 

A Colonial Williamsburg Christmas

This month for a little pre-Christmas celebration, we headed to Colonial Williamsburg…the 18th-century capital city of Virginia.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, Virginia was Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost in the New World. Today Colonial Williamsburg brings to life the story of a revolutionary city on 301-acres of Historic Area with hundreds of restored, reconstructed, and historically furnished buildings and costumed interpreters telling the stories of the men and women of the time.

Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg was a very festive time that really kicked off on Christmas Day…the twelve days of Christmas lasted until January 6, also called Twelfth Day or Epiphany. Colonial Virginians thought Twelfth Night a good occasion for balls, parties, and weddings.

On Christmas Eve, locals and visitors alike gathered at the Courthouse steps on Duke of Gloucester Street for the annual Williamsburg Community Christmas Tree Lighting and the traditional retelling of the city’s first Christmas tree. This is still reenacted today.

We spent two-days immersing ourselves in Colonial Christmas on Duke of Gloucester Street, the main road through the eight block by six block city:

  • Christmas decorations of the time consisted of wreaths, candles and greenery. Replicated today, over 10 miles of pine roping is used around town. We enjoyed the 53rd Annual Christmas Decorations Walking Tour where we learned all about the festivities of the time and took in some of the gorgeous wreaths still judged today. Materials for the wreaths today must be natural, found now and then in Virginia like seashells, cotton, yarrow, hops, wheat whiskers, magnolia leaves, peanuts and mistletoe (who knew it was a parasite that grows in trees?). My favorite was also the judges, the 9 out of 10 year winner…The Cow Jumped Over the Moon.
  • Firing of the Christmas Guns – a tradition dating back to the 18th-century in which guns are fired in salute to the Christmas season as an expression of joy and celebration – complete with the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums.
  • Strolling the streets, we toured the Capitol at one end and the Governor’s Palace at the other end. We visited the Apothecary, Printing Office & Bindery, Post Office, Milliner & Tailor, Silversmith, Blacksmith, Courthouse, Shoemaker, Weaver and Magazine (where weapons and artillery were stored). Local shops are also open on Duke of Gloucester Street like the John Greenhow Store that sells baskets, porcelain, fabrics, copper items, craftsmen tools and other goods similar to those sold by Mr. Greenhow in the 18th century. We found lots of unique Christmas gifts for friends and family.
  • We even saw the house where the first Christmas Tree was introduced, the Tucker House. Dr. Charles Minnigrode, a political exile from Germany who immigrated to America in 1839, came to teach at the College of William & Mary. A good friend of Judge Beverly Tucker and his family, Minnigerode decorated a tree at the Tucker house in 1842 for children of the family. The Christmas Tree has it’s origins in Germany.

My favorites of the trip were the dining and accomodations.

  • We stayed in a Colonial House, Chiswell-Bucktrout House on Francis Street, that was very lovely. All the houses are historic and immerse you in the times. Another bonus is you check in and enjoy the amenities of the award-winning Williamsburg Inn. When the doors opened in 1937, the Williamsburg Inn was meant to host guests, including kings, queens, and dignitaries, in the elegance, comfort, and style of a Virginia country estate.
  • We dined with the colonists at three of the local Taverns…Christiana Campbell’s Tavern (George Washington’s favorite for seafood), Chowning’s Tavern (opened in 176 for the ‘ordinary sort,’ this people’s tavern also serves Gambols, or late night light fare), and King’s Arms Tavern (the town’s finest gentry dined here). Every meal was cuisine of the time and dining by candlelight with great wine (try some Virginia wine!).
  • For more photos of our trip, see the Gallery. For more information on Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, visit here.

    We wish you a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

Willamette Valley Vineyards: An afternoon with Oregon’s Pinot Noir

As part of Friday’s festivities at the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon, we had to board unmarked buses that would take us into Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country. Our destination: Willamette Valley Vineyards and an incredible visit filled with Oregon’s specialty, the Pinot grape.

Willamette Valley Vineyards was named 2011 Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits Magazine. As Editor Joshua Greene said, “Willamette Valley Vineyards’ performance makes it a great ambassador for the wines of Oregon.” It all started with founder Jim Bernau in 1983. They now have fifteen different Pinot Noir lots, make 30,000 cases of wine and are the leading producer of Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine.

We were met at the tasting room on top of the hilly property with sweeping views of the vineyards and the famous Riedel Oregon Pinot glass (we got to know it well on this trip…more on that later). Our group headed off with assistant winemaker Daniel Shepherd for a tour of the vineyards.

One of my favorite things to do at a winery is walk the vineyards with the winemaker. It’s so interesting and gives you fabulous insights. Daniel was no exception. He filled our glasses with their 2009 Pinot Noir, velvety strawberry cherry, as we looked out onto their rows of equipment and learned about the winery and Daniel’s history. Only in his mid-twenties, he’s worked at the winery since he was young. His father, Forrest Klaffke, was former head winemaker.  Some of the things he shared…

  • “Barrel is the most interesting thing a winemaker can do.” That is a very important element to him and Don Crank, head winemaker. They have a very aggressive wine barrel program to ensure their wine is smooth and velvety.
  • The Willamette Valley’s terroir is very unique thanks to the Missoula Floods of the ice age. It created ancient, volcanic glacial and sedimentary flood soils perfect for growing Pinot Noir. (Similar to the soil seen in Burgundy, France.)
  • On the 2012 growing season, as we stood in what had been a 100 degree day, he said they got a bit too ambitious with leaf pulling prior to the heat wave. Many grapes were now getting sunburn. The vineyard workers were making ‘sombreros’ out of the grape leaves to protect the grapes. But it’s looking like a very good vintage, similar to 2008’s complex wines with lots of tannins.

Environment, terrior and barrel work are very important to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Their sustainable practices are producing lovely wines! On the tour we also tasted the 2011 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir from the tank and the 2009 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir from the bottle…the contrast shows the beauty of their aging process.

My favorite wine of all tasted on our visit, which is also Daniel’s favorite, is the…

2009 Willamette Valley Vineyards Elton Pinot Noir

  • Variety: 100% Pinot Noir from their Elton Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills Sub-Appelation
  • Aroma: Dark fruit and spice
  • Taste: Burnt sugar, caramel and berries
  • Price: $45
  • My thoughts: Wow, this wine was good!! And at $45 you must order some! It’s a perfect example of Oregon Pinot Noir!

After the tour, we had a delicious dinner prepared by their new chef in The Founders Room looking out onto the wrap around deck and full vineyards. We also enjoyed several more wines, including:

  • 2010 Pinot Gris: Pear and key lime notes make this a very refreshing wine.
  • 2010 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir: Called ‘whole cluster’ as the grape clusters are chucked directly into the tank. This wine is full of strawberry, vanilla and spice. Same fermentation as the French Beaujolais Nouveau.
  • 2010 Tualatin Estate Semi-Sparkling Muscat-Frizzante: Sweet peach and citrus notes, make this a great after dinner wine. Very fun and different!

It was a lovely afternoon and evening…definitely worth a visit on your Willamette Valley wine touring. And don’t forget to pick up their t-shirt, “It’s Willamette Dammit!”, helpful as most people mispronounce the name. 🙂

Cheers & many thanks to the team at Willamette Valley Vineyards!