Paso Robles Wine Tasting – Part 1

Each time I go on a wine tasting trip I learn something new.

For instance, on our recent trip to Paso Robles, California, I learned that I have been mispronouncing “Paso Robles”. Rather than using the Spanish pronunciation of “Paw-so Row-blays” locals go with “Paw-so Row-bulls”.

Or you can just stick with “Paso”.

Paso Robles

We have been trying to schedule this Paso Robles wine tasting trip with family and friends from California for quite some time. The California gang made a few reconnaissance trips without us, diligently doing research for this excursion and compiling a list of favorites for us to visit.

Located on California’s Central Coast about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Paso Robles has been in the wine-making business since the late 1800s. Paso grows over 40 different types of grapes some of which, I have to admit, are completely new to me.

See? Wine tasting is educational!

Paso Robles Wine Festival

Paso Robles Wine Tasting Festival

Serendipitously, the dates chosen for our trip coincided with the Paso Robles Wine Festival. This four-day event takes place in the park in the middle of downtown Paso Robles and features wine and food from local businesses.

We chose to sign up for only the Reserve Tasting Event on Friday afternoon figuring the crowds would be at the festival all weekend and we would have wineries’ tasting rooms to ourselves.

Paso wine festival reserve tasting

The Reserve Tasting featured the best wines from a limited number of wineries along with tasty bites from local restaurants. It was a great Paso Robles introduction.

EPOCH ESTATE WINES

Epoch Estate’s tasting room is a gorgeous blend of old and new.

Epoch tasting room

Originally the home of York Mountain Winery –  the very first winery in the Central Coast, dating back to 1882 – this structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 2003.  Seven years later, the owners of Epoch Estate, purchased the land and the rubble and set out to reconstruct the historic building using all of the original materials, painstakingly, piece by piece.

Epoch even managed to bring back York Mountain’s 100+ year-old wine press which now holds a place of honor in the open loft of the tasting room.

Epoch wine press

Our tasting flight included a lovely Rosé (made from Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah grapes), a white blend (Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne), three red blends (varying combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Tempranillo) and one 100% Syrah.

Epoch White and Rose

I brought these two bottles home for Girls’ Night In.

Guyomar

In 1996, modern day pioneers Mareeni and Ishka Stanislaus moved west to Paso Robles. Mareeni was recruited to be the area’s first OB/GYN and Ishka set his sights on starting a winery.

While we didn’t get to see Mareeni or Ishka on this visit – he was out of town and she was on call at the hospital – we did enjoy a lovely tasting, complete with a cheese and charcuterie platter, in the dining room of their home.

Guyomar tasting

We enjoyed tastes of Guyomar’s Rosé (made from Grenache grapes) and four different red blends (varying combinations of Zinfandel, Grenache, Syrah and Petite Sirah).

Guyomar The Editor

Given the fact that the majority of our group was made up of journalists and English majors, Guyomar’s delicious blend (69% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 5% Zinfandel, and 4% Petite Sirah), “The Editor”, was a fan favorite.

Law Estate

Law Estate

The California gang discovered this fabulous place on their first visit to Paso Robles and have been anxious for us to meet Law’s yummy wines.

Law Estate barrel roomOur young winery guide, Maggie, impressed us with her knowledge and delighted us with her stories about discovering her passion for wine at the family dinner table and her dad’s help in furthering her wine education. Maggie’s dad is being rewarded now with the family discount at his daughter’s place of work and access to some incredible wines.

While nestled in the gorgeous room just beyond the barrels, Maggie poured us an array of red blends with descriptive names like “Audacious” and “Sagacious” (combinations of Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cabernet Sauvignon) and”Intrepid”, of 100% Syrah.

The names of these blends prompted us to imagine what we might name our own signature wines. As you might guess, the English majors and writers among us were more skilled at this game than we accountants.

The best I could come up with was “In The Red” which doesn’t have the greatest connotation although it does describe the financial situation of many who try to start a vineyard.

Still, I think I will leave the wine naming and winemaking business to talented and experienced professionals like those crafting the delicious wines at Law.

mocadeauxFolks, we are just getting started on our tour of Paso Robles.

Up next, some wine varietals you may have never heard of and our #1 sentimental Paso Robles favorite.

Stay tuned!

 

No one paid me to say this. Do not drink and drive!

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Disney Vacation Club – Disney’s Vero Beach Resort

After spending a bajillion dollars on Disney vacations over the years, we finally wised up and joined the Disney Vacation Club.

Disney Vacation Club locations

Disney Vacation Club is kind of like a timeshare but, rather than buying specific weeks at a specific location, members buy points which can be used anytime at a variety of Disney resorts and hundreds of non-Disney properties.

Welcome home

Even with a pretty generous carryover policy, points do have an expiration date. Recently, Peter and I found ourselves with a handful of points that had reached the point of “use it or lose it”.

Reviewing our options and taking into consideration that we already have reservations for an upcoming trip to Walt Disney World with the entire family, Peter suggested a getaway to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

Disney's Vero Beach Resort

A little back story…

I am a native Floridian; born in St. Petersburg. In my youth, the city was known as the retirement capital of the world. The downtown streets rolled up at 4pm to allow everyone to get in line for the early-bird dinner at Morrison’s Cafeteria.

Today, downtown St. Pete is swanky-town where you can pay a cool million for a condo with a view of the water and a plethora of museums, galleries and hip restaurants at your doorstep.

But I digress.

The point is, back when I was growing up and the state’s population was largely concentrated on the two coasts with a whole lot of nothing but orange groves in the middle, we Floridians felt a strong affinity for our locale.

An East Coast – West Coast thing.

Florida's Best Coast

There was no ambivalence. You were “Ft. Myers” or “Ft. Lauderdale” – not both.

I will always be a true-blue, loyal Gulf Coast gal.

The West Coast, the Best Coast.

So, when Peter suggested vacationing on Florida’s EAST Coast I was not immediately on board.

Old misconceptions die hard.

But, this is Disney after all, so I decided that I could cope. Look at me, walking in the flip flops of others to understand our differences.

Flying into the Orlando airport, we had momentary buyer’s remorse as we headed to our rental car rather than the Disney Magical Express bus to Walt Disney World.

Those feelings were quickly dispelled by the scenery upon our arrival at the resort.

Ocean view

After spending some time relaxing by the pool we enjoyed dinner on site at the Wind and Waves Grill and cocktails on the lovely porch at the Green Cabin Room. Their wine list was not great but the Agave Nectar Margarita was a delicious Plan B.

We spent one entire day lounging under an umbrella on the beach. This fair-skinned Irish gal was also under a hat, towels and a double layer of SPF 50 sunscreen.

Under my umbrella

The cooling breeze and the sound of the waves made for the perfect setting to enjoy my magazines and take a nap.

At one point, we ventured into the surf to frolic in the waves, reminding me of two truths:

  1. As I am no longer 17 years old, my boogie board should have been retired some time ago.
  2. The monster waves of the Atlantic Ocean are much meaner than the gentle, rolling swells of my beloved, placid Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the rest of our time was spent relaxing by the pool.

The pool

Although we resisted the temptation to join in the poolside games like bingo and dive for sharks, we were powerless over the two-story waterslide as a vehicle for somewhat more age-appropriate thrill seeking.

Pool slide

We patiently waited in line among the children and there is no truth to the rumor that we elbowed little ones out of our way or distracted them by shouting, “Hey, look! There’s a shark!”.

After three glorious days, it was time to say goodbye to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort and head off on our next adventure.

Spoiler alert: the next adventure involves wine.

As my friend Mickey says, “See you real soon!”

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Baby Sister And Retirement – Take 3

Recently, our family has experienced two momentous events.

A few weeks ago we welcomed our fifth grandchild and first granddaughter!!!

Baby sister

To say that girls are scarce in our family would be an understatement. Baby sister is the first female to be born on either side of our family in almost 25 years.

She’s kind of a big deal. And she is beautiful.

Her twin older brothers, Chip and Dale, are quite besotted with her. The household is settling in nicely; that is to say, they will be once the wee darling gets a little better grasp on night vs. day.

To celebrate her arrival, we opened a bottle of 2009 Wallis Family Estate “Little Sister” Proprietary Red Wine from the Diamond Mountain District of Napa Valley.

2009 Wallis Family Estate Little Sister Proprietary Red

Perfect, right?

We discovered Wallis Family Estate at a Family Winemakers of California tasting event about 5 years ago. Pouring wine at their booth on that day were both Mr. Wallis and his younger daughter, AKA the Little Sister.

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Shortly after Baby Sister’s arrival, Peter started retirement.

For the third time.
Peter Begins Retirement

Retirement #1 never really happened even though the date was set and we completed the planned relocation.

You see, Peter is a team player. When the company came to him saying, “We’ve had a bit of a situation and we really, really, really need to have you stick around for another six months or so. Pretty please???”, he couldn’t say no.

Retirement #2 proceeded swimmingly for a grand total of three months.

During that time we packed in all sorts of fun activities like concerts and wine events.

I became quite accustomed to having Peter cook dinner, pairing it with the perfect wine, as I perused my People Magazine.

Well, that arrangement came to a screeching halt when Peter received a call asking if he could help out on a teeny, tiny project  – “should last no longer than a couple of months” – which turned into a big, big project consuming about fifteen months.

Now, finally, all is as it should be in Maison Lux. Peter is home and splitting his time, once again, between his two happy places: the kitchen and the wine cellar.

Wine Spectator magazine’s website has a series called “8 & $20” which features wonderful recipes (with suggested wine pairings) serving up to 8 people for $20 or less (not including wine, obviously).

One, in particular, caught Peter’s eye and he decided to give it a whirl.

Braised Chicken Thighs in Mushroom Sauce

Braised chicken thighs in mushroom sauce.

Now I was a little wary of this dish for two reasons: I don’t like dark meat chicken and I REALLY don’t like mushrooms. Other than that, it sounded great…

But, if Peter was doing the cooking I figured the least I could do was to be a good sport and try the dish without complaining. Besides, I knew it would be served with a great wine so not a total fail.

I may not have instantly become a dark meat/mushroom convert, but I will tell you that this combination was delicious! Check out the recipe here.

Peter paired this yummy gem with a 2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir.

2012 Foxen Melville Vineyard Pinot Noir

Located in Santa Barbara County, Foxen makes a wide variety of wines including single-vineyard Pinot Noirs like this one, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and red blends.

The Foxen tasting room in Santa Maria is a simple and rustic but beautiful place and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting Santa Barbara County. Just a tiny bit down the road is their second tasting room, known as The Shack, where visitors can enjoy selections from Foxen 7200 which focuses on Italian style and Bordeaux wines.

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Now that Peter has more free time, I’m looking forward to many delicious meals, great adventures and lots of time to spend with the five grandchildren: Baby Sister, brothers Chip and Dale and cousins Andy and Harry.

Life is, indeed, good!

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How Do You Hygge?

Am I the last person on earth to learn about hygge?

hygge

On the Oxford Dictionary’s short list for 2016 Word of the Year, hygge is a lifestyle trend that has apparently made a splash in the last year or so in the U.S.

Hygge (pronounced something like HYOO-guh) is a Danish word with no exact translation. It is a feeling, a mood, an experience – deriving joy from life’s simple pleasures.

As best I can glean from my tiny bit of extensive research, hygge denotes coziness, contentment, simplicity, and peacefulness. A combination of the people, places, and things that make you happiest.

No electronics allowed.

Hygge is something that the Danish people take pride in elevating to an art form.

Hygge can be as simple as a cup of coffee enjoyed while wrapped in your favorite blanket, curled up in your favorite chair.

blanket and coffee

Or it can be, like feng shui, a guiding design principle for your home or office.

While previously ignorant of the concept, it seems I have had my hygge-groove on around our house for a while.

After having moved a number of times, one gets really, really tired of “stuff”. Stuff to pack and unpack, stuff to arrange, stuff to dust and stuff to move aside to make room for new stuff.

Since retuning to Chicago, we have purged our shelves of tchotchkes and are trying to create a relaxed and (without even knowing it) hygge home.

Sure we have pictures of family and friends and a few sentimental objects around the place but these are things that bring us joy – add to the hygge in our home.

Oh, wow! Now I’m really in the groove. Soon I will be a hygge expert!

Even my daily rituals suggest a bit of hygge. I have a few favorite coffee mugs which bring back great memories related to particular trips or experiences.

Cowgirl Coffee mug

And some that just amuse me.

Shhhh there's wine in here

A cup of coffee in one of these mugs starts my day off right.

All day, every day, I have one of my beloved Nest candles burning. The delicate aroma makes the house feel cozy to me.

Nest Candle

My monthly “girls’ night in” get-togethers are overflowing with hygge. They are always meant to be casual, low-key evenings spent catching up with dear friends.

Girlfriends Gather Here

Last month we had “Soup and Pajamas” night to which my pal, Mare, wore her green, full-length, fleece onsie. If that’s not a hygge outfit I don’t know what is.

My sister-in-law has an extraordinary talent for creating hygge. If I didn’t know that she was 100% Irish, I might assume that she was Danish.

This gal has an extremely stressful, high-stakes, high-power job and needs every ounce of hygge she can get.

As often as possible, she will end the day by lighting candles all over her living room, grabbing a glass of wine and a cozy throw and taking time to breathe and decompress. The hygge is at its peak when this scene includes family and friends.

Fire Pit

 

Living in California means that she can enjoy outside hygge year-round where the candles are replaced by a firepit but the wine, cozy throw and loved ones are still part of the equation.

The concept of hygge, according to the Danish Ambassador, is a type of meditation – even done in a group – during which polarizing subjects are off limits in favor of focusing on what makes us happy.

I guess we all have stress, turmoil, and angst in our lives to one degree or another from time to time…or constantly.

It seems we can all use a little more hygge in our life.

How about you? Have you heard of this lifestyle movement? How do you hygge?

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