Chicago Cubs Are World Champions…Finally

With a hard fought 8-7 victory in game 7, the Chicago Cubs are World Champions! The Cubs Clause has been activated.

Chicago Cubs World Champions

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Chimney Rock Winery In Napa Valley

Chimney Rock Winery is my very favorite Napa winery.

Chimney Rock Winery

Not only do they produce an array of delicious wines (reds including single-vineyard and estate Cabernet Sauvignons and a few white wines thrown in for good measure) but their dedication to providing a top-notch experience for their visitors and customers is second to none.

Chimney Rock was one of the very first wineries we discovered on our inaugural trip to Napa. We have been wine club members for years and have returned for a visit every time we are in the Valley. It’s a sentimental favorite having celebrated anniversaries and the 21st birthday of our daughter, Annie and her friend Hope there.

Last year, our visit to Chimney Rock saved the day after a disastrous experience at another Napa winery with whom we had also had a long relationship.

After feeling most unwelcome at the prior stop, we were greeted at Chimney Rock Winery by this:

Chimney Rock welcome

It was this fabulous hospitality, combined with incredible wines, that gave our friend Ellen the idea to plan a surprise birthday party for her husband John at Chimney Rock Winery during our recent group trip to Napa.

If he had an inkling of what was going on, John certainly didn’t show it. But he may have gotten a little suspicious when our mini-bus pulled into the Chimney Rock parking area and there was not another vehicle to be seen.

We were greeted at the door and ushered onto the lovely patio for a glass of Sauvignon Gris (a cousin aka genetic modification of Sauvignon Blanc).  Bright and refreshing, the perfect wine to kick off our evening.

As we enjoyed the wine we strolled past the vineyards taking in the lovely weather and spectacular views.

We returned to the patio for yummy appetizers and a glass of Elevage, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. This beautiful red blend highlights all that is good about the Stags Leap District of Napa Valley.

Fun fact: The Stags Leap District was the first spot designated as an American Viticulture Area (AVA) because of the distinctiveness of the soil which carries through to the wine grown on the land.

Next, we moved into the barrel room, decorated with a simple yet elegant look for our private party.

Chimney Rock Winery Barrel Room

Our first course was brilliantly paired with the Elevage Blanc, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and its close relative (aka genetic mutation) Sauvignon Gris. This white wine blend is perfect for those of us who are looking for an alternative to Chardonnay.

This wine thrives in the shadowlands that exist between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. The light will seem brighter, the food will taste better, and the wine will elevate it all.        ~Chimney Rock website

Yes! Yes! And yes!

A talented guitar player entertained us with pleasing background music as we enjoyed our delicious dinner.

Chimney Rock Winery private dinner menu

The main course – paprika rubbed filet of beef – was paired with, what else, the spectacular Ganymede Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. From the oldest vines on the property, this is one of the flagship wines of Chimney Rock Winery.

It exemplifies the balance of power and grace that is so revered and expected of Chimney Rock wines.         ~Chimney Rock website

I couldn’t agree more.

The Chimney Rock Stags Leap Cabernet Sauvignon was served with dessert (and for the rest of the night!).

Throughout the evening we reminisced about the past, revisited the stories of our 40-year friendship, and raised many glasses to toast the blessings in our lives and to toast those who weren’t able to join us but were there in spirit.

But most of all, we celebrated our dear friend, John, and the very special place he occupies in our hearts.

Let me tell you, this guy is the kindest, most generous and devoted friend one could ever have. It is no wonder that, when his wife, Ellen, floated the idea of a surprise birthday celebration in Napa we all enthusiastically said YES!!!

Treasured friends, gorgeous setting, outstanding food, and extraordinary wine.

It was a magical night – one we will never forget!

Chimney Rock Winery barrel

(A special shout-out to Ellen for hosting this memorable evening and to the Chimney Rock Winery Special Events Manager, Lorena Romero, for creating such a beautiful celebration of our very dear friend.)

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Two Melon Soup – A High Impact, Low Effort Recipe

Hi, folks!

We had a busy weekend which started with the celebration of this gal’s birthday.

the birthday girl

You may know her as “Momma” from the comments section of this blog. I know her as the best mom a gal could ever have.

Our two-day celebration was capped off with a delicious dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s.  By the way, did you know that they will print a special occasion message to the guest of honor on the top of your menus? Nice touch, McCormick & Schmick’s.

On Saturday night we had a mini-reunion with part of our Camino de Santiago group at the home of fellow pilgrims, Nora and G.

Before dinner, we plugged our computers into G’s gigantic and gorgeous television to share pictures from the trip. We scrolled through 300+ photos bringing back great memories of a most amazing journey.

In honor of the evening’s theme, Nora prepared a lovely and delicious paella.

paella and two melon soup

Paella is something I enjoy eating but would never attempt to make myself. Nora is a gifted cook who whips up dishes like this with her eyes closed.

I’m delighted to be the frequent beneficiary of Nora’s culinary skills and have, in fact, “borrowed” her recipes for posts (Panzanella salad).

Today I’m going to share another of Nora’s recipes with you.

See that pretty bowl of soup served with the paella?

This Two Melon Soup, served chilled, is the perfect, refreshing start to a summertime meal.

Also, Nora assures me that the recipe fits my requirements of being High Impact, Low Effort. The hardest part, she says, is pouring the soup into the bowls.

two melon soup

Nora’s Two Melon Soup

  • 1 ripe cantaloupe, diced
  • 1 small honeydew melon, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoon minced fresh mint

Puree cantaloupe with lemon juice until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

Rinse blender then puree honeydew with lime juice and mint until smooth. Transfer to a container and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

When ready to serve, either:

Transfer purees into two separate measuring cups. With one in each hand, pour simultaneously into the bowl, pouring equal amounts on each side.

or use Nora’s preferred method:

Tip bowl slightly to the side and pour in the desired amount of cantaloupe puree. Pour the honeydew puree into the other side of the bowl as you are lowering the bowl back to level.

Either way might take some practice but the result is beautiful.

Garnish with a mint sprig.

Easy, peasy. Or so I’m told.

Big surprise, Peter and I brought wine to enjoy with dinner.

First up, a bottle of Albariño.

Albariño is a white wine commonly grown in Galicia, the Northwest region of Spain. Galicia is the very same part of Spain we walked through on the Camino of St. James. Along the way, we enjoyed lots and lots of great Spanish Albariño. 

Peter and I brought a bottle from one of the few U.S. producers of Albariño, Hendry Vineyard. It was on a trip to Hendry’s winery in Napa that we first tasted Albariño and fell in love with it.

2014 Hendry Albariño

The 2014 Hendry Albariño ($22) is light and refreshing with good acidity. It is fruity and floral without going over the top. 

Floral, herbal and peachy aromas. On the palate, tangy citrus, nectarine and passion fruit flavors reflect the bright acidity.

– Tasting notes via Hendry.com

Albariño reminds me a bit of Viognier in that it is a pretty versatile food wine. It pairs best with shellfish like mussels and clams but is also great with chicken. It’s the perfect white wine to serve with paella.

For the red wine lovers in the group, we brought a bottle of 2007 Clos Mogador Priorat from Spain.

2007 Clos Magador

This bold red Spanish wine, a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carinena, is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Albariño.

The 2007 Clos Mogador Priorat is dark and juicy and immensely satisfying. It brings flavors of licorice, blackberry, and black cherry. It’s a little bit spicy and a little bit smoky.

Oddly, though, because of the hearty nature of paella, this wine played well and did not overpower the flavors in the main course.

You have to love a dish with which you can pair both a light white wine and a bold red wine. Something for everyone.

For dessert, Nora made (you won’t believe this) homemade non-dairy rocky road ice cream with mini-marshmallows, almonds, and dashes of cayenne and red pepper.

That’s what I call a “HIGH EFFORT, HIGH IMPACT” recipe!

We ended the evening re-watching the movie that inspired us to do the walk in the first place, The Way.

This film from 2011 stars Martin Sheen and is written, produced and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. Dedicated to Sheen’s father, Francisco Estevez, who hailed from Galicia, the film was inspired by a trip Sheen took with Emilio’s son on which they walked part of the Camino. A real family affair.

Although the movie tells the sad story of a dad completing the pilgrimage on behalf of his late son, it also captures the beauty, the community, and the spirit of The Way.

I highly recommend it!

And if you can get Nora to make some Two Melon Soup and paella for you – even better!!

I’ll bring the Albariño.

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7 Keys To The Perfect Wine Tasting Party

Peter and I hosted our first wine tasting party a number of years ago as a ruse to pull off a surprise birthday party for a dear friend. The party was such a hit that we made it an annual tradition.

Over the years we have tweeked the event and now have it running like a well tuned party machine. Let me share a few tips.

7 keys to perfect wine tasting party

1. Choose Great Wine

 

wine tasting party selection

Obviously.

The number one key to a successful wine tasting party is to serve great wine. I’m not saying it has to be fancy or expensive wine, just that it should be something worth showcasing to your guests. Something unusual, a wine/winery with a unique story, a great value for the dollar.

Use the expertise of your local wine store staff or dive into little online research.

Or ask me!

We follow two criteria when making selections for a wine tasting party:

  • wines that we would enjoy drinking
  • wines that would be interesting for our guests to try

Variety is also good. Try to have options that appeal to different tastes: a few reds, a few whites, maybe some champagne for a little “je ne sais quoi” and “ooh-la-la”.

2. Have A Theme

A theme makes any party more fun!

A wine tasting party theme could be something like:

Location, Location, Location – Pick a place like Napa or France and explore different wines from that region.

A Variety Of Varietals – Serve a bunch of different red wine varietals ranging from Pinot Noir to Zinfandel. Ask your guests to step out of their comfort zone.

Vintage Matters – Try to get a couple of different vintages of the same wine and see if one year was better for wine making than the other. Or pick a particularly notable vintage (like Napa 2012) and celebrate the excellence.

A+ or B-, You Decide – For our most recent wine tasting party, Peter selected wines with very disparate expert reviews. For instance, Wine Advocate gave the 2011 Hall “Eighteen Seventy-Three” a score of 95 while Wine Spectator gave it an 89. What’s up with that?!?! We asked our guests to weigh in.

wine tasting party score sheet

Joe’s Wines – How about exploring the wines available at your local Trader Joe’s? Or Piggly Wiggly? Or Wegmans? (Although I can’t, in good conscience, endorse serving your party guests Two Buck Chuck. Please see #1.)

The theme possibilities are endless.

3. Supply Plenty of Glasses

Please, please, please, I beg you. Do not serve wine at a wine tasting party in plastic cups. Even the pseudo-fancy plastic wine glasses.

Wine should only be served in plastic glasses in an extreme emergency. Or maybe at a pool party. Certainly NOT at a wine tasting party.

wine glasses

You can purchase glass wine glasses pretty reasonably at a place like Target or buy in bulk at restaurant supply store.

One glass per guest is fine. Your guests can rinse their glasses between tastes at The Rinsing Station (aka The Kitchen Sink).

Speaking of glasses, if any of your guests are over 40, please kindly supply some of these.

reading glasses

4. Use Markers or Charms

Be sure to have some way that people can identify their wine glass after they have put it down. Otherwise, you might run out of glasses and chaos will ensue.

We like these fabulous wine markers. Guests write their names on the glasses and the marker washes off easily at the end of the night.

wine tasting party tips markers

Wine glass charms are also effective as long as everyone remembers which charm they selected.

At our last party, one guest brought personalized wine charms for everyone made from a little wooden tile and two very powerful magnets.

wine tasting party tips wine charm

How cute are they?!

5. Research Tasting Notes

It may be the wine nerd in me but I love reading tasting notes. They give valuable information about the wine and help appreciate the flavor and unique qualities of each bottle.

wine tasting party tips tasting notes

Tasting notes are pretty easy to find online at the website of the wine producer. Or check out Cellar Tracker which offers reviews and notes from the professionals and over 400,000 Cellar Tracker members.

We print out notes, put them in (inexpensive) frames and place them next to the bottles. Our guests can learn a little while having fun.

6. Choose The Right Food

There truly is an art and a science to creating perfect food and wine pairings. If you’ve ever experienced a perfect pairing you will know that it is magical and makes both the food and wine taste even better. But the perfect pairing takes a lot of work and is best left to the professionals.

Your goal in choosing food for a wine tasting party should simply be to do no harm.

Think sweet, mild and savory dishes rather than bold, hot and spicy dishes.

There are certain foods for which beer (or milk) are a better match than wine. I’m lookin’ at you Mr. Jalapeño Popper.

Whether you are serving just appetizers or a full meal, we have found that finger foods work best. With a wine glass in one hand, silverware just gets in the way.

Simple ingredients and simple flavors are the key. Chicken, shrimp, fruit, veggies with a creamy dip, mini-quiches, spanakopita, mini deli sandwiches all work well.

And of course, cheese is wine’s best friend.

wine tasting party cheese plate

You can’t go wrong serving a lovely cheese plate with a little chocolate dessert chaser.

7. Invite Fun Guests

Perhaps as important as the wine selection, having enthusiastic guests is crucial to the success of a wine tasting party – or really any party for that matter.

wine tasting party guests

The best guests are those who are excited to join in, willing to try new things and drink responsibly.

Remember to facilitate the responsible drinking by having plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for the designated drivers and encourage everyone to have the Uber app on their phone.

As an intimate gathering with a few pals or a big, blow-out celebration for your entire crowd, a wine tasting party is the perfect way to share your love of wine.

Now I want to hear about your experiences with wine tasting parties. Do you have any theme ideas to add to the list? Favorite wine tasting stories?

Do not drink and drive!

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