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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Umbria Uncorked: Castle Run

Late, last night a group of bloggers and Media types boarded buses bound for the  found high in the Umbrian hillsides, just on the outskirts of Perugia. We were treated to some brilliant appetizers and bubbly to set the evening up in style, with warm crackling fires and inviting late 19th century decor. Later we were invited to dine in what could only be characterized as the "great-hall" associated with the historically significant 12th century tower, but hey lets face it, every true castle must have a great hall to dine in with friends.

We dined late into the evening on many different courses, had brilliant conversation with other bloggers, journalists, winemakers and producers and we were able to explore many different wines. In the pictures below, I will try to give you an idea of the experience.


Just above and to the left-half of the screen is the great hall where we dined, hopeful the pictures will give you just a glimpse of the full grandeur of this wonderful property. In the next set of images below, you will see some of wonderful typical Umbrian foods.


Here's the Pear Risotto [above], that kicked off our evening feast, infused with Sagrantino di Montefalco [hence the purple color] it was very tasty. The second course [below] was a type of Ragu, not exactly sure what it was called, but it was much better than anything I've made at home. Sprinkled with small chunks of wild boar, this dish was a high-light of the evening for me, unfortunately the wines we had on my tables did not match too well.




This was the last pear inspired dish, right before the dessert and paired nicely with the Sagrantino di Montefalco we asked to have brought to our table, a wine that quickly became the favorite.

Now unto the wine, the first red wine I encountered really did not float my boat, but I did give it a swirl, more than once just to confirm experience. The wine that you see pictured here to your left, had some pretty odd flavors and aromas.

But as odd as it will sound this wine displayed the essence of browned, bruised ripe bananas, well worn cherry bubble-gum [as if there was such a thing] and lightly dusted with chalk dust. Most of dark and red fruit flavors were muted by the above and finished a bit short. Not really a wine I could get excited about, but hey that's just me.
The next wine a Sagrantino di Montefalco was excellent right away, the nose immediately opened up with a blast of crushed black-berry fruit, dark ripe cherries grab your senses and don't let go. On the first slurp down, you'll encounter abundant dark fruits [mentioned above], vivid minerality, smooth tannins, a light sprinkle of chalk and long lingering finish, that will have you coming back for more. This wine while not "stellar" did wow me in its flexibleness to partner with many food types as I had enough of it in my glass to get through two of the different dishes. It was the wine that quickly became the favorite of the night at my table last night and we were all sad when the last drop fell from the bottle.

Okay folks that is all from Umbria for today and the 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference and Workshop, so stay tuned tomorrow as I've lots more that I'm excited to share with you about this exciting region, its wonderful wines, great foods and the friendly people that call Umbria home. Until next time continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Umbria Uncorked: 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference

I've been thinking about my upcoming trip to the International Wine Tourism Conference, just a week away now. It has caused me to do a bit of introspection about the reasons I or anyone else travels. But I found a bit inspiration from a much wiser chap than myself who is quoted to have said or more likely penned; "I am so convinced of the advantages of looking [travel] at mankind instead of reading about them, and of the bitter effects of staying at home with all the narrow prejudices of an Islander ~ Lord Byron

The remarkable poet, Lord Byron is so right and thanks again to him for reminding me and hopefully to the folks reading this; that we don’t live on island of self. I've had the good fortune to do a bit of traveling as of late; for which I'm so thankful. There's nothing quite like, getting "out-there" to awaken the senses, to broaden your perspective about the world going on around all of us. As I've said before, it's far too easy, to become myopic, not being able to see beyond the tip of our own noses [I've been guilty of such].

Travel or Tourism has a way [if we allow it] remove those blinders, takes down our preconceptions and gives [potentially] us all a profoundly new view of our world. What I'm not saying; is that the world around us is all, 'springing-puppies’ and floating butterflies. But what I'm saying is this; get your butt out there,  in thinking about this way; a bottle of wine from a place like Montefalco, Italy [the balcony of Umbria] for example, is the springboard, the invitation if you will, to see the world in way you never had thought possible [connected via the vine]. But by getting "out-there" having your passport stamped, your feathers ruffled, walking in the shoes of others, touching history, you gain added perspective that many will never experience or realize.

With that lengthy bit of soap-box talk said; the purpose of this post is to talk about the International Wine Tourism Conference [yes, I know you were probably wondering when I was going to get to it]. This is the very first conference of this type I will be attending and surprisingly [follow along on twitter:#iwinetc] the conference committee have chosen my talk entitled, "The Accidental Tourist". I was really caught off-guard that my "talk" was selected, wow, what an honor! Simply because, and lets face it, I don't have the "creds" many other folks have, who are attending, speaking and organizing and I'm certainly not the most polished in terms of my writing style [chock full of errors]. But what I do have is passion [not to say others don't], but if you start asking me about wines, vines, tourism or travel, then well you've opened a flood-gate of purple-paved passion, that may have you heading for the doors [info-overload] or running to fill you empty wine glass wondering how you can get some of what ever it's that I've been drinking.

It's a talk loosely based upon my first trip to Tuscany in 2008, where at times I was that "accidental-tourist", although I had long planned my trip and thoroughly looked at the places I wanted to visit. Frankly, though only one wine region in Tuscany stood out,  was really set up to attract folks to the many different tourism destinations, wineries and the such, even if you didn't have a plan of attack. I won't be naming it here and now, but later after give my presentation, so stay tuned. My fellow group of writers, will be blogging, tweeting and even FB-ing each and every day of the conference and while on the familiarization tour, so again stay tuned. If you'd like to get an idea of the varied types of wines I and the other 'attendees’ will be experiencing; a neatly compiled list of fine Italian wines being poured are posted here.

Here’s a list of fellow bloggers, journalists, and assorted PR folks who will be traveling with me on this wonderful journey, upon which we about to embark. Please take a second to check out their blogs, web- pages; to get their crisp insights on the world of wine that you won't find in the traditional glossy pages of print media. For those of you who maybe interested in gaining a  quick snap-shot of some the topics and speakers delivering those presentations, please click here for a tidy list prepared by a really grape wine-blogger, David Lowe whose website is called; Big Pinots.

At the moment, I'm unfortunately battling a cold that some-how came out-of-no where to bite me on the arse, but armed with the best in western pharmaceuticals I'm ever confident, it will be all cleared up by the departure date. Nonetheless, it is with a very happy and excited heart that I'm preparing to pack my bags and head back to one of my favorite countries in all the world [of the list I've actually visited]. Having just been there just six months ago, I won't be spending any extra sight-seeing time out-side of the planned conference activities, which I'm a bit bummed about, but the more frugal Mrs. Cuvee stands ready for a reality check if need be. For those of you that I've met before, I look forward to seeing you again and for those of you, I only know through twitter of FB, I look forward to meeting you [#IRL] in real life. Until next time my friends, sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun: 2009 Sassotondo Ciliegiolo Maremma Toscana IGT

When most folks hear the word, “Tuscany” many things come to mind, olive oil, wines and great culinary treasures, and of course for many "romance" figures nicely into the equation. A thought which has no doubt been perpetuated and punctuated by this region's rich history, endless rolling hills, its many cypress-lined country roads and a language chock full romantic ideas and notions.

For me, I immediately think of all the great wines produced in this fabulous region, which has so much to offer the wandering wino and even the garden variety vino-sapien thirsting for wines that burst with layers of flavor and structure, wines that compliment your meal, instead of getting in the way.

To me wines from this region represent idea in wine that far too many folks look past these days, that don't say, "hey, look at me". It was funny a question was posited the other day, "what region would you choose, if it was the only region you were allowed to drink from", I didn't even hesitate for a second, I immediately answered Montalcino, my favorite region in Tuscany, hello Brunello.

For those looking for a fruit forward, sappy, soulless California style of wine, sorry to say, “forget about it”. For the rest of you looking for an earthy, though mouth watering Tuscan gem meant to go with a great meal; this is your ticket to ride.

After a swirl and fat slurp, wow a boat-load of layered complexity. The bouquet is fascinating and deep with focused blackberry and dark cherry notes, enriched by leather, sweet oak, tobacco, a hint of chocolate and coffee scents. The mineral character comes through nicely with sensation of rich earth flavors. This full-bodied wine shows a wonderful core of ripe fruit right up front, a silky mouth feel and a soft texture with a notable length.

For those of you not familiar with Ciliegiolo; [I wasn't] it’s a red wine grape variety normally found in central and north-western Italy. Frankly, it’s something of an obscurity, but with over 800 different grapes, not a surprise. Until recently is has been said to be, “undergoing something of a renaissance in Liguria and in the heart of Tuscany.” And according to my WSET book, "the grape's name comes from an Italian word for 'cherry', a fruit which Ciliegiolo wines resemble both in color and aroma".

This is the type of wine in my opinion that is surely poised for unique harmony with many varied food pairing opportunities. Look for this wine to compliment your next meal; as they say in Italy, wine should be non impegnativo, meaning it should not demand too much attention.
If it were me, I’d suggest maybe going with something like organic pasta of your choice; smother it in Italian sausage, cooked-down fresh garden tomatoes and sautéed mushrooms. Another great choice for something off-the-grill; lamb shanks with fresh herbs or if you prefer to go the meatless route, I’d go with mozzarella stuffed Portobello’s. Getting hungry and thirsty yet? I know I am just thinking about it. By the way, Steven Tanzer gave this wine 90 points and it sells for average SRP of $16, I secured this bottle from my friends at The 3rd Corner. I really liked this wine and gave it score of 88 points, it's a best buy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Call me a Cab: 2007 Concha y Toro "Don Melchor" Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto

Have you ever met someone who you thought was perfect? They had great hair; perhaps they were a snappy dresser, eyes that could slay a giant, a face that could set a thousand ships to sail and a voice that could melt butter? Well I think we all have been there before, and after spending considerable coin to get to know them better; you pop the cork, sort of speak only to find nothing but vapid symbolism, no substance in sight. That is the precise moment when disappointment can hit you on the head, like a lead pipe in a dark alley [ouch].

I was now faced with the thought, “uggh, you’re just not who I thought you were” so now what? Well I did finish the bottle anyway, because someone coughed up a pretty penny for this pricey juice. It’s sad really, when you uncork a wine that does not live up to its billing and discover that behind all the glam and glizt there's nothing there. Even Mrs. Cuvee who is far more generous in her opinions than I, thought the wine gave a lack luster performance; I begrudgingly admitted that she was right, after allowing hours in the decanter to go by, before finally agreeing with her.

You're hit with the realization that this wine is not what I thought it would be, reminding us all that like a Tom Petty song, that a pretty face does not make a pretty heart. What can be true in affairs of the heart, are also common traits we sometimes will suffer when you open that prized bottle of vino to find out, it’s not all that. That was the cases when I popped open this bottle of Don Melchor, pictured above. It was a Christmas gift from a well intentioned friend, who will remain name-less, no point of dragging them into the conversation; it’s the thought that counts.

It’s my contention that this wine, with all the fluffy fanfare it received, was just a hollow shell, a wine without the promised substance. As you may know or have read, I’m a huge fan of the Wines of Chile. I’ve really been promoting their wines quite a bit on my blog and deservedly so. I have also wanted to give this so called flagship wine a swirl for the longest time. But this time folks I’m sorry to report that the “hype” did not match any of the qualities attributed to it by many of the big wine-pubs or even the folks on cellar tracker who I think got it way wrong. Perhaps you could chalk it up to bottle variation, but at half a Benjamin, the price of admission is above my pay grade even as an occasion wine, to give it a go once more.

So all that now said; it’s time to kick out my review of the wine. This is not going to be pretty, so look away if you’re squeamish. After I got this wine uncorked, and decanted, strait away in the glass I found a near opaque garnet color. It slowly unfolds to show plenty of dense, but mostly muted currant and stewed plums aromas.  After the first slurp, this wine quickly aligns itself with cedar tinged vanilla flavored oak, incisive varietal flavors like spent coffee filters, burnt tobacco, soil undertones and moist forest floor.

The supposed copious quantities of black cherries and black currants are mostly muted, edgy and uneven tannins and a medium to full-bodied personality, result in a wine which finishes much sooner than expected. Uggh, I’m sad to report a score of 84 points for this wine, which is a chasm of difference between what has been reported and the actual wine I encountered in the bottle. This wine sells for a SRP of $65 and up, sad to say that in my opinion, I can’t really recommend it, that your hard earned money would best be spent elsewhere. So until next time folks continue to sip long and prosper, cheers!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wine of the Week: 2006 Masperla Priorat

Well, well another Wine Wednesday and making a splash in the pool as the Wine of the Week is the 2006 Masperla Priorat. A delightful Grenache based blend, which most likely had a little Cariñena [Carignan] playing bass in the background. I say that because it's naturally high in aciditytannins and plays well Grenache. I picked this little Misa-Imports gem up the other day from my local Costco here in San Diego. The buyer here constantly seems to come up with the occasional Spanish wines which I just can't pass up. 

These wines are produced from vines which grow on a mostly slate soils, stretched out over rough rocky terraced vineyards which are very hard to work [hence many of the hefty price tags], but produce some of the very best wines from one of Spain's smallest; but one its most important in terms of quality and concentration of unique flavors. In the course of writing this quick review I came across a couple of great websites.

If you'd like to get a quick glimpse of this regions typography, check-out these  images of the region. They give you a good idea of what it's like to grow grapes in Priorat. There's also anotherr site called Vinopedia which gives a succinct bio on many wine regions around the world, including the Priorat D.O.C.

Frankly, I've not had a single bad wine from this region and when I can find these wines for under twenty dollars I scoop up as many as my wallet can afford, in a somewhat veiled attempt of keeping Mrs. Cuvee from knowing I've once more scored some vino to add to our already overflowing stash at Chez Vino.

In the glass a very dark ruby colored, after uncorking the bottle, swishing and swirling in the glass, my nose is immediately greeted by rich blackberry, dark ripe cherries, a pinch of rich black licorice. Now that the coming attraction is over; it's time for the initial splash-down on the old palate. Whoa this is a whole lot of well structured, tasty wine that will pair nicely with just about anything off the grill. Like a dump-trucks unburdening its load, out bounce plump blackberry, dark plum, rich mocha and some dusty minerality in the background. This wine is dressed to impress and is ready to rock soon as its uncorked, but putting this wine in the cellar for a year or two would be a smart move.

I was quite excited to find a wine with a truly expansive range of flavors, one which shows off nicely in the strong finish, with just a subtle touch of sweetness and zero rough edges. Imagine my surprise that the review of this by Wine Speculator [who gave it 92 points] actually matched what was in the bottle, proving that do get it right sometimes. Btw, I paid just under $20 for this wine, but it would appear the inventory is pretty limited, so you may just wanna hurry to get your own bottle or not, it leaves more for me [ha]. Until next time sip long and prosper cheers!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Under the Tuscan Sun: Villa Le Vigne

A trip to Tuscany reminds me of a popular Italian phrase you may say to your sweet-heart or in my case something I've told Mrs. Cuvee at one time or another. "Come un raggio di sole hai illuminato la mia vita" roughly translated means; like a ray of light you have brightened and warmed my life. That sentiment is expressed for me so uniquely with each and every trip I 've take to Italy, especially so in Tuscany. Each visit is a cause for reflection; sitting back, under the bough of olive tree, enjoying a slice of Tuscan-nice, as I like to call it.  It's with great pleasure and enthusiasm; that I will be heading back to Italy in a few days. I'm of coursevery excited. Part of my trip was originally planned for a couple extra days before the upcoming conference in Umbria. I was to stay at place that will remain on my "wish-list" of wonderful places I'd love to stay the next time I find myself in the Tuscan region, it's called Villa Le Vigne [Agritourism] and a decanter full of "big-thanks" to them for their very kind invitation to hang with them for a few days before, I'm so bummed it didn't work out.

This return trip possibly inspired by my tossing coins into the Trevi Fountain just last year and as legend goes; it promises visitors who throw money into the fountain that they will one day return to throw more money into the fountain. Not sure this trip really counts [have not punched that ticket yet], but it will be close, as I will be in Rome only briefly and unfortunately no where near the famed fountain. That aside, I'm sad that my trip this year, will not include a visit with the wonderful folks at Villa Le Vigne. But I wanted to high-light them as a great place to set up your base of operations, for your very own visit to the Tuscan country side. There are so many great places to visit within easy striking distance, Florence, Montalcino to name a few for day-trips.

It appears to be very similar to a place I stayed while visiting Tuscany in 2008, Mrs. Cuvee and I stayed on a vineyard in Castellina in Chianti. But Villa Le Vigne, appears to be a major step-up from the rustic farm-house I stayed at last time. A modern style villa with various options from luxury to laid-back, sitting upon a small boutique family run winery, ideally located in the midst of the Strada del Vino [wine route]. Prices vary for a stay, but I look for an off-season date, a highly recommended way to go and lands firmly my reasonable zone. Frankly the weather is more appealing in the spring, the August and September high-season months can be a bit brutish with the temps and humidity. For more information and details about pricing, reservations and other needed information, please take a look at their website. I have also added a quick video below, which will help you get a sense or the essence of who they are and what you may experience with a stay of your own. Until next time, folks I wish you all safe travels; as always remember to sip long and prosper cheers!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Year in Review: 2011 Uncorked and Decanted


Another fresh New Year is here; another year to live, to banish worry, doubt, and fear, to love and laugh and give [yes, I say give]! This bright New Year is given me, to live each day with zest, to daily grow and try to be, my highest and my best! I have the opportunity, once more to right some wrongs, to pray for peace, to plant a tree and sing more joyful songs! ~ William Arthur Ward

This quote from Mr. Ward, represents for me many things, but most of all it encapsulates many of my most fervent hopes for me and for you my readers in the New Year that lays ahead. It lays out my desires and resolutions, without naming any specifically, but still it emphatically affirms my resolve to go about my life in this New Year, a little differently than I did in 2011 and dare I say, I think that it's a good thing.

Another year has come and gone, it has been a fascinatingly fun year and adventurous year for me and my blog. I've seen a lot of changes, a lot of folks coming unto the wine scene and a lot of folks kicking their wine blog down the road a bit or just giving it a rest, like the newest novel, that you're suppose to love, but for some reason you can't make it past the first few chapters. But, I want to affirm to you my readers that this blog is NOT going to take any hiatus [maybe a week long vacation], it won't run away from controversial subjects, but neither will I dwell upon those subjects.


This blog will continue to be about its business and information is its business and by the way business is good. So good in fact that my traffic has increased tremendously in the last six months of 2011, averaging over ten thousand views each and every month, a fact for which I'm so very thankful. So while this blog is not the prettiest-gurl at the dance, it surely is no wall flower either, oh-no plenty of folks have asked this blog to dance to their tune, but to them I say, "nay" not now, not ever. So yes, while traffic is way up and new folks are getting subscriptions everyday, don't look for this blog to tow the politically correct party line, of culturally elite big kids on the block who believe and want you to succumb to their narrow point of view that grüner veltliner is god's gift to the wine world and other uber high-acid, fruitless, rustic, no-frills wines [red or white] are the key to a happy wine-life.

So look for this blog to continue to provide you with relevant, fresh articles about the wine-scene, wine-culture, travel and tourism, pairing ideas and finding the very best deals that can be found in the wine world. If want to get into a "rant" please check out my "fermented thoughts" page, where I'll lay siege to some of most absurd and ridiculous trends happening on the wine scene today, as I see it. I hope as each new year passes, that I can become a better writer [many of you doubt that], a better communicator of the electronic page, but don't count on it, as I've told you before, I'm NOT a classically trained journalist, nor am I an English major, nope not even an advanced amateur, just a passionate guy who likes to share his perspective on the world of wine. Please take my wine related commentary for what it's, don't try to read into, you'll just get confused, because as it has been said, "I say what I mean and mean what I say" [without apology].

Now that said, [oh-boy I do feel so much better] I want to just give you a few quick glimpses of some this blog's highlights from last year. I really got to see so much, taste more than my share of exquisite wines, I met so many great folks behind the label and met some fantastic new twitter friends, who continually amaze me, with their thoughtful, fun attitudes and funny one-liners, which always make me laugh.

1. I've come to the realization that much older, finely aged wines, can be some of the very best, most palate pleasing master-pieces that I've ever encountered. So much of the new juice you find on the market today is just too young. I will be exploring more of these wines in 2012 than I did last year and start looking for reviews of older vintages, especially older Cabernet Sauvignon. When it comes to wine, patience is indeed a virtue. A big advantage to folks who really dig Spanish wines [count me in], producers there have to age their wines much longer before release, than their counter-parts here in the U.S. Which is why you'll see many older Spanish wines on shelves, because they have just been released. However, if you want older wines produced here in the states you'll have to raid the "wine-libraries" to get at them and may have to pay big-bucks to get them [unless you know where to look].

2. I've embraced this slightly over-used maxim; you can pay more, but you won't necessarily get more". I came to this realization more fully this year than I ever had before. I know many you have a profound of Pinot Noir producers, like Kosta Browne. Don't get me wrong I love their wine, but I think it's over priced. I had my allocation all set to go, but before I hit the big red "purchase" button. But as I reflected on the Pinot Noirs I've tasted this past year, I've made the executive decision; it's time to kick all the KB's of this world to the curb. I dumped all my allocations, because I know where I can get wines [same quality] I want to drink for so much less than these high-end labels. The same folks, who hope none you will mind continuing to pay for their high-priced juice. Folks, honestly the scales have fallen from my eyes, I was blind but now I see, saving me a ton of coin along the way. You just need to know, where to look.

3. In many tastings last year and the year before, all involving the wines of Chile. I think if they play their cards right, they could become the next "gold-rush" in the wine world. The Wines of Chile are providing as a whole, solid well made wines, which are every bit as good or in some cases, better than much of the juice coming from California and selling for a price that will make your bank account very happy. Folks, the Wines of Chile come dressed to impress, the kind of wines that you know came from someone besides a chemistry set, located on a massive wine farm in central California [you know who you are]. If you consider yourself someone who really digs Pinot Noir, look for the WOC to fill your pantries, cellars and most of all your empty glass for far less than their counter parts in the Russian River Valley.

4. Last year I had a chance to visit again with the wonderful folks on Red Mountain; this is one of my all time favorite places in Washington State, producing some of the finest selections of wine that I've ever had a chance to swirl in my glass. I'm not just talking about big-gun reds either, many of these wineries produce other outstanding white wines, like Riesling and Chardonnay. I drilled down a bit further; I had the opportunity to spend a week with the fine folks at Terra Blanca. Where I was suppose to work crush, but Mother Nature didn't cooperate, but I did get the chance to bottle wine, working on the bottling line and just like an episode of I love Lucy, I missed getting the capsule on more than a few bottles and got some hot glue on my hands. If you're not purchasing wine from these fine folks, you're missing the boat. I've slurped through many, many wines last year and I can say unequivocally that they're putting some of the best juice in a wine bottle that I've had the pleasure of tasting. Wine which in this reviewers mind, constantly over deliver on flavor and structure, compared with other wines at their same price points. I want to re-emphasize once more  that the folks who call Terra Blanca home, everyone behind the label there, from the tasting room to the crush-pad; are really grape people who deserve your patronage. Thanks again to everyone there for the peek behind the curtain and for your wonderful hospitality, during my time with you.

5. Following behind my trip to Red Mountain this year, I was contacted by a company who works with Starbucks to put images in their stores which reflect the community in which they reside. A picture I took last year, in the vineyards of the Terra Blanca [horse heaven hills in the background], was purchased to be used in a new store in Prosser, Washington. Exciting this was my first published work of any kind; nearly like having something you painted being hung some where besides the garage wall. The funny thing was that I really didn't like that picture as much they did, but hey money talks and well you know the rest. By the way, in my opinion Washington State Merlot's are by far and away some of the best I've tasted anywhere, but better than their counterparts in California.

6. I attended another Wine Bloggers Conference; this one went down in Virginia. Until the conference, I had not even seen a wine from Virginia on any shelf any where here in California, nor had ever been to a tasting of their wines. It was all new to me and made for a great experience, I met a lot of great folks and heard from some powerful voices in the wine world who respect greatly, but of course I don't always agree with their views. The conference went down on thee hottest time of 2011 [temps reaching over a 100 degrees] and many folks just melted away like a pad of butter sitting in a hot skillet. While others made the most of it, especially when the tasting opportunities were indoors, still there was an inordinate amount of carping and complaining. Some of my biggest take away’s from the event, one Virginia wines are a force to be reckoned with, strengths being Chardonnay, Vioginer [signature grape] and Cabernet Franc. Two, Virginia is primed and ready for wine related tourism, many clearly defined wine trails and destinations for the wandering wino. I would recommend going in the spring, April or May.

7. Perhaps, uh-wait no perhaps about it, my trip to the Kingdom of Navarra was the most amazing experience of 2011 hands down. The first part of my journey took me to the newly opened Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum found in Bilbao, Spain. This folks is a fantastic city and I loved it so much, I didn't really want to leave. The next part of the trip took me into the interior of the Kingdom of Navarra [northern Spain, near the border of France]. Our group, which was dubbed the "Navarra-Five" stayed in the historic city of Pamplona. This folks is also another amazing city so rich and full of life, history and of course the home of the event made famous via Ernest Hemmingway, the Running of the Bulls. But folks don't miss this; on the outskirts of this now very famous city is some of the very best wines on planet earth. No, I'm not kidding, it's no bull the wines I tasted in Navarra are some of the very best wines you'll ever encounter, wines with a soul. The Tapas bars and the places serving Jamón ibérico; are the happening hot-spots each and every night, you can get an entire bottle of rosado for two euros, for the ladies the shopping is quite good. A great city and wine region I would recommend exploring in the off-season [skip July]. 

8. Lastly looking back travel was a plentiful item on my plate last year, I had a chance to visit Rome for the first time last year, wow what an amazing city. I got to see Sorrento another stunner, I spent a few days in Barcelona [again wowed] and spent just a half day on the island of Palma de Mallorca, great wine, beautiful beaches and again a fantastic city, rich with an abundant history. I was also able to walk down the streets of history via the ruins of Pompeii, a city devastated by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and frozen in time AD 79, seeing it first hand proves beyond any doubt, that people really are not all that much different one century to the next. We all want the same things, a place to live in security, a place of freedom, a place to call home.

Those are just a few of the highlights from last year, there far too many to appear here, as I've already ran far too long. But one of my biggest highlights; is as always this blog where I have a place to share my adventures, my thoughts and impressions about this grape big world we all share. Big thanks to everyone I met this year in person and via Twitter, for everyone who has stopped by this blog to say hello and big thanks to all the wonderful wine producers who bottle their passion and share it with all of us. I know to some it's just fermented grape juice, but I think it's more than the sum of it parts, it [wine] has a way to connect us all together. You can choose to ignore or pooh-pooh that notion if you like, but I think you're missing the boat. As I get ready to embark upon another journey, back to Italy to explore yet another amazing region that appears to be "flying under the radar" I want to say to each and every reader, thanks it was a great year. Until next time, continue to sip long and prosper cheers!

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