La Merika – Adventure, discovery, and damn good wine

Winter has returned to my neck of the words… (truly! We had the most beautiful Juneuary, and now the April showers have arrived a month late)… and I am finally ready for a deep, dark, rich red to match the deep, dark rainy night.

This calls for a new one… La Merika 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. It is a deep ruby red, almost black cherry and thick as blood. IMG_7879The tannins are spry and lively, belying the soft mouthfeel.

Oak, tobacco, vanilla, and cherry mingle in a wonderful kaleidoscope of flavor, no one note overpowering the others.

La Merika is a Central Coast (California) winery, from the Delicato family of vineyards. I’ve sampled several of their labels and have yet to be disappointed. (check out this and this for more reviews of their labels) La Merika is named for a guiding star that led early explorers navigate the globe. It’s self-proclaimed as a wine for adventure and discovery, a claim I think I can get behind. The cabernet — and its sister varieties on my rack to taste: pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot grigio — is opaque and mysterious, much like the New World. There are nuances in flavor and color that could serve as apt metaphors for a land newly discovered. Lest anyone accuse me of waxing poetic, let me just say that this is a hearty, complex red that would pair perfectly with a charred rib eye and a rerun of “Masterpiece Theater.”

Here’s a shortcut to a few recipes designed with La Merika wines in mind. The cab retails for about $15, based on various web searches because the website is quite up and running yet. Yes, this wine is that new. (what are you waiting for? Be the first of your friends to try it!) I’ve come to appreciate what the Delicato brand can offer (hello, Sequin, Gnarly Head, Twisted, Bota Box… Bota Box, for godsake!), and its addition of the La Merika label doesn’t disappoint.



Drink wine, fight cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, something I don’t usually think about because October is also Halloween month, harvest month, and my birthday month! Besides, I’m too young to think about mammograms (I thought), and I hate the color pink.

Well, breast cancer is hitting increasingly closer to home, and just about a month ago I found out about a friend – younger than me! – who is now battling the Big C. She is on the campaign trail to get women like me – and you? – to understand that breast cancer doesn’t have an age in mind when it hits.

Then, I received a package of wines from HandCraft Artisan Collection, a label from Delicato Family

HandCraft 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

HandCraft 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Vineyards in Napa. Breast cancer has hit close to home for them too, so they’re doing something about it. Over the last two years, HandCraft has donated more than $200,000 toward breast cancer awareness, prevention, and research, and in July they launched a Facebook campaign called “Walk the Walk” to encourage people to sign up for cancer-awareness walks to help fund cancer research.

Believe it or not, your money DOES do some good when you pay that $35 to run/walk a 5k adorned in pink shirts and ribbons. That money actually does go to help fund research, and you get to have fun in the name of a good cause. So from now through Oct. 31, 2014, HandCraft invites people to participate in a variety of charity walks and be entered to win a $250 donation toward their fundraising goals.

There are any number of walks in every city in America, so find one near you, enter on HandCraft’s Facebook page before Oct. 31, and join the fight!

So what does this have to do with wine, exactly? Well, HandCraft makes some pretty tasty wine in addition to raising money to fight cancer. You’ve got to love a business that uses its influence for good!

Tonight I opened the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon to drink with my elk stew dinner. It’s a wonderfully dark wine with a tobacco and spice aroma that hint at the wine’s smooth, smoky flavor. Perfect for a cold October night and a bowl of hearty stew! It’s just tannic enough to dance on the tongue a bit without singeing your taste buds. According to the tasting notes, that silky quality comes from just a touch of sangeiovese grapes that help smooth out the cabernet sauvignon’s rough edges.

The wine retails for $12.99, and you can feel good knowing that your money is being reinvested in breast cancer research.

As HandCraft founder Cheryl Indelicato said, “I’d like to dedicate your first glass to the brave women who have valiently battled this unforgiving disease and to the men and women hard at work to find a cure — you are our inspiration. Cheers!”

Cheers, indeed! Raise a glass, and I will dedicate my first glass to my dear friend battling breast cancer right now, my husband’s grandma who lost her own battle with breast cancer before I ever had the good fortune to meet her, and others who may not even know that this horrible disease is in their future.

Rocking my own Cancer Firkin Suck 5k shirt from October 2012. It was a run sponsored by the Firkin and Fox in Carson City and so much fun with friends and family all running to raise money for cancer research.

Rocking my own Cancer Firkin Suck 5k shirt from October 2012. It was a run sponsored by the Firkin and Fox in Carson City and so much fun with friends and family all running to raise money for cancer research.

Camping Sangria

camping sangria

Special thanks to Gast Family Recipes and Pinterest for this recipe and image.

I started my summer trying out a camping sangria recipe I found on Pinterest, and I should have shared it months ago. Here we are now, near the end of summer, and I’m returning to this fool-proof guarantee of a good time. (props to for the original post)

This recipe is perfect for camping because you make the “starter” ahead of time and mix it with club soda or whatever mixer you prefer when you’re ready to drink it. The recipe calls for Fresca. You don’t have to worry about packing a large pre-mixed pitcher or bringing all the supplies to make proper cocktails. I took one quart jar of starter, which lasted about two nights of camping, and mixed it with plain club soda to keep the calorie count down. Delish! 

You start with fruit, of course. Whatever fruit you like, go wild. I sliced a peach, an apple, and threw in a handful of strawberries. Put these in a mason jar and fill the jar a quarter full with vodka. I used plain vodka, but when I try it again, I think I’ll use Peach Smirnoff. Yummmm!!! 

You can let the fruit soak in the vodka for a while or move on to step 2. Keep in mind that vodka-soaked fruit packs a punch! Fill the jar the rest of the way with wine. I used a really light pinot grigio, and I think that slightly sweet, fruity white wines work best for this. Close the jar and let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors have time to mix. 

That’s it! That’s the “starter.” Bring along your preferred mixer, and when the tent is up and the campfire is a’ cracklin’, go ahead and just pour some of the starter in a glass of ice, top with the mixer, and enjoy! 


Enjoying a taste of the Belle Ambiance

“We all have a place to relax and unwind, to enjoy and forget about the world, if only for a little while…” This is line that greeted me when I opened the box from Belle Ambiance Family Vineyards. Oh man, relax and unwind? Forget about the world? Sign me up!

Since life’s pleasures are best when shared, I took a bottle of Belle Ambiance 2013 Pinot Grigio to my sister-in-law’s house for Easter. While the kids dyed eggs (and their fingers… and probably the couch… and maybe the dog) we enjoyed a cold glass of this delightfully fresh white wine.

ImageThe pinot grigio has a delicate balance of honeysuckle and melon, cucumber and a blade or two of green grass. The light Imageeffervescence made it feel like a guilty treat that we probably didn’t deserve while the husbands were cleaning up egg shells and dye, but we didn’t really care. The cares of the world are not match for springtime sun and a cold pinot grigio!

The soft pink label only added to the feeling of serenity, and belied the very affordable retail price of $9.99. This is a wine I’d feel  confident bringing to a brunch with the aunts and mother-in-law or sharing with my wine-snob friends.

While Belle Ambiance is a new line of wines, it comes from the well-established Delicato Family Vineyards in California, which has been producing wines since 1924. It strives to bring premium, responsible wines to the Millennial market. Belle Ambiance means “beautiful place,” and I like that it’s striving to make this world a more beautiful place by producing certified-sustainable wines in my budget. I can feel good about taking a few minutes to myself to enjoy the sun on my shoulders and the crisp bite of wine on my tongue. Cheers to my own belle ambiance!


Barefoot Bubbly, just because

Tonight I knew I wanted to preview a sparkling wine for Valentine’s Day. V-Day is one of a handful of holidays that practically demand a sparkling wine. And today is my husband’s birthday, so that was an even better reason to chill a bottle of Barefoot Bubbly. Image

But then as I plodded around the kitchen in my slippers, yoga pants gathering flour dust, I wasn’t so sure I could really pull of a sparkling wine tonight. Sparklers go with special occasions, and fun… and most decidedly NOT dusty yoga pants.

Contrary to my nature, I threw caution to the wind and popped open the bottle anyway. And I’m so glad I did! 

The first sip of icy cold, fizzy wine was exactly what I needed while I waited for artichokes to cook, among other mundane dinner tasks. Oh yes, screw convention, some sparkling wines are appropriate for ANY night, not just a special occasion! 

It’s no wonder that Barefoot Bubbly’s Brut Cuvee Champagne won a gold medal in the 2012 Winemaker’s Challenge International Wine Competition. It is dry, refreshing, soft, and tasty. Grapefruit, apple, and pear play so well together to keep the taste light and clean without giving way to a sour bite.

As I poured my, ahem, second glass, I leaned against the sink – full of dirty dishes! – and enjoyed the fact that I was indulging in a delicious sparkling wine that would play as perfectly on a holiday as it did tonight: A lazy Sunday night. In my yoga pants, slippers, and pigtails.

You can easily find this wine at most grocery stores for around $10. Barefoot is always a safe bet in value wine, and its bubbly versions are no exception. It’s a solid bet for a weeknight, Valentine’s Day, hubby’s birthday, or just because you deserve it, dammit! 

Riesling and crab cakes

Dungeness crab is on sale at our local grocery store this week, so we splurged on four large crabs for dinner Sunday night. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to crab; I like it with a little melted butter or plain, no cocktail sauce. We kept the meal simple, with just some crusty French bread, a light butter/herb pasta and a green salad. The crab was the star of the show, so I scoured the Internet to find a wine that would pair well with it. Image

My dear Facebook readers unanimously suggested pinot gris, which surprised me. I assumed that chardonnay would be the obvious choice. And a lot of the reviews I read online suggested riesling and told me to save the chardonnay for lobster. So I chilled a California riesling from Mirassou. Ordinarily this wine would not be my first choice with such a delicate main course like cracked crab, but I took a leap of faith and was thrilled with the result. The crab turned the inherent sweetness of the wine into a soft fruit salad with a velvety finish. And in turn, the wine’s acidity brought out the natural sweetness of the crab.

Mirassou riseling is full of smooth fruits like apple and pear, and perhaps just a touch of melon. The wine also enhanced the butter/herb pasta, but didn’t do much for the green salad. I could have lost myself in a bowl of crab and a bottle of wine, but I’m trying to not get carried away. (if you don’t hear from me by this weekend, send a search party to the seafood aisle where I’ll be camped out with a case of Mirassou riesling and a bucket of crab. And the wine can be easily found for under $10 at most grocery stores, so this is a very real possibility for me!


Crab cakes

My husband and I learned that six pounds of crab is maybe just a smidge too much for two of us (the kids didn’t like it), so tonight we made the leftovers into crab cakes. (I should clarify: six pounds total, with shells, not six pounds of meat.) I followed Tyler Florence’s recipe for crab cakes, adding just a touch of Old Bay seasoning. I wanted a fairly stripped-down recipe that would highlight the crab and not mask it with a bunch of superfluous ingredients.

I kept the sides simple: homemade macaroni-and-cheese, and steamed broccoli. The riesling went really well with the leftovers, which is the sign of a keeper in my house!

I’m looking forward to the next time crab goes on sale so I can try another varietal to pair with it. Riesling was a fantastic choice, but I’d like to try a pinot gris, or maybe my new favorite white varietal, semillon. Mirassou makes a fanastic riesling, and I’ll be stocking my wine rack with it, maybe next time serving it with a heartier seafood dish or plate of brussel sprouts sauteed in butter and garlic.

Three party-friendly wines for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is around the corner (two days, to be exact), and I’m feverishly trying to figure out which wines I want to take to my in-laws for the big dinner. I’m a red drinker, but not everyone likes red, and all the experts say you’re supposed to drink white with poultry. To make everyone happy, I’m taking one of each. dreaming tree

The red choice was easy. I love Crush, a red blend by Dreaming Tree Wines. This is Dave Matthews’ vin-venture with veteran winemaker Steve Reeder, and they knock it out of the park. (is there anything that man can’t do?) I love Reeder’s philosophy: “I make wines for people to drink. I don’t make wines for people to put into their cellar.” Crush is so drinkable, I know that anyone in my eclectic group coming together this Thanksgiving will enjoy it. I won’t have to worry that it’s too tannic, or too sweet, or too… red. It’s the perfect easy-drinking red.a bottle of each. (for my first review of Crush, read here)

The white choice was a little harder, mostly because I don’t drink much white wine. I’m pretty picky with my whites, but I guess that means that if I bring a white wine that I like, there’s a good chance that everyone will like it. I’m pretty hard to please. Image

I recently sampled a rose’ by Sequin Wines and have a bottle of the winery’s pinot grigio at the ready. I opened it tonight and think it will make an excellent choice for Thanksgiving dinner. Sequin wines are “delicately bubbled” and have just a touch of fizz on the pour. The carbonation is so light, it’s just a breath of fizz on the tongue. Don’t worry, you won’t be taking up valuable real estate in your belly before the turkey arrives. Sequin pinot grigio is sweet, but not syrupy or heavy. It would balance nicely with a roasted turkey and green bean casserole (can you tell which dishes are my favorite?).

Party bonus: The Sequin website has some great recipes to turn their wine into festive party drinks. (hello, “Sequini”!)

Because Sequin isn’t readily available in every region, I’m suggesting an alternative for your white wine: 14 Hands Chardonnay.


I know that some chardonnays can be heavy and oaky, and that is NOT what you want for this National Day of Eating. But 14 Hands is wonderfully versatile – a balanced blend of floral and fruity. It has touches of apple and pear with a hint of green grass and fresh flowers. 14 Hands can be found in most grocery stores with a decent wine aisle, and is priced around $15. (I reviewed it here.)

Whatever your plans are this Thanksgiving, may your day be filled with gratitude… and a healthy pour of great wine!

Sequin and self-satisfaction

Oh man, sometimes you need some fizz, sugar, and goodness-gracious-bring-it-on alcohol. Tonight is one of those nights.

It’s not kid-craziness that has driven me to the wine rack. It’s not hubby frustrations (WHY can’t he put his socks in the laundry hamper? WHY???). Nope, tonight is a good old-fashioned pat on the back for a job well done.

I spent the day cleaning the house. Not just an everyday cleaning, but a deep,
once-a-year scouring. A friend and I have decided to try co-op cleaning. We spend a day at each other’s houses, kids in tow so they get a playdate out of it too, and we go to town with the cleaning products. We put on some music (jammed to some Iration, Michael Franti, and Jason Mraz, in no particular order) and each tackled a bathroom before tag-teaming the rest of the house.

We scrubbed toilets and chiseled hard-water lines off the sinks. Yes, we chiseled. As in, I raided the tool chest and used a piece of hardware and Simple Green at the same time. You know you mean business when your cleaning requires a chisel. (so this is where I earned the fizz-factor in tonight’s wine)

Then we moved furniture and Ajaxed the baseboards. We vacuumed vents and Swiffered floors. (this is where I earned the sugar in tonight’s drink)

At one point, my friend balanced a baby on her hip while she dusted the blinds. I found myself making mac ‘n’ cheese for the kids while simultaneously scrubbing the stovetop. We tackled motherhood in tandem and we ROCKED it. And that’s where we earned the goodness-gracious-bring-it-on alcohol that I am so enjoying at this very moment.

I’ve been saving a sample of Sequin Wines Rose’ for a special occasion. I’d say sequin 2tonight is as special as it gets on a night at home for a busy mama.

Sequin Wines are “delicately bubbled,” which is so perfect for making any night a special occasion. As they put it so eloquently on the website, “You deserve to enjoy something special, sweet and refreshing any day of the week.” Oooh, they’re speaking my language!

The Sequin options are rose’, pinot grigio, and moscato. Those are all wines that can veer to the sweet side, and the rose’ is certainly sweet. It’s like pink grapefruit coated in sugar: sweet with a cleansing sour pucker. It’s like strawberry shortcake with a squeeze of lemon on the top. While I ordinarily shy from sweet wines, there’s something fun about this one. Maybe it’s the hint of carbonation. Or maybe it’s just that the wine is so well balanced, you hardly have time to dwell on any one flavor or sensation.

Sequin Rose’ would be the perfect dessert after a spicy, hearty dinner. Or it would pair nicely with a fish entree in a garlic sauce. I would not pair it with anything too heavy or anything too citrus-y. It needs a hearty companion to mellow the sugar but one that won’t overshadow it.

For me, I’m pairing it with a main dish self-satisfaction and a heaping side of “hell yeah! I earned this!” I recommend this combo, it’s pretty amazing!

Tasting at Goose Watch Winery

I’m in Lake Placid for work and managed to sneak away from my hotel for a few minutes to check out the Goose Watch Winery tasting room, which happens to be directly across the street (yay!). The Finger Lakes region of New York is home to more than 200 wineries, including Goose Watch and its sister winery, Swedish Hill.Image

For $5, I got a sample of six wines of my choice, and I get to keep the glass. If I were to, perhaps, wander on over to Swedish Hill Winery with my glass, I’ll get a $2 tasting there. Not a bad deal!

Goose Watch claims to develop “some of the most intriguing varietals and blends, as well as sparkling wines, port, sherry, and ice wine.” (oooh, ice wine! I’ll get to that in a minute) It has been open since 1997, so still fairly young but using its youth to experiment with grapes and blends that other wineries in the region aren’t doing. The winery works with Cornell University’s viticulture program, which developed a number of Goose Watch’s wines. I love an industry that engages the education system!

I started my tasting with a pinot noir brut rose’, which was a bright cotton candy pink color with a dry grapefruit and cherry flavor. A fun introduction to the winery’s “intriguing varietals.”

The cool climate of the Finger Lakes produces great rieslings and gewurstraminers, and Goose Watch has a blend of the two that is a delightful surprise. It’s dry yet refreshing, floral with a touch of spice.

My favorite of the day was a 2010 chambourcin, a fairly new (1963) hybrid grape that I had never heard of. That may be Imagebecause it’s mainly an East Coast grape, also grown in the lower Midwest, Australia, France and Portugal. (I had to ask how it’s pronounced, and it’s something along the lines of sham-bor-san.)

The Goose Watch Chambourcin is like a glass of pinot noir roasted over a campfire. The wine is not particularly heavy in feel, but is huge on smoky taste. I like smoky wines, but be warned that this one is really smoky! I think I’ll have to pair it with a really well-marbled steak that is not overly seasoned. A steak with too much flavor would compete with the wine, but the smokiness of the wine would set off a mild yet rich cut of beef perfectly. It would also go well with a dark chocolate dessert.

Finally, I had to spring for the $3 tasting of ice wine. I’ve heard of ice wine but have never tried it. Ice wine is made from grapes that are left on the vine after a freeze. The grapes freeze and shrink up, losing a lot of their water. When they’re pressed, there’s not much juice, but what is squeezed out is extremely sweet and syrupy. To me, it tastes like strawberry syrup. I would pour it over vanilla ice cream or dunk a piece of cake in it. Way too sweet for my taste, but a fun experience anyway.


The Goose Watch tasting room is on the southern end of Lake Placid, right next to Mirror Lake and near the Olympic Center. There’s a fun selection of gifts, wine paraphernalia, and food items like jams and jellies. Now I may just have to take my souvenir glass over to Swedish Hill for a $2 tasting there!


Terra Andina Scandalous Prelude to Fall

Tonight we got a thorough downpour of rain and the most stunning lightning storm. This teaser to fall made me crave a rich, thick, hearty red wine. This is no weather for a flimsy pinot noir. I need some meat, man! 

I grabbed a bottle of 2011 Terra Andina Scandalous Carmenere, and with the first pour of the thick, nearly black nectar, I knew it was a great choice!


Carmenere grapes originated in Bordeaux, France, but are all but nonexistent there now, finding a solid home in Chile. They are Chile’s signature wine grape but can also be found in vineyards in Washington, California and parts of Italy. 

Wikipedia tells me that carmenere, a member of the cabernet family, will produce a rich, ruby red red wine with soft tannins — flavors like a cabernet sauvignon but gentler. The Terra Andina version embodies this description. The wine is so wonderfully savory like a cabernet sauvignon, but softer on the palate. For better or for worse, this is a wine you could savor all night until you woefully hit the bottom of the bottle.

The aroma of the Terra Andina is mossy with pungent green beans. The green bean aroma melts away when you sip, mellowing into an almost dried-herb flavor. Hints of cedar and vanilla round out the nuances discovered with each sip. 

Like the lightning and rain, this wine is a welcomed prelude to autumn. My bottle came in a sample package, but it can be found in wine shops around the U.S. for around $11 and under.