Wine Cocktails

Since people may have a little more time than usual and might want to kick their wine game up a notch, I thought this month I would feature some wine-based cocktails. I kept it to recipes with relatively easy ingredients so you aren’t having to buy any specialty liqueurs or unusual spices you may only use once.

Saint-Florent

An easy-drinking aperitif made slightly more potent with the addition of gin.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp honey
3 oz gin
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1 oz Aperol or Cappelletti
Angostura bitters
Champagne or sparkling wine
2 lime wheels

Honey syrup: combine honey and 1/2 Tbsp hot water and stir to dissolve.

Combine gin, lime juice, Aperol, honey syrup, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters in a cocktail shaker; fill with ice. Cover and shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into 2 chilled coupe glasses. Top off each with Champagne and garnish with lime.


Rosé, Bourbon, and Blue

This patriotic-themed drink seems appropriate at these times.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons raw sugar
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup brewed unsweetened black tea
3 oz fruity rosé
1/4 cup bourbon
1 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
2 lemon slices

Stir sugar with 2 Tbsp hot water in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved; transfer to a food processor. Add 6 Tbsp blueberries to processor and purée. Set a strainer over a large pitcher. Strain blueberry mixture, pressing on solids to extract as much liquid as possible; discard solids. Add tea, rosé, bourbon, and lemon juice to pitcher. Refrigerate until chilled, about 2 hours.

Cut remaining blueberries in half; add to pitcher. Fill 2 Old Fashioned glasses with ice. Divide cocktail among glasses. Garnish with lemon slices and serve.


COVID Quarantine Non-Travel Spotlight

We can’t travel right now and given all the uncertainty, I’m not sure when my next trip will be. So rather than rubbing salt in the wound or planning around hypotheticals, instead I’m including some games, podcasts, virtual activities, books, as well as some stuff for kids, that may help transport you out of the mundane. I’m sure you’ve already gotten lots of recommendations but perhaps I can help you discover something new! 🙂

Podcasts

If you and I have ever spoken about podcasts, then you know I’m a huge fan of Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard. His realness and ability to be raw, introspective nature, and desire to learn/grow aligns with what I look for in a podcast. Below are some of my favorite episodes:

  • It’s a good time to start or practice good habits and to incorporate them into our new routine. This episode of Armchair Expert was a great introduction to BJ Fogg’s book Tiny Habits.
  • Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, has his own podcast with TED called WorkLife which I’ve just started listening to following this episode of Armchair because he’s awesome. He explores topics related to creating a better work life and is just an interesting guy with a ton of knowledge.

Games

Monopoly Deal: I know what you’re thinking: “Omg, have you played Monopoly as an adult?! It’s so boring!” I hear you. But Monopoly Deal is totally different. It’s a fast-paced, strategic, card-game version and it’s super addictive. Just trust me. You can find it on Amazon for $8.

Houseparty: This app allows you to play games like Heads Up, Trivia, etc., virtually with your friends. It alerts you when your friends are online so you can connect and catch up on a whim.

Virtual Activities

  • Virtual tour of the Louvre
  • Virtual Stroll through the Met – The Met’s 360 Virtual
  • Tour of the Museum of Natural History
  • Harvard and Yale are both offering free classes

Books

If you haven’t ever read the Harry Potter books, stop reading this email immediately and buy them NOW! I was lucky to have read these just a few years ago without ever having seen the movies first. Although the movies are well done, they just cannot compare even minimally to the spectacular and magical world that J.K. Rowling has created in her books. These got me back into reading and I could do nothing else while engrossed in them.

If you have only watched Big Little Lies but haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Though, it may be hard to get into a book or enjoy it to the same extent when you already know the outcome. Liane Moriarty is a fantastic writer and I love a number of her other books as well (though BLL was the first I read and still my favorite). I love her writing style – a perfect balance of dark and light – and way of story-telling through rotating points of view, sometimes the POV of strangers/outsiders that are not characters within the story itself. I really liked What Alice Forgot. If you have siblings, you’ll also probably enjoy Three Wishes. Although to varying degrees, I have liked all 5 books of hers that I’ve read so far.

If you watched Mindhunter and like profiling shows like Criminal Minds, then I would suggest checking out this entertaining, easy to read thriller about an FBI profiler: A Killer’s Mind by Mike Omer.

Verity by Colleen Hoover. This book is so incredibly dark and twisted. It completely messes with your head and I could not put it down.

For Kids

As long as schools are out, Audible is hosting a free selection of hundreds of titles for kids of all ages. Go to stories.audible.com.

Scholastic has started a ‘Learn at Home’ series. Each day, Scholastic will add four different learning experience videos to their website for different grade levels. Click here for the Scholastic ‘Learn at Home’ projects.

Khan Academy: Created by experts, Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace. They tackle math, grammar, computer programming, science, history, economics, SATs, and more for K-12 through early college, and it’s all free! They have also partnered with institutions like NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, MIT, and The California Academy of Sciences to offer specialized content.

Sworkit, an at home fitness program and app is now offering kid-friendly workouts to help your kids stay active while at home. Ranging from warm-ups and strength to agility and flexibility, these videos might help keep your child engaged and occupied so you can have a short break!


Wines to Pair with Your Netflix Binge (by Genre)

Need an excuse to have some wine? Probably not, given the current situation (or ever). But just in case: wine promotes the release of dopamine and serotonin in our brain, as all pleasurable activities do. By raising dopamine levels, wine can make us feel good, which I think we all need right now. But before moving on to that second bottle, remember that drinking too much can alter other brain chemicals that determine feelings of depression. Definitely not something we want to amplify at the moment. So try (keyword here is TRY) to practice some restraint and keep it modest!

Now on to the pairings….

Comedy

Bichi Pet Mex – This unfiltered, biodynamic Pét-Nat (“pétillant naturel”) sparkling rose is quirky and will be a great  complement to your favorite comedy, especially when you see the bottle.

It also comes from a vineyard comprised of a mystery grape variety that remains unidentified. So you could drink it with a mystery or true crime as well!

Mystery

2010 Bonny Doon Contra – this is described as an “Old-Vine Field Blend.” A blend of what exactly though, we don’t know…the bottle doesn’t mention what grape varietals are used. I just like that it shares a name with one of my favorite Nintendo games, which I would love to be playing right about now! [Up up down down left right left right B A Start]

Romance

Pick up a Petit Sirah (perhaps Michael David Earthquake Petite Sirah, shout out to Lodi, my hometown!). This wine varietal is dark and full bodied with notes of blackberry, chocolate, and some pepper and spice. Some say that red wine also releases or provides the same effect as oxytocin – the “love hormone.”

Drama

You may not have heard of Petit Verdot. It’s a red grape that was traditionally used as a minor blending grape in Bordeaux wines. However, as it has spread to warmer climates, winemakers have realized that Petit Verdot can make intensely bold, fruity yet floral, red wines that can easily stand on their own.

Documentary

Open up a Pinot Noir. This is a serious wine that is highly regarded and known for being a difficult grape to grow – much as documentaries can be difficult to make.


San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Around this time last year, I spent a few days with my sister in San Miguel de Allende. A friend just decided to go there last weekend and was asking for recommendations so this month I thought I would feature this beautiful town – which in 2008 was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. Locals believe the city was built on rose quartz, which is said to be the force of life. That may explain why this city is so exuberant or perhaps it’s just the lively Mexican culture combined with preserved traditions. Whatever the reason, this city is sure to charm you. And only 3 hours from Mexico City by bus ($20 for comfy recliner seats), it’s pretty easy to get to as well.

Top 5 Things to Do in San Miguel

Wander the Streets: The best part of San Miguel is just wandering through the cobblestone streets, taking in the colorful buildings and beautiful courtyards, passing vendors covered head to toe in dozens of hats and bags, and stopping into various shops to look at the colorful textiles, artisanal creations, and incredible alebrijes (Mexican spirit animals). Make sure to allocate most of your time to this.

Food, Mezcal/Tequila, More Food! And Sunset Drinks: There are so many fantastic food options from street tacos, to Peruvian at La Parada (great Pisco Sours), to vegan food at Don Taco Tequila. Have coffee and a breakfast bowl at Ki’bok. Overindulge in pastries at one of the many panaderías. Do a mezcal tasting at La Mezcaleria (or almost anywhere) or book a private tasting at Casa Dragones – a local small batch sipping tequila presented in handmade bottles. Their tasting room is located on the grounds of La Casa Dragones, stables which date back to 1671 and housed the Dragones, who led one of the movements that sparked the Mexican Independence. And be sure to catch two very different sunset views from the rooftops of Antonia Bistro and Luna Tapas Bar (top of the Rosewood Hotel).

Thermal Baths: San Miguel de Allende was founded on the edge of an extinct volcano, which last erupted 12,000 years ago. But this subterranean volcanic activity has resulted in dozens of nearby thermal baths and hot springs. There are several different options depending on what kind of experience you’re after.

Fabrica La Aurora: Built in 1902 and once a textile factory, La Aurora reopened in 1990 as a cultural and artistic centre housing art galleries, design studios, workshops, and restaurants, all surrounding a beautiful courtyard.

Live Music: If you walk through the Jardín – the town’s main plaza – in the evenings, you can count on being serenaded by lovely mariachis. Have a seat at Centro Bar to take in the music while looking at the cathedral. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, check out Bistro Mi Casa in the Instituto Allende, co-owned by perhaps San Miguel’s best known artist, Gil Gutierrez, for a dinner show. Or go to El Tupinamba in the evening for Spanish Tapas and live music.


Wine of the Month: A Funky Red

Totally unrelated to Poland, aside from the fact that the drawing on the label reminds me of the Old Town walls, I thought I would start the year by featuring a wine that really feels like me. This was the first wine I had that made me realize I really like the earthy, funky, leathery reds of which most are not fans. I tasted this in a wine class at Chelsea Wine Vault and loved it, though the overwhelming response by most was not positive, haha! The smell and taste was compared to a barnyard (I have seen reviews describe it as smelling like a musty forest floor) and while that sounds pretty horrid, I find the flavor profile of this wine extremely compelling. Now when I smell a wine like this, I know that I will almost certainly like it.

If you’re feeling adventurous or you’re just looking to mix up your wine options and try something out of your comfort zone, I would suggest you give this one a try – not much to lose at only $11 a bottle! And if nothing else, it will be a conversation starter at least. And please let me know what you think! I would be really curious to get others’ impressions on this one. 🙂


Krakow, Poland

Monday was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. In honor and recognition of that, I am featuring Krakow, Poland this month.

In early 2018, I reached out to my friend Claire in London to discuss maybe visiting her for the May holiday weekend (Memorial Day in the US, Spring Bank Holiday in the UK). She told me she was planning a trip to Poland and invited me along. I’ve read and learned a great deal about Auschwitz and the holocaust but knew very little about the city of Krakow. I was surprised by what I found – a stunning city with beautiful architecture, a fascinating history, great restaurants – and incredibly inexpensive! I’m talking $2-3 glasses of quality French wine and $80/night 2 bedroom loft apartments in Old Town.

Top 5 Things to Do in Krakow

Main Square/Old Town: There is so much to see within the old town’s defensive walls. Wander through all the streets, check out the Town Hall tower, St Mary’s Basilica, and Wawel Cathedral. Have a drink or coffee and dessert overlooking the main square from Cafe Szal.

Kazimierz: This is Krakow’s Jewish Quarter and you could spend an entire day here. It is no small area and there is so much to see. Prioritize the areas and sights that are most important to you and map them out but definitely also wander aimlessly as there are so many little flea markets, cute shops, murals and street art. This is also where Steven Spielberg shot Schindler’s List.

St Joseph’s church: From Kazimierz, walk across the Bernatek foot bridge into the Podgórze district, passing by lots of charming cafes on the way to St Joseph’s – a neo-gothic Catholic Church. It is impressive both inside and out. We were lucky enough to witness a wedding ending, after which the entire wedding party hopped on motorcycles and drove off in a loud and dramatic display.

Wieliczka Salt Mine: 378 steps down 54 flights is an underground world like no other. The salt mine, excavated from the 13th century, produced table salt until 2007 and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The shafts and elaborate passageways extending over 178 miles are impressive on their own. But add to that an underground lake, 4 chapels, statues carved out of rock salt, and a cathedral with chandeliers made by hand from salt crystals (total Meat Loaf – I’d Do Anything For Love vibes) and you will leave in utter amazement.

Auschwitz-Birkenau: As you can imagine, this is incredibly heartbreaking and somber but it is definitely worth doing. It took me awhile to decide if I wanted to ever write about this visit. It was an emotional day and doesn’t really feel travel-blog-appropriate. But I think our guide’s sentiment, the message she ended the day with, compels me. She said, “This isn’t a tour, but a tribute. Every person that visits here and remembers what happened is paying tribute to those that lost their lives. This is something important.” So with this I pay tribute, to the more than 1 million lives lost here in vain, to those who risked everything and sacrificed themselves to save others, to those who fought back, to those who never got to say goodbye, and to those who survived but are forced to live with the memories and nightmares of this painful time every day of their lives.❤️


Wine of the Month: Orange is the New White

Orange is the New White. Or in this case, it could be the new red. This is a white (orange) wine for red wine drinkers. The extended skin contact (7+ months of maceration) creates a complex wine that if blind tasted, might confuse or surprise you. If you’re looking for a palate-altering experience, this is your wine.

Famous for its fascinating and unusual white wines, this region is home to many avant-garde winemakers (such as Gravner and Vie di Romans). Josko Gravner has been heralded as one of the greatest and most influential winemakers in Friuli and beyond. Gravner pioneered stainless steel fermentation and temperature control technology before forgoing technology and chemicals to pursue strictly natural winemaking. Currently, the Gravner wines are fermented and aged in underground Georgian clay amphorae, which are believed by many to be the first tanks ever to hold wine (more than 4,000 years)

This biodynamic, natural wine is made from 100% Ribolla Gialla, which yields opulent and richly layered white wines. These wines are savory (as opposed to fruity) and are fantastic matches for the seafood dishes common to the Adriatic Coast of Friuli.

I don’t normally spend this much money on a bottle of wine (aside from Champagne) but I tried this during a tasting at Union Square Wines and couldn’t resist. I have one of the 2004 bottles which I can’t find online anymore so this one will have to be saved for a very special occasion. You can buy the 2010 vintage at Astor Wines for $80.


Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia Salt Flats)

With the recent run of cold weather we had and more to come in the months ahead, I wanted to feature a warm destination this month. As we head into winter, South America moves into summer. So if like me, you’re ready to lose your frozen mind by February, then this would be a great trip to start planning. As well, the best time to visit is rainy season from December to March when the rain turns the flats into a giant mirror, allowing you to snap incredible reflection photos. Dry season from April to October is also great – I visited the first week of April – it just means the flats are drier with less reflective pools of water. Still spectacular as the expanse of white stretches forever.

It’s the world’s largest salt flat and is truly an amazing sight to behold. No other singular place besides the vast and endless icebergs of Antarctica has floored me as much as the salt flats of Bolivia.

Getting here can be a little complicated and will differ depending on your plans before/after (are you only going to Bolivia or will you also be visiting Chile?) and your budget (this will dictate if you should take train, bus, or plane). I started my tour in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile (definitely worth a visit!) but there are several other routes you can take so I won’t bombard you all with the many details of that. Give me a call and I am happy to talk you through the options to see what is best for you or I can even connect you to a travel advisor who can plan it for you. This goes for all trips. I never get sick of talking about travel so definitely do not hesitate!

Top 5 Things to See in the Salar de Uyuni

Most of the tours are 3 days and cover the below sights but just make sure they are on the itinerary – these are can’t miss spots.

Salt Flats: Obviously this is the main draw but there is much more to it than I expected and it’s important to make sure your tour visits them at sunrise or sunset to see how the flats change with the light. The pyramid shaped salt piles, pictured below, are also a super cool sight.

Laguna Colorada: This bright red lagoon filled with flamingoes and surrounded by llamas and alpacas was probably the most interesting thing on the tour, aside from the Salt Flats themselves. The various colors of the water are caused by minerals and algae, contrasting with the white islands made of borax. The resulting imagery reminds me of the layered sand art that was so popular decades ago.

Laguna Verde: This high-altitude salt lake sits at the foot of 2 volcanoes – Licancabur and Juriques. As its name indicates, Laguna Verde is a brilliant green color (ranging from turquoise to emerald depending on the wind’s effects on the mineral sediment inside the lake), contrasted by the white of neighboring Laguna Blanca. Don’t take a dip though! With high concentrations of lead, sulfur, and arsenic, Laguna Verde is toxic, which is why you won’t see any flamingoes here.

Isla Incahuasi (Cactus Island): In the middle of the salt flats, this island of giant cacti and coral rock formations stands out against the vast white. This piece of land is the top of the remains of an ancient volcano, which was submerged when the area was part of a giant prehistoric lake, about 40,000 years ago.

Uyuni: There are so many things to see in the village, from the colorful clothing and textiles to the Train Graveyard. This locomotive ghost town isn’t talked about as much but I found it to be incredibly fascinating – it’s a really cool step back into the past. Visit in the evening when the tour buses are gone.


Wine of the Month: Champagne

With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, I wanted to focus this month on Champagne – my favorite! If you’ve had a killer year and really want to go all out to celebrate the new decade, the best Champagne I think I have ever had was at a tasting in NYC recently – Lanson Vintage Collection 1976. It is only sold as a Magnum (1.5L) at $900 a bottle. Yes, you read that right. It’s so incredibly rich and will knock your socks off but if that’s not in your budget (is it in anyone’s really?), my favorite Champagnes are Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru and Krug Grand Cuvée. I tend to be most drawn to the more biscuit/brioche, savory flavors that these both have to offer so considering that and at a still formidable $210 & $165 a bottle, they’re not for everyone.

For mid-range options, I am partial to Delamotte Blanc de Blancs (~$45) and after a visit to the vineyards years ago, Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir ($20), which is closer to a sparkling rose with creamy berry notes.

For a low budget sparkler that still offers quality, I suggest going with a Cava. Cava is made in the Traditional Method like Champagne (though Cava is made mainly from macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo grapes while Champagne is made from chardonnay, pinot noir, and/or pinot meunier) with the second fermentation in the bottle, so I find that it maintains that crisp dryness that Prosecco often misses the mark on. At only $7-9 a bottle, Jaume Serra Cristalino is very drinkable and easy to find.


Hallstatt, Austria

2 years ago around this time, I was in Austria with my sisters and I can’t gush about it enough, especially if you go during the holidays. The Christmas markets are such a joy – with hot drinks, incredible food, and a plethora of arts and crafts – and everything covered in twinkle lights gives the country an even more magical feeling than it already has. While all the cities we visited were incredible (Innsbruck, Hallstatt, Salzburg, Vienna), I am going to focus on Hallstatt – an absolute fairytale land.

One key tip: if you want to enjoy this charming town, avoid going in the summer! The crowds will ruin the experience.

Top 5 Things to Do in Hallstatt

Old Town: Whether you go for a day trip or stay for a few nights, there are plenty of things to see and do but what I recommend most is just to wander through the village taking in the views and charming architecture. The walk along the lake is stunning but don’t miss out on the colorful gingerbread-like houses lining the squares and internal streets. If you have the time, I would walk from one end to the other along the water and then take an alternate route back through the middle of the old town.

Welterbeblick Skywalk: This platform extends 40 feet from the mountainside and nearly 1200 feet above Hallstatt, offering incredible panoramic views. Take the funicular to the top (an experience in itself) and enjoy Gluhwein or hot chocolate from the cafe while savoring the stunning vistas.

Central Square Marktplatz: This tiny market place is full of bright colors and charming buildings. If you are there during the holidays, visit the Seewirt Zauner hotel to check out their slightly terrifying but very cool Krampus display. You’ll be glad that all we are teased with in the US is a bag of coal! The hotel’s restaurant is also famous for its local fish dishes. If you’re there on December 5th, don’t miss the Krampus run!

Aussichtspunkt Hallstatt: This viewpoint on the north side of town will give you the iconic Hallstatt photo op.

Salzwelten: After you view Hallstatt from the skywalk, you can take a tour of the Salt Mine. The guided tour lasts 70 minutes traveling through about 1.25 miles of tunnels first dug by hand more than 3000 years ago. If you plan to do this, definitely buy your funicular and tour tickets together for a discount. We spent most of our time wandering the village so didn’t do this but I have heard great things about the tour.