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Visiting Harry and David calls for a Facelift

Visiting the Vineyards and Orchards of Oregon

Visiting the Vineyards and Orchards of Oregon

It has been over 18 months since I last made the pilgrimage from Florida to Oregon. It’s a trip that is comprised of several airports and many hours to leave the land of sweltering sun to arrive at the land of lush hills and fantastic fruit. That fantastic fruit goes into many things, from gift baskets to wine, and I’m always excited to enjoy them all. When the team at Harry & David asked I join 12 food writers to tour their Oregon facilities, I was flattered and overjoyed. After a six month writing hiatus due to family illness, I knew that if I were to accept this trip, not only would I have to get to writing again, my site would need a facelift.

There is no doubt that food writers are skilled at taking photos and showcasing their craft. This blog was launched with the help of several people, one of them being Jaden Hair, the amazing recipe developer and food columnist at Steamy Kitchen. I was so impressed by her site and work, we connected on Twitter. She was gracious enough to chat with me about my site, and gave me a gentle nudge in the right direction to do my best to showcase food and wine. Unfortunately, over time, I got a little sloppy and a little lazy, a function of being pressed for time, and the quality slipped.

Barrel Room at Cameron Winery in Oregon

Barrel Room at Cameron Winery in Oregon

A visit to a vineyard or winery is always spectacular. It’s something that everyone should experience, at least twice. And while I can do my best to explain the smell of the the barrel room, the texture of the grape leaves, the heat of the sun on my face as it ripens the grapes, it’s much more tactile and real if you can see the images that created those words. It is similar for wine reviews. I can describe the smell of the ripe red fruit and what foods the wine would pair with, but visual cues help bring those ideas home.  The same is true for recipes. When I looked at the sites of my fellow writers, all listed below, I was blown away at the careful detail that went into their photos. It showcased their craft in all of it’s delicious glory. I realized that i needed to do the same with my reviews. So, it’s time for a facelift.

Harry and David showcasing Delicious Oregon Pears

Harry and David showcasing Delicious Oregon Pears

Our facelift won’t be finished before my visit to the above pear orchards of Harry and David. It did start already, thanks to fellow H&D guest Heather Scholten of Farmgirl Gourmet. While chatting about the visit, I told Heather how much I enjoyed her site, and asked if she had any constructive criticism for my work. She was quite gracious and said it was fine, and agreed that focusing on better photos would help. I mentioned how I needed to really work on the design to spruce it up, and minutes later my email had our first improvement in it. Heather went and whipped up a quick banner, faster than she can whip up a batch of Soft Molasses Cookies. Our conversation has inspired me to modify many things that I’ve been letting go, and they’re already underway. Your input is always appreciated, so feel free to leave a comment below if you think there’s something I can add, change or delete to make this site a better resource for all of your wine and food pairing needs!

Having a Good time with Wine in Oregon

Having a Good time with Wine in Oregon

It’s much easier to relate having a good time with wine when you see people doing it, than when you read about people doing it. I had a great time visiting Appassionata vineyards, a joint venture with Dr Loosen  in Northern Oregon with Jay Somers of J Christopher Wines, while with friends April Simpson and Terry Simpson of Eat Pack Go. I now look forward to having a good time with wine with these amazing food writers at Harry and David in southern Oregon! Be sure to visit their sites for all of your belly filling needs!.

*Aggie’s Kitchen – @aggieskitchen on Twitter
Foodie, but not a food snob. The healthier the better. Come hungry! Central Florida · http://www.aggieskitchen.com

*Brenda Score – @FarmgirlsDabble on Twitter
Midwestern girl, raised on a farm, now living in the ‘burbs. Sharing my recipe box & a little everyday life! Minnesota · http://www.afarmgirlsdabbles.com

*Heather Scholten @FarmGirlGourmet on Twitter
Food Blogger * Recipe Developer * Gardener * Old Home Renovator * Crazy Mom * Loving Wife * Pit Bull Advocate* Cheney, WA · http://www.farmgirlgourmet.com

*Maggy Keet – @ThreeManyCooks on Twitter
Food blog by cookbook author, Pam Anderson and her daughters, Maggy & Sharon. · http://www.threemanycooks.com

*Brian Samuels – @MyFoodThoughts on Twitter
Boston-based lifestyle, event + food photographer and blogger – Boston · http://www.athoughtforfood.net

*MarthaStewartLiving – @MS_Living on Twitter
Endless inspiration from the editors of Martha Stewart Living. -New York, NY · http://www.marthastewart.com

*Sommer Collier – @SpicyPerspectiv on Twitter
Professional Recipe Developer and Freelance Food Writer cooking up Easy-Gourmet Recipes and SPICY Conversation · http://aspicyperspective.com

*Dara Michalski @cookincanuck on Twitter
Food blogger, recipe developer and freelance writer. I am a Canadian living in the U.S. Cultures happily colliding. Utah · http://www.cookincanuck.com

*Gaby Dalkin – @What’sGabyCookin on Twitter
Private Chef. Author. Professional Recipe Developer. Freelance Food and Travel Writer. Avocado Lover. Los Angeles · http://www.WhatsGabyCooking.com

*Carrie Cook Minns – @CarrieMinns on Twitter
I write. I cook. I photograph. I eat. I laugh. Portland, Oregon · http://www.lapommedeportland.com

*Julie  – @PBFingers on Twitter
Blogger. Freelance writer. FitFluential ambassador. Dog lover. Believes eating peanut butter out of the jar with your finger is perfectly acceptable.
Ocala, FL · http://www.pbfingers.com

*Sandy Coughlin – @SandyCoughlinRE on Twitter
Author of The Reluctant Entertainer; love cooking & hosting dinner parties. – Medford, Oregon · http://reluctantentertainer.com

When I started to browse the sites of the 12 other writers going to Harry and David next week, I was reminded that people not only like recipes, they LOVE them chock full of  photos. The image helps them connect with the content and form a desire for the product. If you can’t see how it looks, it’s hard to imagine enjoying it by words alone sometime.

See you in Oregon! And let me know where I can use a nip and tuck by commenting below!

Pass the Pali Pinot

Pali Wine Company

Pali Wine Company

Don’t we all wish we could take what we are passionate about as a hobby, and turn it into a business? That’s just what entrepreneurs Tim Perr and Scott Knight did in 2005; they founded a winery that was focused on producing small lots of pinot noir that they loved to drink. Named Pali Wine Company, after their home town of Pacific Palisades, they set out to focus on producing wines that represent the areas in which the grapes are grown, as well as being varietally correct. I was sent samples of their Riviera Pinot Noir from Sonoma Coast, CA and Alphabets Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, OR, and they’re doing something right.

I’ve written about pinot noir a few times, and I love the various expressions you’ll find. The red wine can show flavors that range from ripe fresh fruit of strawberries to earthy and organic, and everything in between.  It’s found in both the New World and Old World, and is quite a food friendly wine.  It can be found in nearly every wine growing region, including France, New Zealand, Chile and of course, the US.  Pinot Noir is often a red wine I recommend to people who are looking to dip a toe in the red wine world, as it’s often soft and approachable, and an enjoyable glass.

Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir

Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir

The Pali Wine Co Riviera Pinot Noir 2009 bears the Sonoma Coast appellation on the label. This means that the grapes are not sourced from any specific vineyard, but rather from one more more sources within the Sonoma Coast AVA. This allows Pali to change it’s suppliers, should the grapes not be up to standards from one or another vineyard. As soon as it was uncorked and poured, the nose was chocolate covered strawberries, with some spice notes as well.  The palate was light, and bursting with fruit. Round and easy to approach, there were cherry flavors, and were almost reminiscent of the cherry cough drops you’d eat by the pack, cough or not.  After airing for about thirty minutes, the palate was still quite similar. It was perhaps a bit heavier, and showed a bit of tannin I didn’t previously notice.

The tannin could be a function of  aging 10 months in barrels, 20% of which is new French oak. It didn’t have gripping tannins, but some where noticeable. The Riviera pinot noir is not an over the top fruit bomb, and not terribly high alcohol, clocking in at 14.5% ABV. However, it’s round, fruit forward profile made this an easy sipper. While certainly a round, California red, the Pali Riviera Pinot Noir will make a good food wine. The acidity isn’t racing, but it’s somewhat noticeable. I think it played nicely with a bit of grilled Italian sausage and hamburger, and wouldn’t hesitate to pair it with a variety of foods.

A quick hour flight north of Sonoma takes us to Oregon, where we visit the renown Willamette Valley wine country. I was indeed fortunate enough to visit Oregon in May 2010, and enjoy some fantastic Willamette Valley and Dundee Hills pinot noir, including J Christopher, Cameron, and Ponzi. Oregon produces some world class pinot noir, and has been compared to Burgundian pinot noir time and time again. Burgundy, of course, largely produces old world pinot noir, where the flavors are more earthy, organic, and less fruit driven. While not a RULE, it’s indeed the case that many of the wines I’ve been enjoying from Oregon are made in this old world style. I believe that the Pali Wine Co Alphabets 2009 Pinot Noir is indeed ones of these wines.

Pali Wine Co Alphabets Pinot Noir

Pali Wine Co Alphabets Pinot Noir

The nose of the Pali Wine Co Alphabets 2009 opens up as bright raspberry and strawberry, and is very intense. While also aged in 20% new French oak for 10 months, and made from pinot noir grapes, that’s where the similarities with the Riviera end. The palate, right out of the bottle without any air, is medium, with lighter fruit notes. With thirty minutes decanting, the nose is still strawberry, but a bit darker, if you can imagine that. The palate, however, is much darker, and the fruit as “blown off”, leaving a very earthy, organic flavor that is mushroom like. The terroir, or earth where the grapes were grown, really shows in this wine. It’s markedly different from its fruit forward, approachable cousin. While still easily enjoyed, the Alphabets seems a bit more of a food wine than the Riviera. It definitely liked the hamburger and Italian sausages I made on the grill, and even brought out some of the fruit when sipped after a bite.

What I enjoy most about these wines was the price. At $19 each, they’re an affordable way to sample two distinct styles of the same grape, and from the same wine company. You can order Pali Wines Pinot Noir online, or ask your local wine retailer to order them for you. If you have had them, or have them in the future, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Three Great Wines For your Valentines

Valentines Day Wine Selection

Valentines Day Wine Selection

Many guys will admit they’re not the best when it comes to figuring out what women want. Perhaps it’s because women are complex beings, requiring careful time and study, and men aren’t that patient. Or perhaps it’s because men are selfish, hedonistic animals who really only care about their own needs. To help my brethren out this Valentines Day, I’m going to offer three wine suggestions that will make it seem like they understand what their ladies want, all without investing too much time, or too much money. My theme for this year’s Valentines Day wine choices is “Think Pink”, great Rose wines, one a sexy sparkler, that wont break your bank!

Now, I must admit, I had a little help to select these wines. Robin, my better half, made no bones about loving the color pink. My first clue was “Can I paint the house pink”, followed by an onslaught of pink clothes and accessories showing up on her side of the room.  However, the real giveaway was our being at a Champagne event, and her gushing “Ohh, I love pink champagne.” Ding ding, clue number one just dropped, go pick it up boys. Now, Robin didn’t actually help me make the selections, but for some reason, I knew she’d love them. We started off with a Sparkling wine from South Africa, Graham Beck’s Brut Sparking Rose – NV, from Robertson SA. Retailing at only $14, this wine delivers nice quality at a great price.

Graham Beck Brut Rose NV valentines day wine 2

Graham Beck Brut Rose NV

This light and crisp bubbly had a very nice, pale pink hue in the glass. It’s made from 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir grapes, in the Cap Classique method, where the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.  This is of course the same method used to make Champagne, the  méthode Champenoise, and is the term used in South Africa since 1992 to denote the traditional time-honoured method of making the sparkler.  Right out of the bottle, there were strawberry fruit flavors up front, with a finish of minerals that is refreshing in a Brut (dry) sparkler. There were tons of bubbles, and it was definitely the perfect way to start off our evening. Giving this bubbly a few minutes to open up is a nice idea, because the minerals and almost tart finish blows off, and you’re enjoying nice round red fruit that is well balanced and fun.  You can serve the Graham Beck Brute Rose NV bubbly with seafood, or even rare beef or lamb, and of course the traditional strawberries will be a smash hit!

Saint Andre de Figuiere 2008 Rose Magali Cuvee Valentines day wine

Saint Andre de Figuiere 2008 Rose Magali Cuvee

If bubbles aren’t your thing, lets hop from South Africa to Provence, France and enjoy a glass of Saint Andre de Figuiere 2008 Rose Magali Cuvee. That’s certainly a mouthful, especially if your French is as bad as mine! However, it’s worth butchering the name, or saying Saint ANdre Rose if you must, to enjoy this crisp Valentines Day wine. Half of the rose wine made in France comes from Provence, and at $16 this blend of Cinsault, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache is sure to delight. It’s salmon-pink color gives way to a bouquet of sweet, ripe raspberries. It has a soft palate, very light and crisp with fresh fruit of citrus and red berries, and some beautiful minerality on the finish. Dry and well balanced, this rose will go well with a host of foods, from chicken to fish, or just sipping with a nice cheese plate.

Big Fire Rose valentines day wine 3

Big Fire Rose Wine

Bubbles didn’t blow her away, and dry French wine not her thing, well then lets pop over to the United States, and try a Rose from Oregon! R Stuart & Co’s Big Fire line has a number of nice wines at good prices, and their $12 Big Fire Rose is no exception. A darker shade of pink than the previous two wines, the Big Fire Rose has some cherry scents on the nose, but it wasn’t a very fragrant bouquet. However, the palate was definitely bursting with fruit, strawberry up front, with a medium body that bursts with flavor. There’s definitely some red cherry and other bright fruit on the wine, and the fruit flavors last an incredibly long time.  The Big Fire Rose is a blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Pinot Gris, each grape bringing it’s unique and interesting characteristic to the blend. Definitely a fruit forward wine, you could enjoy this with a lighter dish, whether it’s a salad, or some simple grilled chicken.

Let me know what wine you have on this Valentines Day, and how you enjoy it. If it’s one of the three discussed here, let me know how you like it. And Ladies, don’t be shy! If you want to be sure you enjoy the wine you drink on Valentines Day, select one of these and just tell him to open and pour like a good man should!  Cheers!

You can watch my appearance on CBS12 WPEC talking about these great wines with Daybreak News Anchor Kara Kostanich!

Big Fire – an Oregon Pinot Gris

Big Fire Pinot Gris

Big Fire Pinot Gris

I have been really slacking with the wine review lately. Well, I’ve been slacking with typing and POSTING the reviews, but I’ve been drinking and reviewing new wines steadily for weeks. I’ve got a backlog of about 15 reviews that I’m writing up right now. However, I decided it was time to do my first ever video full wine review. I opened up a bottle of Big Fire Pinot Gris and reviewed it “live” on Seesmic.

You can expand the photo to the left and see what the bottle looks like, if you’re trying to find it in a local store. Or, just watch the below video and you’ll see what it looks like. After you watch the video, check out the supplemental review I did under the video below.