Tis the Season, What Should I Drink?

6 tastings ranging from champagne (yes actual champagne not a sparking) to white to lighter reds to stronger reds to a white port. And the advice was somewhat surprising albeit very practical


Ahh December, Making the rounds of various holiday parties, events, friend get togethers and family gatherings. Also full of food and drink. And usually lots of it. It can be a challenge trying to figure out what wine pairs best with Christmas day dinner, what cocktail to have and when to serve what drink.  My MO is usually to bring my favourite French wine and I don’t really think much beyond that. So When I saw that Le Boutique Del Vino’s wine course, Christmas Crushers which offered suggestions on what to drink and what to pair, I convinced some of my wine club to come with http://www.piazzadenardi.com/chefs-dinner-wine-tasting-events-calendar

The course was exactly what we all needed! 6 tastings ranging from champagne (yes actual champagne not a sparking) to white to lighter reds to stronger reds to a white port. And the advice was somewhat surprising albeit very practical. For instance, champagne is often used for celebration, no surprise there but recommending small boutique producers as an affordable option was so helpful!! As well they recommended not saving your big, amazing wine for Christmas (@benton8tor and I have definitely done this) because you will lose the wine.thumbnail_IMG_0373 Instead they recommend saving the wine for a time when it can be the star and use the holiday dinner for a different wine. And I was caught off guard when they said no pinot noir. Again it made sense as they recommended paring with the other dinner items like stuffing, potatoes and vegetables. Again made perfect sense. He suggested wines from Spain, South Africa or South America. Panic started to set in for me. What about France? I thought. Luckily he told me  a southern Rhone would be perfect and I calmed down. Our table was divided, one half of us loved the Italian red from Tuscany, the white port, champers, blue cheese and fig. The other half loved the red from Australia, the white and the cheese with cherries. thumbnail_IMG_0379We are perfectly matched. Boutique del Vino at Piazza Di Nardi offers wine courses every 2 weeks and the courses are always fabulous. It is a great opportunity to find out more about wine.Also i bought the white port and @benton8tor loved it so much so he was ready to throw away years of tradition of drinking Sherry on Christmas for his new best friend white port.thumbnail_IMG_0378

OK, I had wine covered but what about cocktails? Well I decided to head over to Capital K, a new Manitoba craft distiller and currently the only craft distiller in Manitoba. http://www.capitalkdistillery.com/ Turns out distilling is quite intense and expensive. Capital K offer tours and tastings in their brand new facility. Here I got the helpful tips of the difference between top shelf and bottom shelf liquor.

Turns out bottom shelf liquor usually contains more methane which is a rougher drink and contributes to hangovers easier. Also rough liquors are usually paired with high sugar and that can be a headache worthy combo. Capital K is a whole other blog post but suffice to say they use local Manitoba products as much as possible including wheat and other grains. They also infuse with fresh products like Manitoba strawberries and rhubarb and in the case of dill pickle vodka, cucumber, dill and horseradish (not pickle juice). We bough the vodkas infused with strawberry and rhubarb, dill pickle, and espresso. We immediately had the dill pickle vodka in a Caesar and it the freshest Caesar I have ever enjoyed.thumbnail_IMG_0480IMG_4698

The season can be a demand on time and energy and often I fell like I need  vacation when it is over. In fact many of my friends have started doing just that. Instead of buying presents they simply go away, relax and recharge. That isn’t an option for everyone so whether is is claiming a night or 2 for your self with wine and popcorn, going away for a weekend with wine, cheese and cold meats or a full fledged vacation, just take the time t relax and enjoy your favourite flavours. As for me, well its time to crack open that champers.


Lake District Love

My personal favourite is the village of Askham, home to the Queens Head Inn a 17th century pub, with copper top bar, excellent food, and many ales from which to choose

When I travel, I love to visit wine regions too, sometimes well known, sometimes finding underrated regions but the Lake District in England is not a wine region. So why did I ravel there? Well aside from the obvious to me, that is where my family is from originally, the Lake District is beautiful, like stunningly beautiful with excellent food, friendly people, beautiful pottery and wine! But wine from other countries so if you want to stick to local, Scotch or Whisky from Scotland just to the north or British ale are your best bets.

We have visited the Lake District twice and there is lots to do depending on what you like.  Do you like Beatrix Potter? Well you are in luck, head to Bowness on Windermere! Like to hike (or if you are in the UK walk)? Well you can hike Hadrian’s Wall, the remnants of the Roman wall dividing Scotland and England, or hike many many travels in the Lake District itself! Like food and being pampered? Well the Lake District offers many Country Houses that are now spa hotel with farm to table food, English teas and total relaxation! Here are my recommendations:

  1. Visit the villages, often small and unassuming, they are less likely than the larger towns to be packed with tourists. Often beautiful with stores offering local  products, it is the perfect place to relax and walk around. My personal favourite is the village of Askham, home to the Queens Head Inn a 17th century pub, with copper top bar, excellent food, and many ales from which to choose. http://www.queensheadinnaskham.co.uk/en-GB/homepage Askham also boasts my favourite potter, Stuart Broadhurst who uses material from the Lake district itself to give his pottery its unique colour. @benton8tor still swears the teapot we bought from Stuart is the very best teapot

    ever.http://www.stuartbroadhurstceramics.co.uk/index.html Askham Hall, A luxury hotel opened in a 12 th Century Country House offers tea, luxury and regional food. A must do.https://www.askhamhall.co.uk/

  2. See Hadrian’s Wall. I am embarrassed to admit that when @benton8tor insisted we see Hadrian’s Wall, I was kind of unwilling, I thought so what. Well I was wrong wrong wrong. Hadrian’s Wall is unique in that it is Roman Structure, that isn’t a museum, you just walk right up.

    Many sections of the Wall are missing but some still have the Garrisons intact. Side-note: you may have to share a photo or two with one of the sheep who often claim the wall as their own. http://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/

  3. Try the real ales. yes yes yes, I love wine but the British Real Ale movement is gaining ground for a reason. Though I am still not now and not ever going to be a fan of IPAs (shudder) the brown ales with the nutty flavours and the red ales are often really interesting if quite filling.  If you are a bit of a beer lightweight like me, it is probably best to go for the half pint.  Try the Beehive pub in Carlisle for a good selection. https://www.greeneking-pubs.co.uk/pubs/cumbria/beehive/?utm_source=g_places&utm_medium=locations&utm_campaign=
  4. Go to Kendal and Cockermouth. Kendal for its beauty right on the River and Cockermouth for its history as home of Willem Wordsworth and its market.2012Jun15-8980-KendalG9-BeastBanksRd.jpg
  5. Check out the churches, especially in the north. The Church in the village of Kirkbride is quite old (by North American standards) and made with stone pillaged from Hadrian’s Wall.http://www.kirkbridecommunity.co.uk/local-amenities/church/  When you are done head to the post office to try what @Benton8tor swears are the best Cornish pasties ever.Once you are done you can get into a spirited debate about how to pronounce pastry, After that you best head for a beer. Oh Yeah the post office is a post office, small store, liquor store and lunch counter, so post office doesn’t really capture it. Try the local honey too! It is very tasty.

Whatever you decide to do in the Lake District, you won;t be disappointed. The food is amazing I say for the cheese, @benton8tor swears it is he pasties and fish and chips, the views are out of this world and the history is right there! Enjoy!

Wine My Way

As an avowed Francophile, I love French wine. In fact French wine is a big part of why I am a Francophile. French wine varies exponentially on taste, price and complexity. And I don’t love every single wine I have had from France, but I have been a red wine drinker for over 20 years now. I know what I like, and what I like 20 years from now may be completely different. My wine journey started with drinking Italian Chianti and since then has covered many many countries, grapes and flavours. And despite appearances, I don’t just drink wine from France, I love discovering unknown or underrated wine regions ( Missouri, Bulgaria) and I love certain wines from all countries. Ok love might be a strong word for how I feel about wine from Australia but that isn’t because Australia doesn’t produce good wine, It is because Australia has  a climate and soil that produces early ripening and certain fruit flavours in the wine that I don’t particularly enjoy. A Cabernet Sauvignon, isn’t just a Cabernet Sauvingon, climate, soils and production methods all play a large role. But I didn’t always know this. However 20+ years of being a wine drinker, well you gain some insight ad that is exactly what this post is about.

When we go to a restaurant and are asked how you like your steak, no one bats an eye at your response (unless you order it blue rare, in which case your friend Lisa will worry there is something wrong with you). No one shames tea drinkers for preferring loose leaf over bags. When out for breakfast and asked how you like your eggs, the table doesn’t say ” well she ordered scrambled because she is an egg snob.” and my favourite” I’ll have a coke.” Is pepsi ok?” “Umm no.” So why do human beings love to shame wine drinkers? It isn’t meant to be hurtful, that I know but it happens very very frequently. So much so that for a long time, I tried to hide my preferences, pretending that any glass would do ( for me it doesn’t), Saying any red is ok, (it isn’t,), and being asked white zinfandel could substitute for red. That one I was never ever ok with saying yes. In recent years, I have stopped caring. I like red wine, particularly from France, I also like port, desert wines, and occasionally a white or rose. And I like them served in the correct glass as the glass helps with the full expression of the wine. Champagne served in a coupe is fun and retro and will ensure you drink flat champagne rather quickly as a coupe is a terrible glass to actually appreciate the champagne.For me a big bold Bourgogne, should be served in a glass made for Burgundy wines in order to best appreciate the expression of the wine. Some wines need to be aerated or they stay tight and you can’t really appreciated the fullnesIMG_8975s of their flavour. White wine served in a red wine glass or overly chilled probably won’t do anything to enhance the flavour.

My biggest pet peeve is being told I need to drink more than French wine or that I am a wine snob. Why shouldn’t I drink what  I like? In all my years as a wine drinker it is safe to assume that I have drunk wine from other countries often and I will continue to do so. In fact at my wine club last night, we tried some absolutely fabulous Spanish wines with very different flavours.But because my favourite is French, why shouldn’t I be able to enjoy it at my leisure? As I mentioned before French wine is extremely varied, sometimes I am in the mood for a Southern Rhone, other times a Bandol or Beaujolais. All different even in those regions themselves. Also when it comes to buying wine, I do usually buy French. In fact unless I am at a French restaurant in Winnipeg, I don’t usually get French wine when I am out. In fact at one restaurant recently, I asked why they didn’t have french wine wine on the menu. “Well, we are an Italian restaurant” Fair point though questionable that they were actually Italian. I pointed out that they had many wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina, United States and Spain. I think they probably spit in my food for being annoying.

My preference for French wine has come from travel, wine tours, wine classes and courses that have taught me to look for what I like in a wine and how to appreciate it to its full potential. At  Olivier Leflavie in Puligny Montrachet, I finally understood the difference climate and soil have on the flavour of a grape which is why a pinot noir from Bourgone will taste very different than one from Napa. https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/en/At my wine club, we once has a presenter and she taught me to stick my nose completely in the glass to actually smell the wine’s bouquet. She was right, it makes a huge difference. Elevage wines taught me what to look for in a natural wine.https://www.elevage-selections.com/ Sandeman got me to appreciate white ports and understand the difference between tawny and ruby.http://www.sandeman.com/ Veuve Cliquot taught me about how Champagne tastes at its full potential in the correct glass. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-int All of this has contributed to my understanding and enjoyment of wine.34846_447591030139_3264704_n

That said, when it comes to wine, I am a big believer in doing what is right for you. If you like wine in a plastic glass, good for you, no one should shame you for your preferences, as long as you enjoy it. Do you like Copper Moon? Good then drink it! Just do what is right for you and what you enjoy. I have 3 friends who aren’t going to let other people’s judgments ruin how they like their wine. One travels with a portable aerator, one carries her own wine glass to parties and the other has a wine travel case for topical locations so she doesn’t have to drink wine out of a red solo cup poolside.. I love them for it. And most people are very supportive of my wine choices. My hip hop class is one of the few places I will enjoy a post class glass of wine in a plastic cup. Probably because the company is so good but also no one wants glass in a studio. And I love it. That class knows my choices and they support them, as does my wine club, my friends etc.. sure they may tease me but they absolutely support me. The judgment I am referring to usually comes non wine drinkers or well meaning people who don’t know me well. But however well meaning, you don’t need to defend your choice or be labeled a snob for doing so, that’s just how you enjoy it and keep doing it.

So enjoy your wine your way. And if someone doesn’t enjoy wine your way, well so be it just let them enjoy it their way. Unless they are drinking white zinfandel in which case it is your job as a fellow human to intervene. Cheers!

When in Provence….

@benton8tor swears there is nothing more calming that sitting outside in a beautiful Provencal setting with Provencal bread and cheese and enjoying a rose.

Ahh Provence, the much romanticized region of France, home to lavender fields, small picaresque villages and rose. It couldn’t possibly live up to the hype or can it? The answer is yes it can and then some. Provence will not disappoint and depending on what you love to do, Provence is varied enough to meet almost any need (though if you like snow, head slightly north to Savoie). Like hiking? Well good for you, the Luberon will provide many opportunities for you. Like wine? Provence’s underrated wine region, which is more than rose has just about everything.  Like history? Head to Orange and see one of the best preserved Roman theaters or continue north to Vaison la Romaine.403816_10151083489020140_1435743660_n Like Glamour? Head to the Cote d’Azur for a beautiful tropical feel and plenty of glamour and wealth to spare. Like Food? Well you are in Provence so…. Which brings me to the question. I am in in Provence, now what? Well use my handy dandy but by no means expert guide to help figure out what to do. Provence is large. From Marseilles to the Italian border, the Mediterranean to just north of Avignon on the west, though the Northeastern border is closer to Grenoble. So Provence offers a lot and start with…

  1. Visiting villages. Peter Mayle famed author and Provencal resident has highlighted the allure of a Provence village and they are worth the visit. Especially for those wishing to escape the more tourist heavy settlement along the Mediterranean. Not to say these villages don’t have tourists, they do but they have a quieter more serene appeal. Lourmarin, Chateuneuf du Pape, Gordes,

    Orange, Manosque are all good starting points  for a visit to Provence. Lourmarin is stunning with lovely sidewalk restaurants and home to the Chateau du Lourmarin. http://www.chateau-de-lourmarin.com/home/ Chateauneuf du Pape is a small village in the heart of the famed Chateaunef du Pape wine region (which is technically a Rhone wine AOC) So when you are there…drink wine. Seriously, you can’t go wrong. Chateauneuf du Pape wine is famous for a reason.

    wine in Chateauneuf du Pape

    The soils and climate give rise to some very interesting and very varied wines. A tasting visit to Chateau de Nerthe is recommended for its delicious wines, hospitable service, and affordability. The last time we were in Chateauneuf du Pape, @benton8tor decided it was touristy and was in a bit of a mood. Waiting to be seated for lunch, he looked around and remarked ” Well I guess I just have to be ok with touristy food” he sighed as a large tour group walked by. I ignored him after all we were in Chateauneuf du Pape. After we were seated, @benton8tor asks the English family next to us ” How is that burger?” The man replies “It is the best burger I ever ate!” @benton8tor ordered the burger still skeptical, as burgers aren’t very French. But It ended up being one of the best burgers he ever ate. His good mood and my smugness at being right were restored!

    But as I said also visit Other villages, Lancon De Provence along with St Remy De Provence are beautiful, Orange is full of history and Gordes is literally stunning. Cadanet is underrated. There are so many more to visit. I probably should go again soon. http://www.chateaulanerthe.fr/

  2. Visit whatever is in season. If you are there in the summer, go see the lavender fields. They are quite stunning and the scent is intoxicating. In the spring see the almond trees, Fall is grape harvest!, mushroom picking and saffron. Late fall and winter is for truffles.

    Either way Provence has lots to offer and check out any market for local in season specialties. I recommend L’isle Sur La Sourge’s market and it is a great place to grab a drink by the river when you are finished! https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g608811-d486621-Reviews-L_Isle_sur_la_Sorgue_Market-L_Isle_sur_la_Sorgue_Vaucluse_Provence_Alpes_Cote_d_Az.html

  3. Enjoy the local specialties. Provence is influenced by it Mediterranean neighbours and from the climate which is hospitable to olives, grapes ect…. Tapenade an olive paste meant for baguettes is a Provencal specialty and absolutely delicious as Provence olives have a distinct flavor. Bouillabaisse is specialty of Marseille and this seafood soup/stew is a tomato based, saffron infused must try. As well the Pissaladière a Provence pizza with onions, olives and anchovies that is delicious. Aoli is a Provencal classic, and this garlic/mayonnaise combo pairs beautifully with fish. Ask for recommendations but Provence is a foodie haven and much lighter fare than that of its Northern neighbours.

  4. Try the wine, not just the rose. Provence is famous for its roses for a reason but this means its whites and reds are actually underrated. Despite having the Luberon and Chateauneuf du Pape, in its departments, Provence wine region does not include these heavyweights, they belong to the Rhone so Provence’s whites and reds can be overshadowed. The reds of Bandol and Baux du Provence are bold, structured, and delicious. But delicate reds, easy drinking are also present. You can find wines suitable for a hot day and wines that will stand up to the spicier dishes. Provencal whites are also fresh and crisp, especially in Cassis. Provence wines are much more than rose.
    Domaine Le Galantin

    Try Domaine Le Galantin in Bandol for all 3. http://www.le-galantin.com/vins-bandol.php

  5. Try Roses. Despite the absolute crime that white zinfandel has committed against roses, roses are not sickly sweet juice masquerading as wine. I know white zinfandel has its fans, but I am not one. Roses from Provence are dry, light, aromatic and unique. Made mainly by the direct press methods which ensures a lightness in colour but not flavour, these roses are aromatic, floral and beautiful. @benton8tor swears there is nothing more calming that sitting outside in a beautiful Provencal setting with Provencal bread and cheese and enjoying a rose. He is right. Provencal roses are like no other and come with their own unique bottle (called the skittle) though not all producers use it. Suffice it to say, the wine in unique so try it.IMG_4754

Provence is beautiful, friendly, can cover any budget and offer much to do but when visiting Provence, I just want to pour glass of wine, smell the lavender and watch the world go by.

Picturesque and Perfect, Wine tasting in Portugal’s Douro Valley

The grounds were equally stunning with Douro Valley views on a cobblestone terrace with wisteria and oranges in bloom. Could it get any better?.

Late last winter we were scrambling to plan a spring gateway as Manitoba winters can be brutal. One of my friends is Portuguese and she had always recommended Portugal. So we decided it was about time and booked our ticket. A couple of weeks later, one of my coworkers asked where I was going  on my holiday. “Portugal” I told her. She looked at me and said “Let me guess, the Douro Valley.” ” Yes” I replied shocked ” How did you know?” She gave me a look  and replied “Well , the wine.” It is true, wine is absolutely a driving force for me when I travel. I  am fascinated  by regional wine making, grapes, and traditions. And the Douro Valley is home to some of Portugal’s best wines and ports. I couldn’t wait.

And well I did my wine research and looked into all Porto had to offer, I somehow missed all the information about just how incredibly beautiful the Douro Valley actually is. So The day we set out for the Douro Valley, I was ready to taste wine but was  blown away by how beauty of the Douro Valley especially in the spring. Our first stop was the Sandeman Quinto do Seixo. At this point, we had visited Sandeman in Porto and it is one of the best known port houses. The service in Porto along with the Port was excellent, so I wasn’t sure exactly what the Quinto do Seixo could offer to improve on it. Well the Ports were still excellent ( we got 4 tastings) and the white was surprisingly my favourite, but the views, the views were out of this world.  213The Douro valley so named for the Douro river running through it is steep. Many if not all the vineyard are on awe inspiring terraced systems. The Quinto do Seixo offered a floor to ceiling windowed tasting room to view the vineyards or you could step out on to the courtyard, feel the spring sunshine and sip your 10 year old tawny port with its hints of figs, sultanas, and honey and just enjoy. And I did just that, while @benton8tor searched for the spot to take the perfect picture. We both came away happy, me bolstered by the port and the few sips, I stole of @benton8tors, and him by the views.


After reluctantly leaving Sandeman, we made our way to the beautiful village of Pinhao for lunch. Pinhao on the Douro River offer river tours as well. It like the rest of the Douro Valley is beautiful and lunch is enormous, complete with rice, we had a choice of 3 proteins (fish, pork, and chicken) which we shared, accompanied by salad and followed by a delicious port cake, I wasn’t sure I could fit anything else in my stomach. But luckily I always have room for wine. Which was lucky considering our next stop took us to Quinta do Panascal to taste some beautifully complex tawny ports.

The ports were rich again with notes of honey and fig along with another spectacular tasting room, with old barrels doubling as tables. The grounds were equally stunning with Douro Valley views on a cobblestone terrace with wisteria and oranges in bloom. Could it get any better?. http://www.fonseca.pt/en/visitors-centre/

Well maybe not better but still amazing. Though I love Port, I was at this point desperate for some actual wine for variety. Luckily the Quinta da Pacheca in Lamego did just that. Again anther stunningly beautiful tasting room in a stunningly beautiful locale ( I am actually running out of superlatives). We were able to taste some beautiful Douro Valley whites and reds. The red was my favourite. Light, easy drinking but with a depth of flavour perfect for a spring day. but a tasting wouldn’t be complete without Port and we finished in the courtyard and a beautiful sunny walk in the vineyard.


I was loathe to leave the Douro Valley as it had entranced me with its beauty and delicious wines. Douro, I can’t wait to come back.

In Dublin’s Fair City

tour the brewery learning all about how Guinness is made and despite local legend, it is not with water from the Liffey.

Ahh Dublin, home of Maeve Binchy, U2, and James Joyce. Dublin, Ireland’s capital, its history long and storied and reminders of the fight for independence everywhere. Dublin, a literary cornucopia, Dublin home to Irish music from folk to pop to rock and roll. Dublin home to Jameson whiskey and the famous Guinness, Dublin with its academic institutions including Trinity College and the famous book of Kells. Dublin a shoppers paradise on Grafton street or the markets on Moore and Henry. Dublin with its lush parks and pub culture. Dublin where do you start?

The answer is I don’t know. Ireland with its cloudy skies, rainy climate and high altitude is not a wine making region so what was I to do? Well as it turns out, lots. That very climate has given rise to some of Ireland’s most famous products including potatoes, whiskey, literary icons, and stunning scenery. But we still didn’t know where to start. I knew I wanted to go to the pubs, drink Guinness, and see Trinity and St Stephens Green so we just dove right in. The first night in Ireland we made our way over to the Famous Temple Bar along the River Liffey to find a place to eat. We chose the Oliver John Gogarty Pub, hoping that after dinner we could make it upstairs for some traditional Irish Music, but first pub food. At this point we had been traveling for over 2 weeks and the food well delicious had been pretty rich and at this point I was desperate for some vegetables and acidity. I decided to order sausage and chips but I thought I might start with a vegetable soup. I asked our server what was in the vegetable soup. She looked at me like I had asked the most idiotic question which I had. ‘Vegetables” she tells me. ‘OK’ I reply “but what is it made of, cream or broth?” Looking perplexed she once again states ” It is made of vegetables” Well I decide I must be a broth so I ordered it. It wasn’t It was a cream of vegetable soup and it was delicious as was the rather large portion of sausage and chips that followed. Unfortunately we didn’t make it upstairs for the traditional music as it was too packed, we were treated to what seemed like the entire pub, singing along to the Beach Boys God Only Knows. It was awesome. http://www.gogartys.ie/

Oliver John Gogarty’s wasn’t the only pub though. Though I am still sad we didn’t make it to the famous Brazen Head or Stag’s Head, We did hit up the Merchant Arms, A  beautiful pub along the Liffey for a Guinness, a traditional pub feel and music. Europe 2006 220http://www.merchantsarch.ie. Followed by the Auld Dubliner for some awesome chowder and traditional meat pies. It is at this point I should mention, though I do love Guinness, there are many great Irish ales to try and these pubs are the perfect place to do so. http://www.aulddubliner.ie/

Despite my hard work at experiencing as many pubs as I could. @benton8tor reminded me we needed to see other things as well. So off to Trinity College and St Stephens Green we went. Both are stunning. St Stephens Green is a beautiful park and well worth the visit. But we also thankfully wandered over to Merrion Square, a mere 10 minute walk and on a Sunday the artist line the square with their work, it is a delightful way to spend the morning. We did continue our walk to include the pedestrian Grafton Street for some shopping. Grafton Street is home to some of Dublin’s most famous shops as well as the Bewleys coffee house. That said Dublin has many options for shopping and all are worth a look.

But a visit to the Guinness Brewery was the highlight. Located at St James Gate in the middle of the city. Located here since 1759, the Guinness tour is one of the best. You view the original lease (for 9000 years) tour the brewery learning all about how Guinness is made and despite local legend, it is not with water from the Liffey. We tasted the toasted grains, and then go to pour our perfect pint. Learning how to pour the perfect pint is not as easy as it seems. We then got to enjoy our pint at the top of the brewery in the cafe with 360 views of Dublin.https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en

There is so much more to Dublin than we got to see, so I am sure we will be back bt suffice it to say, Dublin is a fair city , just as the song says.

La Belle City, Quebec City All Charm and All Awesome

Get a weeks worth of a gym workout by taking the stairs (l”escalier) by the Chateau Frontenac to Petit Champlain, and view Quebec City’s parliament and old buildings and gates.

Quebec City, capital of La Belle Province, and one of Canada’s most underrated cities. Quebec City is the place I have visited most often outside of my hometown in Canada. I fell comfortable there, it feels comfortable like a second home, despite the fact it is very very different from any other city in Canada. Montreal, Quebec’s best known city is very cosmopolitan, Quebec City is quaint, very old for North America, and very very French. So of course I love it. Quebec City for a small city has a lot to see and do so where should you start, well here are my recommendations.

  1. Quebec City is very very walkable in terms of everything being in walking distance. However it is also very very hilly. My friend Shannon and I usually rent a car in Quebec City (The car ids to head south to Quebec’s small towns) but we both take turns freaking out driving in Quebec City in the winter. Even in the best of conditions it can be white knuckle driving. That said, walk it. You can walk the historic Plans of Abraham,10626870_10152746750300140_9207783325486844261_n get a weeks worth of a gym workout by taking the stairs (l”escalier) by the Chateau Frontenac to Petit Champlain, and view Quebec City’s parliament and old buildings and gates. Petit Champlain is the lower town of Old Quebec and full of local fare in restaurants and shops. There is amazing jewelry, glass, and clothing totally unlike the mass produced mall options. I have spent hours and many many dollars in Petit Champlain. There are some beautiful art galleries as well and many feature Inuit art as well.
  2. Restaurants in Quebec City are amazing.I have visited several times and still haven’t been able to try all that I want but I would recommend trying Restaurant Aux Ancien Canadien. Located in Old Quebec This restaurant is an 17th century building serving delicious Quebecois fare. http://www.auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca/en/ Cochon Dingue in the heart of Petit Champlain offers amazing food. Again it is Quebec food and it is delicious. I am a fan of the homemade pickles, Croque Mosiuer, duck or lobster ravioli, or duck comfit poutine. It has an amazing wine list to boot. Full of French wine offerings along with some local Quebec Wines as well. http://www.cochondingue.com/au-menu/champlain-en. My favorite spot to grab a drink in Petit Champlain is Bistrot le Pape Georges. Built in the 1500s, this pub/bistrot is beautiful. Also if you have to wait for your table at a nearby restaurant, leave a couple of your party at the restaurant and you and the others grab a drink at Pape Georges. Sure it might be rude to leave someone , not that I have ever done this (well maybe once) but Pape Georges is a guaranteed good time.http://www.quartierpetitchamplain.com/en/commercants/bistrot-pape-georges-2/#. But you will need to leave Old Quebec so head out t Grand Allee and eat at Savini, the most recommended restaurant to me. The food is Italian, the wine list worldly and out of this world and he decor is a mix of modern and antique. They have the most beautiful light fixture and some nights actual acrobats from the second level. http://savini.ca/. Bistro l’Atelier is just a few doors down from Savini and offers fresh food with some amazing soups and of course wine. https://www.bistrolatelier.com/. I also like to go Quebec’s downtown and puruse the restaurants there as well, with many to chose from. Pub Parvis is a great spot for drinks and snacks. Very friendly and great wines. http://www.pubduparvis.com/
  3. Head to Chateau Frontenac even just for a drink. This Quebec City landmark is stunningly beautiful , iconic and well worth a visit if not a stay. I have had some very proper sips of Champagne by the fire at Chateau Frontenac and some debacherous nights full of wine and tequila and most of all fun. 10609528_10152747411095140_499644221646944891_nhttp://www.fairmont.com/frontenac-quebec/
  4. Le March Aux Vieux Port du Quebec is a large covered farmers market and a fabulous place to introduce yourself to Quebec Wines. Many of the wines are grown in the valleys surrounding the St Lawrence. The wines are white, late harvest and ice wines. They also produce some beautifully flavoured ciders and flavored desert wines with apple and pear. The Market is also offers local Quebec beer and products like the famous maple syrup, foie gras ect… There are local artisans as well. http://www.marchevieuxport.com/After a visit to the market I was rushing back to the car, arms full of wine and met my friends we stuffed the last of the shopping into the back closed the door, ready to head to the airport. We had stuffed so much in there the door didn’t close and burst open sending our shopping into the street. A fairly embarrassing moment that as also pretty funny except I lost one of my bottles of precious wine.

Quebec City has more to offer than I have highlighted. It is an old beautiful, friendly city and I literally can’t wait to return.

Nice Day For a Promenade

why not pass the afternoon with a glass of rose, a deep blue sea and some of the best people watching along the Promenade d’Anglais? In fact we did just that.

Ahhh Nice, jewel of the French Rivera, epicenter of the Cote D’Azur, home of the very very rich. Well Nice does have its share of very very rich people (as evidenced by the cars driving in to the city) but Nice has lots to offer anyone and everyone. I have always wanted to go to Nice but I had a harder time convincing @benton8tor, who prefers the small villages and quaint towns. However I won out and it was as fabulous as I thought. Nice is the 20160908_1725155th largest city in France, a great spot to visit the Alps, Cannes or St Tropez, Italy or Monaco but why not just stay in Nice? It has lots to offer with Mediterranean influenced food and wine from the nearby Cote De Provence and Bellet AOC’s of Provence, why not pass the afternoon with a glass of rose, a deep blue sea and some of the best people watching along the Promenade d’Anglais? In fact we did just that.

@benton8tor and I had different ideas in mind when visiting Nice. I wanted to scope out the local restaurants, drink wine , and walk the Promenade d’Anglais, @benton8tor wanted to swim in the Mediterranean. Fortunately you can do all of that easily. Nice unlike Cannes, or Bandol has a shale beach which 376934_10151083535225140_1877818484_ncan be somewhat surprising. As well many of the beach sites are private belonging to certain hotels and reserved for guests. However a walk down the fabulous and breathtaking Promenade d’Anglais will give you the opportunity to scope out public beaches or cafes on the beach. we did just that. Though a hot day, I wasn’t particularly interested in swimming, but I was interested in relaxing on the beach so we struck a deal,  I found a beach front bar complete with Provencal tapenade and Provencal wine and @Benton8tor could swim, Parfait! It was perfect for him for a post swim wind down as well.

As I keep mentioning the Promenade d’Anglais is amazing! We walked it for hours stopping at the opulent yet uber friendly Westminster hotel right on the Promenade for a drink. The terrace overlooks the Mediterranean and is all white marble. The wine list is extensive and you can enjoy the renowned Provencal roes to your hearts content. I however lobby for trying the Provencal reds. 255332_10151083552590140_2006220291_nOften overlooked, the reds depending on their area of production can be light fruity and easy drinking to bigger, bolder reds. Not as well known but excellent value, Provence reds are suitable for all most any occasion. http://www.westminster-nice.com/en// And while you are on the Promenade stop in at the beautiful and famous Hotel Negresco.http://www.hotel-negresco-nice.com/en/

You’ll have to eat and I highly recommend getting off the Promenade and going into the city itself. La Trattoria isn’t far off the Promenade but is tucked away and offer superb Italian offerings. though Italian it has Nice specialties and a wonderful selection of Provencal wines. Service is fabulous and you won’t be disappointed.http://latrattoria-nice.fr/en/services But travel further inland to the Restaurant L’Authentic for some fabulous Nicoise dishes with even more fabulous wine. http://www.lauthentic.com/


Our second visit to Nice took us to the Place Messana just off the Promenade d”Anglais. A beautiful square with fountains to run through and a gorgeous gardens to tour, Unfortunately  we had to leave and Nice also has one of the most beautiful airports right on the Mediterranean. Sitting in the airport bar we met my favourite Niciose character, though he was a North American. I am still not sure what he does but suffice to say, he’s an extrovert. Traveling on his own for business, he spent the next 30 minutes regaling us with stories and pictures of his day on some random guys yacht, the fish they caught, the cars they drove etc.. We eventually left and as we board the flight to London, who is there but our new found friend with armfuls (literally) of rose wine that he was passing out to his other new friends. ‘Hey’ he screams pointing at us ‘there ‘s my friends’. Uh ok. and where was our rose? Upon boarding the plan, he then makes friends with he flight attendants and comes back to is seat with cans of beer which he proceeds to pass out. I don’t know who he was but he is the best story.Every time I leave Nice, I keep thinking if only I had one more day but when it comes to Nice I am not sure I will ever have enough.


5 Recommended Vineyard Wine Tastings in Provence

Pick up a bottle of your favourite, buy some local cheese,a baguette and some fruit or olives and head for the hills and enjoy a wonderful French picnic. Afterwards head back to Bandol for a dip in the Mediterranean and you will have had the perfect Provencal day. Just remember to stop and smell the lavender

Provence the land of lavender and honey And wine of course! Provence has itsown  AOC wine designation and alsocovers part of the the Southern Rhone AOC as well. So your opportunities for tasting are endless, but where to start? Well that can be the confusing part. Do you do a wine tour? Do you just drive up to a winery? How do you manage the tasting? How do you know which are the best? Well a wine tour is a great way to introduce yourself to the region but how to really find those off the beaten path smaller wineries with  delicious wines? Well your best bet is to go to a local tourist office and ask for a map of wineries. My preferred method is get a map, pick one winery and set the GPS. En Route  I will see several other wineries and scream “degustation (taste) stop!”  and order @benton8tor to stop. Side note, this is not @benton8tor’s preferred method. That said, he will be the first to admit that we have discovered some amazing wines this way. Including his all time favourite Provencal rose. So with that, here are my top five recommended stops in Provence.

5. Domaine Le Galantin: Located in the famous Bandol wine region, Domaine Le Galantin is a small tasting room but heavily favoured by locals. Which is always a good sign. We pulled in for a tasting and were warmly greeted by the proprietor. We tasted Cuvee D’Achille white, red and rose. I was a fan of the red.IMG_4968 As with many Bandol wines, it was bold with dark fruit overtones and easily drinkable. But the rose, which was @benton8tor’s favourite was delicate, fruity, bright, and refreshing. The tasting room itself was rustic, welcoming and a definite must stop in Provence. Pick up a bottle of your favourite, buy some local cheese,a baguette and some fruit or olives and head for the hills and enjoy a wonderful French picnic. Afterwards head back to Bandol for a dip in the Mediterranean and you will have had the perfect Provencal day. Just remember to stop and smell the lavender. http://www.le-galantin.com/domaine.php

4. Crous St Martin is in the very famous Chateauneuf du Pape of the Southern Rhone. Just 10 minutes North of Avignon, this region produces some of the most interesting, bold yet delicate and complex reds. Crous St Martin was our introduction into Chateauneuf du Pape. It was one of the best introductions, you could ask for with a total of 6 tastings you get to appreciate the full range of their wine. The wine we bought was delicious. This is Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah territory. Our favourite was spicy with hints of tea and tobacco and lingered pleasantly on the palate. Again what you taste is arbitrary. So many of my friends worry that they aen’t tasting the same thing. My advice is do you enjoy it? Good then drink it and taste what you taste. which as my friend Jeff says it is usually red wine he tastes So relax and enjoy  and remember that Crous St Martin is  a great introduction to Chateauneuf Du Pape. http://crousstmartin.com/history/ .

3. Chateau Calissane- A fabulous Provencal winery near Lancon de Provence. Producing both wine and olive oil for purchase and taste, Chateau Calissane is a delight. A beautiful bright tasting room with local products for sale. However try the winIMG_4806es. These Provencals reds and roses are amazing. 34565_447569215139_4041028_nEasily drinkable, especially in the hot weather, your only challenge will be how much you can fit in your suitcase. The red was my favourite of course with its light spiced, soft cherry notes. This is an excellent wine to try if you are just starting to drink reds! The olive oil was also amazing and Chateau Calissane is a very worthwhile stop. Prepare to spend about a hour here. The grounds are also beautiful. http://www.calissanne.fr/

2. Domaine de L’Olivette- Another Bandol standout and my one of my favourites. This winery is warm, welcoming and beautiful. The wines are amazing as well and inexpensive. Both red and rose are delicious. the red is bold, fruity with complex undertones. the rose is floral, bright and crisp. Again perfect for a picnic or just because. The tastings are generous and you will be back for more! the white wine is also delicious and a rarity in red dominated Bandol. Again as one of the smaller wineries (small being subjective) it has an some wonderful wines to offer that may otherwise be missed so make sure to stop. http://www.domaine-olivette.com/en/nos-vins

  1.  Chateau De La Nerthe – Located in a stunning setting just outside of the Chateauneuf du Pape village, Chateau De La Nerthe offers beautiful wines in a beautiful tasting room in a beautiful setting. I think you get the picture. Chateau De La Nerthe was picked by my trusty Degustation shouting system. Yes I saw a sign that said Degustation and screamed stop. In this case, we stumbled upon one of the very best places to stop and taste wine. The wines are amazing. Spicy with dark fruit and leather flavours, these wines will make you come back again and again. The proprietor is welcoming and passionate about the wine and very willing to answer any questions you may have about the wine including ” May I try another”. A stop at Chateau De La Nerthe is a guaranteed fabulous tasting experience.

Provence is a fabulous opportunity for drive up or walk up tasting. A drive anywhere off the motorway almost guarantees you multiple signage offering degustations. So take advantage of it,  stop and enjoy.  After all you are in Provence.

When The Best Laid Plans Go Astray…and Lead To Auch, Mende, and Killybegs

We made our way to the store and the owner was a very sweet knowledgeable woman who loved Armagnac and wanted you to love it too. This included several tastings that she recommended. Her ultimate goal was to find you the perfect Armagnac and she got so excited when we liked one

I love to travel obviously and part of that love includes planning the trip. I mean after all, who doesn’t love investigating what restaurants to eat at in Paris, what’s the best New York food tour? What wine tour in Beaune? This is all well and good but it completes lacks spontaneity  and spontaneity is the best part of travel. So sometimes it may be best to throw those plans aside and see where travel takes you.

In 2010 we were driving from Salon de Provence to Beaune. A 4 hour drive. We were leaving in the morning so we would arrive in plenty of time for wine tasting, eating and exploring. @benton8tor lobbied for us to take a different route, one that would take us on smaller roads and avoid tolls. It will be prettier he argued. We agreed and off we went with our first stop in Ales, a beautiful town at the entrance to the National Park of the Cevannes Mountains.

Road to Mende

OK very pretty, I thought for the first 10 minutes , until fear took over. The roads were small, well not small but tiny and twisty. I spent the first 30 minutes clutching the door handle and screaming “slow down”. A quick look into the back seat and my dad was also gripping the handle, his face white. And My mother seemingly unaware of the fear, kept her remarks to ” oh my gosh so pretty, look did you see that.” Through it all @benton8tor just kept trying to drive. Eventually he pulled over and we got out. A few deep breaths and when we looked around, the scenery was stunning. This was a truly beautiful part of France we would not have seen if we stuck to the motorways. After getting back in the car we made our way to Mende. http://uk.ot-mende.fr/ You don’t so much drive in to Mende as parachute in, but Mende is stunning. mende-23383_w600Beautiful tree lined streets, stone buildings and bridges and a lovely river. Mende was amazing. As was lunch with wine of course from the Languedoc. I remember it being full bodied, delicious and crazy inexpensive. Despite being terrified all the way to Mende, both my dad and I are at the forefront of saying we should go back. And we should, there is so much more to see and do in Mende. Though it took us twice as long to get to Beaune, it was worth it for the side trip to Mende.

The Mende experience definitely influenced us in Ireland as well. Upon arriving in Donegal on the West Coast, we were sure we would spend all of our time there. Donegal is beautiful with lots to see and do but we decided we should keep going and drive to Killybegs further west, with its harbor on an inlet leading to the Atlantic. We figured the fish would be amazing and had heard Mathew Broderick had visited once. Obviously a reason to go. Well there were no Mathew Broderick sightings buts lots of opportunities for fish and chips, Unfortunately it was raining but the Bay View Hotel provides a warm welcome, good wine list and beautiful spot to relax, enjoy the world cup or the view of the harbor. http://uk.ot-mende.fr/ For a small side trip, Killybegs was worth it.

In 2014 after dropping my parents at the Toulouse airport so they could enjoy Ireland while we stayed on in France. We were supposed to head back to Carcassone and spend the day there or Limoux but on a whim  we decided to scrap that plan and head west into Armagnac. Arma10387455_10152536476050140_2615767293228875328_ngnac, similar to Cognac is grown its the Armagnac region n the South West of France. Armagnac is a distilled wine. @benton8tor swears it is more interesting, more diverse taste and more to enjoy with Armagnac.We started in Auch. Auch is famous for food, pastry, Armagnac and D’Artangnan of 3 Musketeers fame. Oh and it Cathedral atop a hill and its L’Escalier monumental, 234 stairs connecting upper town to the river. It is worth it because it is beautiful and you will needs lots of pastry and Armagnac to finish it! http://en.auch-tourisme.com/

Auch is gorgeous, the square by the cathedral is usually an foodie area I would recommend avoiding but with Auch, absolutely not. The square offer many excellent restaurants for a lunch or dinner with beautiful views. The tourist office was extremely helpful and recommended a local store to start our tasting  and a map of producers. We made our way to the store and the owner was a very sweet knowledgeable woman who loved Armagnac and wanted you to love it too. This included several tastings that she recommended. Her ultimate goal was to find you the perfect Armagnac and she got so excited when we liked one. We bought one and headed out to visit producers. We got on smaller and smaller roads, the GPS lost where we were and with a sign every now and then guiding us, we kept going.

Bas Armangac

No doubt remembering the drive to Mende, @benton8tor was wondered why I wasn’t freaking out. Probably because the land was gently rolling not crazy mountains but mostly, it just felt right. We ended up at Michael Baylac Domaine Grand Comte. Driving into what looks to be a farmyard, we were surprised to enter a large modern tasting room. Another point in favour of Armagnac is the production of wine as well as Armagnac. 22195962_10155569272900140_2698639497014957267_nThe grapes lend themselves well to wine production. Our tastings included wine, Armagnac and the delicious Floc de Gascogne, a wine flavoured with Armagnac. It is regional and truly tasty. Like many Armagnac producers, the Domaine De Comte was no different. they love your product and want you to love it to, the tastings are generous, and they go out of their way to find the perfect wine for you. Domaine Grand Comte is well worth a visit. http://www.domaine-grand-comte.fr/

We made our way back to Auch for more pastries and shopping before finally heading back to Carcassone, promising one day we” be back. And we will.