Picking the Perfect Wine

Oh and if you are wondering, it is a Beaujolais Nouveau that pairs with deep fried bacon fat.

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Just how do you pick the perfect wine? What is the wine for? to pair with a gourmet dinner? Or pizza? Or deep fried bacon fat? I paired that successfully once. As a gift? Night with friends? The reasons and possibilities are endless. It can get daunting and quite confusing figuring out what wine to pick so here are my tips

  1. Know your wine/what you like to drink: I have to admit I shudder when I hear someone order house red without asking what the wine is, after all what if it is Apothic red or possibly worse Copper Moon? All judging aside it is important to find wine that you like and if you like Apothic red by then all means drink it. Maybe you are just adventurous and want to try something new but still ask because if you like it, at least you know what you were drinking. And if you are stuck in a rut or want to try without committing to buying a bottle, try  a wine course. Most wine store offer them as do Canadian Liquor Marts. They are a fabulous way to learn about wine and try wines you aren’t sure you’d like. They are meant to introduce you to wine so prior knowledge is not required, the goal is to introduce wines that you might like and then hopefully buy! If that seems to daunting, take advantage of in store tastings. The goal is to try and find out what you like. My personal favourite in Winnipeg is Di Nardi http://www.piazzadenardi.com/chefs-dinner-wine-tasting-events-calendar
  2. Be open to new wines. I am guilty of this myself with my penchant for French wines. Even within a country, wine regions, styles and tastes vary so make sure to try wines from different regions to figure out what you like and then try wines from other countries.
  3. When traveling find a vineyard and try the wine. Unless you are lucky enough to live in wine country itself, most of what is available is not alwayIMG_8788s the best a country has to offer. So when traveling seek out a vineyard, most have tastings available, ask for recommendations and try. Or take a wine tour!  Who knows maybe it turns out you will like Missouri wine. I did http://www.amigoni.com/
  4. Don’t get stuck on a label or a grape. Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux will be very different from a California cab. Heat, sunshine, soil, wind, rain, harvesting and wine making techniques will all affect the flavour of the grape so make sure to experiment. If you like big bold wines and Cabernet Sauvignons ask for recommendations and try other varieties. You’d be surprised what else is out there. Likewise, a label may look lovely but that is not the best reason to buy the wine. Instead the label should tell a story such as where is the wine from, what year, what kind of grape and what style of wine.
  5. If you want to pair the wine, well that is a challenge I have not mastered but suffice it to say delicate dishes should be paired with delicate wines. So a light fish dish could pair equally well with a aromatic white or a light bodied red. Likewise heartier fare should have bigger bolder wines and creamy dishes pair well high acid wines that cut through the heaviness of the dish. Sweet dessert wines or port pair well with cheese, especially the more full flavored. Once again if you aren’t sure, ask for help r even internet search!
  6. Finally when wine for a gift, find out what wines the person likes and bring the wine they enjoy. Unless you are in France as this is a faux pas, bring flowers or something else instead if it is a dinner party. But if you are not in France or coming to my house, bring the wine please!

Finally picking the perfect wine means taking a chance broadening your palate and most importantly just enjoy. By the way, the glass you serve it in, does matter, it will impact the taste. And if a wine has lots of tannins, decant or aerate it. Oh and if you are wondering, it is a Beaujolais Nouveau that pairs with deep fried bacon fat.IMG_0573

The Emerald Isle

The Crown Liquor Saloon across from the Europa hotel is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs and definitely its most beautiful. With its gas lamps, hand painted tiles and cozy snugs, I could have spent the entire trip at the Crown Liquor saloon

Back in 2006, when we were planning a trip to Europe, I was most excited about Ireland. Sure we were going to England, Paris, and Scotland but it was Ireland that held my interest. Growing up on a diet of Irish authors and movies, I was sure I would be in love with Dublin in no time (despite the fact that although I claim Irish ancestry, It is primarily from Northern Ireland not Dublin). But no matter I couldn’t wait. We told Ben’s family who are also Irish about our itinerary which was solely based in Dublin. We thought we would see everything Ireland had to offer in its capital city of course. Ben’s cousin Claire strongly encouraged us to get out of Dublin and explore. I have to say at the time I thought she was crazy but I have learned over the years to take Claire’s recommendations seriously. Without fail she always finds the most interesting or  unusual and completely perfect activities or sightseeing opportunities. However I didn’t know this at the time but luckily for us Claire and her husband Steve joined us at the tail end of our Dublin/Ireland trip.

Unfortunately for me, when you put a city on such a high pedestal well it will be hard to meet those expectations. To this day I like Dublin but I don’t love it (side-note: I do love Belfast though, it is by far my favourite Irish city). By the time Claire and Steve arrived, we were ready to see more. Steve took us on a pub tour of Dublin that a guide book could never do justice. We stopped at a traditional Irish pub on the Liffey, complete with perfectly polished wood bar and pint of Guinness at the ready. The Ha’penny Bridge Inn is just at the foot of the Ha’penny Bridge and provided the perfect Europe 2006 220pint..http://hapennybridgeinn.com/gallery/  Likewise the Auld Dubliner was some of the best pub food I ate in Ireland with a calmer atmosphere despite being set in the middle of Temple Bar. It was what I hoped an Irish pub would be complete with Guinness pie. http://www.aulddubliner.ie/

However it was getting into the Irish countryside for the first time that was a real eye opener. First stop was Bray, an Irish seaside town full of Victorian charm and stunning views of the Irish sea. But it was the Wicklow Gap and the Glenalough Monastery that were the real show stoppers. The Wicklow Gap offers some of Ireland’s most amazing views complete with sheep and heather. The Glenalough Monastery was built by St Kevin in the 6th Century and the ruins and church still stand complete with the tower used to hide from various raiding parties. St Kevin is a revered Irish saint known for his commitment to nature and animals and the monastery reflects his values.http://visitwicklow.ie/attractions/glendalough-monastic-city/ So thanks to Claire, we realized there was much more to Ireland than Dublin.

This is no doubt what inspired us to go to Belfast four years later. Though Norther Ireland is technically a different country, Its ties to Ireland are obvious and long embedded. Belfast long overlooked because of ‘the Troubles’ is one of the most beautiful and friendly cities I have visited. Despite its history and tensions, Belfast has much to offer and is a monument to resilience.

The Crown Liquor Saloon across from the Europa hotel is one of Belfast’s oldest pubs and definitely its most beautiful. With its gas lamps, hand painted tiles and cozy snugs, I could have spent the entire trip at the Crown Liquor saloon. https://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/scotlandandnorthernireland/thecrownliquorsaloonbelfast

However @benton8tor had other ideas which included seeing Giants Causeway a unique rock formation that I am sure would be stunning if it wasn’t for the multitude of tourists blocking its view. However the drive along the north coast is absolutely stunning dotted with small villages, shops and pubs.

So thanks to Claire, we have ventured beyond Dublin and into true beauty. Now if only they could produce wine instead of beer.

The San Diego Wine Road

But the wine is why you go. Bernardo produces very good wines. They use mainly french grapes such as Syrah, Chardonnay, Colombard, and Merlot

California wines, people seem to love them or hate them. Unfortunately quite a bit of what is available in Canada is not the best of what California has to offer. Apothic red, cupcake wines, and shudder the Ernest and Julio Gallo white Zinfandel from has ruined the reputation of California wines. On the other end of the spectrum are the highly prized Napa and Sonoma wines that is the backbone of the US wine industry. So where do the wines of San Diego fit in? Well the wine region around Escondido and Ramona is largely unappreciated. The wineries are often only open weekends due to the small staffing but they are well worth the visit. In fact visiting the local wineries when you travel is the best way to actually appreciate the diversity and true nature of the wine regions.

We started at Bernardo winery, the oldest winery in Southern California. The winery is much more than wine tasting, it offers a village of artisans from chocolate, jewelry, bags, specialty foods, coffee, and restaurants. But the wine is why you go. Bernardo produces excellent wines. They use mainly French grapes such as  Syrah, Chardonnay, Colombard, and Merlot.

Also some Italian and Spanish grapes. The standout is surprisingly the chocolate bar port which manages to be both light (for a port) and complex at the same time. Of all the Southern California wineries, this one was the best.http://bernardowinery.com/

Our next stop was Cordiano Winery, noted for their pizza and spectacular views as much as their wine. The views are amazing. The wines are Italian influenced, easily drinkable but less complex than their Bernardo counterparts. http://www.cordianowinery.com/

Our final stop for the day before heading back to San Diego was the Orfila winery. Set in the valley with stunning views, the wines are French influenced. Complete with a shop, the winery offers flights for tasting. Standouts were the Merlot which was spicy and sumptuous as all the whites with good acidity and citrus notes. Unfortunately they told me people often skip the Merlot because of the movie Sideways. Don’t skip Merlot. A Merlot wine, like all wines tastes very different depending on the soils, climate and production methods. Orfila’s is a standout http://www.orfila.com/ 

Our final wine tasting spot was in San Diego at the Urban  Tasting Room belonging to Calloway. Located in the hills with a dry climate, the wines were very good. The exception was the Zinfandel. I usually dislike Zinfandels as they tend to overwhelm the palate but Calloway’s Zinfandel was nuanced even while bold. The staff know their wine and you will get an excellent wine flight.http://www.callawaywinery.com/thumbnail_IMG_1360

So California wines are much more than Napa, Sonoma and Apothic red. Head down south and really enjoy artisnal  wines that are underrated but incredibly delicious.

Top 10 Tips For Planning The Perfect Trip

Eat Local: I cannot stress this enough. One of the greatest joys of travel is experiencing local food. Food is integral to culture. Please don’t skip it. Again although some research can be helpful, ask for locals for recommendations or check out expat websites.

Vines and Voyages is obviously a travel blog, and wine blog, and wine and travel blog, well you get the picture. I started the blog a little over a year ago at the suggestion of @benton8tor, who I still suspect was trying to distract me from planning multiple trips. Little did he know… in fact he encouraged me because wine and travel are 2 things I am very passionate about. I count my blessings that currently I am able to travel as much as I do. In fact I worry how can I possible see all I want to see in the world, but I am sure I will find a way. And luckily for me and @benon8tor I also love to plan trips. He doesn’t, he loves the travel not the planning so luckily I am left to my own devices to happily plan away, consulting when necessary. So I thought I would share my top 10 trips for planning the perfect trip!

  1. Know what kind of traveler you are or at least might be. Do like beaches or all the comforts of home? If so an inclusive resort might be for you. Do you like trying new foods? Are you into history? Do you like to avoid tourist traps? Do you like big cities? Countryside? Or both? Do you like outdoor activities? Are galleries and museums your thing? Try to have those discussions beforehand. If you hate tourist traps, crowds ect.. than maybe avoid Disney or Tourist hotpots in the high season. If you like history and culture, Personally I am not a fan of the all inclusive. I find the lack of local culture and prescribed tours not to my liking, but hey that’s just me, I have a ton of family and friends who love them and enjoy those trips each year. Me personally, I like the food, wine and less touristy places. But I have only figured that out after a dozen or so years of travel.  What places interests you the most? Which leads me to my next point…
  2. Do your research but not too much. @benton8tor is a detail person. I am not. That is an understatement of epic proportions but if I left the planning the planning to him, well we’d probably still be planning our first trip. You need to know about where you are traveling but not so much that you take the joy out of travel. Sometimes finding the undiscovered is the best. Recently when we went to San Diego, @benton8tor had a tight itinerary  of what he waned to do. I am not so much married to an itinerary. On the 3rd day, he threw it all out the window because we happened to be passing the maritime museum in San Diego and it looked amazing (it was) So we abandoned all plans, spent the morning there, and the afternoon wine and beer tasting in an area we hadn’t discovered. It was our best day. Asking locals for recommendations of what to see, do eat or drink is highly recommended as well. You can find some of the best off the beaten path places that way. However some research is recommended. Twice I have booked us hotel based on their web pictures and twice upon arrival they resembled the Bates hotel. Twice @benton8tor has found wifi, done some quick research and found us amazing hotels at the same(ish) price. Lesson learned.Wikitravel, Trip Advisor https://www.tripadvisor.ca/or the local tourist webpage will be excellent resources. https://wikitravel.org/en/Main_Page
  3. Book A Tour. I know I just said, skip the itinerary but taking a tour of interest to you early on in the trip will give you an idea of what else you might want to do or see later on.  Again find a happy medium. Traveling with my parents once to Scotland, my mom booed us a tour everyday. While they were lovely, I still don’t feel like I saw Edinburgh. My dad said the same thing happened when they went to Dublin. My mom is happy however , she has 8 million pictures of churches, castles and cliffs. I however urge restraint, don’t overdo it with the tours and do them early. Upon arriving in Porto last year, we booked a food tour, not only was the guide fabulous, we were introduced to excellent food, wine and beer and other people.148 The guide followed up with emailing us suggested restaurants. It was a fabulous introduction to Porto and we got to see the city, understand the history, taste the food and it set us up to really enjoy the our trip. Viator and Trip advisor are both excellent sites for tours as is the local websites.https://www.viator.com
  4. Eat local: I cannot stress this enough. One of the greatest joys of travel is experiencing local food. Food is integral to culture. Please don’t skip it. Again although some research can be helpful, ask for locals for recommendations or check out expat websites. Whenever I travel with my mom, food causes the biggest arguments. “sometimes, I am tired and I just want to eat” she tells me. That is fine but that is not how I travel nor do I ever want to. So I have forced her out of her comfort zone and she has discovered that she likes gazpacho! She loves ham and melon! She likes rose wine! She does not like red wine as once to mine and my dad’s horror, she threw out her tasting.

    @ benton8tor defended her right to do so but I never forgot. Regardless, eating local you will taste the culture, enjoy the local specialties and maybe be introduced to thing you didn’t even know you’d like. In my case gizards, foie gras, armangac, and red cabbage.@bentontor found out he liked tartare, my dad escargot, My friend Joanna paella, my mm just about everything.  I have also found somethings I didn’t like such as lasagna made with gravy (shudder), or black pudding. But I was never unhappy that I tried it. I always got a story. One note however, eat local as long as it is safe to do so. Not every country will have the same cooking standards and if you aren’t sure how your body will react, don’t do it.

  5. Drink local: Seriously whether it is alcoholic or not, find out what the locals drink and try it. The name escapes me now, but in Cameroon they had a delicious pop drink, and unfortunately it was safer than water so we drank it all the time. Likewise orange squash in the UK is worth a try. Ribena is not. In Portugal we drank the local tea (which was sooo good) likewise, I drink tea in Britain, coffee in Italy. I drink local wines in France, Spain and Portugal and even Germany.  I definitely favour French wine but when I am in Portugal, I want to drink what Portugal has to offer and its delicious. I have discovered ports, cognacs, German beer, English ale, Scotch, and of course Irish Guinness.  Again if you aren’t sure, bonk a tour. My mom who hates beer, loved the Munich beer tour for its history, beer hall atmosphere and even discovered a fruit beer she didn’t hate.
  6. Be prepared to compromise. @bentontor loves to hike. I do not so we compromise, he either goes early and hikes with his cousin or we do small hikes followed by wine tasting. Likewise if he is set on a restaurant and I am all ‘meh” we try his and I pick the next night. Know what kind of traveller you are, My dad likes to relax on a patio in the South of France and wonder if Peter Mayle ever ate or drank there. My mom loves history and cliffs, @benton8tor loves the outdoors, my friend Jeff loves beaches, My friend Lindsay, adventure,me I love food and wine so compromises are integral. As well If you want to travel somewhere, pick a place and research what your travel companion might like to do there. This successful strategy got @benton8tor to agree to travel to the Republic of Georgia, Lebanon and Romania with me in the future. Likewise, it got me to agree to Laos. You know someday.
  7. If it is your first time traveling, stick to a place that can handle tourists. This is where tourist traps can come in handy. They are a gateway to travel with minimal risk. But that leads me to…
  8. Be adventurous. Once you have the travel bug, go out of your comfort zone. My best memory of Paris is getting lost and ending up at Cafe Absinthe in a residential district. I had the best food, great service and delicious cheap wine. the same thing happened by staying off toll roads, we ended up in Mende France, a beautiful town, I would have otherwise never visited. This same strategy got me to visit the spectacular cave of Niaux and take the only tour left available in French.
  9. Pay attention to local customs. If you are traveling in North America, be prepared to tip. In Europe, ask if it is expected before you set out. Pay attention and research local customs. Just because something is ok at home does not mean it is ok when you travel and if you can avoid unintentionally offending someone why not??
  10. Set a budget. My least favourite but most necessary. Figure how much you can afford to spend and either save up or find ways to travel within your budget, Kayak, Expedia, and Trivago are good sites for deals. Also if you collect points check if you have enough. Air band b, is an option for whole houses to a room. As are homestays. Wikitravel again is a good website for budgets to splurges. Also if money is a concern, travel off season. Don’t forget tips, taxes and extras! https://www.trivago.ca/? https://www.ca.kayak.com/ 

 

  1. So travel can be work to plan but a lot of fun. So sit down, pick a place and plan away!

5 San Diego Restaurant Must Tries

Their marinara sauce was so out of this world loaded with flavour that I don’t think I can ever taste anything as good again.

I have to admit, when we first booked San Diego, I wasn’t really thinking of it as a foodie haven. I suppose I though of it as a LA Lite with Mexican influence due to its proximity to the border. Turns out I was very very wrong. San Diego is a hotbed of amazing restaurants with famous chef such as Richard Blais and Brian Malarkey opening their own. Little Italy and Gaslamp regions in particular offer some amazing options that should not be ignored. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out the the food in San Diego is some of the best I have ever eaten.

  1. Juniper and Ivy: A Richard Blais restaurant that was @benton8tor’s pick for his birthday. It is a tapas style restaurant with some eclectic dishes. The wine list is amazing and I truly appreciated the wine options including a fabulous Sauterne to end the evening. But before we got to that, we started with a ‘deviled egg’ amuse bouche made with a meringue, The stand out dish was definitely the beef tartare topped with quail egg. I am not usually a fan of tartare but this was heavenly. Other standouts were the sea bass, and beet salad. the best standout had to be the service which was exceptional. http://www.juniperandivy.com/p/menu.html

  2. Mimmos is a restaurant in Little Italy. To be fair, I wasn’t expecting much. Italian restaurant can be found in almost any city in the world and despite its location in Little Italy, we weren’t quite sure. Never have I been more wrong Though simple in the presentation, the pasta and sauces are among the best , IMG_1485if not the best I have ever tasted. Their marinara sauce was so out of this world loaded with flavour that I don’t think I can ever taste anything as good again. @benton8tor felt the same way about the meatballs. Service and people watching along the a patio are also fabulous. A must do. http://www.mimmos.biz/
  3. Los Panchos may read like a typical Tex Mex but the salsa, enchiladas , and tequilas are fabulous. Located in the Gaslamp, this restaurant offers your typical; Tex Mex but with some very spicy, authentic flavours. The tequila selection is excellent and it is worth a try.

    http://www.lospanchosdecharly.com/

  4. If you want actual authentic Mexican food. Take a drive south to Tecate, Mexico. Just 45 minutes south at a considerably less busy crossing than Tijuana, Tecate is a sleepy, friendly town. We ate Taqueria Los Arcos with amazing tacos. Since I can’t read or speak Spanish, I didn’t know exactly what I was ordering but the pollo mole was amazing as was the salsa again! Tecate is worth the trip for a more authentic Mexican experience.IMG_1039
  5. Keeping with the Mexican theme, I convinced @bentontor to abandon his hipster coffee morning locales for some Mexican breakfast food. He reluctantly agreed not because he doesn’t like Mexican food but because he loves hipster coffee if it is done well. I on the other hand, could not possibly care less. So off to Cochina 35 it was. Mostly impressed by the aqua fresca, my mango papaya juice was delicious as was the breakfast itself. Instead of the standard hurveros rancheros, we opted for chilaquiles a rancheros, a spicy tomato sauce over tortilla with egg, cheese and meat of your choice. Note, 1 order is more than enough to share. @benton8tor loved it so much he forgot to crave his hipster coffee. http://www.cocina35.com/menus 

San Diego is well worth the foodie visit. There were so many more places to try and so much food to enjoy. Why not go again?

Long and Winding Road… Leads to Pamo Valley

It felt like visiting boutique wine makers who are passionate about product, and indeed it was.

@benton8tor and I knew we needed to escape this long and brutally cold Manitoba winter so we booked a ticket to San Diego not really knowing what to expect other than sunshine. Well we were definitely rewarded with sunshine, but as I did my research, I wanted to visit the underrated San Diego wineries. @benton8tor, who apparently lost his mind but gained a motorcycle license, wanted to do this beautiful drive he read about on a motorbike. He was pretty excited and I was pretty dubious but he assured me the time between stops were short. I should have remembered that @benton8tor’s ability to measure time is suspect at best. After assuring me we would have a very short time on the freeway, we were off. Side-note, @benton8tor has no idea of what ‘short time’ means.

After what was a beautiful if completely terrifying drive through the mountains of California, I was in desperate need of a drink. @benton8tor probably sensing I was seconds away from full on melt down, took it upon himself to help find wine tasting as we were now in Ramona, famous for its many wineries. Though Ramona has many wineries, production relies heavily on the winemakers and most are only open on the weekend for tasting. Luckily we stumbled upon Pamo Valley Wine tasting room, right in Ramona. I say luckily, not just because I needed a glass of wine ( I did) but because it happened to be the best winery we stopped at the entire trip. We were warmly greeted and given a tasting menu. thumbnail_IMG_1048After chatting, we found out that Pamo Valley has a woman wine maker who set up an urban tasting room, so that she can tend to the vines but customers can enjoy the wine everyday. The wine room was cozy, fun and Californian. If I could recommend one wine visit, it would be Pamo. At all the San Diego wineries, the staff, knew the wines, the wine-making process and were proud of their product. It felt like visiting boutique wine makers who are  passionate about product, and indeed it was.

Pamo has some fabulous traditions like the birthday glass (it was @benton8tor’s birthday) a giant glass with a regular glass of wine in it that you drink from and the picture goes on their social media. What struck me as more interesting however is Pamo seemed to be the location for local winemakers to come and drink. A good sign for sure.

I had 6 tastings. The wine was really good. Unlike a lot of California wine, Pamo Valley’s wines were more complex with different spice note and pepper. My favourite was the merlot, spicy, plummy and delicious. It was tons of fun at the winery, meeting other winemakers, chatting and being introduced beautifully to San Diego wines. We stayed way longer than anticipated but I was almost relaxed enough to forget to be terrified on the way home. Almost.IMG_2436

So Why Are You Going To San Diego?

Trips to vineyards? check, Lots of foodie places to eat? check, short day trips, check, microbreweries? check.

” So why are you going to San Diego?” It was a question we were asked often once we told people we had booked a January getaway to San Diego. I get it but it is not a question I hear when we travel to New York, London or Paris. And the reality is, we didn’t know. We knew we wanted to escape the harsh Manitoba winter even for a short while. We aren’t good resort people (understatement) so where could we go? Well luckily San Diego proved affordable even if we didn’t know what we were going to do once we arrived. That can be amazing, not knowing. it is a wonderful way to discover a city without expectations or checklists. That said, we quickly scrambled to find out what matched our interests. Trips to vineyards? check, Lots of foodie places to eat? check, short day trips, check, microbreweries? check. So away we went. We soon found out San Diego had lots more to offer and I could have several blog posts related to San Diego. And I probably will. But just to start, here are my top 5 must dos in San Diego. Yes you will note the absence of the zoo which I hear is a amazing and Sea World which I will never ever recommend. Ever. With that out of the way, here we go:

  1. Microbreweries: San Diego is a haven for beer aficionados. @benton8tor is a beer guy but as he pointed out San Diego offers much much more beer than he could ever hope to try.I am not much of a beer drinker but I will say the stout at Karl Strauss was amazing. https://www.karlstrauss.com/ Half Door Brewing stood out as the best according to my beer guide @benton8tor. Set in an old Victorian building, with two floors include and upper deck patio with amazing views of the ball park.thumbnail_IMG_0939 Beer and service were amazing. http://www.halfdoorbrewing.com/
  2. Little Italy: Our hotel bordered Little Italy, at first I was thinking ah, what’s the big deal? Well some of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at are located in Little Italy. Celebrity chef Richard Blais has his restaurant Juniper and Ivy in Little Italy, http://www.juniperandivy.com/ so  does Brian Malarkey have Herb and Eatery.

    Salt and Straw is THE place for  gelato but https://saltandstraw.com/ it is Mimmos on India St where I ordered basic pasta with marinara sauce. It was so out of this world amazing that I am worried that no other pasta will ever be as good. Even the pasta I ate in Rome wasn’t this good. I seriously can’t wait to go back. http://www.mimmos.biz/

  3. Gaslamp is the hip happening district. Full of pretty much everything, chains food and shopping, there is also small shops and restaurants, interesting architecture and lots of fun. Side note, @benton8tor may have discovered that tequila will make hot food hotter so if eating Mexican, make sure to ask for some water. He said the tequila was amazing though.
  4. Coronado Island: Super touristy, super worth it for the Hotel Del Coronado if nothing else. The hotel is Victorian and boasts some of the best views of the Pacific while enjoying a drink or snack.  https://hoteldel.com/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=organic&utm_campaign=google-my-business Also prone to fog, its still worth the trip. Should mention that the Maritime museum offers a boat trip in the bay with views of Coronado Island. The Maritime museum is amazing!!! https://sdmaritime.org/ Complete with old sailing ships such as Star of India and A Russian and US Sub.thumbnail_IMG_1292
  5. Day trips: San Diego is close for day trips to explore under appreciated and under valued spots in California. Though this will be a separate post. Escondido and Ramona are under an hour away complete with some excellent wineries. Tijuana is very close, you can drive further east, park the car at the border and walk into Teacate Mexico. Tecate is also a separate post but it is a small town with a beautiful square, amazing food and home to the Tecate brewery. thumbnail_IMG_1023The border is so much easier. Make sure you have time to check out Julian and the famous Julian Pie company for what is rumored (and @benton8tor confirmed) delicious apple pie. https://www.julianpie.com/

I would obviously add Balboa Park and La Jolla and driving up the coast but we ran out of time, So look for them next time. Because San Diego, there will be a next time.

For the Love of France

This is constant reminder to me to slow down, enjoy food, enjoy friends, enjoy scenery and most importantly enjoy Provence.

This hasn’t been a good week for France and Francophiles around the world with the loss of literary icon and avowed Francophile Peter Mayle and ‘the Pope of french cuisine’ Paul Bocuse. Peter Mayle may be most famous for a Year in Provence, his memoir of moving to Provence from England in the late 80s but he wrote many other famous novels that celebrated not only Provence,

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Gordes

but French culture and the way of life. He also wrote the Good Year, a novel that was made into a movie by his neighbour Ridley Scott. My dad and I watch this movie every chance we get. Not because it is a great movie but because the scenery is stunning and the implication is clear, Provence encourages you to slow down and enjoy your life. http://www.petermayle.com/ Paul Bocuse is incredibly famous and revered for his French food. His restaurant L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges is famous for gaining its 3rd Michelin star in 1965 and keeping it every since (over 52 years) and for founding the Bocuse D’Or,  often refereed to as the world culinary Olympics, a cooking competition that takes place in Lyon every 2 years.https://www.bocuse.fr/fr/

It is not just their accomplishments that have left me feeling sad this week but rather the way they both championed French food, culture and way of life. Peter Mayle in particular for me was instrumental in celebrating French, rather Provencal life. His books could easily transport you to Provence, you could almost smell the lavender, see the cafes, taste the wine and food and feel the sunshine. It was a constant reminder for me to slow down, enjoy my food, enjoy my friends and enjoy my life

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Market in L’ile Sur La Sorgue

. I have to admit this is much easier when I travel, especially to Provence. It would be easy to say, of course it is easier when you travel, you are on vacation. That said, Provence has enjoyment, love of life and time built into the culture. Businesses close in the early afternoon for either long lunches or a nap, the patisseries open early in the morning for french bread and pastries, the markets are full of the wonderful scents of fresh fruit, olives, tomatoes. Lunches are not the quick sandwich at a desk I am used to here but rather often 3 courses with wine on a patio. There is not talk of carbs, calories,  fat etc.. Just enjoyment of fresh food that is also freshly prepared. This isn’t to say fast food or calories counting doesn’t exist in Provence, it just isn’t the norm. My favourite memories of Provence are exactly what Peter Mayle describes sitting on the terrace of Le Jardin in Gordes,https://www.tripadvisor.ca/ShowUserReviews-g187248-d2262447-r172101039-Le_Jardin-Gordes_Luberon_Vaucluse_Provence_Alpes_Cote_d_Azur.html enjoying a fabulous salad at L’Orangeraie in the Ile de Porquerolles, or enjoying the fabulous wine and charcuterie at Restaurant l’Instant in Le Lavandou , http://www.restaurantlinstant.sitew.com/#ACCUEIL.A attending the weekly market in l’Ile Sur La Sorgue or tasting wine anywhere and everywhere. I love Provence not only for its beauty and culture but the reminder to slow down and enjoy what life has to offer.

Paul Bocuse on the other hand was based in France’s gastronomic capital Lyon. Though I haven’t eaten at his restaurant, reading about him, his food and watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode where he eats with Paul Bocuse. Paul Bocuse inspired me to try new dishes, not to be afraid of unusual ingredients, appreciate classic cooking and ignore food trends. Rather to eat what you want and appreciate it for the food rather than because it is trendy (looking at you kale, which I still hate). In short, Paul Bocuse inspired me to enjoy food for foods sake and understand the importance of quality ingredients. I would argue the use of quality ingredients is very prevalent in France.

Peter Mayle wrote in a Year in Provence

“And, as for the oil, it is a masterpiece. You’ll see.”Before dinner that night, we tested it, dripping it onto slices of bread that had been rubbed with the flesh of tomatoes. It was like eating sunshine.”

This quote in all its simplicity constant reminder to me to slow down, enjoy food, enjoy friends, enjoy scenery and most importantly enjoy Provence.

Bandol for Wine or Sea?

So we bought a few more bottles with the intention of coming back, tasting more and exploring more in Bandol as soon as we could.

Though I consider myself a francophile with a special love for Provence, I am embarrassed to admit, I knew little about Bandol. I mean I had heard of it, I am not entirely sure I knew it was a town on the Mediterranean, I think I associated it as a wine region. Which it is of course. However all that changed back in 2016. @benton8tor and I were visiting Provence and staying in Aix on Provence. After a crazy busy year and a very time table oriented first part of vacation, we decided to relax once we got to Provence and see where the days would take us.

Well one of those days took us to Bandol. I actually can’t remember why, probably in the back of my brain I knew it was a wine region even though I knew very little about it. So one morning @benton8tor and I piled into the car, not really sure of what we would find. Well Upon arriving in Bandol on market day, we were surprised on how quickly we found parking. If anyone has been to a French town on market day this was indeed a miracle.20160907_120616 Bandol was larger than we thought and its main boulevard along the Mediterranean was stunning. Unlike Nice with its stone beaches. Bandol had expanses of sand stretching out towards that blue sea. Behind the sand and marinas is boulevard complete with shops, bars, restaurants, and the market. We could easily spend the day in Bandol. poking around the shops, lying on the beach and drinking wine while looking out to the sea. As I write this, it is a snowy, windy January day in Winnipeg and I am ready to book a ticket in the next 15 minutes back to sunny beautiful Bandol.  If only.IMG_4959

After a quick glass of rose at Bar Pouponne http://www.bandol.eu/bar-poupoune with its prime location right on the Boulevard, I let @benton8tor reluctantly pull me away to get lunch at the market before wine tasting in Bandol AOC that afternoon. We toured the market and I felt so very French, stopping at one stall to pick that perfect Baguette, stopping at another for the perfect cherry tomatoes (there is nothing like a Provencal tomato, they are simply the most delicious things on the  planet), and my final stop with the hardest choice, what cheese to buy. I settled on a soft goats cheese and a more robust hard sheep’s cheese with rosemary. Off we went into the Bandol countryside. It is remarkable that not 10 minutes previously we were on the sea and now surrounded by small villages, rolling hills and vineyards. After arguing exactly were to stop, we found the single most perfect lunch spot in Cadiere D’Azur. But first we needed to find our most important picnic element, wine. Stopping in the Bar Central, the proprietor as super friendly and able to pick a light floral Provencal rose for @benton8tor, and a delightful Southern Rhone wine for me. However, we were in a conundrum, we had forgot our opener. Unfortunately the Bar Central Didn’t sell them and because Cadiere D’Azur is small, many of the stores had closed for lunch. Our helpful new friend suggested using our shoe and banging it on the stone street. @ benton8tor seemed to think this was good idea.

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Convinced they had both lost their minds, I headed back out into the sun, my mood black as my perfect French picnic would now be without wine. However it is hard to keep a bad mood for long as the views in Cadiere D’Azur are stunning and my French picnic was delicious. I started to eat, ignoring @benton8tor who I was sure was about to break a bottle of Rose and possible ruin his shoe. I turned around 10 minute later to watch him start guzzling the rose (in his defense it was hot and banging cork out of bottle is work). Yes the bizarre method of banging a bottle against the ground in a shoe had sent the cork out far enough @benton8tor could get it ut and enjoy the wine. It worked.

After leaving Cadiere  D’Azur we stopped for wine tastings at the delightful Domaine L’Olivette for some exceptional Bandol reds. I did not think that Provencal reds could be big, spicy and well rounded, but the Bandol reds are! http://www.domaine-olivette.com/ And I thoroughly enjoyed them. After buying a few bottles we made our way to Domaine Le Galantin for some http://www.le-galantin.com/ delightful rose and reds with the kindest proprietor. They take immense pride in their wine and it shows. So we bought a few more bottles with the intention of coming back, tasting more and exploring more in Bandol as soon as we could.

Champagne or Sparkling? Or Both?

some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

As far back as I can remember I thought champagne was wine. Sorry I thought sparkling wine was wine, but my grandma called it champagne. In fact it was Baby Duck wine and I owe champagne, wait any sparkling wine, wait any drink you put in your mouth a huge apology for thinking Baby Duck was champagne. Or a drink of any kind. Baby Duck was a big deal in the 70s, the only way I can describe it is extra sweet alcoholic 7-up (sorry 7-up). But my grandmother loved it and I learned to associate champagne with glamour, special occasions, and celebrations. So obviously I wanted in.

It wasn’t until I was 19 I got try try actual champagne. My mom had bought a bottle of Dom Periginon to celebrate a birthday I think. Though my palate was underdeveloped (quite probably from a university diet of Kokanee beer and Southern Comfort, thankfully not together, but still shudder), I loved it. Bearing no resemblance to Baby Duck this s champagne was delicious and unfortunately  for my mother, it is the only champagne she drinks.

I say that because, the world of champagne, indeed sparkling wine are vast. varied, and delicious. I was always fascinated by champagne and learned quite early on that only the Champagne region of France can produce actual champagne. Everything else is a sparkling wine, or a cava, or a cremant, or a prosecco. Well you get the idea. But I didn’t really understand the difference. So I did what anyone would do, set a serious course of study and travel to understand the difference. That is my fancy way for saying, I started drinking a lot of sparking wine. champagne

My first real foray into the sparkling wine arena came courtesy of @benton8tor’s British cousins. My first trip to the UK was in 2006 and we were meeting them at a pub. For lunch. I thought we’d be ordering a beer maybe. Upon greeting us, his cousin ordered a bottle of Tattinger Champagne.( We actually ended up finshing 2 the rest of that day is a bit of a haze) I am still unsure if I was more surprised that the pub carried champagne or that we ordered a bottle for lunch. By the way, I have definitely gotten over the surprise at ordering a bottle of wine for lunch and embraced it. Though I still haven’t embraced the breakfast beer. Teresa poured us a glass and another and another. By this time, my palate had evolved and I was in, in in. This champagne was fascinating. The bubbles were light, with a hint of toast which I later found out is quite common due to the amount of time the wine rests sur lie ( on dead yeast cells). Ok champagne, lets do this.

However my budget can’t afford non stop champagne so I had to try other sparkling wines. I stupidly thought because they weren’t champagne, they’d be inferior, they aren’t. They are just different. I have tried cremants from Limoux in Languedoc France ( the actual birthplace of sparkling wine). They are delicious, light, easy drinking with still those toasty, nutty notes. I loved cremants from both Bourgogne and Jura. In fact I love sitting on a patio in Beaune on a hot day enjoying a Bourgogne cremant. It feels both decadent and light. thumbnail_IMG_0721

The British have really embraced champagne and upon visiting London, we often book afternoon tea complete with champagne (usually Tattinger or Bollinger). Eating those delightful cakes and tea sandwiches with a glass of bubbly is heaven. Sometimes I remember to drink the tea. The Royal Hourseguards offers a fabulous champagne tea. https://www.guoman.com/en/london/the-royal-horseguards/restaurants/afternoon-tea.html That said I personally love going to the old OXO tower factory that is converted with the fabulous OXO tower restaurant and enjoying a glass of one of their many champagnes while gazing out over the Thames.  http://www.oxotower.co.uk/who/oxo-tower-restaurant-bar-brasserie/This last trip to London we  found ourselves with sometime to kill before boarding he train at St Pancras. So obviously we had to go to the Searcy Champagne bar. http://searcysstpancras.co.uk/ Right in the middle of the station, this bar offers a extensive selection of champagne is a super cool art deco environment. It make you feel special and relaxed. Just like champagne!!! It really is the drink of celebration.

At home, cavas and prosseccos are readily available and I have learned to appreciate the cavas especially. Cavas are a sparking wine from Spain and have similar charactertics to the Limoux cremants. All these cremants,  cavas and California and Canadian sparkling wines (thankfully not baby duck) are made in the traditional method or ancestral (which is different but still recognized) method., which means they are made the same way as champagne,aged sur lie though less time,  riddled, disgorged, with a cuvee ect.. but they have a different climate, soil and grapes (well sometimes).Prosecco the Italian sparkling wine is not made in the traditional method. It is a light bright, sparkling wine and very approachable. It is not my favourite. It lack the complexity and flavours of the other sparkling wine which is appealing for some. Just not me. Either way I have learned to appreciate the less expensive but delicious cousins of champagne and use them for celebrations like Canada Day,melting snow, housewarmings, birthdays, Christmas, and Tuesdays. However champagne still has my heart.

It was this love for champagne that took me to its epicentre Reims. Reims for those of us who watched Max the Mouse cartoons growing up is where Joan of Arc met Charles the Dauphin. It is also home to the Reims catherdral where every French King was crowned.http://www.cathedrale-reims.com/ It is also the capital of Champagne and famous for St Remi converting Clovis to Christianity. thumbnail_IMG_0723And it is home to some of the most famous Champagne Houses on the planet. Mumm, Pommery, Bollinger, they are all there.  https://www.champagne-bollinger.com/en/INT/ But I had my sights set on Veuve Clicquot. Famous for being led by the widow Clicquot (hence the name Veuve Clicquot) in the 1700s who came up with the idea for riddling racks that ensure we don’t actually drink the dead yeast cells, Veuve Clicquot is rumored to be among the very best. https://www.veuveclicquot.com/en-ca

And it is. The tour led by an amazing guide Sammi Jo explains the difference and the process of crafting these beautiful wines. Champagne is set on a very distinct soil of limestone and chalk with fossilized sea creatures. Champagne is very far north for a wine producing region with less sunlight than the southern regions.  This contributes to a very distinct flavour profile. As well they take their traditions very seriously from the blending of the wine, to the riddling, to the aging to the opening of the bottle. Despite what popular culture tells us don’t pop that bottle. Instead use a towel and gently twist the cork out, you sure hear a soft hiss. This preserves the integrity and bubble in the wine and quite honestly it is much much safer. Also make sure you have the right glass to drink it in. The tulip shaped is best for fully appreciating the champagne. Flute is second best. Though retro and fun, a coupe is a terrible champagne glass and does nothing for appreciating the complexities of this delightful wine. The tour at Veuve Clicquot started with an explanation of the region and the grapes they use  ( only 3  Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) On a 30 degree day and sweating we descended into the chalk cellar and it got cool really quickly. This is here the champagne we will later enjoy starts its life in the bottle. The cellars are fascinating but my favourite moment obviously is Sammi Jo pouring us a glass of Vintage Veuve Clicquot and it is simply the best champagne I  ever tasted. Light with floral and toast with the best bubbles, I finished my mothers as well. I am almost sure she was ok with that. Veuve Clicquot knocked it out of the park. I would recommend visiting the other houses as well. http://www.champagnepommery.com/en/marque/champagne-pommery Reims is a beautiful city that has tons to offer including said cathedral with Stained glass made by Mark Chagall. So take time to see it along with the Champagne houses. That said, some of the small champagne producers in the region are producing fabulous wines at at fraction of the cost. And Champagne is beautiful as a region, so obviously I will have to go back. The only question is how soon and where to visit?

But for now it is is the end of 2017 and start of 2018. So that means time to celebrate this first year of Vines and Voyages and welcome 2018 with a glass of Veuve  Clicquot of course. Cheers!thumbnail_IMG_0739