Rome – The First Encounter

I want to break down a vacation I took on a day by day style of writing. Feel free to let me know what you think. Hope you enjoy!

Travel is always fun, quirky, and for me, as long as the arrival part happens I don’t really care how the rest unfolds. I am unable to sleep on a plane, no matter how long the flight is. So when I land I usually like to go to bed early on, so the rest of my vacation is not tainted by fatigue. The sleeplessness has not a glimmer of cause in fear, it is purely the excitement of uninterrupted time. Time for stillness to read a book or to have a movie binge fest…best day ever! So while people decide to be fast friends and sleep on me and snore, thank God for headphones, I enjoy all the moments that I get to relax.

Getting off the plane we headed to the train station for a quick trip toward our hotel. Note to self, leaving through the back gives a total different view then the front. The front doors would have led to a view of busy streets and a quick few blocks to the hotel to drop off our luggage. The back, well, that shows you the other side of the coin. After walking through an eternity of back allied cobblestone streets, people laughing and shaking their heads, homeless resting where they can, we finally arrived at the hotel. Weary and desiring to off load the baggage I was carrying, pun intended, we discovered that we were 4 hours too early for check in. Without rest I was not my usual quick witted self and learning rapidly why I usually am the person that handles directions. We left our bags with the attendant and stumbled our way around the streets of Rome in quest for nourishment, until we turned a corner to go into a church (they truly are amazing works of art) and spied the Colosseum. Interwoven with my thoughts of awe, historic intrigue and delight, I knew there had to be food near and this girl was in need of a glass of wine!

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Back to the church real quick, I’m going to share a photo that I took after saying play that funky music white boy (enormous organ, to say the least). Fed and watered, I felt slightly more energetic. I knew we had a dinner idea for the future and I knew that is where the wine would happen. I had a moment glancing upon a decaying old stone wall that had wisteria climbing through the iron with graffiti tags that I knew this city was for me. The idea of people trying to rush about in there every day life, quick and hurried, while every turn showed a piece of history, of artistry, of  screams of the past standing triumphant over time, was engaging for all senses. I loved the dirty parts intermingled with the beautiful parts, the fresh new fun interwoven into old tales. I love that about humanity in general though, so this was normal times 100.

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Viewing the majesty of the city briefly from a hop on/hop off bus, gave us an idea of where we wanted to revisit the next day after some rest. After checking into the hotel and washing up we enjoyed walking around hither and yon, stumbling upon ideas as fast as relics. Our first evening, a member of our party wanted us to enjoy a roof top dining experience that she had enjoyed with her late husband. So in honor of their time we headed to find it from her memories vault. We arrived early enough to watch the sun set over St Peters Basilica. Thinking of fine dining restaurant portions in California wine country I talked everyone into trying a tasting menu per person. Silly me, as someone very familiar with Italian families, I forgot about the portion size. At the end of our meal I remember being grateful for the amount of walking we were going to do the next day. Mentally preparing myself for smaller meals, got to love Mercato Trionfale take away! Blessed with a belly full of hearty, wonderful food and the Montepulciano shared around the table, I was very ready to rest my head after checking in on my home front. Next will be day 2 with the Vatican highlight reel.

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Enjoy every moment you can travel, even if it is in a glass or in your own neighborhood. Every day withholds moments in need of discovery.

Cheers!

Vinakoper Sparkling

So when I finished the tour of Vinakoper winery I found myself surrounded by bottles of temptation. If you want to read about the tour check out the link: http://gotchabythegrapes.com/?p=450 . These are the tasting notes from the sparkling I bought blind i.e. not tasted at the winery. Consider a blind purchase like a trust them experience or an adventure in a glass. As someone that loves the playful nature of discovery, I found these wines elating as city lights erupting after dusk.

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The first bottle I opened post bath on a relaxing evening in Opatija, Croatia. I would go back just to spend a few days in this beautiful city. The Capris Classic Brut is comprised of 70% Chardonnay & 30% Malvasia. It has aromas of tangerine and citrus blossoms with light honey hues in the glass. The sip finishes cleaned up from the appearance of sweetness and lends a sense of crispness with hints of richness that is perfect for your truffle salted popcorn comedy movie nights. I perfectly enjoyed it with the hillside backdrop of the town alight with occasional house lights and a gentle coastal breeze whispering of relaxation in luxury.

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The second bottle I opened was a week later when the tour guide, my husband and I decided to slip into our hotels lounge in Split, Croatia. We wanted an evening, tasting unique wines we procured on our adventure that we had yet to taste. The Capris Classic Brut Refosk is comprised of 100% Refosk, aka Refosco, and is visually a dark vixen red. It was rich with strong influence of sour cherries that would have tasted amazing with a fabulous Rib-Eye Steak in balsamic reduction. I think I would even enjoy this sparkling with grilled wild duck breast or simply in conclusion of a rich meal.

Cheers to travels through glasses!

Slovenia’s Vinakoper

I took a trip to Croatia that happened to drive through Slovenia from the Italian starting point. The first stop in Slovenia was Vinakoper winery. I loved the rich wood carved doors around the tasting room as well as leading into the barrel room. The lovely guide ushered us into the cool crisp hillside made up of mostly sandstone and began to explain the history of the largest winery in Slovenia.

The winery was founded in 1947. In 1949, they began blending vineyards and the cellar was officially finished in 1953.  The vineyards are located on the Slovene Istria area with beautiful rolling hills around the coast in ten different locations extending over 570 hectares, which is approximately 1,408.5 acres. They also make, Grappa made from two different grape varietals from their estate. The wine production is 70% red varieties & 30% white varieties. While 50% of the wines produced are considered local varieties such as Refosco, Cipro and a unique Malvasia. Multiple times we were informed the winery believes in natural production with a very high quality.

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Volume & barrel amount are listed on large barrels. For example, the biggest barrel pictured above, would last 56 years if you drank 2 liters every day. The close up on the barrel shows that the carving was in honor of the 1953 cellar creation. Red varietals are all aged in oak while the white varietals are aged in acacia, oak or stainless. They find that acacia seems to give a fruitier flavor in white varietals. They stopped using concrete tanks a while ago. The lovely winery tour guide explained how the cooperage of the barrels gives spice while the smaller barrels seem to show a deeper longevity for the wines, but they only used those barrels for 1 year for high end wines than the barrels are reused or sold. The barrel room is three quarters underground, maintaining a 53 degree temperature. Their oldest wine still in bottle is a 1966 Cabernet Sauvignon.

We were then ushered into a long tasting salon with barrels on one wall, views of the countryside on the other wall and a huge table with benches of thick, rich, beautiful wood. The first wine was a Malvazija, aka Malvasia made in a dry style. It was a sparkling light yellow with green youthful tones. Wafting into aromas of acacia blossoms, citrus infused almonds & tropical fruits. The flavors almost hinted of grapefruit with fresh unroasted almonds. As the wine warmed a slight honeyed note, hints of the varietal. I would pair this with a delicate white fish or a subtle cheese course that would acknowledge the acidity and aromatics. You can almost taste the Mediterranean sunny sea air in this glass.

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The next wine took a flight with me and I have been storing the last bottle for the perfect cool evening. Refosk, aka Refosco, the king of darkness, shows as ruby red with violet hints glimmering in the light. This was a complex kaleidoscope of blackberry, raspberry and blueberry notes with a hint of floral accompaniment. In the wines youth, there almost seemed to be the pizzazz of bing cherry. This wine calls for a bountiful charcuterie plate or a beautifully grilled steak. In some of the barrels the large blocks of tartaric crystals that have settled, it was referred to as wine stone, is retained and then used as yeast for bread, added in tea or as a powder to flavor foods.

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The last wine also traveled back with us and we shared the last bottle over Thanksgiving with friends. The sweet wine styled, Cipro, is refreshingly not a syrup or heavy handed dessert. It was a lovely scarlet red with slight brick red hues. I found aromas of violets and roses to be met with salty, sea air kissed strawberries and candied oranges. The playful aromas matched flavors of rose and rich, ripe strawberry with slight vanilla kisses that leave your palate in anticipation of pairing. I would chose a dessert that is drizzled with caramel and spiced with nutmeg or clove. It would also be beautiful with an airy chocolate dish garnished with a bounty of berries.

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Our visit concluded in the wine shop where my husband discovered what appeared to be converted gas pumps where locals bring jugs to fill with table wine and are charged by the liter. I think I need some of those at my house! I also brought some of their sparkling wines with me for hotel evening tastings. I will share my tasting notes on those in the future. The wines offered great euro value and would be a pleasant add to your collection for everyday enjoyment. I believe at this time they are not available through shipping though, so you should make Vinakoper a stop in your vacation plans.

Cheers!

 

 

 

New Zealand – Searching for Winter in June…continued

Part two of our travels we learned more, played with animals, chilled with the locals and took a day to check out the mountains closer, all while making each other laugh. Always looking for a giggle, I found the non-smoking sign on our room cynically humorous since I just quit. Like a reminder saying, you know you want another. Of course the sign at the petrol station was ironic for us, the newlyweds.

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Since we were farther south than we had ever been, it was only appropriate to check out the International Antarctic Centre and learn about cute little blue penguins. The Antarctic Storm experience was a blast! Learning about Scott Base in the Antarctic and viewing the museum set up with figures of living creatures, base camp and Hagglund rides made for an exciting excursion. Learn about the location here: http://www.iceberg.co.nz/

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As a huge animal lover, I heard about an open range zoo close to Christchurch, Orana Wildlife Park. Seeing these beauties up close and sometimes personal, like the giraffe droll bomb, was a day to treasure. We saw just how nasty, Asian small-clawed otters could be when hungry…oh, that is what hangry is. We had a few animals that sensed the paparazzi and gave me the talk to the butt pose. Even nature has a great sense of humor. This is a must stop if you are in the area. I’ve even donated toward the efforts since our visit. Check it out virtually: http://www.oranawildlifepark.co.nz/

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During the trip we dined on lobster, duck, lamb, and discovered a little Thai restaurant, as it was on our list of things our loved ones wanted us to do. We decided to go grocery shopping for snacks, breakfast travel food and discovered new crazy energy drinks (it’s a weird thing we do, wherever we travel). After some fancy dinner dining, we found ultimate comfort in a local joint, Speight’s Brewery. On our, head toward the mountains, adventure we ran into a small place where I discovered Speight’s beer while chowing on lamb sausage pizza. The lovely lady feeding us told us to go to the brewery before we left. The husband was mostly cocktail indulging as the wine and beer thing is more my wheel house. Not saying I don’t love making or drinking a good cocktail! Ironic how this former anorexic become such a food lover.

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Every day we walked a different direction in exploration of our area.  On the last morning we stumbled into the Christchurch Botanic Garden. In the cool of winter, I yearned to see it in early fall, when still lush from summers bounty. Guess that is the season I should schedule the next trip for.

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Hope you enjoyed this brief trip, stumble, but a lady does not fall, vacation experience. Not to worry, I take pretty good notes now so our future adventures may include more embellished details.

Cheers!

New Zealand – Searching for Winter in June

I know that this is a wine blog, but I feel a travel topic derail, abounding in my brain. It just is in need of being let out of the station. This is a trip I want to redo, with a few changes, sooner than later. At the time of this get away, I was dabbling as a travel agent and not the best about writing down or photographing all my wine with food adventures so, though it happened, you can’t see it. Oh, how times have changed. Now I’m behind my camera or phone clicking away. Keeping up with the cultures need to visualize also, appears to help keep the memories, so they don’t run away too rapidly.

This trip was literally planned because I wanted to go somewhere cold in June, I wanted my currency to be of better value and for whatever reason I thought the 1st overseas experience with my husband should be English speaking. We had a limited time table so the decision was almost immediately the south island of New Zealand.

The trip was based in Christchurch, with travel to different areas, exploring what we could in the time provided. I don’t generally do the tourist thing that is on the pretty brochure, yet we fit a few things in that where on the honeymoon registry. Oh, this was my honeymoon destination…not a Caribbean island girl. We felt like if people donated to our registry, part of the adventure was making all those items come into fruition. We did that then became a little more, where do the locals hang out? This is how I still travel. Hot points to local joints!

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Not too bad for one of the worst snows they had in years. Yet, we did crawl into our rental car from the trunk after chipping off the ice around the boot, but us winter babies just enjoyed the cool air.

 

 

 

A few people wanted us to go on a romantic horseback riding adventure so, booked it! My horse decided to leap over a puddle. Not like the jump that I was prepared for, more of bunny hop landing me on its neck for a few seconds. I just said sorry to the horse while scooting back into the saddle. Half an hour later, while crossing the river, my husband’s horse felt like the minute we were knee deep in cold winter water, it was the best time to splash around. Cold, yes. Funny, absolutely! Since we traveled off season this adventure, that could’ve been shared with 20 or more other people was just us. It was a giggly few hours of sightseeing, learning about the area, fresh air intake and silly moments to tuck in the memory bank for future laughs.

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A few people, ahem, are aware I enjoy the fruits of the vine. So the next to do item on the list was wine tasting. Since I paid full price for two, I notified the non-wine loving spouse that he would need to enjoy the sweet stuff he loves, whenever it was offered. However this guided venture in the Canterbury/Waipara Valley region ended in a shop full of Schnapps type spirits, which appeared to be my husband’s boozy candy store adventure. I enjoyed discovering the flavors of the region, yet nothing jumped in a bag to fly home with me other than a few types of flavored spirits. I foresee a future trip.

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I contacted http://www.nzwine.com/ prior to our trip, requesting anything they thought would be useful for wine discoveries. So with wine maps and other information in tow we decided to drive north to explore the wines in the Marlborough region. We started at the other Mud House Winery location so that I could discover if I could taste the difference in the regions. Then we wound our way around seeing what we could find. Views that had snow peaked mountains meeting sandy beaches caught my heart. We stopped for a late lunch at a natural food restaurant where I bought a lot of homemade fruit leathers to snack on during our road trips. There was a small tasting room that was attached to the restaurant, pouring five different wineries juice, and that was when the bottles decided they wanted to fly home with me. I can’t shake my taste for the small producer that pours their love into the bottle. Beautiful Pinot Noirs filled with young, delicate strawberry flavors and Sauvignon Blanc that enraptured me with tropical fruit baskets of guava and passionfruit. Truly tastes too be remembered.

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From here we decided to visit closer attractions to the town for a few days with one more mountain driving excursion. For now, I’ll leave this as a too be continued until tomorrow story.

Cheers!