Archive | March 2011

The Party Bus

In March of 2010, for Jon’s mother’s birthday, the family rented a party bus for 16 of us to tour the Woodinville wine country. It was nice to have the benefit of a designated driver, although towards the end of the day, I’m not sure what the driver thought of us. That said, the bus was equipped with a stripper pole (I assume for bachelor parties), so in all likelihood we were really tame compared to what he has seen on his bus. The weather was great, it was sunny and I wore a light summer jacket instead of the winter coat I have still been wearing lately. Funny how we remember those details.

So, we got on the bus and headed to our first winery of the day, DiStefano Winery. DiStefano is a family owned winery. We had a large group, and Jon’s uncle arranged for us to have a mini-wine tasting course, with fruit, bread and cheese plates. It was pretty amusing when random people kept wandering in and the owner had to keep telling them that it was a private party. The owner and winemaker led us through his lineup of wines. They have a Sauvignon Blanc that is delicious, but not a crisp clean, Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is more like a Viognier or a big buttery Chardonnay. Which is why Jon loves it. Curiously, we opened a bottle the other day, and on the third day, the wine does take on a more crisp, apple taste – which made me very happy.

The DiStefano Lineup

We also tasted a red blend called Sogno, which appealed to all.  It is most Cabernet Franc, with a little Cab Sauvignon.  It tastes like berries, which I enjoy in a red wine.

The Rose was also very popular. I really liked it a lot and so did several members of the group. I didn’t get it that day, but I would if we go back soon.  Unfortunately, according to their website, it looks like it is currently sold out. One of the wines that we didn’t try that day was their Petit Verdot, this is a varietal that is typically used in blends, so I’m excited to try this wine.

After we left DiStefano, we headed over to the warehouse district and visited Patterson Cellars. Patterson didn’t make any white wines, but we tried several of their reds.  Looking at their website now, it looks like they have added a white or two to the lineup though.  I thought that their wines were too bold and heavy for my taste. I prefer a softer, more approachable red. Even Jon, who likes a bold Cabernet, was not all that impressed with their wines. Our tasting at Patterson was relatively quick, so we had a little bit of time to head to another winery.

After Patterson, Jon, our moms and I headed next door to try out Edmonds Winery. Edmonds is a smaller shop than many of the Woodinville wineries, family owned and they run the tasting room as well. I have talked about Edmonds before (they have a wine called Bentley, named after the winery dog), but I can’t say enough good things about their wine. The ones that we tried were excellent and very reasonably priced. The low point here was that my mom and I both bought a bottle of their Gerwurtraminer that he was closing out. It wasn’t marked as a sparkling wine, but when I drank it, it definitely had carbonation, and seemed off. It was certainly past its prime. Later, when mom opened hers, it was better, but not great. Lesson learned – you can’t win ‘em all. I’ll still come back.

In between wineries, we had a great time making fun of the long lines of cars that got stuck behind us on the hills.  The Party Bus was like the Little Engine That Could, chugging up the Woodinville hills with the weight of 16 winos.  I’m sure they loved us!  Jon’s cousin did a mixed CD of tunes for the day, so we got to rock out with the best of them too.

Matthews Estate was the last winery on the list for the day. Again, they focused on red wines, and did not have any whites. However, I believe that they now have a Sauvignon Blanc that I’m curious to try. Matthews really knows its business. Their reds were all very good, but with high prices they aren’t everyday drinking wines.  We did buy a couple of bottles of their Blackboard Syrah, which is a charity wine that donates a portion of its proceeds to schools.  At $22, it is nice to get an affordable wine and do something nice for the community as well.

We ended out day a bit happier and louder than usual, but a good time was had by all.


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Halbtrocken means Half-dry in German

At work the other day, I proctored two exams for candidates applying for jobs. I know that when you are taking a standardized test , it is stressful and difficult, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that. But when you are proctoring am exam, it is downright BORING. Just watching a bunch of people sitting and working on their Scantrons, listening to people sniffle and cough – it could be considered a form of torture.  Maybe I’m on to something – I could sell this idea to governments, make millions and retire early!  Or not.  I’m not sure how those SAT proctors don’t go insane. I suppose they focus on the fact that it is only once per year. It also makes me wonder who actually tries to cheat on those exams? I guess that a person would have a lot to gain by getting an artificially high score, but is it worth the risk?

The room I was sitting in didn’t have any windows, so I suppose it is just as well that it was cloudy and drizzling for most of the day, otherwise it would have been so painful to look outside and see what I was missing.  Which gets me to the whole point of my post.  The beautiful weather that we had this last weekend got me thinking about a red/white blend that I enjoyed last summer, the Halbtrocken, by Cathedral Ridge Winery. Cathedral Ridge is in Hood River, Oregon, right on the Columbia River Gorge. When Jon and I visited last Memorial Day weekend, it wasn’t a winery that we knew much about, other than just the name. We were pleasantly surprised by their lineup of wines and had trouble choosing which to take home with us. The Halbtrocken is a proprietary blend, and they won’t tell you what they put in it. It is a light, dry wine, perfect for sipping on the patio during the hot days of summer.  It has a distinct strawberry taste, without the sweetness of a fruit wine.  I think it would be perfect with a fresh garden salad with grilled chicken on top and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

Cathedral Ridge Winery

And to be totally honest, it would have been the perfect accompaniment to my day of exam proctoring. Perhaps it would have made the day go more quickly.

Mimosas: Not just for Breakfast

For some reason, I was craving some champagne this weekend, so we opened up a bottle of the Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut sparking wine.  This is the wine that we had for our wedding toast, thanks to the generosity of Jon’s Aunt and Uncle.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Sparkling Wine

A little Champagne 101 for you.  Champagne can only be called Champagne if the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France.  Which translates into: the wines that most of us buy and consider champagnes are technically sparkling wine.  Champagnes and sparking wines can be made from any grape varietal, although you will typically see white sparkling wines.  Occasionally you will see a red grape with had its skins removed made into a sparkling wine.  Or even less common, a red sparking wine.  Apex Cellars in Prosser makes a red sparkling wine from Syrah.

I found that Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut is a nice balance between dry  and sweet.  It has a light citrus taste, which is great for cutting the bite on heavier cheeses or buttery sauces.  If you are in the mood to sweeten it just a little more, make it a mimosa.  Fill the flute 3/4s of the way to the top, and then top it off with a little bit of orange juice.  I have found that it mixes better if you put the orange juice in on top of the sparkling wine.  I consider mimosas to be an investment in my health.  Ever since I got that recent sinus infection I’ve been trying to get more Vitamin C.

One thing to remember if you are having sparkling wine without a big group of people.  Open the bottle gently, to preserve the bubbles, because otherwise it goes flat very quickly.   And make sure to finish the bottle within a day or two.  And enjoy – it doesn’t have to be enjoyed only at weddings and New Year’s.

Wine vs. Beer and a Sinus Infection?

So, the last few days it has been storming and blowing like crazy, complete with sideways rain, downed limbs and power outages. March truly has come in like a lion this year. My friend Shelley and I decided to participate in the Runnin’ O the Green 2 mile fun walk, and of course, it rained the whole time. Since a 2 mile walk really isn’t much for us, my husband dropped us off, we walked the race, and then also walked the 3 miles home afterwards. Which wouldn’t have been bad at all, except for the fact that I’m fighting a bad sinus infection, and have been feeling really fatigued for the last week or so. By the time I got home, I was soaked and thoroughly tuckered out, so I took a shower and got warm, then crawled into bed for an hour nap. Then I got up, had some lunch, puttered around for awhile, and decided it was time for another nap. It was exactly what I needed. Unfortunately, all that napping doesn’t really free up much time for doing anything exciting. Sunday I was much improved, and only had to take one nap. Granted, I did sleep in until 9:30 am, but I blame that on Daylight Savings time.

Which leads me to what I have discovered is the other crummy part of a sinus infection. My sense of smell and taste are totally whacked out. I have found my normally beloved wine to be not nearly as exciting lately. It got me wondering about how the professional tasters overcome this clearly critical occupational hazard. In short, what happens when the wine tasters get sick? Do they bow out of judging a competition, or do they taste anyway? You gotta wonder, because most of them seem to work independently, so if they don’t taste, they don’t get paid, right? That’s quite the incentive to stay in the middle of the action, even if you are sick. You don’t want to be the guy with the reputation of calling in sick to the International Wine Competition, do you? And if they do taste, how badly are the rankings skewed because of the judge’s compromised palate?

Back when I was first starting to drink wine (back before the turn of the century – 12 or 13 years ago!), I bought a bottle of Barefoot Wine – I think it was a Merlot, but it might have been a Cabernet. Well, back then I admit I bought based on labels –c’mon, you know you did it too – but also because the tag at the grocery store said that this wine had won some wine award. I can’t remember which award it was, but if I did, I would probably never buy wines that won that award. This Barefoot wine was a dog – YUCK! Thinking back, I wonder if maybe one of the judges for that competition had a sinus infection that day. Hey, who knows?

On a positive note, I also learned that beer doesn’t taste as funky as wine when I have a sinus infection. I’m not sure why this is, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that beer is bitter anyway, and that’s how everything tastes when you are sick. That’s my story, anyway…. So, Saturday night, I enjoyed a bottle of Alaskan Amber.

Clearly, I spend some of my time dreaming up some strange things to wonder about, but hey, I since I was thinking about it, I might as well share it with you.


From Horses to Senators

The next day, I decided to head over to the Henry Clay house. I knew hardly anything about Henry Clay when I went, but he was another historical figure who had a house in Lexington (it’s actually a plantation mansion – it is huge), so I jumped on the opportunity.  Clay’s estate is available for tour, and the docents give a lot of very detailed information on who he was and what he did.  I learned that he was fascinating man, who certainly doesn’t get enough credit in the history books.

Henry Clay served the United States as a politician for most of his life, including in the Kentucky House of Representatives, the US House of Representatives, Speaker of the House (he was selected as Speaker on the first day of his first term of office – something that has never been done any other time), the US Senate, Secretary of State, and he ran for President 5 times!

He was a major contributor to the Missouri Compromise of 1850, was a supporter of the founding of a National Bank, developed the Hereford breed of cattle, operated a horse farm, had eleven children, fought in a duel, and created the Mint Julep. He died from tuberculosis in 1852 at the age of 75. Abraham Lincoln considered Clay to be one of his mentors and role models, even though the two only met on a couple of occasions (through Mary’s family, of course).

The Henry Clay House

I also visited the Kentucky Horse Park and the International Museum of the Horse while I was in Kentucky. The Kentucky Horse park is hard to describe. It’s kind of like a fairgrounds, but when the fair isn’t happening. All you horse-people who are reading this will certainly understand. There are some beautifully manicured grounds, horse arenas, jumping arenas, hot walkers, stables… and very few horses.

They do a Parade of Breeds twice a day in costume, in one of the side arenas, which is interesting, and you can see some famous retired racehorses and Standardbred pacers and trotters, but otherwise the park is kind of a dud. I wandered around for awhile trying to find something happening, but was pretty disappointed.

I also went over to the International Museum of the Horse, which had some appeal. It takes you through the history of the horse, from prehistoric times to modern day, and they have an exhibit on carriages and one on portraits of famous racehorses. But it just seemed like the exhibits were tired, and hadn’t been updated in a long time. I guess it is good to try a place out and say that you have been there, but I will find other things to do next time I’m in Kentucky.

The Man O’ War Statue at the Kentucky Horse Park

Feeling unsatisfied after my trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, I found a winery called Equus Run nearby and decided to try it out. Kentucky’s wine industry is in its fledgling stages – when I visited in 2008, I was told there were only 10 wineries in the state. The winery is located on the top of a hill, looking down over a beautiful valley. There was a pleasant patio where you could enjoy your wine. The server was friendly and informative about the wines, and I bought a bottle of their White Celebration blend. This was before the days of checked baggage fees, so I packed the bottle in my checked bag in all of my used socks, and it weathered the flight just fine. Interestingly enough, I waited awhile to drink it, and when I did, earlier this year, I found it to be too sweet for my taste. It seems that what I like has changed over time.

And just so you don’t think that I spent all of my time wandering around historic sites, I did spend some time at the pool at the hotel, and thoroughly enjoying the summer weather. I know, I know, all you sunblock, sun-shunning skeptics out there will probably be lining up to give me a lecture, but there is nothing like basking in the warmth of the sun, and feeling that warmth penetrate all the way through to your bones. When you live in the Northwest, a hot sun is a strictly seasonal phenonmenon, and you have to worship it when you get the chance. The George Hamilton look alike who was strutting around in his speedo was just the icing on the cake. He really thought he was hot, and kept trying to get my attention. It was really difficult to not laugh out loud – thanks but no thanks buddy! Well, look at that, I’ve gotten off topic again – so with that image of a 60-something, overly tanned guy with a slight beer belly stuffed into his speedo, I’ll leave you until next time.

 

All aboard for the Midwest!

Right before I met Jon in August 2008, I took a trip to Ohio and Kentucky. I wanted to see the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and see some of beautiful horse country in Kentucky. It was a great trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Jon got to hear a full accounting of the trip on our first phone conversation and more on our first date. I’m sure that was his first indication that I am a travel nut, but thankfully, he is too.

I flew into Columbus, Ohio, and stayed the first night in a contemporary hotel downtown. The hotel was really nice – certainly someplace I would stay again if I end up around there. I do have to admit though, there isn’t a whole lot going on during the day in downtown Columbus. I took a walk around, expecting there to be lots of businessmen wandering around, but it was relatively dead. After I found a great place to have breakfast, I left Columbus and started on my way to Dayton. On the way, I drove past a sign for a state park, advertising an interactive farm. I drove down to check it out and found a quaint 1800s farm called the Slate Run Living Farm, complete with farm animals, exhibits on farming techniques and animal husbandry techniques. It was a beautiful day, so it was enjoyable to just sit in the sun and take it all in. There were lots of good photo ops at this place, and I got some neat photos of the barn with the sunny blue skies and clouds. In all, it was a nice relaxing day, perfect for working up to a visit of the aviation museum of all aviation museums.

Slate Run Living Farm

So, what can I possibly say about the National Museum of the United States Air Force? This place is enormous. It is not possible to see everything there is to see in one day. I made it through two of the three gigantic airplane hangars, but didn’t have time for the third. Which was ok, because the third focused on modern day aviation and the space program, and I’m much more interested in the beginnings of air travel, World War I, and World War II. And don’t think that the exhibits only pertain to the Air Force, because they aren’t exclusive. There are exhibits on the Wright Brothers, the German Aces in World War I, and Navy air operations during World War II. And, like I said before, the Space Program, if that is what floats your boat (I have to admit, the landing pods were pretty cool – the ones where you can land in the ocean and then float until NASA picks you up). This is a museum that can keep you fully occupied, even if Aviation isn’t your passion; you just have to have an appreciation for history. There is information about Doolittle’s Raiders, who flew bombing missions over Japan during WWII and the Wasps (the women aviators who transported military aircraft), just to name a few. It is humbling to see what Americans sacrificed for our freedom.

The museum houses the Bockscar, which is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress which dropped the Fat Man atomic bomb on Nagasaki.  It is difficult to fathom all the lives that it destroyed and all the lives that it saved.

Bockscar, B-29 Superfortress

Outside the museum is parked the “Hanoi Taxi,” a Lockheed C-141, which shuttled the Vietnam POWs home at the end of the Vietnam War.  US Senator John McCain was flown home from his imprisonment in a Vietnamese prison camp on this plane.

The Hanoi Taxi

Next, I made my way to Lexington, Kentucky, hometown of Mary Todd Lincoln. No visit to Lexington is complete without a visit to the Mary Todd Lincoln childhood home.  The home is in downtown Lexington now, but apparently during the mid 1800s it was on the outskirts of Lexington. It is a beautiful brick home that has been well maintained over the last 200 years.  I got the tour, and the docent was very knowledgeable about Mary Lincoln and quite willing to discuss how Mary really got the shaft when Lincoln was assassinated (I always love when the docents are willing to go off of the script). Undoubtedly, Mary had some mental illness issues, but consider the fact that three of her four children died before reaching adulthood, several of her family members were killed in the war, and her husband was murdered. People in the north thought she was a traitor and that she was urging Lincoln for special treatment for her family members (geez, who wouldn’t?). She was booted unceremoniously out of the White House with no pension, and women of that time period typically didn’t receive any financial education or schooling in business affairs. I would be having a little trouble adjusting too. There really is more to Mary Todd Lincoln than the overspending nutcase that she is portrayed as.

Mary Todd Lincoln's Childhood Home - complete with garbage and recycling toters

And the best part of the trip, is that  it was not yet finished!  But I’ll save the rest for another post.