Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

A very vibrant rooster, roaming the streets of Key West, Florida.

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Vibrant.
Our instructions:  This week, share a photo of something vibrant. Let’s wash the web with a rainbow of colors to keep the winter gloom at bay.

I’d read lots of things about Key West before our trip, but not a peep about the chickens.  Key West is chock-full-o chickens!  The feral fowl wander around with an unchecked carte blanche — apparently, they’ve been there for something close to 200 years!  I’m not sure how I’d feel about sharing every day with this flock, but today, this rooster is bringing some vibrant cheer to my Friday.


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 84 (Plagiarism really burns my biscuits)

I came across today’s words while doing some research on Italian wine, and I thought they were pretty terrific.  And for reasons unknown to me (the reflex of an old teacher??), I did a Google search for the words, and found them in half a dozen blogs — all without citation or attribution.  If I were still teaching, I’d unleash my red pen of unhappiness on all but the oldest blog* (likely, but not definitely, the original source of the words).  All writers and artists borrow a word or a turn of phrase once in a while.  But, if you borrow 27 consecutive words, and you don’t give some kind of credit . . . that’s plagiarism.  And it’s not cool.

Regardless of who wrote today’s words, I love them.  I’ve been spending an absurd of time lately trying to wrap my brain around Italian wine (my CSW exam looms).  And I’ve decided you could spend your entire life studying Italian wine and still never master it.  Every time I think I have it . . . I don’t have it.  The more I learn, the more there’s left to learn.  Italy has a mind-bending number of autochthonous (that’s fancy wine-speak for indigenous) grapes (somewhere in the thousands, depending on who you ask), so thanks for that, Italy.  And most of the grapes have aliases, depending on which wine region grows/uses them (Nebbiolo has upwards of 40 aliases).  For the love of Bacchus, tax law is less confusing.

But . . . Italian wine is pretty dreamy.

Italian-wine-is-likeHere’s to the complicated, barely-understood, rule-breaking deliciousness of Italia.  I’ll sort it out . . . one of these days!


*Tentative credit to Fiona Lapham at Venere Travel Blog.

Field Trip: Greenhill Winery & Vineyards

DSCN7601-1My most recent winery field trip brought me to Greenhill Winery & Vineyards in Middleburg, Virginia.  The first and last time I was on this estate was almost 20 years ago, when the property was Swedenburg Winery.  Back then, the wines were (how shall I put this?) struggling (the 1995 Swedenburg Cabernet Sauvignon scored 62 points in the Wine Spectator, if that helps paint a picture).  But even more disappointing was the aloof and inhospitable tasting room staff (think Miranda Priestly).  But!  I’m happy to tell you neither of those things are true about the fresh faces and wines at Greenhill Winery & Vineyards.

Sidebar:  If you’re thinking the name Swedenburg sounds familiar, it is.  Back in 2005, Juanita Swedenburg challenged the ban on interstate wine shipping, in a case that would eventually go before the Supreme Court, resulting in a victory that opened the door for wineries to ship directly to out-of-state consumers.

Entrepreneur David Greenville purchased the former Swedenburg estate in 2013.  Greenville Winery is located just east of Middleburg, Virginia, located on the historic US Route 50, halfway between the Port of Alexandria and Winchester (and now you get the name).  If you’ve ever been to/through Middleburg, you know it’s a very horsey town, with lots of shi-shi shops, and some really good eateries.

Greenville Winery has 128 acres in the Middleburg AVA, 20 of which are currently under vine. With breezes coming in from the Asby Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Middleburg AVA is slightly cooler than other Virginia AVAs.  If you’ve ever endured a Virginia summer, you know about H3 — hazy, hot, and humid.  Cooler temps help reduce the potential for fungal diseases that often harass grapes here in Virginia.  The consulting winemaker at Greenhill is Sébastien Marquet, who hails from Burgundy, France.  I’m seeing this more and more often at Virginia wineries — consulting winemakers who are decidedly Old World.

The stone manor house (built in 1762) on the Greenhill estate is the private tasting room for wine club members.  Pre-Revolutionary War America is not my historical forté (or interest), so I will just tell you that 1762 would have been right before the British Parliament issued their wildly unpopular Stamp Acts.  Resentment over that whole taxation without representation thing would fester for over a decade before directly contributing to the powder keg that ignited the American Revolution.  Both American revolutionaries and British soldiers passed through and spent time in Middleburg, maybe even at the Greenville manor house.   Maybe not, but it’s always fun to play historical what if.  #georgewashingtonslepthere


The Manor House, circa 1762

The tasting room at Greenhill is small, but cozy and comfortable.  On a crowded weekend afternoon, they probably hit capacity pretty quickly, but there is an outside patio for overflow (when it’s not 16 degrees outside).  They, like so many other Virginia wineries these days, do not allow outside food inside their tasting room.  They do, however, have a fridge full of charcuterie, and a self-serve accoutrement bar that has everything you could need (crackers, honey, plates, utensils, napkins, etc.) for an impromptu picnic.

Props to Greenhill for these wonderful tasting mats.  You move you glass along as you taste. Very helpful.  Greenville also has a brochure with well-conceived tasting notes and technical information.  My only complaint?  No vintage information on either.  We had a great time with our tasting room host, Anthony, who managed to share and educate without being an insufferable know-it-all (an affliction that seems to plague more than a few tasting room hosts).


The Greenhill tasting is $14 (lots of folks complaining about that on Yelp), which is on the high end for Virginia wine tastings (most seem to hover in the $8-10 range).  I used to chafe about high tasting fees, but I’ve let it go (let it go . . . let it goooo) now.  Because, at the end of the day, wineries can charge whatever they want to charge.  My two cents?  Know before you go. Always call (or at least check the website) before you visit a winery.  Find out what they charge for tastings and wines, and what their rules are.  Then, you’ll have no surprises.  If you’re not comfortable paying $14 for a tasting, or you think $35 is too much for a bottle of Virginia wine, then you always have a choice . . . don’t go and/or don’t buy.

Here’s the Greenhill Winery tasting lineup (we didn’t get to taste the Viognier or the Ontology because they are currently sold out, which is a pretty good problem to have if you’re a winery):

Blanc de Blancs 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
100% Chardonnay.  Grapes are sourced from the estate and a property Greenhill owns in Amherst, VA.  Beautifully structured.  Loaded with green apple and minerals.  A pleasant surprise, this is right up there with the best Virginia sparklers I’ve tasted.  Buying a bottle of this one was a no-brainer.  $39.

Chardonnay 2014  ⭐⭐⭐/88
Anthony was very keen on us knowing this is a “Burgundian style Chardonnay”, aged 11 months in French oak.  Grapes are sourced from the estate and a property Greenhill owns in Amherst, VA.  Lean, but tropical at the same time.  Rich, creamy finish.  Very recently won a Double Gold medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.  Bravo!  I bought a bottle of this one, too.  $36.

Riesling 2014 ⭐⭐⭐/84
Crisp and dry, with flavors of tangerine and lime.  A good Riesling, but I cut my Riesling-teeth on German Riesling, and prefer a little more slate in my glass.  Grapes are sourced from the estate, and I will definitely be keeping an eye on the vintages to come, to see how Riesling continues to perform here in the cool-pocket of the Middleburg AVA.  $27.

Seyval Blanc 2014 ⭐⭐⭐/85
Seyval Blanc is a hybrid grape that ripens early and grows well in cooler climates (we ran into Seyval Blanc quite a bit on our trip to the Finger Lakes this past summer).  There are handful of wineries growing it here in Virginia.  The grapes for the Greenhill version are sourced from the estate, Middleburg AVA.  Perfumey (think jasmine and honeysuckle), reminded me a little bit of Gewürztraminer.  Dry, but intensely floral, with flavors of grapefruit and melon.  $28.

Superstition ⭐⭐⭐/86
A blend of 50% Tannat, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 25% Malbec.  Grapes are sourced from the estate and a property Greenhill owns in Amherst, VA.  Aged 11 months in French oak. Greenhill’s tasting notes say it has “intense aromas of fall leaves, mist and bonfires”.  I’m not sure I got mist and bonfires specifically, but I did get earthy and smoky.  The Tannat gives the wine a dark, tannic punch.  Beautiful finish.  Well structured.  $49.

Philosophy 2013 ⭐⭐⭐/87
A Bordeaux-style blend of 71% Cabernet Franc, 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 13% Petit Verdot.  Grapes are sourced from the estate and a property Greenhill owns in Amherst, VA. Aged in French oak for 16 months.  Sour cherry, cranberry and strawberry.   Hefty tannins, intriguing structure.  Tastes young now, but will benefit from more time in the cellar.  $45.

After our tasting, we enjoyed some charcuterie (how do you not buy a cheese named Four Fat Fowl?) and a glass of that lovely, Burgundian-style Chardonnay:

I’ll leave you with a couple photos of the Greenville Winery estate (pretty now, but I’ll plan a revisit in the spring when things are greener):


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 83 (We’re gonna need a bigger shovel . . . )

There’s been a lot of snow-shoveling here in Virginia this week.  And we don’t get that magical, powdery snow you can practically sneeze off your driveway.  We get heavy, wet cement-snow — the foil of healthy backs everywhere, mine included (I’ve had three back surgeries, and one of them was a direct result of shoveling that cement-snow).  In a normal winter, we get just enough snow to justify owning a snow shovel (3 inches here, 5 inches there).  It’s rare that we get over 2 feet in one dump.  Groan.  Happily, I mostly get a pass on shoveling snow (three surgeries is enough, thanks), but I tried to get out there and push the snow around as much as I could.  Turns out, you can’t really push 30 inches of cement-snow with a shovel, even if you try really, really hard.  And then this, from the teenager:  “Mom.  Stop.  You’re not moving enough snow to even make a difference.”  Alrighty, then.  That’s my cue to come inside and look for some wine words.  😉

A friend sent these words to me a while ago, and I put them aside for a rainy snowy day.  The words are from 17th century playwright, Molière (aka Jean Baptiste Poquelin), considered one of the greatest authors of French comedy.  His plays were wildly popular, and wildly controversial, especially within the Roman Catholic Church (who didn’t appreciate, comedy or not, Molière pointing out certain hypocrisies within the Church).

I can’t say I’m particularly enamored of 17th century French comedy, but I did speed-read the highlights of Molière’s L’Ecole des Femmes (The School for Wives), and found this gem:

All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill the history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.

Perfect.  Is it too late to add a dance-off to the format for the next round of Presidential primary debates?

And now . . . to my snowy day Molière words:


Perfect, again.  Though, if we get any more snow this winter, I might amend these words to include . . . a good snow-blower!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Optimistic

It’s probably optimistic to think we’ll get mail in Virginia today . . . but just in case.

Our theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge this week is:  Optimistic.
Our instructions: This week show us something you’re optimistic about, or perhaps a talisman that helps you stay positive and hopeful, regardless of what life (and the weather!) throws your way.

We’re still digging out from the Blizzard of 2016 (aka Jonas) here in Virginia.  It’s going be way more than a few days before things get back to something resembling normal around here. My boys cut a trench into the snow mountain for the mailman, just in case we see him this week!


Quilting with Wine Labels, No. 15

After 36 relentless hours of snow and w-i-n-d, the Blizzard of 2016 is over.  Jonas is gone.  We have an easy 2-1/2 feet of snow on the ground, and drifts of over 4 feet (when you talk about snow totals in feet, you have too much snow).  I figure we’ll be able to use our grill (it’s buried under one of those drifts) again sometime around St. Patrick’s Day, which is also my prediction for when the kids around here will return to school.  But, we never lost power (all hail Netflix and heat), and we didn’t run out of bread or toilet paper.  We didn’t even make a dent in my wine stash.  The sun is shining this morning . . . it’s time to dig!


A continuing series on wine labels, and the wines that wear them, under the macro lens.

I love to take photos of pieces of things with my macro lens — pieces of wine labels seemed like a natural extension of that inclination.  It’s a lot of fun to see the colors, and especially the textures, on a wine label that you wouldn’t ordinarily see (or maybe even notice).  It’s almost as fun as drinking the wine.  Almost.  I can’t sew (not even a button).  But I can take photos.  So, I thought . . . why not “stitch” the photos together into a quilt?

See all of my wine label quilt squares in once place by clicking on the Wine Label Quilts tab at the top of this page.

Recognize any of these guys?

WineQuiltSquare15Where did I drink this week?  (I didn’t plan this, but I still haven’t left France and Spain from last week!)

  • La Rioja Alta, Haro, Rioja, Spain
  • Côte des Blancs & Montagne de Reims, Champagne, France
  • La Rioja Alta, Rioja, Logroño, Spain
  • Limoux, Languedoc, France

Clockwise, from the top right:

La Rioja Alta Vina Alberdi Reserva Tinto 2008 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
100% Tempranillo from high-altitude (500-600 meters above sea level) vineyards planted in chalky-clay soils.  I rarely meet a Tempranillo I don’t like, and this is no exception.  Brick color with a slight orange-hued lightening at the edges.  Nose = tobacco and funk.  Flavors = cherry, orange rind, cloves, cigar, tobacco.  Rustic and just lovely.  And would you look at the price tag?  $20.

La Rioja Alta Winery was founded in 1890 (at that time, Spain was ruled by King Alfonso XIII, notable only for the number of assassination plots he survived — eight).  The label design is an interpretation of the Oja River (or Rio Oja, which some say is how the Rioja region got its name) flowing between oak trees.

Champagne Jacquart à Reims France Vintage 2006 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/90
100% Champagne, harvested from Premiers Crus vineyards in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims.  Flavors of green apple, crushed shells, and citrus.  Kind of briny, too.  Beautiful finish.  It’s begging for some shellfish, or you can just do what I did, and pair it with a hunk of Brie cheese.  $55.

Jacquart was founded in 1962 by 30 small families, and is often considered the original grower Champagne.  Today, Jacquard has 1,800 growers, and is part of the Alliance Group (the second largest cooperative in Champagne).

The label is modeled after a statue of La Renommé (aka Fame) riding the winged horse, Pegasus.  The statue was carved by Antoine Coysevox in 1699 for the estate of Louis XIV.  It was moved to the entrance of the Tuileries Garden in Paris in 1719, and took up permanent residence at the Louvre in 1986.  The statue at the Tuileries Garden today is a replica.

Marques de Murrieta Castillo Ygay Rioja Gran Reserva Especial Cosecha 2005 ⭐⭐⭐⭐/95
A blend of 89% Tempranillo and 11% Mazuelo.  Interesting:  the Tempranillo ferments in American oak barrels, the Mazuelo ferments in new French oak barrels.  This wine is a darling of critics everywhere, and now I know why.  This is one of those wines — you know the instant you stick your nose into the glass that it’s going to be unforgettable.  Wildly complex.  You could spend an entire afternoon with your nose in this glass coming up with different descriptors.  Red fruit, cinnamon, nuts, smoke, truffles.  Insane texture and elegance. Complexity.  Balance.  Stunning.  $70ish.  I need to buy another bottle of this and “lose” it in my cellar for about 10 years.

Founded in 1852, Marques de Murrieta is named after Luciano de Murrieta, considered one of the founding fathers of Rioja winemaking.  The Ygay Estate is located in the southern end of Rioja Alta.  The Castillo Ygay label has a great, vintage feel to it, and as near as I can tell, it has not changed since the first vintage in 1852.  (I found identical labels online as old as 1917). After that, I lost the scent . . .

Domaine de Martinolles Blanquette de Limoux Le Berceau ⭐⭐⭐/87
From the Limoux region in Languedoc.  Blanquette de Limoux is a local alias of the Mauzac grape, which is the primary grape in Blanquette de Limoux (along with Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc).  Limoux is really fun to say, so I was hoping the bubbles would be good.  And they were!  Limoux’s vineyards are higher and cooler than others in the Languedoc, yet this tasted a bit warmer sunnier than Champagne to me.  Still, loads of green apple and biscuit notes, lovely texture, plenty of acidity to hold it all together.  And an insane value at $14 — I’m definitely going back for more.

Blanquette de Limoux makes a strong argument for being the world’s first sparkling wine (sorry, Champagne).  It was invented by Benedictine Monks in 1531, at the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire.  There’s a legend that says Dom Pérignon traveled to Saint-Hilaire on a pilgrimage and, while there, learned the process of making sparkling wines.  Domain de Martinolles was founded in 1926, and uses the same land the Monks of Saint Hilaire cultivated in the 16th century.  Le Berceau translates to the cradle, a reference to Limoux as the birthplace of sparkling wine.

The Domaine de Martinolles label is pretty self-explanatory (unless the M doesn’t stand for Martinolles).  A simple, but elegant signet/monogram.


Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 82 (Fair Winds, Mr. Rickman)

I don’t usually find myself mawkish over celebrity passings.  But, I was genuinely sad to hear of Alan Rickman’s passing last week.   Not Severus Snape.  Not Hans Gruber.  Not Steven Spurrier. Mr. Rickman had such presence.  And such a voice — every syllable dripping with gravitas.


If you’re a wine lover, you’ve probably seen the movie, Bottle Shock.  Mr. Rickman plays English wine merchant/snob Steven Spurrier.  And his glorious voice opens the movie . . . Wine is Sunlight, held together by water.  Play. Listen. Repeat.  And once you’ve got Mr. Rickman’s voice in your head, read today’s wine words — they’re so much better that way, trust me.

Mr. Rickman was a wine drinker, and, in the swirl of tributes flying across the Internet last week, I came across an article in LA Magazine with these beautiful wine words:

alan rickman


Fair winds and following seas, Mr. Rickman.