Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Making Memories

One of the parts I love most about wine is how it turns any event into a memorable occasion.  Order pizza on a Sunday afternoon when too lazy to cook?  Uncork a bottle of Merlot, pour in Riedel stemware, and experience the perfect way to relax and wrap up the weekend!  When wine is added to a party or a holiday, the party, holiday, AND wine all become more special.  For Christmas this year, I decided it was time for a very special Christmas dinner for my girl friends, and of course, wine had to be an essential part of the important day for my most loved companions!

First, the ambiance must be set for a special meal.  I brought out my lovely amber cabbage rose Depression glass dishes; having more people than I did antique dishes, I mixed and matched with a friend’s pink and gold floral wedding china.  Gold was the theme, so the table was prepared with a linen table cloth and napkins, gold fabric place mats, beautiful china, gold-plated silverware, red and white Riedel wine glasses, and brass candlesticks.  Now that the table was beautiful, it was time to impress with the food!

The actual meal started with mimosas as a twist on the traditional aperitif.  Though mimosas are often a summer brunch drink, I added frozen cranberries and a splash of cranberry juice to each glass for a Christmas flare.  Keeping with the Christmas idea, I mulled some dry red wine with peaches, blackberries, orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and simple syrup to serve with our cheese plate for the first course.  (For the dry red, I used an inexpensive Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet.)  The second course was a baked macaroni and cheese made with smoked Harvati cheese and topped with Panko bread crumbs before baking.  This paired well with a semi-dry Riesling; ours was from producer Joel Gott. The main course was Cornish game hen with prosciutto ham in a cream of mushroom sauce served with Hob Nob Pinot Noir.  The crowning glory of the meal was chocolate pot de crème served with a twenty-year aged Tawny port…oh so yummy! 

Though my friends and I get together often, the special food and wine made this meal, and this day, even better.  I’m quite sure that my friends highly enjoyed the dinner, both the food and wine.  More importantly, we truly enjoyed each other’s company.  It is true that wine can make even the simplest meal seem extraordinary.  Though I am not trying to brag, the food was good; however, it was made even better by serving it with wine.  Wine always adds a level of sophistication and happiness to a meal.  My point is, make wine a part of your holiday meals, with friends or family.  For adults, mull wine, make mimosas, pair wine with food, or use wine as dessert (maybe not all of these at once, but just one or two!).  For children, buy sparkling cider to toast with as bubbly, mull apple juice to serve before the meal, or pour water in a wine glass.  The holidays are about making memories, and wine—when consumed responsibly—makes every event memorable.  So cheers to your friends, family, and memories!  Merry Christmas and a happy winey New Year! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Even Closer to Home

When trying to talk about “local” wine experiences, I have traveled around my slightly larger than normal neighborhood of Wyoming and the Black Hills, which we know is not small.  However, I had a TRULY local wine experience recently when two friends and I had our own tasting of wines made by winemakers in my hometown.  Though these wines aren’t going to be making Wine Spectator’s top ten, home winemaking’s increased popularity just continues to show the overall regard for wine in general.  With this in mind, we lined up our bottles and glasses and started pouring. 

The first wine was called Verdant Winery’s Valiant Grape Wine from 2010.  This wine was very sweet, too sweet for my pallet, and the alcohol was a little too generous and hot for me as well.  Though this was my least favorite of the home brews, I did like what I could learn about this wine (and others) just from looking.  The cloudy, off-brown color clearly showed what filtering does for a wine.  Though this hazy tint affected the appearance, it didn’t affect the taste.  This wine looked worse (because of the lack of filtering) than it tasted.

Wine two was a non-vintage, blackberry wine without a producer’s name on the label.  The blueberry fruit was evident from the instant one looked at the bottle.  The color was a cloudy, gray-blue--again, evidence of no professional filtering.  This wine tasted less like wine and more like the grape Kool-Aid I used to make as a kid when there just wasn’t the full cup of sugar to sweeten the drink all the way. 

The next wine was a black currant and choke cherry blend, again, no vintage or winemaker on label, but the same wine maker also made a quality currant wine (the next on my tasting list).  This wine was beginning to look like wines we were used to with its clear color.  It was slightly sweet, but not overly so, with the taste of fresh watermelon. I am not sure what the winemaker did to get the beautiful, clear color, but obviously he had made some progress in his wine-making abilities.

The fourth wine was the Weston Country Fair Reserve Champion wine, a currant wine produced by a gentleman by the name of John Halloway (maker of the above black currant/chokecherry wine as well).  Once more, the clear color was beautiful and pink.  The smell was true to the currant berries from which the wine was made.  It was slightly sweet, but very well balanced, and the taste was also that of currant.  I understood why this wine was an award-winning, fruit wine.  Again, sweet wines are not my favorite, but this wine would have been worthy of pairing with strong cheeses before or after a meal. 

Our final local tasting for the evening was the Ten Year Red, a dry wine produced from an unknown varietal of grapes by a local named Jimmy Long.  This is the kind of wine I enjoy drinking, so I was hoping to be impressed.  Guess what?  I was!  My first sniff smelled of petrol, which can be good or bad.  Then I smelled leather and berries.  The wine itself tasted of tannin and strawberries, but was very smooth with a light finish.  We then decided to have it as our dessert when we paired it with dark chocolate and were once again pleasantly surprised. 

I will admit we started our local wine tasting adventure with some trepidation; however, all three of us agreed that these samples were not bad, not bad at all!  I believe there are a few local winemakers that have developed obvious knowledge of and talent in the wine making process.  I hope they continue their ventures into the world of wine.  I would definitely be in line to taste their future endeavors! 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Neighbors to the South--Balistreri Vineyards

Though I have been focusing on “local” wine-related businesses (remember, I live in Wyoming, so my “neighborhood” is very, very large!), I made a trip to see my neighbors in nearby Colorado.  Last weekend, Denver hosted its own International Wine Festival, and because of my schedule, I couldn’t attend any of the activities.  However, I had to get some wine-ing done in Denver since so many others were!  Therefore, I planned my own wine tour of Denver.  The weather tried to hamper my small group's spirits, but the Colorado wines did not!  I sipped at three wineries, but my first stop, Balistreri Vineyards, proved to be a great place to begin. 

The rain was just beginning to turn to slush in the air when we pulled into the parking lot.  As we walked into the open, airy tasting room and saw the tasting bar, we quickly forgot about the chill outside.  Grandson Mason Balistreri was our tasting guide to lead us through EIGHTEEN wines—three whites, four desserts, and eleven reds.  All of these tastes were at no cost; the Balistreris just want everyone to experience their wines.  Missing one would miss part of what the winery is all about. 

We started sipping on the whites, which were some of the most unique wines I have ever tasted.  Balistreri uses only the natural yeast from the grapes and does no filtering or fining, so the color of these whites was deep and golden.  Both the Chardonnay and the Riesling were nothing that one would expect from the typical wines made from these grapes.  The Viognier, the third white, goes through Lees treatment, making it unique as well.  All of these wines were made from Colorado-grown grapes from the western part of the state.

After a quick snack of the crackers and cheese available in the tasting room for all who come to visit, we started swirling the reds in our glasses.  Some of the reds were made from California grapes—a Zinfandel, a Merlot, and a Cabernet; however, my favorites were the wines made from Colorado-grown fruit with Balistreri’s unique production techniques!  I loved the Colorado Little Feet Merlot.  The wine was a very smooth Merlot with oak and berries, but honestly, I also loved the premise of the name of this wine.  This Merlot was stomped by the “little feet” of children who attended the Festival Italiano that vintage year (for this wine 2011). This was one of the most unique and memorable labeling and production ideas ever.  I wish my children would have been able to stomp some grapes when their feet were still little! 

My next memorable red was also Mason Balestreri’s favorite red wine, the 2011 Colorado Syrah.  This had a great peppery scent, yet was filled with a big berry taste.  Finally, I greatly enjoyed the 2010 Colorado Cabernet Sauvignon, grown from Whitewater Hill Vineyard.  Wet leather smells with the berry flavors were all balanced with a long, pleasant finish.  My Cab-drinking husband will love this wine when we open the bottle I purchased! 

We had tasted at Balistreri for almost two hours, but we still were not done--we had dessert wines to sip.  There was a traditional style Ruby port, a late-harvest Zinfandel, and even a Colorado cherry wine, but my choice was the late-harvest Merlot from Colorado grapes.   Yes, this was a very sweet wine, but it was not too sweet, kind of like the Goldilocks of dessert wines. 

At this point, my tasting partners and I had worked up quite an appetite, so we stayed to enjoy the bistro at Balistreri.  The menu was filled with delightful soups, salads, sandwiches, breads, and cheeses.  I had the squash soup (since it was a chilly day) and the grilled pear salad.  My partners both had the chicken sandwich and raved about the sun-dried tomato mayo. 

Finally, we were ready to head to the next winery on our tour of Denver, knowing that the experience at Balistreri would be hard to top. 

Before we left, I had a conversation with the winemaker, John Balistreri.  At first, he was not impressed with my sommelier title.  I was a bit taken aback, since most of the time when I mention this, wineries are pleased.  However, after Mr. Balistreri explained why, I understood his viewpoint.  He commiserated with me about the fact that some of the most formal members and sommeliers of the wine community in Colorado do not support local Colorado wine, instead opting to give awards to wines from other areas and producers.  This backwards home-town loyalty is proven when Colorado wines win awards at other wine competitions, but not at the one hosted in the state.  I can attest to the quality of the wines Colorado winemakers are producing, helping me to see John’s side of the story. 

As I walked back into the cold from the well-designed tasting room facility, I vowed to come back in less inclement weather so I could enjoy the outdoor seating areas the winery boasts.  I also vowed to spread the word of Colorado wines and hoped to break Mr. Balistreri’s idea of formally trained sommeliers.  I love locally owned, grown, and produced products.  As a wine industry, we must not be such wine snobs that we miss the wines that are literally right under our noses.  So, my neighbors to the south, keep up the good work.  I will be back! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Worth the Wait--Vintage Wine Bar

Last winter, I stopped at Poplar Wine and Spirits in Casper, Wyoming, and was so impressed with the liquor store.  I loved how the staff organized their wines, and their selections were incredibly impressive for the state of Wyoming.  (You can see the original blog post by scrolling down.)  On this visit, I also got a peek into the adjoining wine bar, Vintage.  I was intrigued by the warm atmosphere and lured in even more by a glance at the wine menu.  It took me nine months, but I finally went back to Casper and was able to stop at Vintage.  It.  Was. Worth. The. Wait!

I went for supper so that I could experiment with their tapas style menu.  I was not a bit disappointed with the caprese shrimp:  shrimp wrapped in basil, mozzarella, and prosciutto.  I decided to order two different wines.  The first, I asked for our server’s favorite.  Her recommendation was pleasant, a red blend.  However, it was so overshadowed by my next purchase, I don’t even remember the blend’s name.  I next decided to try the Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley’s Stag’s Leap District.  All I can say is it was heaven in a glass!  I sipped and savored every single drop!  Of course I was impressed with the wine; it has an excellent reputation, and the grapes are grown in a well-known area in the most prestigious wine-making region in the U.S.  What I was impressed with was that I could order this particular wine in the middle of Wyoming!  Wyoming has quite antiquated laws regarding wine and liquor; all of these products must be purchased through the Wyoming State Liquor Distributor.  I have seen this wine list.  To say it is limited is an understatement.  Yes, the state has some great wines to choose from, but the choices are fairly narrow.  That Mike and the staff at Vintage knew to pick such a tremendous wine was more than exciting. 

I was once again impressed with my stop in Casper.  Poplar Wine and Spirits and Vintage Wine Bar proved a second time they are worth a look and a visit.  I know I will be there again…I just hope I don’t have to wait nine months to do it! 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The New Kid on the Block--Twisted Pine, Hill City

Today I spent an absolutely wonderful day in the Black Hills, walking thirteen miles from the Crazy Horse Monument to Hill City, South Dakota on the Mickelson Trail.  This absolutely beautiful walk was made even better when after I finished, I stopped at the newest wine tasting room in the Black Hills.  Twisted Pine Winery, on Main Street in Hill City, is the latest addition to the continuing wine boom in this area (that I love and love to talk about!).

The wines are actually New Mexico wines, produced in that state from grapes there.  If any of you raised your eyebrows at the thought of wine in NM, I found out today that the state actually has the longest history of winemaking in our country.  Franciscan monks brought grapevines and wine making to the area with the Spaniards and starting producing their own vino in 1629.  Today, the New Mexico wine industry is growing fast, helped along with the two lines of wine Twisted Pine now carries in South Dakota:  The Relleno Brothers and Noisy Water Winery.  Mary Jo, the manager at Twisted Pine, has a personal connection with New Mexico--she lived there before migrating to Hill City and her son is associated with the winery.

These wines were quality and unique, showing some of the heat of the New Mexican climate.  Noisy Water produces diverse white wines with everything from a sweet Moscato, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Symphony blend, to a semi-sweet Malvasia Blanc, to a lightly oaked Chardonnay.  For reds, Noisy Water produces a spicy Sangiovese, Primitivo blend, a woody Merlot, and an award winning (from the Finger Lakes Wine Competition, my newest favorite wine region—see my recent blog post) Wine Maker’s Barrel Select Cabernet Sauvignon.   Relleno Brothers produces a lighter-bodied Cab, Merlot blend called El Cabron Viejo (meaning the “old goat” or “old S.O.B”), a single varietal Hab’s Cab, and a semi-sweet Riesling.  Both lines use some unique grapes, like a Semillon, Sierra Blanca, and Pinot Grigio; again, not grapes you would necessarily associate with the Southwest United States.  The most unique wine we tasted today, however, was actually the Besito Caliento—“Hot Little Kiss”—by the Relleno Brothers, a wine made with green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico. After being a bit scared of the (absolutely gorgeous) green color, I tasted my first green chile wine.  It had a hint of the green chiles, yet wasn’t hot or spicy.  Definitely worth a tingle to your palette!  (Side note:  I bought the Wine Maker’s Barrel Select Cab by Noisy Water and the El Cabron Viejo by Relleno Brothers.)

In addition to the wine that impressed me, there were tasty cheeses (also from NM), heavenly olive oils, and scrumptious balsamic vinegars.  The twenty-five year aged balsamic was just as good as the aged balsamic I’ve been going to Colorado to get!  Imagine my pleasure now that I know I can get it just one hour from home. 

I always love to celebrate with a glass of wine, and my celebratory wine today was made even more triumphant since it was at the new kid on the wine block in my “neighborhood.”  I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Twisted Pine tasting room and look forward to going back! 

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Winey Summer--Finger Lakes Wine

Ahhh…summer--the time when full-time teachers like me are supposed to gallivant around, play non-stop, and do absolutely no work.  However, not all teachers are part-time sommeliers who feel like summer is a time to re-immerse themselves in the wine culture since they have no papers to grade!  That was me this summer.  I mixed family vacation business with the pleasure of wine when my family and I visited the Finger Lakes wine region in upstate New York.

Several years ago, when I was at events with fellow wine lovers, I began to get many recommendations to visit northern New York.  After some research, I learned that these New York state wine lovers knew what they were talking about, and our two-week family vacation to Pittsford near the Finger Lakes region began to take shape.

The Finger Lakes is a beautiful area of our country growing many vinifera species of grapes commonly thought of only growing in Europe or California.  However, these vinifera grapes’ ability to grow in the United States is actually because of Dr. Konstantin Frank, who grafted historically European grapes onto American root stock in order to survive in the U.S.  Thus began the wine revolution in our country!  Dr. Frank’s winery was a wonderful stop for us with its personalized tastings and wonderful wines.  I even had to join the wine club so I could continue to enjoy these special libations. 

Of the eleven lakes in the area, Keuka Lake, Cayuga Lake, and Seneca Lake have the majority of the wineries.  The beautiful green hillsides surrounding the picturesque lakes create a wonderful backdrop for some great white wines that thrive in the colder climate, such as the dry Riesling and sparkling wines of Belhurst Winery.  However, don’t believe that this region can’t produce wonderful red wines; in fact, one winery, Shalestone, specializes in reds only.  A stop at the beautiful, iconic Heron Hill Winery (or one of its satellite tasting rooms) is also a must.  However, also producing wines are many small, family owned wineries like Wilhelmus Winery, whose tasting room is actually in the front porch of the family’s home.  Other wineries worth mentioning are scattered around every lake:  Casa Larga Vineyards, Magnus Ridge Winery, Anthony Road, Heart and Hands, and Zugibe. 

I could go on, but the ultimate lesson is this area is more than an up-and-coming wine region; it is a region producing some high quality wines that are worth a taste.  It is also an area worth a visit.  If you can’t visit, the next best action to take is read Summer in a Glass by Evan Dawson.  It is a wonderfully written book telling the story of the Finger Lakes and the people who are working to put it, and keep it, on the wine map.  My real advice:  read the book and go to the Finger Lakes!  I know I’m going back…as soon as summer allows me.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Big, Wonderful Wyoming--Table Mountain Vineyard

Over Easter (yes, I realize I am just a bit behind in blogging here!), I had the wonderful pleasure to visit big, wonderful Wyoming’s Table Mountain Vineyards (in Huntley, Wyoming), the only Wyoming winery growing or harvesting all of its fruit from within the state and producing all of its wines exclusively in the state as well.  My family and I showed up at the tasting room and small section of vineyard on a beautiful Friday afternoon.   The Zimmerer family has owned this farm land for four generations, and the grape growing actually began as a project for a class at the University of Wyoming.  This project then turned much larger as wines were experimented with from the vines that were experiments themselves.  Over time, business has grown, and continues to grow so much that a larger tasting room is being built near the original.  Events are already planned there for this summer, though the actual completion is still ongoing. 

There are several wines of note being produced at TMV.  First is the Cowgirl Blush, a semi-sweet blush wine that I would love to sit and sip on a hot summer day.  It just so happens to be a Gold Medal winner from the Finger Lakes Wine Competition as well.  My other favorite grape wine was the Frontenac Gris, a wonderful, off-dry hybrid grape wine that reminded me of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  The final wine that impressed me was their Cherry Rush dessert wine.  Though the wine was sweet, it had undertones of spice, too; a wonderful contrast in the wine made from cherries that are harvested in nearby Torrington, from the yard of a 90-plus year old woman, who sits in the front yard and watches the cherry harvest, shouting instructions the whole time! 

I have to say how much I enjoyed TMV!  I love the fact that it is exclusively a Wyoming product.  There are several other producers in Wyoming making or bottling wine, but they are buying their grapes or juice from California or other popular grape-growing areas.  I’m not saying these aren’t good wines, but if I want a California wine (which I buy often), I want to buy that wine from a California producer, and I want to know exactly where the grapes were grown, not look at a bottle that appears to be “Wyoming Wine” when it’s not.  This is exactly what the term terroir means: grapes are produced into wines that reflect the growing environment where the grapes are grown.  Wyoming terroir is just slightly different than California (or about any other growing area).  Okay, it’s REALLY different than most areas.  Wyoming is cold, and some years dry, and most of the time windy!!!  This means that different grapes grow well here, so TMV grows hybrid grapes like Frontenac, Frontenac Gris, and Elvira.  These are different wine grapes than the traditional but because they are different does not mean they are bad.  So though you are not going to find a California Cab here, I am enamored with the idea that you will find something completely different, enjoyable, and unique…something totally Wyoming! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Where You Least Expect It--Heaven to Earth, Gillette

My New Year’s resolution was to focus on businesses that promote wine, and though I haven’t posted every week since I began, I really have been trying not to neglect my blogging responsibilities.  Today, I’m focusing on the promotion of wine in a place many may not have necessarily expected it:  a gourmet kitchen store.  I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a “foodie” (only because of time and calorie constraints…hehehe), but I do love interesting and unique foods, both making them and consuming them.  I love so many aspects of kitchen stores and kitchen gadgets.   Most kitchen stores have a wine-related section that has wine tools and glassware.  However, Heaven to Earth in Gillette has taken this sometimes small relationship with wine to a whole new level!  A level I highly appreciate!

Gail and Emerald, owners at Heaven to Earth, approached me some time ago after they had surveyed their customers and found many were interested in wine, so Gail and Emerald were quick to oblige.  The proprietors of this wonderful store quickly came up with the idea to create a wine and food “club” so to speak, where students would first learn the basics of wine (that’s where I came in), and then learn different aspects of food and wine pairing, with monthly sessions that would focus on different foods, wines, and food and wine tools.  Gail and Emerald also wanted to have multiple sessions of the Intro to Wine Class, so that the large numbers of their interested patrons could ensure a date that worked for them.  I put together a class introducing the basics of wine with important terms, wine evaluation techniques, and food pairing basics.  If I do say so myself, I thought my class was first-class.  But even tooting my own horn, the information of my class was nothing compared to the atmosphere Heaven to Earth created for this class!

The tables were covered with black table clothes, set with glasses, Bling and Ty Nant bottled water, gold silverware, fun wine napkins, oyster crackers in artichoke shaped bowls, marinated olives in stoneware dishes, and a beautiful wine journal.   This was only the beginning of the fabulous spread for the evening.  During the tasting of the two white wines that evening, Gail’s kitchen staff served lobster ravioli with alfredo sauce, crusty bread with warm artichoke dip, and fresh vegetables.  With the two red wines, the kitchen presented a mini-cheese plate with hard salami, aged white cheddar, and mixed dried fruits.  The wines were great, and the food was wonderful!  The staff served the tapas portions to customers and made sure water glasses were full all night.  It was better service than I have witnessed in many restaurants.  Beverage Broker of Gillette—which I highly recommend readers check out—provided the wine and had the bottles that we tasted that evening for sale to take home that night.  Of course, Riedel glassware was available for purchase from Heaven to Earth, as well as the wonderful food we had with our wines and the many other gourmet products the store offers.  I left feeling these were the best classes I have taught!

In my quest of promoting wine in my rural area this year, I must remember not to overlook businesses that aren’t directly selling wine but may actually be supporting the wine culture on a whole other level!  Heaven to Earth is doing a fabulous job encouraging the wine industry, and they do it with extraordinary style!  I look forward to the classes I will be teaching there.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Back to the Beginning--Prairie Berry Winery

This past Saturday, I attended the Saint Patrick’s Day wine dinner at Prairie Berry Winery, and during that event, hosted by the youngest of five generations of wine makers, I was thinking about my own wine history. 

I started drinking wine a little over ten years ago.  Like many, I started drinking sweeter wines and then branched out from there.  I would go to the liquor store and buy a select bottle or two, but always the same few bottles of wines that I knew I liked.  Then, I stopped at Prairie Berry Winery, just after its new location in Hill City, SD opened.  I initially stopped because I had heard of Pumpkin Bog wine…and I was intrigued.  Wine from pumpkins?!  Yes, I needed to try that.  I not only enjoyed Pumpkin Bog, but the honey wines Prairie Berry produced were great.  I also developed a fondness for Calamity Jane and Red Ass Rhubarb.  Other favorites stood out for me as my wine palette developed and PBW helped me branch out to try different wines, but my true passion for wine was still on the horizon. 

During Prairie Berry’s first summer in Hill City, the staff hosted its first summer bistro wine dinner.  I found two girlfriends—Sonja and Sally—to go with me because I thought this sounded like so much fun and knew I had to take part in this event!  I was right not missing the occasion.  This was the time and place I can pinpoint my wine passion blossoming and turning into (dare I say) an obsession.  This first PBW dinner was by no means the same as today’s culinary delights; they served us wine in regular wine glasses and food on Styrofoam plates with plastic utensils…so far from today’s up-scale, modern dinnerware and beautiful, varietal-specific Riedel crystal stemware.  However, the pairings of the food with the wine were wonderful, and these pairings were what totally fascinated me about wine.  I realized the difference that wine made with food and food made with wine.  It was a total “aha” moment, as Oprah would call it, and though I liked wine before, I was completely hooked!  My quest to try more wines and foods was in full gear, and my drive to learn about wine was kick started. 

From that summer evening on, I have rarely (I’d say never, but I think there have been a sprinkling of events I have had to miss) missed any of the PB events in the past eight years—wow, it’s been eight years, I think—and I only miss if I absolutely must because of schedule constraints!  I have watched Prairie Berry develop into a leading “foodie” in the Hills with marvelous chefs serving amazing fare for special occasions and every day!  It is my favorite treat to be able to stop in for lunch on an average day for a mouth-watering sandwich, delectable cup of soup, and a glass of wine.  I also love the perks of being a wine club member there:  VIP tickets to the Fezziwig Christmas Festival, wine club pick-up parties, and gifts at the wine dinners (now in the fall and spring, as well as summer).  Like the winery, my palette has evolved into something much more sophisticated, but like a fine wine, everything gets better with age.  Also like a wine, Prairie Berry still has new surprises in store for us as it develops, like this year’s Mother’s Day brunch…which I WILL be attending with my family!  Prairie Berry not only kicked off the wine boom in my life, but this business was at the heart of the wine boom that is spreading across the Black Hills with other wineries and wine bars opening their doors to wine fans; these businesses are possible, in part, due to Prairie Berry. 

So, thank you, Prairie Berry and staff, for taking the risk on the establishment that would make so many changes in the Black Hills.  You are definitely like an award-winning vintage wine, and I know you will only continue to better with age! 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sex Sells--Naked Winery South Dakota

Haha!  I bet my title got everyone interested in my latest blog!  However, it is true; sex does sell, and the Naked Winery from Hood River Oregon is using this risqué idea to sell its wines all over the country, including at the Naked Winery tasting rooms in Custer and Hill City, South Dakota.  The first franchised tasting room opened last spring in Custer.  My friend Sonja and I heard about the opening and knew we needed to be there that day for the first pouring of Naked wines.  We drove over after work thinking that we had to support any venture that promoted more wine in the Black Hills.  We also thought this tasting room sounded like a lot of fun.  We specifically said, “This place sounds like a blast; we hope the wine is quality.”  We found out it was a lot of fun…and the wine was AMAZING!  The wine was so amazing, in fact, that we decided to work a part-time job at the Custer tasting room for the summer.  A second Naked tasting room opened mid-summer in Hill City.  Both have great atmospheres, entertaining staff, and unique events.  These two new businesses continue the expanding wine boom in the Hills area.

It is true, that a few customers have been disappointed when they arrived at the tasting room and found that the wines were not produced in South Dakota but, instead, were all produced in Oregon with grapes grown in Washington, Oregon, and California.  It is also true that some people have been offended by the risqué references in the wine names and descriptions.  However, when most people taste the wine, they are very impressed with the wonderfully made wines.  Serious wine drinkers love the quality reds ranging from a Pinot Noir to a Sangiovese to a Nebiollo.  Beginner wine drinkers will like the semi-sweet whites like Riesling and Gewurztraminer.  Then there are a myriad of great wines in between!

Though some find the idea of “Naked” to be offensive, I just find it entertaining.  Not only do I not offend easily, I get the marketing perspective behind the innuendo.  The informal and (dare I say it) cool feel of the wines and tasting rooms will attract those who once thought wine drinking was too stuffy and “hoity toity”…only meant for the old and the rich.  I support any wine producer and tasting room that increases the number of wines available to drink in my small area, and I applaud any wine producer and tasting room that can appeal to those who haven’t yet been exposed to the wonderful world of wine!  So, thank you, Naked Winery in Hood River, for spreading your Naked joy to the Black Hills.  I’m thirsty now…wink.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Keeping It Local--Cap N Bottle

My second Sweet Sommelier “travel” destination is actually in my own backyard.  Okay, not LITERALLY in my own backyard, but how cool would that be to have a liquor store in your backyard?  That is a privilege I am sure I would abuse!  What I mean is this week I am writing about my hometown liquor store, The Cap ‘N Bottle.  The Cap ‘N Bottle is something of an icon on Main Street.  I actually have memories of going through its drive-through window as a child passenger with my father.  (Yes, drive-through liquor store windows are also legal in Wyoming.)  The newest owners, Wade and Tonya, have only owned the business a few months but are already putting their mark on the establishment.  Just after opening, they hosted a craft beer tasting, which even though I’m a wine drinker, I attended.  (My craft-beer loving husband really enjoyed this!)  Just last week, Cap ‘N Bottle hosted a wine and chocolate tasting.  Tonya had the original idea of the tasting in honor of Valentine’s Day, and I assisted her in choosing some wines.  The owners plan to continue these tastings monthly, and I hope they do!  Events like this are the first step to getting many people to experience wines.

Speaking of the wines, Cap ‘N Bottle has the best selection in town.  About one-third of the store is dedicated to wine, which I love!  Of course, there are your standard box wines and white Zins (that all liquor stores do need to carry), but there are also whites with producers from France to Oregon and reds from Portugal to California.  Tonya will also special order items for anyone who puts in a specific request.  That is the beauty of a small-town business! 

I look forward to the future of Cap 'N Bottle.  I know Wade and Tonya have plans for remodeling and more special events.  I hope I get to be a part of and take part in these events!  Hats off to a home-town business for spreading the love of wine to both old "pros" and amateurs alike. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Year's Resolution: Wine and 2012

For my New Year’s wine resolution 2012 (yes, I’m well aware an entire month of 2012 has already sped past but…be patient with me), I am attempting to visit more Wyoming and Black Hills wine businesses in order to promote the growing wine industry in my big, but sparsely populated, state.  In order to do this, I will be putting many miles on my new car, but it’s all worth it in the name of wine!  My caveat (and bias?) is that I am making these stops to promote wine in the name of increasing wine appreciation.  I am telling you right now there will be no secret ambush on any business with a seething review because this “critic” wasn’t happy!  I want to make people more aware of the great companies in our area that are making opportunities to get great wines even easier, often in the middle of nowhere.  Sometimes it’s hard work to get wine to half a million people spread across almost 100,000 square miles, but I am going to help any little bit I can!

To start my New Year, I traveled to the center of big, wonderful Wyoming for my first official Sweet Sommelier stop at Popular Wine and Spirits in Casper.  From the first step inside the store, I liked it!  The large, open floor plan made it so easy to see the wine.  The wine was organized by country, then varietal, then price-point.  This was a unique idea, and I can see where it would make wine buying for certain situations easier.  If I want a $25.00 bottle of California Cabernet, I know right where to start looking.  Poplar Wine and Spirits also gets kudos for having a diverse selection of American wine; many international wines, both Old World and New World; and the first Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) I’ve seen in Wyoming!  TBAs are unique and rare wines that the grapes must ripen on the vines for a very long time to reach a certain level of sugar content; it is a rarity for vineyards and wineries to have these harvests very often.  Of course, I had to buy a bottle.  Because this is a rare wine, it is much pricier than other sweet, dessert wines sold in the half-bottle size, so I’m saving this special treat for Valentine’s Day.   Once I bought this wine and a bottle of twenty-year aged Port, I decided I might as well go for a “six pack” of wine!  (Man, my job is rough sometimes, isn’t it?)

As we were checking out, I introduced myself to the owner, Michael.  He was so gracious and friendly, telling my husband and I about the new building where the store and its connected wine bar, Vintage Wine and Martini Bar, are located.  Michael then took us into the wine bar, which was yet to open for business.  (Don’t judge how early I got to the liquor store, please.)  The ambiance was so warm and inviting in Vintage; it looked to be a wonderful place for people my age (clear throat, mumble, mumble, forty-ish, mumble, mumble) to go and actually visit with others in a non-smoking environment, which is not yet law in Wyoming.  The wine menu rotates fifty wines by the glass throughout the year; it boasts up to fifteen appetizers, made on site, also rotating seasonally.  I was unable to stay until Vintage opened the day I stopped, but I will be going back soon when I can experience the full effect of the wine bar. 

So, great job Michael and staff at Poplar Wine and Spirits!  You are creating a great wine culture in my home state!  Keep up the good work.  And I promise to keep traveling to find wine spots for wine lovers to stop!