Friendsgiving Food and Wine Pairings

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. It brings about warm feelings, and of course, much celebration. I adore spending time with my family, enjoying great food, wine, and especially the company of friends. When Friendsgiving became a thing, it felt like hitting the jackpot! The same warm, comforting celebration, but with my closest friends whom I consider my extended family.

I hopped on the bandwagon and began celebrating Friendsgiving with my friends, and each year it gets better and better. I typically host at my home a week prior to Thanksgiving, and we make it a potluck style dinner where I cook a turkey, supply the wine, and each friend brings a side dish, appetizer, or dessert. It’s an evening we all look forward to every single year.

A Warm Welcome with Cranberry Recipes and Wine

Every celebration should begin with small bites for nibbling, and the perfect wine to sip while saying your hellos, and mingling. As much as I personally love pumpkin flavors, the Massachusetts native in me always includes cranberry flavors in my Friendsgiving menus. There is so much one can do with cranberries and pairing that fruit flavor with wine is truly fun and exciting.

I particularly enjoy having cheese selections to nosh on, but one that is a bit more eclectic than a simple cheese plate. Cranberry Pecan Mini Goat Cheese Balls are full of flavor and texture and would truly pair with almost any wine you pour in your glass. The goat cheese, which is highly acidic, will smooth even the sharpest white wines, the pecans are a beautiful pairing with off-dry and semi-dry whites, and the cranberries complement the tart red fruit notes of many red wines, whether lighter-bodied or fuller-bodied. I would reach for an unoaked Chardonnay, an off-dry or dry Riesling, and a Petite Sirah, respectively.

Perhaps you prefer the warm creaminess of baked brie. An alternative option would be Baked Stuffed Brie with Cranberries and Walnuts. Pair this crowd pleaser with a more sophisticated white like a Pinot Gris from Alsace, France, or a dry Rose’ from Provence or Tavel, or even a medium-bodied Syrah/Shiraz.

I am a huge fan of cocktail meatballs, and one of my favorite styles combines the sweetness and tartness of cranberry sauce with the spicy kick of chili sauce. We all know sweet loves heat, and Cranberry Cocktail Meatballs would pair perfectly with an off dry glass of celebratory bubbly, such as Prosecco.

And a Savory Side (Dish) of Fun

Side dishes can be extremely fun and unique, and at a potluck celebration this allows each guest to get creative. I love stuffing with a little something special, like Sausage, Apple, and Walnut Stuffing, which is one of my all-time favorites. The protein portion of the dinner doesn’t need to begin and end with turkey. The savory sausage, tangy apple, and nuttiness of the walnuts in this recipe make this dish a great partner for a wide spectrum of wine styles, depending on your preference for white or red. A beautifully balanced Chardonnay from Oregon will wow your white wine lovers, and a Portuguese red blend will more than satisfy your red wine loyalists.

My Friendsgiving would not be complete without a batch of buttery Spoon Bread Casserole on the table. It’s another side dish I crave all year long. This dish is incredibly simple to make and offers all the comfort of cornbread, but with a richer, creamier, more buttery flavor. It shines with any Chardonnay, and I’d reach for either a California Chardonnay, a Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley of France, or even an Oregon Pinot Gris would be welcome pairings that wine drinkers will cling to even after that last bite. A selection of reds would also work wonderfully.


Wine holds more memories than any other beverage in the world.

JON ACUFF


Another mainstay for your Friendsgiving table is a heaping plate of Oven Roasted Root Vegetables.They’re not only beautiful and healthy, but they add satisfying textures and tastes that complement turkey and stuffing—and are as satisfying as turkey as an entree for your veggie-loving guests. My pick for the best wine pairing would be a soft, fruit forward red or a lighter-sipping Torrontés.

More Than Just Pie

Family Thanksgiving dinner is always followed by countless pies of all sorts, so for Friendsgiving, I find it fun to include non-pie desserts that still showcase autumn flavors. I’m a fan of trifles, because they are super easy to make and can be made in virtually any flavor combination you like. Pumpkin Butterscotch Gingerbread Trifle combines all the fall spice flavors we love so much in one big, delicious trifle bowl. This would be incredible with an off-dry white, such as a Riesling, Chenin Blanc, or Moscatel.

Bite-sized desserts and cookies are a great way to end Friendsgiving, as well. Viognier is an ideal complement to Gingerbread Biscotti. How could anyone refuse the coffee and chocolate combination of Coffee Roasted Pumpkin Seed Chocolate Clusters with a nice glass of Pinotage? I know I sure couldn’t!

Jon Acuff once said, “Wine holds more memories than any other beverage in the world.” How incredibly true that is! Whichever dishes and wines you choose to serve at your celebration, Friendsgiving is all about creating new memories. Cheers to family, friends and friends that are like family!

IMG_3302

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

Halloween Candy and Wine Pairings Unwrapped

When it comes to Halloween candy and wine pairings, the traditional rules of pairing don’t always apply. To be absolutely sure I was suggesting favorable pairings, I took it upon myself to gather a handful of friends, a metric ton of Halloween candy, and about a dozen different wines—and we went to town. There were some delightful surprises!

Research… it’s so hard.

Pairing Chardonnay, for example, yielded unexpected results. Typically, very sweet foods do not pair well with a dry white wine like Chardonnay. While I did find this tenet to be true for super-sweet candy like candy corn (which left a bitter taste), it was not true for two beloved Halloween staples, Almond Joy and Mounds. The coconut completely dominated the sugar and the chocolate, and matched beautifully with Chardonnay! I enjoyed the dark chocolate of the Mounds slightly better than the milk chocolate of Almond Joy, but I found both to be very pleasing pairings! As a runner-up, Butterfinger was delightful with Chardonnay—and what is Halloween without Butterfinger?

Off-dry whites are somewhat easier to pair with candy because they have detectable residual sugar and won’t clash with the sweetness of the candy. Off-dry Riesling was a big hit with fruit-flavored candy, including Starburst and Twizzlers.

Red wines are notoriously delicious with dark chocolate—and often milk chocolate. But, I wanted to dig deep and find those matches that would absolutely wow your palate. (It’s a tough job, but someone had to do it!)

Where are our Reese’s lovers? Pinotage was absolutely amazing with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups! This is one of those pairings that will make you stop and savor every delicious second. As honorable mentions, we found that Pinotage was also very pleasing with Coffee Nut M&M’s, Good & Plenty and black licorice.

Smooth and refreshing Junior Mints and York Peppermint Patties were equally wonderful with Cabernet, so I recommend a Cabernet-dominant red blend. Cabernet often displays notes of eucalyptus and even sometimes mint, which makes it perfect for peppermint and dark chocolate.

Spanish Spice! Good & Plenty and black licorice will be home run with Tempranillo/ Garnacha —a beautiful way to extract the notes of anise in these complex yet approachable Spanish blends.

Italian red paired nicely with quite a few selections of the chocolate persuasion! I recommend Montepulciano with Twix, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Coffee Nut M&M’s, and Hershey’s milk chocolate.

Let’s talk M&M’s. These days they offer every flavor you can imagine! I was curious to find which wine would pair fabulously with the original plain chocolate M&M’s and dark chocolate M&M’s. The winner was a smooth fruit-forward red. Try a Côtes du Rhône, which will pair well with the simplicity of the plain or dark chocolate M&M’s.

Last, but not least, I wanted to find some perfect matches for our serious sweet tooths out there! A fun and fizzy Lambrusco was a delight to match the sugary kick of Skittles, Twizzlers, Hershey’s milk chocolate, and plain and dark chocolate M&M’s!

Whether you’re strategically planning a Halloween candy and wine tasting party, or raiding the kids’ Halloween candy, there are plenty of wines that will make your moment of indulgence that much sweeter.

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

The Wine Lab – North Andover, MA

Scrolling through Facebook one day, I saw that a new wine bar had opened up in North Andover, which is about an hour north of me and a town I drive through all the time when I commute to work at the Traveling Vineyard corporate office. It looked like a pretty cool concept… an urban style winery that sources grapes from various places, then vinifies and bottles under their own name, The Wine Lab. I was really excited to check it out, so one beautiful fall afternoon this past weekend I took a ride up to North Andover, met up with a great friend, and got to see what The Wine Lab is all about.

The Wine Lab is located in a beautiful historic mill building that appears to be a thriving spot for local businesses. It’s a gorgeous rustic-meets-modern space with high ceilings and a large bar in the center, surrounded by many high top tables, and a cozy living room-like space with leather chairs and coffee tables. Immediately upon entering, I knew this was a place I could see myself spending many an evening with great friends.

But What About The Wine?

IMG_3045

I decided to order one of the wine flights on the menu called the Devil Flight. This flight consisted of three reds, then your choice of whichever wine you wanted for the fourth. I chose the Chardonnay as my fourth wine, and the three reds that came in the flight were a Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Sauvignon, and a Malbec. They arrived in little test tubes, a quirky and fun way to present a flight in a place that calls itself a lab, accompanied by a large empty glass for tasting. Love the creative presentation!

IMG_3043

They served them in what I thought was a strange order to serve wine in: Cab Sauv, Pinot Noir, Malbec, then Chardonnay. Naturally, I tasted them in what I believe to be a more proper order and began with the Chardonnay.

Summer Day Chardonnay was a nice basic Chardonnay. No signs of significant oak, a medium weight with good acidity. The grapes are sourced from California, and the winemaking didn’t seem to be anything special. A decent, crisp white wine that would pair lovely with a variety of foods and satisfy most white wine drinkers.

I then poured the Red Dragon Pinot Noir into my glass. These grapes are sourced from Lodi, CA and displayed a bright ruby red in the glass. The texture was super smooth with very light tannins, and this wine showed a bit of tart fruit, including cranberry, pomegranate, dried strawberry, and red raspberry. It was a bit more floral than I would expect from a Pinot Noir, and more fruity than earthy or rustic. It was a nice easy drinker that would pair with a variety of lighter foods.

Next, I tried the She Drank It All Cabernet Sauvignon, also sourced from Lodi, CA. The color was almost identical to the Pinot Noir, which I found peculiar, but the flavor and texture was even more odd. Dare I say, this Cab was even lighter in flavor and body than the Pinot Noir. I’m not sure how that can even happen, especially grown in an AVA such as Lodi where you would expect much more deep fruit and heavier tannins. This wine was incredibly floral, something else I wouldn’t expect from a Cab. This showed extremely light fruit, very light tannin, little to no oak, and notes of red plum. Missing was any herbal or eucalyptus notes I’d expect from a Cab, and certainly no deep, dark fruits. It was interesting, to say the least.

Finally, I tried the Smooth Criminal Malbec, also sourced from Lodi, CA. This was my favorite of the flight. The most tannic and structured of the reds, it was still quite smooth and soft. This had deeper fruit, although still more red fruit notes than black fruit, and almost had a bubble gum character to it you’d find in a wine that has undergone carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration.

Light Bites

We decided to split a couple of light bites, so we ordered the Antipasto Skewers and the Deconstructed Beets and Buratta. These plates were fantastic! I ordered a glass of Smooth Criminal Malbec to sip on while we snacked, and it was a perfect compliment to both appetizers.

The Wine Lab is a fabulous place to visit, and I hope it thrives for years to come. The atmosphere is welcoming and spacious, the service is top notch, and the food is incredible. I personally found the wine to be average, but certainly enjoyable. I will most definitely return in the future to enjoy more Malbec and experience more options on their menu.

Tour de France – French Wine Review

Within this past year, I became a Certified French Wine Scholar with the Wine Scholar Guild. I have always had an enormous appreciation for French viticulture and viniculture, so being able to immerse myself in studying these topics intensely was a dream come true. As much love as I had prior to my certification course, my passion for French wine has increased exponentially, and it was a thrilling ride to be able to curate and review the French wine selections for Boston Wine School‘s September 2018 Flash Sale. This tour of France is a wonderful and exciting way to understand and taste terroir in your glass, seeing the differences and nuances of various popular French wine regions, and even the differences between sub-regions!

Each of these wines are what I consider to be “food wines”. The French have mastered the art of food and wine pairing for daily enjoyment. I urge you to decant your bottle of choice and let it breathe while you prepare a delicious meal, or perhaps even a charcuterie board of meat, cheeses, nuts, olives, and dark chocolate. By the end of your food preparation, your wine should be ready to be thoroughly enjoyed as a condiment to your food of choice. Cheers!
01Benedictus02RochMillon03LePreduMoine04ChateauColombe05ChateauLaLoubiere06LeGrandChaiMedoc07JeanPierreMoueix08VieuxChateauGibeau09LeGrandChaiMontagne10DomaineMartinRasteau11LePrincedeCourthezon12GrandeReservedeGassacRouge

Rhode Island Wine and Waterfalls

A few months ago I found an article online guiding the reader through a day trip through Rhode Island that included a little hiking, several waterfalls, and various vineyards along the way. I love all of those things, so I texted my best friend Angi, we picked the date of Sunday, October 7, 2018 to go on said day trip, and we patiently awaited a new adventure. Neither of us are strangers to RI wineries in general, as we spend every 4th of July weekend in Newport, RI, followed by a day touring the RI portion of the Coastal Wine Trail. The vineyards and wineries more inland, however, were brand new to us.

The weather report wasn’t looking spectacular for our day trip, so we decided to forgo the waterfalls portion of the day and simply “do wine.” Truth be told, I’m glad it ended up this way, as it allowed more time for an extra winery visit than we had planned.

Leyden Farm Vineyards & Winery

Ang and I hopped in the car and drove about an hour south of my house, where we’d start our day at Leyden Farm Vineyards & Winery. First, let me start by saying the drive from Worcester, MA to West Greenwich, RI was simply beautiful. Rustic homes and farms, one pumpkin stand right after another, lots of small town charm, long winding back roads, and foliage that was just starting to glow. The drive itself with no destination at all would have been worth it, but alas, much wine awaited us.

Ang and I each bought a tasting, and then were instructed to go out back, choose to sit wherever we wished, and then go up to the tasting bar for each of our five selections. They had quite a bit of fruit wines, which Angi chose to taste. I tend to stay away from the sweeter styles and fruit wines when there are other options, so I went for their dry white and four dry reds, which included a Sangiovese, Merlot, “Romeo’s Red” (a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc, Cab Sauv, and Landot Noir), and a Pinot Noir. I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty certain not all of these grapes are estate grown, as many of them struggle to grow in our New England climate. What I found odd was that every single red I sampled was exactly the same bright ruby red. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Merlot such a bright shade of ruby. I should have asked more questions, but to be honest, I just wanted to taste some wine and enjoy a relaxing day with my bff! Sometimes I really need to force myself to draw the line between tasting wine for work and tasting wine for pure enjoyment. This day was for enjoyment.

What I did love was that several of their labels were pictures of dogs, and some of the wines were even named after their dogs. I think we all know how I feel about dogs! #dogmom

We enjoyed our wine on the quaint patio overlooking what appeared to be a Christmas tree farm and a lake with a fountain in the distance. It has a beautiful atmosphere and is a wonderful place to enjoy a relaxing day with people you love. We certainly could have stayed for a while and made ourselves comfy for a few hours, but there were other vineyards to see and wines to taste, so we got back in the car to head about 30 minutes north to Johnston, RI.

Verde Vineyards

Another stunning drive through winding New England back roads, and we arrived at Verde Vineyards, and incredibly quaint and rustic farm winery.  Of course the first thing I did upon arrival was hop out of the car and squeal with delight over the backyard chickens running about. I have this weird thing for birds. I love them. LOVE THEM! Chickens, ducks, turkeys, and of course parrots (I am a parront to two macaws, after all). Living in the city, I don’t really have the yard space to own my own chickens and ducks, but mark my words, when I eventually move out to the country, that’s one of the first things on my to-do list. Get chickens! Okay, back to the wine…

Before we even reached the tasting room entrance we were pleasantly greeted by two gentlemen, one of which was the owner, Giacomo (Jim) Verde. Sadly for us, they were completely sold out of white wines, so we were only able to taste the two reds. For $3 per tasting, you can’t really complain, and good for them for creating a product people love enough to buy out! Jim was proud to explain to us that Yankee Magazine had called him “the greenest vineyard in New England,” and not because his last name means green in Italian, but because his energy bill is $0. The farm creates all of their own energy. Angi and I truly enjoyed their reds, so we each walked out purchasing a bottle of St. Croix, a hybrid grape, that we will open during our annual Friendsgiving dinner and share with our closest friends. This vineyard was a charming farm that would be a delightful place to spend an entire day. Pack a picnic, grab some friends and family, head over to Verde Vineyards, buy a bottle, and just enjoy the small town feel. You won’t regret it.

It was suggested by the guys at Verde Vineyards that we add an additional winery visit to our day, and who are we to ignore a great recommendation? Back in the car it was for a quick drive north to the town of Chepachet, RI.

Mulberry Vineyards

I truly can’t get over the simple rustic beauty of every vineyard we visited. The moment we pulled up to Mulberry Vineyards, both of us fell in love. The owner, David Wright, was crushing Merlot grapes, and his wife Melissa was upstairs working the tasting bar, where she greeted us with a huge smile and warm welcome.

The Wrights are truly “living the dream.” They own and operate this gorgeous piece of vineyard property, and produce some truly delicious wines. Like most vineyards in New England, they do source their grapes from other areas of the country that are better suited for growing, and the result is some seriously high quality wines.

Alongside our tasting, Melissa gave us a little plate of the Merlot grapes David was crushing. I find this fascinating, to taste the grape at the exact brix and acidity level the winemaker desires to create the perfect wine. I thought this was such a great touch to add to the experience. The Merlot was fabulous, by the way, and I walked out purchasing a bottle to take home and enjoy.

Tavern On Main

After three fabulous wineries, we were starving, so on the way to our next winery we passed by what looked like a quaint tavern to have lunch. We had no idea what we were walking into. Usually we’ll take a moment to look up a menu online, assess the wine list, all that jazz. Not this time. We wanted to just pick a random place by the looks of it and see what we could find. Wow, were we glad we did. Tavern On Main in Chapachet, RI is one of those hidden gems you want to revisit as often as possible.

You never know what to expect on a wine list in a small town bar or grille. Actually, I take that back. I usually expect the wine list to be full of mass produced, cheap crap wine. Ang and I were pleasantly surprised to see their wine list contained two wines from the very vineyard we had just left, Mulberry Vineyards! I ordered a glass of red, Ang ordered the white, and we thoroughly enjoyed a glass of high quality, locally made wine. In addition, the menu blew us away. The menu was so diverse and had such enticing selections, it took us a bit of time to narrow it down and figure out what we wanted. The decision got a lot easier once I realized they had a seafood dish that was 100% lobster, crab, and butter. No bread crumbs, no carbs, just pure keto-friendly savory goodness. Ang and I started by splitting a bowl of steamers, and then I savored that lobster/crab/butter dish like nobody’s business. Heaven!

Purple Cat Winery & Brewery

Our final destination for this awesome day was a block or two down the road from the tavern, Purple Cat Winery & Brewery. This place is just plain fun. There was live music as we walked in, and people were enjoying tasting flights of both wine and craft beers. As if we didn’t eat enough delicious business at the tavern, for some reason I felt the need to order a charcuterie plate to enjoy with my tasting flight. I’m glad I did, as it was the perfect compliment to the nine or so wines we were able to taste, and it helped me stay away from the bowl of non-keto friendly CheezIts.

After the tasting, we decided to close the day by ordering a glass, relaxing on one of the several comfy couches, and kick our feet up. They closed at 6pm, we were still there at 6:20 (ooops), so we figured we overstayed our welcome and headed back home. Purple Cat was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed their “Trolly Car” red blend, which is what I ended up ordering by the glass.

And That’s A Wrap…

When we think about great wine regions of the world, Rhode Island isn’t one of them. In fact, no where in New England comes to mind. Despite that, what I have found is that we are incredibly fortunate to be home to many wonderful rustic farm wineries, some bigger commercial wineries, and some that are just plain fun. I don’t expect a big, bold California style Cab when I visit our local wineries, nor do I expect a grassy New Zealand style Sauvignon Blanc. What I do expect is a unique flavor, some great blends, perhaps some unexplored hybrids, a few fruit wines here and there, and truly something to be proud of. New England has it all, and wineries, vineyards, and amazing cuisine are at the top of the list. We don’t need to compete with the Finger Lakes or California, that would be ridiculous. But we can stand on our own when it comes to local flavor and charm, and appreciate it for exactly what it is.

What Is Grenache?

Grenache (pronounced gruh-nahsh) is one of my absolute favorite red grapes. The first time I sipped this varietal was as a Spanish Garnacha, and I fell in love at first sip with its deep, juicy plum and red berry flavors and soft texture. Since then, Grenache/Garnacha has held a very special place in my heart. It’s a rare day that I see it on a restaurant’s wine list and pass it over.

Grenache/Garnacha is the second most widely planted red grape in the world. If you have never heard of it, you might be wondering how that’s possible. Well, Grenache is actually one of the world’s most popular blending grapes. Although it is an absolute superstar as a single varietal wine, it is also widely blended with other grapes the world over to provide luscious fruit and to help boost alcohol levels in the finished blend.

What is a Grenache Blend?

Grenache/Garnacha is the most widely planted red grape in Spain, often blended with Tempranillo, as in Rioja, and is the base of Priorat. In France, it is part of the trio known as “G-S-M” (Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre) that makes up many popular Southern Rhône blends. Grenache is also commonly vinified as a rosé.

Grenache has it all, from juicy blackberry, plum, cherry, strawberry and currant, to spicy black pepper and licorice, as well as floral and earthy notes (think violets and rose petals over tobacco and leather), and when oaked, lends notes of cocoa and vanilla. The soft tannins lend a velvety texture on the palate that even the most fickle can’t help but fall in love with.

Grenache/Garnacha can stand up to rustic and earthy dishes with game meats, pork, and beef as well as those with tomato sauce, or even a hearty paella. Hard cheese and dark chocolate are simple pairings that will make this grape variety shine.

Cheers!
Missa
winedowntastings.com

Pumpkin Spice and Everything… Wine?

Featured Article in South Shore Senior News, October 2018

It’s that time of year again when we swap the ACs for big fluffy blankets and cuddle up in front of the fire. As the leaves begin to turn vibrant shades of crimson and gold, we wine drinkers also tend to swap the crisp and refreshing rosé and Sauvignon Blanc for varietals that are a bit more warming and weightier, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. Wine tends to be seasonal, much like food choices. I see it quite often in my experience as a wine consultant, and I am pleasantly guilty myself. There’s just something comforting about a big glass of red wine blanketed in notes of warm baking spice and sweet oak.

IMG_2858

The seasonality of your wine drinking doesn’t need to stop with what is in your glass. The food pairing you choose to accompany your wine creates a complete experience, and some of the perfect combinations might surprise you.

It seems the moment August rolls around, we New Englanders tend to begin the hunt for all things pumpkin spice. You can’t imagine the look of delight on the faces of my clients when I teach them how to pair pumpkin bread with wine! There are quite a few fuller bodied white varietals that display beautiful baking spice notes, such as nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon. One of my favorites is Viognier. A Rhone Valley grape, the fruity yet spicy wines this grape becomes is the perfect pairing for all things pumpkin and gingerbread flavored. Imagine a nice butternut squash ravioli smothered in a cream sauce paired with the perfect fuller bodied white wine that will smooth the acidity yet allow the spice to pop – that is Viognier, a true autumn delight, and the perfect alternative to Chardonnay. In fact every Thanksgiving table should have a bottle of Viognier to dazzle the white wine lovers with a varietal not so typical, but oh so delicious.

With autumn comes the comfort foods such as beef stew and mac and cheese. These heftier dishes require a wine with a full enough body to stand up to the dish without being overwhelmed. These are the foods that shine brightly when paired with your fuller bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Malbec. But why stick with what you know? Wine is an adventure, so I suggest going a little outside the box and trying a varietal you might not be familiar with, such as a Pinotage from South Africa, or Argentina’s second-only-to-Malbec red grape, Bonarda.

IMG_2853

I find as the seasons begin to change, I’m stuck somewhere in between the big whites and big reds, and often enjoy going to my old friend Pinot Noir. This lighter bodied red with smooth tannins, ripe red fruit, and often hints of baking spice and earth make the perfect pairing for lean cuts of meat and risotto dishes. Try a Pinot Noir from Oregon, and you’ll have an all new love and respect for the wines of the Pacific Northwest. Cheers to autumn in New England!

2017-0921-01

A Dog and Wine Adventure in Vermont

It has been a bucket list thing of mine to visit Vermont in October, which is kind of insane, seeing how I live in Massachusetts only a couple of hours away. I regularly visit every other New England state, but for some reason I’ve never made the effort to visit Vermont, particularly in autumn, which is my absolute favorite season. This summer I decided no more putting off until tomorrow what I can do today. Life is happening now! So I decided to do a little online research and book a short 2 day trip for my dog Peyton and myself. This would be the first of many “mommy-doggy” trips to come.

IMG_2801

Time To Hit The Road

Peyton and I took a stunningly beautiful drive from Worcester, MA heading north, through Keene, NH and northwest to West Rutland, VT. The foliage wasn’t quite at peak yet, but it was still simply breathtaking. I’ve never quite seen mountains splashed with such vibrant colors before. It was the type of drive you take when you realize life is so much bigger than what we experience in our daily routines. Seeing the mountain ranges, the farms in the valleys, the fog sitting atop the mountaintops just enough to hide them, it was something everyone should experience.

Dog Friendly Vermont

We arrived in West Rutland, VT and checked in at the Paws House Inn, which is a dog-friendly bed and breakfast. They’re so dog friendly, in fact, that they charge an extra fee if you don’t check in with a dog! We were warmly welcomed by the manager Stephanie, and Peyton made herself right at home.

IMG_2800

We got settled into our room and went for a refreshing hike at Pine Hill Park, where Peyton was greeted by a tin man. She decided to return the greeting by barking at him as if he didn’t belong there, which in all honestly, I can’t figure out why a tin man would be in the woods either. But I digress. We enjoyed a lovely hour-long hike through the trails to kick off our weekend of relaxation.

IMG_2802

Once we got back to the inn I decided against going out to dinner at one of the many dog friendly restaurants in the area and instead decided to open a bottle of California red (a Boston Wine School selection) and simply relax, taking in the crisp air, the solitude, and most of all, the quiet. We relaxed on the back deck until it got too cool to remain outside, then finished the bottle of wine inside in the cozy living room. The day and evening were perfection. No one around except the two of us, simply enjoying the quiet and each other’s company.

 

The Adventure Continues

The next morning we awoke to the sun shining brightly and very cool fall-like air, so we went back to Pine Hill Park for another quick hike. No barking at the tin man this time, apparently Peyton had made her point the day before. We returned to the inn to check out and get ready for our day of wine adventures ahead of us. This inn was so adorable and charming, I truly recommend it to anyone wanting a dog friendly getaway. Peyton and I will most definitely be returning, perhaps next time for more than one night.

IMG_2805

Whaleback Vineyard & Winery

Peyton and I hopped in the car and headed to Poultney, VT where we would visit Whaleback Vineyard and Winery. Truly in the middle of nowhere and on the New York border, this property was the epitome of family farm vineyard. When we arrived, there was a note on the door with a phone number to call, since they were out among the vines harvesting grapes. I called and a very friendly gentleman answered and came right up to the tasting room with a warm welcome. Peyton and I walked inside, where we were greeted with old farm charm. It was a large room with a table and chairs, all of their wines, and a bunch of tasting glasses. The gentleman (and owner) sat down with me, pouring me a sample of each of their wines, explained their growing and vinification process, and answered all of my many, many questions. Their flight was split 50/50 with fruit wines and North American grape wines. Not being well versed in fruit wines, I was very interested in the winemaking process, and I have to say, although fruit wines aren’t typically my thing, I enjoyed the wild apple wine so much that I purchased a bottle to bring home. I think this will make a lovely gift and really represents that local Vermont charm.

 

Peyton and I got back in the car and headed south to Jacksonville, VT. This drive was so beautiful. We weaved between mountains, farms in the valleys, rushing rivers next to the roads, splashes of cherry, burnt crimson, and pumpkin orange in the trees on the hillsides. I could have driven this route for days and still have been amazed. My favorite part of driving through the roads of Vermont was when I passed through the village centers of town. They all looked like scenes from a Hallmark movie! My mom and I always ask each other, “where do small village-like towns like those in Hallmark movies exist?” Well now I know… in Vermont! Says the city girl.

IMG_2812

Honora Winery

After almost two hours in the car, Peyton and I arrived at Honora Winery Tasting Room in Jacksonville, VT. We got out of the car and immediately heard the rushing water of a small river or large brook right out front. There was a gazebo, several picnic tables, and a pond in the back. I knew immediately we would be staying for a glass of wine and a snack after our tasting.

IMG_2808

We were warmly greeted by Stephanie, whose family owns the winery. I was able to choose 4 out of their six wines, so I chose the driest white (Chardonnay) and the three reds (Syrah, Alicante, and Petite Sirah), all of which are made from fruit sourced from Central, CA. These wines were simply fabulous. Of course they were, they’re made from California fruit! Honora does a wonderful job at vinifying this fruit, and their tasting room is so inviting I could have stayed there all day. Instead, I decided to purchase a bottle of the Petite Sirah to take home, and a glass of Alicante and a cheese plate to enjoy outside in the gazebo. Nothing says lunch like cheese and wine (and it’s keto friendly)!

IMG_2810

I am so in love with the Jacksonville, VT Honora Winery Tasting Room (there are 2 locations), that I truly can not wait to go back. The wine and cheese were so delicious, and the grounds were as New England village-like as it gets. Some time soon I will book a room at a local bed and breakfast and spend the entire day here enjoying several glasses and a picnic with some close friends. New England charm and California sourced wines, that is heaven in my book!

IMG_2809

At this point it was mid afternoon, and we had one more winery to visit on our way back home to Worcester, MA. We got back in the car for an hour and headed south. We crossed into Western Massachusetts where we entered the town of Colrain. You’d think a bordering town would be identical to the town we just left, but I noticed an immediate difference. The winding roads through the mountains were no more. It was hilly, yes, but the mountains splashed with vibrant colors were no more. Goodbye, Vermont! It was wonderful to meet you!

Mineral Hills Winery at Godard’s Red Hen Farm

Our last stop was at Mineral Hills Winery at Godard’s Red Hen Farm. I was somewhat familiar with this winery, as we had shared a booth at The Big E (Eastern States Exposition) state fair a couple of years ago when I was pouring wine samples for Hardwick Vineyard & Winery (for whom I still work). Sadly, I had yet to visit their tasting room or even try their wines! I was pleasantly surprised once I finally did.

IMG_2811

Much of their grapes are also sourced from California, which was exciting for me to try. I tried two Cabernet Sauvignons, one a 2015 and the other 2017. They were both fantastic, but the 2015 had aged beautifully in the bottle and wanted to be enjoyed now. I walked out with a bottle of the 2015 Cab and called it a day, or more accurately, a memorable adventure.

Life Is Happening NOW!

If you take anything from this account of my adventure, I hope it is this: life is happening NOW. Not tomorrow, not in 5 years, not once your kids are out of school, not once you find a significant other, but right now. You do not need the “perfect time” to cross something off your bucket list. Every day is the perfect time. No one is guaranteed tomorrow, and it is up to us to truly live our best lives every day. You don’t need to wait for others to accompany you in an adventure. You are perfectly capable of exploring the world yourself, meeting new people, and especially enjoying your own company. The relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. Nurture that relationship, honor it, and truly enjoy it. You will never regret doing the things you’ve always wanted to do but have put off time and time again. Give yourself that gift. You deserve it.