So Many Reasons to Be Thankful… Including a Wine-Filled Wedding

People holding glasses of champagne making a toastOn October 24, I married the woman of my dreams in perhaps the most “non-traditional” manner one could imagine. It’s the second marriage for each of us and we both have grown “children,” so instead of taking the flowing-white-dress-and-tuxedo approach, we decided to have a party. You can read my detailed blog on that very fun, wine-filled day here.

Of course, the first matter to be addressed was the venue, and since both of us are lifelong bowlers and count bowlers among our best friends, we opted for the lounge of a bowling center that is owned by a good friend. The beautifully decorated room accommodates 160 people for dinner with round tables.

After paring the potential guest list to that number, we invited that group of people via Facebook (for the most part — some older family members have not yet embraced social media). Then we sent out “information packets” via traditional mail so everybody would know what to expect.

The centerpiece of the day was a salute to veterans, since my bride’s dad — a long-ago bowling teammate of mine — served and was wounded in Vietnam. Bowling’s long-time charity, the BVL Fund, raises money to fund programs that brighten the lives of hospitalized vets, so we decided that in lieu of a gift registry, we would ask our guests to make a donation to BVL. (Besides, I already own a Keurig machine, so we’re good.)

We had an Italian meal served buffet-style, and on each table we placed one bottle of a fruity white wine (a multi-variety blend), one bottle of rosé, and one bottle of red wine. When it came time for toasting, a user-friendly Prosecco was brought out. And the dessert table, which was put together by long-time friends and my brother, was a big hit. You can’t go wrong with Grandma Johnson’s ginger cookies and a glass of sparkling wine.

We also had our favorite band, Incendio, perform. Their infectious mix of guitar-driven world instrumental music brought them many new fans. And, yes, a fun bowling tournament followed the concert/wedding, raising more money for BVL. It was quite a day.

Before gathering around the dinner table yesterday for the first of two Thanksgiving feasts this week, I took a moment to reflect on 2015 and the many things for which I’m thankful — a wonderful daughter, a cool son-in-law, two gregarious grandchildren and, now, a beautiful wife following a most memorable wedding.

I hope your year also has been blessed by many wonderful experiences — even if you didn’t get married. And on this long Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you’ll have some time to reflect and be as thankful as I am.

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How to Avoid Over-Imbibing on Turkey Day

Woman drinking from a very large glass of red winePlanning to shine up your best wide-brimmed stemware for the big Thanksgiving feast?

If you’re having guests who will be driving, you may want to re-think that.

Given the widely varying size of wine glasses, it’s easy for people to drink more than they think they are. In fact, studies have shown that wine poured into large, wide-brimmed glasses typically exceeds the standard pour by 12 percent.

When it comes to other adult beverages, the alcohol measurements are much more precise. Beer comes in a can or bottle in which the exact amount of alcohol being consumed can be noted. Mixed drinks typically include measured “shots” of alcohol.

Most restaurants and bars use precision when pouring wine because excessive pours impact the bottom line. But at home, relatively few people consider the size of the pour; they pour until there’s still enough room to stick one’s nose in the glass and then do a little swirling.

Both Cornell University and Iowa State have conducted studies about over-pouring, and those studies found that assessing exact volumes is challenging. In the case of wine, a standard pour, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, is 5 ounces. But if the glass is big, it’s quite common for 5.5 or 6 ounces — or even more — to be poured. And that can throw off one’s ability to assess what shape they’re in to drive.

In other words, two glasses of wine for one person may be very different than two glasses of wine for another person — depending on the size of the stemware and the person doing the pouring.

Interestingly, even the color of the wine can impact the amount of the pour. The same person will pour 9 percent more white wine than red wine. Another factor: whether the wine glass is being held or is sitting on a table. If it’s held, it receives about 12 percent more wine.

The perfect storm for over-pouring would involve pouring a white wine into a wide-brimmed glass that you’re holding in your other hand.

Be aware of your pour size this Thanksgiving. You… and your guests… may be imbibing more than you intended to.

– – – – –

We’re taking tomorrow off so that you won’t be reading blog posts at the expense of spending time with your family. But we’ll be back on Black Friday with a wine-filled message of thankfulness.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Wines to Open With the Thanksgiving Feast

Autumn place setting. Thanksgiving dinnerNo matter what some wine pundits may say, there is no one “perfect” variety of wine to accompany the Thanksgiving holiday feast.

So, what to do? Here are two basic strategies:

  1. Pour your favorite vino — regardless of its color or level of sweetness.
  1. Open up a number of different bottles, and let the diners figure it out for themselves.

If you favor the latter approach, try to make sure that one of the wines pairs well with the main course — be it turkey, ham, roast beef or a pork crown roast.

Turkey is the most “wine-friendly” of those options, as it pairs nicely with either Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Put a bottle of each on the table, and you should satisfy the preferences of most guests.

Another solid white choice would be an off-dry Riesling, while another red option would be a fruit-forward Zinfandel.

Ham is more challenging, first because it’s quite salty, and second because, at holiday time, it may also come with a honey glaze. Whether just salty, or salty and sweet, a glass of fruity Beaujolais works well. Another option is Viognier, which typically provides a nice counterpoint to the smoky quality of the ham.

Slicing roast beef for guests? Cabernet Sauvignon is an obvious choice, but you may want to opt for Merlot since it would pair better with a wider array of side dishes. (It’s also more “user-friendly” for less-experienced palates.)

A pork crown roast demands a little more attention when selecting a wine partner. As with turkey, white and red options are available. For fans of white wine, go with Gewurztraminer. If you’d prefer to serve a red, seek out varietal bottlings of or almost any blend involving Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.

Yes, food and wine pairing can be a “science.” But on Thanksgiving, all it needs to be is fun. Ultimately, it should boil down to what you, your family and your guests like.

With that in mind, here’s one more idea: When inviting people to your Thanksgiving dinner, ask them what type of wine they drink.

When we’re sipping a wine we enjoy, we have one more reason to be thankful.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

It’s Not a Good Time to Be a Turkey

Turkey TomHistorians have made solid cases that the “first Thanksgiving” meal involving the Pilgrims and Native Americans never happened.

They say the story was concocted and included in history books to “create a sense of common heritage” for the children of immigrants who were coming to America from all over the world. It seems that the tradition of having turkey on the Thanksgiving table is much less “entrenched” than we’ve been led to believe.

Still, America raises a lot of turkeys, with most of the production centered in the South, where there is a rich tradition of tobacco farming. The No. 1 enemy of the tobacco plant is the hornworm, and turkeys love to munch on hornworms as much as we humans love to munch on, well, turkeys. According to farmers, 50 turkeys can protect 100,000 tobacco plants.

Once his hornworm duties are completed, however, a turkey faces an unpleasant fate: the roasting pan. And it’s not just Thanksgiving when a turkey needs to be watching his back. Between 1970 and 2004, the average American’s annual consumption of turkey jumped from 8.1 to 17.4 pounds.

Whether that “first Thanksgiving” really happened or not, the next Thanksgiving can be extremely enjoyable when you add wine to the mix.

Which wine? We’ll have some pairing ideas for turkey, ham, roast beef and a pork crown roast in tomorrow’s blog post.

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When in Spain, Drink as the Spanish Do

WineryArtI’ve told you a little bit about my recent wedding, and some of the things that made it anything but “normal” — a live band playing a full concert in two sets, the request for donations to the Bowlers to Veterans Link charity in lieu of gifts, a fun bowling tournament, prize drawings, etc.

We also handled the honeymoon differently. We went on it before the wedding — exactly one year before. Our destinations: three locales in Europe — the Swiss Alps, Vienna and Barcelona.

We did a lot of sightseeing in Switzerland, we ate a lot in Vienna, and we drank a lot of wine in Barcelona.

Of course, some of that wine was consumed in a couple of Barcelona’s ubiquitous tapas bars. We drank some at “regular” restaurants as well. And one day, we took a tour outside the city that included a visit to a winery, as well as lunch at a restaurant where still more wine was served.

The grounds of the winery we visited weren’t as meticulously maintained as those found in the Napa Valley or Sonoma County, but there was a piece of modern artwork similar to what you might encounter on a Napa estate.

BathroomBarrelWe found it interesting that the winery building itself didn’t look like much, but that its interior was modern and immaculate. In other words, they spend their money on the important things — those involved in making delicious wines — rather than concerning themselves with making some kind of statement with their architecture.

We also were amused by how this particular winery recycled its used barrels: They remake one end and transform them into waste barrels. We took this picture in one of the winery’s public restrooms.

Although Spain’s wineries craft some delicious red wines, most of the wine we consumed there was white. We were trying to “eat light” as much as possible, so we’d always be ready for the next walking tour, and the food we typically chose was tailor-made to be accompanied by white wine.

PorkEnchiladasTrue, the pork enchiladas shown here, smothered in a delicious cream sauce, weren’t exactly low-cal. But the dish paired perfectly with a glass of Spanish Rueda, which was quite similar to the one featured in this Vinesse sampler.

We also found a number of sparkling and rosé-style wines to be just what the wine doctor ordered when we were enjoying more spicy Spanish dishes.

Lighter fare, in general, calls for lighter wines. While in Spain on our pre-wedding honeymoon, we did as the Spanish did: We drank a lot of white, sparkling and rosé wines.

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Posted in Our Wine Travel Log

What Kind of Wine Should We Bring to Thanksgiving Dinner?

Roasted Turkey on Harvest TableAs a newlywed of not quite a month, I’m dealing with a very nice conundrum: where to spend Thanksgiving Day.

Will it be at the home of my new father-in-law, or will it be at the home of my darling daughter and her family? We’re still figuring out the details, but we’ll probably spend next Thursday at one location and next Friday at the other.

And then we’ll spend next Saturday AND Sunday at the gym.

Not everyone gets to spend Thanksgiving with family, however. This is particularly true of people who may have recently relocated to a new town. Which leads us to today’s perfectly timed FAQ…

QUESTION: We’ve been invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some new neighbors in our new hometown, and would like to bring a bottle of wine to show our gratitude. What kind should we bring?

ANSWER: It depends. If you’re looking to make an impression and don’t care whether you get to share the wine with your new friends, a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon always makes a great gift.

Cabernet is not a great pairing partner for turkey or ham — it goes much better with beef — so chances are it truly will be a gift, meaning it won’t be opened that day.

Even if it turns out your new neighbors are not Cabernet drinkers, they can always re-gift the bottle and someone will get to enjoy it.

If your hope is to have the bottle opened and served with the meal, opt for a sparkling wineChampagne (from France), Prosecco (from Italy), Cava (from Spain) or a bubbly from the United States.

One more tip to encourage immediate uncorking: bring the bottle pre-chilled.

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3 Reasons Canlis Restaurant Is ‘Seattle’s Best’

pic-foodWhen a restaurant wins three awards in a city magazine’s “Readers Choice Awards,” it cannot be ignored.

And so it is with Canlis, selected by the readers of Seattle magazine as best splurge restaurant, for having the best view, and for having the best wait staff/service.

Located in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, northwest of downtown, Canlis is dramatically lit at night (as the picture on its website’s homepage illustrates), and perched on the highest hill in the city — which accounts for its “best view” award.

At many restaurants with great views, the food takes a back seat. But not at Canlis, which has been wowing locals and visitors for more than 60 years.

“That’s a long time to stay cutting edge,” the website notes. “It’s a long time to be pushing the culinary envelope. In the fifties and sixties, Peter Canlis brought the world to Seattle on a platter. Exotic food from foreign nations was ahead of the curve, and Peter even snuck Hawaiian fish onto returning PanAm flights to impress the locals. Today, local is exotic. Tomorrow, we’ll dine from an earth well cared for.

“Throughout it all, Canlis has used food as a platform to care for others. It doesn’t need to be worshiped or studied — leave that work to us. We just want you around our table, and we want to celebrate you with our cooking. Our aim is to nourish community, to nourish stomach and soul, and we can’t wait to cook for you.”

The restaurant offers a three-course meal (first course, main course and dessert) for $85, a four-course meal (first and second courses, main course and dessert) for $100, and a seven-course meal (a preset menu for the entire table to enjoy) for $145 per person.

PNW1115And here’s the part we really love: Two wine pairing choices are available to complement the tasting menu: a flight of six wines (for $85), and a “sommelier” pairing selected to showcase rare bottlings and unique producers (for $145).

Unless you have dietary restrictions, I always recommend going all-out at restaurants like this. So I’d go with the seven-course tasting menu and the sommelier’s selections. When you consider how much it costs a family of four to go to Disneyland these days, a romantic dinner for two at Canlis is a relative bargain.

You could even make it part of a long weekend or week-long vacation, as a number of wineries can be found not far from Seattle.

But if a trip to the Pacific Northwest is not in the stars anytime soon, you can still experience a taste of that beautiful region with today’s sale on Pacific Northwest Reds you can find It’s the next-best thing to being there.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Two Thanksgiving Side Dishes for the Work of One

Third-ThursdayOne of the challenges we face on Thanksgiving Day involves finding room for all those fabulous side dishes on the table.

The recipe that follows addresses that conundrum by using both Yukon gold and sweet potatoes. It’s adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook, written by Nancy Vienneau, and makes 10 to 12 servings.



  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1/4 cup butter, divided
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Sauté shallots in 3 Tbsp. melted butter in a saucepan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Stir in cream, parsley, chives, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool 15 minutes.
  1. Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice all potatoes. Combine sliced potatoes and milk in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Uncover and gently stir mixture. Re-cover and microwave 5 more minutes. Drain mixture, discarding milk.
  1. Layer one-third of Yukon gold potatoes in a well-greased (with butter) 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Top with one-third of sweet potatoes. Spoon one-third of cream mixture over potatoes, and sprinkle with 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese. Repeat layers twice, and top with Parmesan cheese. Cut remaining 1 Tbsp. butter into small pieces, and dot over top. Cover with foil.
  1. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake 20 minutes or until browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
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Where to Go for a Wine-Focused Thanksgiving

Napa-Valley-Wine-Train-Thanksgiving-tableIf you’re planning to take the year off from hosting the big Thanksgiving Day bash… or if you’re simply looking for an excuse to avoid Uncle Bill’s bad jokes… consider taking a trip to wine country.

These days, “wine country” is not all that far away for most Americans, because wine is made in al 50 states. For ideas, simply Google “wine” along with the name of your state, and chances are you’ll find a link or two to all the information you need to plan a fun long-weekend getaway.

Meanwhile, we have a few ideas suggested by members of our Vinesse tasting panel…

In Oregon, the wineries of the Willamette Valley are celebrating 50 years since the first Pinot Noir vines were planted in 1965. In the past half-century, Willamette wine country has grown from a handful of pioneering families to more than 400 wineries producing some of the world’s best Pinot Noir.

From November 27-29, more than 150 of those wineries are throwing open their doors for special tastings, live music, food pairings, holiday discounts and more. To view the full “Guide to Wine Country Thanksgiving,” go to:

Washington’s Yakima Valley also is hosting a Wine Country Thanksgiving event on the same dates. For a list of winery activities, lodging information and more, go to:

In California, the Napa Valley Wine Train will be offering a multi-course feast, including a welcome taste of wine, on Thanksgiving Day. The meal, priced from $134 to $209 per person, will be served during a three-and-a-half hour journey alongside some of the world’s most famous grapevines. For further information, go to:

If you’d prefer to eat your meal without moving, here are several other Napa Valley options:

  • MEADOWOOD — Thanksgiving dinner will be served from 12 noon to 9 p.m. in the Grill. The cost is $85/person, plus $35 for paired wines. More: 707-967-1205.
  • SILVERADO RESORT — A Thanksgiving buffet will be served in the Grand Ballroom from 12:30-4:30 p.m. for $65 per person. Also, a special three-course menu will be featured in The Grill from 3-9 p.m. for $42 per person. More: 707-257-5431. The following day, the resort will host its annual tree-lighting ceremony.
  • AUBERGE DE SOLEIL — An elegant four-course menu will be featured with several items to choose from for each course, including oysters on the half-shell, fairytale pumpkin soup, and warm croissant pudding. The menu will be offered from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and the cost is $125 per person. More: 800-348-5406.
  • SOLBAR AT SOLAGE — A four-course meal, including roasted breast and confit thigh of Diestel Farms turkey with cornbread stuffing, creamed spinach, whipped yams, and cranberry compote, will be featured from 12 noon to 8:30 p.m. The cost is $70 per person. More: 877-684-6146.
  • BOON FLY CAFÉ AT THE CARNEROS INN — Free-range Diestel turkey, butternut squash soup, sausage and herb stuffing, and pumpkin cheesecake are the big feast highlights available from 3 to 9 p.m for $55 per person. More: 707-299-4870.
  • LA TOQUE AT THE WESTIN VERASA — A three-course feast reflecting the season’s finest ingredients from a network of local farmers and purveyors, typical of the Michelin-starred restaurant’s contemporary French menu, will be served. All Thanksgiving guests will leave with one of Chef Ken Frank’s famous turkey sandwich “leftover bags.”  Available from 1 to 5 p.m. for $78 per person, plus $42 per person for wine pairings. More: 707-257-5157.
  • LUCY RESTAURANT AT BARDESSONO — The farm-fresh a la carte menu includes butternut squash risotto, Willie Bird roast turkey with brioche stuffing, and chilled pear soup among the options. The special menu will be available from 1 to 8 p.m. for $90 per person. More: 707-204-6030.
  • HURLEY’S RESTAURANT — A “traditional Turkey Day menu” will be offered, with both pre-fixe and a la carte options, from 1 to 8 p.m. for $48 per person. For football fans, there will be a “Make Your Own Bloody Mary Bar” available from 10 a.m. until noon to accompany the games on TV.
  • CELADON — A four-course, pre-fixe menu… including butternut squash and pear soup; Good Shepherd Ranch free-range turkey breast; savory stuffing with mushrooms, apples and pecans; and pumpkin or pecan pie… will be available from 3 to 8 p.m. for $65 per person. More: 707-254-9690.
  • BRIX RESTAURANT — Sonoma-raised Heritage turkey breast with confit turkey leg and mushroom and melted leek stuffing; slow-roasted porchetta; sweet potato gratin with toasted marshmallow meringue; and pumpkin cheesecake with maple chantilly cream will be served from 2 to 8 p.m. for $72 per person. More: 707-944-2749.

To the west in Sonoma County, The Heart of Sonoma Holiday Open House has become a highly anticipated event, showcasing more than two dozen wineries across Santa Rosa, Glen Ellen, Kenwood and Sonoma. This year’s 32nd annual gathering from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on November 27 and 28 offers special wine tastings, the opportunity to meet winemakers, mingling in caves and cellars, and more. Most wineries throw out all the stops, presenting live music and nibbles to accompany their wines.

For ticket information, a list of participating wineries and a special offer on lodging, go to:

If you’re looking for a Thanksgiving experience that’s out of the ordinary and certain to produce a heart full of thankfulness, head for your nearby “wine country”… wherever it may be.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

How to Know Which Wines Needs to ‘Breathe’… and Why

Pouring wine into glass and backgroundBreathe, breathe in the air

Don’t be afraid to care

Leave but don’t leave me

Look around and choose your own ground

The lyrics to the opening song on Pink Floyd’s classic “Dark Side of the Moon” album can be interpreted in a number of ways. The consensus seems to be that life is short, so one should take the time, whenever possible, to be in the here and now — or, to put it in more familiar terms, to smell the roses.

I’m sure there are a few Floyd fans out there who will take me to task about that, but so be it. Great song lyrics need not be black and white in their meaning. In fact, the occasional touch of gray can make a song infinitely more interesting.

Just as we should take time to “breathe in the air,” we also should allow time for certain types of wine to breathe. But what types? And why?

Let’s begin with what “breathing” means as it pertains to wine. Quite simply, allowing a wine to breathe involves exposing it to air for a short period of time before consuming it. This is advisable, in particular, for younger red wines possessing strong tannins that could be perceived as bitter in the mouth.

Exposure to air makes these wines — red Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, among others — more accessible because the air helps soften the tannins and alleviate the harsh impression in the mouth. It also helps the wine release its aromas and flavors in their totality.

By the way, simply uncorking the wine does little to help it “open up.” It’s much more effective to decant it, which simply means pouring it into another vessel so that all of the wine — rather than just that near the neck of the bottle — is exposed to air. The same outcome can be achieved by pouring the wine into individual glasses.

One other thing: Allowing a wine to breathe should not be confused with decanting. That process typically utilizes a vessel specifically designed for it, and involves separating any sediment that may be in the bottle from the wine. Sediment can be found in older red wines as well as younger ones in which no filtering process was used prior to bottling.

So, while decanting does allow a wine to breathe, the process normally is not undertaken for that purpose specifically.

Remember, extended exposure to air is one of the great enemies of wine. So, decant a wine or otherwise allow it to breathe only when you’re ready to drink it.

Then put on your favorite CD (perhaps “Dark Side of the Moon”)… pour a glass…. and breathe in the wine’s enticing aromas.

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Posted in Wine FAQ
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