Forchini Winery: A True American Success Story

dry_creek_zin_2012From estate-grown to estate-bottled, Forchini Vineyards & Winery is a small, family owned and operated winery committed to making distinctive wines from historic vineyards in the Dry Creek and Russian River Valley appellations of Sonoma County.

Having been grape growers in Sonoma County since 1971, the dream of creating wines from their own vineyards finally became a reality for the Forchini family in 1996. That year, in a small barrel room, 425 cases of wine were produced. Annual production today is limited to 3,000 cases of wine, which are consistent medal winners in major wine competitions.

“You will taste the love of the land and grape in every bottle of Forchini wine,” a family spokesperson says.

Dedication to the environment is a top concern at Forchini. Sustainable vineyard practices that minimize pesticide usage are employed in all of the family’s vineyards, and composting of winery pomace has been a tradition for decades. Solar power is generated for winery buildings and vineyard pumps, while goats and sheep are pastured in the vineyards during winter for cover crop control and soil rejuvenation.

Owners Jim and Anita Forchini first came to Sonoma County in 1963 from Southern California, where Jim had been working as a mechanical engineer, writing contracts and executing procurements for NASA spacecraft programs.

From 1963-1976, he worked in Sonoma County, performing product development for two major manufacturing companies. It was during this period that he gradually developed an interest in viticulture — the result of his Italian heritage, being exposed to the surrounding vineyards, and making wine with friends.

With this growing interest, in 1971, Jim and Anita invested in a 24-acre ranch in the Russian River Valley, which had a mix of old grapevines and prunes. They soon became immersed in the renaissance of the Sonoma County wine industry, which was upgrading from generic vineyards and prune orchards to premium varietal winegrapes.

After acquiring an additional 20-acre vineyard property in Dry Creek Valley in 1973, Jim was approaching a career crossroads. Torn among the demands of private industry, a growing family of three children, and operating two vineyards, he decided to make a career change in 1976. He became a full-time winegrower, with the dream of one day building a small winery.

The family traded up to acquire 67 acres in Dry Creek, maintained its 24 acres in the Russian River Valley, and devoted extensive time and effort in replanting both vineyards to premium varietal grapes, while preserving some of the older Zinfandel vines.

In 1996, the time was right to build the long-desired winery. Jim took several courses at U.C. Davis and did extensive self study. The family’s first year production of 425 cases of estate Dry Creek Zinfandel won a gold medal in the West Coast Wine Competition, and the winery was on the map.

Over the next four years, production increased to 3,000 cases, a level at which it remains today. Forchini Vineyards & Winery now produces six estate-grown and bottled wines.

The Chardonnay is crafted from grapes grown in the Russian River Terrace vineyard, located near the river. This site provides a cool climate with late-breaking summer fog that promotes extended hang time for optimum balance in grape sugar/acid ratios.

“Papa Nonno” is a unique blend of varietal grapes fermented together with a small amount of heirloom whites to produce a dry, fruity wine in a style similar to the Chianti wines of Tuscany.

“BeauSierra” is a Bordeaux-style red table wine made from multiple varieties.

“Old Vine” Zinfandel is produced from 100-year-old, non-irrigated, head-pruned vines grown in the family’s Dry Creek Bench Vineyard. These stubby, gnarled vines are a living testament to their endurance, resulting from the unique combination of an old clone grafted to St. George rootstock.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on the elevated eastern bench land of the valley, and is hand picked to ensure quality.

And Pinot Noir is produced from the Russian River Terrace vineyard, where the microclimate is ideal for this early-ripening varietal.

In an ever-more-corporate wine world, Forchini Vineyards & Winery remains family owned and operated. Jim is the winemaker, Anita handles the office, son Andrew (featured in the photo above) is the vineyard manager, and other family members help out part-time.

It’s a real American success story.

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Forchini Vineyards & Winery is located at 5141 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, CA 95448. It’s open Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and other days by appointment. Call 707-431-8886 for directions or other information.

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Posted in Wineries of Distinction

A Wine Book That Stands the Test of Time

winewarSummer may be over, but you still have time for some good “summer reading.”

Although it was published in 2002, Wine and War remains one of the best wine-focused tales ever told.

As Library Journal noted, the book recounts “the dangerous and daring exploits of those who fought to keep France’s greatest treasure out of the hands of the Nazis. Whether they were fobbing off inferior wines on the Germans, hiding precious vintages behind hastily constructed walls, sabotaging shipments being sent out of France, or even sneaking people out of the country in wine barrels, the French proved to be remarkably versatile when it came to protecting their beloved wine.”

I read Wine and War when it first came out, and picked it up again this past summer. Over a long weekend in Michigan wine country, before and after winery visits, I read it all the way through… and enjoyed it just as much.

One of the good things about being “a certain age” is that you can re-read books, and it’s almost as if you’d never read them in the first place.

Last I checked, Wine and War is still available through I suggest reading it with a glass of wine — perhaps a nice red Bordeaux — within arm’s reach.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Notes and Quotes of a Vinous Variety

iStock_000005364409XSmallTime for a clearance of notes, quotes and other vinous miscellany that, in their various forms, are threatening to gather dust on my desk or overload my hard drive. (Yes, I know about the cloud…)

  • “Wine is a living liquid containing no preservatives. Its life cycle comprises youth, maturity, old age and death. When not treated with reasonable respect, it will sicken and die.” Know who said that? None other than legendary cook/chef/author/TV host Julia Child (R.I.P.).
  • It’s promoted as Southern California’s largest wine and food festival, and the 2014 edition is scheduled for November 17-23. It’s the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, and details are available online now:
  • There may be no better restaurant in Southern California for a romantic meal — especially at sunset — than 21 Oceanfront in Newport Beach. With stunning views of the historic Newport Pier, an array of seafood entrees and a well-selected wine list featuring more than 300 choices, 21 Oceanfront is reminiscent of a private supper club. A perfect choice for special occasion dining. For more information, go to:
  • Chevre is the French term for cheese made from goat’s milk. Because of its herbaceous and somewhat wild flavor, it pairs well with a wide array of wines. Among the most sublime pairing partners are Albarino, Riesling and creamy Chardonnay.
  • You probably don’t think of Iran as “wine country.” But it was within that country’s borders that evidence of the world’s oldest wine (made from grapes) was recovered. The find took place in Iran’s Zagros Mountains.
  • Looking for a different wine-touring experience? One of our favorite wineries in Sonoma County, Gundlach-Bundschu, takes visitors on estate tours on a vehicle called a Pinzgauer, which may fall into the ATV category (we’re really not sure!). You can view a picture of the vehicle and learn more about the winery’s tour program here:
  • And finally, Bunny Finkelstein, co-owner of Judd’s Hill Winery, located on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail, once made this observation: “Making wine is like having children; you love them all, but boy, are they different.”
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Posted in Editor's Journal

Another Sauvignon Blanc-Friendly Recipe

sauvblancIn yesterday’s blog, we talked about how challenging it is to pair wine with asparagus, and offered Sauvignon Blanc as a world champion pairing partner.

But without some help, you may well have some leftover wine. What to do with that other half-bottle of Sauvignon Blanc? Serve it with this tantalizing dish (which also matches nicely with Torrontes and Viognier).

This recipe yields 4 servings.



  • 3/4 cup uncooked orzo
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, divided
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs. large sea scallops
  • 3/8 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 3/8 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/3 cup Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Torrontes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme


  1. Prepare orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Return to pan. Stir in 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, olive oil, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Keep warm.
  1. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle scallops evenly with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Coat scallops with cooking spray. Add scallops to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove from pan and keep warm.
  1. Combine wine, shallots and vinegar in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes, or until liquid reduces to 1 tablespoon. Reduce heat to low. Add butter cubes, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition until butter is fully incorporated.
  1. Stir in 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.
  1. Serve scallops with sauce and orzo.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Asparagus Challenge… and the Wine Solution

bunch of raw, green asparagusThe herbaceous nature of asparagus makes it among the more challenging foods to pair with wine.

Even white asparagus (the result of applying a blanching technique while the asparagus shoots are growing), which is extremely popular in parts of Europe, presents a paring challenge despite its not-quite-as-bitter flavor profile.

The best food and wine pairings require some similarities between the food and wine. Because it often exhibits an herbaceous quality of its own, Sauvignon Blanc — the featured varietal in today’s Cyber Circle sampler— has proved to be a reliable pairing partner for asparagus.

Try Sauvignon Blanc with this dish, and see how the herbal character of the wine complements the assertive flavor of the asparagus.

This recipe yields 8 servings.



  • 1 (16-oz.) package dried penne pasta
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • ½-cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bunch slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • ¼-cup Parmesan cheese


  1. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente (about 8 to 10 minutes). Drain, and set aside.
  1. Warm 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in chicken, and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  1. Cook until chicken is cooked through and browned (about 5 minutes). Remove chicken to paper towels.
  1. Pour chicken broth into the skillet. Then stir in asparagus, garlic, and a pinch more garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  1. Cover, and steam until asparagus is just tender (about 5 to 10 minutes). Return chicken to skillet, and warm through.
  1. Stir chicken mixture into pasta, and mix well. Let sit about 5 minutes.
  1. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, stir again, then sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

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Tomorrow: Another Sauvignon Blanc-friendly recipe — to help you finish off the bottle!

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Napa Valley Film Festival: Ready! Set! Drink!

mbenztheaterThe bucolic Napa Valley may be the last place you’d expect to encounter a Hollywood-style red-carpet premiere.

But for five days in November (the 12th through the 16th), California’s most famous wine region will play host to the Napa Valley Film Festival, described by organizers as “the ultimate celebration of film, food and wine.”

NVFF features more than 125 new independent films and studio sneak previews, screening in a dozen venues in four walkable villages. Some 250 visiting filmmakers and celebrities will interact with audiences at the various screenings and intimate events.

There will be film panels, culinary demonstrations, wine tasting pavilions, a Festival Gala, celebrity tributes, an awards ceremony, and an array of parties, VIP receptions and winemaker dinners.

For those of us who love wine, the festival’s wine pavilions are the place to be during the afternoon hours. Here’s a look at this year’s pavilion schedule:

  • Mixologist Takeover: Shake, Stir and Sample — Thursday, November 13 at 2:30 p.m., Yountville.
  • Calistoga: Downtown Tasting Room Wineries — Friday, November 14, 2:30 p.m.
  • Next Generation — Friday, November 14, 2:30 p.m., St. Helena.
  • Crusher Wine District — Friday, November 14, 3 p.m., Napa.
  • Stags Leap District House of Cab — Saturday, November 15, 2:30 p.m.
  • Rutherford Dust Society Exhibition — Sunday, November 16, 2:30 p.m.
  • Spring Mountain District — Saturday, November 25 at 2:30 p.m., St. Helena.

As seen on the festival’s website, here’s a look at NVFF by the numbers:

  • 5 days
  • 12 screening venues
  • 125 films
  • 300 filmmakers
  • 50 chefs
  • 150 wineries

If you’re reading this blog, we know you love wine and food. If you’re also a film buff, the Napa Valley Film Festival is a must-attend event. To learn more about the 2014 festival, and to view the 2013 festival’s “sizzle reel,” click here:

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Yountville Becomes Even More Enticing

Friends sitting on the grass, enjoying an outdoors music, culture, community event, festival.As more and more people seek to have not only vacations, but experiences, California wine country is becoming an ever more popular destination as individual wineries, winery groups and others plan an ever expanding array of special events — i.e., experiences.

This came to mind when the following question was sent in… and the answer demonstrates that the experiences in “wine country” need not be limited to tasting wine.

QUESTION: We know that there are many opportunities to hear live music in California wine country during the summer. But we’re planning a visit next spring, and were wondering if you know about any concerts planned then.

ANSWER: Although artists have not been announced as this blog was written, we just heard about an event that sounds like it’s going to be a winner. It’s called Yountville Live, and it’s scheduled for next March 19-22 in the Napa Valley town of Yountville.

Here’s how it’s described by event organizers:

“Yountville Live is the ultimate, luxury getaway event, featuring exclusive performances from some of today’s hottest recording artists, exquisite foods from world-class restaurants and award-winning chefs, and a unique variety of some of Napa Valley’s most celebrated wineries.

“This super-luxe weekend is the perfect combination of premium entertainment and epicurean experiences with all of the luxury and sophistication that the Napa Valley has to offer, for guests who appreciate the art of living well through discovery and exploration.”

You can get more information here.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

A Passion for Pinot Noir

iStock_000008957470LargeMore than any other variety, Pinot Noir transforms perfectly normal winemakers into seemingly obsessed craftsmen and craftswomen.

It doesn’t happen with Cabernet Sauvignon, nor with Merlot, nor Sangiovese. Makers of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc rarely are candidates for the “Dr. Phil” show.

But Pinot Noir… it’s like the mistress that a man doesn’t want but simply can’t resist.

I’ve written about the mystery and magnetic power of Pinot Noir often through the years, but one story in particular tells the story best and has stood the test of time. It was written for the May 7-13, 1998 edition of the Sonoma County Independent, and I’d like to share it with you here…

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Few wines of the 1970s compared in quality to the Insignia bottlings from Napa Valley’s Joseph Phelps Vineyards. The blend would change from year to year — a little more Cabernet one year, a touch more Merlot the next — but the resulting wines always were aromatic, rich, flavorful and memorable.

Those legendary Insignia bottlings were crafted by Walter Schug, a native of Germany who grew up on a wine estate in the Rhein River Valley. Schug’s home was unique in that it was the only Pinot Noir estate in a region known for producing world-class Riesling. Schug fell in love with Pinot Noir at an early age, and in 1959 moved to the United States in hopes of making his mark with that variety.

While making wines at Phelps, Schug gained experience with all the traditional Bordeaux grapes, produced highly touted blends of Insignia even in challenging vintages, and also gained a reputation for making fine Riesling. Phelps’ wines were receiving worldwide recognition, and Schug’s star was rising.

Despite his success, however, Schug was not happy. “At Phelps,” he asserts, “I was making just about every kind of wine you could think of, except the kind I wanted to make: Pinot Noir. I insisted on making Pinot Noir, and literally had to leave my job in order to do it.”

He left Phelps in 1983, founded his own winery, and in 1991 moved the operation to Sonoma County’s Carneros appellation on the Napa border. “I admit that, in the beginning, we had to make a lot of Chardonnay to pay for my ‘hobby,’” Schug recalls. “Back then, our production was about two-thirds Chardonnay and one-third Pinot Noir. Today, it’s just the opposite, and all the growth we’ve enjoyed (from an initial 8,000 cases to 20,000 cases in 1998) can be credited to Pinot Noir.”

Why would an experienced winemaker with a worldwide reputation for making one of America’s great red wines chuck it all to concentrate on a varietal like Pinot Noir — a grape viewed by many vintners as “difficult” with which to work?

“I am interested in delicacy and finesse,” Schug explains, “and there is no wine that portrays those qualities better than Pinot Noir. True, knowing exactly when to pick Pinot Noir can be a challenge because the flavor components don’t always match up with the sugar levels. True, it’s a grape that requires special handling; it doesn’t like to be beat up. But harvested at the right time and handled gently, it can produce aromas and flavors unequaled in any other wine.”

Schug says he makes his wines in the European style, which may explain why, in the early years, he found it easier to sell his wares to people on the East Coast. “People in the East cut their teeth on European wines, especially French, and that’s the style we have been making from the beginning,” Schug says.

What is meant, exactly, by a “European” style?

“Every European winemaker, myself included, grew up believing that a wine should express both its varietal characteristics and its regional characteristics,” he says. “That means the wine should stand on its own, without the various winemaker embellishments, so the flavors of the fruit are foremost.”

That’s not to say that Schug is an opponent of oak barrels; in fact, more than 500 such barrels line the walls of the Schug Winery’s underground caves. He simply believes that oak should provide an enticing nuance to a wine, not a dominant flavor.

“We use only 15 to 20 percent new oak barrels each vintage, and store the rest of the wine in barrels that are anywhere from 2 to 6 years old,” Schug says. “We also use intermediate-sized cooperage [larger casks] to age some of our wine. In this way, we always end up with wines which are very fruit-forward and a true expression of where they came from.”

These days, more of Schug’s Pinot Noir grapes are coming from his own estate vineyard, near Highways 116 and 121 on Bonneau Road in Sonoma. He also purchases grapes from other vineyards, one of which dates back 40 years.

Schug always has viewed his winery as a family business. His wife, Gertrude, also comes from a winemaking family, and their son, Axel, hopes to one day carry on the family’s winemaking heritage. Meanwhile, Schug is content to finally be able to fulfill his lifelong dream of making world-class Pinot Noir. “This is our love and our hope,” he says earnestly. “It truly is a family business. It’s our life.”

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Since 16 years have passed since that story was written, I thought it might be wise to share an update from the Schug website

“After an initial career working in hotels, Axel Schug joined the winery at age 25 and became Sales and Marketing Director, based in the Carneros offices. Axel is currently the Managing Partner for Schug. He continues to travel across the country to promote the family brand.

“Axel’s wife, Kristine Schug, is the Winery Chef at Schug. Her early experience in local restaurants helped develop her passion for food and wine pairing. She caters for special events and dinners at the winery, contributes to the newsletter and has created over one hundred recipes to pair with Schug wines.

“Sadly, Gertrud Schug passed away in 2007, but the desire to create wonderful wines at the Family Vineyards continues on.

“Walter Schug continues to travel frequently, keeping in touch with the ever-changing wine market both in America and abroad. With Michael Cox on board as Winemaker, Walter now holds the title of Winemaster Emeritus and uses his experience of more than half a century to provide guidance to the Schug team.”

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I share the Schugs’ passion for Pinot Noir, and have enjoyed all but two vintages of their wines since 1998. That passion also is shared by the winemakers of the bottlings featured in today’s Cyber Circle offering — one from the Schugs’ home county of Sonoma, one from Monterey County, and one from France.


Three delicious, food -friendly Pinots with remarkable layers of complexity and red fruit-centric flavor profiles on sale together for a limited time.  It’s no wonder they’re one of our most popular collections.  Find out more and order yours now by clicking here.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Wine Alternatives for Chips and Salsa

Tomato SalsaWe’re entering week six of the 2014 NFL season, and that can mean only one thing: It’s time for chips and salsa.

Okay, it could mean many more things as well, but I happen to be hungry as I write this blog.

Many people would add a third item to that “list,” making it chips, salsa… and beer. However, beer need not be your only adult beverage choice to accompany this spicy treat. You have options.

Wine options.

The challenge presented by salsa, not to mention Mexican and Southwestern cuisine in general, is its intense flavor, typically the result of using chilies and cilantro in the preparation.

Chilies, in particular, can play havoc with one’s taste buds and, by extension, the wine-pairing possibilities.

“We are the only species on Earth that seems to enjoy the pain response caused by capsaicin, the active ingredient in chilies,” writes Barb Stuckey in her book, Taste What You’re Missing (Simon and Schuster, $26).

Stuckey cites research involving rats, conducted by Paul Bozin. What he discovered was that rats could build up a tolerance for spicy food but, if given a choice, would opt for bland over spicy. Many humans, on the other hand, seem to seek out heat in their food — the hotter the better. And this is resulting in hotter salsas than in the past.

Sparkling wine, given its high acidity that refreshes the mouth, is a go-to choice for spicy food in general. But when it comes to salsa, three other types of wine also can work well: other high-acid wines, those that have a touch of sweetness and are quite “fruity,” and wines with plush, jammy textures.

Among high-acid wines, Sauvignon Blanc, particularly when aged in stainless steel tanks as opposed to oak barrels, makes a solid salsa companion. The variety’s herbal flavors also mesh well with the flavor of many chilies.

Among slightly sweet — typically referred to as “off-dry” or “semi-sweet” — wines, look for California or Texas renditions of Chenin Blanc or Riesling.

And when it comes to plush, jammy wines, nothing beats California Zinfandel — red Zin, that is, not the ultra-sweet blush wine known as White Zinfandel. The bigger and bolder the Zin, the better, as its big berry flavors seem to dance with a salsa’s chili spice.

Are you ready for some football? Fasten your seat belt, because the season is just kicking into high gear, and you’re going to need plenty of wine to get your through the playoffs.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Putting a Long-Held Wine Theory to the Test

Vineyards in Getaria, GipuzkoaI have heard it said many times, and it may well be your experience: Wine tastes best when it’s consumed in its place of origin.

Italian wines taste best in Italy. German wines taste best in Germany. American wines taste best in America. You get the idea.

As the theory goes, wine evolves in each place it’s made based on the culinary preferences of the inhabitants. In Italy, for example, red wines are dominant, and many believe that’s because so many Italian dishes involve either red meats or red sauces. Over time, grape growers and winemakers adjusted their production to create affinity on the dining room table.

Likewise, in Germany, where lighter fare such as schnitzel is a treasured dish, the wines tend to be lighter in style. You see far more schnitzel-complementary white wines there than red wines.

America? Well, a case could be made on either side of the contention, given the sheer number of wineries and the wide spectrum of regional cuisine. That said, you do see a lot of Zinfandel grown in California’s Central Coast appellation of Paso Robles, not far from the tri-tip capital of the world: Santa Maria. And in Oregon, where Pinot Noir is the star variety, you see a great many restaurants with Pinot-friendly salmon on their menus.

So, is this theory valid? Does wine taste better where it’s made?

Well, I’m going to put the theory to the test this month. After about 20 years of saving up air miles, I have cashed them in and am heading with my fiancée to Spain, Switzerland and Austria. In Barcelona, Engelberg and Vienna, we will drink local wines with local food, recommended by the restaurateurs. And we will take lots of notes so that I may share the results with you in future blogs.

This is one “test” I can’t wait to take.

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Posted in Editor's Journal
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