Impressions from the 2013 Wine Blogger Conference

Back from my 5th Wine Blogger Conference, held this year in Pentiction, BC, I find myself again inclined to ruminate on what I learned, saw, drank, ate, etc., while spending 4 days in a new-to-me wine region.  Simply because I am tired of repeating myself, please see, in particular, #s 4, 8, and 10 from last’s year’s retrospective on the conference.  Those items still stand for me as takeaways from this conference. And every other WBC I’ve attended.  Despite some of those complaints (and positives), I will be back to attend the 7th annual WBC in Santa Barbara next July.

1.) I no longer look like my picture. After 6 years, this is the first time not a soul made that comment to me. So either I’ve changed quite a bit (possible since I have brown curly hair now…) and I need to update my photo or I’m simply not as present on social media as I used to be. My best guess is a combination of the two. I vow to be better about both things, updating the photo and being more active on Twitter.

View from Summerhill Winery

2.) We could not have asked for a more picturesque place to hold the conference. The Okanagan Valley is simply stunning. Not to mention, the weather cooperated beautifully and the days were sunny, breezy and delightful. I stayed in two locations while in the area, Kelowna and Pentiction. While I can’t choose a favorite, each had its strengths. I’d highly recommend the Manteo Resort in Kelowna for families. I stayed in  a “villa” on the property (basically a townhouse) that had a full living area, separate full kitchen, laundry facilities, 2.5 baths, and 2 bedrooms. The resort offered water sports, pools, playgrounds, a fantastic restaurant, and proximity to many vineyards. At Penticton Lake Resort, I’d think singles or couples would find it more appealing. While still offering water sports, a pool, and proximity to vineyards, it had multiple restaurants, bars, a club, a casino, and more typical hotel style rooms. Both beautiful properties, I’d happily return to either.

3.) That said, a major bummer of the conference turned out to be the inability to bring wine home and being unable to get the wines in the States. You pretty much have to go to BC to taste and drink BC wines. I took home the legal number of bottles (without having to pay extra duty, that’s 2) so I’m pleased to have two (plus 2 others I paid duty on) of my favorites to taste with Mr. Wannabe Wino, I’m disappointed to not be able to get anything else I tasted.

Bee-keeping at Tantalus Vineyards

4.) If you make it to the area, check out Tantalus Vineyards. Hands down my favorite stop of the trip, both for the food, the wine, and the experience. I have a nifty video of the bee keeping demonstration we were treated to ready to post when I figure out how to do so. Two of the wines I brought home, I purchased at Tantalus, including an interesting sparkling brut riesling.

5.) The smaller nature of this year’s conference truly appealed to me. It reminded me more of the first 2 years of the conference. I had time to talk to people. We had many events together. It was more intimate. I made new friends this year. I fully understand the conference is a business, however, at the end of the day, it needs to remain appealing and useful to those who attend. When attendance is almost double what it was this year, that gets lost.

6.) Wines of Uruguay! Wines of Uruguay! Wines of Uruguay! Get them any way you can. Even if you have to mud wrestle an Uruguayan for them since they drink most of the wine they produce. Especially the Albariño from Bouza. Stunning wine.

7.) The conference was over-scheduled. Again, I understand that this is a money-making venture. I also understand that I am in no way obligated to attend every event. However, having scheduled events running until 11 pm every night is just too much. Some people actually want to go to bed earlier than that and may miss out on something they’d really like to attend simply by virtue of the fact that they don’t want to be exhausted for the next day of the conference. This particularly struck me on Friday, when we went on our excursion and then were bused immediately to an event over an hour from the hotel with no option to return to the hotel without attending, then had to await buses to take us back. I was wet (more on this later), exhausted, and wanted to leave, but didn’t end up being able to get on a bus home until 10:30 and didn’t arrive back to the hotel until almost midnight. The event the next morning started at 7:15. That’s not enough sleep.

8.) Since I’m recommending wines, here’s one from another region that caught my attention: the 2010 Kacaba Reserve Cabernet Franc.  If you ever get to the Niagra wine region, you should most definitely look Kacaba up. Worth it alone for the Cabernet Franc.

Brodo Kitchen’s chef makes us eggs in the park

9.) A small list of places to eat for sure if you make it to either Kelowna or Penticton: Waterfront Wines (holy cow can that man make a gourmet waffle and poach an egg), Smack Dab (the focus on local beers, with at least 15 on tap, totally won me over), Brodo Kitchen (in Penticton, no website, but they had fresh strawberry juice that rocked my socks), The Cupcake Lady Cafe (don’t be fooled by the name, the breakfast crepes were drool-worthy), The White Apron (fresh made ham and cheese croissants, think pain au chocolat but with ham and cheese), and Hooded Merganser (duck breast poutine, need I say more?).

10.) Go visit Craig Camp at Cornerstone Cellars. I know I’ve said it before, but he’s sincerely one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure of associating with, and his wines are damn good.

Wish I’d Had My Camera

Last night we went out to celebrate Matt’s birthday.  We headed to the Lebanese Taverna, one of our favorite go to places for good food and great value.  We’ve probably been there about 100 times in the nearly 5 years we’ve been in the area…what can I say, our first apartment was only a few blocks away!

I’ve always thought the restaurant had a solid wine list–they have a variety of interesting selections from all over the world, including a large selection of Lebanese wines which I think is pretty cool.  They also change the list up regularly, so it stays fresh, and it’s pretty user friendly for folks who may not be wine geeks.  The wines are listed by type and then style, so crisp and light and lush and full are two white wine categories.

Last night, I noticed a new addition. Next to several of the selections, in red ink, so it sttod out, were designations: Organic, sustainable, and bio-dynamic.  Interesting. I’ve never seen that before and I wonder if most (if any) folks would really know what “bio-dynamic” meant if they saw it.  Hey, who knows, maybe bio-dynamic will enter the popular wine lexicon…

Farrah Olivia+ The Next Iron Chef

We first visited Farrah Olivia in Old Town Alexandria with my dad. We didn’t know anything about the place, but it was late, we were hungry, and it looked open. So we walked in around 9 at night and were seated immediately. I can say that such an occurrence is no longer a possibility since after we had been there, the owner and chef, Chef Morou, appeared on the Food Network show: The Next Iron Chef. It has been impossible to get reservations there ever since it aired, though I must admit, we were strangely excited when we saw that he was a contestant because we could actually say we had been to his restaurant. Though ultimately he did not win, his restaurant is still top notch in our book!

We started the evening with one of the cheese course, this time the Vermont Cheese selection which came with bread crisps, several blue cheeses, honey, and popcorn. Our first wine for the night was a 2006 Stellenbosch Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa that had a screw cap, clocked in at 13.5% alcohol by volume, and was on the wine list for $30. It was light and crisp with lemons, green apples, and apricot. The cheese course really enhanced the tart lemon in the Sauvignon Blanc. I was impressed the wine list had a bottle on it for $30.

Next we were served the amuse bouche for the evening which was a carrot flan with a fig balsamic vinegar reduction. Now, I’m not a carrot person, not am I a balsamic vinegar person, but this was excellent! Also served before our meal was a selection of breads accompanied by a quartet of spreads: an olive tapendade, honey butter, sundried tomato, and bok choy. The bread was excellent and the honey butter was fabulous.

For my entree I chose the domestic pork loin with orange sauce, my dad had the grilled halibut, and Matt had the duck breast. Everyone was thrilled with their entrees, and highly recommended them. The presentation was excellent, and the pork loin was perfectly cooked. I loved the orange sauce.

Finally, we finished with another cheese course for dessert, the semi soft cow’s milk cheese, Thomasville Tomme from Georgia. My dad, being a Port man, chose a Tawny Port from the dessert wine menu, while both Matt and I went with Ice Wein. We chose the 2003 Meinklang Soleil Pinot Blanc from Austria. It was priced at $7 a glass (cordial size). The wine smelled of candied honey and apricots, will in the mouth it tasted like honeyed nectar. It was viscous in the glass, and sweet, but still balanced.

I would highly recommend Farrah Olivia, but be prepared to drop $25+ per entree for dinner. Though I will say, the wine list was really quite reasonable. This is definitely a restaurant I would (and have tried!) to return to.

Tagged Again!

I was recently tagged by my new friend Foodette to do a new meme. Foodette writes the blog Restaurant Review World, all about restaurants around the Los Angeles area. Since Matt’s family lives in the LA area, I will be certain to check out her picks on the next trip out there, and if you live in LA or are visiting, be sure to stop by her blog!

So this meme asks me to pick my 5 favorite restaurants in my city. I had to think about this one for a while. DC and Northern Virginia have a ton of fantastic restaurants and I love lots of them for different reasons. To combat that, I’ve decided to stick to restaurants that are affordable on our everyday budget and offer great service and food for the money. My first pick was easy:

1.) I love Pizza Paradiso. There are two locations in DC and each one has its charms. The location in Dupont Circle is tiny, really tiny. If you go on Friday or Saturday night, be ready to wait for one of the 8ish tables or to sit at the bar (which is actually great as it’s right in front of the oven and you can watch them toss and cook the pizzas in the open brick oven). In Georgetown, the location is much bigger, but be prepared for lots of college students to be there. My favorite thing to eat there is the Pizza Paradiso with fresh buffalo mozzarella and fresh tomatoes. Be sure to check out the huge beer selection (sacrilege, I know, but it’s seriously good) and try the tiramisu!

2.) My second pick is also Italian (I love Italian food, my grams is a tiny little Italian woman who is the best cook!) and would be the Odeon Cafe. It holds a special place in my heart as we ate there the night we got engaged. (Insert sappy moment here.) The food is always excellent, the portions are big and the service is great. The Odeon Cafe is also located in Dupont, we used to hang out there quite a bit when Matt first arrived in DC. I recommend the bruschetta, but be sure to request it with fresh mozzarella as it is billed with just tomatoes! The olive oil dip on the table is to die for to put your bread in and the four cheese fettucini is my favorite. Good prices, always a seat available, and a special memory for me, I can’t ask for more.

3.) Next would be the Lebanese Taverna. The first time we went was to the one in DC near the National Zoo. Matt had to drag me kicking and screaming but now I can’t get enough. I love everything we have there, we even went twice last week! My favorite appetizer is the Jibneh Halloum, which is salty, delicious Lebanese cheese served with olives, tomatoes and onions. My favorite dish is the Shwarma, the house special, perfectly cooked slices of lamb and beef over a bed of rice pilaf. There’s always a seat available and the service is impeccable.

4.) It hasn’t gotten such great press, but Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City, Arlington certainly makes my list of great affordable places to eat. Our bill here is the best part. We rarely spent over $60 for 2 meals, an appetizer and a bottle of wine. For DC, that is fantastic! The wine list is pretty good, the service is really the most attentive I have ever seen and I really like all the pastas I have tried. Go for the sausage in orange sauce with cheese appetizer and be sure to stock up on the yummy bread.

5.) Last but not least is a recent affordable and fun place, one that’s perfect for a quick, cheap weeknight meal. Mackey’s Public House in Arlington. Things I love about Mackey’s: the first time we went we had 5 pitchers of beer and it only cost us $30, they have dart boards and pool tables, and the food is actually really good for pub grub. I recommend the nachos, the homemade mac and cheese, and the mozzarella sticks. Delicious, open late, actually an okay wine list for a bar and plenty of beer, sports and games.

Thanks for tagging me Foodette! If any of these bloggers care to indulge, I’d love to hear about the best restaurants from David of Cooking Chat, Winedeb of Deb’s Key West Wine and Gardening, Leah of DcGastronome (I bet she has tons of great ideas for my area and I’d love to hear her picks!), Brooklynguy of Brooklynguy’s Food and Wine Blog, and John of Brim to the Dregs. Hope you will play along!

Wine and Dinner Out

Matt’s Uncle called unexpectedly the other night to tell us he was in town and to ask if we happened to be free for dinner. Unless we already have plans we are always up for a night out as otherwise it’s just me cooking dinner, and the bbq pulled pork I made could wait for another day! Plus we haven’t seen Matt’s Uncle since Thanksgiving, so it’d been awhile.

We headed to Cafe Atlantico downtown, not a restaurant Matt and I had been to before. It’s kind of South America meets I don’t really know what. For example, I had the Bacon wrapped Cornish Hen with deconstructed Mole and seared Watermelon and Bruce (the Uncle) had Flank Steak with Malanga Puree (I must confess I do not know what a Malanga is, but Bruce said it was potatoish). Matt had the Duck Confit. Both Matt and Bruce said their meals were excellent and well done. I wasn’t so happy with mine. It had 2 rounded pieces of Cornish Hen wrapped in bacon which were about the size of a big scallop and were excellent. The bacon was seared perfectly and matched well with the hen. However, the entire plate was covered with deconstructed Mole, which you had to mix all together to get Mole sauce. With a fork. It didn’t work well. And then the rest of the hen, 2 legs, were piled on top of each other done in a spicy moist outer coating with nothing going for it but spice and the meat was dry and flavorless. Also, seared watermelon is just weird.

The wine list was long and expensive. Only 5 bottles under $30 that I could count (and the online version isn’t current) and bottles ranging up to $975. Bruce chose a 2004 Flowers Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. It had a real cork, was 14.2% alcohol by volume and appears to be available online for around $50. The color was a pretty garnet. On the nose were violets, ripe cherries and raspberries. In the mouth it had a medium feel. I found raspberries and a little earthy/natural taste. Overall it was very smooth and seemed very food friendly, if you liked your food.

As for the restaurant, our server was attentive, brought new wine glasses when we ordered the Pinot Noir with bigger bowls and poured just the right amount in the glass. We were seated immediately and the restaurant was fairly packed for a Tuesday night, there were very few open tables. The restaurant had several levels, so if you don’t want to climb 2 or 3 flights of stairs make sure to ask to be seated on the ground level. Upstairs where we were seated was a cute “tapas” bar thta sat perhaps 6 people. The tapas looked interesting and you could get them matched with different wines. I also liked that the restaurant offered many wines by the glass, plus flights of wine, a concept that often seems to escape restaurants in DC.

Food…mine was the only disappointing entree. Both Bruce and I had the Baba for dessert, which may have been one of the more bizarre desserts I’ve ever had. It was sweet bread (like pound cake but fluffier) soaked in rum, over what was supposed to be coffee gel and topped with this cream thing. Too much rum, the bread was soggy and fell apart, the coffee gel wasn’t gel and it tasted like rum. The cream was really thick. Thicker than yogurt, but tangy like yogurt.

If we returned I would get a different entree or do the tapas bar instead. And definitely skip the dessert. Matt had an odd thing involving bananas and chocolate, but he said the banana parts were just weird and didn’t taste right. I wouldn’t go anywhere near it as I can’t stand bananas. My only other complaint was that you don’t get bread to start or anything.

Get Twisted DC!

It’s official: Pimp Daddy of Twisted Oak will be making an appearance in NOVA/DC this spring. El Jefe announced the potential dates of the trip on El Bloggo Torcido yesterday and I got an email confirming it which I need to respond to. He’ll miss the Cherry Blossom Festival, but who has time for that %@#$! when there’s %@#$! wine to drink anyway?

The potential dates ate in late April, around the 25th. The idea is that bloggers will get together and organize (or I’ll do it by myself if I need to!) an event somewhere in the area. Pimp Daddy will bring the wines and Twisted Oak will pick up the corkage fees. Attendees buy their sustinance and such (that is if you need more than wine to survive at dinner). Anyone can attend and events organized by bloggers in Indianapolis and Minneapolis have been really
%@#$!ing great according to the blog reports. (Though really guys, we’re glad you’re finally coming somewhere that doesn’t end in “apolis.”)

But I NEED help! Last I knew, restaurants in VA can’t have BYO or corkage. You gotta buy it there. I found this list of DC restaurants with corkage fees, though I have no idea how recent it is and many of the restaurants (um, hello 1789 and Capital Grille) are WAY beyond my nightly budget. Glancing at some of the websites for the places listed I can’t find any info on corkage or bringing your own wine policies. So first, help me narrow down the list, then let’s make sure we can actually bring wine in and that we can get a reservation. I’ve probably been to around a dozen places on this list (most recently McCormick and Schmick’s and Pizza Paradiso (a place I frequent with a not so great wine list and no where have I ever seen that they allow corkage)) and most were good, but many were special occassion type places (read: the bill was more than my monthly grocery bill). I’d appreciate the assitance of other local bloggers in this endeavor and in getting the word out. (Leah, Dezel, any interest in this kind of an event?) Any other DC area readers interested? Shoot me an email at ctsonadora@gmail.com and we will get this together!

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