Gumbo, dirty rice and the kitchen sink

When I think of gumbo, I typically think of a it as everything and the kitchen sink. So how perfect to be having a nice bowl of hot spicy homemade gumbo on a cold winter day and pairing it with a nice California red blend called the kitchen sink.

The kitchen sink is a great value wine with a flavor to appease most pallets. The fruit flavors of rich plum with a hint a black pepper was the perfect balance to the spicy gumbo. I would recommend this wine.



A delicious mouthful…

Hook & Ladder
Sonoma County
The Tillerman
Vintage 2009
I was very satisfied with my selection for the night.  My neighbors whipped up two delicious lasagnas for dinner on Saturday giving my head start on my winter poundage.  Growing up in San Diego I never quite had the excuse for “winter weight”.  But my new stomping ground in Colorado almost insists on a layer of blubber for survival in it’s sometimes zero below weather (at least that’s what I tell myself).   I happily shoveled my tastey dinner into my mouth and enjoyed the Hook & Ladder wine with it.  This was a red wine blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sangiovese) for $9.99.  I find blends usually result in a lighter tasting wine.  However this one was pleasantly rich with some notable oak and more complex than I had expected.  It went very well with my rich dinner and I would personally purchase it again.  After a few misses in the under $11 department I was very excited to find a nice wine for a very cheap price.


This Friday we decide to gather around my fire pit and enjoy the crisp fall evening.  Tonight’s wines  is “Red Splash” from St. Francis Winery priced at $10.99.  It really was not that good.  That’s all I have to say about the wine, not good. – Amy

I will say for someone who will drink anything that is placed before her this wine even tasted off to me.  The flavors were almost slightly moldy and bitter.  I finished off my glass anyway of course, you never know if a wine will grow on you eventually!  However, despite my perseverance the taste never got any better.  I would not buy this wine again and it was just bad enough that my tired mommy brain will even remember the label so to avoid it in the liquor store. – Jen

Ditto. – Kari

A Little Over Due . . .

Four Vines


2009 Old Vine Cuvee

Well it has been a while since I’ve posted anything, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed some good deals on some good wine.  Amy was away one weekend and Jen and I had some great wine and spicy Mexican food, however I didn’t take a picture of the bottle, so unfortunately we had to try the wine again.  The second time that we tried the Four Vines Zinfandel; it was on Amy’s back patio after a long day, so this time Amy got to try some.  It was obviously a good enough wine to try twice; it went great with the spicy Mexican food and was nice alone with no food.  I look forward to buying it again this winter, as the warm weather turns to cold I am sure to appreciate a nice full bodied red wine. -Kari

Our wine was a Zinfandel and it was delicious! This wine was not too heavy or light, it was perfectly blended It had a very fruitful flavor, the cherries and grapes stood out in the first sip and made you want to continue drinking. It wasn’t too sweet and sugary despite the fruity flavors. We paired it with Mexican food and the two paired surprisingly well. I would definitely drink this again, on it’s own or with dinner would work well. At only $9.99 I would say it was well worth the money and something I would purchase again. I will warn you that this wine goes down very easily and before we knew it the bottle was gone! – Jenn

Are you stressed out…so are the grapes!

It would seem as of lately, the gals are recommending Pinots, maybe it’s the dry hot summer driving us to the lighter simple textures of the Pinot Nior. So you can imagine how excited I was when we received an wedding invitation from our high school/college friend from Portland. Here was my excuse to leave the kids with the grandparents, spend the weekend with my husband and visit the place where some of the best pinots are made.

We arrive late into Portland and find our way to the Allison inn and spa in Newberg, Oregon;  we totally splurged! If you are looking for a getaway for a special occasion I would highly recommend the Allison inn. The next morning we indulge in a larger than normal breakfast overlooking a vineyard and attempt to map out our day. To my amazement the wine scene in Willamette Valley is impressive and we immediately become confused. Deciding we need some guidance, we seek out the advice of the concierge.

She was extremely helpful, mapped out our day and gave us some complimentary tastings. We head out excited to explore the area. As we make our way to the first winery, we drive through the beautiful windy hills of the valley and pass by several orchards which looked like nut trees (more on this later). Finally we arrive at Bergstrom winery where we are greeted by an 80 pound black lab named Lilly. She happily walks us to the entrance of the tasting room looking at us for the dog version of a tip- a scratch or pet. We tip her generously and decide to take our tasting on the porch over looking the vines.

The wines are very nice and as expected we taste a couple of Pinot noiors. Overlooking the vineyard I notice the grapes are trained vertically, this is very different from those in Napa which are tied back to look like canopies. I was told this method is typical for this region of pinots. By tying the vines up in a vertical manner, allows for the grape to hang low on the vine causing stress on the grape. The more stress, the better the Pinot grape, the better the wine. Who would have thought that stress could be a good thing?

Our next winery had a nice view but the wine was not our style so we decided it was time for lunch in the neighboring town. After lunch we hop back into the car and proceed to the Dundee hills. A wine’s flavor and taste is greatly affected by the climate, sun and soil and this region of the Willamette Valley consists of volcanic soil producing wines with hints of spice. Excited to try some bolder pionts, we stop at Stoller Family Estates, one of the largest oldest family owned wineries in the region. To our luck they just opened their beautiful tasting room built from recycled materials that overlooks their vineyard. Absolutely breath taking views and good wine.

While at Stoller Famil Estates we tasted a variety of wines including a reisling that was not a typical reisling. It was not sweet or sugary but had lemon like flavors which gave the wine some acidity balancing out the typical sweetness of a reisling. Of course being in Pinot country we had yet another pinot or two. Our last wine was a Pinot blend. Yes that’s right a Pinot blend of 3 different grapes. The turkey Hill blend was very good and resonantly priced at $19 . Not to worry ladies I brought home a bottle to share.
One last winery on our trip winding us to the top of a hill with amazing views. I had to ask about the numerous amount of nut trees in the valley. The nut trees are hazelnuts. Years ago the region almost shut down their farming of hazelnuts due to the fierce competition. Apparently turkey owned the worldwide market until a blight invested and started to dwindle their crops. Other countries in Europe started looking for another source and found the Oregon hazelnut. Now the nut is shipped worldwide and has grown the areas nut production. I had no idea.

After visiting four wineries we head back to relax by the pool before dinner. Did I mention the inn was fabulous and so relaxing. We had a wonderful dinner on the terrace over looking the Inn’s vineyard and shared a nice bottle of Pinot Nior made by Roco.  I would recommend this Pinot as it held up to a good steak and paired nicely with my wonderful scallops with leeks.





Overall we had some amazing stressed out pinots that resulted in a relaxing weekend. Oh the wedding was a beautiful wedding overlooking downtown Portland. It was great to catch up with old friends and try some new wines.

Aren’t wineries farms?

After 16 years I decided on a whim to make a trip back to my homeland -Ohio.  Over the years our family vacations usually consist of the visiting the beach or going camping.  So it was hard to explain “Ohio” to my kids.   But somehow I managed to get my kids excited about traveling to the midwest.  Upon flying in my son comments on the amount of trees, lakes and the lack of mountains, asking me “how do people in Ohio snowboard?”.   I remind him that this is farm country with some of the best soil and weather that produces a lot of food that we consume.

We spent several days in the Columbus enjoying the zoo and water parks.   After all this excitement, we take the 90 minute drive to my family’s farm and meet up with my extended family.  My kids are in awe of the large scale farming equipment and the fields upon fields of soybeans and corn.  My family graciously offers them rides on the tractors and gives them tours around the farm explaining the use of what they produce – the straw used for landscaping, soybeans for oil, sweet corn and field corn which is used in ethanol, cereal and sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup).  My son even gathered eggs or according to him “stole” eggs from the hens.  Many hens were laying eggs as he quietly approached, slide his hand under the hen and grab the newly warm egg.  Overall a great experience for young kids to learn and see where food really comes from.
So what does this have to do with wine?  Well, if you’ve ever visited the wine regions of California or Oregon you will find many wineries are farms first and vineyards second.  In some cases they farm and sell grapes to other vineyards or they bring in a wine maker to find the chemical balance needed for wine making.  So often times we romanticize about wine with its complex tastes and textures but growing and producing wine takes hard work, skill, patience, and is highly subjective to mother nature.  The flavors change depending on the amount of moisture, the heat and length of the summer.  One year may produce a sweet abundant crop yielding amazing wines while the next may need to be blended to produce an even different wine than the year before.  If  wines are dependent on the natural elements to produce an amazing grape, aren’t wineries just farms with really good chemists?
In the next few weeks grape growers will be entering harvest season where they will spend long hours picking those precious grapes that eventually turn into wine.  It’s a tough job and  I certainly appreciate the hard work that goes into growing and producing good wines.  Cheers to all the farmers, may you have a bountiful harvest!  –Amy

A Perfectly Pleasant Pinot

Hayman & Hill

Pinot Noir

2008 Santa Lucia Highlands



I had yet another wonderful weekend with the neighbors.  We are still weeks away from a freeze that will kill off all of our pesky flies and wasps and therefore had to cocoon ourselves in Amy’s fancy zip up pergola.  As the men shrieked like the manly men they are while they battled the wasps we cozied up with our wine of the week.  Our dinner consisted of our old standby of flank steaks, roasted peppers and homemade salsas.  As I’m still on the hunt for the perfect Pinot I brought along a Hayman & Hill Pinot Noir.  At only $10.99 I hoped this would be “the one”.  While not an amazing wine I thought the first sip of this Pinot Noir was delicious.  It is a basic wine, the flavors are not complex but still enjoyable.  The berry flavors stood out and it was very fruity.  If you prefer a heavy, oak wine this is not the wine for you.  However, this is a nice sipping wine that would pair well with any meal.  I particularly enjoyed it with my appetizer of salsa and chips and I believe the bottle was empty before the main course had begun. – Jenn

I really enjoyed the Pinot Noir even though it lacked complexity it was light and delicious, as Jen said.  When I saw the label I was very excited because Hayman & Hill makes a Cabernet that I enjoy quite a bit and I was hoping that the Pinot would be just as enjoyable, and it was. – Kari

Subtle sweetness for a lot of flavor and spice

It’s Friday and I’m working late.  My phone is blowing up with text messages from my husband asking when am I coming home.  I finally make it home and find that the men have cooked dinner for the kids and my friends are out picking up Indian food.  Really could it get any better?  Since the menu tonight is exotic and spicy I decided on a lighter sweet white wine for balance.  Looking through my wine fridge I decided on a 2011 Banyan Gewurtztraminer wine which I bought the previous weekend for $10.99.

To my surprise it was not a traditional syrupy sweet wine like many Gewurtztraminers.  The wine was very light and crisp with subtle flavors of fruit.  This may sound odd but it has more of taste and texture of an Asian wine than a German wine.  Sometimes the traditional German wines are almost too sweet for me.  The wine was a very nice compliment to the intense flavors and spice of our Indian take-out.  – Amy

Freedom!  My neighbor and I were given the green light to go and pick up dinner while the husbands watched the kids.  We stopped at one of our many local breweries (one of the wonderful things about our city) to sample their latest beers while we waited for our food to be ready.  Due to our little detour I will say my taste buds were a bit off to truly sample our wine for the night.  

Gewurtztraminer was my very first dip into the world of wine tasting.  The sweetness appealed to my young taste buds.  I then moved my way up to whites and then finally to rich reds.  So I was surprised to hear the wine Amy had served was a Gewurtztraminer as the flavor was not what I was used to.  The super sweetness usually associated with a Gewurtztraminer was only lightly present in the wine.  It was more of a Riesling with a little extra sugar and peaches added to it.  It paired well with the Indian food as it counteracted with the spiciness.  I would recommend this as a light white wine but if you are looking for that fruity sweetness of a typical Gewurtztraminer I would suggest a buying a different wine. – Jen

The white wine that Amy provided was sweet, but not too sweet and it was nice and light.  I’m not sure it paired well with the beer that we had decided to taste test earlier in the evening, but it was a nice change from the usual.  I’m not sure I would want to drink it on a regular basis, but on occasion would be something to purchase. – Kari

Mom’s take out night….

The Climber, Red Wine, 2010 California, $9.99
Kari and I found ourselves alone with the children on Saturday night.  As it was just the two of us we decided to treat ourselves to take out.  If one can afford it, a night free of cooking is a luxury a mother deserves.  To not have to prep, cook and clean for one meal is a little bit of heaven on earth.  Having both children home for the summer I feel I spend my days cleaning up one meal and then beginning another 20 minutes later. 
We ordered our favorite, Indian food.  I was unsure of how a blend I had selected earlier at the store would go with our choice of dinner.  Once the children were full of pizza and the delivery man dropped off our meal we opened up our bottle, The Climber.  It was a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah and Merlot.  The result was a wine that you could taste the fruitful cherries at first sip.  It wasn’t as tasty as our Friday night wine, but still adequate.  It went decently with our Sag Paneer and Chicken Tiki Masala (both dishes I highly recommend trying at your local Indian Restaurant!).  It was a good price for this wine but I wouldn’t choose it for future wine nights, there wasn’t anything that stood out. – Jenn

The Climber was a good wine blend, but with some of the others that we have tried I don’t think that I would go out of my way to buy it.  I did like the label, but it was lacking depth and flavor.  We paired it with some spicy Indian takeout and it had a hard time standing it’s ground. – Kari

Everything is Better in the Mountains . . .

Two out of Five Pumps

After a seven year hiatus, I finally joined my husband, dad, brother and daughter on a backpacking camping trip.  I was worried about how my five year old would do, but she did great, I was also worried about myself.  The last time I did the trip I was so out of shape I barely made it out of the canyon having to stop every 20 feet just to catch my breath.  Thank goodness I was in much better shape and made it out trailing my daughter who after the 3.5 mile hike out was still running to catch her uncle.  Well, when backpacking you want to keep your pack light and so rather than packing in a glass bottle of wine I opted for the convenient 3 glass boxed wine.  We camped two nights so I brought 2 different wine boxes The Big Green box, Pinot Noir and Bota Box, Cabernet Sauvignon.  I had the Bota Box the first night after our long hike in making it just before dark, I thought it was great, because it was cold out the wine was nice and chilled I couldn’t taste the normal boxed wine after taste and it had a nice flavor.  I don’t think that it was as good as a normal glass bottle wine, but it certainly did the job and made me feel warm and relaxed after a long day.

The second night I had The Big Green Box, Pinot Noir, which again was nicely chilled and lacked the flavor of the Cabernet, but was just as satisfying after another long day of hiking and fishing.  I would definitely bring these along again on this backpacking trip, but probably would not purchase when I want to enjoy a good wine at home. – Kari

We were short yet again this week. This time Kari escaped the suburbs to stomp around the mountains with her family. However, leave it to Kari to find a way to bring wine on their backpacking trip. She brought along an environmentally friendly wine and was kind enough to pass some along our wine our way so we could experience it also. I would like to start off by saying I am not a big fan of boxed wine. It usually ends up as a headache in a box for me or something I would use strictly to flavor my steak with. However, I tried these two with an open mind. The first wine was a Cabernet and tasted exactly like I would imagine a Cab from a box would taste. It was strong, slightly bitter and made me purse my lips in an attempt to fully swallow the wine. I would not choose this wine in any situation.

The next wine was a Pinot Noir which was definitely more pleasant. It was something that I could picture drinking in the woods, admiring the sunset while you swat away the mosquitoes, all the while not feeling guilty about your wine packaging and the footprint it was making on the world. I would recommend taking this small, easy to carry bottle with you on a picnic, boat or hike. It did not have any strong flavors that stood out to me, but while out in the woods I don’t know if you require a fancy glass of wine with tannins and hints of fruit. – Jen

Here we are at the week’s end and ready for a relaxing weekend. Once again we find ourselves short one friend, Kari’s gone finishing. In honor of her adventure, we decide to drink the same wine she is enjoying. To our surprise, its a box wine, oh no she didn’t! Oh yes, 2 $5 box wines. Keeping in the spirit of our blog, we enter with open minds.

The first wine is a Cabernet sauvignon and does not taste that great. We immediately crack open the second box which is a Pinot noir. The Pinot is better than the cab but unless I was camping I would not go out of my way to buy it. Although the Pinot would be better over ice and with some juice. Our husbands also agreed with the review. – Amy