My Wonderfully-Uncanny, Italian Prize Basket

May 5th, 2013

A co-worker recently asked me while both us lunched (she eating an “Italian-inspired” frozen Lean Cuisine and me my daily tofu, veggies and quinoa concoction), if food in Italy differed between northern and southern parts of the country. Well, it had been almost a year and a half since I traveled to Italy for the first and (sadly) only time. In October 2011 the European Wine Bloggers Conference was held in Brescia, Italy which is located in northern part of the country – home to the devine Franciacorta sparkling wines (but that’s another story…). As part of the conference, I had the opportunity to travel both to the even more northern wine region of Alto Adige located close to the Austrian and Switzerland borders and then to infamous Tuscany and the Chianti Classico region near Florence. Post conference, my husband and I took the train further south to Rome. I tasted lots of different wines and ate great food throughout my Italian travels. Although, I don’t really recall there being a great difference in the foods, I can DEFINITELY say that there was an extreme difference in the wines. Such VARIETY — each one fantastic and delicious! This can, as you might guess, be attributed to the extremely different terrains and climates between northern and mid-Italy.

You’re like “Okay, that’s a nice story.” No! In my typical fashion, I haven’t gotten to the heart of my story yet, but it’s coming…My full-time employment is as a regional transportation planner – specializing in freight, so each fall for the past five years or so, I’ve attended the Ohio Conference on Freight. The conference organizers always do an amazing job and Fall 2012 was no exception. The conference ended with a great speaker over lunch and the grand finale was what every conference-goer anticipates and makes the excuse to hang around for — the drawings for door prizes. (As an aside, I think the only purpose of printing business cards any longer is to toss them into a fish bowl). Although my business card wasn’t pulled to win the iPad or box of Buckeye chocolates, I believe I did indeed walk away with THE BEST door prize. Yes, you guessed it – a basket filled with wine and wine-related items! And wait, now the Italy-connection! When I got home and removed the cellophane wrapper to fully appreciate my prize, I discovered that the basket included a bottle of Alto Adige from northern Italy and a bottle of Chianti Classico from Tuscany – two varieties I had discovered while on my travels one year before!

I’ve meant to post about this prize winning/Italian wine coincidence since last September when it happened. So when my co-worker unknowingly asked about Italian food – it sparked my memory of the prize basket and two great bottles of wine that did not remain corked for long. So, now I transition from storyteller to wine taster and sharer of good names to look for on your next trip to pick out a tasty wine! The wines in my prize basket were from vineyards I had not visited, but were perfect representatives of their regions — Alto Adige and Chianti Classico.

Alto Adige

Terlan Vineyards

Tramin Vineyards

The two vineyards I had visited in the Alto Adige region in northern Italy were Tramin, a cooperative winery in the city of Termeno, and Terlan winery in Terlano, Italy. The first prize bottle of wine was a 2011 San Pietro Pinot Grigio. The text on the bottle described it as a “dry white wine.” However, I found it to be creamy-smooth on the tongue and down the throat. Perhaps my memories of the landscape of Alto Adige influenced me, but I tasted crisp apple — with a bit of tart and teey-weeny touch of sweet — in my prize wine from the same region. I remember apple orchards in the valleys that wound along the river and encircled the lakes, while grape vines covered the chain of hillsides that provided a protecting wall around the region of Alto Adige. On my visit, I learned that this combination of gentle hillsides and valley floors create a perfect environment for the grapes to grow.  Being located between the Alps to the north and Mediterranean Sea to the south. Vineyards in this small, northern region of Italy are exposed to long hours of sunlight. The mildly warm days work with the cooler nights to create “high aromatic and sugar content.”

Dusty Vineyards

Beautiful Tuscany

Dry Vineyards 

Moving on to my second prize bottle of wine, it was a 2006 Rodano Chianti Classico. I visited a number of wineries in the Chianti Classico region and learned that wines must adhere to a strict set of rules. First, in grape composition 80% to 100% of the wine must use the native Sangiovese grapes. In addition to Sangiovese, a Chianti Classico may be made from a maximum of 20% of other authorized or recommended red grapes such as indigenous ones like Canaiolo and Colorino or international varieties likeCabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Since June 2005, a true Chainti Classico wine has the Black Rooster trademark on the label. The strictness of the Chianti Classico Consortium is due to the fact that over the past hundreds of years, numerous wines have “bestowed” upon themselves the name “chianti,” however they may or may not originate from the actual Chianti region. Chianti Classico is viewed as the true region and thus its unique and distinguishd honor. My prize bottle certianly upheld its Chianti Classico duties. The wine had a spicey-dry, powdery, but bright finish on the tongue. In contrast to the cold chill of northern Italy and higher altitudes, the Chianti Classico region’s sunny, hot climate and dusty, dry terrain has a completely different impact on grapes and subsequently the wines.

Chianti Classico Label

The Chianti Classico Cock
These two wines and the regions they hail from speak volumes to the differences between Italian wines. Not to be a wine snob, but to simply say you like Italian wine is just ignorant! Whether it comes from the Chianti Classico or Alto Adige or any other number of amazing wine regions — taste and learn! And what better way to do it than by taking a trip and visiting the region first-hand. You’ll gain greater insight into the story behind the wine…a story you can share and tell others.

Georgia: The Perfect Wine-Weekend Getaway

December 28th, 2012

Why be boring and do a wine-trip to Napa or Sonoma like every other American?…When you could visit a foreign land, filled with warm and friendly people who won’t treat you like their ten millionth visitor…Why? Because you’d be, maybe their three- or four-hundredth visitor!The eastern European country of Georgia is fast becoming a desirable tourist destination. It’s got the landscape (mountains, rolling countryside, vineyards), modern amenities (hotels, restaurants, museums, airports, taxis) and, most importantly, the WINE!  A bonus is the fact that people working within tourist industry – speak English!

I’ve already shared some of my Georgian experiences in other posts, but I wanted to speak to two facets of my visit that occurred on the late afternoon and evening of Wednesday, November 14th.  These experiences were a bit more casual and reminiscent of what many Americans look for in an easy-going, “wine-weekend getaway.”

Schuchmann Wines ( in Kisiskhevi is not only a winery, but has a small hotel with eight rooms, wine tasting area and a restaurant as well. Schuchmann could be a destination all unto itself, nestled as it is in the Caucasus Mountains. The main building of the vineyard’s estate is referred to as the Château.  Its architecture is like a modern mountain lodge complete with big-wide front porch, expansive wood timbers, all new – but rustic-looking stone walls and floors, tiled roof and inviting fireplaces. The atmosphere is tranquil and bucolic.

Schuchmann boasts that “the climatic conditions are ideal” due to “the wine area {being} sheltered from cold air in the north by the Caucasus Mountains and warmed by the Black Sea.” Schuchmann grows indigenous grape varieties such as Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Mtsvane, Ojaleshi, and Kisi for their winemaking.  Our very generous host was Schuchmann’s winemaker who provided each of us with a bottle of 2011 Vinoterra Kisi to take home.

Schuchmann is committed to continuing the Georgian tradition of producing qvevri wines. This wine production method dates back thousands of years and lends testimony to Georgia’s claim as the oldest winegrowing country in the world and the origin for all cultivated grapevines. The qvevri or large clay vessels are placed in the cool ground and filled with grapes hand-picked from Schuchmann’s own vineyards. The entire part of the grape (skin, seeds, some stems and, of course the juice) is crushed and left to rest and ferment in the qvevri. In white wine production, as with the bottle of Schuchmann Kisi I was given, the qvevri’s opening is sealed with a stone slab, clay and ash and left to mature for up to six months. During our tour, we tenderly step around both empty qvevri and sealed ones which lined the floor of one of the storage rooms adjacent to the Château.

Scrub brushes made cherry bark folded and secured atop long wooden poles are used to clean the qvevri without the need of any toxic chemicals. To those interested in the Natural Wine movement, qvevri symbolize the epitome of natural wine production. Makers of qvevri wine claim that it is stable by nature, rich in tannins and doesn’t require chemical preservatives to ensure a long storage life. Qvevri also produce wines rich in antioxidants. Many Georgians are known to live well past 100 years of age, so maybe Georgian qvevri wine can trump St. Augustine, Florida as the “true” source of legendary fountain of youth!

Before I leave Schuchmann, I have to speak to my gifted bottle of Kisi. Their Kisi is a beautiful, golden color with a fragrant fruit scent and soft palate. They attribute ripe peaches, dates and “a subtle note of pine” to their Kisi wine which is much more eloquently put. I also think it’s a grape variety name that’s both super easy to remember and fun to say – “Kisi!”

Photo taken by Chateau Mere

We did not spend the night at Schuchmann, but rather traveled not far by bus to Chateau Mere ( which is an eclectically-decorated, oversized Georgian B&B. Our bus gingerly climbed the steep, but paved entry-drive. Owner, George Piradashvili, greeted us at the front door, quickly got us checked in and had his young male employees help us carry our bags up the winding staircase.  Each room was different and tucked away in all sorts of nook, crannies, floors, turrets and out-buildings on the Chateau Mere grounds.










The big, oval, dinner tables were filled with fresh and delicious local fare. We ate family-style passing each plate around the table, then around again for seconds. The fancy, yet kitschy candelabras dripped and glowed in the center of each table as the courses continued to flow from the kitchen non-stop. Two gentlemen provided live piano and trumpet music for us. They were like our two, drunk and happy uncles playing all our favorite Georgian melodies.  A few locals and friends of George were hanging-out and joined in, singing with the music as the mood struck them!

A fire blazed in the large fireplace as George’s huge black dog curled-up and slept on the hearth through the all the noisey goings-on.  It was so entertaining and fabulous…and oh yes, the wine flowed! Bottles of George’s own wine was served and savored by all!  George also owns and breeds horses, so each of his bottles is emblazened with a black stallion. It was warm, cozy, raucous fun – a perfect ending to a perfect day! Tim and I were in a room with two twin beds, but didn’t mind at all – we made the most of it! I remember hearing the party continuing downstairs and then ZONK! — nothing, but happy dreamland ‘til morning!


Our room – Photo taken by Chateau Mere

My advice for a wine-weekend get-away, — really GET AWAY, experience the extraordinary, explore the world!  Everyone should visit our own American wonders of Napa and Sonoma at least once, but don’t get stuck in a comfortable rut.  Georgia is amazing and so welcoming – it requires extra effort and time, but you’ll be so glad you ventured out of your normal wine realm!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of Georgia as a part of a sponsored blogger tour of the region, organized by  Georgian Wine Association.  My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor. Even so, I tell no lie…it was fabulous! 

What Do Georgian Monks Drink on Christmas?

December 25th, 2012

…Their own homemade qvevri wine, of course!

It being Christmas Day, I thought it would be quite appropriate to recount my visit to the Alaverdi Monastery which occurred back on November 15 of this year. This monastery is located in the Kakheti region about an hour or so outside of Tbilisi– the capital of Georgia. As you can see from all my photos, the weather was quite overcast and chilly during our fall visit.  However, on a clear day (we were told), one can clearly see the breathtaking Caucasus mountain ranges at the foot of which the Kakheti region sits. Eighty percent of all Georgians are Orthodox Christians and share in today’s holiday.

Alaverdi dates back to the 11th century (1011 to be exact) and continues to serve as a residence for male religious, cathedral for the community and, most importantly, a winery!

The cathedral can be seen from quite a distance being surrounded by open, flat vineyards and other crop fields.

The grounds are entirely surrounded by a crenulated, brick and stone wall. Although the wall is in much need of repair, it still makes quite an impression as you approach the large, turret-topped entry. Not that it ever was, but I could easily imagine the monastery being “once-upon-a-time” encircled by a moat!

Photo taken by Sharon Parson

As if the massive structure and fact that we were entering a monastery wasn’t unsettling enough, we ladies learned upon reaching the entryway that before we could take one step further, we needed to don head-coverings and lovely, wrap-around, long “skirts.” These modesty coverings were provided on a rack by the entry for women to borrow during their visits. Of course, we wanted to be respectful and did as we were told. It’s not like we were giving up our right to vote and own property. Actually, the clothing provided an extra layer of warmth, so we weren’t too worried about making a fashion statement!

Photo taken by Luiz Alberto

Photo taken by Magnus Reuterdahl

Photo taken by Luiz Alberto







Leaving the entry behind us, we walked up to the cross-domed, Alaverdi St. George Cathedral. A mass was in session, so we couldn’t go in, but we were able to imagine what the cathedral once was by viewing frescoes which had been carefully uncovered around the exterior façade. The cathedral’s namesake – St. George appears atop the entrance. The cathedral has witnessed a number of restorations due to wars, earthquakes and through centuries of normal aging and deterioration. 



Inside the walled monastery, there were open grassy areas where buildings once had stood.

We strolled along a stone pathway to reach the winery. Old qvevri once used in the monks’ traditional wine-making process “decorated” the exterior of the winery. Qvevri are earthenware vessels which are set into the ground to store the wine during fermentation and as it ages. The qvevri wine-making method is attributed to this very region of Georgia and dates back to 8000 BC. The ancient existence of qvevri is one of the reasons many point to Georgia as the “birthplace” of domestic wine-making. The monks at Alaverdi continue to use qvevri in their winemaking to this day. They combine this traditional process with modern technological advances to produce their wines.

After a tour of the grounds, while standing in a beautiful outdoor “patio” area, we sampled many of the monastery’s wines al fresco. Due to the chilly weather, it was too cold to take tasting notes and the reds were a bit below preferred serving temperatures to really do them the justice they deserved…however, my memory is of very clean, simple and clear-tasting wines that had been produced with so much care and devotion. The monastery does not produce a great number of bottles, so it was with great appreciation and respect that we were able to sample these rare and unique wines.





After our tasting, we toured the monastery’s farm, “Taplikatsi.” “Taplikatsi” is equipped with modern technology to produce ecologically pure honey. For once during our visit, we were grateful for the cold — because it made the honey bees extremely docile and uninterested in us as they swarmed around our heads!

I have no doubt that the wise and pious monks at Alaverdi set aside some of their daily labors today and enjoyed some of their traditionally-made qvevri wine to celebrate and honor this holy holiday that’s shared by so many around the globe! To my fellow EWBC Georgian travelers and to all of you — გილოცავ შობა!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of Georgia as a part of a sponsored blogger tour of the region, organized by  Georgian Wine Association.  My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor. 

A Fitting Quote…

December 15th, 2012

Came upon this quote and it reminded me of my recent trip to Georgia — good times and good memories!
“[I]t is the wine that leads me on,
the wild wine
that sets the wisest man to sing
at the top of his lungs,
laugh like a fool – it drives the
man to dancing….”
― Homer, The Odyssey

Bad Vibes Do NOT Make Good Bubbles

December 9th, 2012

When people ask me what my favorite wine is — I reply immediately, “Sparkling!”  It’s been this way for me since the 2011 European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia, Italy where I tasted Franciacorta wines for the first time.  I became an instant fan.  The chill of the glass, the bubbles zooming to the top — it’s a New Years Eve countdown celebration anytime you want one! 

Since Brescia, I’ve drank countless Prosecco and Cava wines back home in Cincinnati because (a) I can’t get my hands on any Franciacortas…so sad and (b) Prosecco and Cava aren’t too shabby!  So, when I saw that we’d be visiting  a Sparkling wine producer while in Tbilisi, Georgia this past November, I was super-duper excited!  So, I thought I’d share my Georgia Sparkling Wine story…

After a short drive from our Tbilisi hotel, the bus pulled up to a fortress of a property enclosed by a stately fenced surround.  The automatic arm at the front gate and guard-house lifted to reveal what one would have guessed to be a government facility constructed in a very austere, marbled, neo-classical style.  The building was void of any character and gave off a rather formidable, and cold impression.  All of us on the bus were asking, “Is this the place?!?”  Indeed! It was the home of Bagrationi Sparkling wines (  So, as night fell, we disembarked from our bus and entered through the structure’s columned facade.  The entry was two stories topped by a domed ceiling. Two, arched stairways flanked each side wall and normally would have served as warm and welcoming, symmetrical, open arms to transport visitors up to the second floor gallery.  Instead the menacing, dark wood paneling and bannister and a slightly bad, moldy smell accosted our senses.    

We were taken on a tour of the facility.  I took a few pictures, but the building was so stark and dark, only one turned out — back to that in a bit.  During our tour, we learned that the building was constructed in 1937 by the Soviets during their occupation and control of Georgia.  They wanted to do something on a similar scale to what Henkell was doing at the time (BTW: this sparkling wine producer is still in production today as the Wiesbaden-based Henkell & Co. Group — its history dates back to 1832 when Adam Henkell (1801 – 1866) opened a winery in Mainz and started producing sparkling wine in 1856.  Back to present day,…the Soviets build this cold, austere facility which at its peak produced 23 million bottles of Sparkling wine a year!  All I could do was picture hundreds of Georgians slaving away during 14+ hours a day to produce Sparkling wine for their Soviet oppressors!  (We were told all of the wine produced went to Soviet elites).  This history lesson seemed to explain why the facility seemed so foreboding and heavy.  It all combined to create the complete WRONG environment for producing beautiful, light and airy Sparkling wines.  There was no joy, no celebration!  At least I felt none.

After the tour, we proceeded to the second floor gallery and tasted five or six different Bagrationi Sparkling wines. I think you can easily imagine that my mind was NOT in any place to be open to liking these wines.  I did struggle to keep an open mind and palate as I tasted the wines. 

I would say that out of all of the wines, the one I like the best was the Bagrationi Classic Semi Sweet.  I share a bit of details about this wine from the information sheet provided.  The Classic incorporates a blend of Chinuri, Mtsvane and Tsitska grape varieties grown in vineyards located in Kartli and Imereti.  All of the grapes were hand-picked, hand-sorted and whole cluster pressed — following the original Champagne method.  The clear juice was fermented at a very low temperature with selected yeast strains to preserve the inherent fruit flavors but with a degree of grape solids incorporated to aid texture and complexity.  The Classic was just that not too sweet.  It also had good bubbles, not flat and a nice flavor intensity. 

I mentioned earlier that only one of the pictures I took at Bagrationi turned out.  Well after returning home, I found it a little unsettling that the only picture that was okay is one I took of the Classic bottles resting in the labeling machine!  That means my only decent picture was of my top pick from the tasting?!?  Kind of eery-weird, yeah?!?  A ghost of an old Soviet producer must have seen me and decided, “You didn’t like my wines, then pooh on you!  I give you one picture for your blog…one picture, I say!  Now, das-vidaniya to you!” 

I believe that I wasn’t the only one to feel this way. Unlike all the other visits we made while in Georgia, I think all of us were anxious to leave Bagrationi behind us.  A couple of days later, I was reminiscing about our Bagrationi visit with a fellow wine blogger friend of mine.  We were both saying what a creepy place it was and that it was really the only disappointing wine we tasted during our entire time in Georgia.  I summed up what I learned from our visit to Bagrationi by blurting-out, “Bad vibes do NOT make good bubbles!” 

So with New Years around the corner — I wish you lots of love and Soviet-free, happy, cheery, bubbly good times shared with great friends!  CHEERS!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of Georgia as a part of a sponsored blogger tour of the region, organized by  Georgian Wine Association.  My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor. 

Château Mukhrani

November 25th, 2012

Just outside Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, lies Château Mukhrani.  The Château was founded in 1878 by the Prince of Mukhrani, who was an heir of the royal family of Georgia.  The Château is referred to as a royal palace and holds the title of the oldest such structure in Georgia.  During the former Soviet Union’s occupation of Georgia, the property was completely abandoned.  The property was purchased in 2003 by a group of Georgian investors.  Property renovations and re-establishment of the vineyards were begun immediately upon their possession.

I traveled to Château Mukhrani with 25 of my EWBC fellow bloggers. Our bus pulled-up the drive and parked between the new, modern winery and horse barn.  One of the investors, a very nice Tbilisi businessman whose name I unfortunately did not note down, greeted us and began the tour by walking through the horse barn.  The winery owns about a dozen horses — a combination of Arabian, English and mixed breeds – all gorgeous animals!  The exterior construction of the barn was beautiful too and I kept seeing this same application of stones, bricks and tiles in walls and homes during our travels over the next two days throughout the Georgian countryside.  The stones are mixed-in with the soil and their light color can often look like trash or liter along the road side.  My guess is that the proliferation of the stones have made them an accessible and inexpensive construction material for structures of all kinds throughout the region’s history.

It was nice to see the mix of traditional building construction along with the modern techniques of the winery.  The owners have built a “green roof” atop the winery both as an environmental-friendly construction method to conserve energy and also as a unique point of detail for future visitors.

The Château itself is being completely rebuilt with four apartments, large entertaining space, as well as full cellar and tasting room.  Owners have plans to host a Jazz Festival in 2013 on the Château’s grounds, so the push is on to complete the main palace and ground renovations.  The Château faces a wooded area and fountain – very picturesque even in fall with the leaves’ yellow, orange and red colors.  The venue is intended to draw guests, visitors not only for the wonderful wine, but also for special occasions such as weddings and other large events.  Future plans include building a hotel, tennis courts, pool and golf course.  This level of planning and investment can be seen in and around Tbilisi, as people consider the untapped resources and opportunities Georgia possesses – especially in relation to their wine history and traditions.

Some historians attribute Georgia as the “birthplace of wine” meaning there is an abundance of evidence which supports that the domestication of wild, native grape varieties (over 525 different grapes) occurred in Georgia centuries ago and that all wines which we enjoy today, produced throughout the world, began here in the cradle of the eastern Black Sea region.


Today, the Château is boarded by its vineyards which comprise the majority of the property.  One hundred percent of the grapes used in Château Mukhrani wines are grown on the property.  The vines are treated only manually. Crop size is controlled by pruning and other “green” methods.  The partner who took us on our tour of the property bragged that they held a 15 minute goal for the maximum time spent from harvesting the grapes to unloading and crushing at the winery facility. The vineyards are located adjacent to the winery, but still that is a remarkable wine production goal.

After touring the grounds, we were led underground through the Château’s newly bricked and still being mortared cellar to the modern winery building for lunch and a bit of tasting.  Yes, of course, I’ll share my tasting notes!  I’ll start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the wines.  Each was clean, fresh and honest!  They weren’t complicated and fussy.

Our first wine was a Rkatsiteli which translates as “red shoot” in Georgian.  After winter, the Rkatsiteli are the healthiest and first shoots to appear and, of course, they are red in color!  It’s a great white wine made/aged along with grape pieces, skin, seeds, etc.

The second wine was a delicious Goruli Mtsvane.  That’s all the notes I took – LOL!  I must have started eating aubergine and cucumber/tomato salads!



The third wine was a Tavkveri which had an autumnal smell like fallen leaves and brush fire smoke.  It had a simple taste, light and very easily drinkable.  The Tavkveri vines grow big berries, so they don’t possess a dense flavor concentration. Tavkveri translates as “hammer head” due to the shape of the grape or vine, I’m not sure.


Pouring the Shavkapito

The fourth wine was a Shavkapito which translates as “black head” in Georgian. The taste was pleasant and smooth with a good oak flavor, not overly strong – just a hint/touch of oak which is what I prefer in most wines that I would choose to drink on my leisure.  I think this was my favorite of all the Château Mukhrani I sampled.

The fifth wine was a Saporavi.  This was the preferred red by the majority of the wine blogger friends sitting at my dining table.







The sixth wine was the Reserve Du Prince which was oaky with depth.  The other four wines tasted young and immature (but great) in comparison to the Reserve!  I didn’t care for this bold red, myself.

We finished the tasting with a Muscat (dessert wine) and shot of Chacha which is the Georgian equivalent of Grappa (or Moonshine in my book)!  Each was served in its own special glass.  The winemaker made a farewell toast and we were all feeling pretty darn good by th etime we departed as documented in a few photos of my fellow wine blogger friends. 





When I was at Château Mukhrani, it was quite an overcast and chilly autumn day, so my pictures don’t give the landscape adequate justice.  It is lovely countryside, rolling hills amongst farms of cabbages, peppers and tomatoes.  We drove through a very, small town equipped with the essentials — grocery store, barber shop, butcher with hogs head and rear end hanging outside.  These sites greeted us as we drove to and from Château Mukhrani.  There appeared to be many empty houses as well that looked ready for purchase and with a bit of DIY elbow-grease, could be turned into lovely countryside getaways for Tbilisi businessmen and their families…”or foreign couples wanting a vacation home in Georgia?!?” I teased my husband.  I can only imagine that if I have an opportunity to visit Château Mukhrani again in the very near future, not only will it look completely different, but so will this little nearby village – tourist gift shops, B&Bs, small restaurants, mani/pedi/coiffeurs, etc. are likely to spring forth from the ultimate success of the Château itself.  It’s an exciting new era in Georgia history. The respect of tradition and culture is strong and hopefully won’t be lost in the rush and desire for investment and development.  It was an honor to tour this up and coming Georgian vineyard which is sure to be a prime travel destination within the next few years!  I extend again my most sincere gratitude to the Georgian Wine Association for hosting us on our visit and introducing us to Château Mukhrani!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of Georgia as a part of a sponsored blogger tour of the region, organized by  Georgian Wine Association.  My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor. 

Winner of Best Airline Safety Announcement

November 23rd, 2012

On my recent flight home from Turkey, I read in Delta’s Sky Magazine that they will be releasing a new safety announcement video on flights in the near future. No more big-lipped, red head — maybe?!? I have to admit I enjoyed, or rather was entranced by her big lips the first 2-3 times I saw the video.

I wonder if the new Delta video will be as entertaining as this Pegasus Airline safety announcement that I got to enjoy four times flying to/from Izmir and Tbilisi from Istanbul. Those that know me, know I’m not a big fan of kids — but this video is too cute and hilarious! It made me smile every time and, more importantly, I paid attention! Our version had english subtitles, but my recording of it turned out pretty pathetic, so I share this one from our wonderful friends at YouTube. Enjoy!


On this day of Thanksgiving…

November 22nd, 2012

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.  But having just returned from a two-week trip to Turkey and Georgia that included every dining table filled with amazing (and endless) food and wine, Tim and I are spending a quiet and quite normal Thursday at home.  We both feel absolutely no need to do any feasting. It’s not just the memories of full stomachs and satiated taste buds from our trip that leave us more than satisfied….Rather, I woke-up this morning reflecting on the gracious and grateful people we met in Georgia — those who shared of themselves, of their talents, of their passions — as if they were celebrating Thanksgiving every day of their lives.  I’m still reeling in astonishment, amazement at their quiet and peaceful joy in what we so often take for granted.  So, on this Thanksgiving, I’d like to share what I think was the most special and meaningful moment during my Georgian travels.

LoireSaab our tamada at Azarpesha is wearing a traditional Tbilisi craftsman’s robe.

There’s a tradition in Georgia that we were fortunate to experience. The tradition of the toastmaster or tamada, a male-dominated position (or so I gathered), who not only filled the role of host, but also that of poet, entertainer and wise elder — all rolled up into one.  My first experience with a Georgian tamada was just over one week ago in the capital of Georgia — Tbilisi at a wine bar/restaurant called Azarpesha. Azarpesha is the Georgian word for a wine ladle from which the tamada drinks his wine. Our host was LoireSaab (I’m spelling his name phonetically, obviously not in Georgian due to a lack of Georgian characters on my computer keyboard). My initial impression of LoireSaab was = a handsomely-macho looking, successful entrepreneur of Tbilisi’s elite class. However, within minutes of him addressing us and welcoming us into his home (for that’s how he treated his business establishment), motherland and life — he became the embodiment of the loving and warm Georgian people.

My husband, Tim, holding LoireSaab’s Azurpesha

Georgians have been invaded and conquered throughout their history — even as recently as 2008.  LoireSaab mentioned to us that Georgia was in captivity for 200 years!  Prior to our trip, I had expected to find people worn down, protective, not readily-open to sharing of themselves or their culture, and maybe a bit sarcastic about life — I mean they had to endure decades of Soviet occupation – how could one come out unscarred from that?!?  LoireSaab and every Georgian we encountered — were the complete opposite of my preconceived notions. To date, I had never encountered a people so grateful of EVERYTHING!

With each toast, LoireSaab celebrated and gave thanks to God, family, wine, love, friends, his country and the many countries we represented,…and it went on and on. His passion and sincereity echoed in every word. This is sounding very mushy, I know, but it was the real and moving experience that I had.I kept tasting notes on my iPhone along with quick mentions of LoireSaab’s toasts.  Four of the five wines we tasted with our lunch were qvevri wines – meaning that they were aged in qvevri or a clay vessel stored underground along with bits of the whole grape (skin, seeds, some stems) which adds a much more rich and unique flavor to the wine.


The first wine we tasted was a Tsolikouri. It’s a chilled white wine whose crispness went perfectly with the traditional cucumber & tomato salad and two cheeses (little funnel-shaped cheese was cottage cheese rolled in phyllo-dough).  LoireSaab’s toast was to “bring a message of peace…Georgia is a safe place.”  His strong, yet polished appearance melted away as his warm and endearing message brought tears to my eyes…I wasn’t the only one either.

The second wine was a Rkatsiteli. It’s smokey, amber color was beautiful.  LoireSaab’s second toast was to wine – “our inspiration in life. On good days and on bad days, wine was one of our saviours.” He shared that Georgians don’t get drunk because it’s seen as a waste of wine. His toast celebrated also everyone that’s connected to wine, so it became a toast “to everyone!”

After the second toast, LoireSaab introduced us to another Georgian tradition that of  Georgia Sarkartvelo.  Georgians with “talented voices” are “demanded to sing” or perform and share their gift. Sakartvelos require at least three voices. LoireSaab was joined by two younger, male friends of his. The first Sakartvelo was taken from the church in the northern region of Georgia and LoireSaab summed it up by saying the words of the song are an expression that “we wish you many years.” Sarkartvelo 1

With our third wine, we moved on to reds with a Chkhaveri. The vine of this western Georgia grape variety grows up trees and is still a somewhat wild grape. The wine’s smell wasn’t so good and the taste was like a watery, stinky cheese — which sounds bad, but was drinkable — just not my favorite.  LoireSaab’s third toast was to the family, the art of living and for all our loved ones. Nina, his wife, also arrived and joined the three men for the second Sarkartvelo. Sarkartvelo 2 The words of the song were taken from those of a 12th century poet “rose where did you get your beauty?”  It is a song dedicated to one’s lover from the western regions of Georgia.

LoireSaab and Nina

The fourth wine, a Sapheravi, was not stored in a qvevri, but was a natural wine. It was a good, strong red wine that went great with the warm cheese bread, aubergine (eggplant) and mushroom stroganoff (of which I lost track of how many servings I consumed!).  The fourth toast was to friendship. LoireSaab said, “We don’t choose family [or] even our country,” but we choose our friends. He raised his azarpesha “to new friends” and said, “life is short, give joy to one another.” He followed up this toast with another Sarkartvelo – you can hear LoireSaab speaking briefly at the beginning of the song – which he said is dedicated to the mother of God. Sarkartvelo 3

I somehow missed getting a picture of the fifth and last wine – a red Chkhaveri. The last toast accompanying this wine was a toast “to curiousity…for people looking below the surface for something different, for the future and your for your desire to find something new,” said LoireSaab.

The final song was about springtime with words coming from an old poem. This Sarkartvelo shows the western-Italian influence on Georgian music. LoireSaab shared that, “invaders would come to destroy Georgia but afterwards when Georgians recovered, they would take  something from every invader” to add diversity and richness to their own culture. Sarkartvelo 4

LoireSaab said that today “there are few tourists, so it’s a good time to be in Georgia” — I could not agree with him more!  A more grateful and giving people, I’ve yet to meet!  May your Thanksgiving toasts be as heartfelt and enriching!

Disclosure: I tasted the wines of Georgia as a part of a sponsored blogger tour of the region, organized by  Georgian Wine Association.  My travel and accommodations were provided by the sponsor. 

Silician Wine – How Would YOU Vote?

November 1st, 2012

My husband, Tim, is a wine blogger too (however, a MUCH more accomplished one – Just over a month ago ago, the Consorzio Tutela Vini Etna D.O.C. invited him and a group of about 15 other wine bloggers to travel to Sicily for a 5-day wine educational tour to the Mount Etna region of Sicily. The trip was sponsored by the Camera di Commercio Catania and was intended to introduce the group to the great wines, vineyards and producers of the region. I was quite jealous, but Tim has worked hard on his blog for years, tasting and rating countless wines and building a great following. He, of course, had a fantastic trip! He has three posts about the trip on his blog and after reading all of them — you’ll feel like you were there alongside him walking through the vineyards and tasting the wines yourself!

The purpose of THIS post is not to brag about my husband, but to share that the Mount Etna Consorzio folks just announced that they will be awarding one of the bloggers from the trip with “THE BEST POST” and another with “THE BEST PHOTO” — from content they gathered during their visit. The Consorzio is going to announce the two winners at the EWBC in Turkey in just over one week. Each winner will receive a trip for two to Sicily!!! There are no rules and the  judges are unknown…it is going to be a complete surprise!

Of course, I want Tim to win! DUH! I’ve never been to Sicily — what a way to go, right?!? I mean, if he wins he BETTER pick me as his #2 or else there may be trouble in our household!

Since there’s no rules, I thought it might be fun to hear how YOU would vote. Plus, I’m enjoying reading not only Tim’s, but all the other bloggers’ posts, seeing their pictures and living vicariously through them to experience Sicily and thought YOU might too!

Here’s the link to the site —   Click on “Storify” to read the posts — then, you can “Like” and “Comment” on the posts you find interesting.  Click on “Gallery” to view each blogger’s photo folder.  Take a look and feel free to post back here who you would vote to win for best POST and best PHOTO!

Stay tuned — after the winners are announced at EWBC, I’ll share who actually gets picked. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed — hoping Tim will win, of course!  If he does, then I’ll be able to share about MY OWN Mount Etna, Sicily wine experience!  –CIAO for now!



Georgian Wine Association

October 28th, 2012

The Georgian Wine Association is our gracious host and sponsor of a five day wine extravaganza!  I’ll be traveling with several other EWBC members from Izmir, Turkey on Monday, November 12 to Tbilisi, Georgia. Tbilisi is the capital of Georgia.

Our trip will take us to the Kartli and Kakheti regions, considered heart of Georgian winemaking. There we will see how an Qvevri wine is made, a tradition that has been preserved over thousands of years producing wines of unique character and style.

I’ve heard mention that Georgian wine has strong health benefits in terms of longetivity. People have been known to live well past 100 years. I’ll have in inquire while I’m there and check it out!

Stay tuned to future posts — where I’ll be sharing my Georgian experiences!