Normally, I write about going somewhere but Frog’s Leap winery just came to me instead of me going to it – a phenomenal wine tasting with friends and good food!
Since 2001, I have been part of a wine tasting group of friends. Some have cycled out when they moved out of town but the group has mostly been the same since 2003/2004. It makes for a great night of tasting wines, catching up, and getting a little silly. And usually, discovery of some good wines. This past weekend we had one of these tastings. And that night was not to be different!
Our friends J&J were in charge of the tasting and it was held at my house. Being in charge meant they picked the theme, the wine to go with the theme, and munchies to go with the wine (cheeses, chocolate, fruits, etc.). In 11 yrs we have done “new world” vs. “old world” wines, blind tasting of reds with high typicity (how well a wine represents the grape varietal’s “agreed-upon” traits), wines of country X (“Italian reds”), wine X across several wine regions that make it (“Cabs from Australia, California and Chile”), and so on.
This time, our hosts decided to do wines from one winery. We had never done that! They picked Frog’s Leap as J1 is a
“Fellow of the Frog“. I have had Frog’s Leap before (Rutherford!!) and liked it a lot but had not tried, for example, their whites. So this was going to be a new way of sampling wines for our group. I linked their site above and it will take you to an intro. Normally, I skip intros but this one is playful! Ribbit. (But don’t go there now – finish reading this and THEN go.)
Cork by Frog’s Leap, Fingers by Schmitt
As part of the tasting, we have munchies. Partly so stomachs don’t empty throughout the evening (most people eat a light dinner beforehand), and partly to help the tasting of the wines as some foods help highlight the flavors of the wine (whereas others can make the wine flat; that is part of the learning to do in a wine group!).
What was served? Well, here, let me tell you…
- Camembert and Chevre from Calyroad Creamery in Sandy Springs http://calyroadcreamery.com/ For the apricot/chevre, dried apricots were diced up with the chevre in a food processor.
- Cheddar – Cabot Reserve Aged Cheddar
- Prosciutto rolls from Costco
- Savannah Bee’s Honey from Whole Foods for the cheeses or the prosciutto rolls
- 3 types of Ghirardelli chocolates
- Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and dried cherries
- Baguette from Breadwinner Cafe in Sandy Springs, GA http://www.breadwinnercafe.com/index.html
- Cucumbers and parsley were from Split Cedar Farm from North Georgia (bought at the Sandy Springs Farmers’ Market)
- Maine Lobster Dip was from Costco and it was served in cucumber slices!
The Maine lobster dip
Cheese and crackers couldn’t be absent!
Pistachios and other items ready for the tasting
- Delicious chocolates await us…
Briefly, Frog’s Leap was founded in Napa Valley about 30 or so years ago at a place known as Frog Farm. It is claimed that frogs were raised there for sale to the big city (San Fran). Don’t worry, that’s a long time ago and the vines are free from any frog-smell! It produces – organically – both whites and reds, with an annual production as of this writing of about 60,000 cases. Besides the wine, the next best thing they have is their motto: “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”
The moment we have been waiting for: the wines! The stars of the evening were:
- 2009 Sauvignon Blanc
- 2011 Sauvignon Blanc
- 2009 Chardonnay
- 2009 Zinfandel
- 2007 Merlot
- 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon
Half the stars of the show! Let the games begin!
Both Sauvignon Blancs were well received by the group. Clearly one being 2 yrs younger than the other would translate into more of an edge on the younger one but everyone felt that fit well if you are wanting to drink a white wine outside on a hot day. It felt more refreshing than the 2011 and someone said it sort of popped on your tongue, alluding to a slight sense of effervescence without actually being effervescent. The 2009 had nice acidity and stronger fruit flavors – it paired very well with the raspberries but not with the blackberries, something we couldn’t quite understand. I feel I could drink these on a summer day but also other times of the year with certain dishes, especially strong-flavored fishes (e.g., salmon) as it would help counter those flavors.
The Chardonnay was a pleasant surprise as it wasn’t as oaky as many of us expected – which was good in our book. It almost had an old world style which explains at least why I liked it as I generally do not like California Chardonnays but do like French ones. It had a buttery sensation to it but it was not too strong along with good fruit flavors. Very mineral and crisp. We noted the pistachios went well with it.
We moved on to the reds at this point and first in line: the Zinfandel. It had a nice bouquet and light tannins. While it has a spicy start, it was not overly spicy. We found out it went well with the raspberries too. As with the prior wines, it had a short finish. I really enjoyed this Zinfandel.
On the Merlot, I can tell you it was the one wine the majority said was their favorite of the group because it felt well-balanced. It went really well with Ghirardelli’s Cabernet Matinee which we kept calling Cabernet Manatee (initially, someone WAS really confused!). It had a strong scent of grapes and probably the strongest finish of the group. Probably the extra years helped make it the favorite – wine, after all, gets better with age!
Finally, we hit the Cabernet Sauvignon. It had strong flavors of cherry and wasn’t a full-bodied red which pleased most in the group though a couple of us gravitate towards full-bodied reds. It was well-balanced like the Merlot and a pleasure to drink.
What struck us all was how good the wines were across the board. One cannot go wrong choosing any Frog’s Leap wine, it seems, and that is good to know! Now we all think we are fellows of the frog (lower case as it is unofficial) and continue to be best friends with the Fellow of the Frog in the group, J1, for having chosen well and introduced us more fully to this winery.
And the Non-Sensical!
Oh, and what is a wine tasting with this group (or others, I am sure) without the non-sensical things that are said or done. OK, not all are for this blog, and not all do I remember why they were said (except I jotted them down in my handy notepad) but they are part of what makes a wine tasting with friends so much more fun than one at another venue. A very small sample to keep this blog from being banned… and to protect the innocent:
- Reminiscing about a wine someone had had elsewhere, the descriptor was “sweaty sock” – wish I knew what wine that was to not try it!
- Overheard: “Can you pour some honey on my prosciutto?”
- Overheard: “Come from the backside”
- All fun and games until someone breaks a chair…
The main explanation of the non-sensical:
Before and after…
If you are interested in starting a group like ours, feel free to drop me a note here or in my Facebook page www.facebook.com/ilivetotravel
A few years ago, I went to Vienna as part of a series of offices visits for a client. Vienna meetings were conveniently scheduled for a Friday so the weekend could be enjoyed in the former Imperial capital.
As the Peachtree Road Race approaches in my hometown, a race I ran for 10 yrs before deciding the 1 mile walk from home to be a spectator was more fun, I think of the happy coincidence: it was the weekend of the Vienna Marathon. I have such luck sometimes. The same happened when I visited Florence.
Marathons, or any road race for that matter, offer great opportunities for photos of the human effort. However, one of my favorite pictures captures one of the most important spots along a marathon route: the water stops… This is the aftermath after one such stop…
(Photo taken with Canon EOS Rebel)
In 2006, I visited Oslo for work. As usual, I like going to a place where I can see the locals in their day-to-day. This plaza gave me a great view of folks headed home at the end of a work day…
(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel)
I came to Rome in a barrel. Ready to see the eternal city. It was dark all the way. I was in good company. Then we felt a tapping sound. Just twice. Then it went quiet. A day later, I felt pulled away. I saw light!!! I decided to sit and bask in the light. Since I was in Rome, I HAD to have my picture taken. Hope I looked alright after all that travel. I didn’t feel refreshed but I felt refreshing, if that makes sense.
(Picture taken with Canon EOS Rebel T1I)
Tasmania was an enchanting place to visit. The greenery, the remoteness, and yes, something different about the Australia and Australians I had seen so far. The natural beauty was impressive. We stayed at the Cradle Mountain Lodge, which we greatly enjoyed, and hiked up to the lake on a winter day in June of 2009. I wrote about the trip back then in the entries below, but I thought I’d highlight again Tasmania by sharing some photos from the visit.
Getting to Tasmania and the plan – read more here.
Going to Cradle Mountain and beyond – read more here.
Around Wineglass Bay and ending in Hobart – read more here.
(Captured with Canon EOS Rebel)
(Captured with Canon EOS Rebel)
Around the lodge
Santiago de Chile may be, as Chileans themselves could be thought to be, understated; but the city -again like Chileans- has a wealth and depth that you may miss initially if you don’t look for it!
Santiago likely offers many places to stay in every budget range so I will leave that part to other websites. What is harder to get from a hotel/accommodation website is the various parts of town. Life is very different in Santiago depending on which sector you stay at. The closer to the mountains, the less traditional things get and the more U.S.-like (if that is a fair comparison which it may not be). For example, the eastern suburbs sport the fancier and more standard malls, like Parque Arauco (expensive but an interesting place to hang out on weekend afternoons people-watching!). I stayed next to Parque Arauco at the Santiago Marriott which offered incredible views of the Andes. My favorite rooms were high up (earthquakes aside!) and facing the Andes. But I never said no to a corner suite facing elsewhere
Office buildings near Parque Arauco
The Centro – The Old Heart of Santiago
The closer to the centro, the more colorful and traditional the city becomes. The centro will tend to be of more interest to someone wanting to explore and get to understand how Chile is unique and how Santiago evolved over time. No matter which end of town you enjoy more (notice “north” and “south” did not enter this discussion), one thing you can be certain of is that the majestic Andes will be your faithful compass as you move around the city…
The centro is the only area in Santiago that suffered to any significant extent during the February 2010 earthquake (which I missed by one and a half days, something I am VERY thankful about!). The structures in the centro are old and pre-date, by a good bit, the great building code currently in place (which likely saved countless lives in this earthquake – following rules pays off; other countries need to learn from Chile…).
Santiago offers some really interesting sights, starting from the imposing like Cerro San Cristóbal which one can visit by taking a funicular or by hiking it. The views of the city from there are unparalleled. But, to me, the best part of Santiago is the part that you walk around and discover on your own. West of the centro but still in the centro are very picturesque neighborhoods like Concha y Toro (yes, named like the winery) with old buildings with architecture of the period and also some still bearing the marks of the February 2010 earthquake. Walk around early in the morning when the light is best and bring your camera if you want some really neat shots.
Driving around Santiago’s Interesting Neighborhoods
One Saturday morning, I hired a taxi to drive me around to whatever the driver thought was worth seeing. It was a great way to view Santiago from a local resident’s eyes and gave me many great photo opportunities!
A picturesque neighborhood I discovered this way was Barrio Patronato. An older part of Santiago with lots of life and charm, normally overlooked probably due to being close to the more popular Barrio Bellavista.
Barrio Patronato architecture
Church near Barrio Patronato
Street scene near Barrio Patronato
Another discovery was the Cementerio General de Santiago, one of the largest in Latin America with over 2M burials and many former presidents!
Statues in front of the Cementario General de Santiago
Mausoleum in the Cementerio General de Santiago
Other parts near the centro, like near the university, are great areas to walk around during the day. Sit down somewhere and watch life go by. Perhaps even chat up a local – I have never been disappointed at the thoughtfulness of their opinions be them political, cultural, or otherwise. In fact, taxi drivers in Chile have helped me understand the events of 1973 much better than any history book as they lived that history.
The Mercado Central
Near the centro is the Mercado Central. This is a place to be observed and discovered with just about all senses.
Walk around the seafood stalls and marvel at the freshness and color of the catch. Stop at one of the local places and have lunch and perhaps a pisco. An experience!
Some unlucky fellas…
Parque de los Dominicos
El Parque de los Domínicos is an arts and crafts market in Santiago on the east side of the city where many artisans still make their crafts and then sell them. It is a historic site and worth seeing (the metro drops you right there on its last stop) even if you can find better bargains elsewhere.
The Barrio Bellavista district is the home of Pablo Neruda’s home, many artistic murals, nice architecture, and some good eateries. It is also home to Patio Bellavista which felt too forced for me but it may be to your liking as it has a good amount of open dining areas and shops. I prefer to spend the time outside of Patio Bellavista in the neighborhood proper (Santiago Colonial was a good choice for dining).
And that gets me to dining… I had plenty a good meal in Santiago, whether Japón or Osaka for sushi; Cuero Vaca, Don Carlos or Ox for beef; Tiramisu for pizza, etc. I have a whole list and if you are interested, just drop me a note and I can send. Again, lots of local input in building the list and I greatly enjoyed hitting as many of them as possible. Rarely disappointed and plenty of repeat-visits to the ones listed above!
The question for someone coming to Chile to explore the entire country is how much to spend in Santiago. Yes, it has some very good dining but so do many other cities, so is that what makes it special enough for you to linger longer?
(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel)
Distances in Australia are enormous and, perhaps, they feel more so because there are a lot of vast empty lands in the middle (as opposed to us in the US where we have Kansas in the middle!). Yet my trip to Melbourne from Sydney felt short indeed as it does not require traversing the country. I wanted to get a good feel for Melbourne and no better way than visiting people who actually live there.
My friends in Melbourne lived in a penthouse pretty much in the central business district of town, enjoying a view of the Yarra river and the Crown casino. I think my friend Matt chose this apartment for a reason…
The view from the pad
The next morning after my arrival I made my first stop the information center in Federation Square, a relatively new and modern square next to the Flinders train station by the river. There I found way more information than I needed but that would have been very helpful had I decided to spend 2 months in Victoria, the state where Melbourne is… I wish I had had all that time!
The information office was very well organized and the folks there were extremely helpful. My first objective was to see the Great Ocean Road that heads out west from outside Melbourne by the ocean so I scheduled it for the following day.
The tour on the Great Ocean Road ends at the Twelve Apostles which are remnants from the mainland that water has eroded over time so they look like massive columns of rock coming out of the water, no longer connected to land. The number 12 is just used ’cause it sounds cool but now there are <>12 (I don’t even remember how many they said). In fact, 2 days before I went, one collapsed so I missed ever seeing it – well, I saw it in a pile of rocks. Hence, it is safer to say <> 12 since the number could change any day!
Some of the apostles from the helicopter
Some of the apostles from the helicopter
Koala in the wild – asleep!
Wildlife on the Ocean Road
After booking the Great Ocean Road tour, I took advantage of the free bus the city has for tourists to hop on and hop off at the various important sights in the city. Taking a bus is a great way to orient oneself in a new city, to see some places that one may have decided “check, don’t need to come here”, and to actually get off and visit places that seem interesting or make a note to come back another time. With this, I discovered the Victoria Market which sold just about everything but, unfortunately, as closing right as I got there. I did manage to get a couple of souvenirs and fruits and made my way back to the city center proper.
I did not get to visit the art gallery in Federation Square which I was hoping to see but got to see the Immigration Museum where I gained a good understanding of the Australian immigrants’ story.
Other things I did was enjoy chocolate at the chocolate stores in the Arcades (the city center has this beautiful arcades from early last century with shops and that’s where this chocolate shops are). I also, based on my friends’ recommendations, enjoyed great soup from a little chain store called Blue Bag – the red lentil soup was excellent.
On my final night in Melbourne (and Australia), I got to go to a football/soccer match at the MCG between Australia and Japan. It was great to be able to watch such a match with the local crowd though that required being careful on leaving as we had to walk through a minefield of a kind… Let’s just say, there seems to have been over-drinking during the match I got to try one of the famous meat pies during the match which was good but by the time we were done with the match, I was hungry again – should have had 2! That’s when I tried vegemite – on the salty side but the butter made it better.
Anyway, I have struggled in my mind to compare the cities of Sydney and Melbourne but can’t find a way to properly explain how they felt. Sydney has the harbor right there which was more in your face than Melbourne’s proximity to the ocean. Sydney felt fast-paced, Melbourne more laidback. I enjoyed them both and feel like I need to go back to keep studying what makes them different – how conveneeeeenient!
Johannesburg is one of the most important cities in Africa (Cairo, Lagos and Nairobi come to mind as competitors for the top spot…). It is a city of contrasts and, for me, a place where the past and the current South Africa came together – I ended up with a much better understanding of the challenges of the past and present with this short visit.
I went to Joburg to attend 2 conferences for work. I preceded that with a weekend in the Cape region center on Cape Town (read about visiting Cape Town here, the Cape of Good Hope region here and of visiting Stellenbosch wine country here!).
The conferences I went to were internal gatherings of the organization I was a part of and it was neat to meet so many colleagues from around the world. And, in the second conference, Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed us and I got to shake his hand! It was a great speech and a once in a lifetime opportunity to shake his hand – a man of courage and principles! We also were addressed by other important figures in the humanitarian sector and it was all a call for action and uplifting at the same time.
My Short and Limited View of Joburg…
For the first conference, I stayed in the Rosebank area, a very nice area of town. We were even able to walk outside at night (as long as we were not on our own). The Rosebank Mall was nearby which was very convenient as there were restaurants there as well as a market for African arts and crafts. The second conference took us to a hotel by the airport. And I mean, BY the airport… planes would fly over us as they were landing and they were at most 300 ft above the street next to the hotel grounds. Incredible!
We did manage to squeeze in some important short trips in between conferences and after the second conference. The first place we visited was Soweto (SOuth WEstern TOwnship, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soweto ), the township which was the epicenter of a series of riots that perhaps was the beginning of the end of the apartheid regime starting in 1976 and through the 1980s. We started at a shantytown in Soweto and that matched, I suppose, what I expected to see. A shantytown in Soweto, South Africa is not different in some ways than one in Chinandega, Nicaragua.
One of the poorest streets in Soweto
But the moment we left the shantytown we started seeing middle class and upper class neighborhoods leading us to ask if we had left Soweto (which has slightly less than a million residents). Well, we had not. It is incredible to see the mix of levels of income in such a small area. Winnie Mandela’s house is in a very nice neighborhood close to the street where Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela had lived when younger.
Kids being kids in Soweto
Learning about Apartheid
We also visited the Regina Mundi Catholic Church that shielded protesters from the police during demonstrations in the apartheid era; the choir was practicing when we went which made the visit much more colorful. Finally, we visited the Hector Pieterson Museum which tells the story of how this boy was killed; the image of this boy’s dead or dying body being carried by a stranger as Hector’s teenage sister ran along crying is a famous image of the period.
Picture of Hector’s body being carried by a stranger
The museum is small enough to be easily visited. It is an eye opener for someone like me who knew only superficially the struggle against apartheid (I only remember the sanctions and images of riots as I was growing up).
The Hector Pieterson Museum was a good start to learn about the history of the country but it was the Apartheid Museum that really taught me what it was all about and how South Africa was able to come out of such a horrible regime without becoming a ground of ashes from vented anger. It is a testament to the contributions of ANC leaders of the kind that Nelson Mandela represented that prevented violence as revenge and the pragmatism of others such as DeKlerk who understood things had to change whether they wanted the change or not. That may be oversimplifying (for example, not all ANC leaders would have proceeded as Mandela did) but I am only describing what I took away – not trying to write a dissertation! I highly recommend this as the most important stop for anyone visiting Joburg. It is not only a record of the history of modern South Africa but a testament to the human spirit.
Finally, we did not have time to go out to Kruger National Park but did manage to visit a nearby park at Pilanesberg. We enjoyed the drive from Joburg (about 3 hours each way) and got to see most animals except that we did not see any felines (bummer). We did have a near hit by an adult male rhino but our experienced driver knew how to read the rhino and know by when we really needed to get going as the rhino was getting testy with our presence.
Rhino about to charge our van!
(Photos taken by Canon EOS Rebel)
Ready to hit a new wine region? How about Stellenbosch in South Africa, a short drive east of Cape Town?
So, we finally hit the road east from our hotel to get to Stellenbosch. We made a few stops in the wine region hitting some wineries pretty much randomly.
The vine of happiness!
We did apply enough intelligence to the itinerary to make sure the first one we hit was one that had a place to eat since we were getting there around lunch time. The winery we chose (Vergelegen) had very large fields and gardens and a café where you could eat lunch in the shade of trees overlooking a rose garden. We then proceeded to the wine tasting area where for a fee (on top of the R10 we paid to enter the property…), we could sample 6 wines. Not getting into details, the wines generally were refreshing and quite drinkable. It was a blue-sky day and we faced a mountain range so the setting was perfect to sit back and enjoy life.
View from the Vergelegen winery garden
After the initial winery, since wineries began closing after 4 PM, we chose a road where there were a few wineries back to back to minimize driving time (did I say we both studied engineering??). The first winery was in an old building and the wine was quite nice. In this winery, the person who served us stood there by us and happily answered our questions but the conversation was nothing special. In a later winery (Peter Falke, not to be confused with the actor; the owner, if I remember correctly, was a German who owned a socks company in Germany) that seemed a little bigger (but not as big as the first one we went to), the only employee in that afternoon was the winemaker himself who was quite willing to sit outside with us and sample the wine on the backyard as we overlooked the fields and the nearby mountains. You can tell this winery is new but the setting is perfect to be rented out for events as it has the right lay out in the patio, has great outdoor furniture, etc. He was quite willing to discuss winemaking and generally answer our questions so I think this winery was my favorite . The wine was also quite nice.
In Stellenbosch Town
As the wineries closed, we headed into town to check in and have dinner. Our hotel was a local small hotel (the Eendracht) right in town. The architecture of the town as in much of the Cape region, is Cape Dutch. I, not being a student of architecture, have to admit I was clueless about it. I really found it quite charming. I will make a note to someday google it and learn something about it…
Example of the Cape Dutch architecture
The town was very nice and we quickly ran into the shops and restaurant area of the town. We also hit a wine store where we were given samples of wine without any pressure to buy. The store had a long wooden table that indicated frequent wine tastings took place. If I lived there, I would likely frequent it . That night we decided we were done with seafood so we smelled our way around the various restaurants until we found one that seemed right for a good meal. I don’t have the name handy but I think we did well. The place was full of locals and the meal was great. I ate springbok (a type of deer) in a brown sauce – it was delicious!So with that ended my weekend escape to the Cape region and I proceeded to the less magnificent Johannesburg area (but with interesting history) (read about it here). I also learned quickly in my trip to South Africa how cheap things are given the exchange rate!
Big thumbs up for the Cape region and here is to hoping to go back!
Does anyone have any recommendations for other wineries in Stellenbosch?
(Photos taken with Canon EOS Rebel)