Cellar Sleuths

facebook-1983MerlotLabelCall it CSI: Napa Vallley Edition, because what cork taint can do to wine is a crime. Once you’ve smelled the musty odor of wet dogs or damp paper in your glass, you can’t forget it.

In the case of cork taint, the CSI techs are the Shafer Vineyards winemaking team. They’ve spent over 20 years sussing out clues to the defeat of this notorious wine cellar offender. Using sophisticated techniques like laboratory forensic analysis—and old-school tactics like following their noses (literally)—they’ve investigated everything from storage pallets to corks to barrel construction.

And now they’re just about ready to close this (wine) case.

Click here to read this story, published on Vivino.com.

Hooked on Haggis

I was in Cognac one hot summer day, trying to make conversation with a producer who spoke about as much English as I do French, and the situation was getting  sticky in every way when he suddenly asked me whether I had been to Scotland.

Yes, I had.

fullsizerenderWell, then, he asked, how did I feel about haggis.

“I LOVE it,” I replied. “It’s the perfect pairing for whisky.”

“Madame,” he said. “It’s the only reason to drink whisky.”

I would not go quite that far but I do feel that haggis is a sadly misunderstood comestible.

The name doesn’t help – Is that a disease or a dish? – and no one can claim that the product in its natural state is a beauty.

And then there’s the offal truth of what goes into haggis, at least in the traditional recipe – sheep’s pluck, which is not about spunky sheep but rather refers to the heart, liver and lungs. Recipes vary, but often the meat is minced with onion, oatmeal and suet (animal fat) and is mixed with stock and spices and baked as a kind of sausage, or savory pudding. Back in the day, the casing was the sheep’s stomach, conveniently to hand, but modern haggis comes in artificial casings.

And it is delicious!

Click here to read this story, published on Palate Press.com.

Margrit Mondavi, 1925-2016


Archway welcoming guests to the Robert Mondavi Winery /Photo Michelle Locke

Margrit Mondavi was not a large person, nor a loud person, but when she was in the room, people knew it.

Instantly recognizable with her broad smile, huge eyes and blonde bob — Wine Country’s answer to Carol Channing — she only had to walk into a restaurant or event to set off a chain reaction of turned heads and smiles. “Oh look! Margrit’s here.” (A lot of people, including myself, never got around to calling her husband, the late, great Robert Mondavi, “Bob,” even though we were assured he wouldn’t mind, but Margrit was almost always Margrit.)

I first met both Mondavis in the early 2000s when I wrote a story about their charitable giving. I’ve never been great with celebrities/rich people and wasn’t feeling all that comfortable until Margrit paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “I do like your dress. So cheerful.” I was instantly disarmed and quite forgot to be flustered.

Margrit and Bob were THE Napa Valley power couple. He was the gregarious one, never happier than when he was expounding on the marvels of California wine. She was quieter but a real power in her own right, giving and raising millions for causes she believed in. I saw them occasionally at events and would sometimes get a quote or two for a story. One of my favorite memories of them is from one of the annual Napa Valley wine auctions. It had been a hot day and most of us were pretty wilted. But not the Mondavis. They were still on the dance floor, slow-dancing like the last two teens at prom.

Accolades have poured in, as you might imagine, following Margrit’s death just before Labor Day, and a few people have referred to her as the grande dame of wine. In a way, she was, but I’ll always remember her as the person who took a minute to put an awkward reporter at ease.


Robert and Margrit Mondavi

Photo via Napa Valley Register


Gin with a Scottish Accent

hendricks-bottle-on-workbench-700x526It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Edinburgh and I and some like-minded souls are gathered together in a dim basement, paying reverence to matters of the spirit. Which is to say, we’ve all got a G&T in hand having reached the sampling part of a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.

Expecting that sentence to end with something a little darker? Think again. Sure Scotland is the land of whisky, with 100+ distilleries to show for it. But it’s also a powerhouse in gin: 70 percent of British gin is made here.

Producers north of the border include heavy hitters like Tanqueray and Gordon’s, which has been made at Diageo’s Cameronbridge facility since 1998. And in 1999, William Grant & Sons introduced its Hendrick’s Gin, a milestone in gin with its new botanical elements.

Other Scottish gins of note: The Botanist, made by the Bruichladdich distillery on the island of Islay, Caorunn, made in Airdrie, Pickering’s, from Edinburgh, and GILT from Strathleven distillery and made with malt barley. And let’s not forget Shelton Reel Ocean Sent Gin, which includes native bladderwrack seaweed from the Shetland coastline. There’s even a mapped-out Gin Trail.

We went to Lesley Gracie, master distiller for Hendrick’s Gin for some industry insight.

Click here to read this story, published by Palate Press.

Robert Mondavi Winery turns 50


Photo by Michelle Locke

Geneviève Janssens laughs as she recalls going to work as a young woman at the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Was she scared? “No. When you are young you don’t feel scared,” she says. “You are like a little bird and you fly.”

Janssens may not be the first name you think of when you think of the legendary winery, which turned 50 this summer. This is, after all, a story of brothers, Robert and Peter Mondavi, two Napa Valley legends who went separate ways and led the Robert Mondavi andCharles Krug wineries, respectively, and Michael and Tim Mondavi, Robert’s sons, who ran the Mondavi winery until its purchase in 2004 by Constellation Wines.

But there has always been a strong female component at work here.

Click here to read the rest of this story, published on the Nomacorc blog.


Decoding Chianti

greppone-mazzi-vineyardsThese are the three things everyone knows about Chianti: it’s an Italian red, it comes in cute straw-covered bottles that double as candleholders, and, at least according to one movie villain, it pairs well with fava beans and a certain type of organ meat.

We can’t speak to that last assertion, but the first two aren’t as true as you might think. Here’s what is true about the famous, and delicious, wines made under the Tuscan sun.

Click here to read this article, published by Vivino.

Dog Friendly Wineries in the Napa Valley

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AP Photo by Eric Risberg

You love your dog. You love wine. But sometimes it feels like your pooch just doesn’t fit in to wine culture.

Lucky for you and Fido there are actually a number of Napa Valley wineries where you don’t have to choose between the two.

Click here to see the rest of this story, published by the Associated Press.

Puttin’ on the Spritz



What do you drink when you’re sitting on the Sound of Music lakeside terrace?  An Aperol spritz, naturally. At least, that’s what I drank when I visited Salzburg recently, channeling Baroness Schraeder for all I was worth. (Sorry, Maria fans, I’m not really a tea-with-jam-and-bread kind of girl.)

Turns out Austria isn’t such a strange setting for the quintessential Italian cocktail. One version of the spritz’ genesis is that it goes back to the days when northern Italy was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and to the Austrian practice of adding a spray (spritz) of water to the regional wines, which they found a little heavy on the palate.

Orange Genius

The Aperol side of the equation, of course, is all-Italian, part of the national tradition of bitter liqueurs. Brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri created Aperol in 1919, launching it at the Padua International Fair. Silvio came up with the name Aperol, inspired by the French shorthand for aperitif, apéro, which he’d discovered when visiting France.

The drink was always a bright orange …

Click here to read the rest of the story, published by Palate Press

Best of Florence


florence-david-accademiaFLORENCE, Italy (AP) — The skies were clouding over as I strode briskly across that famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, ready for a productive day checking off Florentine must-sees.

Slight problem: The first museum on my list was open, but the ticket office was closed.

OK, then, on to the Uffizi Gallery. Except this time both ticket office and museum were closed; I had forgotten it was Monday.

A fine rain began to fall as I wandered listlessly past the open arches of the building next door, the statue-studded Loggia dei Lanzi. This wasn’t going at all as planned.

And then it hit me. Wait. This was the Piazza della Signoria, where novelist E.M. Forster‘s adorable Lucy Honeychurchwitnessed a stabbing moments after complaining about the dullness of life in “A Room With a View.” And those had to be THE steps where the brooding George Emerson carried Lucy’s fainting form.

Click here to read more of this story, published by Associated Press.