Skye Highs

Portree, Scotland (AP) — Bonny Prince Charlie saw Scotland’s isle of Skye on the run. He was fleeing government troops after his Highland rebellion ended disastrously at the 18th century Battle of Culloden.

My visit was hurried, too, although due to nothing more exciting than a tight schedule — no redcoats on my tail.

Luckily, even a short stay is long enough to glimpse why the Misty Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions.

Here are a few reasons.
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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.

Well, 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

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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.)

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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.

Decoding Chianti

These 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

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.

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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 …

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Best of Florence

 

FLORENCE, 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.

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Slideshow: Montevideo

How to fly high in Wine Country

NAPA, Calif. (AP) — You know it’s fun to take in the wine country sights. But have you thought about trying the heights?

Whether you’re zooming down a zip line or floating through the air (with the greatest of ease) in a hot-air balloon, there are quite a few ways to experience the high life in wine country.

Here are five options ranging from thrill to chill.

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