On a recent trip to Brasov (2019) to visit Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania, I learned more about Count Dracula. You decide if it is myth or legend. I vote for legend, after visiting his castle and hearing the stories firsthand.
“Most historians agree that the vampire as we know it today got its start in Europe sometime during the 17th and 18th centuries. According to scholars, the legendary “Dracula” novel by Bram Stoker was crafted after the real Romanian Prince Vlad Tepes, who lived during the 15th century in Transylvania.
While Romania generally looks fondly on his legacy, he was known to be very cruel to those he conquered, even earning himself the nickname “Vlad the Impaler”. Some stories go so far as to say that he even dined with his dying victims, dipping his bread in their blood.
One of the best-known works about vampires is the book “Dracula” that was published in 1897. Stoker’s version of a blood-sucking ghoul who preys on innocent people to prolong his life was burned into the collective psyche and kept with the then-popular belief that vampires were dangerous and scary, although there’s a case to be made that the Victorian-era novel is full of innuendo and is, in fact, a heavily sexual piece.
But through this novel, we get several characters who continually pop up in future works by other authors and even television and movie directors. You might be familiar with names like Van Helsing, the vampire slayer who is the central character portrayed by Hugh Jackman in a 2004 action movie, or Mina Murray, a love interest who features prominently in Dracula romance novel spin-offs.
But today, it is quite the tourist site, particularly in summer, when tens of thousands visit. I got there just before the big summer crowds, and got an up close and personal look from a local guide (friend of Dirty Pat). And he believes in Dracula too! So, thanks to my pal, Dirty Pat, for taking me up to Brasov, and the legend of Dracula coming to life!!! Happy Halloween to all of you!
PS: I did not get to meet the modern day Count Dracula, aka Ion Tiriac, the former doubles partner of tennis legend, Ilie Nastase. He owns most of Romania, with insurance companies, auto dealerships, resorts, and various “other” businesses, not doubt granted to him during the Ceaucescu era.
I told a good friend I was planning to visit Bolivia sometime soon, mostly to see the famous Uyuni Salt Flats and the North Yungas Death Road. He suggested I plan a stay at the San Pedro Prison.
San Pedro Prison is one of the biggest in Bolivia (LaPaz) and the common destination for people convicted of breaking the country’s laws. However this is no ordinary prison. San Pedro has gained an infamous reputation with all the bizarre stories that have come out of it through the years. This includes everything from tales of cocaine labs, wild parties and wealthier inmates renting fancy cells equipped with hot tubs and king-size beds. There was even a period when backpackers in La Paz would take tours of the prison and sometimes end up, quite voluntarily, staying for days or weeks in their crazy new surroundings.
There are all kinds of ways in which this place differs from a regular prison. Firstly, rather than being hidden away in some distant suburb or outside the city altogether, it is found right in the very heart of the administrative capital La Paz. Indeed El Penal de San Pedro overlooks a pleasant plaza of the same name, just a couple of blocks from Avenida 16 de Julio, the city’s main thoroughfare.
Inside, things only get weirder. San Pedro’s notoriety mostly comes in that it is one of the few prisons that is essentially run by its inmates. For starters, prisoners must pay for their cells when they enter the prison, that’s after they’ve coughed up the entrance fee!
Essentially, the prison has its own little, corrupt economy, and as in any other having a bit of money helps a lot. There are many different sections ranging from terrible conditions in the poorer parts where inmates are crammed in with up to 10 prisoners sharing a small cell to parts which are more like posh apartment blocks and house convicted businessmen and politicians.The wives and children of many of the inmates also actually live with their husbands inside the prison. Every inmate must earn their living as nothing comes for free so many run shops, restaurants and, as has widely been reported, even cocaine laboratories. Unlike most prisons, guards rarely enter the main part of San Pedro, so prisoners are for the most part left to look after themselves. Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous tales of brutal violent acts between fellow inmates.
Until the 1990’s, outside of Bolivia at least, little was known about the ongoings in San Pedro and travelers to La Paz came and went, most likely without even knowing the place existed. That all changed when British-Tanzanian Thomas Mcfadden started offering tours of the prison after he was incarcerated for drug trafficking in 1996.
Travellers passing through La Paz along the typical South America backpacking route (known as the Gringo Trail), quickly started to take notice and before long a visit to San Pedro, was high on the to-do lists of many adventurous travelers. Despite the apparent dangers of being a wealthy foreigner inside a prison in South America’s poorest country, many came back multiple times after the tours, to spend time with Thomas or enjoy the cocaine-fueled parties.
Thousands of backpackers have entered the prison since the tours first started, intrigued by what is unquestionably one of the oddest tourist attractions in the world. Given how lucrative and popular they had become, other inmates continued to offer tours, even after Mcfadden’s release, and they remained popular with travelers in La Paz throughout the 2000’s.
Even Lonely Planet at one point included San Pedro in its South America guides. Many visitors were shocked and fascinated in equal measure by the tour which normally included visits to the different sections, the cell of the guide and the infamous swimming pool where many inmates have reportedly been murdered.
Another draw for some travelers was the cheap cocaine on offer and that’s perhaps what the prison is most well known for. Many inmates are coke addicts and given that it is produced onsite, the cocaine in San Pedro is reportedly amongst the purest in the world.
Two other prison hotels I have considered are in Boston (formerly the Charles Street Jail) and Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul (formerly the Sultanahmet Jail). Both are rather pricey.
So, the real question, would I tour the prison, and would I stay overnight if given the chance? Probably not.
Have you heard of orange wine for Halloween? White wines are generally pressed off of their skins shortly after entering the winery— not the case with an orange wine. An orange/amber color is produced when white grape varieties ferment with their skins. In addition to an orange-ish color, the extended exposure to skins gives this style of white wine more tannin and a slight note of bitterness. Orange wines can be fermented in a variety of different vessels including stainless steel tanks or oak barrels. Often, a traditional method in clay amphora and qvevri is used, but othertypes of wines can also be made in these receptacles, so they are not synonymous with orange wines. The flavors and textures of wines made in a amphora and qvevri are quite distinct. Often there’s a resiny, character or something that’s smokey and peaty not unlike single malt Scotch. Depending on the variety of grapes used, the flavors can be reminiscent of wild herbs, dried orange peel, dried apricots, walnut skins, sea salt, minerals, ginger, and spiced tea.
Here is a lovely story about Champagne Charlie (no relation to Champagne Gerry): In honor of International Champagne Day, here’s a story about one of the men who made the beverage popular in the United States. Charles Heidsieck founded his Champagne house, by the same name, in 1851 and promoted his Champagne extensively in the United States. He was dubbed “Champagne Charlie” by the American press. Champagne Charlie was an energetic, smooth-talking entrepreneur—by 1861 he had sold over 300,000 bottles in the U.S., and his Champagne had become a wild success. From an avid winemaking family, Charles Heidsieck was related to the founders of the two other Champagne houses that eventually came to be known as Piper-Heidsieck and Heidsieck & Co. Monopole. During the U.S. Civil War, Charlie was arrested and accused of being a Confederate spy on his travels through New Orleans. He was finally released from prison after President Lincoln received a letter from Napoleon III, then the Emperor of France, on his behalf. Returning to France penniless and ill, Charlie still managed to save his Champagne business when he was repaid a debt using land deeds. The repayment included one third of a small village in the U.S. “Colorado Territory.” Shortly thereafter, silver was discovered in that same then little-known village of Denver, saving Charlie’s Champagne empire.
And for those of you who love your bourbon: Ten million of barrels of Bourbon are currently aging quietly along in Kentucky. This year has been a particularly spectacular year for bourbon production, according to the Drinks Business. However, thanks to an old Kentucky state law which considers full barrels of bourbon as property, all of that bourbon is taxed–every year (like real estate). Kentucky distillers are braced to pay $33 million in “barrel aging taxes” this year alone. No other region in the world taxes spirits in the same way.
Going with the latest trend: You can now get 80 self-serve wines by the glass at the new Sonoma, California restaurant Matheson. The restaurant’s main attraction— is a wine wall where the self-serve wines by the glass are housed. Wine is dispensed through a machine that allows diners to choose a 1 oz., 2.5 oz., or 5oz. pour. The most expensive self-serve wine on the list is a Merlot blend ($26/$65/$130) from Vérité in Healdsburg.
All the above, courtesy of Winespeed. I love their website and weekly emails.
Most of us watched the World Series or listened on the radio during our childhood. We often tried to fake an illness to stay home on game days. When I was growing up, the games were only on the radio. Once they were televised, I just had to watch a weekday game, weekend games were not enough for a young baseball fan.
I resolved as I grew older, that I would attend the World Series. Back then my favorite team, since they were on TV all the time, were the mighty New York Yankees. Their stars were Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and later Roger Maris. And they won many world titles.
But in the late Fifties, the life of young baseball fans changed forever, when the Dodgers and Giants moved west. Coming from central California, we had to choose between the Giants and Dodgers. This was pretty easy, since the Giants had the best player of all time, the great Willie Mays.
I thought I might get to attend my first World Series game in 1962, when the Yankees played the Giants. I would be a sophomore in high school. We tried to get tickets, through mail order, but were unable. I was fully prepared to miss school to go to a World Series game.
Fast forward ten years to 1972. I was working at my first post college job at a pharmacy in Alameda, just across the estuary from Oakland. The Oakland Athletics were building a juggernaut of a team, led by Joe Rudi, Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson.
Many of the players lived in Alameda, and regularly offered tickets when they dropped by the pharmacy. We would often go, about 4 to 6 of us. Average attendance back then was three to four thousand since everyone hated the owner, Carlie Finley.
That year, 1972 was the first of three consecutive World Series wins for the Athletics. Tickets were hard to get, but we figured out a way to get tickets. Since parking was a mess, we rode up to the front and parked my roommate’s motorcycle in the front lot. Just as the anthem was finishing, we offered the scalpers about half price on their tickets. We were seated by the first pitch. Better yet, we were back home, sipping a cold beer in celebration, when the post-game show came on TV.
Though my son was an ardent fan, we had very few chances to attend the World Series during this youth. But along game 2010, the beginning of the Giants championship run on 2010, 2012, and 2014. My neighbor Donna and I decided to go to Game 2 in San Francisco against the Texas Rangers. I had a thousand dollars in cash, and we were not to be denied.
Things looked bleak for a while, as very few scalpers were around. Then I found them across the street from the stadium, and we were rushed by dozens of scalpers. I found a guy who had two seats, “near 3rd base” he claimed, and the price was right, $500 each! Again, we waited until the Anthem was played, and we sat down as Matt Cain delivered the first pitch. The game was a rout, our Giants won big, 9-0 on October 28, 2010. They would go on to win the Series 4 games to one.
And yes, if you are asking, there are few bigger sports thrills than seeing your hometown team in the World Series. It compares favorably to the Niners in the Super Bowl, the Dubs in the NBA Finals, or (see me praying on my knees) my California Golden Bears someday in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
A lady blogger suggested adding this to a list of potential places to go. As adventurous as I think I am, I wonder, in times of this pandemic, highly skeptical about going somewhere I have never heard of. And worse, what is their vaccination status, and quality of health care?
I like the idea of going someplace new and different. But to point to some country I have never heard of seems to tempt fate. Let me just illustrate the folly of this idea.
At random, I found Central African Republic, a landlocked country in central Africa. It is bordered by Chad to the north, Sudan to the northeast, South Sudan to the southeast, DR Congo to the south, Republic of Condo to the southwest, and Cameroon to the west. CAR was a French colony, with a current population of around 5 million. It is among the ten poorest countries in the world. Per capita income is $400 per year. Malaria is endemic, and one of the leading causes of death.
So, let’s scrap this idea. In fact, I don’t think I would visit any of the neighboring countries either! But I would never say “no” under the right circumstances.
Instead, let’s pick a place that most of us have heard of, but perhaps do not know very much. The country I would choose is Bolivia, in South America. I know it has the famous Uyuni Salt Flats, and the even more famous Yungas Death Road. I had a trip planned to Bolivia (along with Buenos Aires) in February, 2020, when the pandemic hit. My travel buddy, Mr. Mike was planning his annual dove hunting trip to Argentina. I planned to visit Bolivia on my own, before meeting up with him in Buenos Aires.
So, what exactly makes it any different? Bolivia has a stronger economy, plentiful natural resources, and better infrastructure. Plus, I am just an hour or so away from access to major health care services in Buenos Aires. The population is around 10.1 million, with 40% of the population under the age of 15. And best of all, tourism has become increasingly important.
In my younger days, I would gladly take on the challenge of the Death Road. My visit would have to focus on the Uyuni Salt Flats. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, at over 3900 square miles. Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, by comparison is only 30,000 acres. The flats can reach a depth of 10 meters in some places. Underneath the salt is 70% of world’s lithium reserves. The train graveyard is a big attraction.
So, what is the big deal? For me, staying in a hotel on the salt flats made of block of salt, sounds really interesting. The Luna Salada Hotel and Palacio del Sal were made entirely out of salt, from the walls, to the furniture to the floor. Palacio was made with a million blocks of compressed salt grains, with each room, an igloo styled dome. It even has a golf course! But salt hotels have a lifespan of only 10 to15 years, since rain causes disintegration.
Or maybe Bosnia, Armenia, Serbia, Slovakia or Slovenia?? I had a former neighbor and friend recently move to Slovakia. And my favorite cyclist, Peter Sagan is from Slovakia. The world’s two best cyclists (Roglic and Pogacar) are form Slovenia. I could be my kind of place.
Whatever you do, I hope you will consider the entire situation in the country you intend to visit. Many times, booking a tour will “hide” some of the issues in third world countries (like when I went to Myanmar). But never, I repeat, never, let anyone (even me) discourage you from visiting a place you have never heard of!!!
Room service, for many years, was known as slow, expensive, and limited. But the pandemic has changed hotel room service standards. Menus have been expanded, time guarantees are offered, and in some cases, prices are the same as “dine in” options. Why?
For one, the dining room may be closed, and room service is the only option. Two, they have expanded the options to include cocktails, to go along with their beer and wine. And third, and most importantly, their menus have been adapted to fit the room service option. By this, I mean more appetizers, finger foods, and “plates”, meaning things like cheese platters, fruit platters, charcuterie, and Asian pot stickers.
But there are a few hidden tricks to this whole process. The first is to know when to order. By all means, avoid the peak mealtimes. For breakfast and a big pot of brewed coffee, order the night before. For dinner, order early or late. The second, is my unwritten rule of room service. Always ask for “specials” or off menu items. And do not be afraid to specify options like gluten free, sugar free, or nut allergies. Third, try to order within the cuisine of the hotel you are staying. Order local dishes, as opposed to the standard hamburger.
Also, make sure you understand the pricing. Is the tip included, as this has become the norm during the pandemic? And be sure to distinguish between service charge and tip, as one or both may already be included.
Don’t be afraid to order in courses. If you eat an early dinner, perhaps you may want a later snack and dessert to round out your meal. The same goes for morning coffee. A larger breakfast can be delivered after a morning shower or exercise routine.
Then again, if your room has a butler, you need not worry about any of this. When we stayed at the Rasa Sayang in Batu Ferringhi, Penang, our room had a butler. We also had a hot tub on the balcony. And we also had “high tea” at 3pm every day. The next best thing was our stay at Pebble Beach’s Casa Palmero. The all-day bar and appetizer offerings are more than enough for dinner. And it is included in the price of the room. Oh, and each room has an outdoor, private spa/hot tub.
It is definitely more fun to get out and explore the neighborhood. But if you get back from all day treks, cycling, hiking or touring, room service might be perfect!
By this, I mean, have you been to a place that no longer exists? The most likely, for Vietnam vets, would be North and South Vietnam, now a united Vietnam. Other common places, that no longer exist would be Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the USSR, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia and Czech Republic), Yugoslavia (now Slovenia and Croatia), and East and West Germany (now Germany).
Contrast this to places whose names have changed from their colonial names. These are places like Myanmar (formerly Burma), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Belgian Congo), Thailand (Siam), Bolivia (Charcas), Burkina Faso (Republic of Upper Volta), or Armenia (Hayastan). The border is essentially the same, but the names have been changed.
Here is some background (from Exploring) information:
Yugoslavia (‘Land of Southern Slavs’) came into being in 1918 following the collapse of Austria-Hungary. The country was a kingdom until World War II when King Peter II was deposed and Yugoslavia became a socialist republic under dictator Josip Broz Tito. Tito was successful in holding the country together but, after his death in 1980, simmering ethnic tensions came to the fore as the economy faltered. Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991, and the bitter Yugoslav Wars that followed led to the break-up of the nation in 1992.
Carved out of former territories of Austria-Hungary that included the Kingdom of Bohemia, Czechoslovakia was born in 1918. The Central European nation started out as a democratic republic but became a communist satellite state of the USSR in 1946. The nation remained communist until 1989 when the peaceful Velvet Revolution ended one-party rule. This was followed by increasing nationalist sentiment among Czechs and Slovaks, which prompted the dissolution of the country in 1992 and its split the following year into two sovereign states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
A key 20th-century superpower, the USSR was formed in 1922 following a brutal civil war that ended in victory for the communist ‘Reds’. A one-party state made up of numerous Soviet republics, the vast nation was at odds with the capitalist West since its inception. This clash of ideologies culminated in the Cold War, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear conflict. The country’s rigid communist ethos spelled its downfall. By the 1980s, its economy and political system were crumbling. The death knell came in 1989 with the Fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and the USSR was formally dissolved in 1991.
Germany was split into three Western zones and a single Soviet zone following World War II. The Western zones formed the Federal Republic of Germany, aka West Germany, while the Soviet zone became the German Democratic Republic or East Germany. The Soviet satellite state, which had a strict command economy, erected the infamous Berlin Wall in 1961 to stop its citizens defecting to the more affluent West. By the late 1980s, the regime was on death’s door politically and economically. The Peaceful Revolution of 1989 dealt the final blow and led to the fall of the Iron Curtain and reunification of Germany.
Communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who declared independence from French Indochina in 1945, captured much of northern Vietnam by the early 1950s and defeated the former colonial power in 1954. The peace talks that followed granted Vietnam independence and split the country into two zones, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, with elections planned for 1956 that would unite them. The South’s anti-communist leader Ngo Dinh Diem refused to hold the reunification elections and the North reacted by starting the bloody 20-year Vietnam War. Despite the involvement of US, Australian and Thai forces, the South was defeated by the Soviet Union and China-backed North, and the two zones were forcibly united in 1976 to create the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
Anxious to remain in power as Africa was decolonizing, the white-minority government of South Rhodesia, which had been a UK colony since 1923, declared independence unilaterally in 1965. Though never recognized internationally, the illegal nation was a de facto country for 14 years.
Resistance to the regime was fierce. The ensuing conflict was fought out between the Rhodesian government, Marxist-Leninist ZIPRA and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU, which emerged victorious. Hostilities ceased in 1979, ending white-minority rule, and the Republic of Zimbabwe was formally created the following year.
So, the only place where I have visited BEFORE being wiped out, the non-existent East Berlin, and East Germany. I went through Checkpoint Charlie four times in 1971. I have told you the story many times. It remains one of my most unique and interesting travel experiences. And it is one that no longer exists!
As far as the other places, I plan to visit Croatia next May. And I have been to the successor countries of the former USSR (now Russia), Vietnam, Czech Republic, and Zimbabwe.
While you know I love to travel, I also enjoy studying maps and globes. And even places that no longer exist.
Everyone seems to have a list of best beer drinking cities. A case can be made for even the smallest town having a great craft beer or specialty brewery. But I am thinking more of cities where you can roam around, find bars all over the city, and making it impossible not to find a good beer or a good beer establishment.
Here is “the” list from Frommer’s, some of which I agree with, some rather marginal. And of course, there are omissions.
Dublin-home of Guinness and a bar on every corner! Templebar, touristy but fun.
Tokyo-never thought of Tokyo as a beer city, but I am willing to give it a try next visit!
Munich-the Oktoberfest, and much more, always easy to find a beer party, anytime. Love Hofbrauhaus.
Portland-a west coast beer haven with goof bites to pair.
Vienna-many traditional beer halls and microbrews, AFTER the Opera.
Hanoi-watery but cheap and plentiful, light bodied draft pilsner.
Prague-tons of beer halls and bars, along with great neighborhood places. A+ in my book. High consumption city!
Melbourne-I have not been yet, but the Aussies know how. Pub on every corner.
Amsterdam-nothing compares to Heineken Brewery tour at 10am and being drunk before noon.
Mexico City-cantinas and bars have a great selection of brews and bites. Just don’t drink the water!
Edinburgh-the Scots love their beer, but also their Scotch. And golf, and the Oxford Bar.
Milwaukee-the beer goes great with their Friday night fish fry. And the World of Beer Fest.
Brussels-cannot remember waking up in a total haze, it must be good! Higher alcohol content.
Asheville-a rather sedate place, with good food.
Some of my choices:
Frankfurt-the Paulaner Oktoberfest beer on tap is as good as Munich’s Oktoberfest.
Mallorca-they love Amstel here, and why not?
Athens-I fell in love with the Alpha beer.
Hawaii-I challenge any of you to outdrink a Hawaiian!!!
Buenos Aires, Santiago, Medellin-ask Mike and Barry the V!
Hoi An, Vietnam-ask Kenny! He has a hollow leg, make it both legs.
Baltimore-those Ravens fans can drink with anyone!!! Especially Dirty Pat.
Hotlanta-when Kenbob picks me up at the airport, he has a huge cooler of tall boys!
Denver-a real microbrew type of city now, go to LoDo.
Paso Robles-love the Firestone Walker 805.
Is there anything better than a cold beer on a hot summer day?
When I was quite ill in Addis Abada, Ethiopia, my diet consisted almost exclusively of beer and French fries!!!
My new motto: A beer a day keeps the beer industry fully employed!!!
I am reading one of great travel writer, Paul Theroux’s Deep South. He talks at length about what travel writers write about, usually some part of the journey that stands out, either really great, or really bad, as in arduous, troublesome, and memorable.
He seeks to make a connection with people, something I like to do in my travels as well. In the “Deep South”, he finds these stories, and tries not to judge. He walks into a small Alabama convenience store. He notices the jars of penny candy on the countertop. He tells the clerk, “When I was a boy, we used to call it penny candy.”
The clerk, perhaps in a moment of defensiveness, replies, “Road candy, eat it while you’re driving.”
Suddenly, I flashed on something I completely forgot. I fondly remember my dear Mom with a small bag of candy in her purse, only when we took off on our family vacation, usually to Southern California, to visit relatives. It might have been the only time I saw my Mom with any type of junk food. Of course, our little town did not have a McDonalds or Taco Bell back then.
I miss my Mom, as I am sure many of you do as well. Moms are the BEST!
Have you heard of Spanish Priorat wine? During the Middle Ages, as the story goes, a villager had a vision of angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven in the region. The next year, King Alfonso II of Aragón founded a small town and Carthusian monastery on the spot. The monastery became known as La Cartoixa, (Catalan for “charterhouse,” another name for a Carthusian monastery) and the town, Scala Dei (“God’s stairway”). Given the important presence of the monks, the region came to be known as Priorato, from the Spanish word for “priory.” Today, although the monastery has been long abandoned, the little hamlet nearby is still known as Scala Dei, and one of the oldest and best wineries in the region—Cellers de Scala Dei—operates in some of the old buildings that once belonged to the monastery. (The Scala Dei wine called “Cartoixa,” a blend of Garnacha and Carineña, is massive, savory, and delicious).
Can there be bad cheese partners? Of course. Here is one that I found interesting, since I often have a glass of Cab with my salad. But Winespeed explains it all: While blue cheeses such as Roquefort, Stilton, and Gorgonzola, and are lovely with fortified sweet wines like Port, they are usually terrible partners for Cabernet Sauvignon. Blue cheese is so powerful and salty that it strips the character right out of Cabernet and other red wines and makes them taste bland and dull. While it may be tempting to add a dollop of blue cheese to a grilled steak, know that the Cabernet Sauvignon you’re having alongside is going to suffer. A better pairing with Cabernet Sauvignon, according to Max McCalman, the first maître fromager (person in charge of cheese)— in a North American restaurant —would be Carmody, a cow’s milk cheese. A, B, and D are among his other favorite matches. Lesson learned!
Do you think they named the phone company after this? Veraison (ver-AY-zhun) is happening right now all over California. It’s the time in a vine’s growing cycle when grape berries begin to soften and change color. “White” grapes go from green to yellowish, and red grapes go from green to dark red or purple. Veraison is important to winemakers because it signals the onset of final ripening before harvest.
Speaking of old world wines, how about some port? Can you believe a 130% growth in dry table wines produced in the Douro region of Portugal since 2005? According to Harpers, the Douro, which is known mostly for Port, first began making dry wines 70 years ago. Within the last 15 years, however, the number of dry wine producers in the region has doubled. The hope is to counteract falling sales of Port which have declined 26% since 2006. Even in Europe, I rarely saw many people drinking port, whether Europeans, young or old.
Like many of you, I love the oyster and bubbly combination. I try to enjoy it at iconic places, like Harrod’s in London, or Joe’s Stone Crabs, of Pike Market in Seattle. Why do we enjoy the combination? Why are sparkling wines and oysters such a fine match? One reason is that their flavors are both complementary and contrasting. Oysters of course have a distinctive briny, saline quality that comes from the seawater the bivalves filter through their plump, rich bodies. Sparkling wines have crisp acidity and sometimes a minerally quality that complements the brininess of the oysters. And while both oysters and sparkling wine have fresh flavors, a sparkler’s acidity cuts through the oyster’s powerful sea flavors while refreshing the palate for another slurp. And finally, for anyone who loves texture, it’s hard to find two more textural indulgences than oysters and bubbly. FYI, the Fanny Bay oysters from Puget Sound are my favorite!!
Perhaps you remember when Mr. Mike and I were in Budapest, and buying some Takaj. Here is an interesting story about tokaj. From the 1600s through the early part of the 1700s, the vineyards of Tokaj-Hegyalja in northeastern Hungary were considered so sacred that anyone caught swearing could be fined, and the fine was often doubled if the swearer was a nobleman. At the time, the rare sweet wine Tokaji Aszú was one of the most celebrated wines in the world. Considered a gift from God and a wine that possessed miraculous healing properties, Tokaji Aszú was thought to be the one elixir that could revive someone on his/her deathbed.
$1100 USD is the average cost of a new French oak barrel in 2021. According to barrel maker François Frères, the price for standard 228L barrels may skyrocket in the coming years due to inflation and the cost of moving goods. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major effect on many supply chains in the wine industry including the glass, cardboard, and oak barrel markets.
So, when you get a chance, try some of the older varietals. The Lodi region has popularized many out of favor wines as well. Try something other than French and American wines. And mostly, keep an open mind.