My summer drink of choice is always sparkling wine or champagne. In fact, my winter, spring, and fall choice is more of the same. But once in a while, I prefer something else. And usually not by choice, but I try to go with it.
Here in the great Valley, we have an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables for summer meals as well as cocktails.
Some choices might be:
Watermelon tequila cocktails
Strawberry Lemon Mojitos
Manhattan ice cream float
Thai Basil sangria
Tequila Watermelon Aguas Frescas with Prosecco
Cucumber Rose Gin Spritz
Lemon and Lavender Gin Fizz
Tamarind Mezcal Sour
Third Wave Swizzle
Banana Rum Old Fashioned
Sandy Bottoms (no comment)
Frozen Cucumber Margarita
Normandie Club Spritz
Some of these sound rather complicated for me. My favorites are rather simple.
White wine spritzer
Prosecco with St. Germain splash
Malibu Carribean rum (with coconut liqueur) and diet coke
I hope you found some ideas to fill your summer parties and cocktail hours. I will probably stick to my sparkling wine. Or maybe a cold beer.
My favorite adult beverage for about the last ten years has been sparkling wine and champagne. I have probably written over a dozen emails about my bubbles. Here are some more bubbly insights.
From Winespeed: Well isn’t this brilliant. Just when flutes increasingly find themselves the object of Champagne-lovers’ dismay (even disdain), it’s beer to the rescue. The German Beer company Beck’s has just released beer in a can shaped like a flute. It’s not that far-fetched really. Historically, many traditional beer glasses were shaped like Champagne flutes, and both beverages derive some of their pleasure from bubbles. Curiously, one of the reasons the flute is in disfavor for Champagne is that it isn’t ideal for appreciating the wine’s aroma. (Because you can’t easily swirl the wine in a flute, volatile aromatic compounds aren’t easily released and the wine is rendered less “smellable.”) Leading us to wonder: are beer lovers less aromatically inclined?
Some rules exist to determine how my favorite Limouxs are made: Viognier is a major grape of the Languedoc region, but cannot be used to make Limoux’s famous sparkling. By law, Blanquette de Limoux is made with at least 90% mauzac, with chenin blanc and chardonnay added if desired. It is made by the traditional (Champagne) method and aged sur lie for a minimum of nine months. Interestingly, blanquette is the Occitan word for the mauzac grape and also refers to the dusty, white, powdery appearance of the leaves on mauzac vines. (Occitan is the historic language of southern France).
Here is an interesting story about wine glasses from Winespeed: Limiting yourself to just one glass of wine isn’t always an easy task. And it turns out it may be even harder depending on the size of that glass. The Behavior and Health Research Unit at the University of Cambridge recently studied patrons at a local pub in hopes of finding out if changing the size of the wine glass has any effect on drinking behavior. (And no, we aren’t talking Betty White-sized glasses.) It turns out, decreasing the size of the glass has no noticeable effect, but increasing the glass size does. In the experiment, the same amount of wine was poured in varying glasses. Nonetheless, people felt there to be less wine in the larger glasses. That led them to drink faster and drink more–10% more. So it seems like the question isn’t: is the glass half full or half empty? But: how big is the glass?
Actually, I prefer a medium sized glass. I don’t want my champagne to get warm, but I don’t want to keep refilling my glass.
When was the last time you stayed in a youth hostel, or even a senior hostel?
On my last trip to Dublin about 5 years ago, I stayed in a hostel. While I had a private room and bath, most of the rooms consisted of numerous bunks, crazy loud music, and the smell of a certain weed. Breakfast was a rather haphazard affair, with guests grabbing food, and plopping down anywhere in the dining area and lobby. I was shocked, upon seeing each day’s guests waiting for the bus outside. I would say the average age was definitely over 30!! But the place was clean, and safe, with a great location, walking distance to the Templebar area.
Prior to that, Mike and I stayed in some rather spartan hotels and motels on our journey through Chile. We could certainly afford better lodging, but when we arrived late at night, we just took what we could find. And yes, I had to prop a chair against the doorknob to “lock” my room at night!!! This happened several times on our trip, in the Atacama Desert (San Pedro), as well as in Ushuaia (southernmost city in the world). When it is so darn cold outside, we were just happy to have a warm place to sleep!
The most fun I ever had in a hostel was in Amsterdam, back in the 70s. Upon returning from the famous Milky Way kasbah, we all had the munchies. What did we buy? Grapes, of course.
Picture each of us on the top bunk in a room with about 10 bunks. We tried spitting the seeds into a trash can that we placed in the center of the room. And as you can guess, the laughter and noise erupted whenever we hit the basket. Our poor roomies!
Regarding sex in hostels, it was quite prevalent back in the day. Not sure about now.
In my skiing days, I often bunked in unusual places. My buddy and I found a ski hostel not far from Sugar Bowl in the Sierras. We had a room with about six or eight cots, a large communal shower, with group meals at dinner and breakfast. I eventually took other groups up there, both friends and family. Alas, it burned down a few years later.
But my latest trip to Athens resulted in a two-star hotel, about a half step above a youth hostel. It was clean, quiet, and safe. But the stairs had not railings, and I had only one electrical outlet in my room for computer, phone, and anything else needing a charge. Breakfast was served in a cardboard box that had to be taken back to my room. The elevator had an accordion door that was quite cute, but also quite old. And it talked to me in both Greek and English! But really, who can complain at about $350 for the week, with air conditioning?
So, in my view of the world, one can never be too told for a hostel. Just be ready to see sex, drugs, rock n roll!!!!
Northeast of Croatia’s famous walled city of Dubrovnik is the 98-feet-long Ombla River, which emerges from a cave inside a huge massif. The Ombla may be short, but its drainage basin is an impressive 230 square miles. It flows from the massif and then over a weir, or low dam, into Rijeka Dubrovačka, an embayment formed by the Adriatic Sea. Its drainage basin includes groundwater used to supply drinking water to the residents of Dubrovnik. The source of the river, Vilina Špilja (or Fairy Cave), is one of the largest and most biologically diverse caves in the Dinaric Alps region.
How about a tiny airport? The Luang Prabang, Laos airport is charmingly small with just one runway and terminal, with a handful of interesting little shops and spectacular mountain views from its windows. Handily, it’s just a short hop from Luang Prabang, with tuk-tuk drivers waiting to whisk passengers on the 15-minute drive into the center. We drove to this city, but left via this tiny airport. But at least the runway is paved. The airport in Xiang Quan was gravel!!
Or how about this one? Less an airport and more an airstrip, this is where passengers arrive after a 45-minute flight from Dar es Salaam International Airport to explore Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve, the largest game reserve in Africa. Unperturbed by the planes, local wildlife often has to be chased off the runway by rangers, and pilots do a flyby before landing, to check no furry friends are lurking in the way. Animals, such as this lion, also often frequent the hut looking for shade.
But the topper is the tiny airport in Katmandu, Nepal on Buddha Air. We took Buddha to see Mount Everest. Please refer to my previous emails about Everest.
When we were in Costa Rica, we decided to fly back to San Jose, Costa Rica. Rule one? They needed to send our baggage ahead, since it would weigh too much for our flight the next day!!!! I began to worry. Then when I saw the guy at the airport, jack of all trades, did everything but fly the plane!
I am sure each of you have a story or two about tiny airports.
From Elaine Woo of the LA Times: Harry Kubo organized the Nisei Farmers League in 1971 and was its outspoken leader for 25 years. At its height, the league had 1,500 members of various ethnicities and played a prominent role in farm labor conflicts in Central California and statewide. Several farms (including ours) owned by Japanese Americans were vandalized and targeted for unionizing and picketing. Kubo responded by mobilizing some of his fellow Nisei — second-generation Japanese Americans — into the Nisei Farmers League. It had 100 members the first year; by 1976, according to the book “Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present,” it had grown to 1,500 members, of whom only 40% were of Japanese descent. Most of the farmers owned no more than about 50 acres of land.
During the 1970s, the league organized picket patrols to support growers whose farms were being picketed by the union and night patrols to guard against vandalism. Vandalism was rampant. Fruit trees and vines were broken, sawed, or set on fire. Ladders, tractors, and other machinery were fed with a mixture of sand and sugar. The nails in the photo above were thrown in areas where farmer’s vehicle and equipment were parked.
I recall both my Uncle Sus and my brother Bob helping the Nisei farmers with night patrols, and making sure the farms were safe for workers who wanted to work. The yellow banner above was used to distinguish the Nisei Farmers from all others. I thank Mr. Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League for these historic items.
I often wonder what my dear Grandfather would have thought about this. He passed away in 1965, but came to the US in 1896, at the age of 16. He did not receive welfare, food stamps, ESL lessons, or special legislation to help him. Instead, he suffered through the Asian Exclusion Act. Then he and his entire family were sent to Relocation camps in the swamps of Arkansas, and the desert of Arizona.
Unknown to most people who were sympathetic to the striking workers was a special motto of Chavez. His favorite was, “Break the Japanese farmer”, and his second favorite was, “The Japanese farmer is weak.” I guess when he encountered Harry Kubo and the Nisei Farmers League, he found a most worthy adversary. I am proud that my family stood with Mr. Kubo and the League.
Before almonds and other crops began to replace the grape and raisin farms, upwards of 50,000 to 60,000 migrant workers came from Mexico. For a period of roughly six weeks, they picked our grapes here in the Valley. Then they returned home with enough money to live comfortably in Mexico, and tend to their own farms and businesses. Today, the UFW number around 3500.
2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the formation of the Nisei Farmers League. A big celebration dinner is planned for November.
By I have a bigger question. What happens to the farms once owned by proud Nisei returning from Relocation camps? And how will we preserve the legacy of the Nisei Farmers League?
“Garrigue” is one of those perfect wine words — a concise term that encompasses a larger, and very beautiful, idea. The word refers to the unique mix of vegetation that grows throughout parts of southern France, near the Mediterranean Sea: fragrant, shrubby plants including lavender, thyme, rosemary, white flowers and juniper. It’s thought that the oils from the native flora make their way onto grapes in nearby vineyards, imbuing the resulting wines with the intoxicating flavors and aromas that recall those plants.
Awkward Wine experts will describe a wine as awkward when it doesn’t have a good structure or its components (body, acidity, etc.) aren’t balanced. Maybe they are looking for a euphemism for cheap? Surprisingly, a “barnyard” aroma is considered a good thing – by many wine aficionados, at least. It encapsulates a few scents, including leather, hay, bacon, and – yes – manure. First of all, don’t panic. There’s no poop in the wine. The odor comes from Brettanomyces – a wild yeast that is sometimes found on grape skins or in oak barrels that can make its way into wine. Some people – particularly those who grew up on a farm or have positive associations with horse stables – actually enjoy this flavor note.
Toasty? No, a toasty wine was not warmed in the oven. Toasty doesn’t even mean that a wine tastes like toast. It generally means a wine as a note of burnt caramel, which comes from oak aging. I would like this!
Barrique — a 225-litre oak barrel used originally for storing and aging wines, originating in Bordeaux. Any relation to Baroque?
Malolactic fermentation — a secondary fermentation in which the tartness of malic acid in wine is changed into a smooth, lactic sensation. Wines described as “buttery” or “creamy” have gone through “malo”.
Negociant — French word describing a wholesale merchant, blender, or shipper of wine. A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wines and combines them, bottles the result under his own label and ships them. Particularly found in Burgundy. Two well-known examples are Joseph Drouhin and Louis Jadot.
Ullage— the empty space left in bottles and barrels as a wine evaporates. I once knew a man named Ullage.
Long before plastic surgeons began practicing lifts of a very different sort, drinkers who encountered wines that were particularly lively, that had a bit of a bounce in the glass, often referred to them as lifted. The lift comes from a generous amount of acidity. The same wine could also be called juicy or bright. But those more commonplace words somehow seem less descriptive, since lifted is what many wine drinkers themselves feel when captivating aromas billow out of a glass. Does this apply to plastic surgery??
American Oak Increasingly popular as an alternative to French oak for making barrels in which to age wine as quality improves and vintners learn how to treat the wood to meet their needs. Marked by strong vanilla, dill and cedar notes, it is used primarily for aging Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel, for which it is the preferred oak. It’s less desirable, although used occasionally, for Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. Many California and Australia wineries use American oak, yet claim to use French oak because of its more prestigious image. American oak barrels sell in the $250 range, compared to more than $500 for the French ones.
MERITAGE:An invented term, used by California wineries, for Bordeaux-style red and white blended wines. Combines “merit” with “heritage.” The term arose out of the need to name wines that didn’t meet minimal labeling requirements for varietals (i.e., 75 percent of the named grape variety). For reds, the grapes allowed are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Malbec; for whites, Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. Joseph Phelps Insignia and is an example of a wine whose blends vary each year, with no one grape dominating.
TCA stands for 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, a compound that forms when phenols interact with chlorine and mold. In addition to grapes, barrels, wooden pallets, wood beams and cardboard cases are all sources of phenols. TCA most frequently occurs in wines bottled with natural corks, which are sanitized with a solution made from chlorine. When the wine comes in contact with the cork, TCA develops, causing musty aromas and flavors in wines. That is why wines with these off-aromas are often described as “corked.”
Although TCA taint poses no health concerns for wine drinkers, even in infinitesimal amounts, it can ruin a wine. At higher levels, it makes a wine smell moldy or musty, like cardboard, damp cement or wet newspapers. Most who encounter high levels of TCA, realize it is the cause of the befouled wine. At lower levels, TCA taint only strips a wine of its flavor, making it taste dull or muted. This experience can leave the drinker with the conclusion that the wine is simply bad. At even the low-ball estimates by the cork industry of 1-2% effected bottles, TCA-taint is a major concern for the wine industry, and a major influence on the growing popularity of alternative closures.What are bor and ardo? Hungarian, Basque, Turkish, and Greek are the only European languages that have words for wine not derived from Latin. The Hungarian word for wine is bor; the Basque word is ardo.
Lots of terms (from Winespeed), not really necessary to enjoy the wines you like. My suggestion is to keep it simple, drink what you like, but please tell us about it.
“A bottle of wine is an investment to keep the people we love at table for an extra hour every day.”—Wes Hagen, author and winemaker, J. Wilkes Winery
Almost everything here is affected by the volcanic soil, from the beaches to the crops, to the appearance of the geography. But perhaps, other than the famous Santorini wines, the food here takes on a distinct volcanic influence. Starting with vegetables, the unique aubergine or white eggplant is synonymous with Santorini. Though it is a little early for the white eggplant, the more familiar purple is used interchangeably.
Other vegetables grown here include capers, cherry tomatoes, and favas, yellow split peas similar to lentils. My fava last night was served hot, more like a soup, with pickled capers, and some herbs. It was quite good and reminded me of hummus.
The tiny tomatoes here are very sweet, and much tastier than the larger tomato varieties. Thie cherry tomatoes are made into tomato paste with capers, olive oil, salt, basil, and oregano, and served with bread. Another use is tomato fritters, which I have yet to try.
Remarkably, Santorini was known more as “tomato island” before the big eruption in 1950. Only one tomato processing plants remains from the thirteen at the height of tomato operations. I guess they traded tomatoes for tourism??
The small white eggplant shows up in stews, and salads, or smoked and pureed. Capers and pickled caper leaves show up in salads, or the fava soup.
Less well known is katsuni, or cucumber, which becomes sweeter like a melon, if not picked in time. And remarkably, wild greens from the hillsides are used in salads in the spring.
I just meant to stop for some potatoes and a beer. But I ended up with several beers, and a lamb kabob. Our kebabs are much better back home, being both marinated, and better cut of the lamb. The owner said he does not marinate, due to the type of customers he has, namely tourists. The lamb ribs are also good but a little fatty.
Typical dishes here are skordonomakarona, which is a homemade pasta with Santorini tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and salt, and apochti, which is a spiced pork carpaccio. Thank the Byzantines for that last dish.
After I received another complimentary Greek yogurt, and kidoni, which is a delicious, candied quince. I learned they have another sweet, called kopania. It is made with barley, raisins, and sesame seeds. It sounds good.
You know what, I have not tried the local baklava yet. Nor have I tried the local squid, prawns, or octopus. Hard to put those two food groups in one paragraph!!!
I ordered a fresh, not frozen lobster for dinner tonight. BTW, the Greeks or at least the chefs here in Santorini know how to cook rice. My friend, Apostolos, would not let me eat a frozen lobster, my thanks to him. They prepared it perfectly, grilled mostly, but not steamed. It was flavorful and very juicy!!!
As I mentioned before, Santorini has a dry volcanic microclimate, which enhances their wine. The vines are the oldest in Europe, and impervious to phylloxera that wiped out most of Europe’s vines in the late 19th century. As you saw in my photos, the vines grow very close to the ground, to take advantage of the moisture, and to protect the grapes from rather strong winds, like today.
I am not crazy about either of their two main wines, the assyrtiko and the vinsanto. The Mykteri, which is assyrtiko made at night, is more tolerable.
Another sweet wine, the mavrotragano, reminds me of the more familiar mavrodaphne.
My friend, Kostas, has provided his wild oregano for me to take home. He also makes his own goat cheese, of which I must say, is the best I have ever had. And I am not fond of goat cheese.
I have met people from Wales, Poland, UK, Belgium, and Marin County. BTW, they love Americans here. Their most dreaded tourists are the Middle Easterners, and as always, the French.
The oranges here are better than ours, but they come from mainland central Greece.
I made some nice friends here, met many others. The locals really need American tourists now. They love us, we know how to spend $$!!
I am headed back to Athens for 6 days, skipping Krakow and Auschwitz. I think you know why!!!
The sunsets in Oia are described as showstoppers. Oia is on the northernmost tip of the island of Santorini. It was once a center of trade in antiquity. The big earthquake of 1956 changed everything here. Restoration work has restored the beauty of the town and area.
The downside to Oia is the cruise ships, which hopefully will not show up until I am back home. They say the sunsets draw people to Oia like a magnet. But I also hear the village is cute, and the food is superb.
Buses leave my hotel area, Fira, twice every hour for the 15 minute drive to Oia. But it is a three hour walk if anyone chooses. Not me!
The 5 minute drive to Fira village is free on the hotel bus, but 10 Euro in a cab. Ten Euros would take me all over Athens!!!
I am not the type to sit around and watch a sunset, but I hear this is an exception to the rule.
So, I rented a little car to drive around the island. I went to Red Beach, Santo Wines, and all the way, might I add, the long way to Oia.
After my first two stops, I headed to Oia, taking the long, volcanic cliff road sitting precipitously on the hillside. Did I tell you I do not like heights?
But as I am slowly meandering on the cliffside road, the car starts beeping at me!!! Yes!!! It is telling me, I assume, that I am out of petrol, since the little gas pump light shows orange on the dash.
The car rental guy said the car has only a quarter tank of gas, and I must return it at least a quarter full. Well, WTH, crap! I am in the middle of nowhere, clinging to the cliff side, cars are buzzing by me, and I have no earthly idea where I am or where I am going!!!
I pull over, look at a map, and decide to head into Oia town. I am literally holding my breath, as well as some body parts, hoping I have enough gas to get there.
I reach Oia, a crowded little town with heavy traffic, where two cars cannot pass each other, looking for petrol. There are none!!!
I stop to urinate on the roadside and find a moto guy and ask him. He said there are no gas stations in Oia!!!!!! Double crap!!!
I turn around, and as he suggested, headed back over the cliff to the previous little town for some gas. I am praying I have enough gas, or that I can coast downhill. But then again, I may lose my power brakes and power steering if the engine dies.
Cars and motos are buzzing by me, and I look like Elmer Fudd, or Mr. Greenjeans as I proceed down the hill. Alas, I find a petrol station, and must have blurted out a big sigh of relief. The kid next to me getting gas said that a quarter tank should carry me 100 kilometers. And the light warns the driver that he has at least 30 kilometers of gas remaining. Wow!
I guess if a foreigner like me cannot read the dash board info, then he or she may panic like I did!!!
After the petrol station, I crawled along the narrow road, rarely wide enough for two cars, until I reach Fira, and my favorite watering hole. Apostolis gave me 4 beers, and some lamb ribs to calm me down.
I was swearing at the car rental guy for not explaining the petrol situation a bit more clearly.
Other than that, it was a fine day’s drive in paradise.
As I first began my research for visiting Santorini, one feature sang out to me. It was the fabulous wines of Santorini. Most of us drank some cheap retsina in college. And I had the benefit of learning about Mavrodaphne from my friends at Lola in Seattle. In fact, I have a few bottles of Mavro here at home.
But I am learning that Santorini is perhaps one of the best wine growing regions in Greece, and the greater Mediterranean region. Some go so far as to say it is the Greek version of Napa Valley!
After all, the Greeks have been making wine here for over 3000 years. Santorini has about forty native varieties of wines. And rather uniquely, the vines lay low to the ground, in round baskets made from the canes, to protect the grapes from high winds.
The most popular is Assyrtiko, rich and tasty, used mostly in white wines. Mantilaria is the most popular red wine, though it is also dried and used for sweeter wines. Assyrtiko is also dried to make Vinsanto, a strong sweet wine that is also aged in oak barrels for five years or more. Nykteri is another white wine that is picked only at night, to avoid oxidation and spoiling.
Santo Wines is the largest on the island, actually a cooperative, and located on the rim of the caldera, not far from Fira. Santo also has traditional produce like tomatoes, fava beans and capers. Santo Wines was founded back in 1947, just after the end of WW2.
Santo represents all of the cultivators and 1200 active members on the island. The winery itself was created in 1992. Two wine flights are offered, a six and a twelve! And the necessary wine tours, large wine shop, and cafe’. Best of all, it is only 4km from Fira. I can even get UPS home delivery!!
But several people, from doormen to restaurant owners, tell me that Domaine Sigales is THE place for wine. I will find out, I guarantee. So far, the wine here has been a big disappointment. And the best beer going is probably a Heineken.
The vines on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini are trained into kouloura (wreaths or baskets) to protect the grapes from fierce winds and unrelenting sun (the grapes hang inside the baskets). The vines grow, wound into bigger and bigger baskets, for an average of 80 years, whereupon the vine is “revitalized” by decapitating it just above the ground. When dormant buds begin to grow from the roots, a whole new top begins. A vine may be revitalized up to 5 times in its life. That’s 5 x 80 years, or a root system that’s at least 400 years old. Eleni—thank you! We should have noted this in our piece.
Final thought: after Eleni wrote in, I began to wonder if a root system (as opposed to the whole vine) qualified as an old vine. I asked Dr. Carole Meredith, Professor Emerita, Department of Viticulture and Enology, University of California at Davis. Said Dr. Meredith, “My own opinion with regard to the Santorini vines is that, assuming the vines are on their own roots (as I believe the Santorini vines are) and not grafted to a rootstock, I would consider these old vines. The fact that the above-ground portion is [pruned] every few decades is no different than for any other old vine that is pruned every year. The fruit-bearing shoots are always going to be young on any grapevine.” So there we have it.
I have yet to have a really good wine here.
I visited three wineries yesterday. Maybe one wine caught my palate. It was an Assyrtiko from Estate Argyros, the third winery I visited. But I am glad I tried, I gave their wines a fair shake, or sip, as the case may be.
The wines here are different due to the volcanic soils and pumice. I will try not to complain about California wines again!