Tag Archives: port

San Sebastian Winery


After our adventures at Mile Marker Brewery in St. Augustine, we made our way San Sebastian Winery to stop for a quick tasting before venturing down to the Historic Old Town of our nation’s oldest city!

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Visiting a winery while in Florida wasn’t something I expected to do. But when we were looking up things to do on that cloudy, rainy day in St. Augustine, I thought, “Why not?” It was a stop on the Trolley Tour {which we decided to forego due to timing and cost}.photo 1(2)

I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of varietals. Florida isn’t exactly a notable wine-making region. However, there are wineries in all 50 of our United States. We found that many of the wines here are made from Muscadine grapes.

This tasting was very different from any I have ever experienced! The first floor of this old railway building is strictly retail for the winery. Climb the stairs one flight where you will be guided to a room for your first taste. You are given a small plastic tasting cup with your first wine. {The tasting cup is like one that you’d use when tasting a featured wine at a liquor store or wine shop.} You take this cup with you and move room to room to get a taste of the next wine!

Of course, the list of wines we tried wasn’t spectacular, in my opinion, but I loved the setup and layout. My favorite of the regular wines was the Castillo Red, which was probably the driest of the bunch, if I remember correctly. But the fave of the group was the Rosa. We got a couple of bottles of that to take back to the hot tub later that evening.

But my ultimate favorite was the Port {Bin 12 below} which comes in the coolest bottle ever, but I wasn’t sure I could pack it that well in my luggage. The wine totes I use aren’t exactly made for that bottle. What amazed me, though, were the prices of these wines! Some went for as low as $7.99! Usually small wineries like this charge much, much more for their wines.

And did I mention that this tasting was complimentary, did not require a reservation and included a {smallish} taste of at least eight wines on this list? Crazy, if you ask me!

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The lines at the register were long because people were stocking up and getting crazy discounts for ordering multiple cases. Who knows where this barrel was going:

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I even met a few women who were using BOGO coupons – buy one case, get one free. Seriously?! How do they make any money?

My guess? There is a wine bar and jazz club upstairs, known as The Cellar Upstairs. We went up to check it out. It was midday and the place was hoppin’ with music and people. They even have beer on tap for you non-wineaux! What a cool place to hang out. And in the summer (or if there was nicer weather), I’m sure it’s even busier outside on the rooftop patio. You can sit overlooking the Old Town!

What’s the most unique winery or wine experience you’ve ever had?



10 Tips for Tasting in Temecula Wine Country


There’s a reason that you’ve probably heard of Napa and Sonoma, but haven’t heard of Temecula Wine Country. Some of the wines in Temecula are decidedly… meh. But there are some really great ones, too!

The trick is to find them.

Because of that, we decided to offer you some tips to make the most of your experience should you go to Temecula one day. And you should! Temecula is a worthy destination. In fact, we will probably return. One of the things that surprised me most {but now makes sense} is the almost desert-like Old Southwest feel. But that’s for a post later this week…


10 Tips for Tasting Wine in Temecula

(In no particular order.)

1) Get recommendations from the locals.

There are 40+ wineries in Temecula. We weren’t expecting that. In addition, my trips to Sonoma and Napa were all-expense-paid by The Traveling Vineyard. I was spoiled. I didn’t have to worry about transportation. I didn’t have to plan my meals. I didn’t have to choose wineries. We went to the little, boutique ones that supplied the wines for our tastings.

A friend gave me a list of her favorite wineries and ones we should skip. I was still overwhelmed. I just wished that there was a list somewhere of all of the wineries and vineyards in Temecula with a note next to each indicating what it is known for or makes it unique. Okay, so you can get historical and other info here, but the information doesn’t help me decide which vineyards I’d like best.

So when we were out to dinner our first night in Tememcula, we asked for recommendations. The truth is, you’ll get differing opinions. Which, at first, confused me even more.

“What kind of wines do you like?” asked the owner of a restaurant in Old Town.

“We tend to like big Cabs and Zins,” Rob told him.

This question, I learned, was key. He could recommend wineries that suited our tastes! At first, while I appreciated his suggestions, I wondered if he was just giving us names of those people who were his friends and telling us to steer clear of people he didn’t like. {Truth be told, he was spot on with his recommendations!}

In the end, we knew that we still couldn’t do all of the wineries recommended. So we narrowed them down by making sure to hit the ones that more than one person notes or the ones whose descriptions sounded good based on what we liked. Then we planned a route.


2) Plan a route: Start with the winery furthest from you and make your way back.

After you’ve determined which wineries to hit, make a plan. We were staying at the South Coast Winery. We planned our day so that if we couldn’t hit all of those we wanted to, we could finish up with the ones closest to our home base the next day. I originally planned two days for tasting, but was concerned that we’d get “wined out.”

Therefore, it’s important to do the tastings that you don’t want to miss the first day.

Most wineries are open 11am – 5pm. (A few open at 10am, and a few close at 4pm or 6pm.) Make sure you take that into consideration when planning your route, too.

You can find a map of Temecula wineries here.

3) For a more personal experience and/or better service, go during mid-week or during off-season.

We arrived in the late afternoon on a Monday and did the bulk of our tasting on a Tuesday. We’re also told that October tends to be a bit slower. Win-win for us! We had a lot of personal attention. Some of these tasting rooms were huge! I can’t imagine them completely full on the weekends. How would you even get to taste or learn anything?

When we tasted, there were usually five people or less in the tasting rooms when we were there. Rob hates crowds so I was thanking my lucky stars that things worked out this way.

On some occasions, we were the only ones in the tasting room. On others, even it was busy, we always got a spot at the bar and could ask questions about the wines. As much as I like to think I know about wine, I learned a thing or two!


A Sparkling Sangria from Wilson Creek

Also, some wineries only offer certain wines in their restaurant that are limited and not usually available for tasting. If they have some leftover from the weekend on a Monday or Tuesday, you may get to try them!

4) Plan to visit only four to six wineries a day. (NOT 8!)

This is why, with 40+ wineries and maybe only a day or two in Temecula, you need to pick wineries that suit your tastes!

We had planned to hit about six wineries that Tuesday and had a couple extra on our list in case we had more time.

We did eight.

This was TOO many.

I’d like to think that palate fatigue was the reason I had trouble differentiating or appreciating the wines at the end, but I will admit it probably had something to do with having too much to drink.

In the same respect, it goes without saying, you need to decide who is going to drive. {Unless you go on a tour where that is provided for you.} Rob was designated that day. {My turn was the following day!} So he tasted a lot less. {The next tip explains how.} And we actually parked and walked from our resort to the 8th winery because it was right next door.

5) Split your Tasting.

This was one of the best things we did. We knew that we couldn’t taste all day long and still have one of us drive, so we *hoped* it would be okay if they let us split a tasting. Besides most tastings were $15 for six tastes. That could really add up at the end of the day for the two of us! {Six wineries for two people would have meant about $180!}

We were so happy that at our first tasting that the wine rep asked us if we preferred to share a tasting or if we wanted our own. All of the other wineries followed suit and had no problem with it. It seemed common and even the norm! Whew! We also found that each taste was about four good sips, so it was perfect for us.

Tastings generally cost $10 – $15 and offer four to six tastes. At each winery, you receive a card with a space for your server to write down each of your tastes {so they know how many you have remaining} or you’ll receive tickets to redeem tastes, like this:


6) Not comfortable splitting? Find two-for-ones.

Okay, so I get that you might not what to split your tasting with someone who’s not your S.O. Or maybe you are going with a group of girlfriends and you just met Suzy yesterday. Or Jane tends to be a drinker, so you’re worried that you’ll only get half of a sip. To make it more affordable, see if you can find some two-for-one coupons/cards. That’s what this “Ladies-in-Hats” bachelorette party from Alaska did before they went off to enjoy the view.

I found a two-for-one coupon before our trip online and printed it off of the winery’s website. I was so proud until Rob pointed out that the expiration was June 30th. Oh. They really need to update that. I forgot about it until…

We stopped in at Danza del Sol. We were the only ones there! The wine rep asked us if we had a two-for-one deal. Rob said, “Uh, no. How would we get one of those?!” I think he was hoping he’d offer the two-for-one anyway.

But he said, “Well next time, just go to the Wine Grower’s Association website.” {You enter your email to have deals sent to you.} “Wait! I might have a couple of them for you.” He gave us two-for-one coupons to three other wineries! SCORE!

Another benefit of two-for-ones is that even if you are tasting with your S.O., there are often too many wines to choose from on the list. If each of you gets different wines, you each get try twice as many! Some wine reps liked to showcase the wines side-by-side. For example, a zinfandel from this year or that or with grapes from an entire vineyard vs. a block or a wine aged/fermented in French vs. American oak.

Because we were staying at the South Coast Winery {more on that next Wine Wednesday!} we received a “Passport” that included a BOGO Wine Tasting as well.

7) Talk with your server/wine rep/bartender.

We were lucky enough that it wasn’t too busy that we could really talk with and ask questions of the people pouring the wines. But even if you do come when it is busy, they are there to serve you. They may be busy pouring like crazy, but if you want to get the most of your experience, you need to determine which wines you really want to try either because a) It’s a wine you’ve never had before and it sounds interesting or b) you might want to buy it.

First, look at the menu. What looks good to you? In what do they seem to specialize?


This Callaway menu is one of the smaller ones of the bunch and was one of our least favorite wineries, but you get the point.

Then, tell them what you like, but be open-minded.

If you say, “I only drink Cabs,” then you aren’t going to be impressed every place you go. Cabs might not be their specialty.

I often said, “We tend to drink big reds at home. But what are your specialties? What are you known for? What do you have that might surprise us?” I know that from doing in-home wine tastings that sometimes what you think you will like is different than what you will that day! The dry Riesling at Miramonte was exceptional. I adored the dry sparkling wines and ports at both the South Coast Winery and Wilson Creek. The Petit Verdots and Mourvèdres at many of the wineries like Danza del Sol were some of the best.

The wine rep will steer you in the right direction if you give them the right information. Show your interest. Show your passion. If it’s slow enough, they may even give you extra tastes or special pours. 😉

We went to one winery where I swear a 22-year-old version of Justin Timberlake took us through every red on their menu. We only paid for five tastes there. But he was so excited that we liked reds and that he’d be talking with people who appreciated the same styles of wines that he did that he wanted us to experience them all. It was fantastic!

And don’t forget to tip! A couple of bucks is fine. We liked to tip mid-way through the tasting. If we really liked the wines and were hoping for specialty pours, we’d even throw in a fiver.

8) Plan a lunch in between & drink water deliberately.

We had a tentative lunch planned. We did pick up some groceries when we came into town the night before. So my  breakfast consisted of a small portion of the grapes and cheese with the bread in this picture:


Our intention was to stop and eat at one of the wineries that offered food. But it didn’t happen. By the time we were hungry, we weren’t too impressed with the winery that had a restaurant (Callaway), that we skipped it entirely. That wasn’t such a good idea.

Wineries do offer tap water. But it is usually in a location across the room. You need to make the effort to go there and get yourself a glass. Or keep a filled water bottle in your car and force yourself to drink X amount after each tasting.

9) Join a Wine Club or two!

To relive your Temecula Wine Country experience while you are back at home, join a wine club. How do you choose? There were a few wineries where we found a wine we really loved, but we weren’t so keen on the other ones we tasted. Then there were wineries were we liked all of the wines.

That is the club to join.

They usually offer many types of clubs, so you can do reds, whites, mixed, sweets or bubbly. There’s something for all tastes. We ended up joining the South Coast Reds Wine Club. The other club we considered was Danza del Sol. If you sign up on the spot, you can take your wines home with you and get your next shipment delivered. {Just be sure to pack your wines carefully in your checked luggage!} If you want to decide later, just make sure your wine reps info is on the order form, so that they get the credit. Most of the clubs are shipped quarterly, not monthly. So that helped us decide that the cost was worth it.

10) STOP… and smell the roses grapes!

Don’t rush. Enjoy the views, like those hat ladies did…

…and the art, too.

Or just take time to pet the vineyard dog!


So I know you want to know… Where did we go?

On that gorgeous Tuesday, we visited the following wineries in this exact order:

  • Leoness – great Zins, tried an excellent Cab Franc, beautiful view
  • Danza del Sol – great reds, loved nearly all of the wines we tried!
  • Wilson Creek – known for their Almond Champagne. We liked their dry bubblies and ports!
  • Miramonte – beautiful views!
  • Callaway – only because we had a 2-for-1
  • Lorimar – excellent reds, known for music on the weekends!
  • Wiens
  • Ponte

The next morning, we visited the winery at our resort at South Coast after breakfast.

Our favorites (in no particular order):

  • South Coast
  • Danza del Sol
  • Lorimar

Ones we would definitely SKIP or advise to skip next time:

  • Callaway
  • Wiens
  • Ponte

The only other one we were recommended, but didn’t do was Briar Rose. They require reservations for their tastings. I thought this meant that they were more formal and elite and perhaps more expensive. But it sounds like it means that they just have a smaller tasting room. We had intended to make reservations and go on day two, but we were all wined out.

Overall, we loved tasting in Temecula. Although there are several wine regions we want to visit, we do hope to return one day. We might fly into San Diego next time, though, just for a change!

Have you ever done wine tasting like this?

If so, list your favorite thing and your number one tip!




Happy Wine Wednesday!

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had trouble finding Minnesota wines that I’ve liked. I’m a little snobbish about wine, but not entirely. It’s just a difficult climate in which to grow grapes, even with the University of Minnesota attempting to develop those to withstand the elements here.


But winemakers have attempted such in every state. There is a winery in every single state in the U.S.! When a couple of girlfriends and I went wine tasting around Minnesota about ten years ago {I can’t believe I met my husband ten years ago last Thursday!}, I was quite disappointed. I had tried much better wines in Wisconsin! It could have had something to do with the fact that, at that time, I was just delving into my wine education and really learning what makes a wine great.

But then I found Winehaven, a little winery in Chisago City, about 40 miles north of the Twin Cities. We tasted wines in what I remember to be a small room in a little red building right on site of the vineyards. I also remember taking about a case of wine home with me that day.

I was quite excited to go back when my friend Jared announced that he would be getting married there! Rob hadn’t been there yet and I thought it would be a great opportunity to do some tasting, too.

However, things at Winehaven have changed! Just this July, they opened up a new (HUGE) tasting room with seating indoors and out where you can relax and enjoy some wine.

winehavenRob and I showed up before the ceremony to do some tasting and to wander around a bit. I would say, while there are some overly-sweet, cater-to-the-fruit-wine-crowd wines on the menu, there are also a couple that kind of impressed me! I thought that would be impossible in Minnesota.

We went home with the following:

Winehaven WineI’m generally not a fan of wine produced from cold-climate grapes. Namely, the ones developed by the University of Minnesota. However, Winehaven’s 2012 Marquette Reserve was my favorite of the day. It reminded me of a deep, bold zin or syrah with a hint of spice. It’s the closest thing you’ll come to California or Pacific Northwest wine quality in MN. (Or at least since I’ve last tasted!) This one’s a silver medal winner.

Rob’s favorite was the Nokomis. This is a grape varietal developed by the family at Winehaven themselves! It produces another drier wine that gives veteran red wine drinkers something to enjoy.

We rounded out our purchase with one of our favorites – PORT. Oh how we love it, so. For us, it’s a little dangerous because it’s high in alcohol. We love the flavor so much that it’s difficult to have just one small glass as dessert or after a meal.  Many ports or dessert wines are sold in half-sized bottles. This one is not!

Correct me if you know better, but I believe that the Grapewinds® Port is made with the Chisago grape, the other grape developed by Winehaven! While it wasn’t my favorite alone, as a fortified wine, I’m in love. It’s rich and luscious and everything I want in a port. It has won awards in San Francisco and the Finger Lakes on at least four separate occasions.

Like most other small wineries throughout The States, Winehaven offers a wide array of fruit wines, as well. By fruit wines, I mean wines made from fruits other than grapes. It’s a really good place to start if you are a newbie wine drinker. Fruit wines can be appreciated in their own right.

But Winehaven is well-known for their mead. That’s right, honey wine. Hence, their cute bee logo you see above! Their experience with honey goes back decades. If you’ve never had mead, you must try it.

But enough about the wines we tried. There was a reason we took in the lovely scenery that beautiful day…

It was the perfect setting for a wedding! My friend Jared married the love of his life on that beautiful September day at Winehaven. I was grateful to have been there. My husband thinks I’m a little obsessed about weddings. But there’s nothing better than seeing the happiness of two people in love while they are experiencing one of the best days of their lives. Especially if it’s one of your close friends or family members.

Here’s one of my favorite photos I snapped while they led us down the pathway through the trees at they winery.

Congratulations, Jared & Matt!

Congratulations, Jared & Matt!

What do you think of your local wineries?

Any favorite wineries or favorite and/or unique wines you’ve found?





I don’t think I’ve ever talked about Port on Wine Wednesday. Have you had it before?

I love Port. I always have since the very first sip. In fact, I’ve never found a Port that I didn’t like. I find that it’s usually a wine people love or hate. What makes it unique? Well, it’s that sweetness and high alcohol content. It’s often served as a dessert wine. Although, I remember my host family, when I studied in France in college, offered it as an apéritif.

What is Port?

It’s a fortified wine originating from Portugal. Other countries, too, will try to make wine in this Port style. The wine is “fortified” by adding a “neutral spirit” that adds umph, increasing that alcohol content and allows some of the wine’s residual sugar to remain behind.

There are several levels of quality and aging when it comes to Port. The most well-known being Ruby and Tawny Ports.

The other night, while visiting our friend Jared, who was working at Urban Olive & Vine, we noticed the following on the menu:

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We had just enjoyed a an appetizer and a bottle of wine and thought we’d round it off before wandering around the cute streets of Hudson. So, yes! Splitting a 100-year Port Flight was meant to be done!

Rob decided that he wanted to sip on them blind, to see if he could really tell a difference. Jared lined them up out of order and the two of us noted which ones they were as Rob tasted them.

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Rob could tell there was a difference, but he couldn’t tell which was youngest and and which was oldest. Instead he ranked them in order of preference. The interesting part? We learned that Rob likes his Ports young. He ranked them from favorite to least favorite exactly in order from 10 to 40 years!

As for me, I could taste a difference. The older ports were less concentrated. But I don’t have enough of a discerning palate to know that they were older. I still liked them all. And with a little side of chocolate covered blueberries, Rob and I had finished them off in no time!

photo 3Because of the high alcohol and sweetness, Ports are poured into smaller, sometimes cordial-style glasses which offer about two to three ounces.

The last time we were at King’s Wine Bar, one of our favorite places to order port, our server {who we later learned was once the drummer of the band Babes in Toyland} highly recommended exploring the wineries in Portugal. She said that the views were beautiful and each vineyard offered tapas to pair with their Ports.

We are so there.

{Well, not literally, but it’s on our list.}

Have you had Port before?

If so, which is your favorite or favorite pairing?


Sparkling Wine Cocktails for New Year’s Eve


Ahhh… The Bubbly. It makes every occasion more special. This Wine Wednesday, I’m offering up a few sparkling wine cocktails for the New Year! This will liven up your usual bubbly toast and offer some alternatives to those who don’t normally enjoy a dry bubbly.


Remember, all Champagne must come from the Champagne region of France to be called such. However, it can be expensive. In all of the cocktail recipes below, feel free to substitute any sparkling white wine, as long as it is dry. {We’ll have a more in-depth lesson Champagne vs. Sparkling Wine at a later date.}



  • 1 part crème de cassis
  • 5 parts Champagne

Pour crème de cassis in a glass, gently pour Champagne on top.

Optional: Add a twist of lemon zest for garnish.

Variation: Substitute raspberry Chambord for the cassis.



  • 1 part Guinness (or other stout), slightly chilled
  • 1 part Champagne

Pour the Stout into a half-pint glass or flute. Carefully add the Champagne on top. When you sip, the heavier stout will slip under the wine, so you’ll enjoy a taste of both!



Variation 1:

  • 1 oz Triple Sec
  • 4 oz Champagne
  • Splash of cranberry juice

Variation 2:

  • 1 oz cranberry juice (choose a brand with no sugar added)
  • 1 tbsp Grand Marnier
  • 4 oz Champagne

Add the cranberry juice and Triple Sec or Grand Marnier to a flute and top with Champagne.

Optional: Garnish with an orange slice or drop in a few frozen cranberries for fun.



  • Splash of peach juice or peaches in simple syrup
  • 4 oz Champagne

Add the peach juice or peaches in simple syrup to the flute. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Garnish with a fresh peach slice.



  • Frozen strawberries or raspberries
  • 4 oz Champagne

Fill the bottom of the flute with frozen strawberries or raspberries. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Coat the frozen strawberries with sugar first and let sit for a while. Garnish with a ripe, fresh strawberry.



  • 1 oz Ruby Red Port
  • 4 oz Champagne

Pour the port into a flute, then add the Champagne.



  • ½ oz gin
  • ¼ oz lemon juice
  • 4 oz Champagne

Shake the gin and lemon juice with cracked ice; strain into a flute and top with Champagne.

Optional Variations: Add an orange slice for garnish, vary the amounts of the ingredients, add a bit or powdered sugar or a splash of Cointreau.



  • 2 oz orange juice
  • Splash crème de cassis (sunshine) or 1 oz grenadine (sunset)
  • 2 oz Champagne

Add the orange juice and cassis or grenadine to a flute. Top with Champagne.

Optional: Plop in a Maraschino Cherry.


The two that I have not yet had are the Black Velvet and the Nelson’s Blood. I’m looking forward to trying them this New Year’s Eve!  Please give one or more of these a shot and come back to let me know your favorites.

What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?

Do you celebrate with any traditions?