Monday, October 19, 2015

Kitchen playtime: Braising and Baking

Autumn is one of those seasons that can go either way here in the South. Some years it's shorts weather on Thanksgiving. Other years it gets cold early, and it feels like it's one of those. Our weekend nights were quite chilly, even down to 39 last night. Yes, I can hear my relatives in New Hampshire scoffing. Y'all come on down.

Chilly fall weather means boots, sweaters, and of course yummy fall food. One of my favorite cooking methods for this time of year is braising. There's just something so appealing about having broth to sop up with good bread and savory stew-like meals to pair nice red wines with. Plus braising recipes are easy - you just put things in a pot and either slow-cook them or stick them in the oven for a while.

Saturday evening we decided to do something a little bit different and made Coconut-Braised Chicken with Chorizo and Potatoes from the October 2015 issue of Food & Wine magazine. Unfortunately Pine Street didn't have the bulk chorizo, so we used spicy Italian sausage instead. It turned out really yummy, although I can see how the flavor of the chorizo would have worked better. Check out the gremolata in the recipe - it has coffee in it for an earthy hint.

The recipe called for pairing it with a wine that has berry notes.The 2013 Le Sot de L'Ange Grolleau Sans Soufre went very well with the chicken. The name roughly translates to "the angel's idiot," indicating winemaker Quentin Bourse's decision to take the big risk of taking over a friend's domaine and leaving his previous life to be a French winemaker. It's a neat wine made mostly from the Grolleau grape with a little Gamay to balance it out. Grolleau is a black grape with thick skin you don't see very often. I thought the clear bottle for a red was also interesting. Warning - it definitely has sediment and needs to breathe, hence the decanter. I would definitely recommend this one with food and not on its own. Oh, and yay for wine toys!

Le Sot de l'Ange = "the angel's idiot"
One thing I love about cooking is that I get great ideas for whatever story I'm working on while my mind is mostly occupied with the food. Yes, it's probably a failure in Mindfulness, but that's okay, usually. Remember how when we were kids, some smartass would declare it to be "opposite day" and then try to catch you out when you said the wrong thing? I had my own "backwards morning" in the kitchen, which brings us to this week's episode of kitchen mistakes - lack of preparation, pantry management, and just plain thinking things through.

Hubby and I like to make a breakfast on Sunday mornings that includes protein so we can have leftovers during the week, at least through Wednesday. I made biscuits from the Joy of Cooking recipe and sausage from Pine Street. Yes, the only time I left the house yesterday was for beer and meat products. It was a good day.

I had some HUGE apples that needed to be used, and even if I munched on one of them all day, I wouldn't be able to finish it, so I decided to make an apple pie out of them.

Objects on screen may be larger than they appear. Or not. These apples were huge.
Alas,I had used all but about three quarters of a cup of flour in the canister on the counter for the biscuits, and when I went into the pantry to refill it, I found all manner of flour, but no all-purpose. I did have half a bag of self-rising, which if I had been smart, I would have used for the biscuits and saved the all-purpose for the pie.

What happened? Apparently at some point I decided I was going to limit myself in baking unhealthy things by not buying any more all-purpose flour. However, my sweet tooth will not be denied, and I really needed to use those apples. The solution? Apple cobbler with the filling based on the recipe for apple pandowdy (an old dessert) plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the topping the basic cobbler biscuit dough with self-rising rather than all purpose + baking powder + salt, all from the Joy of Cooking:

Smells like autumn!
Lunch was Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir from Or, as Hubby puts it, "random salmon recipe found on the internet." I'm not including a picture of it because it just doesn't look pretty, but it's quite tasty, and I'm very picky about fish.

Finally, dinner. Yes, fall weather means I can have the oven on for a while and not overheat the rest of the kitchen - or house - which means one of my most favorite things - lasagna! I typically do variations on this Cooking Light recipe because it doesn't require that you cook the noodles first. I had intended to do a turkey, eggplant, and mushroom lasagna, but Hubby got ground beef instead, so it ended up being a little less healthy than planned. I did drain the beef before putting it back in the sauce. The mushrooms were lion's mane, which have a meaty texture and pull apart into cute little wispy bits that integrated into the sauce nicely:

And the lasagna was delicious. We had it with the rest of the braising Pinot from lunch, which was from California and remarkable only for the name - Little Black Dress. Hubby got it because we call Pinot Noir the little black dress of wine because it goes with almost anything.

Stay tuned for more cooking projects from me and Hubby! If you'd like to see the food pictures as they go up and the ones that don't necessarily make it to the blog, follow me on Instagram. Want wine and sleep tips as well as info about my books? Please consider signing up for my newsletter. I typically send only one per month.

Happy autumn cooking and drinking!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Kitchen Playtime: Doin' it Southern style

I'm trying a new experiment this weekend. Rather than waiting until Sunday night to write this post, I'm doing it a little at a time as the weekend goes on. Hopefully that will make it easier to do them regularly. Or procrastinate on my fiction writing. Let's see..

My current fiction project, title TBD, is set in an alternate Tennessee in 1871, after the Civil War has been dragging on for ten years. Basically, Lee decided not to go into Pennsylvania after his major victories in Virginia, so Gettysburg never happened, and the war ended up in a stalemate. I'm writing Southern food into the story, of course, and it just so happens that our cooking this weekend has a Southern theme.

First stop - the low country. We did something unusual today, and that was cook lunch. Typically our midday Saturday meal is leftovers of some sort or sandwiches, but due to our other activities, we decided to play in the kitchen. That meant Hugh Acheson's Frogmore Stew from his New Turn in the South cookbook. I have to give Hubby credit for choosing the recipe and getting most of it started. I peeled and deveined the shrimp, though. Our vendors for the meal included:

Pine Street Market (andouille sausage)
Sawicki's Meat, Seafood, & More (shrimp)
Various farmstands from the Union County Farmers Market (Corn and potatoes - I have no idea which ones, will do better in the future), Decatur Farmers Market (tomatoes - Mountain Earth, arugula - not sure of the name, but he was at the back of the baseball field and gave me radishes, too), and Morningside Farmers Market (leek - Crystal Organics).

It tastes and smells even better than it looks!

Cooking wine! Great in and with the stew. And the cooks.
Oh, and regarding the wine, people sometimes ask me if we have "house wines," that is, wines we always keep on hand. We haven't recently because the wine clubs we belong to keep us well-supplied, but we always used to have a bottle of this one on hand. It's about $12, and it's a lovely sauvignon blanc, mostly citrus with a nice acid backbone that stands up well to food.

Yes, that is the recipe behind the bottle. No, we did not lay out our ingredients that prettily.

Saturday night was date night. We love our Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and enjoyed a program of Debussy, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. My favorite - the Debussy. Yeah, I'm a romantic. Afterward, we went to South City Kitchen for dinner. You know what that means - more Southern food! I love their fried chicken, served with collard greens, mashed potatoes, and honey-thyme jus:

Southern girl at heart

We ordered this lovely white, the 2013 Montinore Borealis, which paired really well with the slight heat to the fried chicken and that in Hubby's halibut. Plus, at $36 on a midtown wine list, it's practically a steal.

Wants a back porch
The morning after date night requires a nice brunch. This was a case of me having something in mind I wanted to do, but needing a recipe to start with for guidance. I turned to, put in apple and sausage, and came up with a recipe for Sausage, Apple, and Cheddar Bread Pudding. Okay. Here are the modifications I made:

1) Hubby got cornmeal-molasses bread, which was heavier than the sourdough bread called for, so I used 8 slices, which ended up being about 12 ounces, rather than a whole loaf for 8 ounces. I also cut the slices in half and made two layers with the sausage and apple filling in between.

2) Only 3/4 cup of cheese, and cheddar at that? Puh-leaze. I used about a cup and a half of shredded Gruyere.

3) I used regular mild Italian sausage from the aforementioned Pine Street Market rather than turkey Italian sausage.

Here's a picture of the final product:

Perfect pre-yard work brunch.
Tabitha (left) and Timothy Mouse (lying down) wanted to know where theirs was.

Cats just wanna have brunch.
Finally, dinner. When I looked earlier, this recipe wasn't online yet, probably because it's in the latest issue of Cooking Light. It's beer-braised beef with bacon, onions, rosemary, and garlic. Hubby sauteed some greens to go with it, and I made some baked sweet potato fries. The wine is a tasty red blend from Hug.

I know I promised the recipe for my Quick n Easy Mac n Cheesy in my last post, but I want to test it out in a kitchen that's not mine first. Any volunteers?

Oh, and look what came on Friday! Author copies of Blood's Shadow, which will be out in paper on November 3.

It just got a four-star review from Romantic Times (hard to come by). Other reviewers have called Gabriel the werewolf Sherlock Holmes.

Those were my Southern cooking adventures for the weekend. Stay tuned for more wine and food!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Travelogue - Blairsville

One of Hubby's and my favorite places to go is up to my parents' place in Blairsville. We call it "the cabin," but it's actually a three-story house stuck to the side of a mountain with a fabulous view, even on gloomy days:

Look closely for hints of fall color.

We've been up there quite a few times and have had the fun of exploring Blairsville itself. Granted, it's not a huge place, so it doesn't take very long. Here are some highlights:

Beautiful new space

The Wine Shoppe: They've just moved into their gorgeous new space on the square, and when we were there a couple of weeks ago, it was hopping with a tasting of the Bogle Phantom. It's a lovely dark fruity fall sipper. The shop has a nice selection for reasonable prices, and Bill and Jane are lovely.

Cabin Coffee: Yes, this is a chain coffee place, but it is not THAT chain coffee place. Love the outdoor patio and camouflage coffee mugs. No, I didn't get one. I'm not worried about the deer stealing my coffee. Yes, the coffee is good.


No more caffeinated critters

The inspirational quote outside the bathrooms.
Michalee's Italian Life Caffe: Right near the Wine Shoppe, so you can grab a bottle and bring it in. Hubby and I had a fabulous lunch there. Amazingly, I don't have pictures of it.

Bearding Bottle Shop: Right below the Wine Shoppe. Seriously, the square is getting to be one-stop shopping. They have growlers, beer tastings, and a nice selection of Belgian beers.

No, I don't know why all these places except the coffee shop only have Facebook pages, not real websites. I'm just excited for how far Blairsville has come since my parents bought up there before they realized it was a dry county (not anymore, thankfully). You still have to go elsewhere to buy hard liquor, but I'm happy with the beer and wine. Stay tuned for other culinary adventures in the mountains!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Kitchen playtime - the catching up extended version

Well, it's been an interesting couple of weeks at the Dominic household. I haven't done this column in a while because first I had a stomach bug and couldn't stand to think about food. And then Hubby got some sort of stomach ickiness, and we passed it back and forth for a while. We were still not thinking about food. And then the Dekalb water crisis hit, and suddenly we couldn't rinse vegetables, first because we didn't have water, and then because we had to boil the water first. As Hubby said, it's third world water service at first world prices. Seriously, we're in this situation because a mower hit a fire hydrant, which then broke a water main. No, I'm not sure how the physics of that works. We don't have silly things like physics in Dekalb County, Georgia. At least that's the only explanation I've got for why some neighborhoods like ours were essentially without water for two days and then with minimal service for another one.

Rant over. On to the food. I'm going to give you the highlights of the past couple of weeks.

Let's rewind to two weekends ago. I was just recovering from the stomach bug. Hubby had yet to get it. He had ended up with a huge bunch of time from the Dekalb Farmers Market and had searched for stuff to do with it. We decided to do a simple Sunday dinner of turkey breast, roasted potatoes, and green beans. Hubby made a Honey and Thyme-Brined Turkey Breast (recipe from the ridiculously popup-riddled MyRecipes/Cooking Light website).

He also found a fantastic recipe for roasted red potatoes: Thyme-Roasted Potatoes with Garlic. I'm glad to be sharing this one so I can have it handy.

I sauteed some green beans and carrots to go with it. It turned out to be a lovely meal. Since I was getting over being sick, I didn't have any wine.

I did, however, drink wine for Bastille Day. Hubby pulled out the Julia Child cookbook and made Steak au Poivre. It went well with the leftover potatoes and veggies.

Yep, there's butter in that there pan.

Summertime means summer veggies and all the fun things you can do with them as long as you don't heat up the oven. Thankfully Cooking Light had a recipe for Summer Veggie Pasta that doesn't even involve cooking the vegetables.

Of course you can't have summer without burgers. I'd had my eye on the Cheesesteak Burgers with Pickled Peppers, Onions, and Cucumbers from the time the June issue of Cooking Light arrived in my mailbox. Yes, we still get paper magazines. How quaint. The pickled veggies were easy, and the burgers really good. I would never have thought to put dill in a burger, but it worked. Yes, that's a salad in the wooden bowl to the left. Just trust me on this one.

Hubby decided we need a subscription to Garden & Gun magazine. To clarify, we don't shoot things for fun, and I kind of suck at gardening. I was a little iffy on the idea until we got the most recent issue, which included a recipe for Tomato Grilled Cheese sandwiches with Beer and Bacon Marmalade. Um, hello. They're actually as good, if not better, than the best grilled cheese ever, which can be found at Cafe Lily in Decatur. Here are the magazine's photo and mine. Notice the artful stacking of the sandwiches:

We're in one of my favorite parts of summer, which is eggplant time! I roped Hubby into grilling some eggplant, and we made this grilled eggplant parmesan. It was really good:

Quite yummy.
Speaking of eggplant, tonight we made Ratatouille and had it with some of the leftover lamb from Easter. Yes, this lamb. And the Ratatouille recipe came from The Art of French Cooking. We were surprised that there wasn't any butter in it. We drank it with a lovely French Pinot Noir (pictured).
No rat included

And here's the kitchen fail of the week. We tried to make the Honey-Thyme Chicken-and-Apricot Kebabs from Food & Wine Magazine yesterday evening. Notice in their picture how their apricots hold together beautifully after ten minutes on the grill:

These apricots must be Photoshopped
And here's ours. Notice how the apricots liquified. We didn't even know apricots had a liquid state.

That's more liquid than we saw from Dekalb County this weekend.

We're melting!

Oh, well. They tasted good.

So those are our cooking adventures the past couple of weeks. I do recommend the wines pictured. Both were very good. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wine Professional Interview: Bob Manley of Hermit Woods Winery

I'm super excited to welcome Bob Manley to the blog today to kick off what I hope will become a series of interviews of professionals in the wine industry. Bob is one of the partners at Hermit Woods Winery, and when you go to their tasting room, you'll probably see him. He was my liaison for the signing I did there in March. You can read what I thought about my first good fruit wine experience here.

Bob was very generous with his time and answers, so I'll hand the blog over to him...

Picture taken in March. It was cold.
Please tell the readers a little about yourself and what you do, then answer as many of the following questions as you like.

CD note: I'm impressed he answered ALL of them.

1.  How did you get into food and wine as a profession? How long have you been in the industry?

I fell in love with wine while living in CA for eleven years, and learning about wine became a hobby for me.  When I met Ken [Hardcastle, the winemaker] upon moving to NH in 93, and learned that Ken shared my passion for great wine, and also had the knowledge and skills to make it, a match was made. We began exploring wine, mead, and beer together with our friend and now partner Chuck Lawrence in every possible way. We traveled New England and beyond learning about how other produced wine in this part of the word, we started importing grapes from Chili and CA, we planted a vineyard, things got out of hand very rapidly and before we knew it, we were producing more wine that I think was even allowed without having a license.  We were having so much fun together and wanted to figure out a way to keep it up and be able to afford to do it.  In 2010, we made the decision to get our license to produce wine and the rest is history.

2.  What expertise did you bring to this career? If you came from a different career path or profession, what about it do you think helps you now?

Ken and I both brought very diverse and complimentary talents and background to our venture.  Ken being a PHD Geologist with a father who was a Chemistry Professor, brought a great understanding of the sciences to the equation along with over 25 years of exploring and learning about the making of beer, wine, and mead as a hobby.  I came to the task with a background in art, photography, and advertising and marketing.  Quite simply, Ken had the skills to make great wine, and I had the skills to market it and sell it.

Tasting room and winery dog

Now the fun begins… I am a psychologist, after all.

3.  How do you decide what to recommend to a specific customer beyond their stated preferences and what they've ordered? In other words, how do you read them?

This is very important as I am sure you know.  We begin trying to understand our customers from the moment they walk in the door.  What is there level of knowledge of wine and wine tasting, where have they been wine tasting in the past, what types or styles of wines do they find themselves drinking mostly, how adventurous are they with exploring new tastes, etc.  The best way is to strike up a conversation and depending on their willingness to share, simply ask.  Of course not everyone is as willing to share or really know what the answers to these questions. The next level of understanding comes from watching and listing as they sample our wines.  You can tell a lot from their expressions, what the say about the wines to each other and to us.  We then follow up each tastes with questions about their experience with each wine and try and decide where to go from there. As I am sure you know, it’s as important to pay attention to what they don’t say as what they say.  Facial expressions give a lot away as well.

4.  How do you spot the poseurs, or people who are trying to project that they know a lot about wine but really don't? Okay, besides the ones who have a wine blog.

First, we like to treat everyone equally at Hermit Woods, those who know a lot, whose who don’t, and those to think they do.  You can determine who they are very quickly as you begin presenting the wines and they start reviewing what they know about it.  In the case of those who don’t know much and those who don’t but think they do, we try very gently to bring them up to speed or help clear up their misconceptions if that be the case.  Learning about wine is the goal and all of us could learn our whole lives and still have more to learn.  We try and meet people where they are in their journey and go from their.

5.  What about a customer gets your attention or intrigues you?

Of course when a customer brings to the bar a greater knowledge of wine than I, or just a different experience of wine than me, I am always interested in learning from them. I am also intrigued by those customers who know very little about wine, but really want to learn everything they can and ask lots of questions.

6.  What gets you excited about your job?

First and foremost is the experience of making wine with my two closest friends and partners Chuck and Ken. Beyond being a great deal of fun, it is an incredible learning experience that seems to have no bounds.  But a close second to that is sharing the fruits of our labor with our family, friends,and customers, There is nothing I would rather be doing.

7.  What do you wish your customers would know or do before they come in?

Nothing, like I said earlier, we meet every customer where they are at with respect to their experience with us.  If they come in knowing nothing, then we do the best we can to help them begin their journey into wine.  If they come in with lots of experience, we try to find out what we have to offer them with our experience and knowledge.

8.  What has been your most interesting customer interaction?

There have been so many it is hard to identify just one.  In general, I find it most interesting for me when customers come to the bar with experience in the industry and a vast knowledge of wine, these customers challenge me to dig deep and make sure I can still provide them a valuable, educational, and fun experience.  Especially when the customer has never had experience with fruit wine in the past.

9.   When you go on vacation, do you go to wine-making areas or do you take a break from it all? What do you do for fun?

I can’t remember when I last took a vacation that did not include wine tasting, or at least the attempt to seek out wineries in the places I visit. When you are doing what you love, there is no need to take a vacation from it!  However, life is full of interesting and wonderful things other than wine, and I try and make sure to keep my time diversified with some of my other interests. I enjoy, running, biking, hiking (primarily winter hiking and camping), kayaking, and traveling in general to discover new places.

And about wine itself:

10.  Is there a wine or type of wine you secretly love but don't readily admit it? Or secretly hate?

No secrets here.  First, my love of wine is largely about its diversity.  I try to keep an open mind and explore new wines, styles, regions, etc. when ever the opportunity is available. If I find something I love (or hate), there is not reason to keep it secret.

11.  What has been your most memorable wine-drinking experience?

Visiting wineries in France and discovering frist hand wines for some of my favorite regions.

12.  If you could open and drink any bottle in the shop/cellar but you had to pay for it, what would it be? In other words, what would be your splurge at your restaurant/store?

I am in the wine business, so clearly have to be frugal when purchasing wine, however, I am ok with spending between 50 and 100 dollars a bottle if I a reasonably confident that the wine I will be trying will be unique and exceptional enough to justify it. There are so many wines that might fit this category from so many regions of the world that it would be hard to pick a specific brand. I often look for wines of southern France, Provence, Languedoc, Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape,  when I am looking for a special red wine.

13.  If you could go on an all-expenses paid trip to a wine area or region, where would you go and why?

France, and I would hope to include multiple regions, starting with Bordeaux.

14.  What wine or wines are your personal "house wines," ones you always keep on hand in case company comes over or you just want to pop one open yourself?

With respect to wines from my own winery, I have several, including, our crabapple, petite blue, lake house white, and some of our big barrel aged reds from chili.  If you are talking about wines from other regions, again, I have a fairly wide collection of wines from the regions of southern France.

Thank you so much for your answers, Bob! 

If you are a wine professional and would like to be interviewed or know someone you'd like to know more from, please fill out the contact form on the right or email me at cecilia (at) ceciliadominic (dot) com

Sometimes as a psychologist, I'm a little too close to the subject, and it can be hard to disengage from a pathological perspective. I have to give special thanks to Hubby and our friends and fellow oenophiles Dan and Kirsten B. for helping me to come up with many of these great questions.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Oeno-fessions: I Drank Fruit Wine and I Liked It

The tasting bar at Hermit Woods Winery

I was going to try and figure out how to do this overlaid with the lyrics to the Katy Perry song I Kissed a Girl, but alas, I just couldn't make it work.

In the wine world there are anti-snobs, or people who eschew snobbery and then get kind of snobby about doing so. Then there are those who know what they like and what they don't, but sometimes they make these decisions based on hearsay or assumptions. That's where Hubby and I were with fruit wine until last spring.

My aunt Nancy in Meredith, New Hampshire had been trying to get me up there for a book signing for a while. She acted as a liaison to get me in contact with Bob Manley, one of the partners at Hermit Woods Winery, and we planned it for the end of March to celebrate my second book Long Shadows coming out in paperback.

My book postcards, munchies, and Blueberry Wine
Of course I was super excited about this - I love doing signings and drinking wine. Hubby and I had tasted wine in New Hampshire before, and although most of it was hybrids, at least it was made from some sort of grapes. I called my mom to tell her, and she said, "You do know that's fruit wine, right?"

My reaction:

After I got through my dramatic chipmunk moment, I thought, "What the heck?" We've typically skipped - okay, avoided - wineries that focus on fruit wine, probably because of old associations with that stuff our college friends liked, you know, the stuff starting with Arbor and ending with Mist, but we'd never tasted fruit wine made by people who were really serious about it and who had formal oenology training. (See tomorrow's interview with Bob to see what his background is - I was impressed)

When I stopped by the winery the day before the signing, Bob greeted me and Hubby and offered to let us do a tasting. We accepted, bellied up to the bar, and...
Wine for snail, er, sale!

We drank fruit wine. And we liked it. And we learned stuff. As Bob, who has made wines from grapes in the past, pointed out, winemakers often do things to get certain fruit characteristics. At Hermit Woods, they start with the fruits and go for flavor profiles from there.

The highlights with comparisons for vinifera wine drinkers:

2013 Lake House White: really nice stone fruit nose, reminiscent of a white Bordeaux. Made from 52% Peach-23% Rhubarb, 13% Quince, and 12% Rosehips.

2013 Three-Honey Wine: A mead made from three different wildflower honeys. I found it to be nice and light-bodied. Made me think I need to re-investigate mead.

2013 Knot Mead: Made from Japanese Knot Weed flower honey. Tastes like a dry Riesling.

2013 Heirloom Crabapple: My neighbors had a crabapple tree when I was growing up, and we were always told not to try them because they'd be horribly bitter. This wine is not what I expected at all. Bob recommended it over ice or with Mexican food. I concur. Made from 95% Crabapple Wine, 5% Blueberry.

2012 Hermitage: I thought this was a play on Meritage because it kind of tastes like a light Bordeaux, but it references the hermitage that's part of the winery's name. Made from 40% Blueberry, 35% Elderberry, 25% Blackcurrant and aged in French oak for two years.

2013 Deep Blue: This 100% Blueberry wine is reminiscent of a port.

I sold some books, and we came home with a couple of bottles, one gifted to us from Bob. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised, and I won't allow my preconceptions to get in the way of me trying new things again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Five Things to Love about the South Okanagan Valley

Since the kids these days are all about lists, I thought I'd create one to discuss some of the highlights from our recent trip to the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. Before you ask, no we didn't see any of the Women's World Cup soccer (futbol for those of you from outside the U.S.) games, although we did walk by the Fox Sports pavilion when we were in Vancouver. The Okanagan Valley is about four hours to the east of Vancover across the mountains, and they make really good wine. We'd been there before, but this time we focused around the Osoyoos Lake and the wineries in and around Osoyoos and Oliver.

Without further ado, here are five things to love about the South Okanagan:

View from Tinhorn Creek Winery
1. The views.

Seriously, whether you're in the valley or on one of the ridges, everywhere you look, it's breathtaking.

Even the grapes have a view.
2.  The experience.

Hubby and I have tasted wine in several places including California, Oregon, Washington, and several other states including Georgia (duh), Pennsylvania, and Texas. Canadians have a reputation for being nice, and this comes through in the non-snobbishness of the tasting rooms. Granted, the wine-making operations seemed bigger than the previous time we were there, but it still felt laid-back and relaxed, even in the busier tasting rooms. Apparently winery-hopping is a popular "stagette" (i.e., bachelorette) activity, but everything was handled well.

3.  Drinkable white varietals

I typically stay away from Sauvignon Blanc because I find it to be too tart for drinking on its own, and Hubby doesn't like Pinot Grigio, but in the Okanagan Valley, these two grapes take on a smoother characteristic with stone fruit to balance the citrus. The Pinot Gris, as they call it there, also has more body to it than Italian Pinot Grigio, and we found the same with Hester Creek's Trebbiano. The highlight Sauvignon Blanc was from Maverick, which has an adorable tiny tasting room in the bottom of the valley right off the highway but still with a nice view. We enjoyed the one we bought from Fairview Cellars in Vancouver with a view of the harbor after an amazing sushi meal.

4. Interesting red varietals

Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot are usually blended in with other Bordeaux grapes and rarely get the chance to shine on their own. They do in the Okanagan - pretty much everyone has a Cab Franc. The best we tasted were a Tinhorn Creek, and you can see that we came home with both the red and the rose. Another great find was the Desert Hills gamay, which they also make as a red and rose (and where the guy pouring the wine was pretty cute - don't tell Hubby). We already drank the red when we celebrated Canada Day last week. The regular reds - Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, are also pretty fabulous. We came back with a Moon Curser Syrah.

The haul

5. The food

The first thing we noticed when we drove into the valley was that cherries were ripening, which we were told was happening about a month ahead of the usual time. They were beautiful, as were the meals on the plate. The restaurants there take pride in using locally sourced food and do great things with it. Strawberries were also in season, and we enjoyed a strawberry crepe at a place in Oliver and a strawberry dessert at the Tinhorn Creek restaurant Miradoro, which is where we had our fancy meal, going for the chef's tasting menu with wine pairings.

Strawberry crepe at Cock & Bull in Oliver

First course at Miradoro.

If you're looking for somewhere off the beaten path, Canada's Okanagan Valley is a great place to visit. For more information or to plan your own wine tour, visit  They even have a Twitter account, @BCwinetour