One Enchanting Day in Verona

I spend a fair amount of time on the road for my job, but for the past ten days I have been traveling for vacation.  The main event of my trip was a group hiking excursion in the Dolomites, in the most northern part of Italy, bordering Austria. Before and after, I spent a day each in Verona and Venice on my own.  Far too much happened to document the trip in one blog post, so let’s first talk about Verona.

I had seen pictures of Verona, a town in the Veneto region of north-east Italy, from many of my wine colleagues who travel to the wine expo, Vinitaly, every year in April. I was enamored with the alley ways, piazzas, and seemingly endless array of wine bars and restaurants in this small medieval town.  When I figured out that Verona was about half way between Milan, where I was entering Italy, and Bolzano, where I was to start my hiking trip, I decided to spend a day and night discovering what it was all about.

I arrived to Milan on my overnight flight from New York and immediately made the two hour journey to Verona.  My hotel was just outside the historic center of Verona (Centro Storico), just a short walk to the Arena and Piazza Bra, the main Piazza (or square) in Verona. Enchanting and busy — but not overrun — Piazza Bra beckons you to sit in the park, or at an outdoor cafe, and just daydream while gazing at the Arena, a still-functioning Roman amphitheater featuring operas and other performances.  This area is especially enchanting at night, under the lights of the Arena.

From Piazza Bra, I strolled down Via Mazzini, the busy pedestrian shopping street, to Piazza delle Erbe. Strolling is serious business in Verona, so I quickly had to leave my New York pace behind, and saunter past everything from Gucci to Sephora at a snail’s pace on my way to the second most popular square in Verona. Here you will find colorful architecture, flower boxes, outdoor stalls selling everything from fruit cups to hats and scarves, outdoor cafes, and the Torre dei Lamberti. You can climb the Torre (tower) for beautiful views of Verona, or just wander around the square. I was in awe of all the photo opportunities this tiny square offered, and finally had to take a seat by the fountain and simply take it all in.

One of the biggest tourist attractions in Verona is Juliet’s Balcony, of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ fame. The irony is that Shakespeare’s play does not take place in Verona, and there is no balcony in the actual “balcony scene”.  Furthermore, there was never a Juliet, since she is a fictional character.  Still, I went, I took a picture of the balcony and the Juliet statue, and watched the mob of star crossed lovers (i.e. tourists) cover the walls with tiny love notes on sticky pads. I must admit to getting caught up in the forged emotion of it all.

There are certainly other sites to see and things to do in Verona, but I was wonderfully content wandering down alleys lined with bicycles and greenery, flowers and taverna’s, just knowing that eventually I would come full circle and back to one of the piazzas.

I ended my day with dinner in a lovely taverna, Taverna di via Stella, as recommended by one of my colleagues. I started off with an appetizer special of salad with bresaola (an air-dried beef originating in northern Italy), followed by stuffed duck with polenta. Polenta is a specialty here as well, also originating in the northern part of Italy.  I washed it all down with a Valpolicella Classico Superiore from the producer Speri, one of the oldest winemaking families in the Veneto region. I scraped my plate down to the last bit of polenta, accepted a complimentary limoncello from my waiter, and was off to bed to stave off the possibility of jet-lag. Molto Bene! Bellissimo Verona!

The 2017 Rosés Are Coming

Rosé season is coming up gang!

7981_content_roseActually, there really isn’t a “rosé season” per se; that’s just something we created in our collective minds. As if we can’t drink anything pink unless it’s spring or summer and the sun is shining. Nonsense! You probably drink white wine in the winter, right?! And many white wines are refreshing, just like rosé, and can be even lighter on the palate.

What is indisputable is that the new crop of rosés from the 2017 vintage are being released as we speak. Lots of pictures of pretty pink and peachy juice can be seen on Instagram, wobbling down the bottling line. It seems that anyone who has a wine label these days, considers it an obligation to make rosé.

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2017 Long Meadow Ranch Anderson Valley Rosé of Pinot Noir coming down the bottling line.

Now that there is a veritable plethora of rosé options on your local wine retailer’s shelf, how in the world are you supposed to you decide? Besides the obvious strategies of buying by price and label (you know who you are), here are some things to consider:

DRY OR SWEET. Are you looking for a dry rosé or a sweet rosé? Generally speaking, most quality rosés on the market today are dry. If you think you are looking for a sweet rosé, do you really mean sweet, or do you just mean “fruity”?  If you want something sweet as cotton candy, then ask for that.  If you want something with lots of tropical fruit, talk about it that way. If you favor floral, citrus and mineral characteristics, use those words. This will help get what you want.

THE COLOR OF ROSÉ.  It’s tempting to choose a rosé based on color, but don’t put too much emphasis on that. Darker rosés somehow give the impression that they are sweeter (Hey Kool-Aid!), which is not necessarily the case.  More intensely colored rosés do, however, generally have more body because the juice of the grapes spends more time mingling with the skins.  (The skin of the grape is what gives a wine color; in all but a very few cases, the pulp inside the grape is clear.) Grape variety can effect color as well. You would expect a rosé made from Cabernet Sauvignon to be darker than a rosé made from Pinot Noir, because the skin of the Cabernet grape is darker. A good start is to think about a red wine grape that you like, and try a rosé made from that grape.

METHOD TO THE MADNESS.  If you want to get a little advanced, ask about how the rosé was made.  In the Direct Press method, grapes are gently pressed until skins from the grapes turn the juice a pinkish color. When the desired color is attained, the juice is transferred to a tank to rest. Direct Press rosés commonly highlight floral characteristics and are delicate and aromatic. In the Saignée method, rosé is produced during the process of making red wine.  At a very early stage in the red winemaking process (2 hours to a full day), some of the juice, which is starting to develop color, is bled off to make rosé. The remaining juice and grape skins will continue on to make red wine. These rosés tend to be less aromatic, rounder, and fruitier in flavor. Some rosés use a combination of the two methods.

DOES AGE MATTER? Rosé wines can age. Let’s just get that out of the way so the wine geeks don’t cry foul on me. There are rosés from the Bandol region of France that age well, Spanish Rioja rosés that age well, and certainly rosé Champagnes that stand the test of time. Most rosés you’ll find in your local store, however, are going to be from the previous year’s vintage (2017), or one year older (2016).  Many of the rosé wines that are built to last will cost you more than $25. The vast majority of rosés under $25 are made to be drunk young and fresh, within a year or two of the vintage date.

Whether you are looking for a wine to sip by the pool, quaff on the porch, enjoy with a plate of salumi and olives, or pair with a more serious meal, there is a rosé out there for you. Cheers!

High on High Street

IMG_0793The first stop on my latest wine road trip was to the home of the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Soon after I arrived and checked in to the Kimpton Monaco, I made my way past the vendors hawking championship gear on Market Street, towards High Street on Market.

High Street on Market is part of the High Street Hospitality Group, which also owns a.kitchen+bar and Fork in Philadelphia, and High Street on Hudson in New York. I have eaten at Fork, which was excellent, and High Street on Market is Fork’s more casual cousin.  High Street is open all day, from coffee and pastries to cocktails and pasta. My memory of Fork was that everything was exceptionally flavorful, so I was ready to have my taste buds roused once again.

I ordered a glass of Folk Machine Chenin Blanc, a Loire-inspired white from Mendocino, California, from the all-American wine list while I looked over the menu. Mineral-driven, citrusy dry white wines are my jam, so this was the perfect choice to fire up my appetite. A lot of things on the menu sounded to me as if they wouldn’t go well together, so I solicited the help of my server. Once he convinced me that it was okay to eat chow-chow alongside wild boar ragu, I was ready to order.  I started with the sunchokes, a dish from the section of the menu called “snacks”.  Sunchokes are one of those things that call to me from any restaurant menu. A root vegetable from the sunflower family, they have an umami flavor and a crunchy bite. These came roasted, with a texture that reminded me of eggplant, with slices of crisp, raw sunchoke mingled in.  Delicious.

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Clockwise: Crispy Broccoli, Pasta with Wild Boar Ragu, Sunchokes

My selection from the “plates” part of the menu arrived with my sunchokes. I chose the Crispy Broccoli with Chow-Chow and Scallion. The dish arrived looking like a giant tempura chia tree but the combination of flavors was so addicting that it was difficult to put my fork down. Chow-chow is a sort of fermented relish and it balanced out the lightly fried crunchiness of the broccoli very well. I took a break from my broccoli to order a glass of red wine in anticipation of my pasta course. This time I chose a spicy Cabernet Franc, in keeping with the Loire-inspired theme, from Ravines winery in the Finger Lakes, NY.

My pasta dish was Burnt Grains Campanelle, which is a bell-shaped pasta made from burnt wheat. The nutty-flavored pasta was dressed in wild boar ragu and parmesan. The dish was really rich, perfectly seasoned, and ridiculously flavorful. I overheard the ladies next to me talking about how their pastas had more flavor than most pastas. If I had heard that at any other time, I may have rolled my eyes, but as I dug in to my Campanelle, I knew exactly what they meant.

You may have noticed that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I didn’t even deign to look at the dessert menu. Instead I finished my glass of wine and took the long way back to the hotel, to walk off my very filling but heavenly tasting meal.

High Street On Market

308 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19106
(215)625-0988

Hungry Girl, Hungryroot

I am by no means a vegetarian. But most meal services I have tried (especially the ones that don’t require 40 minutes of prep work) offered up flavorful proteins with bland side dishes and lifeless vegetables. I can cook a piece of chicken or roast some pork pretty easily — I’m not THAT lazy — but I am at a loss for quick, satisfying sides with the exception of roasting a few vegetables. That’s why I decided to try Hungryroot, a plant based meal service that delivers a variety of products with recipe ideas for quick and easy breakfasts, lunches, sides, mains, and even desserts.

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My first box included things like banana bread overnight oats, lemon artichoke quinoa bowl, sweet potato ribbons, kalebeet blend, chickpea alfredo, and black bean brownie batter. All this and more, with enough for two portions of each, for $65. This may seem pricey, but I know myself and I recognize the fact that if I stop in to Whole Foods to pick up a few avocados, I’ll emerge with $80 worth of groceries. Every. Time.

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Just a few of the items in my delivery.

The box arrived well packed with ice and included a recipe book with simple steps to make seven different dishes.  The packaging itself is bright, whimsical, and just plain adorable. All the products are gluten free and dairy free with no trans fats, no preservatives, limited added sugar, and low sodium. I don’t have a thing against gluten, or dairy for that matter, but I am happy to indulge in a healthful way — and nothing will stop me from putting an egg on it.

Upon opening the box, the first thing I did was prepare my Banana Bread Overnight Oats for the following morning.  All I had to do was stir in some almond milk and yogurt, shake in a little cinnamon, and put it in the fridge to be ready in time for breakfast. It’s not that difficult to make overnight oats in general, I’ll admit, but this was effortless and the end result was delightful.

The first dinner “recipe” I tried was the Sweet Potato Pad Thai. The instructions had me heating olive oil in a skillet, adding the provided sweet potato ribbons and pea snaps, mixing in some prepared Thai peanut sauce, and finishing up with a pinch of salt and pepper. Voila, dinner is served.  In the interest of full discloser, I cooked up a chicken sausage and served it alongside the Sweet Potato Pad Thai. The meal was enjoyable and satisfying.

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Hungryroot Recipe Book

The second “recipe” I tried was for lunch — the Lemon Kale Caesar Salad. Again I had to break a big sweat in the kitchen mixing the kalebeet blend with the lemon artichoke quinoa bowl, and mixing in some chickpea alfredo sauce.  The salad was creamy and bright and I devoured half of it and was surprisingly full.  Today, I am going to add a hardboiled egg to the leftovers. Because I am crazy like that.

So far, I am very pleased with the products, the flavor, and the ease and flexibility of the meals. I even tried a spoonful of the Black Bean Brownie Batter (you can bake it, but why bother?) and it was dangerously delicious. I don’t have a sweet tooth per se, but sometimes you need a little treat, and this was not overly sugary because the sweetness comes from almond butter.

Hungryroot is a subscription service, but it is easy to manage your deliveries. This is important for me because I travel so much. It’s also very easy to customize what’s in your box so you can always be trying new things, or stick to some of the products you loved in past deliveries. I will keep it up when I’m in town, and probably continue adding in a little protein as well. Tonight, it’s Deconstructed Carrot Shephard’s Pie… Bon Appétit!