VinGarde Your Wine with VinGardeValise

https://vingardevalise.com

If you’re reading this, there’s a chance you’ve done it. We all do it, everyone’s doing it. We travel for wine. It’s how we experience other cultures and the perfect way to relax. If you’ve traveled into wine territory there’s a very good chance you’ve purchased your favorite bottles to bring home. There’s no judgement here, Greg and I are notorious for finding insane, crazy ways of getting our bottles home. Most of the time we’ve been successful, but there is one major loss we’ve suffered. Last May we went on the trip of a lifetime to Piemonte in Northern Italy and wine tasted our way through Barolo and Barbaresco. We visited some amazing wineries, one in particular was literally on top of a mountain. We drove vertical up a hill to a small, biodynamic farm with fantastic wine. We bought a few bottles to enjoy on the train and take home, but we were going to Switzerland from Italy.

Swiss wine country was basically the entire itinerary and we visited some remote, under the radar, unknown wine regions. I don’t know if you know this, but Switzerland does not distribute Swiss wine outside of the country. To get the wine, you have to go there. Long story short, we were tired of lugging around a half case of wine so we left our gems with our hotel in Zurich – the staff said they could ship the wine home for us, but as soon as we caught our train to our next destination they called to let us know this was impossible. We ended up selling our wine from across the pond bc we just couldn’t get it home. I still think about those lost bottles every single day. If we had known about VinGardeValise, I wouldn’t be living with the pain and regret of leaving those bottles behind without a secure plan.

Now we know and I hope this horror story helps the future you. VinGardeValise is absolutely necessary for wine travelers. In addition to making life so much easier, VinGardeValise is a wonderful way to get your bottles home in great condition. Allow me to explain…

In order to get the best out of wine, storage and temperature are key! If bottles are incorrectly stored, exposed to too much heat or light, or even moved around too vigorously for too long, the wine will become faulty. Wine should be stored in a cool, dark place. Exposure to too much heat will cause a wine to lose it’s freshness and flavors will become muddled or even resinous, and not in a good way in my opinion. This is why VinGardeValise is my new favorite toy and the ultimate travel solution. Each suitcase has sturdy foam inserts that protect your treasures from breakage. Additionally, you can add chiller sheets to preserve freshness and travel with ease knowing that your babies are safe from harm’s way. In a perfect world wine should not exceed 18°C / 64°F. VinGardeValise suitcases coupled with their sleek, flat chiller sheets protect your bottles from irretrievable damage caused by heat. We have two of these suitcases and two chiller sheets because we take this very seriously.

Let’s talk about the VinGardeValise® Piccolo. This is the perfect size for weekend getaways. It’s got a hard shell, is FAA and TSA compliant, has a crazy good lock system, and it’s a smooth ride. You can store clothes and books on one side while 5 of your bottles rest in their cozy foam homes on the other side. I’ll be reaching for this luggage every time I need to travel. It’s as essential as a passport or drivers license.

VinGardeValise® Grande 05 is the stuff dreams are made of. This suitcase holds 12 bottles securely, it’s got a hard shell to enhance the integrity of the product, this one glides like a dream and it comfortably fits bottles with longer necks. Again, this is a travel essential for us. We usually pack one large suitcase and one travel size, so I’m very excited that we have the proper equipment to lug wine around safely. It’s providing some much needed peace of mind!

I wouldn’t trust my wine with anything other than VinGardeValise® — even Condé Nast agrees! To sum up why we love it, here are my top 5 reasons you need to invest in this product:

1. Your wine is protected from breakage. I literally shook and scooted the suitcase across the floor and my bottles didn’t budge.

2. It’s secure. This is my first piece of luggage with a lock. The lock is easy to use and adds a layer of protection from theft.

3. This is covered by a 10 year warranty. I’ve broken a handful of suitcases over the years. We even had to buy a replacement in Prague. Although we’re only traveling locally right now and using this for holiday travel to see family and share wine with them, once covid is gone we are on the first place out of here. And we won’t stop traveling! It’s nice to know we’re protected from wear and tear.

4. Temperature matters. There are some amazing accessories available, like chiller sheets. These sheets are reusable and help moderate the temp of the wine to keep it fresh.

5. It will save you money in the long run. Shipping wine is expensive and somewhat of a hassle. Keep your wine with you at all times and simply check your bags.

6. BONUS REASON: VinGardeValise® is running amazing promotions for the next few weeks — like rebates and free magnum inserts. Now is the time, people!

Thanks for sipping with us! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @smashleythegrape 🍾

The Social Grapes

Featured

Amelia Belle Lewis

Welcome to the world, little one.
Holding Amelia in my arms for the first time on 5/16

Amelia Belle Lewis made her debut at 2:13 pm on 5/16 weighing 6.5 lbs and measuring 19 in long. It was quite the journey for both of us, but she’s here! It feels appropriate to share a little context about her name before I dive into the complicated details of labor. Her name is inspired by Amelia Earhart, a strong female icon who was an aviation pioneer. Fitting since her dad is a pilot & mom is a firm advocate of strong females doing badass things! We also love the meaning: work & industrious. Amelia has already impressed us with her strong will and determination to fight through the challenges presented to her since she was born. Belle means beautiful in Italian/French. She’s not only a gorgeous little girl, but we hope she has a beautiful heart full of love grace. Her middle name is also special bc it’s one of our favorite wineries! Together we have a diligent, hard-working, beautiful, strong baby girl who exceeds these meanings and inspires us!

It’s taken some time to get the words right for this post. The first 48 hrs of parenthood have been the most devastating and challenging days of my life, but for the first time since her birth I’m feeling some hope!

Early & active labor went off so smoothly considering I was induced. I was naturally dilated to 4 cm and with the help of some Pitocin, my body was ready for Amelia to come out. By end of Friday night I was about 4 cm dilated and ready to push by 10 am the next morning. I was motivated and ready to take on the final step in delivering a healthy baby. The first hour of pushing was actually pretty great and I enjoyed it, but 3 hours later we had made no progress. The hospital doesn’t allow pushing past a certain time and our time was up. This is where things started to slip.

Saturday 5/16 saying our goodbyes before Amelia was transferred to another hospital in prep of her surgery.

It was at hour 3 that I got an infection, temp spiked, become physically ill and was taken to OR for an emergency c section. I have only a few memories of what happened between hour 3 of pushing and her arrival. I remember briefly coming to and seeing her beautiful face but she wasn’t crying. I heard one doctor say to another that the baby was in shock and they immediately took her away. After about 10 min I finally heard her first cry! It was the best sound in the world. Next thing I know I’m being wheeled off in one direction while Amelia was taken to NICU for further evaluation. I was feeling relieved bc the hardest part was behind us. We did it! It was a challenge but we made it over the hill.

I was swollen everywhere and hardly coherent in recovery when the NICU dr stopped by to provide an update with tears in her eyes. My heart sank. Was I about to get the worst news a mother could receive? Did she not pull through? The dr started with good news… Amelia was stable and breathing. Then she followed with the bad news. She was diagnosed with vacterl – a rare syndrome that 1 in 10,000 infants are born with. It’s not something that can be diagnosed or detected during pregnancy. Ultrasounds can’t find this so it was a complete surprise. The underlying issue is that Amelia’s esophagus was disconnected from her stomach, so she had no way of receiving food and needed surgery ASAP. She was transferred over to Rady Children’s Hospital that night. I was wheeled down to NICU and spent about 30 min cuddling and praying over Amelia. She was so sweet and perfect, it was heartbreaking to let her go.

Day 2 of Amelia Belle post surgery on 5/17

I don’t remember much else from the night of her birth. I had some complications of my own to recover from. Blood in my urine, fluid in my lungs, low oxygen, an infection, low blood pressure and inflammation in the cardiovascular area along with a surprise diagnosis of the uterus that prevents me from delivering naturally – my OB hasn’t seen anything like this and it wasn’t picked up on any of my screenings before trying to conceive or even while I was pregnant. None of this compares to the pain of being separated from our newborn and recovering at two different hospitals.

On Sunday Amelia was scheduled for her big procedure. It’s a high risk surgery with a couple different ways of going in. Luckily, Greg’s boss and his wife have been so supportive and were able to get me in contact with Greg so we could weigh out the options and risks of each method together as parents. After a few hours, I got a call from Amelia’s dr and the surgery was a success. The process of attaching the esophagus to the stomach was a challenge but they successfully managed to fix it. There was one complication with her trachea during the procedure but the surgical team handled it well and prevented any further damage while fixing it. Amelia also received a blood transfusion during the operation. She came out of this beautifully with healthy vitals and in a stable condition. She’s been resting peacefully, connected to tubes, and being looked over 24/7 by her nurse. Amelia is such a fighter and stronger than anyone I know. I wish I could take on her pain but for now all I can do is pray, stay positive, and stay healthy so I can be by her side as she recovers in the hospital for another 5 weeks.

Day 3 of Amelia Belle – breathing tube was removed today on 5/19!

This experience has been challenging and I’ve cried more times than I’ve laughed over the last few days, but the pain is only temporary. I’m so blessed to have my parents here helping with everything. I’m beyond grateful that both hospitals allowed my mother to go in and out so she could be there for both Amelia and myself. We weren’t sure how things were going to play out with the pandemic still in effect. It hasn’t been easy and I wish we could see more family, but for now I’m blessed and thankful for what we have to work with. I was discharged late afternoon yesterday and spent time with our baby before my body needed a break. I’m full of hope and motivation to get better so I can be there for Amelia every day until she’s home.

Thank you for all the prayers, messages, and texts. Your love and support means more than you know! It’s beyond difficult going through this without Greg while trying to recover from surgery, but it’s been possible bc of our amazing and uplifting support system.

I’ll do my best to update here but for now my focus is on baby and my own recovery. Please continue to keep Amelia in your prayers as we inch towards being home together as a family 🙏🏼💕

Mom holding baby’s hand for the first time in 3 days! So much love.

Jackson Estate Wine Pairing 2019 at the historic Westgate Room

Fine California Wine Meets Fine California Cuisine

A wise man once said that drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures. This combination of words perfectly captures the experience we recently had while dining at The Westgate Hotel, an iconic San Diego landmark located in the heart of downtown. Visiting The Westgate is like traveling back in time – think glitz & glam of the roaring 20s meets rich & romantic French charm. Add a touch of San Diego’s laid back vibe and voila! You have the fixings for a one-of-a-kind experience. When we first arrived, I loved the ambiance but must admit that I was concerned we were about to revel in the spirit of snobbery and pretension. I have never been more wrong! The staff, company, Executive Chef Fabrice Hardel, and Sommelier were incredibly kind, down to earth, and personable. This building’s architecture is incredibly meticulous and grand – two things that will definitely make you stand out in an otherwise laid back city. Adding friendly service on top of such grandeur puts dining at The Westgate Room in a league of its own.

The Westgate is doing a fantastic job of producing high quality food & wine pairing dinners. What exactly does this mean? Basically, the Executive Chef prepares a menu and the Sommelier curates the perfect glass to accompany each course. This dinner is planned in advance, so make sure to check the event schedule and book a spot! At this event there were a total of 8 guests. Each group or couple had their own table and we were served not one, not two, but three courses.

This particular event highlighted the versatility of Kendall Jackson’s Estate Collection. If you think you know Kendall Jackson’s portfolio, think again. It’s so much more than an accessible wine sold at grocery stores for a reasonable price. There’s a whole other side to this winery – a side I’m excited to write about! We kicked off the night with Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley. Please note that Kendall Jackson is located in Sonoma, but this particular wine is made with grapes grown in Santa Maria Valley AVA which is located in Santa Barbara County. Because of it’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara’s cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are considered world class – and this glass was the perfect example of that. It was full of delicious notes of zesty lemon, stone fruits such as Asian pear and nectarines, minerals, and lively acidity. As we swirled, sniffed, and sipped, our very knowledgeable Somm guided us through the vineyards and cellar. If you’re a wine nerd like me, you will love this! She made wine tasting user friendly. As she guided us through our first wine, the servers brought out an Amuse Bouche – Ahi Tuna on lime supreme rice cracker. It was incredibly refreshing and paired excellently with the Chard.

We got topped off – because that wine went down way too easy – and moved onto our first course of the night. My favorite… drum roll please… Day Boat Sea Scallops with Maui pineapple, shiso, and peach vanilla gastrique. To say this was prepared to perfection is an understatement. I’ve dined at my fare share of upscale, fine cuisine restaurants and these scallops blew me away. Perhaps it was the wine pairing that elevated my dining experience. Regardless, the team knocked it out of the park with this one.

Our second course was Grim Beef Tenderloin. Now I’m no meat connoisseur, but this cut was perfectly juicy and flavorful. Accompanying the beef was smoked potato puree, roasted parsnip, and and truffle jus. All the savory and herbal goodness was perfectly curated to pair with Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. Anderson Valley AVA is located North of Sonoma in Mendocino County. Mendocino has a reputation as being coastal, cool, elegant, and organic. Anderson Valley is producing some incredibly exciting expressions of Pinot Noir. The fruit is bright, acid is high, and alcohol is medium. Wild strawberries take the lead as well as minerals, plum, and cedar. The higher acid on this wine perfectly cut through the savoriness of the dish – so much balance and harmony here.

Cheese lovers, this third course is for you! After a savory second course, it was refreshing to enjoy Warm Goat Cheese Crottin plus herb salad with aged balsamic vinegar. We sipped Petaluma Gap Pinot with this baby. Fun fact: this is the first vintage of Jackson Estate Petaluma Gap Pinot! This AVA benefits from marine breezes, fog, and gusty winds making this a cool climate pocket. The result? Small berries with thicker skins. This Pinot was full of red and blue fruit – it was just savory enough with high acid. The savory notes and high acid went incredibly well with the saltiness and high acid in the food. Pro tip: two components in food that make wine taster softer are salt & acid. These components make wine taste less dry and bitter while highlighting fruitiness.

Think Cabernet and dessert pairings are off limits? Think again! I’ve actually done cake and wine pairings before, and let me tell you… it works. It works really well. I was pleasantly surprised to wrap up the evening with Alexander Valley Cabernet paired alongside Cocoa Crumble Vanilla Gelato. If Napa Valley Cab is king, Sonoma Cab is queen. This is why the pairing worked so well! Sonoma Cab has all the complexity, depth, and balance without the austerity that is often found in Napa Valley Cab. It feels lighter on the palate and overall very approachable. This wine was full of rich blackberry, red fruit, and finished with high acid and supple tannin. It was a treat in and of itself!

We’ve said this a few times and I’ll say it again, experience and hospitality can make or break a wine tasting. This applies to the culinary world as well. The friendly staff, knowledgeable / personable Somm, and talented Chef made this evening exceptional!

Dining at The Westgate Room is worth the time and money, but it’s not your average restaurant. This place is special which makes it the perfect destination for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or couples who are looking to step up their date night game! This is officially on The Social Grapes approved and must-visit list.

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

You Stay Brunchy, San Diego!

brunch (n): a socially acceptable excuse for drinking champagne in the morning.

Example: Brunch without champagne is just a sad breakfast.

Who else agrees that Saturday mornings were made for mimosas and brunch? San Diego is known for outdoor dining and day drinking by the beach. Greg and I wanted to class it up for brunch this past week, so we paid a visit to JRDN at Tower 23 in Pacific Beach. The weather could not have been more perfect. It was sunny and 78 with the coolest of ocean breezes to moderate our temps. JRDN is known for delicious food, good wine, delicious AM cocktails, and beautiful beach views. You can build your own mimosa or simply rely on your waiter/waitress to recommend a good wine…. PS Order the Languedoc Rosé. You can thank me later. The ambiance is modern meets beach chic. Mimosas and wine flowed all around us as friends gathered for a little hair of the dog!

Surround yourself with good food, not negativity

Regardless of your hungover state, the brunch menu here will give you new life! If you’re like me, champagne is a must for brunch! Not only did we get a good deal on champagne splits, but it was freakin’ Moët & Chandon – one of my favorite champagne producers. Moët & Chandon NV Brut is recognized for its bright fruitiness, crisp palate, and elegant finish. All three champagne varieties are included in this bubbly: 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay. This champagne is golden in appearance and pronounced on the nose! It opens with green apple and lemon citrus followed by white florals, limestone minerals, and my favorite flavor in good champagne… brioche! We paired shrimp cocktail with this sumptuousness wine and it was a match made in seafood heaven!

Now let’s chat about our entrees. My mouth is watering at the thought of these dishes! Greg ordered a customer favorite – the Lobster BLT. People come from all over San Diego County to indulge in this masterpiece of a sandwich! Between the bread you can expect delicious tarragon aioli, savory bacon, crisp butter lettuce, and juicy tomato… did I mention the bread was brioche? So. Much. Yum. This entree paired very well with 2 wines …. yes, we paired this with 2 different wines because that’s what you do when you’re a foodie & certified wine pro! We had to pair this with our champagne because the lemon citrus + brioche notes in the wine popped alongside the dish!

Another MUST and classic food + wine pairing is Chardonnay and lobster. The Chard BTG (somm talk for “by the glass”) is from Hartford Court Winery located in Russian River Valley, Sonoma. This style of Chardonnay held up nicely against this savory yet light Lobster BLT. There were pronounced flavors of butter and cream, indicating that this wine undergoes secondary fermentation. These notes were complimented by stone fruits, hibiscus, and slate minerality. It was medium body and high in acid – a perfect match for the acid squeezed from the lemon onto the sammy. Side note regarding the side dish, Greg ordered TRUFFLE fries that were made for this Chardonnay. Not going to lie, I think this is what I’m ordering next time we’re here! Greg, you won the dish off yet again…

Don’t get me wrong, my entree was fabulous and totally extra in the best way! Yours truly ordered the Eggs Benedict. This wasn’t just any eggs benny, nope. It was eggs benny with Kobe beef! Yes, you read that right! If you’re a meat lover like me, this hot ticket brunch item has your name written all over it! Bonus: this hollandaise sauce has a touch of ponzu. Ponzu is great because just about every end of the flavor spectrum is covered – salt, bitterness, sweetness, and acid. This balanced out the creamy hollandaise sauce for a harmonious flavor composition!

About the wine… It was a little too warm and early for a red wine, plus I was craving something crisp. So, when you’re in between white and red the best course of action is rosé! Lucky for me and all JRDN goers, they offer a Languedoc rosé BTG! It was fantastic and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Like Provence, Languedoc is a well-established French rosé region. Languedoc is located on the SW side of the Rhone Valley, so by knowing that you might have an idea of which grapes were used in the making of this wine. I’ll give you a hint: Syrah and Grenache. I’m all about a Syrah or Grenache rosé these days… the two blended is even better! This rosé is medium bodied with medium + acidity. When you have food with high acid, you want equal levels of acid in your wine. As for the flavor I was hit with pronounced wild berries, macerated raspberry, some stone fruit, lemon zest, and sandy minerals. This wine also had great structure for being a rosé! I may have sipped it too fast and needed a second glass to enjoy with my breakfast potatoes!

Saving the best for last!

Dessert is my love language. The dessert menu at JRDN is full of sweets, treats, and post-meal libations that will make your heart sing! We shared a plate because #waistbandprobs are real. After perusing the options and some spirited debate between them, we compromised on something light, crisp, and delicious:  a lemon-lavender panna cotta. Er. Mah. Gerd. So good. The delicate flavors were perfectly intertwined, and the swirl of sugar cookie was the perfect sweet crunch. Oh, and did I mention the blueberry glaze on top? Yeah, there was a blueberry glaze. Now, I know what you’re wondering… whatever did we have to drink with this tasty treat? The dessert wine list did not disappoint and offered the perfect companion:  a late-harvest Cuvee Auslese from Kracher Wines.  This balanced, golden goodness from Austria is a blend of Chard and Riesling and brought the perfect addition of honey, cream, and stone fruit to round out the course.

To top off all the amazing food and wine, the incredible views, and stellar atmosphere was some impeccable service. Our waitress was friendly, efficient, and helpful with any questions about the menu. For those visiting from out of town or locals looking for an opportunity to #treatyoself, we highly recommend JRDN at Tower 23. This is a fantastic restaurant for bigger groups, FYI. We can’t wait to visit again!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

Girls Night In ft. Risata Wines

GNI is the new GNO!

Today is the second annual GIRLS’ NIGHT IN Day! This is an opportunity for women to come together and celebrate friendship. As my fave TV character Leslie Knope once said, “anytime a group of women get together, we embody the spirit of the holiday.” Similar to Leslie, female friendship means the world to me! As a navy wife, my husband and I spend weeks or even months away from each other because deployment life sucks! There’s no way I could get through the time apart without a supportive, fun-loving squad. I love and adore my friends – they are basically like family to me. We’re constantly in group texts, tagging each other in memes, and show up when it’s needed most. That’s why I wanted to bring something special to the table this year. Luckily, my inner circle of women love wine as much as I do! This year, we popped bottles of Risata sparkling wine because it’s a freakin’ celebration anytime a group of women get together. Risata produces wine with grapes sourced from top vineyards in Italy. Our weekend line-up included Sparkling Rosé, Prosecco DOC, and Moscato d’Asti DOCG. Lets dive deeper into each of these, shall we?

Sparkling Rosé

What’s better than a bottle of bubbly? A bottle of pink bubbly! Our wine tasting started off with Sparkling Rosé because rosé is a state of mind! The varietal composition is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. It is made in an extra dry style with only 17 g/L of residual sugar. This is exactly what you want out of a rosé and is very easy to drink! It’s incredibly crisp and refreshing with notes of strawberry, raspberry, and layers of florals plus a touch of brioche. Ever wonder how rosé gets its beautiful pink hues? I will tell ya! Grape juice is typically free of pigment, so the color comes from grape skin contact during the first fermentation when base wine is produced. Sparkling Rosé is typically a little more intense in structure and flavor because of this. This one paired incredibly with chicken salad!

Prosecco, please

Next up: Prosecco DOC. I’m a big advocate of Prosecco and think this bubbly is simply delightful. The grape in Prosecco is Glera, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the 80s, Prosecco was the name of the grape as well as the region until this wine grew in popularity and the varietal was renamed. This wine is produced using the tank method which is rather affordable, this contributes to the accessibility and reasonable price point of this wine. In the tank method, there are 2 fermentations, no oak aging or extended time on the lees. The first fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks to preserve fruity and floral flavors that could potentially get overpowered by oak nuances. The second fermentation takes place in a sealed tank that can withstand the pressure of CO2 as it’s dissolved into the wine. Risata Prosecco is classic with notes of pear, peach, crisp apple, and citrus. There’s slightly more RS in this one, but I’m here for it! Paired well with popcorn and sushi!

@stayclassywalter loves girls night in!

Moscato d’Asti for dessert

Last but most certainly not least, we popped open some Moscato d’Asti! I tasted my way through Piedmont, Italy back in May and fell in love with this wine! Every time I sip on this I’m immediately transported to cobble stone streets and vineyard covered hilltops. It was fun to share this one with the gals and chat about travel destinations. Risata Moscato d’Asti DOCG is slightly sweet and offers flavors of peach, melon, lemon citrus, and honeyed apricot. This is made with 100% Moscato Bianco di Canelli and is low in alcohol which means you can drink two bottles instead of one! This pairs perfectly with dessert – especially tiramisu!

pop, fizz, clink with @travelandchampagne

Here’s to good friends, great adventures, and making moments sparkle. I hope you are spending today and tonight with some of your besties! Be sure to pick up a couple bottles of Risata sparkling wine – available at Target! Cheers!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

Library Magic

You never drink the same wine twice.

Groth Winery & Vineyards

Have you ever sipped the same vintage of the same varietal produced by the same winemaker and somehow it tastes like nothing you’ve had before? I’m a firm believer that there is philosophy in wine and that tasting can be subjective and influenced by experience. Recently my husband and I took a trip up to Napa Valley for business and pleasure. I was scheduled to take my Level 1 WSET exam which happened to coincide with two events at wineries where we are members. I experienced two very different tastings at each respective winery. One event was fun and educational, because that is what I was looking for going in. The other was emotional and dare I say spiritual? There was an exact moment at event #2 that summoned the philosopher in me which completely took me by surprise.

Nickel & Nickel Winery

Our first wine event was an “Open House” at Nickel & Nickel Winery which was an opportunity for members to get together to enjoy some of the greats and maybe sample some new things as well. On the morning of I was reviewing my notes in preparation for the exam later that day. Aromas and flavors in wine were dancing around in my brain along with principal grape varieties and their classic characteristics by region. I was in full-on education beast mode as we made our way to the shuttles. The event transpired in the place where all the magic happens with each station setup along the production line. We sipped chardonnay by steel tanks and savored pinot near the cork lab. We’ve come to know the staff and enjoy seeing familiar and friendly faces each time we visit. The wine is always exceptional and the combination of an amiable ambiance and unparalleled vintages continues to draw us in. As we tasted our way through current-release single-vineyard wine, I took my time and analyzed the glass. Was there spice? If so what kind: baking or pepper? Are there notes of vanilla coming from oak? Is the wine high in acidity? What about the tannins – how smooth or structured were they? Did my notes align with the experts pouring for us? In addition to looking for these components I was doing my best to pair food with wine using the WSET standardized pairing chart. When food is salty a wine will taste less dry and bitter, more balanced in acidity, and full in body and flavor. If there is umami (aka savory foods) this will increase bitterness, dryness, and acidity while making wine less sweet. The result was me hovering over the cheese table for an embarrassing length of time. In my defense, there was an array of different cheeses to pair – from creamy goat to aged gouda-ness (see what I did there) and sharp cheddar. My stomach was having the time of its life while my brain and critical thinking was put to work.

Open House 2019 at Nickel & Nickel Winery

Event number two was a Library Tasting hosted at Groth Family Vineyards. The founders of Groth Vineyards & Winery are Judy and Dennis who have been rooted in the wine industry for almost 40 years. To this day, the production is family owned and operated in the heart of Oakville. We were welcomed with a glass of their most recent Sauvignon Blanc direct from the tanks since the wine hadn’t even been bottled yet. This was followed by an opportunity to sample a new undertaking that will only be available for their wine club: a rosé of merlot with the palest of hues and the richest of flavor. Historically Groth offers three varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was incredibly special to taste a brand-new release before it hits the market and provide honest feedback to the Cellar Master. While we loved the wine, of course, the experience made it even more enjoyable. I’ll just go ahead and say it, that welcoming will be tough to top! I was full of gratitude and feeling the buzz of cheer all around me. We continued to make our way from table to table tasting their Oakville and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons from 2006, 2009, and 2011. We’ve tasted the same varietals and vintages a few times, all in different settings, and with different people. But, there was something about sipping the 2011 Reserve Cabernet in the cellar with my husband surrounded by barrels while overlooking the vineyards that elevated the wine to a new level. We were there for my WSET exam and at that moment I was reminded of how incredibly supportive my husband is. We also had so much to celebrate – the hardworking vintners, viticulturists, winemakers, and wine community filled with likeminded enthusiasts. I swirled, sniffed, sipped and repeated. I gave the wine detective in me the afternoon off and let my hair down! The wine was silky smooth with layers of green bell pepper that nearly dropped me to my knees.  This was a moment that lasted forever, but in the best way. It’s a moment I will always remember and one that elevated my wine tasting.

Groth 2009 Cab & Reserve Cab

In the end my faculty of reason and perception of wine tasting was annexed by emotion and passion. Approaching these events with two drastically different mindsets left me feeling incredibly balanced, surprisingly. Like in winemaking, balance in life is vitally important. When it came time for the exam, I was steady and ready to pour myself into this next phase of appreciating and learning about wine.

Groth Winery & Vineyards

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

Digital Wine Boutiques

For the Modern Wine Lover

We’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: experience and connection are two of the greatest components in tasting wine. We love visiting wine country because of the hospitality, passion, scenery, and history. That’s also where we purchase 90% of our wine. So what do we do when the cellar is dry, our next wine club shipment is pending, and we’re craving something new? Glad you asked! In our house there are only 2 acceptable shopping methods: our local bottle house and online wine shops. Sure, BevMo has some great deals and a few good staples – but you can do better! There’s a community of passionate people who have curated a worldly and well-rounded wine offering. So, today I’m writing to encourage you to “be better than the Gap” (#CrazyStupidLove fans where you at?) and shop for wine online with a small business!

Shopping for Wine Online

There are plenty of big retailers on the web where you can buy wine, but as you all know, we prefer a more personal touch. We’re excited to have found a great option and to share with you all some background deets on one of the friendliest online wine shop owners out there: Mike Melançon at www.winesplurge.com

Wine Splurge and The Social Grapes share a common beginning: an appreciation for wine. Mike started out by hosting wine tasting events at work. With each tasting Mike was asked where the bottles could be purchased – short answers include Wine Exchange, Hi Times, Total Wine, or directly from the wineries. Since he was doing the selling, he wanted to launch an online store to compliment the tasting events. In 2018, Wine Splurge received a license to sell wine online. Since the launch they’ve added over 100 different wines with a couple of verticals. Mike’s family is involved too. His wife Pam helps sample wines before purchasing for the store. Their son Andrew samples wine while their daughter Rachel takes photos for the website and social media. We love family operated wine businesses and this one fits the bill!

If you’re like me, online shopping gives you a thrill! Idk why – perhaps this is something scientists should study – but it’s true. I’m particularly interested in seeing what happens inside my brain when the words “free shipping” flash across the screen. Wine Splurge ships wine free of charge to CA, LA, NH, NM, NV, OR & WY.

There are two wino friendly ways to shop for the perfect wine:

  1. Wine Type (Red/White/Sparkling) -> Grape Varietal -> Bottles
  2. Country -> Wine Region -> Sub-appellation -> Bottles

If that still seems intimidating or you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for, Wine Splurge can help with that too. We started chatting with Mike about the types of wine we like and mentioned some varietals we are interested in exploring a little. He curated a list of three bottles and sent them our way! Now that’s the kind of wine buying experience we love. Thanks Mike!

Wine Splurge Wine Reviews

Here are some of the wines we recently tasted from www.winesplurge.com

2014 Albariño which is a white wine from Rías Baixas, Spain
Produced by Marques de Vizhoja
Torre la Moreira Albariño

Appearance: clear, medium intensity, straw-yellow
Nose: green apple, pear, honeydew melon, citrus zest
Palate: herbaceous, grapefruit, earthy minerals, dry, light-bodied, high acidity
Conclusion: Very good- especially at this price!

2012 Estate Pinot Noir
Produced by Irvine Family Vineyards
Rogue Valley, Oregon

Appearance: clear, medium intensity, ruby
Nose: candied red cherry, spice, vanilla, earthiness
Palate: plum, cherry, vanilla, forrest floor, dry, light-bodied, high acidity
Conclusion: Outstanding – silky smooth!


2015 “Sweetwater” Cabernet Sauvignon
Produced by Levendi Winery
Oakville AVA, Napa, CA

Appearance: opaque, intense, deep purple
Nose: red cherry, fresh floral, hints of green bell pepper, sweet oak
Palate: blackcurrant, cherry, coriander, floral, dry, full-bodied, high acidity
Conclusion: Outstanding – velvety soft tannins. Great price for a Napa Cab!

This is one of our go-to spots when we’re interesting in trying new varietals from new places. Stay tuned for our next shopping post – we will share our favorite wine boutiques in real life!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

New to Napa

Two months after we were engaged Greg was preparing for a 6 month deployment. We decided to spend some quality time together and drive up the coast to Napa Valley with stops in Monterey Bay and San Francisco along the way. Upon our arrival, Napa welcomed us with rain for days. That wasn’t going to keep us down, because rain or shine we taste wine.

Being new to the scene, we only had one reservation on the books and decided to wing the rest of the trip. This wouldn’t fly during peak season, but we learned you can get away with this in the middle of December. As we googled vineyards, the top search result was Hall Rutherford. Little did we know, this is a private and very exclusive tasting room for members only. We didn’t get past the gate, but it led us to our very first Napa appellation… Rutherford! FYI – Napa Valley is made up of 16 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) and Rutherford is one of them.

In the midst of our unsuccessful first attempt we did end up finding a small winery on the same road called Rutherford Hill. Success! Mark this hilltop establishment as our first tasting experience in the mecca of vineyards and wine. We shared a classic tasting which offered Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. All delicious and already higher quality than the wines we were used to purchasing from BevMo. Aside from the delicious wine, we found the grounds quite picturesque with a great vista of the valley. Rutherford Hill is quaint, rustic, cozy, and elegant.

After Rutherford Hill we cruised down to Mumm Napa. Err. Mahh. Gerrd. We immediately fell in love. Like most lushes, we had tried Mumm before, but the stuff in grocery stores doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what they do. What we soon found out was just how many different varietals and wine options they produce… including sparkling AND still. This was the first time we had ever even heard of sparkling Pinot Noir (it’s even more amazing than it sounds). Also, our host was incredibly sweet and made our experience fun and less intimidating. We joined the club and re-visit every time we’re in Napa. That was it for our first day.

The highlight of our trip, and what we were most excited about, was tasting at Reverie Wines. Our close friends were referred by a close friend who was referred by a close friend and so on. That’s how it works at Reverie. It’s a small vineyard that focuses on producing fantastic wine and marketing flows through word of mouth. You definitely need a reservation and each tasting is private for you & yours. The history of the vineyard and passion for Napa viticulture was contagious. Our tasting was inside the barn which looked out over the hillside vineyard as the rain poured down. It was cozy and welcoming. We talked and sipped for a couple hours, feeling like we were at home with friends. This was the second wine club we joined and we’ve been in a committed relationship for 2 years. We never miss an opportunity to visit our friends at Reverie.

After Reverie we popped over to Chandon to get a fix of our bubbles in for the day! As the rain poured outside, the wine poured inside. We sat next to a fireplace and tasted a few varietals… rosé being my fave which is produced using Chardonnay & Pinot Noir. The experience was less personal but the grounds makeup for that. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take advantage of the outdoor picnic-like vibe, but we’ve re-visited and highly recommend you do as well!

We ended our first (very short) trip with a visit to Clos Du Val. We sipped at the bar and enjoyed the elegance of the wines in their cozy tasting room. The rain was really coming down at this point and we nearly got flooded in. Would not have been the worst place to be stuck in at all! Sadly, we were able to leave and admired the well-maintained vineyards as we waited for our uber driver.

This was all it took. We like to think back on our first trip because it reminds us of how little we knew. To be honest, I was intimated at first. But, we had such a positive experience and have continued to grow more passionate about Napa and wine-making with each return visit. Our advice for those making their first trip to Napa is to have reservations set up at 2-3 wineries per day, but leave a little room in the schedule. That will allow you to take advantage of any recommendations you might get along the way. One of our favorite parts of Napa is engaging with the people pouring our tastings – they all have their own love of wine they are willing to share and that usually includes their own favorite wineries. Once the wine starts flowing, so does the conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and be social!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape