Bon Vivant: (n) a person having cultivated, refined, and sociable tastes especially with respect to food and drink.

All posts in Drink Well

Old World vs. New World

Posted in: Bon Vivant, Drink Well, Uncategorized, Wine 101, Wine Facts, Wine vocabulary

I’m taking a cue from my clients and giving a few pointers on some of the differences between Old World and New World wines this week.  It’s a class that I teach a lot, and it’s a lot of fun to see people who “hate [insert wine variety]” realize they don’t in fact hate ALL of it!

To start, it’s helpful to know what we’re even talking about here.  “Old World” is Europe (Turkey, Lebanon and others are also generally included in this category).  “New World” is….everything else! America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa- they’re all New World.

Obviously there is quite a bit of variation in these regions, so take these generalizations with a grain of salt.

dusty wine bottles

  • New World wines are typically more fruit forward,  whereas Old World wines typically exhibit more earthy elements respective of their terroir.
  • New World wines are more typically aged in American oak, which imparts more flavor than French or Hungarian oak.
  • New World wine also tend to be a bit higher in alcohol than Old World wines.
  • Some find the flavors in New World wines to be a bit more accessible, whereas Old World Wines are typically described as subtle or nuanced.
  • It’s possible to find Old World style wines in the New World, and vice versa!


There’s no right or wrong preference- just as in art, wine is highly subjective and you should drink what you like.  Just remember to branch out sometimes- you just may discover that that wine you thought you hated is more about the region than the grape!

Do you prefer one style over the other?



Read More

Behind the Scenes: A winemaker luncheon in Malibu

Posted in: Behind the Scenes, Bon Vivant, Drink Well, Wine Recommendations, Wine Reviews, Wine Tasting, Winemakers, Wineries and Vineyards

As DC braces for its first cold snap of the season, I’m reminiscing about July in Malibu!

Wine grapes growing in Malibu

Wine grapes growing in Malibu

In a region known more for surfing and celebrities than vino, I had the opportunity to have lunch with an outstanding winemaker, Elliot Dolin.  He was kind enough to share his wine, chat his past life on the road with Willie Nelson, and the newly designated AVA in Malibu over lunch at V’s.

Dolin wasn’t always a winemaker, or even aficionado.  In fact, in the mid 90’s he started out knowing “next to nothing about wine at the time other than the fact that wine was either red or white.”  It was at a friend’s regular wine gatherings where he began learning more, collecting wine and taking classes at UCLA.

After purchasing a home in Malibu, Dolin realized he had land perfect for growing grapes, and so began his vineyard in 2006.

“Given our proximity to the coast, Chardonnay was the logical varietal choice. There was then no question that we would pursue the production of wine from these grapes,” said Dolin.

Elliot Dolin with his 2012 Chardonnay

Elliot Dolin with his 2011 Chardonnay

Although the cost of production at small, family owned wineries can be prohibitive, Dolin had his eye on expansion from the very beginning.

“Effective with our 2012 vintage, we have dramatically expanded our production to include four distinct single vineyard Pinot Noir bottlings.  In addition, for the 2012 vintage, we have produced a proprietary red wine made with grapes grown in a vineyard at a much higher elevation in Malibu. Thus, our 2012 production was close to 2000 cases, almost 10 times that of 2011.”

This is good news for wine lovers here on the East Coast!

“Given our higher, yet limited, production, we’re currently seeking distribution channels that will make our wines available throughout the United States.”

Currently, his Chardonnay is available to enjoy in DC at Oya. Drinkers can expect a well balanced wine with a rich, creamy mouth feel, tropical fruit notes and vanilla on the palette.  It recently received 90 points from Wine Spectator.

2012 Chardonnay

2011 Chardonnay, which recently received 90 Points from Wine Spectator.

2013 was an odd year for California vintners.  Harvest broke records in many areas with its early timing, but Dolin is optimistic.

“We are quite excited about the 2013 vintage. Our Estate chardonnay vineyard produced almost exactly the yield that we targeted. And the barrel samples that I have tasted reveal a very promising 2013 vintage for both our Estate Chardonnay and our single vineyard Pinot Noir grapes.”

There was quite a lot of hoopla over the designation of Malibu as its own distinct AVA. Dolin’s perspective on how this affects his own winemaking:

“The new Malibu Coast AVA allows us to label and identify our wines as being produced with grapes from a specific region, versus being limited to identifying them as originating from either “Los Angeles County ” or “California”.  Aside from establishing this sense of place for our wines,  we also benefit from the official government recognition that establishes the Malibu Coast as a legitimate wine growing region.”

Dolin was a professional musician for much of his life and has great stories of touring with music greats Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Paycheck, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, and Merle Haggard. When he’s not making wine or music, Dolin is an avid classic car collector.

From Dolin's days as a professional musician.  Pictured: Ray Price and Willie Nelson. In Willie's sunglass lens you can see a reflection of the legendary steel guitar player Buddy Emmons.

From Dolin’s days as a professional musician. Pictured: Ray Price and Willie Nelson. In Willie’s sunglass lens you can see a reflection of the legendary steel guitar player Buddy Emmons.

Have you tried wine from Malibu? 


Read More

The Hill is Home

Posted in: Capitol Hill, DC events, Drink Well, Guest Posts, Wine Shops, Wine Tasting

I’m excited to be teaming up with the folks at one of my favorite neighborhood DC blogs- The Hill is Home. Those in the area know it as a great resource for all things Capitol Hill- from community meetings, festivals, local politics and now food and wine!

To check out my first post on where and when to  taste wine for FREE click here.

If you’re in the neighborhood and have any ideas on what you’d like to see, sound off in the comment section below!


Read More

25 years, 21 wines at Tarara

Posted in: Bon Vivant, Drink Well, Virginia Wine, Wine Reviews, Wineries and Vineyards

I recently attended a celebration of Tarara Vineyard‘s 25th anniversary, moderated by winemaker, Jordan Harris.

wine tasting

After a Leesburg lunch with Just the Bottle, we made our way to the winery to join something of a motley crew of Virginia wine bloggers and press.

There, we enjoyed a glass of their Boneyard Bubbly before exploring 5 flights of wine, including verticals and selections from the library.  We sipped and chatted 25 years worth of wine-making in the tank room before taking in the last of 2014’s  summer concert series on the late summer evening.

Despite the bevvy of Riedel crystal glassware and artisanal cheeses, the event was anything but pretentious.  Harris set the tone early on with his assertion that a “winemaker is the most overplayed profession in America.”

I don’t know that I agree with him on that, but the evening offered a rare opportunity to lob questions at a winemaker in a small group setting.

Chardonnay flight

Chardonnay flight

As Virginia comes into its own as a respected wine producing state, it faces a serious marketing dilemma.  Attempts to pigeon hole the diverse terroir have led people to make associations with the Loire Valley in France, asserting “Viognier THE Virginia Grape”, “Cab Franc THE Virginia red grape.”

One of the most popular discussions among Virginia wine makers and consumers lately has been that there doesn’t need to be a state anything and to let Virginia be Virgina. While marketing has its place, I’m a much bigger fan of letting the wines and terroir speak for themselves.

When Harris joined Tarara in 2007, the winery made some major changes.  There was a distinct lack of focus that they decided to tackle head on.

“You’re only as strong as your weakest link,” said Harris.  In this case- that meant wine.  And so they got to work. He axed the top three sellers and replaced equipment. Harris is only willing to produce and do what he enjoys- with one major exception: Cab Franc.

If he were to have a Facebook relationship status with THE Virginia red grape, it would most certainly read, “It’s complicated,” but Tarara can’t seem to keep it on the shelves.  Relationship status aside, Harris produces some outstanding Cab Francs (although we seem to have opposite preferences when it comes to vintages!)

Cab Franc is known as having some of the greatest variability between vintages of any variety. “I just don’t trust it,” said Harris.

Cab Franc flight

Cab Franc flight

The 2012- to my palette- was outstanding.  Well-balanced, earthy, with just a touch of funk and pepper I love to taste in Cab Francs. “Hedonistic,” was Harris’ assessment of the vintage, but I don’t expect Cab Francs to exhibit exceptional restraint. This wine was no shrinking violet, and that’s just how I like it!

Other stand outs from the tasting include the Tranquility Red 2010, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat.  This wine showed incredible finesse.  Slow to open up, I liken it to the introvert at the party that proves worth getting to know.  The longer you gave it, the more it gave back with ripe dark fruit and earthy balance.  This wine speaks quietly, but profoundly, if you care to listen.

The 2010 Syrah was another treat.  No longer available for sale, this $100 gem (gasp!  A $100 bottle from Virginia!?) was elegant with spicy ripe fruit, espresso, licorice and exquisite balance.  This was an elegant wine with some serious staying power that will only get better with age.

With winemaker, Jordan Harris.

With winemaker, Jordan Harris.

Thanks to the entire Tarara team and winemaker, Jordan Harris, for sharing some of your gems on this special evening- we may not agree on our favorite vintages, but it’s always refreshing to meet a winemaker willing to spill the secrets (and the juice!) behind one of Virginia’s most established wineries!

Tasting Room Hours of Operation
Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday – Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm

For a special occasion, consider booking the private room for a reserve tasting!



Read More

Dîner en Blanc DC

Posted in: Bon Vivant, Diner en Blanc, Drink Well, Events

This time last week I was embarking on the dining experience of the year- part flash-mob, part gourmet picnic, Dîner en Blanc was a spectacular affair Washington has been ready for.  DC’s inaugural event has been 3 years in the making and took place during the 25th anniversary year of the storied French tradition.

On my way!

On my way!

Setting up our tablescape.  Photo courtesy of Justthebottle.

Setting up our tablescape. Photo courtesy of Justthebottle.

Originally a French affair among friends, the experience has morphed into an exclusive event held in over 50 cities world wide.  The basic premise: participants register through an exclusive system, don all white, and descend upon a secret location to dine on gourmet food and wine.

Having fun with friends in front of the Moët Ice Tower, official sponsor of the event.

Having fun with wine and food blogging friends in front of the Moët Ice Tower, official sponsor of the event.

These ladies are a lot of fun and all have great wine and food blogs! From left to right: Lisa, Christina, Laetitia, (DeB group leader), Katie, (DeB Table Leader).

The rules are strict- diners must adhere to guidelines regarding attire, table size, and more.  The event is not without some major effort on the part of participants (just try schlepping a table, 2 chairs, a 4 course gourmet picnic and table setting on the metro during rush hour!)

However, the end result is a one of a kind evening that balances food, wine, music, dancing, and camaraderie among friends.

Our tablescape

Our table

A toast with a friend, Jackie, from Bookalokal DC

A toast with a friend, Jackie, from Bookalokal DC

Sparklers at dusk, a 25 year old tradition!

Sparklers at dusk, a 25 year old tradition!

The menu:

  • Cheese Plate (from Sona Creamery)- this was great to share with friends!
  • Chilled Gazpacho topped with feta
  • Baby Arugula topped with seared sirloin, Parmesan, aged Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Macarons (from Sweet Lobby)
La Tur- an outstanding blend of cow, sheep and goat’s milk.   “Rachel” Semi-soft Goat’s milk cheese “Zamorano”- a hard sheep’s milk cheese produced in Virginia.  Similar to Manchengo, but a bit zestier

La Tur- an outstanding blend of cow, sheep and goat’s milk.
“Rachel” Semi-soft Goat’s milk cheese.
“Zamorano”- a hard sheep’s milk cheese produced in Virginia. Similar to Manchengo, but a bit zestier.
Marcona Almonds

(If you’re counting, yes, that’s five types of cheese;)

Bon Vivant Tips for Enjoying Dîner en Blanc:

  • Bring a container to keep your wine chilled
  • Bring ICE and lots of it.  The wines that were supposed to be chilled were not even remotely at serving temperature. Most of my ice had melted by the time I arrived.
  • Bring shoes for walking- I changed into heels after arriving
  • Once you’ve signed up with your “group”, there’s no changing it!
  • If you have a request or an accommodation, be NICE to the organizers.  They receive dozens of emails a day with people making various requests or even complaining.  I’ve heard that many of these emails were not so nice. Remember the old adage about honey catching more flies than vinegar!
  • Do a set up dry run.  Once I figured out how to assemble my table it was a breeze, but it took a while to initially figure out and I saw others struggling the evening of.  I also downsized to smaller plates and a lighter vase after my dry run. I cannot emphasize this tip enough!
  • Consider purchasing or renting a luggage carrier.  Although my trolley toppled a few times due to escalator bumps or curbs, it was collapsible and fit under the table, per DeB regulations.
  • While keeping things light and compact is key to successful schlepping, I was happy I packed a few of my favorite pieces to make my table a bit more elegant.  I compromised by renting lighter chairs, and chose to bring a silver champagne bucket and marble cheese board.
  • Things not to forget: hand sanitizer, bug spray, shout wipes or a tide pen, wine key, water, trash bag for clean up, portable cell phone charging device.
  • Depending on where you’re coming from, getting there can be a hassle.  Keep a positive attitude and relax.  The schlepping was more than a bit of a nuisance, but the pay off upon arrival was outstanding.
  • It’s great to sit with friends and be able to share food and wine, but remember to branch out and meet new people as well!
  • If you’re unable to register during the initial stage, reach out to an organizer to get on the official waiting list and monitor the message boards.  There are always cancellations and if you are vigilant, you will be able to purchase tickets from someone who is unable to attend.

champagne bucket chilling wine

Things I wish I’d done differently:

  • Prepared earlier.  This event happened to take place during a very busy period of work for me.  Day of, I was rushing around like a mad woman!  I definitely brought some of this on myself by not ordering a catered food basket.
  • Purchased a larger table.  I went with the Coleman Compact camping table, and at 27.5 inches square, I was wishing I had splurged on a 32 inch version (the max size allowed) to better accommodate my spread.


While I already owned most of the table decor, I did spend a considerable amount of time and money purchasing items from various vendors.  All told, I visited 8 brick and mortar establishments and made 2 online purchases to assemble everything I would need for the evening.  Although I likely could have rented or borrowed many of these items, it made sense for me to purchase items I plan on re-using since I plan on attending in future years.  When possible I took advantage of sales, but definitely splurged in other areas (namely: that cheese plate!). When possible, I purchased from local small businesses.

While some don’t understand the concept of paying to attend an event where you bring all your own supplies, food and wine, I feel that the $70 registration fee is quite reasonable given the permits, lighting, and particularly the entertainment.

Supplies & Decor:
Table Cloth, Rolling Luggage Cart: Amazon
Flame less Candles: Target
Coleman Camp Table: Walmart
Chairs: Fragers Rental
Flowers: Safeway

Our picnic basket- How lucky that my sister already had this on hand!?

Our picnic basket- How lucky that my sister already had this on hand!?

Dress: Pinktini Fashion Boutique
Shoes, Purse: DSW
Fascinator: Amazon
Jewelry: already owned

The accessories for the evening. The event is as much about fashion as it is food and wine!

The accessories for the evening. The event is as much about fashion as it is food and wine!

Picture courtesy of Lisa Comento.

Picture courtesy of Lisa Comento.

Have you attended Dîner en Blanc? What are your favorite tips and tricks?


Read More