Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ten Weird & Wild Places to Sip Wine

Let’s say you’re bored with your wine tasting adventures. You’ve been to wineries and tasting rooms, sipping a new vintage while the winemaker tells you about the grapes, the history, the terroir - whatever it is that makes the wine so spectacular.

You’ve stood in line at the wine shop/liquor store/grocery mart to try the featured wines of the weekend in little paper cups with a smooth (or at times, not so smooth) sales patter trying to entice you to buy.

You’ve even gone to the wine festivals, private tastings and special charity events, but nothing seems to quench that desire for something new – a nouveau wine experience.

Well, get ready: here are 10 wine sipping destinations that will make your knees week, your heart race, and your vino friends envious …

1) High in the Sky
Lounge in the Sky
Imagine sitting at a table for four, sipping a glass of Chardonnay while you and your friends watch the sun set over the city; all while you are suspended a quarter of a mile up in the air!

Dining Out
Lounge in the Sky, a part of Dinner in the Sky offers just such an experience and this adventure is available in 14 countries, including the U.S, Italy, UK, France, Ireland, and Spain.

2) Underwater
SubSix Bar
Ever feel like you’re in too deep? Then you’ll feel right at home at SubSix, the world’s first underwater nightclub located almost 20 feet below the surface of the Indian Ocean.

Underwater Dinner and Drinks
Relax in club chairs while you peruse the 300+ bottle wine list, or select a glass of wine from over a dozen available on the beverage menu. Then sit back, unwind and watch marine life glide past the floor-to-ceiling windows of this classy, submerged bar in the Maldives.

3) On Ice
Wine on Ice
Almost 125 miles above the Arctic Circle, the Snow Village takes shape each November. Crafted from over 1,000 truckloads of snow, the Village opens each December and remains open until the first weekend of April, complete with a hotel, two restaurants, and the Ice Bar

Inside the Ice Bar
The bar, and everything in it, is made from ice and snow including the tables, chairs, and drinking glasses. This is the perfect spot for an unforgettable glass of icy Champagne. But bundle up - temperatures inside hover around 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 Celsius.)

4) Under Ground
Entrance to Jarvis Wines
Originally built to store wine, today's wine caves do so much more. Not only is this underground chamber the perfect temperature in which to age wine, it’s also one of the coolest places to hold a wine tasting.

The Wine Cave
But no one has surpassed Jarvis Estate in Napa, California, for excellent utilization of a wine cave. The entire winery, complete with winemaking facility, is built underground in a 45,000 square foot cave tunneled into the Vaca Mountains. After touring the winery, guests enjoy six samples of wine in a Tasting Chamber that is sure to impress.

 5) Spirits Move Me
Belvoir Winery is located in what used to be the I.O.O.F – Independent Order of Odd Fellows home complex constructed in the 1880s in Liberty, Missouri. The I.O.O.F. was one of the largest fraternal  and benevolent organizations in the U.S. during the 20th century.  

I.O.O.F. Home
Today, the winery is located in the old administration building, one of only three original buildings that remain on the grounds, and the oldest structure on the property.  It is here that employees report footsteps, screams, unidentified laugher and shadow people; the perfect place to sample their six locally produced wines and get into the spirit of things ...

6) In the Dark
Too much information in your life? Then dinner and a drink at Opaque might be just what you need. This restaurant takes “dining in the dark” to a new level: a real sensory experience. Without your sight to rely on, forget checking the clarity of that wine.

Dining at Opaque
This is where your other senses kick in and that glass of vino takes on a totally different dimension; an true experience of taste. But relax, black tie is not required ... Opaque restaurants are located in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Dallas.

7) In the Belly of the Beast
If you’re an aviation buff, don’t miss the chance to dine in the belly of a 1953 Boeing KC-97 tanker, better known as the Stratotanker. Although it was named Solo’s Restaurant, it has become known as the Airplane Restaurant, seating up to 42 people for lunch and dinner.

Dining on Board
Featuring booths, burgers and a full bar, this is one trip you’ll rather have friends on board with, rather than going solo. Located at the Colorado Springs Airport in Colorado.

8) Up, Up and Away
Balloons Above Napa
Ah, to slip the surly bonds of earth, wine glass in hand and vineyards unrolling beneath you. If this is your idea of heaven, then get ready for liftoff in a hot air balloon. Wine Country Balloons is one of the oldest in California, offering early morning flights over the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma.

Flying Over Vineyards
When your flight is over, enjoy a made-to-order champagne brunch with your pilot and fellow ballooning buddies as you enjoy a post-flight celebration.

9) Visiting the Ladies
May Baily's Place
What was once one of the premier bordellos in the red-light district of New Orleans (known as Storyville), is now a pretty hip place to grab a glass of vino (over 15 on the menu), or something stronger. May Baily’s Place served clientele in the French Quarter during the 19th century.
Just One of the Girls

Today, portraits of the madams’ hang on the bar walls among the Victoria décor. The comfort and ambience of May’s continues to attract customers ordering spirits, and spirits of the “ladies of the evening” who still linger at the bar, waiting for “last call.”  In homage to its history, a red light continues to burn in the courtyard …

10) In the Jail House
The Clink
Let’s give this one an A for attitude and adaptability! The Liberty Hotel in Boston has taken a former jail where the city locked up notorious prisoners like Malcolm X and the Boston Strangler, and transformed it into a cool hotel, complete with a bar called the Clink.

Dining in the Cell Block
Dine and drink while looking through the original cell door bars. The menu changes daily and the wine list is extensive – but pace yourself; you don’t want to end up in the drunk tank.

Now, find something fun to do this weekend, and if it tops this list – Let Me Know!

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Salt with Wine? It Could Be Fine ...

Red Wine

I know, it just seems wrong - but according to a former chief technology officer with Microsoft, adding a dash of salt to your red wine can actually balance the flavors and enhance the aromas.

Adding Salt

Just a Pinch
Nathan Myhrvold discovered this little trick (predictably), after a few glasses of vino.  In an interview with Richard Vines of Bloomberg last month, Myhrvold claimed that just a pinch of salt can make most wines taste smoother. The concept is similar to why a cook adds salt to food: to enhance the flavors.

Margarita with Salt
And it’s the same reason why we add salt to margaritas – to squelch some of the bitterness and make the flavors “pop out” a bit more. Salt creates the perception of a sweeter flavor while covering up any bitterness, thus producing (to our taste buds) a more powerful taste.

And there is science to back this up, at least in the salt department. Simply put, sodium suppresses bitter flavors on the tongue while enhancing others. So say “bye-bye” to bitter tannins and “hello” to pleasant, savory wine flavors, and nice, approachable aromas. Just remember, the suggestion is to add salt in moderation and to taste. (So this could mean a different amount for each glass, and each drinker.)

Don’t expect winemakers to start adding sodium to their wines. And be forewarned: if you try this in front of any wine critics, fanatics or snobs, they will not be amused.

It’s just something to remember next time you have a red wine you’re not thrilled with; try a pinch of salt before chucking the glass. You might be pleasantly surprised.  As they say, may you be blessed with "salt that life may always have flavor" ... even in your wine!

~ Joy

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wine on Tap: 8 Reasons to Go with the Flow

Beer on Tap
Beer on tap has been an alternative to bottled beer for years: every bar in town has a tap system of popular drafts available by the pour. But wine on tap has been a bit slower to catch on.

While Europe embraced the idea years ago, here in the U.S, the concept has been discussed but just couldn't seem to gather enough interest to pursue. 

But thanks to the Millennials and their willingness to experiment with the tried and true, systems such as VinTap, Free Flow Wines, MicroMatic, Versay and Wine in a Keg were able to hit the professional market with a bang.  It didn’t take long to see, and taste, that wine on tap was a better alternative to pouring glasses of wine from a bottle. Could this be the wine wave of the future?

Wine Keg
This wine on tap dispensing system works with a keg, similar to the way beer is tapped. The kegs keep the wine at its best for a minimum of 12 months, and once tapped, are guaranteed fresh for at least two months. Every pour is flavorful – the way the winemaker intended.

Kegs come in various sizes but the standard wine keg holds 19.5 liters, about 26 bottles or 130 glasses of wine. Nitrogen or argon gas is used to blanket the wine and keep it from oxidation, and pressurizes the keg.

The types of businesses using wine on tap systems include wineries, restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels, sports and entertainment venues. Why? The reasons are many and varied but here are just a few.

1) It’s economical
2) It’s environmentally green
3) It guarantees fresh wine with every pour
4) It allows the customer more options
5) It allows smaller wines/wineries more exposure
6) It allows a variety of wines to be rotated
7) It allows a business to have a house-blend wine
8) Transportation costs are drastically reduced

Wine Kegs Ready for Delivery
There are wineries, mainly in California (though some New York State wines are also being kegged), that are now producing for the wine on tap market by having their wines custom kegged. This makes it easier to break into the wine on tap market, which is growing more each year.

Wine on Tap
The response has been very positive from both wine on tap facilities, and wine drinkers. Currently, there are over 250 quality wines on tap in close to 2,000 locations around the U.S. and the number is growing.  Hopefully, this “trend” is here to stay so that not only can we enjoy exceptional wines from the tap, we can also live a little greener while sipping that Chardonnay!

~ Joy

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Behind the Scenes at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition

The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition is being held this weekend in Rochester, New York. Here's a look behind the scenes at the second largest wine competition in the United States.

David Male
When competition chairman David Male contacted me about being a judge for this event, I was thrilled!  This is a wine competition with a bigger purpose than just awarding medals.

Peter Parts
The Finger Lakes International Wine Competition (FLIWC) is a relative new player in the industry (only 14 years old).  It came about because of a suggestion by Peter Parts.  Parts, a member of the Camp Good Days and Special Times board, was looking for a way to raise money for the organization.  After hearing about a California wine auction and how much money it raised, Parts decided a wine competition and auction would be a perfect way to raise funds for the camp, and gain publicity for the wines of the Finger Lakes.

The  FLIWC is the largest North American wine competition held for, and by a charity.  That charity is Camp Good Days and Special Times, a not-for-profit organization that provides programs free of charge to children and their families who are battling cancer. Over 43,000 campers from 22 states and 28 foreign countries have attended the camp since 1979.  One hundred percent of the proceeds from the FLIWC, and the resulting Wine Auction Dinner, go to benefit Camp Good Days.  

Wine in the Back Room
Thousands of wines, from all 50 U.S. states, Canada, and close to two dozen countries are entered each year.  

Judging Room
There are usually around 70 wine judges from across the U.S, and many others come from around the world including Europe, South Africa, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Israel, and Argentina.

Judges have a variety of backgrounds in the industry and include winemakers, sommeliers, enologists, importers, retailers, wine writers, bloggers, wine educators, and consultants. Those selected know wine, have a passion for it, and enjoy sharing it.

L to R: Joy Neighbors, Eric Orange,
Bonnie Villacampa and George Taber
 Each table is made up of four judges. At last year's event, I judged with wine writer George Taber,   brand founder Bonnie Villacampa, and Eric Orange,  founder and CEO of

Judging for the FLIWC takes place in one large room. Participants at each table discuss the wines after each judge has made a decision. Wines are judged in double blind flights, which means that the judges do not see the brand of wine or know where it came from.

Numbered Wines
Judging Sheet
Each wine is judged on its own merit, not by comparison to the other wines in the same flight.  Every judge receives a scoring sheet with the wine’s code number listed and the varietal of the wine. 

Judging criteria for each wine includes the evaluation of its appearance, aroma, balance, varietal character, and finish.  Each wine is judged for what it is at the time of the judging, not for how it might evolve and what it could become at a later time.  All wines are served in Riedel crystal stemware in flights of eight.

Once the medals are decided, a select panel will review the winners in the Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Riesling and Ice Wine categories. From these winners, the "Best of the Best" will be decided on.

But there's more to this competition than judging and medals ...

Unpacking Wines in the Snow
Setting Up the Wine Room
This event would not take place without the assistance of over 150 hard working volunteers.  These people are the backbone of this competition.  They are the ones who receive the wines, categorize them, transport them to the judging location, and set up the back room for the competition.

Tabulating the Results
Organizing Wines
Once the competition begins, the volunteers work in a separate room, staging wine flights, making sure each glass has the correct code number on it to match the judging sheets.  They deliver the wines to the judging tables, clear past wines, keep track of completed score sheets, tabulate results, and when a is re-pour is requested, make sure it comes from a second, unopened bottle.

Judges at Work
Taking in the Wines
And if that isn’t enough, they also keep the judges in a fresh supply of water, olives, crackers, and napkins, along with emptying spit cups and buckets, washing glasses, and preparing new wine flights.  And they do this over and over for two days, working together to make it all run smoothly.

Judging Room
Once the judging is over, volunteers prepare for the Camp Good Days Wine Auction Dinner.  This event is held about a month after the wine competition -This year on Saturday, May 3rd. The dinner will be held at the Rochester Plaza and Hotel in Rochester, New York.  Tickets are $150 per person and all proceeds from the Wine Auction Dinner go to Camp Good Days and Special Times.

Campers at Camp Good Days
After the judging last year, I left with not only a sense of accomplishment and regard at having tasted some of the best crafted wines in the world; I also took away a sense of humility for having been a tiny part of an event that will help children from all over the world go to camp this summer, and for those few days, let them forget their battles with cancer - and just be kids. 
Camp Good Days

Here's to another successful competition, and another fantastic summer for the kids at Camp Good Days!