You had me at aphrodisiac!

Aphrodisiac Food and Wine Pairing

Working in the wine business, I attend many events. After a while, many start to feel the same. However, at Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, which I reviewed previously, the event planners are clearly thinking outside of the box. One such event was their recent Aphrodisiac Food & Wine Pairing Class taught by Master of Gastronomy and author/fourth-generation publisher, Amy Reiley. I was excited, literally and figuratively, when Dutton-Goldfield allowed me to attend the class as a representative of the media.

You may not be as familiar as you should be with Reiley’s name, but I bet you’ve heard of some of her cookbooks such as Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook and Romancing the Stove, both of which attendees received as part of the class. She is also the founder of Life of Reiley, a boutique publishing company for culinary professionals, and the creator of EatSomethingSexy.

Amy Reiley teaching us about aphrodisiac foods

Attendees of the class were couples except me. Such is the life of a single girl. Regardless, I had a fantastic time and met a lovely couple with whom I shared a table. The wife was from my hometown of Asheville. Small world.

The class consisted of four food and wine pairings, with the recipes being from Reiley’s cookbooks and the wines from Dutton-Goldfield, of course. Chef and Innkeeper Larry Willis of the The Gables Wine Country Inn prepared the food.

As we proceeded through the pairings, Reiley explained to us what makes a food or drink an aphrodisiac. It is typically a food or drink that offers long-term health benefits, such as nutrients our bodies require and/or something that is good for cardiovascular health and blood flow. A few examples include honey (the nutricious nectar of Aphrodite), crabmeat (high protein, low fat), avocado (healthy fat, vitamin E), and oysters (zinc). Aphrodisiacs also often impart immediate physiological effects, as do wine, chile peppers, and ginger, for example. Now about those delectable pairings…

Honey Carrot Soup and 2015 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling

Pairing #1: Honey Carrot Soup and 2015 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling, Marin County
One of the reason’s I love Dutton-Goldfield is because of the beautiful Alsatian-style wines they produce. The riesling’s lively acidity and citrus and stone fruit flavors tamed the sweetness of the soup ever so gently, as well as cleansed my palate for every sumptuous spoonful.

Afternoon Delight Crab Salad and 2014 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay

Pairing #2: Afternoon Delight Crab Salad and 2014 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay, Green Valley of Russian River Valley
As as some of you may know, I am not typically a fan of California chardonnay, but this pairing left me wanting more in every way. This cool-climate chardonnay was luscious, yet also bright. Combined with the salinity of the crab and capers, the creaminess of the avocado, and the textured crunchiness of the apples, this was my aphrodisiac moment of the class. I took tiny bites and sips to prolong the deliciousness. I brought home two bottles of the chardonnay and I’m ready to make this crab salad for someone special. Oh, yes.

White Truffle Scented Wild Mushroom Risotto and 2014 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pairing #3: White Truffle Scented Wild Mushroom Risotto and 2014 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview
This was the first rice recipe I’ve eaten in over five months. Oh, my. The velvety risotto coated my mouth, while the intensity and earthiness of this pinot noir gave way to sensual euphoria. This, my second favorite pairing, felt like comfort food, like home, and I imagined curling up beside someone and sharing this exquisite pairing together in front of a warm, crackling fire.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pork Albondigas and 2014 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pairing #4: Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pork Albondigas and 2014 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Marin County
You had me at pork and pinot noir from the same farm, no less, right out of the gate! I mean, how could one go wrong? The acidity of the wine and sauce was a match made in heaven. And this pinot noir, for goodness sake, showed layers and layers of vibrant berry fruit and complex spices for days. I didn’t want this pairing to end.

As we progressed through the class, which I was sad to see end so quickly, I thought often about my Fit Body Boot Camp meal plan, which isn’t just good for me and has helped me lose lots of weight in just over five months (52 pounds as I type this!), but also contains many aphrodisiac foods. Now that’s a slam dunk: great health, improved body shape and image, AND increased libido. Now if only I could find someone with whom to try some of these recipes and wines…



Obscurity Thwarted

#MWWC29, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 24
#MWWC30, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #30

*This post is my entry for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #30, #MWWC30, whose theme is obscure, as described at this link. Voting at this link begins Tuesday, January 24, 2017 and goes through Monday, January 30, 2017.*

Life is a brief, small, and transitory phenomenon in an obscure corner, not at all the sort of thing that one would make a fuss about if one were not personally concerned. ~ Bertrand Russell

As I write this, my the death of my mother on January 9, 2017 is obscuring my ability to do much of anything without thinking of her. Memories of her pop into my head at the most inopportune times, bringing me to either laughter or tears, in front of coworkers, friends, strangers, and while alone. Thus, this entry for #MWWC30 (Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #30) is about her. I don’t have an outline or a plan of what I am going to write, so this is going to be stream-of-consciousness, cathartic writing.

My dad was a teetotaler and my mom wasn’t much of a drinker, either. She was raised in a neighborhood and a household where the wine of choice was Mogen David, the certified kosher producer whose wines are made primarily from Concord grapes and other fruits. My only experience with Mogen David was MD 20/20 in college, you know, Mad Dog 20/20, but I have always recalled that this brand was the wine that my mom would talk about having when she was a young adult, for holidays and special occasions.

However, as I grew into an adult, there was the side of her she shared with me a couple of times, where she let go and enjoyed wine or a wine-like beverage.

The first time I remember her drinking wine was a trip to Paris that she, my sister, and I took during the holidays as part of an organized travel group. I was 21 years old, in my final year of college. I had just completed my summer exchange program in France and was dying to return. I begged my family to go with me. My dad said no, but gave the three of us our blessing to go without him, so we did. Of course, wine was served with every lunch and dinner. One night, our travel group had dinner in a restaurant where they seated us upstairs away from the rest of the restaurant. The bottles seemed bottomless. As soon as one was emptied, another full one appeared. More wine than water and food was consumed. We drank and laughed until the wee hours of the night. As we started to leave, my mom stood up and hesitated, saying she was dizzy. This was the first time I had ever seen my mother tipsy. I also had never seen her so happy and carefree. My sister and I helped her down the stairs and continued to stumble and laugh all the way to our hotel.

Me, my mom, and my sister in December 2010

A couple of years later, after a year at home trying to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I left to attend graduate school at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville. My parents helped me move, but otherwise, I only saw them if I went home. However, one weekend my mom came to visit without my dad or my sister. In retrospect, I think she wanted to get away, to feel young and single again. I had this tiny, portable Sunbeam grill, so we bought food and cooked it on the grill while sitting outside of my apartment in cheap folding chairs, sipping wine coolers. This was my first adult moment with my mother. The more she drank, the more she shared, until finally she said, “Oh, I know you’ve tasted alcohol since you were in high school. I remember every time you came home after drinking.” I stopped mid drink. I insisted there was no way she knew every time. But, she did. Obscurity thwarted. She reeled off every, single time, and I mean EVERY time, with her uncanny attention to detail. I asked her why she didn’t say anything before and she said, “I knew your dad would have killed you if he ever found out.” In that one sentence, I realized how cool, cunning, and amazing my mom was. Mother and daughter became friends.

After graduate school, I moved to Virginia to teach French and Spanish at a community college. As I’ve described on my blog previously, I was not much of a wine drinker myself between my summer in France and 2008, the year of my pivotal wine moment, which eventually led me to the Napa Valley. By September of that same year, my mom was admitted to a nursing home, so there would be no more traveling, no more imbibing together. She had dementia, so while I had visited her in late 2013 and told her I was moving to California to work at a winery, I don’t think she remembered unless my sister told her. However, she often recalled our girls’ trip to Paris and our weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Now that she is gone, I am trying to focus on positive thoughts, rather than the eight years she lived in the nursing home. Heartbreak and humor continue to intermingle and intertwine in my head. She passed in her sleep and I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to her again, but I’m determined to think that she loved me and was proud of me. I will keep alive these memories of us as adult women and best friends, so that they never fade into obscurity.

My mom, she has passed.
Broken, yet my life awaits.
She’d say, “Seize it, go!”

My ‘Winestory’

#MWWC29, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 29
#MWWC29, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 29

Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ reminded me that it was three years ago, December 3, 2013 that I accepted my first full-time job in the wine business at a winery in the Napa Valley. At the time, I was not-so-gainfully unemployed after eleven months of severance and part-time work. I had been offered the job before Thanksgiving and had said yes, but there were some final details to work out before it became official. When I knew on December 3, I was still unable to speak about it due to confidentiality.

I never imagined myself loving wine or even working with wine. I was a longtime college professor of French and Spanish who planned to retire from that position, even though the work had become increasingly frustrating as my responsibilities shifted from traditional classroom to more online teaching and committee work. Faculty had not had a raise in at least five years when I was let go in 2012.

During those last five years, 2008-2012, I began exploring other sources of income. Because of extensive frequent flyer experience, I became a home-based travel agent in 2008, landing a wine marketing company as my first client. It was with the owner of this company that I had my ‘wine moment.’ One of his clients was a winery in the Napa Valley, so together we tasted a 2005 estate Cabernet Sauvignon from this winery. For years, I had been trying to enjoy wine without success, but in that moment, I fell IN LOVE with wine.

While I continued teaching, I took on more side work as a travel manager. Over the course of the next couple of years, my original client above connected me with a wine importer in New Jersey and two wineries, one in Sonoma, and the other the producer of that life-changing Cabernet Sauvignon. They paid me for my work in both money and wine.

In the meantime, wine also became a hobby. I began using Twitter in 2008, mainly for my travel business, but found myself connecting with a growing wine community. During 2009-2011, I participated in a number of online tastings, where wineries would send me wine to share with my followers. By June 2011, I realized that I should be doing more to share these wines, so I created this website. I had no formal wine education and had no idea what I was doing.

Me in the Napa Valley
Me in the Napa Valley

I traveled to the Napa Valley my first time in March 2009. My immediate reaction after that first trip was, “I could live here.” Throughout 2009-2013, I visited Napa, Sonoma, and the San Francisco Bay Area another eleven times. People I met along the way kept telling me I would end up living here, but I still could not visualize it for myself.

When my teaching position was eliminated due to a budgetary reduction in force in August 2012, I threw myself into my favorite pastimes, travel and wine, usually both together, to alleviate the challenges of having to teach another four months while knowing my ‘lifetime career’ was ending. I also decided to take Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Foundation and Intermediate courses over the course of that final semester.

When December 12, 2012 (12/12/12), the final day of my teaching career, arrived, I didn’t have any career plans. I used my nine months of severance to figure out what was next. I taught part-time, I poured wine and beer at a local wine shop, I wrote for a lifestyle website, and I continued to manage travel. My original travel client promoted me to executive assistant within the company. I learned a little about the back end of wine marketing and sales: compliance, depletion, social media, trade shows, etc. It was enough to make me realize I didn’t want to teach full time again.

However, that job came to an end in November 2013 due to company downsizing. Coincidentally (or not), the part-time teaching gig also ended in November. I emailed my connections in the travel and wine businesses letting them know I needed full-time employment. Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid, even though I didn’t know what the future held and I was completely unemployed for the first time in my adult life.

Before Thanksgiving, I received a text message from the producer of THAT CABERNET. It said, “Have you ever thought of moving to Napa?” I didn’t hesitate. I replied, “YES!” On December 3, 2013, the winery formally made me an offer and I moved to the Napa Valley on January 11, 2014.

January 11, 2017 marks my three-year anniversary of living and working in the Napa Valley. That decision has been the most rewarding and most challenging of my life. The cost of living almost crushed me in 2015, until I took a new job, a promotion, at my current winery. Many days, as I drive Silverado Trail to and from work, I still feel like I am on an extended trip. I often can’t believe I really live here, and that I am surviving some of the hardest financial trials of my life.

Following one’s dream, one’s ‘winestory’, is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who are OK with what I call ‘good fear’, taking calculated risks, and working and playing harder than you’ve ever have in your life. What’s stopping you from creating your ‘winestory?’ Will 2017 be the year you decide to go for it?

*This post is my entry for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #29, #MWWC29, as described at this link. You may vote at this link through Monday, December 12, 2016.

An Interview with VinVillageRadio

Logo Courtesy of VinVillage

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with VinVillageRadio about this website, in honor my fifth anniversary of Traveling Wine Chick, as well as to talk about my writing for other websites like American Winery Guide and Snooth, and the future of my writing. I would be honored if you would listen as I chat with VinVillage‘s Founder, Rob Barnett, who so graciously had me on his show again after my first interview two years ago. The interview is only 13 minutes and the time literally flew by as we were recording it. Thank you again to Rob for having me on the show again. And for those who have been wondering, I haven’t lost my Southern accent to California yet.

Burgundy: People with a Passion for Wine

It was a beautiful evening in Beaune. We had checked into our small hotel and headed downstairs for dinner. Many memories of that summer in France as a college student studying French have faded with time, but not this meal and not the wine. This red elixir moved me. I had never had wine like this before. Our hosts kept bringing us bottle after bottle to the dinner table. We drank well into the night. Our dinner celebration spilled into the streets near our hotel, where you could hear our laughter before a backdrop of a clear, starry night. My best friend on this trip, who never drank wine, was giddy with delight. She said, “I don’t even like wine!” But that night, we all fell in love with Beaune, with Burgundy, with pinot noir.


The award-winning documentary, Burgundy: People with a Passion for Wine, a film by Rudi Goldman Productions released October 13, 2016, captures a similar sense of celebration. Through a series of video snapshots across time and place, the door into Burgundy’s wine, culture, and lifestyle is opened to us. For one hour, we become Burgundy. We experience the excitement of harvest. We learn of the power of Mother Nature’s wrath when hail damages precious grapevines. We listen to the wisdom of notable producers such as Maison Alex Gambal, Domaine Huber-Verdereau, Maison Louis Jadot, Maison Joseph Drouhin, Coffinet-Duvernay, Maison Olivier Leflaive, Château de la Crée, Domaine Vincent Bouzereau, and Château de Santenay. Other perspectives of Burgundy, such as those from Laurent Peugeot (Michelin Starred Chef/Owner of Le Charlemagne, Pernand-Vergelesses), Jérôme Brochot (Michelin Starred Chef/Owner, Jérôme Brochot Hotel-Restaurant Montceau-les-Mines), Willy Roulendes (a grape harvester from New Zealand), and Romain Schneider (Tonnelerie François Frères Saint Romain), are intertwined to give us a comprehensive portrait of the wine, food, and people of Burgundy. Scattered amongst these renowned tastemakers, we catch a glimpse of other cultural aspects of Burgundy. Especially captivating for me was Burgundy truffle hunting with Karine Magnin of Les Truffières de Crépey, Aubaine.

During this hour inside of Burgundy, we attend celebratory events such as a traditional harvest lunch, the Great Burgundy Wine Festival, the Confrérie des Grumeurs de Santenay, the Hospices de Beaune Press Tasting, the Semi-Marathon de la Vente des vins de Beaune, the Hospices de Beaune Wine Auction, and La Paulée de Meursault.


As states the film, Burgundy winemaking is like Baroque music. It possesses a duality of complexity and simplicity. Its minimalist approach and great diversity of terroir result in some of the world’s greatest wines, exhibiting exemplary structure, acidity, and balance. Vintage variation means that these wines are never duplicated again.


As explains Cécile Mathiaud, press contact for the Bureau interprofessionel des vins de Bourgogne, there exists a word in French that we do not have, gourmand(e). It means to eat, drink, and enjoy with pleasure. With this one word, she identifies the essence of Burgundy. Across these portraitures of Burgundy, one begins to feel the humanity and passion that is Burgundy. This film took me back to that evening in Beaune years ago. In that moment and during this viewing, nous sommes gourmands. Nous sommes Bourgogne.

Video and photos courtesy of Rudi Goldman Productions

Loving Bubbles, Loving Life

#MWWC18 Winner!
#MWWC27 Winner!

*This is my WINNING post for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #27, #MWWC27, whose theme was BUBBLES.*

The first fizzy ‘wine’ that I remember tasting was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink. I was (maybe) of legal drinking age and it was under $2.00 per bottle. I would pick it up for a party and end up drinking the entire bottle, awakening the next day with the most horrific headache. I was immature enough to do it more than once during my early, formative drinking years. These experiences were enough to trick me into thinking that sparkling alcoholic beverages were not my thing.

Ca'Furlan Cuvée Beatrice NV New Year's Eve 2010
Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice NV New Year’s Eve 2010

It wasn’t until six years ago that I recall enjoying bubbles again. I had started working as the travel manager for a wine importer, Regal Wine Imports, and as a thank you, my client delivered a case of Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice Prosecco NV to my boyfriend in New York. By this time, I knew not to drink an entire bottle, but I was a little hesitant to delve into the world of sparkling wine again. However, this $10 sipper turned out to be the perfect transitional bubbles, with its low alcohol (11%), fine frothiness, and tart, lemony flavors. My boyfriend would always open the bottles on his balcony of his apartment and the corks would fly high into the air. He would never allow me to open them because he was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing and that I would somehow hurt myself. I felt like a child being told no and I didn’t like it.

Mumm Brut Prestige NV New Year's Eve 2011
Mumm Brut Prestige NV New Year’s Eve 2011

For New Year’s Eve 2011, we decided to step up our game. I begged him for Champagne, but he came home instead with a bottle of Mumm Brut Prestige NV, Napa Valley. At least Mumm was owned by a French Champagne producer. It turned out to be quite delicious for under $20. However, I still wasn’t allowed to open the bottle, nor was I convinced that I liked bubbles enough to readily seek them out more than for special occasions.

Domaine Carneros Sparkling Flight September 2012
Domaine Carneros Sparkling Flight September 2012

As I’ve shared before in previous posts, my boyfriend and I broke up in June 2012 after many years together. In September of that same year, two important things occurred. The first was that I visited Domaine Carneros, my first sparkling winery. Sitting on the patio overlooking the beauty of Carneros, I had a princess moment. It felt so regal to be sipping bubbles at a French-style chateau. My favorite of the tasting was the vintage Brut Rosé, with its delicate mousse and bright, red berry flavors. It finally clicked that maybe there was something to the hype about the deliciousness of sparkling wine and maybe, just maybe, being single wasn’t so bad after all.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne NV October 2012
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne NV October 2012

The second important thing to happen that month was that I took Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s foundation day course and we learned how to properly open a bottle of sparkling wine. If there was ever a game changer on many levels, it was that simple lesson. For social media’s #ChampagneDay that year, Friday, October 26, I bought my first Champagne, a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut NV (Yellow Label). That night, I followed the directions from my WSET course and successfully opened my first bottle of sparkling wine, my first Champagne, the correct way. In that moment, all of the times that my ex-boyfriend denied me the opportunity to open those bottles of Ca’Furlan Prosecco and Mumm came rushing back. The opening of that single bottle of Champagne symbolized for me an assertion of my independence from the apparent control he held over me for so many years. A taste of the Champagne I opened was really a taste of freedom.

Domaine Carneros May 2014
Domaine Carneros May 2014

When I moved to the Napa Valley fewer than two years later, I joined my first local wine club. I was driving to Sonoma Coast to spend Memorial Day weekend, and on my way, I made a deliberate stop at Domaine Carneros. At almost the same spot on the patio where I had sat during my first visit, I requested a tasting flight and a wine club enrollment form. The giddiness of my host was apparent. I was his easiest wine club signup commission ever. It was as if heaven’s gates had opened and he poured for me endless tastes of everything Domaine Carneros made. The delectably frothy, fruity, and yeasty elixirs stirred something inside of me. I had been living for so long in someone else’s shadow, but finally, here I was in the Napa Valley, living life on MY terms. For years, I had lost my heart and my soul in exchange for a relationship that nearly ruined me. On the patio that day, I found myself again. I was officially in love with bubbles and most importantly, life.

The Real Napa Valley

My current destination, the Napa Valley
My current destination, the Napa Valley

Many wineries in the Napa Valley craft stunning examples of cabernet sauvignon because the grape flourishes in our Mediterranean microclimates and varied soil types. However, the Napa Valley is more than corporations and cabernet sauvignon. In my most recent contribution to Snooth, I debunk this myth and share with you why common Napa Valley stereotypes are not true. I love where I live and work, so I couldn’t be more thrilled to share with you my perspective. I hope that when you visit the Napa Valley, you will love it the way I do.