Le Grande Fete -Our Very Own Le Diner En Blanc

The day started out sunny and bright, another perfect July morning. After a cup of coffee and a few moments vegging on the couch, it was time to start setting-up for our Le Dîner en Blanc.

The first step was to figure out timing for the menu. When to stop decorating and when to start cooking. Some items we were able to make ahead, but others we had to prepare on demand during the dinner.

After making a dip and tossing a salad, it was on to the decorations. The rest of the menu would need to be prepared before or during the party.

Being that the theme was ‘en Blanc’ all decorations and attire were white. My parents home has a beautiful yard and made the perfect setting for the dinner.  We used their patio for appetizers and an elevated area in the yard for dinner. Both locations had an extraordinary view, there wasn’t a bad seat in the place.

Decorations consisted of white flowers and linens. The trees were dressed in twinkle lights, which looked like stars after the sun went down. One of my favorite decorations were the trays we used to hold the wine glasses and napkins. I took old windows, cleaned and painted the frames white and voila:

Turned an old window frame into a tray. #thenicholsfamilydinnerparty2015

A photo posted by Chloe Nichols (@splendid_grape) on

My sister-in-law made wine charms, using initial beads to mark each guests’ glass:

Super cute #wine charms for our glasses. #thenicholsfamilydinnerparty2015

A photo posted by Chloe Nichols (@splendid_grape) on

The dinner table was absolutely stunning, there was not a bad view from any seat:

Time for #dinner with a #view. Such a beautiful #Seattle #summer day #thenicholsfamilydinnerparty2015

A photo posted by Chloe Nichols (@splendid_grape) on

Once the decorations were in place and the table was set, the cooking began. The first thing was the appetizers – the olive tapenade was prepared that morning, but the eggplant dip and artichoke and crab dip had to be served warm.

As guests gathered on the patio, we opened a bottle of sparkling wine and had a toast to start the evening. The dips were set out with plates of warm bread, making tasty eating vessels.

While guests munched and mingled, the final preparations for the main course were completed and the grill was warmed up. Dinner consisted of a fresh green bean and tomato salad,  rosemary potato skewers and a lovely grilled salmon.  And let’s not forget Le Piece De Resistance: Domaine La Bastide Blanche. The wine was beautiful, crisp and light. The perfect pairing to our grilled summer meal:

Le Piece de Resistance. Domaine La Bastide Blanche #wine #thenicholsfamilydinnerparty2015

A photo posted by Chloe Nichols (@splendid_grape) on

After dinner, we had dessert, an orange sponge cake, under the ‘stars’, accompanied by glasses of Sauternes. The sweet wine married perfectly with the cake, not too sweet, but just right.

It was a great party and I am already looking forward to next year.  I mean, sitting at the dinner table, admiring a unobstructed view of the Puget Sound and sipping a wonderful wine. Life really doesn’t get much better than that!

Me and my husband, enjoying the party

Me and my husband, enjoying the party

 

A Dinner Party Inspired by the Le Diner en Blanc

Every year about this time, right as school is letting out, I yearn for a change or some kind of exotic vacation. And while the cold, hard truth means there is no vacation waiting for me in mid-summer, it doesn’t keep me from scheming and dreaming.

One way to make dream vacations a little closer to a reality is through themed dinner parties, and this year, my family is pulling out all the stops. In July, we are throwing our own Le Dîner en Blanc, an all white party inspired by the original Le Dîner en Blanc club. While our party is not exclusive and is not a flash mob, we are drawing menu and decor inspiration from this group.

The menu for our party is heavily influenced by cuisine from the south of France. I will share more details later, as we are still developing the recipes.

But first and foremost is the location of our party. We are in the Pacific Northwest, and the only way to do our party any justice is to dine with a view of the sound. We are in luck, my parents home in Seattle has a large yard and commanding view of the sound:

View from the dinner table. The perfect location for our Le Diner en Blanc. Looking forward to our July #dinnerparty

A photo posted by Chloe Nichols (@splendid_grape) on

The next step is the decor. All decorations, table dressings, flowers, etc must be all white. The attire for all party members must be all white.

We have started procuring items of clothing, as well as table dressings we think will work. We will be moving the table onto the yard, so we can fully enjoy the view and dine in style. Flowers will either be the simple baby’s breath or stunning white roses, in abundance on the dinner or cocktail table.

And don’t forget the wine, the star of the dinner. With the main course, we will be enjoying a beautiful rose direct from France:

bandol

But this is not the only wine, more are needed for appetizers and desserts.

But tonight, I will be scouring the pages of Pinterest looking for more decoration inspiration (believe me, I am not complaining). And any ideas you may have???

 

 

Refocus and Recharge, Ready, Set, Go!

When I first started this blog, I wanted to be like so many of the other wine bloggers out there. I wanted to write articles about great wines I had tasted, offering my unique insights. I wanted to be someone people looked to for wine recommendations, the person wineries sent their wines to for reviews. I wanted to be one of the greats.

But the truth is, I am not that person. I enjoy wine, but sitting and writing up tasting notes is not my style. And I really don’t have the knowledge of a great wine critic, I am a novice and I have many, many years of learning ahead of me.

Over the past 3 years of blogging, I realized one very important thing: I have more fun learning about wine while at a dinner party or with friends and family. I enjoy the social aspect of wine. These events and gatherings (big or small) also produce some of my best writing.

So where do I go from here? I am not 100% sure, but I think I have a pretty good idea how to refocus my writing and make my blog enjoyable for myself and for others.

Mountain Dome Brut and a side of Donuts

It is Saturday morning and I am hungry. It has been a long week, and I want to indulge on something more than my normal coffee breakfast. I want brunch.

The thing is, I love the idea of brunch, but I cannot eat most “brunch” foods (I am lactose intolerant). Eating any kind of breakfast at a restaurant consists of poached eggs and a mimosa or coffee = boring.  And between you and me, I think a mimosa is highly overrated. If you had any decent sparkling wine, you would not ruin it by adding orange juice.

But enough of that. I am in charge [of my stomach] and I am making the executive decision that breakfast will consist of donuts and sparkling wine.

Mountain Dome and Donuts

I know of a place that makes both vegan and regular donuts, making it a win-win meal for everyone in my family.

As for the sparkling wine, I am going with Mountain Dome Brut. Mountain Dome holds a special place in my heart. It is a family winery from my hometown of Spokane and the children attended the same high school as me. While I was not in the same class as either child (one was in the grade below me), I have a sense of hometown pride every time I see or drink their wine.

It was also one of the first sparkling wines I drank. My parents bought me a bottle to celebrate my 21st birthday, and it was a good wine to cut my teeth on.

Ah, the memories….

I choose a donut, a yummy maple bar looking one, and sip my wine. The wine has almost an apple taste, sweet, but not sugary, and crisp. Hmm, different, but not bad. I take a moment to smell my wine, light and airy, not too much of a nose to it.  Not bad, not bad at all. I take a big bite of my donut and a generous drink of my wine. Bliss.

Honestly, the Mountain Dome Brut is the perfect pairing with my donut breakfast. So good, in fact, I have to tweet about it (between bites):

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” lang=”en”>

Cheers @sethgn & @IJNichols Having the #breakfast of champions: donuts & @mtdome brut. #cheers all! https://t.co/dDvycVr5sK

— Chloe Nichols (@ChlNichols) March 7, 2015

My breakfast choice is excellent, and is taking the edge off of my week. What better way to surge into the day than with a sugar rush (and some pretty darn good wine). Now, I am ready for the weekend.

Vina Olvido Rosado, a Refreshing Summer Drink

It has been a warm couple of days and it makes me think of the Summer In the City song by Lovin’ Spoonful:

One way to escape the heat is a cold glass of wine, and at this moment, I decided a Rosé would be the best choice.

vinaolvidoI have found that Rose can sometimes confuse or disappoint. They can have a super fruity nose, but a savory palette or the opposite, both of which make my brain hurt. I am more of a say it how it is kinda girl, which is why I very much appreciated my glass of Viña Olvido Rosado.

This crisp wine does not disappoint. It is orange-red in color, with a green, almost leafy and citrus nose. And it had the palette to match: lemony, light and airy, a bit of acid an hints of raspberry.

And for a hot day, it was just what I needed. It was refreshing and tart, like an adult glass of lemonade.  The perfect porch-wine, for enjoying the hot afternoon and watching the sun set.

 

Social Media as a Sales Funnel? An interesting perspective on how to use social media to build your brand.

Social media is confusing.  I should know, I work in the field.  There are so many different options when it comes to the different social media tools out there, it is nearly impossible for a business to know where to focus time and efforts.

I recently read an article written by social media expert, Frank J. Kenny in which he equates social media to a sales funnel. In his article, he explains that social media is a good tool to get prospects deeper into the funnel:

Social media is awesome at top and middle funnel work. One post could be seen by hundreds of your customers and prospects. They may share it with their friends, adding more people into the top of your funnel. They don’t know much about your product or service but at least they know your organization exists.

Photo Credit: Ben Salter

Photo Credit: Ben Salter

So that makes sense, right?  You can use social media as a tool to build brand awareness.

Get people out there to know that you exist.  After all, the world is a big place, both on and off-line, so if you don’t tell people you are out there, how are they going to know?

But, you do have to be careful. You can’t get into a cycle of shameless self-promotion. That doesn’t do anyone any good. And it only takes a few times of blatant, hard-core sales for prospective customers to turn away from you and jump onto the next bandwagon.

So now what?

To me, the key is to find those who will be your brand evangelists. The ones who will talk about you to their network. Interact with that person – through Twitter, Facebook or where ever that person(s) may be. Provide more than just information about your brand or company, also provide tidbits of information, factoids, helpful articles, etc. Things that show you are more than just a product, but an important part of your prospect’s life.

Frank J. Kenny summed it up nicely in his article:

To build relationships with your target market, you provide value upfront and share your organization’s story, what it is and what it stands for. If there is a connection, they move down the funnel.

This is all great and good, but how does this relate to wine?

Quite a bit, actually.  When I first started this blog, I jumped right in with criticism on how wineries were not engaging with their audience, that they were not using Twitter appropriately, only to realize that I was still a Twitter-novice, and it is a whole lot harder than it looks.

But let’s look past Twitter or any social media tool for the moment and look at the target audience for any given winery. The obvious, of course, is wine drinkers.  But think about how broad that audience truly is: basically, you are looking at any one person who is of drinking age, that likes wine. Maybe you can segment by income, maybe you can’t. And what social media channel does this broad audience use. Well that truly depends, doesn’t it? I think Facebook and Twitter are pretty safe bets, but what about Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Beyond that mess, you have the other layer of audience: the media, the influencers to your core audience.

So what should a winery (or any business really) do?

In my humble, yet honest, opinion, I think a business should pick a few social media channels and test the results. But you have to go all-in. You can’t stick up a few ‘pins’ or tweet out just a few articles and expect success. Invest the time to keep a few of these channels updated and set goals and benchmarks. If you aren’t reaching these goals, then it is time to drop that channel and try another. But do be patient, everything is going to happen tomorrow.

The other key, is finding those brand evangelists. The ones who love when you interact with them on Twitter or Facebook, etc., the ones who turn around and tell all their friends about you. Keep them close. Remember, their loyalty will see you through the hard times too.

Wrapping this all up in a few words: breathe, select, embrace and wait.

Take a few deep breaths (maybe drink a glass of wine) and really learn about your audience. Select a few social media channels that may help you to reach your audience. Embrace these social media channels fully and be patient with the results. And don’t forget about those brand evangelists, they are kind of like groupies, and groupies are gold. After all, there seems to be groupies for everything, and I mean everything, so there will be groupies for you too.

 

A New Home and a Better Attitude, Thanks in Part to Good Wine

I whined quite a bit in my previous post about how hard it was to look for a new house.  Well, on the house front, after some patience and many more tours, we finally found a home we liked and wanted to call our own.

While looking at homes, I critiqued each one the way I did wine, and found the experience slightly more enjoyable.

I don’t want to jinx our potential new home, so I am not going to post pictures or talk about it. But once the financing is complete, I will probably find a way to talk about our new home in all my posts. Consider yourself warned.

I made sure to supplement our home search with a few good wines.  After all, what good does it do to come back from looking at some “yuck homes” only to pour a glass of bad wine.

A glass of good wine cures any bad day and helps change a bad attitude into a more optimistic one.  The more remarkable wines that cured my can’t-find-a-home-blues, include:

L Reserve Sauvignon Blanc. A straw yellow (with slight green tinge) wine, with a yeasty and almost dosage nose (similar to what I smell when drinking champagne.  The wine was light and savory, with a slight citrus after taste. It was refreshing and bright, much-needed after a blah day.

Maison Bleue Jaja 2012 Columbia Valley White Wine. Always a fan, I have enjoyed every Maison Bleue wine that I have tried, and this was no exception. Light yellow in color, this wine was also savory and citrus, very light and airy. The palette matched the nose: light, with a slight citrus aftertaste. You can never go wrong with a bottle of Maison Bleue.

Two great wines that turned my frown upside down, and made the search for a new home just that much easier. Once the purchase is complete and we are fully moved-in, I look forward to a relaxed summer of trying wines and starting a new chapter of our lives.

 

Searching for a Home is a lot like Critiquing a Wine

If stored properly, wines age nicely- yielding results that are both memorable and savory. The same should be said for houses. If aged well (kept up properly), the result should lend to a beautiful home with personality and curb appeal. Unfortunately, when it comes to houses and wine, this ideal situation is just that – ‘ideal’.

Photo Credit: Lis Bokt

Photo Credit: Lis Bokt

We have started the hunt for a home – taking another step into adulthood and accepting the mothership of responsibility and investment. Our budget is such that we are not within reach of the glamorous new houses, but instead are left with the mere fixer uppers and starter homes.

After looking at a handful of homes and being left with feelings of disappointment and depression, I realized that looking at a prospective home is a lot like tasting wine. While there are a lot of affordable wines out there on the market, not all of them are good, and you have to taste a lot to find those few gems.

To make the home search a little more relevant to me, I have decided that going forward, I will conduct my home search as I would review and taste a wine. I will note my findings on this site.

When trying wine, I look at three different things:

  1. Visual (the color of the wine)
  2. Nose (the smell of the wine)
  3. Palette (the taste of the wine)

And this is how I will apply these to my home viewing:

1. Visual = Curb appeal.  How does the house look on the outside. Visual also applies to the neighborhood.  It may be a gorgeous house, but in a bad neighborhood.  I will keep in mind to not always judge a wine by its label.

2. Nose = What does the house smell like.  Odd? I think not.  If the house smells like dampness, mold, weird left-over cooking smells (but the house is empty) or something just “off”, those could be signs of other bad things.  Think water damage, black mold; not to mention some kind of stank that no amount of bleach will remove.

3. Palette = No, I am not going to taste the house (yuck), but I am going to look at the finishes, home improvements (or attempts of) or the little things that could make or break a home.  The house might look pretty at first glance, but closer inspection may reveal cracks or things that we will ultimately have to fix.

One thing to not forget (for both wines and houses) is “potential”.  It may be a fixer upper, but the location and the overall house is good.  Similar with wine, it may be a bit ‘green’ tasting, but a few years in the cellar make for a great drink.

Honestly, house hunting is not really very fun (sorry, HGTV). There are quite a few houses out there for sale, but you have to weed through all the bad to find the few good.

I am hopeful that taking this new approach, reviewing a home as I would wine, will make these next few weeks or months of house hunting a little more palatable or, at the very least, entertaining.

San Juan Vineyards Siegerrebe

March is Washington Wine Month, and is the perfect excuse to try different wines from all over Washington State. And what better place to start than the beautiful San Juan Islands and a bottle of San Juan Vineyards 2012 Siegerrebe.

I had never heard of Siegerrebe until I tried this wine, prompting me to find out a little more about this varietal. Siegerrebe is German and means “Victory Vine”.  The grape is grown primarily in Germany, but is also grown in a few other spots around the world, including Washington State.  It also grows well in a colder climate, making the San Juans a good spot. This grape is also very high in sugar, and is similar to the muscat grape.

san juan vineyardsThe wine was very light yellow, almost clear, with a nose of honey and citrus.  But there was more to it, I also felt like the wine smelled almost green, like spring, as well as an almost mildew odor. *Odd, I know.* I can be pretty sensitive to smell, and the mildew really threw me off.

The wine tasted delicious, it was light and fruity, with hints of tangerine and citrus. But I honestly could not get past the mildew nose. I have a feeling this is part of the grape, and is where it starts to be reminiscent of the muscat grape.

I don’t mean to talk bad about the wine either.  The flavor was wonderful, but for some reason my sensitivity to the smell made it hard for me to enjoy. I really think this was just me, as everyone else in my party seemed to enjoy the wine.

I will have to try another bottle of Siegerrebe in the future to see if I have the same experience or if the wine has a bit different nose to it.

Dining My Way Through Las Vegas

I recently came back from a 5-day long trip to Las Vegas. I am not a huge gambler (a few penny slots is all I can handle) and I am not a huge drinker, so I decided the best way to explore Las Vegas was to dine at the different restaurants. Being a fan of the show, Top Chef, many of the big name chefs were familiar to me and I was eager to try their cuisine.

View of the Las Vegas Strip from the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel.

View of the Las Vegas Strip from the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel.

Las Vegas is unlike any place I have ever visited, it is truly larger than life.  The hotels are huge, the architecture pretty amazing and everything is done on a grand scale. We stayed at Caesar’s Palace, a beautiful hotel in the center of The Strip.

My dining adventure began at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill inside Caesar’s Palace.  We were attending a Super Bowl party at the restaurant, so there was a specific tasting menu for the event. The food definitely matches the name, it was all pub food, which was perfect for the event. Our selection included sliders, fries, soft pretzels and even a sticky toffee pudding.  I ordered a glass of Merlot to go with my sliders and fries, yum!

The next day, I spent most of the morning wandering through the different hotels and casinos.  I stopped for tea at the Lake of Dreams at the Wynn.  The Lake of Dreams is surrounded by trees and has a large waterfall at one end. It is an oasis in the middle of the strip, and the perfect stop on my journey.

For lunch, I ate at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Las Vegas. The restaurant is located inside The Forum Shops at Caesars, but they had patio seating, so you could dine and people watch at the same time.  I ordered the Chinois Chicken Salad and a cranberry spritzer. The salad was tasty and the service was excellent. I would go back based on the service alone.

The next day, I made my way up to Mandalay Bay and had lunch at Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood. They had a lobster roll on their menu, which is something I have always wanted to try. The only catch – it had heavy cream. To my surprise, the server spoke to the chefs and they made my lobster roll with no cream – no fuss and no complaining. And it was wonderful, lemony, buttery and very fresh. I would recommend RM Seafood to anyone, they made my dining experience exceptional.

That evening, my husband and I dined at Rao’s (in Caesar’s Palace). We buy their pasta sauce often, and have wanted to try their restaurant. The food did not disappoint, I ordered the Salsa alla Marinara and the Pasta e Fagioli soup. The food was excellent and we left the restaurant full and satisfied.

My last lunch in Las Vegas was originally going to be Todd English’s Olives as the Bellagio. Unfortunately, my lactose intolerance and Todd English’s love of cheese did not mix, so I abandon my original plan.

I headed back to our hotel and settled on Central by Michael Richard. This is a newer restaurant that serves american food with a bit of flair.  The lunch menu was ok, and I settled on the Chicken Burger.  There was an interesting twist to the sandwich, a crispy, very thin potato was added for crunch. I understood the concept of the potato, but found it to be a bit too crispy, making my bites more gritty than crunchy. Otherwise, the sandwich was tasty and the people watching was fun.

My husband and me with Lucille Ball at Madame Tussauds.

My husband and me with Lucille Ball at Madame Tussauds.

I had so much fun eating at the different restaurants, an opportunity I do not get very often.  I hope to go back to Las Vegas again in the near future, so I can continue to try more cuisine cooked up by renowned chefs.