The Splendid Grape

Discovering Life Through Good Wine and Good Food

Searching for a Home is a lot like Critiquing a Wine March 29, 2014

Filed under: Tasting Wine — Chloe Nichols @ 1:13 pm

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 9, 2014

Filed under: Washington Wines — Chloe Nichols @ 9:36 pm

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 February 16, 2014

Filed under: Tasting Wine — Chloe Nichols @ 8:48 am

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.


The Top 5 Things I Learned From My First Video Blog January 12, 2014

Filed under: Tasting Wine — Chloe Nichols @ 6:58 pm
Tags: ,

My brother and I want to take our blogging in a new direction this year, including using video blogs. And since we live in two different cities, we plan on using technology to our advantage and taste wine together online. Let’s just say, video blogging is a lot harder than it looks.

Our thought: split screen video of the two of us trying a wine, discussing what we are smelling, tasting, etc.  A fun, conversation, aimed at making the reader feel like they are sitting in the living room with us. Easy-cheesy, right? Not so much.

The first video attempt was riddled with problems, including the incorrect software, a blind tasting and slow streaming.  Fortunately, we both have a sense of humor and ended up laughing quite a bit.  At the end of the first attempt, we had a long video that basically looked like a side-show presentation.  Our audio, while it sounded great, was not jiving with the very slow video.

This was definitely a learning experience, and I stepped away from our failed attempt with some new knowledge, and 5 key things to keep in mind when trying to do our next video:

1. Know everything about the software you are planning to use. We used Skype for our video, which in and of itself, is perfectly good.  However, I failed to realize that I needed to have a different software to do the actual video recording.  While Seth waited on Skype, I had to do a quick Google search and download Evaer, a software that allows you to record Skype video, with some cool different options.

2. Test, test, test.  Had we done any testing, we would have realized that one of us (or both of us) have some bad internet connection.  Or something.  I still need to figure that one out.  But, the slow streaming is what caused the side-show effect with our video.

3. Taste the wine beforehand. This was a blind tasting for both of us.  But after listening to our audio, there was a lot of empty space and meaningless chatter as we tried the wine.  It would be better for our audience if we got straight to the point on our wine tasting experience.

4. Have a script of some kind.  Sounds silly, especially since our goal is to make the viewers feel like they are sitting in the living room with us. But this was totally off-the-cuff and we ended up talking over each other, filling up space with meaningless commentary and making the video drag on and on.  At least a few main talking points would be good, and a designated time frame.  Let’s be honest, people do not want to hear the two of us talk forever over a glass of wine.

5. Don’t get discouraged.  So, our first video was a flop.  No biggie.  That is what private YouTube channels are for anyway.  We plan to keep testing, trying different things until we get the right mix.  No reason to let one bad video keep us from video blogging.  Otherwise, how would we learn, right?

We are  not going to give up on the video, but the next attempt, we will be a little bit more prepared. And once we find the right mix, and start producing videos we like, not only will they be showcased on our blog, but also on our YouTube channel.

I will continue to post my learnings, both from failed and successful attempts. I think it is only fair that you all learn from my mistakes.  I am also open to any suggestions, so, don’t be shy, I have lots to learn.



Chicken Spiedini, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a little Treveri to ring in the New Year January 5, 2014

Continuing my virtual journey through Italy, I incorporated a little bit of Italian cuisine into our holiday meal.  One of my favorite meals that my husband prepares is Chicken Spiedini, which hails from the Garozzo’s in Kansas City (and the Abruzzo region in Italy)

Chicken Spiedini

Chicken Spiedini

Spiedini basically means “skewered meat” and while it can be prepared many ways, my husband prepares it a la Garozzo with a lemon marinade, and serves it with a red sauce.  Quite a tasty meal and what better to pair it with than with wine from that region: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Why did I chose a red wine to go with chicken? My research all pointed to pairing the wine to go with the sauce.  In this case, the chicken is covered in a red sauce, make a red wine a better choice.

MasciarelliI chose a 2011 Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  A lovely ruby-red wine with a nose of tart cherries and slight citrus (perfect for the chicken marinade).  There were also hints of leather and warm plums.  It was a medium bodied wine with a palette of tart cherries and mild spices. It paired nicely with my meal, playing off the marinade and the marinara sauce.

After celebrating Christmas with an Italian twist, I decided to ring in the New Year with something local and popped open a bottle of Treveri Cellars sparkling wine.

Treveri CellarsI chose the Blanc de Blanc Brut. The wine is made from primarily chardonnay grapes from the Columbia Valley, using the Methode Champenoise. The wine had a fruity almost lemon curd nose with a dry, tart palette.  It was light and airy, the perfect mix of tart and fruit.  Very refreshing and a great way to ring in the new year.

I have to say, 2013 included many great wines and great meals.  I am looking forward to what I will discover in 2014.


Wine is my Zen December 21, 2013

Filed under: Tasting Wine — Chloe Nichols @ 6:38 pm

sunshine and wineLife is pretty fast paced and demanding and it can be hard to slow down. At some points in my day, I am so distracted, trying too hard to get too much done at once, I am not even smelling or tasting.  I am plowing through my day, focused on getting to the next task.

I recently read a post on Zen Habits, where the author outlined his method to finding balance. One point stood out to me, the importance of pausing:

“Pause regularly. In our lives, we are so busy and caught up in what we’re doing that we have no space for thinking.”

Reflecting on this point, I came to the realization that the “pause” is one of the reasons I so enjoy learning about and tasting wine.

When I pour a glass of wine with the intention of truly tasting, learning and writing about it, I am taking time to soak in the whole experience.  I am looking at the color, noticing the different scents and flavors – how the wine changes through the passage of time, with a meal or after the bottle has been open for a while.

Too often we move too fast, we don’t slow down to just enjoy something – anything. No matter how silly you may feel (or maybe the comments or looks you may get from an outsider), it is so important to find that one thing that slows you down. Find this thing now, before it is too late, before life passes you by.


Chianti Classico Casalino, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Mi Familia December 15, 2013

Filed under: Cooking with Wine,World Tour of Wine — Chloe Nichols @ 8:18 am
Tags: ,

After a long break, I am ready to pick of up virtual “World Tour of Wine,” and what better place to start than Italy and a large dinner with Mi Familia.

My brother, Seth and I decided to do a dinner featuring a bottle of 2009 Chianti Classico Casalino. And what better to pair it with than Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Seth and Me - Enjoying our Wine

Seth and Me – Enjoying our Wine

Chianti is one of the most well-known wines to come out of Italy.  It heralds from the Chianti region of Tuscany and is comprised mainly of the Sangiovese grape, with a small percentage mixture of other red grapes. There are many sub-regions of the Chianti region, but for my beginner wine brain, that is overload.

One of my favorite Italian wine bloggers, Alfonso Cevola, recently wrote a post on the Chianti region titled “Chianti: An Elusive Arrangement, Wrapped in a Fiasco, Inside a Conundrum“. In this article, he does a great job of outlining the seven different levels of Chianti, and was my inspiration to finally write this post.

Seth had found this great recipe in Bon Appetit: “Spaghetti and Meatballs All’Amatriciana” and while the recipe originated from a town called Amatrice (a town northeast of Rome), it was a delicious meal and complimented the wine perfectly.

Spaghetti and Meat Balls

The 2009 Chianti Classico Casalino was the perfect mixture of spice and fruit.  Beautiful dark red in color, the wine had a nose of spice and berries.  The palette had a touch of leather, as well as a bite of spice and fruit, ending in almost a light raspberry.  The spice complimented the smokey bacon in the dish perfectly and held up nicely against the robust pasta sauce.

2009 Casalino Chianti

2009 Casalino Chianti

What I loved most about our dinner wasn’t necessarily the wine (although it was terrific) or the food (which was pretty darn tasty), but the overall experience of cooking and eating the meal.

Fresh Ingredients

Our Ingredients

This meal did one of my favorite things – it took a bunch of fresh, vibrant foods and turned them into a delicious feast.

Cooking Meatballs

Cooking Meatballs

It was also a process.  First we had to make the meatballs, letting them rest before any cooking began.  The sauce was cooked in the same pot as the meatballs, allowing the onions and garlic to soak up the drippings from the meat, which softening the flavor of the onion.

I have to admit, I do not like bacon (I am strange, I know), but to my surprise, the bacon did not overpower the dish, or make it too rich.  The flavorful sauce was a nice counter to the meatballs, making it all quite delicious.

By having to take time to make the meal, it gave us a chance to talk and laugh.  The payoff was well worth the time to cook and it added to the fun of the weekend.



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