Thursday, January 22, 2009

Great books worth reading

Wine Country International ® magazine’s
Book Reviews by Christopher J Davies Ratings: good, very good, excellent, must read

Wine Works:
Wine books worth reading

The Billionaire’s Vinegar

Author: Benjamin Wallace

Rating: Must Read

Publisher: Crown Publishing

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages

Price: $24.95

Web Page:

ISBN-10: 0307338770

ISBN-13: 978-0307338778
This is one of those books that you really cannot put down. It covers a very historical & expensive bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite Bordeaux—unearthed in a Paris cellar and supposedly owned by Thomas Jefferson—it went for $156,000 to a member of the Forbes family.

This book is full of suspense and mystery. After reading it you will wonder about how many wines purchased at auctions may also be flawed… quietly sitting in their new owners cellar.
This was one exciting and intriguing book that I hoped would be turned into a movie…it seems like my wish will come true! Escape Artists and Overbrook Entertainment have optioned screen rights to "The Billionaire's Vinegar," Variety reported. The film will be produced by Todd Black, James Lassiter, Jason Blumenthal, Steve Tisch and Will Smith.

The Really Useful Guide to White Wine

Author: Susy Atkins

Rating: Excellent

Publisher: Quadrille Publishing

Format: Soft cover, 160 pages

Price: $10.95

Web Page:

ISBN-10: 1 84400 431 7

ISBN-13: 978 1 84400431 7


The Really Useful Guide to Red Wine
Author: Susy Atkins

Rating: Excellent

Publisher: Quadrille Publishing

Format: Soft cover, 160 pages

Price: $10.95

Web Page:

ISBN-10: 1 84400 430 9

ISBN-13: 978 1 84400430 0

Here are two great books by seasoned UK wine Author & Broadcaster Susy Atkins. Her approach simplifies wine by organizing wine by countries & varietals. Her flavor categories and suggested food pairings offer even the accidental with a logical solution for increasing enjoyment of food and wine. These two books are the perfect combination for starting off your home wine collection. Atkins offers great advice for wine storage and tasting tips. The books are small, but beautifully illustrated with great mouth-watering photography.


The House of Mondavi

Author: Julia Flynn Siler

Rating: Must Read

Publisher: Gotham Books

Format: Hardcover, 464 pages

Price: $28.00 Hardcover, $15.00 Paperback

Web Page:

ISBN 9781592402595

Wall Street Journal Writer Julia Flynn Siler has painstakingly researched the facts about the Mondavi family dating back to when family patriarch’s Cesare and Rosa travel to the United States from native Italy. This is a story about a family that realizes all of their dreams in America’s wine industry. And while the main setting is bucolic Napa Valley, feuds amongst the family, matched temper levels of Sonny Corleone's in “The Godfather”.

In these pages, Siller reveals the personality, dedication and hard work that Robert Mondavi undertakes in developing one of America’s most recognized wine brands. As his two sons, Michael & Tim, with Daughter Marcia help to continue the family wine legacy, the company’s growth & public status eventually blows a cork, leading to new beginnings for the Mondavi siblings. Read this book and you will gain a deep appreciation for how wine gets into the bottle!


Cooking The Books:
Cuisine & Cookbooks

Dishing up Maine

Author: Brooke Dojny

Rating: Very Good
Publisher: Storey Publishing

Format: Soft Cover, 288 pages

Price: $19.95
Web Page:

ISBN 10: 1-58017-841-3
ISBN 13: 978-1-58017-841-9

Author Brooke Dojny moved to Maine for the food. Her Dishing up Maine cookbook showcases 165 tasty recipes that connect the dots of Maine’s Foodways. The focus is ultra fresh seafood, artisan cheese and local produce. Recipes are categorized in seven delicious chapters from Starters, Snacks, Sandwiches and So on, to Delectable Desserts. Maine has been on the radar screens of foodies and national food magazines for the past decade. A number of the recipes in this book are on loan for haute restaurants as well as summer-only-shacks.


A Twist of The Wrist
Quick Flavorful Meals with Ingredients from Jars, Cans, Bags, and Boxes

Author: Nancy Silverton

Rating: Excellent

Publisher: Knoph

Format: Hardcover, 262 pages
Price: $29.95

Web Page:

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4407-8

Los Angeles Baker & Chef Nancy Silverton is best known for co-founding the Artisan La Brea Bakery. Her new book offers a quick way to turn quality canned & packaged foods into quick meals. Her recipes are mostly simple, but designed to exude interesting flavors. Each recipe has an estimated start to finish time.

This book is superbly designed with excellent photography. It makes the perfect gift for novice home cook who wants to head down the foodie highway.

Recipe Excerpt

Garlic Mayonnaise

In life, I believe everyone, especially those of us who are serious about food, is entitled to one food vice—something they love even though they have a hard time admitting it, whether it's Oreo cookies, Fritos corn chips, or Lipton onion dip made with onion soup mix. Mine, if I had to choose just one, is Best Foods mayonnaise (called Hellmann's on the East Coast). As many others as I tried and as much as I wanted to choose an organic brand for this book, I kept returning to my old favorite. The other mayos just didn't have that familiar, well-balanced flavor that says "mayonnaise" to me.

This recipe uses Best Foods mayonnaise as a base to make a quick aoli (garlic mayonnaise). It takes minutes to make and is a delicious way to finish so many dishes.
1-cup mayonnaise 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon plus 1-teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste 4 large garlic cloves, grated or minced (about 1 tablespoon), or more to taste 1/4-teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste Stir the mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and kosher salt together in a small bowl and season with more lemon juice, garlic, or salt to taste.


The Sonoma Diet Cookbook

Author: Dr. Connie Guttersen, R.D, Ph.D

Rating: Must Read
Publisher: Meredith Books

Format: Hardcover, 288 pages

Price: $24.95

Web Page:

ISBN 0-696-23185-9

Move over Atkins & South Beach, finally a diet & cookbook for wine lovers!
If you have visited Sonoma, you know Sonoma is all about fresh produce & wine. Dr. Guttersen has devised a diet plan that does not kill you, hunger wise or FLAVOR wise. It is all about keeping meals flavorful & healthy. Her recipes are quick and easy to make.

Her list of 20 Flavor Boosters will ensure that your meals are never boring. Best of all this entire cookbook and diet is wine friendly.


Travel Logs:
Travel Books That Help You Explore!


The Splendor and The Scandal: Building St. Peter’s

Author: R.A Scotti

Rating: Must Read

Publisher: Plume

Format: Soft Cover, 315 pages

Price: $15.00

Web Page:

ISBN: 978-0-452-28860-7

R.A Scotti captures the rich history behind Rome’s most recognizable and beloved landmark. It’s a story of temperamental Pope’s and masterful artists who succeed in creating a masterpiece.

This is a must read for anyone planning to visit Rome and all its riches! For those who are open to healthy walks, you will enjoy the books section on Walks in Papal Rome, with four different walking routes, illustrations and a list of must see historical sites.
Godere di! (Good health!)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Touring & Tasting Tips

Touring & Tasting Tips


Many of the world's famed wine regions contain dozens of wineries, from vast multi-national conglomerates to virtual garage operations. Most are clustered as tightly as old vine Zinfandel grapes along the main artery, though several sprout on scenic, corkscrewing country roads. Traffic, especially during harvest (autumn, or spring in the Southern Hemisphere) and summer, can be heavy. To maximize your time, avoid mid- and late-afternoon visits, especially on weekends. Winery staffers are usually more attentive weekdays, and you might even luck into meeting the winemaker at smaller operations.

Allot at least one hour for a full-scale tour and tasting and factor in travel time between wineries. Complex ordinances require some establishments to open by appointment only (a few, such as Bordeaux châteaux, lower the drawbridge only after you've planned a rendezvous like fugitive lovers and whistle-blowers). Always call ahead to double-check hours and reservations, even at the largest facilities.

Many establishments charge for tastings (the fee may be refunded with a purchase), extra for reserve and older library wines or special tours. Speaking of tours, trust us: once you've seen one crusher, pump, fermentation tank, and cellar, you get the idea, so after you've mastered the basics, seek out wineries offering something unique, whether historic or technological.


Don't drink all the wine. Sip & spit. Many wineries boast lovely grounds and encourage you to bring along your own picnic. If you do decide to eat and imbibe, stay in the shade during hot months. Drink plenty of water.


Fondling the bowl of the glass like a melon at the supermarket brings out Simon Cowell snippiness in snobs. Why? Because it warms the wine, altering its character. Wines are rarely excessively chilled in tasting rooms, but if they are, yes, palm them as if rubbing your hands by the fire before inhaling and sipping.

Hold the wine up to the light or against a white background. This enables you to determine the robe (color), legs (glycerine viscosity) and clarity (cloudiness can be a first hint of spoilage). Sampling library wines? Browning at the edges is expected in a mature red, as is a certain darkening of older whites. As the great Bordeaux oenologist Emile Peynaud wrote, "Color resembles a wine's face: from it you can tell age and something of its character."


Wine DNA contains five strands: aroma, body, flavor, acidity, finish. Sometimes, oak and tannin may be thrown into the gene pool.

Smelling the wine is crucial: our appreciation of wine in the glass stems primarily from our olfactory sense. You'll discover that not all wines have "pretty" scents and flavors. Vegetal, mineral, smoke, tar, petrol, damp leaves, leather and cigar box, for example, can be complimentary characteristics, depending on the varietal. An educated wine drinker appreciates these qualities (though you're allowed to play favorites!).

The first whiff identifies the core aromatics. Now swirl the glass. This releases its "bouquet" or "nose." You'll discover an even more complex set of notes emerging. It's like playing a great symphony first with piano solo, then with full orchestra.


Take your first sip, just enough to slosh around your mouth, then spit. Seems undignified, doesn't it? But treating the wine like mouthwash (pre-gargling) is vital. We have several sets of taste buds that recognize different characteristics: sweetness (the tip of the tongue, and first to register), sourness, saltiness and bitterness. You'll also better appreciate the body, or texture: is it voluptuous as Pamela Anderson, thin, or flabby? Remember, there's no such thing as bodybuilding or liposuction for wine. You can then gauge the acidity. If your mouth puckers like a hormonal adolescent at the prom, the wine may be imbalanced. Finally, do the flavors linger like a first kiss or do they, um, peter out? Well-made wines usually have a finish, from subtle to explosive.


Do you love Chardonnay? Absolutely, sample it. But the winery may produce several styles, from stainless steel to barrel-fermented (oaked), in varying combinations and blends. Then try something new. Ask for similar varietals (Pinot Blanc, for example, is often---unjustly---called the poor man's Chard). Then expand your horizons: Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewürtztraminer, Pinot Gris/Grigio, etc. Do the same with reds. You adore Merlot (and vice versa)? Next sample a Bordeaux-style blend, before sequeing into the heavier Cabernets.


The winery folks will encourage you to try whites, then reds. And they'll pour the lighter wines first. This makes it easier to recognize the subtle differences---and prevents "palate shock," when a big brawny red assaults your taste buds.


Taste every wine in small quantities and, if possible, spit and/or pour most of it out. Even experts suffer palate fatigue after 15 wines (the alcohol seeps into your taste buds even if you don't swallow, eventually numbing them). Drink plenty of water, and sip some between each wine. Nibble non-salty crackers: it's like a cleansing sorbet between courses. Some wineries will even put out cheese cubes, since so many wines are enhanced by food (and vice versa).


Find something you enjoy? There's no better way to savor wine than relaxing at home with a meal. Wineries offer discounts for quantity purchases. Note that many wines---from playful experimental blends to serious single-estate wines---are available only at the winery's gift shop (often along with an astonishing array of logo merchandise, cookbooks, stemware, accessories and gourmet food items). Always check if the state has reciprocity with your state for alcohol shipping; if not, settle for portable potables. If you love a winery, consider joining its (usually free) wine club: you'll receive newsletters, discounts, special event invitations, even releases unavailable to regular consumers.


The worst that can happen is you really want to spit that wine out Above all, don't be afraid to ask questions. Enjoy!!!!

Friday, January 2, 2009

What to do in Munich for an afternoon

What to do in Munich for an afternoon
Story and photos(C) 2009 by Christopher J Davies

Darcy and I had the good fortune of staying a day in Munich on our return from a cruise of Eastern Europe. Since our connecting flight to Denver was early morning, we decided to stay close to the airport. To our delight we found the 5-Star, Kempinski Hotel Airport München on line. Cost was $200 USD on The hotel is located in the middle of both terminals, making it extremely convenient. After picking up our luggage, we had a short 5-minute walk from the terminal through an outdoor courtyard to the hotel.

The Kempinski Hotel Airport features unique and modern architecture from Helmut Jahn. Its stunningly soaring glass roof and grand atrium lobby provides a friendly welcome for the dreary traveler. The staff is friendly and expedient. The rooms are well appointed with modern bathrooms, comfortable bedding and desk areas. The pool and spa were exceptional and included with the room rate.

The Hotel has two restaurants, Charles Lindberg, which showcases buffet service. Our favorite was Restaurant Safran, a gourmet Thai/Mediterranean restaurant with an emphasis on Seafood.


Munich’s Town Center is located only 35 minutes away by train from the Airport. It is an enchanted, bustling city with many retail shops and outdoor markets.

Hofbräuhaus- a must stop for lunch!
If you are looking to experience authentic German food and beer, the Hofbräuhaus is a must visit. An institution for more than 100 years, it’s building was not spared from the wrath’s of WWII. This historic beer hall was quickly rebuilt back to the way it was erected in 1897.

HB is massive, with a capacity for up to 1,300 guests. And when we arrived for lunch the halls were jammed packed with locals many of which were retired gentlemen gathering with longtime friends. Many old timers keep their mugs in the coveted status symbolic HBH lockers. And when the uniformed, Heidi like waitresses brings their next beer a simple hash mark is drawn on their coaster. In the distance a 5-piece band plays traditional Ompah pah pah music, setting a load & up beet ambiance for the entire beer hall.

When in Rome they say do as the Roman’s do. But when in Munich, you better drink the beer! HB offers Dark Beer, Original, Münchner Weisse, Radler - light beer with lemonade, Dark Radler - dark beer with lemonade and Ruß'n - white beer with lemonade. Prices range from 3.65 to 7.30E for a 1 L mug. My favorite was the Radler with Lemon!

Wines by the glass ranged from 3.10 to 4.10 E. Wines by the bottle range from 14.90 to 20.00 E. Germany stables such as Silvaner & Riesling are offered in addition to surprising International selections from Italy and France.

For lunch we tried several HB specialties.

•Beef Bouillon with a Large Homemade Liver Dumpling € 3,80.
I am a liver lover, but this was colossal in size and could sink a U Boat! The soup and liver combo was awesome. But I think this would be much more practical if you can share it amongst several people.

•Bread Basket (2 pretzels, 1 roll, 1 slice of bread)
The Pretzels are big and soft, served steaming fresh from the oven. € 2,20

•Original HB sausage platter with Viennese & pork sausages
and grilled sausage with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes € 7,60.
Germany is a sausage lover’s paradise. And this combo platter provides a great representation of Germany’s popular sausage types.

Escalope "Vienna" style from pork loin with home-made potato salad € 8,10
A traditional German dish done to perfection.

After eating this typical heavy German lunch we were stuffed. While we did not try the desserts, but we did take notice!

•Ice Cream Cup - 3 scoops of ice cream with fruit sauce and whipped cream € 3,50
•Apple Strudel from the HB bakery
with vanilla sauce and whipped cream € 3,90
•Munich “Dampfnudel“ (sweet yeast dumpling)
home-made with vanilla sauce € 3,50
•Bavarian Cream
with marinated wild berries € 3,90

Hofbräuhaus am Platzl Platzl 9, München Tel. 49 89 221676 Website:

After enjoying the beers and food, it was time to work off our meal and explore the city by foot. The blocks within Munich’s City Center are jam packed with retail shops and outdoor markets. We found several stores with Black Forest Cuckoo Clocks ranging in price from 150-1500 €.

There were a great amount of butchers and meat stores, each with their front windows jutting with hanging meats. Cooking accessory stores and appliance stores also populated just about every block. Let’s me believe that Germany is almost as passionate about food as France!

At the outdoor markets we discovered typical Farmers Market settings with local farmers displaying their seasonal fresh produce. Happily there were no special signs identifying Organic produce. My guess is that everything was organic anyway.

We found a unique spice vendor selling pre-packed supplies of popular and rare, hard to find spices. Several well-stocked cheese vendors displayed more than one hundred different cheeses cut to order. We were also elated to see vendors merchandising valued-priced (5 Euro) French wines in wooden bins carefully positioned in the customer’s line of site. Wine as an impulse item…what a concept! .

And since we were visiting in November, we could not miss checking out Germany’s famous Christmas Markets. Germany draws quite a bit of international shoppers during the pre-Christmas season. Munich’s Christmas vendors have a lot to offer. Handmade tree ornaments and decorations from Germany can provide an everlasting memory of your visit!

There are many Museums and attractions to explore in Munich. The city hosts many festivals during the year. The biggest is Munich Oktoberfest, September 19 to October 4, 2009.

For more visit the official website of the Munich Tourist Office.