Thursday, April 30, 2009

The best plans.....and Burgundy paydirt

Well, good news and bad news. I guess I'll give you the bad news first. To get from Bordeaux to the CDP area is an all day train ride - as in leave at 8am get there at 5pm. Our plan was to go Saturday, however, we don't want to waste an entire Saturday travelling there, particularly since not much is open Sunday. So, we've opted to take CDP out of the mix. It just didn't seem like it was going to be worth the travel time and addition to a few other reasons: there's one or less hotel in CDP so everything would require a car, which we didn't want to rent and there's no public transportation so we just felt like we'd spend an arm and a leg on taxis. Sad, I know. We'll make sure to drink some CDPs if we have the chance and to buy some as well to make up for not visiting the region.

On to the good news - that means we'll get more time in Burgundy and Bordeaux. We're going to spend 4 nights in each instead of 3 and we're going to spend Sunday travelling between the two so its really not much of a lost day (it also is an 8-9 hour train ride). While looking at the train schedules and really plotting out the actual itinerary, I was starting to stress how we'd have to fit in everything we want, so this will work out best anyway and give us more time in each region.

(sidenote:I'm actually not 100% sure our chosen Chateau Monlot has availability for all three nights - he hasn't responded yet- but that's ok, we'll deal with it. I'll keep you posted.)

In the meantime, I hit paydirt with a couple of Burgundy sites - the general Burgundy Tourism site and the Burgundy Wine Tourism site, which is most useful as it lets you search Domaines that also have rooms available. Oh, I was excited when I saw that!!!! I've already sent about 6 emails out asking about availability. Its about 3 in the afternoon there, hopefully they respond soon so I can finish my booking this week!!! Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bordeaux - booked!

Bordeaux is booked. The night we arrive in France, we opted to stay in Bordeaux “city centre” (downtown) because there will be options for eating and drinking when we arrive. As I said, we planned on throwing in a couple of cheaper nights in our trip overall because we can certainly suffer through one night of a two star, no matter how bad it is. However, upon searching on Trip Advisor, Acanthe Hotel is a “top value” hotel and was ranked #21 of 120 hotels in Bordeaux and is 66 Euros per night for a double standard room, includes free-wifi in the room. The reviews were generally favorable and it appears it was recently remodeled (per a review in March of this year) so we’re doing it.

That night we’ll probably grab a late dinner and some wine at a wine bar, then in the morning we might hit the tourism board for some more wine or something before catching at train to our St. Emilion, where we will stay at Chateau Monlot. We hemmed and hawed about where to stay – we really wanted a working Chateau in St. Emilion and were hoping to stay under 115 E (Euro)/$155-ish per night. Our first choice, Chateau Franc-Pourrett, was already booked. Then it was between two, Chateau Monlot, 95 E /$125 per night and Chateau de Mole, 112 E / $150 per night, both include private baths and breakfast. It appears Chateau de Mole recently converted to a B&B – the rooms do look VERY nice, however, they don’t accept credit cards. I don’t have a problem paying for the room in cash, however, the owner wanted me to wire her the deposit or get a Euro cashier’s check. Fees for those run $25-45. Since its so new, I couldn’t find any reviews, but I was able to find some reviews on Chateau Monlot, which were very favorable, had pictures that were better than their website, and they take credit cards, both for deposits and paying. (Oh- and it’s a Grand Cru vineyard :)

So, all in all, because it would end being a difference of about $80 USD in fees and additional room costs, we chose Chateau Monlot. Because really, that’s $80 more in wine we can have!

(I apologize I don’t have a ton of info on place on the left bank side of Bordeaux (the Cab based side), we prefer the merlot based side. However, here is one we considered that was in our price range)

Oh and should you want to splurge, here’s another one in St. Emilion we considered for a brief moment, the Relais Franc Mayne – absolutely beautiful. But, its 170-240 Euros per night. We don’t have the funds for that and would rather have that extra money for more wine. However, should you be in a different situation, I’m jealous!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Help on info on places to stay in Bordeaux

Ok, so I've been struggling with figuring out how we're getting where within France. Mainly, how to get from train stations to a hotel or Chateau. The Rail system map makes it look like it stops at bigger cities only and while I can search for tickets and times, I have to know the station names. ARRGGGH.

So finally, I found a map that you can search and it lets you add in the option to see some "wine tastings" - usually these are Chateaux, possibly tourist boards. Here you go. Click in the child-like map and a new window pops up. After you check the grape box at the bottom, your screen will look something like this:

If you zoom in you can see the train track lines, which should help, albeit a little, to guide on how far you are away from the train stations and which towns/villages might be close to which stations.

However, it appears this is just for Bordeaux. But that's fine at this moment because that's what I'm researching. I'll worry about Burgundy when I get there. The map isn't perfect and I warn you, it will move to make room for those info boxes...BUT at least I can see if I want to stay at a certain Chateau that offers nightly accomodations, I can check to see the closest city. It helps, a little.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Answer to a burning question

A bit ago, I posed the question:

Is it rude to stay at one Chateau and go visit another?
(To clarify, by Chateau, I mean a wine making Chateau that also operates as a B&B.)

Well, one would think it wouldn't be, as long as you buy wine from the Chateau you're staying at. However, I don't know for sure and have been trying to find an answer to this question. While researching a review on a lovely Chateau (which sadly is booked for the days we're there), I ran across a review that pretty much answered my question:

".....However, for those seeking a more catered or organized experience, I would encourage working with Catherine (the owner) to make reservations at some of the local vineyards.........along with a guide or driver. "

Which means the owner of this Chateau would make reservations for you to visit another. While I assumed this would be acceptable, I really wanted to make sure. I'm positive there will be things I do that are rude because I just don't know any better, but I'm trying to minimize the occurrences.

Ok, off to do more research!!! Hopefully I find another good deal that isn't already booked!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Layla's birthday, good BBQ and good wine

Wednesday night we had a few dogs (oh and their owners came too) for Layla’s first birthday party. (I apologize but we all forgot to take pics) They romped and frolicked and it is glorious to have a tired dog for a few days. People are always amazed at how Layla will just still be hopping around when the other dogs are pooped. Well, the fact she’s still a puppy- just turned a year – has something HUGE to do with it, but I also liken it to when you visited a your sister/brother or friend’s sister/ brother in college. Even the most experienced of a high school partier had a hard time keeping up with the college partying lifestyle. So imagine its 3am, you’re exhausted but you are so excited you’re here at college. You figure you can sleep another day – you’re partying on. Or is your first spring break trip. That's the level of commitment to partying I'm talking about. That is how Layla feels. She won’t waste one minute of potential playtime. Well, if look really closely, you might catch her laying down for a minute, but that’s about it. :)

Anyway, while the dogs were playing we were eating a brisket I smoked Tuesday. (yes, Mr. Lush is not the only grill-capable person) I was off Tuesday afternoon and thought I’d throw a half brisket on the smoker to give us something to eat on Wednesday night. It smoked from 1-9:45. Then we put it in the fridge, sliced it up yesterday, and warmed it up on the grill in BBQ sauce. Y-U-M. I do adore a good brisket sandwich. Of course, we had wine. Really, everything we had was good with the BBQ and since we’re coming up on grilling season, I thought I’d share what we had. Note that my BBQ rub and chosen sauce (Supersmokers Championship Sauce) both have a smidge of kick so the wine needs to go well with slightly spicy yet sweet BBQ.

  • The 2006 Ventana Rubystone. Now, we had this earlier this month and thought it would be a good hot weather red and good with BBQ. It didn’t let down.
  • The Cameron Hughes Lot 111 Zin. Also reviewed in an earlier post. It was also fantastic with the BBQ.
  • 2005 Solis Merlot- a recent shipment from Gold Medal Wine Club that some friends brought. We had this towards the tail end of the eating, but I managed to have another ½ sandwich with it to assess its BBQ fit. (I know, the sacrifices I make for wine research!) It was good with the BBQ and by itself.

After dinner we tried another contender for the “Old World Wanna-Be’s”: 2005 Carmichael Sur Le Pont, a Rhone style blend. Syrah (80%) Mourvedre (14%) Carignane (5%) and Grenache (1%). A little bit of chocolate, a little bit of smoke, a little bit of plum. Nice body and good finish. I think we have a winner and will probably be taking this with us to my wine club meeting next month.

All in all it was a good time. Layla got a chance to play with her two boyfriends, (hopefully she did her job and wore them out as well) and we got to have some good food and good wine with good friends.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lush's Shrimp Scampi

Here’s the shrimp scampi recipe I promised, which is enough for about a pound of jumbo shrimp:

Mix these together and let sit for a while:
½ c chardonnay (buttery = better)
½ c butter (unsalted sweet cream)
1 tbs minced garlic (subbing garlic powder is fine)
*“a while” is at least an hour, more if you have the time

(I personally stick the butter in the measuring cup with wine and garlic and let it sit out on the counter to melt. You can microwave, just be careful to melt, not cook it, so go in like 15 second spurts.)

Cover thawed uncooked shrimp with garlic and onion powder. Let sit in fridge for a while.
Note - you have to use uncooked shrimp or else it will come out horribly rubbery.

Arrange shrimp in a glass dish with the tails layered slightly over the shrimp next to them. (the arrangement is least important part, so however you want to do it is fine) Pour the melted butter/wine mixture over the shrimp until it almost covers the shrimp. (don’t totally cover). Sprinkle with parsley and a dash of red pepper or paprika. Cook at 400 for 6-8 minutes- stop as soon as all the shrimp is pink. You might have to move or turn the shrimp and you might have to cook less or more depending on the size how arranged them, so keep an eye on it.

Enjoy with your favorite Chardonnay! (well, you could drink it with a different white, but I probably wouldn’t recommend cooking it with anything other than chardonnay)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Peirano Estate Chardonnay and shrimp scampi

Last night Ms. G came over and we had shrimp scampi, blackened scallops, and a vegetable medley of asparagus, squash and zucchini. I recently discovered that shrimp scampi is really, really, ridiculously easy to make and wondered what the heck took me so long to make it. I’ll post the recipe tomorrow. Anyway, since scampi sauce is basically white wine and butter, what better wine to use and drink with it than a chardonnay? Often I’ll use a cheaper (but still good) chardonnay to cook with and have a slightly nicer with it and end up drinking the rest of the “cooking bottle” later. The wine I use is still drinkable, I just don’t like to use great wine to cook with, so I use something I would rate maybe an 87-88 to cook with and drink a 90+ wine with it.

I used the Simi Chardonnay for the scampi sauce, which I picked up at Sams Club for $12. It was fine but when we opened Ms. G’s Peirano Estate Chardonnay…..there was a noticeable difference. It had a bit more complexity and a bit more buttery creaminess. Now, I’ve had the Peirano Estate Chardonnay in December of 2007 and I didn’t care for it. Clearly this was a different vintage and it was way better. It was just the right amount of buttery and a bit oakey, but not overpowering since they use French oak. I’m glad I got a chance to try it again and it reminded me not to write off wineries - everybody can have a bad year.

And, of course, it went perfect with the scampi and scallops. Really what could go better with a buttery wine sauce than a buttery wine?? Yum!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Its a DOG park....not a KID park

Friday I took Layla to the dog park to run off some puppy energy. When we got there, I noticed there was a lady with 3 small children. (Small as in under 3 feet tall and probably between 18 months and 3 years old.) These children had balls and as one might expect from a 2 year old, were unable to throw said balls very far and instead ran around with them.

Enter Layla.....who is practically magnetized to kids because they are her size. She interprets their laughing and running with the ball as playing so she chases them. She does her wiggle butt jump thing and within 10 minutes two of the three kids have been knocked down (mostly by tripping over their own feet) and are crying. I get her and hold on to her wait for the mom to pick up her kid and ignore the mom's dirty looks as I pray for her to leave. She finally does, after huffing and puffing, and I let Layla go and she runs and plays and jumps..(and rolls in mud)..just like she should be able to do in a dog park. She (and I) came home dirtier than we arrived and she was exhausted, which was needed.

After she left a few people came up to me and told me it wasn't my fault or the Layla's fault and that there's a sign saying no kids under 8. It made me feel better, but you know, I felt bad for the kids because its not their fault their mom is an idiot, yet they got knocked down. You just shouldn't bring kids to a dog park, particularly not SMALL ones that weigh half of what the average dog playing does. Of course the dogs are going to play and run, and yes, they will occasionally run into you and/or jump on (or very close) to you - its what happens.

Its not like I brought my dog to Forest Park and let her run free and she knocked your kid down. Its a DOG park, lady. Stay over in the little dog side or even better, keep your kids out all together.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Twilight (the movie)

As you know, over Christmas break I read the 4 books of the Twilight series. Oh, how hot Edward was in my head, even though I started the series so late that Robert Pattinson was on the cover. Well, I saw the movie over the weekend and I gotta say, yes, Robert Pattinson is hot.....however, he wasn't the model of perfection I had envisoned in my head. His nose reminds me of Peyton Manning a bit.

The hot-but-not-as-hot-as-I-imagined-Edward wasn't the only dissapointment. The movie, as expected, left out a few things and switched around a few things and thus wasn't as good as the book. And....the shimmering skin scene wasn't quite like I imagined it either, nor was Edward's family as beautiful as I imagined them to be, but then again I guess there's not a ton of hot pale skinned teenage actors to choose from. They also downplayed the sexual tension between Edward and Bella, which I guess I understand since it was for the pre-teens.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad I watched it. It was enjoyable plus a way for Mr. Lush to know about the series, since he probably won't be reading the books. It also prompted me to read the published draft of the first book from Edward's viewpoint this morning, which I enjoyed.

It just, as expected, fell short of the movie I played in my head while reading them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Chateau hopping...rude or no?

Ok, so Mr. Lush and I talked about it last night and we think since we're getting into Bordeaux at night (7 or 8) we'll stay in the city that night at some decently reviewed 2 star hotel, (save some money) spend the next morning/early afternoon in the city, taking in a few wine tastings (hopefully one the night we get in - evidently at least one wine bar is open until 11:30!).

Then we might stay 2 nights at a Chateau, like this one for a more budget deal or this one if we want to splurge a bit and stay at a place that has Grand Cru wines. (Of course, I will continue to research for Chateaux who have rooms available, these are just two of the options.)

Here's my you think its rude to stay at one chateau and want to go visit another?? (as long as buy something from them?) Or do you think that’s expected?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Internet planning

Ok, when I started thinking about going to Europe, I was warned that there isn't a lot of information online. Well, I've found that's true and false. There isn't a lot of easily found information, particularly with our search engines. However, I will say that there is a massive amount of stuff far using travel books and the online tourism websites are proving to be very helpful - it just requires some internet savviness to find these sites and to navigate around. For example, the Bordeaux Tourism Office Website is very helpful and has nice one stop shop packages that include hotel stay, tours, wine tastings, etc, as well as has many accomodations listed AND you can actually search by price range, feature, etc, although of course beware that things may not be in the right price range. You might have to go to the individual hotel or B&B's website (sometime there is a link, sometime there isn't) to get info and cross your fingers its in English. (Which, the good news, is that there usually is English information available online- just maybe not quite as much as is available in French)

So far, I'm actually overwhelmed with the information that's available online. Even places that have 5-6 rooms total are online. I do hop over to Trip Advisor to check out what fellow Americans say about these hotels, and of course, take all severely good and severely bad reviews with a grain of salt. So far we don't even have one hotel booked (something we hope to change in the next 2 weeks), but we're considering doing the Bordeaux package for 2 nights or staying in Bordeaux "city-centre" for one night, just because we'll be arriving at night and maybe staying 2 nights here - you have to click around, but there's info on the rooms available. Doesn't it look beautiful???

But good news for those travelling to Europe - there is info out there, believe it or not.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bringing France back with us

Ok, so I finally got around to calling the Missouri Alcohol and Tobacco Control. Why am I calling them you ask?? To find out about bringing wine we can't get here back with us. You know, those excellent small production wines that don't make it out of France muchless here, that are just too good of a deal to pass up? (the ones that are the reason we're going :)

My adventure started when a wine shop owner told me I couldn't bring anything more than 2 bottles back and I would be limited to what was already registered here. Uh, come on, really?? So I look on the main ATF website, they say you're limited by your state, there wasn't anything I could find on the state website, so I finally just called and left a message. I got a call back, about 3 hours later (I know, I was suprised too that a GOVERNMENT employee called me back that fast!) letting me know that according to MO Statute 311.580, each person can bring back 5 gallons. (That's a little over 25 750ml bottles) No taxes, no forms, nothing to fill out. (well, other than a customs declaration form, I assume)

So, I still have no idea how we're getting it back, but at least I know how much we CAN bring back.

Monday, April 6, 2009

St. Louis Weather

Just a mere two days ago, Saturday, I was sitting outside, reading Rick Steve's Guide to France with a tank top on, enjoying a glass of wine. Mr Lush mowed the lawn and then joined me, reading some Kurt Vonnegut book. We both got a smidge pink and actually have tan lines. Glorious, really, I love a little color and as long as its not a burn, I'm good with it.

48 hours later....and I'm trying to decide if I should go with 2 or 3 layers for the ballgame today. *Sigh* Why would I go to a baseball game today when its supposed to be 38 degrees as the high you ask? Well, its OPENING DAY and you must, simply must, go to Opening Day if you're a fan, regardless of weather. Plus, I scored some awesome tickets 16 rows behind home plate and I've been to colder games before. Luckily, according to the wind will be at our backs.

Hopefully, with a hood and plenty of $9 ballpark beer, that will make it tolerable. While I wish we had Saturday's weather today, I still say Go Cards!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Raincoat Lifestyle

As you know, the weather in the Lou has been all over the place, some warm, some chilly, but the one constant is that its been raining at least a couple times a week. Last Saturday when it was pouring, I decided it was time to get a rain coat. I picked up a cute red Calvin Klein one and I've been unable to find the exact picture of the one I got but this is really, really, close.
Mine doesn't have the buckle for the belt - its a wrap/tie belt, but other than that, its pretty close. You probably can't tell, but it has a hood. (the one in this pic does too - but what I like about it is from the front you can't see the hood. ) It was a bit more expensive than I wanted to pay, but Mr. Lush reminded me that we'll probably need it in Ireland so I should get it. (I think he was happy I found one I liked in the first store and he wanted to get shopping over with, but whatever, I'll take it) I actually found TWO I liked and Mr. Lush was so cute....he even told me to get the belted one because it was "much more fashionable". :)
But, let me tell you how much I LOVE the raincoat lifestyle. Love it, love it, love it. First, its been years really since I had a lightweight jacket I actually liked and wasn't a freebie from a work event. (I guess I had convinced myself I don't need a jacket for so long I believed it.) Plus, wow, love the fact that I can walk outside when its spinkling/light rain without an umbrella - its really glorious! Of course if its pouring, I'd still carry an umbrella, just because I don't want to get my purse/face/wet, but luckily its not monsoon season here and my new red raincoat has been perfect.
Love the Raincoat Lifestyle. Love it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Netbooks? Anyone?

For our Europe trip we're thinking of getting a "Netbook". I just learned about them over Christmas, evidently they are tiny lightweight laptops that pretty much are internet only usage, unless you get an upgraded hard drive, but then they are getting into the price of regular laptops. (they have a few other applications, but they don't have the processing power to handle MS Office or big photo editing software or really much of additional software) However, they are supposed to be superquick to start up and connect to the internet and they weigh under 3 lbs and are about 9 inches wide and one inch thick and because of their simple functionality, they are around $300, give or take, depending on how much memory to get.
We have a simple cheaper laptop but its about 7 lbs and its on Vista (don't get me started on Vista!) and thus it takes FOREVER to start up. We were thinking it would be nice to have a lighter alternative to look things up online, communicate with others via email on our trip (and not spend $2 a minute on the phone) and be able to upload pics and what not.

Has anyone gotten one of these? Heard about them? Any reviews? Buy or no? Is it worth the extra money to get extra memory?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Stocked up and a hot weather red

I've taken advantage of a few sales lately and so I'm happy to report our wine fridge is nearly full with really good deals. One of my recent purchases was an 18 bottle purchase that I got on sale, then another discount and then free shipping - between all the discount I think we ended up with an average per bottle price of $13, which we needed because another shipment was a bit more expensive and we need a bit of relief.

Of course, we promptly tried a wine that was going to be a contender for my wine club's "Old World Wanna-be's" theme next month - the 2006 Ventana Rubystone. Its listed as a Rhone style blend, with 62% Grenache and 38% Syrah.

I was really excited to have this based on the tasting notes:
Liquid silk caresses the palate with intense flavors of black cherry, black currant and candy apple. It is full bodied and full flavored with a lovely lingering finish. This gem of ours will complement many of your favorite dishes.
And also the Awards:
SWEEPSTAKE - Best Red Wine, Monterey Wine Competition 3/09

GOLD - San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition 1/09

PLATINUM (3 Gold Medals)- Lodi International Wine Competition 2008

DOUBLE GOLD - Riverside International Wine Comp. 2008

GOLD - Critics Challenge 2008

GOLD - Tasters Guild Wine Competition 2008

SILVER - International Eastern Wine Competition 2008

SILVER - Dallas Morning News Wine Comp

2008 SILVER - Hilton Head Wine Competition 2008

SILVER - Grand Harvest Awards 2008

SILVER - Finger Lake Wine Competition 2008

We opened it up....and its ok. I think we were expecting more "full" in the body than it was - it was more like a light american fruit forward pinot, very cherry. Don't get me wrong, I'm not mad I have another bottle, but I had really expected it to be a bit more full, have a bit more ooomph, and I think maybe that's why I was dissapointed. I actually think it would be a good hot weather red. Not to overpowering.

I look forward to trying the other wines because bottom line, I liked this wine for what I paid for it. Lots more tasting to do....rough life, I tell ya....

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

To Europe and back on planes, trains, and automobiles

Ok, we had a little snafu with the final bookings for our Europe trip. As you know, we got a killer deal from Chicago to Dublin and Paris to Chicago for $700.32/person. Well, we don’t live in Chicago so we still had to book to/from there, as well as how to get from Dublin to France. Clearly since Ireland is an island we can’t hop on the EuroRail, so a new flight was in order. When we booked in January, I was excited to learn that Aer Lingus flies into Bordeaux France and I decided I would wait to book the rest of the transportation until later on, March-ish.

So, here we are, in “March-ish” and guess what? The only flight that Aer Lingus is sold out of from Dublin to Bordeaux is the one on June 10. Oh My God. I am so mad at myself. Grr.
So, after searching other options and coming up with insanely priced flights, I look at other airports that Aer Lingus flies into and find that Toulouse is a 2+ hr train ride from Bordeaux and we can get that flight for about $100 each, so we book it. Done. 2 hrs lost, but then again, even in my original plan, in we wouldn’t have gotten into Bordeaux before the chateaux close anyway…(they mostly close at 4pm) now we’re just in a bit later and have to make sure we pick a place to stay that has an on-site restaurant. C’est la vie, right?

However, that did prompt us to book all the legs of travel, with the exception of the Eurorail pass – I need to be a bit more investigation on that. Our total travel costs so far are $1,740.30 – from St. Louis to Dublin, Ireland to Toulouse, France and from Paris, France to St. Louis. Not too bad, right? Its lot of travel though - a LOT, particularly that last day!
I was putting our itinerary on one spreadsheet and I thought I might as well share it with you:

So, you might have noticed that our trip starts out with “BUS”. Yes, that’s right, that’s a bus. We found that the train from St. Louis to Chicago wasn’t going to work out time-wise anyway, so we looked into (which offers really low cost direct buses to a limited amount of destinations) and booked both our tickets for $20.50 total – which is good since we are flying back from Chicago.

So, literally, we are taking Planes, Trains, and Automobiles in our trip. I’m going to try to get a boat in there just for kicks – why not round out and include all modes of motorized transportation???

Stay tuned for more Europe 2009 posts as we book the rest of our travels!!!!