The Quintessential Look At Napa


Not all views of the Napa Valley are created equal. One trip to Quintessa on the Silverado Trail is all you need to understand that.

Posted in Main Posts, Tasting Notes, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quintessa — All That’s Best About Napa Valley

DSC_0194_3A visit to Quintessa is an invitation to enjoy what’s best about the Napa Valley: committed relationships with the land, dedication to making fine wine, and the insistence on quality and sophistication in every task or gesture, no matter how small.

To learn more about one of the gems of Napa, continue reading here:


Posted in Main Posts, Tasting Notes, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fueling And Schooling

All that apartment hunting had made us hungry so we rejoined Katie’s new Fulbright friend and  her father for a relaxing night out. Dinner, drinks, and lots of laughs gave us hope that the young ambassadors were off to a solid start. The next day, Sunday, we all met again to head north to Alcala de Henares in search of the schools where each of them would be teaching.


Katie, left, and her new Fulbright pal, Kelsey. There might be alcohol in those preprandials. Not really sure.


The waitstaff didn’t ask us if we wanted a starter, but this arrived anyway. And we were all glad it did. Gorgeous poached egg on these veggies made us all swoon.


Thank God I’m fluent in Spanish. Oh, sorry. I meant English. I’m pretty fluent in English.


A flurry of starters were bandied about so I ordered the most versatile and reliable white I could. The bottle arrived and everybody decided they just wanted entrees. Not a problem. Hello, Martin. Good-bye, Martin.


Fair pricing. America, are you paying attention?


Speaking of versatile in light of many different dishes. Our good friends at Emilio Moro do wonderful things with tempranillo. Tinto fino, with an emphasis on the fino. Delicious, modern, polished, and nimble. And the bank remains intact.


If more American producers could do this much with their back labels, I’d be a happier consumer.


Hard to enjoy a meal when all you get is an ounce. The sacrifices I make….sheesh.


Simple is good. Baby baby lambsicles. And some damn good fries to keep them company. Hola chuletas!


It was a quiet night at La Hoja, but the folks there took very good care of the six exuberant Americans. They understood quickly that we had minimal Spanish language resources — one full player and two half-backs — and took care of us with humor and warmth.


A nod to the Basque influence in the Life of Riley. Patxaran — for what ails you. Even if you’re not ailing.


Nightcaps in the Salamanca district, a short walk from our dinner spot. La Cochera was the perfect spot for wine, beer, and cocktails. Lost my juniper-berries-in-the-gin-and-tonic virginity. I’m still a bit shaken. Highly recommended spot.


Selfies from an entirely different point of view.


In the evening at our hotel, when ordering a cocktail, you are provided with a plate of nuts and olives. You are also provided with a small dish of Gummi Bears. Still trying to figure out why.


Atocha Station — Madrid’s version of Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station put together. Not all the grandeur of the former, but not all the slime and confusion of the latter.


If you’re a music buff who knows the 1960s, you’ll recognize these characters. It’s the Turtles, a very famous rock group. I think every train station should have a turtle pond, don’t you?


Katie Riley is going to be seeing a lot of this sign in the year ahead. A solid 35 minute train ride from Central Madrid, and then a mile-plus walk to her school. After the commute she had this past summer, from Brooklyn to Westchester, this is gonna be a breeze.


What else do you need to know?


I don’t want to take English lessons! You can’t make me!


Just what every town in Spain needs. Praise be to God.


Uh oh, looks like school’s about to start. Alcala, a city of approximately 200,000, has a large university and a sizeable assortment of other academic institutions. Everywhere you walk in this town you bump into some sort of school.


This is where some of them live when they are not busy delivering babies. Yes, those are stork nests. They are massive.


People like to say “any port in a storm,” but I like the port to be a good one, which this street-side cafe proved to be.


Simple, and simply delicious. And the service could not have been friendlier.


Maybe next time.


Grilled mushrooms and cured ham.


Lambsicles, again. We misheard the waiter when he said chuletas, thinking he was going to bring a ribeye steak for two. Nope. Have to admit I felt a little sheepish when these turned up. (It’s okay, you can groan.)


The day was hot and the walking was long — we did 10 miles-plus when all was said and done. Wish this had been my drink.


Not a crispy cold beer, but the next best thing. Chilled and refreshing. Two bottles disappeared in no time.


All the glassware, and this was before two folks ordered beer as well, left little room for platters and plates, so the waiter brought a few side tables for us to use. Like I said, great service.


You’d think T. S. Eliot had come to lunch with us.



Posted in Main Posts, Travel | Leave a comment

The Brain In Spain

We are in Madrid to help our daughter find an apartment as she prepares to begin a year of living in Spain as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. We are pressed for time as she loses three days to orientation and we can’t stay forever. Still, despite the time crunch, we are finding ways to enjoy our visit to Spain’s magical capital. All work and no play makes us duller parents than we already are. So, we’re not going to let that happen. Here’s a look at our first two days.




The front of our hotel against Madrid’s azure sky.


Through all the neighborhoods we wandered, the one constant was the panoply of bright colors against the bright blue sky. I often wonder, after many trips to Europe, why America hasn’t fallen in love with a broader palette. We are still too monochromatic.


I had forgotten how hilly Madrid is. After all our walking I really envied this guy. Actually, I just wanted his scooter. In the end, going slowly on foot helped us to get the ‘vibe’ of the various neighborhoods we visited.


Every time I see a sign for Estrella Damm, I wish I was still a beer drinker. I’m immediately transported to Barcelona and the Costa Brava where I first enjoyed this cool, crisp, and refreshing brew. Sigh.


I have a feeling that the folks who own this shop must be real cards.


Our first meal in Madrid was lunch at a cafe deep in the heart of a rather sketchy neighborhood. The food — patatas bravas, pulpo, pimientos de Padron, and llomo Iberico — was excellent. But we were clearly not locals and stood out sorely. To take pictures of all the food, and the unfortunately bretty cider, would have made matters that much worse. All you get is the menu.


The dome of the Palace in the La Cupola lounge. Breakfast or lunch, afternoon cocktails or the obligatory night cap, there are few better spots to just sit and relax.


I’ve had several G&Ts since arriving three days ago. Unlike in the States, limes are not the common accompaniment to this magical mixture. Too often cucumbers, sometimes lemon. Yesterday I almost fainted when the seductive goblet arrived with slices of limes immersed. The drink here is an aberration, as large, heavy goblets are the customary vessel. Can you say gigante?


Maybe the best olives I’ve ever eaten. These were brought to us along with the bottle of cava rosado we enjoyed at the great wine bar and restaurant Garcia de la Navarra our first afternoon here. We returned for dinner the second night.


The aforementioned cava. In the heat of the late afternoon, this was a perfect refresher, balanced nimbly on the line between drinking and thinking. Not a simple quaffer but not a show-stopper. Just the right wine at the right time.


I think all sparkling wines should have this information. NV shouldn’t be a complete mystery. The consumer should have some idea as to what’s in the bottle.


We opted for the Perro Verde. The first wine was dismissed for the most obvious reason, and the second reminded me too much of a Bay Area prison. See, that’s how you make a wine selection when you don’t know any of the producers. Pretty simple actually.


Highly recommended. When we mentioned to the waiter that two of our trio had wheat allergies, he brought out, after several minutes, some gluten-free rolls, warm from the oven, that now rank among the best breads of any kind I’ve ever had. Whatever their secret is, they need to share it, and fast. That was the opening salvo in a wildly flavorful meal.


Day three, still no sherry. Personal survival now in doubt. Conditions growing perilous. I welcome your prayers.


Day two of exploring neighborhoods for possible apartments deposited us around lunch time at Mercado de San Miguel, just off the Plaza Mayor. This easy-to-drink pink put some life back into our weary bones.


I’d love some ham, shank you very much.


Cup o’ meat. Just what the doctor ordered. Sublime, melt in the mouth stuff. Nobody else in the world handles pig like the Spanish.

Posted in Education, Main Posts, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Keep Your Glitz — Let’s Talk About The Wine

DSC_0760If you spend too much time in certain corners of the Napa Valley, you start to believe that in order to make great wine you need to have a Great, capital G, winery. One with a tasting room tricked out in stone and steel, glass and marble. Paneled rooms filled with fine collectibles and walls covered in original art. Parking lots filled with limousines and luxury sedans.

That is until you visit Failla. At Failla, you are reminded that, at the end of the day, it’s the wine that matters. The rest of the other stuff? Not so important.

To continue reading, just click here.

Posted in Education, Main Posts, Tasting Notes, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma Begins With Keller Estate

DSC_0714 For more than 20 years, on my way to visit family members in Petaluma and points west, I’ve seen the Keller Estate sign on Lakeville Highway. And for years my impression of the winery, based on nothing more than the look of the sign and its location in the flatlands north of the San Pablo Bay, was, well, less than impressive. I imagined that, should I follow the sign, I would find a simple, run-down, peaked-back-in-the-’70s establishment, more than deserving of its out-of-the-way spot on the border of lower Sonoma County.

To read more, go to

Posted in Education, Main Posts, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pink? Time To Think…For Yourself

IMG_1238Even if you tried, you could not keep up with the media frenzy going on right now around rosé. Pink is the new, well, you name it. In the wine world, it’s one of top stories. And the clamor shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

I drink a lot of pink. And my family and friends know this because I post my rosé “research” on Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis. Still, I get a lot of requests on what pink to drink. Which made me think. (Yeah, I just did that.) I realized pretty quickly that there is no way to go through and offer tasting notes and opinions on all the rosés I’ve opened in the past year or so, nor is it possible for me to pore over all the recent media offerings in order to cobble together a list for the various palates I know. So, here’s the next best thing — a photo collection of many of the bottles from the last year or so. I’ve liked some more than others, but none of the ones here have been complete, carve-out-your-eyeball failures. Some are on the cheaper side, others are a tad pricey. Almost all have pretty good acid, which is essential for a refreshing pink. After that, the fruit flavors, concentration, finish, appearance — that’s all on you. Rosé is not a wine to ponder. Rosé is a wine to drink. So, take a peek, and start planning your next Pinkapalooza. Cheers!

Posted in Education, Main Posts, Shopping | Tagged , | 2 Comments