So, You Want to Go to Wine Country.

With the release of the Netflix film Wine Country, it’s obvious that friend getaways spent swirling around to myriad wine tastings have made it deep into the mainstream. After all, what’s better than escaping your day-to-day to spend some deserved time tipping back glasses with your best pals? 

Here’s one thing that’s better: a trip to wine country that reaps the rewards of an evening spent doing some thoughtful, proactive planning.  There are a few bases to cover. Let’s start at the beginning —

So, you want to go to wine country.

If you throw a dart at a map of the US, there’s a distinct possibility that you’ll land somewhere in the vicinity of a wine producing region. From the highlands of Texas to the picturesque, sprawling vineyards throughout California, all the way to the shores of Lake Michigan — which I just learned some people refer to as “Napa of the Midwest” — there are plenty of potential wine-fueled weekends to be had.

So, where is wine country?

Let’s start with the U.S. — WineRegions-03

There are a *lot* of wine regions in the United States; lots of wine regions, built on lots of different geographies, experiencing lots of different climates. AKA there’s a whole lot of different wine being produced here. While there are many different wine regions, these are the ones that have kept my attention:

  • California boasts over 4,000 wineries statewide. While the Napa and Sonoma Valleys are very hyped, don’t hesitate to look into other wine growing areas to quench your thirst.  Hint: check out Paso Robles in the Central Valley and/or even wineries in coastal areas like Malibu (see links in the resources at the end of this article for more hints).
  • Washington State has a total of 14 different American Viticulatural Areas (AVAs) — which can also be read as: Wow there’s so much wine!—and a reputation for producing some high quality juice. Of all the wine regions I’ve visited in Washington so far, the Columbia River Gorge is my favorite.
  • Oregon gives us the Willamette Valley. Fun fact, it’s located along the same latitude as France’s famed Burgundy region. What’s another thing both regions have in common? Very tasty Pinot Noir. Here you’ll find a plethora of producers doing both conventional and unconventional wines. (Oh! And several Willamette producers pour in Portland..which is why some people call it Pourtland…or not).
  • Lastly, upstate New York in the Fingerlakes region. If you visit this area, you’ll find a wealth of Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Cab Franc as well as a variety of breweries, and distilleries. So many opportunities for activities!

TL;DR — There are basically countless wine regions in the U.S.—do a Google! One may be closer than you think.

Outside of the US —

Obviously there are a lot of wine regions in Europe, Australia, South America, and elsewhere. These are a whole different beast and require the same sort of research, and more planning. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions!


So, what are your priorities? 

Before choosing precisely where to go, it might benefit you to noodle over your priorities. If you’re stuck, start with these questions—

Flavor: What kind of wines do you like to drink?

Are you a fan of Big Bold Reds or a die hard for Crisp Clean Whites? These sorts of preferences can help guide which region you choose. For example, Napa is more known for its Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab Sav if you’re fancy), while the Willamette Valley specializes in Pinot Noir and also Riesling, Chardonnay (grown in a different climate than Napa), and Gamay. 

Despite what my brother has embraced as his key wine belief, wine tastes differently depending on what kind of grape it is and where it’s grown. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the options, try asking someone who works at your local wine shop.

Distance: Do you want to stay close to home or are you into the idea of going further away? If you’re thinking of going on a more adventurous trip, how will you get there? 

To summarize: research is important unless you DGAF because you just want wine. No shame in that game, either! Live your best life!

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So, when are you going?

As a person who hates to be caught in a crowd (cue: my social anxiety), I tend to try and avoid peak tourist seasons when I’m traveling. With wine country, though, it has it’s pros and cons.  

Cons: Peak tourist season can mean bigger crowds, higher tasting fees, and a more expensive trip in general. It can also mean that it’ll be harder for you to get a reservation at the reservation-only wineries. 

Pros: On the other hand, peak tourist season goes hand-in-hand with Harvest season, which can come with excellent benefits (such as discounts or limited releases of specific bottles).

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So, where are you staying?

I’m not saying that your decisions about where to stay will make or break your trip, but it can definitely influence what you’re able to drink—I mean accomplish.

One of the first questions I ask myself when planning a wine trip is: will I stay in-town or outside of town? For the more spread out wine regions, such as the Willamette Valley, finding a home base in the right area can make a difference in which wineries you’re able to visit. In general, choosing something more central might offer the most flexibility, but opting for a small, quaint cottage in the thick of the vineyards ain’t bad either.  

AirBNB vs Hotel vs etc

While hotels may come with benefits—like a wine shuttle—AirBnB’s guarantee privacy, and the perfect, positive-vibes-only spot to drink all those bottles you bought to waive your tasting fees. 

When trying to decide between the two options, here are a few things worth considering:

  1. Do you want access to a kitchen? Personally, I love a family meal on a wine trip.
  2. What kind of relaxation are you looking for? Different amenities are available in different places. And by amenities I mean hot tubs.
  3. Comfort. Maybe you prefer the security of a hotel, or the feeling of arriving back to “your” house after a long day of sipping the grape. Factors of comfort are different for everyone, and comfort is key. 
  4. Convenience — location, location, location. Pick what makes most sense for your adventure. Look at it on Google Maps before you book…trust me.


So, how are you getting around?

Wine trips mean that you’ll spend a lot of time getting from one winery to another. Would you and/or your group rather drive yourself, or hire someone else to drive you?

Driving yourself

Driving yourself means that someone in your group is committing to being the designated driver, for one day or for the whole trip. If one or more people can commit to abbreviating their drinking throughout the wine tasting time then I say: go for it. If not—nah! Why? Because driving under the influence is dangerous! Do not make me say it again!

Oh, you all wanted to enthusiastically take part in your debauchery? Don’t worry. There are other options that allow everyone to maximize their tastings, and minimize their obligatory wine dumping.

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Hiring someone else to drive you

From my perspective, there are two clear options here: bus/shuttle services or hiring a private driver.

By signing up for a bus service you know that transporation is covered and its origin is probably a centralized pick-up/drop off spot (extra points if it’s close to where you’re staying). There are a variety of bus services (private and public), and some of then run all day as a hop-on, hop-off service. If you’re a fan of convenient and lower effort options then this is your huckleberry. 

The cons of a bus service are price variability and limited options. Oftentimes the route of the bus is already charted so you’ll have less flexibility when it comes to choosing wineries to visit. This isn’t ideal if you’re opinionated about where you want to taste. (Me. I’m talking about me.)

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The second answer to this is to hire a private driver. Because you’ll have hired the driver for the day (or for the weekend if you really want to ball out) you’re giving yourself the opportunity to participate in a fully customizable experience. If your driver has been at it for awhile, they likely have relationships with wineries that aren’t open to busses or most groups. Another plus, the driver will probably remain at a location until you’re ready to pile in and head to the next stop. Oh, and pick-up and drop-off will likely be at your doorstep. Yes please. 

I don’t have to tell you that this is definitely a more expensive option. However, you get what you pay for. What I’ll tell you instead is that I hired a private driver in Alsace and I have NEVER looked back.



So, which wineries will you visit?

Finally, the most fun part (for me): choosing which wineries to visit. This part could become intimidating, but it’s nothing an afternoon of research can’t sort out. Here’s where I like to start: 

Types of wine offered (variety)

Depending on the region, I love to make sure I plan in a way that allows me to taste a variety of wines. This way the tastings don’t get monotonous, and I may even get to try something new. 

Reputation

While a winery may be a cult favorite or a Name Brand, this doesn’t mean that the wines you taste will be mind blowing. Do your research, read reviews, and remember that hype doesn’t always = quality. 

NOTE: ~Sometimes~ the more interesting, memorable wines will be found at the smaller producers.

Great sources for wine research are: instagram, reaching out to wine writers or distributors in your city, or asking your wine-loving friends (even that person you haven’t talked to on Facebook in 10 years).

Reservations 

Some wineries require reservations for tastings, especially if you are visiting with a group. It’s important to clarify this beforehand so you don’t end up with an empty glass (full of disappointment). 

Tasting fees

Tasting fees vary by region and winery. More popular areas are likely to have higher tasting costs, and likely this extends to more popular wineries as well. Before visiting a winery, see if there’s an event calendar on their website. This way you can determine if there’s an event while you’re there that offers a more enhanced experience, or one that results in lower fees.



So, here are some FINAL hot tips to consider:

    1. Don’t overbook yourself. Be realistic with what you can achieve, and give yourself time and space to relax. You never know when you might rather sit in a circle of Adirondack  chairs and split a bottle with your buds rather than finishing the day with a final tasting.
    2. Don’t get wasted. I mean, you can if you want, but speaking as the person who just saw a man um…lose his wine into a small bag on a wine bus, I’d recommend not. Wait until you’re done for the day to invert your bottles. (Also drink water so you are not horribly hungover for the next day!)
    3. Do remember that even after all of this planning it’s also ok to be spontaneous. As with any other kind of traveling, you never know what helpful tidbit of information you’ll learn from your hotel concierge, your driver, or the vivacious individual you spoke to while in line for the bathroom between swigs of last year’s very different expressions of pinots. 


Wine country is all about choosing your own adventure. Maybe you’re a planner, and maybe you’re not. If you want to make the most of your visit, spend an evening figuring out the details. Investing time in planning now means more time for stress-free wine drinking later.

And if you don’t want to plan the trip yourself, Gastrono.me is always happy to help. 

Clink!

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Sources:
https://usawineratings.com/en/blog/insights-1/an-introduction-to-the-top-10-wine-regions-of-the-usa-38.htm
https://uproxx.com/life/best-wine-regions-in-america/3/
https://winefolly.com/tutorial/start-planning-now-wine-harvest-season/
Resources:
https://vineyards.com/wine-map/united-states

Salzburg

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I have a few things in common with Salzburg, Austria. We’re both quite small, look charming in shades of pink, and have a deep history with coffee culture. I spent an afternoon delightfully gallivanting through the city’s interconnected alleyways—stopping every few feet to obsess over a new pastel-colored building, the magnificent panoramic views, and every street market stall that taunted me with it’s twisty, aromatic pretzels. It was one of my favorite afternoons of our entire trip.

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Salzburg is a city I’d like to revisit for a week. I dream about booking an apartment high in a Mozart-era building overlooking the Salzach river. I’d spend my mornings subtly brushing the crumbs of sweet pastries off of my Kindle screen in elegant cafes. Between bowls of rust-colored goulash and glasses of Riesling I’d peruse the boutiques that line the streets of the city’s cobblestoned, historic center. Evenings would conclude with tall pints of beer in one of the buzzing beer halls, and letting myself get lost while taking the the long way home.

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Despite every Salzburg travel post you’ll see on Pinterest, it isn’t just a destination for lovers of The Sound of Music or Mozart’s biggest fans. Add it to your list.

 

Munich

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On August 30th my parents and I embarked on a two week trip across Europe. Our cross-continental jaunt spanned from Bavaria (Munich, Germany and Salzburg, Austria), to the picturesque region of Alsace (Strasbourg, France), and wrapped up in Paris. There are many memorable moments from our travels—witnessing my dad’s first glimpse of the Eiffel tower, tasting terroir-driven Rieslings with my mom in a small village near Colmar—and those moments were accentuated by the hours of research that went into the trip before takeoff.

Traveling to a new place can be daunting, but I’m hoping my posts over the next few weeks will assist you if you’re planning a similar Bavarian adventure of your own.

First up: Munich.

A city steeped in history, Munich can satisfy almost any sort of traveler. You’re interested in art? Munich has 10+ noteworthy art museums. Looking into the relics of WWII? You’ll see something around every corner. The food? You’ve brat yourself to a city with culinary traditions that hold strong. While we only just dipped our toes into the second biggest city in Germany, I’ve got lots of advice for how to do it right.

Where to stay:

If you like staying in a location that’s walking distance from a lot of major attractions, top-notch restaurants, and bustling beer halls, then you’ll love choosing a hotel or AirBNB near Munich’s main train station, München Hauptbahnhof. This part of town is about a ~15 minute walk from Marienplatz aka the place to be for all your Instagram dreams to come true.

Hotels:

Eden Hotel Wolff

Hotel Excelsior

Anna Hotel

Cute AirBNBs: 1 • 2 • 3

How will you get around? Walk (download offline Google maps); use the metro; and/or use Uber to make it to your dinner reservation after you lost track of time at the beer hall.


 

What to eat:

The food scene in Munich is heavily rooted in traditional Bavarian and Germanic cuisine, and it’s also rooted in ITALIAN cuisine. Why? Because it’s v close to the border. The Italian influence can be sensed in the relaxed vibes of the city and in the architecture as well. Below are a few restaurant recommendations (I’ve got a million more if you’re curious), as well as some options for drinking, exploring, and researching for yourself.

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Xaver’s– A modern take on Bavarian traditional Bavarian dishes. My favorite place we ate while in Munich.

Tantris– for a Michelin/tasting experience (Didn’t get to go, want to go)

Mr. Pancake– American breakfast (I CAN’T STOP THE PANCAKE CRAVINGS)

Landersdorfer & Innerhofer Feine Kost– a good friend recommended this place! Would love to go next time.

Le Hank– Another place I’d love to hit next time

Boulangerie Dompierre– YES pastries!!!

L’Osteria– I couldn’t leave Italian food out, could I?

Markets – Viktualienmarkt

Shop – Allois Dallmayr

And for drinking:

Beer Halls – Augustiner BräustubenHofbräukeller am Wiener Platz

Wine Bars – M Belleville, Walter & Benjamin, Vinothek by Geisel

Cocktails – Zephr Bar,  Drunken Dragon Bar, x

Coffee – Man Versus Machine (I hear exploring this more hipster part of town is a delight), Cafe Bla

 

Dare to take yourself on a food tour? Here’s a few things to look for:

  • Sauerkraut (trust)
  • Spatzel and schnitzel
  • Apfelstrudel
  • Pork Knuckle
  • Brautwurst and/or Curry Wurst
  • CAKE. Just find cake.
  • Wine from Mosel

 

***GENERAL TIP FOR RESTAURANT SEARCHING WHILE TRAVELING: Avoid sites like Trip Advisor for restaurant recommendations and instead utilize local news sites, food blogs, and Instagram accounts. Trip Advisor and Yelp will steer you towards comfortable spots as an American traveler, but usually likely not the highest quality spots or most memorable experiences.

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Sources for research:

@munichfoodguide

@munichfood

@munichfoodist


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How to spend your time:

 

Hot tips for exploring old town:

  • DO climb the tower at St. Peters. It’s like three euro and the view from the top is *chef kiss*
  • There are * a lot * of museums. I’d recommend picking one or two to see on your visit, but keeping ample time in your schedule to wander around the city. It’s such a charming place and the vibe is a big part of it.
  • Skip the joust at Marienplatz, ya’ll. I know all the tourist books describe it as being “VERY COOL” and “unmissable”, but I’d disagree.
  • The amount of different styles of churches in Munich is nuts. From St. Peters (A Romanesque/Gothic combo) to Asamkirche (Baroque AF)—just do as we did and take a detour into the churches you pass by. Whether you spend 5 mins or 50 you probably won’t regret it.PhotolayoutsMunich2

Other things to do:

  • Go see the river surfers. Take a slo-mo video on your iPhone. Live your best life.
  • Take some time and explore the English Gardens. They’re beautiful, and you’ve just given yourself an opportunity for beers and snacks and the sun (there are also biergartens IN the English Garden, so you could always make that your destination).
Day Trips:

Salzburg – One of my FAVORITE parts of our entire two-week trip. Separate Salzburg post coming soon!

DaChau Concentration Camp site– This tour was sobering. While going alone is possible, I’d definitely recommend researching guided tours. If we would’ve gone alone we would’ve been doing a lot of reading—which I think can impede the direct impact of this memorial. By having a guide we were able to hear the expertise of someone who knew the history well, ask questions, and still have ample time for reflection. It was heartbreaking, but it was a necessary experience. We booked our tour on Viateur.

Eagle’s Nest – While we didn’t make it to this site, it would be a heavy hitter for history buffs (and I hear the views are remarkable)

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Helpful travel resources:

Rick Steves pocket guide(Munich and Salzburg — SO helpful for familiarizing ourselves with the history of Munich. We even took ourselves on a walking tour of the city).

Next up: Salzburg!

Look out for that in the next few days.

United We Feast

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According to merriam-webster.com, a feast is an, “elaborate and usually abundant meal often accompanied by a ceremony or entertainment,”. If you close your eyes, and let your mind linger over the term, you might imagine tables piled high with elaborately ornamented dishes—a mosaic of differently plated bites; abstract spatterings of red wine on white table cloths like Pollock-style paintings composed by excitable guests; the hum of curious conversation  from guests oogling the platters that have just made their grand entrance from the chef’s mysterious domain…

Ok. Perhaps that’s not how every feast throughout history has gone, but that’s not far from what my two experiences at Feast Portland have been like: A 4-day gathering of people from across the spectrum (and across the world) who’ve come together to find joy in food and wine and being among likeminded individuals who revel in it in the same ways. The abundance is apparent at every event from the Grand Tasting to the Night Market to the Dinner Series and Drink Tank panels; the food telling different stories and presenting familiar ingredients in unfamiliar ways. The entertainment presented in the form of DJs and post-dessert dance parties in the Pacific Northwest moonlight.

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My favorite aspect of Feast is how it brings people together around the same table who might not dine together otherwise, but share a common love of food. It’s a platform for unlikely conversations, giving attendees an opportunity to ask questions. To learn.

This year, while standing in a snaking line for a bowl of something noodley, I befriended the family in front of me—fellow out-of-towners from Seattle who shared my obsession with all things delicious. As we eagerly crawled closer to our steaming bowls of shio ramen we began to chat. Within minutes, we were sending representatives of our newly formed group to stand in other, shorter lines to grab more samples for us to share: a spicy fajita cheese steak, a stellar fried oyster sandwich. By the time we received our long awaited ramen, I’d learned about where to find the actual best Vietnamese food in Seattle, received a robust list of additional Seattle recos in my inbox, and gained three new friends to have dinner with on any night of the week.Photolayoutsfeast2

Behind the scenes, I met members of the food media who’d all come from different perspectives and brought differing opinions to the table. We exchanged opinions about our favorite dishes of the weekend (I’ll never forget that corn); expressed elation about upcoming food trends (shout out to Filipino and Jewish cuisine!); and exhaled together when we finally got to take a break from eating.

Feast is a reminder that food and conversation can make the barriers that divide us as people seem less unsurmountable, if only to ask if the cow tongue was worth standing in line for. It brings us closer as as humans—and if that’s not the first step in reuniting us as a country then I don’t know what is.

Some might call this a romantic idea. I call it a starting place. United we Feast.

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Short list of my other favorite parts of the weekend:

See you at Feast 2019!

 

How To: Have More Fun Tasting Wine

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I used to mentally roll my eyes into my forehead when I heard people talk about what they tasted in a glass of wine: wet rock, black cherry, tobacco, candied lemon peel, “jammy, red fruits”, oak, leather, clay, EARTH. It all seemed so contrived, RIDICULOUS, but I’d smile across the table with a slightly purple stained upper lip and nod—all the while silently thinking, “OooOKay. Tastes like wine to me.”

Despite what most wine guides would lead you to believe: there’s actually no definitive list of What Wine Tastes Like. That list doesn’t exist. We taste what we know. Sometimes when I taste a wine it brings back a specific memory from a transformative trip, other times it’s a flashback to my childhood. It doesn’t have to be all tannin, acidity, and finish.

 The fact is that common tasting notes, like those of our thirsty friend at the table, just don’t translate the same way for everyone. We haven’t all eaten the same foods or smelled the same smells or met the same well-spoken sommeliers who had a vast vocabulary of attractive and repeatable wine descriptors. And ultimately it’s not about what you’re supposed to taste. It’s about what you actually taste. It’s your experience.

So, backtracking a bit, what’s tasting wine other than tossing that third pour back at the quaint coastal winery? It’s a process consisting of two parts: what you smell in the wine and the actual taste once it’s in your mouth. Perhaps for you wine tasting is the ritual of identifying the primary, secondary and tertiary aromas of the contents of your glass. Perhaps not. Actively tasting wine is different for all of us. While I definitely now lean towards being one of those friends who swirls and sips at happy hour, my spouting off of tasting notes has been known to contain phrases such as:

  • It’s like licking the outside of a peanut shell served table side at a roadhouse.
  • Slightly old Bubbilicious gum from my grandma’s purse.
  • Clementines and honeydews.
  • Bruschetta on a patio in Italy in the summer.
  • Sweet, buttery, breadiness of just-heated King Hawaiian Rolls.
  • The aftertaste of watermelon fruit-by-the-foot (if you know you know).
  • Steak juice.
  • Flat coke that’s been sitting in the sun with a spicy candy in it (Fine. This was Fernet.)
  • Dried apricots.
  • Olive Tapenade.
  • Maple.
  • Green strawberries.
  • Biting into a peach fresh off a roadside truck.
  • Running through a forest in the autumn.
  • Strawberry soda like they served at Elementary school Honor Roll parties.
  • Eating a tart lemon bar at the peak of an alpine hike.
  • Like popping a snap pea in half.
At 27, it’s safe to say that the majority of my life hasn’t been spent eating sophisticated meals, so my points of reference for taste and flavor come from a place a bit different than those in the upper echelon of the Wine Community. I take pride in my southern upbringing and my relationship with food. I’ve got strong opinions about biscuits, country ham, and red eye gravy.  I appreciate the well-known undertones called out by wine professionals, but I also firmly believe wine should be approachable to everyone—not just those who’ve had every Cru, can define which bank their grapes were grown on, and who base their worth on the list of vintages in their cellar.

While my palate is influenced by a smattering of fine dining experiences, flavors of international dishes, spices, herbs, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and wines I’ve had in the past, it’s also one of a girl raised in Little Rock, Arkansas who’s favorite foods were deconstructed Burger King cheeseburgers, reheated mozzarella cheese sticks from a store like Costco, and fresh-out-the-microwave meatball and mozzarella hot pockets.

The plastic champagne flutes of my youth might’ve been filled with the juice from a cold red SqueezeIt, that too sweet purple drink that came in a plastic container resembling a barrel, or that barely citrus-flavored fizzy drink my mom kept in the fridge called Diet Splice (during that phase where we were trying to get off Diet Coke). We ate thawed out enchilada TV dinners on the patio paired with pitchers of tea tinged with the taste of Sweet N Low, and our favorite meals out were at places like Macaroni Grill, Red Lobster, and Catfish City.

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s where I come from and I love it.


Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re drinking and tasting wine to experience it a little differently:
  1. First and foremost: not all white wines taste the same, not all reds taste the same. Nor rosés. Nor orange wines. Nor bubbles. Break down the barriers you’ve built for yourself and EXPLORE.
  2. Be creative. Think about what you’re drinking. Write it down. Who cares how weird or irreverent it is? Use your ~ imagination ~
  3. If you want to taste more, TASTE more. Go to wine bars, go to wine tastings, go to wineries. And don’t just try wine, try new foods and flavors that you’re unfamiliar with. Smell the salty air more fully when you’re at the beach.  Take in nature when you’re on a hike. Expand your points of reference at any given opportunity.
  4. Next time you’re sharing wine with your friends go around the table and see what kinds of tasting notes ya’ll come up with. Me and four friends did this on my 27th birthday and it was a real hoot (then again, maybe that’s because we tasted almost the whole wine list at Bottle House).
Oh, and if you’re three weeks out from taking that Somm test…just disregard everything you read.
Cheers,
L

Current Favorite Wine Bars in Seattle

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetFor the last couple of years I’ve made the same resolution: that I’d get into wine. Why? Because it was time. Because it pairs with food—my one true love. Because it’s history and science and art. And because it makes me feel warm and like my jokes are landing while I swirl my glass like an intellectual and a sophisticate.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that, to get in to wine and to learn about wine, you must do exactly what you’re hoping you need to do: drink as much of it as you can. Wines of different regions, varietals and production methods; reds, rosés, oranges, sparklings, and whites (if I can get over my Chardonnay prejudices then so can you, bud); wines that make you uncomfortable because you can’t say their name which means the server is going to think you’re less cool than you were trying to convince them that you were. All. The. Wine.

The best place to taste? Wine bars (duh), and Seattle has some great ones. Here are a few that are nursing my grape cravings at the moment:

Revolution Wine — Capitol Hill

Revolution Wine first blipped on my booze radar when I learned about a sweet and satisfying summer treat they were serving in 2016: frozen rosé aka frozé (of #frozéallday fame)—a slushy unlike anything that poured from the tap of those circus tent striped Icee machines of yesteryear, and instead contained ingredients like Lillet and Pinot Grigio; Coconut and Sauvignon Blanc. I slurped them all summer long on their sun soaked patio through pink and white-striped paper straws. Try and tell me there’s a better way to beat the heat.

Wine bar and wine shop, Revolution Wine (now Revolution Wine and Cocktail Lounge) sits at the corner of Pike and Belmont on bustling Capitol Hill. Leather couches, candle light, and soft textures and tones throughout the space are offset by the pop art-style mural that spans the entirety of the back wall, making the room feel comfortable but not stuffy.

The wine’s listed on the menu are limited, but you’re welcome to purchase a bottle from their selection on display to enjoy there as well. Last time I visited I had a glass of red that I can only describe as, “colorful leaves in the fall and maple straight from a tree tap.” It was a Tempranillo and I think it might’ve forever changed my mouth.

Recently Revolution has added a full cocktail list to their menu, as well as a selection of beers. Oh, and snacks. Do not sleep on the snacks. Probably just go with a group for a happy hour sitch so you can order everything on the menu (because, truly, there’s something for everyone).

Hot Tip: In the window facing Pike Street there’s a running list of tastings and wine events that are being hosted in-store. You’re gonna want to check those out—they’re where the real revolution happens. The wine revolution (that might be overkill I’m sorry??)

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Bar Ferd’nand — Capitol Hill

A selection of carefully curated wines on display around every corner, warmly toned string lights effortlessly draped amongst the exposed wooden support beams, and an open kitchen complete with a cooking fireplace—walking into Bar Ferd’nand feels like walking onto the newly renovated patio of your cool friend’s Euro villa. A friend who is clearly living their best life, and you’re along for the ride.

The first time I went to BF (not what the Seattle sophisticates call it) was a day I’ll henceforth refer to as: The Day I Drank Too Much Wine in Public and Joyfully Frolicked Around My Neighborhood In The Rain, but that’s another story for another time.

***Important tidbit no.1 about visiting Bar Ferd’nand: Do not be mistaken—even though the sandwich board is on the left side of the hallway, the entry to the bar is on the right. This is probably obvious to most people, but I once spent five minutes looking for a secret entrance into (what I can only assume was) a storage closet.***

At the time of my first visit my wine knowledge didn’t stray far from what was available in the wine aisle at Safeway.  As I glanced above the bar, it became clear that I was unfamiliar with many of the varietals written on the three chalkboards that displayed the menu, but the bartender quickly assuaged my wine worries by inviting conversation about what I’d liked before and which wine profiles set my palate on fire. I asked her about 200 questions and she was able to answer them all with ease—it was clear she knew her shit. She poured some tastes of wines she thought I’d enjoy, we discussed, and then I settled on my first glass of red—a mouthful of olive tapenade, balsamic, and sun dried tomatoes. Nailed it.

I know what you’re thinking, “What about the snacks,”. Oh, there are snacks. Remember that open kitchen I mentioned? Yeah, it’s plating up things like a pâté of pork and dried tomatoes, cured fish and meats, pizzas and my current favorite: buttery chantrelle “alla carbonara”. You can view the entirety of the current food menu here (including the tasting menu!)

With their focus on quality, artisanal and natural wines, Bar Ferd’nand always leaves me feeling comfortable, excited, and like I’ve learned a little something. They even encourage wine education by hosting weekly tastings on Wednesdays from 5-7pm with a different theme every month. In February they did a Badass Women of Wine series and I am SO upset I missed it.

Not a wine person? They offer a CHILL list of beers, ciders and sakes.

Check it out and grab a glass—or a whole bottle from their bottle shop.

Bottlehouse — Madrona 

People had been telling me about Bottlehouse for like two years before I ever finally made my way to Bottlehouse. And I’ll tell you what, the first thing you need to know about Bottlehouse is that you have got to go to Bottlehouse. [insert clap emojis between all of those words].

First of all, Madrona is the most charming neighborhood in Seattle—so it makes sense that this is where you’ll find one of the most charming wine bars. I went for post-BBQ wine with five friends on a Friday (an untraditional series of events, but it was my birthday and I was queen) . While we waited for a table we perused the selection of wines and trinkets that were for sale at the front of the store. Before even seeing the menu we’d mentally swiped right on about thirteen bottles.

Bottlehouse’s dining room has walls of windows, so I’m sure it lets in all kinds of Seattle “sunlight” in the day time, but at night it’s candle lit and full of animated wine-fueled chatter. The artwork was eclectic, and so was the wine menu. Wines of all colors, vintages and styles. I couldn’t begin to tell you everything we ordered, but I can tell you that between the five of us we probably had glasses from 75% of the menu—including Tawny port. The wine list is extensive and easy to navigate, so it doesn’t feel as intimidating as a chalkboard might.

Other things they have:

  • Cheese boards
  • A killer happy hour
  • A BIG patio where I’ll be getting too tipsy on French white wines this summer

Le Caviste — Downtown

Le Caviste translates to The Wine Cellar, but personally for me it translates to, “I’m really trying to become a regular because I love it so much.” As I’m sure you’ve already assumed, Le Caviste specializes in French wines. They also specialize in the best meat/cheese boards of this entire list so really planche out and order something unfamiliar like the chicken liver paté (do puns work with French words?).

Every time I’ve been to Le Caviste it’s been filled to the brim—from the windows to the… chalkboard walls. I like sitting at tables but I LOVE sitting at the bar because their bartenders are, how do you say, the literal best. They are so educated in the wines and will absolutely point you towards what you’re feeling, or perhaps something you really didn’t expect.

So, go have an evening’s worth of an Eat, Pray, Love experience in this wine bar that will absolutely transport you across the Atlantic—except you’re still in the same city, everyone speaks your language and the only thing that’s French is the wine (and maybe that attractive person to your left) so better just fill yourself up on that.

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Left Bank — South Park

Did ya’ll know there’s a neighborhood in Seattle called South Park? Did you know there’s a wine bar there? Did you know that not only is there a wine bar there, but they’re serving up some of the most interesting bottles in the city? Because I sure didn’t—until a few weeks ago. Left Bank is hidden behind gray, industrial walls, and the only thing announcing it’s presence is a sandwich board proclaiming the holiest words: WINE WINE WINE.

We walked in at 4pm on a sunny Saturday. After sitting down at the bar we were greeted by the owner, Campbell Scarborough. One thing lead to another and we’d decided to do the red flight. It was made up of both natural and conventional wines from all over the world. The most memorable two for me were this natural Gamay (that we got to compare with a more conventional Gamay) and a crazy Chilean red that I SWEAR tastes like Mezcal. I bought a bottle of it so I can relive the craziness at ANY moment.

All along the back wall, wines for purchase are displayed like colorful, alcoholic bouldering holds at a rock climbing gym—a focal point that I’ll soon be striving to recreate in my living room. Other than the bar seats there’s a community table in the middle of the small room, and a spacious booth in the back.

The playlist was perfect (SO much Thundercat). The wine was affordable. And the vibes couldn’t have been better. I’d highly recommend a visit as soon as you can figure out where in the hell South Park is (hint: south of Georgetown, YW).

In the mean time, check out their wine cub (LB Wine Clique) and Tuesday Vinyl Wino event.


So what are you waiting for? GO DRINK. Also, talk to your bartender/somm. Ask them questions! It’s what they’re there for and they want you to have a great experience.

Cheers!

Introducing: Gastrono.me

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Our first night in Vienna we sat silently on the couch in our AirBNB and tried desperately to outlast our jet lag. This was our first three hours in Europe of our 3 week Euro trip—what my friend and I dreamily envisioned as being a grand adventure accented by baguette sandwiches in parks, coffees in quaint corner cafes, and dinners in dimly lit restaurants on side streets that were easy to overlook.

In reality it was definitely an adventure, but one that consisted of a few meals out and a lot more frozen pizza than we ever could’ve imagined.

If only we would’ve done the research, if only there would’ve been a service who could’ve made that research happen for us. To ensure that we’d have the gastronomic travel experience that we were craving.

There wasn’t. So I started one.

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Gastrono.me exists to spread joy through food and drink no matter where you are, or what you order. A service that provides guidance for those of us who are hungry to experience the world, customized for your unique tastes.

Whether you’re looking for a cozy Italian restaurant in the middle of Boston, the best cheese plates in Boulder, or a curated cocktail crawl through a neighborhood in your own city, Gastrono.me provides travelers and locals with unique food and drink recommendations, based on their own personal tastes, budgets, and comfort zones.

Rather than relying on solely generalized guidebooks and online Must Eat lists, Gastrono.me works to get to know you and your preferences so we can make suggestions that we know you’ll enjoy, helping insure that your getaways, weekends, and staycations are lower in stress and higher in enjoyment.


How do we get to know you? Through an initial questionnaire, follow up conversations, and consultation. All about what and how you like to eat and imbibe.

What kind of guides do you provide? The site advertises guides for short and long trips, guides for eating excursions, and a recommendation subscription plan (coming in 2018!). That said, there are lots of opportunities for us to work together, so don’t hesitate to reach out!


I started Gastrono.me because I believe travel is a powerful experience that has the ability to change hearts and minds, especially with the impact of food. When we’re encouraged to look beyond the lists of standard tourist destinations we are treated with the opportunity of immersing ourselves in parts of a culture we otherwise may have overlooked. We are given the chance to see a place through our own eyes.

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And now it’s official: our website launched today! You can learn more at Gastronome.guide

Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, comments, or collaboration opportunities. I am so looking forward to this next chapter and the people and places it will bring into my life.

Cheers!

Lauren

Five Senses of Feast

 

Two years ago while visiting Portland with my parents my ears perked up at something I heard on the radio. I only remember sound clips: Sandwich. Invitational. Feast. Portland. Bon Appetit. I was still relatively new to the Pacific Northwest at the time so it was a mystery that grabbed my attention instantaneously. I needed to know more. Upon further Googling I learned 2 things: 1) Feast was an annual multi-day festival held in Portland, sponsored by Bon Appetit, that showcased Oregon’s bounty and featured several renowned Chefs from around the nation. 2) I HAD TO GO.

Fast forward two years to 2017. On the morning of June 2nd I sat at my computer, cheek in hand, impatiently refreshing the page where I’d purchase tickets for the festival once they were released at 11am. The moment struck and after surmounting a delay caused by an overloaded server I was in. I scored tickets to four events: Late Night Adventures in Takeout, The Grand Tasting (like a deluxe weekend costco sample experience), No Kilts Required: American Single Malts and—the piéce de résistance—Tillamook Presents: SMOKED (A BBQ PARTY, YA’LL).

June, July, and the early days of September crawled by, but finally it was time to pack up the Mazda3 and zoom down to Portland for Feast. The weekend unfolded in what I can only describe as a sensory extravaganza. One that I’m going to try and recreate for you now.

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Feast looked like –

  • A series of electric parties across the city accented by thematic mood lighting that gave every event charisma. My favorite was the neon, untraditional at a BBQ event.
  • Crowded, enthusiastic gatherings of all kinds of people—friends and strangers, groups and soloists, from different places, of different generations.
  • A tie-dye of stains on my shirts from who-knows-which saucy snacks.
  • A never ending sea of artistically composed dishes created by chefs whose home restaurants are peppered around the US.
  • A list to which I was always adding, documenting names of new restaurants I otherwise may have remained oblivious to.
  • Caramel colored splashes on my collar from that last whiskey cocktail I shouldn’t have had.

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Feast sounded like –

  • The ubiquitous hiss of raw meats sizzling on grills.
  • Exclamations between guests about which dishes were worth standing in line for—guiding my next move.
  • Bumpin’ music adding to the energy of the night accented by the percussion of iced bourbon cocktails being shaken in both fists by the boisterous bartenders.
  • Soft speaking between members of a restaurant’s staff underneath the tents.
  • The wise words of innovative chefs being interviewed by Bon Appetit’s Adam Rapoport.
  • Clattering of metal stock pots and pans. The metal clapping of tongs.
  • Joy during a time of political turbulence—laughter, casual conversation, excited statements punctuated by each new bite.
  • The low, slow groans of indigestion around 2am.

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Feast felt like –

  • Oregon’s warm September sun, it’s chilly twilight breezes.
  • The crunch of my first air fried dumpling, and the contrasting soft textures of regional cheeses.
  • The delicate balance of my wine glass in one hand and two small paper plates in the other.
  • Warmth from open faced grills.
  • Fumbling with utensils: chopsticks, forks, spoons, skewers.
  • The constant pressure of my finger on the shutter button of my camera.
  • Conflict because my stomach was full but MORE THAN ANYTHING I just wanted to keep eating.

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Feast smelt like –

  • Competing smoky scents from the forest fires of Jolly Mountain and the plumes dancing skyward from the charcoal grills.
  • Complex combinations of spicy aromas characteristic of single malt american whiskies.
  • An amalgam of currently-being-cooked dishes—fermented, peppery, sweet, mesquite, fruity, floral.
  • The perfume of Febreeze inside of a suburban mom’s lyft vehicle.

 

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Feast tasted like –

  • Fruit-forward wines from all over the pacific northwest.
  • Sweet baked goods and fragrant berry jams from local vendors.
  • Unique combinations of sweet and savory ingredients that I would’ve never thought to combine like brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds.
  • Umami.
  • A just-been-torched s’more donut from Blue Star that was crunchier than I was expecting.
  • The spicy, moist brisket from Langbaan served in a pool of spicy gravy poured from a hot silver kettle, and decorated with flowers that packed a peppery punch that you can’t even imagine.
  • Very high quality hot dogs with very high quality pumped cheese.
  • The kind of tastes that left an impact on your palate, and lingered even after you brushed your teeth—more like a fond memory than an annoyance.

I am so grateful to have had the chance to attend my first Feast. For every moment I was there I was filled with joy and was able to momentarily forget about daily stresses that often overwhelm me. It wasn’t just me, I was surrounded by other people who were just as I happy as I was. I already look forward to the next Feast I’m able to attend. Next time I’ll go to one of the suppers, I won’t miss the Night Market, and I’ll bring more than 2 doses of indigestion tablets.

 

To learn more about the festival check out their website at feastportland.com

 

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Happy Go Shucky — Adventures in Oyster Tasting

I live in a city whose biggest tourist attraction is known for literally throwing fish at you and hoping you catch it. We’re a seafood city. After spending most of my life in landlocked states, I vowed after moving to Seattle that I would take full advantage of coastal living—indulging in pricy seafood dinners, the freshest sushi, shrimp on my pasta and becoming an “oyster person”.

The first time I was introduced to oysters was when I was like 8. I remember seeing an episode of Rugrats where the parents, Stu and Didi, went to a fancy resort and ordered a round of oysters for the table to enjoy by the pool. From that moment on I considered oysters a member of the upper echelon of food alongside French dishes like caviar and escargot. The hors d’oeuvres of the elite.

With summer arriving in the Pacific Northwest the happy hours are abundant and the oyster specials ubiquitous. After three years of acclimating to the west coast, I think I’m finally ready to claim my seat at the shuckers table.

To prepare for my new role I did about an hour’s worth of haphazard googling, enough to make me think I was informed about oyster tasting etiquette, and then hastily made a plan to stop into an oyster bar today after work. Here’s how that went:

First impressions
Walking into an oyster bar is intimidating when you don’t know anything about oysters. I had my pick of tables, but obviously this already self conscious occasion was begging for a seat at a table in the middle of an otherwise empty dining room, in the direct line of site of the entire restaurant staff.  I’ve gotta admit, I was expecting it to smell more like the aquatic section of a PetSmart in there, but it sure didn’t. As I started to get used to my surroundings I noticed that I also happened to have chosen the seat that sat right next to, what seemed like, a living seafood spa in the center of the restaurant. It was piled high with a variety of shellfish, including the oh-so-phallic geoducks (pronounced: gooey•ducks). The crabs were staring at me and I cared too much.

My server placed a menu on the table and I immediately (and abruptly) identified myself as a newbie, blurting out, “I’VE NEVER HAD OYSTERS BEFORE,” like I was telling her I was experiencing a medical emergency.  After getting over the shock of my exclamation she guided me through the menu. Most of the oyster’s names sounded like Fast and the Furious characters to me (Grand Cru, Fanny Bay, etc). We chose three to start with and  a wine that would pair well with my salty snacks.

I surveyed what was left on the table in front of me: two forks. One normal sized and one miniature. I don’t know about you, but even in a normal restaurant setting irregular cutlery is always a catalyst for my anxiety. How would I ever use both forks? I pictured Ariel running the dinglehopper through her hair. Before I had time to act on this impulse, the server set down my glass of Muscadet. I raised the glass, gave it an ultra-confident swirl and took a big sip. It tasted clean and minerally. My confidence began to return and I braced myself for what would come to the table next.

Oyster 1 — Kumamoto

The six oysters were fanned out over crushed ice in front of me. In the middle was a lemon wedge and a ramekin filled with a dressing called champagne mignonette.

“Try the oysters on their own first,” she advised, “and then if you add seasoning be careful not to overwhelm the flavor of the oyster.”

She left me alone with the aliens on my plate. I started to feel a pang of regret for ordering six of them (2 of each), but I’m no quitter (especially when I’m being watched by a kitchen staff).  I picked one up and, without thinking, tried to cooly toss it back like I read about on some blog. The meat in shell the wasn’t loose enough, so I got a mouth full of sea water. After loosening the gooey mass with a spoon I tried again and it slid right into my mouth.

“Holy shit it’s so slippery,” I thought. It tasted like I tripped and fell into the ocean with my mouth open, but it also tasted sweet. I didn’t hate it. The coloring of the shell reminded me of the camouflage clothing people deck themselves out for a night out in Arkansas.

I squeezed a drop of lemon on the second one and I loved it.

Oyster 2 — Kusshi

The Kusshis tasted less sweet and more like I was sipping on an ocean water cocktail. They were astringent and made my tongue feel dry. After three oysters I’d started to gain a little confidence back, but still felt self conscious being isolated in the middle of the room.

Between my third and fourth bites I had an enlightening conversation with the server about developing a palette for tasting oysters, so I decided to work harder at identifying flavors outside of ocean and salt. I put the fourth one in my mouth and slowly chewed. Suddenly I tasted…weird, wet mushroom?? Maybe I went a little aggressive on the lemon squeeze. How was I supposed to use the condiments?

I noticed the wine was starting to taste different—more mineral forward. Like a wet sea rock. Maybe I was becoming a barnacle.

Oyster 3 — Fanny Bay

“SHIT these are big,” I thought as I picked up the first Fanny Bay oyster.  Their shells looked the most prehistoric. I decided that the slimy part of the oysters kind of look like rotting human ears to me, which is a bad comparison to make before you eat something. You know the dreadful feeling you get right before you take a big pill? That’s how I felt looking into this oyster.

I tossed it back.

I really chewed on this one. It tasted brighter than the others. I think. While I was trying to pay attention the meroir of the one in my mouth, I knocked my last oyster out of it’s shell, off my plate, and onto my phone’s screen. As I’m sure you have no problem imagining, I panicked and then surreptitiously attempted to slide the wet, slippery blob back into its shell. HORRIFYING. That’s when I noticed there were barnacles still on the shell. She’s fresh!

Rather than using the lemon on my second Fanny Bay, I decided to go with the champagne mignonette instead. Immediately I realized this was a choice I should have made from the beginning.  It was delicious. The acidity of the vinegar really toned down the weird after taste that the oysters left in my mouth. I want to stay that it also amplified the other flavors, but if I’m being honest I was still only tasting salt. By this point I had come to terms with the fact that my oyster-tasting palette would not be developed by the end of my first visit. The wine tasted its best after the second Fanny Bay. They were my favorite.

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This is where I thought the oyster adventure was going to end, but then I ordered two more because I was halfway through my glass of wine and I really wanted to challenge myself. It’d been thirty minutes and my nerves were lower so SURELY I’d be able to taste my final two more comprehensively.

By this point several more tables had been seated around me in the restaurant, and all of the people sitting at them seemed a lot more fancy and bourgeois than me. The seawater that was puddled in front of me on the table was like a small, salty puddle of shame.

Oyster 4 — Pacific (from Fanny Bay)

The last two oysters came and I felt less intimidated than I did earlier. With the flair of an aficionado I raised the shell to my my mouth, preparing to tip the next one in. Back, back, back my head went until the shell was completely vertical and my elbow was pointed towards the ceiling. I’d tried to shoot it the wrong way out of the shell. My eyes were wide and my cheeks were pink with self-inflicted embarrassment. Sea water dribbled down my chin.

As I chewed the gummy Pacific oyster I felt the makings of a (skeptical) Eureka moment, “Did that taste tomato-y, or did I make that up?”

Maybe it was just the viscosity.  The shell was super beautiful. Like a very exaggerated ruffled Lays potato chip.

Oyster 5 — Shigoku

The last oyster was definitely briny, but also tasted kind of like a green bell pepper. Maybe my palette wasn’t a lost cause after all.  After I finished, my lips were burning from all of the salt I’d put past them. I could confidently say the last oysters were my favorites. I knew I’d never never ever doubt the power of champagne mignonette again.

Final impression

While I may never have a reserved seat at the shuckers table, I’ll definitely pay a visit to the oyster bar again. I don’t think they’re my favorite food, but I’m curious to learn more about the nuances of their flavors. People liken the methods of tasting oysters to that of tasting wine, and I can definitely see what they mean. The taste is ever changing and will always surprise you. I look forward to seeing what I taste on my next visit.

And, no, I never used the tiny fork.

Coffee Lovers and Stocking Stuffers

Well, we’re here. We’ve made it deep into the holiday season, and halfway through our cheap, chocolate filled advent calendars. If you’re like me, you’re still (stressfully) shopping for the people on your list. Bearing that in mind, I give you my final 2016 holiday gift guide! This one covers your coffee lovers and your stocking stuffers. Enjoy!

FOR THE ALWAYS-CAFFEINATED

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Just like last year, I’m obsessed with the idea of coffee being delivered straight to my mailbox (instead of realizing I’m out at 6am and pouting for 10 minutes before I settle for a cup of old tea). Coffee subscription boxes allow you to try different beans from all over the country, and sometimes from all over the world.

Driftaway Coffee is a customized coffee subscription service that bases their selections for you on your given flavor profile preferences. First, they send you a box FULL of different kinds of beans (my favorite so far is the Brazil. SERIOUSLY one of the best coffees I’ve ever had). Once you’ve had a chance to try them all, you enter what you liked and didn’t to the Driftaway app. From there on out, the beans you receive will be chosen by the experts at Driftaway based on what they think will perk you up the most, allowing you to discover new beans and roasts that you never knew about before.

Learn more here!

Of course, it’s not just what you brew, it’s how you brew it! I like to keep it simple with my coffee setup, but also enjoy experimenting with new brew methods.

  • Bodum Pourover Set — I saw this at Target the other day and freaked out! This pourover set up is a) aesthetically pleasing and b) has a built in filter. HELLO. This is great for your friends who are having trouble coming to terms with their strained relationship with Mr. Coffee.
  • Hario Skerton Coffee Mill — This hand grinder allows the brewer to have ultimate control over the grind of their beans, while also getting a sufficient bicep workout. Probably best for the experienced coffee drinker, and not your friend’s mom who is going to mistake this for a ~ swanky pepper grinder ~
  • Bodum Travel Press — ALERT ALERT! YOU CAN NOW MAKE A FRENCH PRESS WHILE YOU TRAVEL. Easiest decision you’ve made all day.
  • Aeropress Coffee Maker — This simple piece of brewing equipment has completely changed the game for my At Home Coffee Routine. The coffee produced by an aeropress is clean, and full of flavor. It also takes less than 5 minutes (if your water is hot) and you’ll look really cool prepping it in your office’s kitchen. Seriously, do recommend.

    [Also the aeropress kit literally comes with everything you need to brew, with the exception of beans. Have I sold you yet?]

  • Turkish Coffee PotWatch this video and then tell me* you don’t have a hip, home-barista friend who doesn’t need this in their life.

*ADMITTEDLY  I’ve never had Turkish coffee, but I hear that it’s some of the most aromatic and richly flavored around. PLUS THE POT IS COPPER!! Who doesn’t love copper in the kitchen?


Looking for something small and (possibly) snackable?

See below for my compilation of food-and-drink-centric stocking stuffers, all produced by small businesses and local makers from across the U.S.!

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And that wraps it up for holiday gift guides! I hope that everyone has had a fabulous holiday season so far, and that it only continues to be great.

SO looking forward for what’s to come in 2017 (and what’s to enter my stomach).