New Year Updates, Blog Thoughts & Bubbly

Hubby & me ready to say good by to 2017!

Hubby & me ready to say goodbye to 2017!

Happy New Year, wine friends!

First, a quick update on Hubby.  He had his follow-up PET scan last week, and we received the results this morning.  The great news is the scan is better than the one from October.  It showed continual improvement and “almost complete normalization.”  The unfortunate news is there is still some residual metabolic activity, so the doctor couldn’t use the magic word “remission” yet.  As the cancer is a very aggressive lymphoma, the oncologist believes that if it was still living, then the scans would be getting worse, not better.  However, he doesn’t want to say Hubby is cured without being positive that this is the case. What this means for Hubby is no additional treatment (YAY!).  Instead, he will also do another PET scan in April.

Obviously, we both would have preferred to know this was completely behind us.  But, things are trending in the right direction.  Hubby’s already feeling about 75% normal, so we’ll just keep working on building his strength and getting him healthy.  We’re both registered to run the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler at the beginning of April, so by the time he goes for what will hopefully be his final PET scan, Hubby should be in good shape and ready to embrace the magic word that we are so ready to hear.

Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Brut

Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Brut

Second…my New Year’s thoughts about the blog.  Obviously, I’m out of the habit of blogging.  And, I miss it.  But, I also know my priorities have changed over the last year, and writing detailed blog posts several times a week is just not going to happen.  So, I’m changing my approach and will be embracing an even more diverse online presence.  Hopefully, you’ll continue to check here, as I will post in-depth reviews of wine and wine-related things about twice a month.  I will post my everyday tasting notes on Vivino (as Alleigh @ A Glass After Work).  For those interested in my food and wine lifestyle photos and thoughts, follow me on Instagram (as Alleigh77) and Facebook (as AGlassAfterWork).  I’m even hoping to do a bit on Facebook live, so if you’re interested in unboxing videos, be sure to like my page.  And, of course, I will continue to participate in live tastings and wine chats on Twitter (as @Alleigh).

All in all, 2018 is off to a good start for us.  We hope the same is true for you.  And now we’re off to toast our news with a yummy Côté Mas Crémant de Limoux Brut from Languedoc in southwest France.  Cheers!

I’m Back with News & Gruet

It’s been a long time. I’m sure you’ve wondered if I’ve stopped blogging. I haven’t. The first half of the year just started off with so much work travel that something had to suffer a little, and unfortunately it was the blog. And then, the week after my last work trip, my whole world changed…

A few months ago, Hubby and I were moving furniture in the house, and he pulled a muscle in his neck. He would rest and then go to the gym when it felt better, but it would start bothering him again. After about 6 weeks of this, he made a doctor’s appointment. On Thursday, May 18, I left for work, and he headed to the doctor. A couple of hours later, he called me to say they were sending him to the hospital for CT scans and blood work. I picked him up, so we could go together. After several hours of tests, even though no one could give us an official diagnosis, it was clear he had cancer.

We came home from the hospital and did what anyone would—talked and cried, hugged each other, and cried some more. We also drank two bottles of Gruet Brut Rosé. It’s one of our favorites, and bubbly can make even the worst situation seem a little less dire.**

The following day, Hubby had a biopsy. A week after that first doctor’s appointment we got confirmation of what we already guessed–Hubby has stage II non-Hodkin’s lymphoma. It’s an aggressive cancer, so treatment is intense. He started his first of six 21-day cycles of chemotherapy this week. The first week is 5 days of infusions–some at the hospital and some through a pump he has with him 24/7–so we both head into today’s last session emotional drained, but also with the knowledge that we’re fighting this thing.

Hubby’s cancer is treatable, and we’re incredibly fortunate to live in a city with amazing medical care and to be surrounded by a strong support system. The doctors and nurses at Virginia Hospital Center have been wonderful—explaining everything to us in detail, while also being caring, supportive, and friendly. At work, our supervisors have been very understanding and accommodating. Our family and friends have shown an outpouring of love and generosity. And, everyone has shared a cancer story about a parent, sibling, friend, or other loved one who has had cancer and fought it. We’ve been surprised how many of those stories have been people with lymphoma. Even my Dad shared a story, reminding me of something that I forgot in the confusion of everything…my grandmother had a “terminal” case of lymphoma in 1965, which she fought and then lived 45+ more years, passing away from the complications of old age in her mid-90’s.

It’s amazing to think that three weeks ago Hubby walked into the doctor’s office because we thought he had a pulled muscle in his neck and today he’s finishing his first week of cancer treatment.  If all goes as we hope, Hubby will finish in mid-October and will head into the holiday season healthy.

In the meantime, I promise our battle against cancer won’t take up every blog post, as this is still a wine and beer blog. However, the reality is it’s part of our life now. I keep things focused on me to give Hubby as much privacy as he can expect being married to a blogger, but be prepared for me to be honest about my good, ok, and bad days, since all my glasses after work will be influenced by that now. Life can really change in the blink of an eye.

** I will save my Gruet tasting notes for another post, but as this is a wine blog, I want to acknowledge that I will forever be fan of Gruet for helping us cope with this nightmare. These two bottles were the first of many that have been opened since of others to come. We drank some of rosé, brut, and blanc de noirs, and with every bottle we opened, it was like having a reliable friend with us. We knew without a doubt every bottle we opened would be a delicious and comforting one for us to share together.

Question #1 of the Day: Do you have a positive/encouraging story you’d be willing to share (you can always email me at alleigh@aglassafterwork if you want to keep it private?

Question #2 of the Day: We all know about comfort food, but what is your comfort wine, beer, or cocktail?

Simply Charmed Magnetic Wine Charm Giveaway!

*** I received this wine as a sample. ***

Simply Charmed magnetic wine charm set review & giveaway - These magnetic wine charms are a fun way to help with glass identification when you’re entertaining or if you’re just feeling festive and want to fancy-up your wine glass. |

Simply Charmed magnetic wine charm set review & giveaway – These magnetic wine charms are a fun way to help with glass identification when you’re entertaining or if you’re just feeling festive and want to fancy-up your wine glass. |

"His & Hers" set of 12 Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms ($28)

“His & Hers” set of 12 Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms

A Pumpkin from "Tom Turkey" Simply Charmed set

A Pumpkin from “Tom Turkey” Simply Charmed set

I love entertaining. That’s probably not surprising considering how much I love wine and food, but there are few things I enjoy as much as having friends over, opening up wine, and serving all sorts of goodies to go with it. Admittedly, it was hard to do when Hubby and I were living in the condo because we just didn’t have the space. Usually my entertaining there was in the common area lounge with other people who lived in the building, and those were potluck…everyone brought a food dish, at least one bottle of wine, and a wine glass. Get-togethers in the new house have been slower to materialize because we’re still without a dining room table, but thankfully, some outdoor and living room furniture haven’t completely stopped us. And, let’s be honest, most of the time, everyone stands around the island in the kitchen anyway.

With more entertaining happening these days, I was very excited when Simply Charmed reached out to see if I would be interested in trying their magnetic wine charms. I love my friends and family, but wine glass mix-ups aren’t ideal. Plus, I liked the idea of an attractive and easy way to make each person’s glass identifiable. We often use stemless (flexible and BPA-free polymer) GoVino glasses on the back patio, which means the charms that go around the stem just don’t work.

A close-up of how the Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms sit on the glass

A close-up of how the Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms sit on the glass

Instead of adhering to the glass, Simply Charmed uses magnets—one is attached to the charm and the other is placed inside the glass. The magnets are strong and won’t come off until they’re pulled on. They have no impact on the wine, and vice versa.

I’ve been trying out the “Tom Turkey” set on my regular wine glasses, GoVino glasses, and beer mugs…and I’m a fan. You can expect to see these charms popping up in pictures from now on. In fact, I actually took advantage of this weekend’s 20% off cyber deal to order the “Holiday Cheer” set for myself, as well as “High Heels – Stepping Out in Style” and the “Wedding” set for wine drinking friends.

"Tom Turkey" set of 6 Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms ($16)

“Tom Turkey” set of 6 Simply Charmed magnetic wine charms

As an added bonus, if you’re looking to support small businesses, Simply Charmed is a small, family run business. Leann and her husband, Kevin, run the company, while their two teenaged daughters help with graphic design and making the charms themselves.

Simply Charmed sent me two sets—one to try and another to give away. I’m keeping the “Tom Turkey” set, but I’m giving away the “His & Hers” set, which has 12 charms and is a $28 value.

There are several different ways to enter the contest, which is open until 11pm on December 4th. Within 48 hours of the contest ending, I will choose a winner at random, post their name in the comment section, and send an email to make sure I have all the necessary contact information to get the Simply Charmed set in the mail.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Received as a sample.

WBC16 Pre-Conference (Part 4): Wente Vineyards & The Winemakers Studio

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards – An interactive space at Wente Vineyards in California that allows visitors to take different classes focused on grape-growing, winemaking, and wine tasting activities. The offerings are seasonally inspired and change throughout the year. Cheers! |

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards – An interactive space at Wente Vineyards in California that allows visitors to take different classes focused on grape-growing, winemaking, and wine tasting activities. The offerings are seasonally inspired and change throughout the year. Cheers! |

Wente Vineyards

Wente Vineyards

After leaving Murrieta’s Well, our group headed to Wente Vineyards proper. The Wente family started their vineyard on this property in 1883 with 47 acres. Since then, they went on to create the first California varietal wine label—a Sauvignon Blanc–and are recognized as the oldest continuously operating, family-owned winery in California.

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards

The Winemakers Studio at Wente Vineyards

In addition to the tasting room and winery tours that most vineyards offer, Wente Vineyards also has The Winemakers Studio, which is an interactive space that allows visitors to take different classes focused on grape-growing, winemaking, and wine tasting activities. The offerings are seasonally inspired, so they do change throughout the year.

Our blogging group didn’t have enough time to do the full version of the current class offerings. Instead, we did mini versions of 4 of the sessions—the Black Glass Blind Tasting, the Wine Aroma Discovery, Size & Shape Matters, and the Wine & Food Pairing.

The Winemakers Studio Double Blind Tasting

The Winemakers Studio Double Blind Tasting

Black Glass Blind Tasting
Duration: 60 minutes
Price: $35
This session is a double blind tasting, which means that not only do you not know what the wine is before you taste it, but also you can’t even see what you’re drinking. Instead, you have to use smell and taste to determine what wine is in the glass. While it may seem easy to differentiate between a red and a white wine, what happens if a rosé is thrown into the mix? Or a sweet wine?

The first wine in our double blind tasting had lots of tropical fruit characteristics, particularly guava and mango, mixed with some pineapple and grapefruit. I also thought that I detected a hint of flowers on the nose. It had medium acidity and alcohol with a light-to-medium body. I really liked the wine and was pleasantly surprised because the slightly floral aspects made me think it was a Viognier, and I don’t tend to like Viognier. It turns out, though, that I was completely wrong. The wine was Sauvignon Blanc–2015 1846 Wines Ghielmetti Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $24). Maybe that explains why I liked it so much?

The second wine had dark fruits, chocolate, and olive characteristics. I also thought there was a hint of flowers, maybe violets. The wine had medium acidity, medium-to-full body, and medium-to-strong tannins. The floral notes let me astray again. I guessed that the wine was a Cabernet Franc (as did everyone else in the room except for one person). The wine ended up being a Cabernet Sauvignon–2013 Nottingham Cellars Livermore Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $60).

The whole experience was a lot of fun. While there were certain characteristics that we all picked up, there were others that made us each think differently about the wines. That said, we all really liked the wines we tasted, so I think the important take away is that while we each had different tasting notes, we all liked drinking the wine!

The Winemakers Studio Aromas

The Winemakers Studio Wine Aromas Discovery

Wine Aroma Discovery
Duration: 90-120 minutes
Price: $55
This session was fun and very challenging. At the end of the table, there were three vials from a wine tasting aroma kit that we were supposed to identify. To help with that identification, all around the table there were glasses filled with objects that are often used to describe wine characteristics—chalk, coffee, stones, grapefruit, nutmeg, etc.—and we were supposed to sniff the objects to help us isolate those specific aromas.

I was able to identify two of the three vials, but more than anything, what I enjoyed about this session was the ability to really spend time focusing on the characteristics of each object. It reminded me of when I was studying for my wine exams and how I would constantly be sniffing things in our spice rack or buying strange food to really get used to identifying the unique characteristic of each smell and taste. Sticking your nose in a glass full of chalk really gives a sense of what a wine with chalk characteristics would smell like.

My biggest takeaway from the session was that while I did ok with my identifications, it’s time for me to go back to my basics for a refresher.

The Winemakers Studio Size and Shape Matters

The Winemakers Studio Size and Shape Matters

Size & Shape Matters
Duration: 60 minutes
Price $35

I will say upfront that this session made the biggest impression on me. The purpose was to determine if the size, shape, and overall construction of a wine glass really impacts how a wine smells and tastes. There were four glasses on the table in front of us—a generic restaurant-type glass, a Chardonnay glass, a Pinot Noir glass, and a Bordeaux glass.

Let me start by saying that I went into this experiment thinking that while there might be a touch of a difference, it would be minimal. I was under the impression that unless the wine drinker was very sophisticated that the difference in glasses would be negligible. I was very wrong…

There is a caveat, though. I think the differences between the Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir, and the Bordeaux glasses were negligible. Not that there wasn’t a difference. There was. And, I can see how using the glass that is made for the specific wine can be the difference between enjoyment and making the wine sing, but I think that a well made set of Bordeaux glasses can do the job (and I intend to invest in my own set).

The big difference really occurred between the generic restaurant-type glass and the fancy glasses. Holy cow! The generic glass swallowed all of the aromas. It left me with the impression that the wine were tasted had very little to offer and that, honestly, it wasn’t very good. It was a wine that I would give 2.5 or 3 corks. That same wine in the Chardonnay glass was complex and wonderful. It was a wine that I would give 4.5 corks. For a glass to make that much of difference in the same wine floored me. It’s an experiment I think every wine lover should do.

The Winemakers Studio Food and Wine Pairing

The Winemakers Studio Food and Wine Pairing

Wine & Food Pairing
I don’t see this particular session on the website, although there is a 60-90 minute wine & cheese session for $55 and a wine and chocolate pairing session for $15. The food in our session was delicious, and it paired nicely with both the 2014 and 2015 Cuda Ridge Wines Semillon. In fact, as sometimes happens with good pairings, the food significantly improved both of the wines. All that said, I felt like this session was the least interesting of the four. I’d rather do a wine pairing dinner at a nice restaurant and spend the money to do one of the other more unique sessions at the Winemakers Studio.

Question of the Day: What are your thoughts on the impact of wine glasses on how a wine tastes? Do you have fancy wine glasses for different types of wine? If you do, do you use them?

WBC16 Pre-Conference (Part 2): Concannon Vineyards & Wente Vineyards

Pictures and details of my visit to Concannon Vineyards in the Livermore Valley Country in California.

Pictures and details of my visit to Concannon Vineyards in the Livermore Valley Country in California.

Wine bloggers mingling and sipping on the Concannon Vineyard Assemblage Blanc

Wine bloggers mingling and sipping on the Concannon Vineyard Assemblage Blanc

The first evening of the Wine Bloggers’ Conference excursion to the Livermore Valley Wine Country was spent at Concannon Vineyards, where we started off the evening with a glass of wine and appetizers while mingling near the vineyards. After about 15 minutes of settling into the evening, we were privileged enough to spend some quality time with John Concannon and Karl Wente–the current winemakers for their respective wineries. Before dinner, both Mr. Concannon and Mr. Wente each talked to the group about their vineyards, giving us an overview of the history of both families and the influence they had on California winemaking, in general, and the Livermore Valley wine region, in particular.

Both Concannon Vineyards and Wente Vineyards were founded over 130 years ago and have been continuously family-operated wineries since then.   Both wineries are now sustainably farmed, ultimately mixing both traditional and innovative farming and winemaking practices. In particular, California’s drought and how both wineries are looking at different techniques to deal with issue remained a constant undercurrent as the winemakers talked about their vineyards.

John Concannon in front of the "Mother Vine"

John Concannon in front of the “Mother Vine”

John Concannon is the fourth generation vintner of Concannon Vineyard. He was raised on the winery estate in the house his great-grandfather built. I actually had the opportunity to sit next to Mr. Concannon during dinner, where we talked a lot about how to create and attract the next generation of wine lover. The opening of the Underdog Wine Bar, which overlooks the vineyards, is one of the latest changes Concannon Vineyard has made to try and do just that. Mr. Concannon also talked about his daughter, who is currently in college, and how he’s excited and proud that Concannon Vineyards will eventually be spearheaded by a woman vintner.

John Concannon and Karl Wente talking to the group

John Concannon and Karl Wente talking to the group

Karl Wente is the fifth generation winegrower and winemaker at Wente Vineyards. While Karl grew up working at the winery, he actually chose to gain experiences at a couple of other wineries—one in Sonoma and one in Australia—before permanently joining Wente Vineyards in 2002. Mr. Wente and I only had a chance to chat briefly over dessert, but I learned two important things: first, that while the main winery is a larger-scale production, his personal interest is really for the more artisanal small lot wines made at the winery; and second, that his passion for music is a close second to his passion for wine, so he performs regularly in a band.

After getting a background of both vineyards and families, we walked to the historic Concannon Margaux Heritage Vineyard. The vineyard is the site of the “Mother Vine,” the unaltered Cabernet Sauvignon vine that James Concannon brought from the renowned Château Margaux in Bordeaux over 130 years ago and serves as the base for more than estimated 80% of California’s Cabernet Sauvignon clones.

…and then it was dinner time.

Our dinner and the Concannon Vineyard Assemblage Blanc

Our dinner and the 2014 Concannon Vineyard Assemblage Blanc

Unfortunately, I don’t have bottle pictures of most of the wines that we tasted, but they were the:

2014 Concannon Vineyard Assemblage Blanc (SRP $24)
2015 Wente Vineyards Morning Fog Chardonnay (SRP $15)
2013 Concannon Vineyard Mother Vine Cabernet Sauvignon (I think this is only available to wine club members, and I’m not sure about the price)
2014 Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Chardonnay (SRP $68)
2013 Concannon Vineyard Late Harvest Semillion-Sauvignon Blanc (SRP $25)

We finished the evening with a barrel tasting of a limited wine that Mr. Concannon is making in honor of his father, Jim Concannon.

Special Concannon Vineyard barrel tasting

Concannon Vineyard barrel tasting

I didn’t end up taking tasting notes during dinner because I was too caught up in the conversation with Mr. Concannon. Both Concannon Vineyards Mother Vine Cabernet and the Wente Vineyards Nth Degree Chardonnay made a particularly strong impression on me. I went back for seconds of both wines at the time.

All in all, I really enjoyed spending time with both winemakers, and I thought that Concannon Vineyard was gorgeous. I was a fan of the wine we tasted and will make sure to revisit the vineyard when I get a chance to go back to Livermore Valley (sipping wine and snacking at the Underdog would be the perfect way to spend an afternoon!). And, if I’m being honest, I’m surprised at myself for never having had a Concannon wine before. I would like to pick-up my own bottles of everything that was poured during dinner, so I can revisit and really taste them.

Sunset over Concannon Vineyards

Sunset over Concannon Vineyard

Many thanks to the folks at Livermore Valley Wine Country, Concannon Vineyard, and Wente Vineyards for a spectacular evening. I learned a lot, soaked in the beautiful view, and loved all of the wines. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more intimate evening with my fellow bloggers and the winemakers.

Question of the Day: Have you ever had a Concannon Vineyards or Wente Vineyards wine?  What did you think?  Do you have a favorite?