The Hunter Valley – Day 2

The Hunter Valley – Day 2

WINE TOUR DAY! Today marked our full wine day experience with Two Fat Blokes wine tours. We had a delicious breakfast at the Kirkton Hotel (that was included), went and checked out the smelly pigs in their barn, and got picked up for our tour promptly at 9:30 AM. Our super energetic guide, Julie, told us to keep our eyes out for kangaroos as we set out to pick up additional guests. It was only about 10 minutes into our drive to the next stop that we saw a bunch of them in the bush! It was so awesome to see them hopping around in the wild.

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We picked up a total of 10 other people and were on our way to our first winery by 10 AM. Apparently we were a bit early so Julie took us to her “secret” kangaroo spot in a vineyard. We pulled up and there must have been about 100 of them all hanging out along the road! It was so cool to see – there were even some mums with their joeys!

After snapping a few pictures, we were back in the bus and off to Mistletoe Winery. The vineyard was very pretty and chockablock with beautiful sculptures in the yard and an art gallery inside.

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We all lined up at the bar and started our tasting. The lady leading that tasting told us to be aware that, if we drank all of the wine at all of the tastings we would be drinking 2-2.5 bottles of wine each! Not including the glass of wine included for lunch and 3 beers at the brewery stop at the end of the day! Geesh! I usually never waste wine but that knowledge made it easier to just taste some of the pours I didn’t prefer. (I am a light weight after all!)

Our second stop was the Two Fat Blokes wine and cheese shop to sample 9 cheeses with 9 wines! We were taken to this cute room in the back of the shop and had quite the spread.

We were told to have a bite of the cheese to get the full flavor, sip the wine, and then have another bite of the cheese to see how that flavor changes with the wines influence. It was pretty substantial! I love cheese and wine so I was in truly a happy place! There was this feta with chives that was so to-die-for we bought some to share with my sister back in Sydney.

After we ate all of our cheese, we relaxed in the winery grounds for 15 minutes before heading to the next place for lunch. I was glad some hearty food was coming our way because I needed something to soak up all of the yummy wine (as you may start to tell from the photos moving forward)!

Our next stop was the Audrey Wilkinson winery. Julie told us that the wine makers used Audrey’s old photo as the logo for the winery and on all of the bottles. A few years in, an older local man came into the winery and asked why they used a photo of Audry’s brother as the main logo for the winery! Apparently, the wine makers didn’t realize the mistake but already had brand recognition and all of their marketing materials with the brother and not Audrey. To fix the problem, the took the photo of Audry’s head and photo shopped it on his brothers body to keep similar imagery. How crazy, right?

We had lunch on the veranda of the winery. Lunch was included with the tour and I assumed it was going to be something like our fabulous lunch on our Tuscany wine tour, but I was a bit wrong. We brought the lunch in coolers from the Two Fat Blokes restaurant and it consisted of pretty average cold meats, salad, and pasta salad. I was slightly disappointed but the rest of the day was so amazing that it did not bug me too much.

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Lunch’s disappointment quickly evaporated as we went inside after we ate for yet another tasting! We started with a Semillon, a wine specific to the Hunter Valley that has strong notes of lemon and lime. The white wines at Audrey were a little to tart for my taste, so we did not buy any, but they were still decent. The best was the desert wine at the end. It was delicious and our host even gave me extra when I finished mine first and joked that I never got any to start with!

The view from the winery was beautiful and we had to snap a pic – even our guide Julie wanted to be included!

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After another quick ride on the bus, we arrived at winery number 4, Ivanhoe. It also had amazing views and we sat on the porch tasting about 7 wines. Our host at this winery was very lively and apparently worked at Disney for several years so he could travel the world to the various parks. What a great way to see the world!

Our last winery for the day was one of my favorites because it included the chocolate pairing! We had 4 chocolates to taste with 7 different wines and they were soooo yummy (at least that is how I fuzzily remember it at this point). Ryan and I bought two bottles of wine and a few of the white chocolate coconut truffles to share with my sister. One of the bottles we bought had a picture that was supposed to be Marylin Monroe but she didn’t look anything like her.  She didn’t even have her signature mole! We still bought it though since, apparently on trips, we randomly buy things related to Marilyn like we did in Santa Fe!

We were getting very chummy and silly with the rest of our tour group by this point and the photo bombing continued at a hilarious pace!

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One last bus ride later we arrived at Hunter Valley Beer Co. – a micro brewery that only serves the surrounding area. The beer was pretty good and I know this because I usually don’t like beer and I LIKED the beer at HVB. We played some Aussie beer trivia (which I quickly lost at) and then got a tour of the beer making process. It was a nice way to end our big day.

Julie did a fabulous job of getting all of us safely back to our accommodation. One guy even drunkenly ran out of the bus at our hotel to go pee in a bush. That took us all by surprise!

Ryan and I had a 6:30 reservation for dinner at the hotel restaurant because we definitely we re not driving anywhere at that point. It was a set menu and we were already pretty full, so we decided to cancel our reso and get a pizza from the bar instead. We played pool while waiting and I did not get one single ball in! Of course, that had nothing to do with my skill and everything to do with the wine… right?!

Our dinner was served at the bar and my award-winning food photography skills really captured my bbq pork pizza….

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It truly was delicious though! After we filled up and I gave up trying to win at pool games, we relaxed on the patio of our room with another glass of wine before zonking out.

Continue on this adventure…

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Tuscany

Tuscany

Ryan couldn’t wait for today and our tour through Chianti wine country. His favorite wine’s of all are Chianti Classicos which are from the heart of the Chianti region in Tuscany and have black roosters on the label to signify that they are made with the right formula of Sangiovese grapes.

Chianti region in Italy

Our hotel didn’t include breakfast, so we walked to a little pastry shop to carbo-load on croissants and doughnuts before making our way to the train station to meet our Walkabout Florence tour group. Our tour guide, Lavi, was energetic and ready to go. She led us through the station and down to our smaller sized tour bus. There were about 15 people on our bus and it was the perfect size for a tour. Unlike some of our tours in Phuket, Thailand, we did not encounter any other tour groups during the rest of our day on this tour, making it very intimate and unique.

The drive to our first winery was about 50 minutes but it went by quickly as Lavi told us all about the history of Chianti wines. Apparently, in the days of the Romans, wine was terrible tasting. The Romans used any grapes they could find, didn’t prepare the wine well, and diluted it with 2 parts water. Because it tasted so bad, the Romans would add spices and other things to it to mask the taste and mainly drank wine for health reasons (it was safer than water in most cases). Over the years, people discovered that the way you grow the grapes, the size of the bunch, the altitude of the grapes, the soil, amount of skin used, and the aging process are all critical components to making a decent tasting wine. Harsher growing conditions and smaller grape yields typically give the best tasting wines. Not what you would typically think, right?

To grow a Chianti Classico, there are rules the govern all aspects of the wine making process so that the wine quality maintains the Classico standards. For example, the vines have to be planted close together so that they compete with one another for water and minerals. The wine makers do not water the plants so the vines have to drive their roots deep into the soil to find water. The vines have to be planted between a certain altitudes and on a slope because water is harder for them to get. Most importantly, all of the wines have to be at least 80% Sangiovese grapes. There are a slew of interesting rules that go into makings such amazing wines.

Our first winery was Villa Li Corti which sits on top of a hill on the 617 acre estate. We toured the vineyard and the olive groves before going inside to see the wine making process.

We took a tour of the barrel rooms…

And we got to see how olive oil is made. Apparently, “extra virgin” for olive oil means it came from the first press of the olives in the machine (below) after picking. Buyers be ware, the new and trendy “extra extra” virgin oil is just a marketing gimmick and the closest thing to “extra extra” would be eating raw olives.

We went up to the tasting room and sat at a 4 top table with bread and meats for us to try. We started talking to the other couple across from us and learned that they also got married on September 16th as well and were also on their honeymoon! Small world. We had a good conversation about all things wedding, living in Brooklyn, and other miscellaneous topics while drinking some delicious wines and eating the meats.

After tasting #1, it was off to our lunch location – La Cantinetta di Rignana. We bounced and swerved our way on the bus, deep into the heart of Tuscany, to this little restaurant in the middle of nowhere. It was just as special as the restaurant we went to in Hvar and apparently, it was so good that George Clooney and his wife went their twice in the same week! The view was amazing and we were treated to an insanely good meal. George has good taste in food…

Up first were 4 different types of bruschetta: tomato and olive oil, chicken liver, “lardo” which is cured ham fat (like on prosciutto), and mushroom. My favorite two were the lardo and chicken liver – sounds gross but it was so good!

After that, we had two types of pasta: boar rigatoni and truffle ravioli. The shavings of truffle were huge and I am now addicted to everything truffle. It was family style so I had to share the ravioli, but I did not want to!

After lunch, Ryan and I walked through the vineyard and tried a grape that had fallen from the vine. IT was so good.

We hopped back on the bus and off to the third winery. The roads were very bumpy, windy, and narrow and we almost had some “too close to the edge of the cliff” moments… but we eventually made it to the Montemaggio estate. The manager gave us a tour of the vineyard and the gardens.

They were actually harvesting the grapes while we were there, so we got to see the grapes getting crushed and pushed into one of the big tanks. It was quite a treat to get to see all parts of the wine making process in action.

Grape sorting at the Montemaggio vineyard in Tuscany, Italy

We were led through the villa and up to the tasting terrace. There were cheese pairings with our wine and we must have tried 6 different, delicious varieties. The lady next to me was making very strange, monotone noises while our host was speaking, and Ryan was imitating her in a way that almost made me lose my wine a few times. Between his silliness and the wine, we had a blast!

After the last wine, it was back on the bus and to a little square for some shopping. There was an amazing butchery there that smelt heavenly, so we bought some meat and cheese to take back to the States.

After about a 50 minute bus ride back, it was time to say goodbye to our tour group, drop the wine and goodies we bought back at the hotel, and walk over to Il Latini for dinner. Like the night before when we first stumbled upon the restaurant, there were 30 people already there waiting for the doors to open. At least there was a line this time, instead of a massive, unorganized crowd. Thankfully, we had reservations and went to the front of the line to get in pretty easily once the doors opened.

The place was family style so everyone sat close together and it was a very social setting. There was a pre-fixed menu for $55 euro a person, but we were not that hungry, so we ordered a few things off of the menu instead and stuck with the table wine that was only 10 euro a bottle. Little did we know, our “small order” got us enough food for 10 people.

We got the 3 salami plate and did not realize that the “selection of 3 pastas” was actually 3 full servings of various pasta dishes!

After that, was the massive steak and two different, complementary desserts. Thank gosh we did not go for the tasting menu!

As it turns out, the couple next to us who did get the tasting menu didn’t get that much more food than us but they paid double! They got one additional entrée, but we were also given the same desert and a free bottle of desert wine! We started chatting with them about the sheer amount of food and what tasted the best. The couple was in town from California and were pretty fascinating. One was an artist and the other was in the energy business and we had a good convo about American politics for about 45 minutes until all of the wine finally disappeared. Overall, the dinner was very enjoyable and we would recommend Il Latini to anyone in Florence that is anywhere on the scale of very hungry to starving. You will get a delicious meal for a great price.

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

Thinking about going to Fredericksburg, Texas? For a romantic weekend, girls trip, or quick getaway, Fredericksburg is the perfect place to spend a long weekend or do a two-day trip! You may have heard that there are wineries and some good hiking there, but if you want help planning the specifics and some things to day dream about until your trip arrives, I’ve got some tips for you!

Plan the perfect trip to Fredericksburg, Texas

  1. Stay at an Airbnb close to Main Street. There are tons of cute, reasonably priced, updated Airbnbs in Fredericksburg that are walking distances from wine shuttle pickups, the Pacific War Museum, and the main shopping / restaurant area on Main Street. Why have to worry about driving and parking when you can walk? Especially since there are no ride sharing services in Fredericksburg. Also, there is an HEB about 2 minutes off Main Street to grab stuff for breakfast if you want to make it at your Airbnb before heading out for your day. Ours even had a fire pit which was awesome for enjoying the perfect weather at night with a glass of wine.
  2. Sign up for a wine shuttle service to get to and from the wineries. Most of the shuttle services are about $20-$25 for the day and will take you to a bunch of wineries so you do not have to drive. You can check their websites before you book to see how many and which wineries each service goes to. Also, if you buy wine or anything else at a winery but do not want to lug the bottles around, the shuttles will bring your purchases back to the pickup area so you can continue on your way bag-free. We took the 290 Shuttle service and it was worth every penny. (Read about our experience here).
  3. Have water and salty snacks ready at your hotel or Airbnb after your wine tour. You will need to hydrate and all of the sugar from the wine will have you craving something savory. Also, try to do your wine tour early enough to have time for a nap before dinner. I am not a nap person typically, but having a nap break really helped us enjoy the rest of our evening without feeling groggy.
  4. Explore Main Street (aka downtown). There are about 4 blocks of cute boutiques, restaurants, bars with live music, candy stores, and wine tasting rooms that are unique to Fredericksburg!
  5. Research the best restaurants on TripAdvisor and make reservations before you go. Weekends can be busy and wait times long, so a little planning ahead will help you maximize your stay. I recommend checking out the Vaudeville Supper Club for a fancy night out or their Bistro for a more casual affair.
  6. Check out the  Pacific War Museum for a little history if you have an extra hour.
  7. Don’t forget to bring your active wear and hiking boots (or sneakers) to wear to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The hike is only half a mile to the top of the rock and is not super strenuous. As long as you have sun screen, sun glasses, and a water bottle, you can do it! The view is well worth it, but just make sure you arrive earlier rather than later because the park will close the parking lot once full (around 10AM).Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Read about our adventure at the wineries or Main street and Enchanted Rock to learn more!

Fredericksburg Part 2

Fredericksburg Part 2

After a long day of wine tasting and a solid power nap, it was time to resume the Fredericksburg fun! We had an 8:30PM reservation at the Supper Club at the Vaudeville restaurant on Main street so we decided to walk through the shops on Main before dinner. There are quite a few boutiques, wine tasting rooms, candy stores, and knickknack stores to walk past and Ryan bought a big bag of white cheddar popcorn for our road trip home. After about 2 hours, we needed water and some energy so the plan was to grab a coffee and water at a bar before dinner. We went into a bar and ended up getting beer and a Michelada (basically a bloody Mary with Dos Equis instead of vodka). After being introduced to Micheladas during my trip to Guatemala, I can’t say no to them! It was so refreshing to have something salty and savory after the sugary wine earlier that day.

Finally, it was time of dinner. We walked to Vaudeville and went in the side alleyway entrance to this amazing, fire-lit, patio area. Wow, was it surprisingly nice! I told Ryan he needed to plan things more, since he did such a good job on this trip, and he told me he was taking a sabbatical from planning! (Insert eye-roll here) Anyways, we were greeted by name and escorted to this intimate table on the side of the restaurant. We had a pre-fixed 3-course meal in store for us and our names were even on the menu! Talk about amazing service.

We started with cocktails and three types of delicious bread; parmesan puff, multi-grain, and olive. The bread was light, fluffy, and made that day right in town! As we were enjoying our bread, we saw a black tail slink by our table and Ryan freaked out. There was a cat in the restaurant and Ryan loves cats. Apparently one of the girls at a table by us was allergic, so the host picked the cat up and put it on a table right outside the window from us. Ryan kept going on and on about he wanted a “café cat” and that they should have put him at our table. Literally, the rest of dinner, Ryan was on the lookout for that dang cat! I must admit, it was cute.

Our first course came and drew our attention from the cat and back to our dinner. The sweet smell of the curry immediately made our tastes buds perk up and the prawn and squid ink noodles were the perfect complement. I was a little skeptical that I would not be a huge fan of the dish, but I would have that every day for weeks if I could!

Our second course was perfectly cooked pork loin with grilled Brussel sprouts, a Brussel sprout empanada, and a to-die-for parsnip puree! I couldn’t believe how far this meal was outside of my expectations!

For desert, we had a dense, moist lemon cake with raspberry sorbet and vanilla panna cotta. Again, it was done perfectly and the three courses were just the right amount of food.

Ecstatic about all of the delicious parts of our dinner, we walked off our meal on the way home and quickly found our way to sleep.

Day 2: Enchanted Rock

After doing the wineries and shopping in the previous day, we decided to drive to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area for a hike. The Park is know for its massive pink granite dome that sticks way above all of the other features in the area. In peak season, the park gets packed early, and they close the gates as early as 10AM to control the crowds. Knowing that, we got up before the crack of dawn (like 7:30 AM) to make sure we could get a spot. It took about 30 minutes to drive to the park site and there was a line of cars already waiting to get in at 9AM!

We were able to get a spot, lathered up with sun-screen, and took off on the Summit trail. It was about a half mile, straight up-hill hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. There were quite a few people but it did not feel too crowded and there was a nice breeze to keep us cool on the way up.

The cactus, flowers, and giant boulders that had broken off Enchanted Rock and been shaped into all sorts of configurations over the years made for a very scenic hike, not to mention the breathtaking view from the top! Strangely enough at the top of the rock, there were little bodies of water called vernal pools that have mini-ecosystems of small creatures, making the moon-like rock alive with wildlife.

We enjoyed the view from the top for a while and took a more round-about way down. I thought the trail went one way and Ryan warned that it didn’t. I went anyway, almost stepped on a pretty big snake, and was scared right back to the right path to Ryan. He then proceeded to make hissing sounds the rest of the way down, partially making fun of me, partially trying to scare me again! While we didn’t see another snake (thank gosh!), we did encounter a few lizards and cool looking birds.

Our hike took about 1.5 hours total and was worth every step. The drive back seemed like it took no time at all. We walked in to the Airbnb and saw a strangely shaped piece of plastic on the ground that Dakota had chewed. We quickly realized that she had somehow pulled down the large bag of popcorn Ryan had bought the day before and she ate the entire, previously unopened bag! There was only one small kernel left of evidence that that popcorn had ever existed! Of course, Dakota pretended like nothing had happened and we couldn’t help but laugh. Oh, that dog.

Before we knew it, we were freshened up, packed, and ready to head home. We were starving so we parked in town and stopped at Burger Bar for burgers and sweet potato fries before embarking on the long drive through the middle of no-where Texas to get back home.