DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

The first snow of the season always fills me delight. My little alpine town transforms into a picturesque postcard. Pastures are blanketed in snow and the white capped peaks of the surrounding mountains beckon winter sports enthusiasts.

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Our charming downtown, draped in festive lights, bears a striking resemblance to Bedford Falls in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The long awaited rituals of the season are practiced: caroling, sledding, snowshoeing in the moonlight, and gathering around the hearth sipping hot cocoa, mulled cider and red wine.

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As an avid cook and entertainer, I’m drawn to hearty seasonal fare in the winter. Piping hot stews, cheesy casseroles and stick-to-your-ribs beef and potato dishes truly warm me and my family through and through. As is predictably standard, red wine is the go-to pairing for such rich and heavy meals.

However, as a white wine lover living in the land of eternal winter, I grow weary of red vino rather quickly. So this holiday season, to balance out the red with white, I’ll be dreaming of a white Christmas. Or more aptly, I’ll be DRINKING UP a white Christmas! In the coming weeks, I will feature various white varietals to enjoy as apéritifs and pairings with winter meals.

It’s a Winederful Life after all!

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For kicks and giggles, I composed a parody to launch my white wine series. Sing the lyrics below to the tune of White Christmas.

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Element of Surprise

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. They certainly are mine and that’s no surprise since diamonds happen to be my birthstone. I have a penchant for sparkly things, so when I recently uncorked a bottle of Columbia Winery’s Element, a Wahluke Slope red blend, imagine my delight when the bottom of the cork, embedded in tiny crystals, twinkled up at me. I let out a squeal and walked around showing everybody my exquisite discovery. My blingy cork was met with oohs, aahs and a few raised eyebrows, followed by the query, “What is THAT?!”

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Never ask a wine nerd a question about wine for they are certain to geek out on you and answer with animated passion bubbling over, drowning you in a vinous sea of deep details.

With that disclaimer, here’s my description of wine diamonds, hopefully with just enough information to satisfy inquiring minds and not too much mind numbing minutia.

“Wine Diamonds”, as they are commonly referred to, are minute crystalline deposits that occur in wines when tartaric acid and potassium bind together. Tartaric acid is the most prevalent acid in grapes and wine, but if the wine is exposed to temperatures below 40º, wine diamonds can form. In such chilly conditions, the tartaric acid compounds in a wine naturally combine with potassium to form a crystal. This can appear as a powdery white substance at the bottom of a bottle or as crystals clinging to the cork.

Some experts in the wine industry claim the presence of tartrate crystals are a sign of quality, indicative of a wine that hasn’t been over processed. They also claim that wine diamonds do not impart an unpleasant taste. Others believe that wine diamonds can noticeably affect the wine’s taste. Because tartrate crystals, once formed, cannot be re-dissolved, a wine might taste noticeably less acidic. In either case, wine diamonds are not considered a defect in wine nor a hazard, unless, of course, the imbiber ends up choking on the unexpected chunks of crystal!

To prevent wine diamonds from forming, winemakers employ a process called “cold stabilization” to remove tartrates from white wine before it is bottled. This technique is used for purely aesthetic reasons. It is performed with care because very cold stabilization strips a wine of its aromas and flavors. Colder temperatures also increase a wine’s ability to absorb oxygen which can lead to premature aging.

Because red wine is less apt to form wine diamonds due to its lower level of tartaric acid, I consider my sparkly cork a rarity. I will add it to my growing collection of corks, and as the sole bejeweled specimen, it will hold a special place of honor.

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If you ever serve a bottle of wine with tartrate crystals on the cork, simply wipe them away with a cloth (or save the cork if you are mesmerized by it!). If the crystals are present in the wine, you can decant the wine and leave the last bit of them in the bottle. You can also pour the wine through a cheese cloth. If the wine is being served to you (and you have an irreverent sense of humor like I do) you can feign a heightened sense of interest or horror, raise a supercilious eyebrow, and pointedly ask the server, “What is THAT?!”

How they answer will be the true test of their enological IQ and their level of wine geekdom!

Sparklingly yours,

Linda

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June Blooms & June Grooms

“My luve’s like a red, red rose that’s newly sprung in June.”

What quote could be more quintessentially June than the first line of my favorite poem by Scottish poet Robert Burns? June’s birth flower is the rose and red roses symbolize romantic love. Roses happen to be the most popular choice for wedding bouquets. Consequently, June is also the most popular month for nuptials. Such a ubiquitous image is that blushing June bride clasping a rosy bouquet while beaming at her adoring beau. Ahhh, roses and romance. June blooms and June grooms.

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And just as love blooms like a red rose in June, so too does rosé. Pink wine lovers celebrate their beloved wine on the second Saturday in June, National Rosé Day. In every glorious shade of pink imaginable, rosés bloom prolifically throughout the month and well into the hazy, lazy days of summer.

I came across a perfect bottle of rosé befitting the June wedding season. Save Me, San Francisco Wine Co. is a collaboration between esteemed winemaker James Foster and the San Francisco based rock band Train. The wine labels are named after Train hits, and Marry Me Rosé is an apropos wine for a wedding and perhaps even a proposal.

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The label art depicts the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, a venue for hundreds of weddings.  Train lead guitarist Jimmy Stafford states, “Our song Marry Me has serenaded many of these weddings and now can be enjoyed at every wedding. When you taste this rosé, you will want to get married all over again. Here’s to love!”

This vibrant rosé is the perfect marriage of fruit and mineral, acidity and balance. Its tropical aromatics dovetail beautifully with a profusion of red berries on the palate. Coupled with a light pasta salad and grilled fish or chicken, this might be love at first sip! Rosé paired with summer fare is veritable wedded bliss!

I imagine bottles of MARRY ME rosé have accompanied many a proposal and have graced the reception tables of many a wedding. It’s June, the season of rosy blooms and brides and grooms. Share with me your most romantic love story, the joy of courtship, the heartfelt proposal, and your best relationship advice.

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As I opened with Robert Burns, I would like to close with dear “Rabbie” who is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic Movement. In deference to and in reference to his unique writing style, I have penned a poem in honor of the tender intensity of his spirit. It would do my romantic heart good if you oblige me to wax poetic over love, roses and of course, my beloved rosé!

Let us toast to June, to June grooms and June blooms, to roses and rosés!

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National Rosé Day – June 11

Ring around the rosés! Pocket full of poses! Flashes! Splashes! Rosé rain down!

Ring Around the Rosés

I’m taking poetic license with a childhood nursery rhyme and tailoring it to my love of pink wine in honor of National Rosé Day. Can you tell I love photographing rosé? For those of us who think pink and drink pink, we celebrate our beloved rosé wine on the 11th day of June.

Here are a few fun facts about rosé to tickle your fancy and tickle you pink.

• Purportedly, rosé wine was the first wine ever made. Twenty-six centuries ago, the Greeks founded a colony in Marseille where the first vines and winegrowing culture were introduced in Provence. The wines made in those days had a light color, similar to rosés, because the maceration of juices with grape skins was either unknown or only practiced on a limited basis.

• 50 Shades of Rosé? At the very least! From the palest Provence pink to a deep magenta, the shades of rosé cover the red color spectrum. As a general rule of thumb, the darker the rosé wine, the longer the grape skins have been in contact with the juice and the more tannic it will be. Although rosé will never taste like a bold, blockbuster red, it is definitely capable of projecting a bolder profile.

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• Think Rosé isn’t for serious wine buffs? Think again. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, two of Provence’s celebrity vineyard owners, launched a rosé wine created by the Perrin wine-making family.

Named Miraval, it went on sale in March 2013. Most of the stock sold out within five hours. Already praised by critics, the wine received a big boost in November 2013 when it made Wine Spectator’s list of the top 100  wines in the world.

Although Miraval came in at a mere #84 on the list, it was the sole rosé, essentially making it the best rosé wine in the world as well as the first rosé to have ever appeared on the list.

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• To piggyback on the Provence Perrin family, the rosé they produced before “Brangelina” bought their estate was named Pink Floyd after the famous rock bank recorded part of their The Wall album there.

• You’ll have more green in your pocketbook if you drink pink. Rosés are usually a great bargain, especially compared with red wines. Unlike reds which typically mature for a few months to several years, rosés are “young” and relatively cheap to make  because they don’t require lengthy aging. They’re also underappreciated and undervalued in the United States which explains why French rosé is affordable despite the fact that most French imports are fairly pricey for American consumers. A decent rosé will only set you back $10-$15, and a splurge on a quality French rosé won’t break the bank for around $25-$30.

• Rosé is very versatile vino. From bone dry to super sweet, rosé can satisfy a wide range of palate preferences. Old World Rosé from Europe generally tends to be dry. New World Rosé from everywhere else can range from dry to sweet. From the most discerning of wine snobs to your simple, sweet-toothed grandmother, there’s a myriad rosés to please the pickiest to the most peasant of palates.

• In the event you end up with a rosé you just don’t like for whatever reason, this amazing pink wine shines in its versatility. If a rosé is too cloyingly sweet, add some club soda for a refreshing spritzer. On the flip side, if you end up with a lackluster rosé, you can use repurpose it as a cocktail mixer or for spiking lemonade. Add a sprig of basil for a classy touch. Who knows? Your most adamant rosé hater friend might warm up to this vilified pink wine!

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So pour yourself some rosé and let’s clink our pink glasses together in honor of National Rosé Day! Think pink! Drink pink! Cheers!

Yes Way Rosé

REAL MEN DRINK PINK

“There’s no way I’m drinking pink wine!”

So exclaimed one of my pink phobic male pals when I tried to convince him of the merits of rosé. He’s not alone in his machismo, especially in my neck of the Montana woods where lumberjacks, hunters, Carhartt clad construction workers, and grizzled cattle ranchers roam a land dotted with microbreweries. The statistics are telling. Bozeman, Montana leads the nation in most craft breweries per capita and the rest of state continues moving up the ranks, currently fourth in the nation overall in breweries per capita.

Wine, let alone pink wine, could barely budge Big Sky beer imbibers beyond their beloved brewskies.

The most obvious deterrent is rosé’s rosy hue so imbued with feminine associations, at least in American culture. When we think pink, we see Barbie’s signature color, infant girl clothing and breast cancer awareness ribbons.

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Pink wine has feminine inferences as well. Rosès are heavily marketed in the month of May for Mother’s Day, springtime luncheons and garden parties.

Frilly nuances aside, pink wine’s reputation is further tainted by the cheap, syrupy White Zinfandel rage of the 70’s and 80’s that left an indelible sugar stain on our collective wine psyche.

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Enough. It’s time to rethink pink and infuse a more manly mystique to rosé.

Let me tackle the color issue first and squash the gender stereotype of pink being for girls. If you step back in time to pre-World War 2, you’ll discover it was men who first identified with the color pink. Society viewed both pink and blue from a different perspective. A 1918 Ladies’ Home Journal article stated that “blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Pink at the time was viewed as masculine since it was derived from red and thus better suited for boys.

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The “pink-is-for-men” trend continued through 1925 when pink suits worn by dapper men (think Great Gatsby) were symbols of wealth. The feminizing of pink began in 1947 when fashion magnate Christian Dior launched a women’s fashion line in pink. Since then, pink has been associated with feminine frills and frou-frou.

To continue on in my attempt to gender bend rosé…

Modern culture has its icons of masculinity tinged in PINK. How about the PINK Panther, the heroic cartoon cat? PINK Anderson, a tough 20th century American blues singer, was actually the inspiration for the English progressive rock band PINK Floyd.

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Still not enough? Let me drop this macho name…

Bond. James Bond had no qualms about thinking pink or drinking pink, at least in the novel rendition of Ian Fleming’s famous exploits of Agent 007. In a passage of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, pink champagne is mentioned as an accompaniment to scrambled eggs. In Goldfinger, Bond’s signature Bollinger took on a bit of blush. “With ceremony…the tankards of champagne frothed pink.”

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To further my case…

Rosé has been gaining popularity in recent years thanks to aggressive ad campaigns aimed at re-educating the public on pink wine. Pink may as well be the new red, at least vinously speaking.

The White Zinfandel stigma is countered by the fact that quality pink wine indeed exists. For starters, France (no need to prove this country’s preeminence in the world of wine), is renown for stellar rosés. Look no further than Provence and other regions in the South of France for excellent, complex rosé. A French rosé’s racy acidity and steely backbone make for a manly profile.

If a foray into France still seems too frou-frou, venture over to the land of mighty matadors.  Spain, known for its powerful red wines, produces rosés that are bolder and deeper in color. These rosados are hearty enough to be paired with red meat.

And speaking of manly pairings, let’s move away from the salads and light poultry dishes that are classically matched up with rosé. A guy friend calls such lighter fare “girl food”. To appeal more to the male palate, try pairing rosé with bratwurst and sauerkraut or grilled pork chops. Such macho matchings just might convert the staunchest rosé rebel into an impassioned pink promoter, perhaps to the point of seeing pink elephants!

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If I STILL haven’t endeared the male gender to the finer points of pink wine, let me highlight a specific rosé that was created by a partnership between two highly acclaimed winemakers: Charles Smith and Charles Bieler. Their collaborative effort to create stellar wines under the label of Charles & Charles is proof positive that rosé rocks. In fact, their motto for their rosé is:

YES, YOU CAN DRINK ROSÉ AND STILL BE BAD *SS!

This wine is pink as Alaskan salmon and a hound dog’s nose. Its aromas are reminiscent of thorny raspberry patches and mown grass. A dominant palate of Fred Flintstone’s gravel quarry and wild berries on steroids prove that this rosé is anything but girlie.

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Here’s a link to an entertaining video featuring the two Chucks: http://bielerandsmith.com/

Are my masculine references swaying any men out there yet? Then let me quote a sommelier friend of mine, Andrew, who lives in Rhode Island. He admits that many rosés fall flat, but in a recent wine review featured on Vivino, he rated a Sonoma County rosé at four stars out of five. Angels & Cowboys Rosé (such a macho name!) was described as having stone notes and racy acidity, very drinkable on a hot summer day. In chatting further with Andrew, he exclaimed, “Pink is the new power color, so get over it! Rosé for life!”

With a certified somm’s stamp of approval, I now rest my case. Men, it’s okay to drink pink! And here’s the clincher. When you scramble the letters of the word TESTOSTERONE, you get ROSÉ ONSET.

‘Nuf said!

KIMBERLEY, BC – A GrüVe Place to Be

This past weekend, I felt like a veritable Swiss Miss Instant “Coco” when my partner in crime and I took an impromptu road trip to Kimberley, British Columbia, the cutest little Bavarian inspired town west of the Mississippi and north of the border. A picture perfect sunny day and an itch to hike a new trail prompted the trek.

Armed with passports and a full tank of gas ($2.09 a gallon in my town but averaging $3.50 a gallon in Canada – yikes!), the picturesque 2 ½ hour drive along gently winding roads treated us to spectacular vistas of rivers and forests all against the stunning backdrop of the rugged Canadian Rockies.

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Once we arrived in Kimberley, we popped into the visitor center to get trail maps and sightseeing recommendations. The city’s motto is: KIMBERLEY, BC. IT’S A GOOD PLACE TO BE. After chatting with the informative receptionist who had grown up in Kimberley, it was indeed evident that Kimberley is a good place to be, at least for outdoor enthusiasts. Kimberley Alpine Ski Resort is just 3 minutes away. There are 8 golf courses within a half hour drive. An extensive network of trails beckons hikers, bikers and X-C skiers. River rafting, kayaking and fishing are popular activities during the summer months.

For folks that are not fitness fanatics, Kimberley dishes up a plethora of events and activities. From farmers markets to art festivals, oompah bands to symphonies, Medieval themed gatherings to quilt shows, the eclectic event calendar offers something for everybody.

Many of these events center around Kimberley’s major landmark, a giant cuckoo clock in the town square, purportedly the world’s largest. It’s a delightful, if not noisy, attraction. When a loonie is inserted into the coin slot, a beer stein wielding Bavarian emerges from the balcony, yodeling at the top of his lungs. The cute shops that line the main street are also Bavarian in décor. Curiously, Kimberley’s Bavarian influence was by design. In 1972, it transformed itself into the Bavarian City of the Rockies to entice motorists to stop in and explore.

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And explore we did. As we strolled along the shop promenade, memories from my visit to Switzerland in 2004 came flooding back. When we passed a schnitzel restaurant advertising cheese fondue, I beelined for the entrance. Chef Bernard’s Schnitzel House is a quaint Swiss style eatery offering German dishes as well. The restaurant’s many niches are decorated floor to ceiling with unusual bric-a-brac. Feasting the eye on the riotous décor could have entertained me for hours.

But the true focal point of Chef Bernard’s Schnitzel House is Chef Bernard himself, a sweet gray haired Swiss man with a toothless smile and a twinkle in his eye. He was positively elfin in nature with a joie de vivre that lit up the room, and I took delight in the passion he exuded for his restaurant where he has cooked, cleaned and served tables everyday for the past 27 years.

His recipes are from his homeland and we savored a meal centered around his native European specialties. The Swiss style cheese fondue, bratwurst, and apple strudel were as authentic as what I had enjoyed in Lucerne years ago. Though a nice wine list was available featuring German wines, the noon hour was too early for me to imbibe. Before we departed, Chef Bernard donned a wacky cow print hat and graciously posed with me for a photo.

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After our meal, we headed to Kimberley Nature Park to burn off our hearty lunch. We hiked the Sunflower Hill Trail where the hills were literally alive with the blooms of sunflowers. We feasted our eyes on panoramic views of the Kootenay River and the Purcell Mountain Range. The afternoon went quickly and we simply didn’t have time to visit the Kimberley Underground Mining Railway, another fascinating tourist attraction which details the town’s rich mining history.

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Kimberley, BC. Indeed a good place to be. Such a charming little town! I was enamored by its Swiss cheesiness. I practically skipped like Julie Andrews through the alpine wildflower fields. My inner Austrian is exclaiming, “I’ll be BAAHHHCK!” I’ll remind myself not to utter that too loudly in public. My feigned Arnold Schwarzenegger accent generated a few amused looks from passersby!

Once I returned home, I thought it apropos to toast this wonderful day with a Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s indigenous signature grape variety. (I would have loved to sample a Swiss wine but they are impossible to find in my neck of the woods). I adore this dry, light-bodied wine with mineral characteristics, a citrus, white pepper kick and racy acidity. Grüner Veltliner, or GrüVe for short, is also known for its “salad bowl” aromas – lots of vegetal nuances that make me feel like I’m getting my daily quota of greens in a wine glass! The GrüVe I chose is a bargain offering from Burgenland, Austria, one of the four Weinbaugebiete (quality wine regions) actually known more for its dry reds. (Please do not ask me to pronounce Austrian or German terms. I’ll have to ask Vanna for a vowel!)

This 1 liter bottle at a mere $10 is a steal of a deal. The flavor profile is classic Grüner Veltliner but with more flesh on its bones than the typical lean, racy GrüVe from the cooler north. Burgenland has a warmer climate thus explaining this heftier wine that is imbued with honeydew melon and quince flavors as well.

I want to replace the skeleton on the label with a muscle flex shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger or better yet, a gun-toting, Gargoyle shade wearing Arnold a la Terminator. I’LL BE BAAHHCK for sure for another bottle of this value Grüner Veltliner. And I think next time I’ll pair it with cheese fondue, schnitzel and melt-in-your-mouth Swiss milk chocolate and pretend I’m a Swiss Miss Coco all over again!

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ISLAND GIRL IN MOUNTAIN WORLD

I’ve lived in Montana for 23 years. I’ve shivered though most of it because it’s a cold, hard fact that thin blooded island girls don’t acclimate well in northern exposure. Though there are many treasures here in the treasure state, it’s “Big Sky” nickname is a bit of a misnomer, at least in my tiny northwestern corner of the state. Lots of gray days dot the calendar, totally obliterating any remnant of blue sky. Folks here often flee south desperately seeking sunshine and warmth.

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I am blessed to be able to resort to that snowbird tactic and have basked in the January sunbeams of Florida, Arizona and California. This past winter, however, I was anchored to my northern town for various reasons. I chose to embrace the season’s offerings rather than grumble about the cold.  I had purchased a hibiscus topiary in the fall. It was a withering thing on the clearance table and despite my reputation as a serial plant killer, I adopted the plant in hopes of nurturing it back to health.

Through the winter I made it my mission to keep the plant alive, moving it to parts of the house that had more sunshine, meager as it was. Though the hibiscus leaves were shriveled and drying, I lovingly tended to the plant. It brought back memories of my time on the islands where I immersed myself in Hawaiian culture, learned to hula, to speak in the native language, to string leis, and to stop and smell the plumerias every chance I got.

After nine months of a Montana winter, the plant miraculously began to sprout new leaves. As the days grew longer and warmer, I placed the plant outside for a few hours of glorious sunshine. And then, after its long dormancy, a bud appeared and slowly began to bloom. It unfurled in voluptuous shades of red, its petals soft and supple.

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I was positively ecstatic! So many poor plants had met their doom under my “care”, but this one was spared a death sentence! The metaphor wasn’t lost on me either. BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED. An island flower was able to survive and thrive in a bleak mountain climate!

So, when I spotted this Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend, I couldn’t help but think of the juxtaposition of mountains and tropical islands as evidenced by its label and its contents. My home here in Montana is tucked in a pine grove encircled by a ridge of mountains. The wine, a blend of two very floral scented grapes, has heady aromas of honeysuckle and gardenia that whisk me right back to my Oahu cabana where the perfume of tropical blooms were ever present. I would often step out into my yard and clip a plumeria blossom to tuck behind my ear. Its heady fragrance would embrace me throughout the day.

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Viognier is known for its intense floral perfume reminiscent of white flowers. Chenin Blanc lends more fruit scents with floral accents. Together these two grape varieties meld beautifully into a marriage of crisp fruit and plush body.

On the palate, the wine is as lovely as its sunrise yellow hue. Flavors of honeyed fruit, pineapple and banana lend a full mouth feel. The acidity and finish are moderate. And the alcohol content is moderate as well at 12.5%.

This balanced wine would pair well with a sushi platter and huckleberry pie for dessert. Odd pairing, you say? Why, of course. It’s what you can expect from an island girl living in a mountain world!

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