Grape Escape: Tuscany, Italy

Want to go to Tuscany this year? Me too!

While jetting off to Tuscany might not be in the cards for me this time around, who says we can’t soak in the Tuscan vibes through our wine glasses? And if I snag a sweet deal, you bet I’ll spill the beans. I love a travel deal!

My Visit

I had the fantastic opportunity to spend a month in Italy, courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America’s Food, Wine, and Agriculture trip while working on my bachelor’s degree. Now, don’t let the academic ring fool you – it was essentially a month-long road trip with me and a bunch of college buddies, devouring everything edible and sippable along the way. From Piedmont to Naples, we quickly learned that an espresso corretto was the secret weapon for any case of the grumps. This old fashioned Italian drink features a shot of liquor added to an espresso shot, sadly unavailable at your local Starbucks. 

Trailer Living? Sure

Tuscany, with its dreamy hills draped in vines, olive groves, and those iconic cypress-lined roads, is the Italy we all daydream about. I distinctly remember spotting an Airstream trailer and thinking, ‘Sure, I could live there for that view.’ By “that view,” I mean waking up to sprawling landscapes with top-notch wines practically knocking on your door. For the record I do not consider myself to be low maintenance and do not ‘do’ camping as an adult. This really was a spectacular view.

Fast Facts:

  • Tuscany flaunts a whopping 58 appellations, translating to 58 officially regulated wine styles – give or take a few.
  • Those rustic straw-wrapped Chianti bottles, often holding budget-friendly delights, are affectionately called fiascos – a nod to the region’s quirky glass-making history.
  • 61% of Tuscany’s vines are Sangiovese.
  • Sangiovese, with its aromatic dance of sour cherry, tomato leaf, leather, and other surprises, is the heartbeat of Tuscan wines.
  • The rebel Super Tuscans emerged due to the constraints of DOC & DOCG laws, sparking a revolution in Tuscan wine culture.


Sangiovese is the principal red grape in the following DOCGs: Chianti, Chianti Classico, Carmignano, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Morellino di Scansano, and Montecucco Sangiovese. It is the sole red grape allowed for Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. It’s 61% of all the vines planted in the region. So ya… it’s a big dang deal.

Learning about Tuscan wines can be simplified to learning about Sangiovese. 81% of the wines coming out of Tuscany are red- and they almost all have some Sangiovese in them. When you smell the wine you are looking for notes of sour cherry, tomato, balsamic, leather and oregano.

Why are there so many similar wines?

If you start geeking out about Tuscan reds you will find that many of them are made almost identically. Like 5-10% differences in how much Sangiovese and a twenty miles difference in where it is grown make it a completely ‘different’ wine. This is one of the most frustrating things about Italian wines in general. Tuscany was governed by viscounts and different ruling families for centuries. These noble families didn’t get along well enough to share the winemaking strategies- they were to busy stealing each other’s livestock and waging war. By the 1880s when the region was being united politicians were more concerned about smoothing over rivaleries that had existed for centuries- everyone got to keep their wine names and regulations.

White Wines?

You may want to critique me for including a white wine and a rose in the Grape Escape from a region that mainly focuses on red wines. You can- but I’m right.

Tuscany is a coastal region and a wonderful sunny one at that. The mental image Americans tend to have of Tuscany is shaped by films and TV which generally focus on the steep, cypress lined roads leading to glorious villas not stone buildings perched on the rocky coastline in fishing villages. Trebbiano may be the most planted grape in Italy overall and Tuscany specifically but it generally goes into bulk wine and liquor production. It may be used as a blending grape in quality wine but Vermentino is considered the quality white grape of the region.

Try a Grape Escape

Whether you’re a wine aficionado or just keen on soaking in Italy’s culture and history, this Grape Escape is your ticket to the heart of Tuscany. Join me in savoring the unique stories and flavors that make each bottle a piece of this captivating region. Here’s to virtually exploring Italy and Tuscany through the mesmerizing lens of wine!

Grape Escape to Paso Robles

In March, I attended CAB Camp, but no, it had nothing to do with taxi cabs. It was an entire week dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon wines grown in the beautiful Paso Robles, California. A group of forty wine buyers from all corners of the country gathered in Paso Robles to explore, taste, and compare Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordeaux varietals grown in this region.

Nestled between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the grape-growing region around Paso Robles has historically been known for Rhone varietals and affordable wines. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, but Paso Robles had some surprises in store for me – and it wasn’t just the mesmerizing belly dancing at Daou.

Firstly, let’s address the pronunciation: it’s Paso “Robe-Les.” I know, it’s challenging for those of us who studied Spanish in high school, but that’s how they say it.

Paso Robles serves as a significant hub for cattle raising in California, and its name roughly translates to the “Passageway of Oaks.” As you’ll see on a tour of the Santa Margarita Ranch, this region is marked by majestic oak trees and landscapes reminiscent of the Texas Hill Country. The climate here has much in common with Texas – warm days, cattle ranches, and typically not enough rainfall, averaging just 14.8 inches per year. However, in an anomaly, Paso Robles experienced over 60 inches of rainfall by March 8, 2023. One noticeable difference is the daily temperature shift: it may reach 100 degrees during the day, but the nearby Pacific Ocean’s breeze cools things off every evening. (Someone, please bring some ocean breeze to DFW!)

During my time at CAB Camp, I had the honor of meeting legends of the wine world: Jerry Lohr and Gary Eberle. Gary Eberle is known for making California Syrah a ‘thing.’ He established the first Syrah vineyard in California, propagating it from cuttings off the M. Chapoutier property in the Rhone Valley. Unfortunately, I can’t find his wines in Texas.

Jerry Lohr, on the other hand, is the genius behind the J. Lohr wine brand. While producing a staggering 1.8 million cases of wine, J. Lohr remains a family-owned business. In the 1970s, Lohr ventured into Chardonnay production in Monterey County. Then, in the 1980s, he introduced Bordeaux varietals to Paso Robles, California. A deal with Hyatt in 1984 for 84,000 cases of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon changed everything, propelling J. Lohr and Paso Robles into the limelight. It’s astonishing how a single business deal can alter the fate of an entire region.

At a panel named ‘Cab is King,’ Jerry Lohr and Gary Eberle engaged in playful banter. Lohr believes his wines are underpriced, while Eberle contends that his are overpriced. Most of their wines are priced below $50, which is a common trait in this region. Lohr is correct in stating that Paso Robles wines are generally underpriced; they consistently overdeliver, which is one of the highest compliments one can bestow upon a wine.

You might come across the term ‘fruit bomb’ when discussing wines from the region. While some wines may fit this description, I believe many exhibit more balance, especially those crafted by quality producers. Paso Robles Cabernets tend to be rich, robust, and fruit-forward, yet they retain the structure needed to maintain this style. We even had the pleasure of opening a bottle from 1989 with Gary Eberle, and it was still impressively enjoyable.

Did you know that Paso Robles is at the forefront of regenerative viticulture?



Are you thinking of going? (You really should!) Visit Calcarous; it’s a place of beauty and amazement. I’m very sad that they don’t currently distribute their wines in Texas. The views there are among the best in the region. Don’t forget to pack a picnic and stay a while. If you’re lucky, you might even meet the winemaker, Jason Joyce, who’s incredibly passionate about his craft. Please tell him that Michelle in Texas still has a strong desire for his wines.

Also, don’t miss Glunz Vineyards. Although the Glunz family owns a massive wine distribution company in Illinois, the family rule is that you can’t work for the family business for five years. Matt Glunz took this opportunity to start his own exquisite, albeit small, winery. I only wish his wines were available in our state. They have the most Old-World style I encountered during my time there.

Lastly, consider a visit to Hearst Ranch, located just across the street from Hearst Castle. It’s an experience everyone should have. Be sure to ask them about ‘Eyor’ – their Malbec block.

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Grape Escape: Paso Robles

From the lush vineyards nestled in the sun-kissed valleys to the cool-climate coastal regions, New Zealand boasts a terroir like no other. Encompassing two islands across 10 degrees of latitude, each with its distinct climate, this land holds a captivating wine story that I came to appreciate during an enlightening online course by the New Zealand Winegrowers association.

Historical Roots

New Zealand takes pride in being the only wine region globally that can pinpoint the exact date of planting its inaugural grapevines. On September 25, 1819, Samuel Marsden planted those first vines, an event meticulously documented in his journals. An amusing anecdote from those pages recounts the vine-nibbling escapades of goats, just after this historic milestone.

New Zealand Wines Today

While contributing less than 1% of the world’s total wine production, New Zealand commands global recognition for its top-quality wines. Surprisingly, New Zealand boasts 50% more vineyard land than Napa Valley. The heart of this recognition rests on Sauvignon Blanc, making up a remarkable 71% of the nation’s output. Yet, hidden gems captivate the discerning palates, and I know you, dear reader, are among those who relish such discoveries.

Let’s explore the duality of the North and South Islands, which together form the splendid tapestry of New Zealand’s viticultural landscape.


Known as the largest and most renowned wine region of New Zealand, Marlborough’s fame often overshadows the country’s other grape-growing areas. Its unique position rests on the northern tip of the South Island.

Hawke’s Bay

Situated along the gently curved edge of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay stands as New Zealand’s second-largest wine region, contributing 9% to the nation’s overall wine production.

Central Otago

Taking the title of the world’s southernmost wine region, Central Otago encompasses a vast area. It boasts an intriguing contrast, being both the hottest and coldest of New Zealand’s wine regions, with temperatures ranging from 38.7°C to -22.7°C. Here, you’ll find arid deserts, pristine glaciers, and a bounty of remarkable Pinot Noir.

New Zealand Reds

Unless you have been drinking under a rock, you have tasted a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. They are crisp, grassy, and fresh. My favorite description is that they taste like a tropical fruit salad in a wine glass. The red wines of New Zealand have more variability as they come from different climates across the country. I find there to be an undertone of a dark, ripe plum that is my ‘tell’ for New Zealand when blind tasting. They are utterly delicious. I’m especially excited about the Cabernet Blends – the Temata in the Grape Escape has a wonderful Old World Quality.

All New Zealand Wines Have Screw Caps

Why? As a country, they received a disproportionate number of tainted corks. The corks were tainted with TCA, a chemical called trichloroanisole, that results from a bacterial infection that affects the cork bark as it dries. This bacteria ruins wines – makes them smell ‘corked’ or like wet dog and cardboard. New Zealand growers decided as an entire country to opt for screw caps after a global competition where two out of every twelve bottles opened was ruined by a tainted cork. It’s crucial to understand that a bottle’s closure doesn’t dictate its quality—screw caps safeguard exceptional wines.

Don’t miss this opportunity to embark on a vinous adventure like no other. Our New Zealand Grape Escape is your ticket to explore the magic, beauty, and complexity of this remarkable region. So, raise your glass, embrace the spirit of Aotearoa, Māori for New Zealand, and let these wines take you on an unforgettable journey through New Zealand.