Distractions, Diversion, Food, Wine/Cocktails

When You Can’t Travel, Bring the Flavors of a Place to Your Kitchen

I discovered a dish several years ago when I picked up a special edition of Epicurious magazine. It was called “Epicurious Italy.” The title alone sold that magazine/cookbook to me. I’ve always LOVED Italian food. In fact, I pretty much love all things Italian. 

Epicurious Italy

Unable to travel during the corona pandemic, I decided, “If you can’t get out, at least bring the flavors of places to your kitchen.”  So, I’ve tried making schnitzel with spaetzle. It turned out pretty good. Greg whipped up some amazing curry dishes. We’ve co-cooked some Asian-inspired stuff. But far and away our favorite is Italian and our “go to.”

We took a cooking class through Sur La Table a few years ago and learned a few tricks, including how to make our own pasta. Then I found this compilation of recipes. We’ve tried at least a dozen of the recipes and love them all, but the Brasato al Barolo is an absolute favorite and has become our signature dish. 

I made a few adjustments to the recipe. Chefs always say, “add season and flavor to your taste.” We’ve used lots of different kinds of red wine – Barolo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Chianti, Super Tuscan blends, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine enhances the flavor, so I’m always careful to go with a red we really like. For this brasato, I used a 2012 Mauro Veglio Barolo

This dish takes a little work, but is INCREDIBLE and well worth it. 

Before you start cooking, do your prep work. Cut up the carrots, onions, garlic and celery in advance. True story – I cheat on the garlic and buy the big jar of minced garlic at my local grocery store. Get that wine open and breathing. (NOTE: ALWAYS — seriously ALWAYS — taste the wine you’re using in your food. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t put it in your food). If you are lucky enough to be able to grow your own herbs, snip and clean some fresh thyme and basil. Otherwise, grab the fresh stuff from the store. It really makes a difference. I have somehow managed to keep the thyme, rosemary and mint alive, but my basil is looking pretty sad right now. 

My little herb garden.

Measure what you need and have it handy. The french call it “mise en place” (Everything in its place).  That’s one of things we learned in our cooking class and really makes cooking a lot easier (and more fun). Pre-heat your your oven.

Now you’re ready to get cooking.

Get a good sear on the beef

Step one: Put olive oil into a dutch oven and heat it till the oil shimmers. You’ll want to have it HOT so when you put the meat in to brown it, you get that sizzle. 

Step two: brown the meat (about two minutes a side).  and remove it from the pan to a plate

Step three: throw in diced pancetta and render the fat. I couldn’t get pancetta once and tried bacon. It was still good, but there was absolutely a difference. 

Step four: Add your cut up veggies and let them cook and caramelize for about 5 minutes. You will see a difference and everyone in the house will be coming into the kitchen to tell you how amazing it smells and find out what you’re cooking.

Step five: add those herbs and that garlic and stir ‘em in. The garlic will brown in about a minute if you use the jarred stuff. Fresh will take a little longer.

Step six. Stir in the tomato paste. It gets really gloppy here. Mix it up and get it clumpy but keep it moving. You don’t want to burn the tomato paste.

Pour in that wine

Step seven: Pour in two cups of wine. For me it boils almost immediately so I turn it down a bit and let it vigorously simmer till the wine is reduced by half.

Step eight: Add the meat (and the juices from the plate) back into the Dutch oven and pour in the other cup of wine and a cup of water. 

Step nine: Put the cover on and pop the whole thing into your pre-heated oven.

Step ten: Let that deliciousness cook low and slow for three hours. Your house will smell delicious. Your neighbors will be jealous. 

Now here’s the real secret. When your brasato is cooked, let it cool to room temp and pop it into your fridge for two to three days. Trust me on this. I’ve eaten it right away and three days later and waiting is OH SO WORTH IT! 

A few hours before you’re going to serve: Pull the Dutch oven out of the fridge and skim off most of the fat that’s set on the top. This is easiest when it’s cold. Throw the fat away, pop the covered Dutch oven into a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes.

Spoon everything but the beef into a blender.

Take it out of the oven and put the meat onto a plate. Depending on the cut of meat, it may simply fall apart or you will be able to slice it. Pull out the rosemary and thyme and spoon the contents of the pan into your blender.

Deliciousness on a plate.

Puree it. All of it. This delicious, beefy, wine-flavored, veggie mess is gonna be the most scrumptious gravy you’ve ever eaten in your life. There’s no need to thicken anything, just blend it to a thick liquid.

Voila — choose a vegetable (or not – I mean the gravy is mostly vegetables), mash some potatoes (or cauliflower) to hold the gravy. Grab some bread (you’re going to be sopping up every drop) and dig in.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Sometimes you just have to explore it with your taste buds.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Diversion, Musings, Wine/Cocktails

Puerto Backyarda

Somehow I didn’t think I’d be writing a travel blog about my neighborhood for my 100th blog. Yes, I know there are almost 150 on this site, but the others were all written by Greg, so this is officially my 100th. I hope you’re having fun reading them and if you have something you’d like to see me write about, feel free to send me a note or comment.

Like you, I’m staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic, doing my part to stem the flow of this virus. When you’re plagued with wanderlust, that’s not easy! To keep busy, I spend a lot of time on the internet enjoying the humor and doing what I can to mitigate the sense of caution and fear that’s running rampant. 

Several memes and jokes highlight our mutual boredom being “stuck at home.” Here are a few favorites from Facebook.

As funny as these memes are, there’s a bit of truth in the humor. We’re all spending more time in our backyards and spending more time with our lockdown families. There’s lots you can do to add a little fun to your days.

Our walks around the neighborhood have opened our eyes to the creativity in our neighbors’ yards. We’ve seen several ideas we’re now considering as we look at a backyard upgrade. 

These big leafed plants caught our eye for a potential backyard makeover.

Our evening cocktails through the fence with our next door neighbors continue to make us smile and appreciate the little things … like a beautiful sunset.

Nightly sunsets aren’t always this beautiful, but we’re making the most of those that are.

Twice our neighbors on our street have had a corona twist on a block party. We all come out at a specific time, sit at the end of our driveways — some in their golf carts — and wave and shout greetings as we catch up.

We set up a little mini bar at the end of the driveway to share some social time with neighbors … at a distance.

We’re all doing what we can to make the best of this bad situation. After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … we’re all getting anxious to go see some of it.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Distractions, Food, Wine/Cocktails

Let’s Do Brunch … Virtually

Judy and I both grew up with brunch as a regular part of our lives … we went to church and, invariably, our parents would take us to brunch, often with friends. Not as formal as dinner, but a nice way to get together and share a repast with acquaintances and loved ones, made even better when the food is excellent, the wine to-die-for, and the weather brilliant.

So it was this Sunday morning when we joined Schlossadler International Wines and winemaker Michael Opitz – live from Austria – in a virtual tasting of Opitz’ fantastic wines. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away our ability to get out and be among friends, these virtual wine tastings using video conferencing capabilities are the next best thing … a great way to spend an hour (more if we keep the bottle open), share in a great experience, and taste some excellent wines. One simply signs-up, Schlossadler delivers the wine, and everyone joins-in the fun online.

Computer screen depicting participants in a virtual wine tasting.
The next best thing to being there…

This was our third tasting with Hans and Liza and one of the best … partly due to working-out some of the technology kinks, but also because this was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday midday. After a morning reading the paper, doing crossword puzzles, and taking an energizing walk in brilliant Arizona sunshine and 70 degree temps, we prepared a charcuterie board, opened the three bottles for this particular tasting, and fired up the computer. We joined Hans, Liza and Michael just as the latter was kissing his daughter good night (it was eight in the evening in Austria). The only thing that would have made the scene better would have been to move the whole kit and caboodle outdoors to do the tasting al fresco.

As wonderful as the wine and the flavors we paired with it were, so was the camaraderie of those from around the country taking part. There are both new and familiar faces … people with whom we share a passion for wine and who will likely become great friends when we get the chance to meet in person.

Seeing Michael share his passion for wine-making and the maps of the regions where his wines are produced brought both memories of our recent Danube River cruise and pangs of wanderlust. We’ve written often here that one of the great joys of our travels is to experience the tastes of the places we visit. We’ve already spoken with Liza about joining her on one of her winery excursions overseas … making that a reality is something Judy and I speak of almost daily.

Sign on a wall: "Winederlust - a strong desire to drink wines form around the world or just the wines from your neighborhood shop or even the ones you already have." Photo also shows a decorative card with wine glasses and wine shaped in the shape of a heart.
A sign of the times…

We have said before the pandemic is not something we take lightly … friends and family have and are effected, not just inconvenienced. But, we also know that many of us yearn for the days when this will be over, and are thankful there’s light at the end of that tunnel, bringing back our ability to travel and celebrate life with those we love. We know there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … it will still be there when this is all over. Until then, find joy wherever you can.

Empty wine glasses, a plate ready for the wash, a partially consumed bowl of olives and three partially consumed wine bottles.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, The World A to Z, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

Wine Tasting in a Worldwide Quarantine

With much of the world in a quarantine, companies are shutting down (permanently and temporarily) or finding creative ways to thrive. That’s the case with Schlossadler International Wines!  We discovered this relatively small wine importer at a street fair in March … just before COVID-19 forced us all indoors. What luck! At that street fair we ordered a case of wine and became a member of the club. Three weeks into the shutdown, an email popped up from Liza. Schlossadler had figured out how to do virtual wine tastings! WOOHOO!!!

All set up for our virtual wine tasting.

We chose one of the sessions featuring Italian wines, paid via PayPal and got our taste buds ready for a stay-at-home date night. Dale delivered our three bottles of wine just after lunch on Friday. We popped all three into the wine fridge, chilling the white and slightly cooling the reds. We moved a computer to our home bar so we could create a wine tasting atmosphere and logged in Friday night just before the 8pm kick-off. 

Schlossadler President Hans Fritsch stepped into view and welcomed us live from California. He introduced his team: Liza in Phoenix, Ema in Alaska and winemakers Patricia and Mauro Figaretto from Corte Figaretto in Italy (where it was FIVE AM the next morning!) 

A virtual warehouse tour kicks off the tasting.

Hans took us into the warehouse for a brief tour. Then it was time to taste the wines. We kicked things off with Secco di Corte, an indigenous white. Greg and I had created a little pairing plate of goodies to go along with the tasting and we nibbled as we listened to the descriptions of the wines. Patricia and Mauro’s described their vineyard and their boutique wines. In Italy, an annual production of 80,000 bottles is “boutique.”

Ema offered insights into the meaning of the import label and explained the DOCG band. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin, DOCG), the highest official Italian wine classification.

The wine tasting begins.

We sampled the first of two reds and learned more about how Corte Figaretto blends ELEVEN grapes to create Bacca Nera. The mild red delighted us as we listened to Mauro talk about his grapes like a proud father and how they are picked by hand in two phases. About half of the grapes are harvested when they are perfectly ripe. The other half is done about three weeks later when the grapes are just overripe.

A few bites to nibble and pair with the wines.

Moving on to the star of the tasting, we poured a generous taste of Amarone del Valpolicella into our glasses. Patricia wowed us with the story behind the oak casks this wine ages in after the grapes are dried for four months. Mauro travels to France to hand select the oak used for his casks, insisting the care that goes into each cask makes a better wine. He must be right, because the Amarone was MAGNIFICENT! The deep, ruby red color and the fragrant nose tease just a bit as that first sip dances on your tongue and tantalises your taste buds. 

Once the three tastings wrapped up, Hans and the team at the California headquarters opened up the live chat feature and we “met” our fellow tasters, asked questions and bantered back and forth for another 45 minutes. What a delight. We’ve already signed up for another virtual tasting this Friday.

After all, there’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, sometimes you might have to explore some of it virtually. 

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Travel, Walks, Wine/Cocktails

Spring Is Festival Season

Springtime is festival time. When the weather turns warmer, we all want to get out into the sun and soak up some warmth. What better place to do that than a festival?

Everywhere I look there are ads for weekend events … art shows, food festivals, wine tastings, church bazaars, neighborhood yard sales … there really is something for everyone. 

Warm sunny days bring visitors outside to enjoy a street festival.

Greg and I recently spent a few hours at a combination wine tasting and art show outside Phoenix. The 16th Annual Fountain Hills Wine and Art Festival was one of several in the metropolitan area on a sun-filled, blue sky weekend in March. For just $10, visitors can sample wines and spirits while browsing among more than 100 artists under the warm summer sun. 

Ferricreations sculpture

We chatted with Barry Ferich of Ferricreations, his hands blackish gray from working on a new piece of art fashioned from steel cable resembling a women’s hair … or the branches and leaves of a tree … blowing in the wind. Art is in the eyes of the beholder! He shared how he got his start crafting pieces out of found metal parts from building sites like wrenches and sockets, and stories behind his inspiration.

Imported wine tasting

We sipped wines from wine importer Schlossadler, who served up tastes of amazing red wine from Italy and Argentina to us. There were others, but we love Italian reds so we opted to stick with what we knew so we could move down the Avenue of the Fountains to try other offerings. That we came back to buy a case speaks to the quality of the wine and the friendliness of consultant Liza Smith.

We wandered past a writer/illustrator, painters, photographers and woodworkers showing off stunning examples of craftsmanship. We admired a bronze sculpture and swapped jokes with the artist.

Elysian Desert Distilleries offered up samples of Carefree Bourbon and Chakra Vodka … delicious.

Carefree Bourbon

All the while, we chatted easily about life and plans and how the weather makes it so easy to get out and enjoy these events. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored, often right in your backyard. Have fun exploring at a festival!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Food, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

A Group Tour that Won’t Leave You Whining

Long-time readers know I’m not generally a fan of group tours, but exceptions can and should be made when traveling with friends or those with a common interest. Here’s what I mean:

USC DC-area Alums
USC Alumni Associated members at Gray Ghost Winery

Recently, the USC alumni association in the DC area (Greg is a member) put together its annual group winery tour in Northern Virginia. We’d been on one of these winery tours with this group and enjoyed it enough to actually sign up and do it again We even traveled back to the Nation’s Capital in order to participate!) Group tours of wineries, it turns out, aren’t like “tours” of cities or travel destinations.

This event gets you a designated driver (in a mini-bus) so you can sample the wines without fear of going too far. It gets you behind-the-scenes tours at wineries. It gets you discounted tastings and bottles. It lets you hang out with a small group of fun people who all have something in common – a connection to Southern California.

Gray Ghost Winery
Gray Ghost Winery’s owner shows us the vineyard

In short – it was amazing and fun!

The day started with a stop at Gray Ghost Vineyards. From the moment we arrived we felt like VIPs. The owner took us to the vineyards and shared stories of how the winery got started. 

Gray Ghost Library
The wine library at Gray Ghost Winery

We went through the wine-making process within arms reach of casks and steel tanks where wine was being aged. He took us down a small slope and into a door where we entered a grotto-like, dark, cool space. He turned on the lights and the entire group gasped — he smiled and welcomed us to “The Library.” It was an underground room stocked with hundreds of bottles on beautiful wooden racks. 

Narmada Tasting
Tasting glasses and wine descriptions are lined up for our group.

From there we moved on to Narmada Winery. As a reader of this blog, you probably already know Greg and I are members of Narmada’s wine club. We’ve eaten wine dinners in the barrel room. We’ve chatted and become friendly with the owner. On this particular sunny Virginia day, we followed our guides down the stairs to a back patio space to sample wines in the breeze and shade. 

Our final stop is a perennial favorite of wine tours. Barrel Oak Winery is popular among locals and tourists. 

Pizza at Barrel Oak Winery
Fresh from the oven pizza makes for a great afternoon nosh

It’s proximity to DC, expansive views, and picnic-like setting are family (and dog) friendly and festive. Barrel Oak offers stone-fired pizza in the summer. Our visit was perfectly timed for an afternoon nosh.

You’ve seen that Greg and I are wine lovers. We make it a point to stop and try wines almost everywhere we go. We’ve even sampled wines in an old converted church in Oklahoma off Route 66. Wineries can be small, newly-opened, quaint and cozy or huge, professionally-designed and award-winning. You can visit as a couple, with a small group of friends or on a tour. If you keep an open mind, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself. It’s a fool-proof way to have a fun day. 

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored .., grab a glass of wine and toast it with friends.

Here's to wine tastings
Tour members toast the afternoon.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

wine glass and menu
Food, Road Trip, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

Luck or a Nose for Good Food and Wine?

If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you have probably noticed we often seem to find really fun and interesting places to eat and drink. This past weekend was no exception.

Friday afternoon we decided it was time, once again, to jump in the car early Saturday morning and hit the road for a day trip. New to Arizona, we have a long list of places we want to see in a day. This particular Saturday, with the forecast for the Valley of the Sun calling for high temps over 100 ˚F,  we opted to head for the hills.

Prescott is in Arizona’s Bradshaw Mountains and at just over 5300 feet, it tends to be a nice cool getaway on a hot summer day. Saturday was no exception. As our neighbors hid in air-conditioned comfort, we strolled the adorable historic city center under sunny skies at a pleasant 82˚.

Arizona wine region map
A state map shows the wine growing regions of Arizona

While hopes for cool temps helped choose the destination for the day, luck, karma or instinct had us drive right into the town’s celebration of “Territorial Days.”  It turns out Prescott was the capital of Arizona before it became a state and the annual celebration includes dozens of artists selling their crafts  on the town square. Families wandered easily past the displays. Children played in the grass. One vendor offered face painting. Musicians fiddled. It was a fun, festive party!

Wine tasting
Two whites and three reds are featured on the tasting menu

After a bit of shopping and enjoying the scenes unfolding around us, we saw a sign advertising “Wine Tasting. All Arizona Wines” pointing to the Back Alley Wine Bar. What a great find! Lindsay walked us through five wines from our new home state and dazzled us with her knowledge.

wine glass and menu
The menu offers a refill as I near the end of a delicious red blend.

We ordered another glass each and continued to sip and share stories as other customers came and went.

As the time ticked away, our stomachs noisily reminded us we should eat something, so with Lindsay’s suggestion, we headed three blocks away to Farm Provisions. WOW! A robust farm-to-table menu enticed us with mouth-watering choices. We marveled over the fresh burrata on crostini with slow-roasted tomatoes and aged balsamic. 

Farm Provisions scallops
Farm Provisions scrumptious scallops

The farm fettucini with pancetta, wild mushrooms, Arizona-sun-dried tomatoes and aged pecorino was exceptional. The incredible day boat scallops were drizzled with a pomegranate gastrique and Arizona lemon beurre blanc while floating on a bed of butternut squash puree. Roasted Brussel sprouts, roasted baby beets and pomegranate seeds added color and perfect taste pairings. With our taste buds celebrating flavor perfection and our tummies happily full, we made a decision to schedule another trip to Prescott just to try the dessert!

As we drove out of town with the sun setting behind us, we wondered how we always seem to find these food and drink havens. Sure, we typically ask a local for options, but there is more to it than that. We asked each other, “Is it luck or is it some sort of nose for good food and wine that we are lucky enough to be blessed with?” Whatever leads us there, we plan to keep finding these amazing spots.

After all, there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … follow lady luck or your nose and go see, eat and drink it all in.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Alexandria, Food, Road Trip, Travel, Wine/Cocktails

We Double Dog Dare You

Sometimes an adventure or an idea pops into my head and it’s so “out there” that I actually hear a voice in my head daring myself to go for it.

It could be the idea of bungee jumping (not gonna happen) or going on a grand hike somewhere. It could be the idea of a new phase of my life that involves quitting my job. It could be deciding to finish that book I started writing years ago. The list goes on and on.

We are in the midst of a HUGE change … moving to the desert Southwest from Virginia. Both of us have lived in Virginia for more that 15 years. In fact, I’ve been here for more than 20 years. So … this move is a little of a personal dare for me.

The act of moving isn’t all that adventurous for me. I counted the places I’ve lived in my life today and came up with 36. I kept track. Many of the places I lived are due to my military past – both as a “brat” whose Dad was a career Air Force Officer and as an active duty Airman. As for Greg, the desert Southwest isn’t much of an adventure. He grew up in Southern California’s San Fernando Valley so it’s a bit of returning home for him.

But moving across country after so many years is an adventure. We like to think of it as the great American couple on a great American adventure. We will load a few things into our car (the rest is being shipped out) and make the cross-country drive into a road trip. We’re excited to take this step, but a little sad to be saying goodbye to friends we’ve made and places we’ve come to know.

CK Smiles

So we’ve decided to have one final fling in the home we’ve come to love, but that we’re ready to leave. We’ve invited all our East Coast friends to join us at one of our favorite haunts, Fat City Kitchen in Alexandria. It is here, steps from our Alexandria home, where we made dozens of new friends and created a whole new family. It is here where we were inspired, where our ideas were discussed, and decided upon. It is here where we’ll end one adventure and start a new one. Whether you’ve been a fan of our blog, a casual reader or a newcomer, we double dog dare you to come out Saturday, March 30 to say hello and good luck, and wish us well as we head west. We’re not going to stop doing what we do … we’re just starting from a new headquarters … one that will introduce us – and you – to new places.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored … we double dog dare you to see it!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019

Food, Wine/Cocktails

Of Whiskey, Wood and Warm Welcomes

Rick House
Woodford Reserve

Driving down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you’ll discover many things beyond tasting good whiskey. First, that it’s not really a trail, but a smattering of distilleries located in and around Louisville and Lexington, and second, that every distillery making “bourbon” follows the same basic recipe required by U.S. law. Unexpectantly, you’ll find a wide variety of flavors both in the drinks and the distilleries themselves.

Maker's Mark Tasting
Woodford Tasting
Greg sips Bourbon.jpg

When it comes to the whiskey, I’ll let you be the judge of what you like and don’t like. Try as many of the distilleries as you can, follow your guides’ tasting advice, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Judy was our Designated Driver – she generally doesn’t like Bourbon – but she was a trooper and tried some of them, even finding one or two she liked. I reveled in the new and different flavors, all derived from the grains used in the mash and the wood of the charred oak barrels. I became a bourbon drinker several years ago, when a former boss – a retired Air Force two-star general – pretty much insisted I join him at the bar when we were on business travel and introduced me to Maker’s Mark and a few others. I became hooked. Judy and I now keep a small collection of fine bourbons, scotches, and Irish whiskeys in our library’s globe bar. There’s something uniquely relaxing about reading a good book with a dram of amber, 90-proof liquid rolling around your tongue and palate.

Angel's Envy
Maker's Mark Copper

I also reveled in the wide variety of architectural styles. From the classic “down in the holler” buildings of Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace (not on the tour but worth a stop) built in the 1800s with their worn and aging cypress fermenters, to the modern and spotless glass and stainless-steel Town Branch facility, to the gleaming polished copper, brick and wood Angel’s Envy distillery built inside a former manufacturing plant in downtown Louisville…architectural personalities young and old were featured. Even the retail “experiences” of Evan Williams and Jim Beam featured architectural styles that put their products and personalities in best light.

Nicholas at Town Branch.jpg
done-that-got-the-tshirt.jpg

Each of our guides also brought their own unique personalities to the tours and tastings. Nicholas at Town Branch was, by far, the funniest and most entertaining, but the booming voice of classically trained actor Jimmy James Hamblin at Angel’s Envy earned him a nomination for Louisville’s Recognition of Service Excellence (ROSE) Awards this year…and our utmost respect and admiration. But unvarying among all our guides and the people we met along the way were the warm Kentucky welcomes we received and felt, making our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience one of our favorite diversions so far.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored. Go see it with friends!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017

Diversion, Wine/Cocktails

Our Own Winery? Well, Not Really

Romano sign

Okay, it’s not really ours, but it’s kinda cool to have a winery nearby that shares your last name. There’s nothing like having personalized wineglasses and wine bottles in the cellar to make your guests wonder!

Romano Vineyard and Winery is in Brandywine, Maryland, in southern Prince George’s County. PG County, as the locals know it, is mostly urban and suburban; home to the likes of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Cente, NOAA’s National Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, the U.S. Census Bureau, and Joint Base Andrews; and, according to U.S. Census data, the most affluent county in the country with a primarily African-American population. But this area of PG County is decidedly rural…former tobacco farms now yield lots of corn, soybeans, and more importantly, vineyards.  It’s a stone’s throw from historic St. Mary’s and Charles counties…even the infamous Dr. Mudd House, where Abraham Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth had his broken leg set, is nearby.

I’d like to say that Judy and I stumbled on this gem of a winery as one of our regular diversions, but this story is a bit different. When the winery opened in 2011, I lived just a few miles away with my previous wife and saw the “bootleg” signs announcing its opening and wine-tasting availability along the rural roads I regularly took to work. I vowed to visit and introduce myself to the proprietors.

Romano vineyard

That never happened. In 2012, I moved out, filed for divorce, and moved to much more urban Northern Virginia. When Judy and I got together, we discovered a shared passion for good wine and often enjoy visiting wineries as a regular weekend activity. Virginia’s wines have become world-class and there is no shortage of wineries to visit. Our neighbors even gave us a Virginia Wine Pass to enjoy regular discounts!  But I still harbored the desire to visit the winery that shares my family name, so when a trip to Annapolis offered an opportunity for a Southern PG County diversion, we jumped at the chance.

curiousities sidebar 2

We weren’t disappointed. Unlike many of the Virginia wineries, the Romano winery has a very casual, rural farm feel. Owners Jo-Ann and Joseph Romano were delightful. We quickly figured out we weren’t related, but then, we Romanos are like the “Smiths” of Italy…many in number, not related, but all happy to meet one another.

The wines were excellent, too, so naturally, we joined the Romano Wine Club. We received our membership materials a couple of weeks ago, including our card for two free glasses of wine each month.

Today, we found ourselves in the area once again, top-down on the Fiat spider enjoying the spring weather with temps in the low ‘60s – a nice break from recent freezes. Naturally, we stopped at “our” winery.  Jo-Ann instantly recognized us. We sat outside, each enjoying a glass of merlot.  We chatted with several ladies who were enjoying a similar fine day.  With other errands to run, we didn’t stay long, but for a brief respite, Judy and I reveled in the joy of each other’s company, a fine glass of wine, and the peace and quiet that only a rural atmosphere can bring.

We have long held that part of the fun of traveling is getting off the beaten path to find hidden gems like Romano Vineyard and Winery.  Stop in and say hello, even for a just few minutes.

There’s a whole world out there waiting to be explored.  Go see it.

Fiat at Romano

© The World A to Z, LLC 2017