Go Prosecco!

img_7024TREVISO, Italy — You know prosecco as the fruity Italian bubbly that’s a fun and affordable way to celebrate the holidays as well as a bright accompaniment to a light meal. But this popular sparkling white wine can also be part of your vacation plans. Just like that other famous fizz, Champagne, it hails from a region that welcomes visitors who like to travel glass in hand.

From exploring hillside villages to strolling beside the tranquil canals of the city of Treviso, there’s plenty to do, eat, see and sip in prosecco country. And since this is still a relatively undiscovered spot, prices aren’t at the sky-high pitch of better- known places.

Here are a few things to know before you go.

Click here to read the rest of this story published by the Associated Press.

Speak like a Spartan

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

I am not a people person. Some people, yes. All of them, or even the majority of them, not so much.

I work alone a lot, an occupational hazard, and can be fatally awkward around a group of strangers. It’s like a slow-mo trainwreck. I know I should DO something but find myself sitting in helpless horror as gauche remarks and unfortunately blunt or, worse, uninformed, observations come sailing out of my mouth. It’s especially bad when people have encountered the written me first. They’re expecting polished, edited Michelle. Unfiltered Michelle with her annoying cackle can be a bit of a shock.

So, after making a series of poor choices during recent encounters with humans I decided to research ways to brush up my communication skills.

And I came across the Laconians, inhabitants of the Greek region that is home to Sparta, who practiced an admirably economical form of speaking. (They’re where we get the term laconic from.)

Perhaps the most famous back-and-forth is when Philip II of Macedon (dad to Alexander the Great) sent a message to Sparta saying “If I invade Laconia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.”

Sparta’s response: “If.”

That is totally badass and I think if I kept all my sentences to one word I’d be in much better shape.

It seems the Spartans fought quite a bit because a lot of their best lines are battle related. Before the Battle of Thermopylae, for instance, the Spartans were told that there were so many Persian archers they blotted out the sun when they shot off their arrows. “So much the better, we’ll fight in the shade,” was the Spartan reply.

This is also the battle where the commander Leonidas told his men, “Eat well, for tonight we dine in Hades,” which, to be candid, would put me right off. Even if we were having something delicious, like haggis. Also, are you thinking of Gerard Butler in a leather Speedo? I am totally thinking about Gerard Butler in a leather Speedo.

Of course, the Spartans didn’t have a lock on taciturn talk. President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge was famous as a man of few words. In a story that may be completely fabricated BS, but hey, it’s fun, a lady sitting next to him at a dinner is said to have announced she’d made a bet that she could get more than two words out of him. “You lose,” he replied.

You’re probably wondering, does the Laconian form of communication work?

I can’t say yet since I’ve mostly been practicing on my cat, but it did sometimes for the Laconians.

Philip didn’t invade after getting the brush off and on another occasion he asked if he should visit as friend or foe. a much friendlier overture.

But the Spartans weren’t having it.

“Neither,” they replied.

Cheers, linguistically.



Skye Highs

460xPortree, Scotland (AP) — Bonny Prince Charlie saw Scotland’s isle of Skye on the run. He was fleeing government troops after his Highland rebellion ended disastrously at the 18th century Battle of Culloden.

My visit was hurried, too, although due to nothing more exciting than a tight schedule — no redcoats on my tail.

Luckily, even a short stay is long enough to glimpse why the Misty Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions.

Here are a few reasons.
Click here to read this story, published by Associated Press

Cellar Sleuths

facebook-1983MerlotLabelCall it CSI: Napa Vallley Edition, because what cork taint can do to wine is a crime. Once you’ve smelled the musty odor of wet dogs or damp paper in your glass, you can’t forget it.

In the case of cork taint, the CSI techs are the Shafer Vineyards winemaking team. They’ve spent over 20 years sussing out clues to the defeat of this notorious wine cellar offender. Using sophisticated techniques like laboratory forensic analysis—and old-school tactics like following their noses (literally)—they’ve investigated everything from storage pallets to corks to barrel construction.

And now they’re just about ready to close this (wine) case.

Click here to read this story, published on Vivino.com.

Hooked on Haggis

I was in Cognac one hot summer day, trying to make conversation with a producer who spoke about as much English as I do French, and the situation was getting  sticky in every way when he suddenly asked me whether I had been to Scotland.

Yes, I had.

fullsizerenderWell, then, he asked, how did I feel about haggis.

“I LOVE it,” I replied. “It’s the perfect pairing for whisky.”

“Madame,” he said. “It’s the only reason to drink whisky.”

I would not go quite that far but I do feel that haggis is a sadly misunderstood comestible.

The name doesn’t help – Is that a disease or a dish? – and no one can claim that the product in its natural state is a beauty.

And then there’s the offal truth of what goes into haggis, at least in the traditional recipe – sheep’s pluck, which is not about spunky sheep but rather refers to the heart, liver and lungs. Recipes vary, but often the meat is minced with onion, oatmeal and suet (animal fat) and is mixed with stock and spices and baked as a kind of sausage, or savory pudding. Back in the day, the casing was the sheep’s stomach, conveniently to hand, but modern haggis comes in artificial casings.

And it is delicious!

Click here to read this story, published on Palate Press.com.

Margrit Mondavi, 1925-2016


Archway welcoming guests to the Robert Mondavi Winery /Photo Michelle Locke

Margrit Mondavi was not a large person, nor a loud person, but when she was in the room, people knew it.

Instantly recognizable with her broad smile, huge eyes and blonde bob — Wine Country’s answer to Carol Channing — she only had to walk into a restaurant or event to set off a chain reaction of turned heads and smiles. “Oh look! Margrit’s here.” (A lot of people, including myself, never got around to calling her husband, the late, great Robert Mondavi, “Bob,” even though we were assured he wouldn’t mind, but Margrit was almost always Margrit.)

I first met both Mondavis in the early 2000s when I wrote a story about their charitable giving. I’ve never been great with celebrities/rich people and wasn’t feeling all that comfortable until Margrit paused, looked me in the eye, and said, “I do like your dress. So cheerful.” I was instantly disarmed and quite forgot to be flustered.

Margrit and Bob were THE Napa Valley power couple. He was the gregarious one, never happier than when he was expounding on the marvels of California wine. She was quieter but a real power in her own right, giving and raising millions for causes she believed in. I saw them occasionally at events and would sometimes get a quote or two for a story. One of my favorite memories of them is from one of the annual Napa Valley wine auctions. It had been a hot day and most of us were pretty wilted. But not the Mondavis. They were still on the dance floor, slow-dancing like the last two teens at prom.

Accolades have poured in, as you might imagine, following Margrit’s death just before Labor Day, and a few people have referred to her as the grande dame of wine. In a way, she was, but I’ll always remember her as the person who took a minute to put an awkward reporter at ease.


Robert and Margrit Mondavi

Photo via Napa Valley Register


Gin with a Scottish Accent

hendricks-bottle-on-workbench-700x526It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Edinburgh and I and some like-minded souls are gathered together in a dim basement, paying reverence to matters of the spirit. Which is to say, we’ve all got a G&T in hand having reached the sampling part of a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.

Expecting that sentence to end with something a little darker? Think again. Sure Scotland is the land of whisky, with 100+ distilleries to show for it. But it’s also a powerhouse in gin: 70 percent of British gin is made here.

Producers north of the border include heavy hitters like Tanqueray and Gordon’s, which has been made at Diageo’s Cameronbridge facility since 1998. And in 1999, William Grant & Sons introduced its Hendrick’s Gin, a milestone in gin with its new botanical elements.

Other Scottish gins of note: The Botanist, made by the Bruichladdich distillery on the island of Islay, Caorunn, made in Airdrie, Pickering’s, from Edinburgh, and GILT from Strathleven distillery and made with malt barley. And let’s not forget Shelton Reel Ocean Sent Gin, which includes native bladderwrack seaweed from the Shetland coastline. There’s even a mapped-out Gin Trail.

We went to Lesley Gracie, master distiller for Hendrick’s Gin for some industry insight.

Click here to read this story, published by Palate Press.

Robert Mondavi Winery turns 50


Photo by Michelle Locke

Geneviève Janssens laughs as she recalls going to work as a young woman at the Robert Mondavi Winery.

Was she scared? “No. When you are young you don’t feel scared,” she says. “You are like a little bird and you fly.”

Janssens may not be the first name you think of when you think of the legendary winery, which turned 50 this summer. This is, after all, a story of brothers, Robert and Peter Mondavi, two Napa Valley legends who went separate ways and led the Robert Mondavi andCharles Krug wineries, respectively, and Michael and Tim Mondavi, Robert’s sons, who ran the Mondavi winery until its purchase in 2004 by Constellation Wines.

But there has always been a strong female component at work here.

Click here to read the rest of this story, published on the Nomacorc blog.