Thursday, September 25, 2014

2011 Belnero Toscana IGT

Media Sample
My husband made pulled pork sandwiches for a weekend family gathering. I decided to open a bottle of the 2011 Belnero Toscana IGT by Castello Banfi which had been recommended as a barbecue wine. 

This Tuscan blend is mostly Sangiovese with a small amount of Cabernet and Merlot which has been aged for about 14 months in French Oak, of which only 30% new. In the glass, the wine was a deep ruby color with aromas of plum, licorice and milk chocolate. On the palate, a full body with smooth tannins and fresh acidity with flavors to match the nose with a medium+ length finish.
 
It worked well with our sandwiches and everyone enjoyed their taste of the Belnero, recommended. Approximately $27.
  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dinner at Ciao Bello - Wining and Dining in Houston

My husband and I had dinner last weekend at Ciao Bello. Jeremy Parzen turned us on to this restaurant back in 2012 and it quickly became a favorite of ours. We had started to get into a rut over the past year always ordering the same things. We did this last month during restaurant week when our favorites like the pastiera di mare, a creamy marscapone souffle with shrimp and crabmeat made the lineup.

On this evening, we did things a bit different than usual. Instead of bubbles and the crisp green tomatoes with crabmeat and/or the above mentioned souffle, we ordered a bottle of the 2012 La Magia Rosso di Montalcino and decided to start with the polpette, a baseball-sized meatball that arrived to the table looking better than as pictured, my husband was swiping bread through it as it hit the table before I could retrieve my camera. He was genuinely that excited to see it arrive.

For our next course, we split the primavera salad. This baby arugula salad has roasted grapes, Tomino cheese and Texas pecans. This was the first time I've ordered this and I liked it, it is a nice combination of peppery, creamy and sweet flavors with a little light crunchy texture. The grilled Texas peach salad is my usual choice if I am having it alone (pictured at right) and if we are splitting we always get the burrata caprese salad but it was good to know I've got even more options there.

For my main course, I had the tagliarini al pomodoro since we had started with the meatball appetizer. This is a fresh, light pasta dish with San Marzano tomatoes, basil and olive oil. My husband got a different pasta dish, the tortellini modenese. The perfect size meal to allow room for dessert, usually the carrot cake or lemon pie, which is never missed at our dinners here.

We enjoyed everything that we had and the wine was perfect with all of it as well. Every experience that we have had at Ciao Bello has been exceptional and our pasta night was no exception, if you haven't been yet, it is not to be missed.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Lakeway Resort and Spa

I stayed at Lakeway Resort and Spa during my last trip to the Austin area. The hotel is located on Lake Travis just 20-30 minutes from downtown Austin. The resort has beautiful grounds with panoramic views of the lake. Amenities include both a multi-level adult pool with a swim up bar and a family pool with a water slide. While boating and other lake activities were the main attraction for many guests, my husband and I were there to enjoy the proximity to one of the Hill Country's award winning wineries, Spicewood Vineyards, and enjoy some relaxation time.


We arrived shortly after the 4:00 check-in time; we left our car with the valet and we walked into a quiet lobby for a quick and easy check-in. We were shown to our 5th floor lake view room with a king size bed. We found a cheese tray and water bottles waiting for us upon entry. We ate our snack, freshened up and headed down to the complimentary happy hour. We each got a drink and took a seat out on the patio. It was a beautiful evening with blue skies, sunshine and a light breeze blowing. We stayed out there until it was time to get ready for dinner.

We had 7:00 dinner reservations at Masterson's, the hotel's restaurant. It has an attractive dining room with comfortable seating, a full bar and scenic views of the lake. We opted to start our Hill Country wine weekend with a bottle of Texas Viognier by McPherson's. I started with the baby spinach salad and then had a pan seared shrimp with grapefruit cruda appetizer for my dinner. I felt that the salad had a bit too much dressing while the shrimp dish was fresh and light. My husband had the lobster bisque and the jumbo lump blue crabcakes (not pictured), he said that he would have liked more seafood in each but that is his usual complaint on those menu items everywhere. 

In the morning we slept in a bit and then we went back to the restaurant for the breakfast buffet. We each enjoyed an omelet made to order with a side of breakfast potatoes and fresh fruit. All the usual morning favorites were in the array- french toast, smoked salmon and bagels, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, breads with spreads, cereal, juice, etc. It would be easy to eat breakfast there multiple times without having to do the same thing twice unless you chose otherwise.

The hotel provided us with a driver to Spicewood Vineyards at noon. He was an older gentleman named Richard who was born and raised in the area. He shared many stories about his boyhood and discussed how Austin and all the surrounding communities were growing. After getting caught up in one of his tales, we found out that he also does stand-up comedy at night. He dropped us off at the winery, you can read about that here, we planned a time for him to return and he was there promptly as planned.

We spent the rest of our afternoon out by the pool at the resort. We shifted from wine to piña coladas which my husband proclaimed as one of the best he has ever had after his second one.This led to a poolside nap for him. I sunbathed, people watched and took in the lake views. After hydrating with some water, we headed up to the room to clean up. Originally, we had planned on heading into town for a nice dinner but at the last minute decided to stay close, keep it super casual and try Richard's chicken fried steak recommendation, Angel's Ice House. 

We arrived back at the hotel and poured a glass of wine to have out on our balcony when a fireworks display started. We don't know what it was for but we had a nice view of the show off to the side of our patio for our nightcap which was a fun surprise.

The next morning we woke up early and went to Café Lago, a breakfast recommendation from Richard. We were there when they opened the door which was fortunate as the restaurant filled up within thirty minutes of our arrival. We really enjoyed our breakfast there but it was crowded and a bit noisy. We liked the good service, fresh food and that we were in and out within forty-five minutes. We headed back to the hotel for our morning massages at the San Saba Spa located within Lakeway Resort overlooking the pool area.

Due to our late decision to make spa appointments, we were not able to get a couple's treatment or even appointments at the same time- so be aware and book at the same time that you make your hotel reservations. We were able to get back-to-back massage appointments with a later checkout time to accommodate our schedule. My husband worked out in the gym while I had my massage and I was able to go back to the room and leisurely get ready and pack while he had his massage. We both thoroughly enjoyed our treatments. He showered in the locker room and was ready to go as soon as he got up to the room.  We had a late lunch planned with our daughter in her nearby college town so, although they had given us until 2:00, we left by 1:00.

We enjoyed our stay at Lakeway Resort and we would recommend it as a great place to call home while touring the nearby wineries, enjoying the lake and taking in the Austin nightlife. Check out the Lakeway "Get a room" package that includes transportation to Spicewood Vineyards.